Colleen Mondor is a historian, reviewer and long-time writer on Alaska aviation. She is the author of The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska and has also been published in numerous online sites and print magazines and contributed hundreds of aviation articles to Alaska Dispatch News. She is currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition and speaks often on the topic of the dangerous consequences of the bush pilot myth.
Here is an excerpt of something I wrote for Bloom (an online site) several years ago. It’s actually through reading this a couple of years after I wrote it that my agent found me:
This is how stories find us, really: we sit at a library desk, we scroll through documents, we scan the shelves, we open the books. We look and, most importantly, we listen. My whole life I have been told over and over to “write what you know.” What I did not realize when I was younger was that what I know best is how it feels to be lost and, even worse, to be forgotten.
Within the heart of the tallest peak in North America, is a man who scaled mountains pursuing the secrets of the universe. My own stories have always seemed far too small and insignificant, and yet I find myself oddly belligerent about Carpé’s vanished legacy. Write what you know, I tell myself, and while I do not know what those last terrifying moments of fear and resignation must have been like, still . . . I do know what it is to be lost.
A careful consideration of my personal cartography yields moments where I disappeared in the sound and fury of parental arguments, held court in the corners of high school and college parties that whirled around my silent observing self, and struggled through flying courses that took me off the ground but left me unsure of where I wanted to go. An entire decade of my life was punctuated with one careless step after another, pins in a coming-of-age map that trace my journey across the country, in and out of jobs and romances, a return to college out of desperation as much as hope.
At 25 and 30, I was looking for myself, but now, finally, I am searching for others. Somehow, unbelievably, I found Allen Carpé. This is the kind of research discovery that a writer should never question. The story is already there, written in all those trips north, in a geography that haunts, in scientific dedication and a cold and brutal fall. Sadly, the truth of the Cosmic Ray Expedition has already been lost once; it seems cruel to let it slip away again. Besides, now I know it and in every way that matters, this story has become a little bit mine and I can’t let it go.