MY HIGH SCHOOL graduation gifts consisted of a Eurail Pass and padded bicycle shorts. One week after receiving my diploma, I began a two-month, two-wheeled journey across Europe, courtesy of my parents. Accompanied by two German teachers and 18 peers, I saw Holland, France, East and West Germany and Czechoslovakia from the vantage points of dusty country lanes, designated bike paths, and busy city streets.
Each morning, our chaperones would check our physical condition, feed us the local breakfast and establish an estimated arrival time at the next destination. Riding in groups of three or so, we were then released to the whims of the road in a not-so-subtle introduction to the speed of Life. Over the course of 60 days, my cohorts and I learned how to convert miles to kilometres, fix flat tires, and dance the polka. I fell in love, and then out again, discovered beer, and began a mental wrestling match about my subsequent success or failure of an upcoming college soccer career as I pedaled along the lonely backroads.
The more I travel, the more I recall this trip in 1986 and my parents’ decision to allow their sheltered 17-year old daughter to traipse in and out of Communist Europe, often in the company of other, equally sheltered, teenagers. How wise they were, as I look back and wonder at these defining moments of my transition to young adulthood, as fresh in my memory now as they were 26 years ago.
If I was speaking to the Class of 2012, I’d tell them to travel somewhere this summer. Exactly where doesn’t matter as much as how. Ride the Alaska Marine Highway, taking note of who shares the ride, and why. Sketch, write, or record a journal of the adventure, including the misadventures, for these are the snapshots worth viewing much later as pinnacles of growth. Get in the car and drive north to Denali National Park and camp, taking advantage of an opportunity to witness this landscape, gazed an entire lifetime, perhaps, but never taken as an intimate partner in this deft dance toward adulthood.
The Alaska ferry: hosting recent grads for decades...
From this moment on, the journey is what offers the most joy, with a wide open world ready to accept this youthful, boundless acceptance for new experiences and new people. For at the moment when a tassel is moved from right to left, children sprout wings of independence and sink roots of values, and this is where parents hope and pray the two shall forever be intertwined.
I remember my father’s face as I looked back before entering the jetway back in June of 1986. We had spent an hour discussing international phone calls, money exchanges, and navigation, sitting there in the gate area. I was anxious, he was apprehensive. But as I turned my head and caught one last look at the people who had gently pushed me out of my secure nest, there was nothing but pride, there.
Just look where it took me.
Follow Erin’s Alaska adventures at AKontheGO.com