Something’s Out There
A Bicycle Journey into the Wild
D. S. White
I was never eaten by a bear. But I did have a bear chase me down the road one day. This road was in Alaska.
I wasn’t attacked by a pack of vicious wolves and torn to pieces, either. Yet I saw them watching me day by day along the tree line that wove contrariwise to the road I followed. At night I heard them howling in the distance, like a freight train lost, as I slept in the wild in a thing you’d hardly call a tent. In the daylight, they’d watch me with keen eyes as I pedaled my bike mile after mile toward the top of the world.
Days went by without a soul in sight, and often to pass the time, since I had no one to talk to, I’d sing to myself. Eventually my courage grew and I sang even louder, opening up my voice to the natural world. I hardly expected to come across a moose or a wolverine that might laugh at me. But you never knew. Alaska is a wilderness, and the wilderness is unpredictable.
We often define ourselves by the context that surrounds us. Sometimes our definition of who we are will last for years, but then, in a moment, without notice, it will change. The call of the wild, as some put it, does that to you. As a boy, I’d often looked down roads and wondered where they went. I tried to imagine what might be around the next corner of that dusty road in the countryside where we lived when I was young, but I had no idea, and not knowing, it drove me to explore. In Alaska I came to understand that the roads we choose to travel define us as well.
This is a story about roads. Now, the ideal of a solitary mountain man taking on the wild, surviving by his or her wits, I don’t put much faith in that. I wasn’t going to take any chances; I’d spent time in the wild before and gotten lost in the mountains for days; I was aware of how hard it is to survive alone in the wild. I had a collection of books about edible plants that would impress most outdoors survivalists. But there was one thing that I knew for sure about the wild, and this is one of the oldest laws of civilization. There is strength in numbers. We need each other to make it all add up.
As I traveled across Alaska on my bike, I met many Alaskans living in the wild, in remote places, and some doing quite well. But however thin the connection to the outside world might have become for these people, they still had a means of making contact with someone. They still relied somewhat on their neighbors to pull together and help each other out when things got tough. No, this is not a book about getting lost in the wild and seeing your life flash before your eyes just when you think everything is about to end. This is a book about taking the road that leads to seeing your dreams come true.
My journey to Alaska began when I first wondered how far north I could go on my own, without a lot of money, without any outside support, without anyone knowing where I was at the time. I looked at the map and saw a road going north and wondered if I could reach the other end. I’d have to live cheap and travel light. The bicycle was the perfect catalyst for my dream. Let’s take a minute and step out of the clouds, breaking that down into manageable concepts.
1. Pick a destination: The first step you’ll need to take is to pick a destination. Possibly you’ve already got one in mind, or possibly one will leap out and take hold of you as you read this book. Make your destination bold. Be as big as you can imagine.
2. Choose your transportation: The second step you’ll need to take is to choose your method of travel, which will determine to a large part your budget. I wanted to travel by a simple means of transportation, without a lot of money. I chose a bicycle, but by the time I returned home, I’d been on a bus, a train, several boats, a float plane, and I’d even rented a car. Traveling to the most remote places on earth is not just for those with a large bankroll. If you’re thinking you can’t do something like this because you aren’t rich, you can.
3. Follow your dream to the end: I started looking at maps and saw a road to the top of North America. I wondered how close I could get to the North Pole by myself. And so my simple dream took hold of me and I couldn’t let go. This leads us to the third step you’ll need to take. And this one is the most important. Follow your dream. A simple dream has power beyond your ability to solve problems and connect the dots. Whatever you do, follow your dream to the end.
Lastly, keep this maxim in mind as you read this book and follow your own road.
MAXIM 1: You have to believe there’s something out there or you’ll never go looking for it.
At the end of this book, you’ll find a list of all the key points made on these pages. Some fall under the category of “tips” and relate more to daily things you should to keep in mind when traveling on a bicycle. Others fall under the heading of “maxims” and these focus on good principles for life, whether on or off the bike. Realize that the list is not complete and you a free to follow whatever road you choose to travel. As you read this book, write down your own ideas and discuss them with others.
Now, let the adventure begin!