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