backcountry

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Do the Hustle

(The moment this title, “Do the Hustle”, came to me, I’ve been singing the tune of the classic “Do the Hustle”. Wanna sing along? Do it, do the Hustle).

Here, the Hustle (Alaskan name: The Shuffle Hustle) is a dance even those with two left feet know well. In our cabin, from the moment we return home to the next time we leave to resupply, the floor of this cabin looks like a jumble of Arthur Murray dance diagrams. You see, the dance is always changing.

The First Dance: The Big Haul

Shopping.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Heaven…unless I’m in a hurry.

 

Returning from Town is a trip of endless possibilities and outcomes but in most cases, especially in the Winter, no matter how early our start, we tend to return in the dark and the cold. Headlamps light our way as our sleepy though psyched selves haul in everything that can’t freeze. And what might that be? More than I realized. Everything from bottles of wine to bags of produce and even some sauces (I’ve even had vinegar explode). What can freeze? More than I originally realized as well: bananas, peel on and all, kale (though be prepared for tiny kale pieces and spread about your freezer in a sort of healthy confetti), cheese, tortillas, guacamole even.

If you’re smart, which occasionally we are, your totes (in which you haul your Town booty) is organized by freezables and non-freezables. Yet often, your Town bounty overfloweth and cannot be contained by totes alone. You return home and despite your best Tetris efforts, the back of your truck might look like this:

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska

Let the panic ensue.

 

You open the back door slowly to reveal a crumbling mountain of goodness which, despite your caution, often tumbles out towards you, out of the truck and into the snow.

As you know by now, a Town trip is basically a continual reconfiguration of things, a process of stacking and re-stacking, packing and re-packing. Messes made, messes cleaned, messes eventually just lived with for another hour or two. But now, that you’re home the process can stop, right?

Wrong.

The packing and re-packing of Home though at least comes with a theme song: Do the Hustle.

Finally, endless trips up and down the Ramp of Doom and you have finished. The anticipated (read: idealized, unrealistic) 8-hour trip turned 12-hour (duh) trip due to extra stops and groceries and packing and re-packing and finally unpacking at home is now complete.

 

 

*Year one’s haul on the left (Kitchen: two-burner camp stove, chest freezer, desk, no oven, no room). The evolution on the right (stove, refrigerator, lots and lots of fresh veggies, still not a lot of room but better utilized).

 

The Hustle, however, has just begun. Your first dance steps are tracked upon the floor where countless others will follow.

The Second Dance: The Shuffle Hustle

You’ve brought the first wave in, the non-freezables and you’ve secured them in their respective safety zones…for now.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Organization DIY

After. Shelves, water buckets, and fridge all full.

 

You see, everything has its place here until it doesn’t.

Since we don’t have a pantry or a fridge large enough to store all of our goods, our house becomes our perma-pantry and perma-refrigerator where the Shuffle Hustle begins (cue the music please). Different corners of the house serve different purposes at different temperatures so the cold corner from one night where the low was 10 degrees Fahrenheit turns to the frozen corner the next night when the temp drops to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, that if the cold corner had delicates (lettuce especially), it’s time to get those precious dainties on the move. Do the Shuffle Hustle to find a new home…for now.

Our goodies storage, in order to make up for a small pantry and even smaller fridge,  consists of the hodge-podge following:

 

 

4 totes on the floor stuffed underneath a counter’s shelf

1 mini fridge/freezer combo

1 wall pantry measuring about 2 cans deep, 3 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall (shower hardware at the ready)

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Pantry Organization

Oh, the meals into which you’ll go!

 

3 large totes, 5 mini organizers in the loft upstairs (aka our bedroom)

Multiple cold to potentially frozen corners of the house

1-2 (weather permitting, meaning, it stays below freezing) totes outside.

 

Do the Hustle.

The initial landing places of most things will inevitably change as the goodies get eaten and the rest of the truck gets unloaded. From one day to the next, the fridge can go from chock full to half empty and then right back to filled to the brim again. As one thing moves or proves hearty enough to shift, another, perhaps more delicate flower takes its place.

But this doesn’t just happen with produce. The beans and canned good and frozen fun, they too get in on the dancing.

Let me set the scene of a typical evening:

The dinner of choice: Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Peas and Carrot Ribbons

The Dance: Shuffle Hustle (Techno Remix)

As the water comes to a boil, The Chief might ask me: “Babe, do you know where the pasta is?” I might say “Totes!” and point him towards the milk crate in which we store “grab-ables”, AKA, the high touch items like pasta, tuna, canned tomatoes, chocolate (when we have it) and snacks. Needless to say, this is my favorite spot of the house. But alas, The Chief replies the dreaded response: “Nope”.

The dance begins, the music gets louder. Up I head into our Loft where I try to remember the clues I left myself as to where everything was last year. I know both totes are freezable (or at least hope I know that otherwise, I’m likely about to discover a mess). I know one tote is mainly freezable (fingers crossed) condiments and canned goods while the other tote is filled with grain-type goodies: pastas and noodles of all varieties and some coffee to top it off. Which one? Does it really matter? Just open them both, right? Well, the thing is, it’s not just the opening of a tote, it’s the dance, the constant moving of one thing to gain access to another. In this case, it’s the moving of one large tote or five smaller totes off the food totes held captive beneath them. I close the hatch to prevent a spill. I choose the one with the one large (and I’d forgotten, very heavy) tote atop it.

Wrong.

I proceed to move the heavy tote back and unearth the other. With everything finally up and off of the tote, the true tote of my desire is now exposed. Pasta! I grab a couple of bags in order to stave off having to do this particular Shuffle for a while and make a mental note of the contents of both totes to speed my next foray into the “pantry” as I put everything back in order.

Downstairs I head. This dance is almost over, there’s dinner to be had. Until…

We need the shrimp and the peas. Out The Chief goes to dive headfirst into the frosty haven that is our new freezer. Despite our best efforts to catalog just what lies beneath, still, disorder sneaks her swift paws into our frozen bliss. Finally, he finds the shrimpy pals and heads in. Onions and garlic going, I move to toss in the shrimp and ask for the peas for the shrimp’s cooking company.

“Shoot!”

Out again The Chief heads, this time to the frozen totes near the house (which only the week before had to be completely emptied, goodies stored elsewhere, due to a three-day stretch of warm, sorry “warm” weather. 33 degrees Fahrenheit I don’t think should be so nonchalantly labeled as warm. But here, it is as it’s simply too warm to keep a frozen handle on things). The peas smile up at The Chief as he collects them and delivers them to his bride to be. Yet, just as soon as he starts to take off his boots, I toss them back his way, realizing that due to our recent lemon juice ice cube making marathon (due to lemons who wanted to go bad within a week of purchase. What gives?!) our inside mini-freezer can’t spare the room. Again out he goes to put them back into their frozen holdings.

The Chief finally un-boots and prepares a movie for us as I put the finishing touches on dinner. Carrot ribbons spun, it’s finally time. The pasta is twirled into bowls, the shrimp and peas plop atop and the pesto…

The pesto.

I go to the cold northern corner of the house, a wonderfully consistent corner for cold-hearty condiments and champagne alike.

The pesto is not with its chilly friends. The champagne looks up at me with a shrug.

The pesto, we realize, we forgot to replace (by bringing a new one in from the freezer) when we finished it the last time we made our pesto shrimp feast and now, we are about two hours too late.

This time, figuring this evening had tortured The Chief enough,  I head out to the freezer to do the deep dive to find the pesto and find it I do, but not until I’ve dove to the depths. Oh joy! Chickens and vegetables and frozen fruit get tucked back in again and I bring my pesto prize proudly into the house ten minutes later to the presence of now cooling pasta. Back everything goes, into the pot as I fight to scoop the frozen pesto onto the awaiting pesto pasta dinner.  A little warmer and much more of a pesto pasta than before, the meal goes back into the bowls, preparing for their crowning glory: carrot ribbons. They prance atop the highly anticipated twenty step dinner and as I head into the living room/dining room, I reflect on what seems ages ago when I ventured into the loft to start this pesto pasta process.

Dinner, my friends, is served.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Living Alaska Champagne for Everyone

I felt approximately this happy. Champagne for everyone!

 

The final dance of the night is the cleanup step. Thankfully, there’s room in the cold corner next to the champagne for her newest pesto friend and room in the tote under the open cabinets to keep the leftovers. Yet, tonight it is cold, in the near -30 Fahrenheit range and so, in order to prevent the pasta from freezing (the texture of brown rice pasta once frozen is lacking, to say the least) I take one of my puffy jackets and wrap it up like the present it is. A present into which a lot of work and a whole lot of Shuffle Hustle dance steps went.

The music dies down.

And just like that, just as you get comfortable with your jacket wrapped leftovers and your pesto placed just right. Just when everything has its place and your tiny world is contained enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it all, a friend calls…and asks if you need anything from Town.

Let the tumbling crumbling mountain of goodies dance begin again.

The things we do for love (of food).

Do the Hustle.

 

With love,

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Backcountry Alaska

 

Here Comes the Sun

Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20 but having astigmatism, I can’t say I truly know what that looks like. I can say, however, that I get the gist; knowing what is now would help us to navigate what was then.

This past week at the Restaurant a group of 30-somethings came in from the backcountry (I had never known what this term meant prior to living in Alaska so if you’re scratching your head right now, fear not, you are not alone. To go into the backcountry essentially means to go into the wilderness. Silly me, I thought we already were there. Out here it often means hopping on a bush plane and hoping for solid weather to enable your pilot to land. If you’re getting picked up a few days, etc. later, you then hope for good weather as well so that you can make it home. Otherwise you walk or you wait. Hope aside, you always pack extra food, just in case the plane can’t make it in to retrieve you due to bad weather). They were tired and hungry and ready for a pint to wash down the backcountry.

Sounds good to me.

IDs please?

I had just clocked in for my 2-10pm shift.

Alaska is beyond strict with drinking laws and being out in the woods is no different. I carded the group and only 2 out of the 6 had their IDs on them.

“We are all in our 30s, it’s fine” they reassured me.

I know. I believe you. I still can’t serve you. I’m sorry.

Being in this position isn’t always fun but people typically shrug it off as “rules are rules” and deal with it.

Instead, the two who had their IDs ordered beers which I poured for them. They then promptly ignored the beer and waited for the rest of their group whom had headed to the foot bridge 0.7 miles away to retrieve their IDs. They sat at the bar and stared at me. I mentioned again that it wasn’t anything personal but that the laws were strict in Alaska.

“We know. We are locals.”

Well, how nice to meet fellow countrymen. And you’re Alaskans, not locals. Otherwise I would know you and your age and we’d all be merry and gay. But I don’t know you and I can’t take the risk. Even in the woods there have been sting operations and it’s just not worth it to me. I’d rather be stared down from across the bar then paying off a fine for the next ten years.

Once the others arrived and the beer started flowing to all they warmed up a bit and I did as well though I was still a bit cautious due to their earlier grump towards me. I’m just at work, trying to enjoy my time, trying to do a good job. The service industry can be tough, so patrons, don’t make it tougher, please.

A little while into their meal (after one had almost fallen while standing up to get a second beer – his legs had turned to Jello while he sat at the table after hiking and paddling for a week in the backcountry and he didn’t realize it until he stood. Recognizing “Backcountry Legs” I hurried the beer over to him so he didn’t have to move) one of the ladies of the group came up for a second beer. I asked her about the trip and she recalled some highlights for me when suddenly, something in her shifted. She stopped talking about their trip and asked me:

“Do you get out much?”

“No, actually. I haven’t been out once this whole season. We’ve been really busy here.”

And that’s true. The restaurant has been busy, I’ve been working for friends doing website work and overall, the entire Summer has mainly boiled down to working. I started realizing this about a month ago when tables at the restaurant would ask me about my favorite spots but they ended up knowing more about the different places to go than I did.

My priorities, since I got here last year have been to work and save for the Winter. It was the Alaskan M.O. I heard uttered most often and I adopted it blindly. This year I’ve had a handful of real days off, the others I’ve spent doing pick-up web work. My true days off are often spent recovering from a busy week, trying to tidy up the house and making meals to bring with me in the coming week at work. Adventure has been lacking.

None of this was on purpose. My plan was to change my lifelong workhorse habit and work only 4 days per week between the food truck and the restaurant and then work from home 1 day per week. Then, the rest would be for play. For summitting mountains and packrafting rivers and even taking backcountry trips. But that’s not how it worked out. And so, I’ve done a little exploring and packrafting but rarely have I felt that I’m living up to the potential of being here and seeing and doing what there is to see and do.

And so, that interaction with that woman at the bar was both a reality check for me and I think for her. I can only assume her pause was in her realizing that she was on vacation and I was working. She was on vacation in the place I call home and she probably saw more of it in a week than I have seen all Summer. Maybe as grumpy as they were at me for not giving them what they wanted when they wanted it, I was also just as grumpy at them for getting to be here so untethered by responsibility. Maybe I was jealous. My reality check was that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I remarked to a friend whom is also my boss at the restaurant later that day after the backcountry-ers had left, happy and satiated, that I was tired of living through tourist experiences. I wanted to only be happy for people (and I almost always feel happy for people’s experiences, unless they are unkind for no reason) because I too was being fulfilled. I wanted to get out. She was on board. She’s the type that says she’s going to do something and then, you know, actually does it.

And so, a few days later I awoke to the following text:

“Get up bizatch. We should bike to town today.”

Direct. I like it.

The plan quickly morphed as kids were added to the picture and we decided on a hike. It was 11am and I had to work at 2pm. Thankfully, she decided that the restaurant was slow enough that we didn’t need overlapping shifts and I could come in late.

We were going up a mountain.

As we drove to the mountain town the kids started getting excited. They were noticing the changing colors of the leaves and the way the ice had melted on the glacier.

“I want to hike to those trees!” said one about a grouping off fall colored beauties way up on the mountainside.

That would be awesome.

We set out just to keep moving. Hiking with kiddos, as you may know, can be tough, a constant redirection of attention and encouragement to keep going even when it starts to get tough.

And it pretty much was tough right off the bat.

Uphill was the only way and we started hoofing it. Pretty soon we were all huffing and puffing. My girlfriend had her youngest on her back and while I wanted to try it I was nervous it would be too hard. But after going straight up for a mile plus and taking a break I asked if I could carry him.

 

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Oh man. Hiking uphill is hard. Hiking uphill with a baby? A bit harder. The good thing is the distraction and the cuddliness of it all. He would play with my hair and coo at butterflies or mushrooms we spotted. He’s pretty adorable. And, he’s obsessed with food, so, needless to say, we get along just fine.

At a second break spot we stopped for snacks when suddenly one of the kids looked up.

“Look! We are actually getting close to that patch of trees!”

 

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He was right, they were no longer just blurry images. We were getting closer.

Maybe we can make it to them. Do you kids think you can keep going?

Emphatic “yes’s” rained upon us.

Alright.

And so, after two hours of straight uphill, we decided to keep going. We were making it to those trees.

We kept hiking and took the turn off towards the old Angle Station where the ore would switch directions back in the copper mining days. All we had to do was cross the creek and we could hike up to the Station and the surrounding trees.

Did I mention its been raining for the past month? This was the first bluebird day in a month and I was so happy we were taking advantage of it and getting out. But, rain for a month will do funny things to a landscape. And so as we headed toward the creek we would have to cross to get up to the trees and we heard gushing water we figured it might be a little bigger than usual.

Wrong.

It was a lot bigger. In the Summer the Creek is often no more than a trickle (I’m told, remember, I didn’t get out much). We approached a raging body of water.

 

 

 

 

With a baby on my back, three kids by our sides, three adults and two old dogs (Cinda flew up that mountain faster than any of us. That old lady’s still got it but she looked at the crossing and promptly decided it was a bust (see above)) the math for crossing was not adding up.

My girlfriend decided to try to cross while the boys emphatically started trying to throw together a “quick bridge” out of sticks. Ingenuity at its best.

 

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As she started to cross it became clear that this was a bad idea. By the end of the crossing the raging water was at the top of her thighs and ready to push her in. As she made the crossing back I was fully prepared to explain that I was not attempting that (even though she made it fine herself) with all of these factors.

I didn’t have to.

“That thing is crazy!”

Even if we didn’t have the kids and the dogs, I would have been wary. I would have done it but I would have been scared.

 

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You’re lucky I like you Baby, because you aren’t light.

 

And so, what was there to do but to turn back?

A bit disappointed but still proud to see how far they had gotten, the kids made their retreat after deciding that in fact they probably couldn’t build us a bridge in time.

On the way down we remarked on how fast we had gotten up and how close we had come to the trees and, of course, how hungry we were.

 

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We finished our descent, taking a different path over another bulging creek (this one already had a bridge in place) and through historic sites.

 

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The old Mill Building.

 

Then we made our way back to The Restaurant for some sustenance.

I was so hungry I couldn’t even explain what I wanted and so I ended up just grabbing the food I had brought from home. Once I had eaten, I felt human again, not just some ravenous beast and I understood (though still hope I wouldn’t do the same) why some people come in so distracted and panicked with hunger that they can’t quite behave. Now, it was time to clock in and serve others whom had adventured that day as well and provide them with food to recover with.

Finally, I was a part of the adventurers. I was both. I had gotten outside and enjoyed the sun and I had worked.

The hindsight this Summer has given me is a perspective shift. I tried to start the Summer working less. It didn’t work out and so I succumbed to working. I would walk to work in order to get exercise, sometimes waking up at 5:45am in order to walk the 3.5 miles to work on time. I have to exercise in some capacity daily to feel good. But what I didn’t realize was that, in living here, my standards have changed. I don’t just want to walk to work, I want to go on a hike. I want to go and see the things people travel from all corners of the Earth to see here. I live here but I haven’t seen all there is to see. It will probably take years and still, it is always changing so what you’ve seen once, will be different some time later.

This Summer has been chalk-full of lessons of what it means to really live here and how to navigate being a local in a tourist town. Some days I’ve dealt with it gracefully and others I’ve had two left feet. But the lesson I keep learning again and again is adaptation. Things change constantly around here and as a creature of habit, that’s been hard for me. The thing is, when working 4 days a week went to 6 or 7 I could have built adventure into my days but honestly, I didn’t realize how badly I needed it.

Good ‘ol hindsight and her 20/20.

And so, I’ve pledged to myself to make the most of the next month before we head to California to see this place in the capacity that I can. Maybe I won’t get into the backcountry, maybe I will but I can build adventure into the pockets of time that I have. The leaves are changing and the fireweed is going to seed. Everything around me reminds me to use my time wisely.

 

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Fireweed fluff means Winter is coming.

 

Maybe next year I will actually work that 5 day work week instead of 6 or 7 and I’ll have to learn how to maximize that, but if not, I’ll take what I’ve learned this year and do my best with what I have.

Cheers to good friends who make us do what we say we will, to second day soreness that reminds us of adventures and to nature who can lift me out of envy in a single afternoon.

Thank you Alaska.

 

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The view of the mountains we climbed (directly in the middle with the shadow over it) as seen from our spot down by the River.