Living My Life

 

My cousin is living my life. The life I dream of. That dream I have during long, painful meetings where I’ve slipped the surly, golden bonds of corporate America and am living one crazy grand adventure after another.

Last I saw him was Key West, FL. I had just completed a triathlon, a sport I love but in which I infrequently participate, because the sport seems to attract the most obsessive of gear heads. Not many seem to do tris for the pure, unadulterated joy of movement. He had arrived there one month prior via a sailboat ride from Anaheim. The boat’s captain is a bush pilot my cousin met in McCarthy, Alaska, home to both. I am pretty sure he is living my life as well. To him, it is all routine, shuttling the adventurous off to their dream kayaking/mountaineering/skiing expedition. I have learned, though, that one man’s routine is another man’s lifetime experience. I hope one day to have the chance to buy him a beer or two, and hear the stories.

If you’ve never been to (or even heard of) McCarthy, it is truly the last of the last frontiers. It is nestled in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park–at 13.2 million acres, the largest national park in the U.S., and larger than Switzerland. I visited him there after my bitter disappointment on Denali. His home is a beautiful, modest log home that he built himself, on a piece of land with a small lake, plentiful trees, and no sign of neighbors. Completely off the grid, energy comes from a generator, the sun, or a cozy wood stove. The outhouse is the only downside of this arrangement.

Well, not the only. The town is at the end of a sixty mile dirt road (when I first looked up McCarthy, I thought the road name was “Closed In Winter”). The nearest grocery store is six hours away. That’s a long haul to get Ben and Jerry’s after a sucky day, but then, how many sucky days could there be in McCarthy, Alaska? And keeping it warm at night requires a couple of wake up calls.

When I ran into my cousin. in Key West, he had just become best buddies with some Alaska transplants and was beach and bar hopping around the Keys. I’m the epitome of introvert and rarely meet anyone new, much less connect with this group as deeply as I did. I spent three days with them, alternating drinking and having the most honest discussion of fears and dreams and growing up and old since the long ago college late night runs to Taco Cabana.

Mark left in the middle of this break from reality to hop a plane to Arizona. His next adventure was on the Grand Canyon. For most, this is a once in a lifetime adventure–for Mark, well, let’s just say it wasn’t his first time, and probably not the last. He promised to send the next invitation my way. Now all I have to do is convince work that one month vacations are totally normal. They’re still reeling from the last one. I guess I should be relieved they don’t like me being gone that long.

When he’s not out living my life, Mark is at home, spending the long summer Alaskan days working for the National Park Service, restoring an abandoned copper mine. He took me for a tour last summer, and it is quite the glorious wreck. Breathtaking in its disarray, I’m not sure how OSHA would view it. He had spent the prior winter on a balmy island somewhere south, where he had spent a couple months recuperating and rehabilitating from shoulder surgery. Working to restore copper mines is tough work, and his rotator cuff was the unfortunate casualty.

When I dream of chucking it all, I seldom think about it with a realistic bent. Truth is, lifestyles of any type require some kind of sacrifice and compromise. My job allows me only three weeks of adventure a year, but also gives me a decent budget for those three weeks. It demands a lot from me, yet allows the flexibility to explore while “working from home”: five days in Key West cost me almost no adventure time. And I like coming home to a hot shower. I’m spoiled having a grocery store and take out Vietnamese within walking distance.

If I can just figure out how to get internet connectivity in a raft and a waterproof laptop, I think I’d have it made.

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