Describe the educational experience that has had the most significant impact on your life.

Describe the educational experience that has had the most significant impact on your life.

Last summer, for a variety of reasons, the least of which not being to get away from the town in which I have lived for most of my life, I spent a month in Alaska. The trip was planned well in advance, as this was something I had been waiting to do for over a year. As one lives not solely to appease oneself at this age, I travelled to Alaska not only to enjoy a "hearty, rugged lifestyle", but to enroll in an intensive Japanese class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, lasting four hours a day. This, if nothing else, convinced my parents that I would stay out of trouble.

My misconceptions of needing ice picks and tundra gear to get from my dorm room to class were quickly dispelled as temperatures rose to 98 degrees, and I learned that it isn't snow capped mountains that Fairbanks is famous for; it's trees. As far as the eye can see. I was adrift in a sea of conifers. Which is nice, I guess, if you're a moose. A quick check failed to locate any significant antler growth, and I decided it was time to leave my cross country skis in the closet and search for the Alaska experience. A data search at the University library wasn't of much use, and I concluded, sadly, that if I was going to have anything to show for my month in "The Last Frontier", I should get a job.

The next day I arrived at "All Weather Sports", a local bike shop. In an earlier telephone conversation with the owner, Simon Rackower, I assured him that, mechanically, "I can do almost anything to a bicycle". This bit of constructive hyperbole found me at the shop the next day, peering intently through the windows, trying to spot Simon, and start the interview. Then, there he was. Stepping out from behind the counter was a man in his mid-forties. Long, blackish gray hair surrounded the baldness which slowly crept farther back on the top of his head. His glasses were thick, almost impossibly so. His neck was arched, and he approached me with an oddly "western" gait, his feet rolling out as he walked.

As I introduced myself, he became confused. He had forgotten our interview and my current presence in his store was keeping him from a ride he wanted to go on. As I debated whether or not to apologize, he mumbled something to someone behind me, (there was no one there, I quickly surmised Simon wasn't a big believer in eye contact) and vanished into the back of the shop. He returned, carrying a box, which contained an unpacked bicycle.

"Here, build this."

This was my interview. No pesky forms, no letters of recommendation, no "How I spent my summer" questions. Just me. And a 1991 Bianchi Axis Cross-bike.

Twenty seven hours later, my interview was over, and I learned that in fact, I couldn't do "almost anything" to a bicycle. It was quite a miracle that after this test, (which would be something akin to a prospective employer finding out that I hadn't graduated from second grade) Simon hired me anyway.

For the next two weeks, I spent long hours in the shop with this introverted graduate of Columbia, sometimes until three in the morning, discussing matters as relevant as a bent derailleur hangar to abstractions such as gun control, and even the bombing of Hiroshima. When a subject came up, his opinion, if the same as mine, would solidify my position. If it was different, more often than not I would come out arguing "his" side. He was an extremely learned man, and was able to back up all of his conclusions with fact.

This experience of one-on-one debate was new for me. Instead of spending my time at the University, I'd run to the bike shop during my free time to get what almost seemed to be a "truer" education. I abandoned my romanticized views of Alaska and college life to pursue those things which can't be learned in school. Working on piecework on bicycles, I probably averaged about $1.15 an hour, but my mentor taught me many lessons I haven't forgotten. While the translation of "O-genki desu ka?" may be slipping slowly from my mind, the way I interpret the second amendment, and so many other things in my life, will never be the same.

Ralf: On our long bike trek, Jeremy carried a copy of Plato !

Marrianne: As evening drew nigh, we got off our bikes and looked over the tundra. Ralf said this looked like a great spot to camp. Jeremy looked incredulous. "Where?" he asked. We slept wonderfully well that night on the millions of tiny fragrent flowers of Labrador Tea.

Ralf: The other man with us was a lawyer. Our English wasn't very good at that time so we didn't know what they were debating. We could tell though that despite his young age, Jeremy "won" many of those discussions.

[We never heard from the third rider, Don Logan, and learn now we never will., backup. ]

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