A man spent six months completely alone in the wilderness, and while he didn’t discover anything earth shattering, his story reveals a powerful insight.
Norwegian Kristoffer Glestad, a 26-year old man with an explorer’s heart, had always wanted to try his hand at living alone in the wilderness. Isn’t that the dream that many of us outdoorsmen have, to spend time living close to the earth, fending for ourselves, away from civilization?
Well, Glestad did it. And after his evacuation he reflected,
“The dream was to go out to Canada. Live off the land. Fish and see the nature. I know it sounds strange, but it was my kind of dream. Just living out there.”
While Glestad was an engineering student in Norway, he began planning for the adventure. “The more I did research,” he said, “I thought to myself: I had to do this.”
But the dream began long before that, when Glestad was a boy who idolized Norwegian explorers like Helge Ingstad, the early- to mid-20th century trapper, explorer, and author (Ingstad wrote, among other books, The Land of Feast and Famine, published in 1933, about his adventures in Canada’s Northwest Territories).
Glestad’s quest began with two companions, but ultimately only he took the step from civilization into the wild. He followed the footsteps of his hero, Ingstad, and chose Canada’s Northwest Territories. He enlisted the help of bush pilot Travis Wright, of North-Wright Airways out of Norman Wells, to take him deep into the bush.
Wright flew Glestad and his 330 pounds of supplies to an unnamed lake between Tsiigehtchic and Fort Good Hope. Wright admitted that he felt some trepidation concerning Glestad’s mission.
“‘What is this guy doing?’ was basically going through my mind.” said Wright. “It was a really weird feeling, dropping a guy off with a one-way ticket.”
“I shook Kris’s hand and more or less said ‘Good luck to you.’ I was hoping this wasn’t the last time I would see him.”
Glestad’s gear included an axe, rifle, saw, tent, and rations. He built a raft to ferry himself and his gear to a better campsite, and away from the hordes of mosquitoes. “Live simple. That was the plan,” he said.
He built a log cabin from spruce trees with sod for the roof, using his axe, saw, a hand-hewn mallet and no nails. It was not unlike another 20th century adventurer, Dick Proenneke, who lived off the land in the Alaskan bush for some 30 years.
In order to deal with the isolation and culture shock of leaving civilization Glestad tried to keep himself busy chopping wood, fishing, foraging, and even trying to sing. “I tried to sing. I can’t sing. I was too embarrassed, so I stopped,” he recalled. “I tried to talk to myself, but I felt foolish, so I told stories to myself.”
Isn’t it interesting that he would be embarrassed to sing, when no one else was around to hear him? Such is the weight of civilization upon our psyches.
“It takes time to get used to the quietness. You get so tired of thinking. You think all the time. The only entertainment is what you do yourself,” he reflected. At one point, he recalled, “It was 14 days since I said something out loud.”
But he did have a satellite phone that he used about three times a month to briefly check in with a doctor, family, and his dedicated coordinator in Norway.
Those minutes on the phone were cherished moments. The time on his phone “was like my theatre or my going to the movies,” he said. “This was the highlight of the week.”
Finally, Glestad had had enough of the loneliness, and not unlike the participants in the History channel series Alone, he called his coordinator in Norway to relay that his adventure was over. He was, however, forced to wait an additional three weeks for the small lake to freeze over with ice thick enough to support Wright and his plane.
Wright was happy to get the call to pick Glestad up. “Every time I was flying that summer. I thought about Kris,” he said.
“I landed not too far from him,” Wright said. “He looked at me with a thousand-yard stare. It was incredible for him to see me and me to see him.”
Well, Glestad did it, he followed through on his big adventure. Though not for the entire year that he had originally planned.
If he learned anything from his time in the wilderness it is that, for him, being alone for so long is not the ideal situation. “I knew I liked my family. I knew I like being with friends,” he said. “I didn’t know I cared that much. That I could long for being with those people so hard.”
“People aren’t meant to be alone, I can vouch for that.”
Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.