If you’ve never heard the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime please, please go listen to it. Like, now. Here
O.k, now that we have that out of the way…
For me this song has always been a sort of January 1st reflection.
A “Hey girl, how’s it going over there? You good?”
A chance to check-in.
To re-work the play book, if needed.
Because sometimes you wake up and ask yourself:
Well, how did I get here?
One morning last May I awoke to that question and to the realization that this was not my life. Suddenly it didn’t fit. I loved it in so many ways and at the same time, it no longer worked. All of the things that had been holding me into my patterns were suddenly gone. I had sold my business, quit my job that I needed to make ends meet while the business grew, and had realized that my 7 year relationship was over. I was suddenly on my own without a place or a person to check in with.
The first question was: where will you stay? And the first answer in my head was a girlfriend’s house (if she would have me) that I adored and had spent time with and wanted to know better but had never experienced something like a 7-year breakup with. I called anyways and she took me under her wing (Thank you, DCG.). It was the first of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The next question was: what next? And it lead to the second best choice I’ve ever made: Alaska.
“What the hell is in Alaska?” Was a pretty common question put to me (and one I put to myself).
I didn’t know, I just knew I had to go. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made but I knew it was right.
Another girlfriend (again, another friend that I really admired and wanted to know better but had never spent all that much time with alone) owned a guiding business in a small “town” in Alaska and had put out open invitations for friends to visit. I’d always wanted to but I’m not sure I ever truly believed I would make it. I grew up watching my brother leave every summer to fish the season in Alaska and always felt like it was some boy’s club I was denied access to. Now I had to go. Luckily, her invite was still good.
A request to visit for 17 days is a big thing to ask of even your closest friend she didn’t even bat an eye and told me “Just book it!” (thank you sweet BB). So I did. I had no idea how I would get from Anchorage to where she lived but in true Alaska style she told me not to worry, it always works out.
And it did.
When I arrived, one of my girlfriend’s friends was in Anchorage on her way home (to where my friend lived). Together we did my first Town Run (see my earlier post about the dreaded Town Run here). The idea of meeting and heading into a twelve hour day with a total stranger is enough to give me a serious pitter patter of anxiety but it was so easy with her. The luck of the Irish, perhaps? Or maybe Alaska is just stocked with as many great people as they are fish. She showed me the town ropes and soon we were off. The more she told me about her home the more I wanted to love it. But I was scared I wouldn’t.
I remember thinking to myself that maybe I could live there. But then immediately shooting down the idea.
Uh huh, live in Alaska.
No running water.
Naw dawg, but thanks.
About eleven hours into our day we finally got to the turn off for the road home. It would be about an hour trip to her house or a two plus return time to take me all the way to my friend’s house and…we couldn’t get through to her (phones can be funny out here). She graciously offered to let me stay with her.
She lived on a lake with her fiancee and two pups. We swatted an onslaught of mosquitoes as we opened the truck doors to the still light sky at 10 at night and ran to get our stuff packed into the boat and over to the house. A few trips later all the perishables and necessities were tucked away, nothing got wet and the drive was over (for now). Time to break into the Costco bounty and toast to a run well done. (Thank you J+K).
The next day, thanks again to my hosts, I made it to my final location. My girlfriend wouldn’t be home for a few hours but she gave me a few basic guidelines:
The fridge is to the right of the stairs (to put away perishables).
If you want to cook anything make sure the propane is connected and on (Umm…I’ve only seen this done while at a BBQ and I was paying more attention to my cookout compadres than any connection lessons. But hey, Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty, right?)
The outhouse is for numero dos only – number one is for the great outdoors (umm, outhouse? I did not plan on that. Thinking back now, it seems pretty obvious)
Watch out for bears
…so I hurriedly unloaded our mountain of supplies into the house.
I admit this with embarrassment, but in the vein of honesty, I was like a groundhog in that house. I would pop my head out the door, look both ways and run outside for supplies, then run back in. I was genuinely afraid of bears. It seemed like they were likely everywhere and I was pretty certain one would sneak up on me mid pee and at the very least I’d fall off the mountain, very most I’d be bear dinner. I’ve never peed so fast. Every time I went (ran) inside I locked the door behind me. Boom! Bear-proof, right?
I tried and tried to find the refrigerator. No luck. How hard could a fridge be to find?
Finally somewhat settled physically I looked out upon the glaciers and mountains in front of me. It was a dark and overcast summer day and I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. I felt helpless. This place was too big, too far and too isolated. I was trying to get over a breakup by way of distance and distraction – this just made me feel inward and alone.
So, like a grown up…I called my mom.
And then I cried.
And then when I was done she said:
“Give it a few days and see how it feels and then if you don’t like it, heck, I’ll come get you.”
This made it seem even more hopeless.
- Because at nearly 30 my Mom was offering to rescue me and
- Because Mom, I love you but there’s literally no way you could have found me out there. I was 60 miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t even have figured how to get back to the lake much less Anchorage.
So I buckled up for the 17 days.
And with that, I resolved to do my best but…
It was clear I had made a big mistake.
The first night with my girlfriend we went into “town” (where on the way in I did see a bear. Groundhogs unite!) where one of the guides whom I had met earlier in the day came up to me and said “You’re gonna stay. I can feel it” and I just laughed. Why? How? I am counting down the days, fella.
But he was right.
Something had been planted. Something started creeping in and as I acclimated, I realized that my wish to turn and run was out of fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of isolation and the choice was simple: jump or stand still – letting the days go by.
I jumped in as head first as I could. It probably looked more like a belly flop but it felt swan dive-ish.
Two days and a serious 180 later I felt totally disconnected from the frets of my first day. I was exactly where I needed to be.
My first girlfriend was the best landing pad I can think of because she helped me to leave the place I called home and into a new safe haven. My second girlfriend was the best launching pad because she forced me from the nest. (She also eventually came home to show me where the “refrigerator” was – a lined hole in the ground – to the right of the stairs – that had a system of baskets inside. Genius! I certainly wasn’t looking for a hole with bear-proofing rocks on top. Alaskan lessons learned: 1. Learn to think outside of the (ice)box and 2. Refrigeration is an art form and iced drinks are a treat in summer in Alaska. More on that in a later post).
While pushing me from the nest and climbing down into a cave in the glacier, water rushing and the opening getting smaller and smaller I shouted to her:
“I’m actually a bit claustrophobic!” Meaning: let’s turn this party around, eh?
“Me too!” and kept going. And I needed that.
And that’s how I got here. By taking a leap of faith, second guessing it too many times to count and still moving forward with my gut leading the way.
That’s why (the hell) Alaska.
But I’m still here after the 17 days have long passed.