Monday, November 21, 2011

thanksgiving in anchorage

November temperatures have plummeted, leaving Anchorage below zero for several days, with a slight respite on Sunday when it crept to 10 above and some declared it a heat wave. We have over a foot of snow, which I much prefer to last year's chinook when the streets were a glaze of water-covered ice. That was the day I drove to the Valley to pick up our Alaskan-raised turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

There will be no local turkeys roasting in ovens this year (unless people raised one themselves) and as our guest list grows, I imagine we bought too small and may need to grill a little salmon to supplement the turkey. Whenever we host Thanksgiving, we seem to invite so many people that some of them need to bring their own plates. Even though I usually like my quiet space, on holidays, I think I revert back to the chaos of my childhood when there was a house filled with all us kids and maybe some cousins, aunts and uncles.

Up until a week ago, we weren't sure what we were doing. My sister moved away from Anchorage to Montana earlier this fall and my niece and nephew plan to spend the holiday with their dad. We hadn't received any invitations, and it was only after Jon bought one of the smallest turkeys at the store that I suggested we should figure out what we were doing. So Jon started asking people at the shop and I invited a couple friends who didn't have solid plans. The list started growing and is open to expand.

As the guest list grows, I look forward to the house being filled with conversation and laughter and food - all the makings of a traditional holiday, with the Alaskan twist.

I haven't been in the Lower-48 for the holidays since I moved here in '94, but I'm sure not much has changed in how most people spend holidays there. Many go back to their hometowns to be with family, several generations gather around the dining room table. Card tables are set up to handle the overflow. It's a little different here. Sure, plenty of people have extended families here, but lots of people don't and many of them don't want to deal with the hassle of traveling to visit family Outside* during the craziest flying days of the year.

So people build their own families for celebrations. Co-workers who have become friends. For us, biking friends. Where in the Lower-48 people feel a little awkward being the 'orphan' invited to a family gathering out of sympathy (also common for chechakos** to feel this way), here it's an attempt to create a community and maybe it's a way to support each other as we begin settling into the darkest, coldest time of year. I think everyone should have a place to go for Thanksgiving. I love these gatherings that bring together people from different backgrounds and geographic regions for a big feast. It's as Alaskan as blueberry pie.

*anyplace in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii, aka 'The Lower-48.' Not to be confused with: 'It's 20 below outside!' where the word is not capitalized.
**a newcomer to Alaska (similar to greenhorn or tenderfoot) Opposite of a 'Sourdough.'

Sunday, November 13, 2011

oh, my shoulder!

Mention the slightest ache to my cycling friends and they're bound to fill me in on a similar injury they've had. Some have been healed with the help of a good physical therapist, some swear by injections, still others detail surgeries and rehabilitations that brought them back from the sidelines. Now I'll have a story for them.

This summer and fall, I would sometimes mention 'my picky shoulder.' Let me back up: I was helping excavate the foundation, and could only shovel so much before I'd have to take a break. I felt terrible for not digging more and not being able to throw the dirt very far but my shoulder had begun to hurt. Then I began helping with trail work at Kincaid Park, using the loppers or the McLeod, sometimes chopping with the Pulaski. Again, the shoulder would get aggravated, but I could deal with the pain, then rest it and get back to work. Then I did a ride on part of the new singletrack and took a spill - okay, I endoed - on a steep section. After my hands hit the freshly-sculpted dirt, I brushed myself off and hopped back on the bike to finish the ride. No big deal.

In late September, I took the Fargo - my drop-bar mountain-touring bike - to Eklutna Lake for a camping trip. That's where things got worse. Pulling the Bob trailer and not having suspension was not so bad, but having my arms extended for the road-style handlebar had me nearly in tears once I got home from the trip. I did some icing; took something for pain and tried to ignore it. I also avoided trail work and stayed off the bike for a few days. I had a Utah trip to prepare for. I needed to not hurt.

Before packing my bike for the early October trip, I did one final mountain bike ride on the new trails at Kincaid. I took it easy, careful to not launch off any of the little jumps that are featured on the trails. The shoulder felt pretty good and even seemed to get better throughout the trip. But after returning to Anchorage and doing a few more rides, the recovery seemed to plateau at the 'nagging-pain' level. I had to find out what was going on. So this past Wednesday, I went to see Dr. Mike, the guy I see when I hurt myself or when my sinuses are acting up.

Let's just say that Dr. Mike confirmed my suspicion. And then some. Bursitis in the right shoulder (I thought that was for old people!) and a small tear in the rotator cuff. Ouch! I have a friend whose rotator tear was healed through physical therapy; a few more have gone through surgery. But I can't even start the recovery until the swelling subsides. (Dr. Mike said the bursa is normally the size of a dime but mine was the size of a ping-pong ball!) My regimen for the first week is to ice the shoulder six times a day for 30 minutes each time. That's practically a part-time job! I'm applying an anti-inflammatory cream (it's just a coincidence that the manufacturer is ENDO Pharmaceuticals) and an oral anti-inflam. The other part of my regimen is to rest the shoulder. And that's the tough part.

I'm not going to ski; not going to bike; not shoveling snow, not lifting heavy dishes onto high shelves. Wait, did you hear that I'm not going to be biking? That's right. It's snowshoes for me until further notice. Today I even had one of my friends pick up my Mukluk snowbike so I won't have to look at it sitting neglected in the corner of the guest room while we have these awesome snow conditions.

I hope to make the most of my non-biking time. I'm already snowshoeing more than I would have. I'm also dedicating a little more time to writing, applying a little sitzfleisch, you could say. As long as I keep myself busy and keep the word counts up, I think I can deal with a little time off the bike. I'll let you know how that goes.