Day 76: You Had Me At Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 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 67: Mystery Man

Two of my cousins were getting married in Denver over Labor Day weekend. Since I didn’t want to cut my Alaska trip short, I booked a flight to Denver and left my car in Alaska. I would be in Denver for five days and it would be an opportunity to see family members while celebrating these unions.

My Uber arrived just after 4:00 am. I was running on about three hours of sleep because of the preparing and packing I had to do the night before. I talked with my driver about how Uber was temporarily removed from Anchorage because taxies were objecting, but Uber was reinstated the year prior.

When I checked into my Delta flight, they said my bag weighed 67 pounds! I told the woman behind the counter that the scale must be broken because I packed the same way I normally do for flights and it’s usually 50 pounds. She tried another scale and it also said 67 pounds. I felt justified all of the times I complained about carrying my suitcase up and down stairs constantly for the last two months.

The fee for an overweight bag was $100. I told the woman, “Wouldn’t it just be smarter for me to buy another bag at the store over there and pay for a second bag fee of $35?” She responded, “Actually, I have a suitcase that we need to get rid of in the back. You can have it. It’s missing a wheel though.”

She brought the suitcase out and it had a small slit in the back and was indeed missing a wheel. I opened my suitcase at the counter for everyone to see my underwear and started putting heavy items, like my jeans, into the smaller suitcase. I realized I was probably carrying more jeans than I normally do since I was traveling for such a long time. In addition, I was carrying my laptop bag as my carry-on, which threw off my normal packing routine.

While I finished paying for my two bags, the woman mentioned that they were overbooked by six-seven people because they normally have two early morning flights, but that day only had one, being the end of the season.

After choosing the slowest line at TSA, I walked to the counter at the gate to get my seat assignment. Delta stopped giving people a seat assignment unless they pay. I had a layover in Seattle and the woman told me she had another flight (also a layover in Seattle) that would arrive in Denver at 7:00 pm instead of 4:00 pm. I had dinner plans so I decided to pass up the other flight, even though she mentioned I would receive a gift card.

As I waited to board, I heard an announcement that they still needed someone to give up their seat. The person would receive a $400 voucher! I went back up the counter, but someone snuck in ahead of me and took the opportunity. I was kicking myself. Time used to be more valuable to me, but now that I’m no longer getting a paycheck, money is more valuable than a couple of hours. I tried to convince myself to let it go. Spending too much of my life stressing about things like this was not good for my health.

I was able to get an aisle seat, but it was the very last row where you can’t recline. I couldn’t sleep so I watched Infinity War while I was hit with butts from people waiting in line for the bathrooms. I cursed Apple once again when I realized my headphones wouldn’t fit the jack for the tv. Thankfully, they gave out free headphones for the flight.

It was a three-hour flight and I had a two-hour layover in Seattle. I couldn’t get my seat assignment until it was closer to departure, so I ate some breakfast. I got sidetracked and realized boarding was starting soon and I forgot to get my seat assignment. I walked to the counter and asked for an aisle seat. The women told me she only had middle seats left. She assigned a seat to me and I stepped aside to send some texts. A few minutes later, the woman tapped my shoulder and said, “I had to upgrade someone to Business Class, which means it opened up a seat in Comfort Plus. I put you there.” I was thrilled because Comfort Plus gives you an extra few inches of legroom.

A guy in his 20s inched near me and asked about boarding zones. It was our time to board so we headed down the tunnel. He said he was going to Denver for a wedding and I laughed, “So am I. Well two weddings actually.” The guy behind him chimed in, “I’m going to Denver for a wedding too.” We asked the names of the brides/grooms to see if we were going to the same wedding. They were both attending weddings for a Hanna, but were different weddings.

The window seat was empty and a large, tall man in his late 40s was sitting in the aisle seat. Arriving at our row, a tall man said, “I’m in the window seat.” He was so dreamy – tall, thin but fit, had a black cowboy hat on, a little bit of brown facial hair scruff, sunglass, and seemed like someone walking in from a movie. We got out of our seats so he could get to the window. The three of us standing in the aisle was comical. Aisle man was 6’5”, window man was 6’8”, and I’m 6’1”. As the window man started to go towards his seat, aisle man said, “Great, all of us in the same row.” Window man replied, “Yeah, all the big people together.”

I looked towards aisle man and said, “Did he just call me big?” Embarrassed, window man said, “I mean long, tall!” I replied, “Well, I do have hips so get over it.” The three of us laughed about how hard it is to travel when you’re tall. Thankfully, we had Comfort Plus. We each explained where we were going and I mentioned I quit my job, sold my house, and was traveling. Window man said, “Did you just go through some big life change?” I replied, “No…well, I mean, I did get divorced last year.” The men laughed and confirmed this was basically a mid-life crisis – a discovery of the self.

Window man sat there with his hat and sunglasses on, leaning with a cool swagger. I was regretting my three hours of sleep, barely any makeup, and shabby hair. We kept talking and within a few minutes, aisle man was out of the conversation.

Window man told me he was in Seattle for work and has been living in Edwards, Colorado for the last few months. Then he told me he was from the St. Louis area and was 38 years old. I couldn’t believe it. I’m also 38 and from St. Louis. We didn’t go to the same high school because we lived about 30 minutes from each other. I thought it was such a coincidence. Window man talked to me about where he’s lived (Alaska, California, Florida, and Colorado). For a few years, he lived in Malibu, about an hour from where I lived.

Window man and I kept talking, and talking, and talking. After about 30 minutes, he took off his sunglasses, and another hour later he took off his hat. His light brown hair was ear-length and he would run his hand through his hair, making it slowly fall back towards his face. His foot was propped up on the armrest in front of him and he played with his hat that was now on his lap.

I felt like I was in a romantic comedy. Maybe it’s because I had watched several recently, but this man seemed like someone straight out of those movies. He was very vague about his job so I kept thinking he was probably someone famous and I wouldn’t find out until the flight was over.

Window man told me about his father passing away 10 years ago from leukemia and how hard it was. He hasn’t talked with his brother since and had no idea where he was living. We talked about family relationships and the difficulties that come with it.

Window man and I started talking about romantic relationships and I told him about my marriage of nine years, the lies my ex told me, and the divorce. We also talked about power dynamics in relationships. I explained that even though I was successful and in a power position at work as well as most areas of my life, I don’t want to be in charge in a romantic relationship. My ex-husband was passive and never made decisions. I had to make all the decisions and do all of the planning.

Window man told me, “I’ve gotten the impression you’re an alpha woman?” I confirmed, “Yes.” He said, “I like alpha women. My girlfriend is an alpha woman. But I’ve told her that it’ll never be mistaken that I’m the man in the relationship.” We agreed that we want to be with someone who is our equal. I told him, “The thing with an alpha woman is she won’t let you be dominant in the relationship if she doesn’t trust and respect you.”

Window man told me his girlfriend is in the medical field and they have been dating for a couple of months. I was saddened to hear that he had a girlfriend. Then he said, “Who knows? Maybe she’ll break up with me in a few months.”

Window man and I talked about therapy and how helpful it has been for both of us. I explained how my therapist told me that I found my strength while hiking the John Muir Trail and the longer I stayed with Aaron, the more I lost it. She helped me to see how much he was manipulating me and how to process such a loss. Window man said, “I don’t know why people are embarrassed to talk about therapy. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago. Going to therapy helped me by saying things out loud. I would hear myself say things to my therapist and I would think, ‘Did I just say that? I don’t want to be that person.’”

I told window man I was very excited to be taking the ferry from Alaska to Canada in a couple of weeks. He’s taken the ferry three times and recommended that I don’t bring my tent to put on the deck (which I had been planning). He told me to put my sleeping bag on one of the lounge chairs under the solarium and I’d be set.

“So you’ve been very vague about your job. What do you do exactly?” I asked. He laughed and said it was hard to explain. He’s a pilot of small planes (flew them in Alaska) and now he owns a consulting company where he helps corporations separate their planes for corporate and personal use.

We had been talking the entire three-hour flight when the plane started to land. The turbulence was very bad, causing the plane to move up and down rapidly. Feeling nauseous, I grabbed the seat in front of me and told window man, “Hold on.” He asked if it would help if he opened the window. Once he opened it, he started to explain turbulence to me to distract me. It took him five minutes to explain it and ended with, “So you see, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” I replied, “I’m not afraid. I’m about to throw up.”

I started searching for my throw-up bag and couldn’t find it. He quickly found his bag and gave it to me. I was mortified at the thought of throwing up in front of this attractive, incredibly cool man. He said, “It might help if you eat something.” I found the mini-banana I put in my purse earlier. I was struggling to get it open so window man grabbed it, turned it upside down, and squeezed it open. He said, “That’s how the monkeys do it.”

I didn’t throw up, but was still not feeling very well. We landed and were waiting for the door to open. I handed window guy my card, “In case you wanted to follow my blog.” He noticed it was my only card so he took a picture of it and gave it back. He said he might check out my video about the John Muir Trail.

We stood up to leave the plane and shook hands. But then we ended up walking together when we got off the plane. I needed to use the restroom, but wanted to keep talking. As we walked down the hall, I realized I didn’t have my neck pillow. I paused, “Shoot, I think I left my pillow on the plane.” In my head, I debated on whether I should go back or not. Window man said, “You can just buy another one.”

We arrived at the tram to take us to the other side of the terminal. I stood next to him and realized just how tall he was. I’m not used to looking up at people and it was actually making me feel dizzy. Window man asked me how long I planned on traveling and I told him the plan was for two years.

The tram arrived and we headed to the main area. I pointed towards the baggage area and asked, “Do you have baggage?” He laughed, “Oh, I got baggage. But I don’t have a bag.” I needed to pick up my bags so we said our goodbyes. He gave me a hug and said “Maybe I’ll email you.” We chatted for another minute and he hugged me again.

As I walked away, window man said, “You have a lot going for you, stop picking bad guys!” I smiled, “I’m trying!” I arrived at the baggage area and used the restroom. I looked in the mirror and noticed I had smeared mascara under my eyes and looked terrible in my old jeans.

I got my bags and waited for my aunt Lori to pick me up from the airport. I was so happy to have met that man. He helped me realize he’s the type of man I need to date. He’s smart, driven, funny, thoughtful, reflective, and a good conversationalist. I was happy I didn’t take that other flight option for a $400 credit or I wouldn’t have met him. I stood there with a smile on my face, thinking about our conversations. Then I realized…I never asked his name!

I couldn’t believe it. In all that time, I never asked for his name and he never told me. I also had no way of ever contacting him. It would be up to him to contact me if ever wanted to talk to me again. I hated the fact that it would be up to him. However, my therapist helped me realize that I need a guy who is willing to put in effort. Someone who pursues me. It’s difficult for me to sit back and wait, but I’ve realized if a man isn’t strong enough to ask me out, he’s not the man for me. I wasn’t expecting this man to ask me out, he has a girlfriend. But if he finds himself single and interested, he’ll need to be the one to ask me out.

It’s been almost five months since I met window man and I haven’t received an email.  If it’s meant to be, it will be.

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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 64-65: Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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