The Adventurist: Into the wild
By Skyler Marshall
AFTER GRADUATING FROM BENICIA HIGH SCHOOL IN JUNE, I had less than one week of summer vacation here in town — and not because I was going on some dream vacation to Greece or Spain, as I had once hoped to do. It was because I was jetting north to Alaska with my best friend, Digne, to work at a salmon cannery for the summer.
When I began telling friends and family about my plan to spend up to three months in Alaska processing salmon, most of them either didn’t believe me or warned me of the mistake I was walking into. No one said it, but I knew that no one honestly believed I — the same macchiato-drinking, yoga-loving 18-year-old with modeling aspirations, a travel bug for the streets of Paris and a J. Crew obsession — could survive somewhere as wild and rugged as Alaska.
But three women — my massage therapist, my Academic Decathlon teacher and my mother — gave me the courage to go through with it, calling Alaska “a big adventure,” and with their support, I resolved to go. I boarded a plane June 13 and didn’t let anyone — best friends, romantic interests, skeptical family friends and coworkers — scare me away from the 49th state and my employment with Icicle Seafoods.
Digne and I worked at two processing plants, one in Egegik and the other in Larsen Bay. The former is a wasteland reminiscent of the desolate bogs of Tolkien’s Mordor, but the latter is the archetypal Alaskan terrain, with forested mountain peaks jutting from azure waterways choked with jellyfish and salmon. In both places we worked in the “egg house,” processing salmon roe with half a dozen Japanese men in neon raingear and perfectly polished boots who were paid (pun completely intended) a boatload of money to grade the caviar.
I was paid $7.75 an hour, Alaskan minimum wage. It was the peak of the season, a time when the canneries were being hit with up to 1.1 million pounds of salmon per day, and I worked up to 18 hours a day, and slept less than four. I have never been more physically and mentally exhausted — and at the same time exhilarated.
Alaska was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. The work was hard, but I met the most amazing, inspiring people, people I could never forget and who became my family. One in particular, Joshua, with whom I bonded over our mutual love of F. Scott Fitzgerald, inspired me with his story.
Once an editor of a newspaper in Yemen, he was kicked out of his apartment amid Arab Spring unrest and found his way to Egypt, where he and a friend bought a boat to sail the Nile River, a journey he is currently writing a novel about. I, being a young writer and traveler myself, found his wanderlust and Middle East experiences captivating.
Joshua inspired me to pursue writing, traveling and all-around adventuring with passion. So it is with him in mind that I write this column, The Adventurist, wherein I hope to detail my own exploits during a semester off school. They may not be quite as exciting as adventures in Yemen or Cairo or the Nile, but they’ll be as close as a young Benician can get — for now.
Skyler Marshall is an 18-year-old Benicia High School graduate with a zealous travel bug and a passion for reading (and smelling) good books, writing, eating exquisite foods, watching remarkable films and yoga.