In the past months I have started and stopped writing more times than I can count, thinking I needed to find the right words for the right audience but I’ve realized that I don’t do this for you I do it for me and if I’m trying to craft the right words for the right reader well then that will never happened because who is the right audience (like besides my parents who already get mini life updates 3-4 times a week).
I still spend a lot of time working on COVID so it still occupies a lot of my mind (globally, we had our highest daily case count this week) but with the vaccines coming online here it feels like I can breathe easier knowing my parents, family, friends, and community are protected. Then I feel guilty because all of those individuals who still can’t access the vaccine while still tracking everything that is happening worldwide and knowing that our individuals actions can have large and lasting impacts beyond our immediate contacts. I’m sure it’s been a wild ride for my therapist and she’s probably learned more about pandemic preparedness and vaccine deployment than she probably ever anticipated knowing about. And it’s been exhausting to see peoples’ response and while I won’t get super deep into my thoughts I will say that I hope when this is over we invest in public health, education, and mental health resources.
To catch you up from last fall I drove through Canada while the border was closed, with Alvin- the best backseat driver. I didn’t think I could handle an Alaska winter during COVID and it was the longest I had not seen my parents in person like ever (which is very fortunate). We left here in late October (figured if there was a coup during the election resources to Alaska would be cut off first– and that was only funny to joke about until an insurrection happened).
When I drove up to Alaska I promised on my return I would not do it in that amount of time again, I’d take like 2-3 weeks really make a trip of it, well I at least kept half of that promise and did not do it in the same amount of time, but rather quicker. The border was closed (and still is) except for essential travel. My plan was to drive most of my things down before the roads got too bad in case work was like hey we need you in DC and honestly was not sure I could handle Alvin flying beneath me in cargo, let’s be real. I had to show way more documentation to get into Canada than I thought was possible (they did not even seem to care that Alvin was vaccinated). I was given strict instructions and a number to call if I developed symptoms on the drive. It wasn’t too bad just long, and having Alvin at least forced me to stop every few hours to get out and walk around.
When we got to the US border I was met with one question, “where did you stop” and well because I’m me had a list of all places that I had stopped even briefly in case they needed to contact trace, I handed them the list and he goes “oh no, we just need to know if you have any fruits or vegetables that could be carrying something” I looked at him as if I was not the potential carrier of something. I said I had no fruits or vegetables and he waived me through (again not concerned about this wild village dog). I turned my paperwork into the Canadians to avoid getting a bench warrant on me and entered the US. After another 12 hours of driving, and quarantining before hand, I finally made it to my parents and was oddly relieved to see them alive (even though weekly Facetime calls told me they were).
I planned on going back to Alaska and decided to sign up for a running race the first week of March figuring it would give Alvin and I something to do while we were home. And it did, I spent most of the time hiking, trail running, and entertaining both Tenzen and Alvin.
I found a friend to run with who knew the trails in Wind Cave, which I had never spent much time in because too many snakes in the summer but with winter only had to do a few bison detours. And she was even down to run 15 miles without thinking twice about it.
I left Alvin at home when I came back to Alaska because I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying for. It was incredibly challenging, because we had basically spent the past 9 months together like all the time and obviously very worried about traumatizing him by leaving him with Tenzen but he seemed unfazed by it, probably had to put up with more in the village. I do get daily updates and pictures from my parents, and my sister has sworn that she will not be getting a dog (as my parents are currently watching both Frank and I’s…)
I came back to Alaska and continued running and started skiing more which was similar to a baby giraffe figuring out what to do with its legs but had kind friends who would take me out, share tips, and wait for me as I side stepped steep hills (you’re welcome mom).
I did the Homer Epic and raced (ran) 30 miles, it was a time trial start with each participant spaced out by about 30 seconds so I started alone and spent most of the day alone. I figured it was a good way to get to see Homer, albeit a bit slow but it was a blue bird day so could not complain.
I felt great until mile 12 and then the snow lost it’s firmness and it became soft and squishy with a sideways wind picking up the snow and whipping it around me, reminding me that it was in fact a winter race. I made it to the half way mark and recognized one of the aid workers from previous bike races, we briefly chatted and then I took off again. Because of COVID I didn’t make any plans to stop at aid stations and carried what I thought I would need in my backpack and then Kevin carried other things I thought I might need and met me at two points, mile 10 and around mile 21.
After the halfway point I started what seemed to be the only climb of the day, or at least memorable one, it seemed to go on for about 3 miles. It started with a short climb that made me think it was over but upon cresting the summit realize there was still more to come, I started the downhill before getting to the next uphill approach when a woman rode the opposite direction towards me, she yelled something like, “woohooo go lady!” And that was enough to make me cry, like full on sob, I think because in that moment everything felt so normal, like every other race before there there is always someone yelling “go lady” or “girl power” or cheering in some form and it felt just like that, except it wasn’t, we were (are) still in the midst of a pandemic that had claimed so many unnecessary lives, caused so much financial upheaval, and torn at the very fabric of our society. So I think it was a culmination of things, plus having ran like 17 miles before maybe didn’t help my ability to control my emotions but then I cried most of the way up the hill and just like embraced it, like let it all out and it felt real good (or maybe it was the runner’s high).
I met Kevin at mile 21 and was very much looking forward to the processed turkey meat I made him haul out for that mile. I ate the food from him, lamented on how much I wished I was running on concrete since the soft snow had been my nemesis for the past 10 miles. Kevin packed up to ski back to the finish line, but it was rather anti-climatic as he never fully disappeared from my viewpoint for a few miles. I finished in around 8 hours and got 2nd (but the field was very small, although more than 2). The finish was pretty anticlimatic too, I almost tripped going across the finish line and then walked to the car and convinced Kevin to get takeout food from Alice’s Champagne Palace and that was it.
I took a few weeks off and putz around going back to skiing and lifting and then realized it was March and should probably start thinking about biking–got a little thrown that spring was here given how much snow was still around. I loosely started training and have some things in mind for what I want to accomplish this summer/fall but feel like it’s still too premature to state concretely that I’ll be doing these things, like I’ll somehow jinx it and will spend another summer grieving for time that keeps marching on. It’s been nice to get back on my bike, last summer I struggled without much structure in place, among other things, and I feel like my risk factor assessment was skewed in being able to properly assess what was required of me and others.
My academic training taught me a lot about how to prepare for pandemics but in all of those years studying I never once stopped to think about the day-to-day life of the people living through an outbreak– again law focuses on facts and not feelings. But now I realize how detrimental it is to neglect feelings and human behavior and I’m sure all the behavioral scientists are like yeah, duh. After the Exxon/Valdez oil spill a lot of researchers moved to the area, scientists, toxic marine biologists but also sociologist and anthropologists. We had never dealt with an oil spill of that magnitude and weren’t exactly sure how to respond, like after the crash happened nothing happened for 3 days, the oil just stayed in the water while people tried to figure out the best course of action for retrieval, the 4th day a huge storm moved in and displaced the oil up and down the coast of Alaska going from an isolated area to impacting many small communities that rely on the water for fishing and other ways of life. A class action law suit happened, with something over 30,000 plaintiffs but as my dad will point out, justice is not always swift with the lawsuit dragging out for more than a decade. The lawsuit got appealed all the way to Supreme Court and they did in my opinion a terrible job of articulating what punitive damages are for– basically reducing them from an initial award of $5 billion to then $2.5 billion at the Court of Appeals and finally to the Supreme Court saying that punitive damages for maritime related cases should not exceed compensatory damages which was an award of $200 million. So Exxon went from losing one year of profits in punitive damages to 1-2 days. But in exchange we’ve recovered 8% of the oil that was lost. Why did I just tell you this rather depressing information, well because in addition to this legal information, we have sociology and anthropology research that came out it too. I’ve often found the law does an awful job of telling the true realities, which makes sense because you want facts and not feelings making legal precedent but as I’ve written about before, law school only teaches case law and not the human emotions that go into walking into someone’s life on their worst day, as I often felt when walking into a patients room to complete a Will so they could be discharged into hospice and die. My story stops at completing their will and their story stops shortly after but there is no mention of the turmoil one goes through in having weeks to get their affairs in order before leaving this earth. So what did a lot of the behavioral research show after the Valdez oil spill, well it showed that communities come together when dealing with a natural disaster (i.e., disease outbreak.acts of God) but they get torn apart based on acts of humans. Basically technological disasters (acts of humans) were more psychologically stressful than natural disasters, n=177. In addition to the trauma response to the disaster, the community became divided because the longer it went on the more people were split on how it should have been handled- if it should even be litigated vs. just moving on. But there is no playbook for things like this, there is no trauma response class in schools, some people going through the legal system is healing, for other’s it’s putting salt in a wound they don’t want to have open anymore. This is all to say that I’m not sure this leaves us post-COVID, it’s been hellacious seeing our response and I often think of the 1918 Flu because we don’t have a lot of information on that, and some of that was in part because of the sedition acts but I think a lot of it was it was probably really traumatizing for individuals. Now we have all the information but will it get suppressed because of human behaviors. I don’t know but that’s what I spend time thinking about, how do we heal, how do I heal.
I did my first big ride since before COVID this past weekend and it’s the moment I’ve been waiting a year for where this desire finally trickled up and I couldn’t put it off any longer (kind of like finally blogging). Before it wasn’t there, I would think about doing long rides and going on treks but just couldn’t get over whatever barrier was there in my mind. And they weren’t barriers put up by biking but more about how society functioned during COVID which I don’t need to get into here but they have been identified and working through it with my therapist. But I knew the moment was here when I was met with either driving 100 highway miles or riding my bike and riding my bike seemed easier and more enjoyable. Which I know you’re like what, and I would have been like what all last year too. And I was amazed at how quickly my body settled into the rhythm of riding, sure I’ve done longish rides at this point but nothing really over 2-3 hours. It became mechanical again when to eat, when to drink, like I had never stopped doing it. I got done and finished at 95 miles, Kevin suggested I go ride 5 more for a century but I thought best not to over do it right out of the gate.
I guess my hope is that whatever you have endured this past year, whether COVID related or something else, whatever barriers you had that made you stop, take a break, and question everything that you know, that when you pick up you don’t just think about going back to where you were but are in a place where you get to think about how to make things better than they were before for yourself, your community, wherever you feel called. I also got sent this article this morning by a friend on how the pandemic mental wounds are still wide open, it helped me so maybe it will help you.
I’m headed to Valdez this weekend, it’s been on my list to go for a while and missed the opportunity to get there this winter. I have a lot more thoughts I feel like I need to get out but seems like the best thing for me is to ride 300 miles and see how this community healed after trauma. And in a way all these things tell me that I’m healing.
“If you insist on entertaining hopes you might as well be ambitious in your desires do not bother fantasizing about a return to how things were before you might as well be ambitious in your desires hope that things will be better than they were before” -Plague Poems