There have been few times in my life when I have felt as triumphant as I did last Saturday.
The day didn't start well. Work spilled over into Saturday morning from the long week. It was eerily warm outside so I could hear water dripping on my porch. Not a good soundtrack for December in Alaska.
I played Christmas carols to drown out the snowmelt and sat in my pajamas on the floor with my laptop and a cup of coffee. When I was finally at a point where I could stop, it was already noon.
Luckily, I had something to look forward to: Christmas tree hunting.
To be honest, I have spent many years in Alaska either treeless (I'm Jewish, and a Hannukah bush just doesn't cut it) or sneaking down to Dimond Boulevard in the cover of night to purchase a tree shipped up to Alaska from the Lower 48. Hats off to the fine people making a living this way, but for me this trip has always felt like a shameful journey: I failed to find a viable tree by myself in all of the great state of Alaska, and instead paid $80.
This year that changed. My husband and I drove out to the Moose Range, near Hatcher Pass. With no permit needed, we'd heard we could find that perfect tree.
Our plan was a slightly different take on the classic. Normal people walk into the woods, cut down a tree and lug it out. Easy. Our approach involved fat bikes.
As we got closer to the Moose Range, the dreary freezing rain started turning to snow. By the time we'd pulled up, the temperature had dropped 15 degrees, and white, fluffy flakes were falling steadily from the sky. The Christmas music we were playing suddenly made sense. My mood lifted.
I saw families pulling sleds loaded with their trees. Kids wobbled around in snowsuits as parents let down the tailgate and poured hot chocolate. Yes, it was that cute. It was even better because everyone was in a picture-perfect Alaska snow globe.
My husband and I dawdled outside our truck. Our supplies: our fat bikes, a 3-foot yellow sled, a handsaw, a backpack, two ski straps and a wad of thin, black line. The merriness of our scene faded slightly as we bickered over the best arrangement.
First we tried to affix the sled, with nothing on it, with line to the back of my bike. This failed when line got bunched in my gears within five seconds of attempting to ride.
The second system was better — attaching the sled with ski straps to my husband's backpack and stowing the rest of the materials in a side pocket. We headed down the trail, glad to be moving and that we'd at least figured out how to pack our things, but still uncertain as to what we'd do when we found an actual tree.
That part didn't take long. We rode for about 10 minutes, veered off onto a small pathway and found a reasonably sized, mature tree that didn't seem too terribly Charlie Brown-esque. It filled out nicely at the bottom and tapered at the top. We ditched our bikes and sawed it down.
It fell with a gentle, guided whumph into the snow.
We stood back. We were back where we'd started: same tools, no real system in place, but now with a tree.
We got to work. First, we pulled the tree onto the sled with the stump facing the bike so that when we dragged it the branches would naturally go in the right direction. Then we attached the tree to the sled with the two ski straps, ratcheting them down to secure the tree.
Then, the fun part: figuring out how to affix to the sled to a bike. We tried several systems.
We looped the line through holes in the sled, geniuses that we are.
Then, my husband, who would probably be a combination of a sled dog and mountain goat if he were an animal (and this description will be a delightful Christmas surprise for him), took the first try at hauling.
He wrapped line around his gloves and stuffed them into his pogies. He slowly pedaled forward. In 10 seconds, line was caught in his gears.
We tried again. Same thing happened.
Then we tried the brilliant move of each of us taking some line. He pulled the line on his right side; I pulled on my left. This lasted about five seconds.
Finally, just as we were going to give it up and walk the tree out Ye Olde Fashioned Way, I gave it one more try. I wrapped the line several times around each of my handle bars. I braced myself against the weight of the tree, pulling slack out of the line on either side of me.
And I very slowly started pedaling.
It was working!
With the exception of a few quick stops, I pulled that tree out with our ridiculous makeshift bike trailer. As long as I kept a steady pace, which took steady effort, everything moved forward. Under my labored breath I alternated between mutter-singing "Jingle Bells" ("on a one-horse open sleigh"), and vowing to invest in an actual bike trailer. A family riding an ATV regarded me with what seemed to be a mix of curiosity and pity. My husband Snapchatted and shouted encouraging words.
We made it back to the truck, snow still gently falling on our snow globe expedition. It stayed that way all the way back to our house, where it started to rain.
But our house smelled like evergreen, Christmas and triumph. We strung up the lights. Soon darkness fell. All was December again in the world, now with our tree — or at least I could pretend.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.