Dave Halsey is back from 2 1/2 years in the Canadian wilderness with a storeroom full of tales to tell -- and sell.
The young McLean, Va., adventurer was in Oklahoma City this week telling a club of business and country club women what its like to sleep under the stars when it's 45 degrees below zero, and watch wolves in the moonlight.
His fee for the talk was about $750.
"Sure I've been criticized," said Halsey, who traveled from the west to east coast of Canada -- 4,600 miles in all -- by foot, dogsled and canoe. "Particularly by the young people who think I've sold out because I want to market the trip. They're criticizing me for trying to make a dollar off the wilderness."
Halsey feels he paid his dues and it's his turn to cash in if he can.
"You saw how ridiculous it was at the start," he said. "In Alberta, we collected returnable bottles at the garbage dumps just so we'd have enough money for a few beers on my birthday. We were running the rapids in a canoe full of empty bottles.
"I've got scars all over my body, arthritis in my right hand, a damaged face and hands from frostbite. I couldn't walk for a couple of days last winter from frozen toes and I lost all my toenails. They're only now starting to grow back.
"And I have an ankle full of metal (pins from a broken ankle last fall)."
So now it's time for a little return on the investments. Halsey has set aside the next two years for wrapping up "The Trip" and marketing it. He will write a book. There is talk of a movie or television series. There are the lectures and the prospect of a major magazine piece.
If you ask him what he learned from 30 months in the bush, Halsey says the biggest thing is this: I want to have my big house on the hill and a big car. I'm not knocking material things. But in the bush I learned to appreciate little things -- a hot cup of tea and a warm sleeping bag after a day of winter traveling.
"I'm not going to compromise my financial goals, but I'm a lot calmer now. If things don't work out, I realize it's no reason to shoot yourself."
If there are twinges of doubt in his eyes and his words, it's a strange source.
Halsey is about the most indefatigable doer that ever walked. And heaven knows he's walked.
He set off in May 1977 with a handpicked crew of three others to do a great deed -- cross Canada without any motorized help.
Within a week, the crew had deserted him and he sat alone in the Rockies, knowing he had to go on alone or scrap a voyage he'd spent a year planning and preparing for.
He went on, and before fall set in he had accepted a new partner, Pete Souchuk of Chicago. Souchuk stayed until the end.
They arrived at the destination Halsey had picked off the map three years before -- Tadoussac, Quebec -- on Aug. 17, almost a year behind schedule.
Only now is Halsey willing to admit that "when we started I didn't think there was any chance of making it to Tadoussac.
"Well, I thought it was one in 10. But I couldn't let on because I was the trip leader. It was an attempt. I had the same misconceptions everyone else did about the north -- the idea that you've got lions and tigers and bears around every corner; that you're going to be facing the north wind every step of the way."
After Souchuk joined him and they started the first winter of travel, he said, "We'd go to bed every night thinking, 'My God, are we going to wake up in the morning?'" It was 35 degrees below zero. They learned to live with it.
Now Halsey is back home with a bag full of moccasins and beads, a room full of color slides and a half-coyote dog named Ki to remember his voyage by.
And a head full of questions.
As in the tale of the lynx lure.
It seems that early on in the first winter, Halsey was sharing some whiskey with a Metis (half Indian) trapper. The trapper was impressed that the young white would drink with him when he could have been with other whites.
So the trapper offered a present -- a good luck lynx lure in a leather pouch. "Keep this," the trapper told him, "and you will have no trouble in the bush."
Halsey half believed and half didn't. A few weeks later, he ran across a man in another camp and asked him about the lure. An old Indian woman overheard and dragged him aside.
She scolded Halsey for not taking the magic seriously -- for doubting it -- and she told him his luck would turn bad if he didn't make sincere apologies and an offering.
The luck ran out. His snares yielded no rabbits. A vicious storm sent north winds in his face for weeks on end. One night, when the stores were depleted, he and Souchuk made camp early and he set 30 snares. At midnight, he went out to check them and they were barren.
He thought about what the woman had said. As he stood in the freezing moonlight, he began to frame his apology, and as he did so a rabbit raced across his feet and into a snare.
He picked up the rabbit and, feeling a little foolish, made a hole and buried it along with the lynx lure.
When he got back to camp, Souchuk told him of strange doings. While Halsey was out, he said, the candles in their tent had flickered and died. There was no wind in the tent to blow them out. It had happened a half-hour before, Souchuk said, just when Halsey had been performing his burial.
The wind died after that. The rabbits came back to the snares. "Our luck changed," said Halsey.
Now he wonders if it's right to tell that story, or if by doing so he makes more fun of something he's come almost to believe in.