Call of the American Wild: A Tenderfoot's Escape to Alaska

Call of the American Wild: A Tenderfoot's Escape to Alaska

by Guy Grieve

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Overview

A man, an axe, and a dog named Fuzzy . . . let the adventure beginTrapped in a job he hated and up to his neck in debt, Guy Grieve’s life was going nowhere. But with a stroke of luck, his dream of escaping it all to live in remote Alaska suddenly came true. Miles from the nearest human being and armed with only the most basic equipment, Guy built a log cabin from scratch and began carving a life for himself through fishing, hunting, and diligently avoiding bears. Packed with adventure, humor, and insight, this is the gripping story of an ordinary man learning the ways of the wild. 25 color photographs 25 color photographs

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781634502931
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 756,792
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Guy Grieve was born in 1973 in South Africa. Half Italian and half Scottish, his childhood was spread across three continents. In between writing, he also earns his living as a dive-fisherman for King Scallops, working from an open boat all year-round in the remote North Atlantic. His island home is called the Isle of Mull and is located in the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Northwest Scotland, where he lives with his wife and two young sons.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

UNDERCOVER DREAMER

A laconic, world-weary but nevertheless warm voice answers the phone. 'Scotsman editor's office, Sonja speaking. Can I help you?'

I stutter into action like a rusty outboard on a wet day. 'Ah yes, um ... could I possibly speak to Iain? This is Guy from downstairs.' I hope that my cunning tactic of referring to the editor by his first name will get me past the gate-keeper, but she's an old hand.

A slight pause. 'Can I ask what you need from Iain?' She must be wondering what some hapless sod from the sales floor could possibly want with the editor of Scotland's oldest and most august newspaper.

'Well ... I'm just wondering if I could meet with him at some point?'

'He's really busy at the moment Guy. Can I ask what it's about?' I feel like telling her that it is about the fact that I am going stircrazy and have finally reached the point of no return. That the only way I can see of freeing myself from the trap of office life is to head for one of the loneliest and wildest places on earth, where I will be alone and far from my family with a not inconsiderable chance of dying. Instead I say, 'Well Sonja, I know this sounds odd, but can you just tell him I'm sure he will not find a meeting with me a complete waste of his time?'

She laughs. 'Guy — what are you up to?'

'Not really sure to be honest. I just have a feeling that he might be able to help me.'

'Hold on.' There is a long pause as she checks his diary. I hear phones ringing in the background and imagine what the days must look like to a hassled and hardworking man dealing with deadline after deadline, meeting after meeting. I hear rustling and Sonja is back on the phone. 'Right — come up tonight after five-thirty and wait. No guarantees, but I'm pretty sure you will be able to get a bit of time with Iain.'

I hold the phone with two hands and experience a surge of something quite foreign: hope. 'Thank you Sonja — I'll be there.'

I replace the handset and look up. My line manager is looming over my desk, fixing me with a strange look.

'Guy, how's it going with that spreadsheet you promised us?'

I furrow my eyebrows into what I hope is an efficient look, tapping a brisk staccato on my keyboard. 'I'm onto it Kris. Can I get it to you tomorrow?'

'End of play tomorrow Guy, okay?' He hovers, not convinced.

I produce a warm salute, hoping to convey positivity and a go-ahead attitude. 'Yessir!'

He walks back to his office, frowning slightly.

At the time that this conversation took place, I had been working in the commercial department of The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh for over five years. I had held a range of jobs at the newspaper, and had some success at coming up with new ways to get money into the company. In 2002, midway through my time at the paper, an indulgent managing director, who seemed as confused about my prospects as I was, decided to see if I might be capable of holding a senior position within the company. I was duly promoted from my position as a lowly sales executive to the grand title of 'Head of Strategic Marketing', and given my own neat little office on the top floor of the building where all the senior executives lurked. For a short period I found myself quite excited about the whole thing, and began to feel that maybe this was the start of something. For weeks I plotted and planned and felt very professional and senior in my new position at the top of the building. I would swivel about in my chair, tap away ostentatiously at my computer and spend inordinate amounts of time drawing complex diagrams in order to illustrate my groundbreaking new approaches. Sadly no-one was able to understand any of these diagrams, as my writing was and remains appalling. Nevertheless there were regular meetings held in my office, and I felt proud to offer people coffee and biscuits as they settled themselves around the faux mahogany meeting table.

As the weeks turned into months the patient and very senior people who held offices on the top floor waited to see what the new lad was going to come up with. Although 'confidential', word had got out that I was planning to launch a new reader loyalty scheme based on subscribing to a gardening club. Having somehow convinced my senior management of the benefits of this scheme, I flung myself into it with gusto. In exchange for subscribing to The Scotsman, the gardening club would offer discounts at a range of horticultural retailers, and as an irresistible inducement I planned to offer every signed-up member a free porcelain 'digging dog' with a wind-activated wagging tail.

Each evening I drove home from the office with my head full of readers' incentives and digging dogs, gradually unwinding as I left the city behind me and approached our home in the Scottish Borders. My daily commute added up to a three-hour round trip, but it seemed worth it to live in the country, and to maintain at least the illusion of free choice in our lives. I arrived home just in time to read our two-year-old son, Oscar, a story before he fell away into sleep. Then Juliet and I would cram down a late supper and try hard to feel young and happy and full of life. The next morning I would get up early, slipping out of bed and dressing on tiptoes as my family slept, knowing that they would wake up without me and be half way through their cereals whilst I was still on the road.

The reader promotion launched and was an instant and colourful flop. My office was no longer the stage for a brilliant young protégé on his first step up the dizzying ladder to corporate stardom; instead it became a store-room for over one thousand boxes marked 'Digging Dog'. My management still clearly saw some benefit in having me around, and shuttled me as unobtrusively as possible back downstairs to the sales floor. From there, I began to dream of escape.

Juliet was shortly due to give birth to our second child, and our mortgage and credit card debt was crippling us. I knew we were not alone — almost all of our friends were in the same situation or worse — but I couldn't accept this was the way we were meant to live. It seemed as though all our pleasures and achievements were propped up on debt, and this debt gave me no choice but to continue my increasingly mournful journey through the corridors of cubicle hell. I was in the prime of my life, yet spending eight hours of each day sitting down in an air-conditioned office, staring into a computer screen. Three further hours each day were spent sitting in my car. I felt trapped, and I was starting to panic.

During my lunch breaks I would visit the health club across the road, and eschewing the rows of machine-tanned perfection jogging in front of their floor-to-ceiling mirrors, set off around Arthur's Seat on a daily five-mile run. Offering an escape from the piped music and egos, including my own, this run was starting to save my soul. I began to smell the seasons as well as see them. I felt pain on the steep sections and cold when the rain and wind numbed my legs and face, and it felt good. Amidst the trivia of daily office life, the run was offering me the chance to reconnect both with my own body and with the outdoors, and it was triggering a rebellion within me. At first whimsically, but then with increasing seriousness, I began to yearn for a wild place, and a way of living that rejected all the trappings of suburban life. No brands, no suppliers, no offices, no company cars or on-target earnings — just trees and space and a chance to rediscover what it is to be a man, as well as a new road to some kind of freedom for my family. As I sat in my car, at my desk, ran in my lunch breaks and sat some more, all I thought about was how to escape, and where.

At home, my wife tried hard to understand what this yearning was about. She also had concerns about our lifestyle, and the fact that despite our company car and nice house we really owned nothing and were simply treading water, detached from all that the world might offer us. Our quality of life as a family was suffering from this way of life — my long hours of work and commuting meant that she was alone for most of the week and was virtually raising the children single-handed. Juliet felt deeply worried about my growing despair, but was understandably anxious at the prospect of my turning my back on my career with nothing else to go to. She was also frustrated at my lack of ability to be happy with what, compared to many people, was a very fortunate life. A nice house, one healthy son and another on the way, a good job — what more did I want? Yet inside she knew that it was not enough for either of us, and that it could only be a matter of time before it all came tumbling down.

Over the next year, from 2003 to 2004, I spent every spare moment at home and at work researching possible places that I might go. Long evenings were spent on the computer, contacting people on the other side of the world who might be able to help me. Early on Alaska emerged as the top contender, as one of the world's last great wildernesses, with an area of 1,477,270 square miles and a population of just 600,000. The far north had long been one of the landmarks of my imagination, given shape by Jack London and the poetry of Robert Service. Through the internet and books I learned more about Alaska, and encountered people who lived there or knew it well. From the confines of my office, I began to discover a vast and wild land, a place where fortunes had been won or lost and where, to this day, few people dared to travel alone. I read lurid accounts of bear attacks and journeys across creaking ice, and of a searing cold that turned men's faces white with frost as they battled with dog teams or toiled to build small cabins before the onslaught of winter. Sometimes the stories of Alaska were simple and stark, object lessons that followed a man or woman as they gradually succumbed to the elements. At other times I would read amazing accounts of journeys by moonlight across glittering expanses of ice and snow, of camp roughly made in the bend of a river, and of watching wood smoke curl into a clear sky while king salmon seared on iron and coffee boiled over charcoal. My heart skipped as I read of the loners who survived and learnt the way of the land, reading the sky and stars and living carefully in the shade of the boreal woods. These men were invariably prospectors or trappers, and many became as adept as the native Alaskans at fending for themselves in the bush, often even surpassing them in their ability to endure great hardship. Some thrived and found their fortunes in those woods, and others lost their minds and lives.

During my journeys on the internet I made contact with an Athabascan Indian woman who worked at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks1. At first she was cautious, believing understandably, that she might be dealing with a maniac, and asked me to send her character references to prove that I was genuine. I did this — to the great surprise of my referees, when they realised what they were referring me for — and she put me in touch with her brother, Charlie. He lived with his family in a small village in the Interior of Alaska on the Yukon river, and made his way by fishing and working as a carpenter. This was the right area of Alaska — wooded, and very sparsely populated — and he was willing to be my local contact. Now I only had one major obstacle to making my dream a reality: money.

Without a trust fund behind me, short of re-mortgaging the house (half-jokingly suggested at one point, but Juliet firmly put her foot down) I had to find a source of funding. Juliet had left her job shortly before the birth of our second son, Luke, in May 2003, and so for the time being responsibility for the family's financial security rested firmly on me. With no intention of leaving my family adrift and penniless, I grimly steeled myself for the difficult task ahead. Reminding myself that I was not alone in the need for sponsorship (from Columbus to Shackleton, throughout history expeditions have required commercial support), I put together some letters about my adventure and sent them out to potential sponsors. The reactions of the people I approached ranged from enthusiasm (though usually followed with a regretful shake of the head) to incredulity and outright derision.

By early 2004 most of my potential sources of funding had come to nothing, and only one or two outside possibilities remained. I desperately searched for other solutions. Time was getting short, and I felt instinctively that if I couldn't pull it off this year it would never happen. I also knew that my days were numbered at work, and that the grim spectre of redundancy was lurking in the shadows.

CHAPTER 2

ODDBALL MEETS EDITOR

At 5.30 pm I returned to the editor's office. 'Take a seat, Guy', Sonja smiled wearily. 'I'll just see if Iain is free.'

She replaced the handset and raised an eyebrow. 'Well, he's got five minutes. Off you go', and she pointed to the door of his office.

I walked towards the door feeling sick with worry, wondering if I was making a fatal mistake. I was aware that now, for the first time, I was going to let my idea out into the public domain — or more precisely, into the small and very gossipy world of The Scotsman newspaper.

Inside, Iain raised a hand to indicate a chair for me whilst holding a phone between chin and shoulder. I immediately liked the intonation of his voice and the look of his shabby desk, which held a mountain of papers, cigarette boxes and books. Behind him an old bookcase stood beautifully askew with a half-drunk bottle of whisky lying on its side on the edge of one of the shelves. A painting of Edinburgh's North Bridge hung on the wall beside the door and it too was off centre. To my right, large sliding doors opened out onto a balcony and a metal balustrade made of steel stanchions and tight wire. The whole effect was of chaotic movement and Iain Martin resembled a young captain at sea in a storm. Suddenly his call was at an end. Raising a finger in apology he tapped into his computer, then swivelled around to look at me.

'Guy — what can I do for you?'

I mustered all of my energy and tried to think clearly. 'Right, um, okay. Now this might sound odd ...'

'I am not faint-hearted.' He smiled: 'Try me.'

I brought my fingers together and took the leap. 'Iain — I think I am losing my mind.'

He laughed. 'So?'

'I have to change my life — I've had a searing vision of the future and I don't like it.' I heard myself and thought of Billy Graham, imagining that the editor must be starting to worry about whether security were still in the building. Yet he was still looking at me seriously.

'I am sorry to confront you with this — you must be busy, but, well, I am not sure what I want to ask you except that ...'

'Guy, don't waffle. What is it?'

I stood up and leaned over his desk like a clichéd character in a B-movie. 'I'm going to leave my job and go to Alaska to build a cabin in the wilderness. Then I'm going to live in it through the winter.'

He blinked and opened his mouth. Just then the phone rang, but he pushed a red flashing button and there was silence apart from the muted sounds of the newsroom outside.

'What?'

'I can't live my life sitting down any more. I have to go.' I sat down again.

'What about your kids — you do have a family, don't you?' He leaned back in his chair and looked hard at me.

'Yes I do.'

'Well?'

'My wife knows that I have to do this — she supports me. And we can't carry on living as we are — hopefully this will change our lives somehow. Nothing belongs to us, our debt is crippling and I hardly see my family anyway ...' I opened my hands. 'Sorry — I'm going on a bit.'

He stood up and walked to the glass door, sliding it open. 'Do you smoke, Guy?'

I told him that tonight I would make an exception, and accepted a cigarette.

Standing on the balcony we looked down at the dark wet streets, watching the rush hour traffic circle Arthur's Seat. I felt elated. There was now no reason for nerves or tension — my boats had started to burn and I was enjoying the smell of fire. Iain put out his cigarette, then walked back to his desk.

'Build a cabin you say?'

'Yes.'

'Where in Alaska?'

'The Interior, on the Yukon river.'

'Have you done this sort of thing before?'

'No,' I admitted, managing to force a smile. 'I have done a bit of shooting for the pot, so I'm not too worried about feeding myself. I'm not experienced at building, but I spent a few months working as a labourer, so I know I can work ...'

He interrupted: 'Have you got a team of people to help you?'

'No.'

He leaned back and looked at the smoke-yellowed ceiling. 'Will you be on your own out there?'

'Yes.'

'What if something goes wrong — if you get hurt. Will you be able to get help?'

I tried to look dependable but failed, and raised my hands in surrender.

'I will be on my own. I can't really say any more than that.'

He chuckled, shaking his head, and my nerves came back in a rush. He thinks I'm insane, I thought. Soon the managing director will know and the axe will fall.

'Why have you come to me about this Guy?'

'I need to earn some money while I'm away, and wondered if I could write a column for you.'

He sat in silence again. 'That Foreign Legion piece you wrote was all right I suppose ...' He tapped a pencil on the table, then placed the end in his mouth and fixed me with a hard look. 'It's a good story. Okay, I'll take a weekly column from you if you can pull it off. You don't seem like a bullshitter, although God knows what's going to happen to you.'

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Call of the American Wild"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Guy Grieve.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Part 1 1

1 Undercover Dreamer 3

2 Oddball Meets Editor 10

3 The Dream Becomes a Plan 15

4 The Numb Days 18

Part 2 21

5 Alaska Arrival 23

6 Up the Yukon Without a Paddle 30

7 Little Village on the River 41

8 Old Man Yukon 51

9 The Time Is Coming 62

10 Into the Great Silence 68

11 First Camp 77

12 A Fool in the Forest 89

13 The Green Coal-Face 96

14 Huckleberry Days 107

15 A Gentleman of the Old School 119

16 The Floor Then Nothing 133

17 The Sorrowful Business of Felling Trees 139

18 When Black Bears Look Like Men 148

19 Saddle Notch Sore 160

20 The Athabascan Charles Bronson 169

Part 3 181

21 The Tenderfoot's Cabin Is His Castle 183

22 The Winter's Tale 189

23 Tracks, Trees And Animal Tanks 194

24 Doyon 201

25 The Great Alaskan Potato Famine 206

Part 4 213

26 Poetry and Film 215

27 Going Bushy 221

28 Mr Kurtz, We Presume? 226

29 Going to the Dogs 233

30 Lifting The Snow Anchor 244

31 An Arctic Kneecapping 252

32 The Solo Mush 256

33 Christmas at the Golden Cabin 262

34 Overflow 271

35 Athabascan Temptation 279

36 Bradley Scotton and His Magnificent Flying Machine 284

37 Bringing Them Pant-Sniffers Home 290

38 Wolf Mantra and Legend 297

39 Settling In 304

40 Carry on up the Yukon 310

Part 5 317

41 First Catch Your Beaver 319

42 Pity the Little Things 326

43 My Winter Kingdom Melts 335

44 Thin Ice and the Death of a She-Wolf 342

45 Bear Boards 350

46 Well Hello - To the Man in the Dress 354

47 I Shall Be Telling This with a Sigh 359

Epilogue 367

Author's Notes 369

Acknowledgements 380

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