I’m a small town girl that has a bit of a gypsy soul, a wanderlust spirit, an adventurous streak, and an insatiable curiosity for the beautiful world we live in. I enjoy living in the moment, traveling the world, exploring my own backyard, and daydreaming.
2018 was an interesting year. It started with travels, moving to Alaska year round, a new job, and a new car. In the middle of the year it was filled with Hospitals, Doctors, and Auto Shops. At the end of the year it was a major Earthquake and thousands of Aftershocks. I needed a break. Regular life is stressful enough and then you add in many life changing events / major changes into one year. I feel as if I’ve lived multiple lifetimes in one year. It wasn’t the easiest year, though it could have been a lot worse.
I had always planned to travel home for the Holidays. Originally it was going to be for about 2 weeks. However, the airlines for some reason were having to constantly change my flight, cancel my flights, or overlap my layovers. Though I didn’t enjoy having to change my flight 4 times, cancel two of my flights, and reroute my flight to a different airport I am glad that it happened. I needed a break. A break from work, from Doctors and Hospitals, from Earthquakes and Aftershocks. I needed a break from Alaska and what my new normal had become. I guess someone was trying to tell me that I needed to take more time for myself…it just took me a few tries to figure that out. So I went home, back to Minnesota, where my parents are. I was there for a month and honestly, it is just what I needed.
Everyone kept asking before I left what my plans were for the month. I said absolutely nothing. I had no plans and it was glorious. Yes, I’ve seen some family, played a lot of board games, watched some football (I don’t actually care for football; however, my parents do), gone out and about a few times, and just overall have had a very relaxing two weeks. The most amount of time I have spent on my computer or phone during the Holidays was to spend a few minutes replying to work emails. I hardly even acknowledged my cell phone. If I’m home I leave it in a different room and don’t even pay attention to it. I check it once or twice a day and it’s on silent. If I’m out and about the phone comes with…if I remember it. Words cannot express how happy I was to not be constantly looking at a computer or phone. I missed this.
Mid January I came back to Alaska and as you can imagine the first order of business was to get back to work and see the Doctor for a 6 month check up on my leg. I still was having a lot of difficulty pointing my toes. After an X-Ray it was discovered that I happened to have an excess amount of scar tissue that has built up preventing me from moving the way I should be able to. So back to Physical Therapy and add in Massage Therapy. Yes, I finally had my first ever professional massage. She does a lot of cupping on my leg. It’s fascinating. I’ll be honest…I am disappointed in my lack of progress as I often feel like I have plateaued yet there are things I should be able to do that I physically can not and am still in pain.
Since I don’t like to do anything the normal way my Physical Therapist has become super creative and trying new ways to get my leg muscles and brain to work together. She told me that occasionally it can take two years for this to happen. Apparently 2019 didn’t get the memo that I planned on it being a non-medical year.
I was back in Alaska for two days and I noticed severe pain in my left thumb and finger. My finger even turned a dark purple color (occasionally super white) and stayed that way for almost 3 weeks before I finally went to the Doctor. I’m stubborn and figured that the color would go back to normal and the pain would go away. Long story short it took 4 different doctors a CT Scan, an ABI test (though instead of ankle it was my wrist), an Echocardiogram, and an X-ray to rule out blood clots and any other vascular and vein issues. It turns out I have an irregular form of Raynaud’s Disease, have tendonitis in my EPL, and a bone spur. So now I get to go to an occupational therapist as well.
My new brace for 6 -8 weeks.
Sometimes things happen for a reason, we may never know what that reason is; however that doesn’t change the fact that there was a reason. Maybe this year is trying to teach me patience, that everyone heals differently, and that sometimes all you can do is your exercises ad hope that someday your brain and leg muscles will work together.
I am grateful that I can walk unassisted and am able to get out and about more often. I’m also grateful for a job that allows me to take the time off that I need to get my body back on track with the 4 – 6 doctor appointments I have a week. And I hope that someday soon I don’t need to go to any appointments.
I may have said this back in 2015 to one of my closest friends; however, 2018 and 2019 are reteaching me that “No matter what path you take it won’t always be easy and sometimes you’ll doubt yourself. But life is both beautiful and brutal…most of it depends on your outlook. But easy it definitely is not. However, following your heart and doing what’s best for yourself always makes life a little sweeter.” – Haley 05/15
I chose Happiness, always happiness, even if I sometimes have a hard time finding it.
My next blog will be up in a few days and I’m excited to share what I’ve been up to since I’ve been back to Alaska and a fun adventure I have yet to complete.
Preparing for an emergency versus living thru one. I’ve always known in every state that I’ve lived what Mother Nature could do. Depending on the state you most likely have either, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes. Until you live thru one of Mother Nature’s natural disasters you aren’t always 100% sure how to prepare for them. I’ve been through all 4. Though each one is different, they all have a similarity. They are violent and you should have an emergency bag prepared. If nothing ever happens and you never need that emergency bag then that is wonderful. How horrible would it be if you are caught in one of the more violent Mother Nature’s Natural Disasters and you weren’t prepared?
I’ve been in Alaska on and off for 8 years. Yet, never did I think about how I should prepare for an earthquake. I knew the basics. Though I never really thought about it. I did know that if there is an earthquake you should get under a table or a desk, you should stay inside (unless you live in an area where you don’t have to worry about shrapnel from buildings/cars/electric wires won’t affect you), and the most stable part of your home is standing in the door frame (though not recommended). Beyond that…what? What would happen if once the ground stopped shaking if your home was in shambles, there was no electricity, no cell service, you couldn’t get to your vehicle, you couldn’t get to the the store, you were injured, all the radio stations were quiet? Really, what would you do? These are questions I never really seriously thought about. Sure I knew that there could be an end of the world scenario and I’d never be 100 percent prepared for that; however, what if it was a Natural Disaster and not the end of the world and I wasn’t prepared. I’ve been thru tornadoes/floods/mudslides/hurricanes; however, nothing prepared me for November 30, 2018 earthquake in Anchorage, AK. A large part of this was because it was the first natural disaster that I had to deal with by myself. I didn’t have the safety net I was used to having. This was also the first natural disaster that affected me directly and went on for days…not just minutes or hours. It was also the first time that I truly felt like I had no control.
Here’s my story: I was in my apartment getting ready for work. I was about to put on my shoes and leave when my apartment started making a lot of noise. It sounded like a train was coming through my apartment and then the shaking started. It wasn’t the first Earthquake I have felt; however, I quickly realized that this time was different. It was so incredibly loud and the shaking was much more violent. I felt like I was inside a snow globe being shaken. Since I’m still having trouble with moving due to a broken leg back in June, I couldn’t get under my table or desk (neither are very sturdy, so I’m not sure how much protection they could actually offer) and I couldn’t get far due to the shaking so the apartment hallway or outside was not an option. I wound up standing and bracing myself in one of my door frames. I’m not sure how long it lasted. Times seemed to slow down and so many thoughts were going thru my head. Mainly me asking God to make it stop. Those that were closer to the epicenter of the Earthquake shook longer than those that lived farther away. I kept hearing things rattle, shake, fall, and break. When it finally stopped shaking I headed to the kitchen to see the damage. Physically the building I live in was fine. However, there were some mugs and Izzie drinks that fell and broke. I cleaned the glass and wiped up the spilled drinks. Knowing I had to get to work I mainly cleaned up liquid. I would learn that this earthquake was a 7.0. Take a look at all the Alaska Earthquake 2018 videos on Youtube. Read the Anchorage Daily News to see some of the many news articles on the Earthquake and aftershocks. Or check out some of these Facebook Sites: Alaska Earthquake Center or Alaska Earthquake.
As I was doing this we got an Aftershock that was over a 5. Again I got into a door frame and wondered how long it would last and how much damage it would caused. Once that aftershock ended I headed out the door to work. Once I got there I learned that work was canceled and that we were all being sent home to check on the damages done to our own homes. I didn’t like the idea of heading back home…I was by myself. A friend happened to call and she decided she was going to come and meet me at my apartment. I sat in my car listening to the only radio station that was still in operation where I started learning about the damages and what to expect with aftershocks. Little did anyone realize that within the next 2 days we would experience almost 2,000 aftershocks. When my friend arrived we went out for coffee. We spent most the day together. However, at one point she had to go and check out her place. So I went home and ran a tub full of water and began boiling water on the stovetop. After a natural disaster rarely is water okay to drink. My boss texted me to remind me to boil water which I greatly appreciated. There is always the likelihood that if water wasn’t already shut off it easily could be. I boiled a few gallons of water, responded to friends and family across the world to let them know I was fine and I’d keep them updated. That night I was invited to stay the night at a friends apartment. At first I said no; however, I changed my mind for two reasons. One was because an earthquake was bad enough, however, all the aftershocks were unnerving and I didn’t want to be by myself. The other reason is that I’ve always heard that there is strength in numbers. So I headed over to her place. I’m glad I did.
I never took photos…I was a bit distracted and was more concerned on how the rest of Alaska was faring then documenting what I could see. The following day I headed back to my place. As I was driving it seemed that everyone was back to their normal lives. Within 72 hours all our roads were temporarily fixed. Overall I fared extremely well compared to a lot of people. The aftershocks were still going, however, they were shorter and it seemed like less were happening.
I’ve had a lot of experiences; however, this was one of the most terrifying. Earthquakes give no warnings, I was on my own with no one around, I had zero control over the outcome, it was unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and the aftershocks put my nerves on edge. It also got me thinking…how prepared am I really? The chances of another 7 in the near future isn’t very likely; however, it is possible. That first day I threw together some additional food and water into a bag. However, over the following days I began looking into how to prepare an emergency kit and what should be in them. You can buy some pre-made emergency bag…or you can put one together. I took a look at the Red Cross Website. I have a lot of the items already due to my hiking / camping / traveling adventures I have gone on. However, there were a few items I never thought of that I think are absolutely brilliant. 1. The hand crank / solar charging radio that recieves AM/FM/NOAA weather channels, a flashlight, flashing beacon, and phone charger all built into one. I like the idea that I can stay connected to the world and know what is going on, being able to have a light, a phone charger for quick calls that doesn’t need to be plugged into a wall when electricity goes out, and I don’t need to pack / replace batteries every few years. 2. Waterproof tinder. 3. A blanket/bivvy/sleeping bag that will keep you warm and dry and will reflect back 70 to 90% of your radiated body heat back to you.
Things every kit should have: A first aid kit, a multitool, food, water, blanket, radio, flashlight, change of clothes (warmer clothes), a poncho or rain jacket, a decent pair of shoes, a charger for your phone, and any other items you find important to surviving. Or you can split the times into two bags. I have a small/string backpack I can grab with the essentials and then a larger duffel type bag that has a few additional items. I store it nearby my door for easy access. Some put them in their vehicles. Throwing together an emergency bag in the middle of the emergency will most likely result in a panic, forgetting something, or not being able to access the items you would need. It’s also not a bad idea to put some of these items in your vehicle for winter travel and winter emergencies.
A person will never be completely ready for a Natural Disaster, especially one they have no warning about. However, being as prepared as possible will help ease your mind and nerves when an emergency happens.
A month later and Alaska is still rocking and rolling. Not as many aftershocks as the first few days; however, Mother Nature isn’t ready to let up quite yet. Scientists say it can last from a few months to a few years. Lets hope it’ll continue to let up and stop with the aftershocks here soon.
Lets be honest. Sometimes life is tough. These past few months have been just that. I went 14 weeks without any weight bearing. After a few weeks into physical therapy, using crutches to walk, and putting some weight on my leg I can now stand and walk without assistance. Its already started snowing and ice raining here. I’m not excited to battle the snow nor ice. As I continue to go thru this process, there are many things I had to learn and continue learning. I had to figure out how to do everything from getting around, climbing steps, doing normal everyday chores, getting back and forth to work. Even the simplest tasks that a physically normal person typically does not think about such as getting dressed, showering, cooking, carrying things from one room to the next, sitting comfortably, etc… had to be done differently. Since this was my first time breaking anything I wasn’t even sure what to ask my Doctors about. Some issues and the solutions that worked for me:
Using crutches. I was terrible at them. If you have ever spent time in Alaska you know that the sidewalks and streets in many places are uneven. I fell within the first 10 minutes of using them as I was trying to get off a curb to my car when leaving the Doctors office. Luckily I work at an amazing company, have amazing co-workers, and amazing friends who let me use their devices. My boss asked if I would want to borrow his knee scooter to get around. I instantly said yes. This was a life saver. The walker with a seat has also been a life saver. At one point in my apartment there were two scooters, three walkers (one with wheels, one without wheels, and one with a seat), a wheelchair, a plastic boot, a splint, and crutches. It seems excessive because it was. However, I wasn’t sure what would work best so I would test all of these out. I am very grateful that I have amazing people in my life that were willing and able to assist me with medical equipment.
The scooter my boss borrowed to me was to heavy for me to lift in and out of my car when I was only able to put weight on one leg. Which meant that if someone wasn’t around I couldn’t take the scooter with me. So I left the scooter at work. Since I was bad at crutches as well I oftentimes would use the walker without wheels and hoped around in my apartment or getting back and forth to my car. The four legs of a walker offered more stability than the two legs of the crutches. Eventually I purchased a smaller scooter that was about 20lbs and could fold up small enough to fit in the overhead bins of a plane so that I could get around easier, on my own, and lift it in and out of my car. I got it from KneeRover.com. It was their smallest and most lightweight scooter.
How to get around. The first couple of weeks often times my co-workers, friends, and my Mom (who came up for my surgery) drove me around. It was easier. Occasionally I used uber. However, after I had the situation with the uber driver who wouldn’t pick me up due to my scooter, I was uncomfortable attempting that again. Once I got the light weight scooter I almost always drove myself back and forth to work. If I was going farther then 10 or 15 minutes from my apartment friends would drive.
How to be comfortable at work. This one took quite a while to figure out. I was instructed to keep my leg elevated and iced for the first few weeks. At first I just used a chair to prop my leg up, then I used some couch pillows, then I used a combination. Eventually I ended up with a bed pillow on top of a wedge pillow which was on top of a plastic bin. I used bags of frozen peas / corn and would rotate them in and out of the freezer.
Sitting differently in my work chair was causing bed sores. I couldn’t sit still. Not only was my leg in pain, now my entire body was uncomfortable and in pain. A friend came up with the solution of a blow up donut pillow. It worked wonders. There are two different types that I used. Both are super inexpensive. The first one a friend bought and I used that one the longest. However, I blew it up too large one day and when I sat on it, the pillow got a rip in the seam and deflated. The second one (same type) ended up with a leak as well. The last one I had was made of more durable material and though I’m no longer using it, it is still useable and has no leaks.
Both were Carex.
This one is my favorite.
I went thru two of these.
Climbing up the steps into my apartment. My Doctors suggestion was to sit down and go up backwards and everywhere online I looked said the same thing. I would have to then wedge myself into a corner and crab walk backwards up the wall to get back into an upright position. Luckily had some very wide steps so eventually a friend gave me a metal folding chair that I could put on the step, I’d sit down, turn around, stand up, drag the chair up to the next step, and continue. This was so much easier. It also meant I could sit and take a moment or two when I was going from my car into my apartment with crutches or my walker.
How to do laundry…get a super light weight folding hamper, once it is a quarter full drag it to the washing machine. Any fuller and I’d tip over.
Cooking food. I didn’t do much of this the first month after having my leg injury. I didn’t have the strength nor the energy. It was friends bringing me food, ordering delivery, or making easy meals. Easy meals are salads, cold sandwiches, cottage cheese and fruit, or food you can throw into the oven that requires no seasoning, mixing, blending, cutting, peeling, etc… Once I had more energy, I’d pull up a stool and sit on that while I cooked.
Grocery shopping. Did you know that you can order groceries online and then delivered either to your apartment / house or delivered to your car. We currently don’t have a grocery store that delivers it to your home; however, if you go to the parking lot they will bring the groceries out and put them in your car. Of course I still needed someone to help haul my groceries into my place. There has only been one time where I was left hauling in groceries myself and lets just say I looked like a homeless bag lady. It took me an hour to haul them from my car to the inside of my apartment as the extra weight of the walker combined with the bags meant I couldn’t pull it up onto my stairs. I will not be doing that again.
Carrying things when I don’t have two hands I can use. What saved me was a backpack, containers with lids, beverages in reusable bottles. A basket on a scooter would be good; however mine didn’t come with one and I didn’t want something so big. I wound up with a fanny pack that had cupholders in it that was designed to hook onto my scooter. It could carry other small items so I didn’t have to constantly take off my backpack when I needed my keys or wallet.
Obstacles. Set up your living space to accommodate you and your new needs. This may mean moving everything out of the way. Or it may mean setting up your apartment to have everything where you need it to be. In my case it was setting up a corner just for me. A corner that had everything I needed from medication, extra bottles of water, my computer, chargers already plugged in, a sweatshirt, some snacks, blanket, pillow, garbage can, and fan.
Purchase frozen peas and corn to use as an ice pack. Find a decent ice wrap such as a pillow case that you can put the frozen bag of veggies in and use an ace bandage wrap so you don’t have to wrap a towel around your leg. You don’t want the bag of frozen veggies directly on your splint as you aren’t supposed to get your splint wet. Some will use ice cubes or ice packs. However, I wanted something that was flexible enough to go around and not just sit awkwardly on my injury. I also bought multiple bags of peas / corn as I wanted to make sure I never had to wait for one to freeze as the other was being used.
Cleaning is hard. I didn’t do much cleaning the last three months. I am now debating about hiring a cleaning service for a one time cleaning. To put it into perspective I cleaned out my refrigerator the other day including taking out the shelves. It took me two hours. Not because it was messy, I only had about 6 items in my fridge, but because I couldn’t stand on two legs.
Taking a shower. Standing wasn’t an option, neither was sitting on the bottom of the tub. I struggled getting up from a seated position on the ground without having handicap rails. Combine that with a wet tub and not being able to get my splint wet meant I couldn’t pull myself into a standing position. Solution was a handicap seat that a friend brought to my house and put together. The hospital did give me a plastic wrap to put over my splint to make sure it didn’t get wet; however, with the pain I was in and the small size of the opening I couldn’t get my leg into the protected bag. So at first I would use three garbage bags and duct tape around my leg. Somehow the water would still get thru the first two bags. Eventually I figured out that I could just prop my leg on the side of the tub and cover it with the shower curtain to keep it away from the water. This worked way better. Did you know that some American Legions in the United States allow you to check out items to use for free as long as you return them? I didn’t know it at the time. However, it worked great when I headed back home for a visit. If you ever find yourself injured and needing crutches, a walker, a raised toilet seat, a shower seat, etc… give your local American Legion a call. They are a life saver.
Brushing my teeth and putting on makeup. I brushed my teeth in the kitchen for a month. It was just easier. And I didn’t put on makeup for almost two months. It again was easier as it already took me two times longer to get ready in the morning. As my arms and legs got stronger I was able to stand one legged in my bathroom and get ready.
Getting dressed. This one was a struggle. I couldn’t bend my leg and foot the way I needed to which meant putting on pants was near impossible. I had one pair of work pants that could fit over my splint. I had that pair on when I went to the doctors. They wound up taking off one splint and putting on a new one on. The new one was lighter weight; however, it was also larger. I couldn’t get my pants off that day. I had a friend over and she tried assisting me with my pants. We wound up cutting my pants off. I was laughing and crying at this. A friend and my Mom went out and purchased some larger legged pants, skirts, and shorts for me.
Go to Physical Therapy. Physical Therapy is often times an option the Doctor suggests. Do yourself and your body a favor and go. Some people believe that they don’t need the therapy. However, a person can always learn something new. Before I started therapy I couldn’t bear weight, I couldn’t walk correctly, and I could hardly move my ankle. I still have a long ways to go; however, I’m lightyears from where I was a few weeks ago.
Be patient. Being a doctor is basically being a practitioner of medicine…aka practice of medicine. They are learning as they go. I’m basically the exact opposite of what my Physical Therapists have seen. I’ve got a whole team working with me. We have discovered that what comes easy for me is hard for most and what’s hard for me is easy for others. They have done research and have come up empty handed. So we’ve had to get creative.
Do your research, ask questions, make suggestions. Work as a team. Don’t expect them to have all the answers. It may be frustrating; however, life isn’t made to be easy.
Again, I’m not sure how I would have managed without the love and support of my friends, family, and co-workers. So many people went out of their way to help me. 6 months later and I’m still needing assistance with certain things. I don’t enjoy asking for help; however, I’m getting better at realizing that it’s okay to ask for help or accept the help people are willing to to give you. Suck up your pride. Someday you may be able to return the favor.
I had decided early in the summer that in September I wanted to head home. At the time I made this decision I was not ADA nor did I have a broken leg. Since I didn’t book my ticket immediately and then I broke my leg I had to wait until I got the all clear from my Doctor to travel.
Normally I don’t book first class. Actually with all the flying I’ve done, I’ve only ever flied first class one other time; however, this time I decided to fly first class for my own comfort. I was going to be on a flight for almost 6 hours and I wanted to make sure that I would be as comfortable as possible with a broken leg. I was going to be non-weight bearing and considered an ADA guest so I had to do some research. I’ve never traveled with a knee scooter and I didn’t know what the rules and regulations are for those of us that cannot walk thru a scanner.
A co-worker suggested that I request a wheelchair. So I looked into it and I have to say that there are resources out there for all of us. We just have to do some research to find them. I started by looking at the airline and at the ticket I had already booked and then at TSA. Since the airline and TSA are considered two completely different entities and I’d have to deal with both I figured that the more I knew the better off I’d be. You can go online and request wheelchair assistance thru your airline or you can give them a call. I did both. (It never hurts to double check).
Online it will ask you if you don’t need any assistance (as in you need a wheelchair; however, you can walk stairs and jetways), assistance needed (cannot walk stairs nor jetways; however, can walk the aisle of the airplane), or if you are fully immobile…(as in you need assistance with the jetways, stairs, getting thru the aisle of the plane, and getting into your seat). I decided that I was fully immobile. I do happen to have a knee scooter that I can fold up and fit in the overhead bin of the plane; however, I didn’t want to ride my scooter thru the entire airport. At this point in time I still didn’t have the stamina to make it thru an airport. I also wasn’t going to carry both my scooter and my crutches which also meant I wouldn’t be able to get thru the aisle of the airplane on my own.
In the email confirmation it stated someone would give me a call within a week or two to learn more information. I never received a phone call so a week before my flight I decided to call the airline and reconfirm my request for the wheelchair. As I’d be traveling on my own and I’d need someone to push me. Though you can request a wheelchair once at the airport I wanted to be as efficient as possible. I’m glad I called as I truly believe it made the entire trip more seamless.
I then looked up the TSA Website to see what I should do if I could not walk thru the scanners. I quickly learned that I could call a number and talk to a representative of TSA. I did that immediately. The TSA representative was again amazingly helpful. She asked me quite a few questions. Everything from my flight pattern to my mobility issues. She then informed me that she would send a confirmation email to me with my requests and have a TSA Agent call me before my flight as I wouldn’t be able to walk into or thru any scanners. I received a phone call from a TSA Agent the day before my flight basically telling me to give her a call or text once I arrived at the airport the next day.
Two of my friends took me to the airport. It was great. This meant that they could drop me off right at the door, I could wheel in on my scooter while a friend walked me to the check-in counter and took care of my suitcase. The other person had to stay with the car. I texted the TSA Agent to let her know we were there, I checked in, my friends left, and I had notified the Check-In Agent that I had requested a wheelchair.
While I waited for the wheel chair to show up I took apart my scooter so that I could carry it in my lap and it could go on the conveyer belt to be scanned. I could have checked my scooter as a piece of luggage or I could have packed it into my suitcase; however, if my scooter went missing in transit I had no way of getting around. I wasn’t willing to take that chance. The TSA Agent showed up and explained the process of my pat down. The TSA Agent was wonderful. A representative from my airline showed up shortly with the wheelchair and the three of us headed thru security. I carried my scooter in my lap (it’s about 20 lbs).
My scooter and backpack went thru the scanners and I bypassed the x-ray and body scanners. They did an extremely thorough pat down and check on both me and the wheelchair. Then the Airline Representative took me the rest of the way as the TSA Agent returned to her job. Since I was a wheelchair user I would be one of the first people to load and the last person to offload the plane. That was fine with me. They wheeled me down the jetway and then I transferred to a more narrow wheelchair that can fit down the aisle of the plane. It had a ton of buckles on it and was a hassle for the airline representatives and flight attendants. They asked if I would need the wheelchair to get to the restroom while we were inflight. I said no. I was in the front row a few hops from the restroom so I figured I could manage. They had already done more than enough to assist me.
I keep wondering how challenging it would have been had I not checked into wheelchair accessibility prior to departing for my flight. Since I had requested a wheelchair the airline and the TSA was ready for me. Without requesting a wheelchair and waiting until I got to the airport may have meant that I would have to wait longer and the airline wasn’t prepared for my needs. I’m glad I didn’t go that route.
I’m glad I was in the front row as I did need to use the restroom. (I originally booked a different first class seat; however, when I called the Airline Representative looked up the type of plane I was in and informed me that row one would be a better option with more room for my leg.) I waited until the seatbelt sign was off, informed the flight attendant that I needed the restroom (I figured she should know in case there was turbulence that I was going to hop around), and then hopped to the restroom. She stood nearby in case I needed an arm. When I arrived in Minneapolis I waited until everyone was off the plane. I then waited for the little narrow aisle wheelchair to wheel me out where I met another airline representative who would take me to baggage claim. As soon as I was at baggage claim he said goodbye as he had other guests to assist. Besides my Mom was there waiting for me and she could help with my suitcase.
Overall it was seamless. On the flight back it went very much the same way. When we got back to Anchorage; however, I decided that I didn’t want to deal with waiting for a wheelchair. So I had a Flight Attendant grab my scooter from the overhead compartment and then I put it back together and scooted down the aisle of the plane and continued to baggage claim where a friend was waiting to assist me with a ride back to my place.
The next time I flew I was mobile in the fact that I could walk with one crutch. I still went online and requested a wheelchair (and followed up with a phone call) as I couldn’t walk very far nor very fast and could not do stairs. I also contacted TSA again to let them know about my mobility though this time I could walk thru the scanner. This time I was flying with a different airline; however, the process was pretty much exactly the same as the last time I had flown and requested a wheelchair. Since I could walk thru the scanner by hobbling they handed me a wooden cane as my crutch couldn’t go with me. Once in the body scanner I handed the cane off to the TSA Agent. Once done with the scanner I used the wooden cane again to get back to my wheelchair. We retrieved my crutch from the x-ray scanner. In some airports they do have motorized ADA Carts that airport employees drive around those of us without wheelchairs that have low mobility. I stuck with the wheelchair. Once at the Gate I would transfer to a regular seat so that the airline representative could take my wheelchair. I would then notify the Gate Agent that I would need early boarding. I walked down the jetway and aisle with my crutch. The crutch fit in the overhead bins.
I had an overnight layover in Seattle which I had booked a hotel for. In my mobility state I did not want to spend an uncomfortable night at the airport. When we arrived in Seattle the entire airport was backed up due to bad weather and construction. This meant we were not actually at a Gate. We were to offload outside in the rain by walking down stairs and then find our way inside. I still couldn’t do steps at this point. They offloaded me using a lift from their food truck thru the back of the airplane. When the lift got me back to the pavement there was a wheelchair waiting outside for me.
If I had not contacted the airline prior to me arriving the airport the airline would not have been prepared to accommodate my situation so efficiently. Here is why: Since I had made the effort and took the time to contact the airline prior to my flight they knew I couldn’t do stairs and that I would need extra assistance. Because the airline knew this they had already made accommodations for me without me knowing. This was wonderful. The other 3 people who had been pushed by family members in wheelchairs and hadn’t requested a wheelchair before they arrived at the airport didn’t have the same opportunity as me. This was because the airline wasn’t notified and therefore the flight attendants weren’t notified and didn’t know if or who picked up wheelchairs once they arrived at the airport. These folks tend to request a wheelchair once back inside the airport from the Desk Agent. The other 3 seemed able to do stairs and managed okay. However, they could have avoided this if they had taken the time to notify the airline of the wheelchair request before their flight. Letting the airline know that they needed a wheelchair, could walk on their own, and didn’t need a representative to push them would have assisted in making their flight smoother. Yes, it takes a bit more work prior to flying; however, it is worth it.
I would highly recommend anyone with mobility issues that will be using any kind of mobility device to look at the TSA website and your airlines website. They want to help you…so help them help you. They don’t read minds and assuming that the airline can accommodate you last minute isn’t as easy as many people think it is. Make it easier for them to be prepared by giving them a heads up. Again help them help you.
The next time I go thru the airport I will be walking on my own two feet. Slowly, but surely. With how close some of my layovers are I may have to see if there is some way such as a cart to get me from one end of the airport to the other. I don’t want to miss my flight because I can’t walk fast.
Find what you are passionate about. It will make you a lot happier. A part of what makes me happy is volunteering and supporting organizations that do good in this world. I also love supporting friends whether they are reaching for their dreams or taking part in an activity that makes them happy.
I had an opportunity to partake in Bird TLC’s Annual Auction Fundraiser “For the Birds.” I have a co-worker that volunteers with them and I went to support the birds and him. I always enjoy cheering on friends with whatever their endeavors may be. It was a fun evening of learning, meeting birds, friends, food, and a silent and live auction. I didn’t end up biding on anything; however, I really enjoyed seeing people step up to the plate and support what they are passionate about. I’m pretty sure that eventually I’ll attend a bird rehabilitation releases. Due to donations, memberships, and their auctions they were able to build and open their brand new Bird Treatment and Learning Center. The Grand Opening was today.
Beans Cafe / The Children’s Lunchbox helps in feeding our hungry and our homeless. They provide breakfast and lunch to anyone every day of the year free of charge. They also provide 3 meals to each and every child under the age of 18 to local community programs that serve children and to eight Title 1 schools in Anchorage. Besides feeding the hungry and homeless they also provide many other services such as finding housing, jobs, etc… It’s an amazing organization that does everything they can to assist those in need in our community. Every year they have their Empty Bowl Project where 100’s of artists throughout Anchorage donate bowls they have made. Anyone can then attend the event and purchase a bowl and eat as much soup as they would like. It’s a good meal for a good cause.
It seems that in Alaska there is a never ending opportunity to see live music. When a friend mentioned that one of the Denali Cooks singer / musicians, Larry was performing at the Whale’s Tail I decided to go. I’m so incredibly glad that I did. It turns out that he brought a fellow singer / musician with him. Kayti Heller is an amazing singer. She is a music teacher in the Mat-Su Valley. We somehow ended up sitting at the same table and she is an absolute delight. I wish her the best in following her dreams. She is currently making her first ever CD. I’m so excited for her. She just released her first single and I love it. Take a listen.
Kayti and Larry
A good friend of mine, Julie takes part in the 3 Day 60 Mile Susan G. Komen Walk to help raise funds to assist in finding a cure for Breast Cancer. She is absolutely amazing. She has already walked over 1,020 miles in …. walks. Head over to her fundraising page and help support an amazing cause by donating to her walk in New England. Or you can go to the Donate page and type in her name: Julie Jokinen. Her goal in 2019 is to walk all 7 Susan G. Komen walks. That’s over $15,000 of fundraising and 420 miles. Her goal is to walk until cancer is gone.
Brooke is another friend who has found her passion. Hers is pole dancing. It’s a great way to exercise. When she told me she was part of a showcase performance I went to support her. Take a look at the skills she has. She just placed 3rd in her category at a Pole Festival in Vancouver. So proud of her.
Kait is amazing and has spent the past three years volunteering her time to the American Red Cross. The photo below is the two of us taking part in an American Red Cross Event to thank the volunteers. I even had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with the Chief Executive Officer of Alaska for the American Red Cross. I can honestly say that he is a wonderful human being and they couldn’t have hired a better person for the job. Not only do they do amazing things globally, they also do locally as well. You can become CPR Certified through the Red Cross. It means that someday you may be able to save someone else’s life. Pretty Amazing.
I have so many friends that have amazing talents and skills. These are just a few of the amazing people I have in my life here in Alaska.
Surgery would happen a few weeks after I broke my leg. We had to wait for the swelling and bruising to go down. The more swelling there is during the surgery the more likely there is to be an infection. And no one wants to deal with that. The first month and a half were definitely the toughest part of this journey. I was living the life of a couch potato; however, it’s not my dream. It’s not easy working full time, being in pain, unable to do the simplest of tasks, and going from sitting at work to sitting at home. I missed 7 days of work total between the day I broke my leg until now. This was my first broken bone and major surgery. It wasn’t easy; however, I figured I could sit at home and do nothing or I could sit at work and try to be productive. Looking back I probably should have given myself a few more days off. However, I am a bit stubborn if you couldn’t tell, I don’t like to ask for help (even when I need it), and like to think I can do everything on my own. That being said, I cannot thank my Mom, family, friends, and co-workers enough for all the help they have given me throughout this adventure.
During surgery I had multiple screws and a plate put into my leg. I never had a hard cast. It was always some type of splint. All I remember from surgery is waking up to nurses telling me to breathe. Apparently I kept forgetting to breathe which sometimes happens when people are waking up from anthestia. I don’t do well with medication so after I got to the point where I was fully awake and breathing correctly, I got extremely sick and threw up multiple times. Every time I got up for the first few days I felt like my leg was being ripped open at the seams. Those first days were not fun. I rarely got up and when I did I was being shuttled by wheelchair. There would be more challenges as this journey continued.
Ten screws and a plate.
As splints got bigger I had to get clothes that could fit over it. Hence a skirt.
Eventually it was time for my stitches to come out. Everyone told me that this would be the easiest part. It was actually the hardest. As the first stitch that was pulled out I screamed and then burst into tears. When the Physician’s Assistant asked how much pain I was in from a level 0 to 10. I was at a 10 for the first time in my life. It was truly the most painful experience of my life …and I have had some major health issues throughout my life. They only got 2 and a half stitches out that day. It was the most excruciating piercing pain I had ever felt. I was told that the hospital was not in the business of torturing people so she sent me home. Told me to make sure I took a painkiller and put me on another medication that would hopefully numb down my nerves. My leg felt like it was on fire and my whole body was in a lot of pain. I took that medication and when I came back a few days later to get the rest of the stitches out I was still in a lot of pain. There were tears; however, no screaming. It was a relief when all of the stitches were out. The half stitch is still stuck in my leg and will eventually work it’s way out. I’m not sure what that means so I keep looking at my leg expecting to see a part of a stitch. I was put into a new type of removable splint and told I could let my leg go into the shower; however, I could not soak it. So I would shower with my leg propped up outside of the shower and the last few minutes I’d let my leg into the shower and gently wash it.
Only 2 1/2 stitches were pulled.
I switched to a scooter shortly after I broke my leg. I didn’t feel safe nor comfortable using my crutches. I couldn’t carry anything, do my dishes, cook food, etc… The scooter made it easier for me to go further, safer, and easier to carry stuff. There were a few unexpected issues.
The Scooter my Boss let me borrow.
The 20 lb Scooter I bought that can fold up small enough to be an airplane carry on.
The first month I fell a lot. I even fell the first day I had my crutches. I was unsure how to use them to get off of a curb. I was actually unsure how to use them at all. I would find out later that they weren’t adjusted correctly. I actually fell multiple times. Everyone who has spent time in Alaska knows how uneven the sidewalks and roads are. I even fell when I switched to a scooter. One time I fell while in the bathroom. I landed on the floor and all my summer roommates came running. I told them I was fine and sat on the floor and cried. I cannot remember how many times I fell or accidentally stepped down on my leg. The last time I fell was while I was trying to go down my stairs. My scooter landed quite a ways away from me as you can see. I had to scoot down on my behind, drag my scooter closer to one of the parking posts and pull myself up. I couldn’t figure out why my balance seemed to be so bad. So I re-looked up the side effects of the medication I was on and sure enough the main side effects are unsteadiness, dizziness, uncoordinated jerky movements. Medications and I don’t mix well. My Doctor told me I could go off the medication when I felt like I was ready. I stopped cold turkey that day.
Though I had a rough few weeks I was still able to look at the bright side of things. I am very happy that I only broke one leg and that it was my left leg, that I was able to hobble to my car on it, that I have summer roommates that have been understanding, that my Mom came up for my surgery, that I’m still able to drive, and that I have amazing friends that go out of their way to assist me. I am happy that there are such things as handicap railings in public restrooms, that many places have ramps, and that someone invented a knee scooter. It definitely wasn’t easy and there were times when I was frustrated; however I realized right away that I had two choices. I could be happy and hopeful or be angry and frustrated. I went with happy and hopeful as the other option isn’t helpful.
There were two events that still bother me about this journey. While using my knee scooter I headed over to Walmart to buy a specific item. As I came in thru the front door I was stopped by one of their greeters telling me I couldn’t come in with a backpack. I figured no problem and I put it into the lockers. Then he stopped me again mentioning that I couldn’t come in with my scooter. I told him that I only needed one item and I couldn’t put any weight on my leg (he could see my splint and I have a handicap pass). He repeated himself. I asked him how I was going to get around and he pointed to the electric scooter. I didn’t want to use that as I knew it would take me longer to get my item and I wasn’t sure what to do with my knee scooter if I was going to use an electric scooter. However, not seeing a way around I asked him if he could bring the eletric scooter out to my car so that I could ride it into the store. He looked at me like I was crazy so I asked him how he suggested I get from my car back to the store without using my scooter. He told me to use the electric scooter and he would watch my scooter. I didn’t like that; however, he didn’t give me another option. In hindsight I should have asked for a manage; however, I was so dumbfounded that I didn’t know what to do. So I left my scooter with the employee and took the electronic one to grab my item. I would have left however, I needed the item I was searching for. When I came back he was no where near my scooter. Anyone could have grabbed and left with it. I was frustrated. The scooter wasn’t cheap and it was truly the most efficient and safe way for me to get around. If my scooter wasn’t there when I got back I wouldn’t have been able to get to my car nor back into my apartment where my crutches were. He came around the corner with a big smile, decided to show me his scar from having a broken leg, and then tried to lift my scooter and put it in the electric scooters basket and told me I could take the scooter to my car. I said no thanks as I was already frustrated, I didn’t like the fact that he suddenly thought he had a solution to my issue, and was manhandling my scooter. It took me a few months before I could get myself to go back.
The other event involves using Uber. I am always outside when I submit a request for an Uber as I don’t want to miss my ride. This particular day the Uber driver showed up, rolled down his window, said my name. I said yes, and then he drove off, canceled my ride, and I was charged. The reason it stated as to why I was charged was that he had arrived, waited five minutes for me, and that I didn’t show up so he canceled my ride. The thing is that from the time I submitted the request for the uber to the time that he canceled the ride wasn’t even 5 minutes. I can only assume that since he had a brand new car and I had a small scooter he had no interest in picking me up. Another Uber driver was there dropping off a customer and saw what happened. He pulled up and asked if that was an Uber driver. I said yes, he told me to submit another request for an Uber driver and he’d accept (I’m assuming he wanted me to know he wasn’t just some creep). So I did. He informed me that I should submit a complaint to Uber and ask for my money back. I did and Uber was wonderful and refunded me. Needless to say there are good people and bad people in every job. I still think Uber does a wonderful job…however, because of one awful driver I tend to take Taxi’s instead.
These two situations happened within two weeks of each other. Both were disheartening. I’m not trying to inconvenience anyone. I’m just trying to live my life to the best of my ability. I can only imagine what it is like for someone who is permanently disabled whether it be physically or mentally. I have a much larger respect for anyone with disabilities and a better understanding of what they deal with constantly. It’s been a long and painful journey.
After 3 1/2 months I was finally able to put some weight on my leg. I realized I couldn’t actually put my full weight on my leg and I couldn’t hardly move my ankle, I was still quite swollen, I had muscle atrophy (deterioration of muscles due to not using them), and lots of pain. For the first few weeks after starting Physical Therapy I felt like I was getting a bit stronger, having less pain, and my ankle was getting more and more flexible. However, I feel as if I still have a long ways to go and that I have plateaued. Though that is probably normal. When I started Physical Therapy I began using my crutches to get around with some weight bearing and a walker when I needed to carry stuff (such as dinner from the kitchen to the table). Eventually I worked my way to one crutch.
I will never do this again.
For the past week I’ve been walking without crutches. It’s a skating rink outside and my leg is not stable enough to handle that real well. I have metal spikes on the bottom of a cane that I occasionally use outside when it’s icy. If it’s not icy out I don’t touch it. I also bought some new shoes from Skinny Raven. It’s an amazing store that has personalized service. They do shoe fittings, test your stride, etc… to help you find the right shoe for you. The shoes that I was told to try out are called Ice Bugs. (You can get them at REI as well). They have metal cleats on the bottom. I put them on outside and take them off before I enter into a building, (which means I always have to carry a second pair of shoes with me). The nurse and Doctors suggested I do this for my safety. They said it would take a year for my leg to completely heal. For each day I didn’t use my leg it would take three days to get back the strength and muscle tone. So 3 1/2 months of not using my leg equals 10 1/2 months of working on it to get it better. I don’t walk normally quite yet. I’m still very slow, have a gait that is a bit off, am slightly unbalanced, cannot go down stairs without adapting how I walk, and am still in pain. I’m basically still a work in progress. My ankle and foot is still swollen and when I walk on it for longer periods of time it swells up like an elephant. It’s now 21 weeks (just over 5 months) since I broke my leg and am in week 7 of Physical Therapy. I will say the Doctors and Physical Therapists I am working with are the friendliest and most helpful Team I have ever worked with.
Left foot (gets angry when I walk on it. It reminds me of an elephant).
Right foot (normal size)
This journey will continue for the rest of my life; however, my leg should be fully healed in a year. My left leg will never be my good leg. On the bright side I’ve gotten a lot better, I hope that eventually all the pain will go away, that the swelling will continue to go down, and that I’ll be able to walk like a normal person again.
Life changes in an instant, it’s a moment in time that cannot be undone.
In June a roommate and I both happened to have the same evening and next day off. We decided to go glamping. In my world that means fancy camping. We found Alpenglow Luxury Camping where we could see Matanuska Glacier and camp out in some tents. These tents were amazing and had real beds in them. Life cannot get better than that. Take a look at the amazing views. There are only three tents so getting a group of friends together to rent out the entire place would be the way to go. We enjoyed the evening on our porch chairs, watching and listening to the rain. There is a little shed / building where our included breakfast was, running water, board games, some plug-ins if we needed them, a fire pit, and a cedar hot tub to use. There is also an outhouse and some flushing toilets if you want to go for a little stroll. In the land of the midnight sun this was a fantastic adventure.
The next day we took my car down a winding road to get to the entrance of Matanuska Glacier. It’s on private land so you have to pay a fee and sign a waiver. A waiver that states you are entering at your own risk and that you understand that if you get injured you cannot blame them. Makes sense to me. I’m choosing to hike on a glacier. I can’t blame anyone but myself if something happens.
We had our Kahtoola’s, basically micro-spikes that hook onto your hiking shoes / boots. We walked the first portion of the trail without our spikes as it wasn’t slippery enough and we had to walk over metal grates and planks of wood. Once the grates and planks ended and it got fairly icy we put on our micro spikes and continued following the orange cones that marked the one mile trail. At the end of the cones we decided to continue on for a while navigating our own path. Sometimes I was leading and other othertimes my roommate was leading. We both had the proper gear and both of us have been on glaciers before. We had to turn around a couple of times and navigated what we believed would be the easiest route. At one point I thought heading down a chunk of sloping ice about 3 feet was our best plan of action. It turns out it wasn’t.
What happened next I can only describe as happening in slow motion. What I know is that I was trying to head down a chunk of ice. My micro spikes somehow got wedged in a small crack. I tried to squat down to unwedge my body was sliding down the chunk of ice. However, I couldn’t stop my momentum until I had rolled over the top of my leg. I could feel it twisting and had instant pain. I rolled completely over it. I had to reach behind me, grab my leg, and pull to undwedge it. My roommate immediately asked if I was okay. I told her no and that I needed a moment before I could stand. My first train of thought was that there was no way I was going to have her call for help (there were phone numbers and names listed on the cones) and they send a helicopter to rescue me. I didn’t want to pay for a helicopter nor did I want to have a helicopter rescue me and the medics tell me that it was just a bad sprain. My second train of thought was if I can stand, I can walk. It took me a while to stand up from the puddle I was sitting in. I was able to stand and slowly hobble off the glacier. Apparently my whole body was shaking with the exertion, adrenalin, and pain. I hobbled back a mile and a half to my car. It took a few hours since I couldn’t walk my normal pace. Sometimes I looked like a baby bird learning to fly as I flailed my arms to keep my balance. She thought I looked like a toddler learning to walk. We realized quickly that every step was painful; however, I could walk uphill (it was the easiest), flat was not fun, and it was near impossible to go downhill. This means that I sat at every downhill and scooted on my butt. My pants were soaked, I looked and felt like a wreak. Other hikers noticed and tried to assist. However, I could only trust my own body weight, pain level, and balance so I usually thanked them and said I’d be okay. Occasionally I’d take an arm.
I’m not sure I would have gotten out of that situation without Debbie keeping me laughing. She told me stories, would walk ahead of me to check the route and find the smoothest one possible, and had so much patience. I felt horrible as I realized that I ruined my roommates adventure and I didn’t want her memory of hiking with me on a glacier to be a negative one. At the end of the day, we had a wonderful adventure. Minus the pain I enjoyed the hike back. As you can tell by the last photo we took that day, that we still enjoyed ourselves.
I asked Debbie to drive my car back to Anchorage. Even though it was my left leg I didn’t feel like I could or should be driving. I asked her to stop up above so I could change into my sweat pants as I didn’t want to ride to Anchorage in wet pants. I did take off my boot for a few seconds so that I could change my pants. I did it as quickly as possible as I knew that keeping my boot on was important as it was holding my leg safety together. It was quite painful taking my boot off and putting it back on. I of course made her drive me home as I was still deciding whether or not I wanted to go to the doctor. I kept hoping it was just a sprain. I wasn’t sure if it was all in my head and I was exaggerating the pain.
Eventually Debbie said I should go to the Doctor just to be on the safe side. I was taken into the hospital room and took off my boot. It wasn’t actually all that swollen or bruised. The nurse said that it didn’t look terrible and that the doctor would take a look at it and determine if I needed X-rays. The Doctor came in and felt all around my ankle and leg and decided that I needed some x-rays. She mentioned that only one side of my ankle should hurt if it was a sprain. She was concerned it was broken. The nurse came back in and took the X-rays. She told me that she normally cannot tell if a leg is broken or not. She said the doctor usually has to outline where the break is for her. I could tell by the way she was speaking that mine was broken. So I asked. She showed me the x-rays and said “Yours is definitely broken. I have no idea how you walked off that glacier on your own.” That boot is really the only thing that held that bone somewhat inside.
It turns out that I broke my leg in multiple locations. After looking at my X-Ray and listening to the Doctor I originally thought it was just one break; however, it turns out I was wrong. It also turns out that I tore some ligaments. I sometimes wonder how much extra damage I did hiking a mile and a half back on it. Though no one can say for sure if I did. My ankle was wrapped, I received a pair of crutches, and was told that I would need to see a specialist the next day. That Doctor would determine what the best course of action for me would be. Not exactly the news I was hoping for. I’m so happy that I had Debbie with me. She not only drove me to the Doctors, she also drove me to get medication, frozen peas, and some dinner. I called work to inform them what was going on and that I would be late coming into work the next day. I was told to take the whole day off. So I did.
The next day I seen a specialist who informed me that I would need to have surgery. The broken leg would heal and so would the ligaments…they just wouldn’t heal right without surgery. They put a splint on my leg, which made my leg feel instantly better as it could no longer flop around as I didn’t have any real control over my leg. The Doctor informed me that he could actually twist and turn my leg / ankle any direction and have little to no resistance. It was a bad break…I just didn’t realize how bad it was when it happened. We then set a date for the surgery.
ACE Bandage. I’ve got a bag of peas wrapped around my ankle to ice it. As suggested by the Doctor.
This would be the beginning of a long journey. One I’m still on.
It’s gonna be May…or at least it was April…then May.
One of my coworkers and friends invited me to head to Seward for an overnight adventure. Seward is on the Kenai peninsula which is also known as Alaskan’s playground. 4 girls and a dog piled into a car and headed south for the night. We got to Seward fairly late in the night. We grabbed some dinner and headed out to our dry cabin. A dry cabin means no running water. Though it had no running water it did have electricity which meant we played some card games into the middle of the night. We had to walk next door for the restroom. It was a chilly rainy night. The next day I woke up early…since I’m an early riser. I took the dog for a walk so that I could explore Lowell Point. I had never been to that part of Seward before. Next door to us was a school bus that could be rented out as a dry cabin. Next time I’m staying in that school bus just because I can. We spent the day going Grey Whale Watching. We didn’t see any Grey Whales; however we saw two Humpback Whales (which are grey by the way). We wound up running into some friends throughout the day.
Our Little Cabin
I was so excited when it became May and I was able to go on the road and help train our new Tour Directors. A matter of days after my overnight adventure with friends I was headed back down to Seward. There isn’t much difference between Spring and Winter in Alaska. There is even a song by Johnny Horton that’s called “When it’s Springtime in Alaska” and one of the lines is “When it’s springtime in Alaska it’s forty below.” This was May 4th.
I couldn’t resist making a snow angel with Julie. Check out our view at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. The view from Talkeetna is the best view of Denali. Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. If you are looking for a great short movie on hiking Denali I’d recommend Climbing Denali it’s sold by Alaska Geographic. Denali used to be known as Mt. McKinley. The Native Alaskan Culture has always referred to it as Denali meaning “The Great One” or “The High One”. We were very excited when it finally got its original name back. We also got to go on a flight seeing adventure around Denali as part of Tour Director training.
We have an event every summer called the Frontline Trade Show that is put on by Visit Anchorage. Visit Anchorage is a wonderful source if it’s your first time to Alaska. I go every year as you can always learn something new and it provides some amazing opportunities to those that attend. I try to stop by every booth to see what is new and exciting. This year I was given the opportunity to go on a Segway Tour. I’ve been on a Segway once before for about the distance of a block. Taking a two hour segway tour was a bit terrifying to me. Terrifying because you watch a video of all the bad things that are possible then you strap on a helmet, get on a Segway, and head down a hill. The first 10 – 15 minutes as we headed down to Ship Creek my feet and legs were bundled tight in nerves and it was painful. I kept trying to trust myself and the Segway so that I could get my legs to relax. After we got off at Ship Creek and then got back on the Segway I was completely fine. We explored Ship Creek, part of the Coastal Trail, and downtown on the Segway. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. Will I be getting on a Segway again…maybe someday. I definitely got more comfortable with it as I got more and more used to it. I definitely enjoyed the adventure.
I love working in tourism. It gives me opportunities I could never have imagined. I had the day off and my boss texted me asking if I would like to go out on a Helicopter Ride. I said of course. So I drove my car out to Knik River Lodge and went on a helicopter landing tour. I’ve been on Knik Glacier before by Helicopter and as per usual it was an amazing experience.
Spencer Glacier Float was another opportunity given to us from the Frontline Trade Show. We took the train to the Whistle Stop at Spencer Glacier. Alaska is the only place left in North America that has a train that still uses whistle stops. It was an amazing day. After we got off the train we got on a school bus to continue our way to Spencer Glacier. There are no roads to this stop which means that every spring they bring the school buses in by train and every fall they bring them back to the Anchorage area by train. We then got off the bus and walked to the lake and got in our inflated boat. We got to sit back and relax while the guide did all the paddling. We paddled up to icebergs, down a river, thru rapids, and under bridges. It was amazing. We ended at another whistle stop where we waited for the train to return to pick us back up.
Words cannot describe my tour experience of the Nike Hercules Missile Site that was built during the Cold War. It rests atop Mt. Gordon Lyon. It was a part of the Rings of Steel defense system to assist in protecting the US from a Soviet missile attack. It’s the only site left in Alaska that still remains. Through the Friends of Nike Site Summit (FONSS) I was able to take a tour. I’d been waiting for this opportunity for years. This is one of only two sites where live test fires were conducted and missile boosters can be found in the nearby hillsides. We had some retired Military Personnel that had worked at the Nike Site on our tour giving us firsthand experience of what it was like to live and work there. It was fascinating. FONSS is currently working on restoring as much as they can as this site is unique compared to other Nike sites. Most of that is due to the extreme weather Alaska has.
Alaska is an amazing and beautiful place with a lot of opportunities. Sometimes you just have to search to find them.
I’m constantly asked how I deal with the darkness and cold in Alaska. My response is always the same. I grew up in Minnesota. It actually gets colder there than in Anchorage. We have the mountains and the ocean that help control the temperature here. It rarely gets below zero. As far as darkness goes, well…you have to distract yourself. The shortest day of the year in Anchorage is around 5 and a half hours. In Minnesota it is around 8 and a half hours. Everyone handles it differently. Some go outside. Outside is a term we often time use in Alaska for the residents that head south to the lower 48. (As in the rest of the US). Some take on a second part-time job, some go tanning, most take vitamin D, some use Happy Lights. I even have one friend that selects a different room in his house each year to remodel. It’s all about distracting yourself so that it’s harder for you to notice the darkness.
I make sure I always have something to do, I make sure I get out and stay out of bed until I’m done with the day, and I make sure I get out of my apartment every day even if it’s just to take out the garbage. Here are a few of the adventures I took in this winter and spring. Our spring doesn’t look much different then our winter. Spring only lasts a few days. If you blink you miss it.
Have you ever been to a Melodrama? Better yet, have you been to an Alaskan Melodrama where you can throw popcorn at your least favorite characters. I’ve never been to such an interactive show…nor one you could throw popcorn at the cast. Honestly, I ate most of mine as I definitely would not want to be the person that has to sweep the mess afterwards. It was interesting. I love theatre. How those actors and actresses were able to stay in character with people throwing popcorn at them is beyond me. Apparently it’s a theme as there is a melodrama performance during the renaissance festival in the summer where patrons can throw tomatoes at the cast.
Throwing Popcorn at the Actors
Most everyone has heard of Paint Nite or Paint and Sip. I’ve attended a few of these events and though I love the arts…my painting skills are not all that great. I’m better with a paint by numbers. How many have heard of Paint a Scarf? Well, in Alaska you can. I found a Groupon. (If you are unfamiliar with Groupon, I highly recommend you check it out). A friend and I went and had a blast. The great thing about painting a scarf is that we aren’t trying to paint an object. Instead we are painting a design of our own making. Which means that my design and the person next to me will be totally and completely different from everyone else’s. Check it out. In the summertime you can go out to their cabin in Chugiak and in the winter you can paint a scarf at a pub. It started in Alaska and now has a branch in Arizona. While the scarfs drying you can enjoy a drink or a meal at the pub.
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” There are many small towns and villages in Alaska. However, Hope, Alaska is a community I talk about it on every single Alaska tour I have led. It has great history dealing with the Gold Rush and the school system in Alaska. However, I had never been there. Over Easter weekend a friend asked me if I would want to go on a road trip. In Alaska you have to drive everywhere to get anywhere. So off we headed. It was a gorgeous day to head down the Seward Highway to Hope. We roamed the small town of less than 200 people, we took pictures, and went into a gift shop. I love supporting the local community. We made our purchases and headed back home. The road trip itself took about 5 hours. Four and a half of those hours were spent driving. So yes this was more about the journey then the destination. I now can paint a picture in my mind of what life was like for people in Hope back in the Gold Rush Days.
I make plans every day in the winter to do something. Even if it means putting together some furniture for my apartment. Items like end tables, a desk, a tv stand, etc… Once I bought these items I realized that I didn’t have tools to put all the furniture together. I had two options: go buy the tools at a store or go to a Home Improvement event where the first 100 women to attend got a free tool kit. So I went to the Home event. Not really something I needed to go to as I’m not making any home improvements. However, I did get the free tool kit and have used it multiple times. Sometimes it pays to go to an event that you may not typically be interested in attending.
Imagine, walking into the frozen tundra, onto an ice covered lake, as the sun is rising, watching snow frost glitter, your hair freezing, and it being 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine the quiet, the stillness, and the peace that brings. And then that peace and silence is broken as over 1,000 dogs begin to bark and howl as the excitement starts setting in. 67 mushers, over 1,000 dogs, 100’s of snowmobiles, and thousands of spectators start converging onto that same lake getting ready for the worlds longest tailgate party. Fires are set, music is playing, snow mobiles are revving, and helicopters are flying overhead. Everyone is arriving to be a part of something that is bigger, something that is more important than any one single individual. Everyone is here for the same reason. To cheer on the Last Great Race in the Last Frontier. And a Great Race it is.
Dogs are amazing creatures. When you throw your dog a ball it chases it. These dogs, the Alaskan Husky, when hooked up to a sled they pull. They are born to do this. These dogs are a huge part of Alaskan history. These dogs can pull pound for pound more than a horse. They are survival in its most primal form. When our Native Alaskan Culture was nomadic and had to follow their food for survival they used these dogs to pull their sleds. When the gold rush happened these dogs pulled sleds, when the mail was delivered before our current road system existed these dogs pulled sleds, today Denali National Park is monitored by dogs that pull sleds, today 82% of Alaskan Communities are not connected by a road system and these dogs still pull sleds (at 40 below your snow machine won’t start; however, your dogs will still pull your sled). What a better way to honor the history and importance of these dogs by watching them do what they do best. These dogs are chipped, blood and urine tested, get hooked up to EKG’s and are better taken care of on the Iditarod Trail than anywhere else in this world. Over 1700 hundred volunteers from around the world come to Alaska to be a part of this. Because this is bigger than just you or I. These dogs are amazing athletes and are the reason that Alaskans have survived as long as they have.
Words cannot accurately describe what it is like to be a part of such an event. You could feel the electric excitement amongst the dogs, mushers, and spectators. I’ve spent 5 years wanting and waiting to be a part of this event. I’ve been blown away.
I was not only a spectator, I was also a part of it all. When I made the decision to move to Alaska in the wintertime one of the first things I did was look up how to volunteer for this event. I wasn’t sure I would get selected; however, that didn’t stop me from signing up. I spent three days at the volunteer registration desk meeting people from all over the world. Peter a veterinarian from Australia, Julien a photographer from France, Douglas a Dog Handler from Montana, Libby an Iditarider/Volunteer/Sponsor from New Zealand, Jeanette who has volunteered for the past 20 years from Wyoming. We had 1700 volunteers and about half were not Alaskan. I got to meet many of them as they came in to fill out paperwork and receive their volunteer badge. I enjoyed every moment of volunteering. Everyone has a story to tell if only you are willing to listen. I was constantly amazed by the stories of the volunteers of the Iditarod.
The Wednesday before the Iditarod started I was at work when I walked around the corner and was greeted by a dog. Not just any dog…it was 6 year old Zig who has raced in several Ididtarods as the lead dog and is the mom to several of the dogs on Jeff King’s team. Best day ever. I mean really…does work get better than this. After some good ear scratching I had to go back to work and she had to continue getting ready for her big race.
On Thursday I decided to take in the Musher’s Banquet. I am so happy that I did. It started with a Musher’s Meet & Greet. I could have stood in line to speak with Martin Buser, Jeff King, DeeDee Jonrowe, or Aliy Zirkle. However, I have met them all so I decided to find some new faces and learn about them. I met Allen Moore who just won the Yukon Quest, Jessie Royer a woman from Montana, Joar who is sponsored by Libby (the New Zealand Lavender Farmer volunteer). I didn’t get autographs instead I got photographs. The Banquet itself was Alaskan’s version of the Oscars. I was lucky enough to sit at the same table as Scott White. I just had to know how and why this man from Washington got into Dog Mushing. As I learned his story, I was once again blown away. He would probably tell you that he was never really into mushing when he was younger. He was an avid hiker when an accident caused him to blow a disc in his back. The doctors told him he could never carry a hiking pack again. So he bought a dog to carry his pack so he could continue to hike. One thing led to another and the next thing you know he has a dog sledding team. He’s been in two Iditarod’s. This will be his third. I will be cheering for him as well as Joar, Aliy, Jeff, Martin, DeeDee and Allen.
Allen Moore. He won the 2018 Yukon Quest!!
DeeDee Jonrowe’s last Iditarod.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom. He’s going to win someday.
The banquet had 161 tables that could seat 10 people.
The Ceremonial Start is in Anchorage every year. The mushers were probably pretty thrilled to have snow this year and not have the restart moved to Fairbanks. A group of friends and coworkers throw what they loving call a Trailgate party. We literally were standing on the sides of the trail that the dogs and mushers would be running on. It’s themed every year, involves lots of food, music, and a megaphone. This years theme was “Out of this World.” Many mushers slowed or stopped when they got to our group as we cheered them on and wished them good luck.
Just a normal day in my life.
I’m glad I went as it was a lot of fun and a major energy booster. It was fun watching the experienced mushers that just kind of shake their head and think “There they are, once again.” Then seeing the 16 rookies come thru with shocked looks on their faces as they wondered “What in the world is going on.” After the Ceremonial start I headed downtown to take in the Reindeer Races which was the only event of Fur Rhondy I took in this year. Maybe next year I will be able to take in more.
On Sunday we headed to Willow for the Re-Start. This is the official start of the race. You can see the determination in the faces of the mushers. Even the dogs know that it’s go time. Most of them are about to run 1,000 miles in less than 10 days. It’s what each dog and musher have been preparing for. It was once again amazing.
Though the race isn’t over yet, I’m ready to sign up again for next year. Who knows, maybe I’ll be on the trail as security or at a Checkpoint. Or maybe I’ll stick with the registration desk and parking the Mushers.
This has been a super exciting two weeks in Anchorage. As I look over my schedule for the next few weeks it seems that even though the Mushers and Dogs have left Anchorage that there are some exciting events on their way.