When we were visiting with the family on the plane, we had told them that we were planning to go to the zoo. They encouraged us to go to the wildlife reserve instead. I was glad to get some local information, because they would definitely know better than what I had randomly found on the internet.
We landed early, around 5:30 a.m. When we got off the plane, the chilly air hit me all the way to my bones. Unlike most people. this chilly air made my heart happy! We headed straight to the baggage claim, knowing that we had a tight schedule that we needed to stick to faithfully. We located each of our suitcases and James was on the task of contacting our rides to see where we needed to meet them. Turns out that both of the cars picking us up were late. I could tell James was a little panicked. After a long, hot day in Hawaii, and a scarce amount of sleep, it would be unfair to expect him to not be feeling a little stressed. While waiting for our luggage, I had received a lengthy text message from one of my sisters chewing me out because I had asked for a simple favor a week before that she no longer wanted to fulfill. I had just barely survived this flight, was anticipating a similar flight that night, and now had this text weighing on me.
I tried to shift my attitude, and was looking forward to a great day in Alaska. Our friend Brian Bowden (Bodie) was one of the people picking us up from the airport. This guys is about 6’4”, 265 pounds and has flaming red hair. His build does not match his personality, which is gentle and sweet. He was one of James’ first friends when he moved to Utah from Canada. He and his wife Carlene are living in Alaska, working as P.A.s. We were so excited that it worked out for us to be able to see him!
Our drivers arrived about 40 minutes after we were expecting them. We had to be strategic in order to fit all of the luggage and people. It was as tight as a game as Tetris, but we managed to utilize our excellent Tetris skills and drove to the AirBnB house. When we arrived, there was a moment of realization that this trip may not go exactly the way that I expected. We were staying WITH a kind gentleman, and his home was very small. There was no way that I was going to be able to spend any part of the day in this house with my kids. I had been up all night and made a conscious effort to not panic, when all I wanted to do was panic. Our host had kindly and generously picked up some groceries for us, so we were all able to have breakfast before our day began.
James quickly got his things together and was getting ready to head to the pool. He gobbled up his food and was headed out to the car. The pool was 20 minutes away. I was told by a member of the crew, “There isn’t room for you guys, so stay here and someone will come back for you.” I fought tears. This was the second day, out of just two days, that I was told to ‘stay back’ instead of being there to support him. I started to feel as if I was in the way. James insisted that we come on this journey, and I truly believed that he needed us there emotionally. It triggered me from 2012 when he was completing his world record for the most iron distance events in a year. I was told many times, “This is James’ thing. You need to stay out of the way.” For his last race, he begged me to do the half distance race. “I don’t want to. I am not trained, and this is YOUR day. Why would I do the race?!?!” His response was another plea, “Just do it! You can be a part of it, and you will finish well before me. Then you will be there at the finish line!” I gave in, but got a hole in my tire just a few miles into the bike, and didn’t end up finishing. I was so upset because I didn’t want to do the race in the first place, but James insisted. A gentleman helping with the race picked me up to take me back to transition, chewing me out the whole way. “How dare you race on James’ big day! This is HIS day, why are you trying to make it about you by doing this race. Shame on you!!!” I sat and cried in the backseat of his car. I was beginning to feel this again, how could there not be room for his family, OUR family, to ride to the pool to see him start day 2. And when James and help were planning this day out, how was it overlooked that we are a family of 7 and will need to have a way to get around? I quickly snapped out of victimizing myself, “It will all work out. Things are just crazy because it is the beginning.” I told myself this over, and over, and over…through the entire 50 days!
We patiently waited at the house. 15, 20, 30, 45 min passed, and the ride came back for us. I was so mad, I know how long it takes James to swim, and I knew that it would be another 20 minutes before we got to the pool. We were going to miss the entire swim. We didn’t have our own car, and were told that we would have a rides, and that definitely didn’t go the way that I had expected. When the kids and I arrived at the pool, James had almost finished the swim. There were several people around, whom James didn’t know. They got to be there for the swim, but his own family didn’t. I could not make sense of that as I held back tears.
He rushed into the men’s locker room to get changed for his bike ride. The MENS locker room would haunt me the entire 50. My family consists of girls, lots of girls, and Quinn. Obviously we were never allowed in a men’s locker room, and this would poke and taunt me the whole journey. We waited in the lobby for him to get changed. Next thing I know, he was outside in the parking lot and starting his watch. Now I wasn’t sure if I could hold back the tears! He darted off and I didn’t even get to kiss him goodbye. What if he died today? How could he not be looking for ME to say goodbye? What about the kids, they didn’t get to see him off either? How come no one made it a priority to make sure that his family go to see him before he left?!?! This was NOT the way it was ‘supposed’ to go.
I sat in this lobby at the rec center, my heart was broken. All of a sudden it hit me….what was I going to do for the rest of the day? I HAD NO CAR!!!! It is my duty to make sure that my kids have the BEST summer of their lives, and I am stranded. I don’t even have a way to leave this rec center. An angel from heaven walked up to me, “Well, what are we doing for the rest of the day?!?!” Our dear friend Bodie, with a smile on his face, is awaiting an answer. I was overwhelmed with relief, “You are staying the whole day?!?!” “Yeah, I have until about 2:00.” Jesus sent this tender mercy, not just for me, but for everyone of my little ducklings as well.
The kids skipped happily out to his car. It was a tight squeeze, but my kids are professional squishers. In 2012 we didn’t have a car, and when we could finally afford to buy one, we bought a Mazda 3, a compact car. We squeezed our family of 7 into that little car for a year. This squishing thing was nothing new to us! We told Bodie that we wanted to head out to the Wildlife Reserve and he was happy to come along. It was about a 30 min drive, so he turned a movie on for the kids to pass time while we drove. To our surprise, the drive out there was on the same road that James was biking on!!! I was SO HAPPY!!!! We decided to take our time and leap-frog him as we made our way out there. It wasn’t long before there were 5 blonde heads slumped in the back of the car. I know they were all exhausted from restless sleep, and especially Lily, whom I knew was up all night long. Bodie and I saw this as an opportunity to really take our time getting out there and be right there with James as he biked. It was definitely a tender mercy, I knew that God had heard my prayers and had presented this opportunity to me because he loves me and knew that it was important to me.
Eventually James turned off onto a different road, so we cut bait and went off to the Reserve. After a few wrong turns, we made it and the kids had enjoyed a nice, long nap. They were fresh and ready to explore. Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center was absolutely amazing! We were able to get out and walk around, enjoying the fresh air and moving our legs. The bears were just on the other side of a chain link fence, right in front of us! There were all sorts of animals, native to Alaska, and they were literally right in front of us. We felt especially blessed when the employee said to us, ”The animals are never out this much! You guys are getting the best view that I have ever seen. And I have worked here for years!” Victory in Alaska!
The kids loved every minute of it! We ended our tour with a gift shop full of fun and random treasure for sale. The kids had saved money for a year to have spending money to buy a souvenir in each state. Each one of the kids has a different personality, and each collected their unique souvenir for that day.
We attempted to leap-frog James back, but there is NO service in Alaska! None of our tracking devices worked; even our supporters at home were panicked, wondering what happened to James. We eventually found him, and then we made our way to the bike shop for the transition to the run. James was in and out of there in a hurry, and was off running. Bodie’s availability was up, and it was time for him to head home after literally saving us that day.
We squished into cars to get to the 5k location. We were sitting in the park for a bit, wondering where everyone was; unbeknownst to us, we were in the wrong place. Eventually James came running through with a large group, “Where is the 5k?” “Not here!” We were given new instructions and needed to hurry to get to the right place in time for Lucy and Lily to run the 5k with him.
When we pulled in the parking lot, Lucy and Lily bolted out of the car and made it just in time. During the 5k, we waited in the park, and it was absolutely freezing, around 56 degrees. That is a big chang from the sweltering heat the day before. I had the kids pack jackets in their suitcases while packing for Hawaii, knowing we would be in Alaska, but I will tell you, the jackets were not warm enough. We were freezing! I will always remember staring at the sun, noticing that it didn’t move in the sky, even though the hands on my watch were moving. It was getting later and later, and the sun still shined as if it was 2 in the afternoon. It was one of the coolest things that I have ever seen. I have always ‘heard’ that it happens, but to experience it was incredible!
As we waited we began strategizing the food plan. James had requested sushi, and someone went off with our credit card to have it ordered and ready for when James finished. The event finished, pictures were taken and I was relieved that we had another day done. The relief came mostly from the fact that these first three days were critical. We were flying on commercial flights, and there was a lot of pressure to make sure that we hit the time frames precisely. We were now down 2 days in this critical time frame, only one more to go.
We made our way back to the house to begin preparing to leave. $200 later, the men were fed and the sushi was gone. I ate PB&J with the kids, and began packing things up. James was freezing and stumbling around trying to get showered and dressed. We had to help him take his shoes and socks off. He requested a massage, and I told him I would after his shower (so he could warm up!). Eventually he made his way into the shower, and I can only imagine how luxurious it felt to be in that warm water. “Don’t take too long Jay, or we won’t have time to do your massage.” I went upstairs and was informed that his bike needed to be packed up. I asked crew members, “Who is supposed to do the bike?” One response was, “He showed me how to do it so that I could pack it up, but I don’t remember how.” I said, “So…what are we supposed to do?” They shrugged their shoulders and walked off.
I am sitting in the garage, shivering, staring at a bike box and a bike. My family is inside and needs help packing up to catch a flight. I know that James needs my help and is expecting me to rub his legs and feet. I am in the garage, in disbelief that it is somehow MY job to get this bike in the box, even though it was someone else’s responsibility. We are crunched for time, and there is literally no time to waste. I ran into the house to Lucy and Lily, “I need your help!!! I need you to make sure that everyone gets everything put in their suitcases. When Dad comes out, I need you to each massage one leg and one foot. I have to figure out how to pack his bike up!”
Back out to the garage. I prayed, I prayed that I can figure out this bike box, that the girls can do what I have asked, that James won’t be disappointed that I can’t rub his legs out….I just kept praying. I had seen James do this many times, but I have never paid attention. I tried to tap into my subconscious to remember what I had seen him do when he would pack it up. After a good 15 minutes, I had it mostly done, but was stumped at one part. Next thing I know a gentleman came out and made a suggestion. It worked! Oh my gosh, I could not believe it worked!!!!! I started shoving pillows for padding, and whatever else was supposed to go in, into that bike box! Oh my gosh, I could not believe it!
I went back inside, James seemed as if he was going to cry, “Why aren’t you massaging my legs?” I tried to explain to him…it was no use. I thanked Lucy and Lily for their help. They had yet to help the other kids because they were working on James. I started to massage his legs and sent them off for their next task, making sure everyone had their things and suitcases were zipped tight. I worked on James until the very last second and we had to leave.
We hit the road on our way to the airport. About 10 minutes into the drive, Lily was in tears, “What is the matter?” “I think I left my phone there.” Oh man, we were already pressing time, just like Hawaii (which I had sworn not to do again), and now we were going to have to head back. We did one more check through her things, and we found it! Hallelujah, it was in a pocket in her bag, yes!
We were at the airport, waiting in line, but there were other people who had forgotten things at the house and had to go back. I didn’t have what we needed to check-in for the flights, so we had to wait. We waited by a huge grizzly bear, that was on display. Even in the midst of panic, I couldn’t help but think about this massive animal. I pondered all of the wild animals that live in Alaska, and how this world is truly amazing. So many different species, in so many different lands, with different temperatures, just mind boggling!
Everyone finally arrived, and we got through check-in smoothly, dumped out our water for security, and made it through squeaky clean! We walked to our gate, and again I looked out the window at the sun. It was still sitting in the same place. It was 10:00 p.m. and the sun was just sitting comfy in the same spot, really an incredible thing to experience! Everyone went to the bathroom and when they got back, it was time to board. Ridiculous, another flight that we just made it on time!
When we boarded the plane, everyone crashed, sound asleep. This time I sat in the middle, between Daisy and Quinn. The plane wasn’t taking off, but they weren’t telling us anything on the overhead. It was now around 11:00 p.m. The entire plane is quiet and still, everyone is sound asleep. After 30 minutes I began to pray hard, very hard. We had no idea what was going on. What if this plane is delayed? What if the flight is cancelled until morning? What if we have to switch planes, and I have to wake up all this tired kids and drag them to another plane?!?!? My whole family is sleeping, and I am the only one who knows that there are issues with this flight!!!
45 minutes later, there is an announcement, “There were mechanical issues with the plane. The plane will be ready to go in about 10 minutes!” THEY FIXED IT!!!!! But wait…I won’t get my hopes up until this flight is off of the ground. I felt the love from heaven as I finally felt the wheels lift off of the runway.
Within an hour, kids were up and stirring. Dolly had woken up, trying not to cry, she didn’t know what she wanted. I had her lay on the floor, at my feet and sleep. Quinn woke up and ended up on my lap. I moved over so that Daisy now had a free seat so that she could lay down on my lap and stretch her legs. I was glad to know that Lily was sound asleep, and never heard a peep from James or Lucy from the time their butts hit those seats.