Tackling the Airport While Being ADA

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.

Finding Your Passion – A Giving Season

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.

 

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.

IMG_0964
Us at work at 1:00Am. Not bad for crawling out of bed during an emergency.

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.

IMG_0915
Williwaw Rooftop after Brooke’s performance

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.

Kait

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.

 

The Journey Continues

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.

IMG_1215
I took my Momma out to eat at the Bridge before she left Alaska. I had to get her some authentic Alaskan King Crab.

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.

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.

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 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.

IMG_1397

Not my favorite day. This day however, I did change my text message tone to a dinosaur roar. It still makes me giggle and it was very appropriate this particular 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.

 

IMG_1365
The item I promised a friend I would get as I was borrowing her car. It turns out Walmart was out so I went to O’Reilly’s Auto Parts.

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.

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.

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 a Moment

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.

IMG_1199
Our last photo of the day. This is after we hiked back to my car and realized we hadn’t actually taken a photo together yet. I’m still smiling after a mile and a half on a broken leg.

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.

IMG_1172
The terrain we had to walk back over.

 

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.

This would be the beginning of a long journey. One I’m still on.

 

 

 

 

It’s Gonna Be May

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.

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.

IMG_0615

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.

How to Survive the Alaskan Winter

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.

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.

Being a Part of Something Bigger

IMG_0418
The re-start is on a frozen lake in Willow, AK.

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.

Iditarod
Good Luck!!

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.

IMG_0425
Thankfully it was sunny…even if it was 8 degrees Fahrenheit. 

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.

IMG_0416
The official re-start in Willow. Yes, we got there before everyone else.

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.

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.

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.