I owned a travel agency. It was a dream come true and my husband, Matthew, and I, loved traveling with loyal customers and friends to the outer-most parts of the earth. The horrible events of 9/11 took that dream away from me and changed my life forever.
Here is an excerpt from a journal I kept on our last trip. It was to Alaska over the first anniversary of that fateful day:
The adventure begins as we arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska, at about 10:00 a.m. We are bused to the Riverside Lodge, nestled in a secluded valley. Our room is breath-taking with a view of the river. We take a walk around the grounds where majestic birch and spruce trees line the paths. It’s a little cloudy today with sun breaks. The birch leaves are bright yellow, and when the sun sprays through them they become like shimmering gold, luminous and spectacular!
The river here is somewhat muddy and calm. Across the water from the lodge is a beautiful private home – a “heavenly” home, I’d say. I wonder what it’s like here in the wintertime. The pine and spruce are rather spindly indicating harsh and freezing weather. I imagine Alaska winters are not for sissies.
I lay on my log-framed bed, with an over-stuffed down comforter, trying to take a much-needed nap. But my mind just wanders to the travel agency. It has been such a difficult year. With terrorist threats continuing, the talk of war with Iraq and the Nation’s economy, we are poised for tough times… I’m afraid I am poised for very tough times. I don’t want to lose my business. I keep telling myself that there is no failure, only experiences that will lead me to a greater understanding of who I am and why I am. And that I already have what I need to know the answers and make things work out somehow. One thing is certain in this moment, I don’t know everything, and that’s okay.
I am on this trip with forty wonderfully “hell-bent” people. These folks were willing to travel, even on the first anniversary of 9/11! They are adventurers; they will not be shaken. I wish there were many more of them, and my business would be saved. But I appreciate their stamina, their undying commitment to the belief that no one will take away their right to travel.
Today we have many activities planned. The Stern Wheel Riverboat Tour and the Gold Rush Tour! We will pan for gold – I hope to get rich!
What an inspiring cruise down the Chena River! We came across a salmon smokehouse where Dixie, an Alaskan Native, showed us how she could fillet a salmon in 38 seconds! She explained how they hang the fish to dry under tents, and when ready they throw them to the sled dogs for a feast.
We stopped the boat right by the home, and training camp, of Sue, a woman who ran in the Iditarod. Her dogs raced to the shore as our boat passed – we waved to them, and they barked back. There was a connection of which no human words can express.
Next, we saw an authentic Native American village and we were able to pet the sled dogs. There were old cabins filled with stories of trappers and displaced dreams, and fabulous artifacts and works of art, including beadwork coats and dresses. Our friend, Dixie, was the creator of these exquisite garments and she had won many awards for her talent.
For a short distance on this cruise, we traveled the glacial waterway, Tanana River. When we sailed into this river, we could see the dramatic difference between the water and the glacial “milk” that filtered by. It was interesting and amazing how it didn’t mix together – the glacial milk just continued traveling its own path. I’m sure there is a powerful lesson in that!
This afternoon, we panned for gold. Each of us had a chance to pan and I was so afraid I would accidently empty my gold off into the water. I couldn’t get used to draining off the top layer of rocks and trusting that the gold was heavier and would sink to the bottom – desperate not to lose even a flake!
We rode on a small train around the mine, as our guide gave a talk on how it worked. Water sprayed and gushed down a long trough right in front of us. It was a lot of fun, and everyone came away with a little “yellow stuff” to take home. I bought a necklace charm and filled it with Matthew’s and my treasure, worth about $19 – but the charm cost $10. Oh, well, at least I came out ahead this time!
Today we went to Denali Park, toward Mount McKinley and the Fairweather Mountain Range. The train was impressive and extremely comfortable. What a view along the way! We saw the Fairweather Mountains in full glory (an unusual sight we were told) and took some fabulous pictures. The wind was blowing, and it was very cold out on the platform. It was a photo op any photographer would die for, and Matthew was in “photo heaven.” This 3 ½ hour tour took me to another world.
After the train, we went to Denali Lodge and rode school buses into the park. Becky, our guide, presented the history of the park and it was an incredible day! The photos we took said it all. From the yellow an orange tundra to the yellow and dark green forest, to the snowcapped, pink-tinged mountaintops – it was magnificent. Matthew’s camera shutter continued to click, and ten rolls later we were sure we got some awesome shots.
I must admit, where better to be, than in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness on the anniversary of 9/11.
Today we remember. It was this day, a year ago, that the world changed. It was the day that crushed my dream. This will probably be the last trip we will take as travel agency owners.
We spent the day in the rain, hiking seven miles around Byers Lake trail. WOW! We did not see an eagle, but we did watch mountain sheep and caribou traverse their terrain. And we saw a grizzly bear across the river. He had a golden coat and the sun danced on his wet back as he lumbered along. Just think, to him nothing in the world had changed…
UPDATE April 2003 –
My predictions played out. This was the last trip we were to lead. I struggled for a little longer with the agency, then closed my doors. I’ll never forget my travel experiences – no one and nothing can take away those memories. In fact, I have albums of photos and an entire cabinet filled with bells from around the globe. And what followed was a whole new world of opportunities that I may not have experienced otherwise. Indeed, to reach for a life-long dream … to become a writer and try to make a difference through words.
Jane L. Fitzpatrick
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