I Took a Trip to Alaska

Did you ever play road trip games with your family? Growing up in Ohio—”The Heart of it All,” but the center of hundreds of miles of farmland, small towns, and boring highways—road trips were a rite of passage. My sister, Sarah, and I would be stuffed to the gills in the family station wagon, each insisting that we have our pillows, blankets, backpacks full of books, and snacks to tide us over. Travel-size games like Pass the Pigs were well-intentioned, but not great for the bumpy backseat. One of the Swank family favorites was “I took a trip to Alaska.” This game helped my sister and I survive hours and hours of travel and required no physical accoutrement. 

You may be asking yourself how to play. Simple! You and your travel-mates will go in a round. Person 1 will say, “I took a trip to Alaska, and I brought an {something that begins with A} APPLE!” 

“I’m up? Okay! I took a trip to Alaska, and I brought an apple and a {something that begins with B} BASKETBALL.” And on and on it goes. 

Each player has to remember all of the preceding words until the end of the alphabet. If one person fails, the game is done and you have to start all over. Personally, I like the kind of games that make your mind work. For children and young adults, it’s easy to get in the apple-basketball-candy-dog rut. The last time I played, I challenged my cousin to a new version while swimming in Costa Rica. Each lap correlated with a letter of the alphabet, and all words had to be in Spanish. Despite years of Spanish-language estrangement, executing the laps was much more difficult than thinking of appropriate words. 

Now that I live in Oregon, road trips take a little bit more mettle unless you’re driving straight up/down I-5, or over the mountain to Bend. Everything else brings the risk of driving through the night. If you have scads of free time, it’s no problem. If you want to arrive at your destination in time for dinner, you fly. 

I haven’t played the game in years, but recently I had the opportunity to take an actual trip to Alaska! Obviously, a road trip to Alaska takes a labyrinthine level of planning that I was unprepared for, but spending hours in the car by myself didn’t sound appealing anyway. The trip had been in the works for over a year, and pandemic be damned, we were going to make it happen. Six of us were flying in from 5 different cities across America to celebrate our dear friend Mandy’s 40th birthday. At first it didn’t seem like we were going to be able to follow through with it, but when we found out Alaska had made it mandatory to get proof of a 72-hour Covid test to enter the state, we heaved sighs of relief and comfort. Overall, I’ve seen a somewhat lackadaisical approach to pandemic travel in the US, aside from closing public bathrooms, which infuriates me to no end. (How are we supposed to wash our hands if we can’t access the bathroom??? And that is another blog for another time.) Because of this, I have used extreme caution when going anywhere farther than an hour.

Alaska is one of those places that is perfectly unique in every single way. Such isolation and utterly captivating topography has created a stark, yet somehow lush picture that gives each visitor a feeling of complete awe. The indiginous culture, ingrained for eons, tells stories; the hardy wildlife, like polar bears, whose coats have turned white to blend in with the snow, has adapted to conditions that seem un-bear-able to many (I’m so sorry); much of the art is made with natural resources—true story, I bought earrings made with Alaskan marten penis bones!

Below are some of the memories I collected during the 5 days in Fairbanks and Denali National Park. It cannot possibly present all the grandeur that is in Alaska, but maybe it will give you some ideas for what to expect if you ever take a trip there—and it could give you a new vocabulary for your next road trip game. “I took a trip to Alaska and I brought an abalone, a bunchberry, a caribou, and a dogsled.” 

I’m also curious as to your favorite travel accessories. The softest travel pillow, great earbuds, a perfect toiletry holder, anything! Comment below with your favorite accessory and let me know where you want to go next. 

Becky’s COVIDIARY: Week 1

No time like a pandemic to start journaling, right? It’s something I used to do religiously and very much enjoyed. I still go back to the journal I kept during my first year in Portland, circa 2003. It reveals a very young side of me that I miss sometimes. More than anything, I’m jealous of the energy I had back in that time of my life, but I don’t miss all the confusion, emotional immaturity, heartbreak, and nights full of risky behavior…though thank God none of them had any lasting effects other than the aforementioned heartbreak.

So…Covid-19. What a bitch. Technically I started working from home on Friday the 13th…how’s that for ominous? It wasn’t so bad. I got some laundry done, I did a little dusting. Work flew by like a…like a tortoise at a marathon. The powers that be told us we’d be working from home for the next 2 weeks. (When you read my Covidiary Week 2, you’ll find out that this is now indefinite.) I thought, this won’t be too terrible. At least I can go to work in my jam-jams! The first full week required some adjustments. I fully admit I was not as productive, and, knowing this might go longer than 2 weeks, I found myself in a dynamically changing situation. Read on to find out what adjustments I had to make!

But first, the human side of the situation. When faced with a crisis, we turn to humor. Humor helps us breathe through the fear. It helps us feel connected. Levity does things to our mighty molecules that nothing else can fix.

My bestie, AI, who lives in a rural part of Oregon about 4 hours away, texted me her vice count. She had 11 bottles of wine and her husband had a fair amount of beer. I then decided to respond in kind. My selection was much more…eclectic.

Wine: 1 bottle
Sake: 1 bottle
Sangria: 1 bottle
Peppermint Schnapps: 1/2 jug
Orange bitters: 3/4 full bottle
La Croix: at least 42 cans

Jokes aside, I’ll admit I had a tearful moment when all of the Covid-19 information/rumors/catastrophizing started really tumbling down on me. So far I’m one of the lucky ones. I am able to work from home and (knock on wood) my boyfriend is still going to work as well.

Every time I open my phone or laptop, I read something new and dire. Yet it’s all the same. Stalwart information and rampant rumors; incredible hopefulness and terrifying data. It’s all there, all at once. How am I supposed to differentiate and find the truth? I think I’ve figured out that I have to craft my own definition of truth right now. This is what I know so far:

*I’m going to take the most extreme care I can of myself and my partner. Lots of water. Exercise breaks. Time away from screens. My partner, Boo Bear, is still going to work every day but he’s not sure what will happen in the future. Is he essential? Maybe. They’ve already cut his hours, so who knows what will happen in the coming weeks.

*I’ll be working from home. This means a completely new normal for me. It means creating a home environment that is conducive to low distraction, highly productive editing. This includes not always listening to podcasts while working. It also includes staying on a set schedule as much as humanly possible. I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to get dressed every day. I’ve been about 50/50 on this one. Today, I showered, did my hair, and put on jeans. Tomorrow I may stay in my jam-jams and rock a messy bun.

*Focus on old-school methods of communication while recognizing the need for digital technology. My niece began sending me snail mail letters. The first was basically a roasting of me being scared of spiders. Yes…a 7 year old roasting me for being scared of something that most rational human beings are terrified of.

Vanpier Spiter = Vampire Spider

So like a good auntie, I drew a picture of a monster in her bedroom closet, complete with a likeness of her favorite stuffie, Rainbow Sparkles, convulsing on the bed in fear. Too much? I await with baited breath her retort. Or for her mother to put the kibosh on pen pals until I can shape up and be age-appropriate.

*Zoom. Messenger. WhatsApp. Google Hangouts. Sharing my screen. Putting on my Bluetooth headphones. Work computer. Home computer. 17 thousand chargers. It’s all on the metaphorical and literal table now. No, really. I have 2 computers, a Bluetooth speaker, 5 chargers, an extra USB battery, and a good ol’ fashioned notebook with real lined paper on the table in front of me.

*Taking a real look at how much toilet paper I use. Seriously. This is something my mother constantly rode me about growing up. We used the cheapest toilet paper imaginable (Scott 1000, I’m looking at you) and were berated every time we used more than a few squares. This STILL happens when I go home to my dear Midwest to see her. BUT. Looking back, I’m so grateful to have had these conversations, because, hey buddy are they useful now. I haven’t found any in stores yet, but luckily I have a few rolls of Costco TP still to go through. Just to be careful, every time I see tissues or even paper towels at the store, I buy them just in case. You never know…

So, what does truth in the time of Covid-19 mean in your terms?