One Man Blind, One Man Sighted and they are taking on the Big River North...

One Man Blind, One Man Sighted and they are taking on the Big River North...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Imi's Final Reflections from Whitehorse

I have just undergone a defining and significant event in my life. What exhilaration to know that severe visual impairments need not have to come in way of relishing the wild and roughing it. My gratitude to Howard is immense. Let me first say a few words about Howard, before discussing my overall experience of this canoe trip.

Two strangers meeting on a lonesome road few miles out of a small town of River Falls becomes the start of a great adventure. He was willing to try out taking responsibility of a person seriously handicapped on a potentially dangerous expedition. And I had to make a decision to put my life and safety in the hands of a man whom I hardly knew, and whose river skills, canoeing experience and ability, I had not witnessed. Here I for the first time had to confront an aspect of my character, that actually was a weakness, but that I had till now believed was my strength. I wanted to always be self sufficient, self reliant, in control of my own destiny, and never in need of others, but nevertheless enjoying of other’s company. I guess I have always been somewhat a loner, though I am affable and in good terms with all around me. But now I will have to seriously depend on another human being for my safety and wellbeing. This trip has taught me that it is strength to put trust in other humans and to let oneself be beholden to our friends. It is strength to tell your fellow being: “Brother, I need your help. And without you I could never have had this great experience!” It is a testament to Howard’s generosity and adventurousness to make this daring journey with me.
And what a journey it has been!

How I relished the vast openness and wildness of Yukon! Blindness has four potentially debilitating drawbacks, and this adventure acted as a remedy to each of them:

Firstly, blindness constricts. Vision of far-reaching spaces gives one the feeling of vastness and of immensity. But in this trip I gradually built a conception of vast spaces, of openness and of immensity. In the sounds o the wind, of the many seagulls, ducks and crows, and the constant rippling of the great river I experienced vastness.

Secondly, blindness isolates. Just as eyes are a window to human souls, so also are eyes the windows to the glorious world of color and of the vast and variegated world. But in this trip I was pulled out of my own self by the sounds and sensations of wild and free nature.

Thirdly blindness can be alienating. It is difficult for a blind person to fully participate with what is happening all around him. Never have I felt so much at home as when I was camping and canoeing on the Yukon River.

Fourthly, blindness is discouraging and demoralizing. One is always conscious of the limitations imposed upon us by low vision, especially in a world so visual as ours. What inspires and encourages humans is consciousness of one’s power. I pitched my own tent, packed my own stuff, and did my share of hard canoeing. I faced the hardships, and did it well.
In summary, this trip reminded me of what I could do, and not what I was incapable of doing.

Thanks to all of you for your amazing support, I was overwhelmed.


Howard's Reflections from Whitehorse, Yukon.

From Whitehorse:

What an experience the past few weeks with Imi has been, one that way surpassed my expectations in so many dimensions…., but one that also humbled me in many ways.
I remember back to the first day on Lake Lebarge, when I realized that we really didn’t know each other, and how a huge, and how a huge amount could go wrong in the next two weeks. With the trip now behind us, I can honestly say that I can’t think of anything that went wrong, and how everything went right. There was a wonderful chemistry fit, a unique life experience diversity, yet overlap, a river skill fit, and a common outdoor adventure ethic. It may come as a shock and a surprise to many, but neither of us used an inch of toilet paper, not a milligram of soap on the trip, making us the most eco friendly expedition on the river! As testimony to our common approach, this was just the way we both chose to go, it was the natural thing to do… There were no questions asked! Our views on life and philosophy were sometimes so aligned I thought I’d found my very, unlikely, twin. (Now that’s a scary thought!) There were other times where our views clashed but even in the hours of passionate debate we never got angry, nor felt threatened, and to me Imi was a caring equal, like me enjoying the free, open and yet caring debates. Paddling time on the river was never a chore, some days we spent 8 hours paddling, and I never heard Imi ask for a break, say he was tired, or indicate he wasn’t enjoying it. The paddling was so natural to both of us, it was often the source of meditation in between the passionate debates. Somehow we were both so in tune with each other on when we wanted alone time, and when we wanted team time, this was so liberating in its naturalness. There was this serene feeling of equality, in what many would think would have been a very unequal, carer / patient type relationship.

Well, I sit here in Whitehorse, reflecting on the truly special experience of the past few weeks. A day back in civilization, walking the streets of Whitehorse and dealing with the complexities of urban life, has made me understand some of what Imi talks about in his post below. It is very humbling stuff, and has made me feel so unappreciative of my ‘normal’ life, and the options, freedom, and autonomy it provides. What would Imi, give to have those back…? But, having spent all this time with him, I realize he doesn’t look there, he looks for what he has got, and only looks for contentment within that…..
I can see how these suburban complexities, have changed his life, his sense of freedom, and oneness with nature and the outdoor environment, that we experienced on the river. Even for me, this abrupt change is always difficult to deal with, and over the past seven years I have tried to create a life where the outdoors are normal life, and the cities and ‘civilisation’ are the holidays and excursions. But the extent of this lifestyle change for me fades into significance as I see the huge, and scary day to day life challenges it poses for Imi.
There was a quantum and almost instant reduction of his mobility as we took our first steps into Dawson City. I sensed it straight away, and had it affected our relationship, we went from a sense of team oneness with nature and the environment to one where we both felt so clumsy and I had this helpless inside me, as I struggled for my own re-entry survival, but felt deeply responsible for Imi’s re-entry and loss of immobility. Imi, being the ultimate seeker of self sufficiency tried to help me not feel his pain, but it was extremely hard, and made me feel pretty sad. The city had made us lose our equality, and somehow I could see that the city not only held no value for Imi, but created negative value, yet here I was as a sighted person desiring to explore the many visual attractions it offered. I was forced to go into his world and think about what it would be like to be a blind person in a foreign town, on my own without a guide? Hmmm, that was scary, so scary in fact I tried to deny that anyone could live with that restraint. I could see that a new urban environment for someone like Imi, can quickly become a lonely dungeon, full of traps and hazards, but empty of meaning and purpose. The river provided exactly the opposite, and I was seeing the huge chasm with my own eyes and Imi’s experience in a new town, when virtually all the exploring is visual based. The value in life was limited to trusted human contact, or trying to find a sanctuary of alone peace somewhere in the city.
On the river, Imi and I had discussed for many hours the concept of an Inner Life, and how important it is that we all have an inner life, as distinct from one that depends on others, and other things. Having spent a lot of alone time myself, I understand the need and value of this Inner Life, but here in Dawson, I saw how critical it is for a blind person to have a strongly anchored, content, inner life. Imi’ shared with me that he spends a huge amount of time in his inner life, and finds huge peace, spirituality, and self actualization within it. I wonder how many of us, have this strong inner life? In my solo travels, I have met many who have openly stated their fear being alone, yet without being alone one cannot create an inner life. Modern society, and the continual striving for social interaction and belonging seems to provide so many opportunities for external distraction that allow us to avoid the need to build this inner life. As I spoke through all this with Imi, both on the river and in Dawson, I sensed that through his strong inner life, he has a deep sense of personal power that provides contentment in the seemingly vacant, black, vision less, dungeon. Many judge those who seek to be spend a lot of time alone as weirdoes or people missing something, but in my solo pursuits, and Imi’s inner life example, I wonder whether those lacking an inner life, and not desiring of time alone, rather seeking life’s distractions are actually the weirdoes and those missing something?? Being with Imi, and seeing how he deals with his disability seems to confirm the latter…….
Lastly, in adventure we were able to come together as equals, and in the inspiring, simple, and yet challenging environment Nature provided, we two, significantly different, virtual strangers were able to come together closer than most ever get, and become unlikely equal partners. Sadly, this was only possible in Nature and the wilderness though, and the challenge to extend this experience to others and to broader horizons is what I take away from Whitehorse……

Thank you for your support, we both really valued it, and hope you take away at least one small thought of value to your own lives.

Till my next adventure….see ya!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Pics from the river adventure......

A typical tranquil river scene, with a beaver swimming across the river. It wasn't always like this though....

The all too common afternoon thunderstorm on the brew....Canoe empty, tents erected, and ready for the down pour.

Howard's view most days.... Note how brown the river is here vs pic above!

A curious moose as we paddle past....

The inquisitive porcupine who in fleeing from us, escaped up this tree

First campsite at the end of Lake Lebarge. We found this useful axe, and had a great campfire!

Imi, just having completed yet another, unassited, solo tent erection! The world record time was to come later....

Our Yukon River navigation map! (Actually a cool place mat from Carmacks Hotel Restaurant!)

An example of the natural beauty of the Yukon River.

Imi standing at the edge of our smallest campsite island... There was just enough room for both our tents.

Five Fingers Rapids from the road on the drive back from Dawson. Nothing too serious as you can see.....

The Other side of the trip.... Non nature, but still natural, well for Howard!:

Behind the Bar counter, taking over Carmacks Hotel Pub.

Cool Dude enjoying a well deserved meal at the rustic, Gold Panner's Restaurant, Carmacks. This was at our only stopover.

Dawson City Sin.... Better than a "Sour Toe", whisky cocktail though!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Our Arrival in Dawson City

Just on 11am we 'crossed the finish line' here at the iconic town of Dawson City.

I say finish line, as finally the racers did catch us and there was an official finish line, timekeepers and all, but we seemed to be strange participants who stopped just before the line, and "weren't even interested in their time...!"

We had been on a different journey though....a very special 15 days that will remain etched in both of our memories forever....They had been on a sleep deprived race to get there first. Both were no doubt triumphant in their chosen challenge.

The last two days were characterized by wild weather. On Friday when we left we would have put big money on a blue sky day, but two hours later we were in heavy thunderstorm conditions, verging on hail. I saw this as nature providing her final challenge that would make this adventure an even greater personal triumph. Team decision saw us take a brief sun patch opportunity and cut today's paddling short and seek refuge...! As fate had it the afternoon turned wonderful, providing us each with some good personal reflection time, next to the river.

Late afternoon, the first racers started coming through, breaking our special, solitary wilderness. By midnight it was raining again, and deciding on our first early morning start we woke at 5am excited about the 36 kilometre, 'final straight', paddle to Dawson... Far from straight the river had many channels and twists, and for the first time on the trip my navigation saw us get pushed onto a midstream, exposed tree trunk, spinning the canoe around, and there, to my embarrassment, we were going backwards down the river... At least we both laughed about it, as it happened....

Paddling next to a steep, rocky river cliff, I was surprised to see two seagulls come out to torment us, with loud cries, dive bombing and general aggressive behaviour. This continued for 500 metres, and then the mystery was solved: We caught up to their two weeks old chicks bobbing in the water as we sped past. Not happy that our threat had passed the parents escorted us for the next 800m. In the water, one either side off the bow of our canoe they stayed 10 metres in front till we were way out of sight of their chicks...

The approach to Dawson was full of emotion as I painted the picture for Imi, both of us sharing our different, yet similar perspectives of just how special the trip had been....

Dawson seems quite a town..... Something from a Hollywood wild west movie and we look forward to exploring its unique offerings....

The most gross of which is the "Sour toe" whisky drink. This consists of a human big toe, doused in Yukon Jack, the delicious local, liquor whisky. Hmm, initially I thought this was just a long story, but apparently it's all for real.... We shall explore, and report back! We both agreed that we won't be having one though..!

Imi's, from Dawson, Reflective Insight:

Heroic Love Today

Should we sacrifice all to eradicate human poverty as perhaps Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Jesus would want us to do? But providing for good living for billions would result in depleted and degraded earth.

Our love should consist in leaving a fragrant and radiant earth so that future humanity can leave inspired lives. Some may object that unless people are fed and are well off they cannot be inspired.
I can concede that for many material well-being takes precedence over beauty.

I guess my love for humanity is my love for those heroic humans who would rather live simple, poor lives in the midst of a world shimmering with beauty.

We plan on putting up one final 'wrap up' post over the next few days, and will email the follower list once this is up....I think Imi's specific reflections on the whole trip, will be something very special.

Hope you have been able to get something of value, no matter how small, from our adventure.

H + I

Friday, July 1, 2011

Moose, Bear, it’s not over yet…

Yesterday we spent just over 6 hours on the river and covered about 60 river kilometres. Yes, just 65 kilometres to Dawson now and our plan is to get to within 10-15 kilometres today, so we have a morning arrival on Saturday. Last night around the campfire we were both reflecting with some sadness the approaching end to this special adventure for both of us. But it's not over yet....

Our camp is right on the river bank, which has a narrow clay based, grass verge before thick impenetrable bush. This morning at around 5am I was woken by this loud commotion in the water, just near my tent. On peering through the tent door, I was presented with a real close up of a mother moose and her calf just off the river bank standing in the water. Grabbing the video I headed outside, the mother now 15 metres away, turned to face me, and aggressively snorting. We both stood our ground, the video rolling, and then she turned away, and they both started walking further upstream. Nice way to start the day, especially after it had been raining most of the night.

This weather is so changeable. Yesterday in the morning we had perfect blue, cloudless sky, by midday we were dealing with a full on thunder shower. By 5pm we had sauna conditions in our tents, to the point we both swam in the river to cool down. Dinner weather was just great, and then two hours into bed, the rain starts, and continues through the night...There is a low cloud / mist on the river now, so not sure what lies ahead for today!

Yesterday's river trip was the most interesting yet. We had three major river confluences, first the White, the Stewart, then the smaller 60 Mile River. These rivers have added huge volume, and width to the river, changing its character noticeably.

The silt level is amazing, with the water now a strong brown colour, 'overflowing' with suspended sediment that is visible as a murky, turbid pattern on the surface. The noise of the silt grinding the fiberglass hull of the canoe is frequently very loud needing us to elevate our voices to hear each other. The river current seems largely faster, and log piles of tree stumps are everywhere, seemingly forming collection stations for later in the season.

The confluence with the White River was impressive, as within a few hundred metres the river just widened out to a couple of kilometres and more, with sand bars, trees, and pockets of rapids all randomly placed in the vast meeting basin of the two rivers.

I saw our second bear yesterday, unfortunately fairly high up on a river side hill slope, as we paddled. So, all in all, a good wild life sighting day.

As usual we had much lively debate in between special moments of solitude in the wonderful river wilderness.

On a non-wilderness, amusing note, we did pass a three canoe expedition, beached on a river bank, taking a break. The one guy shouted out to us as we 'sped' by: "Are you guys in the race?" The annual Whitehorse to Dawson canoe / kayak race started on the 29th, but even though the leading kayakers are much faster than us, no competitors have reached us yet, and so I responded: "Yes, and I think we are in 1st place at the moment....!" We passed them too quickly for me to hear their no doubt admiring response!

Imi's Reflective Insights of the day:

The Paradox: Helplessness in the face of Nature is the foundation of the highly valued human autonomy.

Until recently humans relied primarily on nature's resourcefulness to overcome challenges like disease, injury, sickness, etc. For the first time we believe we can manipulate, direct, and even replace nature by means of technology and medicine.

Nature works slow and through a ruthless process of natural selection. Technology and modern medicine can benefit far more people, far more rapidly, but it comes at a price:

Soon not only our bodies, but even our brains will need the crutch of medical and technological interventions to sustain themselves.

The height of human enslavement and servitude is when our brains become almost human artifices, (human made products), as a result of these interventions. Only dependence on wild nature will ensure our autonomy.

Simple living in rugged, robust, wild nature is our salvation. Our fate in the vast possibilities of nature requires that we see the richness that nature has achieved, like rich eco systems with a vast diversity of natural life. In a depleted and degraded world we lose faith in the rich possibilities of nature.

In a world highly dependent on technology we lose the very thing we value, the source of triumph and real personal power, true autonomy.


Pack up time..... The low cloud has been burnt off by the heightening sun, another blue sky start on the river waits....what will the day bring today...

H + I

Ready to Move Again…

We must have been supposed to stay on our island the two nights, because late morning after the rain based decision was behind us, it cleared up to be a great afternoon. It was one of those 'boy to boy' inspirational chat days, so sorry nothing for the blog, unless you have that special paid, premium membership...! Haha....
It was a very special day, the ones that only happen when the wilderness and timelessness come together in an environment of trust, to allow freedom of thought and speech.

It would seem the day's chats inspired Imi to new heights, here is his Reflection Insight for the day:

Metaphysical Musings on the Innocence of Nature and Might being right.

The innocence of Nature is displayed by the predominance of the healthy and mighty in wild nature. Rats, cockroaches, fungi in filthy, crowded, cities, but not in wild, rugged nature. Wild nature reveals splendid specimens of health and strength, like the bears and moose, lions and tigers, eagles and swans. In the human world innocence is lacking because the weak through wiles and cunning, through technology and money can win and predominate.

Nature has a moral lesson for us:

Might is indeed right, but real might, real strength, real fitness, real self reliance, not the right that comes with cunning and artifice.

I do not condemn wars and battles if laws of chivalry enable those truly mighty to win. Our wars are depraved because even the weak in body and spirit can win out.


It's a glorious cloudless, blue sky morning, pretty cold though...those clouds do have use! We both can't wait to get back on the river...6-7 hours paddling ahead, and no doubt a few stories for you tomorrow ....

Finally, we received lots of feedback on the moose story...Thanks, and glad it moved so many, making connections with your lives. I guess the whole story was metaphorical, in reliving for Howard, his solo, 'Simply Adventure' journey 'down the river' that started in 2004, when he sold up and left Sydney for a wandering adventure life! (Just in case you thought he was losing it, in thinking animals were creatures with higher level vision and desire!)

More tomorrow, maybe even a meeting with that moose to confirm her mission....!

H + I

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Day in Bed Thinking…!

Yeah, I bet with all the philosophical stuff 'we' have been throwing out, you wouldn't believe we needed more thinking time...! Well Mother Nature, disagreed and 'forced' us back into our thinking spaces... We awoke to a coldish, grey rainy morning, and being ahead of 'schedule' Imi suggested we stay in the comfort of 'our' temporarily claimed island, for 24 hours. I must say I was a bit challenged, as bowing down to the weather seems to go against the spirit of adventure, and secondly 24 hours in a tent can be challenging! He soon convinced me that not moving had lots of pluses, so here we are a day of rest....not really in bed, as I write, 3pm this is nice sunshine!

The rain has been interspersed with periods of almost sunshine that have provided us with opportunity for attending to a few jobs, and also lively discussion. The one discussion relating to spending 'a day in bed'! We have been debating the need for an adventure end goal and time limit, with Imi saying these are potentially un-Zen like as they can move the focus away from the now of the journey, to only the end goal. I made the observation that without these end goals one may be tempted to stay in bed every time it rains, and thereby missing the personal triumph of dealing with the adversity of the cold and rain. Yes one would be more comfortable, but more content.....? A good debate he said, this is what the great paradox of pleasure is about! Right, no more questions to me (Howard) as to why I do these and harder adventures....they are pleasure, ok!

Yesterday's canoeing time brought some more surprises and special experiences:

We passed very close to a female moose standing on the river edge. For those that don't know these animals can weigh up to 500kgs and can be pretty ferocious. Only when we were 10 metres off did she noisily take off and run through the bush, providing Imi with a real good audio experience that enabled us to better share the encounter. So much so that hours later in the campsite, he remarked how great the moose experience was. An hour after the moose I saw our first bear, an adult black bear, on the mountain slope rising out of the river. Just nice to have seen one out here! This time it was sad to see how the distance and lack of audio connection almost excluded Imi from the encounter and almost making me feel I should have keep it secretive....Hmmm, tough reminders!

The weather on the river was very changeable, with often a strong headwind making for challenging progress, even with the river flow. Each day I have been saying how many more islands there are than the day before, and yesterday set another new record! They make for interesting river flow patterns, and yesterday we had our first real running aground. A shallow channel forced us both out to push the canoe a few hundred metres. Who is that poor navigator....?

Imi's Reflective Insight:

Rigours of Wild Nature vs Human Mercy

I desire a world where brave autonomous, self reliant, free spirits, win out over envious, cunning persons of low integrity. That's why we need vast open wilderness.....!

I hear my opponents shouting: "How dare you say this as a blind man. Social justice requires that even those that are weak, hurting, downtrodden and lost should have equal opportunity to thrive and flourish."

My response to this will require that we temporarily accept Kurtwiel's thesis in his book, "The Singularity is Now". Here he declares that computers will soon be able to mimic and enormously enhance human brain capacities, as well as reinforce body immunity, organ functions etc. Social justice would require that humans be provided financial assistance to install such computers if individuals desire and in the process become "cyborgs", with greatly enhanced human capacity. But the decision to become a "cyborg" is depravity and loss of autonomy, even if it provides much needed assistance to the weak and downtrodden.

No matter how harsh and merciless is wild nature, confronting its challenge as naked as possible is our only route to real autonomy. Let humans be kind and helpful to each other, but let the world be wild, rugged and natural to facilitate this path to autonomy.


It is such a privilege to have an adventure partner like Imi, who appreciates the many dimensions of adventure in the wilds, often helping me to bring clarity of thought to some of my own life puzzle conflicts. It's not in his agreement, nor his disagreement, but in the honesty and openness of our discussions, where the truths are personally exposed. The Yukon River has facilitated this....

We have just 140 kilometres to Dawson now, and there are probably two and a half days on the river left.... Hmmm, not sure how I feel with the prospects of 'normal' life so soon awaiting us...

Look forward to Imi's 'whole Adventure' reflections that will be a full on personal post by him only, and a few days after our arrival in Dawson.

Bye for now

H + I