Spent my first day at the Fairbanks dump—don’t ask. Not exactly the wilds of Alaska, but still I met many wild and colorful characters, scroungers, and vagabonds, with their vehicles full of all their worldly possessions. They mistook me for one of them and inducted me into their club. We talked scrounging, self-sufficiency and how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One guy said he’d decorated his entire cabin with stuff scrounged from the dump.
I got a quick tour of Fairbanks, as my dad and I rushed across town in Heimo’s gas-guzzler of a truck gathering cabin-building materials for Heimo and provisions for our trip. We went on a wild goose chase for some twelve-inch cabin spikes and a Thermacelle insect repellent lantern, guaranteed to keep all mosquitoes away. Apparently it works, though, because every store we went to was sold out. Our search led us all across the city and to the far corners of town. It was here that I found probably the most amusing of Fairbanks’ many quirks: “Show Girls,” the local club. I couldn’t resist including a photo. I guess everything is wild in Alaska.
I find myself at the beginning of a journey, bound for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world’s last great wildernesses. My father will be my travel companion and together with my dad’s cousin, Heimo Korth, a veteran of the Alaskan bush, we will learn how to survive life in the wilderness.
In Alaska, my home will be my tent, my bed will be a mat, my bathroom will be a hole in the ground, my water will come from the river or from a spring, and my food will be whatever we manage to kill, catch or gather. Over the course of the next year, I will be making four trips to the Alaskan Arctic, staying for one month each season. For my first trip, we will help Heimo Korth build a new cabin from scratch and then head for the high country in search of caribou.
And, so, unlike most kids my age, I will not be spending my summer vacationing at a summer-house, tanning at the pool, shopping with friends on State Street, or binge-watching Pretty Little Liars for hours (as I may have under normal circumstances). Instead I will be 130 miles above the Arctic Circle, 3 hours by bush plane from Fairbanks, in one of the most remote and isolated places in the world, swatting clouds of mosquitoes, and praying I won’t encounter an angry mother grizzly (a sow) protecting her cubs or a territorial moose. In other words, I will be in the middle of nowhere. There is a better chance of reaching Santa at the North Pole than reaching Aidan Campbell in the Arctic.