Swallow Your Pride (A Lesson from the Sorest Hands I’ve Ever Had)

Swallow your pride. Better yet, be rid of it.

Pride has no place here. There simply isn’t room for it. When things need to get done, you either do or don’t know how to do it and depending on how fast it needs to get done you’ll either learn now or get out of the way.

Easier said than done.

Personally, I hate not knowing how to do things, especially when I’m the only one who doesn’t know and especially when it involves my survival (I’m guessing that’s a universal dislike).

We arrived at night and by the morning I realized that there were more things than I could have imagined that

1. Everyone knew how to do

2. I didn’t


3. They all involved my being able to survive out here.


Alaska has a way of taking the things you’re most afraid of (and most likely to avoid) and shoving them back at you. This quick slap in the face was repeated with every new task:

Running a generator at below zero

Pumping water (wear waterproof clothing)

Building and maintaining a good fire (our only source of heat)

Chopping wood (our only fuel for heat)

Lack of light

Driving a snow machine

Running a chainsaw

Cutting down a tree for firewood

Learning the trails (which were all suddenly brand new to me as the winter paths differed from the summer)

Driving in snow (again, I’m from California)

The battery bank (how, seriously, how does that work?)

Dressing for winter (too hot, too cold – it’s a daily Goldilocks routine)

Driving a stick-shift (in snow/ice)

Learning to ski

Not breaking things (things apparently break in the cold. I tried to lift a plastic bucket and it shattered. I know, it seems obvious now to me too)


The list went on and on and as it did I felt smaller and smaller. What the hell was I thinking moving out here? I was grounded 60 miles down an ice road and even if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t even do that on my own.

The learning curve was overwhelming and the lack of independence was stifling.

Not only did I not know how to do all the above things but I also had to create new systems for things I’ve always known how to do. You know, the basics…bathing, dressing, laundry, cooking, even making coffee was a whole new experience with a hand grinder. It was like being at step one. I felt totally out of my league without any of the comforts or competence I had known. And then, the sink stopped working.

Everything in my world was turned on its head and all that I had learned to do in summer was suddenly different because now, it was  winter. I couldn’t just walk outside and start the generator to pump water because the generator was frozen. I needed a fire to thaw it.

I needed to get better at building fires. I needed to get better at everything.

It didn’t take long to realize that what I really needed to do was to swallow my pride, slow down, learn, practice and accept help.

Ugh. Not my favorite medicine but I took it.

I started to check off the list of “dont’ know hows” with learning to chop wood.

When we arrived, the woodpile looked like this:


After my first time chopping wood in 20+ years, it looked like this:



This stack of Paul Bunyan toothpicks took me hours.

The Chief came out (after hearing me cursing a particularly knotty log) to remind me that chopping logs was a stress reliever, not a stress inducer (a.k.a, maybe you need a break, tiger). I was sweaty and out of breath, a real fine sight, but I was determined. Once it started to get dark, I came inside.

All done, babe?

Nope (grabbing my headlamp – thank you Spenard Builders Supply for the freebie!)

Finally, when I could no longer see and had become a pink-nosed popsicle I bid adieu to the pile for the night.

I was exhausted.

The next day was poker night. My forearms and shoulders were a little sore during the day but it wasn’t until I went to shuffle that…

I couldn’t.

My hands were so sore that I couldn’t even squeeze them together enough to shuffle cards. I grew up playing cards. I can shuffle in my sleep.

Not that day.

A little triumph: my little wood pile, coupled with a little reminder: you still have a long way to go.

Every time I start to get ahead of myself, Alaska throws a banana peel in the road and for that I actually feel lucky. Sometimes you fall and other times you see it and slow down.

The next time I chopped wood I did a little better:




Yea, I took a close-up.

And the next time after that I started finding that elusive stress-reducing zen The Chief so casually mentioned. Feeling my swing improve. Seeing my target and hitting it and then…sometimes not. Getting cocky, talking back to the log, hitting it with the axe handle and feeling it jostle you from your arms to your feet. The triumphs and the reminders.

Now, a month in, I’m more comfortable with a lot of things. I’ve been in 20 below and I didn’t die (I wasn’t so sure how that would go). I can run a generator, I feel comfortable to hold down the fort when The Chief is away and I can chop up wood for a few days without disabling myself for days. And, the second I feel I have it all under control, a new challenge comes up.

Like harvesting the wood to be chopped…



FYI: He’s not short. The tree is tall.

Next goal: to be the lead instead of the assistant (no offense to the assistant, I hear she’s awesome).

Such is life in the Alaskan wilderness. The work is never done and neither are the lessons. And the chores will leave you sorer than you realize.

Thank you Alaska, you sly fox, you.




  1. This was like reading about an episode of Survivor. You’re one brave little mofo. I always look forward to your posts 🙂


  2. Dear pink nosed popsicle,
    Hang in there! Best blog post yet! I really felt your pain. My recent version of hand cramping horror came after doing a three hour couples massage, That evening, my fingers were so immobile that I couldn’t even text on my phone. The fingers refused to bend. The time tested remedy is to plunge the hands into ice water, sometimes up to my sore elbows. In your case, you could just wave out the window for a couple minutes! I mean, if you have a window!
    Lotsa love, your Aunt Calus.


  3. Oh my gosh Julia. Great read. I would love to try it for a short period of time just to say I did it. It all sounds overwhelming but mostly just dang cold. Such a great experience thanks for sharing


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