A lonely, depressed teenager follows his gut, runs off to Alaska, and is reborn.
Dad faced two chairs knee to knee and offered me one.
“You tell me that your problem is being with people.”
“Yeah.” If I were a burr and you a wool sock, I wouldn’t stick to you.
“And that you are lonely and depressed.”
The bleakness of life before Prozac. I was 19.
“Isn’t hitchhiking to Alaska to live in the woods running away from your problems?” My father has this rational, reasonable, you-definitely-want-him-to-be-your-brain-surgeon air of competency and authority about him.
“Yeah, maybe. Probably.”
“Why are you going then?”
“I got to.” It was an imperative.
My folks dropped me off at the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was raining. Mom was crying. I didn’t do hugs; I shouldered my pack and walked to the end of the line of fellow travelers lining the road. It was 1974, hitchhiking still got you places. I stuck out my thumb.
That winter in the interior of Alaska there were days it dropped to 55 below. I sat in a chair I’d hammered together out of slabwood from a local mill and a piece of plywood picked out of a dumpster. I sat next to the wood stove, its belly orange red—the draw is terrific with a 120 degree differential. My off-stove side was uncomfortably cool. The weight of the sub-arctic night pressed on the cabin, squirting jets of air between the door and frame misting the moist cabin air. The pressurized gas lantern hissed; my face looked back at me from the blackness pushing into the window. I turned a page, Atlas Shrugged.
Twenty-odd years later, Dad and I were hiking under the magisterial Sitka Spruce of southeast Alaska. I reminded him of our conversation. He grunted, remembering.
“It was my turn-around year.”
“I broke out of my free fall. Since then each year has been better than the last.” Life was pretty good now.
“I wouldn’t have predicted that.” He was a scientist.
He didn’t predict it; for him going to Alaska was running away. I’d thought so too. Yet, if I’d stayed, if I hadn’t run, I’d be dead now, if not in body then in spirit.
I wish I could say that since then, I have always been guided by an internal imperative; an imperative that never erred in the direction it drove me. But there have been times I’ve been as cold and bereft of life and passion as the ashes of a dead fire. And there have been times I had to fight the imperative because it was driving me down a path I’d been before and it was time to choose another.
This blog is about finding your way; of finding it, losing it, struggling to find a new path when the old grows worn and routine. No answers here, just some stories.
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This article was originally published at Russell Heath Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.