(The following blog was written by Richard Kahn, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Kahn has spent the last sixteen summers paddling wilderness rivers in the Brooks Mountain Range and North Slope of northwestern Alaska. He has traveled extensively in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, spending more than 300 days on the Colville River and its tributaries.)
The North has entered my blood stream. It fuels my imagination with visions of wild spaces, crystal clear rivers, towering mountains, rolling tundra, the quiet sounds of the land and the infinite dome of the sky. But the landscape is just the beginning. Within the landscape the thing which makes the place truly wild and exciting are the countless animals that call the north their home; wolves and bear, caribou and wolverine, song birds, water fowl and raptors, all wild and free and intricately woven into the fabric of vast spaces untouched by man but vulnerable to our seemingly limitless hunger for the fossil fuels and minerals sequestered beneath the surface of the tundra and the sea.
I am about to return north to Arctic Alaska. This will be my 16th year paddling northern rivers. I will fly from Boston to Fairbanks, then from Fairbanks to Kotzebue. From Kotzebue I will fly by bush plane to the headwaters of the Kukpuk River, which flows west out of the De Long Mountains and across the Lisburne Peninsula until it reaches the Chukchi Sea just above the village of Point Hope. If I am lucky I will see lots of caribou; this is where the Western Arctic Caribou Herd has been aggregating in late June and early July for the past three years.
I spent January and February studying the maps. During March and April I cooked and dehydrated enough food for thirty days of travel on the river. I prepared dinners of pasta and sauce, rice and beans, beef stroganoff and shepherd’s pie, breakfasts of oatmeal, dried fruit, plenty of coffee and simple lunches of cheese, jerky and chocolate.
I’ve shipped the food and thirty pounds of camping gear to Kotzebue. I will be paddling an inflatable canoe that I will bring with me from New Hampshire along with my tent, sleeping bag and clothes…gear I just don’t feel comfortable shipping. I will travel slowly; the journey is more about the time than the distance and time is my most valuable commodity. The primary destination is being there. There is no reason to rush.
In a few days I will leave the weight of home with its online commitments and connections, and I will be standing on the tundra next to a pile of gear as the bush plane disappears into the distance, the roar of its engine replaced by the quiet of the tundra.
A year of waiting will be over.