Porter Fox is one of the modern masters of outdoor journalism. An editor for Powder Magazine since 1999, he is also the founder of Nowhere Magazine, and the author of Deep: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow, which provides a harrowing account of the tragic Tunnel Creek Avalanche of 2012, and the increasing impact—particularly on snowsports—of global warming.
His new book, Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border (available July 3), chronicles Fox’s three-year journey along the U.S.-Canada border. Equal parts entertaining travelogue, rich history of the region chronicling the rise and fall of the timber and rail industries, and paean to the wild places that inspire us all, the book is pure entertainment from start to finish.
As the author moves west from Maine to Washington, he weaves the history of explorers such as Captain Meriwether Lewis and Samuel de Champlain with that of the modern Indian activists and border guards he meets. By the end of the book, readers have a richer understanding of the birth of this country, and how our present is informed by our past.
Gear Institute caught up with Fox on the eve of the book’s launch to discuss his incredible journey, and of course, to gain a little insight on the gear he took.
What inspired you to write this book?
With all of the news about the southern border, I wondered what was going on in the north, where I grew up. What I found was a boundary that is more than twice as long as the US-Mexico line, is many times more porous, and has a lot more at stake. It is a “borderland,” which means both sides are highly interconnected. People forget that Canada is our #2 trading partner, and cross-border trade is vital to the U.S. economy and millions of U.S. jobs.
How did you plan for your journey?
I put a canoe on my car, grabbed a few books, and just went. No kidding. The border shaped my story as I went: canoeing in Maine, freighters on the Great Lakes, ancient North American history in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, protests in Standing Rock, hiking in Glacier National Park and the North Cascades.
What surprised you the most about your adventures?
How pristine and undeveloped wildernesses along the Hi-Line, are and how unguarded many sections of the northern border are.
What do you think will be of the most interest to U.S. readers?
The long list of places where you can disappear into the American Wilderness. From the book: “There are fewer houses and longer stretches of nothing in between. Some of America’s last herds of wild game live in the northland. Predators roam the centerline of empty highways. Forests of old-growth hemlock, fir, birch, and rock maple; wild rivers; unnamed mountain ranges; and some of the largest roadless areas in the US cluster along the northern border like dust gathers against a wall.”
What are your three key takeaways—or memories—from your journey?
- Sleeping in the Winchester Mountain fire lookout in the North Cascades was one of the most incredible and transformative experiences of my life. (Thanks Mount Baker Hiking Club!) You sleep literally perched on the very top of this jagged summit, looking out at the border, Canada, the Pacific and everything in between.
- The injustice being done to Native Americans in this country is reprehensible. Corporations and the federal government continue to break the law and exploit tribal land with zero consequences. Obama said he would send observers to Standing Rock; he never did. Trump gave the Dakota Access Pipeline carte blanche on his first day in office. If we’re going to be lawless, let’s do it. But as long as we have a Constitution and rule of law, let’s abide by it and stop taking advantage of American tribes.
- The expanse of the northland is incomprehensible. It’s massive, and there’s no one there. I love it.
Any callouts to key articles of ‘essential gear’?
- The L.L.Bean Continental Rucksack traveled with me across the entire border and hardly has a stain on it. It’s so tough, and practical for anyone who likes to hike with a laptop!
- Portable power. Any of them. A dead phone in the Northland could mean your life.
- Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime Mattress. You can set it up in the back of your car or in a horse pasture and it’s like sleeping at home.
Get your own copy of Northland right here.
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