Life Off-Grid: Getting Stuck

The day started off like any other unassuming Sunday: sipping tea in bed while journaling away through the dark morning dawn. A breakfast brunch as the day finally broke through the darkness and then…plans. What would the day hold? While there were chores like hauling water and running the generator, it was Sunday. The day of rest, right?

The Chief had, unfortunately, forgotten his phone at the Lake where we put in our first trail to our property(!) the day before.

It doesn’t do justice to the ditch or the incline but you get the gist. Booyah!

So…his day’s agenda was set. Mine, on the other hand? Free as a slightly chore-laden bird. Still, I knew what was coming next.

“You should take The Beast out for a couple laps when I go out to the Lake. Pack down this new snow, you know?”

I knew.

The night before had laid down a beautiful layer of fat, fluffy flakes. Six inches of snow graced our valley. Suddenly, all of the well-trodden trails we’d grown accustomed to in the last month were covered. Every trek a tromp through calf-deep goodness. The trail to the generator, the outhouse, the sheds, all now a bit of a slog, overnight. Not only were our personal trails changed but all of the exterior trails were too. Without a quick pat down by the snowmachine it would be post-holing for Leto and I on our afternoon walk. The best plan, the pre-emptive plan, would be to take a few laps, prepping the trail for the oncoming week so it could setup. The best plan, however, was normally The Chief’s job.

In secret, I’d always wanted to be the one who laid first tracks upon the trails here and often I would but solely with my skis. Not once had I been first to set tracks with my machine. Even if our household was first out, we’d be riding in tandem and I always found myself riding in second place. Scratch that: I always positioned myself in second place and with Leto aiming to lead the way, I’d find myself a solid third.

Off-grid Alaska
Riding third-y

While it would be easy to blame The Chief for taking on these duties so as not to have to look at myself and by providing excuses like “He’s typically free when it snows and I’m typically working” or “He enjoys it more”, I finally let my guard down and came face to face with with the truth: I’m scared to get stuck.

The truth is, yes, sometimes The Chief is home and I’m working when the trails need to be put in. Sometimes not. And yes, The Chief does enjoy it but what’s also true: I love it too. There’s nothing like breaking first trail (even if it’s merely 6 inches atop an old trail), or so I’ve been told. Growing up, I used to love to drive my Grandpa’s riding lawnmower, back and forth in the summer heat, until the lawn was perfectly flat and uniform. Setting trail is the winter version of this (also somehow sweaty). So why all the hubbub?

Getting stuck.

I’ve done it before. Stuck, stranded, using every bit of I Don’t Want to Have to Call My (at the time) Boyfriend Strength up. Sweating. Panicking. Losing then regaining my senses.

Alaska snowmachine
Lassoed to a tree. Woman-powered reverse only.

Getting stuck. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
At least the view that day made it worth it.

The reality? Getting stuck actually is a truly important lesson out here. You wouldn’t drive a car without knowing how to operate it and getting stuck is just a part of operating a snowmachine. Still, there’s one issue: I’m a perfectionist. Perfectionist. The title seems harmless enough, unassuming, almost…dare I say, cute? In reality, it’s anything but. Being a perfectionist, for me, means doing things right the first time or…doing nothing at all. You’ll notice by my lovely array of dust-laden instruments in our cabin that I fall prey most often to the latter (doing nothing at all), than the often impossible former (doing it right the first time). Did even young Mozart have to plunk about on his piano for a bit prior to conducting his masterpieces? Me thinks not.

Truly, deep down, me knows so. I know there’s plenty of plunking about we don’t see behind the Insta-worthy lives we show. So, as The Chief gently challenged me to dust off my piano, per se, I met his gaze and said “OK, but I’m a little scared I’ll get stuck.”

McCarthy, AK
Stuck like a spruce in an ice bog

“You might! That’s all part of it.”

Ugh, sage advisor that he is, I wasn’t having it. Again, I’ve gotten stuck but only twice have I been completely alone and they were relatively easy fixes (thanks to the I Don’t Want to Have to Call My Boyfriend adrenaline). The other times, when I’ve gotten really stuck (I mean REALLY stuck), I’ve luckily been in the company of friends. What if I got REALLY stuck?!

Kennicott, Alaska
This photo does zero justice. Taken 10 minutes in, post packing down waist-high snow on a steep incline.

The Chief would be 45 minutes away. What if I needed him? Our neighbors were all gone. The closest call for help would be a long way away. I’d be a burden. Perhaps that’s the greatest fear: not just doing it imperfectly, but having an audience.

So, dear audience, here’s my confession: get stuck I did. I got stuck “damn good”, as my Mother would say.

Polaris Snowmachine
Whoopsie daisies!

After two hours of miles-long loops around the local trails, racing back and forth and off into sub-trails, I arrived back at home sweet home. In my laps, I’d veered off into our yard and flattened out our home trails quite well but I thought to myself: “Why don’t I do one more lap to the fire pit?” I’d had a little trouble paving my way through the terrain with a turning radius that just wouldn’t take hold and I wanted a third run at it. It had been the only part of the last few hours that had given me pause, wondering if this would be the place I’d get stuck. Still, I had made my way through it twice already and today was about facing fears! Another voice sheepishly tapped me on the shoulder: “Excuse me, umm, I think maybe you’re pretty tired? Maybe, umm, maybe you should call it quits?” Even Leto, The Meandering Malamute, had thrown in the towel a few laps before. It would be totally honorable to do the same.

I didn’t.

Instead, I went full-bore. I was going to make the turnaround in one fell swoop instead of employing my wussy reverse again! Straight ahead or nothing!

I drew the nothing card.

In the last moment of the turn (which I was, in fact, totally nailing), my track caught on a previously unseen mini-boulder and…over she went!

Polaris trail
Look at my belly!

I heaved and ho-ed like no other. Just when I would get some momentum, my feet would slip out from under me, towards the machine. While I wanted it upright, I didn’t want it upright on top of me. I slid the back end away from the rock as best I could but the going was tough. I flattened the snow all around the machine in the direction I wanted to move it but still, I’d only get it an inch or less at a time. Until I purchased my latest machine, I’d always had lighter ones, ones I could lift. This one, weighing in at over 500 pounds, I couldn’t (which plays a great deal into a fear of getting stuck). No matter of momentum was proving to help. I was…


So, I did what I aimed not to: I called my husband. Somehow, despite being in the middle of chainsawing his way through our new property, he felt the phone buzz. He answered. The spotty service only swelled my frustration.

“I got stuck!” I finally yelled, angelically, of course.
What I wanted him to say in return was: “Don’t worry! The machine will be totally fine on its side for the next hour until I can get home.”
What he said instead was: “Well, no, babe, the machine shouldn’t just sit like that. You need to figure it out.”
“This is all your fault” my less than adorable side thought (thankfully not aloud).
“Maybe look up come alongs on YouTube? Or create a pulley system?”

I thought back to my 7th grade science classes. Pulley systems…yep, I had definitely been class clowning my way through that lesson. Nice work, Jules! But, he did have a point. I had the internet and a ton of tools (I didn’t know how to use) at my disposal. Perhaps I could cook up my own rescue. I said a grumpy “Thank you. Be safe.” and got off the phone. Time to brainstorm. To the back of the truck, Batman!

Ford F-350
It was full of supplies. Thankfully not this full though!

The thing about “packed down” snow (aka the snow I had been riding back and forth across for the past few hours) is that it needs to set up, meaning it needs time to settle and ideally, cold temperatures to turn it into a little mini-highway. This snow had not done that in the last 30 minutes of my trying to right the wronged machine. The audacity! So, back and forth I trekked, slipping calf-deep to the icy surface below, shedding layers as I went. Gloves on. Gloves off. Fingers frozen to metal. Gloves on. Repeat. After an embarassing and inaccurate first attempt (“I’ll use a tie down!” aka a ratchet strap) I finally agreed with myself to consult the YouTube oracle. “How to use a come along” I queried. The first video I saw had snow on the ground and a big truck. It looked like home so I clicked on it. Actually, the first video I saw said “Finger Pincher”. Rude. So I clicked on the aforementioned second one. The gist was the same: Do NOT use this if you don’t understand it. You will snap your fingers off. Fear mongers!

So, I watched the video over and over until I knew the subject back and forth, right?

Nah. I skimmed through it and looked for the main cues (i.e. which side is “Up” and which end gets attached where). A few more trip-laden tromps back and forth to the truck and I had everything I needed. I thought. And…it turns out I was right.

How to use a come along
Nailed it.

After some fenagling the pieces over the most secure junctions and a wish of good luck for my fearful fingers, I started cranking back and forth, back and forth until…I saw movement. The snowmachine was finally coming upright.

Ratchet strap
Come along, little doggie

I gave a few more cranks and gently tipped it the rest of the way down to the snowy surface.

“Hell yes!” I shrieked to myself. “I did it!”. I was in shock. I’d done something that gave me paused (riding alone in fresh powder), met my fear (getting stuck) and found my way out (upright).

Now, trust me, I know that to an experienced rider, this whole conundrum likely seems trivial. Well, trivial at best, perhaps closer to pathetic. To which I would say, “I get it.” Yet, I would also venture a guess that there might be things that make a brap bro pause that might be easy peasy to others. I can write an essay in my sleep but driving a stick shift makes me feel as if I should have a Caution, Teen Driver sticker on my bumper. Maybe you’re amazing with a chainsaw but can’t imagine a moment onstage. Perhaps you can draw life-like portraits but tremble at the thought of swimming in the ocean. Who knows? The point is, hopefully, small or large, insignificant or essential, we find a way to stride past our fears and get to the joy of just trying…and maybe getting stuck.

So, get stuck I did and unstuck to boot and now, my machine, was upright again.

Homeways is rightways now.

Sweating and thoroughly exhausted, I put my coat and gloves back on, fingers crossed, in anticipation of a ride. She started right up, purring away loudly. “Yes!” I yelled again. I took her for a final lap through the local trails and she hummed away, happy to be back on track. I thanked my lucky stars.

By the time I returned home, it was almost 5. The Chief arrived soonafter, whooping and hollering for me as well. “This is what I mean! It really is good for us to get stuck, even if it is scary! I’m so proud of you, baby.” He then proceeded to tell me about a time he too had gotten stuck in our own backyard, years ago, during his first winter. He heaved and ho-ed and stomped down the snow around him for hours, all the while watching the lights go out at the friend’s house he had been on his way to visit (there weren’t cell phones here back then. Kind of amazing, right?!). Finally, hours later, sweating and exhausted, he had made it the couple hundred feet home.

Kennicotto River, McCarthy, AK
Plus, it had been a gorgeous day.

So, a restful Sunday, it was not, yet, it was exactly what I needed and I’m grateful for it.

In the end, getting stuck was the best part of my day. OK, getting unstuck was the best part of my day but it wouldn’t have come without first getting…stuck. I think in this time of online perfection, it’s important to show the less elegant, less photo-worthy moments. Maybe, just maybe, it will help us all see that perfection is limiting, at best, and that we all struggle and thrive in different ways. Moving here has forced me to face my fears, fears I didn’t even know I had, head on and while, in the sweating, exhausted moments of meeting them, it’s not always fun, in the aftermath, I’m always grateful. And so, I share those moments with you. The nitty, gritty, not always so pretty version of life (off-grid or otherwise) that force us to face ourselves, head on. It’s not always the shiny parts that need the most light.

Cheers to you in your triumphs and in your moments of defeat. May they both bring you closer to who you want to be.

With love,

from Alaska

Julia Chester
Grocery getter.

P.S. Can you relate? What are your hangups others might find easy?

The Breakdown: A Winter Edition

With an arsenal of two snow machines and household of two people, our Winter transportation situation was looking pretty darn good. We were sitting pretty on two machines that while imperfect, were perfectly fine.

We came home, anxious to ditch four wheels for two skis and ditch them we did, promptly upon our return to Alaska.

That was, until we fell of our high ponies and onto our feet.

And even though I knew not to be surprised, I still was. Actually stunned is more appropriate. Surprised, no. You see, living here, we are used to the breakdown. This place can be hard. Hard on clothes, hard on the body and hard on vehicles. And so, when things fail (which they surely might) you aren’t surprised. You are, however, encouraged by necessity to find the next best option.

This past Summer, both of our trucks failed. Oh joy. Thankfully, we could get pretty much get by without them. They were a help, a treat and apparently too good to be true. Before their demise I often chose to walk instead of drive anyways, but the lack of a choice made me suddenly wish I had one. I took to walking or riding little Bluebell or…riding our new to us four-wheeler (!) while The Chief patrolled with the fire truck. We were both covered, until we weren’t. Without a truck of our own, we were at the mercy of the elements and in a place like Alaska where the weather changes faster than you can say “Look at that thunderhead coming in…” I can’t count how many times I was caught in a downpour.

Oh well.

Time to walk or ride or drive the 4-wheeler a little faster. Shelter awaits at home.


And so, it was quite the relief this Winter to come home to a snowglobe like magical land where the roads were covered in 16 inches of snowpack over which it was preferable to travel by snow machine.

And we had two.

Two people.

Two machines.




Extra extravagant mail day taking two machines just for the hell of it.



Too good to be true.


The first month was flawless. While both machines had some steering issues (the Polaris I mainly ride takes all the muscle I have to turn and braking? Well, that’s more of a suggestion than a reality. The Tundra The Chief mainly drives has more play in the steering than a Kindergarten class at recess but still, she drove just fine as long as she had a vigilant rider ready to dig her out) we were feeling beyond lucky. The Chief fired up the machines first thing the morning after we arrived. They started right up and he looked like a kid with a Christmas Day toy driving circles around the property making trails for us so we wouldn’t have to trudge through the hip-deep snow to get everywhere.

That was then.

And, in fact, that is now as well, sort of.

But the in between? Well, that’s where the story and the game of Musical Machines, for which we didn’t sign up, begins.


It was a sunny day in February amongst a string of solid grey weeks. Those days call to the Locals as if they were summoned with a bullhorn. Get up! Get out! And so, before we had even gotten through our first sip of coffee for the day, the phone started ringing.

River Trip.

Within minutes of the first call, the yard started filling up with willing participants. A few machines were stopping for mail or whatnot on the way over on the other side of The River and so we waited and caffeinated up and packed snacks for a day out on the ice. The plan was to head down The River trail to The Confluence and then head upriver to the wide open wilds of the even Bigger River nearby. It was a scouting mission. No one had gone up yet (that we knew of). Talk turned to years past, predictions and approaches and the excitement and anticipation grew.

The Tundra had been having trouble the week before, stuttering ceaselessly and so badly that The Chief would have to stop every minute or so to turn off the machine and restart it, making his 30 minute drive home from work closer to an hour in the sweet sub-zero temperatures of February in Alaska (I made a lot of stew and other warm hearty meals that week to try to take the chill off of him when he walked through the door). However, after many a discussion and just as much input from others, The Chief thought he had it narrowed down to bad gas. I swear, I heard the term “bad gas” more times in that one week than I have in my entire life. The Chief didn’t mean an odorous situation, he meant water in the gas due to temperature fluctuations but I giggled every time nonetheless. Our friends who filled our yard had brought a gas treatment (ha!) with them to rectify the problem and so, after gassing up and adding treatment the machine started up just fine.

Problem solved.

We were stoked to have the machine back to normal. The problem had been going on for a week already and the frustration was mounting, especially since The Chief had just made his final payment on it. The machine was ours and…suddenly, it didn’t work.

But all of that was behind us now.

The day was calling and soon, everyone was there. The final layer process started. Gloves started going on, face masks and hats and hoods were arranged and lastly, goggles and ear protection. Everyone was suited up and ready to go. The Chief went to start our machine and I jumped on. Amongst the roar of the 7 or so other machines around us, I couldn’t tell what was wrong but I knew it was something as I saw The Chief’s face change from excitement to a furrowed brow. I took off my ear protection to a very particular sound:


Our machine was the only one not rumbling.



The ready riders were looking around, giving thumbs up or head pats to signal readiness, but slowly word got around via signals. We were grounded.

It wouldn’t start.

Out of nowhere.

Ten minutes earlier, it was fine. Now, nothing.

And so, ten heads came together to try to figure out the latest problem with our problem child machine. Tools came out and cowlings came off. Battery tests were done, inspections completed. Hoping that the battery was simply low due to the constant stopping and starting it had taken to run the machine the week prior and thus, in its weakened state couldn’t power the starter, we got out the gas. We filled the generator and proceeded to lose layers as the cold machine would refuse to start. The Chief pulled and pulled again and again. We traded. I shed layers and took a few turns. Tired out, we traded again. He finally got it started. It died. He started it again. One minute of running. It died again. The next fifteen minutes continued in this fashion until finally, she was purring away. Hot and tired, we then hooked her up to our charger, hoping a simple bit of battery juice would have us up and running in no time. The River Trip was still a reality.

We rotated with the sun, trying to stay in her rays as she moved across the sky, each step bringing us closer to no trip than the last despite how much we wanted to go.

In an hour, the battery read charged but still, nothing.

Words like “the starter” began to get thrown around.

Ruh roh (obviously said in a Scooby Doo voice).

Just hearing that word made dollar signs appear in my eyes. We opted to hope that the battery was in fact reading ready when in fact it was not. We decided to leave the charge on.


The sun was starting her final descent and the fervor of the day was dying down but instead of lose the day completely, we decided to all pile onto the working machines that we did have and head down to The River to catch the view and have a snack. Adventure time would come again but for now, it was time to warm up in the sunshine. Despite our attempts to follow the sun, she was an elusive lady, weaving in and out of our grove of Spruce. We were chilled and antsy and so, we headed out for a little bit of adventure in the little bit of day left.

It was gorgeous and the sheer excitement one feels when riding in a group en masse down to The River makes even a short ride feel like an epic adventure.

A few hours later, dark was upon us and as we settled into the cabin, an exhausting list of potential problems for the machine ran through our heads but the word “starter” circled most prominently. We crossed our fingers and cozied up for the night.

The machine, it turns out, cozied up for the month. After further tests and dollar signs that seemed to be multiplying we finally weeded out the problem. It was the starter. We hoped. We waited for the part, praying it would be the one to solve the problem. But, in the mean time, reminded ourselves that we were lucky: we had the Polaris.

The trusty old steed had gotten The Chief through many a Winter and had been the first machine I had ever ridden or drove. We both had a soft spot for her and her very 90’s pink and blue bedazzling. Riding around together we felt nostalgic and grateful to still be up a machine while also down one. Things could be worse.

What did you say?

Things could be worse?

Well, yes, they certainly could!

A few days after the Tundra gave out I was at our neighbors’ house. They were just getting in for the season and we had spent the few days prior breaking trails around their house, first by snowshoe (sidenote: I thought that snowshoeing was some sort of leisurely stroll through the woods. Something people in Norway do with sweet pink cheeks and holiday-ish sweaters to boot. I assumed it was followed by a picnic. Wrong. Very wrong. Within minutes I was shedding layers and still sweating. My whole face was red instead of the adorable blush I had pictured. Leisure? No. Lots of work? Yes. Still fun? Yes.) then by our trusty machine over and over again until they were packed down. The Chief and I had ridden the Polaris over to greet them and grab our goodies. The Chief left to help the guy neighbor and another friend get settled in the driveway while I talked with the lady neighbor, one of my best friends. An hour went by before we realized that, well, an hour had suddenly gone by. The boys still weren’t home. Where were they?

A few minutes later they pulled into the drive. I heard what I thought were the two machines and I saw the right amount of faces to go along with those machine and so I thought nothing of it. That is, until I saw The Chief’s face (it’s pretty telling).

“I swear, I wasn’t doing anything too ridiculous.” (a clear sign, later to be proven by confession, that he in fact had been doing something a little ridiculous, thought not too ridiculous)

“What happened?”

The boys then relayed their tale.

The machine had broken down. Our trusty steed, grounded. The track had essentially been stripped. She couldn’t even get home. She was stranded on the road, he hadn’t even made it all the way to the neighbor’s house. It was dark and cold and our friends had been traveling for months. A rescue mission was in order but not tonight. It would have to wait for the sun to rise.

And rise she did.

We awoke the next day to the realization (which perhaps should have sunk in on our walk home) that we were now completely without any machine and all the while quickly approaching the best month for snow machining: March.

Aside from adventure, our machines are highly utilitarian. Hauling firewood? Machine, please. Hauling goods to and from mail? Machine, please. Going anywhere not nearby or that will carry over into the evening.? Machine, please.




Tire delivery! My first time hauling a load behind me.



Oh, and then there was the slight issue of caretaking.

Yup. As perfect Alaskan timing would have it, we were at the very beginning of a two-week house/pet caretaking stint. The house was a little over a mile away and by snow machine the whole process of turning on lights for the ducks and chickens, collecting eggs, filling their water bowls, cuddling the pup, scooping poop and shoveling fresh snow, feeding him breakfast or dinner and watering him as well, turned into a 40 minute escapade if I was rushing. Without a vehicle, this twice daily early morning and late evening set of tasks was about to be daunting.

I set off on skis that morning, our second day of caretaking. An hour and a half later I returned. It was 20 below that morning. Before I was even awake I was out an into the elements. Thankfully(?) the cold slapped me awake. My eyelashes were clumped into icicles and my hands were so cold that I had broken an egg because I couldn’t feel how tightly I was gripping it. Thankfully, it was so cold that the yolk froze almost immediately and I could break the little yolk-cicles off of my gloves in clumps. What an adventure. And in about 12 hours, we were set to do it all over again. Double days. I felt like I was back in high school soccer hell week.





The Chief phoned another neighbor, not yet in Alaska for the season and asked if pretty, please with sugar on top could we use his snow machine until we could get one of ours working? Thankfully, he gave us the green light.

Borrowing things in the lower 48 is one thing. Sure, I’m still careful, but there’s a less ominous feeling around it. Borrowing things out here is completely different. You break it, you buy it still may hold true but when things are hard to come by, waiting for a replacement is less than ideal. With the mechanical luck we were having, I started to feel a bit like we were snow machine cursed and the idea of borrowing our friend’s only machine when he was coming home in just a few short weeks terrified me.

What to do…?

We used the machine delicately and brainstormed for a solution that involved us only and didn’t risk anyone else’s property. In the middle of our mental thunderclouds we remembered: a couple of friends had found an abandoned snow machine a month or so back. They had eventually found its previous owner who wanted nothing to do with it and so, a running snow machine was suddenly in the valley, a sort of traveling workhorse with no home that might fit perfectly in our suddenly abandoned stables.

A few days and some figuring of whom it was we actually needed to contact about the machine, a handshake and an exchange later and we had a running snow machine again! The Chief spent the next few days fixing the beauty up and before long, she was as good as new.

Suddenly, a weight was lifted. We high-fived one another, giddy with disbelief at our seemingly intertwined mix of good and bad fortune.

We had a working snow machine.

The Winter again opened up in front of us. There were rivers to cross, trees to haul and trails to put in. And suddenly, we could go.




Testing out the new digs. She’s got what it takes.



Finally, one day, the part for the Tundra was due on the mail plane. The Chief and a neighbor had gone to mail and, surprise, surprise! It had shown up. I was at the neighbor’s home, visiting with my girlfriend when I heard the good news. I headed home to see how it was going.

We had been invited to a dinner party across the river that night but since I was still nursing a neck injury we had planned on staying home.

Yet, in the excitement of the part arriving and the potential for yet another working machine, I got riled up. “If we can get it working, we will go” I thought to myself as I walked home and…

She fired right up.

The whole debacle took little more than ten minutes and that was mainly to get through the packaging. Within the hour, we were suited up and off to dinner on our newly working machine. The ride home became a bit more treacherous as we tried to navigate the windblown path. Our tracks were almost gone and the night was dark and the trail rutted. The starter had fixed the mechanical mishap but the steering was still off and the ruts tipped us over.




Imagine this crunchy top layer from rain then freeze but all covered up with new windblown snow…and pitch black. Surprises everywhere!


Thankfully, we made it home all in one piece but something was off.

But the machine was sputtering again.

All that work, a month of trial and error and hundreds of dollars and hair-pulling hours out in below zero temperatures and the initial problem was back.

The next day, The Chief went to inspect it further.

Same thing. Still sputtering.

And so, we were back down to one machine of our own and one to borrow.

Up one, down one. Up two, down to nothing. Two steps forward, one mile back.

It felt like an awkward dance of two stepping that neither of us had signed up for. When people would come by, they would count the machines to see if we were home. 4 was the new magic number. Our front yard was quickly starting to look like a junkyard with the old Polaris towed home, the new Polaris parked proudly, the Tundra in a constant state of undress and the Bravo ready to save us. Our little arsenal was a rag-tag team but hey, it was a team nonetheless.

In all honesty, sure it’s frustrating, but going into the Winter equipped to the nines with a snow machine for each person? What were we thinking? Of course something had to go wrong, we just weren’t prepared for everything to go wrong. Nonetheless, the lesson still rings clear.

Each day the machine starts up, I feel a little sense of relief, but I also know that if it doesn’t, we will be O.K. In the midst of everything, when we were down to zero machines and our neighbor with whom The Chief often goes logging had zero working machines as well, we still were O.K. Another neighbor had offered his machine but not before we had already started planning our neighborhood log hauling party. We would divide into two teams: one team to clear brush and carry back lengths of trees to the houses, the other team would take down the trees. We would Hi-Ho Hi-Ho ourselves in Seven Dwarf fashion back to two full wood sheds together.

Thankfully, the next day the neighbor’s machine magically started working again and he spent the day with The Chief hauling firewood back and forth for our wood shed. Sure, he could have done one tree for him and one for us but instead, he focused on setting us up because he was now the one with the machine.

It’s things like this that make me feel like I truly landed in the right place. There’s no question. Everyone helps. There’s no need for tit for tat tab keeping, heck, there’s rarely even a need to ask. Everyone jumps in. We are family.

Thank goodness for a valley that provides random snow machines and those ready to rescue them, to the kindness of friends and the necessity of neighbor-family. And thank goodness for a place like Alaska that puts it all in perspective. I’m trying not to take it for granted.

Thank you for Winter transport and for the trials. They’ve put it in perspective.

That being said, perspective intact, can we please, please can we have a Summer vehicle this year?

Pretty please? Sugar on top.

Only time (and some serious mechanical fenagling) will tell. Until then, fingers crossed and snow machines savored.





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Shouldering the Seasons


Not my strongest suit.

Once as a kid I came home to my Mom’s house after a weekend away at my Dad’s only to find that she had changed my bed sheets. It was full-bore – new fitted and flat and fancy pillows at that. It was beautiful.

I hated it.

Instead of snuggling up to the newness, I shunned it. I refused to sleep. Literally. For a week my poor Mom had to deal with me staying up all night yelling about my old sheets and refusing the new. She had to tell parents of friend’s houses I visited that week to make sure I didn’t sleep while I was there, in the hopes that I might exhaust myself and fall asleep at night (you know, like a normal little human).


I’d find my way into tiny closets and hidden nooks and crannies in order to catch a few Z’s, enough to keep myself awake for the night ahead.

A simple stand-off, right?

This will put it into perspective (and perhaps remind you of a moment in time when animal movies were all the rage. Think “Free Willy”, “Fly Away Home” and “Homeward Bound”. Nostalgic yet?):

I loved animals (still do) and I wanted nothing more than to see the one, the only “Operation Dumbo Drop”! This was a movie after my own heart: basically an elephant was in danger and had to be moved to a safe location via air (which poses a challenge when you’re crating an elephant). And then some shenanigans ensue and laughs are had, cue the lonely teardrop from your eye as the music picks up and he is saved! Right?

I don’t know because I never got to see the movie because I wouldn’t just go to bed. The deal was: If I would just go to sleep for one night I could see the movie. One night.

I couldn’t. The sheets weren’t right. Change was upon me without invitation and I would fight it tooth and nail. Eventually, exhausted by my night-time tirades my Mom replaced my old sheets. All was good in my world again and the fact that I didn’t get to see the movie that I had pined for paled in comparison to the cozy reality that we (my sheets an I) were reunited and it felt so good.

Looking back on this now I’m a little embarrassed for the panic towards change and at the same time proud of the stubborn little lady I was. The stubbornness remains but that inability to accept change? I mean, that’s so different from how I am now. Right?

I like to think that I am a Roll with the Punches, Quick-Footed, Easy Going Gal.

That’s what I like to think.

I mean, change is inevitable, right so why not take it smoothly? Like water off a duck’s back. That’s how I deal with change. I give myself real-life examples to back it up:

Hey, you moved to Alaska in the middle of winter and rode it out pretty well.

You can generally find a smile in the situation (like the time you had to walk three miles home in the pouring rain because you had woken up to blue skies and packed your bag (a.k.a no rain jacket, a rookie mistake in AK)) accordingly.

Overall you tend to see the positive in things.

So when the seasons started to shift here from Winter to Spring, I wondered why that stubborn, panicked little lady showed back up again.

I am not ready for Spring.

I grew up hearing from my Grandma that California doesn’t have seasons. I didn’t understand. I mean, Grandma, the leaves in the fall create a magnificent trifecta of gold, orange and red. The trees (some) lose their leaves. It rains for a little bit. Then some flowers pop up. Then it’s sunny again for about eight months. We totally have seasons.


Here, in Alaska (or in Missouri, where my much wiser than I Grandma Gam lives) there are seasons and thus, I was introduced to the term “Shoulder Season”.


The in-between.

The transition.

The change.

It turns out, I’m not as great with change as I thought (cue in the “no duh”). Change that I induce (i.e. moving to Alaska. Scary? Yes. But voluntary, nonetheless. Getting caught in the rain? Romantic at worst. If you can’t laugh at that, well it’s time for a hug followed by some good belly laughs to come your way) is not such a big deal. I can roll with those punches. But the sneaky knockout of a seasonal shift? Yowzers. It came without warning.

As a true Californian, I thought nothing of the impending Spring. Fall back, Spring forward. I did it. No biggie, right?

Except, no, Spring is more than just a time shift, more than just a nod to the Equinox (which is somewhat irrelevant this far North, since we had been gaining daylight past an equal day and night much faster than farther South **Correction: after a ski with a girlfriend we got to talking and this is not entirely correct. Through talks and research with friends and The Chief we discovered that although our location in Alaska had over equal day and night at the Equinox (around 12 hours and 17+ minutes of daylight versus night) this is not specific to our Northern location. New York was slightly over equal parts day and night and my home in California was about 9 minutes behind us in AK. The shift from Daylight Savings to Equinox felt exaggerated because we had been used to so much dark but it did not mean that we actually had more light, just that it felt as if we did. However, at this point, we will be gaining daylight at a faster rate and head towards the Summer of all day sun. Phew! That got confusing…and fascinating)). It’s a shift in everything and none of it has shifted to what I’m used to or to what Spring typically means to me (i.e. blue skies, bright green fields of grass, tulips, rainbows, puppies, kitties, gumdrops…o.k. maybe that’s a little overly fantastic view but it is pretty fantastic. Bright, light and colorful). It usually means this:


Photo courtesy Mr. Mike Sloat (Rock God and apparently a California Tourism Bureau Photographer, or at least he should be)

and this:


Oh what I would give for fresh-cut flowers to light the room

Just when I got the hang of Winter, enough to feel confident and to see the bigger picture, Spring has sprung, the picture has changed and a whole new set of how-to’s and to-do’s arise, as do the surprises.

Like, tourists. In March? Apparently so. Suddenly, our quiet little town was taken over (and by taken over I mean probably 20 people arrived, but when your population is around 30, it feels like an invasion of sorts). The term “Spring Break” became a two-pronged meaning, both ominous in description, signifying either time off from school and thus family vacations venturing out here or “Spring Break-Up”, meaning the time when the rivers start to break open and everything melts. It looms in the future.

Spring Break came and continues (apparently the schools are staggered in their time off and so the influx is more of a constant wave). Everyday I see more and more cars and people and the pitter patter in my heart never ceases to surprise me. I love people! But when you’ve spent the winter hunkered down knowing everyone around you, outsiders feel even more foreign and the whole place just feels (and is) louder.

And then, the weather, another change I never anticipated disliking. More sun? Yes, please.


Kind of.

In our departure from California I wondered how the lack of sun would affect me. When late December came and the day was nearly over come 3pm it did affect me until I learned ways to deal with it (mainly, get outside for as long as you can before you lose sun). But this sudden overhaul of daylight? Being able to walk by a still lit sky at 9pm? That too is making me wiggle in my (now too hot for the weather) snow boots. It’s just a little too much too fast.

The sun is a welcome presence but with it comes the anxiety of Spring Fever. There is so much to do before Summer and so much to see before the wild gets overrun with people. Spring having sprung makes it feel like Summer is breathing down our backs. I found myself yelling at the sky on my walk home from work to ask for snow, begging for the melting to slow and the snow to return and then realizing it’s totally out of my control.

This happened within a few days. I panicked.

And then, the sunny days turned to grey. The sky is no longer singing the song of Spring, it is singing the song of rain while you’re hoping for snow. Things started melting, now they are sloshing about. Personally, I love Slurpees. I don’t love walking in Slurpees. It’s the in between before the ground reappears and you know what, it’s awkward. Footing is awkward and driving is an exercise in recently unearthed rock and new puddle (yellow puddle) avoidance.

Roll with the punches, huh?

Sheesh, Spring even means a new approach to dressing myself. Bibs are too hot, boots are too hot, snow turns to slush and rain gear comes out (oh, wait, I don’t have any rain gear). Shoulder Season Wardrobes are a thing I never even considered (again, just as I was actually learning to dress myself for Winter, this little wrench jumps in). Everything is a little different and even the things that you thought you’d never miss, well, suddenly you feel the loss of their presence. You miss things like:

Frozen eyelashes and mustaches.thumb_IMG_4592_1024


The sound of a log splitting at twenty below.


Catching the sunrise and sunset thanks to late sunrises and early sunsets (luckily there’s still enough snow for doggie snow angels).



The crunch of your footsteps in snow.


Snow laden trees (aka Snow Globe Fairytale Trees).



Going to a party a being so surprised that 8 whole people are there.


…and the fuzziest toes you ever seen.



Heck, you even miss the snowy Ramp of Doom (still dangerous but now less so without the added ice feature).

People tell you: Sit in the uncomfortable and enjoy the impermanence. Mmmmmk? Well, I may have gotten a little winter belly, but I am no Buddha. Doing these two things is harder than I ever imagined.

And so, I’m trying to embrace the change. To realize that Winter too will come again. To enjoy seeing and smelling the exposed patches of dirt (from which snow melt is exponentially increased because of heat absorption, but no, it’s totally great), to be amazed by the blooms rising straight from the snow



Woah, Willow You Wow Me.



to meet new animals like this little feller:


A Sneaky Ptarmigan (they say not to pronounce the “P” but I encourage it) **Correction: when I asked The Chief what kind of bird this was he replied “A Ptarmigan, or a Spruce Grouse” meaning: “Oh, wait, not a Ptarmigan, a Spruce Grouse.” I took them as interchangeable, either/or. I was wrong. This is a Spruce Grouse but you know what? I might just call it a Ptarmigan anyways until I actually see a real one because that name is way more fun to say.

and overall to just enjoy that which is currently happening, rather than wishing for something else. Instead of expecting a sunny day and being disappointed by a gloomier one, taking to the cabin and finding inside jobs or having a movie day (that feels pretty excessively luxurious but I’m forcing myself to try). Letting off the gas, heck even off the wheel and accepting that which will come. It’s all so much easier said than done, but nonetheless, I’m still trying.

I guess I can’t say that I’m as far from my “Operation Dumbo Drop” days as I thought I could but I can say that I haven’t caused anyone else to lose sleep over this newly revisited aversion to change, so that’s gotta count as some progress, right? Sorry again, Mom. Thanks for not putting me up for adoption, that was very cool of you.

And although I’m not as enlightened by the joys of impermanence as I thought, although I cling to comfort like a baby to a breast and a monkey to your back, I know that some part of myself put me here to learn this and to re-evaluate how well I actually rock with the tides or see if instead I try to struggle against them. Alaska life certainly does keep you constantly reinventing your disposition. Challenging and changing how you see things and how you react to shifts great and small. She likes to get you comfortable in the uncomfortable and that, well it’s just not comfortable. But hey, she keeps you on your toes (and when you refuse to learn, she throws you on your back gently but sternly like you would a puppy in training).

So here’s to this new season and the uncertainty it brings. Cheers to Spring both light and dark. For Spring has sprung, whether we ourselves turned the handle of the Jack-in-the-Box of seasons or it sprang itself. Surprise!

Cheers to the change.


Hi Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s Off to Work I Go…

Where I’m from in California, it’s pretty much essential to have a car. Public transportation is lacking (to say the least) and even if it was better it still would be near impossible to get to a friend’s house in the boonies without some other added mode of transportation. Why not walk? Walking the roads is like tip-toeing on railroad tracks. Often there’s little to no shoulder and blind curves are plentiful. And so, although I’d prefer to walk or bike it’s often much more efficient to drive to work. Almost everyone I know has their own convenient individual machines and…Hi Ho Hi Ho, off to work we go. It goes a little like this:

Going to Work (Anytime) in California:

Steps 1-5 to get out the door: Wake up early enough to go for a walk or run. Take a shower (you have hot water that pours straight from the wall!). Eat breakfast. Caffeinate. Make lunch.

Step 6: Head outside to your car (likely already warmed a bit by the morning sunshine). Insert key and search for some music to play through your phone while the car warms up (while sipping coffee).

Step 7: You’re off! Ugh, it’s so hot in here. Put back the sunroof and get your summer highlights and your vitamin D intake started.

Step 8: Stop for snacks. What’s a workday without a little chocolate? Stop at your favorite local hippie mart (today Andy’s market is on the way) and grab some goodies and hey, while you’re there why not a specialty coffee drink? You could really go for a Dirty Chai today (if you haven’t had one, try one. You can trust me on this).

Step 9: Arrive at work, cozy and caffeinated.

Step 10: Work. Maybe go grocery shopping on your lunch break (you have a hankering for a good Bolognese tonight. Maybe some zoodles? I think I was banned in California from saying that word too much. Zoodles too are delicious. Try them. I am living my culinary fantasies through you).

Step 11: You’re done! Get back into your cozy car, run an errand or two and head to your warm house. Hey, maybe even meet a friend for Happy Hour or go to the gym. The world is at your fingertips, my friend.


Going to Work in the Winter in Alaska:

Steps 1-around 50: In Order to Get Out the Door…

You wake up (seemingly) early enough to get all of your chores done so you can leave the house (and know that you’ll never wake up early enough to do them all…so you immediately start prioritizing once you’ve risen). Put on water to boil. Make a fire. The dog will tell you if she’s ready for breakfast or not (she likely will be if you’re running late, she likely won’t be if you’re on time. She’s good at testing you like that). Brush them bucks and wash your face after the water has warmed on the stove. Do a little bird bath action (oh, to have an on-demand shower). Pour the water into the coffee pot and while it’s circulating through the grounds go outside to check the machine. You glance at the thermometer: last night it got down to -13 but now it’s 15 above.

You assess: how many layers will I need this morning? Big gloves or light gloves? Parka or double lighter jackets? Check the gas and the oil on the machine. Low and low.

Head to the gas drum and loosen the air escape, unhook the hose and pump the arm until you fill the gas tank (and likely overfill. Ah, the smell of gasoline all over your clothes first thing in the morning. At least you already built the fire). Tighten the air escape and replace the hose. There’s a bit of water in the gas from melted snow so pour the gas through a water filter so the machine will run more evenly (apparently water in gas is a bad thing…makes sense). Find a can of oil and add it to the machine, careful not to overfill this too (a funnel would be helpful but…naw).

By now your coffee is ready but you only have enough time to find all of your layers and get dressed before it’s time to leave (you didn’t realize the gas can was empty so you are now minus ten minutes, no coffee interlude this morning). This is when the pup decides she’s hungry but she’s so cute you can’t help but concede.


She sleeps with her tongue out. Enough said.

O.k., now it’s really time to hustle. As you’ve been doing chores throughout the morning you’ve been planning your layers so you can be quick to dress. You find all the components and start dressing just as you look and see that you forgot to take the liners out of your boots last night (I have never had to do this before this winter. I didn’t even know liners came out, probably because I’ve never had a boot with liners since I’ve never lived in snow so needless to say, I’m out of habit). Oh well, things could be much worse than cold feet for the day.

You dress and tie your hair back, pack the coffee into a to-go mug, put extra layers in your backpack and head outside.

Step 51: Driving

The machine (snow machine) got cold along witht the weather last night and so it is a little sleepy to start but after a few extra pulls you get her going. You rev the engine lightly and listen for the drop in pitch to let you know you can take the choke completely off (even when you’re rushing, you still have to make sure to treat your equipment like a queen, lest she decide to cast you out the Realm of the Riding). You rev a few more times, listening for her to tell you she’s ready to rumble. You give it one last big rev and she jolts forward. She’s ready! Get on the rest of your gear (goggles and ear protectors (these machines are loud)) and you’re off!

You decide to take a different route this morning so as not to disturb your neighbors (it is 7:30 in the morning, after all) and head out to the road just in time to see the deep blue as the sun makes her ascent over the mountains.


It’s a great big snow globe world out here

You also already hit a good enough speed on your short route so far to realize that you have indeed under-dressed. You’re still still learning. Some days 15 above feels like 40 and other days it feels like 15 below zero. Moisture, wind and other scientific stuffs all affect how we feel at the same temperature and today, well, you underestimated. Now, you can decide one of two things:

Drive as fast as you can to get there as quickly as you can so as to minimize time in the cold


Drive slowly to keep the wind down and stay warmer but endure a longer trip

You decide to compromise: you’ll stand up while driving as fast as you can (safely, Mom, don’t worry). Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But because your windshield is busted it is actually less windy above the windshield. Tadaa! Plus, since you didn’t get to go for a walk or exercise this morning this will be your stand-in for a workout (it takes muscles I didn’t even know existed to be able to drive this thing). You bounce around following the river and trying to learn different limits of the machine (and your driving ability) until…

Step 52: The River Crossing

In order to get to work you need to cross a (mostly) frozen river (mostly being the most operative word here). Two months ago, the crossing was impossible due to the breaking of a glacial lake in the mountains which, subsequently, opened up the river.


Open water along the river path commute


Time to cross over the bridge, I guess

But, now it often is possible. The bridge is an alternative, but a unpreferable one at best since, due to the warm weather (up to 45 degrees above zero!) we’ve been having lately, all of the snow has melted from the bridge. This makes it a spark-filled adventure to cross on the metal skis of a snow machine. Therefore, if possible, it’s best to take the river.


The first time I crossed the river by myself I was pretty sure I would fall in the whole time.

This had been my preparation:

“How do I know if it’s cross-able?” I asked everyone I ran into.

“You’ll know.”

Oh, I’ll know? That seems unlikely. I mean, I’ve been here for one winter. I don’t think that makes me any sort of ice expert. I’m more of an ice cream expert.

But, yes, if I approach the river and see it gushing, sure, I’ll know not to cross. Yet aside from the an obvious flow, how do I know if the ice I see is ice to cross?

The Chief and I had talked about dark ice being precarious and to watch for overflow (essentially when there is water out on the ice) because this indicates that water has broken through somewhere and is flowing, making the ice very slippery and less stable (though not necessarily impossible to cross).

As far as I had surmised, it seemed the key ingredients to crossing a river were:

Inspection (looking at the river, maybe even turning off the machine and listening to the river – the only problem with that is that even a crossable river may have an audible flow of water beneath it)


Intuition/Decisions (see: going for it). Once you’ve decided to cross, you’re crossing and if you start to fall in, the only option is more speed. Great!

On my first solo crossing I already had concluded on one ingredient: I was going across. Probably, it would have been best to decide that after inspection but, hey, I’ll admit I’m stubborn. I was ready and I was going. I did pause at the top of the hill that leads down to the river and although it was jagged and craggy with icebergs as speed bumps, what I could see looked doable and so, I went.

As I started out, the ice quickly changed pitch below me. At first the skis made a deep rolling sound on the ice but it quickly changed to a hollow growl.


Time for a second helping of the ingredient of speed.

I hurried across the remaining crossing and once on the other side stopped to see my path.

I had made my first crossing.

By myself.

I let out a holler a wolf would be proud of and then promptly texted The Chief that I was alive (he apparently was not as surprised as I was, you know, that whole undying faith in me thing and all. I don’t know where he gets it, but I’m sure glad he seems to have it in bulk).

Ok, let’s return to the Journey to Work (Step 52 continued):

Since by now (two weeks into work) crossing the river is old hat (see: you still get nervous every time because every hour on the river is potential for change. You could be able to cross in the morning and by mid-day the river could be flowing) you approach the river with healthy inquiry. It’s like being a kid at a crosswalk. Stop, look both directions. Grab your mommy’s hand (oh, darn. Mom, can you visit now?) and go.

You cross without incident and now you are more than halfway to work (a little celebration dance follows). Your legs are starting to get tired from essentially performing a twenty minute long squat but, hey, you’re not exactly hitting the gym out here so why not? Plus, it’s helping to warm you up. Well, most of you.

Step 53: Arrival at Work

You arrive at work with frozen fingers (you had to stop once just to blow on them because they started hurting so much) and remind yourself to keep heavier gloves in your ever-expanding backpack (it’s filled with an every-growing array of potentially needed items). You arrive early because you always try to leave early in case something comes up (everything from running into a friend to running out of gas becomes a possible time swap and so I always try to build in a buffer) but today you’re using this extra time to warm up before you start your shift. Plus, you need time to disrobe.

It’s funny to arrive at work and the first thing you do is start undressing and re-dressing. Your pile of outerwear takes up half of the back table (the other half is for the chef, you’re working at the local saloon/restaurant that’s just opened again for a quick blip in the pre-season for the film crew in town) and that ever-growing backpack comes in handy as you swap out for a new shirt (turns out that 30 minute squat really got your blood pumping). Finally your fingers have defrosted and now, it’s time to start work. It feels like a whole workday has gone by just getting here, but really it’s just the beginning.

Three hours later, coffee and breakfast served and dishes done and your shift is over (youwork split shifts of three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening). It’s 11am and you’re free until 5:30. What to do?

Step 54: Getting Home

You figure you could use a little walk so you leave the machine (and most of your outerwear gear) in town and head home, walking the hidden paths the machine can’t power through and crossing the frozen river on foot.


Crossing a footbridge…look to the left…


and look to the right.

Step 55: Making Use of Home Time

And so, a little over an hour later, you return home. The fire needs to be stoked but at least it’s taken away the morning chill. You survey the scene: what needs to be done? Haul water, do laundry, do the dishes, finish outside projects…etc. and then decide what’s feasible in four hours (since now, having left the machine in town, you’ll need at least an hour to get yourself back to work). You spin the chore wheel in your head and then the fun wheel for your post-chore reward (I think today it might be a nap) and set out to get things done. Or not. Some days, you’re tired and you go straight to the fun wheel (read: nap time).

Step 56: The Journey Back

Alright, it’s 4pm and time to head out again. Since you left most of your outerwear gear at the restaurant (it’s too hot to walk that far in) you suit up with lighter snow pants and layers that can go under your bulkier outerlayers or into your backpack for the ride home on the snow machine tonight. You decide why not go for the whole trifecta and ski to work? Plus, the pup could use some exercise. She’s ten so she can’t run with the snow machine anymore, but she can lap you even on skis and so you interrupt her from her afternoon snooze-sesh to go on an adventure. You call her “Uncle” who’s working construction in town to make sure he can give her a ride home in his truck. It’s settled. You’re off.

Well, almost. You forgot an extra pair of shoes (since ski boots probably would be a bit slippery for work). The ever-expanding backpack is getting ever-heavier now.

Ok, now you’re off. Packed like a mule and ready to glide like Tanya Harding (oh wait, we liked Nancy Kerrigan, right?).

Thirty minutes in and you’re to the river crossing.


Little Lou inspecting the grounds


Perked ears listening to the water below

It’s eerie to look down into the craggy ice and see and hear water below, knowing that only hours earlier you took hundreds of pounds over the same spot. But at the same time, seeing the thickness of the outcroppings of ice and testing it with jumps and prods with  poles overpowers any fears, at least for now.


18″ thick ain’t bad

Plus, when your dog runs ahead of you, you immediately feel safer (and even if it’s an unjust sense of security, it’s security nonetheless).

And so, you cross again.


Oh Turtlebackapack, how I love thee

Once on the other side, past the swimming hole


(better suited as an ice skating rink nowadays), you run into three friends at one of the creeks people stop at to fills jugs for drinking water (pretty amazing, huh? Fresh, pure water flowing year-round. Yes please). Ten minutes later, updated on everyone’s latest happenings, you’re off again. Lou has already ditched you. She knows that where she’s going there’s a potential for french fries and if you’re around she’s less likely to get as many (yea, mom put her Little Lou on a little diet. “Husky” can’t serve as both her breed and her physical description).

Step 57: Lose the Layers

You get to work and start the undressing/dressing game again, clean up all the snow you’ve tracked into the bathroom, grab a makeshift water bowl for your thirsty pup, attach your skis and poles to the machine (better now than later in the dark) and clock in.


Bungee cord jamboree

Step 58: The Hand-Off

Thirty minutes later, you’re outside again, handing Lou off to her Uncles (three came to collect her post work). It feels like you’re dropping her off at daycare. Puppy eyes and all, but in a few hours you’ll be home with her again.

Step 59: The Last Journey Home

And before you know it, you’re suiting up again, ready to hit the road and head home. You approach the river crossing but by now, near 9pm, it’s dark. You have sound and intuition to go on because your lights cast more of a shadow from up on the hill than provide information.

You decide to go for it.

In the few hours since you skied over you notice a chunk has collapsed in and so you pick up speed and evaluate the route ahead as quickly as you can as you race towards solid ground.

You make it.


A few more twists and turns and slips (since you packed your running shoes for work because a. your backpack couldn’t fit boots and b. it sounded fun to wear something other than boots for the first time in months, but it turns out they aren’t the best snow machining shoes. Grip is key. Duly noted) and slalom-esque tree avoidance and you’re home, sweet home.

Step 60: The Wind-Down & Reboot

The house is cold since the afternoon fire burnt out (The Chief is away for his post-op appointment, not just home letting fires burn out at home) and the has temperature dropped but you’re warm from the ride (you tried a different squat maneuver this time that was a real workout). Thankfully, you chopped wood during your break so that you wouldn’t have to chop it upon returning home and you build a fire in no time. Doubly thankfully, you’ve been fed at work because the idea of making a meal from scratch right now sounds like building the Wall o’ China (or something else equally difficult). You settle in with a good flick and cuddle with the pup and congratulate yourself on having taken care of the house solo and gotten to work twice without incident and settle in to do it all over again tomorrow.


The End.

So yes, going to work in the winter in Alaska is a little different from what I’m used to. It feels like three days wrapped into one by the end of it and the steps are far more involved and plentiful than I could have ever imagined (geez, I used to balk at having to stop for gas once a week where the pump pumps for you and the trucks deliver the fuel to your fingertips). But although I do miss the luxury of stopping for chocolate at a health food store or meeting a girlfriend for a glass of wine, I’m grateful to return to our little house in the woods, warm or cold, where the wine is often in a box (all the better for transporting to share with neighbors) and the chocolate is shipped in via care package (thank you Katinka). It’s funny to think of the parallels this life has provided, for every reality we are used to is what we come to expect and now, in this new life, I never really know what to expect. I guess that is my new reality.

Cheers to the unknown and to that which will become known.

A Bowl Full Of Scaries

I swear, I do not just spend my time in the woods in a perpetual state of fear (even if the last post and this one suggest otherwise).

I’m not carefully looking around every corner, wondering what scary beast is lurking and hungry nor am I constantly running away yipping with my tail between my legs.

But from bears (both imagined and real) to bonfires, this place is alive with excitement and danger, both in a constant battle to win over the other.

Everything here is so tough and at the same time so delicate. The snow is packed until you hit a soft spot and fall in up to your thighs. The fire is roaring until you get distracted for a moment and it suddenly goes out. Your snowmachine is running great until you hit a hidden rock and now you’re stuck without transport. You go to pump water and the generator is on the fritz so it’s back to melting snow. You’re confidently chopping wood until the axe swings through and you hit your boot and luckily your boots are thick and you aren’t hurt.

Because if you are, you aren’t in a good way when you’re way out here. And so the balance continues. Do what you need to do and do what you want to do but aim to do it well and without incident.

So, when some friends were getting together to go for a snowmachine ride up to The Bowl I was both excited and scared. First option: call my neighbor/old boss/best girlfriend who’s a guyfriend and poke around to see if I can ride with him (meaning on his machine because I’m nervous to drive on my own and The Chief is at work).

Plan failed. He sniffed me out in seconds.

You’re coming. And you’re driving. Or, you know, you can sit at home and sit out this beautiful day.


You know a friend is your friend when they force you to do things you’re scared of like:

The Bowl. Driving solo. Getting stuck. Flipping the machine. Losing the machine down the hill. Falling off the cliffs. Did I mention I have a fear of heights? I try to just pretend I don’t and sometimes it works (typically when I’m on flat ground).

There were so many options for things to go wrong and all of them were running through my head.

The Bowl is at the end of a narrow and winding trail of about 3,000 vertical feet up into the mountains. One side of the trail is a sheer drop-off and parts of the trail are so narrow that in order to keep on it one has to stand up and use all your body weight to lean and tilt the machine to the opposite side to avoid falling down the hillside. The best case scenario if you did is that you would ditch your machine in time and be able to stop yourself from careening to the bottom and that your machine would get hung up in a tree (and therefore would be save-able and salvageable) instead of breaking into a million little pieces on it’s descent into town.

The first time I had gone to The Bowl we went with a different group of friends. I rode with The Chief. Without much more to hold onto than a narrow strap with too much slack my legs were squeezed as tightly as possible to hold me on and to keep me in sync with The Chief’s moves. He leans left, I lean left. He leans right, I lean right. Forward, back, making yourself a team, a unit (which is really hard to do when you can’t see through the person you’re riding behind and thus can’t anticipate a bump or tun. All you have to go off of is a response to and an anticipation of their movements).

Everyone got stuck in the deep snow in the final ascents.


Good call on bringing the shovel.

Machines would sink and we would dig them out and pull and push until they were free, just in time for another to sink. But, these guys are excellent drivers, throwing legs and shifting hips over the machine and making maneuvers I never even thought of. We made it to the top and it was a perfect day filled with shared snacks and sips and just a bit of a view.


So, now I’m doing that? Ok, I mean I am a pro. I’ve just taken my first few solo trips in the last week or so and I’ve probably driven the machine about 6 times total, so yeah! Let’s throw this thing into full gear and jump from the bunny slopes to the black diamond.

A few exciting facts about the machine:

The footrests are iced over on this particular morning (and there’s no time to heat it off), making my footing about as stable as slippers on an ice rink

The “brakes” are a bit of a work in progress. The brake handle is a replacement that doesn’t quite match and therefore is loose and falls forward, out of your reach. So when you go to brake, well sometimes you miss it. Best to keep it pulled in at all times even if it cramps your hand.

You don’t have reverse, so think fast before you put yourself in a corner.

Steering the machine is more of a workout than a day at the gym. But, the turning radius is pretty amazing.


A few realities about what it means to go for a snow machine ride:

It’s not just a joy ride. How will the house be when you return? Will the weather turn and the house freeze? The only way to help stave that off is to a. stay home (which my neighbor has conveniently shamed me out of doing) or b. make an amazing fire and get the house cooking so…

As you’re dressing for the cold, you are going to make the house a temperature that would beg for clothing optional (think 10 degrees outside and 95 inside).

You start upstairs in the bedroom loft: underwear first. Then socks. Last time you wore thick socks with your boots (that you bought on your first major gear acquisition in Anchorage in this post and that you thought you bought too big before you knew the meaning of buying boots too big) your feet were cold. Like icecubes. So, ok, let’s do the liners and thin socks move.

Ok, we have underwear and socks on. The next moves are to cover the body and the options are too many to count. Think about it, it’s 10 degrees outside (this is HOT), but where are you going? The Bowl is higher in elevation so there may be in inversion, it could be 30 degrees above up there. So, let’s start with a light layer, a wicker of sweat, then let’s add a little warmth with a light sweatshirt, then a fleece jacket followed by a skiing jacket to hang out in if it’s warm, followed by a parka for riding and for if the temperature starts to drop.

Now, for the fabulous bottom half. Let’s start with long underwear then add some warmth with a pair of fleece pajama pants.

Add to the masterpiece a pair of bibs (not the kind you throw-up on as an infant, the kind that I know as waterproof overalls but everyone calls bibs). Note: You are now starting to sweat, fiercely.

Then, add a log to the fire because it has finally kicked up and you need to add as much to it as possible before you leave for who knows how long.

Back to the outfit: You’re almost there. Add a balaclava (if you’re an outdoorsy person this is apparently a word as simple as “candy”, I had no idea what it was. It is essentially a jack of all trades for neck and head warmth). Then, pick your gloves, pick your poison. Too light of gloves, you’re cold. Too big of gloves and you sweat and lose your dexterity. So compromise with mid-weight gloves, hope for warmth in The Bowl and shoot for having room to pack mittens to go over said mid-weight gloves. Grab a hat and your ski goggles or sunglasses and your ear protectors, a scarf to bring with and…shoot!


You haven’t eaten today and there’s no telling when your next meal will be so, time to pack some snacks with a punch. Oh, and let’s boil some water and make a mug of tea in case it gets super cold up there and you need a quick way to warmth.

Ok. I think you might be ready.

Go outside. Fire up the machine (this takes about 6 pulls, full choke, half choke, run and a lot of gentle gas gives. It’s up and ready finally) and…it’s out of gas.

Ok, you are almost ready.

Drive to the gas drum, unscrew the pressure release, unhook the pull and start filling.

Tank is full. Check the oil. Oil is low. Find the oil. Add the oil. Wait for the oil to go into the machine (it’s cold, it takes a while) add more oil.


Ok, now we are ready.


Just on the ride to town to the base of the mountain I felt out of my league. My neighbors and I took the river trail that I’m used to riding but at a much faster clip and once we got the road it was full throttle.

But that just means it’s time to step it up a bit. This is how you learn.

When we got to town, everyone was snowboarding the hills and drinking beers. I’m embarrassed to say it but I thought the plans had changed and this was our landing pad for the day.

Phew! A sigh of relief. I could try The Bowl another day.

Not so fast.

It turns out we were waiting for someone to return…and then we were going to The Bowl.

Great! (This is a sarcastic “Great!” in case you couldn’t tell)

Time to do the self-pump-up dance again.

And we were off. I asked my best guyfriend to ride behind me in case I got stuck and eeked out a little “I’m kinda scared” as we took off.

Around the bends, the tipsy curves and up the climbing hills we went. Thankfully those machines are loud because I was yelling “You got this!” interchangeably with “Ohhhhhh shittt!” to myself around every hairy corner. And I did. Even the extra sharp one right before the final ascents. We got past the treacherous spot from my previous trip and we were on the home stretch, the final ascent and…

I didn’t make it.

At the last big hill I gunned it and…almost made it.
Halfway up the hill the machine topped out, no more pull, and the speed I had wasn’t enough. I sank and started rolling backwards. I squeezed the brakes as hard as I could but still the angle was in cahoots with gravity and I kept falling backwards down the hill.

Nothing feels as good as not only foiling your plan to make it up the hill as to ruin the momentum of all of your friends behind you (4 machines of them), but hey, at least I caught my machine before it ran down the hill into any of them (always look on the brightside, right?).

And so, as quickly as I had almost given myself bruises from self pats on the back for making it to the summit, I was stuck in hip-deep snow at a 45 degree angle on a mountain thousands of feet above the town.

Thankfully, when you decide to go on a group trip you are also agreeing to help your comrades and before I knew what had happened I had help. We started digging snow from underneath the track and the skis (for those of you who don’t know (and I certainly didn’t prior to riding one) snowmachines have a track beneath them in the middle, like a tank but narrower, accompanied by skis on the sides of the track that ideally guide the machine)). Once we realized that there was no way the machine was making it up we started trying to just lift it. 400+ pounds isn’t all that much for two people to lift but when on either step you both are standing or falling into hip-deep snow it can start to look like an Oompa Loompa up and down dance and it gets a little tricky. Eventually we got it pointed rightways or right enough to move (which still meant almost perpendicular to the 45 degree incline) and I asked my friend to steer it down to the next landing pad.

Well, I didn’t make it but it was close. So I walked up the rest of the mountain. Good thing I dressed for cold, I thought as I walked slower and slower up the steep incline. Ten minutes and about four stops to peel off layers later I got to the top, sweating. I realized I was a bit screwed with all of these layers now being sweaty but I was happy to make the view.

We played around for a bit and watched friends ski down the icy slope above us for an hour or so until it was time to rally down. Walking downhill to the machine I started sending good ju-ju waves down to the brakes.

It’s you and me guys, let’s do this together.

And we did. Slowly but surely. At times I would be full press on the brakes and we would still be Slip Sliding Away (I sang that song all the way down to distract from the fact that I was sliding down a mountain and that my forearms were so tired I felt I might have to let go at any moment) , but hey it’s that balance again between excitement and danger so let the battle begin.

Safely at the bottom my neighbor and I decided to visit the boys at their work site (I needed someone to hug). I got that hug and rejuvenation enough to make plans to head to my neighbor’s for cocktails (and high-fives, even if she didn’t know that was on the menu). I just had to go home first – remember the fire? It had been hours and the temperature had started to drop, plus I needed to check on the dog since she had refused to leave the house and for a while there she (a Husky mix) had basically been in a sauna house.

At the break in our paths on the river trail (my exit home and her continuance on the trail) we waved and I geared up for the big jump off the river trail and…

I didn’t make it.

What I had worried about all day had finally happened: I crashed.

I had landed the jump. I just happened to land it right into a tree.

Booyah! At least I saved it for the only moment I wasn’t surrounded by people, right? Except wait…now I needed help (and just where the hell had my sunglasses and ear protectors gone to? I guess they flew off in the crash). This thing is heavy.

I started heaving and hoing but I couldn’t get the machine to move. I used a lifeline and phoned a friend. No answer. Everyone was on machines and couldn’t hear their phones.

What next?

I was NOT about to make the:

Sorry Honey I Roped Your Machine Around a Tree and Now I Need You To Leave Work Early To Come Bail Me Out

phone call.

No way. Whatever stubbornness I had to summon in order to make the decision not to call him was enough to power me to get the machine out by myself. I pulled and dug and pulled the skis and rocked it and finally I was free to be on my way. On the way home I ran into our nearest neighbors and immediately told them about my mishap (there’s something about Alaska for me, or maybe it’s just growing up, but whenever I do something embarrassing I feel like I have to immediately tell someone). They looked over the machine and assured me all the smoke coming from it was from the snow I had gathered in crashing and that overall it looked fine.

By the time I got to the house, made it warm, fed the dog and finally got all my layers off and hung to dry The Chief had made it home.

I told him what I had done and waited for the ball to drop.

No ball, just a jaw accompanied by an amused smile and an “Are you ok, babe?”


Finally cozy and out of wet layers and safe from the elements I wasn’t risking going anywhere else. I told the neighbor I was in for the night and cozied up, recouping for the next adventure, the next balance between excitement and danger and I thanked my lucky Big Dipper for keeping the tilt to the excitement side today.

You see, I’m no daredevil but I don’t think I’m any sort of pussycat either but out here, the bar is raised. I’ve never lived where I have no idea what a day will look like, where you might wake up feeling vulnerable and still go out on a trip that feels beyond your ability, where our day (and dress) is so dependent on weather and where I know a day spent half in fear will also likely be spent half in sheer excitement (at least hopefully). And I’ve never had so many opportunities to be scared and push through.

So thank you friends for the push (and for the digging).