Publisher's Note: We'd like to thank Jay for being one of the first contributors to the Journeys Corps of Storytellers.
The peaks rose from the sea, lush and green, and slowly turned snowcapped, white like a frosted cupcake. My jaw was on the floor of the airplane.
I looked over at my wife, Heather. She flashed me a grin. I felt extremely lucky. We met each other in a climbing gym; seeking challenges, we found love. We got married at a ski area in the summertime. And now Heather and I were on our way to our honeymoon. Not a honeymoon like most, to go somewhere tropical and sit on a beach and drink fruity drinks all day. Nope, we decided to mountain bike Alaska.
The next three weeks of our lives would be the adventure of a lifetime. Falling in love is a great thing.
We met Mike late that afternoon, entering his little shop of river guiding horrors on a whim. It was like Obi-Wan-Kanobi meeting Han Solo for the first time. He was a well-spoken, clean-cut adventurer.
"I'll take you wherever you want to go, but it's gonna cost you."
"Bears.", Heather replied.
"Come back at 9."
He took our 50 bucks and the three of us sped off in his flat-bottom riverboat. He hammered the throttle and we flew up Twister Creek at about 70mph.
The three of us crouched low in the bushes and didn't say a word. A yearling grizzly cub was interested in us. He was only half his full grown size, about 700 pounds. The mom was in the tall grass, poking her head up a couple of times to make sure we weren't going to harm the "little" guy.
They disappeared into the bushes only to reemerge about 15 feet from us. Mike, Heather and I all sat there not moving, not talking, just watching. It was amazing to see something that was that big in the wild. The cub's paw prints were bigger than my size 12s.
Our trip was full of experiences like this for three weeks.
Cycling over to Exit Glacier three weeks later, I began to get a cramp in my stomach as I realized the trip was just about over. Heather and I had done things that people only dream of doing. People always say "someday." I believe that someday is now. Alaska is so wild, so untouched, that it grabs hold of you, your emotions, your dreams, and every thought you have ever had. Places that are so different than anything you have ever experienced do that.
It was grabbing hold of me right now. Down where all your emotions come from, deep inside your soul. I was saddened that the end was approaching faster than I wanted. For the first time in my life I felt free, but freedom sometimes hurts. You are always afraid that it will leave you. I thought about the course my life was taking. The nine-to-fiver to pay the bills, to live that life I always wanted. Success. New York Style. That was the road I was on. But I wanted freedom forever, not just on the weekends. I was going to make it happen; I was going to take a different path.
I stood there taking photos of Exit Glacier, a glacier receding so fast that twenty years ago it was a quarter of a mile longer. It is amazing how fast this world can change. The shutter released on my camera for the 3000th or so time, and I decided, "Screw nine to five, screw professional. It was time to do what I wanted. Pick the career I needed."
I did, and at that moment in time photography was where I decided to go. This place, Alaska, changed my life forever. The desk I would now sit behind was my own. Outdoors was going to become a full time job. I have seen all I wanted to see of the "professional world."
In a place where natural beauty abounds, I found beauty in my own life. I vowed from that day forward to never give up, and to always follow my dreams. I dreamt of Heather and got her. Now it was time to realize the rest of my dreams.
The trip was over. Five hundred or so cycling miles later we drove out of Seward headed to Anchorage and the big plane ride home. We were quiet, thoughtful. We were going to miss this place, but we were determined to return.