We lost our second softball game. Of course we knew we’d lose, we were playing the best team in the league, the team that won last year, but still, it had been a hard loss since we’d fought so hard to keep up.
In the van on the way home, I said ice cream was the answer to everything. It had been the answer to our win, and now it would have been the perfect answer to our sad loss. Dave said it wasn’t the answer if you are lactose intolerant, but that was the only scenario we could come up with when ice cream isn’t the answer.
I tried to stay in high spirits, but my ego was bruised and all I wanted to do was have a glass of wine and read in my tent. Tanner, however, had different plans for the evening.
I walked into the Liz and Tanner pointed at me, “The Dump?”
Me: Nah, I’m not in the mood.
Tanner: Come on, Sammie. You’ll love The Dump.
Me: I kind of just want to stay in and drink wine and read.
Tanner: Sammieeee, you’re a fun person. I know you’ll love The Dump.
Me: Ok, ok. Fine.
Tanner is one of those people who turns ordinary moments and tasks into exciting and memorable events. His excitement is raw and pure, and therefore incredibly contagious. Instead of, “I guess we could watch a movie in The Palace tonight” it’s instead “THE BEST MOVIE EVER, WATER WORLD, IS BEING SHOWN TONIGHT AT 7:15 SHARP!”
So, 8 of us piled into Tanner’s pickup truck (5 in the cabin, 3 in the bed) and we went to The Dump.
The Dump sounds terrible, doesn’t it? You’re probably picturing miles and miles of piles of garbage, and a bunch of us idiots standing on literal garbage drinking shit beer and throwing the cans onto a pile when we’re done like a bunch of homeless people.
Well, you’re actually not too far off. However, The Dump is an organic dump in the middle of the forest, so it smells like nature and is surrounded by mountains and has an endless supply of things to burn for a bonfire.
Tanner and his crew of 7 pulled into The Dump after stopping to get provisions (beer and snacks) at the local everything store, Wildman’s. Two cars of our people were already there participating in Dump activities: A group of people were standing around a moose’s carcass, another group was scrounging around in the dumped stuff for wood to burn, another group of people were throwing rocks at a burned out piece of plywood with a hole in it. My group exited Tanner’s truck and made their way to the group that interested them the most. I myself took a position with the rock throwing people. There’s nothing quite like throwing rocks at shit.
A few more cars of our people trickled in and the magic of The Dump continued. I was drinking wine while sitting in a kayak on a rack on top of Grace’s Subaru, a bonfire had successfully been started, a bench was being fashioned from a few dumped pieces of spare wood, and music was being played from a Bluetooth speaker on top of someone’s car. Not a single person I could see from my spot in the kayak didn’t have a smile on their face. And the night had only begun.
A rope tied to a piece of chain with a carabiner on the end was found amongst the dumped stuff and Dump Rope was invented. Everyone crowded around the game of Dump Rope and soon Double Dump Rope was successfully executed.
Katie and Dave made a game of trying to jump over Lake Dump, which was hilarious since Dave is 6’5″ and Katie is 5’4″. Dave made it and Katie’s boot got wet.
Dalene, Stephanie, and Lantz were rolling around on a grassy hill full of flowers and Tanner was their photographer.
McKenzie found a John Deere digger tucked away in the forest, and Dalene, McKenzie, Stephanie, and I had Tanner act as our photographer, too.
Then suddenly it was almost midnight, and the next day happened to be Dalene’s birthday, and her Golden Birthday at that!! Tanner instructed us all to find a huge rock to throw into Lake Dump (a small ditch filled with rain water) at midnight in honor of Dalene. We counted down from 10.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DALENE.
And everyone threw their rock into Lake Dump and it was somehow the most touching birthday ode I’d ever seen.
Right before Dalene’s birthday ode, someone had tried to dig out a large rock from the ground to use as their rock to throw into Lake Dump for Dalene’s birthday, but it had been too deep to manage by midnight. After Dalene’s ode was over, a bunch of us returned to the rock to continue digging it out.
A few people pushed, a few more people pulled, and still it would not come out of the ground. The rock was aptly named “Excalibur”. A 2×4 was used to try to create leverage to extract it to no avail.
Everyone was chipping in their strength and throwing out ideas. It was clear that getting Excalibur out of the ground was no longer fun and games. This rock was coming out. Tanner came back from his truck with a shovel and the digging began.
45 minutes later, Excalibur was triumphantly raised above our heads and thrown into Lake Dump in celebration. Tanner’s hands and face were covered in mud, but he looked as if he had just won the Superbowl.
It was past midnight and finally dark (ish), the fire was burning low, and Excalibur was at the bottom of Lake Dump. It was time to head home.
We put out the fire (thanks to water from Lake Dump), picked up all non-organic remnants of our night, packed into our cars with the DDs at the wheels, and headed to The Diner (our employee lounge, which is always open, and turns into the Diner when everyone needs drunk, midnight snacks).
We’d had pulled pork and coleslaw for dinner and the leftovers made for a phenomenal second dinner post-Dump drinking.
Dalene made a heartfelt speech about her birthday at The Dump, we all ate and were merry.
Magic happens at The Dump.
Day 19 (6/1/16)
Last year I worked my way up to hiking Cecil Rhodes Mountain and it was my last big hike of the season. But this year I started with Cecil, wanting to check it off my fairly extensive summer “to do” list, and also wanting to do it while there was still snow along the backside so I could sled down half the mountain.
I planned for the hike a week in advance, which is always tricky with Alaska weather – you never know what the weather will be, even with a forecast of 0% chance of rain. But when I woke up Wednesday morning, sun filled my tent and the sky was crystal clear blue. I looked up at Cecil admiringly as I walked in his shadow on my way to the Liz to pack lunch and snacks for my excursion up there.
Alex, my hiking buddy for the day, met me in the Liz for breakfast and lunch packing. She’s new to AWA this year and, remembering how I felt after hiking Cecil last year, I felt excited to be able to introduce someone to the magic of Cecil.
In the middle of the steepest part about 2 hours into our hike, I turned to Alex and said, “You know, I described this hike to someone last year as ‘So steep that if it were any steeper, it would be rock climbing’, and when I thought of that recently, I thought I was being dramatic. But now I realize how accurate a description it is.” She agreed that it indeed was an accurate description and we continued crawling upwards on our hands and knees.
We spent over an hour at the summit, mostly because of the obvious reason – we had just hiked four grueling hours to get there and the view was spectacular and there wasn’t any wind and the sun was shining and we were happy – but also because of a less obvious reason – we were not looking forward to the steep and miserable hike down. And so we ate our lunches and chatted about life and watched mountain goats and laid out in the sun until we mustered up the courage to make our way back down.
It was as miserable as we had guessed. Cecil’s mountain top is made solely of shale and slate, which is brittle, crumbly, and slick. Alex and I hardly spoke a word to each other as we made our way down because 100% of our attention was being channeled into concentrating on our steps so as not to slide down a very rocky mountainside.
After about 45 minutes of carefully and slowly hiking down the mountain, we finally came to one of the large snow patches we had walked through on the way up. Alex asked if I was going to try sliding down it. I told her I thought it might be too mushy for it to work, but I was going to try because anything was better than having to continue down the mountain on foot. I dug my rain jacket out from the bottom of my pack and tied it around my waist.
“Well, here goes nothing.” I said as I pushed of and started sliding down the mountain. I screamed with glee and laughed as I slid down at the perfect speed.
“You made that look so fun!”, Alex yelled at me from the top.
“It WAS. You have to try it!!!” I yelled when I got to the bottom. So she did, and her face was also plastered with a huge smile when she made it to me.
There were two more large patches of snow before the treeline and we slid down both, screaming and laughing the entire way down. The last patch was a lot steeper than the other two had been and it led straight into the treeline, but we slid down it anyway.
I went first and screamed at the top of my lungs as I slip out of control and at a way higher speed than I had intended toward the thick treeline of Alders. Alex was right behind me and by the decibal of her shriek, I knew she had come to the same conclusion.
I slid toward a low hanging Alder and put the heels of my hiking boots into the snow to slow down. Ultimately, I stopped by running into and grabbing hold of the Alder. I looked up behind me and Alex was in my track and coming right for me. I ducked and rolled further into the Alder getting out of her way just in time. Alex was stopped by the same Alder branch and we both rolled around in the snow laughing hysterically until our stomachs hurt, commiserating about how wet and cold our butts were, and how stuffed with snow our boots and pockets were.
We hiked down the rest of Cecil with smiles on our faces and our butts frozen and soaked.
Day 20 (6/2/2016)
“So, what did you have in mind for tomorrow’s hike?”, Kevin asked as we washed our dishes last night.
“Whatever you want.” I said as I scrubbed my dinner plate.
“Martha Story keeps telling me about this locals-only hike. We could do that?”
“Perfect. Meet here at 10 AM?”
“See you then!”
It wasn’t until I sat in the Liz this morning eating breakfast that I realized I hadn’t asked a single question about the hike – not about the distance or the elevation or the terrain. I should have known better than that when it came to hiking with Kevin.
“Should I pack a lunch?” I asked him when he walked into the Liz. He nodded in a yeah-if-you-don’t-want-to-starve way that made kind of nervous.
“Exactly how long is this hike?”, I asked nervously. Not because I wasn’t down for a big hike, but because my legs were still a little noodle-y from hiking Cecil the day before.
“I’m not exactly sure.” he replied lightly.
So I packed a lunch and hoped for the best.
We followed the seemingly vague, but actually incredibly accurate directions of Martha’s text to the trail head.
We had been hiking through deep, mossy forest for about an hour, slapping at our arms and necks and legs the entire way to try and kill at least a few of the hoards of mosquitoes feasting off our blood when I bent over out of breath and said, “Damn you, Cecil.” Kevin laughed and said not to worry about it, but that we should probably keep going if we had any chance against the mosquitoes. And so I pushed on, sweat dripping down my face and neck and back.
Two hours into our hike, we lost the trail under snow. Luckily, someone had taken the time to tag the trees on the path with bright orange or blue or pink flags. Kevin and I made a game of it, competing to be the one who spotted the next flag. At one point, as we were both walking different directions between the spruce trees on top of 5 feet of packed snow looking for the next flag, Kevin yelled from somewhere, “Whoever finds the next flag wins and the loser has to buy both of us a milkshake from Wildman’s!”
I had spotted the last 10 flags, so I was stoked at getting a free milkshake. “DEAL!” I yelled back. A minute later, Kevin yelled, “FOUND IT!!”
I followed his voice and found him standing next a branch with an orange flag. “Were standing here when you made this bet?” I asked suspiciously.
“NO! But that would have been a good idea!” he laughed.
Once we could see the summit, we stopped trying to find the actual path and started making our way up in a straight line toward it. The view we’d been glimpsing on our way up was of the valley on the backside of the mountain, so my breath caught when we finally made it to the ridge and saw the view on the other side. I’d never hiked a summit on this side of Cooper Landing and had therefore never seen Kenai Lake from this angle. I could see all the way down the Kenai River toward Skilak Lake, but I could also see Kenai Lake and Cooper Lake and Rainbow Lake. I stopped and put my hands on my hips. And let out a sigh. “Ugly. I give it a 1/10.” I joked to Kevin.
We were mostly quiet as we ate, taking in the view and enjoying the sun against our bare arms and digging our toes into the short alpine plants. We laid out our unused rain gear and laid in the sun for a short nap in the sun after we finished our sandwiches and snacks. When I closed me eyes, I was surprised to realize I couldn’t hear anything except a bee buzzing on a flower near my head and the wind blowing through the valley behind us and my own heartbeat in my ear; no voices, no ringing of cellphones, no hum of cars from the highway below. We were too high up and too far away to hear anything. Maybe that’s why when Kevin spoke he whispered instead of speaking, “Thanks for pushing through.” I smiled with my eyes still closed and whispered back, “Thanks for hiking slowly for me.”
When we’d sat up again, Kevin looked along the ridge to another, higher peak and looked back at me with his head tilted and his eyebrows raised. I shook my head. “Please don’t make me.” I begged. But he didn’t need to make me. Like him, I couldn’t get so close to a peak without summiting it. And so we set off again, down our first summit and then back up, through snow, to an even steeper and higher summit. I was taking my sweet time, going back and forth, creating my own switchbacks. Kevin, on the other hand, walked straight up without breaking a sweat (so typical), so I met him up there.
It’s amazing how a few hundred feet can change a view. You wouldn’t think it would do much, but it does. So if you’re ever talking yourself out of making it to a summit: don’t. Always go a little higher. You’ll never regret it.
As we sat on our second summit of the day, I turned to Kevin, “Well, I honestly didn’t think this is where our day would take us.” He smiled, and I smiled at how I could say the same of my life.
And then, as if the view wasn’t reward enough for our double summiting efforts, we were able to slide down the an hours worth of hiking in three minutes.
And as the cherry on top of the perfect day, we drove to Wildman’s; ice cream for dinner… yes please.
Day 21 (6/3/2016)
I was high on life and endorphins from my two amazing summits in two days, looking forward to one more day off, but instead spent in my bed reading all day when I ran into my roommate. She had her head deep in a map opened in front of her.
“What are you looking at hiking?!” I said, excited to talk about the best trails in the area.
“I’m looking at this loop… Summit Creek to Resurrection Pass to Devil’s Pass. 20 miles.”, Monika replied.
“For tomorrow?”, I asked, hoping she’d say “no”.
“I was going to spend the entire day in bed reading, but that hike is on my list. Who are you hiking with?”
“No one. I was going to do it alone.”
“Dammit, Monika. I’ve done two steep hikes in the last two days, and now I’m going to have to do this one with you.”
Our alarms went off at 6:30 a.m. I stretched in my sleeping bag, noticing the ache in my thighs as I did. I rolled over toward Monika, “Do you still want to do this?…. Monika?….. Monika!….”
“Ok, see you in the Liz for breakfast.”
Monika drove her car and I drove mine. She dropped her car off at the hike’s finish, hopped in my car, and I drove us both to the trailhead. We were on the trail at 7:45 a.m.
As we started making our way up the first mild incline, I shook my head and thought, “What did I get myself into?”
The first 8 miles were the hardest. Although it was the beginning of spring, and an unusually warm spring at that (12 degrees above average, to be exact), the trail was still very much covered in snow because of how narrow that valley is and how it’s positioned. We kept losing the trail and had to make our own trail through knee-deep snow slides. Our legs were soaked with frozen water, our eyes hurt from constantly looking at the snow refracting light, and I was starting to feel the two challenging hikes I’d completed in the last two days.
It took us 5 hours, but we finally came over the ridge that led into Resurrection Pass. We could see it winding along the river in the valley below us. We scarfed down a quick lunch and started back up, unable to completely relax because of the sudden cold and constant wind that was whipping through the valley.
It was all downhill from there, literally. We slid down the side of the mountain to Res Pass, and the next 12 miles were an enjoyable and unnoticeable decent from 2600 feet elevation back to the trailhead.
I lied. The first 8 miles AND the last 3 miles were the hardest. 3 miles in the scheme of 20 miles is nothing, but the last 3 miles were almost unbearable. I started speeding up, because I was ready to be done, but also because I was afraid that if I stopped, my legs would completely stiffen and I would never be able to get them going again. A pain had started shooting down from my knees to me heels with each step, and still I sped up to what seemed like a slow jog. We did the last 3 miles in 36 minutes, so it turns out we did do it at a slow jogging pace – 12 minute miles.
From a distance we heard a semi-truck whoosh by, and then we spotted silver metal through the tree. The parking lot! We practically ran to the car, unlocked it, untied our boots and shed our wet socks, and sat for a few minutes unable to move and enjoying sitting.
20.3 miles in 9.5 hours. We’d kicked the hike’s butt despite knee-high snow, constantly losing the trail and having to create our own trail.
Day 24 (6/6/2016)
Today was the first all-day, bone-chilling rainy day here in Cooper Landing. My co-worker, John, and I were outside all day doing various tasks to get Fish Camp ready for the upcoming fishing season, all of which seemed to do with water or ice: cleaning out the freezer, filling ice bags, cleaning coolers, building boxes to ship fish. By lunch, my hands and toes were frozen.
One of the girls from the front office (where I worked last year) was eating lunch at the same time I was. “Remember when you asked me if I missed office life a few days ago? Well, I do today.”, I said to her as I shivered for affect.
Even as I said it, though, I knew it wasn’t true. I’ve realized I rather be outside in the freezing rain than inside a dry office any day.
Things to remember for the future.
Day 25 (6/7/2016)
I have this vision of myself, my future self, my settled self. I’ve had this same vision for years now. It’s of me on the front porch of a house in the mountains or in a valley between mountains. The sun is just about to creep up from behind the mountains in the distance and every tree and blade of grass is hazy in the yellow orange glow of the morning light, and I’m sitting in a rocking chair with a mug of steaming coffee in one hand and a pen hovering over the day’s crossword puzzle in the other hand. I write in the last answer on the crossword then look up and smile as I admire the streaks of light streaming through the leaves and the beads of dew on the long grasses. Often in my vision there is a dog at my feet and a significant other in a rocking chair next to me, but sometimes I am alone in my vision and that’s feels ok, too.
As I sit here now, on a grassy ledge halfway up one of my favorite mountains, overlooking Cooper Landing as the sun sets, throwing orange light and dark shadows on the trees and mountains faces and homes tucked away in the forest, a finished crossword puzzle in my lap and a smile on my face, I realize I have already become a version of that vision of myself. Not quite as settled, and not yet a property owner or a dog owner or a partner, but just as happy and content as I’d imagined.
So maybe you don’t need to have it all figured out to be the person you’ve always dreamed of becoming.
Day 26 (6/8/2016)
Sipping coffee, skimming used books, and skipping rocks; these are the things that made today special.
Alex told me that she’s never been good at skipping rocks, and therefore has never been good at skipping rocks.
I told her that she’s been looking at it all wrong. Skipping rocks isn’t a sport, it’s science. You have your surface area and velocity and surface tension and centrifugal force and… yeah. Science.
And then she went from plopping rocks into the water to skipping them two to three times.
My favorite thing Alex said was how amazing it was that nature doing what nature does, without the interference of humans, had made all these flat, rounded rocks perfect for skipping. I skipped a few more rocks as I turned over the thought in my head. I told her that I liked how we as humans had found a way to use these perfectly flat and rounded rocks to our advantage just the way they were. She smiled and said she liked that. That her goal in life was to make that happen more often, to find ways for humans to use the earth and its resources in the exact way they were given to us. I smiled and said I liked that, too.