Thursday, March 29, 2012


Me? I don't think I've ever been called an overachiever. "Just-enough achiever" is probably closer to the truth. But Tuesday, in the examining room, that's what the doc called me. It was during the exam to see just how bad my right shoulder is. He started by examining my left arm. People who've had injuries know this drill: the doctor pushes one direction; you resist, repeat for a series of movement directions.

After checking the left arm, which is kind of the control for the experiment, he made the declaration: "You're an overachiever," to which I didn't hesitate to reply. "No, just left-handed." Then he proceeded examining the right arm. I did pretty well, until he had me stick my arm straight out, rotate the arm so my thumb pointed down, then try to push the arm up while he pushed down. No go. There was no power. That was the test. I failed. Or passed, depending on how you look at it.

You're probably wondering why I'm telling you all this. You already know I have this shoulder injury that I've been trying to treat with physical therapy. But it's been just over six months since I went over the bars and life doesn't slow down while we're trying to recover from an injury. I know that this is the best it's going to get better on its own. If I stay on this path, I won't be on the bike by fall. Every week I delay is another week longer until I can ride a bike without feeling the pain in the shoulder.

I've had a few people say I should take care of it; get the surgery sooner rather than going the PT route. But reality set in when somebody I don't even know posted a link on a social site announcing she'd just signed up to do a month-long bike trek through Nepal and Tibet in the fall. It wasn't quite travel envy that kicked in; it was knowing that if I wanted to go on this trip, or any trip, I wouldn't be able to handle it. Okay, I'd really love to do this trip. But I will never do another bike tour if I don't fix the shoulder.

Next Friday, the day after Jon's birthday, I go in for the surgery. It's scary. It's going to take a long time to heal. I won't be able to do much. I won't be able to drive for over a month (this is the only time I wish both our cars weren't manual transmissions). I hope to read books and watch movies. I hope to do more writing. But mostly, I want to start moving forward. I want to be able to make plans, ride my bike, do yard work and help with the driveway shoveling next winter.

Yes, it's a long road I'll be traveling, but others have gone there before me and ended up good as new. That's still no guarantee. Maybe that's part of what is distracting me so much this week. I'm nervous; I'm kind of worried. I'm afraid I'll go a bit stir crazy being home bound. But I'll be moving forward.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

change of scenery

Little cabin in the woods. I love the design Paul came up with for the door.

Sometimes, a girl just needs a change of scenery. I spent a bluebird day inside on Saturday, compelled to work on the novel, promising myself I'd get out on Sunday to reward my hard work and the resulting 2,400 words. I figured I'd email my friend Jo-Ann and see if she had plans. But before I sent her a message, one from her appeared in my inbox: would I like to go to Talkeetna (just over 100 miles away) to meet our friend, go snowshoeing, maybe have dinner? I called immediately. Yes! Let's go.

So on Sunday morning we met at my house and loaded our gear into my car. I wanted to do the driving, especially since I'm not going to be able to drive in a few weeks and I actually enjoy driving. The sun's light was intensified by the snow that surrounded us as we headed north. Just after the Knik River bridge the highway was bordered by frost-covered trees while the Talkeetna Mountains spread out before us. After passing through Wasilla and Houston, we started getting views of the mountain. THE mountain, Denali. Sometimes I forget how stunning the view of our tall mountain is when it looms in the distance. And there it was, lit by the sun, with wisps of clouds hovering on its flanks. It came into view several times during the drive, then would just as quickly disappear behind the trees.

After a stop in downtown Talkeetna where we got a little something to eat at the Roadhouse, we doubled back to meet our friend, Corinne, at her cabin. She gave us the tour along the path that had been carved through the waist-deep snow from driveway to cabin, past the woodshed to outhouse. Corinne showed us on the map where we would go. We would follow a route that had been snowshoed by Corinne, her husband and a few neighbors this winter. There are no official trails but she suggested we could wander over a series of lakes and wetlands.

Jo-Ann and Corinne.

Between the lakes were low hills covered with birch and a scattering of spruce trees. This area is off-limits to motorized use so we had the quiet you don't often find on trails this close to the roads in the Valley. Where nobody had recently snowshoed or skied, we took turns breaking trail, making note of animal tracks and beaver lodges. While crossing one of the numbered lakes, I looked over my shoulder and saw the summit of Denali. At the far side of the lake, the long expanse between us and the distant trees afforded a view of the mountains that people travel thousands of miles to see.

With beaver lodges and mountains.


Our legs felt the effects of the high trail-breaking steps and the weight of the snow which, warmed by the sun, was clumping to the bottoms of our snowshoes. The air was clear and warm. A light breeze sometimes hit our bare faces. Time slipped by unnoticed. Upon returning to the cabin, we sat on the front steps sharing snacks and hot tea. I could have stayed another day. I could have stayed a week.

Friday, March 23, 2012

writing truth

We followed the trail until we could no longer
find it, then backtracked to where we'd begun.

I plod away at the novel. It began as a short story, grew into what I was calling a novella, then exploded into 49,000 words that is nowhere near the end. I didn't think I could do this; sometimes still think I can't do this. Yet I feel compelled to shine the beam of imagination around to find my way to the ending. See a thread, which do I follow?

A few times in the last two weeks, I've gone out on the snowshoes with a couple different friends. Each time, we ventured to the singletrack network* that fills the forest between Prospect Heights and the Hillside. On the blue loop snow that fell a few weeks ago had been tracked by skiers, walkers and dogs, but I wanted to get away from where others had trammeled, to break trail onto the soft powder. To me, breaking trail is the best part of snowshoeing. A week ago Monday, I suggested to my friend Jo-Ann that we take the red trail called Hornet's Nest. From the Llama Trail, we joined The Hive, then cut south onto Hornet's Nest.

We followed a slight impression in the snow that indicated we were on the trail, wound along contours that define the trail system. We followed the credit-card sized red markers that were placed intermittently on the trees, but soon we lost the route. Whether it was from a downed tree or drifted snow, we could see neither trail nor marker. Short on time, we doubled back and promised to try again. On Wednesday, I snowshoed with my friend Gloria during a storm that would cover the trails with another 6-8 inches of fresh snow. With low visibility, we stuck mostly to well-used routes. Two days later I returned again with Jo-Ann.

We tried another tactic. Snowshoeing down Llama Trail, we turned left on The Hive, heading for the Gasline. At the Gasline, we took the short access trail to the Hornet's Nest, heading north. Arriving at the trail, the signpost was almost completely buried in Anchorage's near-record snowfall: If we turned right, maybe we could connect with the route we'd started on earlier in the week, but left would give us a longer snowshoe. We turned left. What was at first an obvious trail soon disappeared. Again, we couldn't find a trail marker or see the route. We followed our tracks back and hiked the blue loop instead.

While I appreciated the speed at which we could hike the blue loop, the packed snow is a little more jarring to snowshoe, with no cushion to soften each step. And breaking trail would have kept us out there a little longer than we might want, though in mid-March, we're running on surplus daylight. Having started our little adventure at around 5:30, we returned to the car before 8 pm and the sun had not quite set across the inlet.

This week, I've been trying to work more on my writing. I'm trying to get through the rough spots, poking around at my characters to aggravate their tempers. Get them to speak their minds. But I really needed to get out. We've had clear blue skies for several days and warm daytime temperatures that are melting the snow from the streets and roofs. But the snowpack in my yard doesn't seem to be disintegrating and I don't expect to see soil for a month. Gloria suggested a snowshoe for Thursday afternoon. So yesterday we returned to Prospect Heights. I had my map and a mission: to snowshoe the red loop in its entirety. We had time since Gloria didn't have to work until 8 pm and the lecture I wanted to attend began at 7. Off we went, down the Llama Trail to The Hive and onto Hornet's Nest.

We took our time: this was no longer cardio exercise. We made wrong turns. Wondered at animal tracks, found trail markers, were distracted by ski tracks that made bee-lines down the slopes. We studied the terrain, glacier carved with its kettles and ridges. Imagined how years ago glaciers had carved down the mountain valley, leaving deposits of rock and ice. Forming those rolling hills we all drive on when we leave the glacial outwash that makes up much of the Anchorage Bowl and head toward the mountains on the east side of the city.

By breaking trail, we fix it for the next person.

We followed animal tracks on a route that was clear of trees and which followed the contour, then made a switchback and passed another kettle. Just when we weren't sure, one of us would spot a red marker. But with the way the trails zig and zag along the slope, we were never sure which direction to go when we reached the marker. Still, we felt we were making progress. Eventually, we were at a point of uncertainty.

We could see the Gasline, but the trail wasn't obvious. Then, through the brush, I recognized the top of a signpost. We were back on track. We followed this pattern of route finding for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sunshine and the challenge of looking at the snow for any hint of a buried trail. Sometimes it was obvious; sometimes it felt like a puzzle with missing parts that we had to piece together. When we finally arrived at the three-way intersection of Yellow Jacket, The Hive and Llama Trail, it was as though we'd forged a new route through the landscape. Sure, we still hadn't connected a little piece of Hornet's Nest, but we still have at least another month of winter for exploring the routes.

Flying snowshoe hare. I've never seen a flying hare, but sometimes
more than six feet separated one track from the next. Did not see
what it was trying to escape. Hawk, eagle, raven?

But what does this have to do with writing? Yes. It's that dance. Figuring out how to do the telling. Sometimes I feel I have accepted the challenges, but some days I just don't know how I'm going to bring this to an end. I'm not quite lost; I'm at a stuck point; a roadblock where the bridge spanning that chasm has been washed away and I don't know the alternate route. Yet I know where I need to go.

The only choice, if I'm to tell the story well, is to follow those more challenging threads. I'll have to stray from the path I thought I wanted to travel and risk taking the story where I hadn't known it would go. For on that unknown path, that links the beginning and the end, I may just find the heart and the truth of the story. I'm getting close, but damn, this breaking trail is hard!

*To follow the snowshoe routes, look at the map to the right labeled "Hillside Singletracks."