On Becoming an Advocate

by Jane Miller

                                                                               

Whoever wrote the definition of “advocate” didn’t know the half of it. I mean, “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly,” does not even begin to describe this past week in Washington, DC.

I am exhausted beyond words. The insomnia that dogs me nightly is worse when I travel. It has been like that for as long as I can remember, no matter how many times I have flown for work. The insomnia that sits up with me when Erik is not in bed comes along, too. The insomnia that comes from Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, and sleeping on titanium refuses to be outdone. A powerful triumvirate, these three insomnias. Continue reading On Becoming an Advocate

How Do You Know?

Jane Miller

The medicine I take six times a day loses efficacy when taken too close to a meal high in protein, so an early dinner of salmon meant a slight delay in drugs. That meant my right toes, foot, and leg cramped up so tightly it was impossible to walk.

Cramps also attack when I don’t move enough or often enough. Like after a three-hour car trip. Or when I don’t take my usual walks. My right arm and hand stiffen so that I can’t write and can barely type.

One of the first symptoms of  Parkinson’s – we didn’t even know – was losing my ability to tell stories or explain, well, anything. Laura noticed. I noticed but didn’t understand. Erik can tell where I am in my medicine schedule by how long it takes me to finish a sentence and how many pronouns I use.

Imagine that. An English teacher, writer, editor, and program manager who can’t explain, describe, or express herself clearly. Losing what was my life for almost 35 years. Continue reading How Do You Know?

Jane’s Alaska Blog

by Jane Miller

We look at each other across the restaurant table, some just now joining this amazing journey, others having met at the beginning .

Anacortes to Tracy Arm/South Sawyer Glacier to Ketchikan and home. Over 2,000 miles that would challenge us, awe us, cause us to doubt ourselves, and allow us some triumphs over adversity. The miles stretched out as undiscovered country.  

This is Jim Rard’s Sail Alaska. But in June it was twelve boats’ worth of captains and crews just trying to get to know each other.

Doctors and nurses, attorneys, teachers, scientists, developers, writers, dog lovers, children huggers, adventurers. Some have sailed all their lives, learning the rhythm of the currents and tides in dinghies. Others are new to this life with just a year or two experience. We are 55’ power boats, Island Packet sailboats, a smattering of Jenneaus, and a 56’ Sundeer.

Sail Alaska 2017 was a diverse group to be sure, each had lessons to learn and situations to experience over these two  months.

Three weeks after we set out, I left the group on August 8 for surgery in Portland. The specifics are another story, but I missed most of the “Alaska” part of “Sail Alaska.” I can only speak for myself, what I have learned, and what I have gained. Because despite losing Alaska, it’s been an unforgettable time.

Fishing is a wonderful sport for OCD, competitive women. We never give up. There is always just one more cast to make, one more spot to try. Much like the perseverance needed to cruise in a sailboat around 2,000 miles. There is always one more thing to try, one more book to consult, magazine to read, process to research. There is no such thing as doing half the job, leaving any stone unturned. It’s all in.

Help comes from the most unexpected places. One of the other sailers unexpectedly came by one morning. He brought fish and thoughts about our starting problem, which turned into both a starting and battery problem. It also turned into a whole-day affair that continued over the radio that evening. The generosity came in all forms, from flowers upon my return, kind cards, and welcoming hugs, to expertise and commiseration in the face of adversity.

Plans are good; back-up plans are better. When faced with sustained winds of 35 knots, six-foot seas, and ocean swells, it pays to have safe harbors — places to hunker down out of the storm. Like Blind Channel (thank you, Lori Lee and Breakaway) and Southgate Group (thank you, Lioness) and Baker Inlet (thank you, Sea Pie). Beautiful ports in the storm I would not have seen were it not for back-up plans created in advance so decisions could be made not on fear but on planning.

Planning. On a boat there is no such thing as too much planning, as long as it leads to action. Good things don’t always come to those who wait, they come to those who do, who try new things, learn new skills, face fear because not to do so is just not an option.

I am almost ready to say my good-byes to this experience, but not quite. A week ago I saw the most beautiful wolves; their grace and strength were mesmerizing. I have fished in the rain off the back of our sailboat. Yesterday I watched four humpback whales enjoying a deep bay, rolling, flukes in the air, tails slapping the water. Tomorrow, who can tell? I can say this, though, “Safe travels, everyone. We will see you somewhere soon.”

 

Exhausted and Exhilarated

 

So far, on our “Modified Alaska” plan, we have

Spent 31 days on the boat … Traveled 753 nautical miles … Through two countries … And 17 anchorages and ports.

And I have reached exhaustion.

The days start early and end late, with an average of eight hours of boat travel. Then there’s the regular boat/life chores, like laundry, meals, dishes, cleaning the boat, taking care of systems, riggings, and lines. There’s keeping my balance in six-foot seas, holding on to lines as we furl or unfurl the jib, standing on the transom to keep watch for deadheads or maneuver us in and out of anchorages. But I am also stronger for it.

And I have sailed. That’s right. S. A. I. L. E. D.

We started with putting up the jib, without the mainsail, and only when the seas were choppy but the wind still good. Every time we put up the sails, I am nervous, tense, frightened, and unsure. I settle down, but those emotions are ready to surface at the drop of a hat, should the situation warrant (at least what situations I feel warrant, not what Erik feels warrant). But as Erik noted as we motored the last few miles to Bishop Bay, I am a changed sailor from the first day we rounded Trial Island to Sidney, when I could barely take us out of Victoria Harbor, had a panic attack, almost bailed – from the boat and the relationship. I am still afraid, there is no way around that. But I am also stronger for facing it.

And I have been cold.

My face is tan, as are my hands. My arms are sort of, but the rest has been wrapped up in leggings and cargo pants, sweatshirts and long-sleeve Gap t-shirts. It’s been cool to cold, but sun all the way until the morning we woke up to rain and fog in Bishop Bay. We’re supposed to have the rain for a few days, so we’ll see how that affects travel. Boats become more difficult to move around when the decks are wet, when you’re tense, or when your muscles don’t move easily. Erik and I are ever vigilant.

And I have fished.

I love to fish, which Erik also understands now to mean “Jane loves to fish and chat. And sing the ‘Little Black Rain Cloud’ from Winnie the Pooh, as she tries to convince the fish that she is nothing but a passing shadow who bears them no ill will.”

And I have fallen more in love.

The number of times I’ve said “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Erik” is beyond count. Erik has told me the same as he’s looked down into my eyes. “I would not be here without you. You must know that.” And I do.

I have less than one week before I fly down to OHSU for my third operation. My girls (Laura, GPhiB, and Sisters) will be there to help me, but I’ll miss Erik. I’ll also essentially miss the “Alaska” part of “Sail Alaska,” but I have already had the most wonderful experience I could have wished for, with someone I deeply love.

Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

 

 

Sailing

June 2

We left Victoria, after five months of winter and life-changing events. We headed down around Trial Island. Past Discovery Island. Across the central part of the Juan de Fuca Strait, on our way to Friday Harbor. It was a lovely day. Mostly sunny. Breezy. But not too.

Erik looked me in the eyes and asked if I wanted to sail. I hesitated, knowing I could say “no,” and met his gaze, his face blank as he tried not to show how much this meant. I asked which sail, since the jib is much smaller than the main, and the boat heels much less.

Erik answered, “Both.”

I was gripped by fear as my stomach fell coldly to my feet. Barely breathing, I said in someone else’s voice, “Sure.”

“Sure?”

“Yep.” (I was not sure, but that was what came out.)

And so we sailed.

We hit a few glitches as tasks were remembered, maybe a little out of order. But the jib went up smoothly. Beautiful navy blue border against the pale blue sunshine. A couple of adjustments and we felt a little lift as the sail took some of the strain off the engine.

Raising the mainsail, a full 534 square feet of power, was slightly less smooth but still remarkable, given that it had been seven months since the last time it was raised.

Attention must be paid when raising a sail that big and “roachy” (a triangle where the hypotenuse is not a straight line but more an angle arching out and down to the boom). It’s easy for the sail to catch on lazy jack lines as it is lifted 65 feet in the air, so there is the occasional catch-and-back-down-before-going-back-up maneuver. The windier it is, the more likely the sail is to catch, so it was good that the winds were present, but not overpowering.

Erik immediately noticed, of course, that the sail hadn’t reached the top of the mast. After careful perusal, he saw the main halyard was wrapped around another line. It had to be lowered, adjusted, and raised again.

That meant that Erik had to climb a small way up the mast to remove the halyard, reroute and refasten it. I was not convinced this had to be done at sea, but he assured me that with the mast steps he had installed over the winter, everything would be fine.

So there we were, Erik partway up the mast, me at the wheel, my face set in a line of grim determination, and all the while I’m playing the “What do I do if Erik falls off the mast” game. (Similar to the “What do I do if the mast falls down” game which is used to stay alert on long days.)

And you know what, everything was fine. He did not fall off the mast. The sail did not tip us into the ocean. I did not crash us into rocks that were two miles away.

The winds died down a short time later, and we lowered the sails. But as is often the case, as soon as we were back on course, we hit wind. Erik smiled and said, “Let’s put the sails up again!”

UP they went … again.

And everything was fine. We were back on the boat. We sailed. And it was ok.

 

Taking Leaps

by Jane Miller

We are working on the boat. A lot of working on the boat. I am amazed at what we have accomplished; daunted by the size, scope, and expense; and anxious and panicked when I think too much.    

We leave for Alaska’s Inside Passage on June 18 with a group of other boats under the leadership of our friend Jim Rard and his “Sail Alaska” program. Our starting point is Anacortes, WA, and we’ll be going up north to the South Sawyer Glacier. There and back again. Around 2,000 nautical miles. In about three months. On a 56’ boat. Did I mention the anxiety? How about the panic? Continue reading Taking Leaps