The Finish Line is in Sight–Just 1,700 Miles to Go…

Dawson, Yukon Territory

There’s a point in every trip when I start to sense the finish. On trips of less than a month, I usually sense it from the start–I know about how long the trip will take and I often have concrete plans post-trip. But on longer trips, the expedition becomes a lifestyle with no foreseeable end: The trip is the very core of who I am and what I do, and the finish is so distant and so questionable that it’s not worth thinking about. Eventually, however, that stops being the case, as I gradually recognize that there is indeed a finish point. And there will be life after this trip.

Two factors play into when this recognition occurs. The first is how much time and distance remains. The second is the number and magnitude of challenges that lie ahead. The less time/distance and the fewer the challenges, the more of my focus starts being diverted to the finish.

On this trip, I started to sense the end when I paddled my packraft into Skagway, Alaska–it marked the end of the dicey Lost Coast and the start of my time in the Yukon. And here in Dawson, following a 450-mile, seven-day float on the Yukon River, I definitely feel as if I’m entering my last leg. Sure, I still have two months and 1,700 miles to go, but that seems relatively small compared to the 3,000 miles I’ve covered and the 3.5 months I’ve already spent out here.

Moreover, the final 1,700 miles are the most geographically coherent of any other 1,700 mile stretch on my route. They take me through only two distinct (though huge and very remote) regions: northern Yukon and northern Alaska. I cross just two roads (the Dempster and the Dalton Highways) and have two lengthy roadless sections: there are 650 miles between the Dempster and Dalton, and 540 miles between the Dalton and my finish in Kotzebue. Finally, I have just five resupply points: Fort McPherson, NWT; a remote cache in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Coldfoot, AK; Anaktuvuk Pass, AK; and Ambler, AK. The net effect of this geographic cohesion is that I tend to conceptualize these 1,700 miles as one long push, not a bunch of short ones.

In regard to challenges, certainly many await me in the final two months but many other are already behind me: I made it through the Arctic winter, I skied across the Alaska Range, I pushed through the Wrangell’s early-season, and I paddled; safely across the treacherous bay crossings of the Lost Coast.

Overall, sensing the finish is a good thing. I’m saddened that this experience will eventually conclude–it’s been great thus far and I have high expectations of what remains–but it’s exciting to think that I will accomplish what I set out to do (return to Kotzebue after an epic adventure around Alaska and Yukon). And I’m sure I will start looking forward to post-expedition projects, too.

So, how exactly do I envision the finish happening? I’m looking for input on this, but currently I’m thinking that an anti-climatic finish is most appropriate–after all, it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. So I’m not inclined to climb a Katahdin-like mountain or to fly in my entire family to the Arctic. And to follow up on another theme of this trip — “In Alaska, it’s not over until you place your order.” — I’m thinking that this trip should end with a delicious meal in a Kotzebue cafe.

Posted in on July 3, 2010

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