Alaska

Ever since I started this project I’ve been a little afraid of Alaska. It’s so big, so far. So full of uncharted territory. “The last frontier” as they say. Between the cold temps and detachment from the lower 48, it just wasn’t high on my list of 50 states to run in. And while I sometimes like jumping into daunting adventures (oh hello, California) something about Alaska had me scared. Similar to the way I feel about other things I want—like a life partner or being a successful writer—but am a little bit afraid of, I needed a push to fulfill my dreams. I needed a push to Alaska. I just wanted somebody to send me there. And then one day, somebody did.

I’d been a copywriter at UnCruise Adventures for six months, and finally, finally, the role was running a very close second to “the best job I ever had” as a Peer Writing Advisor at my undergraduate university’s writing center where I spent most of my shifts contributing to the irreverent staff quote board and tearing up over the appropriate use of a semi colon. I love my job. Love being creative and an “eagle eye.” Love my focus on creating captivating marketing copy with the occasional, outside-the-box “can you make this sound better?” request from other departments. I was starting to feel, after years of wrestling with ill-fitting teaching, admin., and seemingly- awesome-but-still-routine writing jobs, I had found my place. To top it all off, the office is at Fishermen’s Terminal, a location that is not only a 30-minute walk from my apartment but also a haven for all that is “real.” Here’s what I mean. I’d worked for eight years in South Lake Union and downtown, land of glossy buildings, people staring at their phones, mental illness, and a million tech companies whose services completely baffle me. At Fisherman’s Terminal there is a fish monger, three restaurants, a mail store, a letterpress stationary shop, and a barber. I have never once seen anyone texting and walking. It is all the tangible, real, see, touch, and taste experiences I’d craved. When I learned I’d be going on a 7-night adventure cruise in Alaska for work, I was ready for even more of what is real; ready for the “last frontier.”

It seemed the stars were aligning: somebody was sending me to Alaska. Even cooler, in the short window of time I had available to run a 5K in Juneau before my cruise set sail, the town was sponsoring a color run our company CEO was running in. Even though I don’t usually go for 5K races (exception: New Mexico) the race and the company was too serendipitous to skip. So I boarded a plane to Juneau—layered in running clothes and white shirts as a canvas for the color and hoped that the cortisone shot I’d received two days before for my nagging plantar fasciitis would kick in just in time.

It was a cool, gray day in Juneau. I waited at the starting area with two guests on the cruise and a handful of crew members who’d come down for the race. My foot felt good. Actually, better than it had in months, but running on pavement would be different. When the gun went off, runners tossed handfuls of colored dust in the air and set off. They quickly separated into little packs, including the CEO and the crew, and soon I was running alone. There’s not much to Juneau before the big cruise ships arrive, so all of a sudden things became quiet. And even though I always listen to music while running, I decided not to that day. Maybe I was hoping for a chance to visit with the CEO or just wanted to get a jump on the UnCruise “unplugged but completely plugged in” experience. And that was ok. Kids passed me in bursts of energy. We stopped running at every traffic light because the race was so small there weren’t any police to block off the route.  I passed closed tourists shops, gold-rush themed saloons, sculptures of fish and fishermen, and a few stations where Juneau residents politely threw colored dust in tiny handful directed below our shoulders. I finished alone, pain-free. Then I ran into the CEO and we walked back to the cruise hospitality suite together. He took me through the bar where the crew hangs out and the one shop that was open that has always been “good to UnCruise.” He pointed out the old mines in the hillsides outside of town and stopped to say ‘hello’ to the captain who would be leading my cruise. Like the run, the walk was quiet, causal, and easy.

I could go on about everything I experienced on my trip—from boot-sucking mud to the “white thunder” of calving glaciers—but  most of it will end up in marketing copy for UnCruise Adventures so you can look for it there when you’re booking your next 7-14 night adventure cruise.  What I haven’t put into marketing copy is what eerily relates back to my yearning to connect with what is “real,” or at least real to me: On my cruise I met two architects, two writers, a professor, a lawyer, a salesman, a real estate agent, a personal trainer, an art conservationist, a dentist, and a Presbyterian minister. It was like stepping into a child’s picture book of “the people in your neighborhood.” I didn’t meet a single person who worked in tech. Not that they weren’t there, I just didn’t meet them. And not that tech isn’t real, because it has created, supported, and sustained my life in a very real way. But it was nice, restorative, to be away from using it and talking about it for a week.  The last night of the cruise a bunch of us lingered at the bar (sans phones, of course) for an impromptu talent show. The architect rolled his tongue. The yoga teacher touched his tongue to his nose. The minister made a swan out of a dish towel. And the personal trainer challenged the salesman to a burpee challenge and popped through the ceiling tile in a burst of surprise and laughter. When someone swore there was bioluminescence over the bow, we ran outside to check it out. Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” played on the stereo and I lowered my head, tearing up with joy. If the ship had gone down that night, I would have died a happy woman.

These are the moments, friends. And we must, we must, get out of our schedules and phones to have them. Admittedly, I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to go on this adventure: to finish my Alaska 5K and walk through Juneau with the CEO of a company I love working for, to step in the softest, cushiest forest ground made from years of isolation, to taste fresh seaweed and hold a starfish in the palm of my hand. And I am grateful.

Going without internet can be scary. Uncharted territory can be scary. But the experiences and people we want in our lives are most often the ones we push away because (maybe) we are afraid of what might happen if we actually got them. We might be happy. We might have nothing—or at least not as much—to complain about. We might be fulfilled.

I wouldn’t have gone to Alaska the way I did if one day, when I realized I was unhappy at my previous job, I hadn’t run home from work and—still in my running clothes—sat on my balcony and looked for jobs. I wouldn’t have gotten that job if someone at UnCruise Adventures hadn’t believed I could write about these wild places. I wouldn’t have gone to Alaska if the company hadn’t felt I needed to experience Alaska in order to write about it. And in the midst of all that wilderness and writing, I happened to run a 5K. So, yes, I believe in dreams fulfilled. I believe in stepping into openness even when—especially when—it’s scary. I believe it is the only way to the thing we know we want.

Dedicated to the people and places of UnCruise Adventures.

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2 thoughts on “Alaska

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