erin and hig celebrated the one-year anniversary of their motorless trek from Seattle to Unimak Island in the Aleutians, three days ago. They were a day to the northeast of Cold Bay, where erin has posted her latest essay and photo collection.
The past few days, in Seattle, where their journey began, I've been explaining to friends and relatives who hadn't yet heard of erin and hig, just what an enormous task it is that they are accomplishing. Alaskans seem to have a better understanding of how unique their efforts are than do friends here in Seattle, some of whom are avid Cascade wilderness hikers.
Even harder than explaining the young couple's physical achievement, is explaining the deep spiritual underpinning of their mission. I use the term "spiritual" in a meaningful way here. Some spiritual paths, or so-called "spiritual paths," require adherents to adopt acceptance of the inerrancy of the boundaries of the path they are following or being directed by others to follow. Others choose a path that has been trod by others, but with familiar sub-routes from which they might pick and choose along the way.
Whether or not one of these paths taken was pre-selected, random or a new route, many pathtakers tend to become more self-assured, dedicated to a set of predetermined values the journey was supposed to validate or prove, or even arrogant, as the journey comes to a close.
Not so, for erin and hig. It appears that in their search for "ground truth trekking," they have found at least as many new questions as answers to old ones. Regarding the controversy in the King Cove-Cold Bay area, surrounding a road from King Cove to the Cold Bay airport, erin writes this week:
Here in the Izembek Wildlife Refuge (migratory bird heaven), the refuge is embroiled in a controversy with the community of King Cove, which would like to build a road through the refuge to get access to Cold Bay’s fancy airport with the 2-mile-long runway. Offshore on the Bering Sea side, oil and gas leases are planned for the North Aleutian Basin. I’d love to have something insightful to say about the issues swirling through my brain as we travel through this region. But in the course of walking through so many places, meeting people with so many different perspectives, we’ve become even more wary of having opinions without knowing all the facts.
Is a road through a wildlife refuge an unacceptable impact on the bird habitat and an unacceptable compromise to the intent of the congressional designation of the refuge? Or is it unreasonable not to compromise in the interest of economic opportunity and safety for a village? And if big airport-access is a “need”, do we have an obligation to provide it for the rest of rural Alaska?
Can oil spills be avoided in an ocean of difficult weather and shifting sea ice? If a spill happened, would it be possible to contain that spill before it affected the shallow muddy coast and rich waters that provide critical habitat for fish and birds? In terms of economics and politics, what affects will Bering Sea oil and gas have on our future of climate change and resource shortages?
erin goes on to conclude, "I’d like to know all the answers. Maybe soon, we’ll have time to learn a little more."
Of all the things that these young peoples' journey has taught me, the simple fact that two bright, energetic, somewhat idealist, very fit - but not incredibly athletic - people can undertake an almost unheard of journey, learn from it, share it with others along the way and on the web, and not get carried away in describing with certitude what this means to them and to us, means the most to me right now.
I'm humbled by their modesty.
image of the Pavlof volcanoes by erin
image of erin contemplating a glass fishing float by hig