From the November 2014 issue of Last Frontier Magazine.
Late last August I joined a dozen new students, faculty, staff, and the president of Alaska Pacific University on Expedition Alaska. For ten days I rafted the Yukon River from Eagle to Circle. On this trip I saw grizzly bears, camped in remote places, and endured record low temperatures while camping in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve.
I was there to face my fears—of being on open water (I cannot swim), of wildlife I had only ever seen on TV, of new experiences, of risk and of being far away from my home and family for the first time. Never in my life could I have fathomed rafting the Yukon River, let alone being out on open water in a rubber raft.
I grew up in Inglewood, California. It’s a neighborhood in the greater Los Angeles area, five minutes from the Los Angeles International Airport, and ten minutes away from the local beach—Manhattan Beach. I remember toward the end of my senior year in high school, when my friends and I would go to this beach to play in the water; I’d always be the one closest to the shore because of my fear of open water. I remember feeling extremely embarrassed that I was the “scaredy cat” of the group, the one that didn’t like trying new things (adventures, that is). As I stood alone on the shore and watched my friends go farther and farther out in the water, I knew that soon I’d have to face my fears—in a month I’d be embarking on a program called Expedition Alaska (ExpAK).
I was fortunate to partake in Alaska Pacific University’s Expedition Alaska 2014 trip as part of my freshman experience. Expedition Alaska is a one month long course that Alaska Pacific University (APU) puts on every August for their incoming freshman class and new transfer students. It introduces them to Alaska in a unique way. ExpAK was one of the reasons I came to APU in the first place—because I wanted to fight my fear of trying new things. ExpAK combines courses in sustainability, natural history of Alaska and wilderness skills with backcountry adventure.
I got more than I bargained for. It was an overwhelming experience: seeing my first bear (four to be exact), eating my first S’more, and learning how to pitch a tent, among other firsts. Spending ten days in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve made me really appreciate nature and I grew more comfortable with stepping outside of my comfort zone. Bears? I was once terrified of even the thought of seeing one in person. Open water? Never.
Memories of the trip such as staying the night in Slaven’s Roadhouse, having countless numbers of camp fires, waking up in the middle of the night to see the Northern Lights, and scouting our camp sites to see what kind of animal tracks we could find will resonate with me for a long time. I will remember the expedition as a time in my life where I let go and as a result had one of the best experiences in my life.
Though I was overwhelmed by it all, I loved it! I continued to try new experiences post ExpAK, like going four-wheeling in Willow. Again, I had the time of my life with the wind in my face and the pleasing sound of an ATVs roaring engine.
I think back to four months ago when I was back in Inglewood and compare it to my life now, and I am amazed at how much I’ve learned and grown personally. Taking the risk and moving to Alaska, on my own, was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I now boast a load of new stories, photographs, a deeper understanding of nature and memories that will last a lifetime. Had I stayed and gone to a school back home, I doubt I would have had such a unique first year of college. APU provides me with an outlet to explore and to grow through active learning, with Alaska being my classroom.
Raekwon Morgan was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He moved to Anchorage four months ago to pursue an education at Alaska Pacific University studying Mechanical Engineering and Economics. Raekwon’s ultimate career goal is to become a politician–because, he wants to help shape the future of America for the next generation.