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Lost and Found In Alaska

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 17, 2023 3:03 am

Lost and Found In Alaska

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 17, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Kent Nerburn, author of Letters To My Son...shares the story of a harrowing journey into Alaska, and the lessons he learned along the way.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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Send them to for some of our favorites. Up next, a story from Kent Nurburn, author of Letters to My Son, a father's wisdom on manhood, life, and love. Today, Kent shares with us the story of an unforgettable trip he took into Alaska as a young man.

Take it away, Kent. The snow had been falling steadily since morning. As we reached the last checkpoint, it was coming down in blinding sheets. Ahead of us, the Brooks Range loomed like a great black wall shrouded in fog and mist and whirling torrents of snow. It's snowing like hell up there, the man at the checkpoint, Hutt said.

He cradled his rifle in his arm. We'll be shutting her down for the winter any day now. I looked at the narrow gravel roadway stretching off from the checkpoint into the fog. Maybe it was passable, maybe not. This roadbed had been hastily carved out for the construction crews that built the Alaska pipeline between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. It was nothing more than a hogback of gravel that cut a forlorn line across the jagged landscape of the Alaska wilderness. Makeshift white crosses had been pounded into the roadbed where tanker drivers had lost control of their rigs and had plunged to their deaths. Now we were standing at Disaster Creek, the last stopping point before the Brooks Range and the tundra. After the heavy crags of the Brooks, there was no human habitation for 150 miles until the scattered trailers and Quonset huts of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay. I walked up to a tank truck driver who had just come through the pass.

His truck was covered with ice. Can we make it? I asked. You got chains? No, I responded.

I wouldn't try it, he said. I told the others. They overruled me. We came this far. We're not turning back. Reluctantly, I climbed into the van and we started our ascent. The van slipped and fishtailed as we started up the gravel pass.

Soon we were pushing through a blinding snowstorm. We could see nothing ahead of us and the narrow road had no guardrail to the right. A truck hurtling toward us out of the whiteness, a slip of the rear wheels, and we would slide off into a precipice where our bodies couldn't even be retrieved.

Six dead, six white crosses, nothing more. The driver gunned the engine and shot forward into the dim halo of his headlights. He couldn't slow down because we might not get started again on this icy gravel. If we stopped, we could not back up because the road was too narrow and the traction too unsure. We would be stranded on a mountain pass where grizzlies roamed the rocky slopes and there were no human voices for 150 miles. Several times the driver almost missed a curve and the wheels spit gravel over the edge into the snowy darkness as he jerked us back onto the roadway.

No one said a word. We all sat listening to our heartbeats and gripping the corners of our seats. I was white with terror, convinced we were going to die. This time I told myself I had made a mistake.

This time I had gone too far. Then, abruptly, we broke through the storm. The mountains stretched out on either side of us. Ahead, far in the distance, was the greatest plane I had ever seen in my life. Like some vision of ethereal whiteness, it was so vast that you could see the curvature of the earth. We dropped from the pass toward this endless expanse.

Terror had been replaced with exhilaration. We made our way down onto this limitless land and pulled to a halt. The great mountain winds had ceased.

We stepped out into a haunting silence. The earth rolled and undulated before us like a great snow-covered sea. The sky was suffused with a perpetual twilight that made the land seem frozen in time. The scale and rhythm of the landscape was dizzying. I felt unsure of my balance, uncertain whether the next rolling valley was a hundred feet away or ten miles in the distance. Far to my right stood a mountain range that arched from one end of my vision to the other. It was like a crown upon the horizon, with snow-tipped points that disappeared into the opening sky. I could not find my bearings. The silence was so loud that it seemed celestial, the landscape so vast that boulders seemed to be pebbles.

Billows of lavender-tinged clouds floated like mountains in the glowing sky to the north. I could not tell where the earth ended and the sky began. I was in a dream world too large for my own imagining. I circled around and around, wanting to take it all in, but the scope was too great. When I had set out on my travels, I had expected to see beauty, but nothing like this. I could not claim this experience.

It could only claim me. I was no longer myself. New truths rushed in on me, like great winds. Colors I had never seen and spaces I had never felt washed over me and took me to unknown regions of my spirit. I was giddy and disoriented. My old self had been sloughed off like a false skin, and in its place stood someone new, larger, unknown to me.

I would never again be the same. This is the magic of travel, any travel. You leave your home secure in your own knowledge and identity, but as you travel, the world and all its richness intervenes. You meet people you could not invent. You see scenes you could not imagine. Your own world, which was so large as to consume your whole life, becomes smaller and smaller until it is only one tiny dot in time and space.

You return a different person. All you need to do is give yourself over to the unknown. It doesn't have to be on a vast dreamlike arctic plane. It can be on a gentle stroll through a Wisconsin forest or on a street corner in Nairobi. What matters is that you have left the comfort of the familiar and opened yourself to a world that is totally apart from your own. Slowly, the memories of the familiar recede from your mind, and you find yourself adrift in the experience of the world around you. I once wrote a traveler's blessing in one of my journals.

May you have warm shoes, a soft pillow, and dry clothes. That's all. With the closeness of those simple goodnesses, one can dream of the stars. And great job as always by Monty, and a special thanks to Kent for sharing his travel story.

And that's what it was. It was a travel story. Kent Nearborn's travel story is Alaskan wilderness story here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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