Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Archives: Alaska

Where to start with the archives? Why not from somewhere near the beginning of the adventures? I'm not sure where I contracted wanderlust, but it's quite possible it's genetic.

Before my sister and I were born my parents agreed that when we moved from 5th to 6th grade we would get to go on a trip to a place of our choosing with the parent of the same gender. The reasoning was that teenagers often have trouble getting along with their parent of the same gender, so the trip might help head off some of the problems. Unfortunately for my dad, they had two daughters.  My sister headed to Hawaii with my mum while my dad and I drove up to Montreal through Acadia on mini vacation of our own.

Then my turn arrived, first I considered Greece, but ended up settling on Alaska. We arrived in Whitehorse in the Yukon in the summer so the hours of darkness were few and far between.  After a quick stop at the Dairy Queen, a family tradition, and settled in for a night before taking off. The next morning we started off on a white water rafting trip down the Tatenshini River, from the Yukon into Alaska.

There were about 8 of us on the trip, along with two guides, one of whom was the second woman ever to scale Everest.  There were also two French Canadians working at an oil site in Alaska and a couple other people, but I was the only person under 30.  Although I was only 11, I was already tall and excited about getting to paddle through the rapids. Unfortunately they didn't expect me to be able to help, and only brought enough paddles for the adults. While this might sound like a godsend, where I could just sit on top of the luggage and take in the breathtaking cliffs and be in charge of spotting bears, as the rain began my mum and I realized it might be a problem. It started raining on our second day and never let up for an entire day until the end of the trip.  Sitting still in the rain, I began to shiver, and just got colder and colder as the days went by. The trip was exciting, the rapids were powerful and the scenery was incredible, but the longer I sat still the closer I got to hypothermia. Eventually I could barely get myself off the raft, and when the guides tried to get me to run up and down the beach to warm up I was just too tired.

One night we camped inside a dried up river bed after a full day of paddling and darkness slowly arriving. I was filled up with chocolate and tucked inside a sleeping bag in a tent while everyone else cooked dinner. I slowly began to warm up, but then I heard worried shouts. The rain was starting again and running down the river bed into our camp. It was too late to move so everyone started building walls out of rocks and sand to keep the water away. As I lay in my tent still cold but slowly recovering, listening to everyone hurriedly working together to save our campsite, I remember being glad I had come. Because although it wasn't quite what I'd signed up for, with the cold and the rain, the baby grizzlies and the cliffs and jumping into an Alaskan river to a very quick bath and hearing stories from all the interesting people I'd met was certainly above and beyond the average 5th or 6th grade experience.

I haven't been North of Vancouver since then, but am absolutely planning to go back. With a warmer coat and a paddle of course.

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