To the North Country
By Anne Clark - Teaching Fellow
About this time a year ago, my mind was overflowing with the possibilities of a semester abroad in London. When I wasn't cramming for tests, researching papers, or attempting to put together my technology portfolio, I was living and breathing "London." That is until the topics for Junior Enrichment were made available online. I had a tough time choosing between several of the options so many worthy causes, interesting travel opportunities in Europe, and possible summer jobs. I noticed the option called Alaskan Odyssey, and I remember thinking, "Wow! That would be cool, but there's no way on earth I'm going to ask my parents to send me to Alaska!" As time passed, however, the idea for venturing northward would not completely leave my mind. My sense of adventure kept tickling my imagination. Finally, I called Dave Barlow, a high school geology and astronomy teacher in Mooresville, North Carolina, who is the director of the American Odyssey program, which sponsors the Alaskan Odyssey Adventure. I suppose I am a hopeless romantic, but from the moment he began describing the breath-taking heights of the snow-capped peaks, the untamed wilderness, the clean fresh air, and wide-open spaces filled only with hardy Arctic animals, I was hooked! I applied immediately and somewhat nervously accepted that for better or worse, during the summer of 2002, I would be traveling over 3000 miles from home with nearly complete strangers into a land where for half of the year, night comes only for two to three hours a day, where the snow never melts, where mosquitoes are so abundant, they are jokingly referred to as the state bird, and where survival is generally considered a full-time job.
I met my other six traveling companions, who would grow to be some of my closest and best friends, just two weeks before we embarked on our thirty-seven day adventure. We began in Seattle, Washington and drove a rental van over 8,000 miles to see Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia and the Yukon, the Top of the World Highway (so named because it is the highest elevated point at which you can cross from Canada into the U.S.), sled dogs in Iditerod, glaciers too numerous to count, and an abundance of wildlife like I never imagined still existed in our "civilized" world. But, Alaska and Western Canada are not what we in the lower 48 would ever consider civilized. I remember the excitement that would emanate from the van when we came to a town with more than three buildings! Among our other thrilling moments were scaling and almost summitting Nigel Peak, a rocky 10,000 foot mountain in British Columbia, riding snow coaches onto the Athabasca Glacier, swimming in the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay (yes, there were icebergs floating only feet away from us!), rafting in dry suits on the Nenana River formed from glacial melting, flying onto the base camp of and spending the night on Denali (Mt. McKinley), sea kayaking off the Kenai Peninsula in southern AK, hiking 4000 feet in elevation over a nine mile trek to an abandoned copper mine, and riding on the Alaskan Marine Highway System, a ferry system which takes travelers to towns only accessible by boat or plane.
It would be impossible for me to express all that I learned and how much I grew over this five week long journey. In fact, I am still continuing to recognize these things myself. What I do already know is that this trip was the best experience of my life to date! I can think of nothing more that I recommend to anyone, young or old, than traveling with this program wherever the road may lead.
American Odyssey alternates its Alaskan trip and its American West trips each summer. For freshmen, Alaska will again be the destination in 2004, but for sophomores, the Wild West is the next best thing! Seniors, Jessie Arnold and Jennifer Caviness went on this western tour in the summer of 2001 and similarly could not speak highly enough of the experience. Information on both trips, as well as other American Odyssey adventures scheduled throughout the year can be found at:
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges- Something lost
behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"