Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith chronicles the journeys of Alaskan legend Dick Griffith. Even before he trekked more than 6,000 mile across Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, he was one of the pioneers of river rafting on the Green and Colorado Rivers. In 1952, he and his late wife, Isabelle, were the first to descend the dangerous Barrance del Cobre in Mexico, a feat no one had achieved until then. The following is from a talk author Kaylene Johnson gave at the book launch last month at the Eagle River Nature Center.
Mark Twain wrote, “Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.”
These were the words I leaned on in the hours and days that I poured over Dick Griffith’s journals wondering which stories out of hundreds should wind up in the pages of his biography. How can an entire lifetime of adventure be captured in less than 300 pages of text and photos? How can the complexities of the human spirit – one as notable as Griffith’s – be expressed within the limitations of paper and ink?
The answer, simply, is that it cannot. And so I set about penning the story of a man whose “aw shucks” personality would have you believing that he is just some ordinary guy who has taken a few trips in the wilderness. No big deal.
In spite of his reluctance to receive accolades or recognition, Dick is far from ordinary. Dick’s aspirations have been a quiet quest to explore not only his beloved wilderness but, across thousands of miles of canyons and ice, to test the possibilities of human endurance.
The voices of history echo triumph and regret, jubilation and despair. And nowhere are those extremes as disparate as in the extremes of the North or the canyons in which Dick traveled. It took no small amount of audacity and courage to undertake the treks that Dick set out for himself. We all have ideas about what we’d like to achieve in our lifetime. Yet so-called common sense often discourages us from even trying – there is always that one obstacle that seems too big to overcome. There is always tomorrow that keeps us from taking that first step – today. Dick knew that courage is not the idea of a thing, but rather, the doing of it. It lies in the daily decisions, big and small, that determine the course of a person’s life. And in Dick’s case, that determine the course of a journey across an entire continent.
We can learn from Dick’s wisdom and persistence in just putting one foot in front of the other. A good friend of his who was going through a difficult time asked him, how one was supposed to get through these things? He replied, “You just keep walking.”
After 6,000 miles and 8.5 million steps, he should know.
Dick has spent a lifetime avoiding fame, but alas to him and happily for us, it has finally found him.
It has been my privilege to write the coat and buttons of the man, Dick Griffith. A true legend of the North.