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 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