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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

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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…

Scattegories

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

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.

Bugs

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.

 

Cars and Kayaks

Fair warning for the faint of heart: There is a picture of a headless sea lion carcass further down in this post. I kept it small. Sorry, but that’s Alaska for you. It’s the circle of life, guys.

My apologies for the long delay in updating. Still hard to find time to sit in front of my computer with Internet long enough to update. I know that I have overly romantic tendencies and fall in love with places too easily, which means that I fit in pretty well in Haines. For example–befriending a fisherman and a forager means that dinners have consisted of fresh halibut or salmon and salads made from foraged greens lately, and our conversations largely consist of how awesome this place is. And sometimes we watch whales and porpoises while eating delicious food. And then we play music. We have in fact formed a trio and named ourselves the Goddamn Band, but we have yet to make our public debut. I’ll let you all know when that happens.

Salmon dinner

King salmon dinner at the Dalton City Fairgrounds

Salmon dinner 2

Sockeye salmon, Coho salmon, and foraged greens with hooligan fish

A slightly blurry but very accurate portrayal of Jon the banjo-pickin' fisherman.

A slightly blurry but very accurate portrayal of Jon the banjo-pickin’ fisherman.

Things that are not as awesome about Haines? Horseflies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and a tendency to see folks driving around with beers in hand….

That being said, there are some of us who aren’t talented at driving even when we’re stone-cold sober.  Just yesterday, I was going to borrow my host’s car to go pick up my friend Kristen, who is visiting from Washington, DC. After spending 3 seconds in the car, I managed to back it into a ditch that I discovered (the hard way) was right behind the driveway. TO BE FAIR, I have logged like 100 hours driving an extra large cargo van, I’m very good at driving in the city, and I DO have a license. I just have really rotten luck.

Car in ditch

….oops.

Waking up your host at 2:30 AM with a panicked knock and an “Eric…um….Eric? You know that ditch near your driveway? Yeah, your car’s in it…” it a surefire way to get someone a little panicked, but fortunately, he thought the whole thing was pretty funny.  Which is good for me, otherwise I’d be out a place to stay for the rest of the summer. Also his car wasn’t broken, which probably worked out in my favor.  We eventually got it out with the help of a very generous friend and a man who was driving home from the bar (there’s some irony there).

I had told Kristen in the meantime to try and hitch a ride from the ferry terminal into town, but a friend was kind enough to go get her (with me in tow). So she’s here in Alaska, safe and sound (so far), and we’re driving up to Whitehorse to go camping this weekend. I’m hoping that my obvious lack of driving skills will excuse me from having to get behind the wheel, but it’s a 5-hour drive one way, so I probably won’t be so lucky.

Kristen got to see a bunch of eagles that were feeding off of this washed up sea lion carcass. Jed looks on cautiously.

Kristen got to see a bunch of eagles that were feeding off of this washed up sea lion carcass. Jed looks on cautiously.

Selfie

A happy (but tired) selfie at Battery Point

The forager friend also has access to several kayaks, so I took the day off yesterday and paddled around with them.

It was a beautiful day, but the horseflies were in full force. Kristen is under that PFD.

It was a beautiful day, but the horseflies were in full force. Kristen is under that PFD.

We all stayed surprisingly dry.

We all stayed surprisingly dry.

Kristen kayaks.

The scenery was just terrible the whole time.

I will leave you with this photo of Emily posing outside the museum.

Emily poses with an ice cream bowl.

Emily poses with an ice cream bowl.

I swear, we do work 35 hours a week. It’s just that it’s not as much fun to write about those things.