Potato Farms and Glaciers: Alaska’s Unexpected Surprises

Posted on | September 27, 2013 | 30 Comments

50 years ago my dad, Giff, and his friend, Bill, took a path less traveled. While their high school friends found summer jobs or went off to college, these two hopped on a bus and traveled 4,000 miles to the great wilderness of Alaska.

As the story goes, they ended up in a roadhouse bar on the outskirts of Anchorage with no job, no money, and no connections. (This was loooong before Facebook!) Miraculously, they found work on a potato farm and proceeded to have the summer of their lives.

For as long as I can remember, Giff and Bill vowed to return to Alaska. But as anyone with a job or family can appreciate, life gets busy and dreams fade. However, nothing slingshots a dream into reality like encouragement from your wife to “just do it”, and that’s exactly the green light Giff and Bill recently were granted. They quickly booked their trip and lucky for my brother and me, they invited us. (Four word instructions from our mom and Bill’s wife: “Bring them back alive.”)

Alaska is everything you imagine: breathtaking vistas, pristine wilderness, grizzlies roaming the mountains and salmon swarming the rivers. The two highlights for me, however, were nothing I anticipated.

Highlight #1 came in the form of an old, beat-up delivery truck.
Fortunately for my dad and Bill, Alaska’s landscape hasn’t changed much and they retraced their steps to the potato farm where they worked all those years ago. Parked (permanently) on the farm was an old delivery truck that was probably last road worthy when these guys were driving it in 1961. Upon seeing it you’d have though Giff and Bill had come upon the Holy Grail.

Watching these two celebrate their discovery and relive a great memory, I found myself asking questions: “What are you doing today that 50 years from now you’ll celebrate? What adventures are you living that will inspire you or your family to revisit them decades later?”

The potato farm reunion reminded me that a great life experience never gets old.

You know the expression “moving mountains”? Well, highlight #2 was witnessing exactly that. Taking a boat ride along the coast, our captain pointed out a glacier in the distance. From afar, the glacier was unimpressive. It looked like an ordinary pile of snow between two mountains. Up close, though, gazing upon that massive glacier proved our first impression was completely inaccurate.

If you’ve not seen a glacier creeping toward the sea, imagine an 800 feet high mass of ice that stretches for miles in all directions. Now imagine that huge mountain of ice acting as if it’s alive. It moves and you can hear the ground crunching underneath. It cracks so loudly the blasts echo like a cannon. And every few minutes, a chunk of ice weighing thousands of tons breaks from its face and crashes to the sea to create a massive tidal wave.

I used to think a bulldozer was a powerful machine. After paying homage to a glacier, I realize man made machines are tiny ants compared to the forces of nature.

Glaciers move at a snail’s pace but they’re living proof that slow, consistent, unrelenting pressure creates more long lasting change than anything else.

My two lessons from Alaska:
1. Live an adventurous life.
2. Respect slow, deliberate pressure akin to a glacier more than the promise of fast & easy.

Alaska truly is the final frontier. Go! Explore! Live!



30 Responses to “Potato Farms and Glaciers: Alaska’s Unexpected Surprises”

  1. Terry Dearling
    September 30th, 2013 @ 4:45 am

    Loved the story – hooked enough to order the book and travel to Alaska. Thank you

  2. Sudhanshu
    September 30th, 2013 @ 6:23 am

    Every blog post from you is an inspiration. Thanks for being my friend and sharing this with me. Keep up the good work.

  3. Helen Wilson
    September 30th, 2013 @ 6:39 am

    Great story. My son and his wife (residing in Seattle) have just done an Alaskan cruise and daily we received pictures and stories. The trip is on our bucket list!

  4. Andrew Krebs
    September 30th, 2013 @ 8:37 am

    Great read, Ben. Thanks for sharing

  5. John Rodgers
    September 30th, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    Awesome perspective on life… embracing our past memories and living today in a way to celebrate our futures…smile!

  6. Ken and Claire Fabric
    September 30th, 2013 @ 9:52 am

    Thanks for reawakening our memmories over our recent Alaska adventure with your eloquent words.

  7. Jim Aden
    September 30th, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Thanks Ben! Wonderful story,, one for the books. Your dad Has left you with some wonderful memories. We should all be that lucky!

  8. Clay Ambrose
    September 30th, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

    It doesn’t get much better than a father-son exerience

  9. Cristina Deguchi
    September 30th, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing Ben! FANTASTIC!!!The story and your perspective, thoughts!

  10. Kenny Bachman
    September 30th, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing, pal. A trip of a lifetime for sure!

  11. Marilyn Hoare
    September 30th, 2013 @ 10:10 pm

    You are a fantastic storyteller making us fell like me saw the truck on the potatoes farm. How blessed we all were to see nature at her best.

  12. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

    Marilyn, A small world that we traveled all the way to Alaska to make new friends from Central PA. So many stories from Alaska that will stay with us for a long time, right?

  13. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    Ken, Someday I’m sure you’ll treat your kids to a similar adventure. This trip was 50 years in the making so be patient :)

  14. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

    So pleased you enjoyed the story, Christina. Your enthusiastic feedback inspires me to write more.

  15. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

    Absolutely, Clay. I’m very fortunate to have enjoyed this trip with my dad, brother, and close family friend.

  16. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

    You’ll appreciate this, Jim. Was running through Denali National Park and came across a Beware of Grizzlies sign. All the inspiration necessary to pick up the pace! Thanks for continuing to share your comments. I’m glad we can stay in touch this way.

  17. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

    Ken and Claire, The Alaska experience is one that will stay with us for a loooooong time, right? I once read that we derive much more happiness through travel than we do through material purchases. This trip definitely confirmed that theory!

  18. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

    Thanks, John! Really appreciate your comments. This was definitely a perfect blend of past & future as you describe.

  19. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    Andy, Alaska has many wolves but could definitely use one more. I’ll be looking for you up there :)

  20. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

    Helen, Congrats to your son! He sounds like such an interesting guy who loves to travel. Didn’t he get married on East Coast of USA? No moss on that rolling stone.
    Great idea to visit your son AND Alaska in the same trip. Would love to hear about it!

  21. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

    You are very kind, Sudhanshu. Thank you for continuing to follow and comment upon this blog.

  22. Ben Lawrence
    October 1st, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

    Excellent move, Terry. You will regret neither the book nor the travel. Thanks for your comments :)

  23. Bill Thomasson
    October 3rd, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

    Great story Ben! Certainly on my bucket list!

  24. Matt Koster
    October 4th, 2013 @ 3:26 pm


    Sounds like a great trip. It is on my list.


  25. Sandeep Chaudhary
    October 7th, 2013 @ 3:12 am

    Ben your email, ‘a blog for you’ is like a gift to me.As a writer,you are fantastic. Infact, your artictle ‘a note to Madeline…’ inspired my Toastmasters Speech Project 4 and I won the best Speaker award for that!! Also, yours is the only blog I follow. You know why? Its lively, intriguing and inspiring. Keep up the good work. Regards, Sandeep Chaudhary

  26. Ben Lawrence
    October 12th, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    I am truly humbled by your kind feedback. Thank you for making the time to write it.
    At the same time, I’m PROUD of you for earning a victory at Toastmasters! I wish I could have heard your speech. You are clearly a motivated professional to be part of such a noteworthy organization.

  27. Ben Lawrence
    October 12th, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    Matt, I know you’d love Alaska. But don’t try to sell fences up there, no one has them. Too much open space for people to bother keeping anyone/anything in or out.
    Thanks for commenting on the blog. Go Rockets!

  28. Ben Lawrence
    October 12th, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    If you need a travel buddy in Alaska, I’m in! Definitely a bucket-worthy adventure. Can’t wait to see your photo in front of that glacier.

  29. Heather Betts
    November 13th, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    Ben, you are so very right indeed!
    Best advice I have heard in a long time.
    Thanks for sharing your story. Isn’t it nice to reflect on what we can and do learn from our parents?
    Great stuff!

  30. Ben Lawrence
    November 15th, 2013 @ 10:50 am

    So glad you enjoyed this blog, Heather. And yes! Parents and elders in general have lots to teach if we make the time to listen.

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