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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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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Day 66: Bike Tour and Alaska State Fair

I signed up for a bike tour in Anchorage. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I love bike tours. We met at the log cabin visitor center in the morning and it was pretty cold – in the high 50s. The tour guides were two women in their 30s. They both had very short blonde hair and were fit.

I got into the van with two couples who appeared to be in their early 60s. One of the couples was from Toronto and the other was from Atlanta. The Atlanta couple was taking a train through Alaska.

We drove to a park near the airport and on the way there we got to know each other a bit. One of the tour guides is from Fairbanks and moved to Anchorage eight years ago. The other guide is from Portland, attended college in Juneau, and moved to Anchorage 15 years ago.

The guides told us that the city has to repaint the lines on the roads every year because the snow plows scrape it all off during the winter months. It can be difficult to drive in the spring when the lines aren’t very visible. They don’t bring the plows out until there’s at least four inches of snow on the road!

We arrived at the park, got the bikes from the trailer, put on jackets, and started riding on the bike trail with one of the guides while the other drove the van to our meeting spot. I was happy to have the jacket because it blocked the cold wind. The park was beautiful and we stopped periodically to see a site or learn something new.

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The sky started to clear up and the sun came out. They joked that I brought the sunshine from California. From the distance, we could see Mount Denali.

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As we rode through the thick trees, we saw a moose and her baby eating! We quietly pulled over and watched them for a little bit.

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The tour guide told us that the trails are used for hiking and biking in the summer and for cross-country skiing in the winter. Since it gets dark at 3:00 pm in the winter, they turn on the lights so people can ski. Professional skiers use those trails.

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We stopped at Earthquake park, a park dedicated to the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. It occurred on Good Friday at 5:36 pm and lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds with a magnitude 9.2. It’s North America’s most powerful earthquake recorded. Structures collapsed, tsunamis ensued, and 139 people were killed. The park is located where homes once stood and were washed away into the ocean during the earthquake, which literally changed the geography of the land.

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We continued on the bike path and stopped for some beautiful views of the downtown area across the ocean and later views of the downtown area across a calm lake surrounded by mountains.

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After the bike tour, I drove 45 minutes to the Alaska state fair. It was senior day and there was a line to get a ticket. While I waited, a gigantic dragonfly landed on the shirt of the man in front of me. I knew I’d be seeing giant vegetables there, but didn’t expect to see giant insects!

Once inside the fairgrounds, I saw booths like “Bad girls of the North,” “Guardians of the 49th” (state troopers), a gun raffle, and winners in the bakery contest.

I watched kids proudly racing their piglets for a prize, giant zucchini for sale, and of course an abundance of fried foods.

I walked into the huge barn that housed animals and the largest pumpkin contest was underway. The sunlight is so long in the summertime, they can grow enormous vegetables. They were bringing the pumpkins out on pallets and the risers were full of people anxiously waiting for the results. I didn’t stay to see the winner and kept walking around.

This place had everything! Arts and crafts, contests, a reptile house, and a flower garden.

I ate some food and continued to explore the booths. I saw a barn labeled Senior Storytelling, so I stood in the back of the crowded room and tried to listen. Some were good, and some were not so good at telling stories. But then this senior walked to the microphone and read a poem about love. He said, “Love is a tickling in the heart you can’t scratch.” It was a sweet reading.

I drove back to my Airbnb and started to pack up because I had a very early morning flight to Denver, Colorado so I could attend two weddings. I have a friend who lives in Anchorage, but she was out of town while I was there. I needed somewhere to keep my car while I was gone and she put me in contact with her friend, Amanda.

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I drove my car to Amanda’s house that evening and she offered to drive me back to my Airbnb while her 20-month-old twins fell asleep in the car. When I arrived, she gave me the medications I had shipped to her house since I didn’t have an address. She was so generous to do all of this for me considering I had just met her. Her husband stayed home and watched their son who was around six years old and his friend who was staying the night. Amanda loaded up the twins and we headed to my Airbnb, hoping they’d fall asleep.

After 20 minutes, we arrived to my Airbnb and she pulled into the driveway. I thanked her and started walking up the stairs, but then she texted me and asked if I could come back to her car. I went back and she asked if she could pray with me. I got back into the car and she held my hand while praying for me and my journey. Afterwards, we talked about how God has plans and is bigger than all of us. We need to remember to pause and thank him.

It’s sometimes uncomfortable praying with others out loud. My friend Debbie has gotten me more comfortable with it as she often prays out loud with me. God has totally provided for me during my life and during this trip. Amanda was encouraging, warm, sweet, and caring. God often sends people into my life at the right time and they provide for me in ways that make me incredibly grateful.

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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.

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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.

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Day 61: Alyeska Resort

It was a cold, rainy day when I left Homer, Alaska. I was headed to my next Airbnb in Anchorage. The owner said I couldn’t check-in until late that evening and Jerry (my previous host) recommended that I stop at the Alyeska Resort on my way there.

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The bright red fireweed blazed on the side of the road as the clouds hovered among the mountains. I had to pull over a couple of times to soak in the beautiful scenery.

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The Alyeska Resort is a ski resort in Girdwood, a small city about 45 minutes southeast of Anchorage. Being late August, it was pretty dead at the bottom of the mountain. The girl behind the ticket counter told me the tram ticket to get to the top of the mountain would cost $30. Jerry told me to try a famous drink from the restaurant, Seven Glaciers, which was at the top. It’s a AAA, four diamond award-winning restaurant. I had come this far, so I paid the $30 and headed to the top.

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There is a small museum at the top in a circular building and it was closing soon, so I went there first. It displayed photos of when the ski resort was first built and information about the early years of the city.

I walked around a little bit and enjoyed the sprinkling rain. The empty ski lifts disappearing into the fog gave the mountain an eerie feel. The green foliage was so bright it didn’t even look real.

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I walked to the front desk of the fancy restaurant feeling underdressed. The hostess asked if I had a reservation and I told her I did not. She said she had a seat available at the bar and I was happy with that.

The view from my chair was incredible! I asked the bartender about the secret drink Jerry told me about – a drink he couldn’t stop talking about. It’s called the Fizz and they limit how many drinks people can have because of its high alcohol content. The bartender explained that there is only one bartender who makes it, it’s a secret receipt, and he only makes it in the winter.

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I ordered dinner and a different drink, and started talking with the guy next to me. Mike and his friend worked at the restaurant and were there on their day off because they had a wine tasting event. He looked to be around my age and was balding.

Mike asked me what I was doing there and I told I had quit my corporate job, sold my house, and was traveling. He raised his glass to mine and said, “Cheers to midlife crises!” Mike moved to Anchorage two and a half years prior and recently moved to Girdwood. He grew up in various places, but spent a while in Portland before moving to Anchorage.

Mike moved to Alaska to be closer to his sister who lived there with her young children. He wanted to be a “super uncle” and be there for them while they were young. He wasn’t sure if he’d have children down the road.

Mike was very talkative and told me all of this within ten minutes of me meeting him. He got up to use the restroom and told me, “I’ll be right back”. Apparently, we were friends now.

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The bartender was James. Before moving to Alaska three years prior, he lived in Texas, Florida, and New York. He spent six years in the military previously and said he loves Alaska because he can get away from society within an hour.

James used to work at a local distillery, but it went under so he recently got the job at the restaurant. The upcoming winter would be his first ski season there and people told him it will get very busy then.

The restaurant is called Seven Glaciers because you can see seven glaciers through the 360° windows. With the clouds looming around, I could only see three. I didn’t mind though, I was enjoying the cold, wet vibe.

The dinner was incredible and worthy of the reputation. I decided to treat myself to dessert and ordered another drink.

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Mike and his friend left and a couple sat in their seats – Sue and her husband Dave. They appeared to be in their 50s and had a classy edge to them. Sue had spikey salt and pepper hair, and Dave had long gray hair in a ponytail.

Sue sells Rodan and Fields (a skincare company) and we bonded over their products because I use them. Sue also writes for a local newspaper about local events happening, musicians, and artists. They moved to Anchorage 12 years prior for Dave’s job in the oil industry. He knew of the company I worked for previously and said when he started there, the first thing he was introduced to was our signature “Big Yellow Book” filled with industrial supplies.

Sue and Dave were at the restaurant celebrating their anniversary and they seemed happily in love and flirtatious. We talked about all sorts of things, but then they mentioned the bar in Dawson City that has the drink with a toe inside. I laughed so hard because another couple had told me about that bar and the story of the toe-laden drink. Sue told me how a few of the toes have been lost/stolen/drank over the years so they’ve had to get new ones. The toe sits inside the glass and your lips have to touch it. So gross!

Sue and Dave were a blast to talk with and their energy was so much fun. They were encouraging of me traveling on my own and seemed genuinely happy that I was on this adventure. Their table was ready so they left and shortly after I decided to leave and make my way to Anchorage before it got too late. While I was waiting at the top for the tram, the guy in his 20s working it got off when it arrived and said he’d be right back.

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Five minutes later, he came running back to take me and two other people to the bottom. He said to me, “Dave and Sue told me to tell you to be proud.” I explained to him that it was regarding my travel adventures. He told me that they all play in a band together sometimes and he ran inside to get a key from them. He had recently bought a 1965 Dodge truck for $500 site unseen. It had a wooden camper on top of it, and it had been sitting at Dave and Sue’s condo in Girdwood. The side mirror fell off on the highway, the windshield wiper fell off at some point, and when he opened the driver’s side door, the handle fell off! He said he could get inside by crawling in from in the passenger side. He said, “Maybe I’ll put it on Airbnb!”

This guy was enthusiastic and told me how he’d love to just travel in it, but he has things tying him down. He planned to use the truck for local trips instead. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain and as we said our goodbyes, he high-fived me and said, “Good luck with your trip!”

I got into my car feeling amazing. I had just finished a wonderful trip in Homer and my time at the restaurant kept up the positive momentum. Dave and Sue were so fun and unique. I felt so honored that they mentioned me to their friend and said I should feel proud. They made me feel confident and supported, even though we had only met briefly. I couldn’t wait for what else was in store for me.

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Days 59-60: Homer, Alaska

When I was in Fairbanks, the bartenders recommended that I go to Homer because it looks like the postcards of Alaska. They said it was a great, quaint little town on the water and was very walkable because all of the shops/restaurants are close together.

It was raining when I hit the road and clouds hovered around the mountains as the rain toggled from a sprinkle to a downpour over and over again. Once I got through Denali, the drive was flat and there wasn’t much to see. I talked with my cousin, Misty for a bit and that helped break up the monotony.

I passed through Anchorage, but still didn’t see much. After Anchorage, the next hour held incredible views as the road wrapped around the base of the mountain to the left and the ocean to the right. On the other side of the water were more mountains.

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It was a stunning drive until the landscape became fairly flat again for the next three hours. I talked to my friend Debbie and it helped with the long drive.

I arrived at the Airbnb around 8:30 pm. It was a large house on the side of a mountain, overlooking Homer and the Spit. The house was beautiful, had a front and back porch, and a bright green well-maintained yard. Two rooms are rented out, but I was the only guest.

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Jerry let me inside and showed me my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen. He was 68 years old, had a gray, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, and exuded a strong sense of confidence. His wife, Corrine, was in her 60’s, had long dark hair, manicured nails, was fit, and beautiful.

Jerry asked if I wanted a beer so I accepted a Corona. He got himself some whiskey. Corrine showed me a map of Homer and gave me some suggestions on what to do while I was there. She said, “Jerry calls me his wife, but we’re actually divorced. We were married for 30 years but we’ve been divorced for about four years. He bought this B and B and called me up and asked if I’d come help him run it so here I am.”

We all sat on the front porch, taking in the amazing view and watching the sunset. Their nine-month-old fluffy white little dog named Daisy took turns being cuddled by Jerry and Corrine. It had stopped raining but was still wet outside. It was also about 50° F so we put our jackets on.

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I learned a lot about Jerry and Corrine. Jerry is from Wisconsin and Corrine grew up a military brat, but had been in Anchorage for 38 years. They worked together at a transportation and moving company. Jerry had worked his way up to Vice President and Corrine worked in Sales, but they were retired now. They have a daughter and a granddaughter who live in Olympic, Washington and a son and grandsons who live in Anchorage.

Corrine went back inside while Jerry and I continued to chat. After retiring, Jerry did some consulting work in the transportation and moving industry. But then he decided they should escape the winters and move to Prescot, Arizona – where they had a friend. After two years, they decided to divorce and Jerry moved back to Wisconsin. He grew up there and still had friends and some family there, but he quickly realized things changed a lot over the 30+ years he’d been gone. He jokingly told me that his 50th high school reunion was coming up in the fall, but he didn’t want to go so he told his friend he had to stay in Alaska for moose hunting season. He laughed, “And he believed me!” Maybe it was the alcohol, but we laughed so hard at that.

When they lived in Arizona, Jerry was the president of the Home Owners Association. We shared horror stories (I was an HOA president for a condo complex in California) and Jerry told me about a tree he had cut down because it was damaging the wall near it. The guy who owned the house near the tree liked the shade and told Jerry, “I’m going to think you’re an a**hole from now on.” Another time, Jerry called animal control about feral cats roaming the neighborhood because he was worried they were carrying diseases. Some residents got angry at him and said they were going to call PETA because they loved cats. Jerry and I agreed that being president of an HOA is a thankless job that you can’t win.

Jerry had dated a few women – one he met at Costco. She was serving food samples there. I asked if he’d tried online dating and he responded, “If I can’t meet a woman in real life, there’s a problem.” Recently, he had dated a woman who lived in Seward (a couple hours north of Homer). This is a woman he dated on and off for nine years before he got married to Corrine. He said they realized there was no passion and they felt like roommates. Things were just different than the decades before so they broke up. Jerry was cracking me up. He is funny, smart, and was a boss. He’s super friendly and I could see why the women loved him.

Corrine told me in the kitchen (with Jerry not around) that she had tried Match.com in Arizona and within 20 minutes, she had over 200 matches. I could see why. She looked amazing for her age, and was a spunky and fun woman. She said some of the guys on there were terrible and didn’t have anything to their name. We both agreed that it’s best to date someone who is your equal. Equally successful and hardworking.

After living in Wisconsin for two years, Jerry decided to buy the house in Homer to make it a bed and breakfast. He bought the house based solely on pictures because there were six people coming to look at the house the following day. He had just broken it off with that other woman and called up Corrine in Arizona and asked her to help him run it. They had only been managing  the bed and breakfast for the last couple of months.

I asked Jerry why they got divorced. He said they both worked so hard all their lives, it was go go go. After they retired, they moved to a retirement place for those 55 and up, but it turned out most people were around 70 years old. He described one guy who would go get the paper, bend down and Jerry would be worried he wouldn’t get back up. Jerry and Corrine were the youngest ones there. They went from 90 miles an hour to 1 mile an hour. They just grew apart and had nothing to talk about.

I told Jerry I was divorced. He said, “It must be hard being single at your age. You’re in your prime. What are you, 32?” I told him I was 38 and he responded with, “You’re still in your prime.” We stayed on the porch talking until around 12:30 am.

In the morning, Jerry had cooked up breakfast – fresh caught salmon, hash browns, and eggs. He sat with me at the table and we talked about politics. I told him that while I was in Fairbanks, I was told there was a vote coming up about “save the salmon” that was an initiative created by a group of people in Oregon and asked if it was true. Jerry said, “Yes, it’s true. And the vote is no.” He described it the same way the couple had in Fairbanks. The initiative would hurt everyone living in Alaska. We sat outside drinking coffee, waiting for it to warm up a bit.

I headed to the Homer spit, which is the largest one in the world. The spit is a 4.5-mile long piece of land jutting out into the Kachemak Bay. The harbor serves up to 1,500 commercial and pleasure boats at its summer peak. Homer has a population of about 5,500 people and has fairly mild winters (for Alaska standards). The average temperature in the winter is 25° F.

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I drove to the end of the spit, at Land’s End. There were huge rocks at the end so I sat there for a long time, just absorbing the sun that had come out, feeling the wind on my face, and looking across the water to the mountains. The waves crashed as a boy threw rocks into the water for his dog to happily chase them into the shoreline.

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I walked around all the shops as I enjoyed some taffy and a latte.

After a couple of hours walking around, I went to the Salty Dog Saloon. The bartender in Fairbanks, as well as Jerry and Corrine, had told me to check it out. It was the only bar on the spit and there are dollar bills hanging from the walls and ceiling inscribed with notes from the bar’s visitors. Every November, the owners take down a lot of the bills and donate them.

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I walked into the dark, low-ceilinged dive bar. It was crowded, but there was one seat at the bar available. Most of the tables were taken as well. I sat down, ordered a beer, and the guy to my left started talking to me. His name was Matt and he had a short beard, was probably in his early 40’s, and was an average-looking guy. He told me about his two ex-wives in Minnesota, which he assured me was a low number of ex-wives for crab fishermen and joked that he’s “collecting ex-wives”. He described his marriages like this, “My first wife saw that I made good money crab fishing, own a commercial boat, and she wanted a kid so she got me to marry her and have a kid. We were married for about five years. My second wife was a midwife and wanted to live in the desert so we divorced. But I got some good kids out of it.” His oldest was 21 and his youngest was 13. He assured me he gets along with his ex-wives really well.

Matt owns a successful commercial crab fishing boat. He asked me why I was there and I explained my journey. He asked where I was staying and I said, “At an Airbnb.”

“Where?”

“Just up the road.”

“Well that’s pretty vague”.

Ugh, I’m not giving you the address, dude. Matt asked if I was married, single, or divorced. I said I was divorced and he follow it up by asking if I date. I told him that I do date but it’s hard while traveling. He bragged about how successful he was and showed me a video of one of the guys from the show Deadliest Catch. He knows him and the video showed them all hanging out at a fishing place. I ordered another beer and he pulled out his wad of cash and paid for it. He was getting more aggressive and I was feeling uncomfortable.

Matt asked if I had checked out the harbor and I said I didn’t know you could walk down to it, but I saw it. He said he has a boat there and he could give me a harbor cruise. I said I’d pass. He kept asking what I was doing for dinner and later that evening. I said I didn’t know. He finally started to get the hint, but as he was leaving he made me take his phone number and said to call him if I wanted to get dinner or go see his boat. I wasn’t attracted to him, but most importantly I didn’t get a good vibe from him. I usually have good instincts so I tend to trust them. Plus, it’s a big turn off when a guy brags about his money. It’s so much better when you just discover it. No need to brag.

I went to the restroom and hanging from the mirror was a little plastic holder with about six condoms in it. This was the second time I had seen free condoms in the bathroom.

There was a jukebox in the corner so I walked over to play some music. There was already credits available because the bartender wanted people to play music. I saw some songs like Ice, Ice, Baby. I quietly chuckled to myself out loud as I imagined that song playing in a dive bar full of fishermen. I picked a few songs and returned to my bar stool.

A guy came over and sat down next to me. He was also in his early 40’s and had a black/gray beard. He reeked of cigarette smoke and was rough around the edges. He chatted for a bit and then asked if I needed another beer. I turned the bottle so the label was blocking his view of my mostly empty beverage and said I was good. He seemed annoyed. Shoot, he clearly saw that my bottle was almost empty. He drank his mixed drink and said, “Too bad the bartenders like me. Too much alcohol in here.” I didn’t want to go through the whole situation again of trying to politely decline his invitations, so I quickly left.

I walked around the shops and the harbor a bit and soaked up the sun. It got up to 60° F and the sky cleared. The view was so peaceful. I sat on a bench overlooking the harbor, but then realized the first guy might still be around, looking for me to take a ride on his boat so I quickly got out of there.

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I hadn’t eaten dinner so I drove to a place that served tacos, according to Yelp. I sat at the bar and texted with the guy I connected with on Tinder in Vancouver. I went back to the Airbnb with 7-Up and Pimms Cup and made some drinks for Jerry and Corrine and we sat on the porch. After 20 minutes, we went inside to finish the movie they had been watching, Chalet Girl. It was actually a good movie about a girl snowboarding and of course, involves her falling for a rich cute guy (she’s poor). After we finished that, we saw a movie on Netflix called Coffee Shop – a romantic comedy. They made some delicious fresh popcorn and we watched the movie like we were a family.

The movie finished and none of us were tired. Jerry was out of cigarettes so he ran to the store to get some more. Corrine and I chatted about relationships. When Jerry got back, we all grabbed a drink and sat on the porch with our jackets. Daisy, the dog, cuddled up with each of us.

Around 1:45 am, Corrine went to bed while Jerry and I stayed out until around 2:15 am talking. Since it was a late night, we all agreed to sleep in. I woke up in the middle of the night breathing heavily and burning up. I had a nightmare about that first guy from the bar. He was driving me somewhere in a truck and when he stopped to drop me off, he tried grabbing me and kissing me. I had my arms out, pushing against him and trying to open the door. I got it open and jumped out. After running through a closed-down amusement park, I thought I had a large enough lead that I could escape for good. But then he came around the corner. There was another entrance I didn’t know about and he was close to me. He started running towards me and I ran towards the hill I needed to climb to get home. But it was like slow motion. I thought “I’ll never be able to outrun him. He’s going to catch me.” And then I woke up, panicked. It was really scary. I didn’t realize how much that guy had freaked me out. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was hard not to think about it.

I was woken up at 9:00 am by my doctor’s office asking for my new address. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I played around on my phone and finally got ready and packed up. It was almost 11:00 am and Jerry was outside drinking coffee and about to make breakfast. The next guest had asked to check-in at 11:00 am since his flight was arriving early. He was coming in town for a wedding over the weekend.

I felt guilty for keeping Jerry and Corrine up so late and he still had to cook us breakfast. I changed the sheets for him and put the dirty ones in the washer so the room was ready for the next guest. I put my bags by the front door and Jerry made pancakes and sausage.

As Jerry cooked breakfast, he told me about how he grew up poor in Wisconsin. They lived on a small dairy farm and didn’t have a refrigerator until he was twelve years old. They also didn’t have running water or electricity. They used an outhouse and he said, “In the winters, you really didn’t go the bathroom unless you had to.” They used water from a nearby creek. He didn’t have friends over because he was embarrassed. His family had to make one chicken last for two meals so he might get a leg, or the neck.

Jerry had never eaten McDonald’s until he joined the Air Force at 18 years old. When he joined, they stopped at a McDonalds to eat and burgers were $.10 each. He bought 10 burgers and ate all of them. Later, when he arrived at his first base, they asked him what he wanted for breakfast in the mess hall. He asked for ten eggs and twelve pieces of bacon. He ate all of it. It was the first time he had eaten bacon.

Jerry and I agreed that hardships make you a better person. You appreciate things more. If you earn a new phone, you’re going to love it. But if someone just gives it to you, you don’t always appreciate it as much. He said his kids didn’t want for anything because of how he grew up. But when they wouldn’t finish their food, he would tell them the chicken story. Of course, over time, it became an exaggeration and they’d all laugh about it. I told Jerry about the studies that show spending money on experiences instead of things makes you happier. He agreed.

Jerry also told me that he had three siblings, but one of his brothers had passed away from a brain tumor. He was diagnosed and they put him on chemo. Then he had to have breathing tubes, and all sorts of procedures done. But he still died. His wife thought something was wrong so she made them do a biopsy. It turns out the tumor wasn’t even cancerous. All the chemo and procedures killed him – not cancer. I couldn’t believe it.

We sat down to eat and the next guest arrived. He got settled in the room and came out to join our conversation in the kitchen. He’s a high school math teacher and soccer coach in Portland, Oregon. We all talked about private schools vs public schools and he seemed to really care about his students. He said teaching math now involves a lot of critical thinking and problem solving, not memorizing formulas. People will just Google things so he tries to teach them how to be resourceful.

It was close to 1:30 pm and check-out was at 11:00 am, so I loaded up my car. Jerry checked my tires because I told him that the Subaru dealership in Fairbanks said I needed new ones. He confirmed they need to be replaced.

Corrine and Jerry are made to do bed and breakfasts. They are adorable together. They’re basically still together, but not married. It works for them and their chemistry together is infectious.

We all said our goodbyes and hugged. I pulled away from the driveway feeling grateful for their generosity, kindness, friendship, conversation, and humor. We had such a great couple of days getting to know each other and laughing so much. They felt like family members I hadn’t met until then.

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
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or message me if you have any questions!

Day 51 – Female Role Models

As I emptied my private room in the hostel in Tok, Alaska, one of the owners was in the kitchen cleaning up. Shelley was a tall, fit blonde with meticulous hair and manicured nails. She was 70 years old, but looked 20 years younger. Shelley and her brother own the hostel and a Boy Scout camp nearby. In the winter, she lives in Arizona.

Shelley and I talked about my adventures and tall clothing. Both of us being tall, we bonded over our woes of not being able to find jeans long enough or cute shoes big enough to fit us.

Shelley asked me how old I was and I told her I was 38. She said, “I have a brother who’s looking for a woman. He owns his own plane, land, he’s tall, outdoorsy, and adventurous…but…he’s 65. That might be too old for you. You have to come back through Tok on your way south and when you do, let me know. We’ll go get coffee or dinner with my brother and maybe he’ll take you on a plane ride.” It was such a sweet gesture, but my dad is 65 years old and I had never been out with someone older than 32.

I enjoyed talking with Shelley – she was a fun character. I continued north towards Fairbanks.

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The drive was flat and the “scenic outlooks” weren’t very scenic. I missed British Columbia and the Yukon.

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I arrived in Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway, after about two hours and wanted to stop. I found a small roadhouse museum that said it was free, so I went inside.

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The museum was housed in an old roadhouse that was used in the early 1900s for people traveling north in search of gold. When I walked in, I met a volunteer named Don. Don was in his 60s and enthusiastically showed me around the small cabin and explained what life was like back then.

People coming in the winter months traveled by a large, open-air sled pulled by horses. It had to be open-air or people would get sick from the smoke of the charcoal heaters at their feet. Entrepreneurs set up roadhouses so travelers had a place to sleep and eat on their journey.

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The roadhouse on display was from a husband and wife team: John “Jack” and Florence Sullivan. They were both from Wisconsin, but met in Nome in 1900. They mined in the area for four years and in 1905, moved to the Valdez-Fairbanks trail and opened a roadhouse. Jack built the roadhouse himself with logs, which was a pretty amazing feat.

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Don immediately started to tell me about how hard life was for women back then. He said, “You hear about the men at the time, but let me tell you about the women. Florence was up every morning at 4:30 am to get the fire going and bread baking. After breakfast was served, she’d have to change and wash all the sheets, more meals, tending to guests, and it kept going all day.”

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Don explained that in those harsh conditions of the snow and cold, communities had to rely on each other. Florence was impressive. The sign explained that in 1899, she “hired two men to haul her outfit from Dawson to Nome and that she walked the entire distance, breaking trail ahead of the dog teams, preparing camp, and cooking for the party. She was considered by many to be as good a dog musher as any man in the area.”

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I appreciated that Don told me about Florence and the role women played back then. Jack and Florence were both early Alaskan pioneers and I respected their adventurous spirit. It made me think about how so many people do extreme things today, like climb Mount Everest. I think we’re built with a desire to explore and experience harsh conditions, but our lives are so easy now. It often leaves people feeling unsatisfied. Don and I talked about how harsh conditions make you a better person overall. You’re stronger and have an appreciation for things in life. I’ll take Jack and Florence as role models any day over a Kardashian.

Don and I continued to talk and our conversation ventured into the world of politics: oil, taxes, California, Trump, and immigration. I had a great time hearing his perspective and experience in life. Two other people came into the museum, so I left Don to attend to them.

I drove over to the sign post that represented the official end to the Alaska highway. As I was taking pictures, a man in his 50s walked over and said, “I saw your license plate from Long Beach, CA.” He said he was from San Pedro, California but now lives in Arizona. He had been traveling in his RV for five months and recommended I go a little farther north than Fairbanks, but warned me that it’s a loose gravel road and you have to drive about 20 miles an hour or you’ll break your windshield.

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The visitor center was at the sign post, so I went inside and the two girls there gave me a map of Fairbanks and many recommendations of things to do while I was there.

I continued my drive and arrived at Fairbanks about an hour and a half later. I was a little disappointed as I drove through the city to get to my Airbnb. There were random gravel driveways and a lot more cars on the road. Overall, it looked like any other American city.

My Airbnb was in the basement level of a large house. I had my own entrance and access to the stairs leading to the next level so I could do laundry. The level above me had four doors that appeared to be apartments. Above them was the main level house, where I guessed the owners lived.

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My space had a small, makeshift kitchen with a microwave, mini-fridge, and a coffee maker. I had a TV with Netflix, which was nice because I hadn’t watched TV in weeks. Being a basement level in 55℉, the little studio was freezing! I turned on the heat, which felt strange since it was August.

After unloading my bags, I went to town to eat dinner and then stopped at the grocery store to pick up some food. The previous week I had spent on the road, only staying one night in each place. I booked six nights at this Airbnb so I could rest and take my time exploring Fairbanks. Just as I laid down to relax, I heard the crushing, creaking sounds from the people above my bed against the low ceiling. It was so loud and low to my head that I worried the ceiling would cave in. After such a tiring 10 days, I wanted to cry.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider