I'm back in Colorado after having spent nearly the entire month of February in the Canadian Arctic, where I successfully lived out my childhood fantasy of joining the hunt for the Mad Trapper. Coming home was everything it should be, featuring a loving family and temperatures that were at least above zero. I only wish that my four-year-old son hadn't insisted I sleep in a tent in the backyard with him - I'd really been looking forward to my nice, warm bed. I'm afraid I have created a future arctic adventurer.
The trip provided lots of material for a book about the Mad Trapper, childhood daydreams, and the death of North America's last great frontier of the imagination. There really are no more places to disappear into and start completely over. This was borne out at the Canadian border before the trip really even began.
My writer friend Johnny Rico, a soldier just back from Afghanistan (Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America, his truly spectacular memoir, soon to be released) was refused entry into Canada because of a minor scrape in a Georgia bar during his Ranger training three years ago. It turns out even a misdemeanor conviction prevents one from entering Canada for 10 years. And when we turned around to re-enter the States, we were interrogated and searched despite never even having made it all the way into Canada. All those stamps from Arab countries in his passport probably didn't help.
I had to drive the next 3,000 miles through Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories - and back again - solo. My white Toyota Tundra, known as "Puffy" to my kids, was my only company. It was fortunate that Puffy has long been anthropomorphized by them as a kindly machine with a gruff disposition, because he was the only one I had to talk to and photograph.
My Wyoming friend and climbing partner Taylor Reed, a veteran of our aborted 2004 first attempt to cross the high peaks of the Richardson Mountains in the Mad Trapper's footsteps, flew directly into Inuvik, near the Arctic Ocean. The very next day a ski plane flew us in to the base of the mountains, where the Rat River meets the MacKenzie Delta. From there we dragged our 70 lb. sleds up and over the mountains to the La Chute River Valley on the other side.
I'll save the details for the book, but some of the highlights were: finding the canyon hide-out where Constable Millen was murdered by the Mad Trapper; following gigantic wolf tracks up the frozen Barrier River; NOT having our boots, skis, or sleds fail at -35º F with a 20-40 mph wind raging; our tent NOT ripping apart totally the night we spent highest in the mountains; successfully dodging avalanches in the high peaks; marveling continually at the fortitude of the Mad Trapper and the Mounties who pursued him; the Northern Lights dancing and swaying in the sky nearly every night; and, finally, the oh-so-glorious sight of the helicopter coming in to retrieve us. On our last night in Inuvik, we attended a feast at the home of our new friend Andre, followed by many drinks (far too many for Taylor) at a very rocking Mad Trapper Inn.
As soon as I finish writing about the Arctic - called MADNESS for now, I plan to return to suspense fiction, my bread-and-butter. I hope that those of you who have enjoyed the adventures of Antonio and Roberto Burns will be patient a little longer.
Thanks to all for your friendship and support. - Clinton