Story last updated at 6/11/2014 - 5:49 pm
Since my sophomore year of college, friends have been taking a week or two out of their summers to visit me in Alaska. It's been great because the only thing better than being here is showing it to someone who hasn't. I think it helped people understand some of my mannerisms. There's no way that growing up in a town of 700 people won't have a lingering impact on who you are. After all, small-town California means a city of 20,000 people that is 15 minutes by freeway from one of 60,000 which of course is 15 more minutes from 160,000 people.
People are astounded by the "nothingness" when they arrive. Islands stuffed with trees give way to tiny little scars called villages or sprawling metropolises like Ketchikan or Juneau. I sneak peaks at them as we navigate through town. There's confusion and excitement. I wonder if they are looking for bears, or moose, or trying to find something like a billboard or stop lights.
They ask only a fraction of the questions they have and whisper observations to each other either out of respect for me or because they don't have the nerve to ask a question that might sound ridiculous. Something like wondering how we were to get from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island.
"So we're going across the lake in that?" a friend said pointing to the ferry one year.
"If by 'lake' you mean part of the Pacific Ocean, then yes."
Just after college, a crew of four came up. We flew into Juneau, hiked through the forest flanking the Mendenhall Glacier and had lunch while looking down on helicopters shuttling tourists to and from the ice. After a few days we took the Taku to Ketchikan, then over to Prince of Wales and Klawock for the rest of the trip.
I planned a weekend trip to Wrangell with another group. We did a jet boat trip up to the LeConte Glacier and later golfed.
For the most part though, I show them as much of Prince of Wales as time allows.
Over the years, more than two dozen friends and colleagues have helped me chop firewood, hiked mountains, caught fish and lived the version of Alaska that I showed them for a week or two. Outside of canoes flipping in the river, Danny cutting his finger to the bone, Scott cracking ribs on a fall by a river, and Plano separating his shoulder while running down a mountain, things have been safe and memorable.
It's expensive because I'm not a tour guide. I'm ponying up the dough to show them around, but sometimes we need excuses to expand our experience vault. If we never get around to some of the "tourist attractions" someone from down south might then wonder why we live here in the first place.
There are at least one or two must-see things in every town in Southeast, but unless you have an app that Mark Zuckerburg likes, you're not going to be afford to do it all in one summer.
Like I said, it's taken me a decade of friends visiting for me to see Southeast as an adult rather than an athlete or band student like I did in high school.
This summer, I have a bunch more former colleagues and college friends coming up, and none of the trips will be the same.
Since they pretty much have to do what I tell them, they have little say in where we go. Not that they would complain about taking a steep, muddy trail up a taller, meaner mountain, or hiking into new parts of rivers, because it stirs the adventurer in them.
It also gives me a chance to find new hunting and fishing spots. You know, see more of Alaska myself.