Day 76: You Had Me At Coffee

I made some oatmeal for breakfast while talking with Flo and Julian. They checked the ferry they wanted to take in southern Alaska because I had told them they need to book in advance, as it’s the end of season with limited schedules. Sure enough, the ferry they wanted was full so they had to rearrange their itinerary.

Shelly, the hostel owner, picked me up to get coffee with a friend of hers. I had talked with Shelly when I stayed there the month prior and she’s a such a fun character. She’s 70, but looks 55. She’s tall, fit, has blonde hair, and takes really good care of herself.

We arrived at Mary’s log cabin while Mary was in the middle of packing for her move to Fairbanks. Mary is 61, petite, with blonde and gray hair. She had on a baggy sweatshirt and khaki pants with stains on the knees. She had big blue eyes with young-looking, smooth skin. She was a firecracker.

Mary was moving to Fairbanks in two days and her cabin was a disaster, as to be expected with an upcoming move. Shelly and I sat on the side of the kitchen in chairs with no table, drinking coffee while Mary continued to sort through items.

Shelley wanted me to meet Mary to hear her story. Mary told me her story with enthusiasm as she paced around the house. Her husband, Wally, died three years ago, which sent her into a depression for several months. A friend recommended that she volunteer at an animal refuge. After initially resisting, she agreed to try it. She begged God to just help her survive.

Within the first week, Mary was volunteering there 40 hours a week. It was so peaceful and quiet, it gave her a sense of hope. Mary had been sober for a long time but still attended AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) meetings every so often. She decided to attend one in Fairbanks, just over three hours away.

At the meeting, Mary ran into the “prince of Fairbanks,” Frank. I asked why he was called the prince of Fairbanks and Mary said, “He’s attractive, kindness oozes from his eyes, his heart is like the Grand Canyon full of love, and he listens to you as if you’re the only one around. He just sees you.”

Frank was so attractive that Mary would avoid him while she was married. Frank was 68 and had married his high school sweetheart and they had a daughter. When the daughter was nine years old, she was raped and murdered. This caused him to go into ten years of self sabotage, drinking and doing drugs.

After ten years, he got sober. He was divorced and had a friend who was about to have a baby, but couldn’t care for her. She wanted Frank to raise her so she put his name on the birth certificate. He raised her as his daughter and it helped him stay clean.

When Mary saw Frank at the AA meeting in June, they hugged and talked for a bit. When she got home, she found herself thinking about him. She went back to Fairbanks the next week and Frank hugged her again. This time, they went to breakfast afterwards. Mary told him all about her husband Wally and they got to know each other better. At the end of breakfast, Frank told her he’d go to a meeting in Tok the following week and would see her then.

She got home and found herself thinking of him in a romantic capacity, which surprised her. She was tending to her garden and a thought popped into her head that they’d be together. The insanely crushing pain that she had been feeling in her chest since her husband passed started to lessen. She told God, “If it just stays this way, I’ll be ok with that.” Just then, she received a phone call from an unknown number and someone asking her if they can tell her about God. She replied, “I think God just helped me. I’m going to be ok.” And she hung up the phone.

Mary was couldn’t wait to see Frank at the meeting in Tok, but he didn’t show up. As with all things love-related, it was complicated. Months went by and she didn’t see or hear from Frank. It was now December and Mary went to Fairbanks for a dinner with the AA group. On Christmas Eve, she saw Frank at the morning meeting and he asked if that was her phone number in the directory and would it be ok if he called her?

Frank and Mary went to breakfast and he told her he kept thinking about her. That evening, they skipped the dinner and hung out by themselves. But that night, she couldn’t sleep. She called Frank early in the morning and said she needed to tell him something. He quickly came over with coffee and she said, “You had me at coffee.”

Mary confessed to Frank that she had been thinking about him for the last six months and she needed to know if he felt the same way or not so she could move on. She told him she was very upset that he never showed up at the meeting in Tok like he said he would. Frank told Mary that in his head, they already dated, married, and divorced. He was scared it wouldn’t work out so he didn’t show up.

That Christmas morning, Frank and Mary started dating. After nine months of dating, Mary was moving to Fairbanks to be with Frank. She was selling the log cabin that her husband had built. She now felt at peace with his death and was able to love again. Mary was ecstatic about her new life. It was a great story to hear and I hope Mary has a wonderful life with Frank.

Shelley and I had been there for over an hour, so we left Mary to attend to her packing. Shelley and I got into the car and she said she wanted to see if there were any good garage sales going on, so she was going to drive around for a bit.

Shelley told me about her past relationships while we drove around. She had been married three times: once for 18 months, once for three years, and then for four years. Her second husband was a flasher and once she found out, she divorced him. Shelley said when she was younger, it was hard to date because men didn’t like strong women back then. She either clashed with strong men, or walked all over weak men. She found herself trying to earn their love and respect by doing whatever they wanted, but that didn’t work.

Shelley has a daughter with a guy she wasn’t married to and she still gets along with him. She grew up with a mom who was the “town drunk.” I could tell that Shelley had a rough life growing up, but she persevered and is now a successful business owner.

Shelley told me she recently had a lover that was 15 years younger than her. She said, “If that’s the last sex I have, I went out with a bang!” She now wants companionship and she’s tried online dating. She said the same thing Corine in Homer told me – it’s hard to find a man when you’re an older, successful woman.

We didn’t find any garage sales and even checked the bulletin board inside the local market. The sales were going to be the following day. Shelley took me back to the hostel so I could get my bags and head to Canada. We said our goodbyes and she offered me a place to stay in Arizona if I’m there. She spends months there to avoid the Alaskan winter.

I drove away from Tok with fond memories from both times I was there. Tok is a remote town in northern Alaska so when you meet people there, there is a sense of bonding. There aren’t many people there, which I think helps people feel connected. Getting a chance to meet people from different walks of life and learn their stories is so fulfilling to me, which is one of the best things about being a solo-traveler.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 75: Hiking on a Glacier

I woke up to the sound of rain against the roof of my tiny, rustic cabin. I cringed at the thought of getting out of my warm sleeping bag to the bitter cold air and rain, so I decided to play on my phone with the small amount of battery I had left. I reached for my glasses on the floor beside the box spring I was laying on and realized they were almost frozen. It was painful to put them on my face. I had tried to charge my phone with my solar charger, but it was too cold and the phone wouldn’t charge.

I played on my phone for about an hour and heard the rain stop. I threw my coat over my thermals and braved the cold so I could go to the bathroom. Looking across the small river, I noticed the clouds and mist had rolled in, creating an eerie feel.

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My quick venture outside left me feeling very cold, so I jumped back into my mummy sleeping bag and walked around the cabin with it wrapped around me as I dug through my backpack for breakfast options.

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I was elated when I discovered I had a powdered Starbucks vanilla latte packet. I used my Jetboil to make the latte and sat on the porch enjoying the view.

I ate a poptart for breakfast and packed up my gear. With my paid admission, I could stay there all day and hike Matanuska glacier. Once packed up, I drove about a mile to the parking lot. The natives own the rights to the glacier, but Bill (whom I had met the day before) owns the access rights. There is some sort of guidance on the first mile of the glacier.

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People are able to hike the glacier by themselves or they can book a tour where a guide will walk them to other areas, like the ice caves. They’ll also provide crampons for your shoes. I decided not to do a tour because it was expensive. I’ve also hiked on a glacier in Norway and didn’t feel it would be all that different. Plus, I could still hike it on my own to the main areas.

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The first section of the hike was sandy and muddy. Certain sections had metal grates or wooden pieces of boards to help stabilize the ground so people don’t sink. There was a “path” for people to follow, which was basically just scattered orange cones here and there.

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I started the hike and was trying not to sink. About ten minutes into the hike, I ran into Keenan, the guy who I had talked with the night before about camping. He was leading a handful of people on a tour. He stopped to talk to me and asked how my night was. I told him it was super cold, but the views made it all worth it. He replied, “Right on!”

I continued hiking, mesmerized by the still pools of water, gray sand, and ice slowly popping through. I started to head towards the ice caves, but a tour guide warned me not to go that direction without crampons. I found the trail again and continued.

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I came across an area with a crevasse that I needed to cross in order to continue. It was a pretty large gap and not having crampons made me nervous. I watched as a girl struggled to cross, squatting down because she was too scared to make the leap. Her friends on the other side were trying to convince her to jump. I walked further down and found an area that I thought was safer and crossed there.

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The ground was deceptive. It was gray from the dirt, but was actually ice. I got closer to the main body of the glacier and got worried that I would slip. After about 30 minutes of hiking, I made it to the top and the stopping point. To go further, you needed to be on the other side with crampons. It was incredible to see such a majestic glacier. The blue and white colors intertwined with streaks of brown dirt. It looked fake and it was hard to fully comprehend the size and scope of it.

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After taking in the views, I hiked back to my car. As I got closer, I ran into Keenan again. This time he was leading a new group to go out to the glacier. I asked him, “Don’t you get tired of doing these?” He replied, “No man, it’s something different every time! Are you sticking around for the day?” I told him I needed to keep driving north so I could catch a ferry back to Canada.

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When I got back to the parking lot, Bill had just pulled up with a bus full of people who were getting ready to take tours. I stopped outside of the driver’s side window to talk with him. He said, “It’s a good thing you had the cabin last night with all the rain. Kept you and your stuff dry.” I was indeed happy to have that cabin.

When I got to my car, I plugged my phone in so I could book a hostel in Tok. I had stayed there on my way to Alaska and I would go right through there again. I enjoyed my stay the first time so I booked a room to ensure it would be available.

The drive was beautiful as the fall colors were making their way into the forest. It was only September 6th, but yellow, red, and orange were starting to sweep the trees and bushes. I pulled over to take some pictures of the lakes that made perfect mirrors of the mountains.

I pulled into the hostel’s gravel parking lot around dinner time. I had booked one of the rooms that had two twin beds because it was cheaper than the private room with one twin bed and a bathroom (the one I stayed in previously). However, while I was booking it online, two guys were booking it in person. Because of the double booking, I got my old room again for the same price!

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I put my bags inside my room and two German guys who were staying in the room with two twin beds were about to make dinner. They told me they had salmon, vegetables, and rice, and I was welcome to join them. I hadn’t eaten dinner so I joined them in the kitchen while they cooked.

The guys were from a small town two and half hours from Munich. Flo was 29 years old and studied civil engineering (which is different than how the US describes it). He worked as a mechanic for a bit and wanted to stay with the company since they had good benefits, so he had recently accepted a role as a Safety Engineer/Manager and said, “Nobody likes you in this role.” Flo’s uncle moved to Prince George, Canada 40 years ago and raised his family there on a farm. Flo has visited them a couple of times, but this time he wanted to explore Alaska.

Julian was 30 years old and was a tax accountant. He worked at his dad’s company, which had about nine employees. He works with private citizens and small businesses and explained, “Taxes are complicated.”

The guys get six weeks of paid vacation a year. If people in the US received as much vacation as Europe or Australia, maybe we wouldn’t have to quit our jobs to travel.

Flo and Julian were taking two and half weeks to explore Alaska and started in Whitehorse, Canada. They looked into renting an RV, but it would cost them $4,500 euros, plus additional fees for going into the US and driving on gravel roads. That’s part of the reason I didn’t do an RV. It’s incredibly expensive to rent them, you still have to pay for hookups, can’t park it anywhere you’d like, and I didn’t want to attempt to drive it by myself.

Instead, the guys were staying in a tent they bought at Canadian Tire and said they didn’t realize it would be so cold already. Staying at the hostel was a treat for them. They were following a guide book and were heading to Valdez the next day.

The salmon that they pulled out of the cooler was caught by a guy at a campground they stayed at. They bought it off of him and did a great job cooking it. The three of us sat down to eat dinner like we were a family.

Shelley, the owner of the hostel stopped by to say hello and told me that her brother (who she had wanted me to go on a date with) couldn’t get his plane ready in time to take me on a ride. She said she’d stop by and pick me up in the morning because she wanted me to meet a friend of hers who lived in a log cabin that her husband had built. I agreed to go with her the following day.

Flo and Julian told me about life in Germany. They learn another language at ten years old. A lot of people choose to learn French and their president said learning French was a great way for them to mend their relationship with France after being at war with them for many years. Flo said, “In 100 years, I don’t think there will be any wars or issues between Germany and France. We know each other’s languages and we’re close now.”

Hearing Flo and Julian talk about their view of Alaska was hilarious! They rented a Malibu and thought it was too full of plastic. They joked, “Good thing it’s not hot here or else the plastic would all melt.” They were shocked at how many Alaskans drove trucks. They described Alaskan men as having “beards, stains on their shirts, hunting, fishing, shooting, and have a crack in their windshield.” They thought it took a special person to live in Alaska.

As we were eating dinner, two woman came in to stay in the private room with a double bed. They were about 50 and 70 years old and one was dragging in an oxygen tank. The women were worried about the noise, but we couldn’t hear it once they closed the door.

We finished dinner and I washed the dishes while they dried and put them away. They asked that I help them with some English words. “What is the word for a female cousin?” they asked. I laughed and told them, “female cousin.” One of them said “snorkeling” instead of “snoring” and we all laughed.

I took a much needed shower after spending the night in a cabin with no water. I was happy to have a bed again in a heated room. It was so great to meet Flo and Julian. They were generous with their food and were very hospitable. Each day brought new people into my life and it’s much richer because of it.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 74: Alaskan Adventure!

Before checking out of my Airbnb, I took advantage of the washer and dryer. After finishing my laundry,  I drove to Costco to get new tires. While I waited, I shopped around and ate at their food court. I noticed they had chili on the menu. It made me laugh. Portland had kale and quinoa salads.

I searched for a place to stay that night somewhere between Anchorage and Tok, but couldn’t find one that seemed right. By the time I left Anchorage, it was around 4:00 pm and I didn’t know how far I’d make it that day.

It was 65℉, clear, and sunny. I drove northeast through the mountains and the views were incredible! I felt the drive was prettier than the drive directly south from Fairbanks.

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Around 6:00 pm, I saw a sign on the side of the road that read “Glacier” with an arrow pointing down a gravel road. Intrigued, I drove down the windy road for a couple of miles until I arrived at a gate and a small shop. I went inside and was told it cost $30 to drive to Matanuska glacier, the world’s largest drive-up glacier, which was just about two miles away. 

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Two cars paid the admission and drove through the gate. I talked with a guy in his early 20s. Keenan told me that people park their car in the dirt lot and walk on the glacier. They offer tours to go further into the glacier, which includes ice caves. They closed in a couple of hours so I would have to hike it fairly quickly and still find a place to sleep.

Keenan told me that they offer camping spots, which “are basically just a flat part of the dirt and you can use the porta potty nearby.” It would cost $55 to camp and hike the glacier. I debated my options out loud, explaining I wasn’t prepared to camp that night, but I did have all of my gear in my car. My tent is only three season, however, and they told me it would drop to freezing that night. My sleeping bag is rated for 10℉ and Keenan said, “You can survive with that, but you’ll basically just be surviving.”

The owner, Bill, sat at the next register, looking serious and occasionally chiming in. He said he had a basic cabin that he’d let me use. He asked , “Do you have your sleeping pad?” I told him that I did. He said, “I can let you stay in my cabin. It’s just four walls and a box spring, but it’ll keep you warmer than your tent.”

There was nobody else camping there that night. They had been very busy during Labor Day weekend, but now the people who were there were just there for the day. I wasn’t sure about the cabin because it was about a mile from the glacier, while the tent spaces were right at the glacier. I asked Keenan which I should choose and he said, “Definitely the cabin.” The owner offered to show me the cabin and the tent spots so I could decide.

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I paid the $55 and followed the owner in my car to the cabin. Sure enough, it was just four walls and a box spring. The front porch didn’t have stairs, so I had to take a giant step to climb up it. There was no electricity, no water, and no heat. There was a sliding glass door on the porch with a view to die for.

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We drove to the tent spaces and they were basically in the gravely dirt parking lot and looked very unappealing, so I elected to stay in the cabin. The owner said, “We close up at 8:30 pm and aren’t back until 9:00 am so you’re on your own.” Them he drove away. I’ve survived worse. I backpacked three weeks in the Sierra mountains on my own.

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I unloaded my car with my backpacking equipment and put on pants and a coat as the sun set and the temperature started to drop. I was so thrilled to be staying there! It was completely secluded and I had a million dollar view all to myself.

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I was very happy to find a freeze-dried dinner that I had left over from a backpacking trip in Washington. I ate my food on the porch overlooking the small river of glacier water, and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. The clouds started to roll in, so I probably wouldn’t be able to see any Northern Lights.

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I went to the bathroom behind a tree and got ready for bed at 9:30 pm. I put on my thermals because it was already very cold. At 10:30 pm, I had to get up and go the bathroom again. I grabbed my headlight and went towards the trees. I could see my breath.

The sliding glass door on the cabin didn’t close all the way and there was a small gap letting freezing air inside. I got snug inside my sleeping bag and then heard some noises. It sounded like a large animal scratching something. I tried to convince myself that the cabin would keep me protected, even though the sliding glass door wouldn’t close all the way. Keenan told me it was unlikely I’d see a bear so tried to ignore the sounds. Eventually, all became quiet.

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I started to warm up a little inside my sleeping bag and was very pleased with my decision not to book a place and to just drive. If I would have booked a place, I wouldn’t have turned down the road to the see glacier. Or maybe I would have, but I wouldn’t have been able to stay the night there and there wasn’t really anywhere to stay that was very close. This felt like an adventure. This is why I came to Alaska.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 73: Misophonia, Glaciers, and a Familiar Face

I flew into Anchorage just after midnight and grabbed an Uber to my Airbnb. My driver was born and raised in Anchorage and said the “winters aren’t that bad.” He loves it there.

My Airbnb was in the basement level of a house and had its own entrance on the side. It was very dark as I carried my luggage down the wide steps that wrapped around the house. It was a little studio with a lot of space. It was much bigger than what I had experienced the previous few weeks. I was bummed I had only booked two days there.

Early the next morning, I took an Uber to Amanda’s house where my car was being kept. I briefly talked to Amanda, but had to leave to make my car appointment at the Subaru dealership to repair my window.

After waiting for two hours, the dealership told me they wouldn’t have the car finished by the time I needed to leave for the glacier tour I signed up for. I took their shuttle to the visitor center to meet the group.

The tour time was changed to an earlier time, which threw off my day, but they assured me I’d be back to the dealership by 6:00 pm to pick up my car. The tour guide, Bill, was originally from Minnesota. He was in his 60s, had a short white beard, and was wearing a beret and driving gloves. He talked in a tight, raspy voice that almost seemed fake.

Bill was on the phone with his boss about filling up the tour, so he accepted a walk-on guest for cash. It was clear that it was the end of the season because they combined the tours and only offered one that day. In our group, there was a guy in his early 30s from Rhode Island, a girl in her early 30s from San Francisco, two girls from Australia in their 20s, a woman in her 60s, and a girl in her late 20s that we picked up 40 minutes outside of Anchorage. I was really surprised to see so many single travelers.

We all got into the van to head towards the first stop: a glacier about an hour south of Anchorage. I sat in the front seat next to Bill. While I was happy to see the beautiful views on the clear day, Bill kept pointing his finger at things right in front of my face. He was also smacking gum, which was driving me insane. The woman in her 60s sitting behind me was also making some sort of strange noise, like she was sucking her spit through her teeth. I absolutely can’t stand noises like this. It invokes a rage inside of me and I’m unable to focus on anything else. It’s a thing, it’s called Misophonia.

Maybe it was the disgusting sounds, or the fact that the woman kept asking stupid questions while talking over Bill, but I was feeling annoyed by the tour. Bill was clearly not a tour guide, he was basically just a driver. I felt that I could have just driven myself to the glacier and the animal park where we were going. However, it was a beautiful day and I had the opportunity to see Turnagain Arm in clear skies and without having to focus on the road. We stopped a couple of times to see some amazing views.

Bill told us that when it’s low tide, the water sinks back so far that muddy quicksand appears, making the area look unfamiliar everyday. When I drove this road from Homer, it was indeed a completely different experience because it was cloudy and high tide.

We were running ahead of schedule so we stopped at a river where people can view salmon. There’s no fishing allowed so the salmon population can grow. I couldn’t believe how big the salmon were!

On the drive, Bill told us that Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than anywhere else. Alaskans are proud of this – I had heard it from a few people. Bill told us that Alaskans also have more ATVs, planes, boats, and motorcycles than anywhere else.

We made a quick stop to eat lunch on our own at a cafe near the glacier. Shortly after, we were dropped off to board a boat to see the Portage Glacier.

The guide did a good job telling us about the glacier and the geography of the area. The boat crossed the lake full of melted glacier water and there were giant pieces floating around.

As we got closer to the glacier, it started to look bigger and bigger. It was white and blue with a streak of brown down it from all of the eroding debris that gets trapped.

The boat stopped a few times while we waited to see if a piece would break off into the water. While glaciers are melting globally, they are melting the fastest in Alaska.

We didn’t see any pieces break off, but it was a sight to see. It’s crazy to think that the water in the glacier has been frozen for so many years.

Once the boat returned to the dock, we boarded the van and were taken to a wildlife refuge, where we could explore on our own for an hour. It was a large property and I watched the bears feeding, wolves jumping on a roof, and other animals roaming around.

On the way back to Anchorage, the woman behind me opened a bag of Fritos for all of us to smell and of course chomped on them. We saw several police officers that had pulled over fellow travelers. Bill told us the police will pull people over if they’re holding up five or more vehicles because they’re going too slow. I had seen signs telling people to pull over if they’re holding up five cars – it’s the law. That road is a big tourist road and Bill was happy to see them pulling over tourists who were going too slow. Just then, we watched a police car turn on his lights to pull over another car. Bill told us Alaska was short on police, but 100 new recruits just finished training and they were hiring another 100.

Bill dropped me off at the Subaru dealership at 5:45 pm, just in time to pick up my car before they closed. I drove to downtown Anchorage to meet a friend, Amy, who lives there. She was at a storytelling networking event and welcomed me there. This was a group of people who shared their stories as a form of art.

I enjoyed some appetizers while meeting people who had previously shared their stories. One guy worked at Enron and told a story about espionage. Another guy, Eric, worked at AIG during the collapse and moved to Los Angeles to change careers. He was working as an unpaid intern for a movie studio when he decided to sue them because of their unfair practices. They were basically working people full time for free and calling it an internship. Eric won the case against them, but it lost on appeal. However, movie studios now pay for internships out of fear of lawsuits.

Eric went on to law school and became a lawyer. He was supposed to be in Anchorage for a one-year contract, but now he works for the ACLU and has been in Anchorage for three years. They all joke that Anchorage has a way of pulling people into staying longer.

I also met a woman who had told a story about her divorce and sexual discoveries after it. I wished I had been there when they had originally told their stories, but I was happy I got to hear the summaries.

Once the networking event was over, Amy and I went to another restaurant for dinner on the rooftop. It had been 60℉ that day, but as the sun set it started to feel much colder. The sunset was incredible and I was happy that this was how I was spending my last night in Anchorage.

Amy and I used to work together many years ago. She sat across from me in another department and we had some mutual friends. She left the company long before I did, but through Facebook I was able to get to know her better. It was awesome to catch up in person.

After being married for 13 years, Amy got a divorce. It had been three years since the divorce and we bonded over our similarities. Amy is really smart, thoughtful, and friendly. She moved to Anchorage because that is where her ex-husband is from. She’s stayed because it’s grown on her.

It was late and getting cold, so I took Amy home and then went back to my Airbnb to rest. I am so thankful to know people who live all over the world. It’s really encouraging to see a friendly, familiar face in an unfamiliar land.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 64-65: Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage

I spent day 64 sleeping in, running some errands, editing a video of a recent backpacking trip, and eating leftover pizza. The following day, I took my car to the Subaru dealer for an appointment about my broken window.

When I arrived, I explained to the guy about my experience in Fairbanks and how there is a broken mechanism, but they didn’t have the part. They assured me that Anchorage, being a larger city, would have the part. After waiting for an hour and a half, he came to the waiting room and told me that they do not have the part.

I was angry and asked why he didn’t check to see if they had the part sooner. He explained that they had to take my window apart to confirm which part was needed (and still needed to put it all back together). He could order it, but it wouldn’t arrive for seven-ten days. Frustrated, I told him I wouldn’t be there because I was flying to Colorado for a wedding. After arguing with him and talking with his manager, he agreed to pay for three day delivery and repair the window when I returned from Colorado.

I planned on hiking that day so I went back to my Airbnb to change my clothes and grab my gear. It was recommended that I hike Flattop Mountain trail, which is about three and a half miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. I was happy the parking lot wasn’t crowded since I heard it was a popular trail.

It was about 50°F, cloudy, and misty. The trail started out at an incline, but was fairly smooth with a few rocks. The green trees looked bright against the looming clouds whisking above.

The trail quickly turned difficult. Immediately, rocks popped up on the trail, and I was cautious to avoid a sprained ankle.

Then the stairs appeared – wooden blocks that had been dug into the dirt on the side of the mountain. Set after set of stairs appeared, forcing me to stop to catch my breath. The other people on the trail were also pausing from time to time to take quick breaks.

As the trail continued to climb, the clouds started to cover the trail and it was difficult to see much farther than about 30 feet. The mist was attaching itself to my arm hair, making it appear white.

As I got close to the peak, the trail wound its way through rocks the size of basketballs. The trail was hard to find through the rocks, so I was following a group of people ahead of me until I lost them into the fog.

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The trail seemed to disappear, so I stopped to look around for where it continued. Three guys in their 20s-30s who had been behind me stopped, and I asked if they knew where the trail continued. They responded, “We were following you. It’s our first time here.”

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The four of us navigated the trail together. We realized the “trail” continued up the sharp boulders. It was wet, visibility was poor, and it seemed unsafe. I wasn’t going to continue, but they convinced me to stay with it. I had come that far and I really wanted to see the flag that was supposed to be at the top.

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I left my trekking poles at the base of the boulders and started to climb. The guys grabbed my hand and helped me to the top. We were the only people up there and it was indeed flat. I heard that some groups host festivals at the top from time to time and I couldn’t imagine people carrying everything up the mountain.

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We walked around on the flat surface, which felt like walking on the moon with the rocks below us and visibility only about 10 feet. I found out the guys (Colin, Robert, and Newman) were in the National Guard stationed in Tennessee. They worked in computer science and were in Anchorage for training purposes for the week. They laughed and said they were doing more training than learning while they were there.

We talked about things to do and see in Alaska while they there. I told them I quit my job, sold my house, and was traveling. Newman responded, “Wow, you hear of people doing that, but I’ve never met someone who has. How do we do that?”

Unfortunately, there were not any views due to the thick fog. I didn’t mind much, however, because the atmosphere added an element of mystery to the mountain. The guys were shocked when they noticed their facial hair was white from the freezing mist. We walked back to where we climbed up, towards the flag. We took pictures and I was really happy I made it to the top, even though my legs were shaking.

Newman brought a glass jar of peanut butter and jelly and was eating from it. Colin was in heaven because his wife can’t have peanut butter in the house. Two girls made it to the top and said they were from St. Louis, Missouri (where I grew up). It’s such a small world.

As we made our way down the boulders, Robert helped me down by lending his hand. He said, “I like your dinner bell” referring to the bear bell hanging from my backpack. I explained my encounter with a bear in the Yukon a couple weeks prior and why I now hike with a bear bell.

We got to the base of the boulders and three guys from the Air Force were climbing up. They asked about getting to the top and we explained you have to use your hands and feet. They decided they had enough of the tough trail and headed down.

The National Guard guys hiked down the mountain with me. I pointed out the berries on the side of the trail and ate some. They were hesitant, but I assured them I had been eating these berries since my time in Washington and they were fine to eat. The clouds cleared up a bit and we were treated to some really beautiful views of Anchorage and the ocean.

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We got to know each other better and watched a group of 7th grade hockey players running up the stairs with their coach. When we arrived to the parking lot, the other guys they came with were waiting for them to go eat dinner. We said our goodbyes and I thanked them for helping me climb up the boulders.

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I got back to my Airbnb, showered, and watched a romantic comedy. For some reason I had been really into them those last couple of weeks and had watched a few. I did laundry, which was upstairs where the owners lived. I felt like I was sneaking into someone’s house, so I tiptoed and tried to be quiet. That’s one of the funny things about Airbnb’s, you don’t even know the people whose house you’re sneaking around in.

My body was sore as I laid down to sleep. The hike was beautiful and I was thankful that those three guys were there to help me get up and back down the mountain. This is one of the reasons why I don’t mind traveling alone. People are generally very friendly and helpful. It’s an opportunity to see the goodness in human beings.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 63: Brewery Tour and Tinder

I needed to get out of my funk so I booked a brewery tour in the afternoon. I met the group at the log cabin visitor’s center in downtown Anchorage. I was surprised by how small and short the buildings were in the downtown area.

Our tour guide, Roberta, appeared to be in her 30s, had shoulder-length, red hair and was spunky in her jeans and tennis shoes. She asked me and a couple to hop inside the van so we could head to our first brewery. Roberta told us that there was a family of five who also signed up, but their flight was delayed and they were going to meet us at the first brewery.

Once we boarded the van, Roberta told us how she grew up in a small town just north of Anchorage and when she was 16 years old, she couldn’t wait to move away. During college, she lived in Wisconsin and then Washington. She noticed she kept moving her school schedule around so she could spend more time in Alaska, so she ended up moving back 15 years ago. She said, “Alaska is a hard life and you need to choose it. It’s different living here when you choose it.”

The couple who was sitting across from me in the van looked to be in their mid to late 30s. They were gorgeous, fit, and looked like they were heading to an expensive ski resort with their scarves and nice boots. The guy, Richard, had a reddish beard and his girlfriend had long, beautifully curled blonde hair. It turns out he grew up in Canon City, Colorado, where I lived for three years growing up. He was a year younger than me so we didn’t remember each other, but we must have seen each other (it’s a small town). After living on the east coast for 15 years, he now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

On the drive to the brewery, Roberta told us about the relationship Alaska has with alcohol. There are many small towns that have limits or ban alcohol because people were too drunk all the time. She explained that the reason bartenders often ask to see your driver’s license is because they are looking for the “red stripe,” which means you are only allowed to buy alcohol at bars, not at a store, where it is limited. Drunk drivers usually get the red stripe on their license.

Roberta told us that Alaskans drink more beer per capita than anywhere else in North America. I wanted to see if this was true, so I Googled it afterwards. According to this Thrillist article, Alaska is the third booziest state in the United States. However, this article from Anchorage Daily News shows that Alaska is the number one state for the cost of alcohol abuse. I mean, it’s ridiculously cold up there, so what else are people supposed to do?

Roberta also explained that most of the breweries there are local beer and are only sold in Alaska because it’s too expensive to ship it outside of the state. But they don’t have a problem consuming all of it in Alaska.

We arrived at the first brewery and met the family of five who just flew in from Denver, Colorado. The three children appeared to be in their 20s. We were all taken to the back where they brew the beer. We stood there listening to the brewing process for what seemed like an eternity, only getting small samplings of four different beers. Maybe it’s because I have done brewery tours before, but I was getting bored with all of the information and just wanted to drink some beer.

We all boarded the van and headed to the next brewery. When we first arrived, a woman who worked there gave a five-minute, behind-the-scenes tour and let us pour beer from a plastic fish on the wall. She quickly led us upstairs for the tastings. We sat around a table with some cheese and meat appetizers while we tried large samples of beers. These beers were very strong and we were all starting to feel it.

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The brewery had a system where people could buy a beer for someone, write their name on a piece of paper, and hang it on a metal board. If you had the name on a piece of paper (and could show ID) the beer is yours. I perused the board and saw a variety of names: a realtor who bought a beer for his clients; if your name is Ben and graduated from MIT; if you have passed level 1 and level 2 of TOGAF certification. I thought it was a really cool concept. Some were specific people, others were generic and just paying it forward. Sadly, I didn’t find one waiting for me.

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We boarded the van again to head to our third and final brewery. This time we were able to sit at a table, try different beers, and chat. The owner sat at the end of the table near me and told us a little bit about how she and her husband started the brewery two years ago. She appeared to be in her 50s and had a stern look about her. She was a former lawyer and her husband was a scientist/engineer. He was always brewing beer, so they decided to try out the brewery business. She said this is a lot more fun than practicing law, but not as lucrative.

Across the table from me was the mother in the family of five. It turns out she’s a lawyer and sues the government for discrimination. Her family was taking an Alaskan cruise out of Seward, but they wanted to check out Anchorage for a day first. After the cruise, they were going to spend a couple days in Vancouver so I gave her a lot of tips. We had a really enjoyable conversation and she was incredibly sweet. She offered me a place to stay if I’m in Denver and I appreciated her hospitality.

I was mad at myself for originally not thinking so highly of the family of five. My first impression was unflattering and judgmental. When I first saw that family, I think they reminded me of parts of myself that I’ve tried so hard to change. I’m always working out trying to lose weight and I’m still self conscience about my uncool clothes at times. We’re often the most critical of those that resemble the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. I think we all stereotype people and it’s up to us to check ourselves and change the mindset.

The brewery tour finished and I drove to Moose’s Tooth, a famous pizza place. There was a 65-minute wait for a table, but one seat available at the bar. The pizza was really good and I took some home for the next day. I went back to my Airbnb and watched a movie on my Ipad mini.

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Cody, the guy who had told me about a local volleyball game the day before, but hadn’t actually asked me to go to it, messaged and asked if I wanted to meet him at a bar. They had a reggae band playing and it was a Saturday night.

I wasn’t tired so I figured, why not? I didn’t arrive to the bar until close to 1:00 am and he was sitting at the bar with a bright red t-shirt. Cody was 29, had a semi-long, brown/reddish beard, was thin, and his long hair was pulled back underneath his ski hat.

I wasn’t really nervous meeting him because I wasn’t that interested in him, but figured it would be fun to see some nightlife in Anchorage. Cody was pleasant and talked a lot. He told me about five jobs he works, concerts he’s been to, and hiking. He’s from Anchorage and has traveled a little bit in the United States.

Cody told me that he spent a month in Toronto with a girlfriend, but got sick of her so he made up an excuse that he needed to see a concert. He drove from Toronto to Alaska in a few days and left her in Toronto. Great, another liar. I found myself being less and less interested.

The bar closed at 2:00 am and he asked if I wanted to get another drink at a bar down the street that was open until 3:00 am. We just started walking and ended up going inside the small dive bar. He had no problem with me paying for my drinks. In fact, he never even offered to pay. I don’t mind paying for myself, especially if I don’t like the guy. I never like to feel like I owe someone something. However, it is a nice gesture when a guy pays, or at the very least offers.

The bar closed at 3:00 am and we walked down the street towards our cars. Standing at the corner, I pointed towards my car and stopped walking. After talking for another few minutes, Cody said, “It’s really cold outside. Maybe you could drive me to my car so we can still talk for a bit without freezing?” We didn’t have jackets and it was pretty cold. I didn’t want Cody inside my car because I was afraid he’d try to kiss me. I replied, “I have a lot of stuff in my car.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, that happens to me too. I just move it all to the back seat.” I didn’t really respond to that and shortly after said I needed to get going.

Once I got back to my Airbnb, Cody continued to message me saying we were only two miles away from each other (Tinder shows distance). Surprised he didn’t get the hint that I wasn’t interested, I tried to politely not respond too much.

I reflected on Cody as I laid in bed. The good thing about meeting different guys is that it’s helping me determine what I want and what I don’t want in a relationship. Cody was immature, scrambled to get by, and wasn’t very smart. All of those were turn-offs to me and it was a good lesson. I was also proud that I didn’t force myself to like him as I probably would have done in the past. I was happy that I seemed to have learned that being alone is better than being with the wrong person.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 62: Sadness in Anchorage

I checked into my Airbnb around 10:00 pm and followed the directions to get inside. I climbed the stairs outside and took my shoes off at the landing. The house had three stories: the top floor where the owners live, the lower level with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom, and the basement level floor with two more rented rooms and a shared bathroom.

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I got settled into my room and went to sleep feeling happy and content. The few days prior to arriving in Anchorage were wonderful, fun, encouraging, and beautiful. They were also tiring. I didn’t get much sleep and I was starting to get a cold. I took some cold medicine and tried to let myself sleep in the next day, but I still woke up after about seven hours. I laid around and got some things done like writing reviews of my recent Airbnb stays.

After a few hours, I headed to Target to do some shopping. I talked with my sister while sipping on my Starbucks latte. For the first time in a long time, it felt like a regular day that I would have experienced before I started traveling.

After Target, I headed to Subway to grab a sandwich. The music playing was a country song I had heard many times on the radio station in Fairbanks. It goes “sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat.” It was so noticeable to me because you never hear country music playing in Los Angeles. But I had heard this song so much in the last week, I actually recognized it.

I got back to my room at the Airbnb, ate, and watched Like Father on my iPad mini. A guy I had matched with on Tinder messaged me and asked if I like to watch volleyball because there was a game that night and the following night at the University (my profile mentions volleyball). I asked what time the games were and he said 7:30 pm. I thought about it for awhile because I needed to pay bills and catch up on some work, like writing. I finally showered and messaged him around 6:30 pm asking if he still wanted to go to the game that night. He wrote back around 7:15 pm saying “Oh, I’m sorry Christy! I was just telling you about the game. I came over to my buddies to help him move.” He continued to message, trying to get to know me.

What the heck?! Who does that? I felt like an idiot for thinking he was asking me out. My face literally got flush with embarrassment. But then I got irritated wondering why he would ask me if I liked watching volleyball and then give me the details as far as days and times, but not actually ask me out. That’s pretty crappy. I didn’t respond to his other messages.

My parents called and I talked with them for awhile about their current trip in Colorado. I briefly mentioned that I was on a dating site. My dad started into a rant about what I need to look for in men worth marrying. This really frustrated me. I told my dad I do not plan on getting married again. It cost me significantly, both emotionally and financially, to get out of my marriage. Nobody can ensure their partner will actually be a decent person for decades. My dad was not happy about this and the whole conversation left me feeling incredibly judged and alone.

I want a life partner. I want someone who loves me for me. Not for the person they think I am or for the person they wish I was. I want someone who sees me. My ex-husband never saw me. He didn’t notice anything about me. He didn’t love me. I want someone who actually remembers things about me, asks about my day, asks about things that make me who I am.

I was feeling incredibly lonely. Not just lonely, but completely alone. It’s the feeling that I am not “number one” to anybody. Not a single person in this world puts me first. I am nobody’s “person.” Friends, family – they all have a number one. I am not it. I am somewhere on the list, but will never be number one. There was a pain in my heart knowing I was down on every single list.

I felt sad. And then I felt frustrated. I don’t want to get married again and people can’t seem to understand that, especially my parents. I do want a partner. But there are no guarantees in life. If that person is not who they led me to believe or they change drastically into a terrible person, I want the freedom to get out easily without losing all of my money.

Marriage is one thing in life you cannot control. You can work so hard, do all the right things, and it can still fail. You cannot force your partner to invest in the relationship, and if they don’t, you have two choices. Your first choice is to stay in the marriage, unhappily and hope it gets better. A lot of people do this. I see people all the time who are unhappily married. Your second option is to get a divorce. That’s it. There is not a third option.

This is a bad deal in my eyes. I feel that when people are married, they know they can slack off and their spouse will not divorce them for little things like forgetting a birthday or not helping out around the house. The thing is, all those little things add up. That’s what makes or breaks a relationship. If you’re just dating, people know it’s easier for their partner to end it so they’re more likely to keep investing and be a good partner. Because if not, your partner could easily end it. But with marriage, there’s no such thing as an easy ending.

I was frustrated with the fact that I could have a few amazing days and suddenly feel so sad and lonely. My Myers Briggs personality says my personality type is the type most at home in a relationship and always looking for that life-long partner. It feels like a curse. I am independent and I would rather be alone than be with the wrong person. But yet, I still want that partnership. I want the love, the intimacy, and the adventure. And I don’t have it.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 56: Friends in Fairbanks

It was my last full day in Fairbanks and I hadn’t done any hiking for about a week. I found a trail that was near the Chena Hot Springs. It was about an hour and a half drive northeast, so I filled up on gas before leaving town. I tried my newly learned trick: asking for free coffee with a fill up. It worked!

I arrived at the Angel Rocks Trail around noon. It was a beautiful day. The crisp air felt refreshing as I worked up a sweat. There were a decent number of people hiking that were all heading toward the giant rocks. The trail passed a river, went over a  boardwalk, and then became laden with tree roots.

After about 1.5 miles, I arrived at the giant boulders that overlook the bright green trees lining the mountains.

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The large boulders had cracks that allowed for some climbing. I only climbed on them a little bit, as I didn’t want to fall off. There were a few teenagers who had climbed to the top and were struggling to get down. Thankfully they made it down safe.

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After eating a power bar, I continued on the trail towards the Chena Hot Springs. The trail climbed up the mountain and then down another, but the Chena Hot Springs were another several miles away. I wouldn’t have time to go all the way there and back, but I wanted to keep hiking. I continued on the trail and once I passed the boulders, I was completely alone.

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I enjoyed the scenery, but at times I got scared. I had my bear spray and a bear bell hanging on the bottom of my backpack, just in case. The views of the rolling green mountains were like postcards. I much preferred being out in nature than being in the city of Fairbanks.

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I hiked a couple more miles, but the trail got rocky and wasn’t well maintained. I turned back once I made it to the top of one of the peaks.

By the time I got back to my car it was 6:45 pm. I wanted to check out the ice museum at the Chena Hot Springs, but the last showing was at 7:00 pm. The map showed it was a 10-minute drive, so I raced out of the parking lot.

I arrived at the Chena Hot Springs at 6:58 pm, but had to put on my pants and a coat. I frantically grabbed my pants from the backseat and stood outside my car putting them over my shorts. I grabbed my coat and jogged to the front desk.

The girl behind the counter was helping a co-worker at another register on the opposite side. They moved in slow motion and without any care as they attempted to get some people some food. I paced nervously, hoping to get her attention.

Finally, after five minutes, she casually made her way towards me. I told her I needed a ticket to see the ice museum. She said, “Oh, the group already left.” I explained that I had seen the group on my walk over and asked if I could still join them. She replied, “Well, once they close the door, they can’t let anyone in. I don’t want to sell you a ticket because if you can’t get inside, I don’t have a way to refund you.”

After pleading with her to hurry up and just sell me a ticket and her not selling me a ticket, I ran outside towards the ice museum across the parking lot. Breathing heavily, I knocked on the large wooden door. I heard voices, but the door was locked. I knocked again and a girl said, “Someone is at the door.”

The tour guide opened the door and asked if I had a ticket. I tried to explain that the girl wouldn’t sell me one in case I couldn’t get inside. Out of breath, I pleaded with him to let me inside and I promised to pay later.

Thankfully, the tour guide let me inside and I was able to see the sculptures and rooms completely made of ice! After briefly talking about the place, the tour guide let us explore on our own or purchase a martini.

I sat at the ice bar and got the green apple martini that was poured into a glass made of ice. Thankfully, the ice stool had a piece of fur on top of it.

Sitting next to me was a girl with short, spiky, brown hair and a ski hat on. I assumed she was with one of the groups, but it turned out she was also a single female traveler.

Lilly was in her mid-20s, and was from Anchorage but went to college in the Bay area in California. After her studies, she worked as an engineer at a tech company. She was no longer working there and was figuring out her next step in life. She was in the process of driving her car back to Anchorage so she could leave it there while she traveled overseas for a couple of months. Lilly told me, “You’re the first solo female traveler I’ve encountered in my whole drive so far.” She had been staying in hostels and had only met male solo travelers or women who were with other people.

The tour guide didn’t let us stay inside the museum too long because of the cold. Those of us who purchased the martini brought the ice glass outside. It’s tradition to make a wish and smash the glass. Lilly and I took our glasses and smashed them against the pavement.

Lilly had already been inside the hot springs and said she was going back in. They were open until around 11:30 pm so I figured I’d go in first and then eat some dinner. They had changing rooms and lockers for rent, so Lilly and I headed there.

Once I changed, I walked past the indoor pool filled with screaming children (children can only go to the indoor pool and aren’t allowed in the hot springs). The hot springs had a ramp with a railing that allowed people to slowly get inside. It was extremely slippery so I was thankful for that railing.

There were several people enjoying the hot, salty water. It was fairly large and had a fountain in the middle that was spitting out water like raindrops, and a high-pressure waterfall in the back corner that was great for a massage. As I headed towards the back, I saw Lilly and swam towards her. There were a few people near her and we all started to talk.

A guy who appeared to be in his late 30s started talking with me and it felt as if he was hitting on me. Within a few minutes, however, he mentioned something about climate change and how mankind is destroying the earth. I told him that I was at a museum in the Yukon recently and they listed eight reasons for climate change, only one which was influenced by human interaction. He angrily said, “Oh yeah, and who funded that museum?!”

I replied to the man, “I don’t know who funded the museum, but I don’t think there’s some conspiracy. They just mentioned things like the tilt of the earth, the 40,000 year rotations, things like that. The earth has been cooling long before the industrial age. It was just interesting to hear other things that are happening to the earth from scientists. Things that have been happening for hundreds of thousands of years.”

The guy was visibly upset and responded, “Yeah, well, when 99% of scientists agree about climate change, they’re right.” I asked, “And who has funded all of those scientists?” He responded, “Oh!! Sure, you think it’s some conspiracy!” Confused, I said, “Wait, when you asked me who funded the museum in the Yukon, that was a legit question? But when I ask who funded your scientists, that’s not a legit question, it’s a conspiracy theory?”

Others joined in the conversation, but in a much more productive way. Lilly talked about gas and oil companies wanting to tear Alaska apart and how she is concerned for her home state. I respected her opinion because she was able to have a productive conversation and explain her points. The guy, however, slowly swam away and disappeared.

I laughed to myself and thought, “And that’s why I’m single.” I can’t help it. I like to have good discussions with people and I’m pretty informed. If I’m not informed, I have no problem asking questions. But I’m not the person who will jump on a bandwagon or agree with someone just for the sake of agreeing.

As Lilly and I talked, another guy, Zack, who was nearby starting talking with us too. He was in his early 20s and was stationed at the army base in Fairbanks. He was there alone, so the three of us just started hanging out.

After an hour or so, I was really hungry and told Lilly and Zack I needed some food. They were hungry too, so we all agreed to go to the restaurant on site. It was rustic, but expensive since it was so remote. There was also a hotel onsite but none of us were staying there because of the high price tag.

We put on some clothes, but were still fairly wet as we sat at the table and ordered our food. I was able to learn more about them while we waited. Zack was married and had a child around six months old. He seemed so young to have a spouse, be raising a child, and working for the military.

Lilly had been dating a guy from the UK for the last couple of months and she was going to visit him over there once she dropped her car off in Anchorage. The relationship was still new and she had met him in the bay area. I thought it was sweet she was going to see him in the UK.

The three of us got to know each other better and talked about a few political topics, but not in-depth. It was clear we probably didn’t see eye-to-eye on all things. Zack talked about bringing guns into Canada for Army training and how the Canadians hated the guns. Lilly disliked guns and we laughed when Zack told us the average Alaskan owns 12 guns. Zack definitely made up for Lilly’s lack of a gun.

My heart was so full of joy as we all talked. Three people who come from different backgrounds, who have some different beliefs, but who all recognized we’re just people. We were all there alone, just trying to figure out life. It felt like we had a respect for each other and saw the things we did have in common. I believe we all have more in common with each other than our differences, and it seemed like our little group of three realized that too. We weren’t defined by our political beliefs, we were defined by who we are as people. We talked and listened without judgment and felt at peace in each other’s company.

After dinner, we went back to the hot springs and continued to talk. Zack told us that often times you can see the northern lights there, but the soonest the lights would show was in a few days. He said even when there is snow all around, the place is jamming with people watching the northern lights late into the night. Because it was August, they closed at 11:30 pm that night.

We were still lounging in the hot springs when a flashlight shined on us, telling us we needed to get out. The three of us were the last ones out of the hot spring. After changing, we met each other out front and all friended each other on Facebook. I was really happy to have met these two and to have made some new friends. Lilly is a smart engineer working her tail off in a male-dominated world. Zack is defending our country while also being there for his family. My experiences during my travels have proved time and time again that despite our differences in this tumultuous political climate, we can still learn to respect and enjoy each other.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 54-55: Locals in Fairbanks

The next day I tried to sleep in but the people above me were incredibly loud, stomping all over the floor. Frustrated, I headed out for a riverboat cruise. When I arrived, there were many buses and lots of people lining up to board the huge boat. One bus had a sign that read Princess Cruises. I asked the woman holding the sign, “Princess Cruises, as in the cruise? How are you in Fairbanks?” The woman explained that they offer a “land and sea” cruise. The passengers take a six-hour bus ride to Fairbanks so they can explore inland.

It was cold and very windy outside, but I sat on the top open-air deck anyway. I love top decks because I get to see so much more and I enjoy the fresh air. I grabbed my free coffee and donut and attempted to eat and drink without spilling all over myself.

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The riverboat cruise had a narrator that shared many interesting facts about Fairbanks. The boat stopped while we watched some dog mushers training their huskies.

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Then the boat came to a village that local natives set up to replicate what their villages looked like many generations ago.

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We disembarked and sat through a few demonstrations and presentations about life in the village and preserving their culture. It was really neat and they did a great job of storytelling.

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Once the riverboat tour finished, I drove to the Alaska Pipeline. There is an area where the pipe is above ground and visitors can see it and read a little about the history. It’s actually pretty fascinating. Spanning 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez with a diameter of 48”, it crosses three mountain ranges and more than 500 rivers and streams. According to the sign, it cost $8 billion to build in 1977, which was the largest privately funded construction project at that time.

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Near the pipeline was a place called Gold Daughters. I arrived just before they closed, but they still let me pan for gold. The business was started by two sisters who appeared to be in their 20s-30s. They were both very pretty women, wearing shirts that read Professional Gold-digger. They are from Alaska and their father was a miner. They teach you how to pan for gold, and then you buy a bag pay dirt (ranging from $20-$100) and whatever gold you find, you can keep.

One of the sisters taught me how to pan properly using some regular dirt. The water was cold and hurt my fingers. While she helped guide me, she asked me if I was there for work. I told her no and explained I was traveling. She lives in Fairbanks from March through September and the rest of the year she lives in Portland with her husband who is a lawyer.

My pay dirt had several little nuggets, which they told me was pretty good because most people just get shavings. We took my gold inside and the other sister showed me keychains and necklaces with little lockets, and explained they could put the gold in one of those. I selected the keychain and my little gold nuggets sat inside the small round locket.

I liked that keychain. A couple months later, I was getting into my car and the locket hit something, the clasp broke open, and my gold nuggets went flying all over my car. They scattered under my seats and spread all over the inside of my console, never to be seen again.

The sisters were really friendly and stayed late to let me finish up. It was time for dinner so I drove to the nearby Silver Gulch Brewery. It was busy so I sat at the bar. The bartender was friendly and recommended the fish and chips, which is what I ordered. To this day, it’s the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten!

The restaurant filled up and I overheard someone say the wait for a table was 90 minutes. To my right was a couple who have been married for 25 years. We started to talk and I asked what it’s like living in Fairbanks. They said the winters aren’t too bad – it gets to -40 or -50 ℉. Not that bad?!

I talked politics with the couple because I really enjoy hearing perspectives from other parts of the world. They told me Alaska had a big vote coming up in the November election because there was an initiative called Save the Salmon. They told me the campaign was started by a group in Oregon, people who don’t actually live in Alaska. The couple was very upset about the initiative because they described it as limiting for any new development. The couple told me how much locals use the salmon to fish for food and it reminded me of the riverboat cruise and how the natives also fish for salmon all summer, dehydrate them, and feed them to their dogs all winter. Salmon fishing was very  important to their way of life.

The couple went on to tell me how Alaska was very divided because “Anchorage is full of young liberals who want to increase taxes and legalize weed.” They said their utility and tax bill each year is about $20,000 because of how much energy they have to use in the winter months. The younger generations say they’re ok paying income tax, but this couple described what they’re paying already in taxes and utilities and why they need the tax breaks to keep living there. They also said that “three in every five cars on the road now has someone high driving.”

As the couple talked, I realized I was having an allergic reaction to the cider I was drinking. I have severe allergies and had been having random reactions the past few months, something my doctor has been trying to figure out. My chest was in a lot of pain and I didn’t have any Benadryl on me so I asked the bartender for some water and drank a couple of glasses, hoping to flush it out. Thankfully this helped!

The couple left the bar and the restaurant was starting to empty out a bit, so I started talking with the bartender. He is from Pennsylvania and came to Fairbanks for the summer in 2001. He ran out of money so he stayed for the winter, working. That kept happening over and over and he kept getting pulled into staying. He talked about how his wife moved to Idaho while they were dating, but came back because she missed it there. We talked about how hard it is crossing the Canadian border. One time he lost his voice and Canadians gave him a hard time getting through.

I asked him why he likes Fairbanks so much and he said, “In the winter, it becomes less about living, and more about surviving. If someone’s car breaks down on the side of the road, someone will pull over and help. We have to. It’s a community and we’re all in it together – to survive the winter.” I thought that was a nice way to put it and a nice sense of community.

Another bartender came over and gave me tips of things to do in Fairbanks, Denali, and told me I must go to Homer, Alaska. He said, “Homer is what all the postcards of Alaska look like. Go there and go to the Salty Dog Saloon.” I appreciated all of their tips and decided I’d make a trip to Homer before leaving Alaska.

I booked six nights in Fairbanks because I needed to get some things done, like a much-needed oil change, so I spent the next day on errands. Almost two months of traveling meant that I had driven more than 5,000 miles. My passenger side window was giving me problems as well. Ever since Oregon, the window would randomly get stuck, or bounce back down once it hit the top of the door frame. I had spent the last month avoiding opening the window.

Ken at the Subaru dealership smugly said, “Let me show you a trick.” He held down the electronic window buttons at the same time and held them there for about 30 seconds to “reset” them. He ignored me as I told him a reset wouldn’t work because there was something wrong with the mechanism. As I suspected, it didn’t work and frustrated Ken. He said, “Now you’re going to make me look bad because it’s not working.”

I sat in the waiting room while Ken had a mechanic look at my car. It struck me how relaxed I was. Normally, I’d be waiting at the dealership with anxiety, thinking about my to-do list. Or I’d impatiently take an Uber home so I could get some stuff done. Now that my time is much more flexible, I felt at peace just hanging out at the dealership. There is so much freedom living a life that is not “busy.”

Ken walked over and gave me the bad news: a window mechanism was broken and they didn’t have the part in stock. Fairbanks is remote, so the delivery would take seven days to arrive. Since he couldn’t repair my window, Ken offered to give me the $75 oil change for free.

My neck had been hurting for days (probably because of so much driving), so I went to a local chiropractor in a strip mall. When I walked inside, a few men were at a counter across the room and stared at me. I noticed guns hanging everywhere and I slowly backed my way out of the store. Looking up at the sign in confusion, I realized I accidently walked into a gun store, not the chiropractor’s office. I was definitely in Alaska.

When I walked into the correct office, I noticed that the woman behind the counter had a baby strapped to her chest. It took me by surprise because I wasn’t used to seeing people working with their babies in tow. The chiropractor was talkative and helped relieve some of the pain.

On the way out, he followed me to the sidewalk and asked, “Hey, can you give me your honest opinion? What do you think about the receptionist wearing a baby?” I told him that at first I was surprised and figured it’s a smaller, more remote area so maybe that’s how things are done here. I also told him that I have a lot of friends with babies and it’s hard for them to go back to work, hard to find childcare, and it’s difficult to balance both. If an employer is willing to help them out and let them bring their baby into work, I don’t think it’s a problem as long as they’re doing their job. He thanked me for my input and said they’re trying it out to see how it goes.

The chiropractor recommended a restaurant called The Turtle Club so I went there for dinner. It was a nice restaurant, so I sat in the bar area that was more casual. I had a table to myself and it quickly got crowded. I wasn’t feeling well, so once I ate I went back to my Airbnb to take some Emergen-C and rest up.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider