Denali - The Inner Journey (Day 7)
(photo: first picture I took before starting my 7 days expedition)
Denali National Park
September 11th 2017
The night got really cold yesterday. Even my 0°F sleeping bag couldn't save me from the glacial winds that blew down the valley that night. Every time I woke up, I could hear the snow sliding along the tent's tarp. I could feel from the inside of my shelter the wetness that was now covering all things. Then, I would switch position from lying on my side to lying on my back before I felt uncomfortable and switched again and again, indefinitely. My cold feet at the bottom of my sleeping bag were touching the tent's tarp to allow enough space for the most valuable pieces of my equipment to be stored at the top end of the tent. The one-person expedition tent had become an oppressing cage. I wasn't in the mood of reading, nor in the mood of writing, nor in the mood of sleeping, I just wanted to escape. But, eventually, the night passed.
I woke up early, equally fresh and bored of having spent more than 24 hours inside a tent. Outside, the blizzard was raging, stronger than ever. The tempest hadn't calmed down. Instead, it had intensified. Gusts of wet snow passed the baton to rain in what seemed like a never-ending relay race. I wish I could capture it, film it or at least take a quick picture of it. But all electronics were dead. I was the only one to have fully recharged its battery. And I wasn't so excited about the idea of spending another day inside the tent. Suddenly, I remembered the movie I had to watch at the ranger station, they warned us against the rain in this season sometimes going on for weeks without interruption. As soon as this thought finished its voyage across my unconscious and conscious brain, I knew I had to move on. And I had to move now.
My shoes were soaked so I decided to take the risk to use my stove inside the tent. In the entrance, I used a pan to cover the stove, direct the heat towards the shoes and prevent it to reach the fabric – which would be catastrophic. I thought that starting with warm feet could raise my morale, at least in the beginning. But the experiment was a total failure so I gave up and wore them wet. I went out of the tent and started packing as fast as possible in the tempest of winds and wet snow smacking me from all sides. The tour group of Americans on the other side of the valley were still there. I could barely distinguish their six or seven colorful tents through the whiteout. They probably decided to stay put. Last to pack up was my tent. My hands froze at the touch of the metallic frame. Fortunately, I had been smart enough to warm up my gloves against my body under my fleece. Cursing everything and nothing in particular, I hurried and put on the warm gloves as soon as I could. Then, I took all my equipment and walked energetically to warm my whole body up. As I started to walk, I was surprised to note that my entire body and feet were keeping warm and that only my hands got cold. My hands were hurting from the biting cold and this was due to the fact that I couldn't keep my gloves dry in this blizzard.
I had about 15 miles to walk (24 km). And rivers to cross. I just kept walking for hours. Stopping would mean getting cold so I decided to keep moving. I walked for what felt like an eternity. The wind incessantly slapping me in the face with wet snowflakes or raindrops. I crossed the river a couple of times, water at knee's height, wet shoes couldn't get more soaked anyway. Snow became rain and rain made way for a short respite before it started again. Then I reached the vast openness at the foot of Mt Eielson Visitors Center. I was exhausted. I could see the building up the cliff but I had no idea how to climb up there. After a few trial and error, I eventually found the path and summoned the last bits of my energy to climb it.
When I reached the top, I crawled to the first green bus I saw. The driver was reluctant to let me in at first and I was too disoriented to understand why. So I insisted and he finally let me penetrate into the warmness. The reason why he didn't want to let me in was that I was mistaking a shuttle bus for a camper bus. I wrongly thought that all green buses were camper buses. In short, what it meant is that I had just stepped into a narrated tour bus. And all the people inside that bus where tourists who had no plans of hiking whatsoever but decided to take a bus to watch the landscape through the window and listen to a driver telling them stories about the park and stopping every 500 meters to take pictures.
As soon as I entered the bus, I felt something really strange. Well, to be fair, first I noticed that I was dripping liters of water on the floor as well as on every dry person sitting in the bus and that maybe that was also part of the reason why everyone was looking at me in such a suspicious way. But then, I felt it. I had crossed an invisible wall between two worlds. I was back in civilization. All of a sudden, I had passed from total wilderness solitude to a humanly crowded shuttle bus. And immediately, I subconsciously knew that with the world of men comes their rules, value system and practices. And suddenly, I felt like I had done nothing. All of this I felt it in the same exact moment when I put the first step in the corridor of the bus and that I saw all the faces turned toward me. Their facial expressions didn't express anything that could be translated with words but they spoke the language of the soul. All I did, all I had lived in the last seven days, all that felt immeasurably great suddenly became small and worthless.
I was back in the civilized world. And in the civilized world, we don't cross tundras, rivers or mountains while sleeping in tents and carrying our own food. I realized that I knew this feeling already. I had had it when I returned home after having crossed Asia overland in 2014. I couldn't share what I had lived, couldn't express it in a way that would let me communicate it without deteriorating it. People wouldn't be able to connect to it. It didn't serve any practical purpose. It just felt the exact same way. Once immeasurably great it had become small, insignificant. Maybe that's why I write about it. But even that is an arduous task.