Weird Times

I’m not even sure how to start this post– honestly most days being in Alaska feels like I’m perched somewhere just watching the world burn. I’m grateful for the response that Anchorage’s Mayor took early on and Alaska as a state, our case increase has been a slow uptick, still under 300 and only a handful of deaths.

But we only have 880,000 people….cool, cool, cool.

Meanwhile, my parents in South Dakota still have no lockdown orders mandated state-wide. Some cities and counties are doing their part but most were slow to react and not everyone has an order. I’m proud of my parents for taking it seriously, finally got my dad to stop going to the jail (I wrote a motion on why inmate’s should be released– proud prosecutor’s daughter ha). Unfortunately, I also wrote a paper last year that focused on contrasting my community with another community which means I know there are 3,570 residents, 290 people (before COVID and people losing their jobs) without health insurance; 847 individuals have one or more disability and just over 1,000 individuals are over the age of 65. I know that our hospital has 25 beds and 2 ventilators. And I’m well over 3,000 miles away but even if I was closer, I know that if someone I love goes into the hospital I can’t go with them. And it’s terrifying because it’s like a ticking time bomb and we won’t know the extent of the damage for months to come.

Love the community that raised us– and yes after this is over I might be blonde again…

Beyond my family I think about the community that raised me, growing up in a small town (the same one as my mother) means that everyone knows everyone, so I think of my teachers, most of who are retired now, I think of my friends who work in the hospital, I think of the restaurateurs, the grocers, the ranchers, the funeral director, those in the assisted living facilities who became like second-grandmas.

Dug through some photos so needed to post more than one

I think of this virus and the response and I’m not sure I will ever forgive those in power who passively have let the virus wash over our communities. With recent cases, Sioux Falls just surged ahead of Chicago and Seattle with a higher per capita infection rate at 182.25 per 100,000 people [When I started this draft, SD had just over 600 cases, it’s now over 1,300 in the 2 days since…]. But I also know not every worse case scenario that is portrayed in the news is going to come true– but hard sometimes for my mind not to go there.

It’s just so good.

Did I need to find something to take my mind off of all of this, oh you betcha. Usually around this time I start training for the upcoming season but with COVID and most races getting pushed back haven’t felt the need to really jump into training–fortunately I planned on this year being most developmental and focusing on the Maah Daah Hey but now not wanting to suppress my immune system (check out this article my Godfather sent me about training loads during this time) and/or train for things that might not materialize means I’m actually in a pretty good mental state around bike racing right now (heyyyo, shout out to my law school therapist).

With physical activity focused less on gaining fitness and more on mental clarity, I decided to start cross-stitching again, it’s repetitive and I have to focus somewhat otherwise I tend to stab myself, perfect. I collected all my things and was engaged in a ‘this color or that color’ when my phone rang. “Hi, we have a dog that we think would be perfect for you.” As like most things in life until that moment I had forgotten that I put in an application for a foster dog. “He’s 6, we just got him in, he’s real sweet.” “Ummm, okay when do you need me to pick him up by.” “Can you get him before 3 today.” They texted me a few pictures and I confirmed with my roommates that they were okay with having a dog in the space. Alright, let’s do this.

I put an application in when I started working from home figuring it would be a good idea to take my mind off of everything– they said that they didn’t have any dogs at the moment so I mostly forgot about it until they called. I picked the dog up, he didn’t have a name, and they handed everything over to me, leash, food, poop bags, crate, and blankets. I got him home and unloaded all his things and took him for a walk. I had planned to go cross-country skiing with a friend later and one of my roommates said she would watch him so I could leave him out while I was gone. Perfect. I grabbed my gear and opened the door to leave when he squeezed by my legs–it took me a minute to realize what was happening, with Tenzen he’s allowed in the front yard because he stays there, when I realized this dog was not Tenzen I tried to grab him but he eluded my clutches and took off. I threw my ski boots down and took off sprinting behind him. I didn’t even have a name for him so couldn’t even yell anything. This dog is going to be gone and I’m going to have to tell these people, I’ve already failed. I kept sprinting with my heart rate not getting that high since cross nationals. Luckily the street he had turned down had a large fence at the end of the lane. He ran there and then kind of jogged around. I slowly approached without trying to spook him. Luckily, like most days, I had some jelly beans in my pocket so dug a few out and stuck them out to entice him to get close enough to grab his collar. Well my plan worked; in the 5 minutes I was sprinting after him I didn’t think once about the virus.

I had been mulling over a few names, I’ve had a few dog names in my mind for a while but only fostering him didn’t want to give him one of those. Upon catching him and bringing him back settled on the name Alvin. After Alvin McDonald, an early cave explorer in the Black Hills.

Since then we’ve settled into a routine of 3-4 walks during the day, which means I’ve reduced my running because I don’t want to leave him but have gained leisurely paced strolls with the occasional abrupt jerk when he pulls. It’s given me a reason to finally catch up on those podcast recommendations or call my family. After a week of feeding him several large heaps of dog food a day to get his weight up figured we were ready to try a short run. Run is a loosely applied term for what we did. It started off promising but with him being more interested in smelling things and I realizing he only has one speed (a bit too fast for walking sometimes, a bit too slow for running). We settled into some weird shuffle of 2.5 miles in 40 minutes.

Post first runish….

I’ve worked him up to accepting treats, and now we’re starting to broach commands [although my Dad has pointed out, he has me trained], although I’m not even sure he even recognizes his name at this point. The first weekend I had him I left him at home for the adventures, still unsure of his capabilities. One day I did a very mellow alpine touring ski which required some stream crossing and bush whacking, only to get within range of the summit and have it disappear.

Not wanting to loose ourselves in the abyss we turned around and followed our tracks down where the clouds dissipated and the sun seemed like it had always been there. Going down felt euphoric, as my skis seemed to float underneath me.

To avoid the stream crossing we did earlier we ended up skinning up and thought we had found a good place to cross the gully but after getting to the other side realized it wasn’t a good exit. We ended up skinning a bit up in the terrain trap, which just means that if an avalanche were to happen that’s where it would likely go. Obviously we assessed the risk, extremely low, but if something did get triggered it would be less than ideal. Basically we were kind of like sitting ducks and at mercy of others actions– and again thought about the virus because feel to some extent we’re all just sitting ducks waiting, feeling trapped at what might be headed towards us but unlike the current pandemic we were able to get out of the gully and to the other side quite quickly.

We then pitched our angle uphill a bit more so we could then gain enough speed to make it back to the car without having to put our skins on. I felt so bad about leaving Alvin at home for a few hours that I think I took him on close to a 90 minute walk that night.

I’m sure he must just stare out the window like this when I leave him.

The next day I did a shorter cross-country ski but again left Alvin at home. We ended up on the other side of the valley but the snow was a little more crusty.

What snow there was…

We had less of a finish in mind and more of a let’s see where this takes us approach. We skied for a bit, took our skis off, and hiked for a bit, and then had some lunch, deciding it was a good spot to turn around.

I’m not sure how much was the crust and how much was the champagne (I mean life is short, right) I drank for lunch that resulted in more than a few face plants. We skied down and stayed off the main trail to avoid as many people as possible.

The second week with Alvin I settled more into a routine, recognizing his favorite spots to poop and when he’s most likely to go. He started sleeping out of the crate and after the first night gave him multiple pillows off my bed to accommodate him. Was grateful when a friend offered one of her dog beds up– now those floor pillows have just become his second bed….

Maybe I should give him a bath….

He hasn’t had any real accidents in the house, other than peeing on my bike attached to the trainer. He wasn’t a fan of it to start with but then really showed his feelings during that moment. I was yelling at him to stop and he didn’t even flinch, didn’t break eye contact just kept going. He’s more tolerating of my trainer rides now but not sure I’ll ever get him close enough to a bike to be a proper trail dog.

This past weekend I took him on his first hike, but not before heading out on my own the day before. I headed up Wolverine Peak, which was 9 miles and definitely not one for the dog at the moment. It was pretty steep uphill with some icy spots that made me grateful I bought shoes with spikes in them last fall even though I thought it would be an overkill (lover of treadmills and trainers). The trail head had the most people which again for Alaska I guess is crowded but compared to most other places it was like 6-10 people and we were mostly able to avoid people and pull our masks over our faces. The trail traffic was a minimum and the view from the top was well worth taking in.

On the way down we stepped off the trail to give distance to older guys who jokingly covered their faces and said they had the virus yesterday and were better now. I responded a bit snarky to some effect saying, “you think this is a joke but people are dying.” I really wanted to follow-up with and ‘you’re more likely to die than I am’ but left it at that and instead of getting back on the main trail, bush whacked a bit to get down into a gully that would avoid more people. Everyone else seemed conscious of maintaining distance and trying to minimize any potential spread.

We’re both not exactly morning people

For Easter planned on doing an early morning hike (kind of like a sunrise service) with Alvin to see how he would do but upon waking couldn’t see the mountains so opted for a later departure date and a trail closer to the water and out of the mountains. Alvin is pretty great on the leash and just likes to stop and smell and mark most things–at least on the way out. We hiked about 2 miles out to a vantage point to take pictures of the good boy before turning around.

On the way back he was less interested in smelling things and oscillated between wanting to sprint and dilly-dallying down the trail. He did quite well, given my history with Tenzen was more than prepared to have to carry him for some of it. He also did well around other dogs, he seems to be mostly curious and not aggressive in anyway. I’m not sure he’ll ever be an off the dog leash, for one he still does not recognize his name, and two I’m not sure he would ever come back.

Look at this trail corgi

I’m now on my fifth week of work from home, which means I finally gave in and assembled my desk and office chair. At this point my contract ends mid-September and honestly not sure I will be back in the hospital before then. Mentally preparing for a marathon but hoping for a sprint….

I remain grateful that my life continues to have some semblance of normalcy (definitely recognize the privilege that comes with all of that) as my heart aches for all of those who have had massive shifts in their lives and livelihoods as a result. Again, if you are thinking we need to open up the economy and don’t understand why we aren’t, call your representatives and demand massive testing for COVID and for the anti-bodies. Testing and contact tracing is our best bet at the moment (until there is a vaccine) while continuing to socially isolate. Just because our government is incompetent doesn’t mean you need to be (looking at you, South Dakota).

Cheese Pizza Just for Me

Wait a minute, I’ve been here before. I had just put the skin back on my ski and looked behind me to realize in those few moments I was struggling to wrangle it back on the entire field had blown by me. I looked ahead and saw what looked like a tiny ant line marching into the distance, I looked behind me to the edge of the hill which dropped off into darkness with no one behind me. Okay, so starting this race season like I ended last year’s. Dead last. I turned and began to make my way up the hill and made sure to consistently drag my feet and try not to allow any unnecessary movement that would knock my skin off again.

Photo from Callie

I got to the top and all muscle memory of removing my skins and switching my skis had dissipated, okay so it didn’t really help that the only muscle memory I had was from two days earlier when I had put skis on for the first time this season and watched a video of a ski racer during a transition, so hadn’t fully committed it to memory. I shoved my skins down my tights and pushed off the ledge, welp, here we go.

At this point if you’re trying to figure out what is happening, don’t worry I was trying to figure that out the entire race. A week before I had found myself volunteering at a 100 mile race. I’m not sure how it came up but by the end of my time there I had committed to meeting one of the other volunteers for a skimo race on Friday night. Perfect, first time on skis this season and my second time in oh about 19 years, why not start off racing.

Mile 90– yes that’s a space heater + straw very close by

Fortunately, I got a text that they would be going out on Wednesday to do a loop and bringing another friend who would be towing a baby so I should be able to keep up. I texted Sully that I don’t think this person understood that when I said I was a beginner he did not realize ‘I would be pulling my tags off my new gear in the parking lot’ beginner (I bought stuff in October but was still racing my bike till December and then it got super cold in January so really had no interest).

On our practice ski on Wednesday I only got one weird look at the start of the trail from a high school nordic skier, he was like “I’m not even going to ask” to which I responded, “just you wait, this is what you get to look forward to.” So we went up, down, up, down, and I practiced my transitions with lots of humility and openness to just about every piece of advice they could give me. I had hopes of practicing the transition in my backyard on Thursday but had some hard deadlines that meant I just watched videos of Killian Jornet transitioning and went over the steps in my head. I wasn’t too worried about how long it would take me, I didn’t really care about that, but more didn’t want to accidentally lock my ski in and blow out my knee going down or not lock my ski and and loose the stability in my knee going up.

The race started with us running to our skis, getting into the bindings and taking off uphill. I actually felt like I had a somewhat decent start for not knowing what I was doing. I made a comment to another cyclist that ‘this is a bit different than cyclocross’ and kept gliding uphill (trying to channel my inner Dottie Hansen, “gracefully and grandfully” but in reality probably looking more like Marla…). I was about halfway up when I looked up to see people starting to reach the top, and felt one of my leg’s lose traction, I looked down and my skin was lying in the snow behind me. I picked it up and shuffled off to the side taking my ski off to reapply it. I fumbled with it for a bit and put it back on, okay round 2, only to make it a few shuffles and have it pop off again. Por que, why is this happening. I stopped, put it back on again and looked up to realize I was dead last. I made it to the top without any more hiccups but was also conscious to have my ski keep contact with the ground. I got to the top, got a card, transitioned, stuck my skins down my tights as I was informed to do (cycling has left me with so little modesty #kiddingmom, kinda), and took off down the hill. Bonus about being last, not a lot of traffic going down, which I was grateful for because I’m still a bit cautious about the whole downhill speed/brain injury thing (you’re welcome mom).

Photo from Callie

I got to the bottom, handed in my card, put my skins back on and started working on the uphill segment again. I had passed some people, or they had passed me in their lapping of me, but either way had some company going up. Again, I got about halfway up when I lost my skin but had a hard time wrestling it back on, a dad who was with his young son stopped and gave me two ski straps to hold it in place to get to the top. Because of the rubber my ski turned into less of a glide and more of a grumble with an awkwardly long and heavy snow-shoe technique taking over. I got to the top, transitioned, and headed down hill. The downhill wasn’t steep, except for the last little bit before the transition area, I pizza’d so hard down that section as to not go very fast but also didn’t want to crash in front of everyone. I was 8 minutes from the cut-off when they were going to stop people from going back up, well it might take me 8 minutes to transition, it didn’t and I was back on my skis headed up with about 5-6 minutes to spare. I didn’t put the ski straps on and tried to limit any unnecessary movement. I made it to the top without losing a skin. I made it down and took some wider lines into the powder because why not at that point.

Photo from Callie

Before the race I thought that trying to do 3 laps was a good goal and I was able to get that with even the mechanicals (is that even what they are called in skiing, I have no idea). I also had a lot of fun for having no idea what I was doing– at the end of the race I realized I had never flipped my boots over from the ski mode the whole time but also as a beginner I have no idea how things are suppose to feel so just assume it must be how everyone feels.

After putting my legs up on the wall for an abnormally long time that night, I headed down to the resort to go skiing on Saturday. I did some snowboarding in the resort in Colorado when I first moved there but before I got my brain injury because after just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk. I don’t think I had been on skis in the resort since maybe a middle school ski trip.

Photo from Kevin

Fortunately, the two people I went with, while expert skiers were more than okay taking the day slow and spending time on only blue runs, and gave me pointers to practice turning, and showed incredible patience waiting for me at multiple points throughout the run.

Pizza for life– photo from Kevin

We were able to get about 7 runs in and I certainly felt a little more confident by the end of the day, not sending it down the mountain, but did have some french fry moments and not just all pizza.

Look at that french fry– photo from Rachel

In other non-activity news, death remains to feel exceptionally close in Alaska. At first I thought it was because of my position at the hospital, hearing all these ways people die or are injured that I normally wouldn’t be conscious of, and then I thought maybe it was because my counterpart in Fairbanks was violently killed, we were both fresh out of law school and she had only just started her career like mine when it was cut horrifically short, and then I thought maybe I’m just more aware of it–law school is a pretty selfish pursuit so often didn’t dedicate a lot of resources to things besides studying and training, so maybe I just wasn’t fully paying attention to how often death was happening.

Facetime with this dude at least once a week to say goodbye, just in case.

Then I finally realized, it’s just Alaska itself that reminds me of my mortality in so many ways, it remains the feeling that everything can kill you– the exposure, the isolation, the wildlife–being out all night in New York City and not being able to get home, something bad might happen but you probably won’t freeze to death– in Alaska getting your car stuck somewhere on a remote road that you’re trying to turn around on can become a perilous situation pretty quick (no that hasn’t happened but do have a shovel, blankets, and food in my car just in case). It just seems like the stakes are elevated all the time; you can do everything right and still die, you can do everything wrong and still survive, and that’s where I struggle- there are more wild parts of the equation that I can’t control. But like everything there is a certain amount of risk with everything involved and making sure that I’m prepared as best as possible just means maybe it won’t look totally terrible on the report–hope springs eternal.

And in more non-activities, activities, I keep thinking that the Fat Bike race is the week after it really is so now have about 3 weeks to get in shape-ish enough for 100 miles, oops. That is not going to look good on the report. Guess it’s time to finally start training.