My visit to rural Alaska: Part 2

A once in a lifetime adventure

Abigail Faulkner | Photo Courtesy

One thing you need to know about working at these camps is that there are three rules. 

1. Don’t piss off the camp manager. 

2. Don’t piss off the helicopter pilot or mechanic.

3. Don’t piss off the cook. 

I had people tell me before I went out to this camp to be careful; that being around men who hadn’t seen their wives and girlfriends in months might not be the best to be around. People worried that I wouldn’t be safe if they dropped me off in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers. 

And of course, those were valid concerns that came from a place of compassion and love for me. 

But I truly believe that there was nowhere on earth that I could have been safer. 

If you’re gonna cause problems with someone at camp, the person that controls all your food ordering, distribution and preparation, is not the person to mess with. 

And the very wise folks out at Johnson did everything and more to keep their cooks happy. 

That’s how I found myself in a little black helicopter they called the 500. Why was it called the 500? No idea. I was just the cook. The tour started because Jodi, the head cook, asked management if there was a way to have me tag along one of the mornings when they took the drillers up the mountain so I would get a chance to see the valley and the drilling rigs. 

Three days later, they came into the kitchen and asked Jodi and I what times we had open. 

“Open for what?” we both asked 

“A helicopter tour.”

“Whatever time you need us to be.” 

Sure enough, at 2 p.m. the 500 was taking off and I sat co-pilot, phone in hand ready to take a million photos. We took off from camp and went to visit the nearest glaciers and actually landed on one of the glaciers. We also landed on a sandbar on the river to look inside the glacier where the water poured from. We got high enough into the sky to see a steaming volcano.

I got taken up mountainsides, into glacial carved valleys and the stagnant ponds that formed when the glaciers used to cover the entire valley. I saw everything. In a personal, narrated tour. 

To say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience is underselling it to you all. 

There was another once-in-a-lifetime experience I had while at camp.

I hiked to the glacier and got to walk inside it.

Ryan, the helicopter mechanic and local hiking expert, was the only other person at camp that operated with a work schedule as odd as mine. Joseph, for some reason I can not discern, preferred to start work at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. That meant on my very last day at camp all three of us headed into the wilderness toward a big ol’ glacier. 

This was no regular hike either. It’s not like this was a metropolitan area with people who were able to walk these trails regularly. Everyone else at the camp may not have been working my hours, but I will be damned if they weren’t working just as hard as I was. 

So we had to take shears to cut trees, branches and other foliage out of the way to make hiking there easier. 

I missed my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. But the distance made it easier to be less critical of the small things and more appreciative of the big things. 

I also had a footwear problem. I lost two good pairs of shoes to Johnson camp. One pair being my Hoka’s. They were these really nice running shoes I had that were designed for a French marathon runner and had up to 500 miles on them before they were done for.

Well, at least that’s what the guy at Trade Home told me. 

I spilled grease on them, they got holes in them; those poor shoes really took a beating. They didn’t ever make it out of Johnson. 

My other pair were black slip-on’s from Walmart I’ve had since I lived in Texas three years ago. And if we are being honest with each other, they were probably too small. Because of this, they were my shower shoes. And if you saw those showers, you too, would understand why I didn’t let those shoes ever touch another belonging of mine again. 

That meant the only pair of shoes I had left were Extra Toughs that my aunt loaned me and had insisted I bring with me to camp. This particular brand of shoe are very trendy in Alaska. They are this brand of brown rain boots with “Alaskan” patterns like salmon on the inside. In Alaska, everyone owns a pair. 

The Extra Toughs worked amazingly for the first leg of the journey through brush and creeks formed by the snowmelt and rain, trudging through gross stagnant water. After about 45 minutes of hiking, we reached the sand dunes. 

It’s this dusty hill that acts as a medium between the valley and the brush. You have to descend down into the valley by gliding through the loose sediment. This is when things started getting a little tricky. 

Extra Toughs simply aren’t meant to walk through loose rocky terrain and that added a little more struggle to my journey. In the end, it was all worth it. We reached the glacier after another short 30-minute hike walking along the river that flowed out of the glacier. 

One of the things I forgot about glaciers is how much noise they make. They are constantly trying to “settle”. It kind of sounds like chewing a lukewarm ice cube, but out in the world instead of your head. I wish I could tell you more, but you would just have to listen to it to understand. 

One of the openings actually didn’t have water coming out of it and formed a cave instead. It was the most beautiful, magical view I have ever seen. It’s where I imagine mythical creatures must live. The ceiling of the cave is the glacier itself and it’s constantly dripping cold water. One of the streams was actually strong enough in the cave to fill up my water bottle. 

It was simply breathtaking. Walking inside a glacier is another once-in-a-lifetime experience. I write to tell you these things not because I want to brag, but because it ties into one of the key things I want you to know walking away from this article: life is beautiful.

There are so many things I experienced this summer that reminded me how amazing our earth is. From picking raspberries off the bush and eating them to walking through glaciers. I really started to fall in love with life in a way that technology simply can’t do. 

I got a chance to detox from social media, take a break from the constant noise that fills my life: endless text messages, phone calls, emails, Instagram posts and Snapchats. None of these things are inherently bad, but we live in a world that is so overstimulated. 

Not even just from technology but from people. I love my family. I love my friends. But sometimes I think I try to spend so much time with them that I forget how important it is to spend time with yourself. I spend so much time checking in on everyone making sure they are okay and I forget to make sure I am okay. 

I was able to take a step back from all the problems and anxieties that dog my steps and ask myself, “was I okay?” And the answer was no. I had some time for reflection. I let myself be okay with not controlling everything. I let the biggest problem I faced every day be what dessert I would be making. 

Ultimately, I found this experience to be incredibly healing. Nowhere in the world fills up my metaphorical cup quite like Alaska. And I am sure all the college students and transplants like me reading this know there is nothing like home.  

I got to experience my home in a way that was tangible, and fall in love with nature and creation. Physically, working this job was exhausting and I learned a whole new meaning to the word tired. 

But emotionally and spiritually, it was a break much needed. I was able to find time to spend with God every day. I was able to appreciate life and what really makes it beautiful. I fell in love with baking, with nature, with the quiet moments. The distance from society made it easier to remember what I love so much about being in love with life.

I missed my family, my friends and my boyfriend. But the distance made it easier to be less critical of the small things and more appreciative of the big things. 

If you get the chance to do something crazy or have a once-in-a-lifetime experience: say yes, my friends; jump at the opportunity to live life to its fullest. 

If you are in a place where things seem hopeless, know there is so much more to life than you could ever dream possible. If I had thrown in the towel when I was at my lowest, what a shame it would have been to miss out on all the places I have yet to go, all the people I have yet to meet and things I have yet to do. 

Take a risk, say yes to opportunity when it comes knocking and remember to go outside and look up at all the truly amazing things that pass us by every day. 

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