“Into the Wild”
By Lauren Harper
It isn’t everyday that I peruse Twitter and come across a breaking news update via CNN that there has been a grizzly bear mauling in Alaska. It isn’t everyday that I can relate to and have experienced the news update first-hand.
After reading the articles released Sunday surrounding the bear attack on a group of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) students, I couldn’t help but to uncover my journal entries and photographs I documented throughout my NOLS backpacking expedition in Alaska one summer only three years ago.
As I heard cars honking and rowdy pedestrians cross the street below my Hollywood Boulevard apartment, I immediately felt a sense of longing for the simple way of backcountry living. Although dangerous, exhausting and at times potentially life-threatening, trekking the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska for one month was one of the most awe-inspiring adventures of my life.
As I flipped through each entry I wrote and photograph I took, I suddenly felt a strong sense of inspiration and irrevocable confidence that I haven’t felt in quite some time. As I read the last sentence of my journal entry entitled Day 30, I felt invincible. Although two extreme worlds, I thought to myself… if I can conquer Alaska, I can conquer whatever comes my way in Los Angeles.
Every actor in Hollywood is intimidated by the power of the entertainment industry and the people that run it. Producers, money, memorizing lines, and countless unsuccessful auditions can easily demolish and anyone’s once positive and persevering spirit and turn it into a pile of inadequate and hopeless dust.
Then it hit me…what is there to be afraid of? When I combined both brutal worlds in their own right, I discovered the comforting realization that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of out here.
Casting directors vs. Grizzly bears? The answer is obvious.
On July 16, 2008 I embarked on a journey along with thirteen other students and four instructors. We began our course at Pyramid Creek off the Denali Highway after a 3-5 hour bus ride that drove us far away from civilization. For one month we traversed the Northern Talkeetna Mountains and finally made our way to Hurricane Gulch on the Parks Highway to greet another bus that drove us back into society.
Day after day of brutal bushwhacking, crossing freezing cold rivers, climbing up steep rocky peaks, descending onto snow paths and hiking 12 miles on treacherous terrain was the easy part in comparison to what we encountered during those thirty days.
Each day we took notes and learned how to recognize, examine and treat all forms of injuries from minor to life threatening. Signs and symptoms of shock, treating and monitoring open wounds, checking vital signs and making hand-made splints were only a few of our lessons within our wilderness first-aid course.
Unbelievably enough, our team had a hands-on crash course in a multiple real-life emergency situations throughout our expedition only days after learning how to do so. Twice we had to help aid in the emergency evacuation of two of our backpackers due to different severe flesh wounds as well as, immediately administer first-aid to another fellow course member who began to show signs of hypothermia.
It was the quintessential Into The Wild experience. No soap, razors, shampoo, deodorant or toilet paper. Living in one pair of clothes, sometimes soaking wet for days and only a small shovel and a hole in the ground was our version of a restroom.
Before settling into our tents for the evening, we had to bear-proof the camp and hang our sock and boots to dry. Finally, in the comfort of our tents, we then examined our topographical maps to create our specific travel plans utilizing latitude and longitude information within each quadrant on the map for the following day.
Despite throbbing blisters, growling stomachs, pelting rain and sleepless nights, we had to push onward to make the 30-day deadline to our destination.
As I was nearing the end of looking through the torn and weathered pages of my journal, I found a folded piece of paper. I carefully opened it to discover a poem. As I read each line, I started to remember exactly what inspired me to write it. It reads:
The silence is full of vibrant sound.
The soft hum of insect wings.
The steady rushing water in the distance.
The whisper of the wind through the wet branches…tells the ears what they’re supposed to hear.
The colors are an artists dream.
Green vegetation complemented by hints if bluebells.
Charcoal peaks supporting the whitest snow.
The multi-colored stones that give the clear water personality…is the essence of sight.
The Alaskan wilderness, so unforgiving and raw…gives you an enlightened perspective.
The mountains, caribou and rough pine re-define solitude…in which you feel insignificant and foreign.
Yet the wind gives you a sense of place within the thriving entities.
The truth is, you are not alone…
The sun and the wind awakens your skin reminding you to feel.
The sudden prick of a mosquito snaps your daydreaming mind back to living in the moment.
The splash of snow on the highest peak invites you to wonder what else you can conquer.
The beauty and never-ending horizon is surreal and overwhelming…
In order to embark on discovery, you must first learn to see and embrace your true colors before exploration.
The backcountry can erase or build an identity. The constant daylight is an open window into the heart and soul of the wild.
Now is the time to incorporate sight, sound, smell, taste and touch in order to create your own map.
You are the compass.
Keeping the victims of the bear attack in my prayers, my experience is all that more powerful for I made it out safely. It was on this day three years ago, that I too was in the wild, vulnerable, free and trying to survive.
Hollywood is an easy hike.
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About the Author: Lauren Harper is an L.A. woman with East Coast blood. Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, she is an actress and writer residing in the heart of Hollywood, California. Lauren graduated from Penn State University with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in French and Francophone Studies. Fast forward to 2012, she has continued to work, successfully carving a niche for herself in the entertainment industry. Lauren is excited to contribute to Happiness Series with Lights, Camera…Happiness and her interview series, Lights, Camera…Interview. Lauren hopes to further enlighten herself and you with each entry. Find out more about Lauren Harper | Twitter: @TheLaurenHarper | Official Site: http://thelaurenharper.com | e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org