The Fickle Finger of Fate

This was supposed to be a triumphant blog post. I had been writing it in my head all day. After my really scary near-death experience where I plunged down a steep hillside in my snowmobile (read more about that here), I decided to get back up on that horse, so to speak, and face my fear. (As a matter of fact, I planned to title the post, “I Got Back on the Horse!”)

Long story short, we went snowmobiling again.

It was a really beautiful day. The sun was shining, so the snow was sparkling like diamonds. I don’t know if my shoulder was aching because I was tense from the PTSD of the previous week’s scare, or if I was tense because my shoulder was aching, but I was really worried about my ability to control this 450 pound machine that had already proven to me that things can go very quickly south when it decides to have a mind of its own. So I was being extra careful.

But I was going to face my fear and emerge triumphant, by God! Even if it killed me. Hubris strikes again.

I actually did conquer that ridge. I rode up the other side of it and then down the 400 vertical feet of incline behind me. It was scary. My heart was pounding. But I did it. I did it! Afterward, my husband took this picture of me below. I was feeling all triumphant. That would have been the perfect end note for that planned blog post.

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Me, triumphant after conquering that ridge. Before everything went to sh*t.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of our day.

I was feeling all cocky, so when my husband offered to show me other parts of the Sno-Park that I had never seen, but that he’d been to about 50 times, I was all for it.

It was beautiful. Pristine, powdery snow. Mountain views. I was feeling so happy and alive.

And then.

I was following my husband up a track through some trees, and I lost sight of him as he went around a curve. I wasn’t more than a few seconds behind, but when I went around the curve, I still didn’t see him. And then I realized he was way off to the side, and he was on all fours in the snow, coughing. And his snowmobile was further on, wedged in the trees.

I stopped my snowmobile so abruptly that it stalled. I jumped off and started running toward him (if you can call stumbling through a foot of snow running). My mind was in a state of confusion.

“My God, are you okay?”

“It knocked the wind out of me.”

It seems that in that brief period when he was out of my sight, he hit a bump, and just as I did the previous week, he gripped the handlebars tightly, thus squeezing the throttle. The next thing he knew, he was airborne.

The snowmobile flew more than 25 feet and hit the trees. I know this for certain because I saw where the tracks disappeared from the snow. Fortunately, he was thrown (or he threw himself. He can’t remember.) off the snowmobile before it hit. But that also means that his 25 foot flight was abruptly terminated by hitting a tree himself. Thank God he was wearing a rigid safety vest.

So now, here we were, in the middle of nowhere, in the silent, snowy wilderness, in the late afternoon. Beautiful nature suddenly seemed a lot more deadly. This was bad.

Right, then. Time to get his snowmobile out of the trees.

It wouldn’t back out on its own. That would have been too easy. But every attempt to reverse dug the snowmobile deeper into the soft powdery snow that had been accumulating under the trees for weeks. And we had no rope, so we couldn’t tow it out. So we began to shovel the snow from around the smoking machine.

After an hour, we had only been able to drag it about 4 feet, but it still had to go another 8 before it would hit solid snow. I’m not very strong, and my husband seemed less super-heroic than usual. And the sun kept getting lower on the horizon. I was getting kind of nervous.

We had tried contacting people on the emergency radio, but we appeared to have the entire park to ourselves. That seemed like a good thing earlier in the day. Now it seemed like a very, very bad thing. Even if we had been able to get a cell phone signal, it would have been awfully hard to describe where we were, as we were off the established trail.

There was nothing for it. We were both going to have to ride out on my snowmobile, even though it wasn’t made for two people. I climbed on behind my husband, and had to hang on for dear life, leaning back at a severe angle. We hadn’t gone very far at all before I realized I was going to be in a lot of pain quite soon. This was going to be a long 10-mile slog.

I had been thinking about all the ways this could have been worse. He could have died or been impaled by a tree branch. He could have been knocked out. I’m not strong enough to pull the ripcord to start my snowmobile, so I couldn’t have gotten help. I had no idea where we were. I wouldn’t have been able to save him or contact anyone or walk out. We’d have frozen to death. I began to realize that I wasn’t a help in this instance. I was more of a liability. And that made me feel horrible. How could I have been that stupid?

While I was having all those awful thoughts, we came around yet another curve, and there were two beautiful, young, strong guys, sitting on their snowmobiles, having their lunch. I wanted to cry with relief.

They were able to dig Cris’ snowmobile out, and we were ready to go. But it was becoming increasingly apparent to me that my husband was a lot more hurt than he was letting on. He had been calm and collected the whole time, but I think he did that so that I wouldn’t freak out. He could no longer pull the cords to start our engines. Our heroes had to do that.

We were able to drive out of there, but I could tell that my husband was feeling every single bump of that 10 mile trek.

As soon as we got to the truck and manhandled the snowmobiles onto the trailer, we headed straight toward civilization, and finally, gratefully, to an emergency room, where I was promptly kicked out because of a fear of spreading COVID-19.

He was there for hours, and I couldn’t even hold his hand. We found out he had broken two ribs but had no internal injuries or bleeding. By the next day, he looked like I had beaten him with a baseball bat.

He has a 6-8 week recovery ahead of him, but he’s alive. No more snowmobiling for us. We have too much to live for.

A special thank you to Mike and Josh from North Bend, Washington, for saving our lives. I wish I had gotten their last names. Things would have been much worse if they hadn’t been there.

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An Environmental Reset

I just read an article that says that now that there are no tourists in Venice, the canals are so clear that you can see the fish in them, and that dolphins have been spotted for the first time in recent memory. How wonderful. I wish I could see that, but unfortunately, our trip to Italy has been cancelled.

And then this article on the NPR website shows that the air pollution in China has all but disappeared, because people aren’t driving, and factories aren’t running. China’s carbon footprint isn’t nearly as footy or printy as it was this time last year. Again, good news.

As someone said on a meme that is going around, it’s almost as if the planet has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.

We are experiencing a rare opportunity to see a cleaner, less crowded world. I hope that really sinks in with people. I hope it makes us all tread more lightly upon the earth. I hope that we learn more from the horrible tragedy of COVID-19 than the need to wash our hands.

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Croker’s Mountains

If you believe in something desperately enough, you can make it real. At least to you. That’s the main takeaway from today’s post. You can stop reading now. But then you’ll miss out on learning about an entire mountain range that never actually existed.

According to an article entitled How a Fake Mountain Range Slowed Down Arctic Exploration, a guy named John Ross, a British Naval officer, was sent out to find the Northwest Passage. The British Admiralty made it sound like it would be kind of fun. Find the entrance to the passage, cruise on over to the Bering Strait, report back to London, then head out to Hawaii for some R&R. Cool!

But of course, it wasn’t that easy. In June, his ships got trapped by icebergs. For about two months, the only progress they made was when the crew dragged the ships through the slush. In mid August they finally got to Baffin Bay, a large patch of water south of Greenland. They began to explore.

After a couple days exploring the area, they actually found the entrance to the Northwest Passage, but they didn’t know that, because when the fog cleared, Ross came up on deck, looked up, and saw a mountain range, which he named Croker’s Mountains, after somebody or other who was important at the time.

Now, nobody else saw these mountains. And many crew members attested to the fact that weather conditions were not amenable to some kind of mirage. No. Ross saw mountains because he expected to see them, and probably wanted to see them after months of icy misery. And so he declared the area impassible, and had the ship turn around.

The crew was extremely disappointed and frustrated. The next year, one of his former crew members, William Parry, returned to the area, and easily found the entrance, and no mountain range at all. The entrance is now called Parry Channel in his honor.

It’s safe to say Ross kicked himself for the rest of his life. But one has to wonder what really possessed the man to conjure up an entire mountain range out of thin air. That’s one impressive imagination, I have to say.

I once wrote this post about an island the size of Manhattan that had been on charts since 1772, and it was only discovered that the island never existed in 2013. I have a new theory. This island, which I vaguely remember as being off the coast of Australia, somehow broke free, and floated around the tip of Africa and up to Greenland, where it lodged in the entrance of the Northwest Passage. Then, sometime between Ross’ visit and Parry’s, it floated away again, to God only knows where.

I’m sure it’ll turn up eventually.

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You Just Can’t Satisfy Some People

Over the years I’ve blogged numerous times about my love of the National Parks here in the United States. And what’s not to love? Every American owns 84 million acres of land that gets maintained by the government for our enjoyment and education.

I’ve visited, and subsequently blogged about:

I look forward to every visit.

So when my husband sent me this link entitled “I Illustrated National Parks In America Based On Their Worst Review And I Hope They Will Make You Laugh (16 Pics)” I did have to laugh. It’s an artist who illustrated posters for each of the national parks with a hilarious twist. The posters are based on one star reviews that the parks have received.

Yes, there will always be people who can be put into the most gorgeous places on earth and still find something to complain about. I suggest you check out the link to really get a feel for these beautiful and comical posters, but here are some of the one star reviews that she used.

  • “There are bugs and they will bite you on your face.”

  • “Trees block the view and there are too many gray rocks.”

  • “No cell service and terrible wifi.”

  • “All I saw was a lake, mountains, and some trees.”

  • “Nothing specific to do.”

  • “Scenery is distant and impersonal.”

All I can say to the above is… wow. I’m so glad I am not these people! I can’t imagine being presented with such natural beauty and still managing to find fault with it. I can’t imagine being so full of negativity that I couldn’t see the closest things to paradise that we have on earth for the priceless thing that they are. You just can’t satisfy some people.

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A Temporary Home Schooling Idea

As more and more schools are shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are desperately casting about for temporary home schooling ideas. In order to keep your children up to date on science, I strongly encourage you to check out Zooniverse.org. It’s also a great place to go if you’re stuck at home and bored silly. I can’t think of a better source to get people of all ages interested in science than this people-powered research site.

Check out my previous blog post about this site for more details, but rest assured that even more scientific projects have been added to the site since then. Here are a few:

  • Help the University of Wyoming track and study racoons.

  • Help identify regions of the universe where stars are being born.

  • Track the life histories and criminal careers of Australian prisoners.

  • Listen for earthquakes.

  • Transcribe handwritten letters between 19th century anti-slavery activists.

  • Count, identify, and track giraffes in Northern Kenya.

  • Help characterize the surface of Mars.

Sometimes it takes a village to complete a science project. I’m getting excited just writing this post! Let’s take this opportunity to teach our children that science can be fun!

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Cold, Hard Adrenaline

Recently I went snowmobiling with my husband at the Kachess Road Sno-Park here in Washington. It was my second time snowmobiling. I’ve blogged about it, and my mixed emotions about the environmental impact, before. But, still, what a blast.

I love being out in the wilderness, and with this COVID-19 pandemic, it suits me just fine to be dozens of miles away from civilization. And the conditions were perfect. The paths had been groomed just before we got there, and it was a sunny day. It was obviously cold, and we were riding on about 24 inches of snow, but we were equipped properly, and it was a glorious day all around.

I was really rather proud of myself on this second ride. We did 26 miles, and I was able to go faster than the first time, and we got to some locations that most humans will never get to see. When we weren’t tooling around on the paths or playing around in the large, hilly bowl that is kind of snowmobile nirvana, we were sitting there in the quiet, taking in the gorgeous views. Lakes, waterfalls, mountains and valleys galore. Check out the photos and video below.

I was really starting to get why people are addicted to adrenaline. I was feeling like Superwoman out there, speeding along with a powerful engine beneath me, whipping through switchbacks, hitting bumps and (I think) catching air a time or two, with a rooster tail of snow behind me. What a rush. I never wanted it to end.

That is, until I did. Ah, hubris.

I was following my husband up a ridge with steep drop-offs on either side. I don’t really do well with heights, but at this point I was feeling pretty invincible. I was carpe-ing the hell out of that diem!

Then, one of my snowmobile skis hit a rut and jerked my steering wheel sharply to the right. That made me panic and grip the steering wheel even harder, which was the worst possible thing to do because the accelerator is, of course, on the hand grip.

You know that feeling when you’re poised at the very top of a roller coaster? This wasn’t that feeling at all. There was no excitement, no anticipation. Just sheer terror.

The next thing I knew, I was plunging about 50 feet down a 60 degree decline, going what felt like about a million miles an hour. That, I probably could have handled, except for the fact that at the bottom of the decline was a 60 degree incline. I loved geometry in school, but I was rather busy, so I wasn’t going to calculate that angle, but I can tell you it was pretty effing acute. The entire situation was acute. I was sure I was going to crash into the rapidly approaching hillside, fly over my handlebars, and die.

It’s really amazing how things go into slow motion when you think you’re about to cash it in. The whole experience probably took less than 2 seconds, but I remember distinctly every single thought that went through my head as I screamed and employed a lot of expletives. First of all, of course, was the image of me breaking my neck, and the anticipation of the excruciating pain and then nothingness that I was convinced I was about to undergo. Then I thought about how badly it would suck to die on the second anniversary of the day we started dating, and how wonderful these past two years have been. And then I got very sad, because we’re just getting started and I really don’t want it to end. Not yet. Not any time soon. And then, oddly enough, I thought, “Well, at least I won’t have to deal with COVID-19.”

Then, just like that, I was at the top of the incline that I thought was going to be my undoing. I have no recollection of the ascent. I was too busy bracing for impact. I have no idea how my snowmobile managed to get up there. Somehow it defied geometry and physics, and I was alive.

But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. My snowmobile was tilted very sharply to the right, and I was sure that it was going to roll any second. So I turned off the engine and carefully got off of it and stood out of its path, waiting for my husband.

The wait seemed like an eternity, but in reality it probably wasn’t more than 15 seconds. He keeps a close eye on me. He was out front, so he didn’t see my death plunge, and couldn’t hear anything over his engine, but he quickly figured out that I was no longer behind him. Naturally he turned around and came back. I got to watch him ride along the ridge, right past me, because he wasn’t expecting to find me on a completely different hilltop. But he then saw me and made his way over via a much safer route.

Miraculously, I wasn’t hurt at all, and neither was the snowmobile. My husband hugged me and said he was proud of me. But I felt like a total idiot, and I was seconds away from losing it. I knew that if I sat down in the snow and burst into tears like I desperately wanted to do, the rest of the day would be ruined, and we had been having so much fun.

So I breathed deeply, and kept repeating to myself that I was alive. Alive. Alive. We slowly made it down off that hill. And lest we forget, we were still far, far away from the parking lot, so I had no choice but to press on.

My confidence was pretty shattered. I did sniffle a bit in my closed helmet, as we proceeded on less ambitious trails. My husband showed me a lake and a waterfall. He let me take things at my own pace. Snowmobiles do require a certain speed so as not to overheat though, so at one point he passed me and that encouraged me to speed up a bit. I was able to do that. That felt like an accomplishment.

It really was a wonderful day, despite the adrenaline rush and the dance with death. It really was. And I genuinely do look forward to going again.

So, yeah, that happened.

When all is said and done, I was grateful for the reminder of how good my life is. I hope I never take that for granted. Life is so incredibly precious.

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Finally, a Feel-Good Story from the Australian Fires

My heart has been breaking for Australia since the latest bush fires started in September. I can’t even imagine the extent of the utter devastation. It’s said that more than half the koala population has died. And they are but one of the unique Australian mammals that have been disastrously affected.

Fortunately, rain has finally, finally taken hold, and it looks like these fires have done their worst. At least, for now. But when will we start taking Global Warming seriously? What are we waiting for? I hope it’s not too late. That’s a subject for another post.

But I did want to share one feel-good story that has arisen, phoenix-like, from the ashes. It seems that some soldiers from the 9th Brigade of the Australian Army that were deployed to battle these fires have been volunteering during their rest periods (read more here). They have been helping to feed and comfort injured koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park. (And it’s an organization well worth supporting. Just saying.)

It always amazes me when people who are already giving 110 percent to mitigate a tragedy then step up to do even more. They’re the ones who volunteer. They’re the ones who ask how they can help. The people who are already exhausted and discouraged and on the ragged edge from their efforts. They rise.

That is what I love about humanity in general. That intangible thing that makes some of us go above and beyond. That integrity. That strength. That valor.

We all have it within us to be heroes. That goes beyond our gender or our nationality or our politics or our religion. It’s a quality that we can choose to nurture or cast aside.

Here’s hoping enough of us make the right choices to make a difference in this very pivotal point in human history.

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