Category Archives: Alaska

On why sometimes you should go forth and ignore good advice.

I spent ten years in Alaska. I moved there alone and I lived alone for four or five of those years. I worked behind both bars and desks alone. And for half of the ten years I lived there, I spent lots of time at home alone because even though I’d rather be out camping or fishing or adventuring, I couldn’t find anyone to go with me and I’d been scared off going it alone.
All the advice was the same, every single time. “Don’t go alone,” they’d say.
People have been telling me that in almost every situation my entire adult life, and I successfully ignored them most of that time. I think maybe it’s because my mom never told me that. She understood the desire to be out in the world and observe it on your own, without the clutter of companionship; without the restraint of addressing someone else’s pace or preoccupations or schedules. She told me about growing up in the country and spending full days rambling around the rural South on her own and she never discouraged me from doing the same when I became the echo of her youth, another lonesome-loving wild child of the Mississippi Delta.
I’d spend all day out on my own before I even hit double digits, dodging near-misses from snakes and coming face to face with alligator snapping turtles as big as the hood of a car. There were always scrapes and bruises and bumps to report when I’d roll into the kitchen at dinner time after a full day on the lam. It’s a wonder I was never injured, honestly, but Mom told me that she couldn’t worry about us all the time. She couldn’t protect us at every moment of every day, so she shared what guidance she could and let us loose on the world. I think her faith helped her—but I have another kind of faith. The kind where I’m just simply OK with whatever is to come as long as it comes when I’m living life to its fullest.
I never let fear stop me in Hawaii, driving from one end of old Molokai to another on an old beat up Honda Mule. I never let it stop me in Memphis, traversing neighborhoods at hours that would make decent folk go white with concern. I didn’t let it stop me my first summer in Alaska, in Denali, and I didn’t let it stop me in New York City after that.
Something happened during my second stay in Alaska, though. The long one. I don’t know what it was. I guess all the dire warnings finally caught up with my more sensible self. I didn’t feel so bullet proof in the world anymore. I let it all get to me and I sat around wasting time, waiting for someone to join me on an adventure because for the first time in my life the world had succeeded in making me afraid.
Sometimes I think that’s the only reason I stayed there so long. My “Alaska Bucket List” wasn’t dwindling. I worked weekends when most others worked week days and could never quite seem to coordinate to do anything with anyone else. I guess eventually I just got tired of waiting. I started collecting the things I’d need to enjoy the outdoors on my own instead of relying on someone else’s tent or stove. I started small with going to places I was familiar with, places I’d gone with groups in the past and had missed for too long. People still said “don’t go alone” but something funny happened—nothing.
And the same thing happened again and again and again. Nothing. I always came home safe, and perhaps more unscathed than I had as a child. I was always careful, I always educated myself on an area and took precautions and told people where I was going and when I should be back. Alaska is a particularly dangerous place by many measures. If things go wrong you bear a much greater risk of not being found in a timely manner—or at all, if they go really wrong. It’s happened many times before, and perhaps it was this collection of dire warnings and regular news stories of misadventures that kept me at home so often.
And it’s starting to happen again here in Mexico. Even after ignoring the pushback from all the people that warned me that I shouldn’t come here, that it was too dangerous, “especially alone.” I find myself surrounded by others who did the same, but now many of them are the very ones who regale me with horrifying anecdotes of A Million Ways to Die in Mexico.
I didn’t come here to post up in my apartment and watch the sunsets with a margarita…at least not every day. I came to keep living the life I love until I’m not living anymore, and if the former leads to the latter, so be it. I will still go on hikes, I will still camp, I will still kayak…and I will do all of it alone sometimes.
And because of that, I will still get disapproving looks when excitedly relating plans for some new adventure from the majority of people I share it with. My exuberance will be often met with some horrifying anecdote, and I will brush off my annoyance to thank them and adjust my preparations, if needed, to address whatever unlikely threat they warn of. I suspect now I will also be told “it’s not like it is in the States,” just like I was told “It’s not like it is in the Lower 48” when I was in Alaska.
I will be called reckless for this, but I will persist. I will be called irresponsible, but I will smile and usually go anyway. I am used to those kinds of judgements at this point, and I can’t help but notice such commandments to “be careful” fly more frequently in the face of women while men generally need not suffer the suggestion that they are incompetent—even when they are.
I’ll leave you with this: Thank you for your concern. If you have specific useful information pertinent to my plans, feel free to share. Vague comments and any advice to the tune of “be careful” is redundant and unhelpful. I am a grown woman, not a neophyte in need of your protection. I have spent some time in the outdoors and around the world. I am not unaware of the things that can go wrong, but I take the risks because I believe them to be worth it.
You should try it some time. It’s liberating.

On conquering the material self

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The initial blush of excitement has faded.
In its place the question of “what have I gotten myself into” is answered only with a creeping chill of fear and dread. I’ve always thrown myself into the well headlong and waited to wonder what was at the bottom until I was halfway down. For a long time, being burned by that mentality has kept me from making such leaps of faith.
But I had to make one, and now reality is setting in. The slow, painful process of shedding your accumulated earthly belongings by choice is like molting off your identity. You know yourself by the things you choose to own, or want to own. When you let them go, in many ways you lose yourself. It’s disorienting and isn’t something to take lightly.
In essence, I am saying goodbye to Rachel, the homebody with her chickens and rabbits and gardens and passionate interests in agriculture and homey shit like cooking and putting up food and crochet. Adieu to the selectively social creature that loved to shop, go out for dinner or music, and loved her job behind the bar.
Keep in mind, I am trying to say goodbye to this person while simultaneously wrapping my brain around being the kind of person that lives in a 30-year old RV with her dog. I will not have a job for a while. I will not have a home aside from the one I will be driving.
Maybe the implications of this seem like they would be something I should have conquered emotionally before taking on the project…but would anyone take such a thing on if they thought it through first? I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t have, because I have passed up opportunities such as this before. It’s really rather unreasonable on many levels and may even speak to some textbook case of mental illness to forsake everything you own, everyone you know, everything you love and run away to Mexico.
And yet, I know the fear is fleeting and I will box up these belongings and pack them away re-discover happiness in simplicity and minimalism. And I will certainly be a better, stronger person because of it.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, i understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Cor. 13:11 KJV)

Maybe this is what growing up feels like.
It’s about damn time.

On leaving Alaska

The home I loved in this largest state is starting to feel a little small.

The home I love in this largest state is starting to feel a little small.


On December 8, 2014 I turned 30 years old. To celebrate, my best friend took me to Las Vegas and I left Alaska for the first time in four years.
In January 2015, I visited my family outside of Memphis, TN and left Alaska for the second time in four in years.
Time with the "little" brother in Mississippi

Time with the “little” brother in Mississippi


In February 2015, I flew to San Diego with my friend Phil and got on a Princess Cruise Liner and experienced Mexico for the first time ever. It was then that I left Alaska for the third time in four years and it was then that I decided I needed to leave her for a little bit longer.
I first came to Alaska as a 19 year old girl in 2004. I found a job in Denali on CoolWorks after many restless nights looking for a way to escape the sleepy Memphis suburbs in North Mississippi. It was a transitional summer for me in many ways and one of the most important summers of my life. I left Alaska at the end of that season, but I knew I’d be back.
Three years later after stints living in NYC and Molokai in Hawaii, my little sister called me up and asked for advice in finding a job in Alaska. I was working as a vet tech in Midtown Memphis at the time, engaged to a nice guy and settling in, by all accounts, for the business of real life and growing up, etc. When Hannah asked me about Denali, I knew it was time to go back. I knew that was my last chance to experience that place I loved so much before babies and marriage and career, so I packed up and Hannah, my father and I drove North to Alaska.
At some point that summer I knew I wouldn’t be going back to Memphis, and I didn’t.
Hiking in Hatcher's Pass with my dog, Porkchop

Hiking in Hatcher’s Pass with my dog, Porkchop


Since then, I have lived in picturesque hippie ski town, Girdwood, and oddly sleepy former coal town, Sutton. I have spent most of my time in Anchorage, which many Alaskans refer to as being “close to Alaska.” I’m rather fond of it. I continued a career in journalism for a while, struggling through the deadlines and poor pay before finding my true calling as dive bar bartender at a sports lounge on the East Side.
Kayaking on Kenai Lake, May 2014

Kayaking on Kenai Lake, May 2014


I have built a tiny homestead on the more ghetto fringes of Downtown where at various times I have raised chickens and quail and rabbits and goats and lots and lots of plants. Through this venture, I somehow began to connect with the agriculture community of Alaska and followed an interest in animal husbandry and gardening and homesteading that I had harbored in varying degrees since early childhood.
Dipnetting for salmon

Dipnetting for salmon


I also found myself in an excellent position to fall in love with the outdoors in earnest and begin to fish, camp, kayak and hike when the weather was good. The rest of the time, I followed my old Memphis habits of earnest appreciation of good food, booze and music.
What I wasn’t able to do much of for the majority of my time here is leave.
Have you ever lived on an island? Where you’ve been down every road, and met every person you cared to meet, and watched every sunset and marveled over every vista…and just needed to get out? In the lower 48 you can do that relatively inexpensively. In Alaska, no quick get away can happen without a $600-$2000 plane ticket to kick it off.
Ouch.
So after experiencing the marvels of the Baja Peninsula and the, um…interesting travel means of cruising, I could not shake the need to see more.
The desert is calling and I must go, if you will.
The Dolphin awaits.

The Dolphin awaits.


Those who know me well know I can be singularly obsessive over things when I set my mind to something. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I buy a 1984 Toyota Dolphin mini motorhome, put notice in to move out of my house, and start charting the course between Anchorage, Alaska and Cabo San Lucas.
The road trip starts in August. The journey has already begun.