Years ago I found myself living in a beautiful house on top of a hill in Lolo, Montana. It was a beautiful secluded spot that included a hot tub and an unforgettable view. However, my new job with it’s LONG hours combined with the long(er than I was used to) commute meant that after about 6 months of my beautiful retreat I was more than happy to move back into town when my friend who owned the place informed me he’d soon be selling it. So the search began for new pet friendly living quarters.
Thankfully, Missoula is one of the most amazing places and I quickly found a quaint little two bedroom duplex with a stellar landlord who was willing to work with me until I found a second person to occupy my new living space with me. It was off the main roads, biking distance to work, close to several of the main trails and downtown, next to a park and an easy stroll to Bayern Brewery. I posted a simple ad on Craigslist and immediately started meeting up with prospective roomies.
There were several meet-ups: there was the party boy, the mad-at-her-boyfriend girl, the accountant, and the hipster. None of them seemed to be quite what I was looking for in a housemate. Not quite ready to give up the search just yet I checked my inbox again and there sat another e-mail from a prospective. She was still fairly new to Missoula and a student at the U working towards her doctorate in Neuroscience and was looking to get a roommate to save on some of her living expenses. She had a fluffy orange cat and a mid-sized black mutt, so our animals would need to meet first because, and I agreed, if they didn’t like each other then it wouldn’t really matter if we liked each other. We set a date and planned to meet up in a fenced in park behind a school that was halfway between her current house and mine.
It was on this very first meeting that I learned one of Debbie’s most consistent traits – she’s almost always late. I however am the opposite in nature and am nearly always ahead of schedule. True to our characters, I arrived to the park early. As I was sitting on a picnic table watching my pups run about a small child decided that we were going to be friends and attached himself to my hip. If I moved, he came with me, telling me all about his classes at school and karate. It was then that Debbie texted that she’d be late. I hung around, playing with Bosco & Skyler, but so did the kid. When Debbie showed up we chit chatted a bit but seemed to be continually interrupted by the kid who now deemed himself my best friend. He told us about how you could teach dogs taekwondo – or dogkwondo as he referred to it. It was only after he wandered a short distance away that I felt the need to make it known that he was not my kid, nor was he with me, and then watched the relief wash over Debbie’s face as she thought my having a kid was a deal breaker, despite having hit it off with me. Once that was made clear, well, the rest is history.
Debbie and I spent the next two years in that two bedroom duplex on Idaho Street sharing some incredible adventures and definitely writing a few chapters in each others life stories. When it came time for me to leave the only place that ever really felt like home, she was one of the people who made it so much harder to say goodbye. A few months after I departed for Alaska, Debbie accepted a job offer and relocated to Florida. We couldn’t have moved further away within the United States.
It was a typical overcast August day in Alaska when Debbie stepped out of the Ted Stevens International Airport. She spent the day catching planes from Tampa to Anchorage but was finally in the Last Frontier to explore the state I currently call home.
We did our best to get to bed as early as we could that night, but it was well past midnight when we hit the hay. The next day, as soon as I was out of work, we set our sights on Denali National Park. We drove until we reached my favorite valley, about thirty minutes south of the park entrance, and set up camp for the night. It was dark and rainy when we pulled into the turnout we’d call home for the night.
Not to be outdone by Debbie’s new beau, I made sure to make a stellar breakfast of instant oatmeal out of the JetBoil. While the meal may have not been Cordon Bleu quality the view would have most certainly earned a Michelin Star.
Unlike the rest of the lower 48, August is no longer considered tourist season in Alaska. The weather drastically changes around the first week of August from bright sunny skies to overcast and rainy the majority of the days. The rain quickly turns into snow and by sometime in September the snow starts making its’ way back down the mountains into the valleys below. Knowing this, we took our time enjoying breakfast and getting ready for the park.
When we finally arrived to buy our bus tickets into the park we learned that several tour buses had bought out nearly every seat for the day. We put ourselves on a waiting list and hoped for the best. Just around the time Debbie had finished browsing the gift shop and took her souvenirs to the Jeep they called our name for the waiting list. Knowing we were a party of two, they gave me 60 seconds to track down my other half and reappear at their desk before they were giving the seats to the next in line. After a sprint through the parking lot I caught Debbie before she disappeared into the bathroom and we breathlessly caught the next bus into the park, hours ahead of the one we were scheduled to be on.Denali was kind enough to make an appearance as we rolled closer down the bumpy dirt road. It was short lived, but long enough to snap a few quick photos and for Debbie to claim the right to say she’s seen the mountain herself.
Eielson Visitor’s Center was the end of the line for our bus.We were hoping to make it all the way down the road to Wonder Lake we decided to turn around with our bus tickets and begin the return trip towards the park entrance. Instead of heading the whole way back this early we asked our bus driver to pull over and kick us out of the bus at any place of his choosing. Debbie needed to experience what it was like to walk on tundra, which is a truly magical feeling. The closest I can come to describe it is like walking on a cloud or heaven on earth.
We trekked out to an overlook where we set up the JetBoil once again and had a filling lunch that included a creme brulee dessert.
After spending some time wandering aimlessly across the tundra we returned to the road and thumbed it for the next bus that could pick us up. It was a backpacker bus, but our driver was kind enough to make frequent stops for us to take photos since we were the only two on board for the better part of the return trip.
Brian had an important meeting the next morning so we took off for Anchorage that night so that he wasn’t up all night with a new puppy that still required multiple potty breaks throughout the night.
Unfortunately the crummy weather dictated the rest of the weekend. When we woke up to pouring rain Friday morning we decided to sleep in before wandering around downtown Anchorage. We took in the local scene, picking up a few gifts for friends and checking out local art.
Catching a small break in the rain that evening we headed to Virgin Creek falls – which has easily become one of my favorite place in all of Alaska.
Afterwards we took the short trail to the Winner Creek hand tram, which was also Kratos’ first off leash hike. The little muppet did great! So did Debbie, considering she’s been walking about the flatness of Florida for the past two years.
Saturday morning we picked up my friends Ray & Cally and headed to Matanuska Glacier. We spent the better part of the day traversing the field of ice and enjoying the fact that fall was (even for Alaska) coming a few weeks early this year.
Then made a quick trip to Hatcher Pass that was a bit of a bust because of the rain.
On Sunday we stuck close to home to rest and relax before the work week started again for me.
Monday morning came and I headed back to work, but sent Debbie for a solo trip down to Seward to catch a boat out into the Resurrection Bay. Like the rest of the week it was rainy and overcast, but being out on the water there never really seems to disappoint.
It’s never easy hugging people goodbye then letting them go to board a plane for places far away from here, but I am always so grateful for the time they allow me to show them a little bit of my life here. Thanks for another adventure in the books Debbie. Hopefully the next one will take place in sunny Florida!