bike sketch


The bicycle means different things to different people. For kids, it’s a stepping stone to a new form of play. For bike commuters, it’s a source of transportation. For professional cyclists, it’s a hobby and money maker. For the average American, I’m guessing it’s a form of exercise.

Then there’s someone like me who smiles at the memory of a good bike ride while dreaming of the next. I can wonder why on earth I’m crawling my way up a hill and then remember as I feel wind-induced tears of joy as I fly down the other side. I can yell at the headwind while wondering why I decided it was time for a ride and then breathe easily as I smile at my speed and ride a good tailwind home.

Unfortunately, scooping dog poop and carrying buckets of dog food and water has kicked up my carpal tunnel syndrome, which has led to wearing my wrist brace day and night. Currently when I bike, my hands do go numb, so today I looked up how cyclists deal with carpal tunnel. Just reading someone’s comment of “I do not wish to give up cycling because of it” put me on the verge of tears.

Even when I’m not certain, my bike Trekker just seems to know what I need and where to take me. For me, the bike provides mobility, freedom, thinking time, self-torture, exercise, and happiness – sometimes all in one ride.

When I climb on my bike these days, it’s often just to get around town; my bike is my car. Yet because biking is in my genes, I often find myself shouting, “Yay biking! I love biking!!!” (Seriously, I should have started the sticker company that makes these.)water bottle

Despite the wind, on Tuesday I needed to go for a real ride – not just running errands. My one errand included dropping off the rest of the brownies and blondies I’d baked the day before; they needed to get out of my cabin – hence the bike ride.

As I left campus and started up into the wind on Farmers Loop, I was in the middle of a pretty intense thinking session. Staying in town for this long has shown me that I am indeed a human who wants social contact. As happy as I am with opening my door to 60 puppies with wagging tails in the morning, I’ve realized I don’t want to spend my evenings alone in the cabin.

This led me to thinking about life and what I want out of it, and that’s less than a clear road to me… as in it’s the trail-less wilderness of Denali. After roaming around in my mind for awhile, I needed to get out. Instead of only dwelling on my thoughts, I started singing some of the sad songs that I find beautiful; instead of slowing down for puddles, I started riding full tilt through them, delighting in the rooster tail of water spraying my face, coat, and shoes. Before I knew it, I was having a blast racing my way downhill, riding a tailwind into the beginning of sunset. My biker’s high had been a little slow to arrive but had finally kicked in.

The only downside was that my feet had grown cold from the wet and wind, which made me decide to briefly stop in Barnes and Noble. Really it was part of Trekker’s plan all along, I think, as inside I found the remains of a free food event. I inquired as to what had happened and learned that the Alaska Writers Guild had just held their monthly meeting.

“Are you a writer? If you’ve written a sentence, you’re welcome to come talk about writing and get input,” said a middle-aged male member.

Hmmm. Am I a writer? That’s something I ponder now and then. Was this serendipitous meeting meant to be a kick in the pants for the future?

After chatting for a bit, I sat by the fire to warm my feet and jump on better internet to check for sub jobs. Since poor Fairbanks is desperate for substitute teachers, subbing is my new time filler and money maker. Being in charge of kids who just want to horse around while teachers are gone isn’t my ideal job, but it’s something that allows for a very flexible schedule and challenges me to work around people.

Since I’m so inexperienced and rather out of my element, I haven’t necessarily been excited about most potential jobs. However, this time was different, as there was a job in a computer class at a middle school. The appeal lay in the class note, which read, “Students are working on a world tour project where they need to do research and find 21 places around the world they would like to visit.” THAT I could try to keep kids focused on all day. Travel’s the greatest!

With the job impulsively in hand, I realized I needed to bike the rest of the way home and get to bed before a day of travel talk. Yes, I’d be the annoying sub with far too much enthusiasm for the topic, and it would be great.

On my way home I was all smiles as I enjoyed the tailwind and sunset. Trekker had done it again, given me just what I needed: a 26 mile ride, a brief visit with a running friend I bumped into (not described in this post), ideas for the future, and the chance for a Steph-geared subbing job. Yay! Biking!


A Fond Farewell

When you grow up in the suburbs of Detroit in the 90s, you grow up a Wings fan. How can you not?


Look at all those banners!

While there was never any uncertainty about my team, one drawing I made in 3rd grade cemented my favorite NHL athlete and hockey team in place. We were learning how to draw faces, and our teacher had pictures of Detroit Red Wing hockey players for us to use. I have no doubt that mine was terrible, but that didn’t stop me from sending Sergei Fedorov my drawing of his face.

When I received an envelope back from “him” in the mail, I was so excited that I saved it and the contents – a season schedule, a Joe Louis Arena fact sheet, and a “Red Wings history in Hockeytown” sheet – all the way until now. Red Wings mailIt didn’t matter that I didn’t get an autograph or any personal note; just the fact that I got mail from the Detroit Red Wings was thrilling.

Yzerman, Fedorov, Lidstrom, Shanahan, Osgood, McCarty, Draper, Konstantinov, and coach Scotty Bowman are a handful of names that will never be forgotten by Detroit. I grew up in the era of slugfests between the Wings and the Colorado Avalanche. I remember being stressed while watching many Stanley Cup playoff games and celebrating many victories. The image of octopi being flung onto the ice never gets old. If my memory serves me correctly, there was once a spring thunderstorm that took out power at our house and left the family listening to a game on a battery-powered radio.

Unfortunately my Wings experiences were limited to television and radio during my childhood. Because the team was so good, ticket prices were higher than my parents were willing to pay to take the family to a game at the fabled Joe Louis Arena.

When I heard that JLA would be hosting its final season in 2016-17, I knew I needed to go to a game. I let my Dad know that if I was in Michigan during hockey season, I’d be taking myself to a game. “Maybe Jeff and I will come along,” he said.

“Sure! I just know that I’m going,” I responded.


Because of that, my parents bought tickets to see the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Los Angeles Kings as a family Christmas gift. On December 15th, I finally saw my first live game. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out as hoped – nor did the season – but that didn’t stop me from wandering around and appreciating the history of Hockeytown. I can only imagine the ridiculous energy and craze of games in the 90s and 00s.

Yesterday The Joe hosted its last Wings game ever, and although I’m hardly part of Detroit these days, knowing that JLA’s run is over saddens me. I’m forever defending the city of Detroit, and The Joe housed some of the city’s most exciting moments.

So from The Pub in Fairbanks, where I’m wearing my Fedorov jersey as I drink to you: Thanks, Joe, for the memories of fights, losses, and victories.

It’s kind of like Detroit itself.



cookiesAs I sit on my brother Jeff’s couch, eating a few cookies from the batches of my Grandma’s snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies I just made, family comes to mind. You see, I’m a fantastic sister. I arrived at Jeff’s in California a week ago, and part of his condo tour included specifically letting me know where the cookie ingredients were “in case you want to do any baking.”

With empty cooling racks on various surfaces and crumbs beneath as reminders of what had been and could be, I took the hint and did some baking. My brother and I are very different people, but his baking cupboard showed me that we do share that interest.

Jan 89

Jeff and I also share a love of the outdoors, reading, and travel, but our interests and intelligence vary beyond that. He went to MIT to study computer science; I went to UAF to study my own interdisciplinary major of nature photojournalism. He plays ultimate frisbee, reads court cases, and even travels to Washington, D.C., to sit in on U.S. Supreme Court sessions for fun. I hug puppies, play in the kitchen, and run for fun. In other words, my brother is smart – as in naturally intelligent.

Jeff’s brains took the family to D.C. for his 3 years as a contestant in the National Spelling Bee. While he was busy working his way to tying for 5th in the nation, I was nervously pacing upstairs in our hotel room.

Whether he knows it or not, I truly don’t know what I’d be like as a person if it weren’t for him. He was one of those kids who got straight A’s in school without needing to put much effort in, so I just grew up assuming there was no reason for me to not get A’s. The difference was that I had to earn them with late nights and a few actual tears of fear for Honors Chemistry. (Of course not too far in I learned that Chem is awesome and ended up taking AP Chem.) I graduated from high school with a high GPA and carried that work ethic and need for good grades throughout college.

Ultimately none of that really matters, though, since I can now sit in a brewpub and watch football on the screen above Jeff’s head while he’s watching on the screen over mine. (Although somehow he did get the hideous gene that makes him support the Wolverines. NO approval from me on that one.) Both of us got the quieter side from our Dad rather than the talkative gene, and while we don’t talk much or live close by, we get along reasonably well. He has his tech life, and I usually find puppies.

I’ve realized that I probably wouldn’t be exactly where I am without the influence of my human brother and canine sister. Because Jeff was part of a very active Boy Scout troop, I was always envious of his outdoor excursions. When it was time to decide on a destination for Jeff’s senior trip – a family trip following graduation from high school – we all had been interested in Alaska, but Jeff is the one who officially requested it.


RBDII on twin trip in 2004… unless I somehow was flying when I took this

Little did I know in 2004 that a month of Alaskan summer would lure me to college in the Last Frontier. Nor did I know that my ride on the Riverboat Discovery would be the very first of dozens; when wildlife fieldwork failed to pan out 8 years later, I became a deckhand for the 2012 season. When riding the Riverboat in 2004, I first laid eyes on Trailbreaker Kennel, home of Susan Butcher and David Monson. Being a dog lover, that was obviously the highlight of the boat trip for me.

When I heard that Trailbreaker could use a hand in 2012, I quickly offered my help and  became a dog handler for my 2 days off the Riverboat per week. Being on shore with the dogs was so great that I made a few appearances late in 2013.

Fast forward to March 2017 when I was fresh off of 2 months in the heat and sunshine of Mexico. I’d returned to Alaska earlier than necessary in the hopes of catching a few weeks of winter. At the GCI Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race I ran into Laura Allaway, an Iditarod musher and fellow dog handler at Trailbreaker.

She mentioned her winter tour business had been shorthanded; I mentioned I was back in town with a whole lot of not much to do until summer. It’s not hard to put the pieces together from there. She told me she couldn’t offer me much money for helping out but that there was an open cabin next to the dog yard.

I was SOLD.TBK home

dog teamMaybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but it looks as though it’s thanks to Jeff that I’m a dog handler for Golden Heart Dog Tours out of Trailbreaker Kennel. God probably had a slight hand in it, too. 😉

Being a sled dog handler in winter had been an idea since coming to Alaska, but needing income to pay off student loans had put it on hold. Now that I’m free, the dream is real! As of this past week, I finally had the chance to hop on a sled pulled by my own little team! From my childhood with Pixie to present times, puppies have always been the best.


The top of the list is no more! Now what?

I don’t want to cloud over the significance of this event with words, so this will be short and sweet.

Today on March 20, 2017, I paid off my student loans for good! (!!!!!!!!)

It was no accident that I made the last lump payment today; on this date in 2007 we both put my sister Pixie – a shetland sheepdog – to sleep, and I was offered the chancellor’s tuition waiver that ultimately lured me to the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

No, I’m not able to pay off my loans because I make the big bucks. It’s because I’ve been thrifty for years – even when traveling. (friends, Couchsurfing, Airbnb, hostels, floors, buses, and trains) It’s because Scott and Frank have let me crash on their couch in 3 different Fairbanks homes during my stints in town. It’s because my trusty Trekker has safely transported me over pavement, gravel, snow, and ice for almost 8 years – sparing me the expense of gas. It’s because I’ve been paid to play in amazing places with amazing people for months at a time and have no expenses.

I couldn’t be at this point today without the help of everyone in Fairbanks who’s ever given me lifts now and then or helped me move a load from storage to real housing. Nor could I be here without the guidance of my financial advisor, my dad, the engineer turned H&R tax guy who’s encouraged me to fund my retirement fund for years. Now he’s agreed it’s time to pay off my loans rather than refinance them, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I’m finally free from wasting money on an expensive piece of paper every month. My UAF experience is nothing I would have traded, as I’m now eating Pub nachos and enjoying a pint of Hoodoo IPA. To say I’m beyond thrilled to be done paying money to a mysterious entity would be an understatement. It’s time to start the free life

Tu 21 February 2017 @ 11:18  on some dirt road in the SE corner of Oaxaca

Well, it’s only fair that I finally have a bus adventure with just under 2 weeks to go here in Mexico. Despite having very limited Spanish capabilities, I haven’t experienced many glitches in my trip.

Back on a Sunday in January I did lose my debit card to an ATM after pulling out some cash in Teri’s town, but I still had Alesha as a back-up until I could receive a new card. Unfortunately an ATM then decided to eat Alesha’s card without giving her any money just a couple of days later. Fortunately we were staying with Teri and her sister at the time, so the bank of Teri and Christin opened for us. After hassling our banks multiple times, Alesha and I eventually picked up our new debit cards from her friend in Cuernavaca, and all’s been well.

no money

Bums on the street


We’re rich!

new cards

Debit cards = can buy hammocks!

The stereotypical Mexican travel adventures didn’t end there, though. On Thursday of that same week, I sampled jicama, a root vegetable sometimes served on a stick and coated with flavoring. Although Teri, Christin, and Alesha also ate their portion, I’m the only one who woke up 3 times during the night and ended up with Montezuma’s Revenge at 4am on Inauguration Day. So many people have said our election results sickened them. Well, I legitimately was sick on the day our new president took office – though for different reasons. Luckily my bout lasted fewer than 24 hours, and a few days of bland food readied my system for Mexican food again.

Busing around Mexico has been unlike any expectations I had; I haven’t encountered a single chicken on a bus. Sombreros and gigantic flower arrangements, yes. Apparently I need to visit other areas of the country to get the chance for chicken buses. From all my travels of the past 6 weeks, the buses here are nicer than those on US bus routes. They’re clean, air-conditioned, mostly on time, play movies, and sometimes provide drink and/or food.

It’s just that right now I’m not exactly sure what’s going on. We sat in a line of traffic about 5 miles from the Oaxaca-Chiapas border for about 30 minutes before learning that migration, immigration, or someone had blockaded the road. I’d heard of this happening but hadn’t experienced it yet myself. Thanks to my Colombian seatmate who knows some English, I know our options are to sit and wait indefinitely, get off the bus and take our chances with walking and catching a cab, or call a tour company to see if we can access some other road.

Most of us have opted for option 3, which is why we’ve been meandering down dirt roads as we drive past brush fires, trucks of cattle, and dusty villages. From the GPS on my phone I can verify we’re headed in roughly the direction of our destination, but it’s far from the most direct route. I don’t mind, though. My only regret is not buying a chocolate banana from the ice cream man who was smiling at me from his car while we waited.

ice cream man

*We did enter Chiapas at 13:05, so no harm done other than over an hour’s delay*

South of the Border

Since leaving Fairbanks in mid-November, I’ve been through 8 states while transporting my road bike from California to Michigan via Amtrak, spent 4 of 6 weeks afflicted by 3 different colds, purged a lot from my parents’ house, got treated to Michigan’s wet snow, and went to my first and last Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

Now I’m lying in my sleeping bag in Teri’s red and white hammock in Mexico, kind of wondering why I’m wishing I hadn’t just missed Fairbanks’ cold snap. After all – I have to say again – I’m looking up at the stars from a hammock. The inky sky melts into the dark hillside to the northeast, and the peppering of stars differentiates sky from earth. Dogs bark from different directions, and the rooster next door crows at 22:15. The Jalpan River babbles by just downhill from Teri’s house. All I have to do is push against the railing, and I can be rocked to sleep. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Having the freedom to travel in the off-season is a huge perk of seasonal fieldwork, and that’s why I find myself in this situation. Rather than returning to California for another winter of bird counting, I finally made good on my word to come visit Teri while she’s on her Peace Corps assignment in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. I even convinced another college friend to come along, so I have a travel buddy! Alesha’s been handy to have, since we’re 3 weeks in and my resurfacing German skills are still not very useful.

Jalpan sign

While financially it may have been wiser to work this winter, my spirit needed something other than bird counting or a meaningless filler job. It needed adventure and the unknowns of travel in a country where I don’t speak the language. Duolingo claims I’m now 26% fluent in Spanish, but that means I’m 1/4 fluent in toddler-level language skills.

It’s been an interesting journey so far, and there are plenty of adventures to come. Unfortunately I didn’t start a tortilla count on day one; I think it’s safe to say I’ve consumed over 75 fresh corn tortillas in 3 weeks’ time. I miss the tastes of reindeer, salmon, kale, and blueberries, but they’ll be waiting for me in Alaska. For a while longer, I’ll feast on a late night dessert of constellations.

Becoming a Hobbit

Flashback to life in New Zealand!

28 January 2012 will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was the day that could have led me down the road to really, truly living in Middle Earth. On that day, I went to Wellington for an extras casting call for “The Hobbit.”

Now when I originally heard about the call, I figured I’d have no chance and that I shouldn’t tease myself. For that particular 2 week period off my kiwi island I’d planned on meandering my way through the Northland region above Auckland. Plans changed when a phone call home ended with me sobbing from the news that my parents’ sheltie had died. My dad told me to eat some ice cream and head to Wellington, finally visit various LOTR (Lord of the Rings) filming locations, and take my tour of the Shire along the way. “Father knows best,” so I took his advice.

Unless you’re a LOTR and map junkie, feel free to skip the following 2 paragraphs.

Loaded up in Shadowfax, my trusty white Nissan station wagon steed, I began the trip south. I stopped in Mordor (Tongariro World Heritage Site/Whakapapa Ski Field), near the Ithilien Camp (Ohakune/Tongariro), at the River Anduin (Rangitikei River Gorge), in Trollshaw Forest/Osgiliath Wood (Waitarere Forest), in scenes for leaving the Shire (Otaki Gorge), at the Pelennor Fields (Paraparaumu), in Isengard Gardens (Harcourt Park), and at the River Anduin and Rohan River (Hutt River).
After the casting call, I stopped by where the hobbits left the Shire and escaped from the Nazgul (Mt. Victoria Park), where Frodo and Sam cowered at the Black Gate (Red Rocks at Te Kopahou Reserve), the Dimholt Road (Putangirua Pinnacles), “Rivendell” and the Fords of Isen (Kaitoke Regional Park is beautiful, but it’s 100% clear that Rivendell is mostly digitally rendered. We all knew it was too good to be true.), and Hobbiton/the Shire (Matamata).

I literally slept in a holiday park (campground) next to Isengard. After a stroll through Isengard’s garden in the morning, I made my way toward the casting call location in Hutt City. I didn’t know exactly how far away it was or where to park, but when I began encountering people crossing the highway, I had a feeling I’d reached the area of my destination.

The casting call was very diverse in its reach, including:

• Males, Under 5’4”
• Females, Under 5′
• Large men, 5’9″ tall and over, who have character faces.
• Men and Women of any height who have large biceps.
• Women who have character faces.
• Men and Women, slender and athletic, between 5’5″ – 6’4″
• Must be 17 years of age and above.
• Must have flexible availability for filming.
• Must have New Zealand residency OR a valid New Zealand work permit.
• Must be located within reasonable driving distance of Wellington during filming.

Who doesn’t want to think they have a face of character? extras lineInstead of ~1200 of us showing up, over 3000 hopeful extras formed a complicated swirling and twisted line in the grassy areas next to the highway; I think I joined the end of the line and didn’t cut in somewhere, but I really can’t say for sure. Ultimately the police had to shut down the event because of traffic/safety problems. I hadn’t reached the doors, but just being at the event was an experience in itself.

I couldn’t decide if it was worth mailing in my application, considering I had limited time in NZ. Of course, if I did happen to get contacted, I would have immediately canceled future flights and jobs to be an extra. Ultimately I decided, “Why not?” I got my head + shoulder and full body shots printed off. The application itself was pretty basic; I had to provide contact information, availability, any “skills” (i.e. animal handling, martial arts, or virtually anything), my height, my shoe size, and … my suit/dress size.crowdUh oh. When had I last worn a dress? 8th grade Confirmation/graduation seemed accurate. I probably had grown a bit since then. Also, were NZ and US sizes the same? Somehow I had to find an answer to this question. One option was to try on a dress of the friend I was staying with, but I felt too silly to ask her. Instead I found a mall, went inside the first store that looked reasonable, and found a few dresses that didn’t look ridiculous.

Yes, I tried on a few dresses to figure out my size so that I could tell the folks at 3 Foot 7 Ltd. in Miramar what dress size I was. It was that important to me.


Once I had found my answer, I left the store, filled in that blank in my application, and sent it off to the Extras Casting.

What did I do next? I drove to the Putangirua Pinnacles, which are the bizarre rock formations on the trail to the Paths of the Dead. The zip-off pants and quick dry shirt were definitely more my style!


I will admit that wearing a dress wasn’t as vile as I’d considered it for years. The ultimate answer is… yes, if I had been contacted to be an extra and told I’d be wearing a dress, I’d have done it in a heartbeat.


*Note: The awesome burn lines come from standing in line. That was one of the very few times when I didn’t wear sunscreen down there.