My Story: Until Alaska


Photo Courtesy of Maggie Wolf

On March 13, 2020, I was 15 years old. A sophomore in high school, it felt like my world was just beginning to expand. As my 18-year-old sister received her college decisions, I began to think about the possibilities for my own future. That summer, I was supposed to travel to Alaska for a month. I knew I wanted to travel around the world someday, and I dreamed of exploration. In March of 2020, it became clear that my expanding world would be shrunk down, perhaps indefinitely. No Alaska. No sister moving away for college. No leaving the house. 

On March 14, I made a reading list, cleaned my room and I straightened my hair. I thought about how this time off might be a blessing. Then, two weeks turned into three, turned into the rest of the year. My life became a seemingly endless cycle that took place in one room. The world that had seemed so big before suddenly felt suffocatingly small. 

I had never felt so alone. 

I tried to keep my brain and body moving. I imagined that the less I thought about how lonely I was, the less lonely I would feel. I set my volleyball against the wall of my room 100, 200, 300 times until everyone in my family was yelling at me to stop the thunk, thunk, thunking. I learned to bake bread. I learned all 197 countries in the world, eventually able to name them in under five minutes. I started running miles up and down the dirt road, I live on. I’ve never particularly enjoyed running, but every day I forced myself to go a little bit farther, growing to crave the burning feeling in my legs and lungs. 

On May 1, 2020, I celebrated my 16th birthday with my two closest friends, girls I’ve known my whole life, who, by this point, feel more like sisters than friends. We sat outside, meters apart, in hammocks that we strung from the trees, eating cupcakes packaged in individual plastic boxes. Later that night, alone in my room again, I cried, seeing no end in sight to this distance. Somehow, even with my closest friends nearby, I had felt lonelier than ever. 

Nearly every night, I watched Youtube videos of Alaska: hiking trails, the ocean, wildlife and exploration. In late May, I began to have a recurring dream about hiking along a trail overlooking the water. I dreamed of the trail so often that I remember the pattern of the roots snaking across the path under my feet. 

Every day as I sat alone in my room, barely leaving except to eat and run, I mourned all the things I was missing, simultaneously battling guilt that I was even having these feelings. How could I feel loss when my family was healthy and together? 

In response to this questioning, I shrunk myself further. While already physically isolated, I stopped texting friends back and avoided the inevitable confrontation with family members that takes place when you are cooped up together for too long with nothing to do and everything to worry about. 

Over the course of the next year, I grew and changed in many ways. My sister did move out for college, and we both attended school on a computer, this time in different houses. Though it felt like sports and friendships resumed, my feelings of isolation and remnants of the shell I had formed around myself persisted. I was used to feeling lonely.

Until Alaska. 

In July of 2021, I was able to return to camp, a year later than I had planned. The Alaska trip that I had waited six years for didn’t feel like a reality until the first plane landed in Seattle, the second in Juneau, and the ferry pulled into the harbor in Haines. 

Over the course of that month in Alaska, I felt like my world that had shrunk down to the size of my bedroom finally expanded again. Climbing mountains and walking across glaciers, I realized that the world is bigger than I’d ever imagined, even in “the before.”

I slowly began to shed pieces of my own shell, opening up to the girls I was with in ways that I could not imagine doing with anyone else. For the first time in over a year, I was not only excited for the future but determined to make the best of it, no matter what it held.