On June 7, we approached the end of our orientation week as MICA Guides interns. Simultaneously, we were informed that the next three days would be spent backpacking in the Alaskan backcountry. I had been on a few backpacking trips with my family previously. Also, I have spent my whole life hiking in the Northern Cascades near Seattle. I didn’t really expect this trip to really be any different from the trips I had grown up taking. It turns out that this would be the trip where I got my first real introduction to Alaska.
The Alaska Welcoming Committee
We headed out the morning of June 8. We left base camp two hours earlier than we had planned, so we thought all would be well. As we pulled into the trailhead of Pinochle, where we were beginning our hike, it started to downpour. It did not stop raining the entire way up to where we were camping. And I, with my $10 Costco rain jacket, was not prepared for such a wet day.
The beginning of the trek to our campsite went without issue. But after a couple miles I started to realize my pack was too big (borrowed from my much taller brother). My jacket was not that waterproof, and my heart wouldn’t go below 170 bpm despite the number of rest breaks I was taking.
I started to lag behind the rest of the group. Slowly I became more frustrated with myself as I couldn’t keep up. It seemed like this was my first time to really “prove myself” as a true person of the outdoors. For a while, the rest of the group would wait for me to catch up. Eventually the team helped take some of the load off of my pack and continue the rest of the way up to camp. This left me alone with Baxter, one of the two senior staff on the backpacking trip.
The last couple miles were pretty miserable. I was soaking wet, stopping every 100 yards to catch my breath and calm my heart down. Simultaneously, acknowledging that the rest of the group was probably already at camp setting up. That’s not to say it was all terrible. A highlight was definitely when I convinced Baxter to take a bite out of a tree to see what it was like to be a moose. I think it’s pretty safe to say that we weren’t really all there in the head anymore. Additionally, we were able to concluded that trees don’t taste all that great.
Finally, we reached the campsite where the rest of the crew had already begun setting up their tents. Seeing as half of our tent gear was in my pack, Hope had not set up our tent yet. But as I stood there trying to get the tent out of my pack, I realized that I was in no condition to actually pitch camp. The other interns realized this as well. They directed me to go warm up inside their tent while they helped set up mine. The rest of the afternoon was spent curled up in my dry clothes and sleeping back. I shivered four hours later, trying desperately to warm up my mildly hypothermic body. I remember thinking that this was going to be a really terrible few days.
A Day of Celebration
After some warm drinks and a warm dinner, we all crashed early for the night. We prayed that the rain would stop by the morning. Around 9am on June 9th, I crawled out of my tent to a perfectly clear sky. I just stood there for over a half hour, taking in the incredible mountains surrounding me. It was a complete 180 degree switch from the miserable first day of our trip. This was lucky for me, as I realized that this was the view I was waking up to on my 20th birthday.
As we all scrambled out of our tents for a breakfast of oatmeal, not a single one of the other interns gave me a hard time for the difficulties I had the day before. They all just made sure I was good to go for the 11 mile hike planned for the day (luckily without a pack this time) and I was ready to go. To be honest, I didn’t really expect anybody to make this birthday a special one. I haven’t had a lot of luck with birthdays in the past. And to note, I’d only known these people a week. However, nobody forgot about me that day.
We spent much of the hike discussing everyone’s favorite birthday stories from their childhood, talking about hilarious disasters and fun times with friends. I really got to know the other interns better, and felt at home with them. Getting back to camp, the senior guides surprised me with a birthday cheesecake. The was a delicious dinner of chili beforehand, and everyone sang Happy Birthday. That may not sound all that special to everyone, but it meant the world to me.
A Trip to Remember
Looking back on that trip, it’s incredible how different those two days were. I went from expecting a terrible birthday, to being surrounded by an amazing group of people who truly made that day something special that I would never forget. That day, the crew at MICA Guides became my family and my home. I knew I was going to have an amazing summer, despite any difficulties that Alaska would throw at me (and trust me, it threw many). Nothing can beat the community of the interns. The ones who all took a terrible, rainy day and turned it into one of the happiest days of my life. Alaska can be pretty powerful like that, and I’m excited to see what else it brings to me.