Well, I’ve made it back in one piece, though not totally unscathed. In the next three posts (including this one), I’ve chosen to go with a “Star Wars” theme for two reasons. First, winter in Fairbanks, AK is, in many ways, like another planet. And secondly, due to a couple of unfortunate turn of events, I was (also unfortunately) able to watch the three most recent ‘Star Wars’ movies on DVD. Here’s how week one unfolded.
Thursday February 16th, 2012
My flight from Orlando, FL to Fairbanks, AK was not unlike many of those rotten overseas flights I’ve taken. I had stop-overs in Minneapolis, MN and Seattle, WA before arriving in Fairbanks. During one of those flights, I can’t recall which, I was called out over the loudspeaker by a flight attendant while we were boarding for throwing my backpack in an overhead compartment that was nowhere near my seat. I was in the wrong, and she was intent on making an example of me. The trip was off to a good start!
When I stepped outside Fairbanks airport at 12:30am, it was so cold I started coughing. The air is
bone dry and if you aren’t used to it, it can catch you off guard. I didn’t sleep much the first nite (or the second through seventh, for that matter), but I was excited to be there. That morning I spotted my first moose and later on in the trip…I ate one. My cousin Gayle left me at home that day because she had to work, so I just piddled around the house and took a couple of walks. The cabin Gayle and her husband live in is located on 80 acres, about 20 minutes outside town. It really is a beautiful area.
Friday, February 17th, 2012
On day two I started to feel like I was catching a cold, so I wanted to take it easy, but Gayle asked me if I wanted to go to work (at the nursery). I really didn’t feel up to it, but my pride got the best of me and I agreed to go. Now, when Gayle first told me that she could get me some work at the nursery, I figured I might be watering daisies, perhaps move a fern or two, etc. Boy was wrong.
This may sound a tad dramatic and it probably is, but you have to factor in all the variables. I had slept a total of five hours from the time I left Florida to the time I started work at the nursery. Also, I was coming from a place that was 75, humid degrees, to a place that was well below freezing. Finally, for the previous seven months, I hadn’t exactly been physically active. There is a lot more humor and detail involved in this story, but in order to save space, I will just tell you that on my first day of work (my second day in Alaska) I spent about ten minutes on a forklift, which was pretty fun, and the next 6.5 hours were spent working my skinny, jet-lagged butt off in temperatures I have never experienced before. To say it was a shock to my system would be an understatement. That cold that I started feeling early on had all the help in needed and that nite I went from not great to horrible. Alaska 1 – Joe 0.
Saturday, February 18th, 2012
The next day I was in no condition to work, so I decided to stay home and curse myself for getting sick. Gayle was cool about it, which made it easier, but I was very frustrated. About ten minutes after Gayle drove off, I took all of my work clothes off and striped down to my britches. I was just about to head back to bed, but because I thought I would be a good guy and let ‘Oz,’ a former sled dog that now spends about 20 hours a day sleeping inside, out for a wee. I was instructed to attach this “runner,” a long cable tied to the tree, whenever I let Oz out so he wouldn’t run off. Well, when I opened the door to get this runner cable, in my underpants mind you, the f’n dog ran out! I couldn’t believe it. So, there I was, standing outside, again, in my underpants, in sub-freezing temperatures and feeling pretty sick. The only thing I could think of was to start shaking his bowl of food and yelling, in my kindest voice I could muster, for him to come back to the house. He stared at me, then started running back toward the house and I’m thinking, “I’ve got you now you little S(*@!”, but as soon as he got close, he made a sharp turn and ran off in another direction. This was getting better and better. I did the only other thing I could and called Gayle and explained the situation. It took me another ten minutes to dress myself and then I went after him, wherever the hell he went, while Gayle made her way back home.
I was already felling terrible physically, now I could add mental distress to the list. Thankfully, Gayle wound up finding Oz down the snow packed road on her way back. I was so embarrassed and couldn’t stop apologizing, but she assured me that he had done this before, which made me feel a little better, though not much. When I got back to the house, I took off my clothing yet again and spent the rest of the day in bed watching old DVDs and sipping cough syrup.
I can’t remember if it was this nite or another, but I was able to see the Northern lights. They were pretty special, but I didn’t try and take a photo, because I figured I would catch them another nite; I didn’t.
Sunday, February 19th, 2012
A lot of lounging was on the menu. This was the day that I began catching up on the “Star Wars” discs.
Later in the evening, Gayle, her girlfriend Theresa and I went out to dinner at a Korean restaurant. The spicy food seemed to help me some. Sitting behind us at the restaurant was a young’ish Japanese couple from Yokohama, and I was able to chat with them for a bit. It was the first time I have spoken Japanese in nearly a year. I started to think about what a small world it was. Here I was sitting in a Korean owned restaurant, talking to a Japanese couple, dinning with family from Florida and a new friend from Arizona, in Fairbanks, Alaska…wild. Theresa also informed me of the rumor that many Japanese come to Fairbanks in hopes of conceiving under the majestic northern lights, because it brings good luck, or something to that effect. Though I was tempted, I didn’t confirm this with the couple.
Monday February 20th, 2012
Gayle took me into town and we did some souvenir shopping and sightseeing. I was starting to feel human again, except for a very intense pain in my left forearm, the result of a 70 pound block of ice falling on it when I worked at the nursery. My forearm was making a distinct crunching sound when I tried to extend it. Since my cold was getting better though, I was in good spirits. Gayle and spent most of the day out and I had a nice time.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
Though I was on the up, I fully intended to stay at the cabin just one more day to make sure I stayed that way. Instead, I went back to the nursery for some, what I was hoping, light duty. Surprise surprise, I was wrong. I wound up shoveling snow, with one good arm, for six hours, many of which were spent wedged between two greenhouses, where I could not turn straight. Despite the conditions, or maybe because of them, I was actually having a pretty good time, but it was just too much for my battered immune system and I got even sicker than I was the first time. Around 3am the following morning I woke up in a cold sweat with the chills, but before that, Gayle and I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner. Our waitress was actually from Thailand, which I found fascinating. Could
there be a more contrasting environment for someone to move to? Thailand is lush, hot and humid. Fairbanks, at least in winter, was everything but. Anyway, the woman was very nice and the food was surprisingly authentic. I even got to speak a few lines of the Thai I’d learned, which, oddly enough, made me miss Japan, not Thailand. It reminded me of a local Thai place I frequented in downtown Osaka. They treated me very well there.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
Whew, last nite was a rough one, as I mentioned above. After waking up at 3am, I never fell back asleep. I spent all day at the cabin watching more DVDs. Gayle has quite the collection, but it turns out that I had seen nearly all of them, so I had to pick a few that I didn’t mind watching for a second or third time. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” was one of my favorites in the bunch, but I can’t say why exactly?
Later in the evening, I started feeling much better. At around 7pm, Gayle came home with her friend Julie, who had just arrived from Melbourne, FL an hour earlier. I imagined she must have been pretty tired herself, but apparently there was a Reggae concert at a place called “The Blue Loon” that Gayle and her planned to attend.
Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but the fact that it was going down in Fairbanks in this kind of weather was just too random for me to pass up, so I put on my dreads and headed out with the girls. I hadn’t been out for some time, so two whiskeys in I was beginning to feel it. I really wasn’t up for any dancing, as I don’t like Reggae that much, but that didn’t stop this Russian girl, who happened to be rip roaring drunk, from trying to “teach” me anyway. She was sweet, so humored her by swaying from side to side. Every now and then she would scream at the top of her lungs for no apparent reason. It was both comical and disturbing. At one point I had to picked her up off the floor, and caught her another time. The actual performance was pretty good, though the lead singer went on and on about holding his slimly, newborn Granddaughter. I’m not really sure what that was all about, but overall, I must confess that I a good time.
That concludes my first week in Fairbanks. Stay tuned for week 2!