In July of 2007, my family decided to take a trip to Alaska. I had never been before, much less out of the continental U.S. At the time, I was probably more worried about what headphones I had for the plane or how I was going to use the extra five or six hours of sunlight we were about to get during the Alaskan summer. It was a long flight and we got to our lodge around 1am and it was still a bluebird sky. The main reason for the trip, whether dad admitted or not, was to fish. Honestly at the time, I wasn’t into fishing, but it was still exciting. I was ready to learn. The first full day we didn’t have much planned because of the jet lag so we slept it off and hung out at the lodge. The second day, we had a charter to go deep sea fishing for steelhead trout, rockfish, and halibut. I wasn not the best fisherman….. I caught a single rockfish. The least on the boat and the guide made sure I knew it. We kept at it the next couple days floating down the Kenai, Kasilof, and Yukon rivers hunting for king salmon. I still failed. I’m not sure if it was my luck or my impatience. Nonetheless, I tried harder, but didn’t catch another fish until well into the week.
We switched gears. My father bought us tickets on a bus tour of Denali National Park and surprised us the night before we left. While I’m not the best fisherman, I love the outdoors. It soothes me. My grandfather, a biology teacher, instilled that in me from a young age. He was a carpenter with rough hands and crooked teeth, but he taught me how to raise Monarch Butterflies, he taught me how to paint with watercolor, and he taught me how to be strong and soft at the same time. We got to the entrance of the park and there was a huge sign: DENALI, meaning “the high one”, across it. Behind that was the biggest mountain I have ever seen in person, Mt. McKinley. I paused for a second and took it in as best as I could. The guides hurried us along into the buses at this point because Denali is huge, right at six million acres, and we had a long ride. I still can’t really picture the size of it in my mind. This was where the fun began. We saw grizzlies, moose, wolf, buffalo, you name it. Multiple buffalo came up to the bus and tried to butt heads with it. I was snapping pictures left and right. In all the commotion of people moving to one side of the bus, taking pictures, and literally stepping on each other’s toes, I moved to the front of the bus to get out of the way so someone else could take a better picture. When I took a second to remove myself from the brouhaha in the backseats, I looked up and saw Mt. McKinley again. We had travelled hours inside the park. I’d guess around 150-200 miles into the park on the five hour ride to the Kantishna Lodge. The mountain had not changed. It wasn’t any bigger. We hadn’t even made a dent in the distance we had travelled to change it’s view. I can remember feeling about as big as an ant, but in total awe.
Feeling small can be a harrowing experience. But, this was different. I was being put in my place in the best way possible. At this moment, I realized the size of my own ego. My sixteen year old self couldn’t see this at the time, but visiting this park made me a more humble person. This trip taught me humility in a way I had never been taught before. It wasn’t constructive criticism. It wasn’t a hard lesson from my father or mother. It was from nature and the awe of it. It was beyond my scope of recognition. My tone changed for the rest of the trip. I wasn’t mopey about being a lackluster part-time fishermen anymore. I was grounded and I had an incredible time with my family friends. I think about that trip often. It was more than a vacation. It changed me and caused me to feel like a mountain in the face of a twenty-one thousand foot summit.