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Full Circle: At the Wheel

leaning on my original "Scubaru" by Lake Pend Orielle in northern Idaho,1993

leaning on my original “Scubaru”—at northern Idaho’s Lake Pend Orielle,1993

Dad took me car-shopping my Senior year of high school, explaining that although he’d drive the new car for a while, it was intended eventually for my use. I pictured myself in a Jeep Cherokee: four-wheel-drive, room in the back for dive gear and camping kit, a rack on top for my parents’ old orange canoe, and plenty of under-carriage clearance for the treacherous Forest-Service roads I enjoyed exploring. Instead of a Jeep, though, we drove away in a 1990 Subaru Loyale wagon—less expensive (even new), and with the same 4WD, clearance, and room in the back for all the stuff I imagined packing for my upcoming Life Adventures.

As planned, my dad drove the wagon for a couple years, periodically taking me to an empty lot at the edge of town for lessons in driving the stick-shift.  And eventually—once I’d learned not to lurch around the lot or assassinate the engine—he turned over the keys.

Subaru canoe

Set for Adventure, 1996

I’d thought myself clever to come up with “SCUBARU” as a personalized plate—but someone else had beat me to it! With sailing, scuba-diving, and canoeing in mind, I settled on WTRLOGD for the plates… Still, I come from a family that names cars, and this one would always be “Scubaru” to me.

I loaded her up at various times with Forest Service maps, tent and camp-stove, hiking boots, canoe paddles, picnic blanket, books and camera and journal… And over the years my trusty vehicle & I ventured forth to “fill in” the Idaho atlas with tracks of where-we’d-been. A five-foot map of the state hung on my wall, with all my roaming & rambles marked in highlighter pen—and at every opportunity I interspersed those outings with forays to the Pacific coast.

Scubaru proved her worth over and over again. In a blinding snowstorm atop Washington’s Snoqualmie pass, when most of the cars on the road were either pulled over or slid onto the shoulders, I put on my chains and kept right on going. An ice storm in Oregon’s Colombia Gorge encased trees, signs, and roadway in inches of solid ice, but Scubaru crept cautiously all the way to Portland, accompanied by the explosive acoustics of bursting trees alongside the road.

Subaru Sawtooth camping

Camping “off-road” in the Sawtooth National Forest, 1998

After one particularly hairy drive in the Sawtooths (a pot-holed and washed-out dirt road, no wider than the car and without turn-outs for passing—just a sheer drop, inches from the passenger tires) I spotted a warning sign: “NO passenger vehicles.” (Oops. If there were a companion sign at the other end of the road where I started, I’d missed it!) I had to peel my fingers off the steering wheel to pat Scubaru’s dashboard and congratulate her with a heartfelt “Good girl!”

Of course, even four-wheel-drive isn’t foolproof. (Though Dad also taught me not to BE a fool; specifically, not to drive into tricky conditions with the 4WD already engaged—because if you get stuck when you’re in 4WD, you’re really stuck!) Nevertheless, I had to dig her out of a couple spots. I used a snowshoe to scoop a back tire out of a snowbank in the Boise National Forest, and in the Salmon-Challis Forest put my grandpa’s collapsible Army shovel to use, extracting her from a mire of mud where a beaver dam had flooded the road…

Subaru Washington beach

Washington Coast “beach highway,” 1997

When a downpour threatened a planned picnic along the Snake River, I popped open the tailgate and happily set my spread in the back of the car.  Sheltered by the overhanging door, I savored my strawberries & brie to the soundtrack of raindrops pelting the roof. On a couple occasions, with lightning storms too close for comfort in an exposed tent, I folded down the back seats and stretched out to sleep.

On the shore of Big Trinity Lake, I woke one morning to drifts of snow piled against my tent-corners, and had to chip my solid-frozen bacon from the cooler with a hatchet… but Scubaru scooted me safely back down the mountain, heater blasting.

Along the Washington Coast where stretches of beach serve as legally designated “highway,” I misjudged the incoming tide and dashed the last leg with waves licking the tires and wipers warding off wads of sea-foam blowing against the glass. Scubaru served staunchly through many a scrape and adventure.

With a little love and care, a Subaru will run forEVER. I drove that one for close to twenty years, and I might still be driving her… But when I departed my first marriage, I didn’t stop to quibble about any of the community-property stuff. Not long after I moved out, the wagon was also absent from her accustomed spot in front of my ex’s house… I never inquired about her fate.

2014: “Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ” license-plate holder on the NEW (old) Scubaru

Fast forward a few years… My husband started making noises this summer about the red 1989 Subaru Loyale parked in front of our neighbor’s house: I wonder if they’d consider selling it. I countered with “practical” negatives—we work together and don’t need a second car, they’d have posted a sign if they wanted to sell… But Keoni recognized what I hadn’t acknowledged even to myself: my affectionate nostalgia for that whacky wandering wagon.  In no time at all he had negotiated a sale-price, payable primarily in the form of a sizable certificate to our restaurant.

Subaru Scubaru

20-odd years later: the SCUBARU plates!

Next thing I knew, I was slipping into the driver’s seat of a car that felt as familiar and comfortable as a favorite old pair of jeans.

Keoni and our son Kapena are plotting “improvements” to the engine and paint and upholstery… Fixing her up will be a fun family project, but I’m content already. I’m “back” in my very first car, and behind her wheel I’ve come full circle. This time with the SCUBARU plates!


A Lesson on Letting Go

The tat that helped land a new client…

Here’s my GRIN for the day: I have a new client for my freelance writing, and the “job application” I sent him consisted of (1) a link to this blog, as a “writing sample,” and (2) a photo of my motorcycle tattoo.

I regularly refer to my tats as Stories, but had never considered this particular Ink in the role of Resumé or Credential… Here we are, though—I’ve just chalked up another regular client thanks (in part) to a tattoo, and for the foreseeable future I’ll be writing a daily blog about Biker Life over at the spanking-new BikerCraze site.

I won’t usually be “crossing over” with my posts there and here, but today I thought I’d post my inaugural biking-post in both places…

The First Ride: Letting Go

I’ve been anticipating the full launch of BikerCraze for a little while now, so I’m thrilled to see the site up and at ‘em! I was just browsing the online catalog, and have already mentally bookmarked the blue dragon decal, which would pretty perfectly match the blue dragon twining up my right leg…

The tat has a story behind it, of course—as does the motorcycle inked across my chest—and as I contemplate the birth of a biking community here, I’m also led to reflect on the story of my own beginning with regard to bikes. It seems like a fitting story to start with here.

My husband of four years has a long history with bikes (he had his motorcycle endorsement well before I was born), but when we met I’d never so much as sat on one. I’d hardly so much as looked at them, to be honest—it didn’t occur to me that I might be a Bike kinda girl.

But then… It also hadn’t occurred to me before that I might be an alcoholic kinda girl (we met in Rehab!), or an unemployed kinda girl (I’d made close to six figures as a school administrator before my crash-and-burn with alcoholism), or a married-to-an-awesome-Old-Guy kinda girl, or…

Well, in short… Life turned out to have a lot of intriguing opportunities open—once I Let Go and acknowledged that it was NOT going to look like what I used to plan for myself. It was my husband’s A.A. Sponsor who facilitated my first bike ride. He had an electric-blue Harley that nobody ever touched but himself—but for reasons unknown, he handed my husband the keys one sunny afternoon and told us to have it back to him by dark.

My husband was ecstatic. I was apprehensive.

I perched uncertainly on the back, unsure how the balance should feel, and suppressed a squeak on every corner he took. If it’s possible to strangle someone’s stomach, I was probably doing that to him as well, and he finally pulled over and told me to take a few breaths.

The First Bike Ride: I was hooked!

I realized that I’d been so worried about the bike that I’d been unconsciously trying to steer it with my butt! And everyone who has ever had a rookie passenger behind them knows just how helpful THAT is.

So… I Let Go. Consciously let go of my worry, and relaxed into the turns… As soon as I did, my husband could tell the difference in his ability to handle the bike. And oh my God, what a joyful ride! From that afternoon, I’ve been hooked.

And that ride has become an analogy for our life: when we try to steer with our butts, things just aren’t going to go smoothly! These days we Let Go… and enjoy the Journey, whatever it may be.

Can’t Stand the Heatstroke: Getting Out of the Kitchen!

When my sister and I were kids, we spent a good chunk of every summer with our grandparents in Colorado. We both remember fondly the traditions and rituals of those summers—the daily swimming lessons at their pool, the picnic pool-lunches (fingers coated orange by Cheetohs, and purple tongues from grape soda), the yellow slip-n-slide on their grassy back hill, the plays we acted out in their stage-like front hall, weekly visits to the enormous library with its statue of Eeyore standing on his head, and the sewing projects in Grandma’s cool basement…

Elena Grace & Mila the cat, peering into the lilies at Boboo’s garden-bunny

Some of the rituals are different, but the tradition of summer-visiting has carried on to the next generation, with our kids spending a couple summer weeks each year with my parents (known to them as “Grandy” and “Boboo”). Their memories will include picking raspberries  in the back yard, eating meals at Grandy’s breakfast counter,watching the bunnies that hang out in Boboo’s garden (and the cat-on-a-leash, also on bunny-watch), river-rafting trips, week-long games of “Axis & Allies,” visits to the library and used-book stores, afternoons at the swimming pool…

This week is one of those visiting-weeks (the second, with a rafting-trip planned, will be next month), and unlike some previous summers when jobs tied me to home, the “portability” of my current work means I get to visit too. In fact, we planned to make a whole-family trip of it, with Keoni asking for a few days off work and Kapena joining us for the first time. (Package deal—he got a bonus set of grandparents along with his Wicked Stepma…)

Backseat gang, ready to roll!

This weekend we wanted to arrive at Grandy and Boboo’s house (six hours’ drive from us in northern Idaho) early enough in the weekend to catch my sister Kadi and her husband Scott, who had also planned a visit, and who would have to leave this afternoon to get back to work. Keoni asked for Saturday off—the first day-off he’s requested since returning from his December surgery, but… No Go.  When he got the (disappointing) week’s schedule, we decided to “bite the bullet,” so to speak, and make the drive at night, leaving town when he got off work around eleven p.m. on Saturday.  I should add that nobody in the family was particularly wild about this itinerary, given the winding miles of mountain roads with unguarded drop-offs into rivers… But if we wanted any time with Kadi and Scott, night-driving would have to be the plan. Nor did we know when we’d have to return, because Keoni’s workplace posts a schedule on Sunday evening for the week starting the next morning. Combined with declined time-off requests, that makes it tough to schedule even a doctor appointment, let alone a family activity or road trip.

Perhaps you’ll remember the picture I posted the other day—Keoni had texted a photo from his phone in the middle of his work-shift, of his kitchen thermometer registering 118F at his work-station… He came home that night (after seven hours of fast-paced physical work in that temperature) shaky and exhausted, clammy and dehydrated with his sweat smelling like vinegar. We tried to rehydrate him and restore electrolytes, but he was up half that night with his legs seizing up in monster cramps—and then right back to the kitchen the next noon. Same drill, except he started in worse shape, so it’s no surprise that he ended in worse shape. He called me about an hour before his shift was scheduled to end Friday, and I could hear the strain and shake in his voice. He couldn’t stop throwing up, and he was trying to cool down and stabilize enough to drive home safely.

Magnetic chess in the back seat… Elena Grace is VERY proud of a win during this trip!

We both knew he didn’t have another night of that in him. We’d been intending that he would continue at that job for whatever time it takes to process his application at the prison where he used to work, but this just isn’t sustainable.  He called in sick due to severe heat exhaustion—a call we knew wouldn’t be received well on a day he’d already been denied time off—but we also knew already that he’d be writing a resignation letter next.  And in the meantime, we took advantage of the changed schedule (after he’d rested thoroughly) to leave mid-afternoon instead of midnight for our drive north.

About an hour into the drive, Christian commented from the back seat, “The best thing about living in Idaho—for road-trips, I mean—is being able to watch the scenery.” I couldn’t agree more! Our rural state has just a single highway between its northern and southern halves, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive (when you get to do it in daylight)—mountains and rivers and green valleys and something new every few minutes.

Having grown up in this state and made this same drive dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times, driving this road feels to me like reconnecting to where I’m rooted, to Idaho itself. The whole highway is a string of “this-is-wheres“… This is where my university biology class had nets spread across the river, all of us wading in up to our chests… This is where I stopped with a girlfriend to pick wild sunflowers, and take silly pictures of ourselves poking up through her car’s sun-roof. This is where a cop pulled me over for speeding and he turned out to be wrong about the posted speed limit… This is where the tire blew out on our way back from a camping trip… This is where I bought that bracelet at a road-side flea market… This is where Christian used to try to “skip” pinecones like rocks on the lake…  This is where I was snowed in at the Catholic monastery for a weekend, with the bread-baking nuns…  And (as we neared my old hometown) this is where the bus used to drop us cross-country runners and leave us to run the rest of the way back to town.

Goofy Glam… with my Sis!

Knowing as we drove yesterday that we had made a Decision—that Keoni does need to get out of that kitchen—opens up the horizons of the immediate future in unexpected ways. Perhaps we should feel nervous (his was the “steady” income), but we don’t. We quietly tallied the immediately upcoming bills balanced against the writing-jobs I already have underway, we embraced the idea that the whole family can enjoy this week’s visit before we head back (all of us together!) for him to job-hunt, and he feels an unspeakable relief in the lifted dread that he had been feeling about his hours in that kitchen. God hasn’t dropped us on our asses so far, and we have faith.

Elena Grace declined to join us for the “hat photo-shoot”…

In the meantime… Today we enjoyed some time with my sister and her husband—not enough time, and I didn’t ask the million questions I’d meant to ask about their trip to Europe last month… But it was truly great to see them, even for the space of an evening and a  partial day. Kapena (who drove up separately today with some friends who are moving here for school) has just joined us, and Grandy has just fed him. Keoni is still not feeling well—shaky and tired and easily dizzy—but he’s in a place where he can relax and rest. We’re with FAMILY. And God’s got our back.

lunch with the family