by EVAN MATTHEWS
On a deep wilderness adventure with his wife and two children, Stan Walchuk says as the group began their return about 60 miles back to civilization, tragedy struck.
“A bank gave way and Marlene and Aaron and horse plunged airborne down to land on a large boulder stream bed, the horse on top of Marlene,” says Walchuk, referring to his wife and daughter.
Walchuk began what he calls his “death run” for help, not knowing if his wife would live.
“I didn’t know if, ultimately, it would be me — my own drive for wild places, my own decisions — that had destroyed our family, ruined the future of our children,” says Walchuk.
“All of the guilt, the intense and desperate emotions, like a whip driving my backside as the whip in my hand drove the horse, mile after mile, on a death run to some place but no place,” he says.
This and other stories make up Walchuk’s new autobiography titled, Common Man, Uncommon Life, his third published book.
“There’s a lot of beautiful and interesting places in this country, and I’ve been to a lot of them. There is a chunk of ground that a lot of locals know, north of Mount Robson — we call it the Blueberry — near Willmore Wilderness Park. It’s just gorgeous,” – Stan Walchuk, author of Common Man, Uncommon Life
Originally from Edmonton, AB, Walchuk has lived in McBride for 24 years. He is an author and documentary maker, as well as outdoorsman and survivalist.
He spent his summers as a child roaming the wilderness of the North Saskatchewan River Valley, taking his first solo wilderness trip at thirteen years old.
“I was a little bit of a loner,” says Walchuk about his childhood. “I related to nature and the earth maybe more than some kids do because it kind of became my home, and it still is.”
With many of his adventures detailed in his book, Walchuk says it can be hard to narrow down which stories to tell.
Making note of his trips to Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Walchuk says some of his favourite sights are right here in the Robson Valley.
“There’s a lot of beautiful and interesting places in this country, and I’ve been to a lot of them,” says Walchuk.
“There is a chunk of ground that a lot of locals know, north of Mount Robson — we call it the Blueberry — near Willmore Wilderness Park. It’s just gorgeous,” he says.
Now a program teacher and horse trainer at Blue Creek Outfitting,
located at the Blue Creek farm near McBride, Walchuk says he still gets to go out exploring, but his recent trips have been less extensive.
Blue Creek Outfitting offers programs to help riders take back country horse adventures.
While most of his travels have been set in the mountains and in forests, Walchuk says he is equally comfortable using his experience as creative inspiration, though he doesn’t often read his own work once it’s done.
To date, Walchuk is best known for his book, Cordillera!, which was published in 1982, and was a Canadian Bestseller, he says, and his documentary of the same name won awards for best documentary and best producer by the Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association.
But this time, he says the writing process was different.
“When I write my books and my articles, once it’s done I don’t even want to look at it. I just let the editors do what they have to do,” says Walchuk.
“But I took three years on this book. Now that it’s written and in print, I find myself reading my own book and laughing, and getting involved in it,” says Walchuk, noting it was reader reviews that ultimately drove him to read it again.
“It wasn’t a normal situation,” he says, chuckling.
Having written over 50 articles for various equine magazines, his own books and documentaries, as the years go, he says his experience continues to shape his writing, and it’s a craft he continues to work on.
“I’m not young anymore, and you just don’t know how clear your mind is going to stay,” he says, noting his goal is to write a book a year.
Walchuk’s most recent Common Man, Uncommon Life, is available online, at the McBride Husky and the Valemount Petro-Canada.