, of New Brighton, Minn., but soon to move to Ely Lake, had several close calls during the 17-day trip, nearly losing his life twice.
father, Emil Erickson
-- a longtime teacher at the Mesabi Junior College
-- gave him the book "Friendly Arctic."
The book, about exploring the Arctic without the fear that a person had to "run in and run out" inspired him and made him "interested in the north," said Erickson
, 69, on a recent visit to Virginia.Ten years later, Erickson began taking flying lessons in Worthington, Minn., where he worked as a dentist for 32 years.
By 1967, he
had traveled extensively by private plane -- from Massachusetts to the Rocky Mountains to the Grand Canyon to California.He'd explored the Bahamas and the Great Barrier Reefs of Australia and Belize.
"I'd seen what I'd wanted of the lower 48 (states)," he
began flying into the Arctic -- up to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, on the shores of Hudson Bay.
travels -- sometimes with a companion, sometimes solo or with another aircraft -- he
flew through Northern Quebec, the Northwest Territories and eastern Alaska.He
wanted to learn more about the people, the history and the wildlife.
But on his
early flights into the Arctic using a wheel airplane, Erickson
could not land at all the magnificent lakes he
saw from the air.So he
decided to make the lakes accessible -- and from then on he's
flown only sea and amphibian planes.Erickson
most savors the liberty that flying provides -- "the freedom, the expanded view, the independence," he
said."It's like walking down a country road.If you walk you'll see things you'd never see if you were bicycling, if you bicycle you'll see things you'd never see if you drive, if you drive you'll see things you'd never see from the air."One transportation mode is not better than the other, "just different."
Fascinated with the Arctic -- a place that "makes the Iron Range look positively overcrowded" -- Erickson
often took photographs and notes on his
sojourns in the wild country.
Friends had been telling him for years that he
should write a book.Finally, he
decided the time was right.
"I'd been writing articles for many years.It was an easy transition," he
It took him three years to write "True North," starting out on a computer that had little memory.And he
is satisfied with the results."My unhumble assumption is that it's pretty good," said the 1952 Virginia Junior College
and 1956 University of Minnesota graduate.
The Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame named Erickson Author of the Year 2000 for the book and his
many articles on aviation.
"True North" tells the story of just one of Erickson's many solo flights.The trip took him from Minnesota to Churchill, Manitoba, to Nanavut just below the Arctic Circle, through the Northwest Territories into Alberta and British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and Alaska.
Calling ahead to many locations to make sure fuel would be awaiting him, "I stopped where I felt like it when fuel was not an issue" -- "like a bee flying from blossom to blossom," Erickson
"When people ask if I've ever been lost, I explain that with the extra fuel that I carry, 'I can't get lost,' I say, as I pull out my pocket map and drop a finger into the center of the Territories' 'Zone of Inaccessibility,'" Erickson
writes in the book.
stopped to explore, Erickson
talked with locals.And he
observed creatures -- large and small -- in areas where few humans will ever set foot.He
writes of an encounter with a herd of caribou.
"Drawn by the faint, characteristic clicking sound of caribou ankle bones, I turn to the northwest.The clicking fades, then returns more strongly, carried on the wind.A set of antlers rises over the crest of the island as a caribou bull grazes into sight. ...I raise my camera to center him in the viewfinder and discover a forest of antlers behind him.
"When the bull is forty feet away, he
spots me, snorts loudly and stops.
It amazed him, Erickson
said, as he
stood in the middle of 10,000 caribou and the animals passed right by him, "as though I were a post," he
said."They'd never seen a human before."Erickson
faced many other animals on his
trip, some from just feet away -- polar bears, killer whales, and musk oxen.
"The country in the Yukon is particularly beautiful," Erickson
said.And the treeless area of northwest Baker Lake, located in Nanavut, "is beautiful in a stark way ... beautiful like a desert."
set out to write the book, Erickson
had two main purposes.
Readers have told him how they've enjoyed the way science was woven into "True North," Erickson
said."Many people have said that they learned a lot."After reading "True North," a man named Larry Doudt, a retired airline captain, remarked that the book "was the best book I've read in my life," Erickson said.
is grateful of that because they back up some of the more incredulous stories of which he
writes, such as the time he
came across a skull he
named "Unok" in the Northwest Territories, or the seaplane pilot he
encountered who had landed his
plane with the nose stuck straight into the beach, tail pointed skyward.
"In spite of being very cautious," Erickson
writes of his
own close calls -- some which could easily have been fatal, and of other dangers, including storms and forest fires.
Erickson's wife, Sally, is supportive of his
really good about it," but does not accompany him on his
two adult sons, Lars and Chris, do not share his
enthusiasm for flying as well, he
"True North" is available at bookstores nationwide and on the online bookstore Amazon.com.Erickson -- who is involved in several humanist and environmental organizations and is a member of the National Center for Science Education -- is donating all of the profits from the book to educational charities.His
second book, "Time Traveling with Science & the Saints," is set to be published by early next year."It challenges the assumption that religion civilized the world," Erickson
In the meantime, he
keeps busy flying and presenting a variety of travel and nature slide lectures to students, senior citizens, and pilots.
hopes the United States audience will be as pleased with "True North" as readers in Canada.