A student asked me why people want to go to Mars.
I said for the same reason people saw a map of a flat earth with sea dragons at the edge and decided to hoist the sails and go anyway.
For the same reason people wanted to head west to the new (but already inhabited) new world.
For the same reason people took wagons to the Great Plains, saw the Rocky Mountains and said, “Hmm, wonder what’s on the other side…”
For the same reason they looked at the Chilkoot Trail and said “we got this.”
We’re curious and excited about territory that’s new to us.
Once Alaska was on the grid, people wanted to do the next thing like climb the tallest mountains, then the tallest mountains on every continent, then the tallest mountain on every continent without oxygen, then climbing the tallest mountain on every continent as the fastest, oldest, youngest, whatever. Then BASE jump from Mount Everest or sky dive from space.
Some of us are just not content with settling into the grid and trying to find purpose there. When curiosity isn’t ruined by suffocating, mindless distraction, people want to do crazy things.
That’s not all a direct quote, but what I said was along a thread I’m still working out hours after school.
I’ve done none of those things I mentioned, but as an Alaskan, I do feel, well, something is filled by living here. I don’t want to be off the grid, but I’d like to see it, from home, in the distance. I like being close to isolation and not needing a vehicle. However, it’s not just about accessibility. It’s about what happens when you get there.
I’m thumbing this column on my phone on a rocky beach. I took a short drive, then a trail, then a spur off the trail.
As I walked I was compelled to ruin the view with my cell phone because it occurred to me, with words that kept repeating in my head as I walked, that I don’t hike to be social. I’ll hike with friends, but don’t hike to make friends and get excited about who I’ll see on the trail. I don’t mind seeing people, but I like the solitude. I like the sound of my boots on the trail and remembering that sappy level of simplicity.
The purpose of getting away is not to get away, but to get to.
Get to something real and natural.
Get away from laptops with timers set to self-destruct a year after the warranty.
Get away from people who find value in confrontational, cowardly comments and divisive political rhetoric on social media.
Get away from other people telling me what’s important, how I should think and what I am if I happen to disagree.
This nature doesn’t care at all. Everything is loud with ocean and birds. It hasn’t been eviscerated with lines and grids and asphalt and buildings. Sure, it’s been impacted, but an evening like this existed when the watercraft was made of cedar, not aluminum. Even before that.
This column has been written thousands of times by thousands of writers. It’s a column that will continue to be clumsily punched into computers or written with pen and paper.
It’s what Alaska does to you. It demands you evaluate. It asks you if you have what it takes or if you’re going to waste any more hours inside, of course knowing even the best efforts to make the most of it here come up short.
It asks you if you love living in Alaska, or love telling people you live in Alaska.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.