Ancient Ice

A little over four weeks ago I got off the boat and took off on a quick road trip from Valdez to Anchorage with a friend. Among some of the highlights were dinner and beers beside a campfire in port Valdez, a rare golden eagle spotted on the Richardson Highway, a few moose grazing alongside the Glenn Highway, and the chance to walk on a glacier for the first time. In the Matanuska-Susitna borough, a little over a hundred miles northeast of Anchorage between the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges, lies the Matanuska glacier. It forms the river of the same name that flows all the way to Cook Inlet. We had to pay money to drive a shabby 2 mile dirt road full of potholes to get to the foot of the glacier, but it was worth it – rarely will a non-Alaskan like myself get the chance to be humbled by something so completely magnificent.

The river of ice creeps along at the rate of one foot per year, carving its way from the mountaintop, where snow falls faster than it can melt and compresses into ice, through mountains and valleys, meeting its end at a tumble of towering blue crags and deathly crevasses. We could only go so far on foot but there are plenty of people who go further with their crampons and ice axes (not for me, thanks). I was happy to sit and listen to the crackling mountain of hundred-year-old frozen snow beneath my feet. The glacier slowly melts in the sunlight; the runoff cuts small rivulets into the ice and gravel and feeds the muddy river bed with the fine dust of pulverized rock.

I was given to believe the myth that glacial ice is leftover from the ice age, but after some quick research I’ve learned that while glaciers have been in these mountains since the ice age, in fact glacier flow moves the water and ice through the course of the glacier in about a hundred years. There are an estimated 100,000 glaciers in the state of Alaska, 616 of which are officially named, and the Matanuska is the largest glacier in the United States accessible by road. I’m glad we stopped to take a look.

Since then I’ve spent a few happy weeks at home – not long after I got back to Seattle I drove down to the Bay Area to attend a maritime event and visit my family. I saw an old friend and mentor and got some great advice that I feel needs to be shared. I don’t know whether she looked into my eyes and saw what was going on in my head, or whether she knows my mind based simply on her own experiences, but she told me: don’t get discouraged, don’t lose sight of your goal. Don’t listen when other people push you to move faster, because you are not obligated to fulfill their agenda for you. If you need to take time off for yourself, then take time off for yourself, because your health and your life should be your most important priorities, and everything you are after will come to you in due time.

I really needed to hear all of this, because I feel like I’m starting to reach a point where I’m slowing down, less concerned about making progress and more concerned with simply enjoying my life. I’m left feeling guilty all the time because I’m not moving fast enough, not trying hard enough. I feel like the last seven years of pushing forward has only left me tired, and if I go on like this I’ll just wear myself out. It’s hard to face the fact that I’m probably only halfway to my long-term goal, but there comes a point when you really need to stop worrying and just enjoy your life and the ones you love. Because otherwise, what’s the point? They’re the ones who will be there with you when you do reach your goal, and it would be better at that time to know that you gave them the love and attention they needed at a time when it truly mattered.

So those were the lessons learned this time around; now I’m back at work for the next seven weeks, doing extra time for my relief so he can take a family vacation in July, and I’ll have August off for my own summer travel plans. We are sitting quietly in McPherson Bay at the moment but we will go back to town soon and there will be more to talk about then.

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