You know when you spend an hour looking at a fitness magazine or watching potential YouTube videos to try and by the end of half an hour or so, you already feel kind of accomplished?
Heck with the workout, did you see all that page turning, clicking action I just did?!
Same thing with cooking or shopping or planning. You’ve basically already done it all just by browsing or thinking about it, right? I mean, basically.
It’s a fun little kickflip the mind does into a brand new stroke: been there, done that, may or may not have bought the t-shirt, made the cake or practiced the yoga.
Living in Alaska can kind of feel like that sometimes.
Drunk by Association.
I went to school for my freshman year of college on the East Coast. I was 17 and living away from home in the dorms. The dorms were not a place for drinking, it was forbidden. So, of course, we found sneaky ways to bring in way too much, way too cheap alcohol and imbibe specialty concoctions like Jungle Juice (exotic? I think not) and 7Up shots. Classy, classy drinking. Not always and not everyone but that wasn’t the point because whether everyone was drinking or just a few people were, the floor itself knew the deal and so, we nicknamed it Drunk by Association. If anyone got in trouble, everyone got in trouble and so by sheer association with the floor, you were drunk, by association.
Now, the Drunk of Alaska is a much healthier association (that’s a bizarre statement). The situation is exactly the opposite, while the basis remains exactly the same (keeping in line with the statement strangeness): you feel you are participating just by proximity, yet the difference is that whether or not you are participating is essential.
Every day in the wilds of Alaska, someone is doing something awesome. You hear about it, you think about it and then, just by being in the same proximity, it feels approachable, normal and just like that workout, almost as if you too have done it.
Being surrounded by such utter badassery, however, does not a badass make. Staring at a recipe does not a cake bake. You get my gist.
And so, sometimes, the Summer starts flying by and you chase the tail of its kite, giggling all the while, not noticing the cooling of the evenings and the dropping of the sun and suddenly, the kite flies just out of your reach.
My first Summer, that kite had no chance of getting away. I went ice caving and ice climbing and packrafting and hiking and flying and camping in the backcountry. Yet, by my second Summer, I was no longer in live/vacation mode, I was fully living in Alaska and I let the kite slip through my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I still adventured far more consistently than I ever had before in my life but I didn’t make it out to the glacier until late Summer and I let work take a front seat instead of fun (I mean, they could at least buckle in together, right?) I rectified this just as I saw the kite slipping away and righted myself to orient towards adventure but the bulk of the Summer had gone.
This last Summer, I vowed to myself to chase that kite with all my might. I told myself I would at least complete the trifecta: packrafting, ice climbing and a fly out.
Be careful what you wish for…especially in Alaska.
“Hey Jules, I was wondering if you would want to be in a video we are shooting?”
“It’s for the guide service. You could do packrafting or ice climbing…”
There it was, an underhand pitch of an opportunity to get out on the ice or into the water. I wasn’t working and if for some reason I was, I would get it off. I was going. As the date approached, the agenda started to change and shift and morph as it does and soon, the day came and…I was packing a little heavier than planned.
The day started early, I think an 8am curtain call or so in the hill town 45 minutes away. My girlfriend and I “carpooled”, meaning that she and I met half-way before the bridge and then she hopped on my trusty steed of a 4-wheeler and we whizzed up 1,000 feet of dirt road to the guide service of our dear friends and our shooting destination.
We were fitted for crampons for walking on the glacier and grabbed our ice climbing boots and harnesses and helmets and such and after a few test shots, packs packed down with gear, we were off. An hour or so later, we made it to the glacier.
The guides skillfully built out a climbing set-up as we snacked and chatted. How one drills into ice and it is somehow secure is beyond me, but that’s what trust is made of, people (it still freaks me out though).
It was climbing time.
It dawned on me, right as I was about to take my turn that I was about to be in a promotional video for my friends and I had ice climbed all of once ever in my life. Well, at least we wouldn’t be acting. The teaching moments were plenty as I hopped across the ice bridge at the base of the waterfall I would be climbing.
Yes, I dare say so.
A few ascents by The Talent (that’s us) and we were off to the next adventure.
Alaska had heard my cry loud and clear.
We were off to go packrafting.
Just then, the skies grew a little darker, threatening rain right after which we heard the offer:
“Do you two want to be the plane Talent?”
Before we knew it, my girlfriend and I were headed to the airport and after another snack break we were up, up, up and away and…
about ready to lose that snack.
The pilot was no newbie to the big blue yonder and he had us dipping and diving and turning on dimes enough times to buy an ice cream cone so the videographer could get just the right shots. Yet despite the green of my face, my heart fluttered. Being up in a plane is one of the best ways to fully grasp the grandiosity of where we are so lucky to call home base. Seeing it from the air gives you a whole new perspective.
We even happened to head up the same route the boys and I had taken the Winter before via snowmachine and seeing it in the Summer gave me a whole new appreciation for where we had gone, a place we could only see by plane in the Summer months or snowmachine in the Winter.
We landed an hour later, tummies turned but satiated by the absolute wonder that is our backyard and then, it was time for a break.
Now it was time for packrafting.
The plan: paddle around the glacial lake, play amongst the icebergs, call it a day.
Just as we had forecast, the skies further darkened and the winds picked up (this happens almost every afternoon). Yet paddling against the wind, though tiring, was how we were keeping warm and so it was a strange symbiosis. We wandered through icebergs, our friend/guide jumped off of one and then we had all of our shots. Call it a wrap?
The winds had blown us in the direction of the Training Grounds, a quick set of rapids before you get to the bigger rapids below. If there was ever anything perfect to describe the Alaskan mentality, this is it: two practice rapids and then, boom! Jump into the game. Why not?
And so, jump or rather, paddle we did.
I hadn’t packrafted more than once in my life so, with a few quick pointers coupled with some good old-fashioned waiting on the camera time, time enough to get pretty darn chilly, added with some enthusiasm (“I saw you paddling, you’ve got great form”) I was a concoction of ready to go.
And, go we went.
I was in a seriously sweet sandwich between three guide friends and my girlfriend, following my band mate in front and off we went. Two practice rapids down and a couple big ones to go and…
we made it.
I eddied out of the rushing current and watched as everyone else came in through the silty waves.
We got out (not before I tried to throw my sunglasses to a little girl standing at the water’s edge, whom I thought was an adult. Nice work, Jules. Lure the young’n into the raging river! What am I, a fast water silkie in The Secret of Roan Inish? Geez. The band mate apparently has better vision than I and put the kibosh on that one. Embarrassed? Yes.) and everyone was ready to run again but I felt solid with my day. Up a waterfall, up into the sky and down a river? Yes, thank you. My shaky muscles told me I would call it good there.
We stripped down out of our dry suits and found our third set of clothing (we’d gone from tank tops now to down jackets) and made our way to the meeting point as the film crew finished their last shots of the day.
It was time to celebrate.
And I’m pretty sure we did but I can’t remember anything other than being exhausted.
In one day, I had completed the Trifecta: all of my Summer adventure goals: ice climbing, packrafting and getting up in the air.
Apparently, Alaska had been listening.
She threw a serious curveball to the whole I Read About Exercising So I’ve Basically Run a Marathon, Drunk by Association, Scaled a Mountain Because Others Did Around Me farce. She was out for reality and the granting of three wishes in the package of one amazing day.
The place we call home has this magic to it. It’s a sort of “Be careful what you wish for” because it will come back full force (or in threes) type of land. It’s the kind of place that looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you sure?”
I am sure.
Cheers to doing not just viewing, to jumping into a new pool, wherever that may be.
Thank you, Alaska for the opportunities you provide and the humbling lessons that go along with them and…
Thank you KWG for such a perfect trifecta. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.
And now…for your viewing pleasure: The awesomeness that is our dear friends’ company KWG (Kennicott Wilderness Guides) and “The Talent”: Watch it. It’s awesome.