Road Trippin’ 2015: Flight or Fright

There are people who crave adventure and excitement. They are the daredevils. The thrill seekers. The adrenaline junkies.

Somewhere on the adventurer spectrum is another group of people. These folks don’t exactly laugh in the face of danger, but neither do they run from it. They know their limitations and will take calculated risks for the right reward.

And then there are people like me, who avoid danger—real or imaginary—at all cost and in all forms, be it animal, vegetable, or vehicle. We feel absolutely no need to ride a moped, much less a motorcycle, and haven’t even a passing interest in giant waterslides or amusement park rides, never mind hang gliding, sky diving, or zip lining.

We are perfectly happy to stand by and let others have all the fun, thank you very much. Send me a postcard, a few pictures or a video. Hell, I’ll even sit through your slide show as long as I get to stay right here on terra firma and can move about at my own speed wearing a seatbelt, comfortable shoes, and a helmet. Although I may need to see the video once first without the sound on to reduce my risk of triggering an anxiety attack, as long as I can have a supply of St. John’s Wort and maybe a bottle of vodka handy, we’ll be good to go.

My friend LaVon, on the other hand, is a speed freak. Since I’ve known her she has loved to go fast, see new places, and try new things. With the exception of boat rides, reading my books, and learning to drive the speed limit, she’s always up for just about anything, and has more than once been frustrated by my more timid nature. We always have a good time but I suspect she thinks we’d have a lot more fun if I wasn’t such a stick in the mud. That’s okay with me, since I think she’d have fewer concussions if she could develop a tolerance for standing still.

Our differences boil down to this: I have an exceptionally vivid imagination, and can ‘experience’ things in my head without actually doing them with my body. Which means I don’t have to drive a motorbike up a vertical incline or break any land speed records in order to get an adrenaline rush. Plus, I can feel my skull being fractured and limbs being crushed and/or severed just thinking about flipping over, falling down, or flying over the edge of a mountain road, so why not save the gas and avoid the bruises and bloodshed?

So, what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with our road trip? Not much, other than this: We were going to Alaska. To stay for a week. With LaVon.

It had been a couple years since we’d seen each other so I was excited. I was also ready to take on the challenge of saying no to a motorcycle ride—again and again and again if necessary. And we could walk, talk, hike, and see the sights without exceeding 60 mph, so I had little to fear.

And then came the day of our departure. Having checked into our hotel room—the night before our tour of previous homes—I went to the window to take in our view and stopped dead in my tracks. For there, on the wall above the desk was the largest spider I had ever seen in person. With the Jarhead having gone to bring up a couple items we’d left in the car, I had no one to whom to babble incoherently while pointing at the wall and trying not to wet my pants. And in that situation, I had no choice but to stand there frozen with fear and a scream coiling up in my throat.

“Don’t scream,” I told myself. “There are people in the adjacent rooms trying to sleep.”

“Awesome,” I countered. “I’ll awaken them with my cries of terror, and someone will come running in with a firearm.”

Fortunately the Jarhead arrived before I could test that theory. And fortunately he had remembered to take a room key, or else he would have been standing in the hall all night while I died of fright. And fortunately he swiftly dispatched the offending arachnid to the next realm. He did this not because he fears spiders like I do, mind you, or because he loves me. No. The truth is, he killed the spider because he knew if he didn’t, I wasn’t going to sleep a wink—and neither was he.

Despite this initial brush with death, I was still pretty jazzed about our trip. In fact, it wasn’t until we were on board the plan to Anchorage and buckled in our seats that I was hit with another wave of mortal fear. The flight attendants had just finished telling us about the emergency exits and what to do in the event of a water landing. At that moment, I grasped the Jarhead’s hand and looked into his eyes. He could clearly see the concern in mine.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“What if the plane takes off,” I said, swallowing hard, “and I need to use to the bathroom before the captain turns off the fasten seatbelts sign?”

It was a fair question, I thought. Apparently reasonable people can have differing opinions, however, because at that point he smiled patiently and went back to reading whatever was up on his tablet.

Three restroom visits, two movies, and one bottle of wine later (it was a five-hour flight, after all) we were on the ground in Anchorage. My fear of flying without emptying my bladder had subsided and instead of 9pm Central Daylight Savings Time it was 6pm Alaska time.  So now the only thing I had to worry about was how long it would be before the Jarhead fell asleep in his plate of enchiladas, and who was going to help me put him to bed.

Until the next morning, that is, when we set off for a hike up Portage Glacier…


Road Trippin’ 2015

For the second time in two years, I set aside my fears and phobias this month, and agreed to accompany the Jarhead on week-long adventure to parts heretofore unknown to us. Although this trip did not involve Canada or the Rockies—unless you count flyovers—like our 2013 journey, it did carry an element of risk to mind, body, and soul.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. So rather than sitting at home waiting for death to find me in the pool, in the tub, or at my desk, I crossed my fingers, tossed my hiking boots into a suitcase—along with enough clothes to impress both Ginger AND Mrs. Howell—and headed north to Alaska by way of Minnesota.

To be fair, much of the trip was not unknown to us, as it began with a six hour car ride from Oshkosh to Minneapolis. If you think 6 hours is an excessive amount of time drive a distance that would ordinarily take only 4 ½, you would be correct and can therefore cancel any plans to have your head examined. If instead of your own mental wellbeing you were concerned with our driving and/or navigational skills, it should ease your mind to learn that we took the scenic route.

Yep, for reasons known only to him, the Jarhead decided he wanted to take his time and travel to the Twin Cities by way of Tomah, La Crosse, and Rochester. Although he will deny it, I suspect he chose I-90 over I-94 for the simple fact that he has travelled the I-94 route—back and forth—twice since Memorial Day and simply wanted a change of pace.

As long as we were taking the circuitous route, we decided to drop in on a good friend of mine whose house stands but a mile or two off of the highway between Rochester and Minneapolis. As I expected, we caught her a bit off guard, but as it had been months since we had seen each other, I felt it would be worth surprising her even if she was already in her pajamas. And, oh, how I would love to provide a photo of that moment she warily opened her front door! But since I don’t want that visit to be the LAST time she speaks to me, you’ll just have to imagine how shocked she was to find us on her porch. (Sorry, T. Lo!)

From there we continued on our trip to Minneapolis where, the next morning, we took an unforgettable trip down memory lane on our way to the airport. This seemed a fitting way to begin our journey since the Jarhead and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and because apart from Oshkosh, the longest we have lived in any one location over the course of our three decades together was the three and a half years we spent in the Twin Cities.

We started this segment of our trip with a drive by Lake Nokomis. Lake Nokomis figures prominently in our lives since it is where my friend LaVon and I used to spend hours walking and, later, pushing babies in strollers. Although it is also where my mother’s relatives used to hold their family reunions when I was a kid, it is probably better known to my immediate family as the place where El Noble learned to ride a two wheeler in April of 1991, and where he subsequently found himself up to his chest in ice-cold water about a half an hour later.

From Lake Nokomis, we continued north toward Lake Street. Along the way, we spent twenty minutes looking for the duplex where we lived for about a year—since neither of us could recall the address—and another ten discussing what was different about it and why it had taken us so long to find it. We also paid a visit to the four-unit brownstone we lived in before moving to the duplex, and the building next door where LaVon lived when we first moved there. These two were much easier to find owing to the fact that we remembered they were situated on 11th Avenue somewhere between Powderhorn Park and 38th street.

After another discussion about the changes we observed to the two structures and the neighborhood, we continued north to Lake Street and followed it east toward St. Paul in search of the big old Victorian whose second floor we occupied when the Princess was conceived. As was the case with our first two former dwellings, we had to circle the neighborhood a few times because we couldn’t recall the street address.

Although it still took us longer to find it than we expected, the task was made easier by the fact that we knew it was located at the corner of its block on Marshall Avenue, a few blocks west of Snelling. Even with that much intel, we still missed it the first two times we passed it and, due to the volume of traffic in the area, did not have the chance to get a good look. Thus, we could neither assess nor admire it as we discussed all of the memories we had of the place. Even without the benefit of the visual aid, however, we had a pretty good laugh recalling the time El Noble came to us crying after discovering that, unlike his friends who lived downstairs, he was not African American.

Having visited our fourth Twin Cities residence only six or so years ago—and lacking the time to travel there and back before we needed to be at the airport—we decided to forego a drive to Windom Gables and headed for the highway. From there, it would be a short drive to the terminal, an even shorter walk to security, followed by a LONG walk to the gate, and an even longer flight—to Anchorage…