Monday, September 5, 2016

Vanlife Instagram Likes

Picture of your boyfriend: 75 likes 

Picture of you: 90 likes

Picture of your dog: 150 likes 

Picture of your kitchen counter: 251 likes

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Chilkoot Trail

Last weekend Titan, Star, Brian, and I hiked the historic Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, AK (former boomtown during the Gold Rush just around the corner from Skagway) to Lake Bennett in Canada.  I was hoping to hike the trail before the end of the season as it’s sort of a rite of passage for anyone spending the summer in Skagway.  On Friday morning, I casually asked Brian if he’d be interested in doing it over the weekend and then we went our separate ways to work without making any concrete plans.  After work, seeing a solid forecast for the weekend, (we’ve been experiencing a lot of rain and fog recently) I headed over to the trail center to see if there were any permits.  There were!  I purchased our permits, went to the store and bought all of our food for the trip, biked home, began packing, biked back to town and met Brian for our trail orientation, biked back home to finish packing, organized rides for the beginning and end of the trail, drove into town to pick up our ride Anna, drove to the trailhead, and began hiking.

All ready!
Unfortunately, we didn’t begin hiking until 7:30 PM.  Earlier in the summer, this wouldn’t have posed a problem as it was almost never completely dark, even in the dead of night, but now that fall is on it’s way the sun sets much earlier- 9:19 last Friday.  According to our permit we should have been hiking all the way to Sheep Camp, 13 miles in, on the first night.  We hiked earnestly until dark, pulled out our headlamps, and hiked for three more hours in the dark.  We reached Pleasant Camp around midnight, still three miles from our intended stopping point, and said “good enough.”   

We had a casual morning on Saturday, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and set out on the trail.  Today’s hike would include the famous Golden Staircase, a boulder field that climbs 1200 feet in 1/4 mile.  We hiked up and over Chilkoot Pass and were greeted at the Canadian border by lifting fog that revealed a bright blue lake and sunshine behind it.  We had a nice lunch on the sandy beach at the lake, and continued on.  We hiked all day long and after 16 miles made camp at Lindeman City.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner of chicken, gravy, and mashed potatoes, played half a game of cribbage, and fell asleep.  

Selfie time!
Still on the US side, before the pass
High clouds on the US side of the trail
The Golden Staircase
Wow!  The clouds parted and revealed this once we reached Canada
The dogs were really happy that there was some snow around

Taking a quick break
Titan enjoying the wind in his ears
Brian and Star admiring a glacier and a lake
A nice section of trail
Everything was so bright and colorful
Another great view!
Admiring the clear water
Glacier and a lake!
Titan checking out a little waterfall
Dinner time!
The next morning we were up a bit earlier as we had to meet our ride, Sam, at 2:00 PM.  We knew it was 7 miles to the end of the trail and some other hikers informed us at breakfast that it was another 8 to get back to the road.  Yikes!  I thought it might be more like 5!  You see, the trail ends at Lake Bennett and if you have done your planning well, you can catch a train there that takes you all the way back to Skagway.  The train doesn’t run on Sundays and as we only had Saturday and Sunday off we figured that it wouldn’t be a big deal to hike out on the tracks (plus we weren’t even sure if dogs were allowed on the train).  Knowing we had 15 miles to complete by 2:00, we strode out of camp purposefully.  We quickly made it to Lake Bennett and enjoyed a celebratory lunch before heading for the tracks.  Hiking out on the tracks was pretty brutal, super exposed in the sun, hard to walk on the ties without doing funny stutter steps, and seemingly never-ending.  At 2:15, we hopped off the tracks at the parking lot of Log Cabin Peak where Sam and Brooke were waiting for us with doughnut holes! 
Nearing the end
Lake Bennett just ahead
The dogs at Lake Bennett.  They were rewarded with lots of Zuke's treats
We did it!  Now for the tracks...
I couldn’t believe how breathtakingly beautiful the trail was.  I was in awe the whole hike of all the glaciers, lakes, and lovely terrain surrounding us.  It was fantastic that the dogs could come on the trail even though it is in US and Canadian National Parks.  I would love to do this hike again and would enjoy taking a lot more time on it next time.  Because we only had two days off, we completed all 41 miles in just under 43 hours of elapsed time!  The dogs had a blast, we had a blast, and I can’t wait for more adventures and less working!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

29 Hours of Uncertainty: Part 2

Tomorrow marks three years since my Dad passed away.  I won't lie, the last three years have been some of the best of my life.  But I can't imagine how much better they would've been if my Dad were still around.  This is the second part in a three part piece I wrote about the process of losing him.  Part One: Backpacking was published one year after he passed.  I miss my Dad everyday.  I think about him all the time.  But I am ok.  Losing a parent is hard and I'm sure that there are people who can relate to this story.  It ends on a sad note, but remember it is part of a larger story, so I hope it doesn't leave any one feeling really down.

Part 2: The Hospital

I had seen my Dad in the hospital once before.  It was right after he had his hip replaced, and I was 18 years old at the time.  He was awake, and totally coherent, not in any pain or distress, mostly just resting after the surgery.  I came into the room, saw his smiling face, and blacked out.  No shit.  He was completely fine, but I think that seeing him in that situation just freaked me out or something because I remember my vision slowly fading out and my breathing becoming shallow and hustling to the bathroom in the room and sitting on the toilet gasping for air and waiting for my vision to become clear.  My Mom was calling me back out into the room because someone was there visiting and she didn’t want me to be rude.  I could hardly stand, but I wobbled back into the room and sat down, and watched people move through brown spotty vision.  There is something about seeing your parent in a situation that they shouldn’t be in that really gets to you.  As a child you are used to your parents being caretakers and being in control of the situation and fixing things when they go wrong.  Seeing them in a vulnerable position feels wrong.  

Anyway, I was really hoping not to black out.  We limped into the hospital and met Sarah and Mom in the waiting room.  Mom explained everything that was going on, what machines and tubes he was hooked up to and such.  Everything was very factual and straightforward as we talked.  Eventually I said I was ready to go in.  We walked into Dad’s room and I didn’t blackout.  I felt a slight success because of that.  I looked at my Dad and I cried.  I cried because he was hooked up to tubes and lying there and that seemed very wrong.  We went back to the waiting room.  I pushed the images out of my head and calmed down.  For some reason I felt no hope.  People were texting me and telling me and I was also thinking that I needed to be really positive and hope for a recovery and send Dad good healing vibes, but all I could think was that he wasn’t going to wake up.  Aunt Lori showed up and I went home to change my clothes.  We spent most of that  day at the hospital.   

I hate hospitals.  During the three years that I was with Tim, we spent a lot of time at the hospital.  I grew to have such a strong aversion to them and everything associated with them, that I started feeling nauseous and panicky whenever there was a prospect that I might go in one.  But I always tried to keep that hidden, to be supportive of those inside.  The rest of my family spent all day, each day at the hospital, from the time they woke up until they went to sleep.  I tried to want to do that, but I couldn’t.  I slept in as late as I could, I dawdled around the house, took the dogs on walks, delayed my departure for as long as possible.   I felt awful.  I felt like I should be there.  But I couldn’t motivate myself to sit there in that room and be helpless.  To watch as the doctors shook my Dad’s arms and legs, and peeled back his eyelids to reveal big gray eyes that stared blankly ahead.  It was not my Dad lying there in that hospital bed.  It was a body that used to belong to him.  Everything was gone from his eyes, the usual sparkle was not there, the gentle smile had left his face.  Just as bad was watching my uncle and grandpa come into the room, to see the weight of their grief sagging on their bodies.  A father should not have to see his son like this.  A man should not have to see his little brother like this.  While I was at the hospital I spent a little time in the room, and most of my time in the waiting room or the outside garden.  When I felt like I had been there at least a somewhat respectable amount of time I would leave under the excuse that I was going to go feed or let out the dogs.          

Each day the doctors came in and did tests and each day they said that we should be seeing improvement at this point.  Each day that passed was another day that my Dad didn’t wake up.  After a few days it became devastatingly clear that he wasn’t going to get better.  We could prolong his life by putting him in a long term care facility and keeping him on life support, but we all knew that he wouldn’t want that.  A team of doctors came to talk to us about “letting him go.”  What this meant is taking him off life support and providing him with pain killers so he could die comfortably.  

I think it's probably natural to assume that your parents will die before you, but it isn't really something you think about when your dad is 57.  I never pictured or imagined what it would be like when my dad died, because it was something so far off into the future that it made no sense to.  I actually thought that maybe I would die in a climbing accident or get eaten by a bear or something and get to skip the whole bit where you have to watch your parents leave the world.  

Deciding to 'unplug' my dad felt very weird and fucked up.  It was like talking about putting a dog to sleep or something and we had to choose a day to do it, we had to schedule my dad to die.  I woke up on the chosen day knowing that it would be the last time I woke up with a dad.  I went to the hospital and we all gathered around and told him all the things we wanted him to know, not very sure that he could hear us, and inwardly pretty sure that he couldn't.  I read him a letter, typed up to make sure I didn't miss anything.  Of course it was impossible to say everything, I could have spoken my gratitude for years and still not be done.  I told him how when I was out on the trail, I imagined going on a backpacking trip with him and started planning a trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail together later that summer.  I told him that I would trade places with him if I could.  How he was not done in this world, there was so much left for him to do.  The world deserved a person as special as my dad to be there, it needed people like my dad.  

I think there is a romanticized notion about being by someone's side as they die.  There's an image of holding them as they take their last peaceful breath and fade away.  It's not like that.  As least not in this case.  When we turned off the machines that were helping my dad breathe, his damaged brain tried its best to tell his body what to do, what it had been doing naturally all by itself since the day he was born.  But it couldn't.  He gasped and fought for air; drowning.  I could not bear to watch and I ran out of the room.  I prayed for it to be over quickly, but he kept hanging on.  The doctors said it could be minutes, or it could even be days.  I was torn, feeling that I should be there holding his hand, but simultaneously wanting to be anywhere in the world but there.  'This is fucked up.  This is so fucked up' I thought over and over.  I never imagined that I would have to wish for my dad to die so I didn't have to sit there and watch his life drag on.  I went in and out of the room until finally I had to leave.  I didn't want my last memories of my dad to be this struggle.  

I went back to my mom's house and curled up in bed.  A few hours later, my aunt knocked on the door.  "Your daddy passed away Laura," she said.  I couldn't really say anything back.  She and my mom were headed back to the hospital.  I stayed in bed.  I realized that I was being a pitiful excuse of a daughter, but I couldn't bear the thought of returning to the hospital to see my dead dad.  I turned over and went to sleep, fatherless.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Friday Night Camp Out

The sub-alpine zone here in Alaska has quickly become our favorite place to explore.  The glacially carved landscape makes for easy exploration and all the lichen in the area are fascinating.  There is no shortage of little lakes to jump in, streams to drink from, and amazing scenery to stare at.  After a hot day in town, I was not looking forward to sleeping in the van so I suggested to Brian that we drive up the pass and go camping.  He said he needed a nap first (it was 7 PM) which greatly lowered my expectations that we would actually go.  I made dinner and when Brian woke up I fed him and convinced him that it would be awesome.  While we were driving up the pass it started pouring rain.  Fortunately, when we reached the summit the rain had already passed and we quickly packed up our bags.  We set out around 10 PM, took a short hike over the ridge, and found an incredible spot to pitch our tent for the night.  The dogs got to run around and explore and we had a refreshingly cool evening for sleep.  In the morning the dogs romped around while we slept in and then we all jumped in a lake before heading back to town for a yummy breakfast out.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sleeping Sidways- A Review

Now that we've been living in the new van setup for a few months I wanted to write down some of my thoughts about different aspects of the build.  I've been getting lots of questions about our sleeping arrangement.  In the Promaster, we are able to sleep perpendicularly (across the van width wise).  The van is about 6' across and at 5'4" (Laura) and 5'10" (Brian) it's turned out to be plenty of space. Here's how it has been working out:

-More living space
-We both get to sleep by the window
-Space for the bench seat in front of the bed

-Crawling over each other to get in bed
-Harder to level the bed while parking
-Less space for the dogs
-Less under-bed storage

When I originally built out my Sprinter I had the bed set up this way as well.  I could just fit, but soon realized that no one else would be comfortable that way (same went for the short top roof in the van).  After a few trips with the perpendicular bed, I did some modifications and one of them was to make the bed run lengthwise.  It cut into the living space, but I realized that most of the time spent in the van was sleeping, so everyone might as well be comfortable.  The lengthwise bed worked out really well in the Sprinter.  

When we got the Promaster, we figured that's how we would set up the bed as well.  When we actually measured the interior space, we realized we would be able to fit across the van and our plans changed.  Sleeping across the van would open up a lot more space for us, which would be helpful given the large size of the side sliding door (lengthwise would put the bed almost out to the edge of the door) and the fact that wanted to have more space for cooking and other activities.

So far it has been working out terrificly.  It was a bit of an adjustment for Star and Titan who were used to having a bit wider of a bed and sleeping with a human or a wall on both sides of them.  Now they sleep on the open edge of the bed so if they get nervous about sliding off they scoot really close and we sometimes get squashed together against the back doors.  It is really nice that both humans can have their heads next to the window so we get fresh air all night.  We've found that if we set our fan to suck air out of the van rather than blow it in at night, it pulls a nice breeze through the window.  

The only downsides to the bed set up are that we have to crawl over each other to get into bed and that we have a lot less under-bed storage space.  I could fit an incredible amount of stuff under the bed in the Sprinter because it extended out so far into the van.  We are really happy with the storage we've designed in the new van though, and having the bench for storage in front of the bed really helps as well.  One other thing I've noticed is that it's hard to get a level bed when sleeping this way.  When your bed is lengthwise you can always park on a slight slope so that your head is elevated, but when you're sleeping sideways on an up or down slope you're going to be rolling off the bed or into the backdoors.

All in all, I'm really enjoying the new set up!  If you are thinking about sleeping perpendicularly in your van, think about how much time you'll spend sleeping vs. how much time you'll use an extra 1-2 feet of space in the van.  I think having a good, comfortable spot to sleep is incredibly important so I wouldn't jeopordize that for a bit more standing room.  If you have a wide van or are on the shorter side though, I highly suggest it! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pedro the Promaster- Van Tour

Here are pictures from the interior of the van after the build.  We still have some odds and ends to finish up, but we have to be in Alaska by May 1 to start our jobs for the summer.  It will be good enough for full time living for the next six months!


Bench and drawers: