wilderness

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

Somedays, in the woods of Alaska, you wake up to an exact serving of fresh coffee grounds and the sweet sound of the tea kettle already boiling water. Your kitchen promises two dozen eggs at your disposal and the woodstove glows with last nights logs, now in beautiful coal form which means, lighting a fire will be a cinch and that the house is already likely above 50 degrees. Plus, a huge stack of firewood rests at your disposal next to the fireplace. You barely have to step outside for more than your morning “restroom” break (read: one must learn the art of the nature pee to live out here).

You spend your morning drinking your coffee, having scrambled eggs with veggies (you have tons at the moment) and your favorite cheese and even some orange juice on the side. You’re freshly showered and the laundry bin is empty as you spent the day yesterday doing laundry, depleting your water stores, and then hauling water to replenish them. You are stocked up in all avenues: food, warmth, clothing, hygiene, water and you even have some extras sprinkled on: orange juice, special cheese, freshly cleaned socks.

You are, as my Mama would say “In ’em”.

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

Things are looking on the bright side and lining up quite nicely.

On the other hand, some mornings, you wake up to a house at 37 degrees. You gingerly grab your robe, cursing the logs you had hoped would “catch” before you went to sleep and cursing yourself for not babying them further to ensure they would put out warmth. You go downstairs to find that there not only are no grounds, but there is no coffee, at which point, the rummaging begins to find where exactly in this tiny home of yours, you’ve hidden this gem from yourself. You further find that you are nearly out of water but luckily enough, you have just enough for coffee and so delicately fill up the tea kettle, hoping not to spill a drop. You’ll be hauling water shortly.

You go to light a fire and find that the fire did not catch well, but did leave you with a charcoal mess, by the time you organize it, you look like a chimney sweep. You resign to build another fire but there is no wood in the house at which point you decide to venture outside into what will, of course, be a brr-inducing morning and find that there is no chopped wood outside either. Being a stubborn beast, you decide to chop wood, despite the cold, with bare hands and slippers in your robe. Wild-haired, sweating with soot on your face, you return to start a fire, just as your water boils. Now it’s time to build a fire, find the coffee (and hope that you, in fact, do have extra coffee) and grind it. 15 minutes later, you’re finally getting the day started. It’s breakfast time but you realize your last egg went down the gullet yesterday and so you opt for oatmeal instead but realize you don’t even have enough water. A slightly mealy apple it is.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

In all likelihood, your last shower was a bit too far off for comfort, your socks have been “recycled” once or twice (let’s be honest, at least twice) and your fresh food supply is starting to not even meet Alaska Good standards (a term my girlfriend created in California as a way to gauge if something was indeed too far gone to eat. Alaska Good is still edible, but it’s close. Really close. I’ve been known to grab things before people throw them in the compost, saving apples with little bruises and lettuce that has a few slimy pieces but I do cap it at Alaska Good, most of the time). You’re dirty, hungry, under-caffeinated, out of water, out of wood, warm only because of the exercise your just beginning day already required and the only extra you have sprinkled on is the plethora of chores you have to do. The only bright side is that you can see the beautiful fire you just made because in the ebb you made an amazing concoction out of orange peels that takes away the grime and leaves you with this:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

You’re, as my Mama would say “Not in ’em”.

Some days, you’re in ’em and some days, you’re so far out of ’em you don’t remember what ’em looked like.

The ebb and flow here might as well be called the drought and the downpour because that is exactly how it goes.

Home from Town?

In ’em.

You’ve got meats and cheeses and eggs, oh my! Juices and fruits and veggies! You even have spinach.

Spinach, people. In the woods. That stuff barely keeps in the city but somehow, if you baby it every day, you can make it last a week here.

And then, a week passes and suddenly, supplies are rapidly decreasing. What felt like a boatload of supplies starts to look more like a mere bucket full and the rationing begins.

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

Yet oftentimes, just as you’re about to grab your divining rod, Alaska smiles upon you in the drought. Just as you crack your last egg, your friend’s chickens come out of Winter production and he’s selling again. Just as you face down your last bell pepper, your girlfriend picks you up one as a present one day while doing a laundry journey into Close Town.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Or, you remember the Shaggy Manes your girlfriend gave you a while back and you rehydrate them.

 

 

And the same rings true in reverse. Just as your neighbor runs out of salt, there you are, having bought extra with extra to spare. When all of your avocados ripen at once, you make a guacamole to share or you send one along as a gift. And then it returns, for just as you feel you can’t possibly cook another darn meal (as you cook every meal you eat, every day), someone calls to say they made extra chili if you’re hungry.

Of course, you are and you have a block of cheddar to top that chili with.

The go around come around makes the drought and downpour feel a little less torrential and a little more like an ebb and flow. It makes a life that can be hard, a little easier for even though the hard is what makes it good, sometimes you just need a little reprieve.

I’ve never lived a life where I couldn’t just pop into the store for what I’ve needed. I’ve never relied on my neighbors or felt comfortable enough doing so to call them at 9 pm and ask if they have an extra can of tomato paste. I’ve never cherished fresh as I do today or looked at a salad as if it were a goddess.

So, despite the sometimes harshness of the drought and downpour, the frustration of there not being wood, or not being water, or feeling like I may as well put in to be a member of the Garbage Pail Kids, the appreciation provided by the times where we are “In ’em” is enough. This place makes gratitude easy for the necessities are obvious and the ebb or flow of them is immediate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Ice Fall Nizina River Alaska

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

may your water buckets (or pipes) be full, may your pantries be stocked, may your baths be often (I am living vicariously through you, a bath is a gift from the Gods) and may your neighbors be kind enough to send over a little sugar once in a while.

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

The Breakdown: A Winter Edition

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

 

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

And we had two.

Two people.

Two machines.

 

 

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

 

 

Too good to be true.

 

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

That was then.

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

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

 

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

River Trip.

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

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

Problem solved.

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

But all of that was behind us now.

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

Silence.

Our machine was the only one not rumbling.

Oh.

No.

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

It wouldn’t start.

Out of nowhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What did you say?

Things could be worse?

Well, yes, they certainly could!

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

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

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

“What happened?”

The boys then relayed their tale.

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

And rise she did.

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

What to do…?

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

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

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

We had a working snow machine.

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

She fired right up.

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

 

 

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

 

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

But the machine was sputtering again.

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

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

Same thing. Still sputtering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty please? Sugar on top.

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

 

 

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No Girls Allowed

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

No Girls Allowed.

No Boys Allowed.

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

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

What the heck?

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

Dang!

Busted again…until next snack time.

 

 

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No longer the littlest Toad in the family…

 

 

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

He assured me that Poker was for everyone.

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

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

Naw.

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

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

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

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

I went anyways.

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

What a concept.

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

And I was.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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Downhill view. Eek x2!

 

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

 

 

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Look, Ma! No hands!

 

 

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

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

 

 

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Hello, little love.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Cheers to taking down the signs and creating new ones:

People Allowed (Nice Ones). Come On In.

 

 

 

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Your Shoes are Too Small (and Other Lessons in “Adulting”)

Up until I was 25 I always bought my shoes one size too small.

Minimum.

After years of competitive dancing and sports I was convinced I wore a size 7.

I’m an 8.5.

Minimum.

Perhaps the vanity factor played into my delusion, but overall, it was delusion. Growing up competing in Irish dancing (go ahead, insert Michael Flatley joke) from Kindergarten on I was beyond adept at squeezing myself into too tiny shoes. I was under the impression from fellow dancers and teachers alike that smaller shoes meant better control and in a competition that relies on precision and perfection any trick to help was welcome. So, I wore the smallest shoes I could fit into. And it worked. This little leprechaun of a lady bounced high and moved quickly because of those tiny shoes.

Or maybe I just powered through despite them.

Either way, I applied this tiny shoe logic to all the other shoes in my life. Soccer shoes? I can run faster. Volleyball? I’m better on my toes. Everyday shoes? They fit just fine (perhaps this was where the vanity factor coupled with the delusion).

My Mom, my ultimate dance supporter, would question my sizing, wondering why my toes were going numb and why I constantly had Charlie Horses waking me up in a panic in the night. Nonetheless, I would constantly reassure her not to worry. It couldn’t be the shoes.

She grew hip to my unintentional lies and one day I came home to a gift.

It was a journal and the cover, painted in water-color and written in caligraphy, said:

“Life is too short to wear small shoes.”

It credited a Chinese proverb that I’ve never been able to unearth but it struck me. And from then on…

Nothing changed. I still bought my shoes too small, until eventually, at 25 for some reason (probably due to the continued encouragement from running shoe stores who wanted me to buy a size bigger than my shoe size) I gave in and bought the right size, finally.

My Mom noticed this shift and said: “You’re making changes, my dear. You’re heading towards adulthood.”

A small move like this may not seem like much and in the grand scheme of things, maybe it isn’t but between the two of us, we knew the meaning of this shift went deeper and the wheels were starting to turn.

It started there and it’s been a back and forth trail ever since.

I’m trying to be an adult, or at least my version of one.

I’m not sure if it’s the act of trying that makes one an adult or the end result. Perhaps one day I’ll end up at a door at the end of an alley off my normal trajectory which will open to me, unveiling an inside filled with all the adults in my life blowing noisemakers and throwing confetti, all standing under a big sign that says:

You made it. Welcome to adulthood.

 

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Something like this would be awesome.

 

Perhaps. And if so, I hope to find that party. But I think the key lies in the first part: trying.

 

One month or so ago I threw my neck out something fierce and was laid out for over a week.

In the woods.

A place where almost everything I need requires my body to be functioning.

Water: Need my body.

Hauling and chopping wood: Yup, need it still.

Making a fire: Yessirree Bob.

It all requires physicality or help.

Thankfully, I still had the latter.

The Chief stepped in and took over all household operations. Simply sitting still left me in searing pain as my neck threatened to shift further out-of-place. Even boiling water for tea was a feat for me. He chopped and hauled the wood and made the fires and hauled the water and babied me back to health. It was 10 days before I was fully back in action. I was losing my mind while simultaneously patting myself on the back (gently).

I’ve had back and neck problems for as long as I can remember. The WWF was beyond popular when we were growing up and my Brother practiced the awesome moves on me, much to my neck’s chagrin. By the time I was 7 I was in a neck brace and seeing a chiropractor weekly. Add to that falling off my horse more times than I can count and concussing my little head more times than I’d like to admit via falls and car accidents. The last one was a real doozy and left me with an instability that I’ve yet to be able to pinpoint and that sends me into spasms and “outs” as often as the mail plane flies in. Yet, over the years I’ve done little to fix this foible of mine. I’ve minimized it, forgetting how much it interrupts my life until it would happen again.

But that won’t fly anymore. Not out here. Enter: Adulting, Step 1 (I’m still on Step 1): Take Care of Yourself

Gosh, this may sound easy to some but, as I’m still stuck on it, you can tell it’s hard for me.

Taking the 10 days to rehab was the first time I’ve ever let myself heal from an injury completely. Asking for help was harder than getting out of bed (and that was near impossible) but somehow the words came out of my mouth. I even followed that trajectory and set up an appointment with the local body worker who also happens to my one of my best girlfriends. In the past, I would have pushed out of the injury and ran like hell from it, pretending nothing had transpired. But this time, I was hellbent on breaking that pattern. Upkeep, dear reader. Upkeep.

And so, we scheduled a session. I drove gingerly over on the snow machine and 5 hours later (after a 3.5 hour session just centered on my neck and then a bit of girl time) The Chief arrived to take me home. Asking for him to pick me up? Hated it. My girlfriend said I had to but worst of all my girlfriend also said that I was not to do any sort of lifting, driving, skiing etc. for at least 48 hours in order for her work to set in (she realigns muscles, that’s the best way to describe it). A year ago, I wouldn’t have heeded her advice, despite the investment of the session. Things needing to be done would have taken precedence over things needing to heal (me). But this time, I did it, with the essential help of The Chief. We both had to remember not to let me do things and it made me feel vulnerable in a way I’ll have to further explore but…we did it.

And then, she was leaving and so was I.

I had started this train of health and despite my prior track record, I was ready to keep it going. I had been doing my prescribed exercises every day (I think that deserves all the gold stars) and truly listening to my body. Instead of skiing when I didn’t feel up to it, I would go for a walk or just stretch that day. I was taking her advice but…she was leaving and so was I.

It would be at least two months before I could see her for another session and although I was making progress in keeping my muscles in their newly defined places, they were starting to slip, starting to spasm and starting to hurt. I had started a new exercise routine, reminiscent of my past regimes that I hadn’t been able to do in years. The idea of having to pause my progress to recover again from bodywork left my forward craving mind in a tumble. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought twice. I would have avoided the two-day (and potentially more) “setback” of the bodywork and just let the months pass, at which point, upon her return I would probably have avoided scheduling again, until the next big episode.

But I’m in the end stage of Step 1, people. Things are changing.

And so I made that appointment.

The thing was, last time it took us a week to retrieve the snow machine we had left over there when I had driven myself and The Chief had picked me up. It had snowed and rained and driving in those conditions would have created a rutted, hardened mess for everyone when it froze up. Plus The Chief had been working all day in 20 below and by sunset neither of us felt like gearing up, yet again, to brave the plummeting temperatures.

So, the best solution?

Walk or ski and The Chief would retrieve me.

I opted for a walk that day, in the hopes of catching up with a girlfriend by phone on the way there.

As fate would have it, she was just arriving at work. Our conversation was short and sweet and that was probably a good thing because before long I was huffing and puffing my way there.

 

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I quickly realized that the 90 minutes I had allotted myself to get to her house would be cutting it close.

I stepped it up a notch.

My backpack was loaded down with warm gear for the ride home on the snow machine with The Chief and after the workout I had already done that morning, I was beginning to second guess if I would make it on time. My legs felt like Jell-O.

 

 

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4.5 miles and exactly 90 minutes later, I arrived at her doorstep, sweating and…

spasm-ing.

It turns out that a 90 minute power walk through snow with a loaded pack wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered.

Thankfully, I had arrived at my back doctor and extra thankfully, she is my girlfriend because immediately upon entering her cabin I stripped down. I was a sweaty mess. I lay my clothes out to dry. Finally, I recovered and made myself presentable (and touchable) again (see, this is where running water comes in really handy. But, for the time being, baby wipes will have to recover us from a workout) for the work ahead.

It was time to get on the table.

Two-and-a-half hours later I opened my eyes to darkened skies and lamplight (she’s so good). It had been painful in the best of ways and I could feel my body realigning. Thankfully, she could see and feel my progress and was able to work deeper since the bigger muscles had finally stopped having to be so protective.

An hour later, The Chief came to get me and we said our “goodbyes” for the next two months. I missed her already.

The Chief slowly drove us home, checking to make sure the bumps weren’t too bumpy or the wind too whipping.

Thirty minutes later when we arrived home I was like a horse to stable. Straight to bed. I was exhausted.

The next day I woke up and did a body scan: how was I feeling? (Super Adulting!)

Pretty darn good!

Immediately my thoughts went to: well, I could probably chop some wood then, since we are out (not so Adulting).

Down girl.

Instead of breaking my promise to lay low right off the bat I asked The Chief to chop us wood.

Ugh.

I did it anyways.

My body was still exhausted from the work and from the day’s events prior to the work but the only part of me that was truly sore? My back from my walk. I had pushed too hard and I knew it as I was going but…I did it anyways. She would have gladly picked me up on her snow machine but no, I had been stubborn.

I lay low that first day, taking a walk and stretching only for exercise. When we were invited to dinner and everyone was riding snow machines I swallowed my pride and asked if we could drive.

But come Day 2, the restlessness had set in.

Another dinner invite and this one we couldn’t drive to, at least not in a car (unless we wanted to buy two bridge keys and not eat for the rest of the month). It was a snow machine only trip. I wavered back and forth. I felt good but didn’t want to push it. At the same time, the trip was beautiful. It took us downriver to the confluence and up the meeting river into a wide open space I’d never dreamed I would adventure to. But still, I was cautious. The second wind event of the week before had completely windblown the trail (which I now understand to mean that it had compacted it) and with our snow machine’s wonky skis, it would be a tough drive.

I decided to go.

 

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The middle of the river.

 

 

I know, I know but these aren’t trips we take everyday. I couldn’t help myself and I wanted to feel normal instead of delicate.

 

 

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We agreed to take it slow and we did but going there is much easier than coming home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bundled to the brim

 

In the dark of night, the journey became a bit more treacherous. The bumps became less avoidable and the skis dipped in less mercifully, pulling us over. We made it home all in one piece but the hour plus ride had taken its toll. I went up to bed bumped up and grumpy.

The next morning I awoke to what I knew I would find: ouch. I was in pain, again. Yet, instead of beating myself up, I broke out the med kit. Arnica oil and stretching and rest to the rescue.

I guess it’s fair to say that I’m still learning. This adulting thing seems to go up and down, to and fro and often somewhere in-between. But I am trying and I finally have a sense of what it feels like.

A few days later and I was back at my new routine, shaking the house with jumping jacks and other plyometric plays but never without checking in during the routine and following it with some serious stretching afterwards.

When I first realized I was starting to grasp Step 1 of Adulting I figured it was solely age, and to some capacity I’m sure it is but I also think it’s this place. I’ve always been motivated by a deadline and this place serves it up full force. By living where I rely on myself, I have to actually become reliable to myself. And I’ve had to learn to rely on others. Pushing forward, even if “I can do it” doesn’t always mean I should. Being “out” for a week because of doing something avoidable that ended in injury? Not so impressive and arguably selfish. Still, my ego gets the best of me some days and I add that extra stack of wood to an already full armload or ski that extra unnecessary hour or carry two buckets when my body really only wants one. And some days I listen.

It’s a give and a take kind of thing but I’m starting to learn this step nonetheless. And hey, at least now my shoes fit (well, most of them at least).

One step at a time, in mostly well-fitting attire.

Life is too short for small shoes.

 

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…and too short to forget to take snow naps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Basics (and Buckets)

One week ago I was returning home from a walk with Lou when I noticed The Chief underneath the house.

Peekaboo?

As I approached him I could tell that this trip below the deck, in particular, was an ominous one at best. I slid down the little hill like a penguin on my bum  to meet him and noticed our tea kettle sitting next to him on the frozen ground. Steam surrounded him. In his hand he was holding a pipe.

A very important pipe.

The pipe that insured that the water inside the house would go outside the house.

You see, until a week ago, we had indoor plumbing.

Well, sort of.

We lived in an only Slightly Dry cabin.

No, I’m not talking about a Slightly Dry Cabin like a meant-to-be-dry-but-there-are-ways-around-it dry county or a Dry Cabin with a slightly leaky roof or even a Dry Cabin with a damp draft dismally descending upon us.

Nope.

Slightly Dry.

Until last week.

Now, we are edging towards a Dry Cabin. Not as dry as some. Not as dry as the desert perhaps, but dryer than before, like we started. Back to basics. Back to buckets.

O.K. what in the world am I talking about? Dry, Slightly Dry? It sounds like a deodorant commercial or a martini order.

Let’s define our terms, shall we? Mind you, these definitions are my own (move over OED), and just like how every house out here is different, every person might have their own idea of what dry means. But for our house and as I see it, my definition of a Dry Cabin goes like so:

No indoor running water. No toilet, no shower, no faucet. No, no, no.

O.K. that’s direct but just too basic. Let’s dig in deeper.

Dry cabins come in all different variations and there is definitely a range of “Dry” but the overarching theme and the starting point is a lack of indoor plumbing. Because we choose to reside in the boonies, we don’t simply call up the city and turn on the waterworks. There is no city to call, no water to be tapped into. That goes for everyone out here.

Our cabin has no indoor to outdoor plumbing (now) to speak of which means that every drop of water that we use or consume we have to haul not only into the house but out of the house, in some fashion or another.

Every drop.

When I lived in California, the state was in a drought. We conserved water. We collected rainwater to flush the toilet and we turned the faucet off in between rinsing dishes. We were conscious but despite this consciousness towards using less I was completely unconscious of how much water I still used.

Now, I know. I can account for every bit of water I use as I can actually see the levels dropping on the water buckets we haul into our house. From brushing my teeth to putting a kettle on, never do I use water without first having to retrieve it, either from its source (our well) or from a reservoir in our house. It’s a strange thing to realize that my whole life, I’ve had water on demand and now, it demands that I come to collect it.

And so, we haul our water into our Slightly Dry cabin that has become a little dryer as of late.

So what is the range? A completely Dry Cabin has absolutely no running water. Water is hauled from a local spring or a well outside (which we are lucky enough to have on our property, saving us hours of hauling time) and stored in buckets inside (outside they would turn to popsicles, but not the delicious kind).

Completely dry cabins may not even have a sink but use wash basins instead in which dishes are done and hands are washed over. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone to a friend’s house that has no running water and we’ve shared the duty of watering one another meaning: My hands are soapy. Would you mind pouring water from that pitcher over them so I can enjoy the luxury of rinsing both hands at once? When solo there’s also the balancing act of tipping your water jug over a basin while holding it in place with your shoulder in order to free your hands to wash both at once.

To build upon this ingenuity and make things a little easier, people come up with adaptations. The foot pump is one of my favorite. It’s a little ball on the ground (like a doctor’s squeeze ball used to inflate the arm band to take your pulse) which you step on to pump a spurt of water out of the faucet. It may sound time-consuming and it is, but it’s pure luxury when you’re used to nothing at all. The next option is a faucet and sink with a pump. The pump gets turned on when the faucet is turned on and sends water from a nearby reservoir (say, under the sink, ours is an 8 gallon Igloo cooler) up and out the faucet head. The water then goes right back down the drain into an attached pipe which drains into what is aptly named The Slop Bucket (paints a pretty picture, huh?) which is also nearby (ours is sidled up next to the cooler under the sink).

 

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Back in the day when I first moved in.

 

The Slop Bucket has to be emptied quite often in order to insure that all your lovely goodness that goes down the drain doesn’t overflow onto your floor. Mmmm toothpaste and dishwater and everything else you put down the drain surprise all over the floor? Yum. This can be tough to remember when you wake up first thing in the morning to brush your teeth. Still groggy and half asleep you slowly come to and hear the pitch of the draining water change (living out here is a lot of listening I’ve learned) and suddenly you come to and realize you’re about to have an overflow. Yippee! Oh, and even if you can congratulate yourself for not overflowing it (this morning) you still have to be careful not to overfill it because, well, you’re still going to have to carry it outside and without a lid, that can be quite the feat.

But not at our house. Nope. The days of The Slop Bucket were over because…(cue the celebratory music. “Eye of the Tiger”, anyone?)

We had a French Drain.

Adding “French” to anything really makes it sound fancy, doesn’t it? And it was.

French toast. (So much better than regular toast)

French fry. (How did I fried potato suddenly sound like its wearing a tuxedo?)

French drain. (How is it even still a drain? It sounds too fancy for the likes of that.)

So what is a French Drain? Well, our version consisted of a 55 gallon drum with the bottom cut off placed into a deep hole in the ground (no small feat. Digging in Alaska is a challenge at best), insulated, covered and connected to the house via piping that attached to the sink inside through a hole in the floor that was then sealed with lots of spray foam to keep the cold out. The water from the sink would then ideally drain into the drum and slowly seep into the ground.

The Fall before The Chief left to meet me in California he had one goal in mind: no more Slop Buckets and so the French Drain idea went into action.

Personally, I didn’t mind the Slop Bucket all that much. Sure, it was a pain. Sure, the Ramp of Doom made it a bit tricky. But hey, I was in the woods now. I could handle it. Right?

In truth, I probably didn’t realize how often the Bucket went out because in my new love haze I was slow to see all the work that surrounded me. I thought I saw it but in reality, The Chief probably chivalrously swept a lot of it away before I noticed. And so, the first time I hauled water up the Ramp of Doom in the Winter I thanked my lucky stars (and The Chief) for making his Drain goal come true. A slop bucket in the middle of winter on the snowy, slippery slope of our Ramp would have been no fun at all and given my propensity for falling down it, wearing the slop would have made it less than no fun at all (anti-fun?). And so we spent the Winter doing dishes and brushing our teeth without having to constantly check The Bucket’s level. The Drain chugged away without incident and we sat in our slightly less dry cabin looking back fondly on (yet with no intent of returning to) the time so long ago when we had to haul The Slop.

That was last Winter. It was “warm”. The coldest temperature we saw was 22 below zero, which to me seemed pretty brrr-brrr cold but alas, I was mistaken.

 

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I was pretty sure this was pretty cold but sunny at 22 below doesn’t hold a candle to grey at 35 below.

 

Enter: this year.

Just a smidge colder.

In the first stint of 35 below this Winter we realized quickly that we would have to baby The Drain a bit more. We came about this realization after awakening to a list of chores that were quickly put on the back-burner when the drain stopped draining. We listened. No movement. This is bad.

We spent the first half of a day under the house, disconnecting the pipes, bringing them in to defrost, cutting away a portion outside that would not defrost, sending boiling water down the drain via our tea kettle, reconnecting the pipes (which thankfully The Chief had made long enough to still be able to trim in this situation without losing the pipe completely) and finally, getting back to our planned chores.

Phew! That was close.

From then on, we babied the Drain. Every morning, before anything else, we boiled hot water to pour down the drain to clear any buildup from the night (we later realized that the sink was leaking, ever so slightly throughout the night, causing potential blockages so we had to unhook the connections for the pump every night and put a bowl under the faucet in case it still leaked from built up pressure). We constantly had an ear to the drain, listening for the specific sound that meant water was flowing. We watched it like new parents but on it continued.

Until that day, one week ago when I came home.

Since we had once before remedied the situation I didn’t panic upon seeing The Chief under the house. That was, until I saw the pipe on the ground and the exasperated look on his face. The blockage wasn’t in the pipe.

 

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Where the pipe came out of the house.

 

 

It was below.

 

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The pipe down into the earth and drum below. All ice.

 

To this day we still don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe the drum wasn’t far enough below the frost line and everything inside the barrel froze during one of the extended cold spells. Maybe we hadn’t been as meticulous as we thought.

Who knows?

All I know is that we are back to basics and back to buckets.

I guess the Spring will tell us all we need to know about what happened now. Until then, I’ll be working on navigating the stairs with a swishing, sloshing bucket of Slop without falling.

 

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The latest shot of the Ramp of Doom…getting doomier with every drop of rain.

 

And you know what? I’ve kind of enjoyed it. Well, now that I’ve gotten back in the game. It didn’t affect me at first since The Chief took over most of the hauling since my neck was still delicate. But since I’ve embarked upon the Slop duty, I’ve been kind of glad to get back to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a bucket that actually had a lid so it didn’t threaten to paint me sloppy every time I transported it outside but we didn’t have one (the two five gallon buckets with lids are for hauling drinking water and we were not giving one of those up). And I’d love to not have to bring it outside twice a day or more on Dish Days. And I’d love it if the color of the Slop was a glittery gold instead of…ewww. And I don’t love it in the moment. But overall, I’m O.K. with it.

The French Drain was a fancy endeavor and one that made me feel very lucky. Yet going back to basics has put me back in touch again with what I’m using and where it’s going. And still, all around me, I see dryer cabins than our Slightly Dryer Now Slightly Dry Cabin. We have running water, an indoor shower (non-permanent and we bathe into a tote, no plumbing there) and an outhouse (two actually, here is the old outhouse, turned library. Seriously).

 

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Our needs are met as long as we meet the demands of our needs. Sure, there are the days when we get home from a big adventure or a dinner at a friend’s house and realize: shoot, we didn’t pump water before we went and well, it kind of stinks because…

When that happens it’s usually the perfect storm. It’s usually 30 below and the well pump won’t start and we have to warm the generator for an hour to get it going when all we really want to do is sit down and eventually after the generator warms and the pump starts and after 5 trips inside each to fill all the reservoirs (shower, under the sink, the pot on the stove and finally the buckets) and a couple spills and a couple close calls on the Ramp…we are done.

And it could have been a lot harder.

Nowadays, when I go to Town, I have to remind myself to turn on the hot water at the sink because I’m so used to always having cold water come out. I have to remember to use the dishwasher because I’m so used to waiting for the water on the stove to heat up so I can do dishes. I have to stop and appreciate the beauty of a shower uninterrupted by scalding hot and freezing cold flashes of a sputtering water heater. And now, when I am home, I stop to appreciate what we had, what we will likely have again and what we still have.

Thank you Alaska for constantly keeping things in perspective, whether we like it or not.

Cheers to the good life, however that looks to you.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

A Little (Mozzarella) Cheesy, But A Lotta True

You know when a friend is coming home from a long stint away and you go over to their house to make sure it’s warm for them before they return?

Nope, me neither. Not before now, at least.

Before moving to the snowy cold of The North I’d certainly helped with the houses of friends but that normally meant giving it a good scrub down, putting a few extras in the fridge and bringing in the mail. And that was if I was house sitting for them. I’d always leave a note and if I had time I’d put some flowers from their garden into a vase. It made me feel good to welcome someone home to a cozy house with a few extra creature comforts to come back to but in sunny California, heat was typically the last perk on my mind.

But not here. Here, flowers would be the magic trick to trump all magic tricks (one time a bouquet of a dozen pink roses flew in on the mail plane and I swear, every person there just stopped, jaws open, staring at the 12 little miracles. Thankfully, someone snapped us all out of it in time to get the roses into a warm car before they starting to freeze). In California, flowers were the icing on the unexpected cake. But here, I didn’t even know the recipe. How does one welcome a friend home in the middle of Winter in the middle of nowhere Alaska?

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, chances are you’ve encountered the Walk-In, a large refrigerator big enough to house you and a gaggle of friends for a cocktail party. In the middle of service, especially during a crazed rush, it was the perfect place to cool down for a minute, gather some thoughts (and some celery or whatnot for the chefs) and head back into the mayhem feeling a bit more refreshed. Too long and it would get chilly. A few minutes was plenty.

If you’ve ever lived in Alaska, chances are you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about, even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant because I’d bet that you have walked into a frozen house at some point. You know the cold that doesn’t seem that bad at first and then…it starts biting into you, nibble by nibble until your fingers feel hot because they are instead so cold? A frozen house is like a Walk In but of the freezer variety instead of a refrigerator.

You see, when we leave our houses (those of us who leave, that is) the houses, like the whole rest of the landscape around them, freeze.

Completely.

They become little iceboxes of a life preserved, like a house coated in amber but instead, everything is ice. Upon returning from your travels or visits, this little frozen life is awaiting you and it takes hours and hours to defrost. Hours during which you wait in full-winter gear from Parka to 50 below boots and busy yourself moving things inside from your vehicle outside in an attempt to stay warm.

That is, unless you have a good friend and good timing and oh buddy, are you glad when you have both.

We were lucky enough to have both on our way in this year and our chilly selves (from our non-functioning car heater) were beyond grateful to walk into a house that was warmer than the great frosty outdoors.

And so, when the call comes, you return the favor. It may not be returned directly to those who first helped you but it is returned to the great cycle of favors that revolves and evolves around here. A little cosmic karma, if you will.

Well, that call came twofold and right, as fate would have it, in the middle of weeks of 30 to 35 below zero temperatures.

 

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I hadn’t even made it past our driveway and already, everything went white.

 

My girlfriend who had been out-of-town for work (much to my chagrin) called the whole week prior, and together we watched as her departure date approached and the temps dropped and dropped and dropped. In the middle of the cold spell we’d had a “warm” snap and she’d just missed the window. In an effort to get her home as soon as possible (ex-squeeze me but I live in the woods where boys abound and women are hard to find. I need all the ladies I can get) I told her that no matter the temps, I’d be there to heat her house if it meant she’d come home sooner.

My offer helped soften the blow of driving in 30 below temps and the day finally arrived when she was (thankfully) headed home. The Chief and I had planned ahead and brought the generator inside the night before. We awoke to the thermometer reading 33 below zero and so we immediately headed outside to warm the snowmachine by powering a heater with the generator. It would need an hour minimum (if we were being nice to it) to warm before we could leave.

Two hours later, last stops stopped and all loose ends tidied up, my girlfriend gave us the green light. She was headed our way and with a four plus hour drive ahead of her it was time for us to drive her way and warm the house. Thankfully, she lived in a valley on the other side of The River and her temperatures often read warmer than ours. Maybe we’d even hit the 20 belows.

Just as we were starting to suit up to depart, my phone rang. We’d been expecting another friend to be coming into the area soon but hadn’t heard from him about his exact dates. People had been driving through his property to break trail (another thing I never even fathomed before living here: duh, of course. When you arrive home after being absent for months, no one has been on your property. There isn’t a trail in sight. Every time you want to walk or drive somewhere you end up hip-deep in snow. So when someone offers to buzz by your place and put in a few trails so you can wade in more freely, you say “yes, thank you”) for a few weeks so we knew he was close but we still didn’t know when he’d arrive.

Well, as circumstance would have it, he was calling from about 250 miles away. He was heading home.

Tomorrow.

Hmm…my little wheels got to turning. Today would be a full-day of heating, which was great. It felt important and honest and good. Two days of heating houses on the other side of the river? Still important and honest and good, but not as good, right? Let’s multi-task this house heating. And so, without thinking I blurted: “Wanna come in tonight?”

Being the badass that he is, he took little more than a look at his old plan and said: “Yes. Of course. I mean we’ve driven this far, what’s a bit of a haul for the last leg?”

Perfect.

And so, with that, The Chief and Julia’s Heating Service was started. Business was booming.

Just kidding.

Both of our friends’ excitement and gratitude had me fired up. It feels so good to do something for someone else and any time you can make life a little easier for your fellow woods dweller out here, you do it.

And so, we were on our way.

We finished suiting up as we talked out our game plan.

Her house first, then his house, then back and forth for the rest of the day until they arrived. Pack a lot of food for a potentially really long day (even if they were leaving, things happen and fingers crossed everything went smoothly but with one of their cars already acting squirrely, anything could happen). Layers upon layers upon layers and extra clothes for a ski.

Yea, we planned on a ski. Pretty cute, huh?

 

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My skis, your skis and a groomer for making trails. We were outfitted, finally.

 

We got to the first house and the thermometer  inside was so cold that all it said was LO. In computer talk I’m pretty sure that means “Geeeeez! What, are you trying to kill me??”

 

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At least it was only -23 outside though! We set to making a fire. Almost. There was wood a plenty and burnables nearby but since my girlfriend had left at the start of the cold-snap she hadn’t been able to clean out the stove before leaving (it had been too cold to let a fire die, even for a few hours and embers take forever to cool). The stove had ash to be removed first (The Chief is a meticulous fire maker, me on the other hand? I’m more of a cowgirl, fly by the seat of your pants type approach) and so we set to find a receptacle. 20 minutes later, cleaned and ready, The Chief had the stove blazing. We dusted ourselves off and…we were off!

At the next house, we broke trail in from the back entrance, paralleling the air field along the way. We arrived again to a ready bin full of wood and burnables (it’s always smart to leave a good set-up if someone is coming to build a fire. You wouldn’t want them to mistakenly burn say, your tax returns. These two were seasoned pros) and The Chief set to work. Since this friend had left in the Fall, the stove was all ready to go and pretty soon the tanker of a stove was chugging along.

It’s a funny thing going into someone’s house in the dead of Winter, especially when it hasn’t been opened back up since the season before. It’s just been sitting and freezing. Everything has a sheen of ice crystals and immediately, you’re scanning for accidents: was there water in any glass that perhaps exploded? Is everything which can’t heat quickly (think kerosene lamp) far enough away from the fire so it won’t break from the temperature shift? And then you start admiring their shut-down techniques. Boards on the windows or coverings over the bed or how their woodpile is organized. One can’t help but pick up tips along the way.

With both houses chugging along, the most important part now was to keep them going. Oh and to not burn their houses down. Yes, this seems like an obvious one and an easy one but out here fire is both something we absolutely need and something we undoubtedly must have respect for. A stove that gets too hot can set fire to itself and with that, the cabin. Plus, every stove is different. Sure, the overarching idea of “shutting it down” (dampening the fire once it’s gotten going to make it burn hot and steady) is the same but every stove has its own little tricks and quirks and when you’re trying to get from frozen to comfortable in hours, you don’t have the luxury of courting time with each stove.

Heat needs to happen now and so you make sure to watch the stove for as long as possible before heading off to the next house.

And so we did, all day long. Back and forth and forth and back we went. Vigilant to lock all the hatches and triple check the stove doors. A few hours in, both stoves cranking away and the temperatures of the houses slowly thawing, we thought about water. Water is essential to every life and out here, it’s especially hard to come by. Both of the friends get water from the same nearby creek and so once we found their water buckets, we headed down to the creek to fill them.

 

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Fill ‘er up, buttercup.

 

Water in your house here is like flowers in your house in the lower 48, except functional. Having water to get you through the night and the following day, to make your long list of chores just a little bit shorter is huge and since none of us have running water, I could appreciate how much this little act would ease their transitions home.

 

 

 

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All buckled up and ready to go

 

Finally, a few trips more and the first bird to return to the coop called. We met my girlfriend at the airstrip with her sled and after shrieky, bouncy, elated “Hellos”, we started unloading her truck. Three sled loads later, each time with us packed like three little ducks riding in a row on the snowmachine, and her truck was unloaded. One last trip to park the truck (since no vehicle can make it down her driveway with any hope of making it back up again) and back to her house and she had finally “arrived” an hour after she had first pulled up. Home again.

She was over the moon to walk into a warm house that even had, wait for it, water! 5 gallons of My Day Just Got Easier. We celebrated and caught up while The Chief made one last trip to our other friend’s house. They had called to say they were at the last stretch of The Road, they’d be home in an hour. 30 minutes later, The Chief returned we all three celebrated. What a day! We’d been back and forth so many times it would make my head spin to recount it, wearing our heaviest gear to stave off the cold of the day’s 20 to 30 plus below weather. We’d successfully heated and watered two houses (and I had successfully realigned my back after falling straight onto my knee with a huge armload of wood. Oh joy. I swear I heard every vertebrae snap, crackle and pop. Owwwwwww) and our friends were home. So despite any bumps and bruises the reunion trumped all.

Every time someone comes home, our little family here is shifted and changed. A new infusion, new life to our day-to-day and it changes everyone, even if just a little bit.

An hour later, I got a text from our other friend saying that they’d stopped on The Road to visit with one of our friends farther out. It’s a funny thing, the coming and going along the 60 miles of road. There rarely is a time when we haven’t stopped, at least for a bit, to see a good friend we don’t normally see. When it takes 30 minutes just to go 3 miles across the river for a visit, it’s even more unlikely to travel 20 miles for one and so, on the way in or out when you can, you stop to see those you won’t see until the rivers break and the fireweed returns and we all convene back in Town. With that being said, we knew he would no longer be home within the hour and so The Chief headed out again to stoke the fire one last time.

He returned to my girlfriend’s house where we had already broken into her stash. This is the best conundrum of every return: what to eat first? It’s always random and never what you’d think and this time was no different: mozzarella cheese.

When you live in the middle of nowhere and new infusions of food are far and few between, it’s funny the things that sound mouth-wateringly delightful and that night, we all agreed on the cheese. Before long, half the block was gone (along with a solid dent in some tortilla chips and warming whiskey) and it was clear that our other friends would be out past our bedtime. After spending a day almost completely outside (since their houses didn’t start to warm up until early evening and even at that, they were still only 50 degrees, though still a complete respite from the biting cold outside) our bodies were ready to rest.

 

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A little cloud of exhale while eating a snack

 

And so, we headed home and what did we return to?

Well, a warm house.

The house wasn’t warm because we had built a fire that would outlast the day. Even the most amazing fire wouldn’t have been able to hold tight through 8 hours of cold knocking on the door. No, we returned to a warm house because while we were away, our neighbors had been coming by every few hours to throw a log on (or two, and to pet or let in or out our Miss Cinda Lou).

The karma loop continues.

It wasn’t just us that day that heated those houses. It was all of us. Our neighbors and us and every neighbor before them that checked on their house while they were away for the day. When life breaks down to food, shelter and warmth it becoming obvious what is important. Sure, our friends could have returned to cold houses, people have done it forever and still do it all the time. Or we could have spent the day away and returned to a 30 degree house. It’s happened, it happens. But none of us did. We all kept warm because of one another and not to be too (mozzarella) cheesy, but that’s the kind of thing that is the answer to the question I so often get: “Why in the world would you want to live all the way out there?”

Why? Because in a place where you have to be able to rely upon yourself, it’s that much better when you get a little help from your friends.

Cheers to flowers and fires for friends. Sure, we can all do it on our own but what’s the point? Be a friend in need of a warm house or a warm hug, this is what we are here for.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

If You Give This Girl a Snack…

 

…she’s still going to want a meal to go with it.

Remember that book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? My grandmother used to read it to me when I was a child and I remember feeling quite the kinship with that little mouse. He had his priorities straight. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. And why shouldn’t he? The simple harmony of that age-old combo makes it almost insulting not to. He was a little mouse with big food priorities and I identified with that.

As a kid, the first thing I would ask when sitting down to the dinner table, seeing my portion and assessing its size in comparison to the adults was: “Is there more?”

Little has changed. And so, as perhaps you could already tell, I am a lady who loves to eat. Hunger strikes often and I jump to action. From pancakes to pupusas, I’m a craver of all things edible and when it comes to hunger, few things can top that inner beast. She wins over most other necessities. And that’s my normal hunger level.

Winter hunger on the other hand is a whole new level.

Let the beast be unleashed.

 

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My skiing companion stopping for a frozen bunny leg snack.

 

You see, the thing is, I don’t let much stand in my way when it comes to eating. You think the kitchen is bare with only potatoes, beef and cabbage? I’ll find a way to make a Shepard’s pie with coleslaw to accompany it (we wouldn’t want the pie to get lonely now, would we?). I’ll do my best to make something out of nothing and given a plethora of materials, I might just go ahead and make a feast. Once, my brother and I, well adept in the art of imagining something from random availability, made an egg drop soup from scratch with the three things we had in our house. It was ridiculous and also delicious. Another time, neither of us had the energy to follow through on our plans to go on a hike or whatnot. The obvious solution? We went to the store and bought everything under the sun to make a complete Thanksgiving dinner.

It was the middle of Summer.

So yes, needless to say, when hunger comes my way I open the door with a grand gesture and welcome the beast to the table.

Winter hunger is a whole different kind of beast. She comes on strong and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Your whole body is propelling you towards satisfying your most basic needs. You need heat, shelter, water and food. Simply being outside burns calories, so if you’re working outside its magnified tenfold and working can be as simple as hauling water. But, despite how basic it is, in the Winter, there always seems to be a hang-up.

The other morning, I awoke starving. The beast was knocking. I hurried downstairs, determined to make swift time with my chores in order to get to the good stuff: steel-cut oats with peaches and cream on top. Boom! All I had to do was build a fire since the house was now 40 degrees due to the weather outside producing a chilly 30 below (yes, that’s 30 degrees under zero. I still shake my head and open my eyes really wide when looking at the thermometer showing such a sight. It just doesn’t seem possible, but alas…). Well, that was all I had planned on, at least. I carefully descended the stairs, each step getting me closer as I headed to the wood stove to create a roaring fire and then a bountiful breakfast.

I arrived to a big empty spot where the firewood should have been.

O.K. no biggie.

I put a jacket on over my magenta robe and headed into the frosty morning.

“Hiyah!” the cold said as it slapped me in the face. “Take that!” it said, insulted that I would dare to venture outside so poorly clothed. I hurried to the shed and arrived coughing. That kind of cold can literally take your breath away. You inhale too fast and (*enter scientific explanation here) voila! You choke on your own breath. Pretty rude if you asked me.

I continued along and crouched down next to the pile of chopped logs, gloveless, stacking the frozen pieces in my arm which was held in a stiff 90 degree angle to support the weight.

One log, two log, three log, four

five log, six log, seven log…floor (or ground, to be more precise).

The pile tumbled out as I sloppily placed the last log. My hands were freezing and I didn’t perform the motions with the care I needed to. I was being lazy and because of that, I had to start all over again. This time I was more methodical, stacking with care instead of with a rush despite my popsicle hands. At this point the cold was seeping in and my eyelashes were freezing. Blinking my eyes was a devil’s dare as each time I opened them they would do their best to remain together, top and bottom lashes in a frosty embrace. Finally, vision impaired by the lash love and arm stacked high with frozen logs (other hand placed firmly in my jacket pocket to try to warm off some of the burning cold) I headed towards the house and was faced, as I am daily, by the Ramp of Doom (you might remember her from last year).

Last year I was learning to ski and I fell. A lot. Sometimes, the bulk of my ski was simply getting back up.

This year, I’ve gotten better. The other day, I realized that I had fallen down our ramp more times than I had fallen on my skis. Isn’t that wonderful? And so I stood at the bottom of the stairs, log arm starting to fatigue, and leaned forward, hoping my bodily trajectory and some forward momentum would see my safely through the gauntlet.

At the very top, my foot slipped on the last board and I jolted forward (propelling myself far enough to miss the gap (of course there had to be a gap at the top of the ramp between the ramp and the landing) yet not so far as to overshoot the landing. It had been a close one but I had made it. I hurried inside, dropped and then organized the logs and finally, finally, got to building our fire.

The cold was seeping in.

 

 

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When your window trinkets turn into ice bridges it’s pretty darn cold.

 

One last problem: the ashes in the fireplace needed to be emptied. Thankfully, I hadn’t taken off my (still inadequate) outdoor gear yet and so I set to emptying the ashes. Ten minutes later the stove was clean and I was exactly the opposite. My face and hands looked the likes of a smudged orphan straight out of Oliver Twist. Ah, how refreshing this morning was coming to be. Good thing we have a shower to just jump into. Oh…wait. That’s a whole other hour-long endeavor that my belly was not agreeing to. It would be a dusty breakfast. Not wanting to miss the moment of a cool and clean stove, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the glass with a homemade orange peel cleaner I had recently concocted. What a difference.

I took the ashes out into the woods and tried to throw them as far away from me as possible.

That did not happen.

My arc was off and the ashes came back at me like a little mini tornado.

Success!(?)

Now, fully ashed-up from my head to my toes, I headed back up the ramp (without fall) and into the house. I was in need of some serious face washing and a new set of clothes but not before I took the chill off the house (what are you crazy? It was too cold to take any layers off at this point. The temperature inside was still almost 70 degrees warmer than outside but our house was slowly turning into a freezer. Inside it was 38 degrees and dropping by the minute). By the time the flames were devouring the fresh wood and I had washed and (quickly) changed, an hour had passed since my ravenous self had first looked forward to breakfast. What an adventure the day had already been just to whip up a bowl of oats.

The Hour Long Oats.

That seemed excessive.

Enter: The Five Hour Pizza.

You know when you have a craving for something? I do. It’s on my mind until it’s in my belly. So, when The Chief had a hankering for some homemade pizza the other night, I wanted to support his inclination. Let’s get this guy a pizza. I was already hungry at this point and so my efforts went towards making us a snack in order to tide us over for the highly anticipated pizza while The Chief worked away at the dough.

Pizza!

The Chief loves pizza like I love my pancakes. Translation: that’s a lot.

We knew we were in for a little wait since we were making pizza from scratch and so the snack came in handy to stave off hunger for the hour ahead of us until pizza time. The Chief finished the dough and let it set to rise while we snacked away. Before long, we realized that we would need the generator. The inverter could have handled the load of the oven with the rest of the operations in the house but unfortunately, the charge in the batteries was low and therefore, needed to be charged by the generator and…

the generator was outside.

And as it would be, the weather on this night, like the day of The Hour Long Oats, was quite cold though only in the negative 20’s. Basically swimsuit weather, right?

Needless to say, it was going to take a moment for the generator to heat up enough to do its thing.

I guess the dough would reallllly get a chance to rise now.

We brought in the generator and unscrewed its cover to reveal the mechanical underbelly in need of warming, propped it up on my Make Me Taller block of wood and put it next to the wood stove.

For the next two hours, The Chief prepped the pizza bits in patient excitement. The snacks were wearing off and I was already headed towards a different dinner plan. Anything that could happen soon sounded better to me at that point but when I saw the care with which The Chief was concocting the perfect tomato base and shredding his cheese combo and selecting toppings I couldn’t concede to a little simple hunger. I was in support of this mission. Pizza Night was back on track despite edging less toward fashionably late and progressing to rude in my book.

The hunger beast knocked a little louder.

Finally, the generator was warm. We took it outside to run it and of course, the gas tank was empty. We went to refuel it and eventually returned to fill the generator. A few expert pulls from The Chief and she was whirring away.

On the way back in we realized we had forgotten the pepperoni in the “cooler” outside (see: tote placed outside in the frozen wilderness that serves as one of our freezers. Watch out Kenmore, there’s a new cool in town). Shoot! Now we would have to wait for these to defrost too.

Thankfully, the fire had been raging in order to defrost the genie (generator) and within 20 minutes the pepps were looking peppy. The pizza had been assembled, the oven pre-heated. It was time to make some kitchen magic happen. Cravings satisfied in 3, 2, 1…

Lights out.

Just as the oven had come to temp and we were readying the pizza for bake-off, the genie died.

“Hmmm…that’s strange” we both thought aloud optimistically. “Should be fine” we both reassured.

The Chief headed out to assess. Within a few minutes it was whirring again, the kitchen light came back on and we waited as the oven again rose to temperature. A momentary set-back.

The oven rose right up and…

Again. Lights out.

“Bad gas?” The Chief and I thought again aloud simultaneously. It was a hopeful solution. This time, we wouldn’t turn on the eco-throttle (basically it saves energy and burns less gas). We would let the genie run full-bore to burn through whatever water had gotten into the gas. We would blow the bad gas out, fix the machine and cook a pizza in the meantime. All set.

The Chief headed out again, ramped the machine up and came back in hopeful. “That should do it”.

A minute or so later, it stopped again.

By now, we were three hours into the pizza. The snacks had definitely worn off. The genie was dead, again.

We decided to bring it inside again. Without a warm shed to work in (ours isn’t enclosed and doesn’t have room for a stove in it to keep warm while working), a lot of work ends up happening inside. Our house took on the smell of gasoline and oil instead of pizza as The Chief slowly removed each part, checking for ice in the lines or some other mishap. I looked on with fingers crossed. Finally, diagnosing all he could see, The Chief put it all back together again.

We would try one more time.

You guessed it. Our last attempt was to no avail, despite the oven kicking on and almost coming to temp, the genie again died before we could high-five and we were left again staring at a pile of dough who so wanted to grow up to be a pizza.

What would we tell this dough? Sorry, we just couldn’t figure it out?

No! This man loved pizza. Darned if we wouldn’t try (again).

And so, we decided that although the batteries were in fact low, they were not so low that solely running the oven off of the inverter would be detrimental. We switched over the power and turned on the inverter. The oven clicked on and again the heating process started. The dough looked on with hope in its eyes. Pizza time.

Nope.

Within minutes, the inverter, without explanation suddenly quit. Our brand new inverter (O.K. 6 month old inverter) suddenly shut off out of nowhere. This had happened before during the Summer. I had turned it on to put music on for The Chief’s arrival home after a long day at work and instead of returning to tunes, he returned to me with my hands in the air, staring at the equipment that had suddenly quit. We had sent it in and they couldn’t recreate the problem. It had simply worked for them. $60 later in shipping fees and with no real response other than “That’s weird” from the company (they are extremely helpful but simply could not tell us what had transpired) we had our working inverter back.

Had it struck again? We tried turning it off, holding down the power button, talking to it, doing a dance, everything. Nothing worked. The pizza dough looked on in dismay. Finally, after tinkering away, The Chief decided to call it quits. I started thinking of the fastest solution to our hunger that I could muster and just when I was ready to start executing said meal The Chief said: “Well, I guess I’ll go get the old inverter.”

What? We are still doing this? The look in his eyes told me that he would cook this pizza if he had to go to Anchorage and back to buy a new inverter. He was not giving up. I love this about him. I wouldn’t say I’m some sort of deserter but my dedication to the project paled in comparison to his. I buckled down and got my supportive pants on. Let’s do this.

The Chief went out to grab the old inverter and I went to find the tool bag we would need. We came back together and he went to work, disassembling the existing set-up for the new inverter and connecting the old inverter instead. Through the mess of black and red wires, The Chief held steady and after stripping the wires and reconnecting them and adjusting and rearranging and overall doing things I still have no idea how to do, the old inverter was in place. It was now 4 hours since we had started our pizza project and edging towards 10pm. My overly dramatic hunger beast threw her hand up and “woe is me”‘d me many times but now, I was in it. I couldn’t be swayed. It was Pizza Night.

Thankfully, the old inverter (trusty steed that she is, fingers crossed) set right to business. The oven kicked back on, the dough rose with a smile and thirty minutes later, in it went. The house, once filled with the smell of gasoline and oil shifted palates as the dough turned to crust and the cheese bubbled up.

Finally, finally, it was pizza time.

By the time we sat down to eat, it was 11pm. I was past hungry (the beast had given up on the prospect of food and had instead taken to my insides like a punching bag), ready for bed and exhausted from the in and outs and highs and lows of the evening. We had a non-working generator, a non-functional but new inverter, an old inverter being pushed to her limits and a battery bank that was near dead with no way to charge it (since the genie was caput).

But, we did have pizza.

Honestly, that dough could have turned into bubble wrap in the oven that night and I still would have eaten it. To have simply gone to sleep after that journey would have been a slap in the face to the battle we had been through. Pizza Night Combat. We had made it.

And it was delicious.

Never before did I think I could live a life where the things that I want aren’t immediately available. A recipe calls for capers? Run to the store and get them. Well, no sireebob. That’s not how it goes in these here woods. But when the hunger beast calls, especially with a special hankering, you answer. The outcome might be different from what you expected, capers might have to be olives borrowed from a neighbor, ice cream might have to be blended snow and cream but when it’s all said and done, the journey makes it taste just as good as the real thing.

Cheers to the feast and to feeding the beast…eventually.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

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The Long Way Home (Part I: The Mushy, Squishy, Tom & Norah Version)

Years ago, maybe 15 or so, a girlfriend and I went to a party out in the “middle of nowhere” (I have to use quotes for that one these days considering my current physical location in life). We were having a blast, way out in the hills of California only 45 minutes from our hometown yet still in a place we both had never been when suddenly…the parental units arrived.

Whoops!

Apparently our friend wasn’t supposed to be having a party.

Who knew?

I’d say likely us, we likely were the Who who knew.

The party dispersed in a flash as teenagers fled from all possible exits.

In all the rush, we had simply driven away, without getting our bearings and within no time we came to the realization that we were L-O-S-T lost. We were struck with panic. Technology wasn’t quite what it was today and let’s just say our pagers weren’t helping us any, though I swear we stared at them looking for answers. And so, without a map and with two poor senses of directions equaling one mediocre sense of direction, we just kept driving.

Retrace our steps?

Why, what a brilliant idea!

We opted not to and by opted not to I mean we didn’t even think of it, but if we had we would have been chasing ghosts. Retracing our steps in fields upon fields of high grasses cut through by miles and miles of look-alike dirt roads? Naw, no thanks.

And so, lest we confuse ourselves further we figured onward, onward ho!

In the stress of it all, we decided it was best to play Norah Jones (don’t judge me, she’s awesome and at the time she was the obvious and only choice in crises like these) to calm our nerves as we hazily sought our way back to home like naked mole-rats through an underground maze.

And it worked.

Through the confusion we were calmed by the tunes and comforted by the presence of one another. I remember thinking that even if we were lost forever, at least we had each other. And it turns out that we had just enough faith and fancy footwork to navigate our (probably obvious) route. We had made it safely home, even if it did take us cycling twice through the album.

 

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As I sat down to write about our journey this December to our Home in the woods, this memory with my girlfriend suddenly came flooding over me and with it came the song on the album which struck me most that day: “The Long Way Home”. The song is a Tom Waits cover which Norah Jones performed on the album we twice listened to that day. The memory of that day and that song and our parallel journey this year compared to last all came tumbling down on me and as I put on the song while I wrote I was suddenly choked up.

That day with my girlfriend felt like the longest Long Way Home and so the song’s presence struck me, reverberated in my ears and made me laugh at our predicament. I read little more into it then than the title (I didn’t know any of the other words) and saw it as a sort of mocking, literal and perfunctory representation of our day. We were taking a dang Long Way Home but I’d always known we would make it some hour or another. We were still in the same County for goodness sake, but still I had been shaken.The presence of the music accompanied by the presence of my girlfriend, however, shook that shake right back and restored my faith that we would make it back, eventually.

Finally, that day, landmarks I’d seen all my life started appearing, landmarks I’d known as a passenger growing up in the cars of parents and family. Yet suddenly we were the drivers, brand spankin’ new at that, and it was up to us to decipher their code. And we did. Every few miles, a specific corner or noticeable rock outcropping or old barn would signal us to turn or stay from somewhere deep in our memories and those memories guided us. We were two newbies, finding our way into the beginning of adulthood.

 

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And all along, home was nearby.

And for most of my life, it always has been.

Until last year. The year of Leap First And Look Later And Fingers Crossed It All Turns Out.

Last year I decided to move to Alaska after a Summer visit gone vibrant and well past its 17 day intended expiration date.

Life had other plans.

And so, last year, I left the land I knew. The place where after years of practice and memories like the one with my girlfriend that I could now navigate on my own while blindfolded and still find the quickest route through back alleys and hidden throughways.

Suddenly, all that familiarity was in my rearview mirror when last year we left my town and started our route to The Great Big North.

 

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It was a truer than true, longer than long, Long Way Home.

The song’s literal meaning prodded at me again.

I actually had no idea how long it would be but it exceeded even my most exorbitant of expectations. Last year, coming into the woods at the beginning of December, I was walking into the unknown and though I held steady, I was shaken at the core. I had driven the route into the woods only twice before: on my first trip in where I was 1.) a passenger and 2.) had the attention span of a hummingbird and another time solo where I was more focused on getting the turns right than remembering landmarks. The land was unfamiliar, the stops along the way new and intimidating. The sheer vastness of the state tumbled down upon me all at once and though I was excited, I have also never been so terrified.

What if we came to find we just didn’t like one another? How would I leave?

What was it like to live in the snow? Would I get frostbite?

And seriously, what in the hell was I doing?

The year of The Leap was certainly the year of questions like that: what in the hell was I doing?

It turns out what the hell I was doing was heading in exactly the right direction which although I felt in my heart, I had to explain to my head occasionally.

 

We leapt into the unknown and took the longest ride home I’ve ever experienced in my life. 10 hours plus (and that’s only once we’d actually arrived in Alaska, the journey had started five days before) in what seemed like a snowglobe come to life filled with treacherous roads and sheets of ice fog and all without even so much as a radio to make a peep over the booming winds rattling the truck and the screaming worries bouncing around my rational mind. I didn’t know the route, I didn’t know the mountains, I couldn’t tell you how far we were or how long we had to go. I had no landmarks. I had little history. I was merely a passenger.

Yet with or without landmarks and with the smidgen of history I had eked out the Summer before, I knew I was heading home.

And I was right.

 

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But I was still, just a passenger, still alone even in our togetherness because of all that was unfamiliar to me. We both were still doing it alone despite being in it together. Little did I know, the song had taken on new meaning.

The Song, to me as I’ve listened to it over the past 15 years, is about a man in the world clinging to his independence. Despite his love waiting for him, he always takes The Long Way Home and the journey to find their way is all up to him. He is alone, despite her presence. Yet in the end he asks her to come with him. His need to be alone is melted by his need for her. They both leave what they know and alone in the unknown they take The Long Way Home together.

Last year, The Chief and I were at the beginning of this song, we were both the individuals navigating our way through our own fears and doubts and The Chief had to find our literal Long Way Home for us as I was completely and utterly lost in the now snowy landscape I had barely remembered when it was completely bare the Summer before. I can see the leap we both took into the unknown now from the outside in all of its shimmering shining “are you freaking crazy?” glory. I can see how wild the leap must have seemed and I’m so glad we decided to do it anyway.

 

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Our First Christmas

 

This year, the leap was a little smaller as we moved through the rest of the song. Yes, it was a new Winter, new ever lower temperatures awaited us and our neighborhood was deserted where last year it was “bustling”. But it wasn’t so completely and overwhelmingly unknown anymore. I knew how to avoid frostbite and live in the snow and I knew that we did like each other and that we did want to be together and we had made it through the crazy leaps and into one another’s arms. Sure, there were unknowns and uncertainties up ahead but something had shifted, we had made it through our first winter and now we were undeniably in it together; we were navigating our road home together.

As we glided this year over frozen highways I found my points of reference garnered from trips throughout the past year. I was still a newbie, like I had been while driving with my girlfriend those 15 years ago, but just like then, I was learning. I knew which place to stop for food and when (before it was too late and we were engulfed in mountains for the rest of the 7 hours), which mountains meant we were closer and which glaciers were my favorite, which were the best rest spots and which post office to mail our Christmas Cards from and together we navigated our way with equal input despite still differing knowledge (and priorities: I’m pretty much on Make Sure We Eat Before Hangry Sets In patrol).

No longer were we two people in a big ol’ truck in the middle of nowhere hoping individually for the best. Now we were a team. No longer were we navigating on our own, alone. We were on the same page. No longer was I following The Chief, both of us with our fingers crossed. Instead, this year we finished the song as we navigated The Long Way Home together, hand in hand, with our pup nestled between us.

And we made it.

Home.

 

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“Well you know I love you baby

More than the whole wide world

You are my woman

I know you are my pearl

Let’s go out past the party lights

Where we can finally be alone

Come with me, together, we can take the long way home”

                                                                              -The Wonderful Mr. Waits

 

Oh, but it wasn’t all whistling Tom Waits in the wind and high-fiving each time I recognized a glacier and skipping and snow angels and mountains of pancakes.

No siree bob.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

No, this is Alaska, where nothing comes easy except change and not always the change you want and where you have to work the whole way just to make your way home. And all the love in the world doesn’t mean the journey will be easy but it does make it so much easier.

And so, with that, I tell you our Nitty Gritty, Non-Norah and Tom version of our journey to The Great North, our Long Way Home…

 

Next week.

With love, from Alaska.

 

 

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Today Was a Good Day

Some days stand out more than others. Some days remind me more than others of where I am, of the majesty of this place and of the refreshing concoction of absolute wilderness and strangely cosmopolitan offerings we enjoy and of the importance of friendship.

It was a Sunday and a somewhat gloomy day in the very first moments of September. Some gloomy days welcome me to the indoors, others make the indoors feel frantic and claustrophobic. This one embodied the latter. Although I typically think of Sundays as a home day for family time (and pancakes. Lots of pancakes), our schedules haven’t really met up to make this shiny Sunday ideal a possibility. And so I sat in our cabin alone, knowing I should be writing or reading or whatnot and enjoying the peace and quiet but I was instead feeling stifled by the four walls around me. I needed to get out.

In these moments I typically suit up and head out alone, walking the River Trail by our house (hoping the dog doesn’t ditch me) and returning refreshed. But that day I needed more than the River Trail. I needed an adventure. Since my post about getting out a few weeks ago I’ve been on a sort of mission to explore more whenever possible. Sunny days make it easy, it’s the gloomy ones that feel a bit like a ball and chain. But once you’re out, and break free of whatever imagined heaviness you felt, you realize you were always free and well, it’s on.

And so I ventured out of my typical approach of solo outings and contacted a girlfriend instead. She is someone I’d enjoyed meeting up with all Summer but we hadn’t made time to have intentionally set girl time, it had always been by a gathering’s happenstance instead. She replied immediately.

“I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Oh, snap.

Apparently it was time to get moving. In true Sunday fashion I was still donning PJs, sleepy eyes and a head full of bed.

I started collecting what I’d need. We had decided on a walk to The Toe (the end of one of the local glaciers). I dressed and I packed (snacks, water, a knife, extra socks, jacket, rain jacket) gave the house one final look and set outside to get going. 30 minutes had already passed. She was going to walk and meet me down at the parking spot (literally one spot to the right of the No Passing sign down at The Toe) after 30 minutes. I realized that she didn’t know how far I lived (and I had overestimated my get up and go timing) and told her to hold those horses but that I was on my way.

Right?

I remembered then that I had told our neighbor that I would exercise his pup that day. And so I loaded Cinda up into our new (to us) truck and headed out to gather him.

Nope.

The truck (which had been giving us quite the go around in true wilderness vehicle fashion with an un-diagnosed fuel issue which had already stranded us multiple times) started but the moment I put it into reverse it chugged to a stop. I tried again. This time she fired up with gusto (thattagirl!) and I decided to take a few steps forward before venturing backwards again (there was a hump within the first few feet behind us which required a bit more power than the little lady seemed to have). She roared forward and then started strong backing up and…chugged to a halt. Cinda looked at me like she did while I was learning the stick shift last winter, as if to say “Lady, I could do this with my eyes closed”. Well, close those eyes Cinda Jones because this is about to be a do-si-do dance of frustration. I tried the back and forth a few more times before calling it on account of gas. She needed a fresh pot to brew on (she seems to think she’s empty when she’s not and so sometimes adding 5 gallons of gas does the trick, even if there’s already plenty of fuel to spare).

I topped her off and ta-da! Off we went with Jones rolling her eyes the whole time. We were on our way and, dog-disses aside, were having a pretty good time already. I popped on some tunes and headed to get our second backseat driver: Cinda’s brother Diesel.

After shocking him half to death just by opening the door due to his hearing loss it then took me almost 5 minutes to get him out the door. I pet him and cooed at him and made big gestures, all the while hearing the truck chugging in park (no way was I turning the beast off after all that) and hoping she would continue. Finally, he rose, stretched and gaily skeedadled towards the truck. He knew the drill, even if he’d never seen the truck before. I loaded him up and got in myself as the dogs settled in with their backs to one another, looking out their respective windows without so much as a ruff of acknowledgement. Oh siblings.

Finally we were off.

We decided on a new meeting place: The Restaurant. After all that, this girl needed some stronger coffee. Coffee, some chit-chat and an enormous breakfast burrito later and now all of us were off together.

I realized quickly that I didn’t know where I was going. I had been driven down to The Toe once last year when I had first arrived and once again via the Wagon Road coming from the opposite direction on the back of a 4-wheeler where I was more concerned with spotting the bears leaving the plentiful piles of bright red berry bear poop than I was with remembering directions.

Thankfully, my girlfriend had a solid knowledge versus my inkling and she guided us safely into harbor.

 

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The leaves setting the mountains afire in color.

 

It was beautiful. The day which before had felt gloomy now felt luminous. We started walking to the glacial lake when we spotted what looked like a photo shoot. Three girls were gathered behind a rock. Two were doting on one, bringing her flowers and fixing her locks. Then, I realized that I knew one of them. I waved hello and she shouted back joyfully:

“We’re having a wedding!”

We shouted our congratulations to her friend and looked to the left to see the groom and his men waiting for the lovely bride. It was beautiful and set such a sweet tone to head into nature with.

We walked along the cliff’s edge of the lake as the dogs ran up and down the steep terrain. Eventually it evened out and we descended on an easier slope.

 

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Icebergs ahead!

 

Just then, the dogs went crazy. They had picked up a scent (they were no longer ignoring one another. Once out in the open they run together, trading off leading and deciding together what should and shouldn’t be peed upon by both of them). They followed it with a voracity that is normally reserved for…uh oh.

Bears.

Just as I realized that my girlfriend coincidentally said: “You know, I was going to bring my bear spray (essentially a massive can of pepper spray that is a favorite accessory out here if one is without or not in favor of a gun) but then I realized that I was with you and you’d know how to handle it.”

Funny you should say that. I had packed two dogs as protection but noting further.

Just then, as we neared the water’s edge, I looked down.

There they were.

Bear prints.

Not just any bear prints. These were brand new, and huge and clawed, meaning that they likely belonged to a grizzly bear.

 

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Oh joy.

I alerted my girlfriend and we both looked up to see the dogs running after the scent. The good news was that the tracks were heading in the direction we had come from, and thus away from us, and so we called the dogs off and to us and continued hastily in the opposite direction of the enormous prints.

We walked and we walked and we walked, occasionally looking over our shoulders for a hungry grizzly, until we made it to the far end of The Lake where we dropped in to explore some new caves. The ice of the glacier proved too slippery without cramp-ons (little metal teeth you attach to your shoes) and so we decided to continue on to find more easily accessible caves further into the moraine (basically the dirt and rock on top of the glacier which is sometimes very thick and sometimes so thin that a mere scratch exposes the ice below).

 

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…and then there’s the enormous boulders too.

 

The best part about hiking on the moraine is that you never know what you will find and there is only the trail that you make. Nothing is laid out in front of you. And so we chose our route, sometimes following the dogs, sometimes choosing to scale different approaches more friendly to our two-legged selves when we came upon another body of water. The color was unbelieveably blue. Just across from it was a beautiful cave created by the melting and morphing of the glacier.

 

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The moraine and the glacier are a constantly evolving landscape. Sometimes huge “wormholes” (big holes standing tall above the ice created by the melting of the ice) will suddenly be gone, collapsed and melted. A lake within the glacier can break and flood through the holes and crevices and places we explore. Rocks fall. It is a beautiful place but also a place for vigilance. Look before you leap.

And so as we went into the hollowed out cave we watched for falling rocks and debris, noticing the piles from previous falls. Just as I had finished taking a picture of a little ice bridge formed by melting and had turned my back to walk back to the little lake a shift must have occurred and rocks and debris came spilling onto the area where I had just been standing seconds before.

 

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This cave is made completely from ice and covered in rock and dirt.

 

Time to move on?

We watered the dogs and ourselves and then ventured out and up and took stock of our surroundings.

 

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In all truth we didn’t have any real idea where we were and suddenly it was getting late.

 

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Looking down towards the cave after crawling out. Suddenly neither of the lakes were visible.

 

We had a few hours before we needed to be back still but we had been walking already for hours. We took in the landscape and starting positioning ourselves in a general direction. We didn’t want to take the same route twice and so we went up and over hill upon hill upon hill until we hit a treeline with sandy dirt and easier walking which led up all the way back to the truck.

 

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Icebergs, Lakes, Sand?

 

 

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Cinda Jones in all of her glory.

It was ice cream time. I had been stalking a cone of ice cream from the General Store for two weeks now. Every time I had tried to get ice cream they had been closed or I had been working. It just wasn’t happening. But not today. Today I knew their hours and I was ready.

We loaded the pups and set off for an ice cream sundae Sunday.

Or not.

The truck wouldn’t start.

Thankfully, I had 5 gallons of gas in a can that I had thrown in the back of the truck (I had already pumped the can full twice that day: once before trying to leave, then I had emptied it into the truck in our driveway when she wouldn’t start, then I had gone through the rigmarole to fill it all over again.

Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t gas.

The battery was dead.

Thankfully, I remembered that The Chief had told me he had put jumper cables in the truck.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a soul around except for us. The wedding party had left, no one was there and we wanted to solve this via the ladies, not just by calling our boyfriends for help.

Thankfully, we remembered that our other girlfriend was in the Hill Town that day. I called her. My phone wouldn’t work. It rang and picked up but I couldn’t hear a thing. Thankfully, my girlfriend’s phone did work and she was able to get a hold of her. She said she’d be happy to but that she was almost out of gas and wasn’t sure she could make it home if she also came to get us.

Problem solved. We had 5 gallons of gas for trade.

She was on her way.

A little while and some trail mix later and she arrived to save the day. We all laughed realizing that we three approached the task differently, but too many cooks in the kitchen worked out just fine and a few minutes later the truck was purring again. We filled her tank with a couple of gallons and thanked her.

 

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Notice that the lights are on? Yup, me too. I’m still new to the truck and, well, I forgot they were on.

 

She had to leave then and so we continued on our way back to town with just enough time to make it to yoga class (yoga class in the woods?! I know. Pretty amazing). By now our ice cream dreams were in the past. Another day.

We parked and walked into the old cabin where yoga was being held. We arrived to the welcoming smiles of other girlfriends. A big bellied stove in the middle of the room took the chill off until the motions could warm us on their own. It was beautiful and exactly what I needed and suddenly two hours had flown by.

By the end, the hike and the yoga had started setting in and a serious tiredness was taking hold of me. There was live music in town that night at The Restaurant and as we drove by the glow of the place was as inviting as could be but I was done for the day. I hugged my girlfriend and thanked her for the day, for inviting me to go to yoga with her (something I always mean to do but rarely make it to), for getting lost in the wilderness with me and for brightening my day. We had brightened it for one another and a new closeness was born.

I slowly made my way home. The dogs were pooped and sprawled out in the backseat. I puttered towards the bridge when I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. I stopped the car.

Fireworks.

I drove to the middle of the bridge and put the truck into park and sat watching my own private show of the lights.

It’s a pretty special thing to start a day with a looming gloom only to end it with an impromptu fireworks show and fill it with every sort of soul warming goodness in between. That’s the magic of this place.

I made my way home that night feeling happy and fulfilled. I had nurtured a friendship, cared for myself, adventured and been awed, all in one day. I arrived home (after stopping to give The Chief a kiss and say goodbyes to friends until next year at a BBQ in our neighborhood) tired in the best of ways and happy in the most important of ways and the only thing I could think to myself over and over was:

today was a good day.

 

And it was.

 

 

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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