We make choices daily. Sometimes they change your life. In early 2019, I was presented with a choice that determined my future. Choosing to Live was the biggest choice in my life thus far. Now, after moving across the country to really live my life, I am presented with a variety of choices. I strove to make the most of those opportunities this past year. Identifying your opportunities will give you the chance to find your way in the world, as I’ve found mine.
I accepted a job offer with a power company that allowed me to make the move and start my new life. On my first day at the new job, I felt a difference in the atmosphere. The company wants people to succeed. There is encouragement to have a life outside of the workplace. Employees are actively engaged in the community. The only catch is that your life can not interfere with the company’s continued operation. My eyes were opened to the amount of self-imposed stress I endured previously.
My first month after the move, I lived out of an Airbnb so I could see the area before committing to where I wanted to live. One day before being officially homeless I found a centrally located apartment near work. Now I can explore my new home in all directions.
I did not sell my home in Pennsylvania until late in 2019 so money was a limiting factor. Paying a mortgage and rent on top of my living expenses left little room in the budget for fun money. But hiking doesn’t cost much more than time so I took the opportunity to explore.
I settled in the Mat-Su Valley where there are more than 2000 miles of trails. There is amazing scenery everywhere. Trails provide access to side by sides, snow machines, overland vehicles, and horses. Some trails are seasonal, requiring the lakes to freeze for full access. I have yet to have the financial capability to participate in anything that requires more than my feet, but even the idea of doing so is appealing. Many of the trails allow my dog. He is getting older and has some health issues that prevent us from completing the more intense trails together, but he still gets to participate on the easy days.
Last summer, the state of Alaska had several major wildfires. I had not considered wildfires to be a danger to my life before coming here. The 2019 fire season saw more than 650,000 acres burn. Residents lost their homes. Evacuation orders were issued where the fires were projected to spread. Fortunately, the impact to my life was limited to adjusted travel plans.
While taking a day trip to the Kenai Peninsula, the highway was covered in a layer of smoke so thick I could barely see. My plans had been to drive South and see what I could see. The Swan Lake Fire had shut down the highway, forcing me to Seward instead. This was one of my first experiences getting out to see the world beyond my front door. The heat of the summer slowed down the plans for the day, as the dog isn’t well suited for hot weather so we walked along the stone beach. This slowdown emphasized the importance of appreciating the moment. Blue water, blue sky, and snow-capped mountains in the distance made for a wonderful introduction to what Alaska has to offer.
My first real hike was the West Butte Trail, just outside of Palmer. While this is a shorter trail, coming in at just under 2.5 miles out and back, it still provided a significant challenge. I knew I was out of shape, but 2.5 miles seemed easy. Except for the elevation change. The majority of the elevation change happens right in the middle of the round trip. Just before the 1-mile mark to about the 1.25-mile mark, there is 500 - 600ft of elevation change. This highlighted my lack of cardio fitness, which I am addressing so I can participate in more difficult hikes in the future. When I did make it to the top, I was above the low cloud cover of the day. It gave the appearance climbing to a much higher peak.
I find stunning scenery with a lot more ease than some hikes require. While there are named “scenic” drives, as someone who primarily lived in heavily populated areas, every drive is a scenic drive to me. Everywhere I look there are the kind of views many people wish they had the chance to see in person.
By far, the most refreshing part of being somewhere new is the people. Most of the country is currently on some sort of lockdown with businesses shut down and panic shopping happening everywhere. What I have seen happening here is people coming together rather than tearing each other down. Offering food or other needed items to one’s neighbors, including coveted toilet paper, is almost commonplace. This may be happening everywhere, but here people being more neighborly did not just start with the lockdown.
My first day at work, I met a very welcoming woman who got me started with the onboarding process. After a few months, she offered to be my tour guide, and took me to the Alaska State Fair. We continued to build a friendship, ensuring I didn’t fall too much into my anti-social introverted ways. Her family fell in love with my dog. I actually got to experience the holidays because of her family. Moments like Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas gift exchange were when Alaska started to feel like home.
I found a house that fits both my current needs and the need for more space in the future. Having settled into the house and beginning to find a new routine, I look forward to this year’s adventures. In addition to climbing to higher peaks, I am diving head first into fishing and hunting.
Get out of your comfort zone. Take smart chances to make your life the life you want. Sometimes it may be the change your life needs to set you down the path you need to be on.
Written by M. Skotnicki