North to Alaska: Intentional Minimalism

by Wesley Cheney

I spent the first twenty years of my life in Vermont. I spent the second twenty years in Tidewater Virginia. Maybe I’ll spend the next twenty years in Alaska.

The Green Mountains of my childhood were temperate, rural and open. Norfolk on the other hand was hot, humid and dirty, not to mention flat, loud and congested. While I found great pleasure in delivering sandwiches freakishly fast on my bike in Norfolk, that job didn’t pay enough per hour, nor offer enough hours of work. I wanted to do work that I could take pride in. Mentally I couldn’t work in a call center, or flip burgers, or restock shelves, or sell insurance. I didn’t want to spend anymore of my life driving in a box to work to pay for the box that I needed to drive to my job. I didn’t want to anesthetize my soul anymore with alcohol, cannabis and Prozac.

I was past due to graduate from more than a few relationships and environments in Virginia. Too much was stunted and stale. Too many things were draining value from my life, not adding value to it. You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you, as The Minimalists would say. It was time for a change.

I wanted to be passionate about my next job, and my next home. While common wisdom held that I should follow my passion, I chose to nurture and enable it. I was passionate about biking, teaching, music and community. So I looked for a job that would pay me for my passions. And I found it, as a bicycle tour guide in Southeast Alaska.

My old room became a minimalist packing party. Boxes lined one wall, labeled Storage, Donation, Alaska, and Alaska (maybe). I purged my wardrobe, my closet, my books and my bikes. I gave some stuff to charity, and gave more to friends. “Are you sure you want to give this away?” they’d ask me. “Yes”, I’d tell them, “and you should give it away, too, if you don’t use it.” In my last act of divestment, I sold my car to buy my plane ticket. Only the barest of necessities made the transcontinental journey from Virginia to Alaska.

I landed in Juneau, Alaska with a bicycle, a couple backpacks, a dozen books and a ukulele. I rode the ferry north to Skagway, and found a new community that embodied the minimalist ideal that I had chosen for a season. Does it add value? Josh and Ryan would say on The Minimalists Podcast. Put another way by Ben and Jerry, If it’s not fun, why do it? I wasn’t opposed to the joyless or the valueless, but I was certainly less inclined to tolerate them without a first or a second thought, and at least an overarching reason.

I still drive to work, but now I drive a van with a dozen guests to the peak of the White Pass, Kilometer Twenty Four of the Klondike Highway, at an elevation of nearly one kilometer above sea level. From the summit we ride back down to Kilometer Zero. Coasting on a bike down a glacier valley and into the longest fjord in the Western Hemisphere is sublime. Twice daily I get the privilege and pleasure of guiding clients, riding with them as the wind whips their cheeks and roars in their ears and plasters grins on their faces. We see rainbows and sun rings, mountain goats and marmots. We cross over waterfalls and fault lines before reaching the floodplain, where we ride through one of the bike-friendliest little towns in America.

The joy I feel in Alaska doesn’t come from things I own or buy. True, a well-tempered ukulele or a pair of broken-in hiking boots may add value to my life, but they don’t make me happier in and of themselves. Bicycles, books and friends don’t create happiness so much as they enable happiness. They allow me to create new memories that I’ll treasure for years. And while I’ve given up much to move to Alaska, I’ve gained so much more.

I divested in Virginia.
 I live intentionally in Alaska.


Originally published at Minimalism Life.

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