Doing what we do, we get to meet some pretty amazing people. There’s something about high quality experiences in remote locations that just attracts good folks.
We’re really lucky to have gotten to know Bryan, Kathy, Jason and Eric Whiting through their trips to Alaska West, starting in 2004. Bryan was kind enough to put together some background on why and how their family decided to go fishing in Alaska.
We have a ton of respect for Bryan and Kathy, and the decisions they’ve made about the impact that trips like these would have on their family. As you’ll see below, there was much more to the process than “we thought it’d be fun to go fishing together”!
Much More Than Catching Fish
From the moment our children were born, it was the goal of Kathy and I to focus on providing them with activities and experiences as opposed to transient “fad” products. From an early age we had them involved in the out of doors, fishing, athletics, group activities and associating with adults. We felt this type of experience was the best way for them to acquire the manners and values we wished them to possess as adults.
From the time they could get into a backpack they were on the water experiencing weather, seeing animals, throwing their shoes in the river and soon reeling in and touching fish. I grew up outside Yellowstone. Consequently, we spent 2-3 weeks hiking, camping and fishing each summer throughout Yellowstone where our kids saw and learned about nature, and soon doing their share of the work involved. As they grew older, Kathy and I wanted to expand their experience through exposure to different parts of the Rocky Mountains and cultures.
The first was spring break fishing trips to Lees Ferry. The boys helped develop the budget associated with this trip. They contributed to the trip by earning money which we hoped would help develop personal responsibility, the value of work, and a work ethic as well. Through all these experiences, we also established parameters where if our family values and manners were not met, whether it be on a trip, in school, in athletics or just at the movies, it affected their ability to participate in the next experience.
Kathy and I also wanted them to learn about developing and accomplishing long term goals. Jason was immediately interested in fly fishing in Alaska. He found Alaska videos on the internet, Alaska shows on TV, Alaska articles in magazines. Kathy and I felt Alaska would be a great “once in a lifetime” experience for our family and especially our boys. We all were soon absorbed by the prospect of Alaska, but it seemed so far away in many ways in addition to mileage.
Each winter we went to a fly fishing show in Denver and saw videos, gathered brochures and talked to numerous Alaska camps and lodges. All this just served to further expand our desire to go to Alaska, but the cost just seemed beyond what we could make happen. The winter of 2003-04, we were again at the fly fishing show and talking even more fervently with the camps and lodges in attendance. All of them sounded great, but when we asked them if we could bring the boys, who would be 14 and 15 that summer, they all said “sure, we take kids”, but it was easy to tell by their attitude and the manner in which they said those words, that they would prefer to deal with adults. One camp even said they boys could come along and watch Kathy and I catch fish – not exactly the experience we were looking for.
Thankfully, Alaska West was in attendance that year. When we talked to them, they immediately showed great interest in the boys to the point where they began to just talk to them. In addition to the great fishing they talked about going up river in a jet boat, having fish catching contests, seeing eagles, having a salmon lunch on the river and other things of interest to teen aged boys. It was obvious Alaska West was the place, but as Kathy and I drove home, with the boys asleep in the back, it was somewhat disappointing because such a trip still seemed far away given our family budget as high school teachers and kids’ college in the future.
Regardless, the boys took over the planning. They not only determined what they needed to take and stay under the 50 lb airline limit, but planned the logistics of such a trip from plane tickets to motel rooms; from specialized fly fishing equipment to waterproof coats. We developed a budget but to their credit, the boys knew it would be hard to bring to execution.
One month later, Alaska West called me after school in my classroom and basically enabled our “trip of a lifetime” to happen in 2004. My wife was the real hero. We could make it work only if everyone didn’t go. The trip was so important to her that she decided the boys and I should make the trip and she would stay home.
The 2004 trip was even more than we had hoped. The boys spotted animals on the plane flight in; we caught more silver salmon on the first day than I thought we would catch the entire week; the boys talked with anglers from England, Russia and Italy; they saw the culture and life of the Yupik natives. They saw how hard a guide works each and every day and talked to them about fishing in South America, Kamchatka and Canada. The boys helped the guides haul the day’s equipment to the Arolik River boats and experienced the primitive isolation of the Arolik. The guides had fun with the boys. They had rock skipping contests, started a fire after a rain storm, explored hidden channels, spotted and then caught large rainbows with mouse flies, and learned how to barbecue a salmon on a gravel bar.
As strange as it may sound, my highlight as a Dad, occurred on the trip home. As we sat in the airport, the boys decided their #1 priority was to get their mother to Alaska. Before we were off the runway and airborne, they were working on a budget to get everyone back to Alaska West in 2006. They were going to use their next two summer’s earnings as well as eliminate some planned purchases on their part as their contribution to the cause.
Our second “once in a lifetime” trip occurred in 2006. The bet was how loud their mom was going to scream the first time she caught a silver salmon.
We now have had four “trips of a lifetime” with a trip for King Salmon in 2008 and another trip for silvers in 2010. Jason is now 22 and 6’4”, Eric 23 and 6’2. Eric has graduated from U of Wyoming and is a marketing director. Jason is a Senior at Humboldt State University in California, playing baseball and studying both fisheries and natural resource economics. They have grown both physically but more importantly gone from boys to men. My wife and I will always be grateful for the part Alaska West played in that process.