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My Experience Growing Up In Alaska: Alaska, the Boat, and Me

I grew up in a small town in Alaska. Every summer, my family and I move back for eight weeks of hikes, bonfires, and salmon dinners.

I’m from Alaska. As an Alaskan, I generally get the same three questions:

  1. How big is your igloo?
  2. Are you related to Sarah Palin?
  3. What’s your favorite thing to do in Alaska?

The answers to the first two questions change depending on my mood. But the answer to the third is always the same: I love to drive the boat. A few weeks ago, I started up the engine for the first time all summer. The smell of the gasoline suddenly launched me back to fourth grade—my very first time at the throttle.

Boating In Alaska

The temperature was below zero, and I was ready. Confidently, I snapped my overalls into place. I pulled my lucky purple hat over my ears, and skipped out the door. “Today is the day,” I thought, rubbing my mittens together excitedly. “Today, I’ll learn how to drive the boat.” As a slightly willful nine year old, I had everything I ever wanted. I spent weekdays learning about fractions, and weekends splashing around at Grewingk Glacier. I was nine and a half when my dad let me take the wheel. “This afternoon,” He said, smiling, “I’m going to teach you how to drive the boat.” I shrieked loudly, and charged toward the mudroom.

With three siblings, I knew what driving the boat meant. I was officially a Big Kid. The drive down to the harbor seemed to take hours. I sat in the passenger seat of the old Suburban, wiggling and bouncing my feet. I pointed out every detail to my dad. “Look, there’s Jean, the lady who feeds the eagles!” “That’s the place where we get fish bait.”

Summer Memories

Finally, we arrived at the Fiddlehead. It was an ordinary boat, shabby on the edges with a small motor. But to me, it was a yacht. My dad steered us out of the harbor. I did my job and scanned the water, keeping an eye out for logs. A minute later, I grabbed the throttle. I’ll never forget how that felt. We skimmed over the ocean, the waves tapping out a rhythmic beat against the side of the boat. Cramped, cold, and exhausted, I was happier than I’d ever been.

For a few moments every summer, I slip back into my nine-year-old self. I forget about scatterplots and college and the SAT. I ignore the stress and the fear and the drama. And I make my life as simple as possible: just a boat, some waves, and me.

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