While I happily make my home in Alaska, I also leave Alaska a lot. Since my husband and I are building in Hawaii, we go there every winter. I travel east to see my family every summer. And then there’s “conference season.” During conference season, romance writers love to get together in milling, mile-a-minute groups where we buy each other drinks and discuss Amazon trends and alpha heroes. Since much of our time is spent being virtual hermits, huddled over our computers, the thought of venturing into the outside world can be daunting.
It’s twice as terrifying if you live on a homestead in Alaska where you go months without shaving your legs. Now, all of a sudden, you’re faced with the Herculean task of making yourself presentable to readers and writers – not to mention publishing industry types who look like they’ve stepped out of “Sex and the City.” In my natural habitat of Homer, I’ve perfected the “grunge elf” look. But velvet sweatpants, mudboots and Tibetan earflap hats aren’t going to cut it at the 30th anniversary ball at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention.
Clothes shopping is a must, but wardrobe is just the start. What about my hair, which is usually stuffed under a wool hat , its once-cute layers a distant memory? What about my toenails, which lurk under layers of Smartwool socks, cringing at the prospect of daylight? Have I shaved my armpits since last conference? I’m afraid to find out. Getting ready for conference season, I often feel like Sandra Bullock in the movie Miss Congeniality -- she needs a team of white-coated scientists to whip her into beauty pageant shape. For myself, I’m not aiming for beauty contestant – my goal is to not scare the public.
Making myself presentable is just one challenge. Any trip out of Alaska is a trek. For me, it starts with a five-hour drive from Homer to Anchorage. Since I’m going to the big city, I like to allow time to see family there, and get together with my beloved AKRWA writer’s group. Then there’s clothes shopping, and the eye doctor, and all the above-mentioned self-improvement efforts. Might as well spend a few days in Anchorage before hopping on the plane.
Speaking of that plane, when you’re flying out of Alaska, there’s a good change your flight will be scheduled to depart at 12:50 am, or 1:30am, or some other equally sleep-depriving time. Why? I have no idea. I wish someone would explain it to me. I imagine it has to do with connecting flights, because unless you’re going somewhere on the West Coast, a connecting flight is guaranteed to be in your future. Along with connecting flights go long layovers, and missed connections and lost luggage. I try to turn connecting flights into a positive. For instance, a friend of mine is meeting me at LAX so we can spend my five hour layover catching up.
Of course, if I’m going to fly the huge distance that is any trip out of Alaska, I might as well combine it with visits to people in the lower 48 whom I never see. The upcoming RT Convention is in Kansas City. My elderly aunt, who rarely travels anymore, lives in Chicago. How can I be so close and not visit? So I tack on another stop, a few days in Chicago. By now we’re looking at a week, and I haven’t even gotten to the conference yet!
The return trip will be the same drill in reverse, with a few extra twists. I’ll soon find out how much snow has piled on top of my car while I was gone, and I’ll have to adjust to the fact that it’s STILL WINTER in Alaska, even though everyone else is picking strawberries and enjoying the sunny daffodils.
After a trip out of Alaska, I don’t truly relax until I’m all the way back in Homer, cuddled up in our cabin in my velvet sweatpants. Leaving Alaska is hard, but coming back makes it all worthwhile.
Jennifer Bernard's latest book is SEX AND THE SINGLE FIREMAN. Visit her website for more.