Great Travel Books: Alaska Challenge by Bill and Ruth Albee

Alaska Challenge might be the oddest of all the books on my shelf.  Over seventy years old, it sits wedged in between more conventional books.  Its binding is coming apart a little, but other than that it is in pretty good shape.  It was written by Bill and Ruth Albee, copyrighted in 1940, and purchased by myself from a used book shop in Evanston in 2002.  Corey and Noel share a few similarities with Bill and Ruth Albee in that both couples have Illinois roots and traveled to Alaska shortly after getting hitched.  Bill and Ruth walked, Corey and I drove (Bill and Ruth were also cousins but Corey and I have no such blood link).  Like Corey and I, Bill and Ruth made a lot of fascinating friends and the journey definitely drew them closer together.

What I like best about the book:  It is through and through a truly awesome yarn.  Per Bill and Ruth, they poach moose to survive (and aggravate Canadian/ U.S. relations in doing so), get lost while following a bogus map sold to them by an old-timer, teach among First Nations people in the arctic, give birth, and witness the very end of the Hudson Bay Company’s trading post era.  Is it a completely factual book?  I doubt it; at the very least I am sure much of it is embellished.  The thing that truly captivates me is how little I know about Bill and Ruth Albee.  Believe me, I have tried and tried to get more information about them but the best I can come up with is that they toured some with the Chautauqua Circuit (a traveling tent show that featured an assortment of vaudeville and self-improvement/ religious type gurus).  I also found an article written by Bill that ran November, 1938 in Popular Mechanics magazine (http://blog.modernmechanix.com/dont-pity-the-poor-eskimo-part-i/).  That same article posting has several people commenting on how they found Alaska Challenge (almost always in a state of disrepair) and how they always wondered what became of Bill and Ruth Albee.  One person commenting on that article claims Bill as his great-uncle and stated that he passed away in 2010 at the age of 102.  I like to think that Ruth also lived to a grand old age and that the two of them and their children had lots and lots of adventures in all types of far away and exotic places.  Until told otherwise, that is the story I am going to stick with.