As the name states, AWOC (Alaska Wilderness and Orienteering Club) is more club than business. We specialize in small, individually designed trips for students who are known to us and who belong to our learning community. The summer trip to Alaska is a singular, stand-out experience. However, the intensity of small-group trekking in the bush will create enduring and ineffable bonds; participants will remain members of AWOC and have opportunities to revisit their experiences after returning to the Lower 48 and build upon the knowledge gained by trekking to America’s last frontier. Members will also have opportunities to participate in other treks should they wish to follow-up with more excursions.
Ten years ago, while serving as a dorm parent in a prep school in Washington, DC, I began taking groups of students backpacking into the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. At first, organizing these 3-day excursions was a way to get my students out of the residence hall (and away from the television set) over long weekends, but the treks soon became something much more important to a small, but committed group of boys who discovered the ineffable allure of the mountains, streams, and woods. Participation in these weekend treks soon extended beyond the residence hall, as day students got wind of what we were doing. Day trips to the Shenandoah transformed into week-long dog-sledding expeditions into the frozen wilds of northern Quebec. When I led my first five-week trek to Alaska in 2009, I saw how the expansiveness of the Alaskan wilderness made a profound impact upon participants – and I found myself hooked on the grandeur and enormity of that land. Moving my summer base of operations northward was only a matter of time.
During our trips, I always had to remind myself that for many of these boys, it was the first significant contact with the great American forest or experience of the grandeur of a mountain vista, the first time to share a small cabin with six others or to cook over a fire. It always startled me a little that the best-educated American boys knew so little about their own country and rarely came in contact with wilderness in any significant way. It continues to be one of the more gratifying experiences for me as a teacher to see how a journey ‘into the bush’, as they say, can significantly touch the sensibilities of a young man and change his perspective on his own endurance and the majesty of this truly amazing country.
– Robert Shurmer, owner and senior guide