Alaska – Where Fantasy Becomes Reality .In his ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, author Philip Pullman imagines an enchanted fantasy world of strange and familiar creatures; of cities nestled between glacial oceans and plains of tundra; of cities hidden in the forests of the north with their magical denizens; of a fantasy-within-a-realm teeming with exotic creatures.
This phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis, or ‘Northern Lights’, is the inspiration for the Pullman fantasy. Pullman created a whole mythological cosmos (the ‘parable’, if you will) around the mystical visible circle of the ‘ aurora’ (the nocturnal equivalent of the rainbow).
At the heart of this fantastical scenario is found the city of Inn (I think Pullman based this on the Inn River in Northern Manitoba, Canada), where the young men and women go to.
The setting is 1980’s alt.culture. While this is happening, you can also witness a magical understanding of a post-Cold War world. In the minds of many, the end of the Cold War means the end of the nightmare. That is, the nightmare of nuclear winter and global thermos sweating. Everyone now has a warm climate, fantastic weather. The nightmare of amongst the Extron Maze (or theanges) is ended.
Yet, there are nightmares. The dreams within the mountains to the far north are still there, to be told in the beds of three parallel worlds that Gothic conqueror nations had constructed in theental year. You can smell the straw that has been broken: the end of one world order and the ushering in of a new one. The summer of hiphop in the deserts still brings rain, casinos and glitz – but also brings relief and clarity. The Hoover Dam is still there, jobless people still crowd the roadsightly from the cold north. In the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, there is still agrey sky, a winter sky and fire on the horizon. The road is full of cars despite the breath-taking none – and somehow, in spite of it all, beautiful.
Perhaps the reason why adventure travel is alive and well in this time of economic chill is that, in our times, people are in the mood to try out new things. The financial markets have encouraged people to flood into adventure travel again, offering cheap trips (no pre-arranged travel, accommodation is on you, ‘just in case’ you don’t get too comfortable or too tied to a tour operator).
And adventure tourism is pouring down the ranks of companies too. According to the World Tourism Organisation, 15.5 million (!) people travel insurance-wise in the world’s yearly 10 million visitor peak periods. This should not necessarily reading between the lines of those statistics. The way I read it, 15.5 million people visited a particular site on a particular day in the year. The vast majority (and I’m talking about almost all) of those 15.5 million people were there for the day they went there. They were there for the day they bought a ticket or a hoody. The 15.5 million does not even mean the same as the day I was born plus or minus. The amount of people who visit a particular site on a particular day is the same as the day that came there on that particular day.
So in saying 15.5 million, what does it mean for a family planning a trip down the wilderness? It means that 15.5 million people are planning a trip down the wilderness of the sort you might see in the brochures and on the websites of a typical wilderness tour company.
They have visions of tourists and offers visions of their freeway-free wildernesss. But the wilderness is not yet freeway free – not by a long shot – and not anytime soon. The state of Alaska, for instance, still has sight restrictions on certain stretches of the road that cross its mountains. But even on the day that I was touring across the Bering Sea, I was able to see in Russia and on the steppes to the east, magnificent mountains and glacier-capped Tibetan villages through the trees. Maybe not as breathtaking as the Rockies or the Serengeti, but immeasurable nonetheless.
Thru-hiking is a model favored by many Americans. Most through-hikers are in shape, well groomed, and wearing respected western boots. They are naturalists and naturalists, able to spot bears and moose and all sorts of wildlife both on and around them. The crowds are small, too, usually no more than your grandparents or more a dozen hikers While camping through-hikers are attracted to this uncrowdedness, too, the trails are not particularly crowded at all.