The classic ‘old grumpy grandpa’ saying goes something like this: “Back in my day, we walked 15 miles to school in the snow! Barefoot! Uphill! Both ways! And we liked it that way!”
For Eagle Peak Middle School 8th grade science teacher Paula Abajian, there is some truth in that saying for her, as she spent thirteen days hiking through snow and ice to get access to a vehicle, to then drive or be driven to school. Monday evening, March 13th, was the first day she could finally drive the road to her home since the snowy weather started on February 22.
For Abajian, the logistics were as follows. She and her husband and two young children live at 2,500 feet above sea level in the mountains above Willits. The road to their home is on a north-facing slope, with several feet of snow accumulating on it from all the storms and not melting much due to the lack of sun on the north face. Midway through the series of storms, the snow melted somewhat but then froze and turned to ice. The road was simply impassable near her home for close to three weeks.
From Abajian’s home, it was a 1.76-mile hike, according to her Apple Watch, downhill to access transportation, hence a 3.52 round trip daily, for a total of over 40 miles through the snow for the duration of the adventure.
“The snow early on was lovely,” says Abajian. “but as it got icier and more compacted, it was difficult to walk on.”
There were also additional logistical challenges for Abajian and her family. With her home being off the electrical grid and solar powered, eventually, the cloud cover prevented sufficient charging of the home’s batteries. At one point, she was hauling up gas cans for the generator to run power for the house.
On most days, she was hiking in the morning before sunrise and getting home in dim light or darkness. Her backpack would regularly be filled with food and provisions for home. Many days her children would stay with grandparents in town, but there were a few times they would hike in and out. “My daughter would take two steps forward in the snow, and one step falling back,” says Abajian.
Abajian’s colleague at Eagle Peak, 5th-grade teacher Mackenzie Erickson, lives down the hill from Paula, and would often give her rides to school. One day the duo simply could not make it, even from Erickson’s house at a lower elevation. For Paula, this was a 3.52-mile round trip hike to not get to school. On another exceptionally stormy day, Paula could simply not leave her house.
“Paula has a deep sense of dedication to the profession,” says Erickson. “It was an adventure. We were glad to help, and it wasn’t entirely safe at times, but we are a community that supports each other. It was super amazing with all of the snow, even though it was also hard.”
Abajian summed up the experience by saying, “Overall, it was beautiful to be outside with nature and see the animal tracks, and I did close my exercise ring on my watch every day, but I am glad it’s over.”
Abajian shared stories of her adventures with her students, and they begged her to have a field trip up to her house to go sledding.
We had to cut my interview with Paula a little short as she had to go pick up her kids from school due to a flood warning.
Eagle Peak teacher Paula Abajia hiking through snow to get to school
L-R Eagle Peak teacher Mackenzie Erickson, Mackenzie's husband Sean Leslie, and Eagle Peak Teacher Paula Abajian
Animal tracks along Paula's route to and from school