My eyelids are baggy, and I’m tired to the point that my body is physically exhausted but there’s this small, grating energy inside me. It feels like waking up at 3am, partly nauseous, when even drinking coffee sounds unappealing, but you force it down anyways.
I can’t rest even though I’ve been mostly awake all night, or barely asleep sitting up, trying desperately to find a comfortable nook for my head in the airplane seat.
This last flight is short, maybe 30 minutes, and the sun is rising on the Aleutian Chain.
It might be because I was bone-tired, but that moment still feels like a dream. In fact, it felt like a dream until I left on the other end of the summer, less of a greenhorn and with more black fly bites. With less surprise at my own remarkable ability to do unexpected things and more appreciation for salmon slime.
I live in my head. Stories form there, down to the word, to the scene. Maybe it’s the writer in me, maybe I’m no different than the majority of humans, but my fantasies are strong and bulky, they linger.
I had a running vision of Alaska that started late in high school.
I would live in an RV, with the gaudy curtains and brown seat cushions. I would sit at my kitchen table/bed, my window facing south. I would be a writer, typing away at a computer, the steam of my coffee swirling in the air. I would probably waitress on the side, at a diner with soggy hashbrowns and too-crispy toast.
I would be alone, I would be strong, I would brave, bears and chicken-sized mosquitos be damned.
But then the dream didn’t happen.
I wasn’t alone, I ended up at college surrounded by thousands of other students. I wasn’t strong, I decided I couldn’t go to AK without a friend. I wasn’t brave, because when I couldn't find a friend to go with me, I decided being alone in the wild north didn't jive (even though being with someone else wasn’t in my original Alaska fantasy).
So I let that vision go. It slid away into the recesses of my “dream life” and only resurfaced when being alone seemed better than being around anyone else.
But it came back to me, as these things tend to do. It came back to me in the form of an internship with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Kodiak Island.
I would spend a summer licking-and-sticking salmon scales, throwing rocks at bears the size of sedans, and getting very familiar with the nuances of the people that go to Alaska to be alone.
It wasn’t exactly my original vision, but it worked.
It worked in the way that big moments do. The times when you have to hold your head up, unsure of what exactly you’re doing standing on a lake shore alone, waving bye to a float plane, your pants on the outside of your Extra-tuffs because you’re too green to know any different.
The moments when it’s a deep breath, and forceful exhale, pushing away doubts because you certainly don’t have the option to turn around now as water droplets from the plane propeller hit your face.
The moments when you’re forced to reckon with yourself and do things that are uncomfortable, like walking alone for the first time in the Kodiak backcountry with nothing but a knife and whatever tune you can come up with to sing to the bears who most certainly are on your path (because you saw them from the plane window).
It’s those times we fantasize about, when you’re on your own, being strong, being brave. We imagine them every day, and yet. . .only seldom are we able to live them out.
But when we do, it hardens us. It makes our resolve and our determination less soft. It’s those moments we should fight for, because without them, you’re just another person playing it safe instead of hardening the-fuck-up*.
It's that summer I find myself reflecting on when I'm wondering if I can pull something off. If I can live a life, and do something drastically different than what I'm used to.
I had always pictured myself being the women holding the shotgun in Alaska, trudging through the woods and up mountains, living in a wall tent. There were plenty of people who thought I was too fancy to get gritty in the backcountry for 4 months. My cushy life meant I never had the proof that this was a reality I could actually live.
Until, of course, I lived it. We make our own realities, I just had the resolve to change mine and the belief that I could, if even for a summer.