My Wilderness: Roxanne Van Gundy

By Roxanne Van Gundy

For her essay in the "Your Wilderness Stories" series, Roxanne Van Gundy describes her feeling of being at home in the wilderness.

Someone once told me that when you find a place that makes you feel like you are whole again, you've found your true home. For a long time, I didn't really know what that meant. I knew that I always had a wondering soul and that my "home" was where I was from, but maybe not a place that I truly felt a part of. I was wild and restless. I often lacked a lot of purpose in my life.

A wild idea that turned into a reality, landed me on the George Parks Highway, headed southbound from Fairbanks in the summer of 2008; destination Denali National Park. I'd decided earlier in 2007 that Alaska was a place that I had to see. I don't know why, but it just became something I had to do. I threw the idea around for months, but it wouldn't leave me. I finally decided I had to stop thinking and just do it.

I’m not a person who believes in fate or destiny, but I’ve always known god had a plan for me. At first, I didn't understand that pull of going north, but I later realized that I needed to go north to find myself and to find a forever home. God knew that Denali was where I belonged.

Denali was the first place that I saw things that up to that point had only existed to me in story books. Everywhere you looked; it was a picture out of a postcard or a painting. The beauty overloaded all of my senses.

It took awhile to even realize that it was a real place, not just a dream. My dreams were now in my face as reality. The landscape was electric, the plants and trees all moved in harmony, the wind sang a song as it whipped past my face; the whole place had a pulse that resonated inside of me.

I saw a moose for the first time at mile 5. I didn't realize what he was at first. I'd never seen an animal so large and stately before. He commanded everyone's attention. He stopped in the road and turned to look at us as we stood outside our car, mesmerized. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. It felt like he was burning a hole inside of me, trying to make a connection. It was if he was trying to get me to understand how special he was, how special this place was and that I was welcome here.

He broke his gaze with me and ran across the tundra, into a patch of fall kissed trees. I stood on the road hoping he would come back, trying to process what I had just witnessed. But he never did. It was an experience I'll never forget.

As the Park Road opened up into the Savage River Campground, my husband and I went to the log near the river to watch the sun start to set. The sky turned into a fury of reds, oranges and pinks. I had tears in my eyes, overwhelmed from all the beauty that was wrapping itself around me. The water rippled beside us as we watched in amazement, thankful to be in such a holy place.

It was on that log, at the Savage River, that I knew that there was no turning back for me. I would forever be Alaskan. I had found a place that soothed my sad heart, calmed my fears and filled me with more happiness than I had ever known. I finally found home.

In the years after I moved to Alaska, Denali was a place that always called to me. After a hard week, a drive to Denali always did the trick, for a few days or even just a couple of hours. It always made me feel free.

I've traveled all 92 miles of the Park Road, some by bus, some by car. I've seen Mt McKinley in all of its glory from many different angles. She still takes my breath away. Once I got up close and personal with a sow near Eielson that just wanted to welcome me to the area. SCARY! I've marveled at the heart breaking beauty of Wonder Lake and how glassy it looks in just the right light. I always came back to the hustle of daily life refreshed and reset; ready to take on anything. Denali always made me feel renewed, like coming home always does.

Recently, I've had to leave Alaska for family reasons. Every day since I've been gone, I haven't felt quite right. I don't feel centered, my mind is distracted; my thoughts don't come out right. I know it's because I haven't been home to Denali in awhile to put myself right. I long for it, as weird as that sounds. It makes me sad to be gone, because it's the first place in my life that I ever found peace.

Denali rumbles inside of my heart on days when I am sad or homesick. It calls to me every day, "It's time to go back where you belong." Some days I can ignore it, but other days the call is so overwhelming that it’s all I can think about.

I'm not sure if any of this will make sense to anyone but me. I'm not sure that there is a way I can properly put together the words together to do a place like Denali justice. It's hard to translate the feeling I have for it so that other's can understand. How can you explain a bond that is so deep?

I guess the answer is, you can't. You can't explain to anyone what Denali National Park is like. It's a connection. It's a feeling. Everyone has to make that connection themselves. It's a love that occurs between you and a place beyond your wildest dreams.

To me, Denali is my home. My mountain is calling, and soon I must go home.

About "Your Wilderness Stories"

2014 was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. As part of that celebration, Denali asked visitors to share their stories, to help in building a collection of stories about what wilderness means to you!