Nearly four years ago now, I arrived in Alaska and within a few weeks, I found myself dropped into a whole new house, a new partner, a new life. It was like a ready-made, one-stop shop and I had scored quite the bargain.
Most people who have settled in our wee hamlet have had to build from the ground up, while I on the other hand simply had to move in and put a good old-fashioned scrubbing into it.
I arrived into the arms of the man I love and into his home, already fully built. Most start with a plot of land, uncleared and camp on their property as they slowly and steadily begin the building process or leave to gain the funds to build it in chunks. In truth, I wish I could have been there for all of this but had I shown up in our town ten years earlier, our life wouldn’t be what it is now. The camping and clearing and building on our plot had begun 10 years earlier and while it might still not be totally finished, the house I arrived into was indeed on its way to becoming a home.
The Chief had amassed everything he needed and in I walked, welcome to it all. From generators, gas barrels to snowmachines and chainsaws, a whole world of things I’d never known use for opened in front of me. And so I used his things and they soon became ours, with little more than a shift in words from “mine” to “ours”. The Chief, despite his many solo years, quite gracefully shifted his verbiage to double and opened his arsenal of things for my use.
As time wore on and things broke down, as they often do out here, I would contribute to replace them and as the years have gone on, that which was solely his to begin with truly has melted into ours via the road of shared dollars and labor.
The thing is, his things that are now our things, weren’t originally bought with me in mind (since to him, I didn’t exist). The chainsaw that his Popeye forearms can navigate with ease left me barely able to lift my arms for a day after using it and the fancy snowmachine he bought was, for me, a few sizes too big.
Still, my chainsawing days were infrequent and we had another snowmachine, a quirkier one (read: relatively brakeless), but a machine nonetheless that I could use.
I could make do.
Which was fine.
Or so I thought.
Until I got my own.
My own snowmachine.
The Chief and I have spent the last almost four years in and out of the good graces of the snowmachine gods. Our first Winter together, we started with two machines. By midway through the second Winter, the pace of my skis was as fast as I was going anywhere. Both machines were down. Last year, on a good day we had about 1.5 machines running.
This year was going to be different. We still had a quirky machine for me, though it was now a different iteration in the many generations of quirky machines, and The Chief had finally been able to get his new machine up and running. Two people, two running machines.
Within a month, my quirky machine went down.
The Chief set in to fix it for the millionth time and it dawned on me: I’ve been working. A lot. I can buy my own machine.
And so I did.
After announcing my plans, which is rarely a good idea, they came to fruition. It turned out that a girlfriend of mine was selling her machine. It was just what I needed and just my size and suddenly, it was all mine.
Scratch that, we can’t fast forward that quickly.
The Chief had (much to my working girl’s stuck in the office chagrin) gone up to look at the machine during the week for me and to shovel it out while I was working. He retrieved the battery and brought it home to charge. Come the weekend, we took the hour-long drive up to the Historic Town to retrieve it home for a test drive.
We finished unsticking her from her snowy resting place and tucked in her partner in crime under their original shared tarp. We placed the now charged battery back in its home and…she fired right up.
It was time to go. I donned my parka and hat and goggles and gloves and watched The Chief navigate the quite lightly packed 90 degrees turn uphill.
I followed him with gusto.
I didn’t make it.
Within the first three seconds of riding my potential new machine, I got stuck.
I hadn’t even gotten up to the road yet.
The trail going up from her storage location was steep and unpacked snow and I slid off track without enough gas and crashed into hip deep snow.
It was so buried that we could see soil beneath the track as I tried, to no avail to get myself unstuck. Within seconds of meeting my potential new machine, my own independence, I was asking The Chief for help.
The thing is, it’s not so much that I was always using his things that bothered me, but that all of those things were part of an experience in which he was well seasoned and I was just coming out of the thaw. We were at different phases and despite my being four years in, I’m still very much a newbie in most cases. I felt that my know-how would never catch up to his 10-year head start and thus I’d always be asking for help. If you know me, you know that this is one of my least favorite asks to ask. “May I have a cookie?” Easy. “Can you help me do this thing I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t do alone?” A little harder (read: scaling a mountain of ice). This is definitely a mental hiccup that I need to work on but, one that gives me pause nonetheless. Even this new machine I had just bought, he knew more about than me, simply by having ridden other machines for a decade longer than me.
Together, we worked the machine out of its snowy entrapment, packing the snow down around its skis and me tugging on them with all my might as The Chief gunned it and gained traction as I jumped out of the way.
The rest of the ride home was, thankfully, uneventful but the rocky start had made me less than certain.
Making big purchases has never been my thing. I had the money, I could spare the change but I hemmed and hawed my way all through the transaction. The Chief had to talk and walk me through why again I needed such an “extravagance”. An extravagance that is our main mode of transportation, one that can help us haul logs and goods, one that opens up a world of travel for me into this vast country. I was right, I could forego the machine, we could continue fixing the whack-a-mole of a problem snowmachine we currently had and I could continually be limited by the machine’s engine…
Or, I could buy the machine.
Finally, I conceded to myself.
I’m so glad I did.
It was my first large-scale purchase of something just for me, just in Alaska.
A month later I’m unsure how I kept this from you for so long! I grin from ear to ear every time I ride it. Sometimes I’ll fire it up just because I can. It has an electric start, people! No more pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling to turn the engine over. The pop of a button and the turn of a key and whoooom. Purr goes the engine (and a world of stinky 2-stroke smoke). Pitter patter goes my heart.
It even has reverse.
It’s a game changer.
The not so perfect start that day up the hill to take my potential new baby home was, in the end, a perfect start because it helped me start to accept our reality. The Chief has lived here longer and he lived here alone, which meant that when something went wrong, it was up to him to figure out how to fix it. I, living in the lap of luxury that I do (where’s a winking emoji when you need one?!) have not had that experience. When something breaks or goes wrong, I often have The Chief nearby to help and more often than not, he knows how to.
This life is not full of things I immediately excelled in. The learning curve was steep and I’m pretty sure it’s unending. Yet we all have to start somewhere if that’s the curve we want to climb, and I do. From where I stand in the journey, I can see below me. I can see when I didn’t know what a generator or an inverter was. I can see how little I grasped how much water I used daily. I can see how I problem solved less and called others for help more.
I’m still calling for help and still often ungraciously accepting it but we must remember from where we’ve come.
Four years ago I didn’t know how to ride a snowmachine and four years later, I’ve purchased one of my own. The Chief, from his experience, may know better how to operate her, but I will be her owner. I will know her ticks and purrs and with a little practice, I too will know her just as well.
This ready-made life is something I’ll always consider myself lucky to have walked into. Life here would have been a very different story or perhaps not happened at all had I had to start on my own from scratch. And just like our house has become a reflection of us, so too is our arsenal, slowly but surely, as I take the agency to make it my own. Sharing is beautiful and all, but sometimes, a walk in another person’s shoes just makes you realize you need to get your own pair.
Thank you, Alaska, for plopping me here where most of my skills aren’t applicable, where necessity made me gain new ones. Thank you to The Chief for so graciously welcoming me to this new world and for reminding me constantly that I can do it by myself, but I don’t have to.
And thank you, to The Musher who, strangely enough, as I wrote this post, came over with an early wedding gift: a chainsaw, in just my size.
The tides they are turning.