adventure

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive

In my 31 years, I’ve found quite a few ways to bring home the bacon. I started young, as soon as I could, and worked in everything from babysitting to planting (and cutting down) Christmas trees. At the time, I figured the Christmas tree stint was just a blip in time of tight work pants, tough boots, long hours and a perpetual state of dirtiness. It may have just been a hyper-seasonal job I had randomly fallen into but I loved every minute of it, from the mingling smell of pine and dirt and gasoline to the sound and feel of the chainsaw to the meditative state I felt falling into bed dead tired. Yet, when Santa’s sleigh had sled on past and the mistletoe had wilted, the work was done.

And so, I moved on to another job.

Yet, as I retired my boots and settled for slightly less functional footwear, I missed the physicality and the gratification from seeing the work I had done for the day.

Enter: Alaska

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Wilderness Glacier

Pups n’ pals.

 

 

After switching careers most easily expressed via footwear: running shoes (gym), high heels (radio station), Danskos (server) back to running shoes (owning a gym), I found myself in Alaska without a career, donning hiking boots.

Back to function.

And looking for work.

My first two years, I juggled working in restaurants and nanny-ing. Last year, I added online consulting to the mix with the goal that this year, I’d solely work online and by the grace of goodness, it happened: I was working full-ish time, year-round, in the wilds of Alaska, and everywhere else we found ourselves. Ecuador? Still worked. California? Worked. Winter in Alaska? Working. It was and has been amazing and I still send a “thank you” up skyward on the daily. Yet, like all amazing things, it has to have downs for you to appreciate the ups. This month was slightly less stellar. My hours scaled back and suddenly, I found myself with a little more downtime than I was comfortable with.

Enter: Fire.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Fire Department

Our newest addition on the left. Who knew fire had such fashionable colors?

 

 

And just as my amazing job hit a less amazing valley amongst the peaks, the sun came out, both literally and figuratively and the fire engine was hired to patrol.

Well, guess who was on it?

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Women Firefighters

Riding high breaking in the new gear (photo credit: AT).

 

 

Right when my regular work dried up, the engine needed a replacement person.

That person was me.

The luck was sublime.

For the first time ever, The Chief and I worked together for the State patrolling The Road. In two days we worked 22 hours and drove countless miles. We “took weather” together, called into Dispatch, checked on reports of smoke, worked on vehicles and informed the public of the Burn Ban. It was beautiful to step into The Chief’s world in a way I’d never seen it. It gave me a new level of respect for the person he is for our community and how hardworking he is for our family.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Volunteer Firefighters

Big Red.

 

 

Between fire and construction, The Chief has been working for 30 days straight. Construction is a 9 hour day and fire is 11. He’s had little more than a few hours awake at home, the rest reserved for sleep. And all of this I knew before we worked together but without the experience, that knowledge lacked context. After two long days with him, I was tired. Driving about in an engine sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Seeing a day in the life of patrol face to face shed some serious light on the intricacies of the job and they add up quickly. The physicality of the job, even without working a fire line, coupled with the weight of responsibility and the trust of the town and the State add a layer I’ve never quite felt in a job.

I loved it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

Red lipstick courtesy of the 4th of July parade, not a workday.

 

 

Falling into bed after taking off my boots and work pants and washing off the day’s dirt, I felt that same feeling I’d had at the tree farm: a tired body from a job I took pride in. Despite the shower, I still smelled of the sweet trifecta of pine, dirt, and gasoline and as I rolled over that night, that beautiful scent was doubled by the man I love.

I’m beyond grateful to work from home, it’s a dream I’ve had most of my working life and one I hope to continue, yet in the times of slow, I feel so lucky to have found myself in a place that put me back in boots, back in the dirt and back to falling into bed dead tired.

Cheers to the conventional coupled with the unconventional, to wearing a new type of shoes or to trying someone else’s.

Cheers to getting your hands dirty.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive National Park.jpg

Hot and Dry(as). Stay safe, all.

La Mama: Part II: The Day All Hell Broke Loose

After twice snoozing my alarm I finally pulled myself from sleep a few hours post my Mom’s departure.

Her leaving had me feeling a little lonely but the hustle of the day before me (and a pooch at my feet) gave me the gusto to get going.

I jumped into the shower (ahhhhhh, showers) and as I did, I noticed my throat was a little raw. Hotels will do that to me occasionally, all the recycled air puts my throat in a tizzy and so I wrote it off. Despite a sinking sickness suspicion, there was too much to do to cry over a little tickle.

And what was there to do?

Well, since our arrival the night before had been about 3 hours later than planned (surprised? No, me neither) the list I had hoped to split into two days would have to be jam-packed into one (plus, driving home).

It read like so:

 

Drop the truck at the mechanic

Do laundry

Go to BB&B for soda stream CO2 replacements (one for us and two for other families. The bubbles of The Valley were on our shoulders)

Recycling

Take Cinda to the vet

Speed through Costco

Quick trip to Home Depot

A drop-by fly-in at Natural Pantry (a local health food store)

Drop-off my girlfriend’s truck

Leave Anchorage

Drive for 45 minutes

Shop at Fred Meyer

Get fuel at Fred Meyer

Drive the remaining 7 hours home.

Done!

 

Easy peasy. All in a day’s work, right?

And so it started.

By 7:45am Lou and I were fed (or at least she was) and headed for the mechanic. The truck’s transmission issue was becoming less of a suggested “Look at Me” and more like an “I’ll Leave You Stranded if You Don’t Take a Look at Me”. I had to bring Lou with me because the hotel wouldn’t allow her to stay in the room alone and so started our day of Anchorage Taxi try-outs.

We dropped off the truck for their earliest appointment with the (discussed) idea being that they would assess the situation and have me back on the road in an hour or so to do our chores. Lou and I bid a short farewell to the Blue Beast and called a taxi.

Taxi #1.

He took us back to the hotel where I knew I should do anything other than this but I couldn’t help myself.

I had to take a bath.

It was the most glorious jacuzzi tub I’d ever seen. There wasn’t a chance in the world that I was going to pass up that kind of opportunity.

 

 

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30 minutes later, I was out and prune-y and ready for…

a nap.

The sore throat I’d awoken to wasn’t quite quelled by the soothing warm vapors of the bath. Instead, it was feeling worse.

I was feeling worse.

I felt exhausted and so I allotted myself a 15 minute nap. I was sure I’d feel better after.

Right?

Post-nap it was time to plan. My girlfriend called me from her hotel around the corner and we agreed to pack up and leave together to take Cinda to the vet. Since it was already 10am and the mechanic hadn’t called, we figured we’d use her truck for transport until our truck was ready or until her appointment to have her truck fixed at noon.

Two trucks, two shops, two girls with lots of baggage and a dog needing to do copious amounts of chores and get home the same day.

What could go wrong?

It all started with the recycling.

On the way to the vet, we decided to quickly stop by the mechanic to get all of the recycling out of our truck (and to give them a gentle nudge to help the process along). In the process of prepping for Anchorage at home, I’d forgotten to pack extra clothes (and a toothbrush or toothpaste and jammies and countless other things. It seems I always think of Anchorage as right next door, instead of the 16 hour round trip that it is, complete with an overnight) and so donning my dirty clothes from the day before, I worried little about soiling them further from transporting from my truck to hers the now dripping from rain recycling. We headed to the recycling center and there we found the omen of our day.

30 minutes after we had arrived, as I emptied the final bag of our combined recycling effort I noticed unbroken glass. Beautiful glass. It was a vase, completely intact, without flaw that someone had just put to rest. I pulled it from the pile and showed it to my girlfriend.

“Look what I found!”

“What? Really?! Heck yes!”

 

 

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Like finding a gem (among gems) in the forest…

 

 

Riding high off the vase find (a vase is a luxury and a delicate find that I don’t often allow on trips home) we were certain the day was off to a good start. We headed to the Vet where she dropped us off and then left to fill the Town bubbles. We were multi-tasking our way to success!

In perfect synchronicity, she returned just as we were finishing up paying. And, to make things better we were leaving with good news: Miss Lou was down to 77lbs. and in good health. That’s over 20lbs. lighter than when I met her three Summers ago. I was stoked.

With no call from our mechanic still and the 12 noon appointment right around the corner, we decided it was best to just drop her truck at the shop and head for laundry.

Taxi #2.

When we arrived we started to get our things in order and as my girlfriend started to move things in the backseat, I heard it.

Crash. Boom. Shatter.

The brand new (to us) vase tumbled out of the truck and splintered into all of its pieces onto the pavement below.

And that was our omen, our indicator of the Day When All Hell Broke Lose’s beginning.

But we didn’t see it that way.

We laughed ourselves silly. The vase had survived the rough and tumble of Recycle Land only to shatter after an hour in our care.

Once we composed ourselves, we loaded all of our laundry, ourselves and Cinda into the taxi and headed for the laundromat, which just so happened to be next door to amazing Thai food. Perfect! We waltzed in to the greeting of the owner who cooed over Lou and led us to the back where we could tie her up. However, her leash was just short enough that it created a standing only situation. This would not do. With a couple of hand gestures and shoulder shrugs we negotiated with the owner to bring her in/walked her in and hoped to not get kicked out.

It was laundry time.

8 machines full and $60 in quarters and we were off! I went to order us Thai food while my girlfriend flipped the loads. You know you’re good friends when you do one another’s laundry.

Half-way through our meal in a sunny spot on the grass behind the laundromat, the vase omen started taking effect when the mechanic called.

Bad news.

“You should probably come in and we can talk.”

Well that’s never a good thing to hear from any sort of doctor, car or otherwise.

I asked for further information and he rattled a list of issues with prices to boot that left my Thai spiced mouth hanging wide open.

And so the obvious question came up: “Can we drive it home tonight?”

They paused.

I gulped.

“I wouldn’t.”

Fantastic!

 

 

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But we had just gotten our permanent registration! Which, of course, is non-transferable.

 

 

 

 

I asked them what would make the drive less of a hazard and they said an oil change (since apparently there was a leak and all of the oil had drained) with a possible patch was the best they could do in the time they had (it was already after 3pm) and they didn’t even know if they’d have time for that. They’d let me know. With heaps of laundry folding ahead of us, I told them I’d be over ASAP and we’d decide from there.

I tried to stay calm and seek out the most positive outlook I could find. Maybe it would be fine and we would be on our way by 5, 6pm at the latest.

Right?

Yet, despite my intentional optimism, we both knew it was time to start making other plans. The truck my girlfriend had dropped off needed repair but was due to be done by close of business. I sheepishly asked if we could drive her truck home instead, a new potential plan that was not the plan at all.

You see, she had driven in with her husband a few days before to drop him off, leave the truck for him for when he returned 10 days later and she would come home with me.

If we took the truck and ours wasn’t ready for him when he returned he would be stranded.

Not exactly ideal.

Still, it was starting to look like our only option if we wanted to get home since we both had to work the next day (I had agreed in the midst of our vase excitement to cover someone’s shift, despite how much I was looking forward to getting home and finally resting for a day).

We finished up laundry and waved goodbye as we packed the fresh clothes into the next taxi.

Taxi #3

As we drove away I noticed the sign on the door: “No dogs allowed”.

Whoops!

We headed to the mechanic from where I called The Chief and put him on speaker phone so he could hear firsthand the bind we were in (and so I wouldn’t have to try to explain all the issues rattled off to me). He was at work, operating heavy machinery and had to strain to hear the details of our diesel’s ailments. It wasn’t looking good. Finally, we came to an agreement: they would let us store our truck there until they were able to look at it again in three weeks. Three weeks?! Then they would test the engine (at a cost of $400 big ones) to see if rebuilding the transmission was even worth it.

Oh joy!

I checked in with my girlfriend whom was patiently waiting outside amongst our laundry and the pooch. She had talked to her mechanic and he was certain he could get us on the road that night. The husband we would have to figure out later.

I went back in and confirmed the expensive game plan and went to empty out the truck. Before I could even get there, one of the mechanics started to drive it away, I ran up to him and he paused long enough for me to explain, at which point he asked if the truck was mine or mine and my husbands.

Smooth, very smooth.

Here I was, emptying my truck, unsure of when I would see her again and under what conditions and this guy was checking my marital status? The omen continued.

Finally, all gathered, I brought my belongings over to my girlfriend where we were waiting for yet another taxi.

Taxi #4.

And then…we started laughing. Looking at our current predicament, we couldn’t help it.

 

 

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Completely invoking India Arie…

 

 

We looked like (laundry) Bag Ladies with a cooler and a pup to boot. I was sitting on the Igloo eating the rest of my Thai food when the taxi showed up, just as the crew was leaving for the day.

“Are you guys moving in?”

We laughed harder.

In we went to the taxi, cooler and all to the next location: the other mechanic to pick up my girlfriend’s truck.

It was just about finished when my girlfriend realized that the other reason they were leaving the truck in town was so that it could get new tires. They were bad. Really bad. The mechanic decided he couldn’t let us leave without a spare and so he rifled one up for us.

 

 

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The Chief checking in. “How are you two?” Well honey, we are sitting in the middle of the road on top of laundry, scarcely avoiding cars, acquiring many strange looks and I feel like I am about to be sick. But Cinda is healthy so…all good.

 

 

Finally, an hour later, we were ready.

Time for grocery shopping.

It was already 6pm. Costco closed at 7pm and we still had Natural Pantry. The hustle was on. Screw Home Depot.

It was Go Time.

We flew through Natural Pantry where I grabbed all the cold remedies I could find. It was coming on strong. My eyes started turning red and the cold sweats began. This was not good.

We flew to Costco and realized that with 30 minutes to close the trip was pointless. In a last-minute Should We Take This Exit, Naw, Screw It movie-like moment we left town. We needed to get on the road and it was worth saving time to spend a little more money at Freddy’s.

And so, off we went.

By the time we made it to Freddy’s 45 minutes later the cold hadn’t just set in, it had moved in and I wasn’t so sure that it was a cold anymore.

It felt like last year’s tonsil attack.

Please, no.

We spent 30 minutes deciding what to do. It was 8pm and we had 7-8 hours of driving ahead of us. Best case scenario, we would get in at 3am and as we had pointed out to one another, we weren’t 20 years old anymore.

It was time to give in to The Day. We bowed our heads. We were beat.

We admitted defeat after an epic going back and forth game of ping-pong.

Should we try to push through?

Should we just stay in the town we were in and drive 7-8 hours tomorrow?

Should we try to go halfway?

Finally, I found a hotel two hours away that would take us and the pooch. It was a start on the drive at least and a move towards home that was feasible. We decided to go for it.

And then it was time for grocery shopping.

 

 

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This pretty much sums up our whole day. 

 

 

A fever had set in and suddenly the list I had kept so clear in my mind turned into a jumbled mess. I did my best to push through but the fog I was in was evident.

“You don’t look so good” my friend told me.

I didn’t feel so good.

An hour of delirious shopping later (did I need bread or bananas? I don’t know) and we were off. Thankfully, my girlfriend was up for the drive and after feeding trooper Lou a parking lot dinner (thank goodness I had packed extra food. Premonition?) and repacking the truck with our new booty, we were off.

Within an hour I started to realize just how in trouble I was. Despite the blasting heat my girlfriend was kind enough to endure on my behalf, my body started shaking so badly and my teeth chattering so hard from fever that I thought I was going to break a tooth.

Finally, we arrived at our mark for the night. The very sweet innkeeper gave me an extra comforter and I pulled it together enough to get into the shower. Tears rolled down my face as my achy body refused to warm until my skin was bright red from the scalding water 20 minutes later.

I fell into bed as my girlfriend suggested she try to make me an appointment for a doctor the next day.

Thank goodness for girlfriends.

I fell asleep immediately and then…

Awoke to the sudden need to vomit at 5am.

I am not a puker.

I crawled back into bed, my head pounding and my throat screaming until we had to leave at 8am to get to the appointment she had made for me at 9am.

Thank goodness for doctors and hooray for medicine!

They took one look at me and started ordering antibiotics. After a tonsil exam the doctor concluded that in fact it was strep throat I was under siege from, not tonsilitis, but he recommended that I have them taken out nonetheless as they looked like they had more battle wounds than a seasoned samurai, after which he told me that I was too old to have them out though, because it was going to hurt like the bajeezus.

Great.

Thanks, doc.

By the time I got out of there, one round of antibiotics and fifty cents poorer (thank you, Medicaid!) it was already 11am. I had slept in between the doctors comings and goings and hadn’t realized how late it was. My girlfriend still had to get to work.

Like a trooper, she drove the whole way home as I went in and out of sleep from pain and fever.

When we finally arrived she helped me unload my bounty and another hour later, after I had settled the house and cuddled the Lou, thanking her for her companionship and patience along the way, it was off to bed with me.

I settled in for two days of Rip Van Winkle like sleep for hours on end, only to wake and read for 30 minutes and then fall asleep again for another few hours.

After months of go-go-go my steam was gone-gone-gone.

 

 

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I felt like this emo Dryas Drummondi

 

 

And so, for the first time since the Summer began The Chief and I had (sickness imposed) time off together.

We spent two whole days inside listening to the rain, reading and napping. The weather cooperated with our efforts and remained cold and wet enough for two fires (and funky enough that sunshine guilt didn’t spoil our sleepy parade).

And so, despite a missing truck and a throat of fire and a propensity for sleep like I’d never had before, I felt more at peace than I’d felt in months, than I’d felt in seasons, than I’d felt since Winter.

It’s a Crazy Fun-Filled No Sleep Till Brooklyn kind of pace out here in the Summer and to have that moment of respite was a welcome relief, despite the no good, very bad, awful (but still giggle filled) days that we had to endure to get to it. At some points I felt like we’d never make it home…

But we did.

Home, sweet home. I wouldn’t trade you for a jacuzzi tub any day.

Stay healthy out there, and beware the omens for the days when all hell breaks loose or at least try to laugh yourself through them.

 

 

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Here’s hoping…and wishing.

 

 

La Mama: Part 1

One week was not enough.

It was plenty long to learn that next time we will need longer and to learn what to do differently next time. They never say “first time’s the charm!”, right?

For one, I’ll have to learn how to transition between Mom Is Coming and Mom Is Here (a.k.a CHILL-OUT). I was in such a hurry, such a manic mayhem whirlwind of preparations and planning that by the time she actually got here it took me days to pull myself out of my head and onto the ground where she stood right next to me.

It seems akin to the wedding warning: plan too much and you’ll plan yourself right out of enjoying your day.

 

It didn’t help that the week I was supposed to have off got confused with the week I was supposed to have on and my online work needed me to go “full-bore”. We found a good middle ground but the hustle-paced, blinders on to the finish line of a real Break and Mom-Time Goal was quickly re-directed to a working vacation.

So needless to say, my head wasn’t quite in the right place, or even any one place at all really.

 

 

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Driving into town…straight into the storm

 

 

My Mom, on the other hand, was in full-blown I’m In Alaska On Vacation Mode and I strove to live vicariously through her.

Mama pulled into town a little over a week ago with energy that even I rarely feel and at 40 years my senior, she moved through the evening with grace and enthusiasm despite the two days of straight travel.

She glided through endless introductions and laughed along with me at the insanity and mayhem we entered into.

 

 

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Can you identify this beauty? 

 

 

From the very beginning it was a push, and roll right along with it she did. From a day of travel, straight into an 8-hour drive (after 4 hours of grocery and odds and ends shopping) she kept pace. For someone with even a slight fear of heights, the drive from Anchorage starts quickly with endlessly gorgeous but still heart squeezing drops.

But still she did fine.

We went up and down and around and over, all through the mountains and cliffs and straightaways and still, she smiled. We went straight from 6 hours on the road with views that would normally make her knees go weak to the next challenge: the bridge.

It’s funny the things you forget, the things that on your first trip in took your breath away, gave you pause, made you question: “where in the hell am I going?” The things that now are just part of the drive.

Despite her fear of heights, I was hell-bent on getting her out on that bridge. I knew the feeling of pride it gave me when I chucked my first rock over (since I too suffer from the fear o’ heights affliction) and wanted the same for her.

We drove across the over 100-year-old bridge and she looked at me…

“We aren’t getting out, are we?”

I smiled and she knew she would at least have to get out of the car but she was certain she wouldn’t go farther.

But she did.

Step by step I got her out to the middle of the bridge where I chucked our rocks off, listening for their plunge all those many, many feet below.

 

 

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Just a wee drop…

 

 

Her first tradition.

The week was full of tradition and customs and how-to’s…mainly how-to’s.

 

 

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How to ride a 4-wheeler…in the rain…

 

 

It’s funny how life out here becomes second-hat and suddenly, explaining it to someone else reminds you of all that goes into simply leaving the house. What to bring? What to wear to keep warm? I don’t need my wallet but I do need a rain jacket? But it’s not raining…

Well, no, not yet.

Together we marveled at this place I’ve grown accustomed to and it renewed my awe for it, at least in the spaces I’d grown used to it. The little quirks of daily life found themselves unearthed by a new face in awe of it all.

And it helped me to reconnect with that initial awe.

I think that’s one of the best parts about a visitor out here: you see it all again through fresh eyes.

Of course, those eyes happened to fall upon the busiest weekend the town will see this Summer other than the 4th of July (hold onto your hats y’all, she’s coming) and the Packrafting Festival later this month. From Solstice on, every night was a rager and yes, we do live in Adult SummerCamp 2017 but we don’t always participate. Most nights we return to the solace of our little cabin in the woods to recharge for the next day.

But when your Mom comes in on Open Mic night and jumps right in?

You go for it.

Our first night there and my Mom was outpacing me – she was adorable and hanging damn tough if I do say so myself.

We retired around 2:00am and even though she thought she was reeling me in, well, she was wrong. I probably wouldn’t have even made it to Town, much less the bar after a trip in from Anchorage. Little miss early to bed had surprised even herself, and me.

She had warned me: “Julia, just remember that I go to bed around 8 or 9pm every night.”

Mmmmhmmmm.

Alaska: it’ll disrupt even the most well-worn paths.

The rest of the weekend followed suit with music every night and not the normal music we see here. It was rougher, rock-er, stuff you don’t see all the time. It was a Not To Miss weekend but it was mayhem. I was already tired on Thursday and here she was thinking she was slowing me down.

Nope.

By Sunday we had bowed out of late-night festivities and spent the day hiking. She saw what it meant to make plans and watch them change as our Late Start Plan got later and later and we found ourselves finally making it up the hill to our hiking location by 4pm and off for our hike by 5pm…just in time for the rain.

She took it all in stride.

 

 

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Glacier ice.

 

 

The next day was our last before we again braved the uproar of Anchorage and we decided to spend it at The Lake. Of course, I still had to work and of course it ended up taking longer than I had hoped but by mid-afternoon, we were doing it:

I was relaxing with my Mom.

And then Chore Reality set in.

We were leaving for Anchorage in the morning.

For the first time since she had been there, I actually let my Mom jump in and I put her to work (her request, I am not that much of a tyrannical daughter, thank you very much).

To Do:

  1. Find Cinda’s “City Clothes” (a.k.a. collar and leash)
  2. Divide the recycling into: tin cans, aluminum cans, bottles (without tops), plastic 1’s, plastic 2’s
  3. Collect trash and organize into bags
  4. Pack for Anchorage
  5. Haul water
  6. Take out slop bucket
  7. Take out compost
  8. Use anything up that The Chief wouldn’t eat that would go bad in the day and a half that I was gone (see: salad, not always but this time I had a funny feeling that mac n’ cheese was the only offering of Chef Bachelor)
  9. Book a hotel
  10. Clean out the truck and put Cinda’s bed into it
  11. Check fuel levels (since we weren’t able to pump from our diesel barrel due to a locked pump with no clue of a key

And so we started in. It was a long list but with so many of them short To Dos, we would be back to relaxing and then on to making a quick dinner to take to The Lake in no time.

Right?

Wrong.

A few hours later, grubby as all get out from sorting through recycling dating back to April amongst the mosquitos and other delights and we had 30 minutes before we needed to start making dinner so that we could leave for The Lake right when The Chief got home.

30 minutes where I could cross a few more things off the list. I was in Go-Mode, a mode that had apparently been locked into overdrive for the past two months.

My Mom looked at me and said: “Sit down. All day, all you’ve said you wanted to do was read. Read, daughter.”

And so I did.

And then I fell asleep.

About 10 minutes before The Chief got home I put dinner prep into full-speed and an hour or so later (behind schedule of course) we left for The Lake.

It was a beautiful evening filled with lakeside gardens and a sunset to make you stop in your tracks, filled with good friends and food and a Cinda vs. Mao the Cat interaction that still leaves me giggling.

Finally, it was midnight and a big day lay before us: Anchortown Trip.

We drove home, stopping for an amazing sunset and then I walked my Mom to her Girlshack 30 paces down the way and said “goodnight”. We made a plan to rendezvous at 9am and leave by 10am.

 

 

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Oh plans. So cute, aren’t we?

By 10am I had crossed almost all the pre-leaving projects off my list and I was doubled over almost retching from pain after jumping off the back of the truck straight down onto the tow hitch.

Covered head-to-toe in grease and gas and garbage yumminess from loading the truck, I finally got back to somewhat normal and faced the next task: tie-downs.

You know how everyone has their expertise and as a couple you develop habits as to who does what and when in order to maintain the forward momentum of the well-oiled machine that is your coupledom?

Me too.

And, in our well-oiled machine, The Chief does the driving when it comes to tie-downs. I always mean to step in to get better at them (because as a lefty watching a righty do them, I always end up somewhat backwards) but then something else screams for attention and in the mayhem or leaving for Town or leaving for Home, I always get stolen away or play helper.

But not this time. My Mom looked at me as if to say “It’s all you, kiddo”.

Shit.

It’s not that they are hard but they certainly are infuriating to pull apart and without patience, well, they just don’t work.

A few tries later and a few missed communications in my role as leader in the straps and we finally had secured the load. There was trash on there that I’d wanted out for the three Summers I’ve been here and now, it was all packed up and ready to go and fingers crossed it didn’t blow away.

The trip out was uneventful in the best of ways.

We made it back to The Bridge and my arms didn’t suffer nearly as tight of an anaconda grip from my Mama as the first time we crossed.

The mountains were high and so were our spirits, even with the ever-increasing complaints of the truck. She was shifting like a drunk, clanging into gear with a thud and then slowing back into it. It had my brow knitting a sweater but we were on our way to the doctor, both for the Lou and the truck. It would be fine.

By 9pm we arrived. 3 hours later than planned after a serious stop at the halfway mark to register the truck (whoops!) and make two trips to the auto parts store to borrow their tools to get the old license plate off (it was a sort of do-it-yourselfer type job with roofing screws because why not? I guess…)

We arrived and headed up to the room in the elevator that Cinda was pretty sure was possessed. She panted and circled me until we reached our floor and walked into…

The most amazing hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.

In the notes for special requests I mentioned that it was my Mom’s first time in Alaska and that if they had a room with a view that would be awesome.

And awesome was an understatement.

The view, maybe not but the view in the room was on point.

All I need to say was: there was a jacuzzi tub inside the room.

I think that explains it.

But, tuckered out after a day of checking the load vigilance and worrying after the truck and getting out to stretch Lou’s bones and stopping for gas and emptying garbage and this and that and the other…we were ready for bed.

Plus, my Mom had to wake up at 4am to see if she could get on an earlier flight since when she had called to check-in they told her she would likely miss her connection (why is that flight an option then, I ask?).

At 5:45am I awoke to her telling me “goodbye and see you soon.” and as I heard the door close behind me I realized that it was over.

The trip I had been planning for and building for and cleaning for and prepping for was over. I whispered “I love you Lou-Lou” over to Lou, probably more to comfort myself than her and then convinced myself to go back to bed. I had tossed and turned all night and had barely slept. The truck had an appointment at 8am so by my calculations I had a couple of hours to rest.

And rest I did.

And then I woke up to The Day When All Hell Broke Loose…

 

Next week.

 

Stay tuned.

 

 

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A Winter Wind Event

When I first pictured Winter in Alaska, it was during the heat of Summer and the question of whether I would stay for the Summer had shifted to whether or not I would stay for the Winter.

In Alaska (just to clarify).

I looked at my bearded boyfriend in these times and would laugh it off, hoping the questions would stop. I was terrified of Winter and despite wanting to stay, my California blood was telling me I wouldn’t make it. And I had, what I considered at the time, to be proof of my Winter inability. The Chief and I had taken a trip into the backcountry that Summer and by dusk I was already donning three layers on top, three layers on bottom, two pair of socks and sheepskin slippers.

And still I was cold.

It was the middle of Summer.

 

Winter, as I pictured it, was 20 times worse. I envisioned myself shivering in the cabin, eyelashes frozen and teeth chattering while dressed to the Winter nines a la “A Christmas Story”. I didn’t see how I could ever be warm in Winter if I was barely surviving the Summer. However, needless to say, the bearded boyfriend and I were bonded and as I’d already done a lifestyle 180 since meeting him I figured I should stop now. And so, we set off for Winter together.

It seems my notions of Winter forewent reality. In my imaginings (read: terrifying daydreams), I had altogether forgotten about our workhorse of a woodstove and thus the heated haven that our house would provide from the never-before-known-to-me-cold levels of Alaska in Winter. And so, it comes as little surprise that when asked where I live and how cold it can get here and I reply that 35 below zero is common, the first question usually asks how in the hell I ever get warm? I guess it’s not so uncommon to forget about the woodstove.

In these times I always assure people that we are cozy-toasty-wamer-than-Summer-warm in the Winter. In fact, most nights we heat ourselves out of our comfort zone and end up in our skivvies with the windows cracked to cool the house from the sweltering 90 degrees the woodstove has brought our interior temperature to. The other heat tidbit I throw out is our dry cold. “It’s a dry cold” I say. And it is. That’s why I was colder in the Summer and I’m often colder in California than I am here, even in Winter. And then, I provide the following fated little add-on: “Plus, there’s never wind.”

Ring, ring.

“Hello, Alaska speaking.”

“Did you hear that? She just guaranteed no wind here. Shall we remind her?”

“Yes. I think yes.”

 

I have never lived in a place where I can expect such succinct and exacting karma as I experience here. It’s as if Alaska has a secretary with a notepad leaving memos for each of her inhabitants listing their foibles as they go:

“I haven’t fallen down the ramp in weeks!”

“It’s been so warm lately.”

“The ski conditions are perfect.”

 

For each time I uttered the above sentences, my statements were almost immediately met by evidence to the contrary: my next quick trip down the stairs (with perhaps a bit too much confidence) ended in a swift trip onto my backside. The warm weather would immediately be met by a cold front resulting in a shift of 65 degrees so fast that it gave us the spins. The perfect ski the night before would be a distant memory to an eerily icy endeavor the morning after.

Yet despite this reality, that what I state is so often immediately contradicted by a following shift, I still find the nerve to make such statements because, well, honestly I forget. Or perhaps I think I can get away without the Secretary reporting it.

And so, while quieting fears of cold and mentioning our lack of wind to concerned questioners, Alaska’s secretary must have taken note and filed that one away for later.

And then, later came.

One morning, I awoke to a text from my girlfriend: “I hope you all didn’t get blown away! Hang in there.”

Huh?

I looked outside.

Nothing too ominous.

I asked The Chief if he had felt anything.

Nothing strange.

And so, I went about my morning ski with my dog team of two (at the time we were watching our neighbor’s dog who is Cinda’s brother. We adore him).

Before we had even dropped down onto The River Trail I saw what all the fuss was about.

 

 

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Those aren’t clouds up there…

 

 

From our standpoint I could see the swirling winds on the peaks of the mountains surrounding us and as we dipped down onto the river trail the winds hit.

Boom!

Like a slap in the face, the winds picked up all around us. And just as fast, they died down. Then started again. It was abrupt and jarring and cold to say the least. The dogs gave me the same look I gave them: this isn’t pleasant but I think we should investigate.

And so we did.

The obvious place to go in the middle of a Winter Wind Storm? Well, the least covered place possible!

And so, we headed towards the vehicle bridge and the middle of The River.

 

 

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Blustery mountaintops. Pooh Bear beware.

 

On the ski there we were fighting the wind the whole way. The dogs had their heads down and we all buttoned up for the battle forward. Each stride took forever and I leaned into the gusts as if going uphill. Within minutes my face was utterly frozen and my ears were ringing from cold. The ski which would normally take me 30 minutes had already taken 45 and we weren’t even there yet. The dogs and I had a powwow at the last straight shot before the turn for the bridge and we all decided to trudge on to the destination (What? You don’t have these conversations?). As we continued on the winds picked up again and soon we were dodging huge chunks of snow that were being blown out of the trees down towards us.

We were under siege.

Finally, a few close calls later and we had made it to our destination.

 

 

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Don’t lean back, little lady.

 

I immediately wondered why in the world we had chosen this end.

The winds, which had picked up before, seemed to have rallied all of their wind buddies and they descended upon us in a frenzied attack. As if the other side of The River had the shelter we craved, the dogs ran ahead of me and out of sight. I followed suit but in the middle of my crossing, the winds (which had barely died down) again picked up to their raging selves. The fixtures on the bridge blew rapidly in the storm and made an eery sound. I looked down to see snow rushing about me and as I followed its trajectory downriver I suddenly felt enveloped in a sensation: The River was flowing.

And I was in the middle of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Without turning around, I skied backwards to the slight shelter of the drop down to The River and no sooner had I arrived than a gust of wind came from nowhere and knocked me face flat down in the snow. My already chapped face got an extra burn as the snow beard I now donned set the chill in.

Again I looked at The River. I knew it wasn’t actually open but as I watched the snowflakes move in perfect harmony like a school of fish the sensation came over me again.

The River looked like it was moving.

That coupled with the eery sounds paired with the whipping winds and the sudden lack of my two dog team (dogs out here give you an unjustified sense of safety) made my stomach turn. I hollered for them to come back but they wouldn’t budge. The safe haven of the other side had proven fruitless but they weren’t about to cross the completely unsheltered River again if they didn’t have to. And so, despite my tumbling tummy and the vertigo The River incited in me, I crossed.

The winds again tried to knock me down but I skied leaning upriver at a 45 degree angle and was able to combat them. Being knocked over by wind into the snow? No biggie. Being knocked over onto ice? Ouch.

I met the dogs on the other side and they were hell-bent on heading into Town but I was able to sway them otherwise. We took the bridge this time and were nearly knocked off of it by a swift gust. Heads down, now crouched below the metal rungs we made it across.

Like horses to stable, we were quick on our feet, rushing to the quiet and calm of home. The less windy side of The River on the trip over had become equally as windy as the opposite side and we seemed to constantly be dodging huge chunks of compacted snow with each step (or in my case glide). The dogs kept checking back with me to see if I was still making it through the gauntlet. My face was chapped and burning so I pulled my hair around it to create a mask. We skied the remaining miles in a canter, the dogs running ahead and me following as quickly behind as I could.

 

 

 

 

The snow-covered trees of our side of The River which had been completely unfettered by the windstorm my friend had experienced the night before, were now stark naked from the battering bursts of wind. We raced to their cover as we turned off of the River Trail and into the haven of the Forest Path.

No sooner had we gotten home did the winds follow suit. They whipped through our trees, flinging snow clods about and rustling birds out of their perches. The forest was abuzz with the redecorating Mother Nature had in store for us. The dog team of two and I scaled the icy ramp and burst through the door and into…

a warm and cozy cabin for two (well, four with the pooches). The woodstove was roaring and quickly chipped away the chill the previous two hours had set into my bones. The woodstove: the Winter protector.

It quickly occurred to me that I had been caught in a guarantee:

We never have wind.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I found myself caught in my own trap. It’s as if I had called The Secretary myself to make my proclamation: no wind here. Not ever, not never.

Whoops!

If last Summer had been any indicator of the potential for Wind, I should have known better. Yet, alas, I did not.

I guess the only guarantee out here is that there is no guarantee. Since that day, the Winter has been, well, windy. Not every day, not every minute but I can no longer venture to guarantee that “it’s not so cold because there is never wind”. It’s just not true and it never was. I can guarantee the benefits of a good woodstove and the strange quality of cooking in one’s underwear while the temperature inside is 100 degrees different from the outside. 70 above inside. 30 below outside. It’s as bizarre as it is delightful and makes me grateful for shelter and heat with every stir of the spoon.

Despite the inhospitable outdoors, the indoors was a welcoming haven. Perhaps too welcoming. By the evening we were far from our chilly morning, but one of us got a little too warm…

 

 

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Diesel and his bum burn. Remember: don’t get too close to the woodstove.

 

 

And so we took a walk again to cool off and air out the singed fur smelling cabin we all were now choking on. The winds had died down but the snow was still swirling about, finding where it would settle next and creating a pastel sunset.

 

 

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You never know what you’re going to get but a guarantee will certainly come back to surprise you.

Cheers to you Alaska for always having the upper hand and a surprise in store. Perhaps one day I’ll remember that nothing is for certain. Until then, I’ll try to stay on my toes, leaning uphill.