Most father-daughter bonding experiences involve things like working on a science fair project together or taking a day trip to Chicago.
For Jim and Aidan Campbell, it involved polar bears, raging rapids and bitter cold.
Jim Campbell, a writer who has published articles for Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure, invited his teenage daughter Aidan, then 15, along for a trip to the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This was no sightseeing trip — the pair worked hard in grueling conditions to build a log cabin for Jim’s cousin Heimo, the subject of his first book, “The Final Frontiersman.”
One trip eventually turned into three, and the experience turned into a new book by Jim, “Braving It.” In addition to being an exciting tale of survival in one of the most remote places in the Western Hemisphere, the book also meditates on father-daughter relationships. Aidan wrote up her side of the story on her ongoing blog, grittygal.com.
The book is in stores, and Jim and Aidan will be at A Room of One’s Own Bookstore, 317 W. Gorham St., at 7 p.m., May 12, to talk about their experiences. This is an edited transcript combining their separate conversations with the Cap Times about the allure of Alaska, the experience of writing about family and the need to unplug once in a while:
Why did you take Aidan to Alaska?
Jim: I’d come home and tell these stories of my adventures, and the one person who could hear them endlessly was Aidan. Our original intention was to make a river and backpacking trip. But when my cousin Heimo called, everything changed. We went up and built this cabin, which was much different than we imagined. We all want our children to break out of our comfort zones. My wife was initially reluctant, but I think she saw after that first trip that Aidan had changed.
Aidan: When I was younger, I always asked him about his Alaskan adventures. I loved it. I just ate it up. I grew up in the outdoors and loved that, but I always dreamed of big wilderness. But my conception of wilderness was a lot different than the reality. I had this idea of wilderness as a spiritual experience and an adventure. When I got there, I realized it was going to be a lot of work.
I was a bit miserable on the first trip. But then I began to appreciate those wonderful moments. I would say that Alaska and the wilderness is a spiritual experience. I learned to appreciate those smaller moments, when I was picking berries on the tundra with Heimo and my dad, or building a fire in the early morning.
Which of the three trips do you think was the most valuable?
Jim: On the second trip, she became such a close friend of Heimo’s wife Edna. That was really important to her. To have that experience with a native Alaskan who grew up hunting and fishing and trapping with her father — she had all these wilderness skills that she taught to Aidan. The bond that they developed was tender and really moving to see.
Aidan: She taught me how to butcher a caribou. She taught me how to shoot a gun. She taught me how to snare Arctic hares and cook them in a Dutch oven. She taught me how to read the ice and check for open water. She taught me how to track.
My favorite part might have been just sitting in the cabin with her and talking. She’d talk about her daughters, and what their life was like growing up in the bush, and I’d talk about my family. She was both a mentor and a second mother to me.
What was it like to write about your daughter, Jim?
Jim: That was hard. I didn’t want to be too much of a dad and protect her in the context of the book, or protect myself. At first being that honest was difficult. But because she allowed me to look in her diaries she allowed me to look into her head. There were a lot of things that I was wrestling and maybe am still wrestling with.
Aidan: I still have to read the final! I’ve read all the drafts because I wanted to give suggestions. I’m waiting on reading the final version — that’s going to be my treat after I graduate high school (this year). I think I had to distance myself from it too, because of course you have your own perspective on everything.
My dad did a wonderful job representing me and my relationship with him. I was very touched at times when I read about it — when you’re living it, it’s different. I realized how special it was to have this time with my dad. And of course, I was my favorite character in the book!
I have my blog, grittygal.com. That’s my outlet to write about my perspective and my struggles, to put my voice in the storyline too.
How important is it in 2016 for people to get out and appreciate nature?
Aidan: Whenever I need to de-stress, I go outside, because that’s where I feel spiritually content. I feel centered at that point.
You don’t necessarily need these great wilderness trips. I’m very grateful to have had that, but it’s important to appreciate the wilderness in their own backyards. I think a lot of times we do that. We go to these amazing places but we don’t appreciate it. We’re driving in our car, but we’re so attached to our screens that we’re not looking out the window.
Jim: I really do believe that being outdoors and being in nature is a human need. Especially these days when everybody is so hyperconnected. I know I breathe a sigh of relief when I get out there.
Jim, do you have any advice for raising daughters?
I’ve raised my daughters just like I would sons. I think that’s really important for girls in particular. To give them the security of love, but also the confidence that you, dad, believe in them that they can do anything that a boy could. I don’t think my girls have ever questioned that.
And, Aidan, what are your plans after graduation?
I loved having my blog and being able to write about my experiences. I’m thinking of taking a gap year next year and maybe trying out my own adventure. This time without my sidekick!