Words and photos by Jill Macdonald
Lead photo by Jordan Manley
Let me start by saying that Jordan is a professional, above all else. He brings with him knowledge, compassion and artistry. So when I watched this experienced photographer turn pale, and become increasingly distressed, it was clear that our story was circling the toilet.
On assignment: The idea came to me through a friend in the office. Nicole Dorr is a 48 year old German athlete who fell in love with the Yukon Arctic Ultra race two years ago, and came back this year to try the 430 mile/700km course from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Putting together the Graceful edition of Lithographica, the austerity of the place and her solo, soulful and hardcore journey seemed a perfect fit.
First glitch: -37°C temperatures waited for us in Braeburn, Yukon Territory. In the Vancouver airport, Jordan tried to break my shell of denial, but I’m pretty skilled. We landed in Whitehorse, met by our guides, Thomas and Werner, and within hours were given a dressing down on how to gear up for sub 40. Re-equipped, we hit the road to intercept Nicole. Frost formed inside the heated truck.
Chasing stories is about finding the defining thought, the one thing that will inform all else. We had both done our homework and agreed that the lonely journey through landscape was the thread. How that looked was up to Jordan, but it was my responsibility to make certain that we were on the same page creatively.
As we waited for racers to come in to the Braeburn checkpoint, the list of athlete scratches grew longer and exhausted volunteer responders were dispatched to rescue people in distress. It was becoming a void of accomplishment and a catalogue of grisly results. The worst was an Italian skier who had to be taken to Whitehorse hospital with his foot outside the van window to keep it frozen, and another man with a blackened toe held close to the woodstove like he was roasting it. This was when Jordan turned pale.
What do you do when a story goes into a tailspin? We had both invested a substantial amount of time and energy preparing to be here, but of the two of us, I was committed to producing an end result. Jordan and I hadn’t worked together before so I gambled on being perhaps too direct in order to get something publishable out of the experience. I had no choice. We were going to follow someone, or several people, and capture that experience of a solo journey.
In the spirit of the place, or a tall Yukon tale, things ended well. Like the dog booties left along the trail, we picked up the pieces of our story and came to a vision of the original idea, through the grace of Nicole (our subject) and a mutual spirit of adventure.
Life delivers what it will. We didn’t stray far from where we started, but we ended up a long way past anything I expected. Raw, wild and indescribably soulful. I have a better sense of storytelling and immense respect for Jordan sticking through it with me.
For the the full feature story hit up Lithographica