Thursday, July 20, 2017

Life At The Limit

Born on November 22, 1952, Keldon Jon Tjaden, who came to be known as "Kelly," grew up in Dickinson, a town in the western part of the North Dakota that's about as close to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan as it is to Billings, Montana.

A late surprise to a family of four, Kelly joined three older sisters and a brother. His father managed the parts department of the local Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership.

As a youth, he won a reading contest at school and it developed into a lifestyle, becoming an avid reader and excellent writer along the way. In high school, he was a state champion in archery and he continued hunting into his later years. As soon as he could leave Dickinson, he did -- joining the U.S. Army and serving in Germany.

Upon his return to the U.S., he moved to the State of Washington, enrolling in Central Washington University in Ellensburg and exploring the North Cascades for the first time. A year later, Kelly transferred to Western Washington University and enrolled in the Huxley College of the Environment, the oldest environmental college in the U.S.

Named after Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist, the school focuses on environmental-related industries including habitat biology, renewable energy, toxic waste mitigation, environmental education and more. Huxley, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, was the grandfather of Aldous Huxley, who penned “Brave New World.”

As Kelly sought his degree in environmental studies and urban planning, he labored for the U.S. Forest Service and in the burgeoning industry of kayaking to support his educational pursuits. Once we parted ways, he to Bellingham and Seattle, and me to Eugene, we saw each other more infrequently, but regularly, through the 90s.

The most remarkable aspect of Kelly’s personality was his enthusiasm and zeal for all things outdoors. Ancient dinosaurs had nothing on Kelly; this fellow stomped on the terra. His energy was magic. We shared many memorable trips in the wilds and on the water, as he did with many other friends. He always took it to the limit.

Whether ski mountaineering, Nordic marathon skate skiing, distance cycling, ocean kayaking, mountain and rock climbing, backpacking, floating and paddling wild rivers or sailing the ocean blue, outdoor adventure was his focus, providing him with meaning and spirit and accomplishment, and he attracted many like-minded friends.

In 1989, he kayaked the Bering Strait with a team of adventurers from the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union, a goodwill expedition hatched in a time of “glastnost” that almost ended in disaster. His description of surviving high seas and inclement weather was nothing short of harrowing, nay death-defying.

His professional career was as varied as his outdoor pursuits: wilderness ranger, kayak designer and entrepreneur, backcountry and sea kayak expedition leader, ship painter, maintenance foreman, and project manager on a fire station, zip line installations and a variety of environmental mitigation efforts.

His legacy, however, will be his many friends, all unique solar systems in a galaxy of companions, in Washington, Alaska and other locales throughout the West, and indeed, the world. Loved by many, they will all remember his incendiary energy, engaging personality, wild spirit, keen intelligence and loving kindness. 

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