May in Alaska is its own kind of insanity. It’s not quite summer, but it might as well be. We’re wringing out the dampness of break-up, and maniacally running errands until 11 p.m. because, hey, the sun’s still out. We’re in that period where the hours of civil twilight are no longer civil. Our out-of-state friends mock us as we gawk at the new light hours, forgoing sleep in the name of adventure. “This happens every year,” they say “and you’re still shocked every time.”
But in the midst of the “we”, there are the silent moments alone, doing the mental homework, asking the hard questions: Am I ready? Have I prepared to the best of my ability? When it gets hard, will I be who I want to be? I’ve spent countless hours, alone on a treadmill or lying on a yoga mat in a puddle of my own sweat visualizing the trip ahead, going mano a mano with doubt and demons—it’s personal. George
The last of my bourbon coffee burned as it slid down my throat. I took in the morning cold as Jet-A, sweeter than perfume, sailed through my nose. It was finally time to leave this mountain and I – smelling to high heaven, toes still numb from frost nip – couldn’t freaking wait.
It’s the tourist town you’ve seen dozens of times before, with an economy driven by frat boys, active couples, and Euro-American tri-athletes enjoying familiar fun. Along the sandy roads tour companies stacked like hot cakes, offer similar activities—bike tours, sand boarding, lagoon visits and the like. I stayed for several days enjoying the heat, the bars and typical tourist haunts. It was a nice departure from the days before of 13-hour bus rides, stomach flus and language barriers. Here, in this little oasis in the middle of the desert, I didn’t have to use made up sign language to place my espresso order and I suddenly wasn’t the only one slathering on SPF like it was going out of style. Yes. It was alright here. Comfortable.
That’s the thing about this time in our history. It feels clear and muddled at the same time. There are layers. Not unlike the crowd and mixed ideologies of signage, this collective sense of unease spans across genders, political parties, and philosophies. It’s there for many, without a place to direct it.
So, why are we doing this? I’m not entirely sure. I do know I have my reasons. Sure, I’ll say it’s to stay informed and safe, but really I’m somewhat fascinated by it all, and I suspect I’m not alone. Yet, even as new developments come closer to solving some of the more troubling homicides this year, it feels a bit early to throw caution to the winds.
I knew this trip especially would test me in ways I’d not yet been tested and there was no getting around it. No matter the parallels with my team, my experiences would be mine and I was the only one who could deal with them.
I walked through that new world on unsure feet. Charlotte approached it coolly, with competence, skill, and self-assuredness. I paid close attention, hoping some of it would rub off on me. I soaked in all of her sage knowledge. I learned the mechanics of a proper rest-step, how to stay nourished at altitude, to barter for Wi-Fi in a teahouse, to elegantly dismiss sexist comments, and to fiercely defend myself when needed.