Thoreau, a ne’er-do-well Harvard grad who mucked about in the woods rather than seeking a steady job, once wrote, “Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at still.” Exploring the wildest places on this planet; writing to honor the wonder and perplexity of life on it; and advocating for wilderness conservation in the process – such are the bones I gnaw at, bury, unearth, and gnaw at still.
I have always been drawn to the far-flung. As a little kid I dreamed of becoming a Martian colonist, or failing that, a self-declared citizen of Antarctica. My family lived in rural Ontario, where mountains and oceans and places like Mongolia effectively seemed as alien and unattainable as Mars, so I figured heck, why not aim for Mars?
In the meantime, I devoured books on space travel and polar exploration, on the great land and sea voyages of discovery, on scurvy and frostbite and gritted-teeth striving in wild places. Words served as my portal to the wider universe, and the worlds they brought to vivid and immediate life were incendiary to my imagination. A fierce love for language and for exploration were for me inseparable from the start. And really, they are two and the same, each a variation on what you might call wilderness.
My first bonafide expedition was a month-long Outward Bound course in Utah, made possible by the Morehead-Cain scholarship. After growing up in farm country, where the widest horizon framed a field of corn and the tallest summit was a haystack, the stark and tortured geology of the southwestern desert hit me like a revelation. There I was, a gawky scholarship student displaced from the Canadian backwoods, lugging a fifty-pound pack and gaping at a mountain for the first time. It was torture. It was sublime. So began my life beyond treeline.
A decade later I count myself lucky to have swallowed dust on all seven continents. From stalking wild horses in the Gobi desert of Mongolia, to biking across the Tibetan plateau, to scouring the Chilean Altiplano for evidence of aliens, to collecting groundwater from the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, among other adventures, it’s been an amazing ride. High latitudes and altitudes are my natural habitat, and I am pulled again and again to immensities of sky, stone, and ice.
So whether exploring through science or writing, on a bike or on foot, solo or with friends, on this planet or beyond, my simple goal is to move, be moved, and move others in turn. Here we so incontrovertibly are, to my continual shock and amazement: alive on a spinning chunk of rock in a random solar system in a universe reckless, exuberant, and vast. Every age is the age of discovery; every one of us is an explorer; every moment of genuine awareness is a frontier. And wilderness is all around.
Kate Harris is a young Canadian writer, adventurer, and wilderness pilgrim. A nomad who loves unfenced countries and far-flung life, Kate has lived, researched and expeditoned in some of the harshest places on all seven continents. As a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, she wrote a Master’s thesis on transboundary wilderness conservation and conflict resolution, with a focus on the Siachen glacier dispute. She then earned another Master’s degree in earth sciences at MIT. Kate was named a 2010 “Woman of Discovery” by Wings WorldQuest for her efforts to advocate for wilderness conservation across borders. Her latest expedition is Cycling Silk, a year-long bike journey exploring transboundary conservation in the mountains of
the Silk Road (see www.cyclingsilk.com). Her official website: www.kateharris.ca