John Grogan - The Longest Trip Home


Canada in Two Extremes

Friday, July 31, 2009

It's hard to believe August is already here. It seems like last weekend I was putting in the window screens, stowing the snow shovels, and planting my cabbage seedlings. Sorry for being AWOL here for the past several weeks; July was a month for stepping back and chilling out.

I began the month by loading the whole family in the mini-van and heading six hours north to Montreal and the Festival International de Jazz, our second straight year attending. We are a family of music lovers, and for us the jazz festival makes the perfect family vacation. It is a place we can be together as much as we like, but also find our individual space. There are about 20 different stages spread over a large section of the city, and so there are plenty of opportunities to go your own way. Our teen-age sons especially appreciated this feature. As if the jazz festival were not enough to hold our interest, a large guitar festival was taking place simultaneously and just a few blocks away. Luthiers from all over the world brought their custom guitars (some costing upwards of $40,000) to show off. Many of them sponsored extremely talented guitarists to show off the instruments. And did they ever show them off. I spent two full days listening to amazing guitarists playing amazing guitars -- in a room with only fifty people or so. A true find.

When we were not listening to music, Montreal offered other delights as well -- Old City, Chinatown, the cafe district, the waterfront, French cuisine, and one of the world's great botanical gardens. Oh, and Labatt's Blue on draft.

We were only back from Montreal two days when I headed off on a trip of a very different nature: 10 days with four other guys, two of them my best friends from college. Our mission: To navigate 130 miles of very remote white-water rivers in far northwestern British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. To the best of our knowledge, no humans had been on some particularly isolated stretches for at least three years.

It was an amazing trip with nonstop eye-popping scenery, a scale of vastness that was truly humbling, and isolation that was at once profound and daunting. We did not see another human the entire time. With the exception of one bush plane that buzzed by on Day 2, we didn't hear a single human, either. Of course, there was no cell coverage or any other way to communicate with the outside world. We were off the grid, and after the first couple days adjusting to the majestic (OK, slightly unnerving) silence, we came to like it that way. We all fell in love with the solitude and natural rhythm of each day. We rose a little after dawn and fell asleep a little after dusk, ate when we were hungry and drank when we were thirsty. "River time," we called it.

What we did see was a LOT of bear and moose and wolf tracks. Every gravel bar we camped on was full of fresh tracks. The grizzly tracks were especially impressive, some of them the size of dinner plates. We carried a shotgun, bear spray, and a battery-operated electric fence to surround our food and gear at night, but the large mammals gave us a wide berth. The only big animals we saw were (blessedly) from a distance, including a bear sow and cub and a moose cow and her knock-kneed newborn. Bald eagles were everywhere.

We began our trip by loading our gear -- all 1,800 pounds of it, including two rafts -- into a small private float plane in Juneau, Alaska, and flying an hour east to a grass strip beside a primitive hunting camp about two miles from the confluence of the Hackett and Sheslay rivers. There was not a road for miles in any direction. From there, we hauled our stuff (hard work, long story) to the water's edge, inflated the rafts, and headed down the fast-moving Sheslay, whose water was running much higher than we had anticipated. Many impressive rapids, and one hair-raising run in particular, greeted us before the Sheshlay merged into the less rowdy but still swift Inklin River. The Inklin in turn carried us to the Taku, which returned us to Juneau. We began the trip at 2,000 feet above sea level and ended it in the sea. No wonder the water was moving so fast; it had a lot of descending to do to reach the ocean. On our last night, we camped on a gravel bar with a 3,000-foot-tall waterfall roaring down a mountain wall a mile or so in the background. Spectacular.

After a dinner of Indian chicken curry over rice on that last night, we built the fire up and toasted the trip with whiskey. A most memorable one. Brad, Kurt, JP, Pete, and I hashed over the best and worst moments and lamented how quickly 10 days had flown past. "To next year," someone said, and we toasted that as well.

And that is what I did on my summer vacation.

posted by John Grogan at 1:21 PM


Blogger Gi said...

Hi, John!
Oh, I was missing your posts!
It's great to hear from you!
Well, first of all I would like to say that yes, this year is passing realy fast! Once a year I gather with my friends from school to catch up, remember the old times and laugh about it! And since our last reunion it has past over a year! And it seems like it was last month!
Well, and second of all, it's funny that at the end you said "that's what I did on my summer vacation" and here in Brazil it's our winter vacation! And unfortunatelly it came to an end! I had to work, so it wasn't really "vacation" but still I managed to have at great time at the beach - even in winter!
I was amazed by your adventure! It must had been great! And the picture is impressive, too! The forest behind you, the montains... the river! Oh, beautifull! Thanks for sharing!
I'll be looking forward for the next post!
Giovana - Brazil

5:07 PM  
Blogger deborah said...

We all waited with bated breath for the return of John on the website-Last year we went camping here in Canada-a little easier since I live in Ontario, we went with the church mission gang and took two sites in Wheatley near Lake Erie. Not your usual American campsite, the Canadians are very nature preserve oriented and less concerned with personal comfort. We spent most of our time in small groups praying, playing cribbage and canoeing on the lake. When it rained you got in your tent and stayed in your sleeping bag. Campfire stories always circulated and marshmallows were the order of the day. Such fun!

4:30 AM  
Blogger Jillian said...

Glad you had a great vacation!! Such fun adventures. Canada is beautiful country, eh.

Did you take your yellows with you on any of your adventures?

10:38 AM  
Blogger Shorty said...

I knew you had a good reason not to post for a while. As Deborah said, "We all waited with bated breath..." And it was worth it! I felt like I often feel as though I'm reading your third book - life after Marley. *heehee*

The picture of you and that tiny tent next to those monstrous mountains is breathtaking! I love the peace and serenity of nature. "River time" is the best - I believe it feels natural because it is! It's not time by clock that so often causes stress. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I wish more people could do the same.

The Jazz Fest sounds interesting too. I play guitar a little, so I'm always amused and mesmerized by insanely nice instruments. Not to mention, musicians who can truly play a tune are awesome. I adore this post! Thanks for it!

10:58 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

You sound like you had a wonderful vacation. I was looking for your new post every nite. How is Gracie and Woodson doing? You should write about them in your next blog! I have a question: Would Marley like all of this attention that he is getting from his books and movie if he was alive?

5:27 PM  
Blogger Grits the Dog said...

Sounds like an amazing vacation!
I can relate to the feeling of isolation. Two weekends ago my husband and I went on a short day hike just outside of calgary. Even though we were only a 45 minute walk from the parking lot, we felt quite alone and vulnerable. We didn't see anyone and quickly became worried about the lunch in our day-pack and the bears that might be interested in it.
Anyhow, now that you're back, please, please please have a look at my blog and leave a comment.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Sarinha Neves. said...

Hi, John!
It is a pleasure to write to you!
I read your book Marley and Me and also watched the movie. And I saw many
times, believe me. And every time I see excites me more. A
history of you, love, affection .. I have a dog that just
as Marley. Yob, destroys everything and urine live at home! Their
book and the movie helped me and my husband to deal with our dog.
He taught that we should have more patience with him. The name of my dog is
Edgard. Our history with Edgard, is very similar to the history of you
with Marley.

You are a blessed man of good heart.
May God bless you more.
The story of you is beautiful .. The love for you is pure, single.

A lesson in life.

I have great admiration for you.

Thank you for helping us!

A strong hug!

Sorry for writing an English that is not good, I'm Brazilian and not
know the language well.

Sara Semtchuk - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

7:48 PM  
Blogger William Lane said...

3000 foot tall waterfall? I thought Victoria Falls was the tallest in the world. Color me confused. :)

7:21 PM  
Blogger binha said...

(Brazil)Bom Dia !!!

Li o livro Marley e Eu ... você nem imagina o quanto mudei a minha maneira de pensar, o quanto o meu casamento melhorou, o quanto eu sou feliz... vc e Jenny são exemplos de vida.
Obrigada por tudo

Elba Santiago

3:34 AM  
Blogger Aline said...

Hi John!
loved the free marley and me.
watched the movie too.
I have a dog, which gives me a lot of work, but I love him very much.
cried to hear that Marley died.

5:02 PM  

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