Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Not an Adventure Until Something Goes Wrong

Every time I post a blog that is longer than a couple of paragraphs, I hear my Writing for the Electronic Media professor's voice echoing in my brain, "Keep it short and to the point."  While it pains me to break a rule of writing, I have a lot to say!  But I guess since I'm not blogging for a grade, I won't feel too badly about it.  I'm writing to update our friends and family on our latest adventures, and man do we have a lot to fill everyone in on!  I've been a major slacker in the blog apologies to any of you that have been looking for a new one! But today I have the whole afternoon, a fresh mug of coffee and lots of stories to tell--get comfy, folks, it's going to be a long one!

For the sake of clarity, I'll keep things chronological.  The last weekend in October we got to participate in the annual Halloween Carnival at school.  Brendan and I were in charge of the CoOp, and we were crazy busy the whole night!  Brought me back to my bar tending days, except I was selling bottles of soda and Slush Puppies instead of bottles of beer and Abbey Road Runners.  It was an outstanding turn out for carnival games run by teachers, a haunted house created by the seniors, bingo, and food.  I love when I get a chance to interact with my students outside of the classroom, and it was nice meeting some new families and collaborating with the staff for a fun event!  Despite having Saturday School that morning and not leaving school until almost midnight, we had a really great time and are looking forward to next Halloween!

Brendan traveled with the volleyball team to Shishmaref the first weekend in November.  Shishmaref is a village north of Nome, and is much smaller than Savoonga.  It's located on a barrier island, so if you can picture the geography of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, then shrink it down and put it in the Arctic Circle, then you can pretty much envision Shismaref. (Minus the huge houses, restaurants and stores of the OBX.)  The sea was already starting to freeze and snow machines were already running full force.  (Our sea isn't frozen, and we don't have enough snow for snow machines yet!)  Though the team didn't win any games, they were given plenty of compliments on how much they have improved since last year.  The kids had a good time and were psyched to travel to Shaktoolik this weekend for more!  Brendan had to sit this game out, as he's leaving for Unalakleet tomorrow for classroom related training.  He's lucking out big time and staying overnight in Nome on Monday.  Translation:  He gets to break sobriety and indulge in beverage(s) of his choice! 

The next bit of news made national news as well, so if any of you happened to turn into the Weather Channel this week, you know that we had a pretty major storm!  That's right, we survived our first "snowicane."  When I heard about how bad the storm was going to be, I envisioned us hunkered down in our house with all of the candles lit, enjoying hot cocoa, a good book and a snow day.  Things that didn't happen:  all of the above.

We watched the storm coverage all day Tuesday and were well-prepared for it to hit us Tuesday night.  We brought some things up to school with us on Tuesday morning, in case we had to stay the night.  The students were dismissed at lunch time, so they had plenty of time to get home before the bad weather started.  It wasn't supposed to get bad until late that night, so a few of us decided we wanted to go home to shower and eat, since we were unsure of how long we'd be stuck at school after the storm hit.  The general consensus (with input from previous Savoonga winter storm survivors) was that we had plenty of time to go home for an hour and come back.  Our principal drove us down to teacher housing in the pick up truck.  It was windy but clear--we have a few videos that I'll try to post!  The plan was for him to come back and pick us up in an hour.  The best laid plans...

There were only three of us making the trek back up to school, and by the time we were supposed to meet back at the truck, the wind had picked up and it was getting dark.  The truck's windshield wipers weren't working and our principal couldn't see a thing, so he wasn't able to pick us up in that.  He decided to try the 4-wheeler, which ended up working! We all piled on, our principal driving, Brendan sitting on the front calling out directions and warnings, and Theresa and me on the back...hanging on tight and shielding ourselves from the wind.

If we had made it back to school without any mishaps, it would have been pretty impressive.  It was a complete whiteout, with zero visibility. But we weren't trying to impress anyone.  To be blunt, I ended up getting tossed off the 4-wheeler into the ditch. (They really aren't kidding about those Bering Strait wind gusts!)  Theresa's bag filled with food, drinks, clothes and a hard drive--probably a good 15-20 lbs. worth, went flying by me like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz.  Brendan was able to jump off and grab me and the bag.  We all teamed together to try to pull the now stuck 4-wheeler out of the same ditch I had been occupying.  (By "we all" I mean Bobby and Brendan.  Theresa and I gave it a few good tugs but were more focused on not blowing away.)  After a solid effort, it became frighteningly obvious that we really needed to get back to the school.  We abandoned the 4-wheeler and Theresa's bag, linked arms and started walking. Well, trying to.

This is the part of the story we can all look back on and laugh about, though there was nothing funny about it as it was happening.  I've always been pretty happy about the sense of direction I inherited from my dad, but it apparently stops working in an Alaskan white out. Theresa and I were sure we were still down by the water, and between the strength of the wind and the distance to school, I was pretty sure we were goners.  Luckily, I date a human compass, so even though I didn't know it at the time, Brendan knew we were only about 50 yards from the school.

Picturing two people wandering aimlessly, one person crawling, and one person yelling, "GO LEFT" literally right outside of the school is the part I find most hilarious.  Throw in a record breaking storm, an anxiety attack and gear that's not warm enough and it turns from funny to scary. Brendan was able to push me inside, (he had to push me because me walking was about as productive as walking on a treadmill) where we got help.  Bobby and Theresa weren't too far behind.  The story's ending is happy and even comical, but I think we all learned some serious lessons.  Nature is beautiful and stunning and its power can literally take your breath away.  I don't think we'll be venturing outside in any future storms, as the outcome of our experience could have easily been serious.  Even though it scared the crap out of us, I'm thankful that I'm now aware of just what kind of weather we'll be dealing with this winter.  Now we know what to prepare for!

One of Brendan's favorite quotes is "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."  This was certainly our biggest adventure to date, and one we'd rather not re-live. But it was a bonding and a learning experience, and a good story to tell.  We enjoyed the remainder of the storm from the inside of the school, on an air mattress in my classroom.  If you are thinking school was cancelled on Wednesday, think again!  We had a delay, but kids came to school!  Not only did we survive the "snowicane" of 2011, we didn't miss a beat.  The 4-wheeler was recovered in working conditioned, and Theresa's bag miraculously made it back to the school.  I think the only losses suffered were Brendan's snow goggles and a bit of pride.

The semester is flying by, we'll be home for Christmas in just about a month!  I have a lot left to cover for the quarter in my classroom, and am determined to get through the material with my kids.  Some days I feel like I'm making progress and others I feel like I'm falling behind...I hope the former is what's actually happening.  We'll be spending Thanksgiving here with the other teachers and are greatly anticipating 4 days off of school in a row.  We have a few Christmas decorations, and trust me, I can't wait to put them up.

Any of you that are reading from Salem may have seen the article in the Post Star about us this morning. It was a really nice article about Brendan and I moving up here to teach.  We're not here for recognition though and are really just enjoying making new friends and experiencing a new culture and a simplified lifestyle.  We feel honored that someone other than me wanted to share our story, but more than anything we're just happy to be here experiencing these great adventures.  

Thank you, everyone, for your concern and support this week with the storm! I'm trying to get photos and videos posted, but the internet at our house is taking a while.  I'll get them up ASAP!