28) One Month without Facebook

One month without Facebook? Isn’t that like going one month without food? Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but for many of us, myself included at times, Facebook has become an integral part of our daily routine and life in general. The social networking site reportedly has more than one billion active users worldwide, everywhere from the United States to Nauru. If you’ve never heard of Nauru, I hadn’t either until I did a quick search on the old Google to determine Facebook use by country and saw it listed. According to the always-verified-and-trustworthy Wikipedia, Nauru is an island country in Micronesia in the South Pacific, and, covering just slightly more than eight square miles, is the world’s smallest republic. Apparently, one hundred percent of Nauru’s internet users, just five percent of the total population, are also Facebook users. Maybe joining Facebook is a clause they must adhere to when they sign up for internet.

Anyway, as I was saying, a ton of people use Facebook. And to those who argue that the number-of-users statistic isn’t accurate because some people have multiple accounts, well, to them I say that anywhere in the vicinity of one-seventh of the world population having their life displayed on a silly little website (no offense, Mr. Zuckerberg, or whoever actually created Facebook, as ‘The Social Network’ made me somewhat confused on that whole issue) is pretty astounding, especially considering that roughly the same percentage of the world population lives without electricity. Wait, what? Yes, the number of people that live in the dark, have no refrigerators nor have access to modern hospital services, is the same as the number of people who have an unlimited (and unfortunately sometimes unfiltered) ability to create an online world their friends and family can see. And “like”. And comment on. And speculate about. And draw incorrect assumptions and conclusions from. And whatever else people do on Facebook.

Now, before I sound like a hypocrite, I will freely admit that I’m guilty of not only using Facebook, but abusing it to a certain extent as well—in that at times it’s been too much of a fundamental part of my daily routine. I just woke up and desperately need to relieve my bladder from the seven-hour hold? Well, that can wait until after I check Facebook to see when the last time Bob relieved his bladder. It’s mid-afternoon and that editing project with a 5:00 pm deadline is pages and pages and pages from being done? Well, surely I have time to just hop on Facebook and see what project Fred is working on. It’s evening and I really ought to go for a run, make dinner, return the call I missed from my sister a week ago, do laundry and respond to at least one of those personal emails that are now filling up two pages of my inbox? Well, it’s been at least a few hours since I’ve been on Facebook, and therefore I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of important, life-changing things like how many times Bob used the bathroom or if Fred made his project deadline. Oh, and I have to be updated on which hilarious memes are currently trending. Sure, these are slight embellishments, but I think my point is clear. And, in continuing to be totally transparent, on numerous occasions I’ve definitely checked Facebook more than “just” three times per day as the aforementioned example might lead you to believe.

Certainly, to counteract all the seemingly negative things I’ve said about Facebook, it has its merits. It’s a convenient and easy way to see who is pregnant or just had a baby (everyone), peruse photos of awesome trips friends recently took and reconnect with long-lost friends. It can also be a great tool for organizations or people with certain careers. I acknowledge the benefits and positive attributes of Facebook, and I do not negatively judge those with strong attachments to the site.

That said, I can easily avow that taking a one-month hiatus from the social networking site provided me more positivity than the noted benefits have done. Admittedly, it was a bit challenging at first. As previously stated, logging into Facebook to see the latest happenings, or post something about my own latest happenings, was something I did daily, if not more often. But, as the hours turned to days, and the days turned to weeks, I realized I wasn’t even missing it. I mean, was there a legitimate reason to check in every few hours, or even once a day? Was I really missing out in life by not being regularly updated on what Bob had for lunch or when the last time Fred used the bathroom? On the flip side, was anyone else really missing out by not being able to see a recent picture I posted, or read one of my updates that only I and maybe a few others found funny or interesting? The answer was no. My life had certainly continued, just as I’m sure everyone else’s did despite my lack of adding things to their newsfeed. If I wasn’t able to pinpoint the value the site provided my life, then was there any? If my life didn’t fall apart due to temporarily abandoning Facebook, did it stay the same, or maybe even improve?

Though it’s hard to look back and quantify accurately and specifically the amount of time Facebook used up, I can attest that not using it definitely freed up time and enabled me to be more productive. I spent a little of my daily “Facebook time” tackling my 30×30 list, like learning more than two hundred ASL signs, several one-string-at-a-time guitar songs and even a handful of chords. I spent my time reading books rather than my newsfeed, and wrote my novel rather than status updates.

Furthermore, I believe I was more in touch with a number of people while not using the “social” network, because if I wanted to find out what was going on in someone’s life, I had to write or call rather than merely skim my newsfeed or visit that person’s page. Similar to me reaching out to my friends, I realized that if my friends had something exciting or important to share with me, or just wanted to keep in touch, they called or wrote. I even received a handwritten letter!

Finally, in addition to having more time to pursue my goals, and a stronger inclination to keep in touch with friends beyond the extent of clicking a thumbs-up icon, not using the site helped me maintain my self-esteem. Before Facebook, I never used to measure my value by the number of friends I had, or perceive my importance based on the number of “likes” my photos and updates received. Also, not seeing the delicious meals friends had prepared, taken pictures of and shared with the Facebook world allowed me to enjoy my low-maintenance (okay, lazy) dinner of a tuna fish sandwich, and not feel bad that I hadn’t made a gourmet dish. (To my friends who are culinary masterminds and post photos of their works of art, right on; others may be inspired to try to emulate your skills!).

When I initially wrote this goal, I had no idea what kind of impact taking it on or achieving it would have on me. I thought it might be tough, sure, but I never would’ve guessed that not using Facebook would affect me the way it did. Or make me realize the way using it had been affecting me. Years ago, while I was still a Myspace user, I remember being resistant to Facebook. I lamented about converting to the new platform, I was confused about the picture-sharing concept my friends touted as one of its biggest advantages, and I was by and large not interested in joining. My resolve finally crumbled one day and I joined the movement. Now, however many years later, I happily revert to my original stance and state that I will no longer be using Facebook. Call me old-fashioned, but I look forward to writing more emails, using my phone to actually make phone calls, and asking friends and family members about their lives with genuine curiosity because I will not already have gleaned (or think I have gleaned) every aspect of it on Facebook.

Note: In no way is this blog post meant to offend Facebook users, as I obviously was one for years. Everyone has their reasons for using it and I do not judge.

Oh, the Places I’ve Been

Traveling has always been one of my biggest passions. As I mentioned in Why 30×30, I want to explore as much of the world as possible, touch every corner of the earth, and squeeze as many adventures into this lifetime as I can. There are way too many countries I want to visit to make any kind of Top Ten list of dream destinations, so I decided to simply create a list of the countries I’ve been fortunate enough to have already visited. To spice the list up just a tad, I’ve added a few words or phrases that come to mind based on my experiences in each country. I hope to add to this list as much and as often as possible!

1) United States: Home. National Parks. Road trips. Amusement parks. Football.

US Map

 

Purple = reside(d)
Blue = overnight stay/done an activity
Orange = driven through/layover.


 

2) Mexico: Alaskan winter reprieve. The Giggling Marlin. Making tortillas. Nearly drowning.

3) Canada: Bison in the road. Helpful locals. RV parks. Most intense blizzard ever.

4) Australia: Vibrant reef. Sky diving. Sun burns. Outback train ride. New Year’s wine.

mahout2

 

 

5) Thailand: $6 massages. Crazy tuk-tuk rides. Being a mahout for the day (bathing, feeding and bareback-riding elephants). Countless Wats. Delicious pad Thai on the street.

 

 

 

6) Jamaica: Snow-white beaches. Peter the croc. Rum punch. Horseback ride in the sea.

7) France: Eiffel Tower climb. Radiant stained glass windows. Inappropriate market fruit.

8) Curacao: Colorful houses. Curacao. Sobering slavery museum. Dancing with locals.

Untitled2

 

9) South Africa: The Big Five. Table Mountain abseil. Cage-ramming great white sharks. Game Park camping. Biltong, cheese, chocolate and wine.

 

10) Costa Rica: Jungle ziplining. Tyrolean-traversing sloth. Rainbow-colored toucan.

11) Grand Turks and Caicos: Speedy sand crabs. Wild horses. Adventure biking.

12) Puerto Rico: Hiking El Yunque. Cats. Refreshing waterfalls. Running Old San Juan.

13) Swaziland: Friendly children. Cave camping. Lax border security. Biking with zebras.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14) Bahamas: Jet skiing. Beach walks. Snorkeling. Lunch with chickens.

15) Aruba: Wreck SCUBA dive. Bath temperature turquoise water.

16) British Virgin Islands: Waterfront running. Iguanas. Warm sand. Corona in the sea.

IMG_0433

 

 

17) Italy: Pompeii ruins. Venetian Canal swim. Archaeological Museum. Pizza. Rohm roamin’ Rome.


 


18) Spain:
 Sangria. Jamboree. Three best friends biking. Las Ramblas market.

19) Monaco: Opulence. Yacht-filled harbor. Park bench nap. Palace guard change.

20) Portugal: Eating caracois (snails). Heel clicks in the street. Prosciutto and cheese.

21) Greece: Donkey rides. Island scootering. Gyros. Acropolis. Olympia track running.IMG_2565

22) Croatia: Castle wall walk. Floating in the salty Adriatic. Kayaking NDE. Tower climb.

23) Turkey: Spice Market. Hookah. Tear gas riots. Dancing all night. Ephesus ruins.

24) Montenegro: Running the castle wall steps. Medieval old town. Stunning landscape.

DSCN0028

 

25) Colombia: Paragliding. Beachside hammock camping. Caving. Jungle Trekking. Hiking to 16,000 feet in the Andes.

My Top 5 Dream Jobs

If I were to write a resume detailing the work I’ve done for the past two weeks (for which I was actually paid), it would read something akin to the ramblings of a crazy person: editor, book reviewer, trip planner, dog walker, editor, editor, packer, dog walker, homework helper. If actually listening to a crazy person utter these seemingly random, non-related things, you might be inclined to tell the rambler, “Okay, slow down, make up your mind, one thing at a time.” Truth be told, I don’t like to make up my mind—about anything, really. I typically place a high value on frequent change, non-conformity and spontaneity, desires that have led to some awesome adventures at times, and frustrating amounts of indecision at others. For better or worse, my yearning for freedom, flexibility and change—lest I get bored and no longer feel challenged—has affected, and continues to affect, most aspects of my life.

My work life may be the biggest indicator of this. Since my first “real” job at the age of thirteen, as a housekeeper for a Bed & Breakfast, I’ve had at least twenty-one additional jobs, not taking into account the numerous different clients I’ve had for various freelance work.

Alaskan librarians know how to party!

Alaskan librarians know how to party!

I’ve sold gold nuggets and oosiks (defined as “large, bony supports in the penises of certain mammals”) in a jewelry store in my hometown; I’ve led a book discussion group while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and had guests throw me a “Friends of Alaska” party while working as a cruise ship librarian; and I’ve been dressed in the clothes of Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas) by her stylist while she sometimes looked on (probably wondering–as I did–how, at nearly five inches taller and considerably smaller in the chest and hips, I was able to fit into her clothes). I’ve also held more typical posts like cocktail waitress, senior caregiver and clinical trial participant. Okay, so maybe being paid to have needles stuck in your veins for blood extraction isn’t all that typical. As random and odd as this list may be, it doesn’t even include all the “sales jobs” I had as a kid.

In my younger days I sold Girl Scout cookies (though in their defense, they practically sold themselves), $100 raffle tickets for Ski Team (which most certainly did NOT sell themselves), magazine subscriptions and wrapping paper for school, calendars for softball, lemonade and brownies (yes, brownies, and on the side of the highway no less, where motorists passed by at fifty miles per hour), and things I’m not even remembering. You name it, I probably sold it. I even went door-to-door selling toilet paper to help raise money for my high school track team. Admittedly, it wasn’t the apex of my saleswoman career, but it was actually a pretty successful endeavor; who doesn’t need toilet paper?

One of my favorite money-making gigs was re-selling candy I had bought (most likely with my lemonade earnings) to my sister, who had a much bigger sweet tooth than I had and almost always ran out of the sweet stuff long before I did. I especially delighted in setting hours for my “store” which was really just a book shelf. That way I could open up shop when I knew she was really hankering for a treat and would pay top dollar to satisfy her cravings.

Suffice it to say, over the years I’ve done a lot of different things for money. Clarification: legal things, and things my mother and father wouldn’t be ashamed to tell their friends about—though they probably have never bragged about my days selling toilet paper.

As most kids do at some point during their youth, I (still) often ponder various careers and “dream jobs.” This list is the result of my frequent musings—eliminating factors like time, money and health.

1) Actor – one who actually gets paid

glee 2

Background “acting” doesn’t count.

Am I desperate for fame and fortune? No, not particularly. Well, maybe just a tad of the former, and then a smidgen of the latter to help me escape the former when I would like. And to provide me with the ability to be a generous donor, and spokesperson—whose voice may actually be heard—for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues and rehabilitates orphaned elephants and rhinos.

The real reason being an actor has always greatly appealed to me is not because of the potential for celebrity or wealth, but rather for the chance it offers to be someone else–temporarily. While it is certainly true that some days I’d like to step in someone else’s shoes solely because mine are smelly, or uncomfortable, or just plain falling apart, I think it’s more often the case that I desire to don another’s footwear because of the experiences I might have traipsing around in them for a while. I’d love to venture into the world of a Wild West Homesteader or go inside the mind of a cracked-out junkie because I’ve never had experiences like theirs. As previously noted, I love variety, spontaneity and randomness. I love the idea that acting can offer a frequent change in hair color, wardrobe, co-workers, work environments, body composition and more.

2) Astronaut – one of the lucky few who go to space

I took my first flight before I was a week old. Granted, it was more of a get-this-baby-to-a-hospital-in-Seattle-because-she’s-having-seizures flight than one for vacation, but still, I started flying and traveling shortly after coming into this world and essentially haven’t stopped since. While I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to a few places ON planet Earth (evidenced in the countries I’ve visited), I would be over the moon (I couldn’t resist) if I got to travel OFF this great planet!

In 1995 one of my now-favorite movies came out. You guessed it: Apollo 13. I’m not sure if my adoration for the film was a result of the casting of one of the few “stars” I’d actually be ecstatic to meet (Tom Hanks), or if it was purely because of the subject matter, but I instantly became mesmerized with the idea of going to the moon, or at least space, and I haven’t lost that strong desire. But, given that I’m pretty sure my brain is more wired for understanding the basic written word, as opposed to the crazy-complicated formula with words I’ve never even seen (I’m just guessing here and realize I’m probably light years off on the kinds of things astronauts must know), I’ll probably have to continue living vicariously through Ron Howard’s idea of space, or one of Buzz Aldrin’s memoirs.

3) Professional Athlete – a runner, to be specific

Thanks to parents who focused on being active and healthy, and wanting the same for their children, I started playing some sports before I even remember doing so, almost before I could even talk—which isn’t necessarily as much of a testament to how young I was when I started playing sports as it is to how old I was when I finally said my first word. I’ve no doubt more than made up for those first couple years of silence.

The list of sports I haven’t tried is about as sparse as the list of things I haven’t sold. While I’ve tried my hand at bowling, water skiing, racquetball, basketball, gymnastics, softball, soccer, ski racing and more, my favorite sport has always been running–competitively. Not just the Sunday-jogging type, which is all well and good, but not my preference. I wasn’t too great at running while simultaneously dribbling a basketball, or kicking a soccer ball—I was the kid who tripped up and down the field—but get me out on a trail and I can go for days. Or at least I used to be able to go for days. Sure, I still can, but not without the almost-guaranteed onset of pain. Yeah, running is painful; that’s why I don’t like it and that’s why I think you’re crazy for being obsessed with it, some say. Okay, not that kind of pain. The kind of pain you feel when you know a serious injury is in the near future if you keep doing what you’re doing. The kind of pain that leads to simultaneous tibial stress fractures, which, trust me, are not a joy to deal with.

Given that I’ll consider myself lucky and happy if I can one day get through a marathon without severely re-injuring my poor shins, my dream of being a professional runner will most likely have to be supplanted by watching others achieve their dreams on an Olympic track and keep it what it is: a dream.

4) Taste Tester – of ice cream

If health, cavities and the fear of an expanding waist-line weren’t issues, I’d eat this job up with a spoon–pun most definitely intended. While my parents set a great example of fitness and health for my sister and me, I grew up in a house that always had ice cream in the freezer. If it wasn’t in the freezer, it was out on the kitchen counter being delved into with a scoop. If it wasn’t in the freezer or on the counter, someone had to make a trip to the store–that night. Seriously. In fact, I’m sure my mom and dad were some of the few parents excited about their children becoming licensed drivers because it meant they could pawn the ice cream-getting task off on them. Or, rather, us. And, being the youngest, me. No bother; always having ice cream to eat was fine by me!

Ice cream for desert was one of my favorite family routines.

Enjoying our nightly bowls of ice cream.

Though I don’t eat ice cream now (see the aforementioned health, cavities and waist-line considerations), I would delight in being one of the first to try Tin Roof Sundae, Peanut Butter Cup or Ben & Jerry’s ‘Late Night Snack’ (Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with a Salty Caramel Swirl and Fudge Covered Potato Chips), and offer my opinion and have it be taken seriously. Imagine eating ice cream every day! Oh wait, I did that my entire childhood. Okay, imagine getting paid for it! You wouldn’t find me complaining. But, considering my teeth have other plans, in that they get cavities just thinking about sugar (or maybe it’s adult-onset from the countless bowls of ice cream I ate as a kid), I’ll have to be satisfied in judging ice cream flavors by their names and list of ingredients. Of course using that method, I’m sure I’ll always be biased toward Ben & Jerry’s ‘Lemonade Stand Sorbet’ as an homage to my former roadside gig.

5) Jeff Corwin’s jobs – the whole experience

I recently finished reading 100 Heartbeats, a fascinating, interesting, and admittedly depressing book by Jeff Corwin about “the race to save Earth’s most endangered species.” While Corwin is most well-known for hosting (and producing) Animal Planet’s The Jeff Corwin Experience and Corwin’s Quest, he is also a conservationist, wildlife biologist, documentary filmmaker, herpetologist, museum founder and anthropologist. I’m sure I’m even leaving a few jobs out.

Basically, he gets to work with animals, a lot that many people will unfortunately only ever see in zoos, and still others most people will never see at all. He has traveled to Kenya to be a mahout (elephant keeper) at my beloved David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where he snuggled all night with a baby elephant who was orphaned at the hands of poachers; he has visited a conservation ranch in Namibia to help rehabilitate a cheetah who suffered a run-in with a rancher; he has held three-week-old red wolf pups that were born in the wild; he has trekked through the Panama rainforest in search of endangered amphibians; and he has filmed the rare Indian rhino while riding an Asian elephant through Chitwan National Park at the base of the Himalayas.

I can’t imagine anything more adventurous and gratifying than traveling to magnificent places to help preserve threatened and endangered species, and then writing books, producing and hosting TV shows and documentaries, about the experiences–though selling toilet paper door-to-door might run a close second.

The Most Extreme Weather I’ve Experienced

Biking along the paved ocean front walk in beautiful Southern California is usually a wonderful experience. The sun is almost always shining, the light coastal breeze keeps the temperatures balmy, and dolphins are often jumping and playing in the surf close to shore. The other day, however, was the extremely rare experience that was, well, not wonderful. Or even close to wonderful.

I had ridden my bike to work in the early afternoon and set out to return home in the early evening. It seemed a bit windy at first, but I pressed on toward the ocean front walk, as it was the only route I knew, and one that was easy, convenient and void of vehicular traffic—always a plus while biking. When I reached the bike path, a large gust of wind immediately knocked me a kilter and, being on the beach, spewed a heaping spray of sand at me as well. It was then that I realized what is usually a popular path at that time of day—one humming with other cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders and joggers—was nearly void of any life forms at all. Even more desolate was the surrounding beach, which was rife only with dust devils and sand dunes growing bigger by the minute. I forged on, knowing it was my only option to get home, lest I rerouted and fought my way through rush-hour traffic on clogged streets I didn’t know that well.

While plodding along at a dreadfully slow pace, one I’m sure a snail could have maintained, I decided to focus on something productive, or at least more positive than the curses that were running rampant. On the bright side, I won’t have to eat dinner because my stomach is so full of sand I’ve ingested! Nice try, but not quite. Well, my thighs are burning and I’m barely making any progress, but at least I’m getting a great workout! Okay. Better. Oh, I know! I’ll think of a list! Now we’re talking. This list is the result of that aggravating, challenging, sand-ingesting ride through gale-force winds.

1) Cold: Fairbanks, Alaska

Having grown up in Alaska, this one is almost too easy. While my hometown of Juneau does not get as cold as a lot of people might think, I didn’t experience only that more temperate part of the state. As a downhill ski racer, I often traveled to series in Anchorage and Fairbanks, the latter being six and a half latitudinal degrees further north than Juneau. To put it in perspective, that difference is nearly identical to the latitudinal difference between Los Angeles and Redding, CA. On a somewhat related note, Alaska’s latitude spans seventeen degrees, while California’s spans just nine and a half. Yes, Alaska is that huge. But, as much as I like to inform people of Alaska’s enormity, it is not particularly relevant to my coldest experience. Nor is the fact that Juneau is not as cold as people tend to think.

Yes, that's me. Without good form or the "condom" suit, but it gives you an idea...

Yes, that’s me; without good form or the “condom” suit, but it gives you an idea…

What is relevant is that I was in Fairbanks. In the winter. In a zoot suit. (Of the “ski racing speed suit” variety rather than the men’s suit variety, though the warmth one of those would have provided me would have likely been the same). If you don’t know what a zoot suit is, and you’ve never seen ski racing, imagine a pair of footed pajamas. Only footless, skintight and made of Lycra, or some variation of fabric that is nothing like that used for pajamas. For a more accurate description, someone once called down from the chairlift as I skied underneath, “You look like a condom!” I couldn’t even argue. Virtually nothing can fit under a zoot, save for maybe a condom. Suffice it to say, wearing a zoot is great for aerodynamics, but horrible for fending off the cold. And cold isn’t even the word I would use to describe that day on the slopes in Fairbanks. Freezing. Glacial. Hostile. Those are more fitting words.

The ice that most assuredly formed over my brain that day no doubt resulted in a temporary failure to retain any new knowledge so, while I don’t recall what the exact temperature was as I stood at the top of course, shivering in my condom, teeth chattering uncontrollably, lips bluer than the Pacific Ocean, I do know it was the coldest weather I have experienced. I also know that the average temperature that time of year ranges from one degree to negative fifteen degrees (Fahrenheit), and that the record low is sixty-six degrees below zero. I’d like to think that day was somewhere around the record low.

2) Rain: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Having grown up in a rainforest, this one should be easy as well. But wait, I thought you said you grew up in Alaska? Correct. Juneau, Alaska, is a rainforest. Sure, there are no monkeys swinging from vine to vine, nor do mangoes grow from the trees, but it is a forest. And it rains. A lot. So much so that it qualifies as a temperate rainforest, which is characterized by an annual rainfall of more than fifty-five inches. On average, rain falls about two hundred and thirty days in Juneau and drops roughly sixty-three inches on the capital city every year. Comparatively, Seattle receives just thirty-seven inches of rain per year. As informative (or mind-numbingly boring) as that may have been, the wettest day I have experienced took place far from the evergreen-laden forests of the Pacific Northwest.

While vacationing in Colombia, twenty-one adventurous travelers, myself included, signed up for a four-day trek through the jungle to La Ciudad Perdida, also known as The Lost City. Judging by the ordeal it took to get there—an hour’s drive from the nearest city to a village in the middle of nowhere, followed by roughly thirty-two miles of trekking in nearly inhospitable terrain, ending with a climb up something like twelve hundred stone steps—it’s a wonder the place was ever found.

In various blogs, previous trekkers warn that the trail can get wet and muddy, which makes sense considering it’s in a tropical rainforest. What I don’t think any of us were anticipating, however, is just how wet it could get. Sure, we expected rain, but what occurred on day three wasn’t mere rain.

In the early afternoon, gray clouds rolled in and blanketed the sky. Not long after, their saturation became too heavy and they started to leak. Most of us were already drenched with sweat, so the slightly cooler temperature was a nice respite, as was the moderate sprinkling to wash the sweat away. The small drops, however, quickly grew larger and started falling faster. Soon, we were being hammered with a torrential downpour. Our shoes were waterlogged, our fingers were pruning and there seemed to be no end in sight.

The last one to cross...

The last trekker to cross the river…

We finally reached a river we had to cross in order to reach the Lost City, though the usually shallow water had become white with rapids and muddy brown. With no alternative routes, we stood on the bank–drenched, soggy and getting chilly–and waited for the buckets of rain to stop dumping. Eventually, just as many of us were questioning what we were doing out there in the middle of nowhere, the clouds closed up.

While grateful for the rain to have ceased, we still had to cross the gushing, waist-high river. One by one we precariously made our way across the murky river, holding our shriveled hands tightly to a flimsy, loose rope that spanned the water. Luckily, all of us humans made it to the other side, but sadly we never again saw our four-legged friend, Gomez the wonder dog, after he jumped into the river to try and cross it.

3) Blizzard: British Columbia, Canada

As with the previous two experiences, this one should be fairly easy given where I grew up (and I know you don’t need a reminder). However, as with the rain experience, the craziest blizzard I have experienced didn’t take place in Alaska either, though I was on my way to that wonderful state.

In 2004, after attending my second year of college at the University of Nevada, Reno, I decided to go home for the summer as I had done the previous year. The difference that second year was that I had my own car, and would therefore be driving home rather than flying. Though I had never before taken an extended drive by myself—something I would consider more than one day—I had been driving for nearly six years: two with my learner’s permit, which can be obtained in Alaska at the age of fourteen, and almost four with my license. Furthermore, having learned to drive in Juneau, and then having done it in Reno for a handful of months, I was comfortable behind the wheel in all kinds of weather. Rain, snow, wind, fog, ice, heavy traffic, speedy traffic, drunk drivers, I felt like I’d experienced it all. Finally, I had ridden as a passenger on the Alaska-Canada (ALCAN) Highway a couple times—the road I would be taking—and was somewhat familiar with it. I knew I could expect to see deer, moose, bison and bears on the side of the road or even in the road, which was a frequent hangout for the bison in particular.

I set out for the two thousand-mile drive shortly after summer break began, in the last week of May. The first three days were easy: I had beautiful weather and there was minimal traffic. As I had expected, by my fourth and final day of long driving—ten hours or more—I had encountered bison resting in the middle of the road, deer grazing alongside the highway, a black bear trying to hide in the trees, and friendly Canadians working at the gas stations and motels at which I patronized. In addition, I was sick of hearing myself sing the same songs over and over. Not bringing enough CDs? Rookie mistake; one I told myself I would not make again.

That fourth day started off much like the rest. Early in the morning, before the sun was up, I pulled out of the parking lot of a lodge in Somewhere-Canada (I’ll blame my inability to remember on the terror I experienced that day, thereby rendering my memory useless) and got on the nearly-vacant highway. A few campers passed here and there, but I pretty much had the road to myself. I should have taken that as a sign.

As Somewhere-Canada became further away, the highway became more desolate. In one hour I saw just one truck, and it was headed in the opposite direction, though it shouldn’t necessarily have been cause for alarm because that highway can be pretty lonely at times. I turned my music up louder to fill the emptiness that was suffocating me, and I started to climb. I quickly gained altitude, which is common in the mountainous regions of northern British Columbia. Out of nowhere, on that initially bright, sunny day in almost-June, a snowflake dropped from the sky and graced my windshield. Huh. That’s – Then another. What the – And another. Soon so many were falling I had to turn my wipers on. I figured it probably wouldn’t last long, and I really couldn’t rationalize driving the hours back to Somewhere-Canada, so I forged ahead.

What my childhood dreams were made of. Minus the shoveling, of course.

What my childhood dreams were made of. Minus the shoveling, of course.

While I was trying to convince myself that my potentially perilous decision was the right one, and that all would be well, the sky opened up and started dumping snow. Like a dead-of-winter-in-Alaska dumping. The kind of dumping adults loathed because it meant more snowplowing and back-breaking shoveling, but the kind I often dreamed of as a kid in the hopes that it might cause school to be cancelled and I could spend the day sledding.

Except this wasn’t my childhood dream. And I wasn’t in Alaska. I was in the mountains of Nowhere-Canada. Driving a front-wheel-drive Kia Rio. By myself.

With limited options, as in one, I slowed down considerably and kept driving onward. There was no place to turn around, and for fear of getting stuck, I wasn’t about to stop in the middle of the road, which was fast turning into a skating rink the higher I climbed in elevation. I turned off my music and clutched the wheel tightly, my knuckles soon transforming into the color of the falling snow. Though I knew I had to be the only one out on the mountain at that time, I couldn’t much tell anyway due to the fog that moved in and enveloped my car. For the first time in my driving career, I was terrified. I could easily slide on the ice, lose control, and not even see beyond two feet as my trusty Kia and I plummeted down the side of the mountain, all to no one’s knowledge. I was even going to burn more CDs for the drive back to school!

After a frightening amount of time driving through the worst blizzard of my life, thinking horrible thoughts, and debating which musician I wanted to be the last I ever heard, I saw a savior up ahead in the form of a yellow Rabbit. The fog had lifted enough to see a little further than two feet, and I spotted the small car parked on the one pullout I had come across in hours. I questioned whether or not to pull my car over as well, obviously not knowing what kind of person was in the Rabbit, but I naively and optimistically bet he or she was safe and not out to kill random people driving through Nowhere-Canada. Luckily, two nice guys around my age were in the car—one with his arm and hand out the open window trying to scrape ice off the windshield wipers—and they kindly let me follow them, at a close but safe distance, out of the pass and back to dry, safe roads.