Going Nome

On the first day I was working at the hospital one of the first things my coworker said to me was, “You have to get off the road system.” Me, being fairly new to Alaska didn’t actually know what he meant, like hiking off a road? I asked for clarification (as I had already done with every legal issue up to that point), “you know, the bush, fly out to a village.” Oh okay, sure, yeah I added it to my list of things to accomplish in Alaska before my fellowship ended. Most of the first fall I was still focused on racing and prepping for nationals. After I was back in January, COVID-19 began to thwart any plans of going to a village. Most villages locked down, and for good reason, the pandemic of 1918 has left scars throughout the state. They required an essential reason to travel and I did not have one. But with vaccines came some loosing of restrictions.

Early in the summer a friend mentioned trying to go to Nome to ride the three roads, not even knowing what those were I immediately said, yes, let’s do it. But this was early June and our schedule for the next two months didn’t exactly overlap for a weekend to do it and settled on next summer. I mentioned to Kevin how cool it would be to do that but put it on my ever expanding list of all the things I want to do.

For my birthday, Kevin bought me a ticket (and himself) to Nome to go ride the roads. I had a three day weekend in August and took an extra day so we would arrive on Wednesday afternoon and leave Sunday giving us time to explore the different roads. We booked tickets but then planning took a back seat as we did the Jurassic Classic followed by a long weekend in Denali, followed by a long weekend at a cabin in Seward, and my own personal turmoil figuring out if I was going to leave Alaska and lose Kevin or stay in Alaska and maybe at some point loose my job (more on that later, lolz). That decision was brought on by our landlord selling our house and us needing to be out by the end of August.

We realized that we didn’t have any spare time to not start planning though and were able to get a contact there, a friend of a friend who would let us camp in the yard. We also found a bed and breakfast off of one of the roads and another place to stay at the end of one of the other roads. We decided it would be worth staying at these places just so we would reduce the overall gear we’d have to haul. We’d do about 35 miles the first day, 100 miles the second day, and 55 miles the third day. Giving us a travel day on each end.

We packed up and a friend gave us a ride to the airport not realizing just how loaded down we were. I sat in the back with the bikes and kept thinking if we crashed all the ways my legs and hips would be messed up for life and just prayed a little extra harder especially because Anchorage drivers are bonkers. We settled into the airport, it was again strange to travel in the midst of a pandemic. For work I actually never interact with the general public and I’ve taken to ordering groceries so really have a very small bubble, which I realize how privilege and fortunate it makes me. Being at the airport I realized why we were were still in the midst of it all with noses hanging out and others having masks covering their chins, even one removing their mask to sneeze. I bought some postcards at the gift shop to send out and we situated ourselves away from anyone else. In 2017, I came down with some anxiety around flying that hit me out of the blue and has never entirely went away, I think it’s the whole trusting someone you’ve never met to get you to your destination safely. I’ve found ways to manage and usually in either doing work or writing to occupy my mind and telling myself, “I can’t die, I have to finish this.” Internally I felt so much turmoil that I was grateful that this flight did not also contribute to that. The last sentence I wrote before landing was, “about to arrive in Nome and I have no idea what the next 4 days will bring–hopefully a sense of peace, wanderlust, and healing but who knows.”

We landed and got picked up by Burr from the airport, she drove us to her house talking about the area and town, when they had moved, and giving us the lay of the land. Kevin had been there once before for the Iditarod but was there for only about 24 hours and in March. We got to her house and she offered up a spot to pitch our tent but then also offered up the dog kennel, where they put the dogs to sleep when it’s too cold.

That sounded amazing and I said yes absolutely, even better if we had the dogs with us. She said they only go in when it’s really cold and it wasn’t there yet. We unpacked, put our bikes together and then joined Burr and Tim inside for dinner. We chatted about the Alaskan experiences that we had had with some overlapping without realizing it. We asked a lot of questions about dog mushing and operating a kennel and they graciously answered all of them. We decided the next day that we’d hitch a ride into town with Tim when he headed to work so we could see them run the dogs too.

We went to bed and there was still tension between Kevin and I being in this weird space of am I leaving or going and where does that leave our relationship. I didn’t know what to say so managed a “I’m glad you brought me here, thank you” and left it at that. The next morning we saw the running of the dogs, you can feel the energy from the dogs and how much they want to run, heck it made me want to run.

They attached them all to the four wheeler (upgrade from the wooden carts that are maybe still in use some places) and took off, it was very cool to see. After some frantic packing on my part not realizing the car left in 10 minutes we made it in the car and on our way to town. I asked about the COVID situation in Nome how the response had been and what it had been like. It’s off the road system, which helped, so they reduced the number of flights in and then prior to vaccines did airport screenings upon arrival. We unloaded our gear and I loaded mine mostly on the bike but knowing we’d only be going about 35 miles and then would be stopping back by the house the following day was somewhat reassuring in case.

We spent some time in town knowing we didn’t have far to go, seeing the arch that they take to the Iditarod finish and stopping at a recommended coffee shop, from there we made our way to the beach and sat on some rocks for a bit and talked about the state of our relationship dispersed with information about the gold panning that still happens.

We finally were on our way out of Nome when Burr’s dad drove by and honked and waved at us, felt like we were already locals- ha. We headed out towards Solomon B&B, the road was pretty nice and could definitely ride a gravel bike on it, and not a lot of steep climbs so we were able to cruise for a bit. Outside of town I saw some wooden crosses on a hill and pulled off, kind of a when am I ever going to be back here to see these, and told Kevin I was going to venture up to see what they were.

The crosses offered little information about who was actually there and it seemed like they were remains that had been repatriated from various museums. I thought of myself and the connect to various lands that I’ve felt, especially in Alaska, and I wondered if the turmoil of being ripped from your land existed in the afterlife, if it did I hoped that maybe there were finally able to rest being back here.

I walked back down to the road, grabbing some blueberries on the way to snack on. We got back on our bikes and continued on. Kevin saw an opening for the beach and suggested we ride out there, I thought of my drivetrain but he was already in the sand and if I stayed on the road the shrubbery blocked him from view. I got on the beach and rode down near the water where it was mostly packed and my 2.2 tires had some traction.

There were a few houses and I couldn’t tell if they were lived in year round or just a summer cabin. I rode by one that had a large brown apparatus in front of it, it almost looked like a rusty fuel tank but was situated on the ground. I couldn’t figure out what it was and it was a little too close to the house to be snooping around. When I caught up to Kevin he asked if I had seen the dead walrus, “the head was cut off.”

“Ohhhh” I replied, “I couldn’t tell what it as and just kind of assumed it was a rock or something.” We talked about the reasons the head was cut off, maybe for the tusks after it had washed ashore and died, it didn’t seem like an animal would do something like that, and it wasn’t the only headless Walrus we would see on the trip.

We came up to the Safety Roadhouse, which we had planned to stop at for a drink. It’s the “last checkpoint” on the Iditarod Trail before Nome, about 22 miles. We went in and the walls were covered with signed dollar bills and Iditarod memorabilia. I couldn’t tell if it was a shrine or a dive bar.

We ordered some food making small talk with the caretakers. They were from Florida and had met the owners in Hawaii who offered them this job, they said they enjoyed it but wouldn’t be back because of how cold it was. At that moment it was 50 degree and they had some burly winter gear on. I, in shorts and a t-shirt decided that we both probably thought the other person didn’t have a good internal regulation of temperature. We grabbed our food and headed outside, they had a tee stand so we hit some golf balls, which immediately made me grateful I don’t do ball sports anymore as when I did finally make contact with the ball it made a pithy bounce off the tee and rolled close enough that Kevin walked a few feet to grab it so we could hit it.

When we left we only had about 15 miles or so our stop for the night and the road seemed to stretch on in this distance for miles, which it turned out it actually did. It reminded me of being in South Dakota in a strange way, there are a few areas that on one side you have the hills and the other side the prairie, except for here it was the hills and the ocean. When the road finally did curve, we got off to see the last train to nowhere, with its finally resting place being the marshy area that it had once traversed.

The locomotives were brought as part of a dream to build the most extensive rail system in the area. As with the boom and bust of a gold mine area, as the gold rush faded and only 35 miles of line put in over 5 years, the project was abandoned and the trails were left to deteriorate. 

We saw the Solomon B&B we’d be staying at and pedaled the last half a mile. There was a vehicle parked out front but we had been warned that no one would be there and it was a self check-in/check-out. We walked around to the back and the maintenance guy greeted us, telling us that he knew we were coming and we’d be in room 5. He showed us in, saying he’d be leaving in a bit and then went back out to finish his work. The place had multiple individual suits and a few common areas, including a pretty stocked kitchen, with fresh fruit (which we decided was a real treat given our location). There were enough twists in the hallways and creaks in the floorboards that I decided I would not be out of our room at night by myself. 

We learned that the place had been a former BIA boarding school and was currently ran by the Solomon Village tribe. With all the children remains being discovered this summer at various former boarding schools, I wondered if there were unmarked graves here. I decided that since it was now in the hands of the tribe they would be able to pursue that if they wanted to and I should leave it at that.

There was a large world map in the living room that reminded me of my looming decision. I saw just how far Alaska was from DC, I found it almost comical that we were considered the same country. I stared wondering if I could some how minimize the distance to make it feel physically closer, it didn’t move and I pushed the feelings of wanting to stay and feeling like I needed to leave down, that was a problem for future Kate I decided. 

We got up a bit early since we had 90 miles of pedaling in front of us, made breakfast, got packed up, and back on the road. It was a bit chiller than when we had started the day before, reminding me that winter, especially here, would be settling in soon.

We rode back to the Safety Roadhouse and stopped to change layers and stopped to eat our own food as it wasn’t open this early.

Getting back on the road we saw bear prints in the soft dirt on the shoulder, they were headed the same direction we were going and they definitely had not been there the day before. With so much vastness we found it odd that if there was a bear we were unable to see it, but we kept riding, seeing where the bear prints disappeared and reappear, thinking they must have gotten off for a car or something. We made it back to Nome, having decided to skip the cut across road so we could get some coffee and maybe some food. No luck on the food but we had plenty and I was really after the coffee, and a coffee mug from the shop.

We headed past town and on the road that would take us to the Pilgrim Hot Springs, it also happened to be the road that Tim and Burr live on so we planned on stopping to switch out gear. Right before the turn off for their road, I heard the familiar hissing of air being released from my tire, ohhh no, I got off and immediately identified the spot, it was the same spot that had released a week before but I thought I had gotten it to seal. I put some air in but it still wasn’t sealing so Kevin gave me a bacon (not actual bacon just look like it) strip to plug the hole with, it worked and with a bit more air we were back at their place and swapping stuff out. 

Tim was able to join us for part of the next leg; he told us about community, the land, the history, the hospital, how they came to Nome, it was almost intoxicating as I tried to weave it all together in my mind.

It came across how incredibly grateful he was to be here and how much him and Burr were taking advantage of everything the area offered. He point out Leonhard Seppala’s house, the musher who ran his dogs most of the way with the diphtheria serum and I thought of the barriers that still exist in accessing care and services in such a remote place like this. 

Tim turned back after about 15 miles with us, we told him we’d see him the next day and settled into a more relaxed pace, not sure who was pushing it when we were all together.

It had been drizzling but had mostly stopped when Kevin said there was a bear, me being quite terrible at any wildlife sightings did not see it and was convinced it was just going to pop out of the brushes, I dinged my bell, Kevin quickly hushed me, “don’t bring attraction to us, it doesn’t know we’re here”. Oh, I just figured it was better to let it know, sometimes I feel like I’ve made great strides in my backcountry competence and then other times feel like I’m fresh off the farm. I asked him where the bear was as my scanning still provided no glimpse of it, he said it was on the other side of the brush, which again I was like is that 5 feet or 50 feet. He told me to keep pedaling, which I did, with one hand over the bear spray. We got beyond the brush and looked over in the clearing, I squinted, what the heck is that, my mind tried to make sense or what I was seeing, is that a moose, what else would it be, I squinted more and then started laughing, it was a hiker with a large external frame backpack that stuck out against the landscape, he was also quite a ways a way, you thought that was a bear?!? Kevin explained that he only got a glance and just assumed since what else would it be, I agreed saying I thought it was a moose and my brain couldn’t figure out what else it would be since it seemed so out of context. I wondered where he had come from and where he was going and if I would ever feel that comfortable being in the backcountry by myself. We pedaled by giving a small wave. 

As has been the case over the past 18 months in the silent pedal strokes my mind wanders to COVID. This time it was focused on Nome though, thinking of their respond, did the fact that they have a spot in their cemetery dedicated to those victims of the 1918 flu impact the response, how about being internationally known for the serum run. With it being off the road system they had more control over those coming into the village, flights were reduced from 2 to 1 per day and they would test everyone at the airport as they arrived. I voiced some of these to Kevin, about how cool it would be to do a specific case study of Nome, tying in all these factors. He added that Nome was settled by gold miners and not an Alaska native village like some of the others, and that most villages had diphtheria outbreaks but Nome (being predominately white) was able to get the serum. At one point, Kevin used to be a tour guide, which is insanely useful for someone who is new to the state and looking for nuances in research questions. Ohhh interesting, yeah it would be interesting to do a comparative analysis between here and another off-the road village.

We began to see a lake emerge in the distance that told us that we were at least in the latter half of our distance for the day. The cabins that speckled the landscape were vibrant, seeming almost to belong in a Scandinavian country. Kevin said it reminded him of Newfoundland, where he lived for a year. I rode across a bridge and stopped, peering down at the water, “Kevin, look at this, it’s so clear, like I can see the bottom..” he reminded me that this is what water looks like when it’s not glacial fed and you don’t have the glacial silt. “I just want to jump in.” It might not be glacial fed but it’ll still be cold. 

We checked the elevation profile, okay two more good hills with the last one being off the highway and up and down to the hot springs. As our elevation changed so did our layers with us putting our shells on before one of the summits so we wouldn’t have to do it at the top. I got a little warm but always much less concerned with temperature regulation when we aren’t sleeping outside at night.

We bombed down the descent and if Kevin hadn’t told me to keep and eye out for the turn off I definitely would have missed it as there was little marking, I turned left and saw Kevin waiting for me. Alright 7 miles left as we began the climb up, it really was just up and then down. I stayed on the bike to ride up, Kevin got off to walk, but he’s a much faster hiker than me.

I made it to the top a little before him and took in the views, in a lot of ways it felt like Denali with these looming mountains in the foreground and they seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Kevin reached the top and was just dumping gorp into his mouth, saying that he was reaching his limit, I reminded him that we have been riding for 93 miles, which I feel like my gauge is skewed for long distance mileage, but for mostly off the couch for him, he was a champ for only bonking at this point.

We descended down, avoiding the puddles as best as we could and turned onto the trail that went by the caretakers cabin, we stopped to check in and asked about the water situation just to make sure we would have enough for the next day, they said they would bring some more by in the morning. 

We got to the cabin and were surprised by the accommodations, a stove burner, pots/pans and real silverware. We unpacked a bit and then decided to make our way to the hot springs. I’m not exactly sure what was going through my mind when I was packing but I did not include a swimsuit, and for some reason had a pair of underwear (again for being in bike shorts all weekend those were not warranted). I kept the sports bra that I had been wearing that day on, having a clean one for the next day and wore my sleep shorts to the cabin by the hot springs to change. I slipped into the hot springs and there was already a family in the other side, I told Kevin, given my white underwear situation we would be outlasting them to leave. I made sure to keep my head above water because brain eating amoebas and can’t be too careful with those.

We made small talk with the family, with them having moved to Nome recently and they talked about the decision to do so and where else they looked. After a while they left and feeling like our muscles had been sufficiently soaked we also got out to go eat some dinner. I laid out some of my gear to try and dry out before going to bed. 

In the morning I woke to the thunderous sound of raining hitting the cabin, it was so boisterous that it covered up the white noise that I had put on. I figured we only had 50 or so miles to go in it if we needed to and rolled back over hoping Kevin wouldn’t be in a rush to get going. The next time I woke up the rain had dissipated and turned again to a similar mist we had had most of the day before.

We packed our bikes back up, I shoved my still wet clothes into a separate compartment to try and preserve some of my other layers and we rode to the caretakers cabin to check out. We asked about some of the buildings on the property, specifically the church. They said we could ride over to it, it used to be an orphanage for kids’ whose parents died during the 1918 flu, opening in 1919 and was run by the Catholic Church before being returned to the tribe in recent years. He also explained the network of travel that the surrounding communities used to get to the area and the history of the landownership. 

We rode over to the church which was pretty dilapidated, I questioned out loud if history was repeating itself with COVID, a recent number was that 120,000 children had lost their primary caregiver in the US. I also thought about potential unmarked graves, the orphanage would have been removed from any village and wasn’t easily accessible in those days. The area had a former larger church, dormitory and school, and living quarters for the staff, which all remained somewhat identifiable. The site closed in 1941. We walked around a bit but didn’t go too close to any one building as they seemed near potential collapse, which surely would bury any secrets that remained in their walls. 

We left climbing the hill that had delivered us the day before. I kept glancing back to take it all in, would this really be it. 

We turned back onto the main road and on the first climb a truck coming down slowed to tell us there was a musk ox ahead. They continued but we weren’t sure how far ahead so proceeded with caution, and going uphill we weren’t exactly moving fast. We were talking when the musk ox poked its head around some shrubbery, it was almost like it was peeking out to say hello and then quickly disappeared behind the bush. Kevin yelled and waved his arms. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m letting it know we’re here” He replied. “What? They’re not bears, they’re more like buffalo.” I finally felt like I had knowledge to contribute. We took a wide berth around and part of me was worried that we would run into the entire herd reminding me of the times I’ve had to duck into cars when riding through parts of South Dakota to avoid the buffalo herds. Here, there would be no cars. We got to what we felt like was a safe distance and popped back on the road. I glanced back to see if the Musk Ox had made any moves but it seemed to have retreated further into the shrubs.

The weather cooperated for the most part with no torrential downpour or really hard rain, I kept my shell on for the duration of the ride and we stopped more frequently to eat food with the two previous day of activities finally catching up with us. At one point Kevin saw a bear on the side of a hill about 100 yards away, through the misty clouds I said I was pretty sure it was a brush or rock or something, ignorance is bliss.

We made it back to Tim and Burr’s without much instance and got showered and dried off. Friends of their brought over salmon for dinner, the friends live one month in Nome, one month in Missoula working for both healthcare systems. Oh, unusual work/life situations can work, especially given the remoteness of Nome.

Because of the rain we got to sleep with two dogs in the dog shed, as when it’s raining they don’t go into their kennel outside.

We went to bed and the next morning packed up our bikes and headed to the airport. We got back to Anchorage, unpacked our gear and I hit the harsh reality of what I needed to face, or rather still tried to avoid it.

I felt like it was an impossible decision and kept going back and forth with the pros and cons of staying versus going. At one point this summer, when I was packrafting, I flipped over in the water and was stuck in the boat underwater as the skirt that normally releases did not. In the time I was submerged I realized that no one was around to save me and was able to release the skirt and get above water and back into the boat. This decision felt like I was still submerged underwater and the skirt wasn’t releasing no matter how hard I tried. As any former partner of mine will tell you I get a little stressed about decisions and really they could all probably form a support group. I felt like either decision would have huge ramifications, if I stayed it could impact my job, and I love my job and the trajectory I’m on; but if I left I was giving up so much of my life. I couldn’t tell if by staying or leaving I was running from or towards my life.

It didn’t feel like Kevin and I were on the same page for any of it which was also really painful because I felt like in the backcountry and on these trips we were really the best version of ourselves as a couple but we couldn’t get that to translate to day-to-day life and logistics. Finally, Kevin released the skirt on my metaphorical packraft by telling me he wanted to break up [Or maybe we were both submerged underwater and he got out to swim to the shore]. Back in May he had made other housing arrangements when our landlord sold the house and it didn’t seem likely that I’d be able to stay. I didn’t know how to respond, I thought about staying but felt like without a job or a relationship it didn’t make such sense. At least in some sense with his decision, I was out of purgatory.

I also had to be in DC most of the month of September so decided to leave and then figure it all out. I decided to move all my stuff and ship my van, that way if I decided I didn’t want to go back I wouldn’t have to go back to deal with it. At each moment that required me to do something I tried to resist. It reminded me of when my grandmother died and the whole time leading up to the funeral I didn’t want to do any of it, I didn’t want her to be dead, and I didn’t want to have to acknowledge she was. This felt similar, I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was. I spent the final two weeks mostly in a state of tears, one friend reminded me that everyone dies so we all technically end up alone anyways, another friend reminded me that everything I was going through was really challenging and these decisions weren’t easy. Other friends took me on final rides and threw Hail Mary’s my way, they would use my van, or I could store gear in their space but felt like it didn’t make sense to do that. And part of me wanted to leave in part to lick my wounds. But in a lot of ways I felt like I was losing so much more than a relationship. I dropped my van off for shipping, still not believing it was actually happened. I spent the last morning riding a trail I hadn’t done before with Rachel.

I kept reminding myself that even if I wasn’t moving I would be gone for September anyways so I just pretended that was the case. Later that evening, Kevin dropped me off at the airport, which felt surreal the whole way there, I even played Kesha thinking that something would prevent me from leaving. I got to the airport and that was it, time had run out and I hadn’t figured out any other options.

Leaving gave me some of the clarity I felt like I was missing in August, I wasn’t able to see the forest through the trees when I was in the thick of it. I also spent a lot of time this past month saying ‘be a river not a rock’. I felt like I was grasping so hard for an expected outcome that it was suffocating– one of the little girls that a friend used to babysit was so excited when she got a hamster that she squeezed it so hard that it’s guts came out. I feel like in a similar way I was squeezing so hard to how I thought things should be that all the guts came out.

Radical Hope

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.

Alvin did become a pretty good trail partner

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.

Why ride 5 more miles when you can go eat hot dogs

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

Photo by Rachel Heath and I hope everyone has a friend like her in their lives

The Law of Nature

In all my studies about pandemics I would always think about what one would look like today, we have made so many scientific advances since the 1918 flu but it’s now clear one thing hasn’t changed and that’s human behavior.

My dad talks about getting taken to the gymnasium when he was a kid to get his polio vaccine, and how grateful his mom was that there was one available. Polio killed but even more so it maimed in a ferocious way that children were put in iron lungs or if they were lucky only wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. The first big outbreak happened in 1916 in New York City, before that it had circulated but did not strike in the way it did that year. Until a vaccine was created in 1955, theaters and pools would shut down every “polio season” as they were often seen as hot spots in an attempt to prevent the spread. Those who could leave crowded cities often would escape to the country side in an attempt to avoid it and children often had to carry records showing that they were not infected with it. The March of Dimes came out of polio research and really spurred early philanthropy beyond the ultra wealthy. FDR took it upon himself to call on Americans to send dimes to help fund polio research (hence the name). Even when there were no known cures people would seek out remedies, FDR would escape to a bath house down in Georgia believing that the water helped with his rehabilitation (probably an early form of water therapy).

What was once a potential death sentence or a life filled with disability has been almost completely eradicated worldwide, there are less than 200 cases globally but without a vaccine it’s estimated that 17 million people who are otherwise healthy at this moment would be paralyzed. As of 2017, there were three individuals in the US who still depended on an iron lung to survive, which is one of the most inspiring and also heartbreaking medical devices we have. This article does a great job of painting the picture of those three lives. In the peak year of 1952, 60,000 cases of Polio happened in the US with 3,000 people dying, and an additional 21,000 paralyzed as a result. Polio gets into the body through the mouth then grows in the intestines, it can then travel into the blood stream reaching the nervous system where there it will attack the spinal cord or the brain, where it can cause paralysis. The death like most viral infections is not pretty, imagine a 6 year-old gasping for breath as their lungs become paralyzed and they essentially drown in their own secretions, parents only able to offer some comfort as they cradle their head as the rest of the body is in an iron lung working to force them to breath. Devastating. Jonas Salk started trials of a vaccine in 1953 (beginning with his own children) and by 1960s the reoccurring epidemics were 97% gone.

Why am I talking about polio, well with the current pandemic feel like I can finally spew out all this random knowledge about other diseases, and I still have a book due to the Notre Dame Library about it. But because I think a lot about polio right now with the discussion of schools opening up because polio mostly impacted younger children– but also if at it’s peak it killed 3,000/year by today’s measure we would have never focused on a remedy so maybe there is a lesson to learn about how society acted towards life during that time. There aren’t a lot of articles out there about movements during polio that contested the closure of areas; but I’m sure some mothers were exasperated when getting to the pool to realize it’s closed down and all the kids want to do is go for a swim. COVID-19 fortunately does not strike kids in the same way as adults and elders, or at least that is what current studies show but we’re still responding in real time to the virus so we still don’t know everything about it (the polio vaccine did a double blind study with 1.8 million school children). The most recent data shows that kids under 10 aren’t big spreaders of the virus, but with 1/3 of the cases in Florida being children that might change. A study that just came out of South Korea (n=65,000) shows that kids ages 10-19 are just as effective at spreading COVID-19 as adults (still limitations within the study). Those kids who are impacted tend to have preexisting conditions (much like adults) and symptoms are showing up differently with inflammation and rashes, and often triggering Kawasaki Disease (1/3 of kids who were diagnosed with this in NY had preexisting conditions).

Let’s take it back for all of you at home that stopped your science education in high school (and there is nothing wrong with that, that’s where my math career ended and always so grateful I have Heidi to message about math problems– and math is technically different than stats which I have painstakingly taken twice now for two different degrees….). A virus is a collection of genetic code (either DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein coat that needs host cells to replicate itself, since it can’t replicate on its own. Viruses are different than bacteria–which are single celled organisms that can harm or help support life — think of gut bacteria vs. those that cause an infection. Viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics and instead need anti-viral medication or vaccines to eliminate them, non-pharmaceutical interventions are a way to reduce or mitigate the spread, think of hand washing.

Why does this information matter, well based on quite a few facebook posts I’m convinced that people don’t know how viruses function and behave. Because viruses can’t survive on their own, they need a host, and that host doesn’t necessarily have to be humans but most human infectious diseases are initially transmitted from animals. This is a great video that shows how host jumps happen. One more step that the virus has to take is going from just infecting humans to transmit the virus from human to human. H5N1 causes a severe respiratory disease in birds (avian flu) and human cases do occur with a 60% mortality rate but it’s very difficult to transmit humans to humans so the virus jumps from a bird to a human and there is no additional jump to another human– but if it jumped human-to-human and retained that mortality rate we’d have a problem.

Humans are hosts for COVID-19, it is transmissible from human-to-human which means each one of us is a potential host and potential spreader. How do we stop COVID, we make it hard for it to find a host. This is where all the non-pharmaceutical interventions come in that have been talked about; washing hands, wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance because we don’t have any antivirals or vaccines developed at the moment, and even if we did, a mass vaccine campaign is no small undertaking.

Right now the United States has 142,000 deaths from COVID–in the past two weeks alone cases are up 33%, hospitalizations are up 75%, and deaths are up 101% with 20 states being in the “red zone”. That’s a line of dead bodies that stretches 66 miles, or from my parent’s house to the nearest McDonald’s, pasture upon pasture filled with a person who was somebody to someone. So it’s been extremely frustrating and quite dismaying to see people’s response to this: “It’s not a problem here” “Masks are an infringement of my freedom” and “We just have to live with it” because we’re all potential hosts and we’re all potential spreaders. Even arguably those who have been previously infected because we don’t know how long immunity is lasting for, and it might not mean much if the virus keeps mutating beyond what immunity you had.

“It’s not a problem here”– this is really interesting to me because I think of 9/11, the twin towers didn’t fall in rural South Dakota and yet my community was shell-shocked on the attack. 3,000+ Americans died and it was enough that people felt called into action from around the country. I also think of what our reaction would be now to 9/11, how many would be quick to believe it’s a conspiracy theory, an inside job, a way to control the citizens, how much misinformation would have gotten circulated on facebook. If COVID isn’t a problem at the moment for your community, be grateful, but also work to take steps to prevent it from becoming a problem. We continue to take our shoes off at the airport, even though dying in a terrorist attack is a much lower threat than COVID-19 right now. Viruses don’t respect borders, it doesn’t stop at state lines or county lines.

“Masks are an infringement of my freedom” I’m not sure how this became such a rally cry or such a partisan issue. Masks aren’t an infringement of your freedom. Individual liberty isn’t an absolute. “In every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand” and that “[r]eal liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.” (Jacobson v. Mass, 197 U.S. 11 (1905)). Basically you’re arguing that everyone should have the freedom to unfettered rights and that rights come with no responsibility.

Cheney and I agreeing 100% on something–not the Patriot Act….

The mask argument just shows how unwilling we are at the moment to take care of one another. I get there was confusion early on with masks, I didn’t start wearing one until end of March when I went out. A lot of the mask data we have is from antecedent studies because it would be unethical to have a control group without masks exposed to COVID-19. We continue to learn new information about this disease, and we’re responding in real time. We know to be infected it’s time + exposure. Because I live in Alaska when I go to a trail I don’t wear a mask (I also don’t go to very busy trails), but will have a face covering around my neck that I can pull up like a bandana or buff. It doesn’t have to be this all or nothing, we know that inside, poor ventilated spaces are great for transmitting the virus, and that masks help if you can’t maintain distance (inside and outside). On a personal note, I would love to see the data of those who supported the Patriot Act passage and those who oppose mask mandates, my guess is that there is a large correlation but I would argue the Patriot Act was a larger infringement on your individual liberty.

“We just have to live with it” Nope, nope, nope. No other country is willing to live with it, if this is your view point, ask how many more Americans is it acceptable to die. I get frustrated because the amount of deaths we have are wholly unnecessary, and I’m quite ashamed of our response. I have spent the past three weeks in the weeds of other countries law and policies related to COVID and I can tell you almost every country is performing better on this test. Are we suppose to be okay that we’re doing better than early model projections, that we don’t have 500,000 Americans dead? What’s the threshold for you to take action? Washing hands, wearing masks, maintaining distance are what should also be part of broader testing and contact tracing. Look and see if you are able to get tested in your area without showing symptoms? It’s not happening in a lot of places and until it does we will be in this constant catch up game.

This past week I was in a pretty dark spot because I can’t believe that this our response and that people are okay with it. Do I think if I got the virus I would die, statistically no, but there are outliers, do I want to have prolonged lung damage or neurological damage, no. Do I think my parents are at a higher risk, absolutely. Do I want members of my community to die or have their lives impacted, no. This virus doesn’t just kill but wrecks havoc on one’s body in a brutal way (and in ways we won’t know for a while), and I know what you’re thinking, but Kate, asymptomatic people, you wouldn’t even know you had it, except that lung damage is shown in those who have shown no symptoms. Imagine going for a hike or a walk with 75% of your current lung capacity. Breathe through a straw if you want a full effect.

As schools talk about re-opening, we’re missing the part of the conversation that talks about what we can do in the next 6-weeks to make that more feasible. I don’t have kids so I’m not writing from a place of needing to get them out of the house so I can focus on my work, but I feel for those parents who are navigating this work space and childcare/school work at home. I think ignoring the disease is not a great approach– and think there are concrete steps we can be taking to ensure our schools are safe for when they do open up.

Viruses don’t care about our families, our work, we can’t negotiate with them. It’s the law of nature, not the law of man that we are battling with. Do you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Everybody is a potential host of this virus to replicate in. We don’t have to be in total lock down or completely open, it doesn’t have to be this divisive. We’re all battling the same enemy, we’re all on the same team. Until everyone realizes that the longer this is going to go on. The longer issues go on beyond COVID, immunizations are down, mental health issues, domestic violence. A lot of people had an idea of fissures happening within our society but this has exposed large ruptures in a way that we should no longer be willing to ignore. For me this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family. And everything just seems a little harder to deal with most days– as if I was going to graduate from therapy any time soon…

As for Alvin and I’s adventures, we have gone canoeing, hiking, backpacking–oh and he ran away from the boarder’s for two days and ended up 20 miles away, yikes. We just sent out a breed kit to find out what he is. If you haven’t placed your bet yet, you can here.

Congrats, if you made it this far, my next therapy session is about 3 weeks away and the turmoil in my mind was putting me in not a great place personally so welcome to my current therapy session. Happy to discuss anything further or provide references to anything that I have. Hope at least the pictures of Alvin helped you get through it. I’m sure if you’re reading this you’re probably on a similar page with the COVID response.

Rationalized Risks

Did you know that only 25% of people who start the Appalachian Trail finish it. That leaves 75% that show up with the intention of completing it to call it quits, I’m sure only after rationalizing their decision. There are other (unverified) stats surrounding endurance events, one that I’ve heard about Leadville MTB is that only about 60% of the men finish; whereas 90% of women finish. One of the reasons is that men tend to overestimate their ability where women tend to underestimate their ability. Again, broad generalization.

Colorado Trail from last year

After the bar I started reading a book about the Appalachian Trail course records, it went through details of those who attempted and ultimately achieved setting a new thru-hike record. At the time I tucked the book away with the tidbits of knowledge thinking I would rely on it for larger endurance mountain bike pursuits this year. Little did I know I’d be utilizing it for a completely different type of endurance pursuit, like staying at home and social distancing. I thought about it again, recently, when I stumbled onto this article. The slog we are in at the moment with the pandemic seems to resemble a really long endurance pursuit. At the start we’re all gung-ho, and then when you start to settle in you realize the daunting task in front of you and all of a sudden you’re questioning all of your life decisions (or really the federal government’s [lack of] response) that have brought you (us) to this point (usually like mile 55 of a 100 mile race). Now, with things opening up it’s like being at mile 70 of a race, where you’re cautiously optimistic that you’re going to make it to the end but realize that there is still enough time that a lot could still happen. And who knows maybe we’re at mile 70 of a 500 mile race instead of 100. Trying my best to remain optimistic but opening up offers a false sense of security because the virus hasn’t gone away, people have just rationalized the risks they are willing to take.

What will this nugget do when I actually have to go to work

Times remain weird and I deal with feelings of guilt being in Alaska (lowest COVID case count in the US) and with my access to the outdoors not being limited, mostly encouraged by officials to maintain mental health.

After car camping with Alvin, we decided he was ready for his next Pawnee Goddess Badge: Backpacking. Which meant I got to haul the 9 pound tent into the backcountry because we’re still not convinced he won’t damage the nice tent. Alvin was great on the trail and we kept him on leash for the most part because there were a lot of people and dogs. For as many people we saw on the trail we only heard a few others around our campsite.

I bring you a nice tent and this is where you want to sleep….

The next morning we decided to leave on a different trail, hiking up to the ridge line, going across the ridge, and then down. It offered better views and thought it would be better for Alvin to have him off leash more. We had him off leash initially but on the steep hike up to the ridge realized he would see a rock rolling and chase it down, and derp his way back up to us. We finally had to put him back on the leash so he would stop dawdling.

The views, were amazing, even though Kevin was like “they’re okay” which leads me to believe there are more amazing views to be sought.

The first half of the hike was great, with almost no post-holing into the snow.

The second half, made us realized why no one else was up there as some of the ridge lines weren’t completely melted out. There was only one section that I was mostly terrified on and it was about 20 yards of being unsure if I was walking on snow covering the ground, or just snow that could easily break and carry me away. We made it and Alvin proved to be a better rock scrambler than me, not surprised.

I felt like an anxious mom the whole time watching him go over rocks and praying he did not fall off the ledge. We made it down and again ordered burgers to be ready for pick-up upon our arrival back into Anchorage.

Last week I think I did the most Alaskan thing you could do which was bike and pack raft– or as Kevin said, boats on bikes, bikes on boats, boats on bikes. We rode out on double track for about 20 miles, the last 3 covered in loose sand made me realize why everyone else had a fat bike.

We got to Knik Glacier, where Kevin and I were the only ones willing to jump in (thank you 8 years of ice baths from high school and college sports).

We unpacked our boats and then gingerly put the bikes on the packrafts, which are just giant rubber rafts, and seem easily pop-able (quite terrifying when borrowing an expensive piece of equipment and then putting more gear on it).

The Knik River was quite mellow, almost so mellow that we had to paddle the whole time instead of riding the current. I drew on the three times I had been in a canoe or kayak and tried to avoid catching any crabs (I think that’s the lingo…). It was great until we hit mile 13 and a nasty headwind, I didn’t really think much of it, other than I wish my paddle had a power meter so I could see how much power I was putting out to go nowhere, and was quite content to just stay in that same place for the foreseeable future.

Before the headwind

Fortunately, Kevin was thinking a little more clearly and paddled over to the shore to get out and start putting his bike together. He was turned away when I made my approach to the shore but as I pulled up and went to get out the wind pushed me back into the water, this went on about 3 more times before I was finally able to get on to shore and out of the boat. We broke down the rafts (more so Kevin) and I put together my bike, loading the packs back onto our backs to pedal out. I felt tired at this point but the one thing I’ve realized with biking is that even when I’m tired my body knows what to do. We started biking towards the road with only some detours as we found the best dirt road back to the highway to loop around to the cars. It was fun and with racing on pause this season a new type of challenge and adventure to have.

Lifejacket on because #safetyissexy and I was cold

Sunday was mostly spent cleaning up gear. As of last Monday morning I was still planning on leaving for South Dakota. When I got into work (and by that I mean the spare bedroom) on Monday it was like the reality of closing all my cases or transferring them over and having to pack up and move this week hit me. I think in a lot of ways I felt like it was an either/or situation, like I was either leaving now, not knowing when I would be back, or staying indefinitely, not knowing when I would be leaving.

Plus not sure Alvin and I are ready to camp by ourselves

I didn’t feel like I could do an adequate job of finishing my cases and packing up enough that I wasn’t leaving completely disheveled (mostly my style but usually have my family to help me pack). I decided to focus on work this week and stay tentatively for one more month and reassess. The border might be open by then, which would certainly make travel easier, and South Dakota might not be the hot spot it is now. Selfishly, Alaska seems like the best spot for my mental health through all of this, besides being so far away from my family.

I think too starting last week I realized that I would be saying goodbye to clients, in my new position it’s more research and writing based and not direct client services. It’s what I want but certainly a change, some of the things I experienced this year are unlike anything I ever will – like when I went to serve a demand letter and interrupted a swat tactical take down– didn’t seem like we were going after the same person but I let them go first and called a colleague for reinforcement. It’s nothing I anticipated it would be but an amazing experience nonetheless. I’m sad that the timelines didn’t work out better for me to finish out this contract but I’m excited for what is ahead, even with all the underlying uncertainty…

Crossing one more thing off the bucket list–ignore my derpy “I’ve exercised for 10 hours” face haha

In what I thought would be my last weekend here, we are headed to Denali National Park. I felt like it was going to be one of those questions that after leaving Alaska I would hear all the time, “oh have you been to Denali” and I would have to say no, like saying no to seeing the northern lights, and saying no to seeing a bear.

As things open up I hope everyone realizes that everyone is operating under a different level of necessity and rationalized risks –financially they have to go work, for the sake of their sanity take their kids to camp or daycare, some people are comfortable eating in restaurants, getting their hair cuts, or not making any changes.

It’s kind of like being in the backcountry, everyone has a different comfort level and their own rationalization of the risks. I just have a problem if what you’re doing potentially threatens my or others health, well-being and safety. Personally, I’m still pretty cautious because I can be–and I’m kind of curious of what my natural hair color is at this point. I also understand that isn’t the reality for a lot of individuals. I do also believe that we can move forward into this space of thinking beyond ourselves, but understand that some don’t have the capacity right now as their very foundations and securities have become cracked and broken. Is that not just a juxtapose of a paragraph if you’ve ever read one. If you feel like you want more to explore I suggest reading about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Keep Moving

Alvin has taken to sleeping under the bed and even retreating there at moments during the day. After a quick google search it seems like dogs to do this to feel safe and to help them relax easier; after learning that I wondered if he had room for me under there.

The past two weekends I’ve been able to go camping. Which means life has simultaneously felt weird and normal. The Governor specifically addressed travel saying that you can go but cannot go into stores outside your community. The case count remains low here and with the physical distancing that took place early on gave the hospitals enough time to increase their bed capacity (and morgue capacity) so that if we do surge they are better equipped. As a result, some restrictions have been eased which I think we’ll know in about 2-3 weeks how that worked out.

The first weekend I found a friend to watch Alvin because apparently even the best trained dogs shred tents and not wanting to add a $300 tent to his running tab thought it was best to leave him home.

We headed down to Caines Head in Seward, I’m told it’s the trail that you take your out of state Alaska friends and also your girlfriend who doesn’t backpack. Perfect.

The trail beckoned us into the forest with lush tree coverage and dark, rich soil. We had an early start in order to make sure that we were able to cross a section while the tide was low and had plenty of time to spare. We topped off our water at a waterfall and headed to a fort that was used during WW2 to eat lunch but only after having to walk through the fort and hope that no bears were hibernating.

After that we headed to South Beach, which I kept calling North Beach and set up camp. Unlike winter camping it was insanely easy, no digging a hole, no shuffling around on skis, no having to eat a snack before hand; tent set up and ready to go in less than 3 minutes.

Having so much time we wandered around the beach, watched some sea kayakers, filled up our water bottles for dinner, made dinner, walked around the beach some more, found a dead otter somewhat near our tent. In my mind I was like oh great, that will attract the bears not us, which the next morning I was told that it could make the bears aggressive and they could come for us–ignorance is bliss.

In the morning I crawled out of the tent, with just about as many layers on as for winter camping but without a -20 degree sleeping bag. Again, the break down of camp proved much faster than winter camping and we were on our way.

As we hiked up we lost track of the trail covered up in snow and in a few places had to post-hole our way through. As communities begin to open up I felt a similar feeling to apprehensively moving forward on top of the snow: is it safe, will it hold me, and then occasionally finding my leg plunging through the crust and only being stopped by my hip on the surface. I had no idea that the snow remained that deep in places (deeper than a whole “Kate Leg”) and feel like with COVID cases we are in some ways only on the surface (again, call your congressional delegates about mass testing +contact tracing). We got down from the snow coverage and back onto the beach were we (I) haphazardly looked for animals in the water. We got back to the car and had just enough snacks to hold us over for the drive back but did put a to-go order in to a place in Anchorage to pick up on our arrival.

Last week I had a roller of emotions. It didn’t help that I was also about to start my period (not to add stuff to stereotypes but should be noted). I took a new job, well actually I took it a while ago but it’s in Washington DC so was waiting for more information on when I would physically need to be there. Initially thinking June 1 but then maybe end of June and finally got word that it would be mid-late fall. Which means working remote starting June 1 until we can be in the same space, but with the caveat of having to work east coast hours (for those of you at home, Alaska is in a separate time zone) meaning 5am-1pm in Alaska time. At first I was really excited about getting to stay in Alaska, I felt like I was just hitting my stride and settling in, getting friends, a community, have a boyfriend, have an Alaskan dog, starting to do more activities, have a sweet work remote gig, the dream.

But at some point the reality of me having to get to DC with the logistics of a pandemic began to cast a shadow over this ideal situation, besides having to go to bed at 8pm every night for a 4am start to the day. I initially thought of staying till the end of my lease, through July. Part of me was like yeah, do that, getting to DC is a problem for future Kate to deal with. But that would mean either moving end of July and in all likelihood flying (which I was adverse to all the germs on planes to begin with so no thank you at the moment) or staying here until I could get to DC which realistically might not happen until after fall. I have time now to drive, and it’s not ideal because even though it’s essential travel I can’t stop anywhere except for gas in Canada. Thinking of going to South Dakota and hunkering down with my parents Tenzen and Alvin (still not sure which one would end up sleeping in my bed) until I needed to head to DC (a 20 hour drive from SD vs. 70 hour from AK). I’ve consulted with all my friends in public health and my therapist about what to do. I think with things opening up in about 2-3 weeks we’ll see how it’ll play out and the last day I can make a run for home would be May 25 in order to get there and start work on June 1. Right now I’m leaning towards going home but I feel like I’m leaving this safe cocoon in Alaska for a hot zone/inferno in South Dakota. It could be a game time decision.

Me telling Alvin to not embarrass me camping

Maybe some of this coupled with it being Alvin’s first overnight camp trip was on my mind when I had Alvin hooked around my waist and hiking up Point Hope. He’s been really good (mostly for maybe having no training in his life) but does pull sometimes. I was seated on the ground digging something out of my pack when he saw a puppy approach and he lunged for it. The belt had slid up above my hips and onto my stomach and so when he lunged, he performed the heimlich maneuver on me, which felt like getting the wind knocked out of me. And then just for good measure he did it two more times. And then I started crying, and it’s never about what you’re crying about–like when I bought the wrong size bed, it wasn’t about the bed it was about having a brain injury and dealing with that. It’s like all this uncertainty hit me and I couldn’t see how I was going to move forward.

Luckily Kevin un-clipped Alvin from me and took him to give me some space. Kind of reminded me of when your mom is on the verge of an emotional breakdown (as portrayed in TV shows) and your dad is like “okay kids, let’s go get some ice cream”. We made it to the summit without any other incidents and then Alvin took a nap.

Going down he was much better, probably from getting tired going up. We would alternate between jogging and hiking down with him.

We got back to camp and met our friends who also have a rescue husky. Talking to them made me feel a bit better as the owner told me she cried multiple times the first 6 months of having hers and now they take her biking, hiking, and running. Because the other dog was off-leash eventually we decided Alvin could go off too. In the moment of unclipping him from his tether saw the rest of my evening spent looking for him on the hillside. Fortunately, that did not manifest and he stuck close to us, the other dog, and the campsite. It was actually really fun to watch him play with the other dog and at some points it’s like he realized he was a dog. The other dog started digging a hole and then Alvin realized he too could dig a hole. Then came the moment of truth. Bedtime. Was Alvin going to hear a noise in the night and shred our newly acquired $25 craigslist tent (in case he did shred the shit out of it, would only be out $25….).

He was a champ and I’m not sure he moved positions the whole night, no holes in the tent, no holes in our sleeping pads. Here’s hoping I can train him to sleep more on my feet and keep them warm.

We packed up the next morning and shuttled Kevin for a pack rafting adventure. I walked around a bit with Alvin but mostly sat on the beach reading a book that had been on my list since September only pausing once to briefly entertain what my life would look like without the pandemic– no Alvin, more bike riding, I’d probably already be on my way to DC for the June 1 start so I could stop and ride my bike and see friends along the way. And yet, sitting on that beach felt completely normal.

Even this feels normal now

We’re going backpacking again this weekend but combining the two last weekends into one: Backpacking with Alvin. Last weekend we just car camped with him, but will continue to haul that beef-cake of a tent around in the backpack just in case though.

Still trying to get that Patagonia sponsorship…