I'd like to briefly step away from the amazing memories, encounters, and stories, to talk about a lifestyle shrouded in misconception and ill regard. In the USA, it's more common than anywhere else in the world to graduate high school and move immediately on to college. Without any time to explore both inwardly and the world around, many college graduates, myself included, graduate with very little sense of what they want to do with themselves. Because of this, a good portion of them decide to take a gap year or at least a summer 'off' and look for summer work which will sustain them but also allow them to enjoy themselves and try something new.
For so many of these people, their search ended in Alaska, where the seasonal tourism industry is booming and the experiences you can gain are unlike anywhere else in the States. Most of the time Alaska brings these individuals an eye-opening summer where they realize how much more of the world there is to see, and how expansive their career and life options are; but allowing one to return home after just a few months to start planting their roots. But before they go home, I can guarantee they'll be asked by about 50 different tourists, "What are you going to do for your real job when you leave Alaska?"
And for many, this is a legitimate, albeit incredibly disrespectful, question. Most seasonals really just wanted a paid vacation, and it's awesome that they can get to experience Alaska and make some money while doing so. But if you think further, none of the tourist asking said question's experiences on their Alaskan vacation would exist or be as amazing as they tend to be, without such seasonal employees. Typically, recent-graduate seasonal workers fill the logistical voids left by the highly turbulent seasonal work structure, allowing the professionals to guide or manage and give the best guest experiences possible.
But there's a strong workforce of people, myself included, who have dedicated a section of their lives to enriching the experience of those who travel to Alaska. I started off just looking for new experience, and having visited and fallen in love with Alaska, it was a logical turn. Well, after being exposed to the lifestyle of so many of my colleagues and the insane variety of outdoor skills which you can hone because of the grandness of your backyard, my interest was officially piqued, and I knew there was no way I could leave without exploring much further. I'd never even seen a glacier, or imagined the mountain ranges and icefields which litter the state, and now I could play on them and learn about them any time I wanted. With even more opportunity to fish and hunt and live in a truly unique way, I knew this would become my home for good.
But beyond all these things, one realization convinced my brain that it would continue to be a fulfilling and rewarding lifestyle, and one I could dedicate myself to, instead of considering it temporary. Through the years, I've had many people approach me after tours or stays and praise how much I improved their experience. I never thought about it much until I moved to the Kenai Peninsula to work at a fishing lodge. There, I was extremely unhappy, but I never let my work ethic slip. One of my main jobs was to drive guests back and forth to the airport, meaning I was usually beginning and capping off their stays in Alaska. As a result, I got to hear lots of varied experiences both in itinerary and overall satisfaction.
After over a week at the lodge, many of the guests had interacted with me a lot, becoming friends along the way and confidants as I drove them to the airport for their departure home. A good portion of them had picked our lodge for their once-in-a-lifetime trip with their family or friends or whatever it may be. They had worked hard their whole life to stay at the same place which I'm lucky enough to live, and were finally able to celebrate a lifetime of achievement with an always dreamed of outing in Alaska. And more than anything else, almost unanimously, the thing that made or broke their experience were the staff and guides which they interacted with.
It wasn't just a small side note on their amazing fishing trip or bear camp excursion, it was the most powerful thing overall to them. Which got me thinking hard on my lonely rides back from dropping them off. I'd been wondering how long I could keep the hectic and unpredictable lifestyle going, because mentally I will drain out if I'm not doing something that both stimulates and rewards me. But these people have spent their lives working hard to be here, and I get the absolute honor of being their recipient.
This mindset still drives my guiding today. What an honor I have to influence so many people's lives every year in such a powerful way. I can use my knowledge and attitude to enhance their experience and sometimes completely make it. Once I realized this, I knew that I could sustain myself as a guide. It instantly became a true career choice, a craft which I wanted to dedicate myself to perfecting. I still think about these principals all the time, especially in the rough patches, and find resurgence. Not all guides are created equally, and I am young and completely inexperienced, but driven and always trying my absolute best. But when you're vacationing, think about who your guide is, and what they might have to offer, as well as what they have sacrificed to be able to give you the experience they do, and allow them to give you everything they have to offer.