Author: Julia Chester

I'm Julia. In 2015 I went on what I thought would be a quick trip to Alaska to "get out of dodge". Little did I know, Alaska had other plans for me. 17 days turned into the summer and I ended up falling in love (both with the place and with my now husband, a.k.a "The Chief"). Now, I live in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. I've gotten way more out of dodge than I had ever dreamed. Join me in this out of the blue experience for all the laughs, bumps, bruises and lessons Alaska surprises me with along the way.

Homeward Bound

In high school, I was in three choirs (count ’em: three!). Insanity, right?! So, it’s no wonder that I can’t remember in which one we sang a song called Homeward Bound. However, although I can’t remember the choir (or much of high school at that, since I slept through most of my classes), the song sticks with me. It was beautiful and melancholy and is suddenly lodged in my brain as I find myself about to finally be homeward bound. So, as a final adieu to California, here are some highlights from the last few weeks and a preview of what’s coming next…

The sun was a constant. Sundown or sunup. I’ve been soaking it in lately.

I found little bits of nature, even in the city

I got to get super Ranunculus in Southern CA

And up close and personal with some new friends

Our house grew…

And so did our kiddo…

And so did I…

We hit some milestones: 7 years of storage, coming to a close!

And some timeline milestones…

And some house milestones…

Some things changed (Hello, haircut!)

And some things stayed the same: Leto is still the King of Cuteness and grumpy morning face.

Homeward bound.
I cannot wait. After 6 weeks apart, our little family will reunite (provided The Chief can get through the mountains of snow).

Thank you CA, it’s been grand. Between friends and family and the sun, my cup feels truly full.

And now, off to the Wintry North.

With love,

from California (and soon from AK)

We Can Do Hard Things (But Do We Have To?)

If you’ve ever read Glennon Doyle (and if you haven’t, I implore you to run, not walk to snag her book Untamed), you’ve heard this sentiment before: We can do hard things.

We can have those hard conversations.
We can move away from the comfort of a life we know to a life we feel drawn to.
We can leave a relationship, even if it feels like we’ll be lost without it.
We can make the jump, even if we aren’t sure how we will stick the landing.
We can be true to ourselves.

We can do hard things.

For those hard things, I’m fully on board. Stamp my ticket, conductor, I’m ready to ride. Since leaving a fraught relationship and unintentionally moving to Alaska, I’ve worked hard to build that muscle, to listen to that inner Julia that says “This, not that.” “Yes, not no.” “Stay versus go” and damned if listening to her hasn’t led me straight into the arms of the man I’m meant for and a life I’d never have dreamed up. But in addition to finally listening to my own inner North Star and doing some of the hard things I knew needed doing, I’ve also found myself smack dab in the middle of a place filled with a different kind of hard things. So…can I? Can I also do these hard things?

simple living alaska
Like…shower outside in the snow?

gardening in alaska
Or grow this from seed?

off-grid alaska
Or drive 16-hour round trips to the grocery store

It turns out that yes, I can do this version of hard too. The day-to-day hard of life off-grid has actually suited me quite well. It’s a hard to do that I want to do (well, most of the time). Yet it’s also played dangerously into another Julia, the one who pushes past the Glennon Doyle version of Good For You Hard into the Have to Do Hard. The one who touts the idea that no matter how hard, you should be able to do it. Yes, we can do all types of hard things, both emotional and physical. But do we have to?

Watching my husband and our fur baby drive away the other day, I felt a bit like a cop out. At 6.5 months pregnant, I’m still pretty agile, I still have energy, and yet here I was, separating myself from my family to stay in sunny CA because what? I couldn’t hack it in AK? Sure, our house was about to be a construction zone. Sure, I didn’t feel like I wanted our baby to be around dust and fumes from drywall and painting. Sure, it would have been hard to work from home while my husband upended said home with range of power tools and certainly it would have been hard to return mid-winter to a home that needed a lot of love to just get back to functional. BUT certainly I could do it. I’d done it before. Why was I being such a princess?

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Is it hard? I don’t wanna. I’m just going to sit in Mom’s pregnancy pillow and hide from the hard.

All of these thoughts circled my head as, after a long weekend of packing our life away into a UHaul and prepping for The Chief’s journey, I prepared to start the next step: moving. I’ve moved many, many times in my life. I used to housesit constantly. I am good at it. I also have incredibly high standards and expect to leave a place better than when I found it. So, after a solid goodbye cry, I pulled myself together. There was work to do. I packed and cleaned, cleaned and packed as the texts came in from my Mom asking when I was ready for help. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. We’d been going non-stop for weeks in preparation for this trip while simultaneously planning a last-minute family baby shower.

Baby shower covid
It was so worth it. Thank you ❤️ Picture credit to Julianne Deery

Things had been hectic and tiring and just as I needed more sleep, I found that my bladder and our baby decided I’d get less. I was beat. So, when help was offered, what did I do?

I told myself I could do hard things and I told my Mom that “I was fine, thanks!” Thankfully, she knew what the last few weeks had entailed and knew I was working myself thin. “Why don’t I just stop in a for a little?” Thirty minutes later, there she was. Thirty-one minutes later, I was feeling a little bit teary and a lotta bit of relief. Of course I could do hard things, but did I have to? And did I have to do them alone? By 5 pm that evening, we had packed and cleaned our home away from home from top to bottom, packed both of our cars and unpacked me into the new home I’d be staying in for the next 6 weeks. It was finally the end to an epically long string of marathons. Now, it was time to chill.

Malamute puppy
Professional chiller

So, could I have hacked it in Alaska at 6+ months pregnant mid-conststuction zone? Yep.
Am I glad that I didn’t? You betcha.

While the opportunity to feed the need to meet the hard head on is not Alaska-specific, the state certainly provides many opportunities to flex or stretch that muscle. There’s umpteen opportunities to rise to the hard occasion. Like, for example, my husband’s homecoming.

After a week on the road of long days, short nights and early mornings, he had finally made it home…almost. All that lay in front of him was 60 miles of snow-covered dirt road. Unfortunately, that snow wasn’t a mere winter’s dusting. It was a downright downpour that hadn’t been plowed. So, after over 3,000 miles, standing mere hours away from home, he had to call it. He left our car and trailer at a friend’s house and jumped into his road trip buddy’s rig. They’d get the car and the UHaul another day when the conditions were better. A few hours later, they were finally home. Let the construction begin, right?

Since returning, The Chief has had to shovel his way into our workshop after a plow job gone awry. He’s had to wrestle with generators that don’t want to work. He’s had to warm up batteries that don’t want to come back to life after stints at over -60 degrees this winter. 4 days in and the basics have just been restored: water, power, and access. Days of 40 degree “heat” meant sloppy trails and up to your crotch missteps if you ventured off of them. Yesterday, after shoveling for two days straight (with help from an amazing friend) to gain access to the storage area where all of the UHaul goodies would go, he made the trip to retrieve the car. All of this just to get to the “real work” of finishing our addition.

Today, he spends the day unloading. Next week he will start the process of finishing the addition and making our home ready for me and the babe to nestle into. Needless to say, his homecoming has been hard, the kind of hard he was prepared for and, to be honest, the kind I wasn’t. We’ve both agreed that while we dearly miss one another, me postholing about with a pregnant belly, isn’t exactly the type of hard that would be good for either of us right now.

pregnant in AK
Hiking up a hill for a sunset, however? That’s a hard I can handle.

As I sit outside typing in a sundress in 70 degree weather, the guilt starts to seep in again. I should be there. I should be able to handle it. Maybe it’s because as a kiddo I watched Tom Hanks’ speech in A League of Their Own a few too many times or maybe it’s because my ability to rise to the challenge has always been a point of pride for me but either way, I’m starting to let it go…a little. We can do hard things, we have done hard things, we will continue to do hard things when we have to but wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when presented with the option, we don’t always choose to do the hard that doesn’t serve us?

Take the help. Say “Yes” to the handout and “No” to the hard when you can. Becasue the thing is, the true hard will come.

Miscarriage
Like getting this email to mark the 3 month birthday anniversary that never was.

The unavoidable hard will roll in without warning and in those moments, you’ll be glad you gave yourself some respite. In this next month, I’m going to do my best to accept this gift of time, this gift of ease our separation allows me, even if it is a little lonely at times. I will value my contribution to our life in addition to my husband’s and realize that, while our actions may be different, they both point to the same end: creating a sturdy, whole, happy home for our child.

We can’t serve from an empty vessel.
It’s time to fill up.

If you can, I implore you to take the time and if you’re in a time of hard, I’m here to remind you: we can do hard things.

We can (and we don’t always have to).

With love,

From California & Alaska

P.S. What is the hard that you might need to leave behind? Are you good at it or is it hard for you? We want to hear from you!

P.P.S. Happy love day! I couldn’t think of a more perfect day for our most loving pup to have been born. Today our little fur baby turns 3! Happy birthday, little lovebug and to you, sweet Shiloh ❤️ You will be missed.

Alaskan Malamute
Lots of love, from our little family to yours

Living In Alaska (Sometimes Means Living Apart)


6 plus years ago, I waved goodbye to The Chief as I drove away with our friend, Anchorage-bound. 5 minutes in, I was laughing through my bon voyage boo hoo. Fifteen minutes later, we were grounded with a wonky wheel that wouldn’t stay put and a need for a Plan B.

Backpacking in Alaska
Stranded

60 minutes after that, after The Chief raced to come get me and deliver me to the mail plane, my mighty steed for the day, where I bid adieu to my newfound love for the second time that day.

Backcountry flights Alaska
Not a bad view for boo hoo #2

I was off to California for two weddings of four dear friends and five weeks later, The Chief would join me.

A mere five weeks. We’d spent our entire lives without one another, certainly a mere handful of weeks was manageable, right?

Certainly.

Was it fun?

Certainly not.

While it was lovely to return to California to see friends and family and excitedly tell them about our new love, it was hard to part ways. I felt like I had found my magnet match, my opposite pole and now that we were separated, the pull of that other half was constant. I missed the balance, the feeling of home and the feeling of whole. Nevertheless, five weeks eventually flew by and once we reconnected, we resolved the five weeks had been about three weeks too long.

Getting married in Alaska
Reunited. Don’t it feel good.

Something we conveniently forgot a few months ago when we made plans for this weekend. And now, it’s here. The weekend of shift, the winds of change, the time for The Chief to depart and for us to spend the next 6+ weeks apart.

Have I mentioned that I can be a little clunky with change?

Alaskan Malamute
Change? No thanks.

While we’ve managed over the years to push the 5-week fact out of our minds long enough to plan a 4 week trip for me to visit family and a few one week stints here or there without one another, the windows of our timeframes apart have slowly been narrowing over the years, with our latest longest stint being just under a week.

So, why the sudden decision to go throwback status and spend a month and a half apart? Well, you see, there’s a secret recipe to pregnancy in Alaska. It’s a sort of Build It and They Will Come approach. First, you must buy a Subaru.

Rhianna Desperado
Turn it up, Rhi Rhi!

Secondly, you must START an addition to your house.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto’s Lair, slowly growing

Why the unnecessarily aggressive all caps? Well, the key to this preggo plan is to start the addition. The second key is to race the baby to the finish line. Two of my best friends before me have cooked up this recipe in their own abodes and each time, we professed it would be the last time. And then laughed when it wasn’t.

Quick sidenote: I do NOT mean to be flippant about the difficulty of getting pregnant. For us, it took two years and it still doesn’t feel real. I know how hard it is to try and to be utterly grounded each month the potential passes. I did however see a pattern here that I couldn’t help but poke fun at. If you’re in the trying mode, I give you my sincerest wishes that you and yours welcome a babe to your bunch very, very soon. Hang in there, you’re doing great.

Start the addition we did. Now, the race is on. At nearly 6 months pregnant, I’m neither up for a 3,000+ mile roadtrip, nor do we want me plopped in the middle of a fume-filled construction zone. The solution? A division of labor and a division (momentarily) of our family.


“It’s fine.
We’re fine.
Everything is fine.”

Trina’s amazing Covid holiday card


This is a quote I’ve replayed in my head dozens of times. It originates from a holiday card during OG Covid from a dear friend that just cracked me up. We’re all doing totally fine, right?!?!

Truth be told, I have ridden a mere handful of emotional roller coasters while pregnant. The dreaded pregnancy hormone monsters have been quite kind to The Chief and I. That is, until now, when the reality that my little fambam is about to split two and two, thousands of miles apart, has started to sink in. In the last week, someone turned on the waterworks and they have been plentiful. When The Chief realized he could leave a day earlier because we switched our midwife appointment, I teared up. When I looked at my two furry boys the other morning, cuddled up nose to nose fast asleep, I teared up. When I did my first full load of baby laundry, I teared up.

Baby boy clothes
Snacks included

When the wind shifted, I teared up. It’s tear time.

So, where do we go from here? Well, there’s nothing to distract from tears like work to be done and so far, it’s gone about as smoothly as most of our journeys. Thankfully, we’ve been able to laugh through the hiccups – like having to drive two hours out of our way to pickup our Uhaul that someone decided to drop off at the wrong location to my pregoo brain driving it almost all the way home before we realized we hadn’t stopped at the storage unit on the way home (the whole reason for the Uhaul to begin with). Long hours, long days, swollen feet but still, two near-failed dinners and somehow…still fun.

Best burrito in CA
Burrito baby

Maybe because it’s the last few days together, or maybe becasue we are finally getting better at going with the natural flow of the best laid plans falling by the wayside.

Baby girl with Malamute
Just saddle up and hang on for the ride

On one of our last nights, after a big day and a wonderful last evening of drinks in the backyard with our landlords, I was beyond tuckered. I awoke to The Chief gently removing my book from my lap. I was still seated fully upright. He laughed as my post-deep sleep confusion muddled my words. He slowly removed the pillows from behind me and laid me down, tucking my enormous pregnancy pillow around me in all the right spots. “Goodnight, my love” he whispered as he shut off my bedside lamp.

I don’t want to go 6 weeks without that but I know time will only make returning to his comfort that much sweeter.

See you in 6 weeks, my loves.
See you in 2, sweet reader.

With love,

From California

weather in california
When the sky reflects all the feels

P.S. Do you and your spouse spend much time apart? How is it for you? Let us know in the comment section below!

3 Things to Expect When You’re Trying or Expecting

This summer, exactly one month before I got pregnant, I had a conversation with a girlfriend I’ve known for forever. There’s nothing quite like an old friend, is there? Not just because they are a constant, despite how frequently or infrequently your conversations might be but also, maybe most importantly, because they are there to remind you of who you’ve been and who you are deep down. While I’m glad to have lost touch with the party girl this friend knew me to have been, the one who was ready on any given Monday through Sunday to shut down our local bar, our conversation this summer brought me back to a me I had forgotten about.

Jack & Tony's Whiskey Bar
Love you, E.

As we talked about our lives that day, she reminded me of the Julia I once was: confident as all hell that I would be a mother of as many kids as I wanted. I had forgotten that my stock answer back in my 20’s to the question “Do you want kids” was always “Kids? Hell, I want a whole soccer team!”. 15 years and one miscarraige plus a year of “trying” afterwards, after watching countless friends “breeze” through (no, I know it still wasn’t easy) getting pregnant and countless others struggle deeply, that level of abundance we desperately waning. But hearing that reminder struck me. I texted her afterwards:

“Man…hearing you talk about how I always used to say I wanted a soccer team…that did something for me. I needed to hear from that youthful (albeit ignorant) Julia who was so damn confident. I’ve been stuck in a bit of scarcity thinking (‘Please just let us have one! Please!’) and that feeling of abundance, of openness is gone but today, I saw it again. Thank you. I love you.”

What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #1: You Never Know Who’ll You’l Be

Whether pregnant or trying, you just never know. 20 something Julia would have told me not to worry, that I was destined to be a mother. 34 year old Julia felt each month’s passing, each grey hair popping up as a sign that maybe I wasn’t destined to be anything. I had watched friends go through similar situations to ours, joy, heartbreak, trying again and from the outside, it looked so simple. I just knew it would all work out for them but translating that optimism to us wasn’t as easy. Imagine wanting something so incredibly badly for your entire life, having it, losing it and starting back from square one again, never to know where you’ll end this time around. Like I said before, it’s a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Ragle Ranch Park
Sunrise, sunset. Start again tomorrow.

The first time I was pregnant, I knew exactly who I would be. I had been planning for her for decades and that optimism (though tainted by not getting pregnant on our very first try) was there. I’d eat perfectly, exercise every single day and power through any feelings of nausea of hormonal rage. I’d be the perfect pregnant woman. Reality looked a little different, a little more like sleeping fitfully for 3 hours a night and waking up at 3 am to eat 7 packets of fruit snacks while manically organzing our medical supplies. A little more like feeling so nauseaous that the idea of exercise was laughable and just the idea of something sweet broke a tears dam I’d apparently built inside of me. I was exactly as I’d planned: perfectly pregnant.

This time around, I gave up my idea of perfection and just went for good enough. I ate what I could stomach which ranged from fruit to…fruit and carbs. Bread on bread with a side of bread? Yes please. My pants were tight within a week. The only time I felt a semblance of the nausea giving up was when I was eating so, I was often eating. Still, I was lucky enough to be sleeping like a damn rock for 8+ hours a night and felt OK enough to do a little exercise every day. Until we hit the road and all semblance of routine flew out the window of our tightly packed car. Donuts for breakfast? Yep.

I ate a sandwich
The healthiest it got. Cheese sandwich.

Looking back now, yes, I wish I would have been “better”. Less sugar, more vegetables but when I put myself back in that place, the idea of a salad made me want to vomit so I have to be proud of any vegetable I got down, even if it was in pickle form. You never know who you’ll be once you get to whatever stage you’ve anticipated. I thought I’d be cool while “trying”. I was not. I thought I’d be “perfect” while pregnant. I was not. I was me, both times, and always. So, do your damndest not to judge others or yourself. We are all just doing our best.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #2: There Will Always Be a Next Thing to Worry About

Like I said, I was anything but cool once we started trying. I’ve never been someone who can just sort of care. I’m all the way in, once I’m in and like a dog circling it’s bed for the perfect spot to snooze, it took me a moment to decide if I was truly ready for this thing I’d been wanting all my life. I am an overthinker extraordinnaire but, once we really sat down and made sure we were sure, I was ready to become a mother right then and there. It doesn’t quite happen like that. Enter: worry. Am I fertile? Is he fertile (something that took me WAY too long to ask. I immediately assigned blame to my reproductive prowess, or lack thereof. In the end, everything was assumedly fine on both ends BUT I encourage you to equally investigate both sides of the equation, should need be)? After becoming pregnant, the worry of fertility fell away and I felt completely at ease.

No, no, that’s not right.

I felt worried again. Was that twinge I felt OK? Was I working out too hard? How out of breath is too out of breath? When do I sleep on my side? What about the wine I drank before knowing I was pregnant? Did I ruin everyting??? Miscarrying fulfilled all those worst case scenario fears. It checked all the terror boxes.

This time around, for reasons I can’t explain, I did feel an incredible, overarching calm come over me once I knew I was pregnant. I knew deep down that everything was OK. When we went for genetic testing, I knew it was OK. When we went for our anatomy scan, I knew we were OK but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been completely terrified many times in between (and during each of those experiences).

Columbia Memorial Hospital
Like when I was in the hospital, all alone, round two

In fact, about 1 week to the day before our next appointment (they are scheduled one month apart right now) I start to panic. Each appointment seems to bring us up to a milestone. First it was the first time we saw the heartbeat. Next it was hearing the heartbeat. Next it was entering the second trimester. Then it was the first kicks, felt on Christmas morning. Next it was seeing the baby in 3D (terrifying. The babe resembled more of a melted baby crayon since they were partying so hard in there). Next it will be entering the third trimester in the coming month.

With every milestone, I tell The Chief “This makes me feel better now” and with every milestone, he knows it’s only a certain amount of time before it wears off and I need another for comfort. The baby kicking has been utter magic. The baby not kicking as often lead me to tears, tears comforted by our midwife who reassured me the baby has plenty of room to head towards my back where it’s harder to feel the kicks for a while. Still, the worry, it’s constant and it never goes away (or so I’m told). Not when the baby is born. Not when the baby sleeps through the night or becomes a toddler and walks on their own or becomes a teen and drives away for the first time. If nothing else, this process has taught me that I am officially in control of…nothing. I think I feel the nausea returning.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #2: Nothing Stays the Same

Before miscarrying, my cycles were a little wonky but overall, consistent enough. After miscarrying, they were utter insanity. Nothing stays the same. Once we conceived this time, my love affair with strawberries was constant for one month. Daily baskets of berries were my bounty of choice. I haven’t had one in months. The day my pants first felt snug, I felt enormous.

First trimester baby bump
Huuuuuuuuge. Ha!

Now I look back at those pictures and laugh a big big belly laugh (which, I’m sure in a few months, I’ll think is laughably tiny again).

Second trimester belly

Yesterday my belly button looked like it was yelling a wide open-mouthed yell. Today, it’s starting to stick out its tongue as my inny, overnight is becoming an outtie. In month one, I couldn’t recall what a microwave was called (I called it The Thing That Makes Things Hot. Thank goodness my husband and I rule at Charades). I’d be mid-sentence, mid-meeting at work and suddenly pull all blanks, watching my co-workers stare at me from their screens. Now, my brain works pretty well, or perhaps I’ve adapted. Either way, nothing lasts forever. The fear, the peace, the certainty, the uncertainty, the pain, the calm, the worry, the wonder. None of it is constant, none of it is always or never. It simply is.

Wherever you are on whichever journey towards whatever your goal may be, know this: you’ve got this. You do. All of these lessons, they’ve been hammered into me by way of this specific journey, but they radiate out into all veins of our lives.

You never know, so don’t judge yourself or others.
Worry is a part of life. You can let it rule you or you can let it be.
Everything changes, good bad and in between.

Be kind to yourself along the way, it makes the path a lot easier to walk.

With love,

From California

Goodnight Moon
Goodnight Moon

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part III

So many cliffhangers lately, eh? But if you’re here, reading this, two wonderful things have happened: one, you’ve subscribed (thank you!) and two, you’re finally about to learn the truth.

The truth?

Have I been lying to you, sweet reader? Never. Have I been leaving one huge part of our life out?

Yes’m.

(more…)

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part II

So…where did we leave off?

Ah, yes, Anticipation City.

So, did we make it across the border?

If you’ll recall, the border that day was Turtle (of Turtle and the Hare fame) slow. We were one of two cars, the other of which the guard had sent off for a full inspection. We waited as their rig was given the once, twice, thrive over, anticipating our own packed to the brim paddywagon being unpacked item by item.

As the inspected car apparently passed with flying colors, it was now our turn. We pulled up to the window, rolling down ours, pulling our masks over our big smiles, doing our best to look the part of the precise people you want patronizing your Province (a mouthful of P’s!). It’s hard to look friendly when half of your face is covered but I told my smile wrinkles to put on a show. Now, I don’t know about you but when I get pulled over, I become a Chatty Kathy and so does my partner in crime. We did our best to simply stick to the facts and, as one of our friends suggested, “overwhelm with paperwork”. We had papers for the dog (who was looking all things upstanding citizen with his freshly bathed and brushed self), papers for my name change, papers for The Chief’s brief brush with the law, paper for our marriage, papers for our rental down south, papers for our COVID tests…we had what felt like a small tree’s worth of paper with us and we sent it his way. Nailed it, right?! He shooed the papers away. He wanted to talk. Cool, cool, cool…

Alaskan Malamute
Stay cool, man.
(more…)

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part I

If you love utter chaos, down-to-the-minute deadlines, and high-stakes, the start to our travels down south was right up your alley. While some form of chaos is inevitable in travel it seems, the past few years, we’ve really dialed in our departures to lessen the stress of leaving. Yet, as fate would have it, this time our well-oiled machine seized.

How?
A lot of distraction and a little technology.

You see, if and when you ever change your name, you’ll learn that it is, dare I say, a royal pain in the rear. I dove into the post-marital surname switch to the best that our 16-hour roundtrip from town locale would allow but in the end, I had failed to change my passport in time for our departure from AK to CA. Worried I wouldn’t get through, we phoned the Canadian Border Patrol and inquired: just how big of a deal was it that my passport didn’t match my new last name? Turns out…not that big of a deal. Phew! The other small hiccup that stole our attention was a brief moment The Chief had spent with a small-town cop who had big-time problems with him. We had worried for years if Canada would let him through and our inquiries had been far less fruitful than my passport woes. Indeed they had been inconclusive.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto was unimpressed

The third distraction was the need for a negative COVID test within 72-hours of reaching the border. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. You see, Alaska was (and still is) deeply struggling to meet the sudden surge of COVID in a resource-tapped state and there simply weren’t enough tests to go around. I had called everywhere from the nearest clinic to the border (one that would still be a few hours detour) to clinics in Anchorage. No one had the PCR tests required. One clinic had another accepted test but they had been receiving the results in random increments of time. Some people got their results within a day, some within 4 days. We needed them within 72-hours of hitting the border.

I kept trying, to no avail until on one of our umpteen trips to Anchorage, I saw a place offering the testing.

PCR tests Anchorage
Spotted from the car!

Even though it was a 16-hour detour AND we couldn’t make an appointment (we could only do walk-in which, when you live 8 hours away is a really funny/frustrating idea) it was the best option. We resigned ourselves to adding another 600 miles to our trip.

So, with the aforementioned distractions semi-settled, we looked to our departure date with anticipation and excitement. The Chief hurriedly got the addition in tip-top shape and I spent every weekend working on getting the house ready for us to leave. Three Anchorage trips within the month prior to leaving meant we’d done all of our building supply shopping, dropped off all of our plant babies with their sitters (dear friends of ours who took ALL of our plants for the winter), and seen our doctors and dentists. Things were settled and relatively calm for the miles we’d been clocking and the long weeks we’d been working. There was a calm to the storm.

Plantsitting
Buh bye babies!

Until there wasn’t.

So now we know the distraction. Here’s where the little bit of technology comes in: 6 days before we were meant to depart, my phone announced a reminder to me. Now, I don’t know about you but I typically respond to reminders with something to the effect of “Whatever that is, I’ll do it later” (productivity in action!) but for some reason, that day I looked at it immediately and what did I see? Our future plans dissolving. “CC Passport Expires” was all it read. I clicked into it. Surely this must be a reminder for 6 months before the expiration date. Why would I set a reminder for one week before it expired?! Unexplainably, I did. I dug into our family filing cabinet and pounced upon the passport in question. Surely, the reminder had to be wrong.

Wrong again.

The reminder was right. All along we’d been so worried about MY passport that we’d forgotten to check on The Chief’s passport. We called the Border again (whose number we’d basically committed to memory at that point) and got one of the most frustrating responses ever: maybe. Maybe? This was the answer to “Can my husband make it across the border?” Maybe. The only illumination they provided to those five letters of frustration was this: It depends who is working. They may decide you have enough time to cross into the US before your passport expires or they may not. Either way, the sooner you get here, the better. This news came at 12 noon. By 12:05 we faced the grim reality: we’d be leaving the next day, 5 days earlier than planned.

This news also came mid-workday for me and so, despite having a mountain to climb, I had to continue on with day, feet planted firmly at the base of the mountain until nightfall (the perfect time to start a climb). I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for both of us and our days of pulling all-nighters are solidly in our past. Staying up all night, working all day the next day, and then hitting the road sounded terrible. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. There’s nothing quite like a deadline to light a fire under you, eh? There’s also nothing quite like saying “Well, I did the best I could”. Case and point: garden shutdown:

Gardening in Alaska
Nailed it!

In addition to packing our life away for the next however many months, there was also the issue of the added day of going to the clinic in Anchorage that suddenly posed an even bigger issue than simply having to drive 16 hours for a test. Now it added to the gamble of our crossing. I called every single clinic again in the hopes of a mini-miracle and…we were able to get an appointment with the nearest clinic to the border AND they guaranteed results in 15-minutes! After which we could make the drive to the border, where we’d learn if our next step of the path would unfold in our favor.

Somehow, come 7 pm, we were in a place where we felt good enough to break for dinner at a friend’s house so we could say goodbye to everyone that night instead of the Adieu BBQ we’d planned (and shopped) for that coming weekend. We went home at a reasonable hour, did nothing further, and hit the hay with relative calm. The weeks of mayhem and planning prior had set us up surprisingly well. Still, when you’re leaving for months on end there are endless things to remember and as we hadn’t left for that long in the last few years, we were a little rusty. “Can this freeze?” I’d ask, holding up balsamic vinegar. “No! It’ll explode!” “Oh, yeah…”

The next day, we were up with the stars still out. The hustle was on. I still had to work but thankfully was able to swing a half-day. I stopped work at noon and got to packing. By 5 pm that evening, the car was packed, the house was stocked and secured, and somehow, 5 days earlier than planned, we were about to hit the road. We hadn’t even so much as bickered in the stress of it all. We were damn cool cucumbers considering we didn’t know if we’d even make it across the border. The stress of it hung in the air above us. What would we do if we didn’t make it across? I’d make the journey solo. I hadn’t been feeling so hot as we’d approached the journey and the idea of a 3,000-mile trip solo (plus the added 16-hour round trip to and from Anchorage to drop off The Chief) was less than appetizing. Still, somehow we were cool, man.

Alaskan Malamute
Cukes

5 pm isn’t what I would call my ideal start to a 3,000 + mile journey but…start it we did. Night quickly fell, as did a snow flurry. We ate dinner from a gas station and plodded on into…construction? By 10 pm I was calling our hotel to let them know that we’d be later than expected. “That’s OK honey, I’ll stay up for you. You just drive safely” said the sweet front desk agent. By midnight, we rolled into the lodge, exhausted. “Let me show you to your room, get in your car, and follow me. People always get lost.” Off we went following our guardian angel for the night and into bed, we fell. Our books laughed at us as we pretended to read a few sentences before falling fast asleep.

The next morning I was up early to get as much work done as I could before we hit the road. For a brief moment in time, I had found that I could suddenly work and read from the car without getting carsick. Apparently, that spell had worn off. Barf city, here we come! I shivered as I took Leto for a quick prance about the neighborhood. It was 15 degrees, icy and biting. By 9 am we were packed up and off to the clinic for our tests. When we arrived, they mentioned that we would be paying the fee, despite having insurance, since they were billing it differently as it was for travel. Mmmmmmsccuse me? $240 and 30-minutes later, we were off, COVID free, thankfully. So far, we’d made it through all of the hurdles we’d faced.
We’d packed our house in 24 hours
We’d gotten the dog his health certificate
We’d filed the paperwork
We’d registered with Canada
We’d come back negative
And now? The moment of truth.

A few miles before the border, dressed in our finest warm weather gear, showered and shorn, we stopped on the side of the road to let the Leto out and shake our worries off.

US Canada Border
Fingers crossed

It was now or never. Would they let us in? The Chief now had two strikes against him. It wasn’t looking good but we’d come this far. We had to try.

As we approached the border, my heart rate quickened. The border was slow that day, only one car lay ahead of us, which could either mean a guard who was grateful for light-duty or one who was bored and wanted to make their day more interesting by interrogating crossers (certainly, there was a multitude of options in-between but my black and white brain warned otherwise). The car in front of us was waved to the side for a full inspection. Gulp. I feared we’d reached the Day of the Bored Guard and as the Border had told us in our many, many calls “It’s all up to the guard who is working that day”.

So it was.

Delta Junction, AK
The outlook felt bleak

How did it go?

Tune in next time to find out.

See you in two weeks.

With love,

From Alaska

P.S. A huge thank you to you, sweet reader for coming along on this journey. If you love reading BTB please make sure to sign up at the top right of this page (see the picture below for details). You’ll never receive spam and your email will never be shared but you will always know when the latest entry drops and soon…that will be the only way to find out. More info to come but if you haven’t signed up yet, do so now (please). And…if you have, please feel free to share with friends.

How to Live in the Wilderness Forever

Step 1: Pack up your bags, sell off all that can’t fit within them, quit your jobs, bid adieu to your loved ones and head off.

Check.

California living
Or…stuff it all into storage

Step 2: Find your wilderness, be it deep in the heart of the Last Frontier or in the depths of the desert. Find what feels like home to you.

Check.

Living in alaskan wilderness
This guy, this place. First photo.



Step 3: Make it yours. Life off-grid is never easy, never cookie-cutter and sometimes, that’s damn frustrating but…at the end of the day, when you look at your home, it will be uniquely yours.

Check.

simple living alaska
Make sure you have a fluffy foreman to keep things skookum

Step 4: Leave

What?!
Wait, did you say leave?
Mmmhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmm.

Leave. For the last couple of years, due to that which shall not be named (*cough* COVID), we haven’t really left. Yes, we popped out to Hawaii when things felt safe to do so and I popped out to California when it felt a little less safe but my mental health required me to do so but overall, we’ve been home since 2018. 2018! Ack! In 2017, after three years of moving back and forth between Alaska and California, trying to make things work in both places simultaneously, a dear friend told me “Babe, I think you need to stay home for a year.” Just hearing her say that, I felt a wave of relief. We’d been scurrying about for so long that I still had an unpacked bag of bathing suits and shorts packed at our cabin from our trip to Ecuador. And so it was decided, we’d stay put for a while. In 2019, we unpacked years of travel and shuffling, shutting down the house in a panic and opening it just the same. We organized, we nested, we married and we stayed put. It was glorious.

everybody's living for the weekend
No more packing and unpacking. Finally, some breathing room.

Little did we know that Voldemort was on his way and we all know what happened in 2020. So now, almost three years after our last extended stay away from our beautiful life that sometimes feels a little too hard, we are about to Step 4: Leave.

Where to? The open road. We’ll be California-bound come next week just The Chief, Leto and I. We’ll have to pare down and pack tight and I can’t wait.

life in northern california
Take me to your beaches.

In this last week, The Chief will be busy putting the final touches on the addition before we leave, prepping for our awesome friends to come in and drywall and paint the space. It’s really coming along.

building in alaska
Photo cred: DE
building alaska
Let there be light! And…accidentally black vapor barrier 🙂

I will be working from home while tidying up all the loose ends. From securing rapid tests to be able to cross the border to making sure all of our non-freezable foods and goods are safely stored, the fridge is empty and the freezer is full, it’s going to be a busy week for us all. Leto will be on snow patrol.

So, how do you live in the wilderness forever? For me, you mix it up. Step 5 will obviously be Return but for a while at least, we are going to snag a little bucket hauling, generator running, fire building, 8-hour town trip breathing room. These last few years have been beautiful but no matter how much I love any place, I’ll always need a little space from it. Buh-bye location claustrophobia. Hello, open road!

That being said, BTB will be taking a few weeks off, to return in November to recount our tales to you, dear reader. Until then, I’ll be sending you love from the road and updates on Facebook and Instagram so make sure to stay tuned.

With love,

from Alaska

simple living alaska net worth
And a full woodshed, waiting for our return.

P.S. Aside from following on social media, the best way to support BTB is to subscribe (upper right-hand corner of this page) and share it with a friend. Please take a moment to sign up and share. I appreciate you!

P.P.S Sadly, Leto did not get the chance to practice his penmanship on any Vaccination Thank Yous BUT the offer still holds true. If you read last week’s post and feel inspired to get vaccinated, Leto will send you a personalized Thank You card. And…if you’re in it for the swag, stay tuned. Coming soon!

Falling Back, Looking Forward

Last weekend, we went on a family hike, Leto, The Chief and I. It went a little something like this:

Fall Alaska Colors
Not bad, eh?

While the fall colors were in full effect, there was still a feel like summer was looking over our shoulder, guiding us gently into the next season. The (sometimes) sunny days didn’t feel so far away. The next morning, I headed to Anchorage and when I returned, a mere two days later, summer’s gaze was no more. Instead, winter beckoned us in. The mountains, bare when I left, were now covered in a determined Termination Dust (what Alaskans have dubbed the first snowfall signaling the end of summer).

Fall colors
The Swimming Hole (not so swimmable). Termination Dust in the mountains.

These wintry days of freezing mornings and oh so sultry highs of 50 degree afternoons have had me looking foward towards winter. This past winter was epic. It snowed more than any year I’ve ever experienced, more than a lot of people had seen in decades.

Winter in Alaska
The Chief, shoveling out our woodchopping area after a heavy night of snow. All these trails had been completely walkable the evening before.

Snow is normally a welcome gift but it snowed so much that looking back in my journal, I found this gem of an entry:

“Monday, March 29th, 2021
5:55 am
Still fucking snowing!”

So, yeah, needless to say, it was epic but not always favorably so. This past winter was also memorable because it was the first time in a year that I had felt total hope we’d found our way out of (or at least a way to barely skirt around) this whole pandemic mess.

Why?

Because in mid-March, a local clinic (and by local, I mean a clinic 4 hours away) drove all the way out our unmaintained, Do Not Drive Without Survival Gear road to our little hamlet and provided second shots and first and only shots of the vaccine for Covid-19 to anyone who wanted them. Did every single resident come? No, but did the majority of the town? You betcha. Mind you, getting to the vaccine wasn’t an easy task. This wasn’t a “drive in your warm car to the local CVS” vaccine type o’ day. Just as the vaccine team had to work to get to us, our entire town had to work to get to them.

My vaccine day? It started with preparations.

Crescent moon
Crescent moon beans

I would be alone afterwards if The Chief was unable to make it back from his snowmachine trip and I was determined to be self-sufficient. I spent the morning chopping firewood, cleaning the house, charging the batteries, pumping gas, warming the generator, cooking food for the next few days and gassing up the snowmachines.

Woodstove heat
House heating up? Check. Firewood for two days? Check. Let’s do this.

I was prepared. The day was a gorgeous but COLD March but boy oh boy was I dressed for it.

Winter survival gear
Layers on layers…
Snowmachining in Alaska
on layers on layers…

From Mukluks to triple and quadruple layers top to bottom, I was prepared. Finally, after the house was warm and my life was ready for me to fall apart if need be, Leto and I started our journey towards vaccination day. We drove the 3.5 miles to Town, me on the snowmachine, Leto setting the slow pace ahead.

I flirted with snowbanks but didn’t make any move too fancy for fear of getting my machine stuck and missing my date. 30 minutes later, we arrived at my girlfriend’s house where our pod was waiting.

Were we all a little nervous?
Yep!
Had we all done copious research and, more importantly, spoken to doctors galore?
Yep!
We were ready.

We gathered our belongings and walked down to the Town gathering spot: Tony Zak’s (a house donated to the community for gatherings). We blasted “Break my Stride” to pump us up. Go ahead, give it a listen, you know you want to…


Just then, we got a phone call. “Are y’all on your way? We just opened the first vial and it needs to be administered in the next 30 minutes.” We’d had an appointment time scheduled for an hour later but thankfully, we were running early. We picked it up to double time and soon, we arrived. One by one we were welcomed in, administered the shot and waited our 15 minutes for any adverse effects. The feeling afterwards?

The big island of Hawaii
Sunny days on a beautiful beach

Kennicott, Alaska
Smiles for miles

Utter elation.

All the buildup, all the research, all the wondering and then…done. In two weeks time, life as we had known it would finally, finally return. We hooted and hollered and danced about and then, we all went home to prepare to nurse ourselves back to health if need be.

Need freaking be.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t fun. I was coooooolllllllddddd and achy. My teeth hurt. I felt like total crapola. Our pod gave one another text updates as the night wore on (the night which, thankfully, The Chief had returned on). I seemed to have it the worst of the bunch but, overall, after a night of No Thanks, I Don’t Want to Experience That Again, it was over. The next day I rested, ate nurturing foods and ticked one more day off of the 14 until the vaccine was in full-effect. The day after? I was back to skiing, back to life as normal.

Crosscountry skiing
Vitamin D for the win!

Unfortunately, life as normal hasn’t fully returned, has it? The word Delta took on a new meaning and as we look towards winter again, which seems to be coming as soon as tomorrow here in Alaska, it feels as if we’ve gone backwards a bit. But…what can we do?

We can get vaccinated.

Malamute Akita
If you’re feeling like you want to turn your back on me…just give me a moment.



Listen, I’m not vaccine-happy and I’m not suggesting you have to be either. Getting this vaccine doesn’t mean you’re pro-every single vaccine forever from here on out. Personally, if I can heal any ailment with plants first, I will. I harvest local medicine and keep it for our family. I believe in the power of the mind to heal ourselves too and the power of a healthy immune system. But…I also deeply believe in science and y’all, one thing I know is this thing is not going away any time soon unless we come together to fight it via the vaccine. If you think you’re healthy and are not worried you’ll contract it (which, I’m sorry to tell you, my friends who work in ERs have seen plenty of healthy, young people die within days) OK. But, instead maybe think of the people who aren’t so certain they’d make it, like the woman I saw in Home Depot the other day with a sign on her orange employee vest that read “Please stay back if you are unvaccinated. I have a deeply compromised immune system and I will not live through Covid.” At the end of the day, do you want to be the reason for someone’s end of days? Of course not, and thankfully, it’s an easy fix.

Julia, I’m not getting the vaccine.

OK. I hear you.

Hawaiian wild horses
Get your nose outta my business, Julia! But wait…one request…

Will you, please, then do this instead? Please take it seriously. If you simply can’t stomach the vaccine, all I ask is that you take this situation, this global pandemic, as seriously as it deserves to be taken. Wash your hands, wear masks and social distance like your life depends on it, because even if you don’t think your life depends on it, someone else’s does. Please, don’t go out unnecessarily (sorry, brunch doesn’t count as a necessary outing these days #RIPchampagnesunday). I know it sucks. I don’t like any of it. I mean, I never used hand sanitizer in my life before this. I let my immune system do its thing but this? This is different. None of us are happy about any of it but…

That day in March when I felt hope? Utter joy? Elation? That can return for all of us. We can do this. Please, be a part of it.


McCarthy, Alaska
Pod squad, post-vaccine.

With love and hope,

From Alaska.

Alaskan Malamute
A little Leto levity.

P.S. I am not above bribery, no I’m not (and neither is the state of Alaska)! For every person who is currently unvaccinated but GETS vaccinated by the time I post the next BTB blog, you will be the receiving BTB goodies when our first swag EVER comes out this winter and a personalized thank you card from Leto (his penmanship is questionable but his heart is in the right place). Send me proof of your vaccination and an address for your gifts by Monday, October 4th to win. Everyone likes winning, right?! Email me your details at: beneaththeborealis@gmail.com

P.P.S. If this post makes you say “Ewwww, Julia! I don’t want to read this blog anymore, even though I’ve loved it up until now.” Well, then…so be it. Lots of love your way and happy trails to you (hopefully to a vaccination site 😎 Yea…I couldn’t help myself).

P.P.P.S If you’re thinking “Shit, this post was heavy!”, think again. This was way heavier and this was a ringer too. As Glennon Doyle says, we can do hard things. We can. We have. We will again. They will only make us stronger.

P.P.P.P.S Just kidding. We all know there’s no PPPPS! 😜

**Still here and want to support Beneath the Borealis? Please like and share this post! Send it to a friend, post it on Facebook (follow BTB on Facebook too, here!), tell a neighbor. Any way you can share, I appreciate.

Two Weeks in Twenty One Photos

After the weeks-long ramp up to The Wedding, we all took a long, deep exhale.

Ladies night
Pooped pups

Then, it was back to work. The first order of business? Fall plans. The Chief and I had exactly one week before he shipped out down South to fight fire. We had an addition to build, laundry to do for him for the next month, bags to pack, and…I now had a house to shut down, and a serious road trip (unless I wanted to wait here solo until November for The Chief to arrive back home). 3,000 miles solo with a pup? No problem…right? After running through 10,000,000 scenarios for how to get everything done in time I chipped away at the logistical rat’s nest that can be trying to leave in Fall and started small. Where would my plant babies live?

Houseplants in Alaska
Hey, cuties! Don’t worry, they found a home.

Our focus shifted to the addition. With a small break in the weather, The Chief shored up the blocking and bracing and I got to painting. The next day, we installed the floor.

Painting subfloor
Make hay while the sun shines, they say. Laundry and painting.

And then promptly covered it as the weather shifted (#classic). Throughout the day and into the night, we rushed out ever so often to poke the low spots and watch the resulting waterfalls.

Addition

In an effort to deal with the gloomy weather, I went on a wander, exploring new avenues off the beaten path of my daily rounds.

Kennicott River
It’s gorgeous, I know but…no sun is no bueno for this gal.

These cheery guys helped a bit. I call this one Balding Dryas.

Dryas Drummondii
Do you see it?

Returning home to a whole wall built also helped.

Four wheels on a gravel road
A wall comprised mostly of windows? Now that’s my kind of wall.

Ending the day looking at three walls?! That required some high-fives, hoots, n’ hollers.

Four walls
Many hands, light work. It’s amazing what can happen in a day.

Despite the rain and the cold, these tough cookies persisted, and a few days later…

Building in Alaska

The roof was on! Added plus? I learned how to spell Biththene (pronounced Bitch-uh-thane).

That night, listening to the pitter-patter on the new roof, the call came. Chris would ship out…never.

Huh?

In a logistical spin on things neither one of us could have predicted, suddenly, The Chief would be home sweet home with Leto and me. We both took a serious exhale. The mania of the last few weeks of prep, wonder, worry (on my part) and stress was done. Sort of, but also, all of our plans were suddenly caput. A blank slate lay before us. So, what did we do?

We did something we haven’t done in years(!?!?!). We went out to The Glacier. Leto was fully impressed and also fully pissed that we hadn’t made him privy to the fact that there has been year-round ice around him for the last two years.

Kennicott, Alaska
Glacier bound

The next day, by the grace of everything that is holy in this world, it was sunny. Even getting woken up at 6 am on a Sunday to a fire call (everyone is OK) couldn’t hamper the good vibes the sun was putting out. Leto and I soaked it in. I wore shorts. My husband was here to stay. All was right in our little world.

Backcountry Alaska

The next morning our wake-up call was equally jarring but with a happy surprise: the driveway gravel had arrived! Potholes be damned. Things were looking brighter.

Off-grid construction
Bedroom view

Later that day, I had my last call with the group of women I’ve been meeting with for the last seven weeks. Life is better with sisterhood and accountability and this gathering served up both.

Alexis Doss
Big love, ladies.

The rest of the week was spent wrapping up the addition and…prepping for the next task at hand: Town. It had been a while since we broke out our Road Warrior boots and so, in true off-grid fashion, we left at 6 am Friday morning, got to town by 2pm, got blood tests, doctor’s visits, and then…started shopping.

Fall in Alaska
The drive out was GORGEOUS.

Our goal? 5 windows and a door, electrical and flooring. The end result?

I learned so much more about electrical than I ever wanted:

Butt splice

I found out that the perfect way to take a quick rest while home improvement shopping is to try on bathtubs.

Lowe's
I may or may not have scared the heck out of an old man as I crawled out of my bath nap.

Leto continued to be utterly terrified of all things Town and refused to get out of the car.

Malamute puppy
Really?
Alaskan Malamute
Really.

Somehow, we got 5 windows and the perfect door loaded into the truck plus electrical odds and ends (no butt slicers though, sorry) and all the flooring to finally tie the whole house together (flooring they had on hand solely because it was a return). ‘Twas a good haul and after 10 hours of shopping, we called it quits. Well, first sushi, then quits.

The next day, we left Town. On the drive we saw patches of sun and then, this perfect representation of the weather as of late: sun trying to break through the clouds, slowly being overpowered by grey all day.

Weather in Alaska
Incoming! Watch out, sunshine!

Finally, we made it back home all in one piece, only to find the tent covering our tools, not so all in one piece.

Off-grid building
Whoopsies!

The highs and lows of life off-grid never seem to end and the only constant here is change. There are grand achievements followed by grand frustrations. It can be a rollercoaster of emotions but…but…we focus on the good (most of the time). We’d made it home. We’d made it through stressful situations (read: figuring out how to wire our house, shopping when social anxiety kicked in….you name it) without getting in so much as a squabble, and Leto, though a bit traumatized, was happy to be home. We settled into a pizza and movie night, just the three of us. And while today awoke us with grey, I see a little sun peeking through because tomorrow, it’s two years since this sunny day. And instead of wishing him my love from thousands of miles away, worrying over his safety, we get to be here, together, where it all started.

Wedding in Alaska
The Lion’s Roar

All my love to you, sweet Chief.

With love to you too, sweet reader.

from Alaska.