Friday, May 20, 2011

Extraordinary Effort

Today, I went hiking for the first time since being in the park. A friendly hiking guide named J.J. needed to do a practice guided-hike with some employees from the park, to help him prepare for the actual customers. After playing several rounds of the card game "Euchre" together, he asked me to come with him. I'm glad I said yes, because it was the perfect day for hiking in the mountains.

We tumbled out of our dorms at the crack of dawn (actually, in Denali there is no such thing as "dawn" because it's pretty much always light outside here right now, but nonetheless, there was tumbling and grumpyness) to begin our hike on one of the 'moderately strenuous' hikes called Rock Creek. We only did about 4 miles total, because J.J. had other stuff to do for work.

I realized something today while huffin and puffin up some of the more difficult sections of the rugged trail: I'm a bit out of shape. This may not come as a shock to those of you who know me well. But trust me, I am. I also realized today that being overweight is holding me back from more than I have ever realized before. As a longstanding member of the "Chub Club," everything I do is harder for me. Hiking is difficult. Stairs are difficult. Anything athletic or physical is difficult. It takes me twice as long to do what normal people can do, as well as twice the effort. Extraordinary Effort, in fact. I could feel my heart hammering away while we went uphill, my lungs squeezing in and out in a fast tempo, my knees and hips screaming in protest. All I really wanted to do was sit down in a sunny spot and take a nap. But I didn't let myself cave in to that temptation, because I knew it wouldn't be good for me. I pshed myself really hard today. I'm sure this hike wasn't that difficult for normal, healthy people. I didn't say anyone else breathing hard. I didn't notice anyone else sweating. I realized that I have become used to putting in more effort than everyone else.

I also realized that enough is enough. I really enjoy hiking. I also enjoy swimming, walking, running occasionally, and being able to keep up with my friends that regularly partake in physical activity. I enjoy those things, and I am sick to death of them being so damn difficult for me to do. As I was hiking, I imagined what the rest of my life would be like if I maintained my current weight. I shuddered to realize that it will only get harder from here on out, unless I am able to put in even more Extraordinary Effort now to fix this problem. I must conquer or be conquered. There is no other choice to be made. I must be constantly vigilant in my weight loss effort from here on out. I must! I must do more physically demanding things on a regular basis, knowing that the more I hike and walk and swim and run, the easier these things will get, and I will be able to do more. I need to kick up my level of Extraordinary Effort now, while I am young and have the drive to do so. I know that this is totally a mental thing: it has nothing to do with the physical part of it at all. It IS mind over matter. I have to push myself further everyday. Every single day. I have to get over this hurdle, this moutain that I have put in my own way. I will conquer. I will NOT be conquered by someting so pathetic. I know that I am stronger than that. I know that I am braver than that. I know that I deserve better than that. And I am ready. It took traveling halfway across the world to make me see the gravity of the situation, but I get it now. The world already has too many lazy, chubby people. I will not contribute to that weak effort. I am capable of extraordinary effort, and I shall prove it.

Starting today.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Flightseeing, ATVs, work

It is getting more and more difficult to be able to get online here and post pictures and entries. Part of the reason for that is that the season has officially started, and we are starting to hunker down and get busy with work. Also, the internet connection here is ludicrously slow. Please remember that the best way to get in contact with me is by an actual phone call. I still do not have a mailing address, and I have no way of knowing when I will have one. My number is 419 606 1345, if you miss me and want to call. :)

The other day, I had an amazing experience. I got to go on a fixed-wing flightseeing tour around and over Mount McKinley! To say that it took my breath away is an understatement. The flight lasted about an hour and a half, and it was the most beautiful 90 minutes of my life. The front desk workers get to do a lot of this stuff for free, so we can sell the different tours and activities to the guests of the hotel. That day, our tour guide told us that Mount McKinley was originally a much larger mountain, but because there is a huge fault line that runs down the middle of the park, the mountain was actually ripped in half over time and became two smaller mountains: Mount Deborah and Mount McKinley. I think it is pretty awesome to know that there is a force strong enough on this earth to rip a mountain apart. It kind of blows my mind, actually. At a couple of points during the flight, we were so close to the snow covered mountain that if we were to have thrown a football at it, it would have made contact. There is no other way to describe this than to say it was literally awesome. Mount McKinley is actually the tallest mountain in the world, because Mount Everest is cheating: it sits upon a platform of rock that isn't actually part of the mountain. From the base of each mountain though, McKinley is taller. That's just a fun fact for you. :)

Anyway, the flight actually had a very profound influence on me, and the way I perceive things. It was quiet, except for the roar of the 8-seater airplane engine, and we were surrounded by a perfectly clear, blue sky. We could see the canyons, frozen glaciers, ice so densely packed that it was actually blue, and he numerous peaks of the majestic mountain. It occurred to me how incredibly blessed I am. Some people save up their money for a long time so they can see Mount McKinley like this, and I got to do it for free. I'm also blessed to be in the presence of such staggering beauty. God is the best artist, no contest. He knew that humans would need powerfully beautiful things to look at, so he gave us a world that is not only beautiful, but really dramatic too. I feel that God knows what is in our hearts better than we sometimes do. Right now, I need mountains. I don't need air conditioned buildings, smooth riding and luxurious cars, or even fancy clothes. I need a skyline that makes me understand just how small I am, but challenges me to have a great impact on the world. I need moose and caribou and bears and glacier-fed rivers. These things awaken me, they bring out the best parts of myself. They drive me to learn how to be more instinctual, harder working, and more thoughtful. I feel so blessed, and so thankful, that I get to be in the place where I need to be. It's awesome.

In contrast to all of that seriously thoughtful stuff, here's something that was just freakin' sweet: Yesterday, the front desk staff went on an ATV tour. (ATVs are basically 4-wheelers, for all of my non-outdoorsy friends who may be reading this.) We first took a horse-drawn, covered wagon tour for about 45 minutes, ate a seriously delicious dinner of ribs, salmon, and other good things, and then rode back on ATVs. To say that I had the time of my life is an understatement. I was laughing and screaming entire time. This was the first time I've ever been on an ATV that I actually got to drive myself, and it was INCREDIBLY FUN. The trails we went on wound us through a beautiful tree-filled dry riverbed right next to the mountains themselves. For about an hour, we zoomed all over the Alaskan tundra, spraying mud and water and dirt and rocks. Just when I was really having the time of my life, the trees would break, and we would have the most incredibe view of the mountains below us, or above us, or next to us, or right in front of us. Suddenly, everything was quite as we would all pause to appreciate the magnitude of the mountains. There's not an airplane tour-view in the world that can compete with that. I was literally covered in mud from head to toe when I finally got off the damn thing, and freezing cold on top of it, but it didn't matter. It was gloriously fun. I can't wait to do it again, and I know that I will have no problem selling that tour at the front desk.

Speaking of the front desk, our training has finally ended (Praise Jesus, it was so boring, I couldn't stand another minute). And now, we are in fully fledged work mode. I really enjoy my job and the people I work with. I'm getting better at climbing Bertha everyday, and I'm already losing some weight, which is seriously awesome. Next week wills start our ministry services, and I'm looking forward to that as well.

All in all, my first week in Denali has been amazing. I can't believe I have only been here a week. It feels like I should have been here my entire life, I love it that much. I can't wait to see what else this magical place has in store for me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

First Few Days in Denali

I will begin this post with just a touch of complaining, and then that will desist. I usually love flying. However, the last two connecting flights to get here were probably some of the worst moments of my life thus far. First of all, I was assigned a seat in the very first row in the economy section. For anyone who flies, you understand that means plenty of leg room, but the armrests don't move and are wider than the other seats. It was awfully tight. I'm now sporting two identical arm-rest-shaped-bruises on either hip. Horrendously painful. There was an average sized man sitting next to me who also had this problem, so imagine how I felt. Then: on the last connection from Seattl to Anchorage, I was seated next to two screaming toddlers. Bless their parents' hearts, they were trying to do everything they could think of to comfort them, but those two boys had had enough of airplanes. I tried helping out as well, and I actually got the older boy (about 2 years old) to calm down enough to fall asleep for 2 hours. That was pretty blissful. Note to self: little boys love crunchy pretzels, iPods, cellphones with touch screens, and all of the contents of a purse.

After arriving in Anchorage, I was blessed enough to stay with a family that supports the ACMNP student minsters by housing them and feeding them. That was truly glorious after being so tired, hungry, and exhausted on the plane. Anchorage is a beautiful city that has the exact perfect blend of mountains on one side, and ocean on the other. My friend Allison lives exactly between the two, so when she drove me to the bus stop in the morning, I got to see all of it. On an exceptionally clear day, you can see all the way to Mount McKinley. Moose wander freely through and around the town. This sounds like it might add to the picturesque quality, but I assure you it does NOT. There have been more moose related deaths in the past year than there have been automobile accidents in Anchorage. Where bears are usually skittish and will run away, Moose WILL charge and try to kill you. Allison has one that likes rip the bark off her trees in her front yard, so she always has to be extremely cautious when leaving the house in the morning.

The bus ride from Anchorage to Denali took about 5.5 hours, and it was all that can be expected from a bus ride. As we drove more and more north, however, the views because really spectacular. The mountains right now are all still snow capped and magnificently mysterious, with tons of gray-ish fog circling about their staggering peaks. A lot of it was really breathtaking.

Then, I arrived in the park. My front office manager, Brian, told me today that some people save their money for their entire lives so they can come explore Alaska. After being here for a couple days, I can totally understand why. I feel extraordinarily blessed to be able to live here for almost 5 full months, work, meet these awesome people, and see this rugged, natural, awesome beauty. Denali is a HUGE park, easily the largest I have ever worked in. The property that I am situated on right now is caled the McKinley Chalet Resort, and there are several other properties around this area that are also owned and operated by Aramark. This property alone has over 500 employees, with more arriving all the time. Right now, I am in the rec room, which has computers and a work out facility, ping pong tables, tvs, etc. This area, with the dorm rooms, rec center, employee dining hall, laundry facility, shower houses, HR office, maintenance shed, etc, is called the "lower pad" because it is literally down the hill from the front desk (where I will be working), the other guest cabins and hotels, as well as the restaurants, bus tour operations, and the like.

Now, let's discuss this "hill." First of all, I'm lying when I call it a "hill." It is NOT a hill. That sucker is a baby mountain, and anyone who tries to tell you that they can hike it in under 20 minutes is LYING TO YOU. I have to walk up and down that monster at least twice a day to get to work. It is steep. It makes your heart and lungs hurt in a way you did not realize they were capable of hurting. But tarry on I must. I figure, after a week of dedication to "Bertha," as I have decided to dub her, I will be so skinny no one at home will even recognize me. BRING IT ON. I am excited to lose some excess weight and really get in shape. There is no better place to do this than here.

Today we took a walking tour of the park and saw most of the properties, then we did some computer training. We will have more training this week, and the park officially opens on Sunday. We expect to be completely booked all summer long, and I'm glad, because I enjoy being busy.

That's enough for today. I'm hungry, so I'm heading to the EDR (employee dining room) to get my munch on. As a minor sidenote, the food here is better than all of the other national parks I've ever been to. I'm very thankful for that, because park food usually sucks. Also, everyone I've met so far is friendly, welcoming, and helpful. I really love it here, and I sense an oncoming struggle to try to get me to ever love a place as much as I love Alaska. If I die tomorrow, I will die a tired, happy person.

The best way to reach me is an actual phone call, but please keep in mind that Alaska is 4 hours behind Ohio time. Leave a voicemail if I don't pick up, which I probably won't, because I'm out loving the world and could care less about carrying around my cell phone.

Love you all! I will post more again at a later time.