Peak Alaska

A jour­ney of dis­cov­ery on a cruise with O

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS -

IT’S ONLY the first day of the cruise, and O al­ready has me in tears. An­gela Davis – not the po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist but the Olympian – a mem­ber of O’s bat­tal­ion of ex­perts whom she de­ploys to teach, motivate and men­tor her flock, is on the Euro­dam’s the­atre stage, get­ting the packed house up on its feet, spurring us to move while spout­ing en­cour­ag­ing words.

“Push your in­ten­tions out to the uni­verse!” Davis is shout­ing into the mic head­set wrapped around her honed ath­lete’s cheek­bone, while stretch­ing up to sky. “Push out the neg­a­tive – let go of what doesn’t serve you!” I’m push­ing, along with just about ev­ery­one else, even though it’s about 8:30 a.m. and I’m crav­ing a caf­feine fix. At first, I’m loath to get out of my chair, wor­ried I’ll hit the per­son next to me with my flail­ing arms. Eh, what the hell. I’ll give it a try. To my amaze­ment, I haven’t slapped any­one in my vicin­ity and I’m still able to fo­cus on Davis, her move­ments and her in­ten­tions.

“Reach out! You are one de­ci­sion away to be­ing what you were cre­ated for!” Wait. Did she just say that? While I’m do­ing mod­i­fied jump­ing jacks? “This is the first day of the rest of your life, and you’re al­ready born with a pur­pose!” she car­ries on. “Ev­ery­thing you need is al­ready here – al­ready in­side of you!”

Wow. Okay. That just about broke me. As I’m mov­ing, I feel a re­lease. Are those tears on my cheeks? Could the mix of phys­i­cal and in­spi­ra­tional be break­ing through? I’m not alone. There’s not an eye roll in the house. Peo­ple are smil­ing, mov­ing and, yes, some are cry­ing. Not in a bad way, mind you. More like a soft ex­pul­sion of fo­cused en­ergy.

Sud­denly, it’s over. An­gela Davis, star ath­lete, mo­ti­va­tional speaker, a mem­ber of Oprah Win­frey’s Su­perSoul 100 trail­blaz­ers, has me breath­ing hard – and think­ing. If the goal of this cruise pro­gram is, as the pow­ers that be at the Hol­land Amer­ica cruise line (HAL) told me, to unite “the soul-stir­ring power of travel with O Mag­a­zine’s deep com­mit­ment to con­nec­tion and per­sonal growth,” it’s cer­tainly work­ing, with most of HAL’s sail­ings from North Amer­ica now fea­tur­ing O-in­spired ac­tiv­i­ties. Over a week, the mag­a­zine and ele­ments of OWN, the net­work Oprah founded, come to life on the ship, with the hit Su­perSoul Sun­day tele­vi­sion con­tent lead­ing the way. Then there’s morn­ing guided med­i­ta­tion; more Su­perSoul 100 lec­tur­ers, style and dress­ing ses­sions, diet and nu­tri­tion ad­vice and, of course, Oprah’s book club, where some of her se­lected books and au­thors are on board. And if you need a break from the all the mo­ti­va­tional stuff, you can still get a bit of per­sonal growth through cook­ing classes at Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen, a HAL high­light. While on board, how to make Curry Dev­illed Eggs was on the menu. Go to www.ev­ery­thing­illed-eggs for the de­light­fully old school recipe.

Speak­ing of old school, Davis’s mes­sage seems sim­ple and, sure, we’ve heard a lot of this be­fore. Tried is true, I guess, and be­fore she lets us go, Davis in­vites Gayle King, ed­i­torat-large of O Mag­a­zine and O’s right­hand pal, on stage.

Cre­ate the high­est vi­sion pos­si­ble for your life be­cause you be­come what you be­lieve

“I’m too blessed to be stressed,” Davis tells King. “And, if we don’t care for our bod­ies, we won’t be able to ful­fill what we’re here for.”

“An­gela, a soul cycle class with you is a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence!” King says in re­turn. It’s a pro­found mo­ment, she adds, where there’s this con­nec­tion be­tween the phys­i­cal­ity and the emo­tion. I’m not sure if that’s ex­actly what I ex­pe­ri­enced, but, yes, it was a pro­found mo­ment for me. I’m so ex­cited I burst into the state­room where my travel col­league is wait­ing for me and start recit­ing An­gela bon mots. “It’s about san­ity! We should be liv­ing the life we were cre­ated for!” San­ity, maybe, but he’s look­ing at me like I’m nuts. He, as a travel in­dus­try vet­eran who works with lux­ury travel agen­cies and a like-minded and trusted friend with whom I some­times trek, gen­tly re­minds me that as a writer and mag­a­zine edi­tor who is also pas­sion­ate about travel, one of my roles is to tell sto­ries about the jour­ney. In other words, I am sort of liv­ing the life I was cre­ated for. An­other pro­found mo­ment – pro­vided not from a guru this time but from a friend. I say a quiet thank you for him to the uni­verse and push my in­ten­tions out there.

What’s in front of you is greater than what’s be­hind you

And what was in front of me? Alaska – for my first time. The voy­age would take us via the Pa­cific, up the Out­side Pas­sage from Seat­tle along the west coast of British Columbia and north­ward. “Let it go, let it go out to sea …” more in­spir­ing words from lec­tures I’d at­tended, come back to me. The med­i­ta­tive back-and-forth of the ocean has an ef­fect, an ebb and flow that makes me feel like I’m mov­ing for­ward in more than just rid­ing the ship carv­ing a path through the waves. It’s nearly one year to the day af­ter my di­vorce was fi­nal­ized – a mile­stone I hadn’t re­al­ized un­til now that I was men­tally mark­ing. It’s a new fron­tier for me.

And fron­tier, it is. Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan. Tiny towns al­most en­shrouded in great ever­green forests, wel­com­ing peo­ple who take the ship’s be­he­moth port­side shadow in stride and, the most mag­i­cal of all: the stretches of the ocean’s sur­face, only bro­ken by gulls dip­ping and div­ing for the day’s catch, seal flip­pers shin­ing in the sun and the awe­some sight of breach­ing whales.

It’s amaz­ing, too, how the great­ness of na­ture can have a qui­eten­ing, hum­bling ef­fect – as pow­er­ful as

the words of wis­dom we’ve been ex­posed to all week. When the ship switches from the Pa­cific to Alaska’s In­side Pas­sage and nav­i­gates the coast­line’s fiords, there seems to be a col­lec­tive in­hale. We en­ter Glacier Bay, a 450-plus me­tre-deep fiord, part of the epony­mous na­tional park and a pre­serve that’s home to hump­back whales and puffins. Ev­ery­thing is still, and the cap­tain cuts back on the en­gines. We’re sur­rounded – float­ing in icy-blue wa­ters kept at bay by mas­sive icy-blue walls of glacial ice, stand­ing be­tween us and the icy-blue-tinged peaks of the moun­tains in the dis­tance. In be­tween sits a rain­for­est. Huna Tinglit el­ders, the na­tive na­tion in these parts, tell of an an­cient home­land buried by the ad­vanc­ing ice. A north­ern At­lantis of sorts. The hush is bro­ken when some­one spots a whale. It’s a hump­back, go­ing for a swim in the early af­ter­noon sun. She rolls, sur­faces, spouts a spray and sinks slowly, al­low­ing the sun to re­flect off her slick back. She comes up again and this time dives, flash­ing her tail, and then she’s gone, barely leav­ing a rip­ple. Awe. Si­lence. Col­lec­tive ex­hale.

If it doesn’t chal­lenge you, it doesn’t change you. There’s some­thing about that pain that’s try­ing to teach you some­thing

Oprah ar­rives mid-cruise, stay­ing un­der the radar un­til she makes her ap­pear­ance the fol­low­ing day. King, along with other ed­i­tors and speak­ers, has been roam­ing around freestyle since we em­barked (“Gayle, you still on Weight Watch­ers?” asks one lady, when she spies her at the buf­fet. “Yes, I am,” she chimes back. “Adam! Are you at the ship’s bou­tique later? I need some fash­ion tips!” says an­other. “Yes, I am!” That’s Adam Glass­man, O Mag­a­zine’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, who works with O on her “favourite things.”) Oprah is mak­ing two ap­pear­ances to­mor­row, tick­eted in­ti­mate events, “A Con­ver­sa­tion With Oprah.”

When Oprah was a child, her grand­mother, who raised her, gave her a Bi­ble, and it was with it she learned to read, be­ing the only book they could af­ford. By the time she was five, she was read­ing the gospels in church. She was also miles ahead at school. “We were asked to write down words we knew how to spell,” she tells her fans in the filled-to-ca­pac­ity the­atre. She wrote down, mostly words from the Bi­ble, the names of some of its books and the word hip­popota­mus. At five years of age. “They didn’t be­lieve me,” she says.

The point be­ing that through­out her early life and ca­reer, a lot of peo­ple didn’t be­lieve Oprah or be­lieve in her. But she didn’t give up. Her past of liv­ing in poverty and abuse is well-doc­u­mented; her hard-won rise above it leg­end, giv­ing her a power that has led to her strato­sphere.

Stand unashamed in your truth is her mes­sage. Oprah’s a won­der­ful sto­ry­teller; in­spir­ing in the way she has man­i­fested that mes­sage. And many of my fel­low cruis­ers need this. Or, at least, they be­lieve they need to hear it. Is it re­demp­tion? Ab­so­lu­tion? Can a lit­tle bit of that O magic dust rub off? Oprah’s path is in­spir­ing, true, and she is blessed with an abil­ity to cre­ate her own op­por­tu­ni­ties. I, in turn, have been blessed with a fair amount of self-con­fi­dence, so I’m good. But this daily af­fir­ma­tion does cre­ate a bridge be­tween what Oprah has man­aged to do in her life – as­tute me­dia mogul, award-win­ning ac­tor and Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer as well as savvy po­lit­i­cal power bro­ker (re­mem­ber Barry who? from Chicago?) and what these cruise go­ers can as­pire to in their own.

Yes, Oprah’s still all about mak­ing it hap­pen for your­self, with­out lay­ing blame or re­spon­si­bil­ity on some­one else. Like her mag­a­zine – and even like this mag­a­zine you’re read­ing – it’s all about ac­cess and shar­ing; ac­cess to ex­perts in the fields that cur­rently make the big­gest im­pact, whether it be well­ness, weight, self-help or spir­i­tual guid­ance, with hers be­ing laser-fo­cused on the self­es­teem and self-con­fi­dence-seek­ing.

“I’m still on Weight Watch­ers,” Oprah tells us, her painful strug­gle with her weight of­ten re­ported. “But I like my tequila. And I know a shot of tequila is two points!” She’s not too preachy but she does delve into spir­i­tual ter­ri­tory. Her faith is part of her re­al­ity, just like her weight and her love of tequila. But that’s the ap­peal of Oprah (and O). She still comes across as slightly im­per­fect and, yes, real – a well-man­i­cured, just-out-of-our-reach real but im­per­fectly real, nev­er­the­less.

Don’t let peo­ple walk through your mind with their dirty feet

“Stop cheat­ing your fu­ture with your past,” said Davis, just be­fore she re­leased us to the uni­verse and the reaches of Alaska. “We can’t live there, we can’t stay there.”

Spurred by her words, my cruis­ing com­pan­ion and I board a he­li­copter near Juneau for an aerial view of Men­den­hall Glacier – and to land on it. Af­ter strap­ping our feet into spe­cial glacier-trekking boots and brac­ing our­selves to the cold, we hop out. Onto solid ice – all 21 kilo­me­tres of it. Pale blue and white con­verge to cre­ate a pas­tel con­fec­tion, at first like cot­ton candy to the eye, but as hard as stone to our soles. Our guide spies a break in the glacier, where a stream is gen­tly flow­ing. I look at my friend and, in a mo­ment of im­pul­sive joy, we get down on our tum­mies and stick our faces in the wa­ter, tak­ing gulps of what could be the fresh­est taste I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced. We burst into laugh­ter, my cheeks wet, this time not from tears but from the icy fresh glacial wa­ter. “Life is al­ways bet­ter when shared,” Oprah had said to us just the day be­fore.

The gospel, ac­cord­ing to O. www.hol­lan­damer­; 1-855-932-1711

The wall: Glacier Bay fiord. In­sets, from far left: a view from the deck of the MS Euro­dam; a chop­per land­ing on Men­den­hall Glacier

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