Out of the Comfort Zone

Leaving: Part I

During my 20th year around the sun I moved upwards of 20 times.

I lived with the parents of my friends, I house-sat, I lived with my Brother, I lived with friends. My life was one big traveling suitcase made up of bags and backpacks and boxes filled with essentials and odds and ends. Chances were, if you thought of it, it was in my car. I packed and unpacked and repacked so many times that you would think I would have developed some systems but alas, the mind of my 20-year-old self didn’t prioritize order. I was a bag lady but with paper bags with constantly ripping handles and fall out bottoms. Needless to say, it was a bit of a mess.

And so, once I finally moved into my own house 5 years later I was beyond ready to trade in my bags for drawers and settle. I’ve felt the same nesting sense ever since. I love being home and since moving to Alaska (at the start of which I thought was just a blip on my radar on my new traveling trajectory) I’ve loved making our house in Alaska our home.

But, the seasons have changed and Fall is upon us. For us, Fall means heading South to California. And so, two weeks ago, the process of leaving began.

No big deal, right? Like I said, I’m pretty used to packing up and heading out and now, as more of an adult, I’m much more organized. I can Tetris a trunk like a pro and pack clothes for a month into every nook and crannie of a weekender bag.

But, I’ve never had to leave like this.

Growing up we had a family cabin in the Ozarks in Missouri. Every year we would go down in the Summer for a week. We would arrive in the early afternoon and the opening of the cabin would begin. Hours later and a whirlwind of opening shutters and turning on waterlines and changing sheets and the cabin would be open and off we would go, ready in time for Cocktail Hour by 5pm. A week later we would do it all in reverse: canoes put in the river shed, floors swept, bedding stripped, water off, shutters closed and all in time to make it back to St. Louis in time for…you guessed it: Cocktail Hour.

Between my bag lady days and my cabin plays, one might think shutting down our cabin would be nothing more than a blip on the radar but arriving to and leaving from our house in the woods is not quite the same.

Or at least I assumed it wouldn’t be.

You see, I’ve only arrived, never left.

I’ve opened but never closed.

It’s a whole different world, a world in reverse.

Last year when The Chief was shutting down the cabin to come meet me in Portland I got little snippets from him regarding the happenings of shutting the place down.

In my excitement to see him I realize that I glossed over words like: “non-freezables” and statements like “I don’t want it frozen into the ground” (last Winter I tried to “pick-up” a tote which had frozen into the ground a bit. I pulled and swiftly broke the tote in two: half still in the ground and half in my hand and overall totally unusable) and in my rush to see him I didn’t really understand the massive task that stood between us. Come Winter, I realized a bit of what he was talking about, but again, I saw it in the opening of the cabin mode.

Now it was time for the reverse. The shutdown.

The last week before we left our house I didn’t have to work. The restaurant had shut down for the season (another totally strange thing to me. The only time I’ve ever shut a business down was when it closed its doors for good, not just until the following May. Closing down for the Winter and shutting down forever are only a few hauling loads away from one another. It’s quite the ordeal and in a few months, the reverse will happen again). I felt so lucky to finally have some time off in the beautiful place I call home. There were adventures to be discovered and in the first few days I had off I found them.

 

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Icebergs bigger than two of me tall. Please don’t suddenly shift.

 

 

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The 8 hour lake loop

 

And then…the panic set in.

I stood outside on my third day off and, as if I had seen it for the first time, I was stunned by the amount of work I had to do. The last few days the projects had been far from my mind but suddenly it was Go Time.

Living in the woods, I have come to understand the difficulty of the acquisition of things. I looked around our yard and saw years of acquisitions: lumber which will hopefully become a part of a building project in the future, snow machines since retired which we use for parts if one of ours (or our friend’s machine breaks), and random tools and tie downs and who knows what galore. In the woods, it’s very hard to throw things away for reasons which are twofold:

One: you may one day find a use for it and on that day, if you’ve hauled it out of The Valley to the dump, you are going to kick yourself

and Two: if you do decide to trash it, it is very difficult to throw things away. When you’re heading to Town and have multiple 55 gallon barrels for gas and suitcases for months of travel and recycling and trash from months of discard there isn’t a lot of room for the things you want off of your property and special trips into town to take away items are once in a blue moon. It’s just rare to have the room and so…things pile up.

I spent my first day (blue and white striped Traindriver overalls in action. I meant business) amongst the mayhem: lumber. There were lumber piles everywhere. Some were covered, some weren’t, some were still good, some were bad but all were both visible and taking up room and if I didn’t act now, they would be frozen in by the time we returned and unable to move until Spring.

I’ve never lived to quite an extreme like that, where the urgency a season imposes is both physical and mental and affects not just you but your things. Sure, I’ve cleaned gutters but here, you’d have to remove gutters (we don’t have any, so no worry there). It’s a whole new level. You have to think ahead. What will I need and if I need something, how can I make sure it doesn’t freeze into the ground? It’s a whole new fishbowl for me.

And so, (after three hours spent separating our recycling – we are working on a new system but for now, it all goes in one bag and then someone gets awarded the sloppy mess of sorting it. I won! Remember last Trash Day?) I spent the day unearthing old piles of lumber, separating the good from the bad and carrying it to more discreet lumber stashes on the property which I made with pallets I slowly hauled over to each site (who knew those things were so heavy?!). What I thought would take a few hours took me an entire day. I was dirty from head to toe and my arms were so tired I’d thought they might fall off.

The next day The Chief finally had the day off too and we spent it again moving things: an old snow machine had to be moved onto a pallet but it didn’t drive and so after many heaves and hos and brainstorming problem solving and ratchet strap configurations, we got it onto the pallet and stabilized it via a nearby tree. It’s the (seemingly) little things like that which take forever. Half the day gone just securing and moving things on the property and it was looking much better. I’d been wanting to get my hands on this project for a whole year now and it was finally happening.

Just then, we started talking about what to do with out food when we thought to call a friend who runs a freezer all Winter. We thought we’d check to see if we could put our food in it until we returned (at which point our “freezer” would simply be totes left outside, since it’s so cold they stay frozen). Our actual freezer is great but without having the generator run every few days it will melt. If we were leaving in December it wouldn’t be an option but until it gets cold enough outside to keep it frozen via nature we had to figure something else out. Our friend kindly obliged and the rush was on: we had to get the items to him that day because he was leaving. He also said he could store our non-freezables.

Holy moly! This was a gift from the Gods.

Stop the projects and change gears: food time.

We went inside and in the scurry I immediately lost all of my prior understanding of what happens when things freeze.

“Can canned peaches freeze?”

“Yes. Well, sort of.”

 

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Sort of sorting, sort of losing my mind

 

Huh? Apparently they might get a little mushy and the can might get distorted. Pickles? They might get mushy too but the vinegar content makes the freeze lighter than just straight water. No water could be left in anything in our house or it would break its container.

In our house.

Our house which is going to freeze.

Everything inside it is going to freeze.

Our house is going to be an unattended igloo.

This just doesn’t seem real to me.

And so I spent the next hour confused and confusing, wondering if we could leave dish soap and forgetting that I knew we could. We were rushing to get everything together but still needing to prioritize. We hadn’t planned on doing the food clean-up until the last day and so the sudden rush and flurry brought the stress levels out in the open.

We took everything out of our freezer and I snapped a picture so as to remember when we were shopping this December what we actually will need. The Chief started bagging it all up when it dawned on me: we still needed to eat. We were days away from leaving and here we were throwing all of our food in one (inaccessible) basket.

 

 

 

Duh. We knew that. But these are the things we forget when we rush.

And so I separated a few things, trying not to take out too much lest we waste it but not wanting to take out too little and end up eating trail mix for dinner. That’s the thing as you start to shut the house down: ideally you run out of everything on your very last day. In reality: you run out of things in an awkward kerplunk as the last bit of sugar falls out of the bag and you only have half of what the recipe calls for – hey, you wanted it light anyways, right?

Coffee was the first thing we noticeably ran out of. No biggie, we switched to tea. Then we ran out of milk (both our almond milk and our regular milk). No biggie. We had canned milk that…we had packed up already to give to our friend who was keeping our food. Who knew where it was in the boxes. Ugh.

And so, you go without or get creative but mainly, you just start getting excited for Town where you can go and get whatever you need pretty much whenever you need it (or simply want it).

The Land of Plenty looks pretty good when you’re coming from scarcity.

We finished packing up the foods for the house and The Chief made the limping journey in our not so working truck to pick up our last delivery of mail and drop off the goods. When he returned a few hours later (like I said, everything takes so much longer than you think it will out here) I had picked up more of the yard and moved more lumber. We were beat but so happy to have the food taken care of. We had been scheming the past week over whether we could create enough charge on our batteries to leave it plugged in and running off of them until the snow came but the idea of leaving the batteries unattended and working made both of our stomachs churn. We had thought of other people’s houses we might be able to stash it at or people who might enjoy the goods but nothing was easier and fit better than simply packing it all away in one spot. What a relief (thank you, thank you!).

Next up the following day was the inside shakedown and the outside burn. I took the inside and The Chief took the outside. I detailed every inch of the oven and cleaned the house from head to toe (almost, the living room eluded me) and went through our clothes to find donations and to pack (which sounds easy but since California is basically still in Summer mode, we have to pack for Summer and Fall and Winter in California). The Chief burned the wood we couldn’t use and the burnables that we don’t throw in the trash in order to keep the trash from filling quickly (i.e. tissue paper, unneeded mail, etc.). I swear I could see his smile all the way from the house while he lit the bonfire all the way over in the garden area. There was no worry of fire in the wet wet wet woods and so we were able to burn everything. It was a great feeling to clean up so nicely.

We were on a roll but the days were flying by. Suddenly, it was our last day. The heat was on and tensions were high. We’d never done this together and learning what was a priority for each of us versus a non-priority was a good lesson in compromise both with the other and with the self.

Finally, it was the night before we left. There were just a few things left to do: pick up the fire truck which needed to get worked on in Town, pick up Bluebell and ride her home and load the truck with the last few items we needed to pick up in the valley, unload them and then load the truck so it was ready in the morning. Just a few small things like that.

And then it started to rain.

Well, of course it did.

We picked up the truck, picked up Bluebell and I followed behind on her as we headed for the heavy stuff. It turns out her already weak brakes had gone completely out while she had been sitting and so the ride was more or less a constant gamble. Thank goodness for good boots. We headed to retrieve our 100lb. tank of propane and our little bitty backup. Then we headed to the fuel area and backed into the bay where there was no dolly to be found to move the 55 gallon drum of gasoline that we had gotten filled (note: they are much heavier when full).

 

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A Winter’s worth of propane…we hope.

 

We made our way home and I skid into the driveway. We found a pallet to store my little lady on and covered her with a tarp. The Chief came over and helped me. The way the tarp was, it would have collected snow and either torn or knocked everything over. Oh. You see, I don’t get it. But I’m learning.

Then, it was time to unload the truck. But first, we had to move our other vehicle in order to line up correctly with the drop zone. Easy, right? Except the other vehicle had mysteriously stopped running one day and so we  would have to tow it first, then push it into place. We strapped a tire to the pulling and pushing truck after towing the vehicle forward and then smashed it between the two to push it backwards.

 

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Oh, the ingenuity of living in the woods.

Finally, with big enough rocks found on the property in place in front of the wheels so it would stay, the driveway was clear and we were ready to unload the propane and fuel. The propane was “easy”. Heave, ho and off you go. It was heavy and The Chief had suffered a substantial bruising the night before in a Tiger Trap of sorts and my back was threatening to go out but, by comparison, it was light. The fuel, on the other hand…let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t alone with it. The Chief devised a sort of strong man bounce station with another tire (see why it’s hard to throw things away?) that the barrel could land on. From there we could then maneuver it into place on the pallet with the others. He got it to the edge and we both silently said a little prayer as almost $200 in fuel flew from the back of our truck onto the tire and…

 

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didn’t bust, didn’t break. It fell perfectly and we strong-armed it into place. Success!

Then, we loaded the empty barrels we would bring into Town with us to fill up in December into the truck, followed by months of recycling and last but not the least: months old stinky trash. Oh joy. Me and my overalls probably stunk to high heaven but the day was finally done (minus still making dinner, finishing packing, fussing with last odds and ends, oh and harvesting all of our herbs and sorting all of their soils and laying the herbs out to dry).

 

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Mmmm…extra frozen veggies. The last supper.

 

Finally it was time to rest.

 

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Skis safe inside and ready to ride

 

Until morning.

The morning was a whirlwind and stress levels were high. I’m the type that runs back to the house to see if the burner on the stove is still on. Leaving the house for a long day can be stressful. Leaving the house for two months? A little more. And so we spent the morning buzzing around, drinking less than delicious tea to propel us into our day and being snippy. You could feel the tension in the air, both of us trying to remember what it was we must be forgetting, doing last-minute check-ins with one another (“did you remember your passport? Wait, did I?”), taking every box out from under the bed (this is basically a days work in and of itself) to try to find my sleeping bag and still coming up empty-handed, pouring out last glasses of water, putting possible breaking glass (pickles, etc.) into the sink, draining the reservoir that the sink comes from, making sure the shower was drained and moving it inside, turning off the propane, sweeping, packing last bits and going in and out of the house so many times it would have made an onlooker dizzy.

Needless to say, it was hectic and Cinda was not into it. Dogs know and she knew we were headed out. She started to noticeably panic that we were going to leave her behind. Finally, she simply ran up to the truck and jumped in.

Well, almost. She is one heck of a hiker but her gold medal event has never been the high jump. She jumped…and then landed with a “thud” on her back. She was fine, she had merely wounded her pride. We tried to convey to her that we weren’t leaving without her.

A statement which she apparently heard and wholeheartedly took as fact.

And now I remember those famous last words: “we won’t leave without you.”

Finally the truck was packed up. Our suitcases were in, our Winter gear for the cold and extra heavy-duty gear for in case we got stranded on our way in this December, was in the truck. A dear friend had offered to let me keep my plants at her house since they stay the Winter and so all of my plant babies (it’s amazing how happy the sight of something green in the dead of Winter makes you fell) were tucked into the truck’s many compartments, ready to make the 20 mile drive over a very bumpy dirt road journey (which they would hopefully survive) to their house. We had ratchet strapped down the load and I had packed lunch.

We were ready to go.

Oops, forgot to turn off the propane.

O.K. now we were ready to go.

“Lou-lou!” We called out in unison to our pup.

No sign of her.

“Cinda bones! It’s time to go!” (she has more nicknames than Imelda Marcos had shoes)

Nothing.

Moments earlier (it had actually been an hour but it felt like minutes) she had been dying to get in the truck, so afraid to be left behind and now that she had attempted to jump in.

Now, she was nowhere to be found.

We weren’t leaving without her.

“We won’t leave without you.”

Famous last words.

 

 

…To be continued.

 

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Snow on the mountains on our last walk to The River

The Glacier

Before arriving in Alaska I can’t say with much certainty that I knew what a glacier was. I’m only slightly sure that I was aware of their existence (but not entirely sure I didn’t just think they were large icebergs) and definitely sure that I didn’t grasp their many faces. And so, my first time on The Glacier was a complete slap in the face and every time since has been another awakening unto its own.

You see, my first time on The Glacier I went ice climbing.

Me. Ice climbing.

If you’re beginning to think I’m some sort of badass you can stop yourself right there. I can say for certain that I did not know what ice climbing was, but with my girlfriend’s encouragement (and the loan of her dog) I let her sign me up with her guides.

I’d never even been rock climbing before (a likely introduction) but there I was, gearing up with boots and crampons and an enormous backpack full of gear for a ten-hour day of hiking and climbing on our friendly neighborhood glacier, followed by crashing an ice climbing course meant solely for the guide company which I had no business attending (but was too afraid to leave on my own since it would mean traversing solo across a glacier which I had just met and then finding my way back to the trailhead and then back home. No thank you). And so I climbed, and despite the fear of heights that I thought I had, I felt safe and secure and successful, followed by completely out-of-place, cold and tired at the training but hey, at least I was in good company.

My second time on The Glacier was with the encouraging girlfriend. We explored a bit, I got my first solid lesson in using crampons and we ate curry for lunch. It was a beautiful day and again, I didn’t have to hoof it alone.

That was last year. Now, I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve been through Winter in the cold, dark north. I can handle The Glacier solo, right?

Well, sort of.

It was a beautiful sunny day at the tail end of a wind event a few weeks ago and so, despite the sun and the sights, I was still feeling a little off-kilter from the ever-present gusts of dirt in my eyes and blow-back winds pushing me about. Still, when it’s sunny and you are free, it’s time to get out. Some friends only had a few days left in Alaska and they invited me along to go out on The Glacier. I hadn’t been on it all Summer and had been scolding myself for not having done so. And so, despite the blustery day, I headed out to meet them.

The Chief and I drove across the river into town with a friend to jump our truck (which I had been stranded with the night before) and she fired up quickly. All set. And so I sent a message up the hill to let my comrades know that I was on my way. Even though it was my day off I was in a bit of a hurry to get going. This town is notoriously slow going since things always seem to go wrong or take longer than planned. It’s not uncommon to hear someone come in late for work because their batteries were about to die and they forgot to run the generator and then the generator was out of gas so they had to pump gas and then spilled it and had to change and…you get the point. Things come up. And so I was trying to stay ahead of the game. The truck was running and I was on my way. Plus, I had a massage scheduled that day (best day off ever) and I wanted to make sure I would be back in time.

I helped Cinda into the truck and off we went. We were listening to our favorite Cocteau Twins song when the truck chugged to a halt. Thinking that the battery had given out again (the battery in it is a wee bit small for the truck) I called The Chief to see if he could jump it (again) with our friend’s truck. He left work and borrowed the truck and 20 minutes later, when I should have been arriving to meet my friends, The Chief gallantly arrived. He quickly deciphered that it wasn’t the battery. Thankfully he had a can full of gas that we filled our tank with and the new infusion in what we think is simply a bad fuel mix was enough to start the babe right up. He followed me up to the Hill Town even though he really needed to be at work because, well, he’s amazing like that. We bid adieu as I successfully glided into the Hill Town.

 

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Finally, we made it. But where are they?

 

My friends were heading down from one friend’s house and after a few confusing texts and calls we found one another at the guide shack (I had forgotten that we would need crampons, remembering The Glacier as only being a sweet little thing requiring hiking boots alone. How quickly we forget). We all geared up and headed out The Glacier Trail. An hour and a few miles later we started to descend and I felt totally lost. The creek between the hillside and The Glacier had shifted enough that the “entrance” onto The Glacier, the spot where everyone would come off the hillside and find their way onto the glacier had completely changed from the two times I’d seen it the year before.

I wish I could say with certainty that if I had gone alone earlier this Summer to The Glacier that I would have figured this out and not just “cliffed out” at the old entrance but I’m not really comfortable with lying. I can hope that I would have figured it out, that my stubbornness would have helped me find the way, but as a serious creature of habit and lover of comfort I’m not totally sure that I would have pushed that hard. Maybe. I hope so. I think in reality that I hadn’t made it to The Glacier yet this year out of fear of the unknown and so a hurdle like that could have derailed me, had I made it that far.

We scaled down the hillside, the dogs far ahead of us and already begging from tourists camped at the base of The Glacier.

 

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Our view from the base. The Glacier lay ahead in all its glory.

 

We stumbled immediately upon an ice creation.

 

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Melted out ice caves

 

I ran in, excited to see it from the inside and just barely dodged falling rocks. Whoops! I forgot my glacier manners and ice cave rules. Look before you leap.

 

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Little rocks (thankfully) and water falling from to top of the ice cave

 

Manners in mind and footing in place we headed up and onto The Glacier. One member of our group lost her manners quickly. My sweet pup decided to let nature call in the number two fashion upon the pristine glacier. I picked up her little gift with a newly available Costco sized M&M bag (we had to eat the remaining M&Ms in a hurry to free up the space, which, while delicious, kind of lost their appeal due to the situation) sealed it tight and placed it into my backpack. The backpack which held my food.

We were off to a good start.

 

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Hiking up the first icy hill of The Glacier

 

And we actually were off to a great, albeit stinky, start. For the first fifteen minutes we were fine going simply with our hiking boots but once the terrain turned a bit tougher it was time for crampons.

I’m not a fan.

I know that they make it more feasible to hike up and down into places in the glacier which would otherwise remain unseen to me but they also make me feel like a toddler wearing platform shoes. It’s as if I’ve attached bricks to my feet, lost all flexibility and then, decide to attempt the scary stuff.

This was the part I had forgotten about. The scary parts. The year before when I had gone ice climbing we had hiked the mildest parts of The Glacier (the simple up and over route instead of into the depths) and put on crampons only to scale into the basin where we would set up camp to climb. I barely needed instruction because they were necessary for moments only and the fall would have been into a soft obvious location not into some wormhole into the heart of The Glacier. The second time, as I had conveniently forgotten, we had taken a more hilly route, jumped over little rivers within the glacier and climbed sheer sides. I had been afraid but I had forgotten that fear.

Key words being “had forgotten”.

Suddenly the fear came upon me like a whisper from behind as we veered away from the easy route on top of The Glacier and immediately started sidehilling down it. We stopped to put on our crampons and layers as the already present wind began to pick up and up and up. I watched Cinda’s fur blow in the breeze and then suddenly her whole body jolted back as a powerful gust of wind hit her. Everything had shifted in an instant. Suddenly, I had high heel things on my feet, extra disorienting wind and more challenging terrain.

Gulp.

Our first move in our newly acquired garb? Cross an ice bridge between two moulins (a tubular chute, hole or crevasse worn in the ice by surface water which carries water from the surface to the base far below, like a sudden sinkhole which appears with little to no warning). They were substantial holes on both sides, both tunnels leading in opposite and unclear directions into the stomach of the glacier. You fall in and…good luck. My girlfriend shouted to me through the wind:

“You might want to watch Cinda on this one. It’s a little sketchy.”

Just as I was about to grab her and find ourselves another route, she scampered across with the utmost ease and so, my excuse to find a better route now gone and my better judgement aside, I started to cross. My stomach dropped into my feet and my heart up into my neck as my body slowly and awkwardly carried me across. I did not feel centered, I did not feel competent. I felt like a wet rag trying to dance a tango. Not my most graceful of moments.

On the other side I caught my breath.

“That.

Was.

Scary.”

I told my friends and I nervously stopped to eat a snack. I felt like I was going to be sick. You see, I try and try and try again to fool myself but my body reminds me. I am afraid of heights. In my mind I see the path but my body reacts. Wanna look down into a moulin? I can’t. My feet literally won’t take me.

 

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This I can handle.

 

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Peering down into this? No thanks. These pop up out of nowhere.

 

And so, after crossing (sorry, I couldn’t take a picture but just imagine two huge tunnel slides to each side of you and a maybe two foot wide expanse to cross over them) and remembering the fear I had felt before, though not to this level (and never during ice climbing (perhaps the harness had something to do with it)), it suddenly dawned on me that I would be doing the return trip alone.

 

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Since the truck had died and our meet up had been slow, time had been moving despite our still trying to catch up with it. We had been on the glacier almost 40 minutes before we even put the crampons on and now, I had 20 minutes before I needed to head back. We had basically just gotten there, just gotten to the “good stuff” (read: scary but more beautiful and worth the challenge) and now I needed to turn around.

We traversed a few more creeks within the glacier and went up and down hills that seemed impossible to ascend or descend any other way than on hands and knees or slide down like penguins but somehow I remained upright (and awkward). Finally, tucked away from the gusts in a little alcove I announced my need to depart in order to make it back in time for my massage (a statement that sounded unbelievably swanky and out-of-place while standing in the middle of the wilderness).

 

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Beautiful Jess. Wanna come back?

 

I had already stated that, of course, they probably wouldn’t want to head back when I had to, but secretly hoped that someone might want to. At the same time, I knew the challenge would do me good and in a way hoped I would fly solo.  It was divided 50/50. Though I was scared I said my goodbyes and whistled for my Lou and turned to head back the way we had come (though already planning to avoid the Ice Bridge of Doom) when I looked back and couldn’t decipher up from down.

 

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The last views of my friends

 

Where in the world had we come from and how?

I had purposefully been paying attention (I thought) to our route but when I looked back it all looked the same and the hilly landscape seemed unrecognizable in reverse.

Oh well, they were moving one way and I had to head the other.

 

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A last goodbye from the Buddha

 

I cannot explain how grateful I was to have our Cinda Lou with me. She was like a little ice fairy, floating along the face of the glacier, jumping over moulins like a professional hurdler. She made it look easy, and so, as I have done so many times before, I channeled her confidence and picked a route forward.

 

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Lou smiling at the moulin

 

Within minutes we were nowhere we had been before and facing crossing fast flowing waters and climbing an almost 90 degree incline. I looked to the right: even worse. I looked to the left and could only assume that it turned into a sheer drop-off to the moraine (the rocky below) since all the rest to the left had been as such.

How had I gotten us here?

I had simply gone in the same-ish direction back and now, we were somewhere completely unknown, out of sight and alone.

That’s the thing about a glacial terrain, one minute you’re walking on flat ground, the next there is a sheer cliff at your feet. Another, you’re protected from the wind storm, the next you’re basically windsurfing, trying not to lose footing. Next you’re looking down a moulin into the mouth of the glacier and next you see a turquoise lake appear, calm and pristine. It’s forever changing and after two trips one year ago prior to completely different spots on the exact same glacier, I was feeling completely lost and completely out of my league.

Oh well. There was no other way but forward.

I found a narrower crossing and planted my feet in order to make the big jump to the other side of what now was become a river in The Glacier in order to climb up the face to the other side. I looked and then leapt and…

I made it. Safe and sound.

 

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The water was 3-4 ft. wide

 

And solo.

Cinda did not follow.

Suddenly, my trailblazer was stunted. She didn’t trust the jump. I walked to the narrowest point and urged her to follow suit on the other side. I cooed encouragement at her and promised I would grab her. She didn’t budge. Then she started pacing back and forth, starting twice by trying to walk the divide, the water which would have been up to her shoulders and the current which would have swept her up and sent her who knows where in the blink of an eye lapped at her paws and she quickly retreated.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

We both let out a little whimper and I allowed myself a moment of panic. And then I grabbed my breath back and called her back as she started walking towards the ledge. We are doing this. You can make it Lou.

I called her to a different narrow spot and steadied myself to grab her if she didn’t land the jump. She gave me a look of utter displeasure but also of trust (yes, I’m anthropomorphizing but I’m comfortable with it) and then, she jumped.

And she made it.

And then she was off with me scrambling behind her.

She ran towards the hill. It was so steep that she had to lean as far forward as possible while still having to sidehill up the face it. I got down low and hands and knees and crampon toed my way up. We both stopped at the top, breathing heavily and looked at one another with a sort of It Can’t Get Worse Than That, Right? type of look. I hugged and kissed her and spent a moment more just breathing while trying to plan the remainder of our route (while still avoiding the Ice Bridge of Doom). I surmised that it couldn’t be much longer (though I couldn’t see the exit) and decided to hug the Easternmost route for the remainder of the return. Thirty minutes later we were off The Glacier and back to finding the elusive trail. I had created mental markers for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter.

 

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A big rock (in front of the far away Castle Rock) was my beacon towards the trail

 

My Cinda knew the way (even though she had never taken it before that day). She led me back and up the steep hill, circling around every few steps to smile at me. I’ve never seen her do that before. One, two, three, four steps, circle, look at Mom and head forward for four more. She checks on me when we are out together but never in such a rhythm, with such consistency.

 

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Four steps forward…

 

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…one circle to look back.

 

For a dog whom isn’t always overtly forthcoming with expressions of love, this less than subtle check in warmed my heart. I felt like crying. I had truly been scared. Scared of falling, scared of picking the wrong route and sliding into a river of ice, scared of losing my dog. Seeing her look back to me I suddenly let it go. We were off the glacier and we had gotten off of it together.

 

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Crossing over a raging creek and looking back at The Glacier

 

The rest of the hour-long hike back she checked on me every few steps. She even took a shortcut (which I knew and planned on taking) and when she realized I hadn’t made it to the entrance yet, she circled back to show me how.

 

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Fall was in the air and the winds had started to die down a bit and an ecstatic calm (if that dichotomy can somehow exist) came over me as we hustled back.

 

 

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We got back just in time to grab a snack and water us both before going into a greatly appreciated massage. I was physically tired from the hike but also emotionally tired and simultaneously elated by the journey.

We had made it.

To many out here, it would be nothing to simply turn back alone. It would be nothing even to go out alone and come back alone. To find a route and follow it with confidence. To me, it was a challenge. To choose my own route, completely on my own (or at least without other humans) is a new practice. To trust and to expand past the comfort of the known into the discomfort of the unknown isn’t my first choice, but in a way, at this point in my life it’s the only one.

I may not be the first to try a new route or to scale a mountain. I am still cautious and careful and perhaps overly so, using my respect for the grandiosity and potential danger of this place at times as an excuse. But that’s O.K.

I’m learning to stretch.

I’m so grateful to live in a place and among people whom share their adventurous spirits with me. People who prance across an ice bridge like it’s nothing, who find their own way when lost in the woods, who set out to summit a mountain they’ve never been to. This place and the people within it both intimidate and inspire me in such a combination that I consistently find myself a little outside of my comfort zone but in very good company, be it scenery or people or animals or, simply my new self who’s learning, day by day to trust again in the intuition we all have within.

I hope that next year and every year from now on that I remember the fear and embrace it rather than tuck it away. I hope that I push forward with or without invitation from others to see this land. I hope that as my confidence in myself grows the fear will realize it can start to let go.

Thank you for the endless challenges and chances to expand, Alaska. You sure keep me on my toes (and, when the going gets steep, my hands and knees).

 

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