K and I sat on the clearly marked “handicapped access” bench halfway between Exit Glacier Alaska and its parking lot. We discussed our life plans in the easy shorthand of people who have know each other since kindergarden. I contemplated the seeming insanity of continuing to follow my dream of being a semi-professional hobo and occasional outdoor adventure writer given my level of disability. How much of a market is there for someone with an unchanging status as permanent untalented beginner and general expeditional deadweight? We weighed these challenges against the limitless wonder that the world offers every time you step beyond what seems conventionally possible. I argued the cons as K tackled the pros.
Completely caught up in the loop of the conversation we hardly noticed when the Alaskan sat down. A rough looking, grizzled mountain of a man. He wore the stained flannel and denim uniform of the state. His eyes pointed in different directions and he looked to be somewhere between 50 and 70 years old in the indeterminate way of people who’ve clearly spent most of their lives outdoors and are not on great terms with razors, combs or sunscreen. I may have flashed a faint, subconscious smile at him when he sat, but nothing more. He, on the other hand, certainly noticed us. I was midway through some neurotic, half-baked sentence about keeping goals achievable when he locked one of his eyes with mine and declared, “Just go for it!” and launched into his life story.
A recent graduate of a masters program in psychology and just before that a bachelors program. He had completely reinvented himself as a counselor of underprivileged youth after a life spent working the physically demanding jobs typical of the state. He’d been a fisherman, a gold miner, driven trucks and worked the oilfields. His life read like Jack London, yet at the age when most are thinking of retirement, he had wondered what he could do to serve others and scratch the intellectual itch that had haunted him his whole life. Most impressively, he had launched himself into the thick of things and gotten it done.
Even when it’s exactly the same, the advice of strangers is often easier to hear than that of people who know you well. It’s completely divested of the baggage and backstory every relationship carries. A stranger has no investment in practicality or keeping your life on a predictable path. Because of this, I’ve become a diehard believer in the weird, hippy-dippy coincidence of the unasked for stories of strangers. If this mountain man could become a counselor, how much less likely is it that I might be an adventure writer? Our world seems vast enough for anything. So, the next time you find yourself pondering jumping out of your comfort zone and exploring new possibilities, imagine a burly Alaskan telling you, “Go for it!” It’s surprisingly motivating.