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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Days 68-72: Weddings Galore!

I arrived in Denver, dropped off my stuff at my Aunt Lori’s house, and then headed to a cousin’s house for dinner. I had two weddings to attend – one on Friday and the other on Saturday.

I enjoyed a really fun evening hanging out with some family and drinking. I ended up sleeping on a pull-out couch there and when I woke up in the morning, I felt awful. It turns out turbulence from the plane, mixed with not enough sleep and too much to drink isn’t the best combination. I headed back to my aunt’s house and took a very long nap.

My parents and sister flew into town, so it was nice getting to see them. I spent the next day shopping and catching them up on my travels. The first wedding was that evening for my second cousin, Rene.

Rene is in her mid-20s, beautiful, and has the sweetest heart. Her wedding was at a gorgeous resort that overlooked a luscious green golf course.

After the ceremony, we ate an upscale dinner, followed by dancing outside. It was a great time and I was able to see many family members and catch up. We sent the new couple off with a firework arch.

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The next morning, the bride’s father, John, hosted a catered breakfast at his house. I stayed there for awhile and then showered so I would be ready for the next wedding. My Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim’s son, Michael, was getting married.

This wedding was on a large piece of property that the bride’s parents own. They had built a structure to cover an outdoor wedding as well as an indoor structure for the reception. They built both structures and landscaped in six months. Everything looked amazing!

Michael is in his late 20s and it was great to meet his new wife. The wedding was huge and I was seated next to people I didn’t know. One of the women at my table knew my grandmother when she was younger. I was thrilled to hear about her because she passed away before I was born. After the reception, there was a bonfire, dancing, and wood-fired pizza.

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When I got back to the house where I was staying, I started talking with my Uncle Steve. He lives in Idaho, but was staying at the house too. He is a pastor at a small church and we started talking about my travels. He was so encouraging and said he believes God has big plans for my life.

I told my uncle what I had told a few friends in LA before I left. I believe God gives all of us passions, which help direct us to His will. When I moved to California, I didn’t know anyone there and had never even been there before. But I spent the year after college praying and trying to figure out what I should do with my life. I kept feeling pulled to California.

I decided to take action and I asked for a transfer at Target (I was a Team Leader). Within five minutes, two stores said they would take me. I had two weeks to get ready to move. I had no idea where I was going to live, and would be leaving behind a boyfriend that I had been seeing for the last year.

Once I took action, everything fell into place. My sister drove out with me so I had someone to help me; my boyfriend loaned me his truck so I could haul a small U-haul and he drove my car out to me a few weeks later; my mom put me in touch with her cousin in Arizona who I stayed the night with and they put me in touch with their son who was in LA for the summer; and a family friend put me in touch with a friend they knew who lived there. They were out of town, but they allowed us to stay there for free for a few nights and left the key under the mat. To this day, I’ve never met them.

I told my Uncle Steve that story because it was a time in my life where I was at peace, knowing everything would work out just fine. People thought I was crazy. I was moving 2,000 miles away to a city I’d never been to – one of the most expensive cities – at age 23. It’s a time in my life I’ll never forget. I look back now and think that it was pretty crazy, but I didn’t feel that way at the time. I felt confident because I knew that following God’s will would make everything ok.

When I decided to quit my job, sell my house, and travel, it was something I felt pulled to do for about a year. So when I finally pulled the trigger, I felt confident everything was going to be fine. I think God reveals step one to us. He’s not going to reveal steps two-five and the final result because he wants us to have faith. Plus, how boring would life be if we knew each step and the final result?

I think there are so many people in this world that know step one – it’s the yearning you have in your heart. It’s the passion you can’t stop thinking about. But sadly, most people don’t take action. Without action, you’ll never make it to step two. You’ll never know the wonderful things God has in store for you.

My late-night conversation with my Uncle Steve was so fulfilling and inspiring. After two months of traveling solo, it was so nice to be refueled.

I hung out with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim for the next two days, getting to know more about them when they were in their 20s. My aunt showed me photo albums and it was great getting to know more about my grandpa because he died when I was five years old.

My aunt and uncle’s daughter, Melissa, was about to move to Wyoming so we talked about her new adventure. Their friends came over to eat a couple of times and I spend those days feeling like I was their own daughter.

It was time to fly back to Anchorage, Alaska, where I had left my car. I needed to make sure I was out of Alaska and Canada before all of the winter snow hit. I had a layover in Seattle again. I got lucky on the flight there and got an empty row to myself. The flight from Seattle to Anchorage gave me an exit row with additional leg room.

I wouldn’t arrive in Anchorage until close to midnight. I reflected on my time in Denver and started to get excited about the 36-hour ferry ride I would be taking soon from Haines to Prince Rupert.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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