Surviving youthful escapades in Alaska during the 1970s and ’80s, where McGoldrick freely admits he was â€œmore lucky than good.”
â€œYoung and stupid” is how the author describes himself as he set forth for Alaska in 1975. But he is being hard on himself with the last half of that equation. He emerges here as more a charming innocent, ripe for some adventure, possessing an unbridled curiosity and the will to satisfy it, even–or especially–in trying circumstances. Full of the immortality of a 20-year-old, he is granted the safety of a fool’s passage, living in abandoned buses and the backs of trucks, taking work as a sheetrocker, happy to drop his tools to climb a frozen waterfall or Mt. Denali, dodge an Alaskan brown bear, rustle a horse, sleeplessly ski the deep-space-cold of the Iditarod trail, meet every manner of for-better-or-worse characters. He travels light and hard, and just so is his writing. He has a pleasingly succinct and colorful way of relating his peccadilloes, coaxing the danger from them without letting them drift into melodrama, and he has an easy hand for painting the landscape. Still, the dialogue can be stiff and unconvincing: â€œLook at those mountains and glaciers,” exclaims his traveling companion. â€œThey’re more rugged than the Rockies in Colorado and nothing like the mountains in Maine. But we can’t stop, Pete.” And McGoldrick himself can be woefully didactic: â€œAmong these mountains there are countless outstanding examples of all the various types of glacial erosional landforms.” But just as often, the background information and geology lessons are relaxed and rich with context, allowing the author a place among others who have sampled, loved and written about Alaska. Certainly one of his great blessings is a sense of humor, as he witnesses bar fights, or dickers for horses, or morphs from mountain guide to slave driver as he pushes clients beyond their endurance.
The kind of Alaskan experiences many have gone to find, and that few have. This adventurer returned with a tidy pile of gold.