Questival 2017

I was suspect, but it turns out doing ridiculous things with your best friends while running around D.C. is a great way to spend an afternoon (even if you have bronchitis, which I do).20170520_102547.jpg


You put your whole self in…

I obviously failed in my attempts to blog about training for a triathlon. I’m kind of OK with that. My brief stint in the triathlon world has taught me that triathletes LOVE TO TALK ABOUT TRAINING. That’s great for them, but I’m hardly interested in how my running fluctuates from week to week (I look at Strava summaries sometimes), so I can’t imagine that anyone else would be.

I switched to the sprint distance. I was also OK with that. My nerves were far too jangled to train properly for an Olympic distance, and it seemed more important to focus on having fun. My two completely baller friends, Katie and Katherine, however, completed the Olympic distance. Times are what they are–Katie set a record for something (maybe her 5K?)–but we all finished. Here are the things that I will remember from this go-around.

  1. From training: swimming and running and bicycling with friends. While I usually work out on my own because my schedule is so weird, it was a nice reprieve from the silence to join up with others once in awhile.
  2. Blasting Beyonce, Rihanna, and Queen in order to psych ourselves up at 5 AM.
  3. Getting to stay with Katie’s family in Quakertown, and getting to hang out next to a beautiful lake near where I grew up all day.
  4. Not being terrified of the swim. How often do you get to swim on a placid blue lake on a sunny August day??
  5. Stopping to help a guy who collapsed on the bike course. I don’t know first aid or CPR (working on fixing that) but I was able to stick with him until an ambulance came.
  6. Getting passed by nearly everyone on the run course and genuinely not caring. I think the best part about training for a triathlon is forcing yourself to stop giving a shit about what everyone else thinks.
  7. Feeling like absolute trash right towards the end but perking up significantly after seeing Katie and Katherine, then running faster than I have ever run in my life.
  8. Crossing the finish line and being incredibly emotional because, well, I couldn’t breathe (I’ll remember my inhaler next time). But mostly because I was elated that I’d managed to do something I was convinced I could never do. And also the surge of endorphins probably helped.
  9. Eating enormous amounts of food, including vegan cannoli, post-race.

I swore that I wouldn’t do another one because sheesh, triathlons are expensive. And yet I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign up for an Olympic distance in Richmond on October 4th because something like seven of my friends are participating or spectating. Everyone else has been super supportive, and a friend from the #bikedc crowd even offered to give me her old bike trainer. I’m surrounded by incredible people who are helping me grow, even at the ripe old age of 27.

So, in short, just like the hokey pokey…that’s what it’s all about.

And Now for Something Completely Different

All right. It’s been months since I posted something, and I miss writing in a blog. Problem is, I don’t have many exciting things to say after spending a summer talking about hammers in Alaska. Yes, it’s been a year since I left for Haines, but I continue to miss it just about every day.

It wasn’t the first time that I’ve gone through an odd period of sadness and frustration after going on a big adventure. I spent a winter living in New Brunswick, Canada (I like cold places) in 2009, and afterwards I spent months annoying my friends by talking about how awesome the Canadian Maritimes were. It’s possible that I’ve been similarly annoying about Southeast Alaska, but it’s always difficult to settle back into life as you knew it before you left. Especially when you feel like you had so much more to explore.

So, while DC is lovely and I have a happy, fulfilling job as a mini-manager at a bike shop (I said fulfilling, not lucrative), I need something else to do with myself. Somewhere on my long bucket list of goals is doing a triathlon. This seems to be an item on many people’s bucket lists, so I’m not unique in that regard. But it would mean a lot for me to finish one. Why? Mostly because I don’t think I can.

Brief back story: I was the slow, awkward one in gym class for many years. I’m not an “athlete.” Competition scares me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I bike everywhere, but it’s usually a solo effort in which I go at my own pace. Also, it’s transportation. Cycling at high speeds for competition’s sake is very new to me. Running and swimming are incredibly challenging, and while I like doing both, they don’t come naturally. When two of my friends asked me to do a tri with them, I said I would but have been doubting myself ever since I agreed to it.

A girl came into the bike shop the other day with a Trek hybrid–a step-through frame, and super heavy to boot. She was looking for a way to attach two bottle cages to it. When I asked her why, she said, “Well, I’m doing an Olympic triathlon on it.” I must have looked surprised, because she got shy and said, “I know…but it’s the only bike I have.” She was somehow doubtful and confident at the same time, and her quiet resolve was gigantically inspirational. So I decided to bite the bullet, pay an annoyingly large amount of money, and sign up for an Olympic distance triathlon in Quakertown, PA in August.

.9 mile swim, 24.6 mile bike ride, and a 6.2 mile run.

It’s no Iron Man, and this blog might be more interesting if it were, but just thinking about that distance makes me want to die. But goddammit, I’m going to do it. I’m fortunate enough to have an amazing group of friends who are either training with me directly or providing inspiration from afar, and oddly, all of their names are some derivation of “Kate” (Hi Katie, Kate and Katherine!). Plus, I need something new to write about, and the “training” trials and tribulations of a somewhat reluctant athlete seem as good as anything else…

Farewell…for now

Emily and I are taking off to Juneau this evening, and our flight leaves on Monday morning at 6:05 AM. It feels like we’ve been here for forever and for not much time at all–but summers always feel like that.

I’ve been warned by several people that the reverse culture shock that kicks in once you hit the Lower 48 (I’ve given up on being worried about sounding like a poser and have just adopted some of the local lingo) can be rough. The owner of the coffee shop next door, who has lived in Haines for 22 years, said that being here is like living in suspended animation. I believe it. I feel like I’m in the process of stepping out of the slow motion part of a movie.

While I’m looking forward to being back in DC–chiefly for friends and familiarity–it’s sad to leave the beautiful scenery here, the slower pace of life, the openness, the fresh air, and the wonderful/quirky people I’ve met. I don’t especially look forward to living off North Capitol Street again and hearing sirens go by several times each night, or having to deal with actual rush hour, or not being able to see a mountain every which way I turn. There are no traffic lights in Haines. Not only is it a small town, it’s remote. The Haines Borough extends all the way up to the Canadian border, and beyond that, there’s nothing for 150 miles. There’s a road through town, but you have to circle around and go through Canada, unless you get on a ferry or fly up from Juneau.

I’m glad I took the leap and tried something different this summer. This was my fourth and first successful attempt to come to Alaska, and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the last one.

As for the Hammer Museum? They just found out that there will be two to three large cruise ships per week docking here next year, which will double to triple the attendance at the museum. This means they can afford to actually hire someone, and they don’t have to rely on interns to run the place. Dave and Carol have put in 13 years of volunteer work, and they’re tired. I can’t blame them, and I admire everything they’ve accomplished here. It’s not many people who can say they’ve opened a museum for their own collections, and all in all, it’s a pretty neat success story. While yes, there are major frustrations involved with working on a $20,000 budget and having zero paid staff, they’ve pulled off something extraordinary.

The biggest testament to the museum’s success are, of course, the visitors. The comments from the guest books speak for themselves.

“Brings back memories.”

“From Wisconsin–home of the Mustard Museum. We enjoyed the Hammer Museum immensely. What a collection!”

“Truly amazing. Wonderful history!”

“Very interesting museum. I really had no idea how many different uses there are or have been in the past, for the humble HAMMER! A most useful tool for mans tasks.”


“Great. Not just a ‘boys and their toys’ museum. Great to see the medical hammers plus so much more.”

“Loved it. Top ten museum of all time! Hammer time.”

“Amazing and unique!”

“Fascinating! Thank you for preserving these pieces of history.”

In addition to the written comments, we’ve talked to almost all 3,600 visitors who’ve wandered through here this summer, and they’re genuinely impressed/delighted/befuddled. They want to share stories with us, and because we’ve spent a lot of time researching the collections, we share stories with them. Call me a hopeless romantic, but to me, this is what museums are all about. Surprising people, engaging with them, teaching them something new, making them laugh, making them think, and bringing up old memories. So while I received some questioning comments from the GW internship coordinator about coming here, I’m glad I came here.


A quirky older couple from outside San Francisco are talking to us about what they would name the moose as part of our museum’s fundraiser.

Husband: “I don’t know what I would name the moose. I have a very scattegorical sense of humor…so I think I’d call it Poop-Nose or something. Something scattegorical like that.”

Wife: “…He means scatalogical.”

He proceeded to fill out a form suggesting the name, “Poop Nose Poop Moose.”

Poop Nose Poop Moose

Unleashing Our Inner Fair

It’s really hard to believe that it’s winding down to my last two weeks here in Haines! The Southeast Alaska State Fair (theme: Unleash Your Inner Fair, hence this post’s title) was this weekend, and it’s been a wonderful, beautiful, and crazy ending to these three months. My friends from the Midwest have always talked incessantly about the Minnesota State Fair, and I never quite understood why it was such a big deal to them. Now I get it. Obviously the one here is quite a bit smaller, but it’s still a trip. The amount of human ingenuity and creativity that goes on display at a state fair is kind of mind-blowing. Haines (and all of Southeast Alaska, apparently) is full of artists, and they came out in droves for this event.

Quilt close-up

Quilt detail

One of the most impressive parts of the fair was the quilting competition. I’ve never thought much about quilts, honestly. I know my mom likes them, and they’re pretty, but holy cow. Walking through the display of the winners–and all the contestants, really–changed my perspective. A ridiculous amount of detail goes into those things, and I’ve never appreciated how much creativity is required to make a good quilt. IMG_0127 IMG_0134

The sewing in general was all amazing. My favorite piece was this needlework moose…the pattern was created by the artist.

Needlework mooseMiniature flower arrangementMy grandmother used to be a professional floral arranger, so some of the pieces made me think of her (Hi, Grandma!). I snapped a photo of this tiny one with a pansy for her. My hands will never have that much patience.

The main stage had all sorts of crazy acts, from wearable art (pictured below) to amazing bands. Elephant Revival and The Whiskeydicks (great name) were two of the headliners–the dancing was ridiculously fun, and it went on until 11 then continued at the bars. In case I haven’t already made this clear, the folks up here know how to party.

More wearable art

Something about the artist surrounding herself with healing powers. I didn’t quite get it, but it was beautiful.

A contestant in the wearable art competition, who was also the lead in the puppet show.

A contestant in the wearable art competition, who was also the lead in the puppet show.

Wearable art--hand-dyed coffee filters

Her dress was made from hand-dyed coffee filters.


The lead singer of the Whiskeydicks


A performer with the Skagway Aerial Company

The winner of the fiddle competition (the fiddle play for the Foghorn String Band) and his accompanist.

The winner of the fiddle competition playing on the Main Stage

I decided to enter the fiddling competition on one of the side stages. I wasn’t expecting to win, but I have awful stage fright and figured this would be a good way to work on it. The winner turned out to be the fiddle player from the Foghorn String Band, and the second place winner was our Swedish/Norwegian friend who’s going to school for music up there. It was delightful hearing them play, and a pleasure to have my ass kicked by both of them! They are also both nice people, and very humble about their abilities.


Me on fiddle and my friend Jedediah on drum

It’s funny–I’ve played classical music almost since I started playing the violin, and I switched to primarily viola when I was 15. But I’ve always loved fiddle music, and I’m not sure why I haven’t pursued it as a hobby until recently. Haines is so welcoming of new musicians, though, regardless of their ability, that I’ve had endless opportunities to play with other people and learn from them. It’s been a nice change from playing quietly in my room. Not that I haven’t had opportunities at home–I’ve just been shy about trying to find people to play with.

Another major highlight of the fair was the puppet show put on by Geppetto’s Junkyard, the local puppeteering troupe. They make all of their puppets, write their own plays and music, and do it all on a volunteer basis. My photos mostly came out dark and blurry, but this one almost does it justice…

A shot from the puppet show. The local troupe is called Gepetto's Junkyard.IMG_0109Technically, Emily and I were there to run the High Striker (the giant thing that you hit with a mallet to try and ring the bell), but our boss was nice and gave us a lot of time to run around the fair. Of course, in my down time at the High Striker, I kept trying to ring the bell myself. I didn’t get anywhere near it, but after watching about 200 people do it at Beer Fest in May, my form has improved quite a bit…

We also got to ride the Ferris Wheel. Normally I hate them because I’m terrified of heights, but this one was small enough to handle. After an initial go-around of “Wow, this is higher than I thought” and “Gee, don’t these pieces of metal look rusty…” we got used to it and enjoyed the ride. Look, we’re waving!


Oh, and did I mention that the weather has been AMAZING? After the rainiest July on records, the clouds broke and we’ve had 3 days of straight, pure sunlight. In fact, it was so clear on Friday night that we saw the Northern Lights! We walked out from the fair to see bands of green dancing on the horizon, and they continued on and off until 2 AM. Because it’s still summer, they were on the faint side, but it’s rare to see them at all this time of year, and I felt very lucky.

Sexism at the Museum

Drink Hammers

IMG_0089 Drink Hammers and Glass Hammers

Thirteen years ago, when the Hammer Museum was getting its start, Carol, who is Dave’s wife, wanted to attract women and children into the museum. So she started up her own collection of hammers. While Dave focused mostly on workhorse hammers, like our 36 pound claw hammer, the maritime hammers, or the railroad hammers, Carol focused on novelty hammers. There’s a large collection of drink hammers in the museum (used at nightclubs to call for applause for the band) as well as a display of glass hammers. There’s also a couple of hammers that were used to break the clay shell off of Beggar’s Chicken (a recipe that calls for baking chicken in 11 pounds of clay).


Her idea worked–while a fair number of visitors are elderly men who previously worked as carpenters, blacksmiths and other hammer-wielding professions, a number of women and children make positive comments about the range of the collection. Everyone makes a connection with at least one hammer.

I have to say though, the fact that we have novelty hammers in order to appeal to women bothers me. I wanted to work at this museum because I like hammers–and not in the theoretical sense–I actually like using them! Aside from that, I would never want a curator of any museum to tell me, “Well, here’s the part of our collection that we think women will like…” It’s a similar reaction when I see floral-patterned hammers at the hardware store, or pink bicycling gear, for that matter.

But I suppose it’s the job of any museum professional to make sure that their institution can appeal to folks of all ages, genders, races, orientations, etc., and to present history in an honest but compelling way.

And sometimes, visitors unwittingly remind me why it’s so important for museums to do this. Yesterday, Emily and I (who are, I would like to point out, the only paid staff at the museum, and we’re two females) were sitting behind the counter when an older woman from Southern Virginia walked up to us and said, sotto voce, in a not un-judgmental tone, “This really seems like more of a man’s thing to me.” Rather than laugh and agree with her so I didn’t have to make further conversation and justify my life decisions to a stranger, I walked her to the front room and talked to her for 10 minutes about all of the hammers that apply to women.

For example! Our Hammer of the Week this week was put out by a company that made “Ball-Bearing Bicycle” shoes, so they manufactured a hammer made of ball bearings to advertise their shoes. The shoes for women were especially uncomfortable-looking, and it was recommended that women wear these shoes while hiking the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail (which they had to do over 40 times in order to bring all of their stuff North for the Gold Rush). Which is just a reminder that women in that era got to hike in heels and dresses–pretty cool, right?

I don’t think I changed this woman’s mind about anything, because she mostly just nodded and then made some disparaging comment about how unimpressive this museum was going to look on my resume (“Well at least you have a job…”). But I felt better.

Two-handled hammers

Not just for women!

We also have a two-handled hammer in our collection, and Emily overheard some man comment that it was a hammer designed for a woman to hammer straighter. And then the other day, a kid (about 10 years old) asked me and Emily where our boss was. She said, “Well what makes you think we couldn’t be the bosses?” The kid got really quiet for a second, and his dad said, “Jimmy, are you being a chauvinist?” To which Jimmy responded, “What’s that?” But yes, Jimmy was implying that he wasn’t expecting a Hammer Museum to be staffed by two women.

It’s true that I might be a little overly sensitive to this sort of thing. What I view as blatant sexism is often (maybe) more innocently intended, and I do need to bear this mind before I jump down people’s throats. Especially when those people are museum visitors.

Of course, a majority of our visitors understand what we’re trying to do here, and I have met some truly awesome individuals. In fact, one woman from Fairbanks was telling me how her mother taught her how to use a hammer as a concealed weapon.

But the occasional sexist comment is a nice, though sometimes annoying, reminder of why I choose to work in this profession. While I don’t expect people to leave a hammer museum with their entire worldview changed, it’s fun to challenge assumptions and persuade people to consider another perspective. And this current runs both ways–I learn quite a bit from visitors, too!

The Darker and Lighter Sides

At the Hammer Museum, one of the exhibits that my boss is working on will showcase the darker and lighter side of hammers. Included in the darker side are objects such as the Sudanese war hammer, the African blood letting hammer (it was a dubious purchase off of eBay, but hey, it’s interesting), the cattle stunner, the pig killer, and the autopsy hammer. The lighter side of hammers includes things like drink hammers (to tap on the glass for a refill), glass hammers, household hammers, hammers shaped like high heels, and hammers for breaking up toffee and candy. You get the point.

This concept can also be applied to spending 3 summer months in Southeast Alaska as a city slicker. There are more ups than downs, but the downs can really get to you if you dwell on them for too long. Unfortunately, a frustrating day at the museum has left me feeling like writing about such things. So here we go. We’ll start with the lighter side.

The Lighter Side:

1) You could spend forever outside here and continue to discover new things. It’s unbelievably beautiful and nature is bountiful.

2) The people are very friendly and warm. You will make new friends quickly.

3) The sunshine is endless. I was biking home from a kayak trip at 1:30 AM and the sun was still visible.

4) The wildlife is plentiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Otters, moose (supposedly), bears, eagles, ravens, mountain goats, coyotes (at least in the Yukon), etc.

5) Fresh. Seafood. Like you wouldn’t even believe. We went to a bonfire the other night and someone said, “Hey, does anyone want these crab legs? I caught them on Sunday and just have too many.” He then produced a grocery bag full of dungeoness crab legs and apologized for them not being terribly fresh (he had caught them on Sunday, and it was Tuesday).

6) Quirky small town life is just plain fun. There was a small marching band in the Fourth of July parade that was assembled by a town group, and there’s been a Listener Personal ad on the radio that says, “Someone is looking for as many curly blond wigs as they can find in the next few weeks. Please call xxx-xxxx if you have one that you can lend out.”

7) Tourists are fun. I like them. And they’re generally only in Haines in droves once per week, so it’s more manageable than working in tourism in DC.

8) There are so many people with fantastic stories, and because people are generally less guarded, you’re more likely to hear them.

The Darker Side:

1) Hate to say it, but the rumors about the men have a lot of truth to them. I’ve met quite a few very nice men, but for a town of 2,500, this place has its fair share of creeps. I don’t know if it’s the dearth of women or what, but some seem like they’re just lonely, and others just seem sinister. And perhaps I’m overly sensitive to men talking down to me, but I seem to encounter that a lot (I got asked if I was going to make some pretty earrings at the blacksmithing demonstration and I almost blew my stack). THAT BEING SAID, street harassment is virtually non-existent here. I have not heard, “HEY BABY, I WISH I WAS THAT BICYCLE SEAT” once since I’ve been here.

2) I realize this happens everywhere, but people bicker about the weirdest stuff. Small town life, while quirky, means that the bureaucracy of the local governance is generally magnified and met with disgruntled annoyance, and everyone’s opinions MUST BE HEARD. The local newspaper has headlines that both crack me up and make me shake my head. Though honestly, DC’s not that much better.

3) Everyone knows your business. After I was spotted dancing on the Fourth of July, the barista next door said, “So I hear YOU had a good time last night…”

4) Nature is pretty brutal. While it is beautiful, it seems like if you’re caught off guard, the worst-case scenario is that you die. Just yesterday, on a hike up Mount Ripinsky, the guide was telling us about a man who was snowshoeing up it in white-out conditions, went down the wrong slope, and spent the night tied to a pine tree on the edge of a cliff with his backpack straps (he lived but it took 2 days to rescue him with a helicopter).

5) I have mentioned this a few times, but it’s expensive, especially if you’re seeking comfort or conveniences at all. Not just with the groceries, but getting to and from here is tough because it’s so remote. I’m going to meet my boyfriend on Thursday in Juneau, and I dropped almost $200 on ferry tickets and a place to stay for the night (I figured he probably wouldn’t want to camp after spending 20 hours on planes).

6) Drunk driving. It happens here pretty regularly. Sure, the speed limit in town is something like 20 mph, but it worries me when I start to bike (or walk) on the few roads in and out of town where cars start to go a little faster.

Overall, I really do love it here. It’s grown on me quite a bit since I first arrived, and generally speaking, I don’t miss being in a city. But having no means of escape is a little frustrating, and I could see how spending a long time here could make you feel like you’re in a bubble.

At least it's a pretty bubble.

At least it’s a pretty bubble.

North Summit of Ripinsky. Most beautiful spot I've ever been to.

North Summit of Ripinsky. Most beautiful spot I’ve ever been to.

A Day in the Life at the Hammer Museum: A photo essay

So many tourists on Wednesdays...

So many tourists on Wednesdays…our way of tracking visitors. Very accurate.

Laugh it up.

Laugh it up. (Donations nearly doubled after we put these signs up.)

Sheep sorrel from the front yard

Sheep sorrel from the front yard

Fruit and nut bun from Rusty's Compass!

Fruit and nut bun from The Rusty Compass, the coffee shop next door.

Too much receipt tape

Too much receipt tape

Too much museum

Too much museum

Patented claw hammers (new exhibit)

Patented claw hammers (new exhibit)

Another "high tech" hammer display

Another new “high tech” hammer display

Emily has fun with the camera

Emily has fun with the camera

We opened the blinds to see this outside.

We opened the blinds to see this outside. Alaska, man.

Hammer Museum paper fortune teller

Hammer Museum paper fortune teller

Stage 1

Stage 1–Many different ways to spell “peen.”

Stage 2

Stage 2


Stage 3

Stage 3



Apparently this year is a bad year for bugs. Lucky me. And luckier me, they all seem to think that I am the tastiest human being on the planet–I’m pretty sure that bugs look at me and see a gourmet buffet. I learned today that they call black flies “white socks” here, and that these nasty little creatures are crawlers. Which means that on top of flying and landing on you, they CRAWL UNDER YOUR CLOTHES TO BITE YOU. I got hit by one on the back of my calf, and the racquetball-sized welt is testament to that.

Fortunately, when I’m playing outside at bonfires, my fiddle bow makes for a great insect repellant. If I wave it in the air enough it seems to ward them off for a bit (although this impedes my ability to play with it). And fortunately, many of the plants here seem like they were designed to ward off bugs. There’s a pretty ubiquitous plant called yarrow that you can crush up and rub all over your skin. Plantain helps with inflammation, and devil’s club also works as an anti-inflammatory. (People actually make salves out of it to help with everything from acne to arthritis to headaches).  I don’t seem to be allergic to any of these things…so far.

This is all provided that you’re an idiot and forget your bug spray when you’re going to an evening bonfire (like I did last night). I’m all for natural medicines and whatnot, but when it comes to mosquitoes, midges, black flies, and other annoying pests, I feel that the higher the DEET concentration, the better.

This is what a breakfast buffet looks like to a mosquito.

This is what a breakfast buffet looks like to a mosquito. Also please note the giant shiny bite.