life

DOGTOWN, U.S.A Part II: Full Circle

I felt Death knocking.

I felt Death knocking and I bolted the door against her advances. I covered the cracks in the door frame, piled the furniture high and steadied myself against her pounding.

And all the while holding vigilant against her overtures, I scolded myself for my loss of optimism. I deemed myself cynical and paranoid and told myself to ignore my gut.

I felt Death knocking.

I hoped I was wrong.

And then she came in.

She pushed away our barricades as if they were nothing and in one fell swoop confirmed my worst fears in a swell of sadness that swept me away.

 

I lost my best friend.

 

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On Wednesday after the worst week of all three of our lives, we made the hardest decision we have yet to make together:

We bid farewell to our Cinda.

Together we held her as she took her last breaths and together we wrapped her body in a blanket. Together we secured her onto the backboard her Dad had made for her. Together we said our goodbyes to those whom had kindly housed us in Town in our worst time.

Together the three of us went home.

It felt like a cruel joke.

The last time we had gone to Town, I had brought Cinda with me because I was concerned about her health. She and my Mom and I had piled into the truck that too was having issues. The ride there was quiet as a feeling of panic spread over me. I was paranoid about her health. Our town had already lost two dogs this Summer, I couldn’t handle her being next. And so I said a prayer over and over in my mind:

“If something has to fail, make it be the truck. Anything but my girl.”

And my prayers were answered.

Two days later Cinda and I had made it home with the help of a girlfriend and her trusty steed. Our truck hadn’t made it back but Lou? She was fine. The picture of health. It had been superstition after all. I had been paranoid and I had been wrong. I shook off the feeling of Death. We were together and she was healthy.

And that was all that mattered.

 

 

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Cinda Bones scaling the glacial walls like it’s nothing. 

 

 

There would be more trucks.

 

And then there was a new truck and The Chief went into Town to get it.

A few hours later Lou and I followed, catching a ride with a friend when I realized that her condition was worsening.

The whole way I again prayed to anyone and anything that would listen. I told myself Death was just taunting us, knocking louder now but that she could be quelled like the last time. She would stop. Cinda was at the top of her game. Svelte and happy and healthy. The Vet had told me so only weeks before.

Still I prayed over and over along the drive and in the week that followed. I offered up my own health, our home, money. Anything. Everything. “Please, take what you want. Anything but my baby. Please let her make it through.”

 

 

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One week later, The Chief and I drove home together hand in hand in a new truck with our baby’s body in the bed.

We returned home to an oppressive feeling of emptiness and to the most painful full circle experience I’ve ever had.

When we walked in the door we were greeted by a dinner left for us by our neighbors and to a beautiful note of condolence. Those were the same kindnesses and love we had bestowed upon them only a few months before when they had to make the transition of walking through their doorway for the first time without their baby.

Full circle.

Life is cruel and beautiful all in one.

In the morning we awoke for the first time in our house without our baby.

 

You never realize the quiet until it comes.

It’s deafening.

 

We spent the day digging her grave. The spot where she and her Dad had slept together in a tent the first Summer they had lived on the property was where we laid her to rest. As we walked the property earlier that morning to find where she would rest, the spot had called us in and put its arms around us the way only the Earth can.

We dug until we were up to our shoulders in an earthen grave, until we had to help one another out, until we were sure she would be safe from the wilds of the woods.

All the while, her Brother watched over us. He had come over from next door and had greeted us with his head down and without so much as the twitch of his tail. He was solemn and stoic as he let us bury our faces in his fur. We sobbed into him. He slept beside the ever-growing hole that would be her grave and as I dug my heart was broken again and again as I would look up and catch a glimpse of his tail and think that it was hers.

But it wasn’t.

And then as we left to prepare her body, her Brother left too.

We cleaned her and dried her and cried into her fur and then wrapped her again in one of her Dad’s blankets from their early days. Slowly we lowered her into the grave and said our final goodbyes. In the hours that followed we filled her grave with dirt and covered the top in moss and rocks and flowers.

Our baby.

 

 

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Our first Christmas.

 

 

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Our last family ski

 

 

Cinda was our first baby.

And she was my very best friend.

She was the reason I made it through my first Winter when The Chief worked all the dark day long and I was left in an unfamiliar place all alone. In the cold and the vast darkness she was my light and I was no longer alone. I talked to her more than anyone else. She waited patiently as I learned to ski and made me feel safe in the big white world I had found myself in.

 

 

 

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Keeping me company while I organized totes.

 

She showed me around and taught me to navigate the place I called home. At every turn she would wait for me to make sure I wouldn’t miss it.

 

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This way, Mommy.

 

 

She was my best friend and I lost her.

I lost her and still, she is everywhere.

I hear her though she’s not there. I smell the way her paws smelled in fleeting moments and it taunts me. I find her fur at every turn. I see her footprints in the soft landings of the river’s shore.

I still look for her in her bed under the house every time I walk up the stairs and I wait for her to peek up at me over the table in our living room. My heart breaks in expectant surprise when I turn around in the kitchen and she isn’t there to sample what I’m making. I feel as if I’m just waiting to turn the corner and see her again, as though I’ve simply lost her and not that she’s lost her life.

 

 

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Sneaky, peaky T.

 

 

She visits us in our dreams and in the memories of our Friend Family who have been there every step of the way to kneel at her grave and cry, to wrap us in their arms, to feed us and to tell stories that make us able to laugh again.

It’s a constant up and down whirlybird of a rollercoaster on a ride I never wanted to go on that I never paid admittance for. It feels as if we are here by accident, by a terrible joke.

But we aren’t.

This is our new life. Just us and the quiet.

 

Despite the despair and the pain that feel infinite it was worth it. I wouldn’t take back getting to love her in order to avoid this but I would do anything for more time together.

I love you, Cinda, dog of unflinching personality and infinite nicknames and lessons and love. There will never be another like you. Thank you for letting me be your Mom, for as one of your Grandmas said with a laugh: you didn’t have to let me be your Mom but you did.

Thank you. We will see you on the other side.

We miss you. So much.

 

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The Pack Test

“So, I’m talking to a real firefighter?”

Well, sort of.

Two weeks ago I became a real Wildland Emergency Firefighter.

Well, sort of.

You see, the positive things about living off the grid, out of a city without a municipal handshake of sorts are plentiful. You can build how you build, live how you live and matters are most often handled within the community.

The negative things about living off the grid don’t necessarily have to be negatives at all but they do have to be dealt with.

For example: We live in rural Alaska. Prior to moving here, I didn’t realize how great of a threat fire is to this land (though it seems a bit obvious now) and how different fighting fire in Alaska is to fighting fire down South. And so the questions arise: In this massive area that we call home, full of ready and willing fuels, how shall we deal with fire?

Because we will be the first boots on the ground.

Without a local fire department just naturally occurring as easily as a local library or hospital seemed to (which I know is untrue, a lot of work goes into that infrastructure but it does often go unseen) when I lived on the grid it comes down to organizing together to create a first line of knowledge and defense.

This is how I became part of the Volunteer Fire Department.

Not in 100 years (because really, a million? I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t think of it in that long) would I have thought I would be a firefighter. Though I grew up running with some of the local Volunteer Firefighters and hanging out in the firehouse and learning a few tricks of the trade, for the most part, my understanding of firefighting boiled down to the level of dalmatians and fire poles (neither of which we have here. Dang!).

But when I moved here accidentally and fell in love with the Fire Chief of the town, I inadvertently became a part of the VFD (Volunteer Fire Department). I helped to organize fundraisers and sold swag at events, I spread the word about fire meetings every Wednesday and helped The Chief wherever else I could.

But attend a meeting?

No, gracias.

The thing was, when I arrived, the meetings sounded more like a boys club than a training session. And that’s not necessarily because that’s what in fact they were. I conjured up an idea before laying foot on the VFD soil and decided in that conjuring that I was plenty happy to support from the sidelines. Yay Chief!

However, last Spring The Chief suggested I join the team.

“Of all the people in The Valley, you’re the most likely to be in the truck with me when I have to respond to a fire. It would make sense if you knew how to help.”

 

 

 

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Well, me and Cinda would be the most likely riders in the truck. Time for training, Jones!

 

 

Dang, very true and fair enough.

And so I joined my first meeting and spent the Summer learning about hose lays and how to draft water to fill the tanks and how to get water onto a fire. But it all felt very far away and somewhat unreal.

Until two events happened:

The first (read about it here) was when a controlled burn was started right down the road from us, yet was left unattended and we awoke to worried phone calls that were in fact very valid. A few hours later we had the fire out and all was well but the very real potential of our valley going up in smoke because of a small fire turning big hit home that day.

The second (read about it here) was when a burn started about 17 miles away and seemed to grow and grow over night from consistent winds. Just as the fire truly started to get people shaking in their XtraTuffs, the Department of Forestry sent in water planes and then as if the planes had simultaneously been putting out fire and doing a rain dance, the rains came and they didn’t stop for a month. However, had they not come and the winds not stopped blowing, the fire jumping the river to our little hamlet was a very real possibility.

Both of these events made me glad I had learned what I had learned per The Chief’s suggestion but that was as far as that would go.

Right?

Apparently not.

This year there was a new infusion of suggestion. Why not get your Red Card?

Me?

A Red Card?

A Red Card is an actual red card, hence its nickname which is actually called an Incident Qualification Card. It signifies that its holder is has been trained and tested both physically and mentally and has passed said tests to qualify as a Wildland Firefighter.

Me?

The Chief, again coming in with the air of reason, suggested I consider it because of our unique situation. Since the VFD is in fact a VFD with huge emphasis on the V (Volunteer) it can be difficult to incentivize people to acquire the certifications needed to keep the VFD earning funds. Our community has to be able to earn a living and counting on Fire as employment is a gamble.

It goes like this:

The fire truck is hired by the DOF (Department of Forestry) to run patrols.

The truck makes money on these patrols and thus, this is how the VFD makes money.

Other than fundraisers, this is the VFD’s only income.

AND…

The VFD truck is only hired up if there is High fire danger.

AND…

The truck can only be driven by someone with the correct qualifications .

AND…

The Chief is the only person in The Valley as of now who has the qualifications and is available.

AND…

It can only be driven if he has a Red Card-ed person in the truck with him.

AND…

No one in The Valley with a Red Card would be available this Summer leaving the truck unable to make money, the VFD unable to make money and The Chief unable to patrol.

Quite the pickle, eh?

Thankfully (although not for the funds of the VFD which are used to procure firefighting necessities like trucks and hoses and pumps and gear) it has been a mild weathered year with rains throughout most of June and July.

 

 

 

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The upside of a rainy Summer? Double rainbows, of course. Oh, Alaska, you are a beauty.

 

 

 

Yet after only one day of sun, the roads dry out and the threat of fire starts to return.

So, it was suggested that current members of the VFD, if willing and able, get our Red Cards.

Willing?

Yes.

Able?

…Gulp.

 

The classroom portion gave me pause because of the time commitment (40 hours of schooling plus testing to pass) but I knew that if I could find a way to carve out time for play then I certainly could find a way to carve out 40 nooks and crannies of hours for the good of the community.

No, the classes gave me pause for time but what scared me was the physical testing.

Though not at first.

In fact, I hadn’t even worried about it until two nights before while working at The Restaurant.

“So, you’re taking the Pack Test tomorrow?”

“Yep!”

“What’s the Pack Test set-up again?” (the physical test)

“Oh I think 3 miles in 45 minutes with a 45lb. pack.”

“Oh!”

“Oh?”

And then I started putting it into perspective. I had walked to work earlier that day and I had left a few minutes later than planned so I had been hustling. Lou was with me and was, as usual, leading the pack but I was at a close clip behind her. The only things slowing me down were the terrain (bumpy, rocky, driius filled) and my super-heavy backpack.

It weighed maybe 20 pounds.

And it took me over an hour to get there.

 

 

 

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Stopping to take pictures of cloud formations like this beauty may have slowed me down a bit, but not by much.

 

 

Uh oh. This was not adding up. 2+2 was not equaling 4.

The walk the next day was shorter but only by half a mile and the pack was over two times as heavy and the walk to work that day had been my first exercise since strep throat had taken me down the week before.

…Gulp.

So, the night before the test I stayed home (strapped to my couch by copious amounts of online work to do that kept me in) despite a wedding party and a band playing that night, made a good meal and went to bed…a little worried.

The next morning I woke up early, ready to get my head in the game. The Pack Test would be first at 9am followed by a Field Day of learning and testing our skills. The Chief left an hour before me to meet up with our friend W who was leading the Field Day and to set up the course we would test on. I met The Chief there an hour later with little butterflies fluttering about in my tummy.

I realized it had been years since I’d put my body through any sort of testing, a revelation that seems strange to me as someone who’s been a personal trainer. But time flies. It’s funny the stories we tell ourselves like “I often run races.” which was once true but not true anymore. And so I tried to channel those days. I even put on my old personal training/10k run watch to be able to check my time against the mile markers.

As soon as we had all filled out our paperwork, it was time to fit our vests. I weighed myself, put on the vest and weighed myself again. Somehow, over night I had forgotten the whole 45 pound aspect and had rounded it up to 50.

Mine is spot on!

Whoops.

The Chief tried to help fit the vest to my body but they were all made for someone much bigger and it wiggled as I walked, back and forth, back and forth like a porcupine’s gait.

We all lined up. We’d have 22 minutes and 30 seconds to make it to the half-way mark (if we were going to cut it that close) but my goal was to make it there with time to spare.

The walk was on flat-ish ground void of vegetation but marred by potholes and rocks and heavy (for us) morning traffic which we tried to avoid as much as possible while keeping as straight a line as we could.

Every second counted.

Cinda and two other VFD pooches (still no dalmatians) lead the charge. As we started the slow incline to the historic town and started making sense of the distance, we all realized that the half-way mark would be at the end of a steep (but short) uphill. The course was supposed to be flat.

Thanks, honey.

Nevertheless, we powered on.

In, 2, 3, 4 Out 2, 3, 4…

I fell into a rhythm of breath I could rely on and talked to my legs.

You can do this.

At the high-five half-way point we started our decline. We were at 21 minutes and 30 seconds. Just one minute ahead of half-time. If we wanted to make it we could not slow down at all.

Keep the pace.

In, 2, 3, 4 Out 2, 3, 4…

And then, at a certain point, I lost it that rhythm. I looked down at my legs with encouragement but also in bewilderment: can’t you go any faster? I felt like a cartoon version of myself with little flippers for legs. I was pushing but they just didn’t want to go any faster and the test declares that running is an automatic fail. The point is to see if you can haul yourself at a quick extended clip out of harm’s way.

I looked ahead of me wishing for long legs. Most of the time I enjoy being pint-sized but sometimes, it really slows me down.

The time was ticking away.

30 minutes.

35 minutes.

40 minutes.

41 minutes.

At 41 minutes I could clearly see our end goal. The Chief and our instructor were standing, ready and waiting to congratulate us.

I again looked down at my flippers which now felt as if they were flipping through mud.

Come on guys! We can do this. We are so close.

You know how when you’re waiting for it to be an appropriate hour to eat ice cream and the minutes just seem to melt by in glue-like fashion? It takes forever. Well, this was the opposite. The seconds were flashing, every time I looked at my watch, one I had looked at for years to encourage myself, to push myself and countless others to go just that much farther out of our comfort zones, it seemed to be betraying me, speeding up time.

42 minutes.

43 minutes.

2 minutes left.

I put my head down and leaned into the weight vest with the last bits of push that I had to make my leggies go faster and…

We made it.

43 minutes and 20 seconds.

A record?

I think not.

A pass?

Why yes, yes I think so!

The Chief and W congratulated all of us as everyone came in under the 45 minute cut-off and The Chief quickly removed the now very wet from sweating vest from my back. I felt like I could fly without it.

Before I realized it, my heart rate was back to normal and I felt great. For an “Arduous” test it hadn’t been all that bad.

Right?

The rest of the day was for the Field Day. We learned everything from how to deploy a Fire Shelter (which is far less sturdy than it sounds, think more like a big baked potato wrapped in foil versus a building) to how to effectively use a Pulaski to deter the spread of fire under and above ground. We worked on different hose lay formations and safety procedures and about those who had perished because they had missed even just one of those checklists or procedures. As the day went along, it felt less like learning about something and more about becoming part of it. This elusive idea of becoming a Wildland Firefighter was becoming more real as each hour went by. We were about to get our Red Cards (pending my completion of online work still). We helped one another remember our training and worked together to divvy out tasks and melded into a team in a way prior training hadn’t forced us to. Even though the day and the test weren’t as long or as grueling as say Boot Camp, that same sense of belonging and camaraderie that comes from completing something together as a team came through.

By the end of the day, The Chief was beaming. He finally would have help if and when he needed it. The VFD would make money and he wouldn’t be the sole person responsible to make that happen. I could see a weight lifted off of his shoulders and I felt happy to be a small part of that.

That night we went home to recoup and I felt it…

The soreness.

It started creeping in like the cold comes through the cracks in the door at 30 below.

I wasn’t even going to be sore though, remember?

Wrong.

 

 

 

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I felt like this dandelion. I’m pretty sure I looked like it too.

 

 

 

It should definitely be labeled “Arduous”.

3 days later I was still compromised while walking upstairs. Perhaps the walk hadn’t winded me but carrying a pack only 15 pounds shy of half of my weight (thanks to the extra 5 pounds I had forgotten about) had certainly put my muscles to the test and still…

I had passed.

I could rest easy. It was over (minus some remaining coursework) and a renewed sense of possibility lay before me, one that I never had considered in my life: I could now go out on a fire.

Hearing about The Chief’s days on the fireline had always seemed so far removed. Walking for miles and miles with a 50 pound pack of gear and a 40 pound jug of water, sleeping in the open and eating meals out of a pouch? Taxing your body so that he would come back two belt loops slimmer and 5 pounds heavier? It sounded super-human and in truth it still does. But now, I was qualified to offer myself up to that type of work.

And so, when my girlfriend called and asked “So I’m talking to a firefighter?”

I responded in truth: Well, sort of.

There’s a part of me that’s always lurked beneath the non-competitive exterior that is competitive beyond all belief with myself. Could I do it? Could I hack it?

I guess we will have to see.

Until then, I’ll work on the knowledge, work on the practical and maybe take a few more hikes with that 5 pound heavier than it should be 50 pound pack.

And then, well, who knows?

And maybe by next year that extra 5 pounds will only feel like an extra 2.

Here’s hoping (and huffing and puffing to the finish line again).

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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My Mama is Coming to Town

This here Summer will be my 3rd in our little hamlet in Alaska. As my 3rd time around the never-setting sun I’m realizing the obvious: no Summer is the same. Every year, the faces change just as fast as the scenery. You expect to see the familiarity of last year, and just like that…it’s started anew. The glacier changes, the wormholes collapse or are created, the trees leaf out and a whole new slew of faces come into your world, a world that in turn becomes theirs as well.

 

 

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This must be the place.

 

 

And this year, a new face will be joining them: my Mama’s.

From the time I flew the coop out into the big unknown at 17, I’ve lived all over the place. Yet, in every place, my Mom had either moved me in or immediately come to visit. New apartment in Berkeley? She’d help me give the place a good scrub a dub dub. Living in Italy? Well, she’ll just have to come by for Thanksgiving.

There’s never been a time in my life where my Mom hasn’t seen where I live for longer than a month.

And now it’s verging on a 3rd year.

But fret not because…

My Mama’s coming to Town.

 

 

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As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this place isn’t just some sort of pop on in location. No, the journey North requires some preparation and logistics and in the heat and hectic mess of Summer planning this hasn’t been my a strong suit and so, we sat down this Winter to plan away. And now, my Mama doesn’t have to live my life through pictures and stories. She can experience it on her own.

My Mama arrives in less than 3 weeks. Since I’ve never had a visitor out here, I didn’t know what goes along with the anticipation of a guest’s arrival but now I feel it. Every walk I take, or adventure I have, I am thinking of her.

Will she be comfortable?

Will this incline be O.K?

Will these flowers still be blooming?

Will she see a bear?

Will she think an outdoor shower is awesome or atrocious?

Will the Weather Gods smile upon us?

Will she love this place like I do?

 

 

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All of these questions swim around me constantly as I wonder what I’ve forgotten to wonder about and worry that there’s a detail I’ve left out. But the last question wrestles with my mind the most. It’s a question I’d never asked myself before.

Before it didn’t matter if she liked where I lived because I only stayed for a year or two in the far away places and the closer by places were automatically approved due to distance alone. But this place? Well it’s not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away now is it and it’s clearly not a life that everyone leads.

And so in all honesty, I was nervous that she might not like it.

This place is not for everyone and I’m fine with that (except for when it comes to my Mom). It’s why the local businesses over-hire and why we aren’t surprised when we hear of someone leaving in the night without even a note to explain why. We know why. It’s a hard life but the hard is what makes it good (“A League of their Own” reference, anyone?). Well, it’s what makes it good to me at least.

But the hard is also what makes it messy. The hard is what causes a pile of Freely Acquired Just In Case tires to sit on our property, out of use for years until the day comes when someone needs them for a garden project. The hard is what makes it so that our house doesn’t have siding but does keep us cozy and warm. The hard is what makes each challenge more challenging and thus, each success that much more rewarding.

But it isn’t always pretty.

As a tidy-upper, not quite clean-freak but definitely clean and orderly appreciating lady, the disarray of life in the woods can be overwhelming at times. I can’t tell you how many times The Chief and I have walked outside to do some tidying up and have both let out simultaneous sighs at the plethora of projects to be done.

And when I was just visiting, before living here, I didn’t totally get why all of those projects weren’t already done.

Now, I do.

But still sometimes, my tidying tendencies get the best of me. I want to just tie everything up in a pretty bow and you know where I get that from?

My Mama.

And now she’s coming to visit. To see the sometimes un-tidy life we live in the woods. The life that’s not for everyone. The life that some take one look at and run in the other direction. The life that I almost didn’t live because I too was tempted to run at first.

 

 

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It’s a big place, constantly changing, constantly surprising

 

 

Perhaps her experience will be that of love at first sight. Perhaps just the opposite. Either way, it’s her experience to have and no degree of my wanting her to love it here can effect that.

And that scared the hell out of me.

At first.

And so I called her and told her my worries. I want my Mom to love where I live, not simply because of a tendency to seek for her approval but also because I want her to want to come visit me. I want her to want to visit this place and me. It makes the very long journey fly by if the end location is somewhere you actually love to be. And to all these fears she, in her perfect Mama rationale stated this:

“I’ll love it because you are there.”

If that’s not the most quintessential Mommy-Mom-Sentence I’ve ever heard then I don’t know what is. And you know what? It worked perfectly (I’m a sucker for Mommy-Mom-Sentences).

And so, since then (and especially since she bought her ticket) I’ve stopped the worry. Sure, I’m doing a faster shuffle these days trying to tidy, trying to make sure things are in order and that the hard life is as easy as it can be but I also know that she’ll love it purely because of the fact that we will be together. And so will I. Yes, there will be bug bites and slop buckets and outhouse and all the other discomforts that go along with a non-modern life but they will pale in comparison to the awesomeness that is my Mom being in our home.

Finally, I’ll be able to truly share my life with her, instead of bits and snippets and stories and my interpretations. She’ll have her own take on it all, she’ll know my friends, my work, my walks I take every time I call her and she’ll see our life as it is here, instead of our patched together life in California where we move every week and live out of suitcases.

It’s been a bizarre thing to have her not know who or where I am talking about and I can’t wait to bridge the gap.

She’ll finally know our life.

She’ll finally know and I can’t wait.

 

 

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That’s my Mama!

Dogtown, U.S.A

Two weeks ago our town lost a dear friend. She was spirited and kind and quirky and one hell of a runner and…

she was a dog.

 

 

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Io in the background at the beach in California

 

 

Her passing made me realize that for a year and a half I’ve written about so many reasons why I love where we live but that I’ve neglected to explain one of the biggest reasons: our dogs.

When I first thought of Alaska, I thought of glaciers and grizzlies, not dogs but I arrived to a very different reality. At the first party I went to here I was sitting on the grass and before I knew it, there was a dog on my lap, a dog on each side and endless others coming up for kisses. And those were just a small contingency of the partygoers. For the 100 some odd people there, there were probably half that amount in dogs (and if everyone at the party had lived locally, the number of dogs would have probably matched humans).

I had landed in doggie heaven.

Which to me, pretty much meant people heaven too. I couldn’t believe my luck to be surrounded by pups.

We live in a dog town, a place where people greet each dog with the same love and admiration that they give their humans (sometimes even more). Dogs out here aren’t just protection or entertainment, they are family. We trust them more than I’ve ever seen dogs trusted before. They run off leash (we didn’t even have a leash for Cinda until we first went to California) and if they leave for some reason, I trust them to come back. If I’m lost, I trust them to guide me home and if they don’t like someone, I trust their intuition (and have seen the proof in their judgements come through).

Dogs are the special ingredient, the umami of taste. Their essence is what makes this place the unusual concoction that it is. They make it our home.

Each and every one of them.

And I forget how very rare this is until I leave this place and see how free our pups here are.

Some days I’ll walk with Cinda to Town and when the time comes to turn off for my work she’ll take a different route, looking back as if to say “See you later, Ma. I’m going to the bar.” And off she’ll go for a few hours, doing her rounds, seeing her friends, checking in on her Town. She’ll hit the local grocery store where they have treats waiting, she’ll see if the local bar owner will let her in to the restaurant…

 

 

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C’mon. Let us in.

 

 

…she’ll go up to work and check on Dad and then at some point, she’ll come back down to me where she plops herself right in front of the doorway of The Restaurant acting as a sort of bouncer.

Every dog has their own routine and habits and scratch spots and we all know them because they are every bit a part of the community as we are.

 

 

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And they always get the best seat.

 

Talking on the phone the other day to a girlfriend I mentioned that we were watching a neighbor’s dog for a couple weeks.

“A couple of weeks? Geez! That’s crazy!”

And I get that it sounds that way but it never feels like we are put out because here there’s a constant symbiosis of care. If you see a thirsty pup, you water her. If you’re going on a walk and a dog dad or mom aren’t home, you bring their dog with you so they get out enough. It takes a village.

My favorite dog time is when I spend the day at home and inevitably all of the neighborhood dogs come by at some point in the day to get some love and maybe a treat or to just keep tabs on the place. They make their rounds, dropping in for a few minutes or a few hours.  And if a few days go by without seeing each of them, it feels as if something is amiss.

And then something was.

Because our town lost one of our dear dogs. She was a German Shorthaired Pointer by the name of Io. She and her parents are our family, our next door neighbors. In my few years here, her Mom and Cinda and I spent countless hours on walks together. Those walks are how we built our friendship, walking a path worn between our two properties, created by years of footsteps and paw prints back and forth, to greet one another and head deeper into the woods.

One of my fondest memories of Io was on such a walk. It was Spring, last year and though the chill of Winter had faded and the rivers had broken from a warm sun, the water was as cold as ever, just above freezing. Io was running circles around us, lapping us over and over, as per usual, but at an even faster rate. She had spotted something she liked and had taken off after it barking, running at full speed, tearing through the woods. She raced past us again as we all neared the river’s edge and before we knew it she was belly down, plopped into the freezing cold waters of the river. She looked at us smiling, cooling herself from her output and we laughed and marveled at what an amazing animal she was. Afterwards I wondered allowed what she had been after and her Mom said: “A squirrel. That was her squirrel bark”.

 

 

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Outnumbered again.

 

 

That’s how well they knew one another, just by the tone of her bark her parents could know. And Io knew them in return.

Before her Mom would have even gotten her garden tools out, Io would be digging away in the garden. If she went upstairs to get into workout clothes for a run, Io knew it before she’d even gotten up the ladder. Oh, and the ladder: Io could climb the ladder to the loft where she would sleep as the little spoon with her Mom and Dad every night.

They knew one another inside and out, backwards and forwards.

She’s family.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never written about the dogs here, because they are so inextricably of us and in our souls that in every piece I wrote, there they were. Already.

I still feel her here. We still take our walks, the walks that built our friendship and I feel her still running circles around us. I picture her raging through the brush or peeking out from beneath a blanket on the couch. She is everywhere. But still, she is deeply missed.

There is a saying around here: “When I die, please let me come back as a dog in this town” and I have to say that if the dogs had a vote, I bet they would all wish for that too.

Here’s to our dogs, to the ones we’ve loved and the ones we’ve lost. Here’s to embarking upon the journey of having a dog, knowing full and well that it will end in pain, yet going whole-heartedly into it nonetheless because it is so worth it.

And here’s to you, sweet Io. We love you.

 

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A New Start(s)

Aside from one unyielding patch of ice (which funny enough is home to our Swimming Hole…brr), Spring has sprung.

And it’s sprung right into Summer.

Break-up seems like an event with no end, it feels like the ground won’t be able to lap up the rest of the standing water and just when it seems like it might, it rains. But puddles aside, all other signs are pointing right past Spring and into Summer.

I saw my first flower a week ago, a delicate little white beauty with a purple underneath called an Anenome.

Three days ago I found again the patch of wild orchids I happened upon last year with their first blooms.

The Dryas from last year is out and uncovered and being adorable as always, making shadows with their Einstein-esque hair.

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And my seeds have turned into seedlings. There’s not much better than seeing baby plants grow up.

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Tis the season for new growth and so, this past week, we planted the garden. We turned the dirt and amended the soil and placed hopeful seeds into the ground and once we’ve hardened off the starts they too will go in.

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The drudgery of Break-Up (and in all honesty, it was pretty mild compared to last year) has been replaced by the optimism of Spring and it feels really good. Despite the joy of seeing friends from my first Summer last year, my clinging to Winter made it hard to enjoy. This year, I feel able to dive in and its as if one big family has come home.

And so, I’m taking a note from all the new life I’ve seen and trying to emulate its rejuvenation and with Summer staring me in the face with her crazy long days and lack of sleep and constant go-go-go I’m at least feeling a little more prepared. That’s all we can hope for, right?

Progress and new starts.

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Happy Summer.

Opposites Keep Attracting as Bluebell Rides Again

As Winter waves her final goodbyes and the last bits of snow melt away, the Fall Tuck-In has slowly become accessible again. Last Fall, the Tuck-In took days and days and hours on end of work. We packed away clothing we wouldn’t need until Summer, we stacked lumber in order to protect it from the onslaught of approaching elements and we tidied away the bits and pieces, saying goodbye until the snow melted away and freed them again.

In that tidying, Bluebell (my scootercycle) too was packed away. She was placed under the gigantic tarp we tucked over the huge pile of lumber we had stacked and the barrels we had moved into a fueling station to avoid “Bad Gas” ((a frustrating situation (and giggle inducing) sure to create problems which arises when water gets into the fuel barrels. To avoid Bad Gas we took the necessary precautions and covered the barrels with the tarp…and took some Tums)) so she would be protected for the Winter. We loaded down the tarp with logs, hoping it would hold the snow load and everything would come out unscathed.

Over those Fall Tuck-In days, with a common goal in mind (button down the house and prepare for our return), we watched one another prioritize. For me, tidying up was on my brain so that when we came home with a mess of supplies the house would already be in order and all of our Winter necessities would be ready for us. For The Chief, fixing things and finishing projects so that we wouldn’t come home to extra work was the most important. Our goals were the same, but the projects differed.

Opposites attract.

Months later, we came home to Winter and forgot all about what we had or hadn’t tidied or fixed or what still needed attention.

We arrived to a snow laden land, free of obstructions or eyesores. Everything looked the same in a blanket of white leaving us free to forget the many random parts which we see daily in our non-frozen life, like the Frankenstein-esque snow machines hoping for the parts to make them live again or the spare tires and piles of wood.

In the Winter, the beauty of the snow covers all messes.

But it’s not Winter anymore.

The snow has gone and the puddles have almost dried and the last bits of ice in the cold corners of the property are melted enough to be chipped away. The slow, tedious process of watching the forgotten bits come back in to view during the melt is over. Everything is unearthed. The things we forgot to move can now be simply picked up instead of chipped out (and often broken in the process) and the bits of bear poop trash frozen in (from a late Fall after we left hungry bear burglar) can now be thrown away instead of looked at through the ice like some stinky fossil. These little bits would stare at me every day, like a framed To-Do List you can’t act upon, until finally the day came that I could start checking off boxes. And it has come.

The earth is uncovering herself and we are following in her tracks, tidying up what we missed (or what creatures left behind) and starting again on projects just like in the Fall but now, in reverse. Now, we are putting away Winter gear and pulling out our Summer digs. The snow machines have been laid to Summer rest atop pallets and the ground is ready to be turned awake for planting instead of tucked in for sleep.

We were in the middle of such a tidying/projects day when we pulled up the tarp to uncover the gas barrels and saw an old friend: Bluebell. In our previous days of tidying/projects she had beckoned from under the tarp but the ground had still been too frozen. Now, the season was ready for her, but would she be ready for it? There are no guarantees. Sitting in the cold for months on end is asking a lot of anything, especially a machine we just got running.

Bluebell.

 

 

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Bluebell on her first day with us. Will there ever be a cuter picture? Me thinks not.

 

In case you missed her origin story little Bell came to us in a full circle story a little over a year ago.  The Chief had given her away to a mechanically inclined friend who was able to bring her back to life. He then sold her to his brother. His brother was about to bring her to Town to sell her when he ran into The Chief who immediately purchased the cycle (for the second time) and drove up to my work to present it to me. Full circle fantasy come to life.

And so we uncovered her, feeling hopeful. The little miss had cozied in for the Winter. She’s no Snow Bunny (I’d tumble twice as much if I rode around on her skinny tires), she’s my Summer Honey and bringing her out made me smile.

Until we tried to start her.

Sitting for so long can be hard on the little blue beast but despite the uh-oh in my eyes, The Chief, familiar with rough starts and not expecting instant gratification like me, had faith. We started the process of elimination:

Fuel tank on? Check.

Dial set to Run? Check.

3.5 cranks of the foot start? Check.

Key turned on? Check.

All the checks were marked but still, time after time she wouldn’t budge. Not even a purr.

We checked the gas and oil. Low. Low. Fill, fill. Try again.

And again.

And again.

Still no luck.

Not even the whimper of a start.

The Chief gave a few more tries and handed her to me.

I did the four-point inspection and…

Nothing.

I was about to suggest we give her a moments rest and head back to our massive clean-up project we had become distracted from with her when a little voice told me to try again.

“One more!”

And just like that, she fired up.

“Take her for a spin, baby!”

I let out a squeal and headed down our muddy drive, aiming for high, dry ground to avoid tipping over or slipping within the first minutes of our joy ride. The neighbor’s dog joined in with me and I hooted and hollered as he barked. We circled back and The Chief asked how she felt and thus, without meaning to, I unraveled the litany of fixes to fix.

“She’s great! The brakes still aren’t working but that’s O.K.”

Last year I had driven her from June to September and every ride had gotten a little hairier than the next. By the end of the Summer, stopping was more of a suggestion than a real occurrence. I’d make sure I was wearing sturdy shoes every time we went out and I’d put my feet down well before a stop but when an unsuspecting roadblock jumped in our way it was skid city. Thankfully, yelling “I don’t have any brakes!” communicated promptly enough to people the urgency with which they needed to move but still, I didn’t feel great about being such a bull in a china shop. Yet, in the hustle and bustle of Summer, we accepted the non-brakes as they were and hoped they could be fixed at a slower time of year.

Enter: Spring.

 

 

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Half clouds, half sun with a chance of snow but only in the mountains. Dirt roads for days.

 

 

“The brakes are still loose, huh?” The Chief replied. I thought he had all but written them off but before I knew it, there he was, wiggling wires and jiggling handles and soon, I was off on another test ride.

“How was that?”

“Great!”

The brake worked. The brakes didn’t. Personally, I was satisfied with the one but The Chief sniffed me out.

“What?”

“It’s great, the front brake doesn’t work but that’s fine.”

This is my tendency. Once something goes from bad to better and I am ready to throw in the towel. It’s good enough. Plus, we had other projects at hand.

“Let me see what I can do.”

This is his tendency. Why leave it just at O.K. when Better or Best could be options?

Opposites attract.

He fiddled some more while I held the bike and craned my neck to see where this fix was taking place and soon, it was time for another test drive.

“I got them as tight as I could, I think they might be as good as they’re going to get.”

Compared to last year, I was already at a 100% improvement, I was stoked but seeing how happy even more improvement was making The Chief made me smile.

I came back from yet another test drive with good news: we were done, she was 150%  better already than last year. I was stoked. And ready to move back to our project.

“Hey babe, how are the mirrors?” The Chief asked as I dismounted.

“The mirrors?”

“Yea, do they need an adjustment?”

This was getting too adorable. I swear next up he was going to apply tassles for me too (to which I would gladly say “heck yes!”)

“The mirrors have never worked. One just spins in circles as I drive and the other is stuck. No biggie.”

Not for long.

His interest was again piqued by a challenge.

And then…out came the blowtorch.

He wrenched the spinner into place and then, with a grin asked if I was O.K. with him bending the other, since it wouldn’t budge. Again, with one mirror now in place I was already operating at 100% improvement. This was a whole new bike, I was already set, but seeing how happy it made him to go past just the Good level, I gave the O.K. Plus, who can deny that guy a little pyro time?

He put the heat on until the metal way ready to give and slowly, a new angle was formed and with that, a new point of view: a rear view.

 

 

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I took it for another test drive to the end of the driveway and then decided to let her rip down the open road.

As I approached the 90 degree turn that met up with another driveway I saw a fuzzy character heading my way. A bear? It is Spring and the big boys n’ girls are out and every night this past week, bears have been in my dreams. Was this to be my first sighting? Me and Bluebell flying towards a brown bear?

No, it was in fact my first (and by first I mean umpteenth) reminder that I need to wear my glasses. I squinted and slowed (thanks to my new brakes) long enough to realize that in fact I wasn’t tra-la-la-ing into the jaws of a grizzly but instead towards two barking dogs running at me.

Dogs out here are family. We know them by their bark alone, much less by their faces, so seeing two dogs I don’t know charging towards me at full speed gave me a little lurch in my stomach. In a (perhaps not the best) split second decision, I decided to give the pooches a run for their money (instead of loop the long way home through rocky territory) and test out not only Bluebell’s acceleration but also, put the new mirrors to work. I floored it into a 180 and headed back to the house. The dogs were still in hot pursuit which I could tell because…

The mirrors worked perfectly!

Last year I would always keep an ear out for approaching vehicles etc. and I would grab the mirror from time to time to give a check but since I spent most of my time trying to avoid big rocks while balancing, I didn’t often have time to check back.

I could see the dogs perfectly and as Bluebell sped off,  I could see that although I didn’t know them, they weren’t going to eat me if they caught up. Either way, Bluebell didn’t give them a chance. That’s my girl.

I rode in and told The Chief how great the mirrors were, how I had put them to the test and how grateful I was to him for all the fixes he had fixed.

 

 

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I think she looks good with a new angle.

 

 

We were set, Bluebell and I. We could drive again, I could stop again and I could see behind me. It was almost too much. I was ready, set and raring to go.

Or so I thought.

As I went to put her up on her stand, The Chief started to take off her homemade seat protector which I had fashioned out of a trash bag. Classy, I know but it did the job.

“Hold up, buttercup. It’s about to rain” I said to him as I looked at the ominous skies.

“One more thing.”

He went into the shed and pulled out a roll of visqueen, something I knew only as a band I used to listen to in college. He had another idea for the vapor barrier left over from building our house:

A seat cover. A seat cover which would stay put and not send me slip sliding over each bump we hit and would keep out the moisture.

I went back to our oppressive organizing project and came back an hour later to find a brand new bike. New fluids, new brakes, new mirrors and a new seat. She was better than when I had gotten her (minus the front light mishap of last Summer) and all because of a little persistence.

 

 

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Bedazzled Bluebell, Queen of the Visqueen

 

 

Just then, the sky turned even darker and the threat of rain grew nearer. We hurriedly put away the day’s projects, covering Bluebell with a much smaller tarp and putting away the boxes we’d been going through from under the house.

It’s funny to find which projects speak to us and how we attack them. For me, seeing all of the Spring melt into muck made me want to find a home for everything (and pull together a dump run for the things that no longer worked). But that can’t happen in a day (as we found out). What could happen was completing the Bluebell project and he did. Either way, together we made sure that underneath the house was tidied and almost completed (a project I’ve wanted to conquer for two years now) and now Bluebell isn’t just working, she’s fully functional.

Watching The Chief’s persistence that day impressed me. I would have stopped after she made her first trip and then put off making the other fixes until who knows when. It made me want to change my old ways of accepting just O.K. and to instead strive for Best. Opposites do attract but I think it’s because we have something to learn from those areas of opposites, if we are open to it. Sure, we may never budge on our ideas of the best meal for a first night in Town (Me: Sushi, The Chief: Pizza) but when it comes to bigger opposites, we both have found room to grow, room to improve, room to be better and for that I am very grateful.

We finished the day with a high-five and a trip to Town for a few more chores and a meal we could easily agree on at The Bar: chicken wings, a burger and a beer.

The ground is thawed, Bluebell is out, projects abound and The Bar is open.

I think it’s official: Summer is here.

 

 

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Blue skies smiling at me while riding on the back of the 4-wheeler.

An Alaskan Transaction (The Most Alaskan Thing I’ve Ever Seen…So Far)

“Sis, all you need is something simple. A dependable old truck. Say, a Ford F-250, diesel, low mileage, late 90’s. Something like that.”

My brother said this to me as we sat on the couch in the living room of his cozy seaside home. He made it all seem so easy. You know, will it/wish it/do a dance for it and it will come. Well, we had been doing just that for a newer truck, or so we thought and nothing had come our way. We had our perfect truck in our heads: diesel, manual, low mileage, minor to zero mechanical issues and we willed it, wished it and danced for it daily via constant searches and credit applications and still…

Nothing.

Apparently the diesel + manual combo equaled something out of a fairy tale – think pink unicorns that smell like bubble gum and pass gas in the form of sparkles. Amazing. It just wasn’t happening.

After two months of looking, we were both starting to feel the time crunch. Summer was breathing down our backs, the time where the pulse of town feels like a constant rave compared to the calm of Winter and the idea of finding time to leave and buy a vehicle is laughable (but having the capability to leave in case of necessity via the possession of a vehicle is highly valuable). And so, we started to resign to the reality that this purchase might have to wait for the Fall. It’s a strange thing being out here without an exit. Sure, we always can get out, but this ability relies either on the kindness of friends and the borrowing of vehicles of hitching a ride (and despite the magic way this place makes these opportunities happen, it would be nice to be able to offer instead of always receive) or on our pocketbooks (to fly out is no cheap option). The feeling of freedom this place brings is always slightly hampered by the reality that we are without our own way to leave. We aren’t totally free.

And so all of this was circling my brain as we talked and then…my Brother said his magical words.

The next morning, I awoke at my his house, we readied my Nephew for school and we were off. My Nephew and I were picking out what music to listen to on the way to school (Lego Batman? Guns n’ Roses? Beastie Boys? This kid cracks me up) when a text came through from one of our friends in Alaska: “Check out this truck I found on a local Facebook group. I think it’s a good buy.”

I had asked for help in our search from a few savvy friends both in California and Alaska and suddenly it had paid off.

Or had it?

I clicked on the link and there it was in front of me:

A late 90’s Ford F-250 diesel truck with low miles.

It was exactly like my Brother had said.

I contacted The Chief. He was in. He contacted the seller. We hadn’t heard back but already I was contacting a friend who just happened to be in the area where the truck was for sale (4-5 hours from all of our homes) to see if he could test drive it for us.

The next day he went to check it out and as I made my way to the airport with my Mom, The Chief phoned to tell me the good news.

Oh, did I not mention that all of this was done with a 3,000 mile distance between us? I had been in California, St. Louis and Portland visiting family, friends and a new baby, all the while trying to purchase a truck either in California 3,000 miles from The Chief that he would have to sign off on sight unseen or he was going to purchase one 8 hours from him in Town, 3,000 miles away from me that I would have to sign off on sight unseen. It was mayhem.

Or so we thought. Now we were both going to buy a truck, sight unseen.

More mayhem?

“I think it’s a great deal, babe. I think we should do it.”

Our neighbor had given the truck his approval and it felt like things were selling fast, plus we hadn’t found any other leads. We needed to make our move. We talked about finances and sussed out the details and decided to move forward with a cash purchase (like my Brother suggested) instead of the loan option for a newer truck that we had been planning all along all while I bumped down the country roads, in and out of service, to the airport, trying to hear this important conversation. Finally, we arrived, parked and I could gather my bearings enough to say:

“Let’s go for it.”

The Chief phoned the seller and told him that we would be there to get it…in four days.

You see, this truck wasn’t 5 hours from our house in the right direction. I mean, of course not, right? It was in the opposite direction that The Chief would take to come collect me and so, we asked him to hold it. And, like a true Alaskan, he held fast to his word. No money, no contract, just a verbal agreement.

I arrived in Anchorage that night at 11:30pm at which point (after many “Oh my gosh I missed you”‘s) we went back to our hotel. Home sweet home for the night. Right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, the party next to us was just that: a party. Though they were a party of two and an unhappy party at that, they made the noise of a party of twenty. The front desk tried to intervene and the yelling would simmer down for a few minutes, just enough time for us to almost fall asleep and then…bam! Something would slam or an angry word would be yelled and up we would be. This depressing charade went on like this until 3 or 4am when we finally drifted off.

And then our alarm went off at 6am.

3 hours of sleep and we were off. Town Day (can you hear Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana playing? I can).

It started off with a 7:30 doctors appointment for me. Oh joy! It had taken me an entire month and hours upon hours of faxes and phone calls to get this appointment (changing healthcare when one moves states is no pancake picnic, I’ll tell you that) and no 3 hours of sleep would make me miss it but oh Lordy, was I tired and not in the mood for someone to be poking and prodding me. The Chief waited expectantly during the very unpleasant 2 hour procedure after which I had the roughest blood draw of my life. My vein became the size of a pencil and my gauze was soaked. It was lovely. I came out looking quite the sight apparently as The Chief received me into his arms and asked:

“Baby, are you O.K?”

I’m amazing. I feel so amazing.

I was nauseous and grey faced but it was nothing that pancakes couldn’t take the edge off of. And so, at The Chief’s suggestion, we headed to fluffy hotcake heaven. I was so nauseous I could barely eat, but I muscled through. Pancake champion.

Next up? The dentist! Could this day get any better? Round two of pancakes might be in order. Oh, and…I had a small cavity. They suggested that they just fill it then and there and so I settled in for a longer stay than hoped for. Then the Laughing Gas started. I hadn’t had Laughing Gas since I was a child and within minutes I felt too high to even speak. They would ask me questions or prompt me to do things with my mouth and I would just smile and they would have to move my mouth for me. I was totally incapacitated. Each instrument’s particular sound took on the shape of a personality that I could envision and a cartoon of the tools working away on my pearly whites played on my own personal viewing screen of my mind. Needless to say…

I was unbelievably high.

I floated out of the office (thank goodness I had done the paperwork ahead of time) and waited outside in the sunshine for The Chief. He too had a doctor’s appointment but it turns out we were left in quite different states from our quite different appointments.

He picked me up and immediately started talking finances. My head started vibrating. I blurted out: “Babe, I’m so high.”

Huh?

He looked utterly perplexed. It being 4/20 that day he thought I was just being funny, until he looked at me. So high.

“Laughing Gas? Since when do they use Laughing Gas?”

Now, babe. They used it now.

Still, I tried to soldier on and talk money. We were trying to figure out the best way to take out monies from different accounts to make our truck transaction make the most sense.

However, nothing made sense to me. I started doing calculations that sent me off to space.

There is nothing worse than feeling incapacitated on a Town Day because there’s nothing to be done other than buck up and keep going. We still had to go to the pharmacy, do our non-perishable shopping and then do our Costco run.

Costco? High? I thought I might faint.

And so, I started chugging water and opening and closing my eyes. That would work.

It didn’t.

At first.

Thankfully, a few hours later and the more minor stops completed without too many incidents and the Laughing Gas wasn’t so funny anymore. As we walked into Costco I felt a slightly tighter grip on reality. A few hours after that and we had finished our errands and were heading to our friends’ house (the ones whom had found the truck) to catch up and unload our perishables for the night before returning to the hotel.

On the way back, I called the hotel to ask if our lovely neighbors of last night would again be our neighbors tonight.

Legally, they couldn’t tell me but after battling through the day I’d been through, this was just a verbal roadblock. I could handle this.

And I did. Unfortunately, what I unearthed was that we had two choices: risk it and hope that our neighbors had a change of pace (and heart) from the night before or move rooms.

We weren’t in the gambling mood.

By the time we arrived it was 11pm. We gathered our belongings in the old room and hiked to the new room, unpacked and plopped down on the bed, exhausted.

But it was all O.K. because…tomorrow, we would be home.

A few stops for perishables and filling up on gas (thankfully just our fuel tanks instead of our fuel barrels. The Chief had already filled the over 2,000 lbs. of gas the day before I flew in and saved us almost an hour, like a champ) and the like and we were off. The drive was beautiful and the heater even seemed to be producing a semblance of heat. After meeting two sets of friends to drop off their fuel barrels and say “hellos”, we were finally home. We spent the mandatory hour unloading and then tucked our sleepy selves into bed.

The next day, The Chief had to drive out again to almost the end of The Road (60 miles of dirt and rock which we had just come in).

My little Road Warrior.

He had to complete testing for the Fire Department which meant class time and the Pack test which meant completing a 3 mile hike with 45 lbs. of weight strapped to him in under 45 minutes. Yikes. I, on the other hand got to the task of unloading the house (meaning handling organizing all of the unloaded goods from the night before). It was daunting. Things needed to go into the freezer or find a cool spot, herbs needed to go into water, lettuce wrapped, etc. And, since the seasons had changed since last I’d been home, it was a whole different ball game. No more putting things outside in totes to stay frozen, no more Super Cold Corner and Mildly Cold Corner to store veggies. Oh no. Game change. Spring time. Thankfully, friends stopped by all day and broke the task up into much more pleasant bites. Teeny tiny ones to be exact so that when a group of friends called to say that we were all going shooting, I had to hurriedly stuff the last bits away and leave some for another day…it was time to slay some clay pigeons. And by slay I mean not hit a single one, but still have fun.

The next morning we were up early and off! On The Road again. Today we were getting our truck.

Road Warriors.

 

 

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The 4-5 hour drive took us 5 hours and just as we hit the edge of town, looking for the address, we decided to call and check in.

They were all the way at the other end, at the start of town.

Whoops!

We turned around and headed back out, passing the places for errands we would later run. Even though we would have to come back that way after the transaction, we wanted to get the truck first before doing any shopping. We looked for the Yard Sale signs and pulled up in front of their house. They were in the process of trying to buy a house and so were selling off that which they didn’t need. Including the plow truck.

That’s right.

A plow truck.

Our plow truck?

That remained to be seen.

The Ford F-250 my brother had envisioned hadn’t had a snow plow attached to it, but this one did and as we bottomed out simply pulling back into the driveway after our test drive, I started to get more and more nervous about driving another 5 hours back home with only 6 inches of clearance between the plow and the ground. The Road is beyond bumpy with huge frost heaves. I made the I’m Not So Sure This Is Such A Good Idea face and The Chief made the What Other Options Do We Have Face and thankfully, the seller hopped on in between with an idea. What if we could detach the plow and put it in the back of the truck?

Well, yes, that would be amazing. However, the reality was that I hadn’t seen giants roaming the streets lately and the hundreds and hundreds of pounds of metal weren’t going to lift all on their own and with a pregnant woman, a man who just had hernia surgery, The Chief and myself, the odds of getting that thing in the back of the truck were about as good as getting the abominable snow man in the back of the truck (not to say pregnant ladies aren’t strong, they’re stronger than I know, but lifting impossible weights was not advised in this prenatal plan). And so, after a moment of brainstorming and a few calls, I was set to witness the most Alaskan thing I’d ever seen.

So, we put it into action and set to finalizing finances and transfers of title, all the while waiting for the final transaction: the moving of the plow. The Chief and the seller practiced unhooking the plow and set up for the action.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Soon it was already 4pm and we still had to pick up groceries for people in town, fuel up and stop at our friends’ house on The Road to pick up our plant babies we dropped off in December (we are very neglectful plant parents, apparently). I was starting to feel like we would never get home when suddenly, I heard it.

The roar of the excavator.

Yup, that’s right.

The seller had called a fellow townsman to see if we could buy his time on his excavator to lift the plow into the back of the truck. You know, just a casual stop by with an excavator.

Who just owns an excavator? Alaskans, that’s who.

He came rolling up the street and stopped, looked at the truck, looked at the plow, said “Hello” and told us to rig up the chains.

 

 

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We chained up the plow and looped it over the teeth of the excavator which promptly lifted the plow off the ground.

 

 

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The men steadied the sides of the plow (as I envisioned it smashing through the truck’s back windows) and slowly guided it into place. 10 minutes and some balancing acts later, the plow was successfully placed into the back of the truck. We cheered and thanked him and asked what we could pay and he replied:

“Nothing, it’s your lucky day. I needed to get it out for work anyways.”

Nothing.

A man, who didn’t seem to be in construction per se, owned an excavator, had just driven said heavy piece of equipment 40 minutes to their house, loaded our plow and driven away and he wanted nothing? It was the most Alaskan thing I’d ever seen and it just kept going.

The sellers then brewed us coffee in our to go mugs to make sure were O.K. to drive the long trip home. So kind. So Alaskan. We all said thank you and goodbye and off we went to run the final errands before we were off on the long way home.

I was starving but the salad I had packed myself was impossible to eat when I had to steer through the mountainous drive and so I sang to Cinda instead as she looked on out the window at Dad up ahead.

At the halfway point we switched vehicles. It was my turn with Big Blue. She puff purred in her diesel fashion, lulling me onto the road. From the outside, the truck didn’t seem so huge but with the seat pulled all the way forward I still felt like a munchkin. We stopped for popsicles and gas and finally, to see our dear friends and our plant babies. After keeping them (the friends, not the plants) up way past their bed time while catching up (a conversation filled with some very important and wonderful life advice) we headed home with tired eyes. We still had a way to go.

Finally, a pee break later and we pulled into the driveway. Our driveway, with our brand new (to us) truck. It felt amazing.

We fell into bed, exhausted and happy yet again.

The day after the next was The Chief’s birthday party and boy was it. Everyone who’d endured The Winter felt the surge of Summer coming as the party grew to 30 or more, more than twice the amount we’d ever had at any Winter gathering. The mosquitoes were out and a fire was blazing and…

we had 30 people at our house.

My wheels got to turning.

That had to be enough to lift the plow. I talked to The Chief who gave me a Your Brilliant look and he yelled to the crowd: “I need hands!” In true Alaskan fashion, the hands appeared and followed him to the truck. I went to help and quickly realized that we would need even more help. I went back to the fire and yelled: “More hands!” and the rest of the party rallied to our cries. Soon enough there were 10 plus people in the back of the truck.

 

 

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The Chief yelled out a plan (as he had already set up an unloading zone) and everyone groaned under the weight. Within a few shorts moves, the plow was unloaded. We had thought that we would have to do the excavator move in reverse and spend some serious money doing so, but with the help of our friends, there we were, all trucked up and ready to go.

 

 

 

 

 

But there was nowhere to go, not that night. Instead, we toasted the man I love with good food, good drink, good friends and German chocolate cake.

In a day’s time, my Brother’s suggestion became possible.

In a week’s time, my Brother’s plot came to fruition.

And within that week I saw the most Alaskan things I’ve ever seen and it just kept coming. It was a wonderful welcome home to the place I love. Sure, the seasons have drastically changed, snow has been beat out by sun and the ground has surfaced. The population has started its surge and will only go up and the bugs are out. Things have changed but the song remains the same. The heart remains the same.

The loading and unloading of that plow wasn’t just about end results, it was about this place. Here, or four hours away, up in the North or down in the South. There’s so much about Alaska that brings us together and gives us the opportunity to help one another. We have to. Or I guess we don’t, but the beauty is that people choose to help. It’s the Alaskan way and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

So, jump on in the truck if you need a ride because finally, we can offer.

 

 

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//A big thank you to my Grandmother for her help in procuring this truck. She’s spreading the original Alaskan spirit (Grandma goodness) all the way down in Missouri. We couldn’t have done it without you and we are forever grateful.//

Slow n’ Steady Wins the Race (and Doesn’t Have to Buy New Pants)

You know what isn’t fun?

Tight pants.

Too tight pants.

Now don’t get me wrong, my wardrobe is as simple as a super hero’s, same thing, different day and littered with “yoga” pants which yes, you are right, are tight.

But not too tight.

This Winter, I returned to too tight pants.

I can hear the easy cheesey joke in the back of all of our minds right now…”Can pants ever be too tight?”

Well yes, jokester. Yes, they can.

And they were.

Apparently, California had been even more kind to me than I had expected and although I couldn’t figure out where it was hiding, some of California had stowed away. In my pants.

Wow, I am really leaving an opening for the sleazy jokes today.

Have at it.

Jokes aside, returning to our cabin in the woods felt like being reunited with a long lost love. I was in a delightful mood and absolutely in adoration of our little abode the morning after we arrived. I decided I wanted to see more of this place I had missed and venture out to see how things had fallen into Winter since I’d left.

I went upstairs to dig out my Winter Walking ski pants (a little less insulated than my super insulated bibs) from my Winter Clothes bin. Then, as I do every single Winter (and by every I mean one singular past Winter) I donned a pair of thick underlayers, top and bottom and went to put on my Winter Walkers.

Not so fast. In fact quite slow. As the pants approached my hips, I felt a sudden resistance I’d never felt before, as if a small child was below me, pulling the pants in the opposite direction. I looked around, searching for an answer to this opposition.

No answer.

I tugged a little harder and did the shimmy-shake-jiggle-wiggle-jump dance every woman knows (and based on the near legging like quality of men’s fashion these days, I can assume many men know this as well) and finally…

Up they went. I buttoned the double button in a hurry, as if the pants were about to split in all directions at the seams if I didn’t get them secured. And then, I just stood there, pondering my situation for a moment.

What in the heck?

When I had bought my Winter Walkers (which I had bought to use for solely that Summer in Alaska) it had been  the middle of Summer (typically my heaviest time of year. Oh BBQs, how I love thee!) and still I had tried them on with a pair of jeans underneath and still I’d had room to spare.

I felt like a sausage and so I quickly decided it must be the leggings.

Off came the WW (Winter Walkers) and off came the leggings. This was sure to work. I donned the WW and…

Still tight.

What in the heck?!

I immediately huffed off to downstairs. Each step was less comfortable than I remembered as I bent my knee to make the journey. The knee and the bum simultaneously requesting space in the pants made for quite tight lodgings. I found the Chief.

“What in the heck?!”

“What is it?”

I love him.

Despite my sausage-y self, he was quick to see no fault in my appearance. I assured him that these pants had not been so tight before we left three months earlier. He assured me that everything was just fine.

And so, off I went on a much needed (emotionally and apparently, physically as well) walk into the woods to see how things in the woods had changed and to ponder how I had changed without noticing. As I unzipped the side pockets to give my thighs a little more breathing room I broke into laughter. This would be how things were until I slimmed back down again. We had just spent a huge chunk of change in Town to last us through the next few months and there was no way that I was purchasing a new pair of pants when these were perfectly fine (aside from the tightness factor).

They would have to do.

 

 

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Mornin’, sunrise.

 

The funny thing is, just a few short years ago I would have spent the entirety of that walk planning. None of it would have been spent laughing with myself. My happiness would have been dependent upon my size. I would have decided what I could and could not eat on that walk, how much I had to workout and how fast I expected to lose the weight. I would have spoken unkindly to myself in my head, cursing the cookies and despising the desserts.

Instead, I thought back. Sure, I guess I had slowed down on working out the last few weeks we had been away. The weather had turned from Fall to Winter seemingly overnight and the rain had come and stayed. We were living in an Airstream which, while beautiful did not provide much space for my daily yoga/pilates/random moves to feel healthy routine and without a way to dry off I didn’t want to send Cinda and I off into the rain before work each day. In addition, our home cooked meals had been few and far between. Overall, our life had lacked ryhthym and consistency and the healthy traits it normally holds and thus lay the culprits of this too tight pants dilemma. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Upon returning home, I was grateful to slip out of the pants, and by slip I mean peel them off. And then…

I retired them.

 

 

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Burn, baby, burn.

 

Just kidding. No fire pants here.

I switched to my roomier bibs (basically insulated overalls) and said “goodbye” to the pants.

For now.

In my bibs, I was able to make all the maneuvers I needed. Sure, the bibs themselves were even a bit tight but they were nothing like the second skin of the WW pants.

And so, the months went by. I started doing my Winter Chores, and living the Winter lifestyle and slowly but surely, the pants began to fit. I would pull them out of retirement every few weeks and check.

The first time, they fit a little looser.

The next time I could comfortably wear leggings under them.

And eventually, I donned jeans under them.

It took me most of the Winter to get to where I had started last year and if I had said that years ago, I would have been furious with myself. I would have ridiculed myself, wondering why I hadn’t tried harder, eaten better, eaten less and gotten fitter faster but this year was full of high-fives with myself and The Chief.

It had been a kinder journey. Without a mirror to gauge how I looked, I focused on how I felt and the process was slower because of it.

 

 

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Snow mirrors // Shadow Cinda // Perspective

 

Some days I was ready to jump into an hour of sweat inducing, heart pumping exercise, other days I was in pain and didn’t want to push it. I had setbacks and steps forward but throughout, I was happy with myself, my worth wasn’t based on my weight.  and eventually I got to a place where I felt myself return to my personal normal.

Slow and steady had won the race and hadn’t even had to buy new pants.

And I hope it stays that way but I won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t. 30 brings with it changes that I hadn’t expected and so, I am learning to adapt. I guess we will just have to wait to see what next Winter brings.

Hopefully some cookies (and I guess some exercise to go along with them).

Cheers to you, tight pants or loose. Either way, I hope you’re happy.

 

 

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No Girls Allowed

Remember the Berenstain Bears book No Girls Allowed (I can’t believe I’m referencing the Berenstain Bears yet again but apparently they made up more of my childhood than I realized and hey, those little fur balls had some serious life lessons to share)? Well, if not, you can probably guess the premise (Sister-centered exclusion at the Boys Only clubhouse, eventually deemed unkind and later open to all) and if you’ve ever been the younger sibling, boy or girl, you know the exclusion I’m talking about.

No Girls Allowed.

No Boys Allowed.

As a girl, I could relate to Sister Bear’s surprise at not being permitted access to the life and times of her older brother. My Brother is 8 years my senior and during the very distinctively different ages of 8 and 16 we might as well have been living on different planets. I, however, was none the wiser and was pretty sure (read: certain) that any and every place he went or thing he did was open to me as well. Obviously. He, on the other hand was certain of the exact opposite.

I trailed on his heels but at a point even simply standing out in the yard with his friends became a Boys Only Meeting.

What the heck?

Crafty little sister that I was (read: annoying) I found ways around this exclusion. Push me out? I push right back in. I’d create snack platters or squeeze up some lemonade and bring it out to them. In my Betty Crocker disguise I granted myself access to their world and before long they would fall into their Boys Only Meeting ways. I would try to lay low, tidying up glasses and busying myself with nothing in particular in order to hang with them just a little bit longer until, unbeknownst to me, my disguise would fall off as I would try to join the conversation which resulted in my brother carrying me off like a sack of potatoes.

Dang!

Busted again…until next snack time.

 

 

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No longer the littlest Toad in the family…

 

 

From the time I was little I’ve always hung with the boys, even if, like in the previous situation, they didn’t know we were hanging out. We were. When they did know we were hanging out, I appreciated their perspective and the different way they went through the world. It’s quite a trip to walk in different shoes or at least to watch how someone else does it.

However, there always seemed to be a sort of breaking point or threshold to my inclusion in their world. At some point the No Girls Allowed sign would arise. and in truth I’m fine with that. Sure, the little sister in me would love to go Betty Crocker incognito and infiltrate the Boys Only Meeting like back in the good ol’ days but I can also appreciate the candor which one can only employ in the company of like-minded peers and sometimes, that is essential.

And so, upon inadvertently moving to Alaska, I assumed there would be a lot of No Girls Allowed signs “posted” in this heavily male environment.

Wrong.

I figured the male heavy population would mean multitudes of Male Only Meetings with me stuck alone in a cabin in the woods or searching out girls to hang with.

Wrong.

Since I’ve been here, the inclusive approach of this place has shocked me and has made me recalibrate my thinking. In California, Guys Poker Night was a common occurence and something I wouldn’t even have Betty Crocker-ed my way into. It felt like a fiercely protected ritual. Sure, I could have asked to join and perhaps I would have been granted access but I feel I would have been seen as an infiltrator and that my presence would have been a slap in the face affront to their ritual. And to me, that was always just the way it was.

Our first Winter here, that all came to a halt.

“The guys are calling Poker Night, babe. You in? ”

Guys + Poker + Me…somehow this equation must be off, dear.

He assured me that Poker was for everyone.

I assured him that I hadn’t played Poker since I was a kid at The Cabin in Missouri with a pretzel stick in one hand (a.k.a cigar) and a homemade milkshake in the other. Back then I’d had beginner’s luck but suddenly I wasn’t so sure.

“I can just watch. I don’t want to hold up the game.”

Naw.

The Chief’s encouragement was catching and I jumped into the first game (accompanied by one or two other ladies), equipped with a Chief-made cheat sheet on a paper plate outlining (in order) all of the ways to win.

There was no mention by the boys of the girls infiltrating their night because the night was all of ours. It was Poker Night, plain and simple and it made me realize how easy that really can be. Now again, don’t get me wrong I am a major proponent of some Ovaries Only time or any other (non-racist/sexist/overall just being a jerkface) grouping, gendered or not, but it’s also a beautiful thing to see the lines blur and the barriers become unimportant.

Perhaps it’s the lifestyle which prompts this Everyone is Allowed mentality. Everyone is needed and everyone has something to offer. Travel is time-consuming and sometimes difficult and social events (at least in the dead of Winter) don’t happen every day. So when something does happen, everyone comes. And we check in. Sometimes, when I know I’ll be the only girl, I see if maybe The Chief would like some dudes-only time and I spring for hosting the ladies but mostly we are all together out of ease or comfort or the feeling of family it brings.

The other day, four of our guy friends were taking a trip up a local frozen creek to the base of a glacier (yes, trust me, that statement may roll of my tongue (or flow from my fingers here) but it still shocks me every time)). Previously, a trail had been put in for the first 3 miles or so. The round trip would be 40-50 miles total. Almost all of it would be breaking trail. It would be rough (to me) riding via snow machine and would require me to employ some moves I had yet to even try, much less master. I felt under-prepared and in over my head and so…

I went anyways.

Being the only girl and highly inexperienced in the presence of 5 highly capable (read: freaking badass) riders I was worried I would constantly be holding them up. The Chief, reading my mind as he does, assured me that if the going got too rough or I felt uncomfortable that we would simply turn around.

What a concept.

My stubborn self hadn’t even considered an exit strategy other than simply not showing up and I had already told myself I was going (though until the moment I got my booty on that machine I still wasn’t entirely convinced).

And I was.

And so, potential exit intact, we headed out. Within the first mile up the creek (creek to me typically looks more like a babbling brook. This was more like what one might call a river at points a.k.a it was bigger than a creek might suggest) we approached a failing ice bridge. Being the 6th in line, the bridge was beaten down by the time of my approach. The Chief, our friend The Musher and I turned off our machines to investigate. I could hear water swirling and gurgling beneath us, ready to envelop our machines should we lean too far in the wrong direction (which to avoid meant standing completely on one side of the machine while leaning one’s full body weight uphill and still managing to steer, all while the machine and gravity conspire to send one downhill).

The Chief drove across while I waited, engine off, no longer able to drown out the water below which seemed to be getting louder with each heartbeat which too seemed to be getting louder.

His passing created a slurry of fresh powder into the moving water below. The ice bridge grew less like a bridge and more and more like an impassable hole each second.

I started up my machine and began to eye my route when I looked up to see he was giving me the “Stop” symbol (one clenching fist held at eye level). He walked over to me and we seamlessly traded locations, he on the machine, me trotting across the bridge on foot. He had read my mind. Within seconds he had easily ridden my machine across. No amount of ego could have made me ask for anything less. I was grateful and I didn’t care that I was the weakest link because no one made me feel like one. We were all across and I felt safe.

 

 

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The day continued on like that, moments of triumph followed by moments of sheer terror and utter elation. For a lady with a fear of heights like myself the day was full of challenges as we ascended up hillsides with sheer cliffs and rode along angled ice bridges. I sang to myself so loudly that I could barely hear my machine beneath me running at full throttle. It was also so unbelievably fun that the fear often lost out to the sheer grandeur of the surrounding mountains and the ever-changing “creek”.

 

 

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Uphill view. The edge of the snowbank on the right is well, the edge. Eek!

 

 

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Downhill view. Eek x2!

 

Throughout the journey The Chief consistently checked in with the triple pat on the head to ask if I was O.K. I’d signal back with a triple pat to ensure him that yes, yes I was O.K. He rode within one snowmachine of me the entire day and if he wasn’t directly in front of me, I felt safe from the constant check-ins from him and the other boys. It’s like an ever-shifting buddy system. You always know who the person is behind you and you consistently check-in to make sure that well…they’re still there. Ideally they are, at times they aren’t. Thankfully for us that day the hang-ups were normally quick fixes (quick for them at least, digging out a snowmachine in waist deep snow isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Neither is cutting down a tree to allow us passage).

 

 

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Look, Ma! No hands!

 

 

By the end of the day my arms were beyond sore and my wrists were ready to give out. I was so tired that I had to keep reminding myself to uphold my vigilance and ride with all of my faculties.

By the time we got to The Musher’s house the moon was up.

 

 

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Hello, little love.

 

 

We stopped in to warm up as the temperature outside rapidly started to drop. We had been gone the entire day.

Inside, The Musher made us all hot drinks and we dug into the snacks that had survived the trip. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one with sore arms (even though I was sure that I would be, certain I was a wimp for feeling worked over by the day). We were all beat and already making plans to spend the following day recovering. Certainly I hadn’t done nearly as much work as them (breaking trail and cutting down trees that had been blocking our path forced them to use far more energy than myself) but dead tired as I was, I had survived the day. We hadn’t turned back. I hadn’t felt like a hindrance or an intruder.

But I did feel like a sister to all of them and not even the annoying, 8 year-old kind and as we sat there snacking and recalling the tales of the day they all gave me a little applause for making it through the day.

I hadn’t felt like the only girl in a Boys Only meeting, I was on a family adventure.

 

 

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And for that, I love this place and the people she holds. In a highly gendered world, it’s nice to feel a blur start to occur. I’m grateful that my new norm is no longer one of dichotomous exclusivity but one where everyone is welcome…with the occasional (and essential) Girls Days.

Cheers to taking down the signs and creating new ones:

People Allowed (Nice Ones). Come On In.

 

 

 

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