The early packing.

Knowing that we were going to be moving at the end of the summer, we decided to get a “head-start” on things (boy, does that seem like a quaint notion now!), and that took the form of paring down our worldly belongings in various creative ways. The big stroke of genius there was Cathy’s use of the PaperBack Swap trading site. Basically, we culled out only the books that were one of a kind or that we couldn’t live without, and Cathy posted just about everything else on PBS. One by one, our books went out into the virtual ether, and we piled up credits to be redeemed once we made the move. Less weight, less bulk, less hassle! We had an initial garage sale, and tried to pack things up that we wouldn’t need to get to until after the move. It was a good lot of work that we managed to accomplish, and we certainly learned a great deal about the process of evaluating one’s own possessions. It’s one thing to pile all your books into boxes and toss them into a U-Haul, but it’s another thing entirely to consider the cost of moving them to Alaska. There is no such thing as the “we’ll just make one more trip with the truck to get the last of it”. We thought we were well ahead of the game, and maybe we were, for a ten-minute period or so…

Also during this time frame, we took Cathy’s Jeep, with its brand-new front bumper and winch, into the Flat Tops. The year prior, hunting elk with my father, we (Dad, Cathy and I) had started up a 4WD road that went quite a way up into the heart of the Flat Tops, but turned around due to conditions and not-quite-total confidence in Dad’s ZJ to make the trip without a companion vehicle. It was the right choice, then, but we wanted to see where that road went, and a newly spiffened Betty (Cathy’s Jeep is named Betty, after her grandmother) was just the way to do it. In the end, Cathy did a marvelous job driving that road (and in hindsight we concluded that the choice of place to turn around the previous November had probably been exactly right), which was a goodly distance of honest 4WD challenge, and Betty was typically magnificent. The end of the road, as well, was well worth reaching–the country at the top was outstanding elk habitat, and stunningly beautiful. (The Flat Tops are among the things I will miss most about Colorado, as is elk hunting. Alaska apparently does have elk, in Southeast–the panhandle–but it’s not like Colorado, which is the king of elk states.) The Flat Tops trip was memorable for more than just the drive and the scenery, though–as it happened, we ran across what must have been an absolutely freakish mosquito hatch, by zoological standards (everyone we met up there who was familiar with the area said they’d never seen anything like it), and we very nearly came down the mountain completely rather than camp as we had intended. On our walk up to the pass, even with a light breeze, they covered us like a carpet. At one point I estimated probably 200-300 insects on cathy’s hat alone (yes, we did have DEET on), and they swarmed around our faces relentlessly. Even Cathy, who grew up in pretty reputable mosquito country (northern Wisconsin), said she’d never seen the simultaneous combination of number of insects, tendency to swarm around her face, and willingness to bite, like this.

And then the breeze went away. At this point we were walking specifically to evade being smothered, and we beelined to a mountain pass, the surest place on the planet to find a stiff wind. And there was nothing. Even the elk we saw were continually moving up there, and it sure wasn’t because of us! Staggeringly beautiful countryside, really, but impossible to appreciate through a gray, buzzing haze.