Goodbye for now
It’s exciting to be home again. Moreover, every ounce of sun that can fall from the sky is doing just that. What was an entire summer of rain is now just sun and sky. I lounge about the deck soaking in every bit of it and decide to extend my stay until next week. This weather makes riding awesome, yet it draws me in and makes me lethargic. Nothing gets done until the last minute when the sun shines!
I’m packing the few unpacked belongings into boxes that will head south with my parents. What doesn’t go with me gets wrapped in paper and plastic, carefully stuffed into a NewEgg.com box, labeled, and taped shut. I don’t know when I’ll see this stuff again. Most of the mementos, favorite t-shirts, photos, and early childhood memories are important enough to keep. Worn clothes, several pair of shoes, and a mess of junk go to the thrift store or one last yard sale. Mom secretly dug through my brother’s cull pile. I wonder if she’ll snatch any of my leftovers for safe keeping.
This is also the last week to make my rounds seeing and hugging friends goodbye. These are people Alaska brought me to know and love as true lifelong friends. Whether we eat dinner out or chat over a few minutes during a work break, sharing smiles allows us to part with good memories. On a visit to Palmer and to the special person who cared for my grandmother until her death, I talk to Julie about what to expect in McCarthy. She says McCarthy is unlike any other city in Alaska. The true year-long residents are a rye bunch with very remote social norms — what cabin fever does to the brain. I take notes on what to see and do. Before I go, we cover safe riding and bear protection. Julie’s a super cool gal. She rides, hunts, and fishes Alaska with the best of them, and I’m glad to know her.
During my last weekend in town, I catch the Friday night diva show at Mad Myrna’s. Tommy and I are out for the evening, and this gives me a chance to say hello to the familiar faces and meet new ones at the bar. The show doesn’t change much from year to year. Men and women dance and sing for bills. The crowd waves bills in the air, calling for more dancing and more singing. We hear new songs and see new costumes, but the people stay the same. After three margaritas, it doesn’t really matter if I know the face or not! Nevertheless, I’m happy to see John, Teddy, and others on this rare night out on the town.
The next day, it’s a mad rush to finish my crap. I ride back to Anchorage and return a handful of winter gear to REI in exchange for a personal locator beacon. The taunting from friends and family that I’m accident prone and in need of a “come rescue me” device good at any point on the planet finally sticks. The ACR beacon sets me back $400, but $325 in REI credit makes the ouch more bearable. Even though it was cheap, I don’t like having it. I have a theory that danger, like fear, keeps personal responsibility and risk aversion high. For example, I’m more willing to risk a dangerous hike with a beacon knowing help will save me after a fall. Without the safety net, I avoid the risky behavior knowing I’m on my own. Think about how you drive an expensive vehicle without insurance. When you personally bare 100 percent of the risk for loss, you adopt caution, drive more carefully, and avoid parking in risky areas. With this in mind, I’ll think twice before I hike and trust my gut to warn me if I step beyond the risk line.
A stop at the Motorcycle Shop and Alaska Leather nets me needed motorbike supplies. Oil changes are in my future. The parts man hooks me up with 30-thousand miles worth of drain plug crush washers. They’re the size of a quarter, hard to come by, and $0.60 a piece. Barb at Alaska Leather shows me the BMW toy bin, and I pick up a very much needed big foot for the side stand and an oil cooler guard. I’m 800 miles of Dalton beyond making the bike pretty or flashy and definitely focusing on utility. Plus, the bike needs more than two square inches of side stand footprint, and the cooling system’s Achilles heel mustn’t eat a rock. Back at home for one last day, I install the new goodies and repair the caterpillar holes in my tent.
Two nights before I leave, Mom and Dad take me out to dinner at the Tokyo restaurant in Wasilla. We eat our fill of fine Asian cuisine and just take moments to be with each other. We talk and laugh at the home videos I’m converting from 8mm tape to digital files. I now have about 20 plus hours of home video from 1991 to 1996 to watch as I travel. The few clips I’ve watched during the conversion give me excellent flash backs at dinner to the little nuances of my family. The way my mom laughs or how my dad looks while taking a quick witted jab bring smiles to my face. Maybe they see familiar mannerisms in me too. I gesture with my eyes a lot, and it took watching me cock a funny face from 16 years ago to really realize the importance of noticing and remembering the visual details of the people close to me. Where a picture captures a single moment, video reveals the progression of emotion. Even annoying behaviors become cherished and missed memories someday.
Mom and Dad are done eying each other and smirking about something I didn’t catch while deep in thought and eating the last of the fish. I should know better than to eat raw food before leaving the proximity of a reliable toilet. The aftermath can be a river of excitement. Maybe the extra wet wipes will come in handy on the road; hopefully I won’t need the PLB.
An impromptu dinner party on the night before my departure sets a great mood for us all. Sharon, Rod, Tim, and Debra with my parents toast to me and a safe adventure with music, song, fish tacos, and wine. It’s an early night, but even the short time I spend with these folks is important. Tonight is the last night for me in the house I helped build. I’ll never load another trailer of firewood here. Tomorrow, I’ll say goodbye to the dog who’s stayed by my side for nine years. The mountains on the horizon will stay, but I won’t be here to marvel in their beauty or watch the sun glow on their snow covered peaks.
The next morning, September 16, I wake eager to start the day. Only a few things need packing before I can leave. The house smells of sugar cookies in the oven when I head upstairs. Mom’s baking me a stash for the road. My parents are very special people, and today will be as hard for me as it is for them. It’s early afternoon by the time I’m ready to leave. Whether I’m really ready to leave or not, I head outside with Mom and Dad. Mom’s already crying a bit, and I can’t hold back the tears as we hug during our final goodbye photo. We slowly head to the garage where my bike sits in the third bay loaded to the hilt and ready to fly me wherever I will. I think my wings are full enough to make this happen.
Dad shows me the four leaf clover he’s found and placed in my tank bag — for luck and safe riding he says. Another round of hugs, and I strain to feel my parents through inches of riding gear. It’s the last group hug for a while; I wish it to last forever. When you leave the people who have been by your side your entire life and the home that you’ve known for almost a decade, it’s hard not to show a lifetime of emotion. A helmet and sunglasses hide wetness in my eyes, and I choke to say I love you as I ride away. I stop at the end of the driveway trying very hard not to crash the bike while wiping my face. With one last look down Trunk, I turn the bike north and officially start my homeless trek from the nest and into the unknown.