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A Long Slow Goodbye

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Goodbyes are always hard, and to me there’s nothing worse than a long goodbye (usually).

In my life I’ve traveled a lot. I’m used to packing my shit in a duffel bag, hopping a plane, and heading off to unexplored reaches into parts unknown. Because of this, people often come and go in my life. That’s just what happens when you’re a care free drifter who sails the currents of change. It’s how I grew up. Often in this journey of life I have the opportunity of making real quality friends. I’m talking about the kind of quality people who love you not just in spite of your flaws, but because of them. These are the people who are always there when you need them, whether it’s for bail money, a ride home, or a helping hand out of a ditch. They’re the ones who judge you for your quirks, odd behaviors, inappropriate outbursts, and childlike humor… and still love you anyway. During my time in Alaska, I have had the great pleasure of making some of the best friends of my life; people who I know will always be there in some small way, regardless of where we may be in time and relative dimensions in space.

Recently I had the experience of undergoing one of the longest, shortest, and most memorable goodbyes I have ever gone through. My best friend (and significant other) moved from Anchorage to Fort Collins Colorado to begin her graduate studies in conservation leadership. We drove over 3,000 miles down the Alcan Highway and into the mountain west over six days with a car load of worldly possessions, a Xanaxed dog, and a long queue of music to keep us company. It’s the single longest road trip I have ever undertaken. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate send off to my closest and best “life travels” companion: a friendship that has spanned three important years. Six days and 3000 miles on the road may sound like a long time to be cooped up in a car together, but for such an important and lasting relationship it was an all too brief moment in time.

 A quick stop at Lake Kluane to cool off after long construction delays. See more here and here.

Miraculously, neither of us ended up strapped to the roof of the car or stranded on the side of the road during our journey. We did laugh, sass, and love a lot along the way. It was a growing and bonding experience for us both. It was also a wonderfully uplifting and thoroughly exhausting communion with each other and the beautifully diverse world we live in. The trip was the perfect end to a “Summer of Awesome” and I took more pictures in those five days then I have taken all year long.

 A heard of Buffalo grazed along the Highway just outside of Liard Hot Springs. More images here.

 A short stop on the side of the Icefields Parkway for a memorable shot. More images here

Now that I’m back in Anchorage and sorting through the 1,800 images I snapped, I’m thankful for every frame, every mile post, and every second of that trip. My philosophy through most of my adult life has been that we’re all headed to the same end, and that the best we can do is make the most of the journey. Sometimes in that journey our paths cross with people, intertwine for awhile, then part off in other directions, like the big powerful rivers of Alaska that braid and crisscross along wide flat rocky flood plains. People will come and go, and a special few will come back again. It’s easier to say a long goodbye when you know that the bond you have forged will bring that person back to you someday. Until then, I thank science for technology that allows me to span the leagues of space in a virtual way. It’s not so much a “long slow goodbye” as it is a “see you again soon, and enjoy your own journey”.

James Shewmake was the science and nerd culture columnist for the Alaska Commons. He also provided photojournalism and general editorial content for the site. He was the 2nd place finalist for the 2013 Alaska Press Club Leslie Ann Murray Award for his editorial piece on science and religion. James holds a Master’s of Science degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Alaska - Fairbanks. When he is not working on content for the Commons, he is usually dedicating himself to research on subsistence fisheries, time travel, and/or the establishment of a new Galactic Empire.

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