One of the advantages of life in Alaska is that it makes everything in the Lower 48 seem so inexpensive. $1.79 for a Pepsi? You gotta be kidding me! (You know, because I'm used to paying $2.69.) Fifty cents a pound for oranges? I'm gonna buy eight pounds! (Never mind that I'm leaving this place in three days.) You know what else is cheap? Air travel! No one believes me. I once paid nearly $300 for a one-way commercial airline coach ticket from Fairbanks to Juneau (two central cities technically located in the same state.) Down here, you can jet cross-country for $149 if you catch travelocity.com on a good day. When I looked into the logistics, I realized there was no good reason why I shouldn't drop a few more hundred miles south to visit my little sister at her new home in Huntington Beach, Calif.
This is my baby sister, Sara. She'll be 23 years old next week. She's four inches taller than me, with the long legs that both my little sisters got and I always wanted (mine are more like tree stumps.) She and I share some of the same facial features and all of the same family members, but that's about where our similarities end. Basically, if you took my personality and inverted it, the result would probably be like Sara. She likes to shop. She has a great fashion sense. She's sociable and good with people. She doesn't care much for the outdoors. She hates winter. Her preferred form of exercise is bikram yoga, where people sit in a dark room in 100-degree heat and do painful stretches (oh please, just kill me first.) But despite our differences, we always got along well (perhaps because of the age spread; I was too busy tormenting our middle sister to pick on her.)
Still, we were never close. That began to change last summer as we were both dealing with life upheavals. We reconnected and began contacting each other frequently. Then in December, she announced she needed a drastic change. And suddenly my baby sister -who was still living at home, who had just barely graduated from college, who had worked the same stressful retail job for years - threw everything to the wind and moved to Southern California.
True to our differences, Southern California is probably one of the last places in the U.S. I would choose to live. While I do recognize its beauty, I would likely begin to feel suffocated by the sprawl, lost in the crowds and driven to distraction by the ceaselessly perfect weather. But Sara loves it here, and after a mere four months, she's really thriving. Watching her take this risk has been a huge inspiration to me. It's been great to come here and see major life change from her point of view. It was also fun to check out the sweet new beach cruiser she just acquired. ("It's my first bike!" she exclaimed proudly, because before this she always had to use our hand-me-downs.)
Coaster brakes and chain guards freak me out, so she let me borrow her roommate's father's mountain bike. It's a Liahona, an honest-to-goodness mission bike, custom-manufactured specifically for use by LDS missionaries. It appeared solidly built, with decent base-level parts, but it hasn't had a tuneup in a long, long time; the seat was humbling in its ability to dig into all the wrong pressure points, and I couldn't find a pump to inflate the soft tires. I had to stop at Target to buy a $10 helmet (I will give it to my sister. I doubt she'll wear it.) Sometimes I really think I should covert to running, because the gear aspect of cycling can be so annoying sometimes. But, oh, it was wonderful to get out on a perfect day, plowing into the sea breeze to Newport Beach to have lunch with my sister, dodging four-seated pedal taxis out to Balboa and grinding along the PCH to Laguna Beach before sprinting on the soft tires and limited gearing so I could beat my sister home from work. The things we will do for a bike ride.
You may at this point be wondering when and if I'm ever going back to Alaska. The answer is Monday or Tuesday, hopefully. But since I'm flying standby to avoid the breathtakingly expensive plane ticket home, my return date is up in the air.