Chapter One: The First Story
When they arrived at the cabin, they set their bags on the porch and opened the door. Inside, the last people who were there had left some firewood. Otherwise, everything was clean. The men claimed their bunks, lit a fire in the stove, and started preparing dinner. After dinner, there was card game, jokes, and beverages. It had been a long day for everyone, and the short trip to the cabin was enough to tire them out. They decided to call it a night.
The men piled the logs into the stove with the hopes that someone would get up and replenish the wood before the fire died. John turned off the lantern and everyone used flashlights to get into their beds. They all got into their sleeping bags, turned off their flashlights, and tried to go to sleep.
Soon, the stove was glowing red, and the cabin was so hot, someone had to open the door. The men all got up because there was no way they could sleep in the heat with their long johns and heavy-duty sleeping bags. They gathered on the porch near the doorway enjoying the outside temperature, well below freezing, tempered by the heat coming from the stove indoors. There was thought of leaving the cabin door open and returning to sleep, but a crunching through the snow drew their attention.
Not 10 feet away, three moose had gathered in the moonlight. They snuffled the snow and the trees looking for something to eat. The four men knew they would not be able to return to their beds without closing the door, and they knew it would be impossible to sleep while the stove continued to heat the cabin to temperatures previously only dreamed of in that neck of the woods.
They would need to stay up. Rather than post one man as sentry near the door, being amiable, they decided they would all stay up to keep each other company. It was a part of the weekend to connect to each other rather than to the electronic devices that ruled all too much of their interactions during their time in the city.
They stood huddled around the door feeling only slightly awkward. “You know what we used to do at camp?” asked George. “At night, before we went to bed, we would tell each other stories.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” said Gerald. “By the time we’re done, the heat will have abated.”
“So, who starts?” asked John.
“The one who suggested it,” said Lee and laughed as he pointed at George.
“I think our writer should start,” said George looking at Gerald.
“Wait, how did I get to be at the front of the line?” asked Gerald. “Shouldn’t it be our fearless leader?” He indicated John.
John’s mouth dropped open. He gestured with his hands toward his chest and looked around. “I think Lee would have the most interesting stories. I bet he could tell us something about his home country.”
Lee smirked. “That’s exactly why I shouldn’t go first. I’d be a tough act to follow. I also nominate Gerald to start us off.”
“Show of hands,” John said. The three of them raised their hands. “Looks like you win, Gerry. Let’s hear your story.”
“Alright, at least I’ll get it over with,” Gerald said. He looked out over the porch, past the dark figures of the trees and beyond to the mountains. The full moon lit the snow on the towering mountains giving them a glowing white appearance. Gerald breathed in the cold air and exhaled. This is the story he told:
It is said that on that mountain just below the tree line lives a creature no man has seen. We’ve only heard whispers of it from Native Alaskans, and campers, who found themselves on that mountain unknowing what awaited them, returned weeks after they had planned and missing days in their memories. The best account of the creature that lives there is from a 1932 biography of Amelia Ambergris.
Amelia Ambergris was an adventuress in every sense of the word. She wasn’t interested in being known for her exploits and only agreed to consult on a biography as she suffered through a life-ending disease that went undiagnosed even after she died. They just didn’t have the technology to see what was wrong, and it could’ve been anything, but in 1933, it was labeled cardiac failure though she was only 58 at the time.
One of her adventures took her to that very mountain we can see from here. It’s one of the reasons why I agreed to come on this trip, and while I know that the mountain is too far away to get from here, I still wanted to see it. After reading about Ms. Ambergris and the other legends of the mountain, I’m not really sure I want to venture out there.
Ms. Ambergris was based in Anchorage in her time in Alaska, and she had learned to speak a little of the native languages. She would collect stories and folklore about specific places and try to uncover the reason for languages that had similar stories about the same area. When she heard about this area, she decided to head out in the winter to find out what made the place so dangerous beyond the normal problems that people faced from the weather and the cold.
She took a sled of dogs and a team of natives and dressed as warmly as she could. With her rifle nearby, they mushed to the foot of the mountain. The Native Alaskans would go no further. They tried to dissuade her from ascending the mountain by point at the weather and the dark clouds above. They tried to dissuade her because of the lack of provisions available. Finally, they mutinied and left her there to her own devices. They were sort of civil about it, at least. They left all the supplies they wouldn’t need as they headed back to Anchorage, but they took her dogs.
Ms. Ambergris headed up the mountain, towing her sled behind her. She found a good clearing with a stream nearby and made camp. She dug out a snow cave and started a fire. As it got darker and colder, she thought she could hear things moving in the snow. Bear weren’t likely to be out that late in the season, and moose would’ve been large enough to see. There hadn’t been any new snowfall, and there was no wind to knock the snow off the trees. It could’ve been rabbits or foxes, but Ms. Ambergris didn’t think so.
Soon it was night, and she decided that she would go to sleep. She hunkered down in her snow cave and closed her eyes. She had her rifle with her just in case. She wasn’t sure how long she had slept, but the embers of her fire were glowing red. It wasn’t the cold that had awoken her, however. There was something rummaging through the supplies on her sled. She put a log on the embers and stepped out of her snow shelter. The fire had died down enough that she only had the faint moonlight to see by.
There was something shaking her sled, but she couldn’t see it clearly. It made snuffling sounds like a moose but was definitely bi-pedal. Ms. Ambergris knew that Alaska didn’t have any apes, and while this particular specimen didn’t seem large enough and it was winter, the only thing she could think of that was sort of bi-pedal was a bear. She raised her rifle to her shoulder and pointed it in the general direction of the sled. “Hey, whoever’s going through my sled! There’s plenty for everyone. Come out with your hands where I can see them, and we’ll share!” She shouted in case it was a human.
The movement of the sled stopped, and when she circled it, there wasn’t any animal around. She thought she would look for tracks in the morning when there was more light than she had with just the moon. She went back to the cave and slept through the rest of the night.
When she got up the next morning, she tended to her fire and put some water on to boil. Then she checked her supplies. The animal had left everything alone but her Bible, which it appeared to have been going through when she interrupted it. The pages were wrinkled, and there were some tear marks. The book was, however, intact.
She thought that maybe the animal was hungry. Since she had stashed all of her food, it couldn’t find anything to eat. Still, it was strange that it was interested in the Bible. She thought that maybe even animals needed the Good Word of God sometimes, like people needed bread. She finished checking her equipment and found a small tuft of white hair on one of the runners of the sled where it stuck out above the snow. She decided to take her Bible to the campfire while she examined the hair.
She set the Bible on a log next to her. The hair didn’t look like fur. It looked like hair from a human. That didn’t make any sense to Amelia, but she could find no other clues as to the identity or whereabouts of the creature. So, she sat near the fire and pondered the situation. As the day wore on, she decided to see what would happen if she left some food out for the animal. Oftentimes, animals would return to the place where they could find food, especially in the winter.
As night descended on the mountain, she placed out small bits of food. She knew that there was an inherent danger in doing so. While bears were in hibernation, it didn’t mean that they wouldn’t come out of their dens to find food. It was rare to see a bear during the winter, but it did happen. Other animals that could be dangerous and attracted to the food included wolves, wolverines, and, to a lesser extent, foxes. Still, she thought the risk would be worth it.
She put the food out, just at the edge of the firelight, and went to her snow cave to see what happened. She said that she dozed off and was awakened by the sound of ripping paper. When she opened her eyes, still clouded with sleep, she saw a group of bi-pedal creatures with white hair sticking up all over their bodies. They were about three feet tall and had gathered around her Bible. She heard one of them grumble and another page was torn from the Holy Book.
She raised her gun when she heard another noise coming from the area of her sled. She decided that she had to take action. She raised her rifle and fired at the group near the Bible. One of the creatures yelped. The rest turned to face her. She ejected her cartridge and put her finger on the trigger, but she was too slow, they creatures overwhelmed her, pummeling, kicking, and biting. She fell unconscious.
The next day, she awoke. Her fire was out, and she hurt all over. When she came to her sled, she found that the animals had rummaged through the sled and didn’t take or damage anything. The food she had left out on the edge of the firelight remained untouched. But she was wrong about the pages being torn out of the Bible. The creatures had torn out specific verses and, apparently, eaten them.
Ms. Ambergris realized that she would need medical attention. She packed up her supplies and headed down the hill with her sled behind her. She wasn’t sure she could make it to Anchorage, but the alternative was to give up. She kept putting one step in front of the other. At the bottom of the hill was one of the Native Alaskans that had brought her out there. He decided that he couldn’t leave her on the mountain by herself, but when he arrived, he couldn’t bring himself to go up the slope.
They went back to Anchorage and Ms. Ambergris checked into the hospital. A couple of days later, the Native Alaskan came to see how she was doing. She told him about the creatures and what had happened.
He said, “Those creatures are trolls, and you should never feed them.”
When Gerald finished his story, there was silence. A moose exhaled loudly from the copse of trees where it decided to bed down.
“And that’s why we don’t feed the trolls,” said George. “Right. Not bad.” He looked at the stove. It was still glowing red. “It looks like we’re going to be out here for a while. Who’s next?”
“I think I should choose,” said Gerald, “and I choose John.”
Our stories will be released one at a time on Fridays through the power of the Internet. They will be available to Penguinators only, those who join our Patreon at any level. For even when the intentions are good, the power of a story is only as good as its ability to attract an audience. We think these stories are ones that you won’t want to miss. This is the last preview available to everyone. Should you wish to read the next chapter, join our Patreon.
If you haven’t read the introduction yet, you can do so here. The first chapter to the story will be posted on Friday Sep. 6, 2019. I’ll add a link when it comes on line. The series will then become a Patreon exclusive weekly story until it becomes a book. Join our Patreon, and don’t miss a story, get access to other great content, and find your favorite penguins.
Prologue: The Cabin in the Woods
Gerald flipped open his phone to answer it. He still used an old flip phone because it made him feel like he was on “Star Trek.” “This is Gerald,” he said.
“Hey, man, this is John.”
“Hey, John,” Gerald leaned back in his chair. “What’s going on?”
“So, I’m sure you heard that Susan got deployed to that disaster in the Lower 48.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy down there. Volunteers are heading out as soon as we can get them trained.” Gerald worked with Susan and had met John through her. She had invited Gerald and a couple of new co-workers to go camping on the Kenai Peninsula as a “Welcome to Alaska” trip.
“I know,” said John. “Anyway, we rented a cabin in the woods up north for a romantic getaway, and now that she can’t go, I was wondering if you’d like to go the cabin this weekend.”
“For a romantic getaway? Because I’m not sure Susan would appreciate that,” Gerald said.
John laughed, “No, I’m inviting a couple of other guys along. Maybe we could split the cost.”
“Yeah. Absolutely. What do I need to bring and how much will it be?”
John gave Gerald the list of things they needed to bring including bedding, firewood and food.
“Great! I’ll see you Friday afternoon.”
Gerald spent the rest of the week gathering supplies and anticipating the trip to the cabin. He picked up some firewood and some dehydrated meals that could be made with boiling water. Some of them were actually pretty good tasting, but they were for an emergency.
Each person was assigned to bring enough food to make two meals for the group. He wasn’t sure what anyone else was bringing, but he was pretty certain that John would be making something spectacular. Gerald shied away from eggs because he feared they would break on the way to the cabin. He knew they could be transported safely because he had seen John do it on that first camping trip, but he wasn’t going to risk it. Sandwiches were an easy choice if he could keep the bread from getting squished, and the leftover meat and cheese could be used for another meal or snacking if they needed it. A little lettuce, the right kind of mustard, and some red onions would make it seem like a gourmet meal. The best part is there wouldn’t be a lot of cleanup.
On Friday, Gerald put his gear in his car and went to work. When the afternoon rolled around, Gerald was waiting in his work parking lot. John pulled up in his car with all-wheel drive and unfolded out of it. Gerald always forgot how tall John was. He wore his hat and round glasses and had a soul patch on his chin.
“Hey, Gerald, you ready?” John extended his hand.
“Absolutely. My stuff’s in the trunk.” Gerald popped open the hatchback. “I’m so glad this is a long weekend.” There were two bundles of firewood and a backpack that was about two-thirds Gerald’s size. A rolled-up mat was attached to the outside of the pack.
“These four days are going to be great.” John looked in the trunk. “Is that it?”
“Only bring what you can carry, right?”
“That’s the idea.”
“Well, if I tried to bring anymore, I would fall over.”
“Alright. Let’s get it in the car.” He grabbed the firewood, and Gerald grabbed the bag. He popped up the hatchback on his vehicle and stacked the firewood on top of what was already there.
Gerald leaned in and put his bag on top of the other bags. “Hey, George! Hey, Lee! I didn’t know you guys were coming, too.”
“Hey, Gerry,” George said. “You know, John. He recruited me, and I recruited Lee.” George had a full well-trimmed beard and was stocky.
“Hey, Gerry.” Lee said. He had moved to America from another country and was making bank in Alaska doing some high-tech work that Gerald didn’t even pretend to understand.
“You guys saved the passenger seat for me?”
“Yeah,” said George. “Now shut the back and get in so we can go. We’ve only got a couple of hours until sundown.”
Gerald backed out from under the hatchback, and John shut it.
“Our cabin isn’t that far from the road, so we don’t have to hike too long,” said John. “Still, it’s better to get there while the sun’s still up.”
Gerald locked his car up and got in on the passenger side. John started the car and drove through downtown Anchorage and onto the Glenn Highway.
The drive took them past Eagle River and north. It wasn’t long until they reached the off-ramp and were headed down the access road. When they reached a red and white metal bar blocking the roadway, they pulled the car to the side and stopped.
“Here we are,” John said. “A short hike should get us to the cabin.”
Gerald opened his door and the icy air hit him. Snow crunched under his feet. Trees lined the road as far as the eye could see. Gerald headed toward the back and grabbed his bag and the two bundles of wood. It would be awkward to carry the wood, but he could manage it.
George grabbed his bag and threw a red plastic sled on the ground. “Stack your wood on this. It’ll be easier.”
“That’s a great idea.” Gerald put his wood bundles on the sled. “Do you want me to pull first?”
George stacked his wood on the sled. “No, I got it. If it gets too tough, I’ll ask for help.”
Gerald had his doubts about George asking for help, but he let it go. Lee and John put their wood on the sled, too.
“So, it’s just behind that bar and to the left. We should be there in 20 minutes,” John said.
The four men went around the barricade and hiked along the road for a little bit. Then, they followed a path that went to the left and down into a ravine. It went by a frozen river that had recently overflowed and left ice on the trail. It was slick and crunchy. The pine trees were covered in snow, and the white birch trees were barren of leaves. Their breaths frosted in the wind making it looked like they might have been steamed powered, and they were all dressed in heavy coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots made for the Alaskan winter.
Deep in the Alaskan woods, the state government has established cabins for rent. In a state where everything is bigger, including prices, these cabins are cheap, especially if you fill them to capacity. There isn’t much to do outdoors in the dead of winter if you’re not a snow enthusiast, but renting a cabin makes for the perfect weekend getaway, even in the cold.
The cabins are made of wood and consist of a single room with bunk beds, typically four. The beds are wood planks. The smart cabin renter brings a mat to sleep on and a sleeping bag rated to minus 40 degrees. There is a wood-burning stove for heat and cooking. There is usually a table with benches around it.
There is no electricity, which means no television, no computer, and often, though not always, no cell phone reception. Rent the cabin for several days, and when the cell phone dies, all you hear is the beauty of nature, the silence of snowfall, the light crackle of the northern Lights, and the popping and sputtering of wood in the cabin’s stove. With only firelight and battery-operated lanterns, it’s easy to adapt to the rhythm of short days.
These cabins allow you to get away from the stress of the workaday world and finally reconnect to your primal self. The four men who partook in telling these stories that I have collected were not survivalists. They had no need to prove their manliness. They weren’t all great at chopping logs, making fires, or cooking meals. Sometimes, they weren’t even very good at navigation. Still, they rejoiced in having a good time, playing cards, and enjoying the freedom that comes when constant communication is cut off.
As Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” and Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” can attest, our forebears were, much as they were in everything, better at telling stories. For what else was there to do in times before the Internet, television, movies, and radio? While modern man finds the need and the capacity to tell stories, the ability and opportunity is much diminished.
However, it has not disappeared. For, we tell ourselves stories every day to support our world views and our self-perception whether those are based on fact or folly doesn’t matter. What parent has not told his or her child a story about how babies are born or a fairytale remembered rather than read? Which schoolchild has not told a story of what he or she wished to be true? What person has not told stories about what he or she would’ve liked to have done to some transgressor against his or her person?
Indeed, humans are not separated from animals by the ability to reason, which any raven, rat, or baboon can show, nor are they separated from animals by the opposable thumb. Humans separate themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom by their flights of fancy, their ability to create, their ability to build, to imagine, and to tell stories.
So, dear friends, as you read these stories, do not think you have any less ability to compose and relay such as these. Instead, know that you have the capability to tell as good a story or better, with a little practice, and you can take it a small step further and write that story down. Talent is not required as long as you are willing to work hard and long and diligently over the course of time to perfect the craft and art of storytelling.
As long as you have read this far and choose to continue to read, my three friends and I hope these stories told at a cabin in the Alaska wilderness in the dead of winter will entertain you for no few hours. And if they can inspire you to create your own story, in words, actions, or other media – all the better. We would love to read them and include them in our storytelling anthology.
Our stories will be released one at a time on Fridays through the power of the Internet. They will be available to Penguinators only, those who join our Patreon at any level. For even when the intentions are good, the power of a story is only as good as its ability to attract an audience. We think these stories are ones that you won’t want to miss. For the next part of the story go to the Prologue.
After watching “The Calling” on Netflix, I wondered what the show would look like in the U.S. First, I think there would be a lot more game playing and strategizing than there has been through the first seven episodes of the Indian incarnation of the show. That would take away from the appeal of the show because “The Calling” is at its best when the three contestants are helping each other and taking their individual strengths into consideration, rather than just focusing on winning.
However, I want to focus on the travel experiences that could be curated in the United States. Without taking time, distance or cost into consideration and following the show’s original 10 competition setup, I tried to come up with the 10 individual challenges featured at the beginning of an episode, the two curated experiences for the winner of the individual challenge, and the grand experience that ends each episode. The idea is to show the greatness of America and its culture while exploring places that may not be well known. What experiences would garner great ratings?
I tried to choose ten regions or states that made sense, had a large amount of appeal and could bring something to the table that is instantly recognizable. Here’s my list and the challenges to go with it:
Episode 1, Alaska – The competitors would be able to explore Native Alaskan Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and take part in one of the games that is part of the cultural heritage of the Alaskan people. The “snowsnake” might be the easiest one for contestants to learn and compete in. They must slide a stick across the ice. The person who slides it the farthest gets the bucket list item. The other two must curate an experience.
There are many things people can experience in Alaska. Salmon or halibut fishing, salmon bake, hikes of all levels, wildlife watching, glacier trips… The two I would put on the list for curation would be a glacier tour and either Talkeetna or Valdez. Alaska’s glaciers are beautiful and cinematic. Talkeetna and Valdez offer unique glimpses of Alaskan urban life. Talkeetna with its Mountain High Pizza Pie has great food and views. Valdez has its earthquake and oil spill history. An Alaskan cabin experience could put on this list, too.
The biggest problem with Alaska’s most iconic event is the hassle people would get from PETA. Still, it would be an opportunity of a lifetime to ride in the Iditarod at the ceremonial start in Anchorage. That’s the bucket list item. Other bucket list activities could be a trip to Prudhoe Bay, staying in a Native village, going to Nome, staying in an Alaskan cabin, or flying over Denali National Park.
Episode 2, Seattle – the obvious next stop. Representing the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s skyline is recognizable and there’s no shortage of culture and outdoors people can experience from the city. The competition would be to throw and catch fish at Pike Place Market; whoever caught and threw the most fish without a drop wins.
The first of the curation events would be a coffee tasting, which could include learning to pull a perfect shot. The second of the curation events would be glassblowing: Dale Chihuly is from Tacoma. A trip to the Museum of Pop Culture may also be a part of the curated event or the bucket list. The bucket list event could be dinner at the Space Needle or a concert with a popular Seattle band.
Episode 3, California – The Golden State offers a lot of choices as far as TV shows are concerned. From the Redwoods in Northern California to Hollywood with Sacramento and San Francisco in between, California could probably host an entire season of “The Calling” by itself. For this national and international version though, I would stick with Hollywood and Los Angeles. Contestants would be given a short script and have 30 minutes to memorize it. They would perform that script from memory. The one that has the best memory or makes the fewest errors wins.
The curated events would be a Hollywood sightseeing tour and a night at an improv or comedy theater. The bucket list event would be a rodeo drive shopping spree, but it could also be courtside tickets to a basketball game.
Episode 4, Las Vegas – If the first season is about iconic cities, few cities are as iconic as Las Vegas. The competition starts at the poker table, five hands, whoever has the most chips at the end wins. The competition could also be Elvis Presley karaoke, where the contestants dress up like the King and sing one of his songs. The judges would be three Elvis impersonators.
One of the curated events would feature one of Las Vegas’ most well-known restaurants. The other would be a trip to the strip; with the fountains, amusement park/hotels, and street performers, this could be really good. The Bucket List would be an “A” level backstage concert, which would probably beat the Seattle concert. A flight over the Grand Canyon could also be a Bucket List item.
Episode 5, Albuquerque – You probably knew you should have made a left turn at Albuquerque. New Mexico would represent the Southwest. The competition would take place with the city’s minor league team, the Albuquerque Isotopes. Contestants would take batting practice, the one that hits the most balls in five minutes wins.
One curated experience would involve the cuisine of New Mexico and how it’s different from the rest of the Southwest. The other curated experience would be at Petroglyph National Monument. The bucket list event would be the International Balloon Fiesta.
Episode 6, Texas – Capturing America’s cowboy spirit, the Texas episode would focus on its wild west reputation and independence. The competition would be shooting at targets with a gun. This could be problematic given America’s epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings. The curated experiences would be a trip to the Alamo and learning to play the guitar in the country style. The bucket list item would be the coin flip with the Dallas Cowboys and 50-yard seats for an NFL game.
Episode 7, Florida – A state all of its own, Florida gives a quick trip to the Atlantic with several opportunities for cinematic gold. The competition would be a beach cleaning; the contestant that picks up the most trash wins. The first curated experience would be an airboat trip with manatees. The second curated experience would be the Miami club scene. The bucket list experience would be a trip out to the Keys or a cruise.
Episode 8, Illinois – Chicago is America’s Second City. You’ve got jazz, the Golden Mile, the Sears Tower and that song by Frank Sinatra. But Illinois is also home to Abraham Lincoln, and it is with him that the episode would start. Contestants would learn to spilt rails and then compete with their newfound skill. Curated events would include a jazz night and a Lake Michigan cruise. The bucket list event would be throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
Episode 9, New York – The Big Apple is on everyone’s bucket list. Here contestants would compete at shooting hoops with the Knicks as their guides and coaches. Hit the most free throws in a minute and win! One curated event would be a night on Broadway. The second event would be a historical site tour, which could include the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and the Empire State Building. The bucket list item would be ringing the bell on Wall Street.
Episode 10, Washington, D.C. – As the nation’s capital, D.C. makes for a fitting last episode. Here contestants would have to get people to vote for them. The one with the most votes wins. One curated experience would be the Smithsonian. The second curated experience would involve a trip to Gettysburg with a possible re-creation of the event. The bucket list item would be to meet the president, which some might find controversial; alternatively, it could be the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Event. The winner of the show would get a revamped website paid for five years, a YouTube channel set up and ready to be monetized, and $100,000 for travel and other expenses incurred as a travel blogger.
It’s tough to boil America down to ten episodes in a single state. We’ve missed Hawaii, Louisiana and New Orleans, Tennessee and Graceland, South Dakota and the Black Hills, Wyoming’s west culture, Missouri’s Mark Twain and so many more. What would you have people do in your state if a show like “The Calling” was scheduled? Exercise your creativity and give us a competition, two curated events and a bucket list event for your area in the comments.
In “The Kindness Diaries,” Leon Logothetis is traveling from Alaska to Argentina relying on the kindness of strangers to feed him and give him lodging. He’s driving a Volkswagen Beetle without a heater in the winter over the Al-Can through Canada.
We were just into the first part of the show, before he made it to Canada, when my wife asked me if people in Alaska were really that kind. I got teary-eyed remembering my time there because yes, they are.
Alaska is a harsh and lonely country. I once traveled on a highway for three hours, and no other car passed me. If you get in trouble, you need the very next person who passes by to stop and assist you. Alaskans, in general, are more than happy to do so because they know what they would want if they were in trouble.
Most of the kindnesses I received while in Alaska were from friends. My first camping trip with a couple of people I barely knew set the stage for the next six years. I received freshly caught salmon on more than one occasion. Even a couple of my rooming situations sprang up because I had a friend who needed a renter, and he was willing to rent to me (at a price I could afford even when I was a student).
I don’t know if I paid back all the kindnesses. I gave my fair share of unexpected gifts. I stopped at traffic accidents in town (because of my Red Cross training and that same friend who rented me a room on more than one occasion).
One time we stopped to see what the vehicle at the top of a hill just outside of Valdez was doing – maybe he was parked, maybe he was taking a break. The truck was broken. My friend and I didn’t know how to fix his vehicle, so we drove back toward Valdez to a phone that the guy could use. (Cell phones were out of range at the time.) When he made the call, we drove him back to the truck though we would have driven him into Valdez if he needed. He gave us fresh caught prawns. I would have refused, but again, my friend was there to accept the gift, and we turned it into one of the best meals I had in Alaska.
Alaskans aren’t friendly because of guns or out of fear. They’re friendly because they know the value of life. They know the value of kindness. They know how hard it is to survive on the frontier. As much as many of them move to get away from people, I always felt like I could count on them to help me out before I experienced any real trouble.
We need more kindness in our lives. Alaska taught me that, and this program has brought back memories.
I don’t want to give anything away, which means I probably will, but episodes eight and nine of “Instant Hotel’s” Season 1 are seriously hilarious. You might have to watch from episode six to get a feel for the characters and allow the comedy to build, but I haven’t laughed that hard in a couple of months. (That’s your spoiler alert.)
Managing expectations in any endeavor is so important to customer and experience satisfaction. There are few companies that get it right. Disney, somehow, is able to deliver on sky-high expectations. Marvel movies have also done it consistently. DC movies weren’t able to satisfy expectations until movie goers started expecting bad movies and got decent ones. Otherwise, even in customer-oriented businesses, it’s a crap shoot. Under promise and over deliver should be your mantra, the problem is that people expect you to over deliver. If you just meet expectations, it isn’t good enough.
You need to be able to talk up your product, service or experience enough that people are interested in it and willing to take a chance on it, but not so much that people expect gold plated toilet seats and unicorns. It’s a fine line that requires honesty without bragging and still needs to feel positive.
(Seemingly unrelated detour, but stick with me. I’m not promising it will make sense, but it will be interesting.) It’s hard to see bald eagles at rest in the wild unless you know what you’re looking for. Part of the reason for this is because people expect it to be easy to spot a white head against a dark background. So, instead of looking for the heads, they look for the other parts of the eagle that blend into the background trying to see the full form of the bird.
When I moved to Alaska and went on my first camping trip on the Kenai during salmon season, the more experienced guy on the trip pointed at a tree and said, “Look at all those bald eagles.”
I looked at the evergreen tree and didn’t see a single eagle. I thought he was playing a joke on the cheechako (me). “Where?”
“In that tree.” He pointed to the same tree. “Do you see them?”
“No.” I shook my head.
My newbie friend leaned over and whispered, “Look for the golf balls.”
It was like a veil had been lifted. My jaw dropped. I uttered an exclamation of awe as the tree lit up with what looked like hundreds of bald eagles. From that moment on, I knew how to spot bald eagles in trees and could see them easily.
So, a couple years later when my mom came up to Juneau, I knew she would want to see bald eagles, and that seeing them could be problematic. There are a lot of bald eagles in Juneau, but they are less visible when the salmon aren’t running. There was one place where it was easy to find bald eagles, so I told my mom I was taking her to see a lot of them. However, the place where they hung out wasn’t going to be very majestic. It would stink if the wind was blowing inland, but there would be eagles there.
Properly prepared, we went to the city dump, and there were so many eagles. I was even able to tell my mom about the golf ball trick pointing to a nearby tree.
Mom had a great time looking at the eagles and laughing about how they weren’t so majestic when they were eating garbage. Had I told her we were going to a nutrient-enriched environment that acts as a sanctuary for the eagles when food is scarcer, her reaction to the dump may have been a but different. She would have been at least disappointed, even if she had fun.
When the “Instant Hotel” guests are overly critical at their hotel stays, they set themselves up for a downfall. If they have such high standards and can point out all the flaws of an instant hotel, their hotel must be immaculate and so much better. Don’t talk up your property or degrade others even if it really does deliver on what you think.’
Managing expectations is a key to success. It’s about being honest with yourself, your guests and your customers. When you can provide a little extra, you should, but don’t set the extra up as an expectation.
If you’d like to read more about Alaska, get the coloring book “There Are No Penguins in Alaska.”
Excited for this coloring book. You can preorder a hard copy!
As the manager for a larger organization in Alaska, I would sometimes get a strange call. For my team, I didn’t have problems if someone needed a day off or had to come in late as long as it wasn’t a habit. My employees never took advantage of this, probably because they were part-time and needed the money. They were also a good group. When I got this call, however, I did a double take.
“Um, hello, Shad.” I could tell who it was though he identified himself anyway. “Yeah, I’m going to be late coming into work. There’s a moose in my driveway.”
What could I say? Having a moose or bear in the driveway was a good reason not to come into work. Moose are unpredictable, and no one wants to antagonize a bear. So, I said the only thing I could, “Okay, well, when the moose is gone, come on in. I’ll leave an evening shift spot open for you.”
“Great. Thanks.” He couldn’t tell me when the moose would leave. I knew he needed his hours. This seemed like a good compromise. More importantly, no one was put in any danger in order to get to work.
It wasn’t the first time I had heard someone use a wildlife excuse. In fact, when I was an employee at a different organization, I had faced off with a moose in my yard and decided to call into work instead of hope the moose didn’t kick me or my car. I was new to Alaska, so when I talked to my boss, he told me it was better to stay at home rather than risk agitating the moose. I should stay home until the moose was gone. That was one of the best things about Alaska. People tried to take care of each other.
Fortunately, I never had to worry about facing a penguin in my driveway because there are no penguins in Alaska. I should know; I wrote the book. You can preorder the eBook from Amazon, or get a hard copy coloring book here on penguinate.com.
When I first moved to Alaska, it was summer, and summers in Alaska are glorious – absolutely beautiful. However, I was warned. Winter is coming. If you want to survive Alaska and remain a resident for longer than a season or two, you need to find an activity that you can do during the winter months. This meant not only having the right clothing to go outside, but having the right clothing that would be good for staying outside for prolonged periods. The other important piece of information I was given about living in Alaska is that it usually isn’t the first mistake that kills you; it’s the mistakes that follow through poor decision making.
There are a lot of winter activities that people can engage in: skiing, cross country skiing, skijoring, snowshoeing, ice skating, and more. Trekking through the winter wonderland that Alaska becomes is amazing in its own right, as long as you can stay warm. Fortunately, I had a friend who introduced me to geocaching.
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt. Geocachers hide ammo cans or Tupperware, mark the coordinates and publish those at geocaching.com. Other cachers seek those boxes. They sign the log book, trade items, and enjoy the wonderful outdoors.
My friend and I had one rule about winter geocaching. If the temperature was lower than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, we stayed at home. Living in Anchorage the weather was relatively temperate, so those 10-degree days were fewer and farther between than some places inland.
One Saturday, early in winter, the temperature pushed up to 10 degrees, and we got our gear together. We chose our destination, got our warm clothes on and headed out to the car. I wore plastic pants to keep melting snow from making my pants wet. They had buttons so that I could reach into my pants pockets if I had to.
We went into the park hiked around and came to a stream. It wasn’t completely frozen over. There was ice on top, but the stream moved beneath. We could walk to the bridge, but it was far away and I was cold. More importantly, the arrow pointed right across the stream. I convinced my friend that we could cross using the branch that hung below the water. It would just be a short jump. He made it. I didn’t.
I fell through the ice. The stream ran into my plastic pants and into my shoes. I had wool on, so I thought I should be okay. My friend knew better. With the cache just feet away, I thought we should go get it. He said no. We were going to go get a pizza and go home. It wouldn’t look good for a director of health and safety (my job title at the time) to get hypothermia or frostbite because he was too dumb not to make the second mistake.
He was right. Getting wet wasn’t really an immediate issue. Staying out there would’ve created a bigger problem. So, we went back home. I took a warm shower and changed into dry clothes and then we ate pizza. Geocaching was one of two activities that I engaged in to make it through the winter. Subscribe to this blog and don’t miss when I post about the next one.
In Alaska, you may have to know how to protect yourself against long, dark winters and cold weather, but you do not have to know how to protect yourself against penguins, because there are no penguins in Alaska. I know because I wrote the book. Preorder the eBook on Amazon or preorder a hard copy coloring book here at penguinate.com.