It wasn't anything more, or anything less, than just a job that would give me airside access so I could photograph airplanes from inside the secured area instead of photographing them with telephoto lenses standing on a stepladder leaning over barbed wire fences. I didn't want to be a pilot. Although that's not quite true. I didn't want the $100,000 debt to become a commercial pilot in 10 years, if I was lucky. I wanted to be an air traffic controller, and I still do. That and a tree planter.
But anyway, playing real life tetris with 32kg suitcases, also came with the benefit of standby travel.
the aurora chase that never was supposed to be
Arriving into northern Norway by Hurtigruten, I accidentally stumble into the northern lights when the host of my hostel (knowing my nationality, but not my name) runs up the stairs to me in the guest lounge and yells 'CANADA! NORTHERN LIGHT!'. Here begins the love affair of a lifetime.
everything's perfect in the dead of winter
In a quieter than you can imagine fishing village at the very southern tip of the Lofoten Islands, myself and a couple from Australia watched the fireworks at 12:03am on the 1st of January 2008 as a celebration of the new year. After quietly quitting/leaving with flight benefits my job at the airport again, I just wanted the darkest, quietest winter days with the cosiest winter nights at guesthouses.
ICEHOTEL - JUKKÄSJÄRVI, SWEDEN
the ongoing love affair with winter
Nothing felt more perfect than returning for the second consecutive year to the ICEHOTEL in Lapland, where it was a positively balmy -5° inside my room, compared to the -27° it was outside snowmobiling to a cabin in the forest to spend the night viewing the aurora.
the 'aha!' moment
When the Olympics came to Vancouver, and the world was flying in, a 36 hour stand-by travel journey out was my dream. From a chance meeting back in 2007 while I was staying a few nights in Tromsø, Kjetil invited me to stay with he and his family these couple weeks. We chased the lights overnight, watched Olympic hockey at 4am back home and enjoyed afternoon drives through the countryside. What I knew, and grew to know more of, about the aurora was because of Kjetil. The love of chasing the lights, sharing it with others, photographing it, and driving through winter storms all for it is because of him, and the care and warmth he radiates is why I didn't die of frostbite when I went out on tour severely underdressed.
CENTRAL MOUNTAIN AIR & FORT NELSON, BC
a little bit of crazy
It could be argued that these were two very unlikely sources of happiness. The taxi drivers from the airport invariably thought I was out of my mind coming here to try to see the northern lights. But a $1 standby flight to northern British Columbia and a little bit of luck during solar storms provided a few memorable nights in this sleepy town.
VANCOUVER - EDMONTON - YELLOWKNIFE
because it's the destination furthest north on westjet's route map
WestJet 108 to Yellowknife. This flight became my religion. Between 2011 and 2013, I kept track of the dates of all 25 trips, the exact aircraft I flew, boarding passes, and how much it broke my heart landing back in Vancouver sometimes just 36 hours after I had left. Sunrises over the rocky mountains from 38,000 feet became regular but never uninteresting. Window seats were always sought after, and somehow granted, even on standby. It was the luckiest few years of my life, and the years of my life that forever changed my life.
VANCOUVER, BC (REALLY)
all nighters a five minute drive from my old apartment
A lime green car named Aurora and license plate frame reaffirming my wish to be in the Northwest Territories instead. The last few years in Vancouver left a lot of longing for the north, but occasionally a favourite part-of-the-whole would venture down to visit.
A FAIRYTALE ENDING IN ICELAND
the retirement dream
Why stand pat on savings for the downpayment of my dream home in Yellowknife when I could blow through it over five weeks in one of the most expensive countries in the world? Because intuitively I couldn't help myself from it. So for the second time in a year and a half, I found myself lightly chasing the lights through the land of fire and ice, and love, this time. On my first night, when I swore off staying in any hostels because I love quiet Nordic guesthouses too much, I stayed in a hostel, met my girlfriend, a few hours later drove us right through the best few minutes of the aurora that night, but the next night watched them from a geothermally heated pool overlooking a fjord that I couldn't mess up. Today, it's still a little bit puzzling that Morgan stays with me, but I'm certain it's mostly to do with my guilty-by-association to her romantic memory of the perfection in outdoor geothermal pools, the sounds of the ocean, and the aurora all together.
THE NO EXPERIENCE GUESTHOUSE HOST BEGINNING
the most terrifying years of my life
Sean's Guesthouse was the most amazing idea. It was why I was, after living the first 28 years of my life in the same one square kilometre of Richmond, BC, moving 2,300 kilometres north. It was my first mortgage, and I planned (read: didn't have a choice) but to pay every penny of everything from having guests stay in my home with me, hopefully join me aurora chasing because I knew I would be going out every night anyway, as long as I could afford the gas somehow. Although I was certain that I could still watch for them off my deck, for the two months of the aurora season it isn't frozen shut. But somehow in all of this, you found me, came to support me, and you gave me the experience of my life in two years of being in way over my head running my guesthouse and aurora chases, and it all began from my love and intuitive life of hygge.
Inheriting our old neighbour's community garden box upon their move home to Sweden, we have begun arguably the greatest revolutionary act one can make in life today - growing our own food. We water while we play the Swedish yard game Kubb, and our summer evenings are spent quietly in 11pm sunlight on our deck with comforting drinks, ever hopeful of incoming storms.
So while in a move toward personal sustainability, I closed my guesthouse in May 2017, my nightly aurora chases continue, and I hope will continue for as long as the magnetic north pole keeps the auroral oval overhead of Yellowknife. This is my favourite thing in the world, and this was the short version of how it came to be.