Potato Farms and Glaciers: Alaska’s Unexpected Surprises

50 years ago my dad, Giff, and his friend, Bill, took a path less traveled. While their high school friends found summer jobs or went off to college, these two hopped on a bus and traveled 4,000 miles to the great wilderness of Alaska.

As the story goes, they ended up in a roadhouse bar on the outskirts of Anchorage with no job, no money, and no connections. (This was loooong before Facebook!) Miraculously, they found work on a potato farm and proceeded to have the summer of their lives.

For as long as I can remember, Giff and Bill vowed to return to Alaska. But as anyone with a job or family can appreciate, life gets busy and dreams fade. However, nothing slingshots a dream into reality like encouragement from your wife to “just do it”, and that’s exactly the green light Giff and Bill recently were granted. They quickly booked their trip and lucky for my brother and me, they invited us. (Four word instructions from our mom and Bill’s wife: “Bring them back alive.”)

Alaska is everything you imagine: breathtaking vistas, pristine wilderness, grizzlies roaming the mountains and salmon swarming the rivers. The two highlights for me, however, were nothing I anticipated.

Highlight #1 came in the form of an old, beat-up delivery truck.
Fortunately for my dad and Bill, Alaska’s landscape hasn’t changed much and they retraced their steps to the potato farm where they worked all those years ago. Parked (permanently) on the farm was an old delivery truck that was probably last road worthy when these guys were driving it in 1961. Upon seeing it you’d have though Giff and Bill had come upon the Holy Grail.

Watching these two celebrate their discovery and relive a great memory, I found myself asking questions: “What are you doing today that 50 years from now you’ll celebrate? What adventures are you living that will inspire you or your family to revisit them decades later?”

The potato farm reunion reminded me that a great life experience never gets old.

You know the expression “moving mountains”? Well, highlight #2 was witnessing exactly that. Taking a boat ride along the coast, our captain pointed out a glacier in the distance. From afar, the glacier was unimpressive. It looked like an ordinary pile of snow between two mountains. Up close, though, gazing upon that massive glacier proved our first impression was completely inaccurate.

If you’ve not seen a glacier creeping toward the sea, imagine an 800 feet high mass of ice that stretches for miles in all directions. Now imagine that huge mountain of ice acting as if it’s alive. It moves and you can hear the ground crunching underneath. It cracks so loudly the blasts echo like a cannon. And every few minutes, a chunk of ice weighing thousands of tons breaks from its face and crashes to the sea to create a massive tidal wave.

I used to think a bulldozer was a powerful machine. After paying homage to a glacier, I realize man made machines are tiny ants compared to the forces of nature.

Glaciers move at a snail’s pace but they’re living proof that slow, consistent, unrelenting pressure creates more long lasting change than anything else.

My two lessons from Alaska:
1. Live an adventurous life.
2. Respect slow, deliberate pressure akin to a glacier more than the promise of fast & easy.

Alaska truly is the final frontier. Go! Explore! Live!