Sunday, November 1, 2015

Every Trail Has A Story

Every Trail Has a Story: Heritage Travel In Canada, by Bob Henderson.  Pub by Natural Heritage Books, Toronto, 2005, 242 pp plus notes and index.

The author and I share one thing in common.  It is the sense that it is not enough just to paddle a river or lake and marvel at the scenery and wildlife, but to seek greater enrichment by finding the feeling of the place, the history of those that have paddled there before, the stories of their lives and experiences that give the best flavor of the locale.  The author recounts the stories he has discovered, and the places he has specifically sought out because of stories he has heard. 

Henderson tells of special, spiritual places like Indian Stone, Warrior Rock, and Sweetgrass Butte that have had personal connections not just with whites, but for First Nations Blackfoot, Ojibwe, and Nez Perce people for thousands of years.  Their personal connections to these places are reflected in the petroglyphs.  He tells of swimming in the clear water off old fur-trading posts and finding pieces of old clay pipes left by the Voyageurs.  He gives you direct insight into the lives of fur-traders, like the baptisms celebrated by those making their first cross-country trips. 

You get insight into the lives and desperation of the gold-rushers.  For example, prospectors were required to carry a ton of supplies into the Yukon to they wouldn’t be looking to others to rescue them.  One man carried his load across the nearly 4,000-foot high Chilkoot Stampeder Gold Rush Trail.  When he reached the river, he built a boat to carry his gear into the prospecting area.  His boat was wrecked in a rapids and all his supplies were lost.  It took months to hike back over the same trail to the Pacific Coast, reprovision with another ton of equipment and food, and carry it back to the Yukon River and build another boat.  Pushing off into the river with determination, he started down the river and wrecked the second boat in the same rapids, again losing everything.  He pulled himself up on the river bank and committed suicide on the very spot that had twice defeated him.  Few of these men prospered.  Eighty-thousand of them crossed the mountains in two years.  Some failed and returned home.  Others moved to try new areas.  Some moved on to Alaska, and some became so entwined with the land they never returned home.  One, who entered the gold rush as a young man, remained until his death at the age of 88.  They would travel 300 miles on a sled to get groceries, or nearly the same distance a couple times a year to get mail.  So much took place there that Mark Twain wrote, “How wearing to have to read one hundred pages of history every three or four miles.”

He adds accounts of trips on skis, pack horse, and dogsled, of winter camping, a series on interesting women that have blazed trails across Canada and Labrador, and explores the fascinating world of the hermit or recluse.  It is an interesting book, and reflects the author’s excitement in exploring the wilderness.

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