Not Going Back

H in Braeburn Lodge – “Get me one of those cinnamon buns!”

“It (The Yukon Quest) is like Hotel California. You can check out but never leave. Something keeps drawing you back. How can I possibly say I won’t be back next year?  Yet somehow I must. Somehow I must.” 

“The Hard Miles Home” –– 3rdMarch 2018

Just about three years ago I started this blog site in excited anticipation of my first trip to the Yukon. I  started writing this post on 5th January 2019. That first post on this site was actually 5th January 2016.

That post back then was about buying equipment, one of the many pleasures of preparing for a Yukon Quest trip. Subsequent ones focussed on the traveling, packing and then eventually the shock of the first few days on the trail. Since then there have been 45 of these blog posts plus additional pages on the site. Some of them were reflective, some just factual reporting.  I have always enjoyed writing them but I have never ceased to be amazed that people have actually been interested enough to read them. The other interesting observation I have is that in both 2017 and 2018 I have written a short blog to say “I’m coming back”.

Sadly, for me at least, in 2019 there isn’t an “I’m coming back” blog. 

I have tried all sorts of thing to make this process easier for myself. I told everyone (and myself) last year that I wouldn’t be back in 2019. But it didn’t work. 

I tried to hang on to all the dark, sleep deprived and loneliest moments of last year’s trip to convince myself that I would be better off staying at home. All that happened there was I remembered a very cold night in Dawson but that just reminded me of a stunning aurora and a wonderful night with the dogs, so that was just counter-productive.

I even tried being grumpy about the whole thing to convince myself that I really didn’t want to go this year. I say “I tried”, I’m an expert at being grumpy so I didn’t have to try too hard! However that didn’t work either.

When Rob was in the UK on his whistle stop, gin drinking, puppy visiting, bacon eating and occasional public speaking tour in August I even discussed with him the possibility of going for just the start, or just the finish. Yet every time I did that though it ended up with the thought that if you go for part of the race you may as well stay for the whole thing.

Trying to look intelligent at the presentation in Ashton under Hill – Photo by Craig Frost

Yet there are a many reasons why I really cannot get there this year so trying to create false barriers is pointless, other than for entertainment purposes. Yet be under no illusion, not going in 2019 is really hard. It’s hard because I miss seeing and being around the dogs. It’s hard because I miss that one chance I have each year of seeing the group of Yukoners and Alaskans that I have come to consider as friends. Of course most of all it’s hard because I miss the opportunity to share this great experience with my brother. It’s never an easy journey but it’s always memorable.

In 2016 I used Terry Pratchett as my roadmap to structure these blogs. You can always find wisdom in Sir Terry’s books:

The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues. — Sir Terry PratchettMoving Pictures

I had originally intended that my first Yukon Quest would be 2015 but circumstances conspired against that happening, or perhaps I just wasn’t ready for the experience. By the time I’d started to think of coming in 2016 my world had become a very different place and it was far easier for me to jump on a plane and spend four weeks learning a completely new way of life.

I thought that was a hard decision to make back then. I had to book myself an air ticket to make myself commit. Yet this is a far more difficult decision not to go, not least because I know what I’m missing. The good times and the tough times. 

When I travelled out in 2016 I was the cusp of a change in career direction. It was a point when a 20 year period of my life was coming to an end. I had no idea at that point what was going to happen next. It helped to make The Yukon special for me that year. As I have said in at least one of these blogs I could easily have stayed in the Yukon at the end of the 2016 Quest but that decision wasn’t mine alone. 

Posing with Rob’s Quest Guest, the Italian Mayor. Photo by Whitney McLaren

Yet this is how profound the impact was on me.

Not going in 2019 is going to be different and even more difficult. I don’t think I am any more prepared for it than I was for turning up in Fairbanks on 3rdFebruary 2016. As Rob gets in to each checkpoint memories will come flooding back. I’ll probably be even more difficult to live with than I am normally.

I will try not to go on about it too much more but it is going to be very, very tough.

Lens envy at Mile 101 in 2017 : Photo by Julien Schroder

However I will be on here and I will, no doubt, have something to say one way or another. 

Here’s to Yukon Quest 2019. Good luck Louise, James, Chris, Carlos, Rob and whichever 14 dogs set out from Whitehorse with him on 2nd February. I’ll be watching, just from long distance.  

I certainly hope this isn’t the end of my Yukon Quest experience, but it is a a small pause. Back to one of my favourite Pratchett quotes to finish:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 
― Sir Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

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