whatdidigetmyselfinto

There’s Always Something in the Woods

Last week was the first time I drove Bluebell (my mini motorcycle) all the way up the mountain to work.

I hadn’t driven her up there yet because:

a: I wasn’t totally sure she would make it. I had taken her up little hills before and she had struggled a bit, to say the least.

I had gotten stuck at the bottom of a hill in the 4th of July weekend crowd. Without anywhere to go but up and starting from a dead halt I had gunned it and had crawled up the hill so slowly that I crept up alongside two tourists and matched their pace, despite my full throttle action. I just looked over and gave them a nod. Yup, check out this hog, ladies. Pretty badass. I was going so slow that I almost fell over. I’m sure it was a scene from “Dumb and Dumber”, or the like, reincarnated. I couldn’t help but just laugh out loud since they only stared back at me, unimpressed by the sheer power they were witnessing.

Yes, that slow scale was situational but still, I worried. The way to work is 7.5 miles and the last 4 miles are a steady incline resulting in a 1,000ft. gain in elevation. I grew up basically at sea level so this gain to me seems pretty substantial. Needless to say, past embarrassments (or extremely cool events depending on how you look at it) taken into account, I was apprehensive, which was furthered by the next issue:

b: If she did make it, I had no idea how long it would take and therefore no idea when to leave for work. Things here are impossible to gauge. Less than 8 miles to work should take little to no time at all. Wrong. In a car it often takes 45 minutes. That’s almost to San Francisco departing from where I’m from in CA. Plus, even if I gave myself “plenty” of time there still was the possibility that she would break down and then I’d be stuck pushing her uphill and end up late to work.

I hate being late to work.

And so I avoided it for the first day I was scheduled to go up since getting Bluebell.

But come the second day of work and the second encouragement from The Chief that “of course she will make it up the hill” I decided to go for it.

I gave myself an hour to get there.

Or so I thought.

After packing for the day (meaning I packed a different shirt for if it got hot up at work, snacks to get through another 10-12 hour day, pants to paint in if the food truck was slow, bug spray, sunscreen, gloves and a hat and a jacket for the ride home and a change of clothes for the evening and an extra pair of socks. Seriously, you can never have too much along for the ride in Alaska. The weather changes faster than you can imagine)

I kissed The Chief goodbye and ran outside to greet Bluebell and head off for the day.

Wrong.

The little lady needed some fuel. So I ran to get the 5 gallon can of fuel.

Empty.

I rushed her over to the 55 gallon drum of gasoline in our driveway and pumped away, a bit too enthusiastically, resulting in gasoline spilling all over the both of us. Mmmm, gasoline in the morning (creepily enough, I truly love the smell but I’m sure it’s not the best aroma to serve food in). Then, on a whisper from my intuition, I checked the oil.

Good thing.

Almost gone.

I ran again to the shed where the empty gas can had been to find the oil. Empty bottles were everywhere, but a full one? That was a bit more of a search. Finally I unearthed some and ran inside to check with The Chief that I had in fact gotten the correct oil for her.

Check.

Back outside again I topped her off with oil. We were ready to ride. We just had to get her started.

Getting going is a five pronged process:

1. Turn on the fuel switch (I never even knew those existed)

2. Click the selector to RUN

3. (First find the key) Turn the key to ON

4. Wind her up with the foot crank

5. Pull the brake to start her

About ten false starts and some manipulation of the choke and she was finally off and on her way with me along for the ride.

At this point we had 45 minutes to get to work. I was calculating as I drove whether or not I would be late when suddenly a moose appeared in the middle of the road. She looked at me as I slowed down to give her space (moose are unpredictable and definitely something to stay out of the way of. A hoof to the face? No thanks) but instead of a standoff she just crossed and disappeared into the woods. Alright, 40 minutes to make it to work now. Unlike a vehicle we didn’t have to cross the bridge (meaning get out and unlock it, get back in, lock it again, check for other vehicles etc.) which takes longer. Nope, we just had to cross the foot bridge.

Did I mention it’s tourist season?

Bridge courtesy for motorized vehicles is to wait on the other side for others to cross or if you’re antsy to follow far behind (especially 4-wheelers since they can’t fit past a pedestrian). On the motorcycle I can easily pass someone but in the vein of courtesy, I kept a good distance between myself and the couple in front of me.

They slowly crossed without a care in the world, me behind them trying to keep my balance as I crept along. Finally we got across and we was able to move ahead on our merry way.

Sort of.

I should have known the holdups weren’t through with us.

Half-way up the hill I hit The Mudslide. I was at the bottom of it, heading up a short steeper hill within the 4 mile long hill and what was atop the steep little hill at the top of The Mudslide? Another dang moose.

Don’t get me wrong, I love moose, but they are a million times more unpredictable than a Whack-A-Mole and I had already ran into one that had been easy that morning. What were my chances of two? At least this one too was solo. Better than a mother and a calf.

This one was a teenager, through and through. It looked me up and down, considered moving and then considered otherwise. It paced back and forth along the road. I stayed at the bottom of the steep little hill, not wanting to have another incident like the one with the “Dumber” moment. If I matched its pace going uphill that was way closer of contact than I wanted. Ideally, I’d just zip past it, but since it was at the top of the hill and barely progressing forward, that was unlikely.

I honked my horn (it sounds almost exactly like the “meep, meep!” of the Roadrunner) and the teen just looked back at me, unimpressed. Did I just get dissed by a moose? I revved my little motor and the same look came at me again.

Finally, the teen moved into the woods. I cheered and waited for a moment before gunning it up the hill.

Success!

Nope.

As I peaked on the hill there was the moose. The teen seemed to levitate off the ground as I reached the top of the hill as it hadn’t in fact gone into the woods so much as up and over the hill out of sight and into the little pond alongside the road. I swerved to miss any incoming kicks and hauled tail up the second little hill in front of me, checking my rearview mirrors as I kicked up rocks and tried to steer clear of the big ones (the dump-you-off-your-bike-ers).

Ten minutes later I had finally made it to work.

What a day!

And it had only just begun.

We were busy busy busy and the day flew by. It was Friday, which means softball games at the ball field, games which I hadn’t gotten to play in weeks due to the tonsillitis events. I was stoked to get there. Just as we closed and started to clean in order to leave we heard a clap of thunder. The air shifted and the sky went black and it started pouring harder than I have ever experienced in Alaska.

Bluebell!

She was outside with her seat completely exposed (a seat which is currently only foam as the covering seems to have disintegrated over the years). I ran and covered her.

It seems a wet bum wouldn’t be the biggest issue of the night however.

I had forgotten my rain gear.

Rule #1 in Alaska: Layers. Always pack layers. And I had, all but one: my rain jacket.

Never forget your rain jacket. In Alaska it rains almost every day (or snows in Winter). Not always hard and not always long, but almost always a bit of rain.

This was a torrential downpour and I was caught without gear.

Oh joy!

My closing duties were done and the storm hadn’t moved down the mountain yet. Softball was still happening but if I rode down I would have been in town without warm clothes (my change wasn’t enough to get me through soaking wet) and soaked to the bone. So I waited for a ride from my boss and bid Bluebell adieu.

Well, she almost made her first full trip up to work and back.

 

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At least she was left with a view

 

By the time we got down to softball the storm had reached them as well and the game was rained out.

The next morning we couldn’t get up to her before work but seeing as I didn’t have nearly as far to go to work that day (I work at two places: one is the food truck at the top of the hill, the other is a restaurant at the bottom of it) I decided to try a different mode of transportation: my bike.

Last year I had a hand me down bicycle which had tire and gear issues which we were never quite able to remedy. Riding up to the food truck town was pure torture as none of my gears worked but one and riding uphill in one gear for over an hour is something I’ll leave to the pros, thank you very much.

This year, I had borrowed a friend’s bike but it was too big for me. Every time I had to get off of it I would try to hop and propel myself forward and every time I got on I would try to get a sort of moving start and aim not to fall (which was a good aim but not always the reality).

Finally, my neighbor’s bike which had been stolen (here it’s called “borrowed” but without permission it seems a bit more of a steal) all winter reappeared. In its absence she had purchased another bike and so after having seen me and my don’t-fall-over tactics on the Too Big Bike she offered it to me.

It fit!

The gears were finicky and only sort of worked and the handlebars surprised me with a sticky residue nearly impossible to remove but it had more than one gear and it moved me where I needed to go. It was all good.

Except the seat: the seat would not stay put. I’d adjusted it and tightened it and tested it countless times. It would even sometimes stay for a whole day but then the next time I would ride it I would slowly feel myself start sinking down, down, down. And so I would ride with my knees basically in my teeth, huffing and puffing just to get it going down the dirt road.

But, I ran into a girlfriend the day after my Bluebell expedition and she somehow strong-armed the bike into staying put. The seat remained in place and I was able to bike and bike and bike.

Until the tire went flat.

Easy fix, right? I borrowed a pump.

Nope.

It had “special tires” and for the life of me I couldn’t find a “special pump”.

And so it sat with flat tires and I resorted to the next step: two feet as my mode of transportation.

I walked to work the next day and at the end of my shift, The Chief and I drove up and finally collected Bluebell.

Someone (who knows?), unaccustomed to the fuel line situation, had left the fuel on and so we worried she wouldn’t start but after a few tries start she did. I let The Chief ride her home since he hadn’t gotten any Bluebell time. Finally she was back home and my modes of transport were twofold again (legs and Bluebell).

 

 

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The next day it rained and so I chose the less painful route of walking (water pellets hurt on a motorcycle). The Chief had the day off and spent it working on his own motorcycle which finally was resurrected.

Two working machines?!

We may not have a car that works but darned if we don’t have two machines.

That day I asked my girlfriend (the strong one) if she had a bike pump I could use and it turned out she did. I brought it home and pumped those babies up the next day before work.

Three modes of transportation?! (Legs, bike, motorcycle) This was too much.

And obviously it was too much.

5 minutes into my ride I started feeling myself slowly shrink.

The damn seat again?!

There’s always something in the woods. It’s always something when you live in the woods.

The day after The Chief got his motorcycle running he rode it into town. We got a ride home and the next day when he came back to get it he couldn’t start it, not even with a little help from our friends (Joe Cocker really rocks that version).

 

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Even Cinda was up to help

 

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This is a My Damn Bike Won’t Start face in case you’ve never seen one.

 

That’s just how it goes.

There’s always something in the woods.

Be it a moose or a holdup. There’s always something. No gas. No oil. Fuel left on. Rain storms. A dog that needs to come home so you leave a bike in town. A flooded pathway. A working bike one day followed by who knows what happened the next. A low rider bike. A wet seat.

But hey, at least it keeps it interesting. Between the dust and the potholes, two wheels and four wheels alike all have trouble at some time and if you can’t just throw your hands up and laugh along with Alaska then she will be on her own just laughing at you (in a kind way but still, you won’t be in on the joke).

I remember the first time anything big went wrong with my old car in California. The seat stopped adjusting (it was automatic) and my reaction was to almost be offended. How could this just stop working? I’m driving here, people. I’m so important, right?

Alaska doesn’t care who you are she just cares how you get through it and believe me, it’s not always with grace and ease and a song in my heart. But most of the time I can just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. So many vehicles, so little movement. When half of your day is just spent hoping to make it to and from work and the other half is spent working, there’s really no time to be stay grumpy.

The road here is always bumpy and so one can either learn to avoid the big bumps and glide with the rest or point each one out (but that sounds very tiring).

And so who knows? Maybe this week I will find a way to fix the seat. By then I’m sure Bluebell will catch a cold or my shoes will go missing or our vehicle will start working. It’s a constant game of musical vehicles but hey, none of them have electronic seats, so at least that won’t go out.

Cheers to living on the edge and in the woods. Who knows what’s next? Fingers crossed and backpack packed (this time with a rain jacket).

 

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Summer Speed & The Solstice Countdown

Solstice has always been a celebration of light for me, a nod to the sun in thanks for her light and energy and a sort of kick off to the festivities of Summer.

Let the fun begin.

Every year it’s been that same feeling of joy for the sun.

 

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Until this year.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a lizard for the sun. I find the place with the most Vitamin D per square inch everyday and put myself right in its light, moving with the sun as it draws across the sky.

But this year, Solstice was different. For one, I was still sick with Tonsillitis (last year I was also afflicted with a malady. Perhaps Solstice is my body’s annual fall apart moment) but being sick didn’t mean I wasn’t happy for the day, it just made me realize that I was happy for a different reason than I ever had been before.

The Winter Solstice this past Winter was a true celebration. We had made it through the darkest hours and from there it could only get lighter. But with the light come the crowds and with the crowds our small town of maybe 20 turns into a bustling tourist town with hundreds of people all wanting their piece, all here for a short time, all needing to get it all in. How we live becomes a sort of experience for others to snap shots of and report home about. Our life becomes this commercialized package for others to buy and record. We’ve had people step in front of the fire truck as we were driving in order to snap a shot of us. Friends have had lost tourists wander into their tucked away cabins. There’s a sense of shattered privacy and protection.

If that’s how you want to look at it or that’s what you want to focus on.

It can also be a great chance to meet new people from all over the world as long as you open yourself up to it.

Either way, either approach, it’s a world changed and light years away from the solitude and silence of Winter and a shift that everyday I have to prepare myself to see the best in.

So in celebration of the light returning this Winter, there was also an apprehension built-in. Thank goodness for the light, the energy, the plants and animals coming out to play and also, a sort of buckling up for the wild ride of the Summer approaching.

Summer Solstice to me has always been a celebration of light but I realized this year that I had been looking at it backwards, or ignoring what I knew: the Summer Solstice means that every day forward, the light is decreasing. It’s a departure from light.

 

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The sun barely sets, she just makes shadows.

 

Winter will soon be here.

The Chief and I were celebrating the Summer Solstice at The Restaurant and among the crowds of people I felt a sudden sense of overwhelm come over us both. But I paused as I realized that our friend was packing her bags in the Southern Hemisphere and I looked to The Chief, smiled and said:

“Winter is on her way. We are heading back to the dark.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him beam like he did that night.

I love Winter. But come last Fall as we bid adieu for 5 weeks, it was in the back of both of our minds that perhaps I wouldn’t like Winter, perhaps I would utterly despise it and then where would we go from there? So when I looked to him that night, a year later and truly happy to feel the approaching shift towards Winter, I swear I saw his heart do a happy dance.

We had so many uncertainties going into the dark together, so many unknowns. I literally walked into it blind with no idea of what I was getting myself into.

But I did not walk in alone.

And so we came out on the other side excited for another turn in the dark. Another Winter together in the woods, this time a little less blind. There will be snow machine trips to take, lessons to learn, time to just breathe, away from the hustle of Summer and away from the Springtime Shoulder Season of her approach. You see, the Summer here is completely opposite from any Summer I’ve spent anywhere else.

Before now, Summer to me meant cookouts and beach days, lazy hours by the pool, popsicles and ice cream, road trips, gardening and an overall sense of play and relaxation. I’ve always worked a lot as well, but there was a milder sense of urgency to earn in the Summer versus the Winter (work time).

Not here.

Summer means Go Time.

Summer is the time to hustle. To work as much as possible to make your money for the Winter months ahead. This week I worked over 50 hours, driving or biking or walking 30-60 minutes each way. It feels as if I haven’t been home in over a week because the only time I am home is to sleep off the day and prepare for another.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not all work and no play. The Summer here is also filled to the brim with things to do. Mondays are Movie Night, Wednesdays are Fire Night, Thursdays are Open Mic Night, Fridays are for Softball, Saturdays there is usually a band playing somewhere and Sundays are for Roast Chicken and Tunes. There’s also Yoga Classes and Craft Nights and Farmer’s Market and Rock Building Party and Events which I’ve never been able to attend. Every day can be filled to the brim with work and play and every night filled with a few hours of sleep to refuel for the next. Even if I don’t go out I still never get home before 11pm. Thankfully, the sun seems to make solar-powered people out of us all because despite little sleep and lots of work, we all seem to power through with energy not felt the other 9 months of the year.

And so it makes sense to miss Winter in ways, to miss the quiet and the calm before the party/work storm.

But for now, it is Summer. I haven’t seen a sky full of stars in quite some time because the sun graces us for what feels like the whole day and I can walk without a headlamp at any hour and place my feet with certainty. Instead of miss the stars I try to remember that it will be Winter before I know it and I’ll miss the gifts the light brings like…

Just Being Outside. No agenda. No rush. No need to do calisthenics to keep warm. Lazily walking the property to see how the sun has changed the earth’s face instead of hustling to beat the cold back inside.

 

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Color. The Winter is beautiful in its pristine white but a pop of color brightens the soul. I swear it took a month for my eyes to adjust to seeing all the different colors again instead of simply shades of white and grey.

Ice Cream. ‘Nuff said. There’s a store and everyday they have ice cream. Every day. Luckily for the integrity of the seams in my pants, I typically get off of work long after the ice cream store is closed but just knowing that it’s there makes my little heart sing.

Playing Outside & Exploring. Being able to just throw on a pair of running shoes and take off into the wild. Hiking on the glacier or along the river and hearing the rush and the movement of water broke the sense of stasis that a valley blanketed in snow created. Having the outside be accessible again without having to pack as if going out to war is so amazing and living in a place that is an outsider’s dreamland doesn’t hurt either. Sure, we may not have as much time as I’d like to go out and enjoy it but at least it’s there for the times when we can sneak away to it.

 

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Hiking on the West Side of The Glacier towards The Archway – an enormous arch of ice that leads deeper into The Glacier

 

Bare Skin. In the Winter I would walk twice daily to see the Sunrise and the Sunset. Every time I went out I would expose as much skin as I could to soak up the sun but often that only meant that I could sneak out my face or my hands and only for a few moments. Bare arms and legs in the hot sunshine makes my day everyday.

Friends. It’s impossible to walk through town without a familiar face and a hug. In the Winter we had to seek out company other than one another and 20 below zero temperatures didn’t make engagements any easier. To be able to just see sweet faces about our world (some that we only get to see for a few days a year) without planning and packing all day for it is a treat I try not to take for granted.

Gardens. In the Winter, the only living things in the house were the vegetables I was trying to grow from scraps (try it. It’s awesome. Even in the dead of Winter in Alaska I had green onions, celery and romaine lettuce growing). I missed seeing blossoms and blooms. The smiling faces of my pansies at the bottom of our stairs makes me smile/giggle every time I pass them. Almost every morning I forgo breakfast or a shower or reading with tea because I get caught up in the garden watering and checking on our plant babies. It’s magic to get to be surrounded by life ever-changing.

 

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I know, I know, it’s too early for a cauliflower to come out and this one may not taste great but this is the cutest dang thing I’ve ever seen and that’s redemption enough. It’s about an inch across. Adorable.

 

A Good Old Fashioned Party. Sometimes, you really just need to let your hair down. With The Restaurant and the local watering hole open every day now there’s always a chance to play. Sure, the bar can get panic attack packed but sometimes the feel is just right, the local to tourist ratio is in the local court and we are all in the mood for a rowdy night. The Winter doesn’t exactly lend itself to dancing to live music or staying up late with 30 friends. Sure, we get together (and often it’s around a big fire, which is pretty awesome) but there’s something about a big group of friends feeling good all at the same time, friends who haven’t seen one another due to busy schedules and sometimes all of the parts of the equation just add up to a night to remember.

Eating Out. I love cooking, but when you cook every meal you eat every single day of the week for months on end (minus the dinner party or potluck here and there) you are chomping at the bit to eat something you haven’t made on dishes you won’t have to clean. It’s pure luxury.

Overall Ease. When people ask me what we did all Winter they always seem to surmise that basically we were just surviving and in the most basic sense, it’s true. In the Summer we may be trying to keep our heads afloat (and on) throughout the never-ending Go Time but everything from driving to getting water to staying warm and fed are so much easier.

Plant Medicine. Last year I came down with my apparently Annual Solstice Malady and I was able to go into the woods with a girlfriend and harvest plants to help to ease the pain. I took medication afterwards (after someone in town thankfully had what I needed, otherwise I would have had to wait for a week for the mail plane to bring it in) but the initial care from the horsetail we harvested was a lifesaver. This land here is filled with remedies for everything from cramps to cuts and all one has to do is walk outside. It’s pretty amazing too the differences in flora between the two towns here: ours on the woodsier side and the higher elevation historic town. If there’s something I can’t find here I can almost always find it there. Nature is an amazing gift giver.

 

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From this…

 

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To this…to chapstick.

 

And the list goes on. Every day I add to it. Painted Toenails, Flip Flops, Not Freezing Every Time I Have To Go Outside To Pee. It really just keeps going and going. The point is not that I am trying to love Summer, it’s that I am recreating what Summer means to me and what Winter means to me. This place has completely turned my 29 years of understanding the “seasons” on its head and its something I have to remind myself of constantly. I like the challenge to see my world suddenly in reverse. Sure it can cause a bit of vertigo sometimes but life is made to stretch us and Alaska, you seem to think I’m a yogi. Maybe someday.

Until then, I’ll keep aiming to stretch with differences and appreciate whatever light there is in the sky, be it shining over snow or creating a double rainbow.

 

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It’s all pretty amazing.

Thank you Alaska.

Bluebell

I spent the later part of this Winter learning how to drive:

1. in the snow and

2. in a stick shift.

I patted my own back as I began to learn how to control a slide, to drive in slush and ice and everything not so nice and eventually, I took my first long voyage to a girlfriend’s house 15 miles away.

It was triumphant.

With the exception of the end.

Back then, Ole Lady Jack in the Box had little to no shocks and her back-end wobbled all over the road at the slightest interference like a less than predictable belly dancer. But just as I would feel about to lose control, she would snap back into action. It was my first time in 4th gear and my first time with passengers that weren’t my person (The Chief). Our neighbor and her pup and my other neighbor’s pup who relentlessly followed up for a few miles until we just decided to kidnap him for the day and Miss Cinda all packed into Lady Jack and headed to another girlfriend’s house on The Lake 15 miles away. It was relatively smooth sailing despite the rocky waters of The Road and the inexperienced Captain (yours truly) but we got there in one piece and high fives were definitely in order.  All I had to do was turn around once we reached The Lake to face homeways before we trekked on foot across the frozen waters.

Funny thing was, I couldn’t quite find 1st gear after spending so much time out of it. With a cliff heading down to The Lake behind us and a 1.5 car road and blind turn in front of us, I set out to find 1st and right us in the direction homeward (that’s a thing out here. You always pull into a destination in a way so that you are faced homewards. I don’t know if it stemmed from fire trucks in our family or what, but it’s a habit and one I see almost everyone do out here and ya know, it makes a whole lot of sense).

7 tries later I finally found a little momentum. I caught the gear, a little too hard and flew forward enough to stall the car and land on the horn. The stall coupled with the high-pitched and long “meep” of the horn left us in tears from laughter. I swear the dogs were even laughing (after they were done rolling their eyes). A few tries afterwards I found 1st again and about ten minutes later we were turned homewards, without falling off the cliff or running into an oncoming car.

Success!

The rest of the day was spent spotting bald eagles and their babies and walking with the dogs along The Lake (we had acquired 4 more at this point. Outnumbered again.) as they found salmon to munch on and the ladies caught up.

 

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I doubt it will ever cease to amaze me how flowing water turns seamlessly into a slippery highway.

 

Oh girl time, how I love thee.

That night, The Chief and my girlfriend’s husband ended up driving out to The Lake as well and due to a raucous party in my belly to which I had not been invited to chaperone, The Chief drove us home.

So, that morning was my last time driving a stick shift in any gear higher than 3rd on The Road. I’ve never even been off The Road, never driven on anything other than the fertile learning grounds of 60 miles of bumpy and deserted lands and thus have never entered a highway or driven in stop and go traffic.

But suddenly I was about to. You see, I spoke too soon.

And I should have known better.

 

The tonsils struck back.

After last week’s adventures in Abscess Land I figured I was free. Sure, the idea that they might come back again was in the very back of my mind but I haven’t organized back there in a while and it was easy to look past. All was good.

But again, I spoke too soon.

Just as I published last week’s post I felt it: the heat. My right ear started pulsing again and my ear and neck felt as if they were on fire.

Again?!

I called my doctor in California and she promptly advised me to “hop on a plane to California. The infection may be coming back and who knows where it will land next”. She would send in a referral sight unseen for me to see an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist) and I would likely have a Tonsillectomy.

I half choked on her words as I almost laughed a response out of nervousness. Hop on a plane? The nearest airport is 8 plus hours away. Correction: the nearest airport is 3.5 miles away. I can get there on foot. That being said, that airport brings in mail twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays on small planes packed to the gills. Those would be the only days I could potentially get out via air (if they weren’t already booked with passengers) and it would cost a pretty penny just to get to Anchorage where again, pennies would get even prettier as I purchased my way back to California. In addition to that, simply going to the high town here (at an increase of 1,000 ft.) made my ears go crazy so jumping in a plane sounded more like a torture chamber than a refuge.

But what could I do? Kaiser would only refer me to Kaiser and guess what?

There’s no Kaiser in Alaska.

Who knew?

Well, I for one did and I for one did nothing to start working out my medical situation in Alaska in anticipation of a future need for care.

Care I needed right then.

Plan ahead? That’s cute of you to suggest. No, I think I’ll go for the fly by the seat of your pants and potentially have to sell the shirt off your back to pay for it approach. Yes, that sounds much more serene.

After hours and hours and hours on the phone trying to figure out my best options through MediCal, Medicare in Alaska, Kaiser and Partnership (some go-between for MediCal and Kaiser that is confusing to everyone in the medical system) to get in to see an ENT, it dawned on me:

The Chief and I had basically spent the entire Winter with his ENT. Maybe they would see me.

No referral needed. They set me up with an appointment for that coming Friday.

Perfect.

Now then, our car was (and is) still broken and we can’t very well steal away in a Fire truck during a time of extreme fire danger, but make the appointment I did.

Our neighbor came to our rescue lending us his valiant Subaru steed and with that we were set. I called around for a vet appointment for Cinda as well as she had been having some older lady problems that we had been unable to get her in for and when you’re going to Town you pack in every appointment you can. Two birds? Why not try for 20 with one stone. Try we did.

Town Run.

This time, it was a Town Run on steroids.

Our plan: leave Thursday, return Friday night.

20 hours of driving in 36 hours.

And we were going to share the driving.

Gulp. Stick shift training in a hurry.

Why the rush? Saturday was packed to the gills: there was a Fire Department Kickball Game & Cookout Fundraiser and I was performing with the local band at the bar for our first gig. We had to make it back.

All week I made phone calls trying to finagle a way to ensure this visit and the potential CTs and Xrays the doctor had suggested would somehow be covered. Many times throughout the week, even though I still had to take loads of Ibuprofen to function and couldn’t make it through any evening event, I tried to convince The Chief that maybe we were wasting our time.

“Julia, you had an abscess on top of Tonsillitis which blew up in your mouth. We are going to the doctor.”

Fine, sheesh.

He’s good like that. You see the thing is, (gross part approaching) as I had guessed, the drainage of an abscess is supposed to happen in the hospital and then following the drainage, patient’s are given a high dosage shot of Penicillin. And it didn’t quite roll out that way.

I guess he had a point. Besides, my Mom was in California backing up The Chief’s every call with a Do You Need Me To Come Up There And Drag You To The Doctor Myself Mom Voice so I knew I was going no matter what.

But I was still worried about the money because who knew where in the system this was coming from but if it didn’t land somewhere, it was coming from me and me is not exactly rolling in the dough.

“You are getting the care you need. I don’t care if we have to pay it off for the next 20 years.”

I have never had someone so blatantly and selflessly throw themselves on the line for me (other than my Mom) and make me feel like we are in it together no matter what.

I was honored (though I still tried to get out of it).

But I didn’t get out of it and so we left Thursday, ready to return Friday and hoping the doctors wouldn’t require us to stay longer (we’d experienced that move before and were poised to debate it if we needed to).

We left with a zoom, as if we were gathering running momentum in order to pole vault ourselves back. A few times I thought The Chief might ask me to drive and I readied myself for the challenge despite the intense pain building in my ears as we went up and down and up and down the mountains. But he didn’t.

No driving yet.

We stopped about 4 hours from home at the nearest DMV. About a month ago I was on a Girl Trip day mission to the same town to get two things done: loads of laundry and licensing at the DMV. Since I’ve lived here since December (and you’re supposed to change over licenses after living somewhere for something like 30 days, I’ve just found out) I was way out-of-bounds. But I was hesitant. I liked my CA license. I’d never had anything else. It felt like I was saying “goodbye” and it made me apprehensive.

That is until we showed up at 11am on a Thursday and the DMV was closed. In that moment, I realized that a license is just a license and I needed my license in AK. My heart and at times my feet will always have a place in California but in order to get this whole medical shebang moving, I needed to come at it legitimately.

But living in small towns means small DMVs, DMVs like you’ve probably (I hadn’t) never seen before. It’s a one room tiny building with one owner/operator whom obviously (though it wasn’t obvious to me before arriving) is able to set her own hours of operation. 9-5? Think again.

When I saw that Closed sign I knew I wanted that license. Leave it to Alaska to give you just what you were secretly asking for, only to help you realize that you didn’t really mean it.

So, here it was, today was the day: legitimate driving in Alaska. I had waited a whole month to be able to get back here and I was stoked. I had studied online, found out all the paperwork I needed and I was ready. I came in, gave her my forms and identification and proof of residence and she looked at me and said:

“Oh no, you live at the end of The 60 Mile Road, don’t you?”
She recognized me from Winter when we came in for Fire Truck registrations on one of our trips to Town.

“You didn’t bring your passport or birth certificate by any chance?”

No, I had looked online and it asked for Identification. If it had asked for my passport I would have brought my passport. It was sitting in our kitchen drawer, four hours away. The Chief had suggested I call the DMV but I had stubbornly ignored his suggestion. If I hadn’t I would have known that apparently I needed my passport.

She knew we wouldn’t be able to come back until I could catch another ride into town who knows when but there was nothing that could be done. I took the test and passed (it’s an abnormally hard test for some reason so I was glad to make it through) and we placed all of my paperwork in an envelope for me to return with when I could.

Ugh.

Another DMV letdown. Man, I’m really going to have to work to prove to Alaska that I do want to be here, I guess. That’s O.K., I’m in.

Third time’s the charm?

The Chief kept driving from there and about an hour outside of Town we reassessed. He said he’d be fine to just finish it up (it’s like driving to L.A. from Sonoma County,  not a small quest) and so we pulled into Town ahead of schedule and settled in for the night.

The next morning it was pouring down rain.

“Maybe I’ll just drive to the doctor’s office. Anchorage can get hectic in the rain.” The Chief offered. I was relieved. Stop and go traffic in the rain for the first time on a stick I’ve never driven that’s also not ours? No thank you.

We got to the doc’s office and the whole staff gave us confused looks as I entered as the patient instead of The Chief. He had one of the worst cases of sinus infections they had ever seen and so was remembered by the team. The doctor came in, evaluated my tonsils and ears and said:

“The infection doesn’t seem to be spreading. You still have Tonsillitis, despite the burst abscess so that’s why you’re still in so much pain but keep on the antibiotics and call me if you need more.”

And then:

“So, shall we take them out?”

Thank you! Finally, a doc who gets it. Personally, I am not one to jump at surgery (heck, I can barely get myself in for a check-up), but my tonsils scare me. They feel constantly on the brink of infection and this recent abscess on top of infection was enough to make me worry. I don’t want to be in the woods constantly dealing with Tonsillitis.

“Alright let’s schedule you in now.”

Now? Like next week? Oh heck no. I have a show to play tomorrow.

We asked if we could push it…to September and he gave us a look that meant “Sure, but your tonsils will decide”. So we scheduled for September so I could spend the Summer working instead of recovering from surgery (apparently it’s a pretty gnarly surgery for adults) and crossed our fingers that the infection doesn’t spread and my tonsils don’t start going for gold in the Tonsillitis Olympics again.

I left feeling heard, finally.

We had five hours to kill before the Vet which seemed like an eternity. Two errands later and we had 2.5 hours left. Time flies when you’re having fun in Anchorage.

The rain kept coming and first gear started acting up. The Chief kept driving.

Two more errands later and we were at the Vet. Poor Lou was so nervous and in so much pain when they even attempted to look at her lady bits that they had to give her morphine. It didn’t exactly calm her (she’s a dog raised in the woods without laminated flooring or leashes, it’s all unfamiliar to her) but it did deaden her senses enough that as we left she fell over in the car after we made a quick turn. The thud was both sad and hilarious at the same time but there she was, smiling goofily as she slowly picked herself back up. Triumphant T, the Hallucinating Husky.

 

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With a Doped Up Dog and a Surgery Scheduled Sweetie on board The Chief drove us out of Town. We stopped for supplies an hour out and as he grabbed an energy drink he said he didn’t mind just taking the whole drive.

I’d love to pretend that I was a little disappointed but I wasn’t. Learning a new stick on a car I don’t own on big traffic-filled roads with a testy 1st gear in the rain in a rush to get home (as it was now almost 7pm and we were still 7 hours away) sounds 100% like a typical Alaskan learning experience but 100% not what I was up for at that moment. And so, I let go and let him take us home. Thank you.

We got in late but in record time and all in all we had made it out of town which was really all that mattered.

The next day was a flurry of activity getting ready for the fundraiser (though thanks to our friend almost everything was already in place, she’s awesome). I was down at The Restaurant and had just plated the last batch of cookies I’d made to bring up to the fundraiser. I walked outside to go the long way to the ball field instead of scaling the treacherous back way and just as I stepped outside, The Chief rolled up, horn meep meeping.

She lived!

A few months ago The Chief gave away the Honda to a wonderful mechanic friend. I was not excited. I loved that Honda and wanted to get her back to life (I’d never seen her in action), but we didn’t know to fix her and hadn’t had the time and so, in the circle of life things live around here, she was given away to hopefully be resurrected and loved by someone else.

For some reason though, as I said goodbye to her I knew I would see her again.

He pulled up meep meeping the horn and I almost threw the cookies in the air with excitement.

“It’s for you, babe.”

Our mechanic friend had gotten it working but decided he didn’t need it so he had sold it to his brother for $100.00. The brother had brought it to the Kickball game to potentially give it to another friend but when The Chief saw it he immediately ran and got his money. This is for Julia.

I spent the rest of the day smiling at her when I wasn’t riding her and getting bugs in my teeth my grin was so big when I was riding her.

She was a hit with the kiddos too.

 

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At one point someone ran up to her and went to take her off her kickstand and I yelled across the field: “Don’t you just jump on Bluebell! She’s an old lady and deserves respect.”

She had a name. It had just popped out.

Bluebell.

At the end of the fundraiser I rode Bluebell down to the bar and for some reason The Chief suggested I take the key with me. We both looked at one another with our heads cocked as he said it (we don’t have a key to our house and we never lock anything out here. The keys are always inside everyone’s vehicles and there is just trust in the town for it to be so) but I did it anyways.

And it’s a good thing I did.

 

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Sound check.

 

Hours later, after playing music for 2-3 hours and having an awesome night a local ran into the bar and said “Someone just stole your bike!”

Excuse me?

We ran outside and down the trail and sure enough someone had tried to steal Bluebell but when they couldn’t get her started they had thrown her in the bushes. I picked her up and dusted her off as The Chief hightailed it after the invisible thief whom had disappeared into the night.

Thank goodness we had taken the key with us.

That night as I drove Bluebell home (completely un-equipped in my dress and gloveless frozen fingers) I giggled out loud from happiness. I had loved that bike since I first saw her and to have her come back around full circle is what this place is all about. It makes my heart warm.

 

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Her first time back at home. 2am and feeling fine.

 

And so, despite two attempts at the DMV and zero attempts at a stick shift in town, my driving karma has finally taken a turn with Bluebell.

Yesterday morning, I went outside to check on the garden.

 

 

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I was almost to the ramp to indoors when I spotted Bluebell in her parking spot. I couldn’t resist. I fired her up (a process of five separate steps) and flew down the road on a mini joy ride down to the river before we left for the day, slippers and all. I just couldn’t walk past her without jumping on.

And so, Tonsillitis (which seems to be improving everyday) and Town Rampages aside, this weekend was one of the best I’ve spent here so far. I may not know how to drive a stick shift in Town yet and I will still have to make yet another trip to the DMV but I suddenly have the best rig a lady could ask for.

Cheers to resurrections of vehicles who have more lives than cats and cheers to The Chief for buying her twice.

Cheers to Bluebell.

 

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Wish.

There’s a Fire in them Fields

When I first told my California girlfriends back home that I was dating the Fire Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department here there were two and only two responses:

  1. “Oh my god, how old is he?” Yea, I guess when I hear Fire Chief I think of an older man with a huge mustache. He can only check one of those boxes. And…
  2. “Of course you are. Of course.”

Geez. I hadn’t thought of it as obvious until each and every one of them said that. I sensed a pattern…

I’ve always been interested in a more rugged lifestyle and hey, I’ve always worn cowboy boots year round, so I guess it does make sense that I would be attracted to a rugged place and a rugged cowboy-esque (think classic Marlboro, not rhinestone) man to go with it. The Fire Chief part was just a little title icing on top of the obvious cupcake, I guess.

Growing up and honestly pretty much until now, the only interactions I’d had with fire departments had been dichotomous and rarely fire related. I’d admired fire fighters as a kid and keep that wonderment and respect with me still to this day. I’d had child like interactions with fire personnel that I wasn’t acquainted with, like being sprayed off by fire hoses at the end of a 10k Mud Run I completed a few years ago.

On the opposite side of things, I also used to hang out with friends in high school who were part of the Volunteer Fire Department in the area with whom I would get into more trouble than public service. Sneaking into the Fire House to have a party (with the radios blaring in case of emergency and the guys on duty staying sober, don’t worry) was a common weeknight activity. But neither of the two interactions really had much to do with fire other than hoping that during the party that we would all get to slide down the ladder.

Firefighting to me was a very distant reality. One which I admired but did not see myself participating in. Looking back I’m not sure if it’s because I felt I had come upon the game too late ((most of my friends had been in the VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) for years already)) or if it was too much of a boy’s club to break into, or if, as a shorty I was too physically intimidated. I do know that it intrigued me, but I never pursued it.

So, upon moving here and finding my (apparently obvious) partner in crime who just so happened to be Fire Chief of the VFD in town, I again felt fire pique my interest but again shied away. The Chief holds meetings for the VFD on Wednesdays and I would conveniently always be working or busy.

That was last year.

However, come the middle of Winter last year with all the grant proposals and planning for the year ahead taking place in the middle of our small cabin, I started to get interested and invested and started thinking towards this year. I still felt intimidated. I still felt it was a bit of a boy’s club. But after talking about it we realized that in the event of a fire, considering how much we like to be together, we likely would be together. If The Chief was called to a fire I could either arrive with him, untrained and unable to do much to help, or I could come to trainings, learn the equipment and become a member of the VFD.

Me?

It didn’t seem quite real, or feasible for that matter. I tried different angles to see if The Chief really was serious about needing me there. I tried to get out of it, but at the same time somewhat hoped he would push me towards it.

In true Chief fashion, he did.

“There’s no reason why you can’t do anything at the VFD that I can do and there’s no reason for you not to know how to help when we live in such a vulnerable area to fire. You’ve got this.”

Well, shoot. There’s no arguing that. We do live in a vulnerable area. We are in rural Alaska. The road to the town is 60 miles of pothole ridden gravel and dirt. Outside help would be a long time coming. We should know what we are doing. We are the initial attack force.

 

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Changing out the Smokey Sign to High Fire Danger. Only you.

 

So, I resolved to go to meetings and try my best.

 

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Not a bad place to train, I guess.

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Piss packs and water reserves and mountains, oh my!

And it’s a good thing I did.

Three days after our second meeting in which we practiced running the different pumps on the different trucks and in which I tried, with fail, to memorize the order of operations to get water flowing, there was a fire.

Sure enough, The Chief was right. The first fire of the area and we were together, only now unlike last year, I could help.

A neighbor had come by to report smoke down the road from our house. Erratic winds had caused it to flow in his direction but not ours (we live on opposite sides of the fire and the winds had sent it his way. He also had to pass the area to get home whereas our turnoff is before the site). Smoke? The Chief had been alerted about a controlled burn in the area but had been assured the night before that it had been tucked in for the night and was completely out.

Or so they thought.

But they were wrong.

By the time The Chief and I got to the burn site there was not only smoke but open flames. Fire is tricky like that. She can seem like she’s gone and then, with just the right fuel from a windy day, she can pick right up as if resurrected from the dead.

 

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A panoramic view of the burn site.

 

The winds were just so that day and the temperatures (for Alaska) were cooking that the situation could have spelled disaster. Surrounded by dead Spruce trees and fields of dried grass, we arrived to the open flames and immediately got to business. We live a mere 5 minutes down the road. That fire could have beaten us home if it caught the right wind, and then beaten our home to a pulp. The Department isn’t equipped for structural firefighting and so we would have tried to contain the fire but likely wouldn’t have been able to save our home. We would have had to watch it burn while we tried to contain it so we didn’t also have to watch our friends’ houses burn as well.

The firestarter (or rather the person who ordered another to oversee the fire) was called and told of what was happening and that we required immediate help. He may have thought that the fire was out but unfortunately he was wrong. Further, a fire should never have taken place the day before in the conditions we were experiencing and it should have been overseen by a larger group with better water back-up had things gone wrong. He sent a crew to help us to handle the situation.

Our neighbor had to drive the fire truck to the site while we watched the fire. We had left the truck in town, stationed to be near the more populated areas where fire seemed more likely. Of course, it was the day that we should have brought it home. When you live in a town where it takes twenty minutes minimum to get from our house to town in a loaded fire truck and there are only three functioning trucks in the area, it seems right that it should be centrally located and easily accessible by qualified members of the VFD if need be. But now, we were on our side of the bridge and the river without an immediate truck response.

When resources are limited, it’s hard to know how to best play them but from now on that truck will be with us every second, ready to respond and the two others will live on the opposite side of the river, poised for attack.

 

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I seriously can’t imagine a better color scheme. I love that truck.

 

So, with the fire truck arrived and a hand crew to boot, we started at it. Having just gone through my first round of training, I figured I should defer to our neighbor and to The Chief to operate the pumps.

Wrong.

“It’ll be good training. Fire her up.”

Gulp.

O.k.

Thankfully, they were there to answer any questions which arose and I was able to get water flowing within minutes. Then, of course, I immediately walked away from the pump to ask The Chief a question while our neighbor headed out with the hose.

 

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Easy-peezy, right?

 

Big mistake.

The pump runs at whichever pressure you set it at. That being said, if you walk away from the pump and the pump runs out of water and you’re still trying to run the pump, well, it will run. It will run itself right into the ground and blow up.

When you have three fire trucks total for a great expanse of land it’s best to keep all three functional. It would have taken almost an hour to get a different truck over to us had I broken the pump and it takes hours to get to town and weeks to replace the pump. Overall, it’s just best not to break it in the first place.

The neighbor quickly reminded me of all of this with just one quick point and shout.

“You walked away!”

I ran back to the pump.

“This is your station. You watch your water levels. You watch your guys. You watch your pump” said The Chief.

 

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A few hand signal snafus (we didn’t really cover those yet) and a lot of digging and water later and the fire was contained and put out. I brought the throttle down slowly and then killed the engine. All was quiet again as everyone seemed to stop and look at what had become of the fire and to what could have been.

 

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Having been surrounded in refuse smoke, we all stunk to high heaven but even smelling like a dump couldn’t break my spirit. I had helped. I had run the pump. It hadn’t been perfect, but I had learned and most importantly, I had gone to training even though I had been intimidated. I kept imagining myself just standing there, feeling helpless as The Chief did all the work and I was so glad that a different reality had been the case instead. While I ran the pump and our neighbor ran the hose, The Chief could call and report the fire, take wind speed measurements, check conditions and oversee the effort. I would have missed out on helping because I was intimidated and afraid to fail. What a waste that would have been and in a different situation, what a danger that could have been. An ego at bay (momentarily) helped keep a fire away.

Within the hour The Chief had been called onto patrolling duty by the Department of Forestry. 12 hour days of driving the area back and forth and up and around to monitor campfires from visiting campers and to be on the lookout for developing weather systems, smoke and the like. To me, living in or near a city, I never even knew to contemplate just how much attention goes into hyper rural fire prevention. A lightning strike could be the beginning of a fire. A cigarette butt or an unattended campfire, or sparks from metal contact or any number of things could start small and turn into something very dangerous. In a city, response is easier to mobilize (though the fire is no less dangerous). Out here, we are on our own for precious hours. And so, he is on watch for anything and everything that could lead to fire.

Two days later of patrolling later, there was a fundraiser for the VFD.

 

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The event of a couple days past was abuzz in the community and so was the reality of the importance of the VFD. I watched as The Chief spoke to our community of the rising numbers of fire, the elevated danger of fire with our high temperatures and erratic winds and the dwindling water levels.

 

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The historic Rec Hall

 

Throughout the night, the mountains of delicious potluck foods (seriously, this place can throw a potluck) and the music and dancing, I kept looking at The Chief with a new respect and a special sort of awe. I knew what he did was of great importance but I guess I hadn’t understood just how much was riding on his back. When he said the ‘fire was out’, the fire was out but what if it had sparked up again? It would have been on him. Placing the trucks and training his team and keeping the equipment functioning and funded. In the end, it all rests on his shoulders.

I’ve always appreciated being in a role of leadership. I can jump into a situation and see what needs to get done and help to delegate so that it does. But I’ve never been in the constant state of responsibility The Chief is in. I know that I could do it though I can’t say whether I’d volunteer for it, but someone has to.

Seeing The Chief in front of the attendees in this light, seeing him speaking to them, asking for their help since fire is such a community effort, seeing him in this situation of responsibility did make it obvious. I further understood what my girlfriends’ saw (or heard from me by phone) immediately. I love seeing this serious side, this side that makes me and others feel safe. This side that knows what the relative humidity levels are every morning and watches the sky like a hawk scans the ground. I love seeing him in Chief Mode and well, it’s Summer now. ‘Tis the fire season. I also love how Chief Mode affects me. I take myself more seriously now. When he asks me what the water level is off-hand, I answer confidently. At trainings (instead of being the goof-off I usually was in class) I listen because I know it could come into play and now, I’ve seen it come into play and seen the potential mistakes in play. There’s nothing like a sense of urgency or emergency to challenge oneself and I hope each time to better and better be able to respond. I also hope we never have to respond again but I’ll train every week nonetheless.

Engage Chief Mode.

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…and co-pilot Lou

Scaling the Scaffolding: a Tale of Two Wobbly Knees

 

Next month marks a year since my life did a complete 180. I went from running water and local organic grocery stores to a “slop bucket” (a collection of water from the sink in the place of a draining sink, since there’s often little to no indoor plumbing here) and massive town runs. I went from everything I’ve ever known and every habit I’d created to a complete new way. But some things remain the same, no matter how far we travel, no matter how far we’ve come. Some things remain.

When I first arrived last June one of my first outings was to go ice climbing. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever even heard of ice climbing. It sounded way out of my element and way out of my comfort zone.

The girlfriend I was staying with when I first got here (when I first thought I’d only be here for 17 days and then off to who knows where) runs a guiding service in the area. She had to work that day but knew some of the guides were going ice climbing.

“You should go along” she encouraged. I was newly adjusting to my surroundings. Getting used to peeing outside, still afraid of bears around every corner, still getting used to the light at night and the ever-changing weather throughout the day. Rainstorms followed by blazing sun to suddenly overcast and frigid. My backpack was essentially my mobile closet with everything from a toothbrush to bug spray to a fresh pair of socks. Thinking ahead was key. It was all new.

So when I heard about the ice climbing expedition, I was uncertain. I didn’t know the guides, didn’t know the gear and I didn’t totally understand the endeavor which in the end was good because it allowed me not to think far enough to realize that I would be climbing up into the air when I have a fear of heights.

 

I have a fear of heights.

It was something that I had all but forgotten about myself until I got here. Occasionally, back in California, there would be a beautiful sunset which we would climb up on the roof of my house and watch. I would gingerly climb the ladder, slowly placing each footstep, holding on for dear life as I scaled the 6 feet that would take me up to the roof that looked down at least 30 feet to the ground below. I would feel my stomach drop, my knees start to go wobbly and my feet begin to numb before I’d even ascended halfway. Up on the top, I’d find my nook and cranny myself into it until I had to move again in order to come down (a time which I hoped would come as soon as possible, but you know, the sun is on her own schedule. Are we there yet?). The thing was, those times were rare. I rarely scared myself, rarely had to step out of comfort, and so, until those moments, far and few between, I started to forget my fear of heights. How convenient.

But here I was, slowly realizing that the sport ice climbing contains the word ‘climbing’ which meant I was going up. Gulp. There was really no turning back. Looking back as we hiked I could barely see the town and had little to no faith of my ability to navigate the rocky terrain back to the home I had just arrived at a day or so before. And so I set out to conquer my fears, while simultaneously pretending they didn’t exist.

We hiked out to the glacier (a glacier!) over rickety bridges protecting us from the freezing water of the rushing creeks below and up and down slippery rock which was a far enough distance that by the time we got there everyone was ready for a snack. It was miles and clothing changes away, we were suddenly on exposed ice. Just the hike alone was more than I had done in recent months due to a recurring neck injury and carrying a big pack wasn’t a daily endeavor, to say the least. I worried as I realized that I already felt tired. Nevermind, snack time. With backpacks full of boots and harnesses and snacks galore, we all sat down to eat and evaluate the situation. Where would we drill into? Which were the hardest and easiest routes to climb? Clearly, I had a lot of input into these questions.

I was totally and completely over my head, but they were patient and taught me what to do. And then, just like that, the line was open. One guide offered me the option of more explanation or to just go. I chose the latter. I could feel the nervousness building and needed to beat it out of the gate. And so, with a relative hang of the idea (use these picks and your boots to climb up this enormous ice wall, get to the top and bouce-glide down) I clipped in and…

I got to the top. My knees were shaking, I couldn’t find my toe holds (it didn’t even compute one bit how a 1/4″ of metal was supposed to hold me into this ice face) and my forearms were screaming from clawing my way up with the axe but I kept going and I made it.

At the bottom, I looked up and realized I had scaled a height probably 5 times bigger than that 6 foot ladder. I was on Cloud 9. I patted myself on the back (after I’d dropped the ice pick) and hugged my girlfriend’s pup whom had followed me out for the day and had supervised my every move.

 

Version 2

Buddha, if I fall, will you catch me?

 

Fear of heights be gone. Onto the next challenge. Right?

Back in California this past Fall my Mom and I celebrated our birthdays (we are a week apart. Two Scorpios. You can guess how my teenage years went. Sorry for being a terror, Ma). For mine, we took a walk. For hers, she chose a craggy cliff side stroll. There were ravines and hills to climb up along rocky cliffs. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park (although it was gorgeous) and for the first time in a long time, I saw her fear of heights in action.

 

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Growing up, I remember us both having fear. Now, a seasoned ice climber with one day of climbing behind me, I was coaxing her past the hairy junctions, holding her hand and congratulating her on the other side. She did it. She too conquered the fear.

 

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We were free. Right?

As you might have guessed, nope. Wrong.

This is how I found out: in this Shoulder Season of Spring before Summer, work is very much of the pick-up variety until everyone’s full-time jobs start. I was lucky enough to pick-up work from a local restaurant that my neighbor and friends are starting. The task? Painting.

 

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Little T punching the clock

 

The first day we arrived (The Chief, Cinda and I. The Chief had done construction for them throughout the Winter. Days below ten degrees finally became their cut-off point (meaning work would be called off) but this was only after working multiple days in below zero temps, even 20 below one day. I barely left the house on those days. They worked outside. Total badass status/crazy, if you ask me)) our neighbor was giving us the gist of the painting process:

“There will be some real basic on the ground stuff, some 6 foot ladder stuff and then the real Daredevil parts up high”.

Ha! He’s cute. Daredevil? Look past me my friend, I thought to myself.

And then I heard myself. That standard. Height = No Can Do, in my book. But wait, I thought we had gotten past this, right?

I pushed it out of my mind as I watched The Chief scale the first wall. I had work to do on the ground, only so many people (ideally one) can be on a ladder at once and I was needed on the ground below him.

We are three weeks out of The Chief’s surgery. Ideally, he lifts nothing and does not exert himself. Since the day after his surgery he has had to break the rules in order for our house to keep running, but we’ve tried to keep it mellow-ish, despite his distaste for not doing the heavy lifting.

In comes Summer.

The day we started was the day Summer arrived and with it temperatures of 80 degrees plus.

Up on a ladder, up on a porch, all day on the sunny side of the building with his neck crooked upwards is not the ideal healing and resting situation. And so, I thought to myself as I felt my feet go numb just looking at him way up in the air, if there’s more ladder work, I will try to help take some of the brunt so it’s not just him and his sinuses up there.

 

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Well, it turns out that I had to make good on that offer because there was a whole building to paint. A huge building.

Day two, still hotter than any of us expected and…it’s time for more ladder work.

“Babe, I’ll just do the ladder work today” I said, as simply as I might offer to divvy up the chores. You do the dishes while I haul water. I’ll pump gas while you water the plants. Simple. A trade-off. There’s work for all and it simply needs to be claimed.

I immediately regretted my decision.

Three of us (meaning The Chief and our neighbor with me bouncing around trying to find a place to be of use) moved a 24 plus foot extension ladder from one side of the building to the one in question. We propped it up and adjusted it in the rocky ground it stood upon. We were painting the second level of the building which had a hip roof (just what it sounds like, a roof below the “real” roof. If the roof of the building is the shoulders, the hip roof is, well, the hips) for the ladder to rest upon. Originally, we had discussed rigging up a harness situation in which one person would lean out of the windows of the second story and paint while tied in. As soon as we moved the ladder into place and The Chief all but ran up to the top without so much as a wobble and called it good, I realized that the harness idea was, to be punny, out the window.

Grrrrrrrrreat!

Just then, a few other friends showed up. Everyone stopped working to greet them and congregated around the ladder.

My ladder. The ladder I was going to have to climb up. That was as far as I had gotten. I knew I had to climb up it. It didn’t even occur to me that simply climbing up it might not be as easy as The Chief had shown it to be. He “No-Handsed” it.

Growing up watching my favorites in the Olympics like Kristi Yamaguchi and Nancy Kerrigan it had never occurred to me that what they were doing was all that hard. I mean, it’s teachable, right? Needless to say, the first time I went ice skating and nearly broke my rear trying to do a jump (because that is what everyone is able to do their first time on the ice) I had the hard realization that simply because something looks easy doesn’t mean that it is and if it’s difficult and someone makes it look easy, well then it might be even more difficult than anticipated. Add fear to that equation and well, you’ve got my second day of painting.

I could feel the fear mounting (where was this even coming from? I had conquered this, right?) as we stood talking, I knew that my knees and feet wouldn’t respond much longer if I just kept looking at the feat ahead of me instead of starting it. So, with everyone there, I grabbed my paint bucket and brush and started climbing. The Chief had scampered up without holding on, I got one rung up before I quickly realized that he must be part Ninja, part Panther, as I fell forward and clung to the rungs for dear life. I started up the ladder, paint brush and bucket in one hand, the other free, both sweaty. Thankfully, the crowd on the ground took this as a cue that the break was over and started to disperse, a bit. This was not a moment for spectators, I looked like a newborn fawn taking its first steps. I was awkward.

A good three minutes later I was up the ladder (something that had taken The Chief all of about 7 seconds to complete, dang Kristi Yamaguchi look-alike).

Now what?

When in doubt, sit down.

I balanced one foot at the top rung and the other one rung below it and huddled to get my bearings. Bearings: well, I’m up really high. I have now become one-handed because I have nowhere to place my paint and essentially I am no handed because I need to use the other to paint.

Typically, I have pretty excellent balance, but try to balance a bucket full of fear and you get a spinning coin about to fall. Heads or tails? I decided that one, I was not going to fall and two, that I was going to at least get a few slats painted before I called it quits.

It turns out that even at full extension, my dual rung stance didn’t get me high enough to paint the highest slats. I would need The Chief’s help after all. So much for being his savior. This, I immediately saw as my out. I mean, does it really make sense to trade-off and on so that I can paint 2/3 of the top portion only to have to run and get The Chief for every last 1/3 before we (they) move the ladder again? Not at all.

This gave me the push I needed to finish my first section. My thighs were shaky from my balancing straddle (and from fear) and my positioning was awkward but I was able to power through and slowly make my way to the ground. Ah, sweet Earth. I’m never leaving you again.

Fear of heights realized, not welcomed, but acknowledged.

I rounded the corner to find The Chief.

“Hey babe, you ready to switch?”

Mmmhmmm.

I stalled telling him that we were switching for good. I went over to the wall he was working on (from the ground) and picked up his brush to work while he finished the last third on my area.

My area.

I had taken it on and yes, I was scared but there was something holding me back from completely abandoning the endeavor. Could I just give in so quickly? My thighs felt rested. He finished and came back over to get help moving the ladder. We summoned our neighbor for help as well.

“Babe, does this look good? Can you reach both sides from this?” He asked as they tried to place the ladder to my liking.

I couldn’t answer because if I did I would have said “Put it where you like, dear. You’re the one who will be doing the painting here” but I hadn’t fully committed to quitting the project just yet, so he got a silent reply. He thought I didn’t understand the question and so a few reconstructions of the quandary later I was finally able to answer.

“Looks good”.

As soon as our neighbor left I was able to explain my tongue tied-ness.

“I’m scared. It’s really high. It’s like…it’s really high”.

“Oh, ok. Do you want me to do it?”

I did, of course I did.

But I am stubborn and made myself try again.

We finished another section. I was starting to get my sea legs about me. I was feeling more confident. I still moved like an awkward crab but I felt a bit more at ease.

For the next ladder move the cat who had gotten my tongue had left to find someone elses. My tongue was working and I directed them where to place it.

No sooner had a climbed up (this time with no hands until at least the fourth rung. Progress.) and gotten situated did I start to feel just the slightest shift.

I froze.

Was the ladder moving? No, it couldn’t be, I said to myself as I realized that this last move I hadn’t checked the footing holds in their rocky setting.

It turns out, it could be.

Just as soon as I had started planning my escape route the ladder started moving again, a good consistent very slow slide off the roof. There was no time for planning, I was falling. Simultaneously, another stopper by stopped on by. I didn’t know him. I pointed at him. “You, come here. Now. This ladder is sliding”.

He ran over and didn’t move until I was safely on the ground.

“Your footing is uneven in this rock”.

Yes, thank you.

I hightailed it to The Chief and told the story of my near doom.

Clearly seeing I was shaken, he offered again to take over.

And so I let him…

for about five minutes.

I had walked over to his previous station and spent four minutes staring at the wall before I ran back over to the hip roof happenings.

“I want to do it”.

Patiently, he climbed back down. He checked to make sure I was actually comfortable with it and that I wasn’t purely fueled by pride (ugh, he knows me too well) and then confident in my responses he gave me some pointers. I watched him run up the ladder and show me footing options and window grips to be able to hang from the window to gain reach and stability.

Perfect. Thank you. Now go away so I can look awkward as I try to replicate what you just did.

I did not replicate it. It did not look the same, I’ll tell you that right now.

But, I did get back up there and together, switching on and off we nearly finished the whole side of the building that day.

The next day I was gung-ho to start and finish the last section. My thighs were sore from bracing myself and my feet hurt from trying to grab onto any sort of traction I could find (where’s the super power of Gecko hands and feet when you need them, right B?). I was done. The last of the “Daredevil Work” would be completed and I could go back to the safety of the ground feeling like I had made headway with my fear of heights.

 

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One last section to freedom

 

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Heading down for the last time

 

Well, Alaska (and years of planning and building blueprints) decided differently. You see, the building, no surprise here, is a box and thus, has four sides, all of them two stories tall. The “Daredevil Work” was only halfway through.

Oh joy.

Scaffolding.

I feel like my only interaction with scaffolding is the famous photo of men on a lunch break in New York in 1932. You know the one.

 

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This isn’t even scaffolding but it’s my idea of what being on scaffolding is like (if you are as brazenly comfortable as these gents are on it).

And so, lunch pail (actually, paint pail) in hand I ascended, climbing the big ladder again as it wobbled the scaffolding. I reached the top and immediately sat down (it really is the move, I’m telling you) to asses my surroundings. The Chief came up to show me how to move myself and the scaffolding up.

It’s going higher?

The best part about adjusting scaffolding is that, if you’re alone, it has to be done unevenly. You adjust one side two to three moves up by sticking your foot in a metal apparatus and (in my case) putting all your weight on it to get it to move down which raises that side up. Then, you walk uphill on the wobbly boards to the other side and do the same thing. Back and forth feeling like you’re surfing, raising up a bit more each time until you’re where you need to be. You also do all of this while trying not to spill your paint bucket everywhere or fall off.

Three separate sets of adjustments and hours later and my section was done. By the end of it I was feeling more confident again. The Chief reminded me that it takes practice, that he’d been doing this for years and to have patience. Patience, schmatience, he’s part Ninja. But he’s also a correct Ninja because by the end of the day as the winds picked up and I gained a partner in crime as we moved the scaffolding to the next section and we bounced one another around with our each and every move I found myself swaying with the boards instead of resisting them (while resisting my urge to sit down) and finding new ways to reach a little farther or lean a little more. Efficiency up, fear down. But not completely gone.

It turns out that a year ago being strapped into a harness that was attached to a rope that was bolted into ice (does that seem secure to you? Me neither but they are the professionals and it was amazing) that was held on the other end by an extremely confident crew is a little different from climbing up a ladder solo and balancing while painting on its upper rungs. I had not conquered my fear but I had faced it again, this time more seriously and man, was it determined to stay put but it wasn’t going to.

Without the stretch out of the norm how are we to remember our fears? Even more, how are we to challenge them? And how are we to start the journey past them? I had been living in the safety of a world I constructed where I knew what would come next and how to avoid it if it scared me. Here, there’s still the option to say “no” but the situations come upon me faster than I know how to plan for and thank goodness for that.

My scheduling of my safety bubble has been interrupted and fear has been a frequent visitor but even though uninvited, fear is a welcome surprise to remind me of the things we carry with us no matter where we go. Before I came here, I put a reminder in my phone to do something every day that scares me or simply puts me out of my comfort zone, be it trying a new class or getting lost and finding my way back. I had to search out those things. Now, they come to me. Oh, joy. But really, it is a joy.

I have a fear of heights and I now remember that but I will keep challenging it until it turns into “I have a slight fear”. Perhaps it will never turn into “I had a fear” but I’m sure there will be enough situations here to make it come to be if it is at all possible.

Until then, I’ll keep the reminder of my Mom conquering her fears, step by step, one foot in front of the other and of my Ninja boyfriend, making the hard look so easy that I (somewhat) fearlessly attempt it.

 

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Falling in Love Naked with Cauliflower Armpits

From the time I started wearing makeup (an issue of high contention and many winy, though I thought well thought out, arguments between my mother and I) I never stopped.

I never wore all that much makeup, the whole eyeshadow thing was (and is) lost on me and I liked (and like) to see the tone of my skin, not a mirage of powders but despite it’s typically minimal presence, I still wore it everyday.

Going to the gym? Mascara and blush.

The beach? The same.

Going out? A cat eye and maybe some red lips was my staple.

And why not? Since the beginning of people, we have sought to adorn ourselves through piercings and tattoos, jewelry and clothing and hairstyles and of course makeup. And truly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I have a strong affinity for shiny things and gold is my favorite color.

Needless to say, I love adornment.

But sometimes it goes too far. Sometimes, the adornment becomes the identity instead of an accessory. At some point, the thing I had fought to have control over doing had control over me.

I used to watch my makeup free friends in awe, wishing that I too could go without but feeling too insecure to do so. They looked so beautiful, so natural. I longed for that freedom but felt that

I was different

I was required to wear makeup

I just didn’t look quite right without it.

From pool parties to long weekends with friends, there I was, with mascara at a minimum, wishing it were otherwise but feeling as if it just could not be so. If a friend stopped by and I was just out of the shower I would panic and try to “do something” to rectify the situation before they saw me.

I remember the first time a friend’s mom described me as “smart” first instead of a physical descriptor and I realized that this was how I wanted to be seen and interpreted. I wanted my insides to matter the most but I didn’t know how to shift focus. I felt trapped.

But then, I turned my whole world upside down. I left my home, moved in with a wonderful girlfriend and started planning for Alaska.

She questioned: “So, are you going to wear makeup in Alaska?” She being one of those beautiful friends that was almost always sans makeup.

It had been on my mind. It was almost as if she had heard me thinking it. What am I going to do? No one wears makeup there it seems. And who really cares if I stick out but I already felt like the inexperienced city girl (despite coming from the country) with “high maintenance” written across my forehead and “priss” written on my back. When I asked if I should bring a hair dryer or if my girlfriend in Alaska had one she giggled and replied “Julia, if I plugged a hair dryer in at my house my whole inverter would probably blow up”.

Oh.

I didn’t totally get what an inverter was but I did get that I was entering a totally new ballgame.

Back to nature.

And I was excited.

I wanted so badly to be free of feeling required to look a certain way but the voices of insecurity whispered “You’re not like the others. You don’t get to. You’re not enough”.

Pretty damn rude, if you ask me.

I responded to my girlfriend’s quandry: “I don’t want to wear makeup, but I’m feeling nervous”.

“Well, why don’t you start here and then you’ll be used to it once you arrive in Alaska? Plus, your skin could probably use a break, ya know? You could just spend the whole Summer letting it breath and rejuvenate itself”. It sounded like heaven. Except…

Umm, start at home, where I know everyone? No thanks. People will be shocked at how different I look.

Feeling my utter resistance to her idea told me that I needed to do it. I was afraid. So I forced myself.

Thank goodness.

It turns out that people weren’t shocked. People didn’t gawk or ask if I was sick (my personal favorite of the comments I’d gotten once from a previous stint not wearing makeup for one day at the office. It was going to be a week. I quickly reconsidered). In fact, I actually felt that I got more compliments with a naked face than with an adorned one but that is not what matters.

What truly matters was how I felt. I felt free. In the following weeks, I would curl my eyelashes or add a little blush for fun (and I still sometimes do, it seems that my cheeks, no matter if I’ve run a 10k or snowmachined up a mountain, do not blush, no way, no how and I really like a rosy cheek, so there you have it) but it wasn’t part of my duties for the day. It didn’t feel like a habit or requirement in order to be able to step outside.

Makeup felt, once again, like adornment. The freedom to add or subtract but in the end to be happy with the canvas I started with.

I took this new freedom with me to Alaska.

When I met someone, it felt like they were truly meeting me, not a constructed image of me.

Then I met The Chief. The night I really fell for The Chief (who am I kidding, I was hooked from “Hello”) was the first day I went Packrafting. We had all gotten drenched down to our undies, I had dirt all over my face and half dry-half wet braided/tangled locks for hair.

I mean, I’d certainly looked better before.

It didn’t matter.

To him I was me, the only me he’d ever known. He didn’t know the makeuped me of the past, just the dirty faced lady high on her first rafting adventure in front of him and he liked her. The feeling was mutual.

And so we fell in love naked faced. Stripped down to who we were and who we are. It’s a totally different experience than I’ve ever had before. I think every makeup wearer (who has grown uncomfortable with going naked) knows the stress of meeting someone while all gussied up only to wait anxiously for the first time they will see you without makeup. What a terrible reality to feel less than without adornment, but I used to feel that way.

There’s an Amy Schumer video that I think perfectly sums up the predicament, and in perfect Amy fashion she pokes fun at how ridiculous we can be as a society. I’m not saying that makeup is bad, just that if it makes you feel bad about yourself, then maybe it’s time to renegotiate your relationship terms. I certainly needed to.

Now, in the last year I can count on my hands the times I’ve worn mascara or lipstick. It’s a world away from where I used to be. Now, I look forward to fancier occasions (which might just mean randomly being in a bar on a Tuesday in Anchorage) where I wear makeup. It feels new and exciting, like a real event. But, by the next morning I’m ready to go back to bare and The Chief is always ready for me to get back to the real me. What a different place.

But, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get a little bored sometimes. Living in the woods means there’s rarely a lipstick occasion (though, by all means, I could just go ahead and make it a Lipstick Saturday anytime) and so sometimes I try little beauty methods on my own. Julia’s Salon opens for business (Appointment Only and you might want to Yelp some other options. She’s new).

I go through phases of light and dark with my eyebrows, dying them dark and then letting them lighten. I’ve even done the same with my eyelashes. It’s fun to see how the face changes just from a little shift and it keeps me entertained trying out new techniques. It’s also interesting to see myself get attached to one way or the other and feel less than when things are different. Insecurity trying still to creep in. What a creep.

Starting at the top going down: Light Bright; An homage to Charlie Chaplin (dyeing the brows); Lash Tint Imprint; Darker for Now

 

 

So, with all these DIY beauty attempts I thought I’d try a new one. I thought to myself, hey, everyone out here seems to wax their legs and armpits. Maybe I’ll try that! Julia’s Salon opens again!

Good idea?

It seemed it (in retrospect, no). Our shower was on the fritz and shaving takes up extra water in my little birdbath bathing sessions so I thought, hey, why not? Plus, I’d done it before with a girlfriend this Winter so I was sure I could figure it out on my own. What could go wrong?

Well, it turns out that I’m allergic to the particular wax I used.

That’s one option that could go wrong.

Another is that my reaction could cause my armpits to swell and bubble up like the cauliflowered ear of a boxer.

Sounds glorious, eh?

So far, three days in, my armpits (could we perhaps come up with a more glamorous name? Even Armcaves or Armjunction feels better. Pit? Not shiny) are just as angry as Day One. They’ve carved three tally marks on the wall like prisoners and are threatening to fill the whole wall with tallies if I ever go near that wax again. Sheeesh! I was just trying to do as the locals do.

Thankfully, a few weeks ago, a friend up the road gave us two aloe plants which The Chief remembered as we looked around the med kit for relief. He broke the plant and applied it to the angry armcaves. One could almost hear them sizzling as the cooling liquid touched their hot surface.

Grossed out enough?

Yea, me too.

I can tell you that never has a beauty regime felt less important. In an effort to try something new I put myself out of commission, or at least made things much more painful to do. From hauling water to my new attempts at running, to folding laundry and carrying things into the loft my days have been filled with yips and squeals at the parting of the cracking skin while my nights have been interrupted with itching bumps that awaken me from sleep.

All this for a little hair removal? Geez, I’ll keep it. Or actually, I’ll just do what I’ve always done because now I’ve found out what works for me: shaving please (preferably with a man’s razor. What, do they think that women can’t handle a sleek six blades? They are way better, ladies, trust me. Or actually, just do whatever is working for you). I’d much prefer to spend a few more minutes in my birdbath than an afternoon (or at this point probably about a week) in sticky pain.

Even when one is loved barefaced naked, it’s fun to switch things up, to try a new beauty regime. And even while loved barefaced naked by another (and by myself as well) I still sometimes feel the whispers of insecurity telling me that I need more than what I woke up with.

But in times of cauliflower armcaves, that all feels a bit trite. Not being able to run around the wilderness because I wanted silky armcaves?  I’d rather have unruly armcaves than be debilitated by changing them. I’d rather have a dirty face because of an adventure than a made up one any day. I’d rather be with a man who fell for me naked and I’d rather fall for myself naked because there is so much that is so much more important than how we look. To you, it may seem obvious, maybe something you’ve never even questioned. But after years of protecting myself against ridicule from the outside sometimes I need a reminder that the self is not just what is seen and hopefully it is so much more.

Thankfully, the reminders here are plentiful and the “so much more” is something I will always find more ways to work on out here. The vastness of this place calls attention to what really matters and to how much I have to learn.

From the big to the small.

 

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From harvesting wild plants to make medicines to creating cleaning substitutes when I’ve run out of store bought ones to attempting canning solo for the first time (and stopping pre-seal), this place is afire with learning and perspective and reminders:

A bonfire with friends where everyone is lit by the glow of the flames means no one can tell (or cares) if you’ve dyed your eyebrows but they can tell if you’re happy.

 

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A walk by the riverside where treasures of copper and walking sticks and skulls present themselves to you speaks to the magic I’d miss if focusing elsewhere.

 

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Seeing my first sprouts grow that I was so sure I would mess up.

 

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The reminders are everywhere.

 

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These are the joys that take me out of myself, out of what I used to think important and sometimes still get lost in and transport me towards the person I want to become.

Cheers to the journey.  Dolled up or stripped down it’s all still happening. Let’s try not miss it on account of CauliCaves*.

*No, that’s not the medical term but damned if it’s not the perfect descriptor.

 

 

 

An Independence Pendulum and a Lady Lynx Meet in the Woods…

My state of independence is a pendulum, often landing in the farthest reaches of either extreme.

I’m trying to quiet the extremes and focus on circling the middle, the compromise in between. Which is why I know that when my gut tells me to do something but my pendulum of independence is starting to sway towards staying in the safe zone that it’s time to push myself.

To others, it may sound trite, even a bit pathetic. I’m o.k. with that. There are things for all of us that come easily that for others are mountains they continuously attempt to climb. Independence is my mountain and extremes are my unexpected avalanches in the mountains. I’ve done a lot of independent things in my life, but I’ve also forgotten myself too, forgotten to trust my gut or to get out of comfort for the sake of expansion or been overly independent just to prove I can despite the damage it may cause. Independence is my mountain.

So, when we came back from Anchorage last time, having not had time for much supply gathering at all (supplies which will ideally last us for the Summer, not just a month or two since both of us will hopefully be working so much that a run to Anchorage will be unlikely, if not impossible and we will have to rely upon the garden, the expensive Summer store and the kindness of others coming in for re-supplies) and planned that on our return trip for The Chief’s post-operation check up we would do all of our errands in one day since we no longer had to come in a day early to drop off the truck for service. Well, I started thinking. One day for everything?

The independence pendulum awoke.

When we were first arriving, about to touch down in Anchorage for the first time together in December we were fleshing out our town plans. The Chief was trying to explain how to strategize, how we had to watch the weather if we bought anything that couldn’t freeze. How we would have to pack and re-pack the truck over and over again and how we would store vegetables versus frozens, etc. etc. It was a lot to take in. “It’s hard to explain, people always have a hard time understanding it”.  I was offended. People? Maybe. Me? Not a chance.

Wrong (though still offended).

I still kept trying to buy perishables, still forgot we would have to unload our haul into the hotel before ending our day lest the weather shift to below freezing. I didn’t quite get it yet, didn’t have my rhythm. I needed The Chief and it bothered me. I wanted to do it all on my own.

Wrong again.

What I really wanted was to feel that I could do it all on my own. A town run with the man of your dreams is way better than going it completely solo, duh. Even if you do both get grumpy at times.

However, there is an independence pendulum compromise: time alone in town. A town run with your partner tends to involve mutual errands. Time alone means time for personal errands. It feels extravagant.

When we got home, well, I got to thinking that we were cutting our town time awfully close. We would leave on a Thursday (get in Thursday night), have a doctor’s appointment and errands all day Friday and leave for home early Saturday. Essentially, we would have one day in town. One day to get all of our supplies and materials for the Summer.

Add to that my wish to pick up some Summer clothing.

You see, my plan when we left in December was to return to California at some point in the Spring in order to cuddle my Mama, hug my friends, greet the Ocean and collect my Summer clothes.

That did not happen. Tickets to California were consistently over $600 and with additional travel costs it just didn’t pan out financially.

So, I was in the woods, with Winter clothes to get me through the Summer. It was less than ideal.

I started scheming. A plan started forming in my heard. We had a car to drive and plenty of friends headed out the same day we had planned to leave. But what if I just left a day earlier? I could get to Anchorage and do all the personal shopping I would have race through if we only had one day. I could wander through a clothing store without a strict agenda, browse if you will. I could stop at a spice shop or purchase some yarn. Pure luxury! Time wouldn’t be of the essence every second of the day and maybe I could even get a few things for the house that we never have the time to collect when we are pressed for time and sanity in town.

I talked to a girlfriend about my blossoming idea. “Oh yea, I love solo town time. You should totally do it”.

The opposite side of independence pendulum kicked in. What about The Chief? He had just had surgery. He needed me, right?

I brought it up to him. “Go for it, babe. That’s probably a really smart idea”.

I was a little miffed. Huh, I guess he doesn’t realize how much he needs me. I mean, what if he has to pump water? He’s not supposed to lift anything. I should probably stay.

I rolled around with the idea but felt that it had come from my gut and therefore, it was a challenge to myself to get out of my comfort zone. I was trying to suppress it but it’s voice just got louder and louder. The Chief would be fine and the fact that I was reticent to take the trip at all meant all the more to me that I indeed needed to do it, not just for necessity, I could find clothes or make something, but to challenge my independence.

I’d made the trip in the Summer completely solo, Costco and all. I even had to finagle ratchet straps to fit a vehicle that didn’t take the straps and tetris-ed the hell out of the car so that it was loaded to the brim. Of course I could go solo, it was simply that I had become accustomed to going with The Chief. To our rhythm, to our process. And honestly, to being more of a passenger and less of a driver. At least in winter. As the Spring sprung and The Chief’s sinuses were constantly being bombarded with surgeries and appointments, I became more of a driver, both literally and figuratively. We figured out our plans together, debated on the best routes and errands line-ups and packing methods. I was involved. This was just another step.

So I did it. I left a day early and thank goodness I did. One, because I got to leisurely peruse a few stores and then together we were able to collect all the Summer supplies and two because on the way out I got to see her.

The Lynx.

The week before, The Chief and I had seen a Lynx, just the tail end of her, fuzzy paws jumping through the brush.

 

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She looked like this…minus most of the snow

 

As I departed a week later, listening to an audiobook and finding my own road trip rhythm again, I suddenly thought of The Lynx. I was almost exactly half-way down the 60 mile pothole riddled dirt road and suddenly, the thought of her hit me like a slap in the face.

I unintentionally slowed down and as I did, there she was.

 

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She jumped into the woods on the driver’s side. I scanned her entrance point to see if I could catch a glimpse as she ran away but I didn’t have to watch her tail end this time. This time she stopped and turned towards me. We watched one another for five minutes. Her silent, me awkwardly complimenting her enormous fuzzy feet and pointed ears. I felt like a bumbling suitor asking out my first date. “Wanna, er, umm, maybe wanna go, umm, like, see like a movie, or no? Or yea?”

 

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Seriously, look at the head to foot comparison. Those things are adorably massive.

 

She gave me one last look and then as soon as our gaze was broken, she became invisible. Completely dissolved into the woods. I felt like I had been in a time warp or an alternate universe, she’d opened a little wormhole and invited me in and clumsily I had accepted, commenting on the drapes or the furniture as we went along.

I continued on my journey, feeling a bit in an honored haze.

 

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Mountains and glaciers and raindrops, oh my!

 

Hours later, when I finally reached (almost) Anchorage and had stopped for my first non-Chief stop (a craft store! Be still my heart) I called a girlfriend I had been missing and we finally got to connect. I told her of Lady Lynx and she immediately looked up the significance of the animal (I love her. Not in a million years would I have remembered to do that. Thank goodness for West County).

The Lynx tells us to listen to our hearts and to trust our instincts. Seeing one is a reminder that we are always expanding, even if it sometimes feels foreign or scary.

Boom!

O.k. okay, I can hear a few grumblings. What’s that woo-woo mumbo jumbo I hear? And I get it, but for one, I grew up in a town where hearing someone comment on another’s aura was commonplace and two, I think there’s always room to look past the obvious and search for a deeper meaning, even if in a sense, it’s self-created. Read a horoscope and have a revelation or perhaps just look at the day a little differently? Good. Nothing is harmed in seeing significance where another might just see a big ‘ol cat and you know what? Neither is correct, neither is wrong. But to me, the magic was just what I needed. She helped me to see the big sky instead of the little road.

 

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The symbolism of the Lynx followed me throughout my town time, all the way to leaving. You see, the night before, we had thought it a great idea to stay up late, eat at a late night diner and head out for a huge trip home the next day. Genius, right? We went to bed with grumbling tummies, cuddled up to try to take away the other’s aches.

It didn’t work.

We both awoke with food poisoning-esque symptoms (fun, huh?). It was a toss-up. Who wants to drive the first stretch? The first stretch means town traffic, errands and winding mountain passes. The second means two stops, the later stretch of a long day and…The Road.

Oh, did I mention that we were also hauling the largest load I’d ever taken? First, the truck itself is an F-350 which I barely fit in followed by two barrels of gasoline (110 gallons plus the two tanks on the truck), about 2,000 feet of fire hose donated to The Chief for the Fire Department and all of our shopping loads plus a friend’s shopping load, a generator and all of our bags. Needless to say, thank goodness the ratchet straps fit on this load. We were packed to the brim. Sideview mirrors only.

I crossed my fingers to get the first half while I simultaneously crossed them for the second since at the moment I felt about ready to vomit at the drop of a hat and I don’t ever vomit, unless I have food poisoning.

The Chief took the first leg of the trip to the Fire Department and we decided we would choose halfs there. We stopped and ogled their shiny new equipment. I turned down coffee and donuts which is a testament to the food poisoning because I’ve never willingly turned down a donut. It was rough. Finally we departed and met up with our girlfriend whom was joining us for the ride. We each did our last perishables run at Fred Meyer, switching out who was watching the truck (while trying not to get blown away by the wind) with who was grocery shopping. We filled our gas drums for what seemed like eternity in the whipping winds that made the mountains hard to see and that almost flung The Chief off the top of the truck as he pumped the gas.

A dramatic start but it was smooth sailing after that.

There’s a time in an 8 hour journey when you switch drivers and then a time right after that (if you haven’t switched) that you decide to just do the whole route solo. We were nearing that crossroads, I could feel it. I was still nauseous and starting to feel the weight of my eyelids when The Chief asked if I was ready to drive. I felt nervous, so I knew it was time.

“Yep!” I answered, trying to convince myself through a peppy response that this was gonna be fun!

Switch we did and after I had created a booster seat out of a loaf of french bread and some Fred Meyer bags we were off. It wasn’t so bad. It was still hard to simultaneously reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel (I’m not sure why I thought I might have grown since last week but I did) but the load wasn’t all that noticeable. It felt good to drive such a burly haul of our supplies in for the Summer and the bringing in of a friend made it feel even more like a journey home. I even sent my older brother a picture. Look at me! (I’ll probably never stop wanting to hear “Wow, good job Sis!” What can I say? I’m a little sis).

Then, we stopped for gas right outside of the rock parting that begins The Road.

“Is there anything I should know about driving this size load on The Road?” I asked The Chief, half hoping he would offer to drive it and half hoping I would have the strength to say no.

He did and so did I. And so, he gave me some pointers:

Slow down way before you need to (oh, great, so hopefully something doesn’t jump out in front of us)

and

Avoid the potholes.

I thought he was going to laugh after the latter comment (the potholes are essentially unavoidable) but he was trying to drive home the importance of keeping a vigilant eye for the big potholes, the ones that could pop a tire (or worse). The gravity of the load weighed on me a bit, which again meant I was doing something I was scared of. Hopefully I would grow from it.

I jumped in the truck and ate poor excuses for the earlier dismissed donuts for sugar courage (we had stopped for coffee again after I had spilled most of my cup on myself after taking the wheel. Nothing quite like that to inspire confidence. The store didn’t have coffee and so, in true Alaska fashion, they brewed me a whole pot). In the cab, munching away, I looked to my girlfriend whom after days in the Lower 48 and waiting for rides in Alaska was probably über ready to get home. “I’m new to driving such a big load, but I’ll go as fast as I can”. Before I could finish my sentence she looked at me calmly and said “You drive exactly how you will feel comfortable. Nothing more”. Yea, I knew I liked her.

The Road took over 3 hours. The potholes were plentiful as were the hidden bumps in the road. I hit a few and missed a few and got away with a truck and load intact. We stopped twice and turned around once to have a beer and catch up with friends we passed on The Road. A few miles from our turn off we dropped off our girlfriend. As we started undoing the load to get to her stuff she came tearing around the corner backwards on a 4-wheeler. Totally badass. She thanked us and shooed us off, she could secure her load herself she said and off we went the last few miles to home.

Down the driveway as we started hitting mud and muck again I worried that we needed the 4-wheel drive. But no sooner than I thought that, I felt the tires hit the tracks of trucks before us and as if drawn in through magnets we shimmied our way through the narrow drive all the way home.

“You got us all the way home in this big ‘ol truck. Nice work, babe” The Chief congratulated me.

I was proud. Proud that I had challenged myself, proud that I had gotten us home and proud to be with someone who pushes me towards my challenges and supports me through them instead of sheltering me from them or taking them on for me.

My challenges may not be yours. They may seem petty or downright ridiculous. Hey, maybe yours would to me too but that would be both of us missing the point. We should serve as a Lynx instead, reminding one another of the strength we all have within to meet our challenges, big and small, head on. We should be my girlfriends, encouraging one another to go for it and at our own pace.

Living out here has put me in a place where I can choose to challenge myself and to boost my independence or to lean on The Chief and sit back while he drives. We all can do it everywhere but I think I personally needed this place, a place where new challenges are so plentiful and so unique on the daily that not taking them would be a life un-lived and a place un-participated in. I would be missing the point but I neede a dramatic place to help me see that.

And so I try to meet my challenges head on. I try to say “yes” to a driving lesson, even if I’m not totally up for it or “yes” to snowmachining across a frozen river because challenges don’t typically come when we are wearing our battle gear, they come when we are in pajamas with tangled hair and sleepy eyes. But sometimes, that’s battle gear enough.

Cheers to the pendulum of independence, to the scary, to the self-expansion and to the challenges.

May we meet them head on…ideally, with helmets.

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Anchor(age)s Away!

Oops, we did it again.

Off to Anchorage for another sinus surgery. Last time we were caught off guard and saddled with hotel bills and food costs we weren’t prepared for. But this time? This time we knew the drill:

Prep the House to Leave for five days (see last week’s post about the serious Spring Cleaning effort that has only just begun). Clean, prep firewood, unplug everything from the battery stash except the fridge (we got a mini fridge!), turn off the propane, water the plants…in general, shut her down.

Secure Places for the Dogs to Stay (we were pup-sitting our nephew dog still). Bring over their beds and foods and bowls (these dogs know the drill better than us. Before we had even hinted to Lou that we were taking her to the neighbors’ house she was already over there the morning we were leaving, getting used to her new digs). Thankfully, in a town full of dog lovers, pup places aren’t too hard to find, especially when they are such good watchdogs.

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All four corners covered.

Head into town the day before the pre-op appointment and settle into our hotel.

Pre-Op Appointment day followed by errands.

Operation Day: Head into surgery with The Chief until they roll him off. Pick up medications and any last-minute comforts during The Chief’s surgery. Take him back to the hotel to rest and recover and then head out for more errands like laundry and Costco, etc.

Required Recovery Day. The hospital asked that we stay in town as long as possible in order to tell if any complications were going to arise. The most they could buckle The Chief down for was one day. More errands.

Last but not Least (Most Important, in Fact): Leave: spend the day driving home, doing last-minute grocery shopping and pick-ups for friends and then home to the pups and the cabin.

Easy-peasy!

Right?

I say this every time but still I am like Dory from “Finding Nemo”- I forget constantly that planning in Alaska is like swimming upriver with a weighted vest. It’s doable but not that enjoyable and in the end it makes more sense to ride the tide.

But I didn’t. We knew the drill but this is how the drill actually played out:

To start:

Alaska has some pretty amazing health coverage, especially when you happen to fall into the Denali Care bracket. Since many people in the state (like us) live in The Bush, getting into town for a surgery or doctor’s appointment can be a real financial hardship. The last town trip for us was a seriously unexpected depletion of funds. It was like our pockets and pocketbooks developed holes in them.

So this time, since we knew we were heading in, we were able to get coverage from Denali Care. They would take care of the hotel (something that could have been covered last time had we known we would have to stay) as long as it was Medicaid approved and they would provide a meal stipend.

This was some seriously good news. So, we set about finding a hotel. Easy, right?

Geez.

Wrong again.

We didn’t realize that the Native Youth Olympics were taking place and everywhere we called was booked. Finally we found a hotel that said they took Medicaid. We checked and re-checked with them. Are you sure? It would be a real bummer to drive 8 hours and be turned away. They agreed. It would.

It was.

After traveling the 60 mile dirt road (which takes hours to complete and is riddled with signs suggesting you don’t travel it and if you do to pack survival gear and let people know you are leaving. A little ominous, eh?) in a huge truck which seemed to hit even more bumps that were even on the road, pothole after pothole after pothole followed by more potholes, we were happy to hit the pavement for the next 6 hours. We showed up around 7:30pm, tired from the trip and both starting to feel a cold coming on but excited by the nice hotel (pools, dogs allowed! Next stay they were coming with) and great location, only to be told that they in fact did not take Medicaid and that someone (someone who had checked and doubled checked) had been wrong.

O.K.

They were able to send us to a sister hotel which I ended up being even more pleased about because it was right next to Natural Pantry (think Whole Foods) and the movie theater. I squealed with delight! Score! Now we can eat healthy food and get supplements to stave off this cold.

Wait.

They only had room for us for one night. And, they didn’t have food for us. We would have to go across town to see if we could be served and by now it was already 9pm. Tired and hungry we decided to forgo finding food and ordered in while we spent the whole night calling other hotels, hoping for something to be available which took Medicaid. The next day was the Pre-op appointment and the following day was surgery. I wanted The Chief to be settled and cozy before going under again, not up in the air and stressed.

Finally we found a local Medicaid help center that gave us a list of hotels to call. They suggested one that people “really like” which turned out to have space. Alrighty, things are starting to get better.

Right?

The next day (starting to feel even more sick than the day before) before the Pre-op we went to check out of the second hotel only to find that they needed to keep our Medicaid original voucher for their paperwork.

We needed the original voucher for our next hotel.

Luckily, at the Pre-op appointment they were able to create a new “original” for us. Alright, back on track. We went to the doctor, talked to the surgeon and the nurses and got our heads in the game for surgery. The surgeon told us that we would need to come back for screenings 2-3 times per year but that if we suddenly were dropped from Medicaid or weren’t able to pay that he would make sure we were still seen. Things were looking up.

We arrived at our third hotel in two days (both coughing and sneezing and incessantly blowing our noses) only to be greeted by a seedy scene. Seedy bars? Yes, please. I love dive bars. Seedy places to sleep? Not my favorite. Seedy places to recover from surgery? Not my first choice for my love. Things were looking down again.

We checked in with a front desk agent who was simultaneously talking on two phones, training an employee and checking us in while checking another guest out. Hectic doesn’t quite meet the feeling head on. We carried our luggage up the concrete stairs (a bit of a danger for a groggy post-op Chief tomorrow, I thought) since there was no elevator and keyed into our room.

You know when you enter a room and immediately get a bad feeling? Yup. Me too.

It was dingy and dark and right against 5th avenue. Big hauling trucks flew by. It was loud to say the least. The bed was stiff and scratchy and I immediately felt my skin start to crawl. I’ve stayed in seedy motels by myself on long road trips just to save money but I had been prepared for it (see: brought a blanket and pillow from home). We had walked straight into this one. It had been recommended. I wouldn’t have recommended it if I was paid to do so.

The Chief is a trooper and settled in to just deal with it. I, on the other hand, was not having it. This was not a place to relax and heal. This was a place to throw down one’s bags and leave for all other time but for sleep. I swear, I’m not a prissypants. This place just had bad ju-ju and dirty feelings all around it. I started making calls. We didn’t know if the day had already been recorded with Medicaid in which case we would have to spend money for a new hotel (and also go back again to the doctor’s office and ask for yet another voucher) but at that point I didn’t care. This was not the place we were staying.

Finally, we found a place. The place we had stayed last time. The place we probably should have just called all along.

We checked out of the Seedy McSeedface (name inspired by Boaty McBoatface) motel (Medicaid thankfully hadn’t gone through yet) and repacked the truck for the sixth time and headed over to the new hotel. They had a restaurant on site so we could finally use some of our meal vouchers (all of the others were off site so I would have to drive to them for breakfast and lunch and after days of errands, feeling awful and caring for a sick post-surgery partner, convenience was key) and I knew the area well after spending an unexpected week in the area last month.

Ahhhhh, a sigh of relief. We still needed to book a hotel for the Post-op appointment a week later so we booked ourselves a room there. No more risks. No more trials. Finally, we were settled.

It was already late in the day, around 5pm at this point. We had done some errands earlier in the day but after waking up über early the last few days and losing sleep and stamina from all of the jostling about and sneaking in sicknesses neither of us were feeling well enough for much more than a movie. We settled in for the night and got ready for surgery the next day.

We awoke at 6am to get to the surgery center before 7:30. Surgery was scheduled to start at 9am. Finally by 10am, after waiting for 2.5  hours in his gown, The Chief was rolled into surgery. I went off to start getting any last odds and ends he might need. Tissues and distilled water for sinus flushes, yogurt and of course, medications. But, surprise! The nurses assured me that they could make that easier. They would have the prescriptions brought over to surgery. Amazing! Too good to be true?

Yup.

They faxed over the prescriptions the doctor had given me.

One was misspelled and had to be re-sent.

They came and gathered the originals and got new ones.

Then they faxed those and returned the scripts to me for safekeeping.

I left.

They called.

The fax didn’t go through.

I drove back.

Parked the huge truck yet again. Ran back to the building again. They faxed them again. I left. Again.

No sooner had I driven all the way back to the hotel and made about ten trips from the parking lot to the room to take all of the contents out of the truck (think 30 lbs. of laundry and bags of ammo and other heavy errand items) in order to make plenty of room for a groggy Chief to puddle into when I got a call from the surgery center. The meds were there but they needed the original prescriptions to be shown in order to collect them. Could I pop in (why hadn’t they just kept them there?)? The Chief was still in surgery but they needed me to come by now. I had more errands to run before getting him but they said I needed to be there so I left.

I told them I was on my way, maybe 15 minutes out. About 5 minutes before I arrived they called to say that instead I needed to just go to the pharmacy because they had left with the meds instead of waiting.

I get it. They are busy. But I could have just picked these up at Walgreens anytime.

This was supposed to be the easier route. I should have known. Planning. Dory brain.

O.k. so now I need to park at the pharmacy. The local University is having a game or a show or a something that is borrowing all of the parking at the pharmacy except for one lot. Cars are circling like vultures around a carcass. There’s no humanity here. I circle and circle and circle. Like a doodler on the phone. 30 minutes later and just as I am about to say “screw it” and park illegally (because the surgery department has called 10 minutes prior and said that The Chief is out of surgery and asking for you) and a spot opens up. I hurriedly run inside and collect the prescriptions (I’ve already paid the $1.oo co-pay over the phone. $1.00!). I run back outside only to see a lot full of open parking spaces.

What in the…?

It doesn’t matter, it’s time to speed off back to the surgery center and pick up my love. The surgeon comes by, happy with his work and with The Chief’s progress. All of the nurses comment on how tough he is and that he hasn’t agreed to or asked for any pain meds yet (but giving me the look like “you need to convince him to take some or he’s going to be in a world of pain in a few minutes, thank you”. I mean, he did just have his face drilled into, again). About thirty minutes later (twenty more than I was supposed to park in the Surgery Pick-Up lane, whoops!) The Chief climbs into the truck and off we go.

Recovery time.

For both of us.

My cold has turned into a full-blown yuck-fest and both The Chief and I are down for the count. I am able to take care of him but not like I would like to. We both rest in bed as yet another day of errands goes to waste.

The next day The Chief is up and at ’em (as much as one can be and probably more than one should be post-surgery) and I am down and out, feverish and exhausted. The minimum amount of errands that must be done before we leave the next day are laundry and washing the truck. The truck is going in for service and clothes, well, it’s good to have clean ones to wear. Finally, I work up the energy and (after almost leaving without half of the laundry due to having Foggy Cold Head Syndrome) head to the laundromat nearby that I’ve found online.

I arrive to a vacant lot.

Oh. Apparently it no longer exists.

I find a self car wash (since the truck likely won’t fit through an automated one and I don’t want to be the one to test it out. Plus, after hauling garbage for last week’s clean-up, it needs some TLC, or at least some hands-on soap).

I promptly spray myself in the face with the soap hose. Off to a good start.

People start lining up behind me and then just as quickly, as if I have a sign that says “Seriously, I am moving at turtle pace today. Please, please, pick another lane.” they move to another stall to wait. In between blowing my nose and sneezing triplets the truck is finally clean enough and off I go to find a laundromat.

Laundromat found.

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My co-pilot mountain of washables almost took over the entire cab

Washers-a-plenty and…not enough quarters and no cash.

Ugh.

I put in as many loads as I can and stumble out into the city to find cash-back somewhere. I look a mess. Watering eyes and a red puffy snotty nose. A vision of sickness in motion, if you will.

Finally, I’m stocked up on quarters like a slot winner in Vegas and a few hours and seventy tissues later, the laundry is done. Thankfully, I got in there before the crowd hit. Who knew that laundry was a popular Friday night activity?

“Not I”, said the fly.

Beyond ready to get back to the hotel and into bed I remember a birthday present that I have yet to get The Chief. It took me three phone calls and some fancy footwork to track down. I am not missing this opportunity. I park at the hotel and walk (see:hobble) to the nearby store that has just what I am looking for. 30 minutes later and I’m back at the hotel ordering dinner that I will later walk (see: crawl) down from our room and pick-up. Almost done for the day.

A few minutes later, an angel of a friend comes by offering to let us borrow his car so we can drop the truck off the next day instead of next week when we come in for the Post-op appointment. This means we can spend one extra day at home with the dogs (and one extra day that we don’t have to find them puppy-sitters) before turning around again for the appointment. And, it means a much smoother ride over the pothole laden 60 miles of dirt and rock which, for someone just out of surgery, is a big deal. We are so grateful.

I realize that we will need a permit for the car so I call the front desk and let them know we have another car to add to the permitted cars with us.

You need to come down.

I almost cry.

I am so tired. My face feels like it’s in a vice. I am sweating and shivering all at once.

O.k. I’m coming right now.

Great, I’ll have the paperwork all ready for you.

I make my way down.

No one.

Not a soul is around. My fever is up again and simply standing upright is a chore I’m not sure I can check off the list for much longer. I head outside to sit and wait.

Finally, someone arrives. I explain again what’s happening and finally get the new permits, head to the parking lot and place the permits in both cars, keycard back into the building and finally, finally get into bed. It’s 10pm and I am pooped.

The next day is departure day. The Chief, not having felt much pain the last two days is suddenly in pain (probably because although he isn’t supposed to lift anything he is helping me to load the car and move over laundry etc. from the truck to the borrowed car). He is a trooper. We head to drop off the truck at the mechanic’s and find that despite it being a Saturday, he is in. He lived in our town back when it was even more like The Wild West and has stories for days. We both are starving and tired already with grocery shopping and an 8 hour drive ahead of us but hearing someone with such nostalgia for the place we love keeps us for an hour before we have to excuse ourselves lest it be nightfall before we leave town.

Finally, we leave. I shop on our way out, a few groceries and odds and ends that end up taking an hour to complete, get gas and we are off.

The signs of home start to come. The mountains. The rivers. The lakes. Your favorite turn-outs or vistas. The glaciers. The gas station with the familiar faces welcoming us back from the big city. The 60 mile road. Our turn-off and finally, our puppies. We stop at the neighbors’ house to collect them and despite being exhausted and sick, it is so good to catch up with the ones we love, both furry and human.

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It must be rainy season. Miss Lou’s coat, looking like a porcupine.

A little while later and we are finally home to a cold but cozy cabin. The Chief builds a fire as I bring in our haul from town, load after load, wading though the muddy muck outside that weeks ago was feet of snow. Spring is here and so is the rain and with it the muddy season. But, thanks to being in town, we now both have rain coats to shoulder the season.

Unpacking finished and groceries settled away and it is finally time to rest in our own house, in our own bed, under our own sheets with two furry family members downstairs to greet us in the morning.

The next town trip looms in the future but for now, we are tucked into the woods, warmed by a fireplace, surrounded by mountains, blanketed by rivers and rocked to sleep by raindrops.

Oh home, how I have missed you.

Lumberjane and the Not So Easy, “Easy Tree”

I did it.

I took down my first tree.

When we arrived in December the idea of logging was very Disney-esque to me. I pictured a bearded Lumberjack in plaid yelling “Timber!” as a gargantuan tree fell, crushing smaller trees on its way down and sending nature all around it off in a hurry. Birds chirping, squirrels chattering, the forest awakened by the sudden change. And then, the Lumberjack would throw the logs over his shoulder and whistle as he walked away to a warm cabin not so far away.

In all honesty, this wasn’t so far from reality, but it definitely brushed over a few major aspects.

First, apparently, we don’t yell “Timber!” anymore. This was a real shocker but I believe I can get the momentum going to bring that one back.

Second, there’s a lot more involved in falling a tree than chopping or sawing through it. First, there’s the picking out of the tree. Here, we try to always avoid green wood (trees that are still alive), at least for firewood. That way it doesn’t have to cure as long before you can use it and you’re not killing a tree without reason. Finding a tree that is dead but “healthy” (meaning not rotten or taken over by beetles, etc.) is a good challenge especially when coupled with the reality that you’ll need to find a tree that won’t get “hung up” on (fall into) other trees. You spend a lot of time evaluating the lean and shape of the tree and its surroundings.

Then, there is cutting it down.

There are three cuts. The first is a level (as perfectly level as possible which is difficult when you are holding a saw that is too heavy for you) cut about a third of the way through the tree. The second completes The Face Cut and angles down into the tree from above the first cut and meets up at its edge. It creates a cut-out like a big slice of watermelon. This cut is awkward and hard. All sides have to line up. All the while, you are watching your tree, watching for movement, checking your lines to make sure the cut is accurate, level and correctly angled. Then, you make your Back Cut. It starts at the back of the tree, a bit above the level of the first cut (if you’re actually looking to cut down a tree please take don’t use this as a manual – there are precise measurements for how much above the Face Cut one goes and information on angles and techniques a plenty, but not here my friend). It too must be level but you need to be able to trust your saw skills enough to not have to watch yourself cutting and instead be able to affix your eyes to your tree. Is it moving? Wobbling? Does it look like it’s going to fall where you want it? If not, it’s time for some quick moves. Oh, and speaking of quick moves you always need to be aware of your “out”. Playing If the Tree Falls This Way, I Go This Way isn’t just a game for fun. You need to look at your surroundings and see or create (cut down nearby branches, etc.) your escape for if something goes wrong.

Third, you don’t always wear plaid and the forest animals (at least in the Winter) are tucked away sleeping, not jabbering about your falling technique. It’s relatively quiet (well, at least until the chainsaw runs).

Fourth, there’s a lot of clean-up involved and a day of tree falling is always accompanied by a lot of brush work which thankfully normally leads to the day ending with a bonfire. Oh, and hauling the logs is not done on the shoulder, double barreled. It takes smart angles and momentum (and sometimes two people) to get the lengths into the sled. After which you drive them with your snow machine to your drop spot (ours is in front of our woodshed) where you tip the sled over to empty it and head back for another load again and again until the logs are all moved and you’ve finished hauling brush and brush and brush.

Fifth, safety is cool. Ear protection and eyewear, though both may make you look like a bug (you’ll see what I mean in a later picture) both are protecting some serious assets. Wear them.

So clearly, Disney had led me slightly astray (insert little girl gasping sound!). I had a lot to learn when it came to cutting down a tree. From picking one out to cutting techniques to safety precautions, the more logging we did the more I realized how little I knew and my goal of cutting down a tree before Winter’s end started to seem like a pipe dream.

Besides, I was really good at running the clean-up effort. I could knock off branches with the swish of an axe and had learned to maneuver logs that were almost as tall as me into the logging sled. I had made progress. So what if I didn’t take one down on my own? I mean, if you’re there to lick the spoon and clean up the mess, it’s basically like you baked the cookies, right?

Not really. But with Winter coming to an end and logging becoming more difficult in the shallowing snow, I had kind of resigned myself to waiting for next year. Kind of.

I think The Chief sensed this resignation but knowing how much I had wanted to do it, he found a way around it. We didn’t have to go to the trees and try and pull sleds in melting snow. The trees were right in front of us.

So, one Sunday we decided it was First Time Falling Day. The Chief picked out a near dead tree on the property that needed to go and off we went. Well, sort of.

We went to get the chainsaw (the smaller of the two, still too big for me) and it was gone. A little sleuthing sent us to the neighbor’s house but on the way there we heard a ruckus.

Two dogs and two people arrived at our house just as we rounded the corner towards the opposite direction.

**Sidenote: one of my favorite things about this place is that everywhere you go, humans and dogs are either in equal numbers or the people are outnumbered. It’s pretty much Heaven on Earth.

“Well, I guess that project is on pause” The Chief said.

I couldn’t believe the relief I felt. I had felt a twinge of it when we couldn’t find the saw but just figured I was being lazy. Now, the relief of knowing we were being derailed by visitors and I wouldn’t have to attempt the fall made me relieved which also made me annoyed at myself. But I tabled the realization as I swallowed my frustration with myself and went to meet the droppers by.

An hour and an invite to dinner and music by an outside fireplace later and I figured that the derailment was final. No trees would be dropped today.

Wrong.

The Chief was ready. We were taking down a tree and by We he meant Me. I was weeble-wobbling back and forth. I was feeling nervous but I did want to try. We headed back towards our neighbor’s house and found the saw. It had been taken apart.

Aww shucks, I guess we can’t cut today!

Wrong (again).

We headed back home where The Chief showed me how to put a saw back together again. We re-upped all of the oils and gas and we were ready to go…sort of. A ponytail suddenly felt highly important and I excused myself to go inside and attend to this must-have. Inside, I got my battle gear on. I had been wearing running pants and a baggy sweatshirt. I did not feel the part of a Lumberjane. A ponytail, snow pants, tougher boots and a zip-up later and I was feeling a little more put together and a little more up to the task. Next time I think I’ll reach for the charcoal too and give myself a little warpaint. That’ll do the trick.

So, a personal pump-up later and I was ready. Except I hadn’t run the chainsaw in over a month and I needed a little re-teach. The one thing I immediately remembered was how awkward the saw feels to me. I am left-handed (insert ominous soundtrack here). Our saw is not. I consistently grab for it with the wrong hands and consistently see things backwards, flipping it over on the wrong side or angling from the opposite side I’m supposed to. It’s like working in reverse. As I became reacquainted with the saw and got it running (nothing feels more Lumberjane-y than pulling to start a saw and getting the cord choked up. Nothing flips over except your pride) I started looking at the tree The Chief had handpicked for this newbie.

It seemed a little crooked.

 

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It’s the bigger of the two on the right. The one with the gangsta lean right behind target practice.

 

The reason it seemed a little crooked was that it was a little crooked. Pretty darn crooked, if you asked me, but hey, I’m the newbie, what do I know?

We started discussing the plan of attack and the moment came when we both realized that maybe the tree was a little crooked for a beginner, but as per usual, true Alaskan style always likes to take you out on a limb so we decided to go for it.

**Sidenote: The moment that made us realize this tree was a toughie was when we realized that I would have to brace myself on one knee in order to make the first cut. Ah, how valiant! A kneeling cut. How very fancy!

Having a saw blade running near you is an intense feeling. It’s waves of excitement mixed with waves of caution. It’s a heightened state where your every move is precise and premeditated.

Or, you’re like me and still trying to get the hang of the basics and your attention is all over the place. But, putting a saw above and in front of your face will help to focus your attention.

The first cut was pretty simple (other than flipping the saw over the wrong way at first – again, lefty problems). The next, the one to create the melon slice, was a little harder. The ground was mossy and icy and it was hard to find balance with a too big saw overhead, much less to create a perfect angle. The Chief had to help guide me but eventually the ends met up. We evaluated the cuts, looked from behind them to see how we thought the tree would fall and decided that we were lined up as perfectly as we could be.

Time for the back cut.

About halfway through The Chief yelled for me to look up. I had been so focused on getting through the cut that I hadn’t even checked on what the tree itself was doing.

She was wobbling.

“Keep going, but watch her as you go” The Chief shouted over the saw and our ear protection.

I did and then I started to hear cracks. The tree was falling. Falling. Falling.

Right into the clearing we were aiming for.

I turned off the saw and just watched for a moment. Everything during the cuts is so loud and so intense that once the tree falls everything suddenly feels very quiet. There’s a finality to the moment that was somewhat lost on me until I cut the tree down myself. A pause. An honoring. A thank you for letting us use your fuel to heat ourselves. And a nod to the cycle you’ve changed and the new cycle that will begin.

From this…

 

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To This…

 

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Little tiny nature miracles wake you up from the quiet.

And then…there’s a celebration. At least there was in our case. There were hugs and high-fives and smooches to be had.

 

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See, we look like bugs, but safe bugs.

 

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Not completely dead, but totally rotten. A beauty, nonetheless

 

My first tree!

“To the first of many” congratulated The Chief.

 

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Yes, a little crooked, I’d say.

 

Since we were now somewhat late to dinner we decided to buck up the tree (cut it into lengths that are more easily manueverable. Later they will be cut into lengths that will fit into the  fireplace and later will be chopped into wood for fires) when we had time to do it right. Maybe I’d even do it on my own when The Chief was at work (maybe, probably not but at that moment anything seemed possible).

The Chief headed off to check on a charging 4-Wheeler battery and I went inside to get ready. I was starving, all that adrenaline had gotten my heart pumping but I knew we were headed to dinner so I looked for something quick and settled on some salami. Normally, I would cut up smaller slices, maybe with some cheese and apples and sit for a snack but no way, this Lumberjane was tough and in a rush. I cut off a chunk and popped it into my mouth, bit down and…

broke off a piece of my tooth.

 

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I think I swallowed it too, just for good measure.

 

What in the heck? I just had a chainsaw inches away from my face, running full throttle. I just cut down a 45ft. tree and I come inside and break my tooth on salami? Something is wrong here. Or actually, perfectly on point. Of course that would happen here. Just when you think you’re safe and solid, a little reminder heads your way.

Don’t get cocky.

Do call a dentist.

Well, eventually. It’s not all that bad, The Chief couldn’t even tell which tooth (it’s the bottom left front tooth) but my tongue sure could. I kept feeling the newly rough crag over and over throughout the night. At first I was annoyed with myself. How careless. But then I decided instead to see it for what it was: a good reminder of how fast a slip-up can happen and to listen to your intuition.

Something had whispered to me that I should cut up the salami and maybe if I had the peppercorn that broke my tooth wouldn’t have hidden so well but I didn’t listen and so I met the consequences. I realized that I was lucky that it was this small reminder of how fast things happen out here (and how far away a doctor is) instead of a reminder in the shape of a chainsaw accident.

Yes, I cut down a tree and yes, it was cause for celebration but no, it does not make me a skilled Sawyer by any means.

Maybe a Lumberjane in Training though, I’m good with that. And as long as I remember that I’ll be in training for a long time, as long as I remember not to get too big for my flannel shirts, well then I’m happy to keep learning and earning the name of a Lumberjane.

 

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Driving Lessons: Shifting in the Snow

I love driving, I always have. Since I was little I remember not being able to wait for the day that I would get behind my own set of wheels and race off into freedom.

Yet my love of driving exists despite my initiation, which went a little like this:

“Dad, I really want to learn to drive the truck” (the truck was a Toyota pre-little me, a.k.a probably from the 70’s. She took cooing and caressing everyday in order to start but it only made us love her more).

“O.K. Let’s start” he said as he backed into the lower driveway.

His house had a demonic driveway. There were ditches on both sides (one with a creek) and chunky gravel that left tires spinning and hearts racing. People would come over and once they had made it up the steep gravel slip slide hill of an entrance, they would ask my Dad (or me, eventually) to back their cars out when they left. Some of my friends’ parents who were savvy to the struggle would just drop them off at the bottom of the hill and make them hike the treacherous drive.

It was the kind of hill that you have to lean forward to walk up.

Not the best way to start a play-date but hey, that’s what plates of placating cookies are for.

There were two buildings on the property: the Music Studio (that when approaching the house turned off the driveway mid-hill into a parking spot) and the House (that sat at the top of the driveway).

So, needless to say, when I asked my Dad to teach me to drive that day, I was thinking we would start somewhere a little flatter.

Nope.

I was wrong.

He parked in the lower driveway and we switched seats. I would drive the car up to the house.

Looking back as an adult, this scenario is laughable at best and an ego crusher at worst but as a kid I just figured it was feasible. If he said I could do it I should be able to. Right?

A little background:

  1. I was maybe 8 years old at the time. Even with the bench seat pulled all the way forward my little legs strained to bring my feet to the pedals (I was nicknamed Thumbelina because I was so short while my Dad’s knees were basically up to his ears as he tried to fit back into the truck).
  2. I had never driven anything other than sitting on laps and steering.
  3. The old truck was a stick-shift.
  4. We were parked in the driveway, requiring us to go uphill at a 90 degree turn in order to make it up to the House.

It was starting to feel like I had bit off more than I could chew but what did I know? I just figured that’s how one learned. Right?

Well, I sure did learn something: the clutch is a tricky thing and the gas makes you go. Oh, and seatbelts. Seatbelts are a pretty good idea.

I put the car into gear and as I took my foot off the brake we started sliding backwards towards the Studio (the driveway too was on an incline). Geez! That was an unexpected complicating treat.

“What are you doing?! You’re gonna have to give it more gas than that, kiddo, otherwise we’ll crash into the Studio”.

I started realizing that indeed, this feat was going to be harder than anticipated. My Dad’s Studio was his world and the thought of crashing into the glass doors and crushing the instruments and equipment sprang a leak of fear into my heart. I was not going to hit it. I was determined.

And so I prepared again, feeling gung-ho about heading forward this time and well, I really found the gas pedal and head forward we did.

Straight into the creek.

The car engaged and before I could turn the wheel and we shot straight forward, nose diving into the creek that bordered the opposite side of the driveway (seriously, could this thing be any more treacherous? Ditches and creekbeds and gravel, oh my!)

A tow truck later and the car was finally out of the creek and back where it had started in the lower driveway. My Dad showed me how “easy” it was as he drove to the top of the driveway. I had failed and my love of driving was lost. I spent the rest of the day with a tummyache while my Mom spent the rest of the day Mama-Bearing my Dad (thanks, Ma!).

Looking back, he probably could have started me under better conditions. I spent the next few years terrified of driving. My Mom once even tried to get me to just sit and keep my foot on the brake of one car while she moved another where I would then gas it up the easy driveway. No one else was around to help her but I couldn’t. I ended up in a panic. No way. No wheels, thank you.

But, eventually, age and necessity caught up and my fear of driving was slowly replaced by my need for freedom.

Growing up in the boonies (or what I thought was the boonies back then) I was limited to where my feet and my parents could or would take me. My nearest friend’s house at my Mom’s was miles away (after you got up our mile long straight up and down driveway) through backroads with no shoulder and blind curves a plenty. My nearest friend’s house at my Dad’s was so far that the one time I attempted to walk to it my dog Dixie (a puppy at the time) gave up walking and made me carry her the remaining few miles. So, as I started approaching driving age, I got more and more restless to be self-sufficient.

The clear solution? Steal my parents’ cars of course.

My favorite to steal was my Dad’s girlfriend’s car. One, because it was a zippy automatic (I had yet to have a second stick shift lesson and all of my Dad’s cars were manuals) and two because well, we didn’t really get along so the guilt I felt was minimal at best. I know, I know, I am a terrible person…or just a bored and opportunistic country kid (you choose).

However, one day my friends and I wanted to leave and the only car available was my Dad’s stick shift. I took my girlfriend’s word for it that she was an expert stick driver and off we went.

Down the driveway (thankfully the car was already facing downhill),

down the street and…

straight into a mailbox.

After paying for that (both fiscally and in endless variations of the phrase “I’m sorry” for months) I took a little break from my auto theft days and distracted myself with saving for my own car for when I turned 16. Since I wasn’t about to ask for another manual lesson from my Dad (he was still pretty mad about the whole mailbox incident) I ended up buying an automatic and other than a few stints in friends’ stick shifts, it’s been automatics all the way.

Every time I drove a stick shift I loved it. It felt like I was really driving. I desperately wanted one but never had the guts to just buy one and learn how to drive it as I went (what a test drive that would have been).

And so, I stuck to automatics, kicking myself every time a situation arose where someone needed me to drive a manual and I couldn’t help.

Until now.

With the seasons changing here…

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A week ago there wasn’t an exposed rock in sight and the ice sheets were snow machine highways.

I consulted my What I Want to Learn Before the End of this Winter List and saw a lot of unchecked boxes (how did I not become fluent in three languages, become a guitar virtuoso and write a manifesto?) but the one unchecked box that stuck out the most was driving a stick shift. Lucky for me, The Chief has an old SUV that just got up and running again last Fall.

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Don’t be jealous of her lovely lady lumps n’ bumps.

It was time.

A few minor bumps in the road arose:

  1. I had never driven in the snow. Not in an automatic. Not ever. Now I was going to learn a stick shift in Spring snow (read: ever changing conditions, enormous puddles, sheets of ice, ruts and slush…oh joy!)
  2. I could barely reach the clutch again (seriously?!)
  3. The car is lovingly called “The Jack in the Box” because it’s shocks are so shot that when you hit even the tiniest of bumps it rocks back and forth and up and down for what feels like eternity, just in time to hit another bump and start the rock and roll all over again. Basically, it’s like driving a boat through big seas. But hey, I’ve got fishermen in my family. I can brave the seas.
  4. The ignition. The ignition is an exposed bundle of wires attached to where the key normally goes. In order to start the Jack in the Box one must first acquire a flathead screwdriver. Upon acquistion one must find the “sweet spot” in order to be able to start the car. Nervous? Flustered? Good luck starting this beast. She requires a gentle touch and a lot of patience (hmmm, this is sounding familiar).

Yet despite these minor issues, I was ready to roll. I’ll have to learn to drive in real snow (driving last month in Anchorage there was hardly any snow. They had to bring in snow on the train for the Iditarod start so, needless to say, it was minimal) someday and if I want a vehicle to drive here it’s going to be this one so why not throw it all together at once? This seems to be a common theme here: try the hardest way first. And you know what? I prefer it that way.

Jump on in, the water is intense but after this you’ll be able to swim in anything.

Learning Day: The Chief popped Jack into 4-wheel drive, backed out of the parking spot, and brought us to the main road. The road may have been covered in snow and rutted to pieces but at least it was flat(ish), wide and a long straightaway (Dad, if you’re giving any driving lessons these days, take note). We switched seats. The Chief gave me the rundown (oh, that probably would have been helpful back in the day too). I started the car with the screwdriver on my first try and…we were off. Just like that.

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Snowy? Check. Gorgeous? Check.

 

And then we saw an approaching 4-wheeler and all of the lesson went out the window as I panicked and stalled. The 4-wheeler carried a neighbor who wished The Chief “luck and safety in his teachings”.

Minor embarrassment aside, the rest of the lesson got us all the way to the footbridge (our final destination) from which we could walk into Town. I did it!

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The Footbridge into Town

Sidenote: there is a vehicle bridge that takes you into Town but at the end of Winter money is scarce and an investment like a bridge key for a couple hundred dollars sounds a lot worse than just parking at the Footbridge and walking into Town (that’s what feet are for anyways, if they’re able).

After that, I figured we would practice when we had time. I wasn’t completely comfortable, surely not ready to be on my own but I felt confident and proud.

Surprise!

It started to rain. The already melting snow turned to slush and just as my work week started the snow machine trails turned to mushy rock-laden crash traps. I drove anyways. It wasn’t that bad, right? After narrowly avoiding one rock, only to catch the tip of the ski on another and driving over dirt on some parts of the road to Town, The Chief and I decided it was best to stop using the machines before we ended up breaking something (on them or on us).

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Since the rains this is the best this road has looked. Ruts and all.

No problem, right?

Oh, except for that minor issue of getting to and from work twice a day (split-shifts). Well, one option was that I could become a half-marathon runner and clock 14 miles per day going back and forth. Or, I could test just how solid I was in the statement that I wasn’t ready to drive by myself yet.

I’m down with exercise but 14 is about 10 miles too many to walk, run or ski in any given work day. And so, I set out on my own.

The first morning driving on my own the temperature had dropped below freezing the night before and the windshield was a thick layer of ice. There’s nothing like rushing to obtain the calm, cool, collected demeanor necessary to start the Jack. After running back and forth to the house for credit cards and hot water to scrape and melt the windshield there was finally a shred of visibility large enough to gain exit (I had forgotten about the back window but there wasn’t enough time. Besides, that’s what mirrors are for, right?). I tried to start the car. I failed. Deep breaths, Julia-San. A few hurried belly breaths and a few attempts later and the car finally started. I had to give it extra oomph to back the Jack out of the frozen puddle it was parked in and then panicked as I flew backwards towards the 90 degree turn I needed to complete in reverse in order to right myself towards the driveway exit. I slammed on the brakes.

I forgot the clutch.

Stalling is humbling. It teaches you to pay better attention, slow down, take a moment.

I wasn’t in the mood for a lesson.

Three more stalls later and I was high-fiving myself for having avoided the trees and other vehicles around me. I was finally facing the right way. I made it out to the road only to see that indeed, conditions had changed overnight (as they always do, yet still I am always surprised). It was no longer the puffy little snow drive I had been hoping for. Nope, the road had become a skating rink.

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As I slid towards my destination I saw the next changed condition: snow melt and rain had caused huge puddles to form and the freeze the night before had caused sheets of ice to form on top.

Oh joy!

I geared up and headed through, finding out (as I hit one) that large rocks were also in this mixed bag of road dangers. The Jack bounced and bounded through the puddles rocking me to the next challenge: a small river had formed. I waded through slowly, too slowly, so that I almost stalled again but I figured four times of stalling was the charm, I didn’t need more, and so I was able to gas it through.

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This was made by…

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this. Which was made by melting snow. A week ago all of this was fluffy white snow machining paradise.

A few fishtails later and having avoided crashing or falling off steep banks I made it to the footbridge. I had gone outside to start the car at 7:15. I had driven 3 miles and it was now 7:42 am and I had to be at work in 18 minutes which was about a mile away still, over the footbridge and through the woods, which in slushy snow is slow going. But I couldn’t help pause for a celebration dance. I was on top of the world. I had made it! I hadn’t planned on driving solo for months but in true Alaska style, she had other plans for me. I stopped to celebrate my first voyage.

 

 

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Celebration dance not pictured. Celebration face, pictured.

and hurriedly slipped and slid my way to work to play dish pit stained glass:

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Just like with the snow machine, practice makes perfect and although the split shift can be tough, it’s been great for practice. Four trips per day for my shifts last week has made me confident, but anytime that starts to turn into cocky, Alaska will send a little fishtail action my way or an unseen rock to send me bouncing. Just like every lesson here, it comes with the requirement of respect and the check of ego. If you get too big for your britches the stitches will rip.

And so, britches intact (though with some patches) I try to remember that each day is different. Some days I’ll wake up to blue skies and a defrosted windshield, others I’ll wake up to rain and still others to a frozen Jack in the Box. That’s the deal.

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Without the snow melting and re-freezing, I never would have gotten to see this little ice gem. Everyday adds to the next.

Either way, I’ll still finally be driving (and stalling) a stick shift, a lesson that started 21 years ago. And no matter the weather, I still get to be driving here, in the middle of a national forest (**Correction: National Park & Preserve) with my trusty screwdriver and my Lou at my side (who I swear rolls her eyes when I stall but makes me feel safer nonetheless).

Cheers, to the closing of the chapter “Stick Shift Up a Creek” and to the start of “Julia and the Jack in the Box”.

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Even through a shattered windshield, it’s a view to remember.