Wow, another year has flown. Has it ever flown, and they fly ever faster all the time. Since I really didn’t know where the time has gone this year, I had to look back through my calendar to see what I’ve been doing all this time, and I shall now borrow my friend Jill Homer’s idea to do a roundup of the year by month.
2013 was, like 2012, an extremely eventful year full of travel and new experiences. Here’s twelve choice events from the year:
In January I moved to the Philippines on a Peace Corps Response mission. I was supposed to stay for up to six months to complete a disaster response plan for a network of remote communities. While my feelings about this experience should be filed under “complicated,” suffice to say I emerged well before the six month mark, quitting in disgust, with a high opinion of the Philippines and a very low one of the Peace Corps. Disappointment with the Peace Corps notwithstanding, I met some wonderful people in the Philippines and my experience is probably best summed up by the bike ride I went on. I was invited to ride with a bike club and was given the bike club’s organizer’s race bike to use, since I didn’t have one as the Peace Corps apparently expects volunteers to walk everywhere, even if the communities under our purview are miles apart and only accessible by motorcycle (on which riding will get you kicked out of the Peace Corps, and yes I rode one anyway). I was promised a short 17K bike ride starting at 6am, which coincided with a large rainstorm, which was hilarious because I was in one of the sweatiest countries on earth but I was FREEZING. I was also chagrined to discover that by 17K they really had meant 140K (perhaps worried about scaring me off? I never found out why the lie), but since I didn’t know that ahead of time I didn’t have any money, food, water, or sunscreen because 17K at 6am doesn’t require any of those things. I also had only been there one day and didn’t know my way around, so I was pretty much linked to my biker flock for survival until they guided me home at 9pm. I got one of the worst sunburns of my life (to be topped only by May’s entry, below) and rode the longest distance on the road I’ve ever done in one go. On a mountain bike no less. But I remember that ride and those people with immense fondness.
When I got home from that trip, life recommenced in Alaska. February was quite the month of readjustment. I did lots of:
Connecting with my boyfriend whom I’d left behind when I went to the Philippines (people have to get used to that if they’re going to date me),
And getting on stage with Michael Franti.
March is one of the best months in Alaska because of the long daylight hours and fantastic snow conditions. March’s highlight was the snow biking trip on the closed-in-winter Denali Highway I took with my friends Jill, Sierra, and Jenn. It’s almost impossible to pick a photo to represent this trip because we were blessed by perfect weather, incredible views, unmatched wildlife encounters, and enough snow biking to make us all hate snow biking at least a little tiny bit. Of course we’re planning another trip as I write this, because our yearly trips have become a great tradition.
Some fun stuff may have happened in April, but I can’t remember any of it. All good things seem vaporized by the tragic death of my friend and personal hero, Mel Nading. Mel was the Alaska State Troopers helicopter pilot, and he died in a helicopter crash during a rescue mission in the early morning hours of April 1, 2013. Mel has personally saved over seven hundred people from bad situations in Alaska’s wilderness. His funeral filled the most cavernous building in Anchorage, and there wasn’t enough time in the world to tell all the stories we wanted to tell about Mel, his achievements as a pilot, and most importantly his incredible character and wonderful smile that always, always greeted us when we climbed into the helicopter or stood outside in the gale wash of the rotor blades, Mel settling the helicopter down mere inches from our faces, marking our presence with his ever-present huge sunny smile.
The really amazing thing about Mel is that, while lots of people knew he was an incredible person and pilot, few of us knew that he was “a ten times better dad” according to his daughter Nichole. He was so humble about his achievements that although he’d achieved veritable rock star status among us mountain rescuers, his family didn’t have a single idea how many people he’d touched until they attended the funeral and the subsequent memorials. Though I along with everyone else in the world has lost Mel, I take comfort from getting to know his family, who are all every bit as awesome as Mel.
I wrote about my favorite helicopter ride with Mel last year, which happened in December of 2012. In February I saw Mel for the last time when, after seeing his helicopter fly over my truck as I drove to the scene, I was bummed to be too late to the staging area to ride with Mel on the mission. I contented myself with the busywork job of standing in the darkened parking lot holding glow sticks so that Mel could see the landing zone a little better on his return. I wasn’t the most glamorous rescuer that day, as the glow-stick-holding was my only contribution, but Mel made me feel like a rock star when he landed the helicopter, got out, and strode over to give me a HUGE hug, saying “I could see those glow sticks for MILES!” I felt so important. Mel had a way of recognizing everyone’s efforts. I told him I was bummed to not get to the mission on time to fly with him, and he said, “Next time, just call me! I’ll meet you at the hangar and we can fly together.” There was never a next time.
I spent May in Colombia, touring the country solo by motorcycle. There’s way too much to say about this incredible country and my phenomenal trip. Hopefully I’ll get the story finished soon and you all can read it after publication (delicious hint)! For now, suffice to say that in Colombia, I really did get the worst sunburn of my life. You don’t know pain until you have to put motorcycle gear on over a medical-grade sunburn.
In June we rode bikes. You can see that avalanche debris remains a problem even in summer, in Alaska. The road bike season here is about two months long and isn’t very good even then, so if we have to ride through debris, so be it. We had a few warm days and then the temperature plummeted to the fifties with drizzle. We headed to the glacier for some summer ice climbing and were greeted by a horrible black cloud. I despaired that that’s all we got for summer in Alaska. Why do I live here, anyway?
Then it got hot. Really hot. Our summer smashed heat records. It was well into the nineties for weeks at a time. It was so hot I didn’t feel like doing much, because it was too damn hot. Our mountain bike rides were hot. At the end of one, I lay in a glacial stream and went back for more, because I was still hot. It was bewilderingly hot. My boyfriend and I summited a new peak in the Chugach on a long summer evening when it was really hot and we could hang out on the mountain in shorts. Oh, THIS is why I live here.
In July I also sustained a minor concussion and whiplash from a unicycle accident, which resulted in me having to cancel my planned motorcycle tour of Iceland, and spend most of the rest of the summer and fall recovering.
In August we fished. You can see the weather is back to normal by this time. But wait, there were even more hot days after that. By then we were worn out of the heat and my concussion was still limiting my activity. Snagging pinks was about my speed at that point.
In September I was still feeling pretty fatigued from my head injury and I was very busy at work. So, though September is usually my favorite month, apparently I didn’t do too much that was notable other than speak at a conference, “take truck to shop” according to my calendar, and try to get back into shape after a few months of taking it easy because of my injuries. We did do a few bad-weather outings including bike rides and hikes, now in traditional Alaska weather. Summer was nice, but it was over.
Most of October was spent in Seward, Alaska. I love it there. It reminds me of where I grew up, on Kodiak Island. I put on a firefighting training event for work, then spent several weeks just relaxing and recovering. My boyfriend came down to visit and we climbed up to the Exit Glacier icefield, taking advantage of the government shutdown to finally enjoy a national park instead of fighting crowds, paying parking fees, dodging ranger-guided treks, and hearing kids scream because there’s no 3G in the parking lot.
Holy cats, November already. See, told you this year went fast. In November I traveled with my boyfriend to Mexico to meet his family, celebrate his mom’s 60th birthday, and do some
traveling in his home region. We climbed at El Diente, went to lucha libre,
rescued a kitten,
hiked, swam, visited with family, explored a ghost town guarded by cops, rode amazing Mexican dancing horses,
and generally had a great time.
All that and the year’s not even over yet. I’ve been a little too busy to plan 2014 yet, but I’m sure that it’s going to be just as awesome.