Nearing the legendary 80th parallel, the gateway to the High Arctic, a wolf arrived and hung around the two polar explorers for over a dozen hours.
In the late afternoon it curled up about 15 to 20 metres away from their tent. In the morning it was still there, staring in at them when they opened it up.
Jon Turk, one of the explorers, remembered his experiences with a man named Moolynaut, a shaman of the Koryak people of Siberia on one of his earlier journeys, and does not believe his encounter with the wolf was a coincidence.
“It came to talk to us,” he said. “It was saying welcome to the polar zone Jon. You’re going to get tired, you’re going to get hungry, you’re going to get strung out, you’re going to get frostbitten and you might die out here.”
“It’s good to see you. Welcome.”
Turk is a 71-year old author, adventurer, explorer and environmentalist. When he’s not splitting his time between his homes in Darby, Montana and Fernie, B.C., he’s out traveling to some of the wildest places on the planet.
On April 8, he spoke to small crowd at Fernie Alpine Resort during an event hosted by the Calgary chapter of Mappy Hour.
The Mappy Hour community is a network of urban dwelling outdoor enthusiasts. The organization has seven chapters in cities across North America. Every month its members gather around their maps and guidebooks for beer and adventure stories.
Globetrotting 28-year-old Sarah Knapp founded the organization as a student at New York University because though she enjoyed the vibrancy of the urban environment, Central Park could not satisfy her desire for open spaces and nature. She figured there were other New Yorkers who felt the same, so she founded a social networking site called Mappy Hour in 2014 so that like-minded travelers could meet, connect and make travel plans.
“The goal was to find other people that I could go outside with,” she said.
Her organization continues to grow and she recently launched a Mappy Hour online platform.
Knapp traveled from her current home in Denver, Colorado, to attend Fernie’s first-ever Mappy Hour.
“The idea was to create a space where people could come together and feel comfortable bringing a map of a trail they were going to explore,” she said. “And that’s where the name came from.”
Though most Mappy Hours do not have a keynote speaker, Knapp enlisted Turk to recount some of his adventures for the occasion.
Turk has taken many a dangerous journey, usually via kayak. He’s paddled around the Bathurst Inlet, braved the Nares Strait, which is a waterway between Ellesmere Island and Greenland and explored the Venezuelan Amazon.
In early May 2011, he and his colleague Erik Boomer began an over 2,400 kilometre circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island in Canada’s High Arctic. They transported all their gear in kayaks, which they alternately paddled and hauled over vast expanses of pack ice and open ocean.
Turk said the lessons he learned on that trip can help other people navigate the modern world in an era of unsettling politics.
The first lesson he learned was one of vulnerability.
“Mountains and nature assure us that we’re vulnerable,” he said. “This is the first vital message that nature tells us. Once we accept that vulnerability on a deep visceral level we start that journey into what I call a consciousness revolution of our reciprocal relationship with nature.”
The second lesson is ecstasy. Pulling his kayak over pressure ridges of ice was hard work, he said. He would manage to haul his kayak over one wall of ice only to find another one a few metres away.
“You’re going hard, you’re running out of food, you’re breaking down,” he said. “The sore toe hurts but you’re exactly where you want to be and that’s what the ecstasy is. The ecstasy of the place is what drives you onward.”
Eventually as the ice began to melt, the pair found themselves pushing through knee-deep water. Their feet began to swell. Encounters with polar bears became daily and dangerous occurrences. Four of their expected six food drops fell through and they had to rely on hunting to survive.
In explaining the difficulties they had going forward, Turk explained the next lesson; moving beyond your boundaries.
“The Buddhists say that pain is inevitable but suffering is your choice,” he said.
The pair finally concluded their journey at Grise Fiord after 104 days. They had averaged almost 24 kilometres, half a marathon a day, for three months.
Shortly after their arrival, Turk was given emergency transportation to Ottawa where he spent six days in hospital.
Six years later, in good health and still adventuring, Turk concluded his presentation by arguing that we are living in crazy political times where people are telling us things that are just not true, but lessons learned in nature may hold the key to moving forward.
“I think if we as individuals start learning those lessons, then we can have a little more confidence in moving into the 21st century, a little more sanity,” he said. “If we follow the basic ideals the wilderness teaches us, it’s really a simple and glorious journey.”
Turk had advice for prospective travellers who might be facing financial or organizational challenges.
“The important thing is to go,” he said. “If you don’t have the money, you go. The rest of it will fall into place.”
For his next adventure, Turk said he might be journeying to Kenya this summer.