Jon Turk received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1971, but abandoned academics to spend a life adventuring. His circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island with Erik Boomer was nominated in 2012 by National Geographic as one of the Top Ten Adventures of the Year.
Jon’s world-view was transformed by Moolynaut, a 96-year-old Siberian shaman. This journey is chronicled in Jon’s book, The Raven’s Gift. Jon’s newest book, Crocodiles and Ice: A Journey into Deep Wild represents “a continuing exploration of a consciousness revolution based on a deep, reciprocal communication with the earth.” As Jon believes, “beyond the wondrous and seductive opulence of our oil-soaked, Internet-crazed, consumer-oriented society, there lies a glorious and sustainable lifestyle that is based on deep wild as a foundation of solace, sanity, compassion, and hope.”
Welcome to MULTIPLICITY.
I’m honoured to be here. There’s a great group of people speaking, and I’m very excited to meet them, listen to them, speak with them and drink a beer with them.
Give us a hint of what your presentation will be about.
It will be centered on the Ellesmere circumnavigation Eric Boomer and I did in 2011. We were nominated as the Top 10 Adventure of the Year by National Geographic. It was a big trip up in the polar arctic. But I’ve been to a million of these things, and given a million talks, and this is not a trip log. About 20 years ago, when I was on an adventure on the east coast of Russia, up in northeastern Siberia, I ran into an old shaman woman, a 96-year-old Koryak shaman, and then spent five years in this old village with this woman, trying to follow through with her wisdoms. Everything else I’ve done since then, has been re-framed in terms this shamatic vision of the Koryak people. So we go to Ellesmere, and we get tired and hungry and strung out and frostbitten, but I try to see it through the old woman’s eyes. Which, then leads me, following the Ellesmere trip, to a bike ride across the Himalayan plateau to the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, again trying to formulate not just what’s happening to Jon Turk—which is unimportant to say the least—but what our relationship as individuals in society is to nature, and how that’s important.
I read in your synopsis the term “consciousness revolution.” Can you elaborate what that means to you?
Well, I could elaborate for a whole book or two. The aboriginal people, they’ve done a lot of bad things. A lot of warfare and cannibalism and so forth, and we have to keep that in mind. But at the same time, they lived in a close relationship with the planet—a holistic relationship with their tribes and the planet. And it wasn’t until we got into the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution, that we received a different focus. And it concentrated on a lot of accumulating stuff—money and stuff. So the consciousness revolution—and I picked that term carefully, because I didn’t want to use the term spiritual—is really retraining our minds to think in a more aboriginal way, a more holistic way, seeing ourselves as part of our tribe, as part of our planet. This isn’t new stuff; I’m not the first to say this. A million people are saying this. Look, Donald Trump isn’t working for the world. That isn’t sustainable. So what is the consciousness revolution? To put it broadly, it’s based on a deep reciprocal relationship with the earth. And that’s what my story telling is trying to emphasize.
“An adventure story is nothing if it doesn’t take us to some greater meaning or greater understanding of ourselves.”
Being a journalist intertwining this consciousness revolution into your stories, how do you see adventure journalism today? Are we seeing enough deeper meaning tied into adventure stories, or is it more the author’s means self promotion? I guess you could call it “selfie” journalism?
Well, a lot of adventurers have taken a similar journey to mine. In any genre, there’s good stuff and not so good stuff. So I’m not going to criticize a whole genre. An adventure story is nothing if it doesn’t take us to some greater meaning or greater understanding of ourselves. In any literature, is just an excuse, just a vehicle, to take us to a greater understanding of ourselves. So if you have a good romance novel, or mystery novel, or good adventure story or bad adventure story—in any writing genre, the literature will have long-term value only if it takes us somewhere greater than the immediate story.
Why do you think Nat Geo nominated your trip to Ellesmere as a Top 10?
Well, you’re asking me to toot my own horn. But what we set out to do it travel 1,500 nautical miles in 100 days. That’s a half-marathon a day, for three and a half months. And you’re not in running shoes and shorts. Heavy boots, skis, carrying a 100-150 kilo sled over some of the harshest terrain on earth. It’s a horizontal Everest. And you’ve got all kinds of problems with ice. A little past the middle of that expedition, we went through what I believe is the most chaotic and dangerous environment in the arctic.
What you’ve got is Northeast Ellesmere and Northwest Greenland pinching together into a straight that’s 12 nautical miles in diameter, and you have an entire polar ocean of congested, driving, two-metre thick ice being pulled with the winds and currents into this 12-nautical-mile hourglass. So there’s tremendous power there. When we entered this zone, it was just at breakup, so the polar icecap, which during the winter is frozen and not moving, is now cracked and fractured and moving and being dragged southward into this bottleneck. Just a tremendous amount of compression, power and chaos. So at times you could go out for 15 minutes or half an hour when the ice is relaxed a little bit. And we were doing that, making about a mile a day, playing this cat and mouse game. We were walking across, and jumping from floe to floe, and also paddling, and sometimes we would wait till high tide would come in and walk in two-meter wide, knee-deep water, pulling the kayaks. But then you have a section of about 15 miles of vertical cliffs on shore, where if you go out, you have to make the entire 15 miles before the ice closes in again or you’re dead. And that’s the crux. So I think why national Geographic honoured us, is it was a hard trip, and it involved a lot of exposure. You can’t say no chance of rescue, because this it the 21st century. But rescue would be extremely difficult. No place to land airplanes, too far away for a helicopter to fly without fuel depots. Really difficult to extract somebody from there. And very little in the way of food drops. And in the middle of this, you have this most powerful environment.
“I realized I have to put my money where my mouth is. I wanted to see if I could really tickle the dragon’s tail of this power, relying on the old woman’s wisdom.”
So, I’ve gotta ask…Why? I mean, you were what, 65? That much exposure, that much danger, what motivated you?
There’re too many answers to that. One is, I’ve spent a lot of time in the arctic. I did a much easier trip with my wife a long time ago, 1843 or something like that. We had done 600 miles in 60 days. And during that time, I kept thinking, the real trip is to go around Ellesmere. And I was much younger then, and thought that it couldn’t be done, and so did a lot of other people in the Arctic exploration game. You just couldn’t do it in a single season. And then I’d taken that five years out on this spiritual journey, and I’ve gotta say the physical journeys were much easier. So now, I’m 65 years old and figured I’ve got one last shot. And I’ve been going around the country, bivying up in my pickup truck, living in the concrete jungle, and talking about power, the power of the aboriginal people. And suddenly I realized I have to put my money where my mouth is. I wanted to see if I could really tickle the dragon’s tail of this power, relying on the old woman’s wisdom.
What is it that attracted you to become an adventurer? You were an academic, published the first environmental science textbook, so where was the shift?
I think it started in my DNA when I was born. The question is not where did it come from. That’s easy. The struggle was to question all the direction and expectations of a society and ask, who am I really, who really is inside me that makes me happy? And follow that. But yeah, 65 was along time ago. I’m 71 now. I just can’t imagine not linking in an active outdoor environment on a daily basis.
That leads me to a question that I would personally like to know. You write books, and spend a lot of time indoors, behind a screen. How do you balance that office time with your lust for being outdoors?
Well, I love to write. That creative process is not disconnected. The game, of course, is to get outdoors as much as possible. But when I’m sitting in front of the computer writing, that creative process is intensely joyful for me.
I guess you’re not writing ad copy, so that helps.
Yeah, the textbooks were a really great gig. I would write them for a period of time, and then have big blocks of time to go on expeditions. It’s also the kind of thing that there’s a deadline six months out, so if there’s a powder day, you put on the skis and go skiing, and nobody knows the difference.
Except when you’re two days before deadline, and put too many powder days in.
Yeah, that happens. The man catches up to you, whether you like it or not.
“Adventuring isn’t like playing in the NF; it’s not an all-or-nothing, and if you don’t make it, you’re cut from the team. Adventuring is something where you can modify your expectations, and still go out there for a long, long time.”
OK, you did this Ellesmere adventure at 65. What are your thoughts on aging and adventuring? I look at my dad, or where I’m going to be at 65, and it’s not doing that.
About pushing on into the future, is that the questions? I don’t have the power that I had, and I don’t have the reserves of strength that I had. For me to go on the Ellesmere trip right now, I would die. I couldn’t make it. In the last six years, I’ve lost enough that I couldn’t make it again. But adventuring isn’t like playing in the NF; it’s not an all-or-nothing, and if you don’t make it, you’re cut from the team. Adventuring is something where you can modify your expectations, and still go out there for a long, long time. So my wife and I are going to Kenya with some biologists to work on a lion study. I’m going to spend a lot more time sitting behind a spotting scope, and not trying to make a lot of miles in a day. But the spirit of the journey is very similar.
Out of all your adventures, do you have a favourite?
No. I mean, I’ve been really fortunate in having a lot of really cool adventures. And there are moments in every one of them that I will carry to my grave. And the companions that I’ve traveled with—part of being an adventurer is the people you are with. So if I was to compare Misha, the person I paddled from Japan to Alaska with, versus Boomer, whom I did Ellesmere with, to say which one I like best? I can’t say that. They are both very dear and very different people.
OK, my last question: What do you hope the audience takes away from your presentation?
I hope they will go away with a knowledge that that their own personal relationships with the planet will empower them. And their own journeys into ecstasy and passion can be the main driving force in their lives. And if they do that, they will be happy people.
You might also like:
MULTIPLICITY 2017: SHERRY MCCONKEY ON OVERCOMING TRAGEDY, CARRYING ON A LEGACY AND FINDING HER OWN PASSION
Through both her life with Shane, and his death, Sherry has come to believe that with desire, passion, and a goal, anything is possible. Despite the grief after losing him, Sherry knew she wanted to carry on Shane’s legacy. She turned moments of sadness into inspiration and used the power of positivity to build The Shane McConkey Foundation, and Executive Produce the movie, McConkey… Read more
MULTIPLICITY 2017: BRETT TIPPIE AND THE BIRTH OF FREERIDE MOUNTAIN BIKING
Brett Tippie is a legend, no question. He was among the first to snowboard at Sunshine and Blackcomb (at the time two of the only places you could in Canada), he’s competed in over 25 World Cup events and represented Canada on the National Team in Snowboardcross and Giant Slalom. But Tippie is most recognized for two things… Read more
Adventure stories are best told first-hand and with a hefty dose of authenticity. At MULTIPLICITY, harrowing stories from around the globe are delivered up close and personal by eight world-class athletes, explorers and outdoor personalities. Combining photography, video and top-shelf storytelling, MULTIPLICITY has quickly become the hottest event at the World Ski & Snowboard Festival at Whistler Blackcomb.
“I was blown away,” says bestselling author and adventurer Bruce Kirkby. “MULTIPLICITY is a beautiful reminder–in this era of distraction, hype, texts and tweets—that a good, simple story is still king. Especially the bare-knuckled, whiskey-scented, gut-wrenching, mind-scrambling, tear-laced campfire variety.
A flagship fundraiser for the Spearhead Huts Project, the event has been described as “a TED Talk on adrenalin,” and “the most inspiring night of the year.” Kirkby, the MULTIPLICITY keynote speaker last year calls it “the biggest, brightest story- telling gathering of its kind. Grab yourself a seat before they’re gone.”
2017 MULTIPLICITY Presenters
Aaron and Hawkeye Huey