An Emotional Journey Through the Frigid Wilderness

An Emotional Journey Through the Frigid Wilderness

Hailey Brown

Off the Map: Alaska 2022

Pursuing a Nursing Degree at Regis College, Massachusetts

All the images have been provided by Hailey. Read Hailey’s story below

Many things have changed in Hailey Brown’s life in the past five years. Back in 2017 she was the youngest student in her group during her Pura Vida Service program in Costa Rica. She was 14 and traveling with her sister – often being introduced and referred to as the “younger sister.”

After the program, Hailey returned home to start high school and had hopes of traveling again. She took some trips with her family and friends, but the pandemic dashed hopes for another Rustic program while she was in high school.

She moved into a challenging nursing program at Regis College in Massachusetts. But the demands of school and life were growing. Hailey needed a break. So she signed up for another Rustic program.

This time Hailey was the oldest student on her program, and she was traveling alone on the Alaska: Off the Map program.

“I wanted to get a kind of reset because I’d been really going through the motions. I don’t think I had a single day that I could stop doing stuff,” Hailey said. “I just wanted to enjoy having two weeks to do something for myself – to embrace every second of it.”

She picked Alaska because she loved the woods, and it provided a landscape that encouraged reflection. That was something she really thought she needed.

Feeling Small Amidst the Glaciers

The journey in Alaska was punctuated with big adventure moments. That included a glacier climbing expedition that would test the students’ physical moxie.

Hailey said she was very nervous about this plan since it was a brand new activity for her. Fortunately, from a distance the glacier looked tiny. When she got closer, Hailey realized she was wrong.

“You get up to it, and you see all these small people climbing up the sides of the glacier. It’s like your mind can’t even comprehend how big everything is,” Hailey said. “That was a recurring theme throughout the trip. You just can’t fathom how big the space is.”

Hailey was thrilled when she made it to the glacier’s top. To reward herself, she enjoyed what had become a simple pleasure – hot chocolate. Out in the remote regions of Alaska, the students’ supply of hot chocolate was running low. After pack rafting, the students had a mini-water fight centering on hot chocolate privileges.

The students’ newfound friendships were creating this sense of lightheartedness. That allowed small moments to become big memories – even when things went wrong. While in the same region, the students took a boat ride down a river to reach a remote camp.

During the trip, the steering on the boat stopped working. The guide worked hard to get the boat to shore. There the students sat in the cold rain waiting to be rescued.

“It might not seem like an enjoyable experience, but it was so fun. Everybody that was on the boat was just messing around. We were like, ‘oh, we’re stranded,’” Hailey said. “I think those were the best moments… It wasn’t what you expected, but it turned out better because of it.”

Hailey said this became the tone for the trip – that it didn’t matter what happened because they would have an amazing time because they were together.

“I think it’s rare to find people that can all jive together, and no matter what situation they’re in, they can make the most of it. They can embrace it,” Hailey said.

Getting Insight from Local Leaders

The program leaders and local guides strengthened this roll-with-the-punches approach. Hailey said each program leader played an important role. Theresa was a welcoming group mom. Kaitlyn was a fantastic storyteller, and Andrew brought more of an emotional-meditative vibe to the program.

“All the group leaders brought something new and enlightening to the trip,” Hailey said. “They also were soaking everything in and having a great time, so we were having a great time.”

The local guides added to this experience by sharing important life lessons. They showed the students how seemingly small human actions can impact the environment. This was most evident during a visit to the Harding Icefield. While driving there, the students saw signs that indicated where the glacier used to be before it had receded.

“You can see how far the glacier has melted,” Hailey said. “That just made me sad. It is such a beautiful stunning place, and to know that one day it might not be like that is really upsetting.”

But the environmental lessons weren’t the only ones made at the Harding Icefield. This is also where Hailey said she was able to bring together all the lessons she learned during the journey.

A Moment of Self-Discovery

While at the Harding Icefield, the students embarked on one of the more beautiful but physically taxing hikes. They walked about three miles in an area where the elevation quickly changed. When she got to the top, Hailey said the moment was unforgettable.

“I overthink a lot, and so having time to sit down and kind of decompress allowed me to see how proud of myself I was,” Hailey said.

Hailey says she realized she had been social despite being an introvert. She had taken initiative during the program, and she had now completed a very challenging hike.

“I was so tired and exhausted, but I did it. I like remembering that feeling of relief – that feeling of accomplishment. It was such a powerful moment for me because I was just so happy,” Hailey said. “I knew that I was just where I was supposed to be in that moment, and that this was one of the best decisions that I could have made for my summer.”

Weeks after returning home, the big adventure activities and the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes all were noteworthy to Hailey. But it was those moments of reflection that really gave her the reset she thought she needed.

“I went ice climbing. I did some rafting. I camped. So I did this,” Hailey said. “But I think it was the little things that I can’t put into words that made it so special… It was such an emotional experience.”

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