Thompson Falls Senior Margaret Riddel won the 2017 FSpw contest for her school

Posted on Monday, July 10th, 2017 by »

Margaret won $300 for her essay on “A Most Memorable Wilderness Experience”

“A summer on ice.”

by Margaret Riddell, Thompson Falls High School, Class of 21017

The summer in between my junior and senior year of high school was an especially challenging summer. I was making very poor personal decisions which resulted in self loathing and a very difficult couple of months.  I was given the opportunity to spend a week sea kayaking in Alaska.  I needed to emotionally reset and focus on my own well being while experiencing something I had only read about in books. I seized the opportunity and within the week, boarded  a plane to Alaska with my favorite book ‘Into The Wild’ clutched tightly within my hands.

On the morning of my 18th birthday I woke up in Whittier, Alaska completely unaware of what I was going to encounter throughout the next eight days. My group members  and I spent the day stuffing our gear into dry bags, learning how to properly get in and out of a sea kayak and making sure we were mentally and physically ready for the next eight days. Immediately after we prepared our gear, we loaded our gear and eight sea kayaks onto boats and headed out into the vast and unparalleled Prince William Sound. That night, I  sat by a fire with my group, watching the tide rhythmically roll up on shore until the sun set. I climbed into my tent eager to experience the next couple of days.

The first day of our trip ended with sore arms and tired bodies.  We kayaked eight miles and accomplished  our first crossing. I chose the three person kayak with one other person and a whole lot of gear.  Needless  to say, my partner and I had a lot of work to do. Despite the ongoing exhaustion, I was so mesmerized by the captivating surroundings. The world around me was vibrant and pristine. After a long day, I went to my tent, crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep immersed deep in the Alaska wilderness, anxiously anticipating what was going to happen next.

The next few days were especially eye-opening.   We slept at four separate campsites and paddled beside a dozen magnificent glaciers. As we kayaked toward the far reaches of the sound, I experienced a wild and undisturbed part of our world.  The second to last day of our trip was the most memorable day of them all. We woke up knowing that we were going to have to paddle seventeen miles to our final campsite. The day was destined to be exhausting and extremely precarious. Roughly nine miles into our seventeen-mile journey, a mild downpour of rain accompanied by constant wind began and continued for the next six miles. Regardless of the merciless weather conditions, our group persisted with strength and complete positivity. I learned  more about myself and nature itself that day. I learned to always be humble in the wilderness. No matter what, Mother Nature works her magic without our consent.

My few short days in Alaska were exactly what I needed at that time in my life. I was able to learn hands on about the lessons the author, Christopher McCandless, wrote and talked about during his journey to Alaska. The biggest lesson I  learned was to find happiness in your struggles. Before this trip, I was emotionally distressed and had no positive hopes for the upcoming future.  Alaska changed that for me. I accomplished such remarkable mental and physical challenges that I would’ve never come close to attempting due to lack of self confidence and fear of failure. After my trip, I learned that because  of those struggles and difficult endeavors  I evolved into a more confident and all around  happier  person.   Now, faced with difficult situations and choices, I look back on that seventeen-mile day and I am certain, I can overcome anything that crosses my path.

About The Author:

Sandy Compton is the program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. He grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still.

He is a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at

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