let us journey to a lonely land i know (robert service)

Midnight sun above the clouds on Svalbard
I'm disappearing for a few weeks to ski across the unrelenting cold and white of the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in Norway. Stomping grounds for thousands of reindeer, training grounds for polar explorers like Nansen and Amundsen, this is Europe's largest mountain plateau and danger is quite literally its middle name (mum and dad, if you're reading this, be reassured that "danger" is an ancient Scandinavian word for "smooth and safe travels.")

My pal Riley is flying overseas for the first time in his life to partner with me on this traverse. On a gap year from university, this mountain man was born on skis in the Yukon wilderness and raised on Pilot biscuits smeared with Spam, supplemented when seasonally appropriate with wild salmon and caribou. Apparently his recent solo motorcycling adventure from Alaska to Mexico didn't sate his appetite for the epic or for a steady diet of dubious luncheon meat, so he's coming to Norway, land of stoic explorers and bacon in squeeze tubes. Though we've kept in touch over the years, swapping dreams and poems about wilderness sojourns while school kept us static, I last saw Riley half a decade ago, and he's never seen me with a full set of teeth. But I have no doubt we'll still recognize each other.

Our Norwegian pal Geir, already famous in Canada from previous appearances in feature articles (scroll down to "Trekking Norway's Tundra"), is joining us for a few days until guilt over his Ph.D. submission deadline forces his retreat. Riley and I will continue as a duo and finish the traverse, fickle weather gods and goddesses willing. Apparently Amundsen tried and failed to cross the Hardangervidda three times, each time deterred by horrible storms. He had a better success rate reaching the South Pole. Here's hoping we're luckier with weather on the plateau than our man Roald.

Geir, Riley and I met in 2004 on the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), a two-month glaciology training expedition that involved traversing the Juneau Icefield in Alaska/British Columbia on skis, digging snow pits to measure glacial mass balance along the way when we weren't swimming in supraglacial lakes. Since then I've roped Geir (nicknamed "Manimal" on JIRP for possessing endurance and agility more the proper of a mountain goat than a man) into a number of Norway-based exploits. I simply can't get enough of this country. In the past few years, I have solo hiked in the Tromsø region and explored the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. And together Geir and I have trekked across the mosquito-ridden Finnmarksvidda plateau in Lapland, and skied and camped across the blizzard-stricken Jotunheimen National Park.

It took me weeks to warm up after that last ski trip. But as soon as I thawed, I began dreaming about coming back. Like Nansen, like Amundsen, like Robert Service and so many others before me, I can't resist the call of the wild.


Call of the Wild (Robert Service, 1916)
Riley in Atlin after JIRP.

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills,
have you galloped o'er the ranges,Gap-toothed in Alaska.Toothless on JIRP.
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa?
Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.

Have you known the Great White Silence,
not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? Mushed your huskies up the river?
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is,
can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild -- it’s wanting you.

Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
"Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors,Geir the Manimal.
heard the text that nature renders?
(You'll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.

They have cradled you in custom,
They have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching --
But can't you hear the Wild? -- it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling... let us go.


Kate Harris3 Comments