Kathryn Hind: What travel taught me

LISTENING

One evening in Fairbanks, Alaska, I sat in a man's self-built cabin and listened to his story. He was mushing when a bear came charging down a hill and attacked. His dogs were trapped in their harnesses. The man shouted, jumped up and down, waving his arms; the bear left the slaughter to tower above him, resting a bloody paw on each of his shoulders for a moment before pushing him away. When the bear was gone, the man searched through his dog team for signs of life. At the bottom of the pile, a dog whimpered. She was badly mauled. He carried her through the snow and back to his cabin where he stitched her up with bits of leather and a sewing needle. She made a full recovery, but as the man held up the coat he'd worn that night, two bear paws printed in blood on each shoulder, I knew that he hadn't.

PREPAREDNESS

Driving the Gibb River Road through the Kimberley, I paused before my first river crossing, engine idling. I searched for the shallowest route through the water but was unable to see the riverbed. During this journey I would learn to stretch myself while being wise to risk, to respect the power and danger of the terrain, to listen to fear-mongers, then prepare and do it anyway. I accelerated through the Pentecost River, made it to the other side, and carried on.

HYPER-VIGILANCE

I had a compartment to myself on a train from Istanbul to Salzburg. I was relieved to be alone after the throng of city streets and a series of disjointed interactions that left me uneasy. I took off the oversized clothes I wore as a kind of armour and changed into tank-top and shorts. I considered myself safe and off-duty, and as the breeze from the window lifted my hair, I revelled in memories of Cappadocia. Another passenger entered my cabin, spoke with me for awhile then launched his body onto mine. I managed to get him out, to lock the door, but he knocked throughout the night as I lay there awake and afraid. This incident is one of many of this nature, but it sticks with me as a sad warning that I must never get too comfortable, that in fact I am never off-duty.

WONDER

A friend took me to her favourite spot in Iceland's western fjords: a pier's end, the inlet beneath us revealed in flashes as mist thinned. We undressed, leapt into glacial water. I climbed the ladder out, gasping from laughter, winter air warm against the new coolness of my skin. As I dressed, salty drops were trapped beneath woollen cardigan, socks, and beanie. We sat on the pier and as we swung our legs to keep warm, I tried to fathom the beauty of the surrounding mountains, of this place my friend called home, but succumbed instead to wonder.

Canberra-born Kathryn Hind's debut novel is Hitch (Penguin Random House, $32.99), the manuscript for which won the inaugural Penguin Literary Prize in 2018. She has also had essays, short stories and poetry published in various Australian journals and collections. See penguin.com.au

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