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. 

In the Flow

This post is NOT about Covid, but I can’t easily go into it without at least acknowledging the massive event that has touched most human beings in some way. The last 10 weeks of quarantine have been what anyone could easily call a roller coaster. Some may call it a monsoon, others a slight dipping of the tide, and still others don’t know which end is up currently. For me it has been all of these things, changing from minute to minute, never knowing when to throw the anchor to just stop and breathe, but always having a solid support in my partner Boo Bear, and the rest of my community.

My first week of unemployment. Surprisingly, this was not due to Covid; my contract at Nike had been extended, which was a happy bonus during the dregs of the pandemic, and then it was finally time to end. So I’d been saving money here and there, and was extremely grateful for the stimulus check, though in Portland it won’t go far. Still, I’m grateful for any help. Oregon also sent us a kicker from 2018 in our taxes this year, so I threw up a silent hallelujah when I saw that slide into my bank account.

The last time I was unemployed, it came as the biggest shock of my life. I had worked at my previous company for 14 years. I was about to hit the big 15th anniversary. I was inspired by how much my role had evolved and was excited for the changes and fresh blood entering the company. Yet I trusted my new department head too quickly. She waited the requisite 45 days and then booted all but 2 of us in order to bring in her own soldiers. It was devastating. This story is not unique, but it had never happened to me. I was angry for months. I grieved for many things during that time. The expectations of job security, the skills I thought would see me through the next phase of my career, the trust I had blindly put into the department leader. I had expressed my interest in being the new communications editor, and we had scheduled an interview for the day after my layoff. Unbeknownst to me, she had never intended on keeping that date.

As hurt as I felt, and as much as I couldn’t believe that this was supposed to be part of my journey, it led me to a whole new understanding of what a job could be. Seven months later, I found myself sitting behind a desk on the campus of one of the largest sports apparel companies in the world, as an editor. An editor! The position I had wanted at a small insurance firm had morphed into this whole new me, refining copy that thousands of people would see.

13 months and what feels like a lifetime later, I am unemployed once again, this time on my terms. I started my first day of freedom doing what I do most Saturdays since the quarantine started: working out with my best friend over a video meeting app. If you haven’t tried this yet with those you love who are far away (or those you can’t see across town because we’re in lock down), you MUST. Our workout of choice is the 305 Fitness Saturday morning livestream. It’s all about infectious positivity, practicing fun (and sometimes dorky) dance moves, and toning our muscles. I highly recommend trying this or another video workout while you’re staying safe at home.

305 Fitness founder Sadie | photo courtesy of samuelallenscott.net/

I received a sweet text minutes after finishing my workout: a picture of my copy director’s adorable toddler holding a basket of goodies, and the words, “We’re here!” I stepped outside to see my amazing director, S, and her son standing several feet away, the basket at my feet. She explained that it was full of goodies from herself and my coworkers to wish me a happy “vacation.” As I relayed this story later to a friend, she remarked, “You’d better go back and thank her AGAIN, because leaders like this are not common.” #grateful

After I’d cleaned up my sweaty body, it was time for a video chat with my cousin, K. Sometimes I refer to her as my niece because she is 16 and I’ve watched her grow since she was a baby, but our family tree has many branches and many cousins, so at this point, we just call each other cuzzies. We talked about her buying a car soon and hopefully visiting in person when the pandemic dies down.

A trip to the grocery store (Thank you for your care towards your employees and customers, Whole Foods!) turned into an incredible dinner made by yours truly. Boo Bear enjoyed the hell out of it, and since he had made it home on time, which is not always the case in his industry, we got to enjoy a night on the couch watching a Marvel movie without falling asleep. We’re watching them in chronological order, just for funsies. I’ve never watched any Marvel movies before this and I’m really enjoying them! Let me know if you want the chronological list, and I’ll send it your way!

I know not every day will be this awesome, but starting off this new part of my journey with gratitude in my heart for my community and with a positive outlook makes a huge difference. I don’t know what will happen in the next few months, but I’m going to try to remember to take it one step at a time and embrace the flow.

Becky’s COVIDIARY: Week 2

Week 2 began with the best of intentions. Professionally, I felt much more confident in the working-from-home department; I’d set up my desk area, gotten to my screen by 7:30 every morning, and was ready to leap into week 2. I eagerly worked towards hitting my benchmarks with renewed vigor.

Personally, I was not so good. I ordered Caviar 3 times because I was just too tired to cook most nights…maybe 4. I didn’t exercise more than an hour the entire week. I drained many of my vices. Current count:

Sake: 1 bottle
Peppermint Schnapps: slightly less than 1/2 jug
Red wine: 1 bottle
La Croix: dangerously low amount 
White Claws that I bought last week and drank: 7

I’ll admit I also had several moments of despair when my Mac closed shut for the day and all I could muster was an evening of sluggish television watching. Trying incredibly hard not to beat myself up was probably the biggest challenge of all.

Week 2, I did not like you, so I’m not going to give you much attention. I will end this diary post with one of the few highlights of my week: family video chat! It was my cousin Katrina’s birthday, so a bunch of us got online and did what families do best: talk over each other. But it was so fun! I can’t wait to do it again.

What was the highlight of your week?

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?