Most Intense Drive 50 State Journey

AK blog pic

I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska just past midnight. I wasn’t sure if I could get a rental car or not, so I had planned on getting some naps in the airport until I could get my car. As I left the baggage claim, I saw people going towards the rental car area and I followed suit. I was able to get my car, and even more lucky they complimentary upgraded me to a Ford F150 that had 4×4 on it. I thought that may come in handy for the cold conditions, but I had no idea at the time how grateful I’d be later to have that truck.

Prior to stepping outside, I put on a nice cold weather coat that my buddy had lent me. The same one that I left my car at his house and set up the funding for food amongst other nice things. I started the journey during the summer and didn’t consider I’d need winter attire. It was late October, but it was 17 degrees outside already in Fairbanks.

I got all situated in the truck and then realized I didn’t know what to do. My plan of napping in the airport was scrapped. I had a place to stay but that would be for after this day. I certainly wasn’t going to call just shy of 1am asking if I could come over. I thought about eating as I was hungry, but then I got a better idea of hitting a workout first and then eating.

Getting into the gym was a weird feeling. It was just shy of 1am and I was tired despite some nap attempts on the airplane. There were a handful of people there which surprised me a bit. After a little warm up, I had a nice shift of focus to crushing it. Realizing that not many people could put in good work under such circumstances. Adding to it was knowing I’d get a nice reward of a solid breakfast after.

After my workout I went to a local breakfast spot and was transported back in time as there was a smoking and nonsmoking area. I remember such options as a kid but in California smoking inside hasn’t been allowed in years. I took the recommendation of a breakfast skillet that was pretty good and ended up telling the waitress about the journey and she was great with enthusiasm and encouragement.

Driving around town was a bit unusual as there was snow and ice on the roads. I had driven in such conditions in upstate New York during a 2-week work trip, but other than that I don’t have much experience in the conditions. I do have some experience driving in the desert, so those skills help a bit. There weren’t any issues as I just made sure I was alert and driving safely.

I had my first meeting at Sun Dog CrossFit and I arrived a bit early. Some members were just done with a class and were having coffee time. They were so kind and welcomed me to join them for a couple minutes. I then had the meeting and heard how basic principles of treating people right, doing the right thing, and sticking together are important to learn while young, but also make for a good life when implemented as we get older.

Two other meetings were scheduled for the next day, but I still needed another brewery. I went to the brewery I hadn’t heard back from to see if in person would work. I ended up meeting with the general manager who said he would talk with the owner. He gave a likely impression which I hoped would be true.

It was then time for a skype meeting for me. An old professor of mine from my undergrad days teaches a senior seminar class and she often asks for me and others to skype in and share our experiences. It is always such a pleasure paying back to someone who has taught me so much and there is added fun when I can add value to the students. I encourage them to ask questions and do the best I can to answer them. Usual topics concern grad school, networking, and usually some principles I’ve found to be effective for me as a professional.

I then had a message from another former CSF2 peer who used to work in Fairbanks. They gave me all sorts of insights as to where I should check out as a tourist, what to eat, and basically have a jolly good time. Not only that, they also sent me money on Venmo to fund some of those experiences! I was blown away and still am currently as I recall the kindness.

Lunch went from a mystery to quite the exciting event after my new news. I went to Lemongrass Thai restaurant and had some good yellow chicken curry.

I was also told to check out North Pole and Santa’s house. I made the drive up and it was pretty neat! Despite it being October, it certainly felt like the holidays.

As the evening was winding down, I linked up with the person I’d be staying with. He was a training center manager for CSF2 which is how I met him. He told me directions to his house and I was happy to experience such warm hospitality from his family. They started to make some soup for dinner and told me I could watch TV. I was quite happy since game one of the World Series was on. Dinner was great, and we had some lovely chats. It’s a cool human experience when you can connect and feel welcome with someone else’s family.

The next day I headed out and had my first meeting at HooDoo Brewing and heard how taking action to do what you want can lead to a rewarding experience. While talking I told him about my difficulties getting the other brewery in town and he said he knew the owner of a different brewery, called Denali Brewing and that he was a great guy. He made a call on my behalf and the owner was willing to meet with me!

I then learned it was about a 5-hour drive albeit pretty straightforward on one highway mostly. Adding to the plot was the fact that a snow storm was approaching. He looked on his phone and deciphered how bad it was. He said it was open and I’d be ok. I got the other owner’s information and said thank you. Before departing, there was one more act of kindness as he gave me some beer too!

With some time to kill before my next meeting, I took the advice of my friend and got some epic cinnamon rolls at Cookie Jar. It was pretty massive and good. I followed that up by checking off the last recommendation, getting some coffee from Mocha Dans. I felt happy at having an opportunity to experience such things while here for my short trip.

I then went to my last gym meeting at CrossFit Fairbanks and heard how a desire to keep the community together and the ability of leveraging strengths led to this opportunity. They also gave me a sticker and furthermore after I did my video, they wanted a picture with me! It has happened a couple of times and it always makes me feel special.

Now that I had my last meeting done, it was time for a drive for the last meeting of Alaska. I didn’t know how intense it would be, although within 15 minutes I had what would be an omen of what was to come.

I was cruising the highway and about 15 minutes in, I see a car off the road and in an embankment. I felt bad and pulled off to the side. I walked over, and it seemed to be some tourist that slid off the road. I tried to help him some, but without any gear it was not the best luck. I tried to help drive his car up to the road but couldn’t quite pull it off. Within a little bit, some other cars stopped and came to help. Knowing that I was on a time crunch, I left them to handle it and got back on the road.

The owner had said he would meet with me and my calculations showed it’d be close. I was feeling the pressure of wanting to get there in time, but of course I had to be safe, especially in such conditions.

Adding to everything was the fact that I had to return to Fairbanks to return my rental car. I was hoping I could simply drive down to Anchorage, then fly out from there. Apparently, the National rental car places are different and that wouldn’t work. This meant either I would drive down and back that same night or find a hotel and return in the morning. I wasn’t sure what to do at this point and put that decision off until post meeting.

As I was driving it was surreal seeing the changes that occurred. The scene went from brown and green and normal, into something that looked like I was in a picture. White snow covered the road, covered the land, covered each branch of each tree. It was pure white.

It was beautiful and yet a little unnerving as there weren’t lines that you could see in the road. The next transition meant the lack of feeling any of the grooves in the side of the road. You simply needed to trust you were in the right position and do the best you could. Occasionally I’d see a car that was off the road. I sure was happy to have this 4×4 truck rather than whatever car I was supposed to have.

Seeing the big rigs barreling down the highway gave me confidence. I thought how they drive for a living and if they can do it, I can too. I also considered how silly it’d be for something bad to happen now, after I’ve already driven tens of thousands of miles on the journey.

Due to the intensity of the storm, I was traveling slower than intended. I was getting nervous that all this could be for nothing if the owner had to leave. Luckily as I’d learn more later, the owner is an incredibly kind person. I had texted him and he was easy going with it which I appreciated.

After the most intense drive of the journey, I arrived at Denali Brewing. I walked in and the bartender said she heard I was coming and the first thing she was told to do was get me a beer. Just amazing to experience such a welcome. She then called the owner and we met up.

Through the meeting I heard there is always more to learn and by learning, your capacity to do more increases. This meeting wasn’t just a shoot and answer, but a more in-depth conversation. As we were talking we were finishing the beers. He then asked if I wanted another one and I was a bit hesitant as I didn’t know if I’d be making that intense drive back. If so, there is no way I’d want more alcohol.

He inquired about my plans and said I won’t drive back tonight. He said to drive back in the morning and as a matter of fact, he had a trailer on the property and I could stay in it. Wow. I was blown away. I appreciated his care towards my safety, and then he went way above and beyond by offering the lodging.

We went and got more beer and finished the meeting. From there, he let me sample other beers as I wouldn’t be driving any more. There were many good ones and it was tough choosing what pint to go with. Luckily I had the chance to have more than a couple pints.

After some more chatting, we ventured to the trailer to get it set up. There was an issue with the heat. It wouldn’t work. I said it was ok as I had my buddy’s coat and I could survive a night. The owner wouldn’t hear of it! He said we could figure it out. What made this even better was earlier while chatting with him and the bartender, they talked about the ability of people living in Alaska to find a solution through resourcefulness. Plus, the beers that accompanied the effort.

We tried many things and had limited luck. The approach then shifted to finding a floor heater and after some time we had some luck. Trying again on the main heat we were struggling. I reverted to what I do, I reached out to my brother. He looked up some stuff, but also told us to check the propane lines by testing the stove. It worked fine. Eventually it turned out the thermostat was just spun a way that needed turning so it could click on. We had tried a bit, but not quite to the needed level. It was one of those instances of an easy solution, just challenging to identify that as the issue.

We chatted some more and then he told me good night. It was truly an amazing experience. Great conversation, great beer, an adventure, and the epitome of what the journey was about. The next morning, I with a bit of a hangover, I waved bye to the owner who was working with some people.

The drive was FAR better than the previous night, making me happy for doing this approach. I headed back to the airport and turned in my rental car. As I did so, the attendant and I had some small chat about the journey and my bottle opener and she said it was the coolest thing ever. She even bought one from me! What a great ending for Alaska. It was now time to fly to my friends in Hawaii.

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