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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Source of All Things

Recently released as a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things was first published as a feature article in BACKPACKER in December 2007. This is the full-text of that article.

by: Tracy Ross

Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi

The Source of All Things Cover Image

Now a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is available from Amazon.com and other booksellers.

Some people fall into the snakepit of their lives and reach their arms, like a baby, toward God. Others discover long-distance running or opium on a back street in Bali. When I realized that there was no escaping my pain, I turned my compass north and followed it until I reached a place where it was light all day.

Alaska. I went there after a friend told me that people in the 49th state partied till dawn in the endless gloaming of the Arctic summer. Our plan was to hike up glaciers and hang out on the banks of rivers loaded with salmon rumored to be as big as small dogs. We might work; we might not. The town we were headed to, McCarthy, didn't have phone service and was accessible during the winter only by plane. It was a place where nobody knew you or cared if your story was true.

I took to Alaska like I'd been born there. By December 1994, my first winter, I was living in a 12-by-16-foot cabin, just off the McCarthy road in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The cabin was eight hours northeast of Anchorage near the Canada border, with 10 million acres of wilderness out the front door. I was 24 years old—a baby. Even if they'd known where to look, my parents couldn't have found me.

In the mornings, I wake up, stoke the barrel stove, and haul water from a pond after chopping a foot-thick hole in the ice. All day, I ski giant loops through stands of birch and black spruce on waxless cross-country boards. I glide along the moraine of a wide glacier that recedes at a geologic pace, skiing so hard my body sweats—even in thin layers when it's -20°F. The miles rack up: 15, 30, 100. When I ski, some of the rage and sorrow seeps out of me.

Throughout the winter, I meet people who don't care where I've come from, how long I'm staying, or when I'll move on. My neighbors share homemade bread, store-bought cheese, and other prized possessions. We sit in wood-fired saunas drinking nearly-brewed beer, planning climbing trips, and watching the northern lights. I stare into their winter-rough faces and think I see something I can trust.

After McCarthy, I move to Fairbanks, the coldest spot on earth, to work for a sprint musher who spends $30,000 a year on 70 huskies that never win. I am in charge of something—four litters of puppies—for the first time in my life. I will make big decisions, like who will lead us out of the dog yard, who will get extra food, and who will live or die.

Solstices and equinoxes pass. By June 1996, I'm living in Talkeetna, on the southern edge of Denali National Park. I am building a cabin on two acres of land with a dog trail out back. I make friends who admire my tenacity. I start to believe they might be right. One day, a neighbor asks me to help with her dogs as she trains for the Iditarod. She, too, is brave and afraid; her boyfriend is dying of cancer. When I meet her at the start of another long race, she is crying, but she pushes 150 miles to the Kuskoquim River, then turns around and brings her dogs across the finish line. When I get home, I write a story about her on the back of a grocery bag, then take it to the local radio station and read it over the air. Weeks later, on the eve of the Iditarod, my story is broadcast on radio stations across the state, and months later wins an award. A light goes on in my head.

When I look back on the years I spent in Alaska, I see a more perfect version of myself emerging. I am stronger, more trusting, and kind. In 1997, I score a job as a backcountry ranger in Denali. I roam the park protecting grizzlies from people and people from bears. Against all odds, the hikers trust my advice. I'm promoted. One day, I find myself hiking with Bruce Babbit's secretary, talking about the power of wilderness and how it changes lives—how it's saving mine.



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Maelduin
Oct 15, 2012

"It never happened with boys", yet your brother set a cat on fire and threw it in the river? I think you need to talk to your brother about what may have happened to him in secret.
I salute your courage and grace in writing this.

Maria
Oct 14, 2012

Tracy: I am so sorry for what you have been through. However, I really don't think you should have any dealings with this man. He raped you; a child. There are no excuses. It should negate anything positive he ever did. He belongs in jail, as does your mother and anyone else who knew anything about it. tDo not let him babysit your kids. Do not have anything to do with him.

Victoria
Dec 03, 2011

When I first read this article on the train in 2008, it really hit home. It still hits home. Thank you Tracy for being brave enough to face him and tell the story. I don't feel as alone with the "secret" that I keep.

Kimberly collaso
Aug 31, 2011

How could you let him babysit your kids?!!?!?

Chris
Apr 29, 2011

Great stuff. Saw yr interview and googled this article. Have lived and hiked in AK, CO, ME, where I camped with my prime abuser. Have been working things through with that person past 3 yrs, and writing about it. Helps, and things are better. Keep it up. God bless.

Deb
Apr 28, 2011

For you who don't think her story shouldn't have been in this magazine, I think things happen for a reason. Maybe her story reached out to someone in need,

Dave Morris
Feb 23, 2011

Beautiful writing Tracy. I hope you are well.

Joy Martinez-Stranksy
Jan 21, 2011

Congratulations Trace, you finally did it.

Tira Scott
May 30, 2009

The beauty and honesty of Tracy's journey is as breathtaking and awe inspiring as the Sawtooth Mountains themselves. Bravo to this brave author, couragous yet as lovely and delicate as a robin's egg. Her story belongs here because humans and nature go together. Both are as delicate as a spring trillium and as dangerous as an avalanche. Bravo Tracy... Keep writing, it is your gift to others.

sk
May 14, 2009

Brilliant imagery & searing pain - one of the most well written and touching stories, I've read in a long time.


gen
May 14, 2009

wretched story, but beautifully written. Really captures the essence of growing up in southern idaho, as well as hiking and camping around red fish lake. I've been gone a long time, and didn't know they had succeeded in getting some salmon back in redfish. Fantastic!

Joseph Kennedy
May 11, 2009

The last reader is right. It deals with an ugly topic. This is story that does not belong here. In fact, it does not belong anywhere. No one should have to tell it. But she did and with grace and courage. Showing how the living a independent and active life outdoors helped her overcome anger and hate. And gave her the strength to confront her former abuser with calm restraint. Thank you, Tracy. I now have a new favorite writer.

Shauna Marsh
May 03, 2009

I think this is a phenomenal story. Thank you for sharing it. For those who do not think think this magazine is an appropriate place for it- you have a choice. Do not read it.

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