#Nature

BY ALEXA CHERRY
For the UAS Whalesong
If you have spent over an hour in my immediate presence, you’ve probably heard me voice something regarding my distaste for nature. That being said, it then becomes understandable that several people have approached me regarding my participation in the recent camping trip up to Windfall Lake Cabin that UAS Housing put on. So in answer to the not-infrequent question “Why did you go camping?”, I respond that my reasoning was precisely because I do hold little affinity for nature. I don’t like being outside, amongst the elements, “roughing it” in the style of true Alaskans – but I still know how to go camping, and enjoy doing so occasionally, and I have also read many writings that extol the virtue of the Great Outdoors™ and Fresh Air©. Also, I have a Very Alaskan Father who makes fun of me if I don’t do at least one outdoorsy thing each year.
But on this particular occasion, there was even more to it than that. On this particular occasion, my presence on the Windfall Lake Camping Trip of 2015 was a serious case of Hardcore Investigative Journalism to compare it with the Windfall Lake [Winter] Camping Trip of 2014. That was an Experience of an entirely different kind from regular camping, filled with snow and ice and wet gooey marsh and a 5-hour hike in the rain and dark with failing flashlights. (There are some who would argue that the hike took us only 3 hours. I will maintain to my deathbed that it took us 5.) So, my participation in this camping trip was as much to see if conditions had improved and the housing department had listened to our feedback from last year as it was for my own personal edification and exposure to the outdoors.
The first notable thing about the trip was that we left much earlier in the day – like, while it was still technically daytime. For those of you who may be new to Alaska (exchange and/or transfer students, I’m looking at you), you may have noticed that the sun is rising increasingly late and setting increasingly early. On last year’s hiking trip, we left at around 4:30 and it was pitch black by the time we even got out of the vans. This year, we left at 1 in the afternoon, while the sun was still (relatively) high in the sky, and there was hope yet in the world that we might reach our destination before it set. And it turned out that we did! We had the dual benefit of both gorgeous weather, and a fairly dry trail – honestly, anything was an improvement over inches of solid ice, which was what we’d had to deal with the previous year. And while I didn’t time the hike out to the cabin, it definitely took us far fewer hours this time around – I would argue about 2 at the most, but again, I wasn’t really paying attention. I was more focused on the fact that I was able to walk without being in constant fear that I was slip and fall to my death – or if not death, then discomfort for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, we made good time to the cabin and we were dry and I got to claim a spot on the top bunk and everything was working out great. The resident outdoor magazine model, Austin Hales, decided to go out on the lake in his beanie and plaid; since it had been a long time since I’d been in a canoe, I decided to join him. By the time we reached the far end of the lake, I had remembered exactly why I had been avoiding canoes, but that’s the thing about nature: once you’re in it, you have to work to get back out. So we drifted around for a little while, I shouted about shark sightings every time a trout dared to make an attempt at surfacing, and then Austin paddled (and I struggled with paddling) us back to shore, where I promptly almost fell out of the canoe. A promising start.
Darkness fell in the way it falls in Alaska, which is slowly and then all at once – sort of like when you’re trying to measure out honey, or something equally dubiously goopy. Along with it came the realizations that the heater in the cabin barely worked, and also that hiking 3.3 miles in multiple layers with a heavy backpack and sleeping bag on your shoulders dampens your clothes and makes them absolutely frigid. I struggled into pajamas underneath my (damp) sleeping bag and watched no fewer than three attempts be made to start a fire; then dinner was served, and one of the most raucous games of Catchphrase I’ve ever experienced ensued. For those of you unfamiliar with Catchphrase, the general premise is this: you pass around a device that gives you a word, and your job is to describe the word in a way that enables the other members of your team to guess what it is without saying the actual word. Also, you’re being timed, which tends to lead to panic; one of the most memorable exchanges was when the person describing their word said “The author of Lord of the Rings!” and someone shouted “C.S. LEWIS” in hysterical response. I was briefly worried that they would be evicted from the cabin and forced to spend the rest of the night out in the cold, but fortunately that didn’t happen.
After going to bed at 9:45 (being out in nature will incite early bedtimes in even the most insomniac-prone college student), I woke up fairly early the next morning to find an influx of people entering and exiting the cabin in a quest to still further experience the outdoors. It was another beautiful day, and I spent most of it consuming bacon (the only thing packed for breakfast food, and something I was perfectly content not to pair with anything else) and joining my camping buddies out on the porch and dock to watch the sun rise and the mist spread across the lake. Many of them vocalized great enthusiasm for the wilderness and beauty, and I made non-committal noises while trying not to shiver too hard. Austin Hales and Paul Dorman fished off the dock. Daniel Piscoya played Celtic music on a tin whistle. Brittni Wisner stood in the rising sun and read aloud from a book of love poetry she’d found on a shelf in the cabin. I brooded internally about the lack of internet access. I think at some point, someone played Taylor Swift on their iPod.
And then we packed up and left! The hike back was uneventful; there was a brief X-Files moment when the three or four of us who were leading the pack looked back and discovered we’d lost most of the group, which had just been behind us not three minutes prior; it turned out they’d stopped to take pictures, but this information came to light after I’d already started making a plan for us to escape from the alien camper-snatchers that were obviously canvassing the area. At least I have an outline in case it happens again, though. We took a group picture, in which I look like I’m almost falling over backwards because I am (someone decided to lean on my backpack and it didn’t agree with my spine), and then we got on the return bus and played more Catchphrase until we pulled back into the housing parking lot.
All in all, I would call the trip a rousing success. No one was injured, the weather was beautiful, I now know the answers to   probably a little more than half of the Catchphrase prompts, and I got a taste of the much-extolled Fresh Air®. I can’t help but compare the trip to last year’s, because as I recently learned over the course of my Travel Writing class, it’s frequently the tales of the struggle and hardship experienced that make any travel story truly great. But I got some exercise, drank a lot of tea, and I got to eat some Really Good Bacon – so hey, it’s all a win in my book.

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