Flashback to my junior year of high school in Boise, Idaho - a booming chamber of a room that was later to host prom, dressed then in the emblems of academia, clothed tables and postered curtains backdropped the plastered smiles of college representatives, stacks of pamphleted propaganda. I had a hard time taking any of it seriously - my only desires for college at the time were compulsory, wrought by peer pressure (having an answer for the questions of where I was headed) and expectation - from teachers, not from my parents. Academics were never a point of priority in my upbringing, I didn't even know the meaning of Bachelor's degree until I was a semester in to community college - but that's a different story. The college fair was to me, at the time, nothing more than a glorified reason for another excused absence.
While there, I was drawn to the muted and subtle curb appeal of Alaska Pacific University, where images of rugged landscapes played backdrop rather than common, recognizable collegiate insignias. While I browsed, the rep informed me of a get-to-know-us trip for students my age in the lower 48, offered to market the great State of Alaska, its largest private school and the lifestyle and pedagogy it embraced, which they called Active Learning - totally caught my attention. I was Sold with a capital S. Signed up immediately and asked Mom for permission later (see also: begged for forgiveness). I paid for the trip from my ski instructor wages that season, and Mom reluctantly and eventually contributed airfare, but not before many embarrassing phone calls to the school to make sure I would be okay. To help me prepare, the library at the family cabin in central Idaho was scoured, multiple editions of Alaskan Bear Tales left on my pillow by loving cousins and Gramps that Memorial Day weekend. The gruesome stories of people being mauled to shreds heightened fear, but amplified the overall meaning of going. I was doing something Big. That I chose. And walking into the unknown. I embraced that.
So for two weeks of the summer of 2004, my nights were only as dark as midnight sunset followed by a hazy dawn. I wasn't mauled by bears, though we did stow our food in caches while camping on the beaches of Resurrection Bay, arriving by sea kayak on emerald water pooled beneath breathtaking vistas of glaciers descending from massive peaks. I hiked one of the most oft summited peaks of the United States and stared across the Pacific Ocean at the majesty of its tallest, Denali. I dove headfirst into the no-no of romance with a tripmate - gorgeous, wild, irreverently blissful young lust. I saw Anchorage, Seward, Wasilla, Mat-Su, and everything in between. I met my first female river guide, who taught me to read the frigid water of the Kenai River and sang the praises of the Nenana - the glacier fed, barely subarctic, rapid-wealthy body of water that creates the natural boundary of Denali National Park. That, I do believe, was the inception of my desire to guide.
Flash forward now - I've formally accepted a position as a guide on the Nenana River for the 2011 with Denali Raft Adventures. I report in June. I thought weeks ago when the opportunity first came up that it was to be a compartmentalized experience, with a tidy beginning and end - but change comes heavy when it enters my life it seems, and the solid bookends I was banking on to surround this experience have begun to wobble and dissolve. Who knows what the future may hold - yet again, I walk forward into the unknown. Embracing it. And I'm feeling pretty amped, and ALIVE.
There you go, official announcement. Scrap whatever else I've said...
Gypsy Life 2011: Alaska