Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Raining and pouring

Well, the good news is that our internet is turned back on. At least there's that.
The bad news is everything else going on in our lives. There's a light through the darkness though, and Husband and I are getting through the hard times.
Since I lost my job money has been very tight. We had our cable shut off for a while (our internet provider too), which thankfully is now back on. I'm sure many of you know how hard it is to get out of a financial hole. It sucks! It feels hopeless and defeating and embarrassing. But we're taking things a day at a time and we're becoming very resourceful at finding alternative methods for making money.
Husband, KB and I recently started cutting firewood to sell, and that is really starting to take off. Our only problem is getting enough wood. It's very hard work, but well worth it.
Husband's grandpa died two weeks ago. This was very hard for him as he was extremely close and fond of his grandpa. Roy was a cowboy, an actual cowboy. Up until two years ago (He died at 84), he still rode his horse regularly and tracked wild horses in the Ochocos mountains in Oregon. He was an amazing man who left an incredible legacy and led a full life. He will be missed terribly, and we are very thankful for the time we were given with him.
But, the death of someone and the money they leave behind tend to bring out the worst in people. Husband's dad is no exception. Unfortuately he has decided to dismiss the wishes of Roy and steal money from his own son. Husband's dad told him that he won't be dispursing the funds left to Husband in order to clear the "debt" that Husband owes him. The only debt I know of is that of Husband being raised by his parents. Husband had no debt to clear. So it's obvious that his dad is just being a prick and trying to punish him for not having the life that his dad wanted him to have. It's very sad because it's driving a huge wedge between them, and consequently me and Husband's parents. It's unthinkable to me that a parent would steal money from their own children. Especially considering the financial situation we're currently in.
However, Husband did inherit a truck and camper from his grandpa, which we are selling. So hopefully that will help some.
As for me, I have been exploring options for a new career. I am strongly considering becoming a teacher. The more I look into it, the more it excites me. So I'll keep you posted on that.
Our little puppy is now as big as our almost two year old dog, Ben. Samson is six months old now and so much fun. He's enormous though. He's going to be a giant dog. I love it!
I can't believe that it's been two months since I posted here last. Dealing with all the shit that's been going on has taken much of my time and energy. When you're struggling to keep the power and water on the last thing on your mind is writing. But things are getting better and hopefully now I'll have more time and energy to write more.
I hope things are better with all of you. I miss you guys!
The picture, if you can make it out, is my most recent injury. I burned my hand very badly while making dinner last week by spilling boiling hot gravy on my hand. Can you say accident prone? My middle finger got the worst of it. It's healing, slowly, with only mild infection. Should be a great scar for my collection!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


First let me say that I had no intention of taking so much time between my posts. I really appreciate those of you who are interested in what I write, and I'm sorry that I haven't posted in so long. I am actually just starting to wade through my emails and comments. I haven't even checked them in about a month.

This is the primary reason for my absence of late. This is our new puppy Samson. He is 10 weeks old and already a big toughy. His mom is a German Shepherd/Husky mix and his dad is a Rottweiler. We love him tremendously, and even Ben is starting to accept him into the family. As you know, puppies are a shit ton of work. Fortunately I have had the time to be with him because I don't have a job anymore.

I'm over it, the job thing. I really hated it and wanted to leave and appartently my boss decided to downsize. Whatever. It's very strange being out of a job for the first time in, gosh, at least 10 years. I'm not sure what I want to do, and it's kind of scary to be honest. That is another reason why I've been MIA. I decided to just take some time to consider my life, my career, my decisions, all of that heavy stuff. I have not been in the frame of mind to write like I usually do, or draw. Perhaps a bit of depression sunk in while I wasn't looking.

Anyway, I'm back. I feel good about myself, my life and I'm looking forward to the next chapter. I've got more of a housewife routine now, which makes it nice for Husband. He gets to come home to a clean house everyday, I make him lunch now, his clothes are always clean, it's nice. And there's the puppy training. Between the housework, walking the dogs, training Samson, cleaning up his shit and piss when he goes in the house, I remain pretty busy. Probably more busy than when I was at work. Just a different kind of busy.

I was working on a post that I intend to put up tomorrow, more back to normal. I really enjoy writing and my time with all of you, so I look forward to getting back into it.

In the meantime, I need to catch up on all of your lives, which I can't wait to do!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Us and Them

There are few things in this world that make me as upset as the government overstepping it's boundaries. For the record, I am a registered Independent, but I also embrace many of the Libertarian philosophies.

In 1996 the people of California voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Now, I'm not going to address the ridiculousness of marijuana being illegal in the first place. The history of marijuana prohibition is an unfortunate blemish in the annals of America. You can go here to read about how the United States government came to despise the evil weed. I also won't discuss the facts regarding marijuana's status as one of, if not the, largest cash crop in the US, supporting many families who would live in abject poverty otherwise. I obviously support the legalization, or in the very least decriminalization, of marijuana. But what I also support is a state's ability to govern itself, and that's really what this argument is about.

In 1999 Husband and I attended the Million Marijuana March in San Francisco. In addition to smoking bowls on the steps of the federal building, we saw Angel Raich speak. It was extremely moving. Yesterday the Supreme Court decided that Angel Raich would still be subject to criminal prosecution for using marijuana, at the advice of her doctor, to keep her alive. She suffers from many chronic problems, not the least of which is a brain tumor. Because she has no appetite and suffers from chronic nausea, the doctor suggested that she use marijuana to combat these symptoms. Other prescription drugs she tried hadn't worked. This case has been in the nation's highest courts for several years. The decision that terminally and chronically ill people can't use a drug that eases their suffering because the federal government arbitrarily decides it's bad is just wrong. WRONG!

What is equally as wrong is that the federal government has ultimate control over individual states. It makes no sense whatsoever that states can pass laws, by an overwhelming majority, and the federal government can override the decision of that state. It's not only presumptuous on the part of the feds, it is a gigantic waste of time and money.

It is wrong for the feds to presume that they know what's best for a state just because they're the federal government. The people who live in the the great states of our nation have a greater sense, hopefully, of what they want done in their state. Since the people are the ones who live and work and pay taxes and contribute to the economies of their state, they should have a good idea of the types of policies and legislation they want. How does the federal government, thousands of miles away with it's own more pressing world issues to deal with, going to extend its' oppressive thumb to squash the will of the people of California?

And if the case is that states can't pass laws without the approval of the feds, then the whole system needs to change. Why should states waste valuable resources on bills, and voting, and legislator's salaries, and the subsequent litigation that occurs when the feds challenge a law? If states need approval from the feds, shouldn't that be the first step in passing a law? Shouldn't there be some system where all potential laws from all states receive approval from the federal government before the people can vote on them?

Well no, I don't think it should work that way. I think in reality it does work that way and the federal government does it's damnedest to hide that fact. The federal government has grown to a point that it can no longer be controlled. It's unfortunate that there are people who wish the feds would do more and be more involved in our lives. I feel very confident that I can make reasonably good decisions for myself. And when I fuck up I don't want the federal government involved. That's the last thing I'd want. I think there are services that the feds provide that are good and necessary. But that begs the question, could those services be even better if they were run by private organizations?

I'm not offering solutions because I frankly don't have any. My ideal life involves about 20 acres deep into the mountains, being almost totally self-sufficient and living off the grid. This isn't the life for everyone. My point is that I desire to live far out of reach from the feds. I just know that our current system of government is not working. Period. And it's getting worse. I have ideas about how it could work better, namely leave state decision making to the states. Fuck federal funding! But, I'm not a politician or a lobbyist or an attorney, the three most evil careers one could have. I've said more than once that if we got rid of all the politicians, lobbyists, attorneys and tele-evangelists the world would be a much different, and better, place.

Back to pot. I'm not a pusher and I appreciate people who don't want to smoke weed. I will never try to convince anyone that they should or should not smoke. But marijuana is like alcohol in that, it can become a problem for some people. People can form a type of addiction to it, though there is still no definitive proof that marijuana is actually addictive. But it can suck people in to the point where they become useless stoners, just like they can become useless alcoholics. I'm both a stoner and alcoholic, but I'm certainly not useless. Uselessness is not a good quality.

Here ends my diatribe.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 7

Alright friends, this story is almost over. Thanks to several Greyhounds last night I am suffering, again, from hangoverus majoris. When will I learn? Probably never. When also will I learn that it's much too easy to get into arguments with loved ones when you are slightly, or significantly, intoxicated? Hopefully soon. Anyway, here is your next installment.

The Last Leg

Usually calm and unruffled, Sue was clearly distraught about our circumstances. When we told her that Dusty, Annie and Nick had gone over Sugarloaf by themselves and quite unprepared she almost came unglued. While we were all worried about our friends, it hadn’t really occurred to us that their lives could actually be in danger. Nate, Husband and I became immediately sobered by the thought of our friends stuck on top of the mountain without so much as a stove to keep them warm.
We were headed towards the cars to leave a note for Dusty explaining that we were on our way to Chuck and Karen’s. Rather than picking us up, he should drive straight there and we’d give him the details later. As we drove down the highway we saw three sorry-looking backpackers walking along the road. We knew at once it was Dusty, Annie and Nick. We all yelled out-loud in excitement upon seeing them. Sue pulled into the parking lot of a nearby lodge and dropped Nate, Husband and I off before turning around to pick up Dusty, Annie and Nick.
Husband, Nate and I stood in the lobby of the grand lodge looking quite out of place and pitiful. I was soaked to the bone, my shoulder was now immobile, we’d just spent three days camping in the wilderness and looked every inch like that’s where we’d been. Husband walked around the lobby in search of a cigarette vendor. Nate and I examined the huge 3-D map of Alaska while I tried to control my shivering. A woman approached us and asked me if I was okay. I smiled and gave her my best “Yes, thank you”, not wanting to get into details with a complete stranger. Finally Husband came back, cigarettes in hand, and we adjourned outside to indulge. Nate even joined us.
We hadn’t even smoked half a cigarette when Dusty, Annie and Nick pulled into the parking lot with Sue following behind. When Dusty saw Nate with a cigarette in his hand he proclaimed, “It must be bad if Nate’s smoking.” We all laughed at that but decided to save the details for Chuck and Karen’s house. Once again we loaded ourselves into the vehicles and drove back to Waugaman Village to retrieve David and Mary. When we were all together again we headed to Chuck and Karen’s house. We were all exhausted and our minds were set on hot showers and cold beer so our conversation was relatively limited during the drive. Husband and I were riding with Sue and she continued to tell us of the dangers of Alaska. She said that probably the reason Dusty wanted to go over the mountain was to avoid another river crossing. Apparently that is one of the more dangerous things one can do in Alaska, and many backpackers don’t make it home after drowning in flooded rivers.
Chuck and Karen’s house is a secluded paradise. They built a log home on many acres outside of Cantwell from the ground up, mostly by themselves. They cut and stripped all of the logs they used to build it. While they were stripping the logs, Karen filleted her thigh with the stripping tool. It was very deep, requiring stitches. They live two hours from the nearest hospital though, and the situation was pretty dire. So Chuck got the gun they use to staple the dogs’ wounds closed and proceeded to staple Karen’s leg closed. When they did finally arrive at the hospital the doctor examined Karen’s leg and said the staples looked great and to come back when she needed them removed. That is a tough lady. Thankfully that setback didn’t keep them from finishing the house. They picked out special logs to serve as columns inside the living room and paid particular attention to details like that. The kitchen counters are made from formed and dyed concrete and are simply gorgeous.
As we pulled into the driveway we heard the sled dogs barking to greet us. At that time they had about 30 dogs that they actually used to pull sleds in the winter. Neither Chuck nor Karen was home from work yet, but we were instructed to make ourselves at home. Husband and I were getting out of the car as Annie and Nick pulled up behind us. It was the first time we’d talked to them since we separated. Husband asked Nick how their hike was. His answer was chillingly serious. “I seriously thought we were gonna die up there.” This was coming from a cop. We couldn’t wait to get inside and share our adventures.
We took several trips back and forth from the cars to the basement in order to unload everything. What food we had left in the bear canisters was now soaked and inedible. Practically everything we had was wet and dirty, so Sue started a load of laundry. Once everything was unpacked and in the basement we headed upstairs to collapse for a while. Nick and Husband volunteered to get beer while the rest of us rested or started helping Sue get dinner ready.
Chuck and Karen arrived home shortly after Husband and Nick got back with enough beer to ease our aching bodies for the night. They were eager to hear about our trip in full detail. While David and Mary showered the rest of us were happy to tell our tale of adventure. I was almost embarrassed, feeling like our experience was minor compared to what they deal with at the park. But as we talked about crossing the Healy Creek, Karen’s eyes widened in amazement. This was obviously something she didn’t hear about every day. One of the things I learned from Karen is that you should always unbuckle your pack before you cross a river. That way if you do need to get out of it you’ll actually be able to. She examined my shoulder to make sure it wasn’t dislocated and decided it was most likely a pulled muscle.
After a couple of beers, it was Husband's and my turn to shower. The bathroom in Chuck and Karen’s is something out of a spa. The bathroom itself is spacious and airy. There’s a huge window in the shower and double showerheads. Not just double, but the giant heads that feel like you’re in a rainstorm. Lucky for Husband and I, Chuck and Karen are tall and short respectively. Chuck is easily a foot taller than Karen, like Husband and I. They have the showerheads adjusted for their height, which suited us perfectly. As I undressed for the shower I noticed that I had a fairly serious injury on my lower leg. About six inches above my ankle, my shin was swollen to the size of a lemon. Right in the middle of the blue and purple swelling was a hole about the size of a ’22 bullet. It was black, as if it was trying to scab over. I hadn’t even noticed pain in my leg since my shoulder hurt so bad, but it looked disgusting. I have no idea to this day how it got there. I showered the best I could through excruciating pain and in the end I felt wonderful. It’s easy to appreciate a shower when you don’t get one for a few days.
By the time Husband and I were done dinner was ready. Sue brought all kinds of food with her: spaghetti, salad, bread, I think even brownies or cookies. She went all out to make us a great meal. And it was great! Husband was very interested in the house so he and Chuck talked a lot about that. The rest of the night was in that vein. Lots of talking, retelling our favorite parts of the story we just made, talking about the rest of the trip for Nate, Dusty, Annie, Nick, David and Mary. They’d be kayaking near glaciers the next day and were all excited for that. As the evening turned into night the party died out, people made their way to bed, and Sue eventually went home. Dusty, Nate, Husband and I stayed up late into the night talking about everything and nothing. Dusty was really concerned that we’d had a good time and didn’t think of him badly. He felt terribly responsible, for some reason, about what had happened. We assured him that we’d had a life-changing experience, an incredible one at that. We’d seen and done things we never dreamed we would. At some time late that night the four of us called it a night and retired to our respective beds. The others had an early day and a long drive to Fairbanks or wherever they were going. Husband and I would also have a long day, but we didn’t have to leave quite so early.
I slept a somewhat restless sleep with every move sending shooting pains to my shoulder. Nevertheless, the bed was heavenly, much better than the ground. When we awoke Chuck and Karen had already left for work. Dusty and the gang were packing up their gear and having a light breakfast. Chuck told Husband that we could hang out as long as we wanted as long as we put the dog in before we left. We helped the gang pack up and soon said goodbye. Husband and I watched them roll down the driveway and down the road until they disappeared. We went back inside and cleaned up what we could before taking some time to enjoy the house a bit. We lingered on the deck and looked out over the mountains in the distance. The birds sang to us and the trees whispered their goodbyes in the gentle breeze. We were sorry to leave and wanted to soak in the last bits of beauty that we could. Soon we would be back to the reality of California.
Annie and Nick rented a car to get to Dusty’s house, and now Husband and I were returning it in Anchorage. We packed up the mid-sized sedan after making sure Chuck and Karen’s house was in order and started the two and a half hour drive to Anchorage. Our flight wasn’t until midnight so we decided to walk around the city and have dinner until we had to leave for the airport. The only remarkable things about the drive were all of the fireworks stands along the highway. By stands I don’t mean your typical “Red Devil” stand that you see every Fourth of July. These are STANDS, easily as big as a small convenience store with every type of firework imaginable. One of my favorites had two giant blow-up gorillas on the roof, of which one was wearing a pink and yellow polka dot bikini. Classic.
Anchorage sits on a large bay with various shipping liners dotting the water. Husband and I found a place to park that was in close proximity to downtown and the beach. We walked towards the large wooded staircase that led down to the sand. In the middle of the wooden platform stood a statue of Capt. Cook and a plaque commemorating his discovery of Alaska.
After walking along the ocean we made our way towards the tourist zone of downtown Anchorage. We meandered through the stores, browsing the 1000’s of moose and grizzly bear related items. After picking up a couple of gifts for friends and the hand-drawn map of the Nenana River Gorge we were ready to eat. After passing up a couple of very crowded restaurants we found a brewpub, I think called the Blue Heron. We were seated at a window booth that looked out over the expansive bay. The food was great; likewise the beer, and we relaxed and enjoyed our last few hours in Alaska.
When time beckoned to us that it was time to drop off the car, Husband and I walked slowly back to our parking spot and headed to the rental car office. After an uneventful car return we waited in the parking lot for the shuttle to take us to the airport. What can I say about the airport? Flying at this point in time is at best marginally annoying and at worst, the biggest pain in your ass ever. Our check in was somewhere in between. We had the advantage of carrying only our backpacks, which we had to check and we were checked in, boarding passes in hand, in relatively good time. When we got up to the terminal we spotted a Cheers, yes in Alaska. Husband and I figured the best way to kill time before our flight would be to drink, so we did. We sat in the Cheers, watching fellow travelers and reveling in our memories of the last few days. Eventually we made our way to our gate and prepared to board the plane.
The red-eye flight back to Oakland made me never want to fly again. My favorite part about it was the screaming child who screamed at the top of its lungs throughout the entire flight. It was almost humorous that the cabin lights were off encouraging people to sleep, but no one would attempt to silence the screaming child. At long last we made our decent into Oakland where my parents would be waiting for us. We were exhausted from the flight and from the trip, and happy to be back home. Although Alaska had been one of the best experiences in either of our lives, there was something very comforting about being home.
We told my parents about our trip as they drove us back to Sacramento. They were both in disbelief upon hearing about the Healy Creek crossing, but thankful that we were home safely. It still amazes me when I think back on our trip. An unbreakable bond was formed between the eight of us. We experienced something that will unite us forever, if only in our memories. I will never forget our adventure in Alaska, and look forward to passing this story on to my own children someday. This was one of the best experiences of my life and it taught me more about myself than I expected it to. I learned that I possess a strength I didn't realize I had, and that I am capable of maintaining a rational mind through the most challenging circumstances. Among the lessons I learned there, these are probably the most important to me. Above everything, however, the relationship and the memories I share with my traveling companions are the most important.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An Anniversary, Of Sorts

My grandma was born in Modesto, California in 1917. She was born on July 4. The last child born to a woman in her fifties, her mother hadn't even picked out names for the baby in her belly. The doctor named her Grace Liberty.

By the time my grandma came into the world her father had managed to gamble away most of the family's money. There were five children to support and the Depression was effecting folks on the west coast in the same way as the rest of the country. The house my grandma grew up in was a house in name only. It was actually a cook house. It was a one room shack with no sink, no bathroom, no running water. There was a bed and a stove. My grandma was wrapped in blankets and placed in the stove during the winter so she would stay warm. Rather than a bathroom, my grandma used an outhouse. During high school the bus drove right by the house to pick up my grandma for school. She would try to time her visits to the outhouse so that she wouldn't be coming out of it as the bus drove by.

My grandma had two dresses growing up. Her family was poor, that's how it was. She had two older sisters, so she was supplied with hand-me-downs throughout her life. But probably because she wanted her own clothes, she learned how to sew. Her first job was as a seamstress where she earned 33 1/3 cents an hour. She used the money to buy fabric to make clothes.

My grandma grew into an exquisitely beautiful woman. She was teased horribly when she was a child. There were people in her neighborhood who wouldn't allow their kids to play with her because she appeared to be "ethnic". Born with black hair, brown eyes and olive skin that would tan to a deep brown in the summer, she was often mistaken as Mexican. While we have no proof that anything untoward happened between my great-grandmother and someone other than her husband, there have always been rumors that my grandma was illegitimate. She never learned to see her beauty. Her strong, high cheekbones, her long slender fingers, soft, glowing skin, and a smile that would knock you over were all embarrassments to her. In her entire life I don't know that she ever had a positive thought about herself.

She was married at some point to my real grandfather, Morgan. (I say real because he died when my mom was 10, and my grandma remarried to the only grandpa I knew, Rocky.) They were not married in a church, there was no elaborate ceremony. They were married by a judge in the courthouse, she in a smart blue suit, he in his Air Force uniform. Morgan was a flight instructor in World War II, teaching young pilots to fly Mustang bombers. Because he was in the Air Force they moved around a lot, but always stayed in California. After the war was over, my grandma had her two children, my aunt then my mom. (If you're interested, here's the story of why my aunt doesn't talk to us anymore.) She had one miscarriage, a boy, between the two girls.

My grandma and I had a very special relationship. She would never say it aloud, but she favored me over her three other grandchildren. She loved us all equally and treated us all equally, this was very important to her. But we had a special connection, a bond that none of the other grand kids had with her. In my eyes she saw what she wanted to be. She saw nothing but love and awe and wonder and a woman who was perfect and could do no wrong. I loved my grandma more than any person on this earth.

As she got older I began to do things for her, just as a favor, not because she wasn't capable. I cleaned her house, ran errands for her, that sort of thing. I saw her every week, at least once sometimes more often. She came to almost every one of my soccer games for the nine years I played. And even after I went away to college we remained very close. We talked every Wednesday night.

A Wednesday night came when things went horribly wrong. I made my usual call to my grandma. See, how it worked was I would call her and then she would call me right back so I wouldn't have long distance charges. I had just moved into a new house with a new roommate after getting out of the miserable situation with The Bitches.

When my grandma picked up the phone she sounded distant, sick even. It took her an especially long time to call me back. When she finally did, her voice was frail and weak sounding. I asked her what was wrong and she said she was tired.

"So how is the new house?"

"It's good grandma. I like it. It's close to campus so I can walk to school."

"That's good sweetie. So you're happy. "

"Yeah grandma, I'm happy."

"Good sweetie. I love you very much."

"I love you too Grandma."

When we hung up the phone I called my mom. I told her that she needed to check on Grandma because she didn't sound right.

The next morning I was awakened by a too-early phone call from my dad. I could tell; I knew the second I heard his voice that my grandma was gone. She had died the night before.

I already had tickets to go home because Spring Break was starting in a couple of days. I packed my bag, called a taxi and prayed that people would leave me alone as I boarded the plane to fly home. I cried silently during the flight as I tried to emblazon every memory of my grandma in my brain.

That was the worst day of my life.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Some Drawings

I started drawing seriously about a month ago. Something just clicked inside my brain and I was able to really see something in my head and put it on paper. These are just some drawings I've done in the past month. The tree is a tattoo I drew for Husband. The koi fish is the tattoo I'm going to get on my other hip. The chrysanthemum is the tattoo I'm going to get on my back. The dinosaurs are a drawing for KB's son. I'm very excited because I just realized I can use my web cam for a camera. So I'm going a bit picture crazy right now.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Saucerful of Secrets

My first real, full-time job was at Starbucks. In fact, our crew opened the first Starbucks in Sacramento, California. I was a senior in high school, which would put the year at '93 and '94. I went to the open interview a day after I had my wisdom teeth removed, and my cheeks were very swollen. Despite my appearance I was hired on the spot by the district manager, Milissa. I drove a tan Jetta, which I loved, though that has nothing to do with anything. I ended up working at Starbucks through the summer until I went to college, and then worked at another store in Portland for a couple of years, and then transferred to another store back in Sacramento after I graduated from college.

Through my experiences at Starbucks I developed a theory that I believe is even more relevant in the year 2007. I believe that Starbucks is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our society today. Of course, this assumes that I'm right about what's wrong with society, and I am.

I will spare you the details of how this java giant started and how it morphed into the corporate caffeine pusher it is today. If you're interested in that, just follow the link above. What I will point out is that when I quit in 1998 Starbucks was a completely different entity than when I was hired. When I was trained in '93 we were required to pay attention to every detail of the coffee making process. We had to time our shots so that they poured between 18 and 23 seconds. Any shorter or longer and they were thrown out. Coffee was measured precisely so that every pot was consistently delicious. We had only three sizes, three syrups, and only a handful of drinks. This made it possible to take the time necessary to provide patrons with an excellent cup of whatever they were drinking.

Fast forward to 1996 or 1997. New syrups are added. New drinks are created. Venti size is now offered. Eggnog is being used to make lattes for the love of God. It's no longer so important to pour perfect shots or keep the steaming wand clean or brew a new pot of coffee every hour. Now the only goal, our only focus was to keep the drinks coming out fast and keep the customers relatively satisfied in the process, all the while maintaining a "warm and comfortable atmosphere" where our customers will feel like they're in their living rooms and will want to linger and sip coffee all morning.

And this is when my theory began to piece itself together. Society in general has become increasingly disconnected with itself. People no longer greet each other with pleasantries when they pass each other on the street. We prefer to speak into tiny electronic boxes rather than strike up a conversation with a stranger, or talk with the person who's sitting at the same table. We are obsessed with information and we want it immediately. We require an infinite number of options for any given thing, whether it's upgrades for our vehicles or ringtones for our phones. And often we are unsatisfied with the available options and invent new ones so we can get exactly what we want. Because it's unacceptable that we should compromise even a little bit. We deserve exactly what we want, we're entitled to it. And our children are even more entitled to get exactly what they want because it's unacceptable that a child should experience one iota of disappointment. Our children are our future, after all. Do it for the children.

As I continued to make and serve increasingly more complicated drinks, and observe the crazed outbursts of angry customers who had been eternally traumatised by taking a sip from a drink that was somehow not up to their standards, I noticed distinct similarities between the life inside a Starbucks and the real world outside. And I realized that rather than stick with their guns, to not compromise what had skyrocketed Starbucks to the top of the coffee food chain, the corporate monkeys had decided they needed to provide the public with everything they demanded. They decided that in order to stay competitive and viable, they would let the public tell them how to run the show.

People want eggnog? Give it to them! People want blended drinks? Give it to them! People want a thousand syrups to choose from? Give it to them! People want faster service? Give it to them! People want things toasted? Give it to them! People want eggnog before Thanksgiving? Give it to them! People want stores to open earlier? Give it to them! Give the people what they want! By all means necessary!

And this is exactly what's wrong with society. People feel entitled to everything, all the time, exactly the way they want it, and the answer "no" is unacceptable. And corporations have decided that the people are right. Our government, in large part, has decided that the people are right. The same people who are eating themselves to death, allowing their children to turn into pasty, video game addicted lard asses, providing their children with growth hormones, feeding them on crap every day, going to the same job that they hate in a car they can't afford, coming home to the house they can barely pay the mortgage on, using the maxed out credit card to buy KFC for dinner, these same people are the driving force behind corporate decision making and advertising. And these people have decided that speed and choice are more important than quality and relationships.

Gone are the days when you can stand next to the bar and shoot the shit with your barista. Even if you go to the same 'Bux every day, you probably don't know the names of the people who serve you every day. Why would you? You're busy on that important call even while you're ordering your drink. When I first worked at Starbucks we were encouraged to make small talk with the patrons of our store. We were encouraged to tell them our names, to make french presses and pass around coffee samples to people standing in line, or sitting in the store. We were encouraged to mark out pastries as samples throughout the day, as a treat for people. Now, I'm betting, it's all about the bottom line. Things like wasting coffee and pastries is probably frowned upon these days.

So when you look around and wonder why your small, local coffee shop or deli is shutting down, remember the masses, the sheepish masses. Their lust for a Starbucks on every corner is largely to blame. (Hey, supply and demand. Starbucks wouldn't open a store on every corner unless they were making money. If 'Bux builds it, they will come.) Personally I haven't been back to a Starbucks since I quit. I make an effort to patronize my local, non-corporate stores whenever I can.

This has been made much easier by moving up to the mountains. Our town has one fast-food place, Taco Bell. I do not eat Taco Bell. So that's that. We have to go grocery shopping and I cook dinner and make lunches and make breakfast every day. Every store in our town, besides Safeway, is owned by someone we know, or who lives in our town. It's a different life than living in the city.

However, it is impossible to escape the sheep. They're here too. So far as yet though, no Starbucks.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 6

Waugaman Village Part 2

Although I’d been in the water only a few minutes I’d floated at least 200 yards, probably further. As I sat on the bank I was aware of things going on around me. People were talking, the river was still thundering in my ears, drowning out sounds. I was very cold, as cold as I’ve ever been. For several minutes I just sat there and stared into space.
Husband stretched the elastic cuffs on my snowboarding shell. Water poured out from inside my sleeves. My backpack had somehow been removed from my back. I heard my brother tell me to get up and walk around. He was very concerned about hypothermia. I hadn’t given it a thought, but judging by my complexion it was apparently a legitimate concern. The color had washed out of my face and supposedly my lips had a purplish hue. There was an abandoned trailer near us and Husband ran inside to find anything that would help. He found nothing. David explained that although he and Mary had also fallen in, they were able to get out of the water quickly and without getting soaked. Miraculously this meant that Mary still had dry clothes in her pack, which she was bringing to me. As difficult as it was to walk, I did. My body revolted in every way imaginable. All of the muscles in my body were involuntarily twitching in a desperate attempt to warm me up. The human body is amazing that way. It will do almost anything to keep itself alive. I was so cold it was painful. I can’t describe how awful I felt at that moment. I was terribly embarrassed that this had happened and felt a deep responsibility, as if there were something I could have done to prevent it.
Everyone’s focus had quickly shifted to finding shelter and warmth. While Mary dressed me in warm clothes Husband, Nate and David walked back to the backpacks they’d dropped talked about what we should do. They decided that we should keep walking and find the closest phone to call Sue. She was planning on driving to Chuck and Karen’s in a few hours to make dinner for all of us, and we thought that given our present state she wouldn’t mind coming a couple of hours early. After getting the dry clothes on, Mary and I made our way to Husband, Nate and David. My usual chatty demeanor had changed significantly. I could hardly squeak out a word. I felt very detached from my body, as if I were watching events unfold without actually being part of them. As we neared the men I overheard them discussing how they would carry my pack. I immediately put that idea to rest. I refused to allow them to carry my pack, I wasn’t injured. Sure my shoulder was killing me, and I’d just floated down a creek/river, but other than that I wasn’t hurt. I still had the strength to carry my own pack and I didn’t want to further burden my companions. When I’d convinced everyone that I was still capable and able to hike we started out to find civilization.
We managed to find the road we’d driven on when we started the trip. There was an eerie silence hanging around us. Nobody knew what to say. We just walked through the rain and I think we were all trying to collect our thoughts and ourselves; trying to process what had just happened. Walking down the gravel road I watched the four people in front of me. I had no words to thank David for saving my life, which is what he did. I did say “Thank you, David. You just saved my life, I think,” just after he pulled me out of the water, but that didn’t seem adequate. I imagined what it must have been like for my husband and my brother to watch the scene unfold. As my brother later described, it was like watching something out of a horror movie. My feeling of detachment was still present. In fact I remember walking down the road, but I was watching myself. It was as if I was behind my own body watching things happen.
After a half hour, maybe 45 minutes, we arrived in at least a form of civilization. We were very close to a coal-powered electricity plant and an RV/motel campground. All of us remembered what Dusty said about people from Healy so we were very nervous about talking to anyone. Apparently Healy was not an especially friendly place, so we cautiously examined our options. In the end we decided to see if anyone was home at Waugaman Village, the RV/motel campground.
Nate and either Husband or David walked timidly to the front door and knocked. A man with dark hair, a mustache, blue shirt and trucker hat answered and immediately his eyes widened. Nate gave him the Reader’s Digest version of what we’d been through and asked to use the phone. The man, who’s name we never learned but we nicknamed him “Deer-in-the-headlights Man”, stepped back inside and closed the door without a word. Our hearts sank somewhat and we turned toward the power plant thinking that would be our next stop. As we started preparing ourselves to continue our journey the door opened and Deer-in-the-headlights Man told us to come inside.
We were led into the front room of what seemed to be a house. The front room clearly served as someone’s office, and there was a kitchen just off the front room. Deer-in-the-headlights Man occasionally walked up and down some stairs in the back, although that section of the house remained hidden from us. A large desk, scattered with papers of varying size, was centered in front of the front room window. At the desk sat Eds Waugaman, owner of Waugaman Village. Eds’s face beamed with a friendly smile as he inquired about our predicament. As we told him our story he chuckled often and the smile never left his face. As I studied our host I realized that he bore a striking resemblance to John Denver. So much so that I began to wonder if John Denver was actually dead. Perhaps he just needed to get away and flew all the way to Alaska. Whoever he was, Eds was quick to offer me a blanket, fresh out of the dryer, to warm up. He also made a pot of coffee and brought out some cookies. People in Healy aren’t so bad! Hanging on the walls throughout the office were hunting pictures in which Eds was ever-present. One depicted a dead grizzly with paws at least as big as my head. The pictures were fascinating to see. This was a true wilderness man, like Grizzly Adams, minus the bear.
As we were warming ourselves and I was finally beginning to feel normal, Eds regaled us with stories of his own. Apparently the surprise storm had stranded several dozen climbers on Denali and they had to be rescued by helicopter. And earlier, just that day, Eds had rescued his friend from the river rising to rapidly around the friend’s truck. What started as a hunting trip ended in a flooded truck and a grateful friend. Nate took this opportunity to get on the two-way radio and attempt to reach Dusty, Annie and Nick. After several attempts it was clear they were still out of range. Calling Sue was truly a last resort. We were sensitive to the fact that calling Sue would compromise Dusty’s ego, but we weren’t sure how long it would take them to pick us up. We couldn’t very well wait with Eds all afternoon, and no one wanted to keep hiking in the rain, so Nate called Sue. After explaining what happened and where we were, Sue said she was on her way.
We cleaned up our dirty cups and I folded my borrowed blanket. David and Mary were going to wait at Eds while Sue dropped Nate, Husband and I off at Chuck and Karen’s. We expressed our deepest thanks to Eds for taking in five soaking, tired travelers and waited for Sue outside. While I know I’ll probably never return to Waugaman Village I also know that I’ll never forget the kindness and the smile of Eds Waugaman. As Husband, Nate and I piled into Sue’s car I took one last look into the wilderness we’d endured and thanked God for my life.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Communication Breakdown

Boy oh boy, where do I start? I've got so much to talk about I'm really struggling to organize my thoughts.

First, our power is back on after a couple of days without it. That's one of the fun things about living in the mountains. When it snows, you're pretty much guaranteed to be without power for a time. But, that's what God made generators and wood stoves for. And we're eternally thankful that he did. But, that's why the lack of posts the last few days. The generator is only big enough to run a few things, and the computer isn't one of them.

Before I get to pure, unadulterated shit-talking, I know you want to hear about all the snow we got, right? Thanks to the sun we've had for the last couple of days, a lot of the snow has already melted. But we got dumped on. It looked like someone was standing on the roof dumping buckets of snow on us, like in the movies. It was awesome. We probably got three or four feet basically overnight.

So yesterday we played outside all day. We built a jump and snowboarded a little bit. Our neighbor, the cutest little kid named Brandon, okay he's like 14, not so much a kid but adorable nevertheless, brought over his skate. I've never ridden one before and it's kind of hard to get used to because your feet come right out. But it's really fun once you get the hang of it. Husband and I were launching off of the jump, trying to do tricks and stuff. It was a bunch of fun. The only lame thing was that I took a major digger on Saturday night, like an idiot. We went to our neighbor's houses that night and while I was walking from one house to the other I tripped over my bootlaces and fell hard. And yes, I managed to cut my hand, knee and elbow all at one time. Genius! Like a little kid I trip over my shoelaces. So on one of my jumps I landed hard and opened up my hand wound. OUCH!

Okay, ready for the shit-talking to commence? Now, you're familiar with the ex-Roommate. Well, just 'cause I want to, I'm going to share some interesting information that I learned over the weekend. Just 'cause it's juicy, catty gossip. I just want to be up-front about what it is. Anyway, ex-Roommate's name is Jason. I really don't give a shit about his anonymity anymore and it's easier for me to type. After he moved out and recovered from his broken neck, apparently he met a girl online. The girl is a friend of Mama and lives, or lived until this weekend, in Oregon. Jason is moving this girl into his house, from Oregon, and apparently thinks she's "The One".

Well, this girl is a recovering crack (I think that's right, crack) addict, who gave birth to an actual crack baby. The baby is now three years old.

First, a tangent. And I realize that this may not be sensitive or politically correct or whatever. But what the fuck? Why is it that seemingly all women who are alcoholics, in bad relationships, drug addicts, on welfare, living in their cars the most fertile women on earth? These women have no problems at all getting pregnant and birthing an alarming number of children given their life circumstances. But people who would actually provide a stable and loving environment for children can't get pregnant. I just find so much wrong with this. Bitter? Perhaps. Perhaps I might be a little bitter.

From what we hear from Mama, these two lovebirds have spent the last week or so in an Oxycontin induced stupor. (Who's taking care of the child? Who knows.) They are snorting it, so that's good. They recently went to a show, Michael Franti & Spearhead, and took the child with them. Because they were all fucked up on Oxycontin and drinking also, this ex-crack addict girl fell, FELL, on her child and was escorted out of the venue.

I don't think I ever mentioned that Jason has a record. He was arrested for domestic violence a couple of years ago and is required to attend anger management classes. Now this always bothered me, especially when he lived with us. He never discussed the details of the incident, but I was always a bit worried to be alone with him towards the end. So much so that someone was always with me if I had to be in the house with Jason. Jason has already thrown a knife at this girl and almost hit her with it. He has shaken the child to the point of the girl calling the cops. But, I'm sure they're destined to have a healthy and strong and loving relationship. I'm sure everything is going to work out swimmingly.

I really don't care about Jason's life. But I do care about having stories to share. Reality is too good sometimes, you can't make this stuff up. And I feel it's my duty, nay obligation, to exploit the shortcomings and personal problems of others for the sake of entertainment. No, I don't feel bad about it.

I'm sure I left some things out that are no doubt of the highest importance. However, that' all my Monday brain can manage right now.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 5

Okay, the flu has kicked my ass. It kicked my ass all weekend. It was a good weekend to be sick though, we got over a foot of snow. Good shit. Anyway, because my head hurts and I'm still fighting this stupid virus, I offer you two chapters of the story. For those of you who care, a brief summary. At this point, our group of eight has split up, three going one way, five going another. There is a very bad summer storm happening, and we're just trying to get home. This part of the story does include me almost dying. Very exciting stuff. As soon as my brain gets better I will have new things to discuss.

A Separate Journey

Nearly three hours had passed since Dusty, Annie and Nick started out over the mountain. Dense, low clouds wrapped around the mountaintops and ridgelines as if some great giant was exhaling the smoke from his pipe. Although we didn’t speak of it, we were all wondering how our companions were faring.
All of the relaxation I’d enjoyed the day before was paying off. I finally felt well rested, and even though it was still raining quite heavily, my spirits were high. Seemingly, we were all feeling rested and ready for the grueling hike out. Since we were all very wet at this point, we walked through the creek thinking we would make better time. We thought nothing of our saturated shoes, packs and clothes. We knew we had warm showers, warm beds and dry clothes waiting for us at Chuck and Karen’s, so we weren’t very concerned about our present condition. Moody creek had risen surprisingly fast since we’d hiked in. What had been several inches deep, maybe six, was now easily 12, and in fact, several feet in spots. The speed with which the water had risen was astounding. Overnight the terrain around us changed completely.
Bears were still a concern, of course, so we once again made excess noise to alert all the animals of our presence. We even had a sing-a-long, of sorts, humming through parts when we couldn’t remember the words. We were enjoying ourselves, actually having a good time in spite of the horrible, cold weather and the fact that we were soaking wet. For some reason, I had playing in my head the entire Disturbed album “Believe”. I wasn’t aware until that point that I knew the whole album, but I was grateful for the distraction. I’m sure I would have been happy with “Dancing Queen” at that point, anything to keep my mind off the cold, the weight of my pack or the long hike.
We passed the drainage we’d used to get to the creek bed and, from that point on, hadn’t a clue what was ahead of us. We kept following the creek thinking it was the easiest and straightest route to our final destination. At one point I looked down and noticed something that appeared to be leather. It was halfway in the water and I examined it further. To my dismay I was poking (with a stick) at a piece of skin from some poor animal. I called to my companions to look at my discovery. At that point I looked to my left. Lying on the rocky shore was the intact skeleton of what appeared to be a moose. It may have been a caribou, but I wasn’t about to figure it out. The guys did take a closer look, however. They found relatively fresh bear tracks in the sand near the skeleton. That startled me to the core. I suddenly realized how exposed we were, and I didn’t want to end up like the moose. Although there was probably little danger, the bones were picked clean, my instincts told me we shouldn’t linger too long.
We approached a bend in the creek that turned sharply to the left. (I don’t know what direction, east maybe?? I promise it won’t affect the outcome.) We could hear water rushing and pounding over rocks. It sounded very much like a small waterfall. We couldn’t see what lay around the bend, and we were all hopeful that we would be able to stay on our present course without having to backtrack and find another route.
Upon rounding the bend in the creek we were met by high, sheer rock walls, which were brilliantly layered with multi-colored bands. There was a series of small waterfalls we’d have to negotiate our way through, but at that moment we were all struck breathless by the incredible beauty of the box canyon. We stood for a few moments taking in our surroundings and planning our next move. The next bend in the canyon revealed a seemingly endless corridor of cliffs towering above us. We realized that, at some point, we would probably have to climb back up in order to arrive at our desired location. Getting past our current location was our first challenge, however. The canyon walls protruded sharply from the ground, giving us very little shore to walk along. Because the water was very deep in places we had to climb over boulders to move ahead. We were forced to remove our packs as we balanced precariously on a rocky ledge to avoid falling in the water below. We crossed to the other side of the creek, as it’s banks had widened offering more space to walk along the shore. We were working as a team, and that was very gratifying. We helped each other over boulders and through deep spots in the creek. For what seemed like the first time, the five of us had bonded. What could have been the worst situation imaginable was turning out to be the best day of the trip for Husband and I. We had no schedule, we could take as many breaks as needed or none at all, and we were genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
I looked up to see a slide of rocks on the hillside above me. Something on the ground below it caught my eye and I paused briefly for a closer look. It was one of the most beautiful and unique rocks I’d ever seen. It looked as if someone had broken it and then glued it back together. It was almost pure white and about the size of my hand. It had an almost translucent quality, as if you could almost see through it. I decided to carry a bit more weight and take it with me. I have a small rock collection and I couldn’t part with my new treasure, it would be the perfect addition. I removed my pack once again and secreted my rock in one of its’ many pockets.

* * *
Many miles upstream and over the mountains, our three comrades were struggling to find their way through the low clouds and light snowfall. Somewhere along the way, probably while fighting through willow stands, Dusty’s compass had fallen off. Now they had no way of knowing what direction to go, aside from their instincts. The clouds obscured the mountaintops rendering them useless for navigation. The topo map was all they had.
Their motivation was simple, to get down the mountain alive. What had started as a challenging test of strength and stamina had transformed into a very real life or death struggle. While they were all uninjured and relatively safe, one wrong step, a wrong turn, the simplest of errors could bring disaster. Disaster was not something they were prepared for. Nick pulled Dusty aside for a heart-to-heart. He was practically convinced that they were lost and wouldn't make it down alive. Between bear attacks, hypothermia concerns and finding a way down, Nick was fearful for everyone's life. He made Dusty promise him that he'd be able to find a way down. Dusty made this promise and was determined to fulfill it.
They moved forward, not stopping to consider the severity of their situation. Although they had traveled many miles, they had many more left to go. Annie had counted herself lucky that we’d seen no bears on our in-bound hike. She, more than anyone in the group, was terrified of bears. Shortly before finding the drainage they would use to drop down to the road, a lonely bear cub crossed their path. As cute as they are, cubs are very dangerous. Not the cub per say, but the presence of the mama bear that is surely close by. Carefully, quietly and quickly they moved as far away as possible from the little guy, hoping that mom would never notice them. Breathing much easier when they could no longer see the cub, they set out to find a way down.
* * *
As we walked along the rocky shore of the creek we came upon evidence of life. There on the rocks was a makeshift fire pit and the charcoal remains of a fire. It was almost startling to see that we weren’t alone. For three days we’d been completely isolated, seeing not even a plane or helicopter. I thought how nice a fire would have been at our camp. We hadn’t been allowed to start one for reasons I’m still not aware of. Seeing no signs of the makers of the fire, we continued on our journey.
We had periodically checked our topo map and it appeared that we were moving in the right direction. We could no longer walk through the creek. It had widened and deepened significantly and now there was a rocky shore to walk along comfortably. At the next bend, however, the shoreline ended and was replaced by cliffs. The creek was much too wide to cross, which meant our only option was to go up.
(An aside: What distinguishes a creek from a river? Because a body of water is called a creek on a map doesn’t necessarily make it a creek in reality. Prior to Alaska I’d always thought a creek was a small body of water, easily crossed and no more than maybe six to 12 inches deep. Sure, it might rise by a few feet during heavy rains, but it wouldn’t develop rapids or other attributes of a river. Alaska has the biggest creeks I’ve ever seen. So, sure, call it a creek, but to borrow a phrase from Willy S., a river by any other name . . . )

We scrambled up the side of the cliff mostly on all fours because of the incline. The hillside was rough, embedded with rocks and shale. It didn’t crumble away like the one Mary fell down, thankfully, so we were able to get up with only moderate effort. When we reached the top and checked the map, at first glace we thought we were lost. Nothing in our surroundings matched with the map. We studied the map and discussed for a few minutes what we should do. While we talked we nibbled on Cliff Bars to keep our energy up. After further study of the map, surprise and excitement washed over us. We were much closer than we thought! We just had a short hike through the forest and then down to Healy Creek, we’d have to cross the creek then we’d practically be to the road. I think we all felt a certain sense of pride knowing that we navigated ourselves through unfamiliar territory and made it out unscathed. What a sense of relief. In a few hours we’d be warming ourselves by a fire and relaxing with a cold beer. Of course, that assumed that our three mountaineering friends made it down safely.
A moose trail wound its’ way through the tall grass in the forest. Adopting this as our new hiking trail, we found ourselves back in dense woods. We could see the creek below us now, which we were using to navigate. If we could find our way around the big bend in the creek, we could start hiking down to our last crossing through Healy Creek.
I contemplated the forest around me. How many people had been here before us, I wondered. Although it was dense, this particular part of the woods wasn’t at all oppressive. Even in the rain-darkened sky, this part of the forest seemed lighter, almost magical. There were downed trees covered in thick green moss. In fact almost everything was covered in moss. The intensely green environment coupled with my exhaustion was causing me to have hallucinations of sorts. The old trees had eyes and faces, and they were following our every movement. It felt as though there was a very real possibility that the gnomes and elves were watching over us. The twisted and gnarled tree roots created the perfect homes for them, and I’m sure I heard them whispering amongst the flowers.
Finally we made it to the rocky creek bed of the Healy. We took our packs off to rest for a while. We’d made good time and were slightly ahead of schedule. We would have to wait for an unknown period of time for our other three party members to pick us up once we’d crossed the creek, so we weren’t exactly in a hurry. As we rubbed our aching shoulders and relaxed our legs, we began scouting for the best place to cross Healy Creek.
Waugaman Village – Part 1

We stood at the confluence of two creeks. The Moody, furious and stong, dumped gallon after gallon into the Healy. The water thundered and pounded in our ears as we surveyed our surroundings. It appeared that this creek crossing was going to be more difficult than it had been on the way in. The silty gray water had collected snow runoff as it descended from its’ source. Not only was the water now much colder than before, it was moving extremely fast.
Finding the best place to cross the Healy was proving to be much more difficult than we thought it would be. The worst-case scenario, someone falling in, was foremost in our minds as we discussed the pros and cons of different potential crossing areas. The creek we’d been able to cross so easily just days ago was now a fully developed river. It had risen many, many feet since we saw it last. It’s quite intimidating, looking down into a freezing cold, rapidly moving river and trying to figure out how to get across it. I don’t remember feeling scared at all, I’m not sure if anyone else did. I just remember wanting so badly to get across and find a place we could just sit and fire up our stove for warmth while we waited on Dusty, Annie and Nick.

* * *

While we struggled with the river crossing, Dusty, Annie and Nick were fighting their way through dense willow and trees. They’d found Dragonfly Drainage, which they were using to get to the main road, but it was close to impossible to hike through. For hours they climbed over, around and through a wall of vegetation all the while hiking down an incredibly steep incline. They had to grasp at branches just to keep themselves from sliding down the drainage or into trees. I’m sure that this was the worst part of the hike for them. Though they’d endured bear and snow and 12 hours of hiking, they were now at the final leg of the hike, and it was by far the most difficult. I imagine that some inner voice within them probably said, “Screw it. Let’s just bomb down and take our chances.” I know I’d be feeling that way. But they were careful and calculated. They had made it so far without injury or incident and they intended to keep it that way. So, step by step, with cautious feet, they inched their way down the drainage.
* * *

The five of us discussed, at length, where to cross the Healy. We were struggling with a couple of issues. There was a part of the creek that was moving more slowly than another. But that part was significantly wider than the very fast moving part. The place with the faster water was seemingly that way only because it was two creeks merging into one. There was plenty of shore on the other side all the way along the creek, so we that wasn’t an issue. Husband remembered Dusty’s advice to him hours before. We needed to find a place to cross with accessible shoreline so that if the worst did happen we’d have a good chance of escape. We tried to test the depth with a stick and it was about the same depth in all places we could reach. Ultimately we had to choose between the shorter distance with the faster water, and the longer distance with somewhat slower water. We decided on the shorter distance.

We strapped our packs back on and prepared for the last leg of our journey. Before stepping foot into the water, we formed a pack line. Husband went first, then me, then my brother Nate, then Mary and finally, David. Each person took a firm grasp of the pack in front of him or her. This helped us to remain steady, keep pace, and frankly, we were told to do it. Husband gave one of his trekking poles (actually his ski poles) to Mary and one to me. When everyone was ready, we began to cross Healy Creek.

It is almost impossible to describe what it felt like to cross the Healy. The water that had been up to my mid-calf was now almost to my waist. The force of the water tossed around the rocks under our feet like rubber balls. Finding and keeping a strong foothold was fruitless. With every other step I felt more rocks sliding from under my feet and I had the sensation of not even feeling my steps at all. We seemed to get a pattern going however and after much effort, Husband had almost reached the other side.

At that point I could almost hear, over the roar of the water, my brother yelling to us. I strained my head in his direction to hear what he was shouting. When I finally made out his words I was dumbstruck. He was telling us to stop. Apparently Mary needed to stop, in the middle of the river, when we were almost across. To this day I don’t know why it was imperative for her to stop at the moment. I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. I passed this information along to Husband, and with disgust and confusion, he stopped the pack line. We turned to see what Mary was doing and what she needed. At that moment Husband yelled out that he was losing his footing and was going to fall.

I watched my husband of only six months plummet into the icy water. Without thinking, instinctually, I grabbed the top bar of his pack. (Thank God for external frames.) I stood there, in the middle of the creek, the water pounding the backs of my thighs, praying that God would save my husband. I watched as his head bobbed up and down in the water and realized that I could kill him if I didn’t let go. I mustered all the strength I had and, apparently, threw him towards the shore. (I don’t remember the throwing, but my brother swears it’s true.) I didn’t even have time to see if he was safe because as soon as I let go of him, I lost my footing. I made a vain attempt to grab my brother’s hand before I was swept away by the rapidly rushing water.

The freezing cold water hit me like a block of ice. I was immediately chilled to the bone. As the creek carried me further downstream, I could see Husband getting out on the other side. He had made it! In silent horror I watched my husband and my brother, two of my favorite men on Earth get farther and farther away. Trying with every fiber of my being not to panic, I looked around me. On the opposite side of the creek there was a fallen tree halfway in the water. I was quickly coming to it and decided I should try to hold onto it to save myself. Just before the water could carry me past it, I reached out and grabbed the trunk. Rather than saving me, the force of the water pushed me underneath the surface and held me there. I knew I needed to let go or I would be suffocated. As I released my grip on the tree, the water began to spin me around. Husband was running down the shore as fast as his legs would allow. He was screaming to whoever would listen for help, at the same time yelling at me to get my pack off. I fumbled with the clasp on the front of my pack, my fingers now completely numb. They were so numb, in fact, that I couldn’t feel the clasp. I couldn’t figure out where to press to release it. Everything felt totally foreign with my frozen fingers. I yelled back to Husband that I couldn’t get it off. The river slowed down slightly, enough for Husband to catch up to me. I yelled to him again that I couldn’t get my pack off so he didn’t think I was just giving up. We made eye contact briefly and I just shook my head. I was absolutely helpless. I didn’t know what to do or how to remove myself from this situation. I wasn’t panicking yet, I wasn’t screaming or crying I was just helpless. Looking into Husband’s eyes, I tried to convey my unending love, my gratitude for him, my thanks for the few years we’d had together. I honestly didn’t know that I would make it out alive. The Healy Creek flows into the Nenana River, which was probably just a mile upstream. It would only take me a few minutes to reach it, provided I could survive that long.

The river kept swirling me around and I noticed in front of me water bottles floating on the surface. The force of the water had ripped from my pack everything that wasn’t strapped on. I had swallowed a fairly large amount of water, which caused me to begin burping. I found this very amusing and actually laughed aloud. Husband, although still running, had slowed down significantly. His legs just wouldn’t go any faster. To this day he can’t understand why his legs wouldn’t do what he wanted them to. Farther in the distance I saw David running toward me. As the river spun me around again, ahead of me I saw a set of very large rapids. They were the kind of rapids that looked as though large rocks were concealed below. But beyond that, I saw an eddy very close to shore. I knew that if I could get to the eddy, I would at least slow down significantly and perhaps be able to swim the rest of the way. However, if there were large rocks below the rapids, I would potentially be crushed before I could reach the eddy. I tensed my body and tucked it into a ball as well as I could, and prepared myself for sudden and horrible pain. The pain never came though. And sure enough, as I passed through the rapids I reached the eddy on the other side. The water slowed magnificently making it easier to control my movements. I heard Husband tell me again to take off my pack, but this request was quickly countered by David telling me to leave it on. I knew that David was making every effort to pull me out of the water. As I began to swim to shore I felt a sharp, ripping pain in my right shoulder. I couldn’t move my arm. The pain was excruciating. Thankfully I’d made it close enough to shore that I could finally touch the bottom. I used my feet to scoot myself as close to shore as possible and then felt David directly behind me. He grabbed once, then twice and made contact with the bar of my pack. He pulled me out of the water and onto the rocky shore. My body slumped as I realized that I was safe. Being in a certain amount of shock, I just sat there not knowing quite what to do. Husband ran to me and with tears in his eyes and fear in his voice asked if I was okay.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 4

Winter in July

We awoke the next morning to find the rain still falling from the sky. To say the least, this was unexpected. Not only was it still raining, but the temperature had also dropped by about ten degrees. All of our equipment was soaking wet and we were fighting to keep ourselves dry. Annie and Nick were the only ones who were smart enough to pack rain gear, and they were now very thankful that they did.
As we gathered around our “kitchen” to make breakfast it was obvious that we had some decisions to make. The previous day’s hike had not gone as planned and we were now behind schedule. Dusty thought that we’d be much farther than we’d gotten and no one knew what lay ahead of us. At this point I was already thinking that we could just go back the way we came and follow the creek all the way out. Dusty was very determined to stick with the original plan of hiking over the ridgeline near Sugarloaf Mountain. I was concerned that if we stuck with the plan, we would find ourselves in another situation without water and many miles to hike still. I didn’t want to end up farther behind schedule than we already were, and frankly, I knew that hiking uphill through tundra again wouldn’t be any faster than it was before. I was very worried about slowing everyone down and essentially ruining the trip. We were in such a beautiful place and I found no shame in changing our route.
I should mention that Annie and Nick are super-athletes. They train for and run marathons for the pure enjoyment of it. Annie and her brother host a party in Washington State every year that involves Olympic-style competitions and relay races. True, it’s done while consuming large amounts of alcohol, but competition nevertheless. They enjoy a challenge and, in fact, almost welcome it.
In an effort to make a better decision about our next step Dusty, Annie and Nick volunteered to take a sort of scouting hike. They would hike along the route that Dusty had mapped and take inventory of what they found and whether it would be feasible for all eight of us to follow. The rest of us would stay behind and enjoy our surroundings.
The rain hadn’t let up by the time Dusty, Annie and Nick were preparing to leave. Carrying only what they needed for the day they started out from our tent area. We watched as they ascended the hillside, which was covered in willow and other dense vegetation. Our eyes tracked them as long as they could, and then, suddenly, they were swallowed by the emerald abyss.
While our comrades tried to find a way out, the rest of us tried to enjoy our time in the Alaskan wilderness. The rain was making our task very difficult however. Eventually we climbed into our respective tents and just tried to stay dry. One of the luxury items that Husband and I take backpacking with us is a Walkman with two small attachable speakers. We have a variety of cassette tapes that we also take, so we listened to Crosby, Stills and Nash and Grateful Dead while the rain pounded our tent. At some point we all fell asleep and took a much-needed rest.
When we woke up it was still raining. Our scouting group was not back yet even though it was nearing late afternoon. Husband and I climbed up to our eating area, had lunch and took pictures. We were ever vigilant for the rest of our group, scanning the ridgeline and hillsides for any sign of them. At last and around 4:00 pm Dusty, Annie and Nick emerged from the forest. They were tired and wet and didn’t seem particularly uplifted by what they’d seen.
As they told us about their journey I began to prepare dinner. I made some sort of pasta and Mary brought out her soggy vegetables, Swiss chard this time. The news was less than encouraging. There were no clear sources of water. They made pretty good time, but weren’t carrying their packs, which would be about ten pounds heavier after packing up wet gear. The hike out would be very long and we would be hiking most of the night and the next day. While I’m not afraid of challenging hikes, Husband and I were in Alaska on vacation and I wanted to enjoy myself as well. Packing up 70 pounds of wet gear and hiking for maybe 15 hours was not exactly my idea of a good time. During our discussion about what to do it became clear that I was not the only one with this opinion. When all was said and done Mary, David, Nate and I thought it would be best to go back the way we came. Dusty, Nick and Annie wanted to go over the ridge. The main concern for Dusty was that the cars were parked over the mountain and someone had to get them. Husband could’ve gone either way but decided it was best to stay with his wife. After all, we hadn’t even been married a year yet.
Reluctantly we decided to split up the group. Dusty was not at all thrilled with the idea, but that’s what we decided. Early in the morning at around 4:00 am Dusty, Annie and Nick would set out over the mountain. They would pack only what they needed, leaving many of their belongings for us to carry. Since they were going to have the longer hike, we offered to pack whatever they didn’t want to pack. A few hours later Mary, David, Nate, Husband and I would head out. We would hike to the spot we started from, or as close to it as possible, and wait for the other three, who would pick us up. We were carrying two-way radios so we would try to contact each other throughout the day.
Very soon after they ate, Dusty, Annie and Nick climbed into their tents for bed. They would have a long day and a very early morning. Although it was still early it was darker than it had been in several evenings thanks to the rain. The rest of us did what we could outside and tried to enjoy our remaining time. It’s pretty miserable to be wet, though, so we soon joined the super-hikers already in a deep slumber.
Husband heard Dusty, Annie and Nick getting ready to depart the next morning. He got up with them to help with whatever he could. Dusty had mentioned that the creeks and rivers would be higher due to the rain and snowmelt. He was especially concerned about us crossing Healy Creek, which was inevitable. As Husband helped Dusty filter the water they would need for the day’s hike, Dusty reviewed the river-crossing procedure with Husband once again. Find a good place to cross, with a strong, flat riverbank downstream. That way if someone should fall in they can easily get out on the other side. Form a pack line with each person holding onto the pack in front of them. Walk slowly but steadily through the water. Husband promised him we’d be careful and assured him that everything would be fine.
By the time they were packed up and ready to leave, I was awake also. Husband and I said goodbye to our trekkers, our stomachs tingling with concern and anticipation. They were packed very lightly, but were not taking even a tent or stove. The weather hadn’t changed, if anything the rain was stronger now. We watched them leave again, praying that they would be protected and safe until they reached the cars.
Husband and I began to pack up our things and take stock of the extra items we’d have to carry. We now had charge of the three BRC’s, Nick and Annie’s tent, Dusty’s tent, and various other items like their stoves. Soon everyone was awake so we took a breakfast break and discussed our strategy. We did have a map, which we were hopeful would help navigate us through areas we hadn’t hiked in before. Even though we were going back the way we came, we were not ascending the same drainage we came down so there would be many places we were unfamiliar with. Eventually we got everything packed up. Due to the rain and extra gear Husband and Nate were carrying packs that weighed close to 100 pounds. Mine was also heavier, though not by much. We took one last long look at what had been our home for three days and made our way down to the creek. After filling our water bottles we were on our way. I felt so strange, at once so excited, exploring a strange land with no guide, relying only on our experience and a map. On the other hand I felt scared a bit. We were in a strange place with dangerous animals and no guide with only our experience and a map. I did feel confident that whatever happened, we would make it out of the wilderness.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 3

In Search of Sugarloaf - continued
From our vantage point high on the ridge, we could see for miles. Dusty pointed out Mt. Dora, which seemed quite distant still. Sugarloaf was practically parallel to Mt. Dora. We'd been hiking for several hours, and because the day was so warm we'd been drinking more water than anticipated.
Dusty began to survey the ridgeline beyond our rest area. The plan was to hike along it to, and then beyond, Sugarloaf Mountain. What the topo maps didn't show clearly was that the ridgeline was bisected by a drainage. Drainages are like streams that carry snow runoff from the mountains. They are very common in Alaska and are typically covered by dense vegetation. They carve deep clefts in the hillsides, which are very steep and difficult to negotiate.
Thus, we came to our first hurdle. Do we make our way down the drainage and try to find a way up the other side? But we're short on water and need to find a water source. The drainage would have water to filter, but would we be able to find a way back up the other side? If we could, how long would it take? We peered down the hillside to the approximate place the drainage emptied into the creek on the valley floor. There was plenty of water there, and we could follow the creek all the way to Sugarloaf. It was a straight shot on level ground, and we'd probably make better time. But hiking in a creek bed is probably the most dangerous place to hike due to the bears. After much discussion and consideration we decided to follow the drainage down to the creek bed and hike as far as we could.
We continued to follow the ridgeline until we were forced down towards the drainage. The hillside that led us down to the oasis-like drainage was covered in loose shale-type rocks. With each step rocks would slide down the hill below us making the hike much more precarious.
All at once we heard a yell and the sound of rocks falling down the hill. We turned to see Mary sliding on her backside all the way down the hill. David was following behind as close as he could without falling himself. When the rest of us finally reached Mary, David was carefully examining her elbow and knee, both bleeding. While she was, fortunately, not seriously injured she was shaken and bleeding. While David tended to Mary's wounds, the rest of us filled our water bottles, took pictures and rested briefly.
When Mary was ready we started our descent to the creek bed. The drainage was full of water and large rocks that were covered in moss. The trees grew so closely together that they created a corridor of lush emerald walls and a leafy canopy. Although we tried to walk along the sides of the drainage and on top of the rocks, this proved very difficult. Soon most of us were tromping through the water with reckless abandon, thinking nothing of wet socks and shoes.
After a steep and steady descent we finally reached the bottom and set foot on the creek bed of Moody Creek. From high above the creek had looked like nothing but a tiny trickle of water. It was not as small as it appeared, however. On either side of it were banks of river rocks or vegetation. The rocks were much easier to walk in than tundra. I felt a second wind, rejuvenation, and my legs began to carry me with a renewed vigor.
Of course we were all concerned about bears. Everyone was much more alert, and on the lookout for anything dangerous. After some time we had hiked as far up the creek as we could. Ahead of us, covering the creek was more dense vegetation that was impassable. Fortunately we had also reached the base, more or less, of Sugarloaf. That meant we could finally stop for the night. After more than eight hours of hiking we were all ready for that.
As I've said before, bear safety is priority one. This extends to the manner in which a camp is set up. Campers are required to use a triangular pattern where sleeping, cooking and food storage are all 100 feet from each other. (I think I remember that right, it couldn't be yards.) So before we set up camp we had to figure out where to sleep, eat and store our food. The spot we ended up in was not ideal. There was a large flat area covered in tundra where we decided to set our tents up. To one side of this area was a mountainside; to the other was the creek. We scouted a spot on the mountainside where we could cook. Because it was covered in round, volcanic rocks it was challenging to hike up and down, but it worked. The food was stored close to the creek.
After we set up camp everyone was ready for food. I had been elected camp chef, because I'm a good cook and I've had a lot of experience as a camp cook. If I remember right I made cheesy black beans and rice with tortillas (wrapped up burrito-style if you prefer). Food almost always tastes better when you're camping. I think Mary even broke out some of her vegetables, now crushed and soggy.
While we were preparing dinner, the first few drops of rain started to fall. None of us were that concerned as Dusty had told us about the occasional summer showers. Soon after we ate, our long day started to catch up with us. Our sleeping bags began calling to us even though it was still light outside. Of course it wouldn't get much darker so we called it a day and climbed into our tents. The rain, now heavier, sang us to sleep with a steady and wordless lullaby.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 2

Alaska is a land of indescribable beauty. The mountains rip through the tundra in spectacular fashion climbing into the sky and standing as giant monoliths. During our drive to Cantwell we stopped at a viewing area already crowded with people. Because Denali, or Mt. McKinley if you prefer, creates its own weather it is often impossible to see the peak. If I remember correctly the peak is visible about 20f the time. We were blessed to arrive when the sky was clear and there were no clouds around the peak so we had a tremendous view of the entire mountain. It is a sight to behold.
Denali National Park encompasses over six million acres of wilderness. It is unlike any state or national park I've been to. The only permissible form of transportation is the bus system operated by the park. As with other forms of mass transit, you purchase a pass that allows you to hop on and off the buses wherever you choose. The purpose of the buses is not only for transportation, however. The drivers are ever vigilant, and encourage this from the passengers, looking for wildlife throughout the entire trip. When either the driver or a passenger spots wildlife, the bus stops for photo opportunities as well as some education.
Denali National Park also houses one of the oldest and still active search and rescue dog programs in the country. The park keeps about 30 sled dogs trained for wilderness search and rescue. Coincidentally Dusty is friends with one of the rangers who work with the dogs. Karen and her husband Chuck both work at Denali National Park and were kind enough to open their home for eight backpackers to sleep in after we completed our trek. Karen works with the sled dogs and, during the summer months, demonstrates the dogs' abilities with a modified sled on a dirt track.
We departed on an early bus, at this time only six of us. Nick and Annie were arriving later that day. Our tour of the park was going to be an all day affair and all of us were thrilled with the prospect of seeing grizzly bears. Sure enough, about 45 minutes into the trip the bus driver stopped suddenly and strongly suggested that everyone be very quiet. As the entire bus looked toward the left there was a collective "Oooo, ahhhh" as we saw the mother grizzly with her two cubs lumbering up the hillside. We were perhaps 40 yards away from these magnificent creatures, and the clicks from the cameras were seemingly never-ending. When our grizzly friends had traveled beyond our sight the bus once again rumbled down the dirt road. We would frequently stop and start to take advantage of another wildlife viewing or incredible vista.
The six of us took the bus to the last stop in the park. Here we walked for a short distance to a beautiful spot to eat lunch. After we finished eating we hiked for a while, climbing into the foothills that were bursting with small yellow wildflowers. At the top of a hill we sat on the spongy, soft tundra and watched the sky turn from a soft blue to steely gray. They say in Alaska, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." Though the day began with sun, the sky quickly filled with clouds obscuring the mighty Denali.
When we were adequately rested we hiked back to the bus stop to begin the trip back. I saw so many wonderful things; it's hard to pick favorites. Among the most incredible was the pack of wolves on the hillside. It appeared that they had just killed a caribou and one large, black wolf remained at the carcass, hungrily snapping up his prize. Wolves are fairly uncommon to see in the park so we felt extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity. We also saw the usual suspects, Dall sheep, caribou, various ground-dwelling creatures, but no moose. I was disappointed because those are supposed to be the easiest animals to see. Aside from that, however, the tour was amazing. What an introduction to the wilderness we would soon be hiking through!
We arrived back at Dusty's house in Cantwell in the late afternoon. Before dinner we went to the trailer park/campground to shower. This was apparently more practical than all six of us trying to take turns in the house shower. We all seemed to linger a bit, knowing that it would be our last shower for a few days. Nick and Annie were arriving shortly and the next morning we were departing for the trek to nowhere.

In Search of Sugarloaf
It was late afternoon by the time we got back to the house, and soon after, Nick and Annie arrived. After the three-hour drive from Anchorage, and after our all-day excursion, all of us were ready for food and adult beverages. The excitement and anticipation of our trek into the wilderness of Alaska had been building all day. Now that the entire party was assembled, everything somehow felt more real. We were really going to do this, huh? We were eight people packing into the middle of nowhere, with the threat of grizzly attacks, with only compasses and topo maps and no trails to follow, to have fun.
We asked Dusty about the route we'd be taking and where we would end up; you know, the logistics. Dusty had reviewed the maps and had more or less chosen a route, but there was clearly no set "plan". The plan was not to be killed by a bear. Apparently that is the biggest concern while hiking in Alaska. It is not something that Husband and I have ever worried about while backpacking. Our one and only encounter with dangerous wild animals was in the form of a hungry raccoon ripping through our tent to steal trail mix.
In time, we were briefed on all the safety concerns as well as the specifics of the hike. Dusty figured we'd be hiking eight miles per day from one point to another. We were going to take three cars total. One would be left in a parking lot near to the place we would eventually hike to. One would be left at the place we were dropped off for Chuck to pick up later. Sue would drive some of us to the drop off point in the third. The goal of our trek was to hike to a ridgeline and follow it until we were very close to Sugarloaf Mountain. Because Mt. Dora’s peak was more visible than Sugarloaf, we would use it to navigate. We would eventually cross over the ridge and follow a drainage down to the highway and to the parking lot where the cars (both of them, thanks to Chuck) would be parked.
Excited about our trip and confident that we had a great plan, we tried to get to sleep early. We'd have to be up early to pack up our gear and find a place to start hiking. When morning came we gathered our things and drove to the elementary school close to Dusty's house. Sue worked at the school, which gave us access to the gym where we'd have room to spread things out and pack them up. The most challenging aspect of packing was trying to fit all the food in the BRC's (or BPC if you prefer) and still leave room in them for anything with a smell. Those stupid vegetables weren't helping either. ("But won't it be great to have fresh veggies with dinner?" My answer, "NO! We're backpacking for the love of God!") Eventually and by some miracle we did get everything packed. As usual, for Husband and I anyway, our packs were nowhere near light. Husband was probably carrying 70 pounds; I was carrying maybe 55, not too bad. With that, we were on our way.
After dropping off one of the cars we drove through the town of Healy and pulled down a gravel road. Dusty was looking for a good place to begin our hike. After driving up, turning around and driving back, he finally found what he was looking for. It was an opening in the foliage with not too steep of a drop into the forest. We said our goodbyes to Sue and started on our way. The sun was out and it was a gorgeous day. It seemed as though it was going to be a great few days.
In Alaska there are very few hiking trails. Even in Denali National Park visitors are encouraged to just hike through the brush. Alaskans view trails as an unnecessary impact on the environment. You're encouraged to hike in a more spread-out fashion, definitely not walking in the typical pack line. After leaving the road and making our way through the small swath of forest we came to an open area covered in gravel. There was a river (or creek if you're from Alaska) called Healy Creek (I still say river) ahead of us and train tracks behind us. Our first challenge was to cross the river. It turned out to be just knee deep on me and I jokingly said "Too easy drill sergeant!" upon crossing it. Nick thought that was pretty funny, I think especially since he is a cop in Concord. We took the opportunity to filter water at Healy Creek since we didn't know when our next chance would be. Husband and I, and Dusty had water filters, but even with two good ones it takes a long time to filter water for eight.
I will say right up front that the hike was much more difficult than I anticipated. Although I hiked as fast as I could, I'm afraid there were times when I was the weakest link. After crossing the river we started our ascent up to the ridge.
Almost every time one of us looked down we saw the evidence of bears. Their paw prints were everywhere. This was both thrilling and terrifying. On the one hand we were in Alaska to see wildlife in a wilderness setting. On the other, we didn't want to die. Remembering the safety tips we'd learned, we made a lot of noise throughout our journey.
The hike up the hill, the very steep hill, was grueling. Keep in mind that you're not walking on dirt or gravel or anything that you're used to hiking on. Tundra was the bane of my existence on that hill. I kept half-hoping that it would swallow me up and deliver me from my misery. Walking through tundra is a lot like walking through snow. It is the texture and feel of moss, though much thicker. And below the tundra are holes that you just sink into. I stand four feet, eleven inches. While negotiating my way up the hill I was sinking up to my knees in some places, grabbing onto whatever branch or brush I could find to pull myself out and keep going. Being the shortest of our group I got the feeling that I was the only one struggling with this particular challenge.
Tundra eventually made way to more solid ground the higher we climbed. After a few hours we stood on top of the ridge, feeling the endorphins pumping through our bodies, and the emptiness in our stomachs. It was time for lunch. We sat on the hillside, the sun smiling upon us, and ate slowly. We were enjoying not only each other's company, but also the complete isolation we were in. There was nothing and no one around for miles. The electric lines we'd passed hours ago were barely visible from our perch on the mountainside. We heard no cars, no people, nothing but the wind rustling in the trees and the birds calling to the wilderness.