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Trailer-driving lessons are a reminder of all that beautiful about Alaska

I am getting ready to drive to the Lower 48 to pick up a custom Airstream trailer that will serve as my mobile art studio. It’s funny how all of that information fits into one sentence, given that it represents years of dreaming, saving and meticulous planning.

One thing on my checklist before I leave? Learn to drive a trailer.

People laugh when they find out that I have this enormous plan for a mobile art studio but not yet the skills to haul it. That’s OK – I laugh too. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. But those who have driven trailers before typically go out of their way to reassure me that I’ll pick it up quickly and have nothing to worry about.

Still, I made it a point to ask a good friend if he would be up for giving me trailer-driving and backing-up lessons. He said yes, for this past Saturday.

With all of this planning for my departure date later this month, and an investment that surely marks a major shift in my life, my brain has been pulled in many different directions. To address the elephant in the room, one of those directions is Alaska. But there are many other places I want to explore, too. I’ve spent over 10 – wonderful – years of my life here, and recently felt exquisitely trapped during the darkest, most isolated parts of COVID before the vaccine was available.

I have the same stunning view as always from my home in the Mat-Su. But to be honest, I am tired of it. And, even acknowledging that, I know that the problem is not with the view itself. That is, objectively speaking, world-class and jaw-dropping. It’s my perspective that needs changing.

I will need to leave Alaska for some duration of time in order to regain my appreciation for it.

As I buckle into this final stretch of my life prior to Airstream pickup; I find myself daydreaming vaguely about days on the road and in new locales, while locking in the many, many logistical pieces necessary to get there. I’ve been keeping my head down, metaphorically and in some ways literally, adapting, completing and adding to my endless checklist. My head has been in the future more than it has been in the present.

Learning how to drive a trailer felt like another chore on the list. But like any task, the moment came to tackle it and all of a sudden the “check box” task was brought to life, at least for the duration it took to complete it.

Saturday dawned sunny. That was not in the forecast, so it was another surprise, early break-up day with a full sky yawning open bright blue and quickly warming. The bright white snow of early spring adorned the peaks that frame my view from Palmer. In short, it was a gorgeous day.

En route to meeting my friend, I stopped at the local gas station and convenience store in my neighborhood to gas up. As I rolled up to the pump I recognized a friend ahead of me. I opened the driver’s side door and stood up, arm slung over the top of the truck, chatting with him and his partner for a few minutes before they took off. I rolled into the gas pump behind them, Pioneer Peak looming gigantic in the sky as the backdrop to this mundane task.

Then, I drove up to Lazy Mountain and into the driveway of yet another set of friends who were graciously loaning me their trailer for the lesson. Before the driveway forks toward their house, it veers to a cabin rented out by other good friends of mine – they were on their way into Anchorage for the day, but walked over to say hi to me and wish me luck with the lessons.

It was one of those early spring unicorn days up on Lazy – zero wind, full-bore sun. Everyone took off their jackets while we stood in the driveway hitching up the trailer.

My friend and I drove out towards the Knik neighborhood, where he knows a good, flat, isolated spot to practice. We said hi to another friend whose property is adjacent to that stretch of road. He emerged from his cabin applauding as I practiced backing the trailer up to a picnic table. I took a deep bow as I hopped out of the truck, and thanked him. (I noticed he did not applaud during the next hour when I repeatedly tried and failed to replicate that first success).

We spent nearly three hours pulling the trailer forward, backing it up slowly, pulling out of many a near-jackknife, rinse, repeat.

Slowly, I started to get the feel and hang of it. Again, the sun beamed powerfully down from that gorgeous blue sky, mountains jutting upward in every direction. I drove the trailer from Knik back to Lazy, keeping an eye on my side view mirrors to gauge where it was at any given moment, and starting to feel a sense of increasing ease and competence.

Back up on Lazy, we dropped the trailer back with its owners. I was even able to back it up, with significant help / direction from my friends who graciously applauded and cheered me when I completed it. At this point it was almost dinnertime, so we parted ways.

Before heading down the mountain to my house, I made one more stop. Friends had just arrived back from Europe after months away and invited me to swing by post-trailer lessons. It was awesome to see them after so much time, and we cracked celebratory beers, taking in the panoramic view of the Matanuska River and steep bluffs from their beautiful home, sunshine streaming in.

Driving back down the mountain, I had an increased awareness of the day in its entirety. I experienced that rush of daylight flooding back and further into the evening, aware that it was 7 pm and it was still brightly sunny outside, deep cool shadows stretching across sunlit stretches of forest and pavement.

I never know when memories are being made, or changes taking place. But that Saturday, with the many small, good interactions I had with people I am lucky to know, and the stunning backdrop of our shared home, gave me a reframe on this place that I’ve needed. I feel like I’m heading into whatever this next phase of life brings me more grounded, and grateful for all that is Alaska and my found family and community.

And – bonus – I’m now 100% more competent when it comes to driving a trailer.

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