By Tracy Stewart
When I was given the opportunity to float the Yukon River on Expedition Alaska this fall I asked one of the professors if I would need a tent. “No, we have that covered,” he replied. With that wealth of information I figured I’d be put in with one of the women – professor or teaching assistant. Honestly, even that gave me pause. Camping changes everything. Day to day routines and roles- gone – along with good hair, clean socks, and showers. You see, I was merely a “butt in the boat.” As a professor, or teaching assistant, or river guide, I’d have a role. Yet I had no clear role, I was only that lowest of lifeforms, an administrator.
Both curious and concerned I pressed a bit more, asking who I would be tenting with. “Me and Rob,” was the answer. Great, now not only was I without a clear role but I would be tenting with two male colleagues. I had no delusions of rising in airbrushed beauty, my hair swirling softly as I stretched in a strategic shaft of sunlight. No, I was worried about snoring, drooling, or waking up in the tent equivalent of an HR violation when I rolled too far to one side.
“We are all professionals,” I reminded myself. “Besides Tim (Rawson) and Rob (Anderson) are upstanding guys.” After arriving in Eagle, Rob and I start to assemble Tim’s tent while he attended to a million other professor tasks. Tent. Yeah, right. It was a mosquito net with a tent floor and partial walls covered by a rainfly. Even though I knew nylon has limited heat retention properties I was under-enthused. Like everything else, however, it all turned out to be just fine.
Learning happens everywhere that you are willing to open your heart and mind. So, what did I learn on this adventure, sleeping with my colleagues? Well, if I did snore or drool, they were perfect gentlemen and said nothing. I also learned that sourdough starter kept in a sleeping bag will explode. I learned that a grown man will not give up his woobie. I learned that fathers do not like to be told they look like their children when they sleep (note – their children look like them, not the other way around). And, though I am a morning person, Tim is a really, really early morning person (thanks for the coffee, Tim).
Most importantly I learned that some of the things I feared were really irrelevant. First off, everyone was equally disheveled and more than a bit gamey. In the end, no one seemed to care. Today I know students from the trip because you see faces when heads are not bent over, looking at a device; when you are away from cell phones and computers you learn to reconnect with people and nature. I witnessed great kindness, compassion, and tenderness as strangers became friends looking out for each other. I saw peace and contentment replace weariness and frustration. For me, however, the greatest learning was the power of true silence. Perhaps if I am really fortunate I will get to sleep with my colleagues again.