The Last Frontier Buddha
Awoken by a frozen kiss once again. The crisp air bites the only flesh peering out from my down-filled cocoon as I slowly climb into consciousness. All senses and perceptions begin creeping back into reality: the wind pattering like a thousand anxious hands, hungry to penetrate the marine-grade cotton tent walls; the musty-smoke odour of burnt firewood, and the blinding bright whiteout that can only be created by ferocious winter storms.
But that smell . . . panic pushes in as I realize that the tent is completely full of smoke. Still half mummified in my bed I crawl towards the exit, anxiety building as the sleeping bag zipper jams and catches even more material with every frantic tug. I find momentary relief by tearing open the tent door. This allows the smoke to leave but creates a clean entrance for an unwelcome guest — the blizzard. It’s 4:30 a.m. on day four and we haven’t even left basecamp….
Alaska. It’s our first time to the Holy Land of big mountain riding — fellow rider Claudia Avon, photographer Erin Hogue, myself, and our filmer Bruce Johnson. Talon Gilis had already been in AK for a month, so he joined our crew to become a guide, photographer, fellow rider and explorer. We later find out he’s been holding in a herniated stomach muscle with a wooden block and tensor bandage– Alaska is not for the not-tough. We came to snowboard and capture it all on film for our passion project, but instead we are currently attending to our most recent of many near death avoidances — smoke inhalation.
The hazards of Alaska began long before we ever touched snow. We had already narrowly missed redecorating the truck with a moose through the windshield on the 2,358-kilometre road trek from Whistler to Haines. We’d also failed to bring the back-up supply of diesel necessary for the long stretches of Alaskan highway that have no gas stations. Then there was the time we lost an entire hub and tire from the trailer, and the other time when we lost each other one night in Haines because rich Californians kept ringing the “free drink” bell.
Shit happens when you travel, we aren’t novice to that fact. But after an entire season of hustling for snow, to journey to the promised land only to end up tent-bound for 96 hours straight as smoke and blizzard battle for dominance of our living space… we are all starting to feel defeated. Struggling to MacGuyver the chimney repairs with duct tape and a shovel blade whilst battling Mother Nature’s arctic gusts of laughter stretches our patience thinner than a fruit roll-up. My yogic mindset and practice on how to be present, dismiss expectations and surrender to the outcome begin to drift away with the fleeting smoke. A warm welcome to The Last Frontier, with a bitter spoonful of medicine.
But we fix the chimney and as the storms rage on we do what we can to suffocate impatience and even find a semblance of contentment somewhere, (maybe next to the half-eaten raw chicken a fox has left for us). Confined, we turn to strumming the guitar, reading about fear, and watching Entourage marathons or Jeremy Jones movies on repeat thanks to the truck converter. We take blizzard walks with neighbouring aliens, (they could have been there) perform small-space yoga, chug boxed red wine, and lay down countless massacres of two-dollar bags of potato chips. And then the next thing we know, someone pokes their head out to azure skies and a blanket of frozen happiness on everything below it. Never have I ever been so excited to pee outdoors in minus 20 degrees. Go time.