Backpacking, and Other Burdens Part 1

[See original post here]

My friend took me on my first overnight backpacking trip last month. Via the Crow Pass trail, we were due to leave Girdwood early in the morning on Saturday and arrive at the Eagle River Nature Center parking lot late Sunday afternoon.

I looked forward to this trip for months. I created a curated playlist of songs about walking. I perused Fred Meyer’s selection of freeze-dried instant foods, all set to expire in 2067. I bought a bladder.

On the morning of the trip, she left her car in Eagle River, and I drove us to Girdwood. We snapped a fresh face “beginning of the trail selfie” (a tradition according to my friend) and began tottering along with our walking poles.

Upon reflection, this would become the “before” shot, to be compared later with the “after” shot, of what shape my body would be in after finishing the trip.

The trail began with a 3,500-foot elevation gain. My friend sprang along the trail like a jackrabbit, and I soon lost sight of her. The backpack, taller than my entire torso, made it difficult to balance, and I hobbled along waiting to twist my ankle. The shoulder and chest straps were so tight my breathing was restricted.

I’d brought a small portable speaker, currently and fittingly tuned to “Dead Man Walking.” The music broadcasted my presence to my intended audience (bears), and all other collateral damage (any living being).

I rounded a corner and found a small group of fellow hikers looking at me bemusedly.

“We heard you coming!” they called. “We wondered who was bringing the party!”

In the far distance, I saw my friend waiting patiently at the summit.

I trudged slowly towards her. After an eternity of crawling uphill –

“My backpack….” I sputtered between gasps. “It really…hurts…. Is it supposed…to hurt…like this?”

“Well, that’s backpacking!” she sang delightedly.

For the first time, I considered the possibility that my friend might be a lunatic. She voluntarily put herself through this pain, multiple times per summer… for fun?

She suggested we sit down and have lunch, and I ate three large pieces of cold pizza in quick succession. They were the last pieces of food I could eat that would have had to know the insides of a refrigerator.

My friend announced she hates cold pizza.

Confirmed, she was a lunatic.

I struggled back into my pack, requiring her help because I couldn’t get one arm through the strap; instead, I was hopping around like a chicken.

Seeing me struggle, she stared at me quizzically. Then, without warning, she grabbed the shoulder straps, pulled two cords, and they loosened.

Relief shot through my chest and shoulders. I took my first real breaths of the day.

And then we were off again. I felt lighter than air for about seven minutes before the pack began pulling into my shoulders again as the weight of gravity took hold. I would spend the next day and a half periodically loosening and tightening straps, depending which part of my back was seizing up in that particular moment.

Crow Pass covers dramatically different terrain throughout its full twenty-one miles. Starting with the stark elevation gain, hikers pass through snow, down shale coated mountains, through grass so tall and thick you can’t see bears coming, over boulders, through forests, and, of course, crossing Eagle River.

Trudging through snow, I started to worry that my newly acquired “backpacking sleeping bag,” rated down to 47 degrees Fahrenheit, was going to be warm enough.

Contemplating this chilly prospect, my foot slipped, and with an “Ummm…” by way of announcement to my friend, I tipped over and rolled down the hill.

What with the weight of the backpack, I began to roll faster and faster. Ever gaining speed, I hurtled towards the bottom of the mountain, and the large rock wall waiting for me there.

Growing up in Fairbanks, I knew the best way to slow down after bailing out on sledding hills was to increase your surface area as much as possible. I spread out my arms and legs and hoped I would slow down.

As I passively pondered what life would be like with a spinal injury, I felt my momentum stall, and I stopped sliding about 15 feet from the wall.

I sat up, took off the backpack, and looked at my friend, far up the top of the mountain. I’d lost a walking pole and my hat somewhere along my slide.

At a loss for anything else to say, I called up to her, “Um, can you get my hat? And I think I lost one of your poles.”

She shook her head.

“No, let’s keep going. You don’t need them.”

This was a moment of ratification on my status as a material girl. I hate losing things.

Loath to leave any belonging behind, I stood up, and started climbing back up the hill, justifying my actions to my friend.

“I need the pole for balance!”

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and my friend was definitely fidgeting because we still had not made it to Eagle River. She wanted to camp at the river that night, and cross first thing Sunday morning when the water was at its lowest.

Pole collected, hat on head, and backpack grudgingly placed on, I continued down the mountain, away from the snow.

I was thrilled the temperature was warming, and we were seemingly once more in summertime.

That’s when my friend cheerily reminded me to crank up the tunes again; we were back in bear country.

We entered some tall grass, positively obliterating any potential bears from view.

Knowing we were trying to make it to the river, I did my best to pick up the pace, though the ground was covered with giant boulders. If you took your eyes off of your feet for even a second to study the bear infested tall grass, for example, you’d trip and hit your head.

Feet burning with new blisters, and my pack once again feeling like the weight of the entire universe on my shoulders, I pouted silently, wondering how I was ever going to make it back to my car by this time tomorrow.

Amongst these gloomy thoughts, there was a rustling in the tall grass ahead of us, and we both stopped and seized our bear spray.

Two young men emerged, looking mildly amused as they took in the site of us brandishing our weapons.

As we lowered our arms, they happily announced that a woman on this side of Eagle River had just been removed from the trail by ambulance helicopter; she’d broken her ankle.

Realizing it would take more time to finish the journey with a broken ankle, I decided to just go ahead and continue at my poky pace. My friend must have decided the same thing, because both of us began walking at a noticeably more leisurely rate thereafter.

We sat down in the forest to have dinner around five. My friend had a nifty propane heater and a pot, in which we boiled water. We dumped the water into our freeze-dried food bags, and stirred the contents. My dinner was, ostensibly, spaghetti and meatballs; her’s beef stroganoff.

I eyed both gloopy messes suspiciously. When she told me about the food, I ventured that I would just bring some protein bars, or something. Having largely lived off of Lean Cuisine in college, I’d long since sworn off instant food of any kind. I’d eaten my entire lifetime’s worth over a four-year period, and my allotment was completely used up.

My friend, however, insisted I would want hot food and that I really should buy these unique items, guaranteed fresh for 46 years!

I stirred my spaghetti with a grimace and took a salty bite.

The spaghetti tasted exactly like Lean Cuisine.

It did, however, put some pep back into my very tired steps.

We cleaned up from our meal, leaving no trace as good backpackers should. Naturally, and just my luck, I was beginning to regret bringing the cold pizza, as the leavings in the bag were beginning to stink.

We hopped along, revived from the sodium ladened slop, avoiding tree roots precariously popping up throughout the forest. My friend confirmed we were almost to Eagle River, so we hurried along, trying to finish the day’s journey.

With a crack, my left ankle twisted out, and I went down with a yelp.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Sarah Brown suffers in silence. Feel free to pester her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at sarah@browns-close.com; she rarely fights back. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Unmasking Halloween

[See original post here]

As with every other extracurricular activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween will assuredly be dampened this year. I am not the first person to note the irony; Halloween is a holiday based entirely on the idea that everyone should wear a mask.

Will Anchorage’s new mayor issue a municipal wide ban on live Halloween, as the old mayor did with live music?

Will anyone host Halloween parties?

Will anyone else attend?

Will families go trick-or-treating?

Is trick-or-treating a socially distanced activity?

Should I just leave a basket of candy out on the porch and call it quits when one small marauder takes it all?

Is bobbing for apples illegal?

Should it be?

Should we wear masks in the water while bobbing for apples?

Will people dress up in costume?

What will be the top costume of choice?

If we assume Halloween will not be stricken from the calendar, and that there will be costumes, and that people will dress up in them, below are the clear favorites for the Most Desirable Halloween Costume of 2020:

For those who remained single before, during, and after quarantine – 

Top Singles Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The Karen – Karen with bobbed hair, crow’s feet, and a bitter expression, has already been dubbed “the scariest Halloween costume of 2020,” by Good Morning America;
  2. Hunter Biden – all you need is a crack pipe and a wire transfer. No shirt required;
  3. Mask-ed Vigilantes – no obligation to separate along party lines here. This costume can be applied to both pro, and anti, mask vigilantes.

For those who managed to find love, despite quarantine –

Top Couples Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. Pilots and flight attendants;
  2. A pair of Sheeple;
  3. Donald Trump and Joe Biden;
  4. Amy Coney Barrett and Ruth Bader Ginsburg;
  5. Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir.

And for the rarest life form of all, those who managed to maintain friendships despite quarantine, and subsequent highly charged political events–

Top Group Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The cast of Tiger King:
    • Joe Exotic;
    • Carole Baskin;
    • Fraudster Jeff Lowe;
    • Pony-tailed polygamist Bhagavan Antle;
    • Stool pigeon Howard Baskin;
    • Victim and tiger feed, Don Lewis.
  2. The cast of General Hospital:
    • Doctors;
    • Nurses;
    • COVID virus;
    • COVID vaccinations;
    • Ventilators;
    • N-95 Masks.
  3. The cast of former Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s sex scandal:
    • Ethan Berkowitz dressed in a backless suit and carrying a selfie stick;
    • Maria Athens;
    • Molly Blakey, intermittently dispensing booze and cookies;
    • The escort known as Rae – She’s mysterious, so costumes are open to interpretation.
  4. The cast of Current Events, not to exclude:
    • Plague;
    • Pestilence;
    • Exodus (sometimes known as Brexit);
    • The Apocalypse – This can be subdivided into the Four Horsemen, and One Woman, of the Apocalypse:
      1. Scott Atlas;
      2. Alex Azar;
      3. Deborah Birx;
      4. Anthony Fauci;
      5. Mike Pence.
  5. The cast of a Zoom meeting:
    • A baby;
    • A pet;
    • A bra;
    • A toilet;
    • A thermos of vodka;
    • The Mute Button.
  6. The cast of Cancel Culture:
    • Woodrow Wilson;
    • Teddy Roosevelt;
    • J.K. Rowling;
    • The New York Times;
    • Mount Rushmore;
    • Broadway show, Hamilton;
    • And, of course, The Founders.

I myself choose not to rank costumes, but shall instead dress up as everything. On Halloween, you will find me isolated indoors eating cookies and drinking vodka out of my favorite tiger mug. Photos of Mount Rushmore will cycle repeatedly on the television, and I will don my beloved pair of fluffy sheep slippers. I will then promptly miss the mute button as I talk on the phone while doing a highly personal activity.

Every year, Sarah Brown celebrates Halloween with maximum enthusiasm. This year, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

The Young and the Redemption

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

[See Original Post here]

While I was hoping the next report would be from the other side, alas, I’ve enjoyed eight full weeks of quarantine here in West Anchorage. This is largely due to my own sense of caution; the Municipality of Anchorage is well into Phase 2 of reopening.

On the first day that restaurants were open, I stepped out onto my front porch and into the brilliant sunshine. I took a tentative step forward, breathing in the fresh air. As detailed in Episode 1, my main source of entertainment over the last eight weeks has been my daily hour-long walk through my neighborhood; my cardio stints come from the quick weaves and dodges to avoid my neighbors.

But the day restaurants opened, well that porch stepping had the added significance of being the possible first move into the world beyond my neighborhood. I could actually go to some destination, should I so choose.

The man in the next driveway was climbing into his car, and I cheerily waved at him. While not one to normally greet anyone, least of all my neighbors, I was overflowing with the spirit of goodwill for my fellow man.

He waved back, and promptly coughed.

I dropped my hand, scandalized, and scuttled back into the dim recesses behind me.

Every day now, I peer eagerly out of my windows, awaiting news of either devastation or recovery.

Nevertheless, this is the third installment of series sponsored by COVID-19, preceded by “The Young and the Restless” and “2 Young 2 Restless: Covid Drift.”

Updates to key dramatic subplots are included below for your convenience:

  1. Workouts – I’ve joined three fitness challenges through work. I’ve got seven blisters and two biceps to show for it.
  2. Karate – Someone circulated a rumor that my karate sensei trained the Karate Kid. This story soon evolved into he trained the guy who trained the Karate Kid. Latest version is that he may have seen the Karate Kid once. Bottom line, the sensei’s life continues to remain shrouded in mystery.
  3. Speaking of karate – I am due to test for my “yellow-orange” belt at the end of the month. Logistics remain uncertain and I am not sure whether a virtual test will be easier or harder than an in-person test. Most students advance to black belt (i.e. master ten belts) in three years. At my rate, I can expect to become a black belt in twice that time. I advance through life at half the speed of a nine-year old.
  4. Television – I determined it was time to tackle a movie with slightly more gravitas than Alice and Wonderland (the last feature film I watched in quarantine). Netflix had The Shawshank Redemption on rotation. I’d never seen it, had no idea what the plot was, and sat down to watch it with no advance research. Upon viewing, I became unduly morose, and spent 48 hours worried about whether there was any reasonable likelihood I would one day have to stage a prison break through a hole in the sewage piping.
  5. After a few comforting episodes of Parks and Recreation, I started Hollywood on Netflix, thinking it would be a cheerful cartoonish reimagining of post-war California. It is not; I’d say the early tone of the show is cynical at best. I watched the central character’s employment struggles for about fifteen minutes, became unduly morose, and went back to Parks and Recreation.
  6. I thought a third venture was warranted, and went back to that tried and true genre of British period soap operas. Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame debuted a new show over the Easter weekend and I tuned in. Sure enough, the first episode had a surprisingly affecting death scene, after which I became unduly morose and swore off new content for the foreseeable future.

Reports from the front lines both locally and nationally are promising, but with an added dose of whimsy. Women can return to beauty parlors, but cannot have their hair blown dry. Nail salons may take customers, but manicurists must wear the equivalent of a moon suit to protect themselves and their customers. Gyms can hold classes, but only outside.

In a nutshell: businesses may take customers, but customers should stay home.

Drawing courage from the relatively tame scene locally, I stepped onto my front porch for the second time a few weeks following my neighbor’s assault.

Again, I blinked my eyes against all that new bright May light, and glanced down at my phone.

Per the news, giant murder hornets have arrived in the United States.

I retreated again.

The Egyptians understood plagues, and darned if I wasn’t going to follow their hunker down example.

Sarah Brown delights in the outdoors. When she is not frolicking in nature, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift

Courtesy Netflix

[See Original Post here]

Today we view “2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift,” the sequel to “The Young and the Restless.” In case you missed Episode One, you can catch up here, and view updates to key plot points below:

  1. As described in our first installment, I am unable to consume any television shows with even a modicum more plot than a typical twenty-minute sitcom. The one exception to this rule is Tiger KingTiger King has every possible plot mashed together into one show. So far, I count polygamy, cults, murder, animal rights, arson, blood feuds, a woman with a mysterious past, magic, illicit drug smuggling, and illicit animal smuggling. Granted there may be more; after all, I’m only on Episode Four.
  2. I stopped watching The Office towards the end of Season Five. It is at this point that layoffs become an all too real plot point. I was watching The Office for the express purpose that nothing bad happens, and no character’s actions have any material consequences. Layoffs, however, are bad and are real consequences.
  3. I started watching Parks and Recreation in place of The Office. I’ve never watched it before and am halfway through Season Two. The show is about local government. This guarantees there are no layoffs, and no consequences.

And now, we continue with “2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift”

  1. I’ve consumed more chips and salsa in the last three weeks than I have in the last five years combined. Sodium intake is reaching medically concerning levels.
  2. For about two hours, I contemplated doing my first ever juice cleanse. Before this pandemic, a juice cleanse never sounded remotely appealing. These days, however, a juice cleanse would just be another new activity. 
  3. I began researching any steps and needed materials to embark on a juice cleanse. It turns out, juice cleanses are either very expensive, very labor intensive, or both. I went back to eating chips and salsa. 
  4. I find myself fantasizing about the other forms of self-improvement I will be able to do post-quarantine. Waxing my legs suddenly seems like an excellent use of time. Much like a juice cleanse, waxing my legs has never held any pull before now. It always appeared time consuming, costly, and painful. Also, much like a juice cleanse, now it’s an activity.
  5. I’m grateful for my foresight in obtaining a quarantine haircut prior to the Municipality of Anchorage shutting down. Else, I would be mightily tempted to experiment with giving myself a haircut.
  6. My brother got a puppy. Now I want a puppy. This is new as I am allergic to dogs.
  7. I’ve added thirty minutes of daily internet puppy video viewing to my schedule. 
  8. When I am feeling otherwise bored, I take my temperature.

Clearly, in my nearly four weeks of isolation I’ve formed many bad habits. I have, however, also made a few notable improvements. For the first time in my life, I am cooking every day. My weekly menu consists of a rotating schedule of scrambled eggs, tuna salad, oatmeal, fruit and cheese, and frozen salmon. Much like my sodium intake, my mercury, cholesterol, and omega fatty acid levels are unsurpassed.Advertisement

In addition to cooking, I’m now exercising. My usual fitness classes are broadcast via Zoom, and all have added daily sessions. I am now not only working out every day, I’m working out every day, twice a day.

My Pure Barre classes with other Millennial women via Zoom are significantly more orderly than my beginners’ karate classes with children. None of the children know how to mute the microphones on their parents’ computers, so the classes are conducted amid loud shrieks of delight, making it difficult to hear the instructor. Periodically, a noisy family squabble breaks out in the background. During the last session, one girl tripped over her dog. The instructor more or less gave up on teaching us new material and instead had us kick at the wall for a few minutes.

While we Alaskans share much anxiety about the future, we also share a stalwart commitment to an isolated misanthropic lifestyle. Stay safe fellow cabin people. 

Sarah Brown is still a shut-in, but not a hoarder. If you must, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

The Young and the Restless

Courtesy Hughes Entertainment

[See Original Post here]

Like many of my fellow residents of the Municipality of Anchorage, I am currently living under a state of quarantine, social distancing, and general loneliness. It’s been difficult, mostly resulting in me chewing on my leg out of sheer boredom.

All, however, is not lost. Thus far, I have accomplished the following tasks:

  1. I’ve made it to Season 5 of The Office. Any show with even a mite more plot is proving too overwhelming in this chaotic time.
  2. I’ve compared quarantine snack choices with anyone who will entertain the question. We’ve concluded peanut M&M’s and popcorn are the most popular snacks. Curiously, one survey participant said oatmeal was his favorite snack; he was mildly crushed to hear that Quaker Oats is selling for $30 per unit online.
  3. I’ve disinfected my television remote three times.
  4. I obtained a quarantine haircut. Prior to complete isolation, I had my hairdresser cut my hair into a nineties style bob. I’m good on haircuts for the next four months. My brother’s hair, on the other hand, is now long enough to be tied back with a rubber band.
  5. I’ve purchased canned vegetables and baked beans for the first time in my adult life. When this is over, canned food drives will be more bountiful than in any prior decade.

Aside from my little triumphs, my community and its residents are fighting back, overflowing with self-improvement. For example, everyone I know has turned into a public health expert. I am pleased how much my Facebook friends have improved their scientific knowledge, seemingly overnight.

No one, however, beats out newly minted epidemiologists, and my beloved parents, Fred and Ann Brown, for coronavirus pandemic preparedness. Fred and Ann Brown are currently quarantining their mail.

It is encouraging to see how seriously businesses are taking this crisis. Businesses of all sizes have a coronavirus task force, regardless of the applicability of said task force to any particular business’ industry. Thus far, I have received coronavirus protocols from the credit union where I opened my first bank account at age eight, Groupon, Ollin Tea & Café, Nordstrom, and the Whistler Film Festival (which is not currently scheduled to take place before December).

While I find it comforting that Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union has a coronavirus task force, I’m really much more curious what United Healthcare intends to do about all of this.

Small business owners are finding ingenious ways to keep their customer base intact. For example, prior to the Mayor’s order closing all bars, restaurants, and sites of recreation, my gym sent out sweet, optimistic, daily emails describing how the floor was antimicrobial, how management was capping class sizes, how staff were increasing cleaning regimens, and how instructors would no longer touch the students. Pure Barre on 36th and Old Seward was determined to remain a sanctuary for the women who faithfully frequented it.

Post mayoral mandate, this happy little community disbanded for all of three days. Not to be gainsaid, they surged back, offering online streaming classes.

Come what may, they will lift, tone, and burn.

My daily online workouts require some adjustments as I do not have a complete supply of gym equipment at my house. For example, my hand weights for these online classes consist of two giant jars of baby dill pickles from Costco. Magically, the weights are getting lighter as time goes on. I must be getting very strong indeed.

I attempted to get Fred and Ann Brown to take these online classes with me. I did one class with each parent. Afterwards, they opted for the workout regimen prescribed by The Wall Street Journal for “The Aging Athletes.” Exercises consist of pushups against countertops and rising up and down on your tippy toes.

The highlight of my day is usually an hour long walk around my neighborhood. Since schools closed and most businesses sent employees home, the streets of my neighborhood are more crowded these days than they used to be on a typical weekday afternoon. My neighbors, to their credit, are very respectful of my space; they regularly run to the other side of the street whenever they see me approaching.

Apart from my neighbors, however, everyone else I know has gotten abundantly chatty. Before the pandemic, the only person who would call me on FaceTime was my brother. Now, FaceTime requests have increased 5,000% and I am very rarely camera ready.

Anchorage’s Mayor is pleading with citizens to cease hording behavior. Until this time when the mania ends, may there be a paper towel in every kitchen, and a roll of toilet paper in every bathroom.

Sarah Brown is a shut in. She can be reached any time, day or night, at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.