Tuesday, August 18, 2015

At Least She Tried: Sad Surfing-Disaster Selfie

     Being the adventurous (read: stupid) person that I am, when I was 40 years old, I thought it would be a terrific idea to learn how to surf. I figured that since I'm an athletic and dexterous person, I'd pick it up no problem. Little did I know how inane it is to underestimate the ocean and its power to humble a mere mortal.                                                                                                                After taking me two years to not soil my bikini bottoms even in the wimpiest of waves, I began feeling comfortable with paddling to the outside of breaks, at least on diminutive days. I especially enjoy my local break, Ke-ei, when it's not pumping. The pure joy I feel when dropping in on the outside, then catching the reform for a long ride all the way in, can't be matched by any other activity.

     One small day at Ke'ei, I was out enjoying an uncrowded surf session, catching wave after wave with ease. I felt elated that my skills weren't so rudimentary any more because I'd truly become a surfing zealot. However, the ocean doesn't like it when humans show hubris, and that day I got the smackdown—in the form of a fin to the face. As I was ready to go in, I made the rookie mistake of turning my back on a wave, only for it to tumble me tail-over-teakettle. Then I felt it; the slicing and sharp pain as the fin of the Wavestorm made contact with my face. I'd been hit by my board several times, but I could tell this time was different. I knew immediately that this one drew blood, and I felt with my tongue the gash that had sliced through my upper lip. 


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Not Optimum But Free: AK Winter in a Treehouse

    When it really comes down to it, a person heads to Alaska for adventure. I was no different in the fall of '95 when I found myself riding from Colorado to the farthest north U.S. state, The Last Frontier state, in a Jeep Cherokee held together with dental floss and duct tape. There were many firsts on that trip: Seeing a turquoise river fed by glaciers, drinking glacier water, gazing at the northern lights, freezing my butt off in a not-warm-enough-for Canada sleeping bag, roasting Dolly Vardens and spruce hens on the campfire. That trip was one of sensory overload, in a most amazing way. It was an auspicious start to my twelve years of adventure in the state one fifth the size of the contiguous United States—a state in which a googol of Big Islands could fit—one with glaciers as big as the state of Rhode Island.
     One experience that stands out is the winter I inhabited a treehouse built by acquaintances in the town of Girdwood. The only ski town in Alaska, good years saw a thousand inches of snow a year on the mountains of Alyeska, for which the eponymous resort is named. In all honesty, I ended up living in that treehouse because I didn't feel like paying rent at all, but I did feel like snowboarding a lot. You may be surprised to hear that I wasn't the only one with the same idea; there was a robust community of snow sport enthusiasts, a.k.a., "dirty hippies", living in the woods in the halcyon days of Alyeska Ski Resort, and we shared the bond of that experience for years after we all became respectable, regularly bathing members of society.
     Once I actually committed to that alternative living arrangement, I realized that I was in for one of the biggest challenges of my life. So was the little white pit bull I picked up along the way. She and I shivered away more than a few nights in front of our only heat source, a propane Mr. Heater. The toughest was when a cold snap of ten to twenty degrees below zero would grip the otherwise coastal climate for weeks. Those nights were the hardest, and I have to admit that on a few of them, my canine home-girl and I sought out the warm couches of friends' houses. Believe it or not though, I truly preferred spending time in my elevated cabin in the trees (though I'm not sure my short-haired dog did!), as I came to see the experience as a test of my hard-core mettle. There were times when I wondered if I could spend another day there; there were times when I would walk three miles home in the middle of the night because I wanted the spruce trees to sway me to sleep. 
     So many stories were born in that treehouse, more than one blog post could hold. I cultivated many things, the most important of which was confidence in myself to persevere through challenges. I'd come a long way from the sheltered Connecticut kid who thought roughing it was checking in to a less-than-clean hotel room. As a result, my outlook on life changed that winter. I realized that the world could be a beneficent place and that I could trust that things would work out, even if it seemed in the moment like they might not. The events of the winter of 1996 are imbedded in my memory and an integral part of my spirit, and I am more than grateful my path led me to that little treehouse in the big woods.

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