Monday, November 4, 2013

Here's to you Wrangell

My season as a wilderness therapy guide for Alaska Crossings has come to an end. It's crazy to think that a year ago I had a shattered arm and was physically and mentally recovering from a traumatic backpacking accident and now I've just finished up about 100 days canoeing and backpacking in the backcountry of SE Alaska with at risk teens. I feel as though I've overcome a lot just to be in the head space to do this job and I grew a lot as a person over the course of the season. I felt it was super important to reflect upon my time and what I gained from the experience, so I finished off the season with my end of season tradition of hiking up to a high point after sunset and writing out a list of all of the things I gained that I want to take with me, things that I want to get rid of, and what I want to gain out of the next stage of life. To top it off I burn my list of things I don't want to take with me and write out my favorite memories from the season to leave on a positive note. For the end of Alaska Crossings, I hiked up Dewey Mt (a short hike up to an overlook of Wrangell), toasted Wrangell and sat in silence looking at the cloudy sky and the city lights while reflecting on these past 8 months.

For the last few months my mind has been cloudy. I've been so concerned about the well being of kids that I haven't been able to take time to process my own thoughts. This job is intense. It can make you laugh, cry, proud and insecure all in the same instant. It's amazing, crazy, and sometimes a complete sufferfest, but most importantly super rewarding. It's hard to explain what guides go through or what this job really involves unless you've done it yourself. There were so many moments where I would hit a point of extreme exhaustion or frustration and wonder why I was out there, but then that moment would be followed by something ridiculous that I would make me laugh or have an "ah ha" moment and remind me why I do this job and why it's so great. Some snapshots of some of these moments were when the kids were argueing non stop and on the verge of punching each other in the face but it was over which super hero was better, or a kid in the bow of my boat wasn't paddling because he was too busy yelling about his irrational fear of spiders but as that's happening a humpback whale tale glided into the water 3 canoe lengths behind our boat, or when it was pissing rain and a kid woke me up at 2a to re-setup his tarp and I got back to my own tarp and the stake had come out of one of the sides and it way beating against my coguides face, but she was totally oblivious and sound asleep, or when the guide team would have a "paperwork party" the night before a resupply and stay up until 1a around a bonfire typing on computers and binging on as much sugar and caffine as possible to stay awake to catch up on paperwork, or when a kid wouldn't help load the boats no matter what I said to him, but once we got in the canoe he told me they felt like a pirate because he's on the ocean and all he needs is an eagle for his shoulder, or on my birthday when a kid who was always a struggle to get out of bed in the morning got up before everyone to make me a birthday cake or when I finally ran a group discussion with the younger boys who were never able to engage in discussions with the rest of the group, but I had a major breakthrough and the kids were super engaged and responsive to what I was saying, or the fact that I was in the woods for 48 days with 9 teenage boys and 2 male guides, but half of the boys let me paint their nails.

While I was up on Dewey and thinking about all of these memories plus so many others I realized that, yes, this job is crazy, but it's an awesome and totally unique experience. It is so hard, and sometimes not very fun, but it provides a lot of challenges to overcome, it is so rewarding to watch the growth of the kids and to build some pretty powerful relationships with kids who really need positive role models in their lives, and it allows you to really appreciate the small, yet super meaningful things in life. I learned so much this season and I still have so much to learn and I can continue gaining a lot of important skills by continuing to do this job which is important for me not to feel stagnent in my own life. 

In that instant of realization, it became clear to me that I had made the right choice in signing up to come back next year. I wrote down my lists and burned the things I didn't want any longer. When I finished, I looked up at the sky and there were millions of stars glimmering against a dark backdrop and not a single cloud in sight. Clarity. I stared in disbelief for a moment, smiled and then hiked down the mountain. See you next season Wrangell!