My 25th year high school reunion delivered an unusual sense of contentment. I left Alaska feeling simply at peace with myself and the world around me. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a result of the brilliant skies that lit up an amazing landscape over the last three days, or whether I am simply numb to it all. But I’m leaving Alaska feeling like it is more a part of my identity, and not running away from it, than I have in a long time.
Bro’s before Ho(mer)s
My first priority was spending time with my brother in Homer. After a bumpy descent onto the tarmac in Anchorage late on Wednesday, my gastrointestinal virus re-attacked and insomnia piled on. After missing my flight to Homer the next morning, I caught another one, and arrived in poor shape. Luckily big brother jumped right in to make sure I had a place to rest and relax and applied no pressure to do anything except get better. The conversations and time together over the two days were great. Nothing needed other than some time to talk about our lives and each other.
I returned to Anchorage Friday night, picked up my mammoth rental SUV, and headed for the bike rental place in downtown Anchorage. Like most bikes shops, they don’t do simple planning very well. I had reserved a bike by specifying a number of exact measurements about my geometry and how I ride, and upon arriving the shop owner told me the bike he had recommended would not fit me. I ended up grabbing a steel framed down-tube-shifting, non-compact chain ring 16 speed, which seemed appropriate given the bike had to be at least 25 years old. Once again, life would teach me that that nostalgia is a great mental exercise and a poor physical one.
Just before our first reunion event, I ran into four friends from CHS (Chugiak High School, the top educational institution in the Western Hemisphere 50 years running since its foundation in 1964). I was really happy to see them. This bode exceptionally well for the weekend: my usual internal drive to distance myself from everyone was well in check.
The top deck of the Snow Goose was freezing. I knew for a fact it had been warmer in the mid-Winter of Australia the day before, than it was right now just after the longest day of the year in Alaska. But it was great seeing everyone. I wasn’t worried that I looked like a shade of myself after being ill for a good fraction of the last week: my skin color was pale and blotchy, my eyes had very little fire in them, and my posture was shivering and tired rather than bubbly and outgoing.
Eventually, we migrated to Humpy’s Bar & Grill, and it was time for me to get some rest. Dan, a good friend of mine from high school, had offered to put me up for the weekend, and I followed him home to crash. The drive to South Peter’s Creek seemed so short in comparison to the same drive during my childhood (either stuck in the back seat behind my parents, or even driving in to Anchorage for summer jobs).
Bike tech has come a long way
I woke up at 8:30 on Saturday morning – sleeping in for me is a true miracle. Despite the lack of darkness, the cool air and my exhaustion blanketed me in the sleep of the dead. I woke up energized. After watching the end of the Brazil-Chile match, I mounted my steel framed Bianchi and rode off towards Eagle River. Right away I knew it was going to be a challenge – the bike was brutally heavy, the shifting not-smooth, and the bike handled like an aircraft carrier. But, I pushed these negative thoughts out of my mind and concentrated on the mountains in front of me.
I rode around the high school. I rode through my old neighborhood on Husky Lane. I rode through Eagle River, and then towards Anchorage. The sunlight and the mountains each over a shoulder. I turned around before Muldoon Road, and my legs let me know that driving the Bianchi steel anvil all that way, up and down hills, had taken its toll. I stopped at Subway and enjoyed the gawking of people not used to seeing a man in a full cycling kit eat a sandwich. Then a straight shot back to South Peter’s Creek. A little over 40 miles, and a good day.
I stopped off to see Erich’s Mom before several of us grabbed dinner in Eagle River. Then I took a walk, called a friend back in the lower 48, and walked into our reunion 80’s dance party. I enjoyed chatting with people, and received the award for having travelled the farthest. At around 10 PM, I made my exit.
I met my brother and sister-in-law in Anchorage for breakfast. I hadn’t seen Donna for almost 7 years, which is far too long. Donna is a great conversationalist, incredibly empathetic, and I have not met her equal.
I drove South to Alyeska, the major ski resort in the Anchorage area, to meet some classmates for a hike. Kyle had organized the hike, and his story is as impressive as the view from the top of the mountain. Three years ago, a phenomenal distance runner in the best shape of his life, Kyle had a heart attack while hiking, and it damaged his heart, leaving him with about 1/6th of his normal capacity. Kyle, hiking in front of me, up steep inclines, is inspiring. The effort he puts into the hike is 10x what the mountain requires from the rest of us. Despite the physical capacity of his heart, his determination dwarfs anything I can claim to possess.
At the end of the hike Sean Kelliher appeared, and it was great to catch up with him. He was full of all sorts of great news, like his recent trip to Guam and Jason Owens’ promotion from media assistant to fluffer.
That night I ate dinner at Bella Vista with a potpourri of classmates – largely my fault for mentioning dinner to a broad set of people and not thinking about the odd coupling that could occur. Dinner was high value and I thoroughly enjoyed the human cocktail. Both shaken and stirred a bit
Monday I woke just before 9 AM, making me question why sleeping late is only possibly in my home state. With packing, a few errands, and a final lunch with Erich, I turned reflective.
I read my thoughts on my reunion 5 years ago in my old blog:
I remember looking at the same group of people 20 years ago and still not feeling like I fit in, or that I cared about the same things they cared about, and that I had looked inside and realized that I was an elitist jerk who cared about people but didn’t care for people. And I looked inside 20 years later and saw the exact same thing. I hadn’t changed, I had simply surrounded myself with people who fit who I was, rather than learning to accept people who weren’t.
I actually feel differently this time. On the one hand, I think everyone has mellowed even further. Maybe we’re more accepting of who we are, which makes it easier to accept each other. We all seem to get along regardless of what group we fit in, for the most part. Here, I am myself at last. I felt like I was the same person that my work-mates know, the same person that my friends in Texas know. I was never my true self growing up in Alaska in almost any situation – and wasn’t close to figuring out who I was.
I also think I am a better person when single – it is sad but true. I once told a friend that I wasn’t fit for marriage, and I truly believe that. Previously I believed I could never fit in my hometown. But you fit in by giving up and just being who you are. I don’t really think other people have changed that much; mostly I think the changes have been in me.
Last reunion, I made the following recommendation:
Spend as much time as possible with the people you care about. Avoid superficial reconnections. And use the time to get to know yourself a little better while you’re at it.
I think I’ve come about 180 degrees. While my time with Dan and Erich was fantastic, and some of the best parts of the weekend, getting to know people who I barely talked to in high school was fantastic. I met people are wondered, “Why weren’t we great friends in high school?” Better late than never.
The Real Story of BJR since 2009
After our last reunion, the company I was at, MessageOne was sold to Dell. I quickly left Dell after the acquisition when I discovered the environment there was in no way, shape, or form a good one for me.
I started a small consulting company (1 person, me) to research the US health care market, looking for opportunities in software. After two years of work in that space I decided there were incredible opportunities, and yet I wanted nothing to do with the U.S. Health Care insurance or medical system.
I moved to Australia with my wife at the time, Lisa. Life for the first 18 months was very difficult until the main problem in my life, Lisa, removed herself from the equation. Happiness ensued almost immediately after I recovered from the brutality of being abandoned. I moved to the beach in Manly, Australia, and life is pretty great. I’m a General Manager for a Aussie software company, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
I was training for my second Ironman triathlon this March but semi-broke a leg while running. I’m now finally able to train again and I have 5 months before Ironman Busselton. After a year of fighting injuries, at this point, the goal is the finish line rather than a specific time.