TWO HUNDRED THIRTY NINE…buffalo, moose, and bears oh my

1,390 miles

14 hours per day

For 96 hours (a total of 4 days in case your like me and suck at math)

On Highway 2

That’s right friends we made it

A L A S K A

The final frontier

If you want to go back and re-read the introduction from beginning to end with your best Will Arnett vocal impersonation I encourage you to do so. I just did it in my head and I must say, It sounded amazing. And one more thing, when you read the line “The final frontier” make sure to use your lower register and move your eyebrows up and down in a really sinister way… just try it. It really helps in getting the message across.

Hmm where to begin. Do I start with the 4 days driving on half gravelled/half paved spine crushing roads. Should I open with a bragadocious piece of information about my finishing 3 audible thrillers within four days. Maybe I should begin with how overly enthusiastic we were when the trip began and how our attitudes for adventure quickly waned by the end of the second day. Or maybe, just maybe, I start with the end of the story where we were all willing to give Cecilia her own Tobagon complete with a group of Alaskan Huskies so that when she yelled, her directions would not only be welcome, but expected.

I guess it doesn’t really matter where I begin, as long as I accurately convey that 1,390 miles of half paved/half gravelled spine crushing roads will test the patience of even the most enthusiastic of road trippers and potentially jam your vertebrae together to pinch a large collection of nerves. We put in 12 sometimes 14 hour days on highway number 2 and it was every bit as treacherous and beautiful as they say.

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Along the way we had lessons in Science everywhere we looked, with all the wildlife roaming free around this vast landscape. We saw moose, buffalo, and many many bears. It was something to see these animals up close. It was intimidating to see how big they were and we were in an RV…which sits up pretty high.  The girls were enamoured with the animals facial expressions. We thoroughly entertained ourselves with made-up inner dialogues of each group:

Abby suggested the moose needed to cross the road to meet up with other moose peeps for their journey to camp…moose guarding camp of course.

Groups of buffalo looking to change-up their scenery would begrudgingly follow the leader of the pack. According to both Phoebe and Abby their dialogue went as follows:

Buffalo number 24 says to Buffalo Number 25 all the way in the back of the pack, “Do you know why Fred is going back this way?”

Buffalo Number 25 answers, “Fred pooped his pants and needs new underwear.” But it doesn’t end there, continue to repeat the poop line six or seven times and with every proclamation as if on cue, high-pitched giggling ensues.

We ran into some luck and actually saw a buffalo pooping on the side of the road, so that was the highlight of the day. Who am I kidding, it was the highlight of the entire trip…for the girls.

Both girls agreed the buffalo were heading to the nearest mall…for the Buffalo underwear…don’t want to be caught with turtle tracks in your undies!! The conversation went on for a lot longer than I care to record here. You should feel secure in knowing hours of “belly gas”  conversation which led to both topics of  belching and the always popular farting were discussed at length. Or more like ad nauseam. I hope with all of the “issues” those poor buffalo were afflicted with, they have finally recouped from their flatulent bellies. Fingers crossed on that one folks. Fingers crossed!

Of course all along our journey we saw several families of mamma bears and their baby cubs going scavenging and foraging for the upcoming school year. “They are hoping to find new satchels, computers, and shoes” that was my contribution. Not quite as exciting and scandalous as gaseous buffalo and camp-bound moose, but by the fourth day I wasn’t overly concerned about my creative responses. I just wanted to get the BLEEP out of the asylum on wheels.

Greg even swears he saw a reindeer with big fuzzy antlers which my friend Elena and I have named Boots. Unfortunately my friend Elena isn’t with us on our journey, but I pretend she is by texting her every five minutes to give her updates on our tremendously exciting lives. She’s super jealous.

Just kidding. She’s not jealous.

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For the first two days of our journey Thursday and Friday, I drove the entire time just because it was a workday for the hubs. So he used one of his many audible tokens to give me a 13.5 hour audio crime thriller by Author Gillian Flynn called Dark Places. This is the same author who wrote Gone Girl.

From the moment the book began to four hours later, I took my first bathroom break, which is unheard of for me. I’m usually an every two-hour potty break kind of girl. I drink a lot of water.

A LOT OF WATER.

Needless to say, I finished the 13 hour book just as we were pulling into our first stop-over on our very first day. I was dumbfounded for an hour or so, still completely enveloped in the world created by the author. I then promptly begged Greg to get the authors third book Sharp Edges.

The next day, Friday, 9 hours came and went and just like that. All the characters I had become so invested in, were gone. Poof. Into thin air. Never to materialize into the film going on in my mind. I had to shake these characters off. I was too tightly wrapped up in their world. I was too affected. Too emotionally involved. Attached. Invested.

It was time for a third crime book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The summer of 1999, after graduating from my undergrad program, I moved to New York. I was terribly lonely and subletting a room with fellow classmates from previous years. I stole In Cold Blood from my roommate Jonathan, and read it on my subway commute to midtown everyday…because reading crime novels is a great way to lift your spirits. I wanted another book like Gillian Flynn’s previous two. So this is the book I picked. Let me just say, it was creepy in the summer of 99 and it was creepy this past Sunday when I finished the 14 hour book in one day.

In between listening to books, Greg and I would pause to solve all of the worlds problems and try our very best to ignore the screaming, whining, crying jags from the girls.

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After the first 14 hours of driving on Thursday Cecilia was over all the cool coloring books, crafting supplies, small fun little toys, and little books we had bought specifically for this trip.

Abby and Phoebe are old enough to switch from one activity to another but Cecilia really likes it when I am at her beck and call sit with and show her how to use the stickers and color in her coloring books, when I read books to her, and finally when I play with her.

I love getting her started on all activities…but then I am ready to let her play/practice on her own. She was not down with that philosophy…at all…and would frequently yell loudly voice her protestations.

And after the second day of her declarations, we were all over it. Honestly, I am surprised I still have hair. BUT, we made it.

We are in ALASKA.

I’ve waited my whole young adult life to visit this land. I keep pinching myself, it’s so hard to believe. I’ve built it up so much in my mind…what the trees would look like, the crisp weather, the fresh smell of that crisp cool weather, the sound of nature, miles upon miles of untouched non-homogenized lands, and of course the people who call this unspoiled state home.

As soon as my spine heals, I am going to soak up everything Alaska has to offer. I want to experience everything. But not if it’s dangerous. No danger here folks. If the bears, buffalo, and Moose could just sort of…I don’t know…maybe hang out around the perimeter while the Spranger’s are here…that would be great. Totally awesome. Seriously, completely awesome.

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TWO HUNDRED TEN…my day was craptastic how was yours? part 3

I’m visiting yesteryear with Dave Mathews Band’s ‘Live at Red Rocks’ this evening. There’s just something about ‘Granny’ that makes me envision myself lounging in the back of a pick-up truck wearing one of those old-school red plaid bikini tops with jean shorts, driving down a sandy beach road soaking up the sun, watching the clouds pass by. I always think of my friend Justin my brother-from-another-mother when I listen to DMB. Out of the 15 DMB concerts I went to, I don’t think any of them were with him…but he is the first person who pops into my mind anytime I hear this band.

So, I had another craptastic day last week. Why do my craptastic days always begin in retail stores?

I took the girls into the Lake Havasu, Arizona Wal-Mart on Friday. We were doing a little bit of food shopping…a little bit of school shopping…a little bit of craft supply shopping.

Despite not really knowing the town, I made it to Lake Havasu from the outskirts of Needles, CA without any whoops I missed the exit U-turns. It is an amazing feeling to arrive at the destination solely on memory,  without detours. It was an accomplishment for me honestly and it was Friday to boot. It was going to be a good day. I could feel it!

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During our visit, Cecilia and I made it to the potty twice, we had picked up all the groceries, visited the school and crafting section with no hick-ups. I was feeling it. I was proud of my crew. We were having a successful shopping experience. No-one was crying, no one wet their pants, the girls were walking by my side…not asking for everything in sight and I remember thinking, “OMG, this is it. We have turned a corner. My inmates are getting older. We are to the point, where we can all visit the store and make it in and out without any major dramas or catastrophes. This is it.”

We were in the check out and Cecilia said, “Mommy, pee pee” and seriously it was all I could do to hold back the tears of pride.” I gushed over her and took a moment to look her in the eye, rub her sweet face and shower her with verbal praise and kisses. A little over-dramatic…definitely. What can I say, I was submerged in gratitude and feeling appreciative. One by one, I was running down my list of people I needed to call and thank like I had just won an Academy Award.

I finished my praise-a-thon, paid for our items and politely asked Abby and Phoebe to stand with the cart outside the bathroom until we returned. We got into the stall and it was a thing of beauty. I didn’t have to coax her to “Go ahead and pee sweety” she did it all on her own. I swear it was a moment of moments to be treasured for years to come.

When we came out Abby and Phoebe were standing there like the good little girls I knew they were. Guarding the cart with their vigilant eyes. I proceeded to put CC in the cart and was quickly jolted back into reality when Phoebe started screaming at the top of her lungs.

Turns out, her finger was stuck in the cart and when I sat Cecilia down in her seat, it forced Phoebe’s finger into a more precarious position. I quickly picked Cecilia up from her seat and set her in the main part of the cart so I could focus on PJ. Yup, her finger was definitely stuck and bless her heart, I couldn’t get her to lower her voice. If you’re lucky enough to know PJ, you know she doesn’t do anything half-way. She’s a “Balls to the Wall” kind of girl. And that’s especially true with her volume. “Why speak at a 5, 6, or 9 for that matter when you can always speak at a 10” is her philosophy.

By that time, I had a small crowd gathered around me…watching to see how I was going to “save” this tortured soul. I began to sweat. I licked my fingers and was hoping to free her finger with my spit…but soon realized I was too nervous and suddenly had a severe case of dry-mouth.

“Chapstick” I thought. As an non-official chapstick spokesperson, I have every flavor all shoved in my “make-up” bag, because you never know when you’ll need a hint of wintergreen with a tint of strawberry followed by a splash of the forgetful blue one. I can do this…I whipped out the chapstick and within seconds her finger was free…black and blue for sure, but it was free.

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I got to one knee in preparation for hugging it out when a hand touched my shoulder. It was a petite lady fashionably dressed who had been watching nearby, “I saw the whole thing” she said, turning in an instant and vanishing into thin air. I thought she was going to say something else, which would have been fine, but she just turned and walked away, leaving me to ponder the purpose of her comment the entire weekend.

Phoebe and I had a private moment in a crowded store and all was well again…until she said, “Ok Mommy, you have my glasses right?” I blinked then squinted my eyes and stood with my mouth agape, like I normally do when I have absolutely no recollection of the words just spoken. Frantically searching through my purse and then the grocery bags to no avail.

“Phoebe, I don’t remember you wearing your glasses” I confessed. She then assured me she had in fact worn them and matter-of-factly had them on in the crafting section. I could hear the panic in her voice escalating. I could feel my body getting a fresh shot of adrenaline. My gut reaction was to take flight: GET OUT OF THIS STORE AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE…but my head was telling me to put it all aside and help her…all the girls are watching me now. I needed to take the time, put aside my uncomfortable feelings and desire to get the hell out of there and give them a good example of what it means to “take responsibility and care for your things…and of course retrace your steps”.

We walked through the produce section, the cereal section, over to the kids sunglasses section. She assured me it was Abby trying on sunglasses, not her. Sure enough, they weren’t there. We made a B-line over to the school notebook section, the coloring book section and finally the crafting section. We scoured the rainbow looms, the wooden letter section and paint section where they lingered for minutes at a time trying to pick their activity, with no luck. During our frantic search, Abby and Cecilia became the supportive sisters and complied with every wild twist and turn of our storewide search.

It was in this moment, I contemplated telling her she actually didn’t even need her glasses anymore because her eyes had already improved. But I decided to forgo that piece of information because in reality, they did belong to her and she was taking responsibility for them. So many little lessons happening all at once, I couldn’t just throw my hands up in the air. We traced our steps all the way back to our self-check-out line where the empathetic cashier suggested we visit customer service.

When Customer Service said they did not find a pair of children’s red prescription glasses, Phoebe broke down once again. And again, I knelt down on one knee to commence a new hug-it-out session. Cecilia sensed the inner turmoil of her sister and naturally fell in line to help make little Phoebe feel better. Little Phoebe June, as beautiful and unique as she is, has inherited her mother’s sensitivity gene. It is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because she will naturally empathize with others. A curse because she could turn into an over-sharer and a “yes” person much to her chagrin. I hope she fares better than I have in walking the fine line of being too open, caring, and eager. 

I was down on my left knee with CC who was so overwhelmed with worry for her sister,  She was holding on for dear life to my right side and Phoebe mirrored her on my left. Abby wanted a piece too, so she hugged us all. I have no doubt we put on quite the show at the Lake Havasu, Arizona Wal-Mart. A wee bit dramatic…definitely. The talk of the store…maybe.

When Phoebe felt better, we picked ourselves up off the ground, placed Cecilia back in the grocery cart seat, made it out to the car, and made it all the way back to the RV again, with no hick-ups.

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And wouldn’t it be great if the story ended there?

Naturally, I insisted on taking the girls to the park, because who needs to relax after the kind of morning we just experienced?

We rode our bikes up the mile and a half trail to the playground. The kids were getting along with each other, running around, chasing each other down the slide, under the platforms, over the steps, and through the little tunnels. I turned my back to check out some of the other RV’s in the park, when I hear Abby’s nervous voice yell, “CC!” followed by Cecilia’s screaming and crying.

I didn’t even think, I just turned and ran in the general direction of her voice. I hadn’t gone a full 2 steps before knocking my head on the steel platform above. The blinding pain brought me to my knees. With my hand over my forehead which I was amazed to find it was indeed NOT covered in blood I stumbled to my feet and made my way over to Cecilia. She  had tripped over a post and skidded on the right side of her face on the astroturf covered playground. She was standing there with that perfectly pouty lip holding her arms out toward me, needing me to kiss the pain away.

I laughed through the pain thinking to myself, “If someone had been watching this, they have surely just reached their quota for hardest laughable moments of 2016.”

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Poor Cecilia with her PD on the mend, she now had a huge cherry on the side of her face. We picked up our bicycles and peddled the mile and a half back to the RV.

The rest of the afternoon went off without any major hick-ups: Cecilia went down for a nap, the girls did their best at school, dinner fell into place, and as we were winding down the night, I thought to myself, “I need a glass of wine after this day”. I retrieved the only wine glass we had, since I had broken the other one, washed it out, set it out on the counter to dry while I reached for the bottle of Merlot. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the wine glass tumbling off the counter and turned just in time to watch it shatter in 3 large pieces on the floor.

Carefully, I picked up the pieces and threw them in the trash.  I kissed Greg on the cheek and pulled a Kathleen Kelly: I made it to the bed and fully clothed complete with running shoes and baseball cap, flopped into the bed, pulled the covers up to my head, and proceeded to sleep sound until the following morning.

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In the morning, Greg took the kids out for breakfast allowing me an extra hour to sleep in.

And there in lies the memory of my craptastic day #3. A day so unforgivable, it is worthy of the Craptastic title.  With ‘Proudest Monkey’ on in the background, I picture my friend Justin having a good laugh at my expense…I know I sure am.

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