Friday, March 20, 2015

The Alaska Tourism Board Will Never Hire Me Now

Tonight's cocktail is something I like to call Moscow Froze My Mule, because I made it on the eleventy billionth snow day this winter.

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 0.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Jamaican ginger beer

Shake first 3 ingredients with ice into a snow-filled martini glass. Top with ginger beer. Enjoy while cursing the cold. Note that the cocktail is pictured on top of (1) an invoice to repair my furnace, and (2) an invoice to cap a pipe that burst about half an hour after the furnace repair guy left because it was colder than bejaysus.

Once upon a time, I was an adventure traveler. I have backpacked across five continents and camped on four, in jungles, mountains, and deserts, on glacial moraine and beaches. I have stood near gorillas in Uganda, climbed a canyon wall in Colorado by my fingernails, spied on tapirs at a salt lick in the Amazon, and gasped my way through thin air at 18,500 feet in Nepal, all in the name of fun. My point is that I am not a pussy, but Alaska nearly did me in.
In 2000, my now-ex and I (then double income, no kids) were both associates at large law firms in Washington, D.C. That meant people were shoving large wads of money down our pants, and in return, we had no lives. I routinely worked from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. most weekdays, going home to catch a few hours of sleep, shower, and go back to work. Weekends included at least one day in the office. When summer rolled around, I desperately needed a vacation, which I hoped would entail sitting on a beach somewhere with an umbrella drink and a fat novel. Unfortunately, my now-ex wanted to go to Alaska. At first, I thought it would be fine. We could take a cruise! Or, failing that, we could stay in a series of charming B&Bs in various locales while taking in the local color, viewing wildlife, and eating wild-caught salmon and seasonal fresh berries. It was just like that, except not even a little bit.
Not. Even. A. Little.
Our first stop was Katmai National Park, where we promptly completed “bear school.” I wasn’t aware bears went to school, but it turns out the point was for us to learn not to be assholes to, or get killed by, the grizzly bears who use the rivers and waterfalls in the park as their personal salmon Pez dispensers. Of course, we were camping, because despite the fact that we were making tons of money, my now-ex is cheap (he calls it frugal). This meant that after we watched people and bears catching enormous, beautiful, succulent salmon, we trudged back to the campground to boil water on our one-burner stove and reconstitute freeze-dried Beef Strogonoff. We did this behind electrified fencing, because the campsite was next to the lake, and grizzly bears strolled through on the regular, giving us the finger. We could take nothing into our tents that smelled like anything, including deodorant and lip balm. Despite all precautions, we ended up in an unexpected face to face with a grizzly bear on one of the pathways. I grabbed now-ex, stood on my toes with my arms over my head, and began singing show tunes. The bear, duly impressed, snatched a salmon out of the lake, ripped off its head, and ate it. We took advantage of the distraction and got the hell out of Dodge.
"The singing isn't so bad, but if she tries to dance, I'm totally eating her."
After Katmai, we rented a car and headed into the Kenai fjords. The trunk of the car had, I shit you not, claw marks from where a bear had tried to rip its way into the trunk during a prior rental. We got a flat tire. I changed it, because my now-ex didn’t know how. We went on a whale watching boat and saw humpbacks and glaciers. There were many cruise ship people on the boat, and I was tempted to fold myself into their daypacks so that I could get a decent meal and a shower, but we didn’t smell that great, so I couldn’t get close enough to try. Our spare was flat when we got back from the whale cruise. Thankfully there was a mechanic in town. More camping. Wolves howling. Don’t even tell me they were coyotes. Just. Don’t.
"Who's singing now, bitch?"
A few days later, we set out on the Denali Highway. Fun fact: it’s not a highway. It is a gravel 2-lane road. We got not just one, but TWO flat tires this time. I jacked up the car and took off the shredded tire, then spent the next hour trying to flag down a passing car. There aren’t many passing cars coming down a 2-lane gravel road in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. In the winter, people often freeze to death waiting for help when they have car trouble on that road. Thankfully a really nice couple from Texas stopped to help. The only thing they could do was take me to the next town (and I use the word “town” generously), about 25 miles away, with the less-damaged of our tires, in the hope that someone there could repair it enough to get us back on the road. I went with the nice couple, and now-ex stayed with the car to make sure nobody (possibly a bear or a moose) stole our stuff. Thanks be to God and all the angels, there was one mechanic in the town. He managed to straighten out our rim enough to put on a replacement tire, leaving me to choose the nicest of the available serial killers to transport me 25 miles back to where now-ex was waiting with the car. Unfortunately, even serial killers were not going back in that direction at that time of day, so the couple from Texas took a 50-mile detour to get me back to the car with the repaired tire. Not all people suck! Now-ex and I proceeded to the “town” and then purchased another tire for the rental car. I think that night we stayed in an actual hotel (motel), finally.
The next day, we packed up our camping gear and got on, I swear I am not making this up, a big yellow school bus to the Wonder Lake campground in Denali National Park. You can’t take private vehicles into Denali, and I support that. But, of course, now-ex wanted to go all the way to the end of the road (an 8-hour trip) where the park buses will take you, and camp there. The campground is called Wonder Lake because, appropriately, there is a beautiful glacier-fed lake there, which is also the ancestral home of the largest number of enormous bloodthirsty mosquitoes I have EVER seen (and I’m a Southerner!). Seriously, it was like something out of a horror movie. When it started raining, I cried. It was cold. Everything was wet. I could smell myself, and it wasn’t pretty. There’s a heated visitor’s center about halfway into the park. When I started making sounds only dogs could hear, we went there to warm up, and it started snowing. In July. A black bear, perhaps having heard of my vast playlist of show tunes from the grizzlies, loped through the parking lot ahead of us.
"Where do I audition? This could be my big break!"
For the rest of the trip, I worked on a song, because if I didn’t have something to distract me, I was probably going to commit homicide. The song is to the tune of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” from the musical Annie, and it goes like this:
There may be a
Huge grizzly bear
Just be-hind those trees,
But we’re in Alaska, and we’ll camp
Until we freeze!

I’m getting sick
And I will cough
And sniffle and sneeze,
But we’re in Alaska, and we’ll camp
Until we freeze.

Yes, we’re on vacation,
But to see us you’d never know
We haven’t showered in 2 weeks,
And we’re very wet and cold (and hungry and tired) …

Please get me the
Hell out of here
I’m begging you, please!
But we’re in Alaska and we’ll camp …
Although it’s cold and damp …
We’re here and we will camp
Until we freeze (we’re gonna camp out here until we freeze)!

*Jazz hands*

If nothing else, this story is proof that given enough time, crappy experiences make good stories. It also made me realize that I truly hate camping to the very core of my soul, and that I should have maybe mentioned that to my now-ex at some point before we were about to divorce. I have to admit, though, that it’s pretty funny. It would be funnier if it had happened to someone else, but still, it’s part of my story, for better or worse. Do I want to repeat the experience? Hell no! But I don’t regret it. Not even a little bit. OK, except for the camping. I fucking hate camping.

Seriously, fuck this shit.

(First image mine; all others from Pixabay.)


  1. Yes. Never ever understood the "romance" of camping. And never ever wanted to visit Alaska, even if you can see Russia from there. Sorry Alaska.


    1. Thanks for reading! Alaska IS beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I think if I went back, I would start reliving the trauma, and it wouldn't be fun.

  2. You are more of a trooper than anyone else that I know. I would have said 'fuck all the no's' at the first talk of camping in Alaska. Or anywhere unless it is at least 3 stars. I did laugh though. Miss you.

    1. I have very much grown as a person since those days (late 20s). I don't know why I didn't grow a pair of lady-balls sooner, but at least I did, eventually! Miss you, too, Pattie Nuke!

  3. Bloody brilliant! Felt your pain in every word xx

  4. Ha! Okay I've also tromped my way across numerous countries and continents and just recently I found myself talking about how I need to go to Alaska. Hmmm.... maybe I should rethink that ;) Or at the very least I'll have to insist on more than a tent!

    1. As long as you're not going with my ex husband, you'll probably be fine!


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