One step forward, one step back

One step forward, one step back.

That is how I feel about my progress on the bike.  It is really two giant steps forward, but it doesn’t feel like it yet.  You see, I have a biking goal that I am really excited about…dare I tell you?  Hmmm, I don’t know if I ready for that level of commitment.  Oh, alright, of course, I am committed to this goal.  Alright, crossing the Rubicon here, I have a goal to ride the RSVP next year.  That is an annual bike ride from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada.  It is roughly 180 miles in two days.  I’ve done my research it is a realistic goal!  If I increase my mileage by 10% a week, I can be ready. 

In order to prepare for it though, I’ve decided to “throw away my crutch” or in another words, I stopped riding the electric bike.  I’m all on my own power now.  This is a huge step for me, but it feels like a step back because on the electric bike I could cover 10 miles in about an hour.  Now on my own power, I can do four miles an hour.  That is a bummer!  The other day I was riding and feeling a little frustrated about this when my inner voice said to me, “Leslie, be realistic.  At your…eh em…weight and fitness level, being on the bike at all is a victory.  It doesn’t matter how far you go, every time you get on the bike is a victory!”  The rest of the ride was bliss.  I need to send that inner voice some flowers. (No chocolate, I’m watching what I eat!)

What about you?  What “little victories” do you have that you are not recognizing in your life?  I’m sure you have them.

One step forward, one step back seems to be a common theme in my life.  I was recently reminded of a time in my life that felt like a falling into a pit, but turned out to be a pole vault forward. 

It was a long time ago, before I was married.  My best friend and roommate, Charice and I had decided to move to Alaska to get a job in corrections.  Alaska and Nevada are the highest paid states.  Somewhere in the back of our minds the knowledge that in Alaska the men outnumber the women 7 to 1, might have influenced us ever so slightly.   It was around that time that the Alaska Men’s Magazine was created, but mostly we went for the job.   You believe me don’t you?

Anchorage was a dream.  Moose that walked right into town!  After awhile I stopped taking pictures of them because it was such a common occurence.  A bear came into town once too, but I didn’t see him, I just heard about it on the news.  Indescribable beauty everywhere you turn, and I have to say, growing up in Arizona that was new to me.  No offense to my fellow Arizonians, but there is no comparison!  I could go on and on about how much I loved Anchorage and all the things I loved there, but just thinking about it is making me homesick.  I don’t think I could tolerate the snow and cold as well now, but back then it didn’t bother me at all.  I loved Anchorage and I planned to live there the rest of my life. 

I got a job working in a half-way house.  It’s main purpose was to be a jumping off point for men getting out of prison which is a much needed place in society.  We also had temporary “boarders” when the jail was over-flowing.  Imagine my surprise when one day I was doing orientation with a new group of “boarders”, I was reading their names outloud from a list when to my utter surprise, I saw a name I recognized.  I looked up and sure enough it was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Alaska Men’s Magazine.  I mean, he was a gorgeous guy that had a muscular build that I had oggled.  (Did I just say that?)  He was “just” there on a DUI, but it really made me laugh. 

Anyway, we had been in Alaska for a year, when finally I got a call for an interview for a state job.  Remember that was the reason we went to Alaska.  No, really it was, it…ah, never mind.  The interview was by phone, because the job was in Bethel.  I interviewed and was offered the job.  I should have been thrilled.  After all it was a dream job.  A good career move for me at that point in my life…but Bethel?!  I didn’t want to go to Bethel.

Next thing you know, I’m on the plane to Bethel.  I cried half way there.  Although I accepted the job, because it was such a great opportunity for me, I knew I probably would not like Bethel.  How could I be so sure?  Because Charice had been there before and she told me about it.  I’ll explain.

To get to Bethel, one must fly.  It is on the west side of Alaska and there are no roads that go out there (read: single girl leaving civilization as we know it!)   In Bethel, I was able to rent a darling little house that looked like a log cabin.  The catch was that like a cabin, it had no running water.  That is actually quite common in Bethel.  Because of the tundra, they can’t bury the water pipes, and they will freeze above ground.  Some people have running water, though I can’t recall how that was accomplished, only that is was less common for someone to have running water than not.  So imagine bitter cold winters, below zero is not uncommon, so what do you do with the outhouse?  Well, it is generally attached, like a porch, to the house.  Imagine yourself coming to visit me, as you walk up to the front door, to your left there is another door…the outhouse.
Now you are beginning to understand why I cried!

They don’t call it an outhouse though.  It is called a “honey bucket“.  Because of the tundra, they can’t dig a hole like a traditional outhouse, so a bucket is used, thus the name.  You may be wondering how they empty those things.  Once a week the “honey bucket man” comes to your house in his truck.  He has a large truck with a big tank on the back and a hose.  He walks into the Honey bucket room and puts the hose in the bucket.  Ewwww!  Yes, it’s true.  When my children need a little motivation to do their school work, I remind them about the “Honey Bucket man” and threaten them that this kind of job is what happens when you don’t get an education.  Truth be told, those guys probably make a lot of money…who would do it otherwise?

Another man comes to your house with another hose and fills your water buckets.  The water buckets are literally large garbage cans (that have never held garbage) that you keep in or near your kitchen.  Then you use this water all week for cooking and washing.  For bathing, some people went to the laundry mat where you could rent the public shower (like at a truck stop).  There was a sign on the door, “one person at a time, please.” I was able to shower at work.  I found this really awkward…so much for prettying yourself up BEFORE you leave the house.  It was quite common, however.

The houses in Bethel are on stilts, and every now and then the men go out and measure and level things up again, because the tundra does not make for a sure foundation.  Most people in Bethel don’t have cars because any car in Bethel has to be flown in and there is really no where to go as the roads only go around Bethel.  In the winter though, the river freezes solidly and people drive on it like a highway.  When Spring comes and the first car goes through the ice (just the tires, generally) they know it is time to stop driving on the river. 

There is one doctor in town.  There is also a hospital, plenty of doctors there, I’m sure, but you know what I meant.  The hospital is only for the Natives, pregnancy or emergencies though.  I had a friend whose child broke her arm.  She didn’t like the local doctor (I don’t know why, I liked him just fine), so she had to fly to Anchorage to have her daughter’s arm set and casted.

As if all that was not enough to make a girl go crazy, there didn’t seem to be any single men in my age range in Bethel.  I don’t know where my “seven” where, but they weren’t in Bethel.  There was one, though.   One night when I was still new in Bethel and in Culture Shock there was a very powerful wind storm.  Eighty-five mile an hour winds.  I thought I was one of the three little pigs, and living in a house of wood, you can guess what I thought my fate would be.  Somehow I managed to go to sleep, and when I woke up my house was still standing, but it was bitterly cold.  The storm had disconnected my propane tank for the heater.  I called the landlord and he sent…you guessed it…the only single guy, my age, in town.  There I was freezing, homesick, unshowered and I open my door to an Alaskan Brad Pitt.  I wanted to die on the spot!  I swear he could read my mind because I remember him laughing for no apparent reason.  He got the heat back on though for which I was immensely grateful.  Since I didn’t die immediately, I did not want to die of hypothermia.  I saw him again sometime later and he asked me out.   I was thrilled, but unfortunately we had different goals.  I had limited dating experience, and that was with young men who shared my religious values.  If I had known what Alaska Brad had in mind for the night, I could have saved him the money on the lobster dinner!  I got dinner and he got zip.  Score one for naivete!

Whenever I talk talk about Bethel today, I put a strong emphasis on the second syllable.  To be fair though, most of the people I met in Bethel live there because they love it.  They ride snow machines to work in the winter and dog sled on their days off.  In the summer they fish, though how they keep from being carried away by mosquitos I don’t know.   My sanity while I was in Bethel was the local theatre group.  They had an incredible theater group that put on four performances per year!  What fun!

One step forward, one step back…remember I mentioned that moving to Bethel ended up being a pole vault forward?  Well, I met my mother-in-law to be while I was in Bethel, and because of her, I met my then-future husband.  Imagine that, I went almost to the west coast of Alaska, so I could meet and marry someone who grew up in Portland, Oregon.  Life is funny like that sometimes.  Enjoy the dance!


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