It’s early September 2015 up here in Juneau, Alaska. It’s been some time since I’ve made a post on my blog. My apologies but it’s been a crazy summer with lots of work, adventure, with so many great stories and new friendships. It’s actually been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I have many more blog posts to come, with some great stories about Alaska. I will have plenty of time this winter to talk about the summer, since I will be dreaming about it anyway.
In the past I’ve been adamant about Scrubs having her vest on while out in public. My service dog’s vest is red with big letters that says “WORKING DOG DO NOT PET”. So most people, trying to be socially acceptable—often feel awkward about even asking me why I have a service dog. It seems like they feel sorry for me as I was left alone for the most part when I lived in California and Washington. Yes, Scrubs is a bit of a conversational piece, but I didn’t need to use her services as much as I have up here in Juneau, Alaska. The relationship between her and I, and what I needed of her was absolutely perfect. I was turned down for countless jobs up here in Alaska when PTSD service dog was written on my application. Their loss, Scrubs is a badass, and if you’ve ever seen her you know just what I’m talking about. So I decided to fill out an application, and on it, I mentioned that I had a really cool dog. I got the job. So now she’s a service dog in disguise since she wears no vest, which had served as a little bit of a shield. I was using this as a crutch, and it is now gone. People are petting Scrubs!!!!!! And she’s digging it. I didn’t know if I could trust her and I didn’t know if she was even still keeping her eyes on me. I’m the only one that would ever even pet her. I am sorry that I doubted her, since this summer she was awesome, the best she’s ever been. She has been on her game. Scrubs never stops working and I think that freaks people out. Scrubs and I have a dance, a performance, something to show the crowd all day long. The crowd down at the dock consisted of much more than I expected—it was far more than I was capable of handling. I thought to myself that I have to somehow keep it together, that people are counting on me. Scrubs turned into some kind of superhero then. Everyone knows Border Collies are smart but I truly belief she was showboating during her performances this summer. She knows exactly what she’s doing when she’s doing it. I could use Scrubs, and within 45 seconds to a minute I would have 300 people around me, standing completely quiet, watching the show. Watching Scrubs take one step at a time, no one realized I was taking one deep breath for every step she took. She was calming me down and I could turn everyone silent as I’m pulling myself back together. This one’s funny, sometimes Scrubs will stand about 20 feet away from me and just stare at me. Then someone would walk by and Scrubs would completely ignore them as they would look around and stare at the dog, trying to figure out what this dog was looking at. The look on their face as they walked away just dazed and confused about what they’ve just seen, always made me smiley. Scrubs had so many people that would come down from their positions at work on a daily basis just to pet her for a few minutes. She was the star of the show as everyone knows Scrubs on and off the dock. They even call me Scrubs across the street at the coffee shop where I go four times a day. She’s done a good job at keeping me pretty social. Scrubs made a lot of friends for both of us alike. People come pet her every day, I’m pretty sure I call them friends although we don’t see each other outside of work. The second I’m through with work, I just want to get the heck out of Dodge. And I’m able to do that because I have coworkers that maybe don’t understand, but they accept me. Because of that we made a pretty good team this year.
I live in Juneau, Alaska for a specific reason. Our population is 33,026 in the winter. 1,381,069 people live in San Diego, California—where I am originally from. Juneau’s summertime visitors will be the equivalent of everyone from San Diego walking our city streets over the course of the summer. That’s not so bad, I thought to myself. But in reality, wow that’s a lot of people for this little town in this giant state of Alaska. Summer is phasing out, and the tourist season is coming to an end, we’ve made it! The faces and the stories of the tourists I have met this year are a blur. I was just trying to get through the day, without an anxiety attack from solving some sort of work related crisis over the phone, bus schedules, overbooking, breakdowns, or just a passenger who has missed their bus back from the glacier. I have isolated myself quite a bit this summer after work. Heading out to the forest is my sanctuary of peace and security as it’s also where I sleep on most nights.
A few weeks ago I was reading something a friend had posted on the internet , it said “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier”. This excerpt stuck with me and I continued to think about this phrase. Days later, I felt the need to act on this, I had no plan, no idea of what I was going to do, but I set out to do just what I had read. I wanted to help someone be, or feel better and happy. I wondered around town for a bit after work, I think I was trying too hard. I had found no ideas, nor any inspiration. So Scrubs and I found ourselves listening to some live music at the Alaskan bar. Scrubs was working the room like the bad sled dog she is, making sure that everyone that wanted to pet her was able to. That’s when I met Laura, from New York City. She was visiting Juneau, traveling on a cruise ship. We talked about Scrubs only briefly until our conversation moved onto the topic of Alaska. She was nearing the end of her 14 day trip up and down Southeastern Alaska, and her face would light up when she talked about the adventures, and the people she had met while up here in Alaska. I could tell she had fallen in love with this place that I am so fortunate to call home. We talked about grizzly bears, and smoked salmon, living in a big town like Juneau versus that of a small town like Skagway. Laura had a bucket list of things she wanted to see and do while in Alaska. She seemed to be up here craving adventure. Then I thought to myself, we could sit in this 100 year old bar drink some beers and talk about Alaska, but out of nowhere came the thought out of my mouth, hey let’s go on an adventure. It was raining outside and we didn’t care. We walked around Juneau as I showed her the town. The next thing I knew we were riding up the tram
that we had all to ourselves to Mount Roberts. I had never ridden the tram at night and into the clouds, the dimly lit sky. It was quiet as we watched Juneau get smaller, then soon after we reach the top and Alaska got bigger. We could see forever. 9:30 PM was time to get Laura back to the ship. I gave her a gift of some smoked salmon that I had caught not too long ago. Laura was heading north to Skagway, she would be there in the morning. Skagway was my first home after I arrived in Alaska. I was very excited to find myself talking about it. What to see, what to do where’s the best area to find a grizzly bear. She sailed away and I went back to my camp for the night. I’m pretty sure she had a really good time and I felt good because I had a great time showing Laura the true Alaska and sharing stories. That’s not the end of the story however. I wake up early the next morning still thinking about Laura and her Alaska bucket list.
I decided to take the day off from work, I called Laura, jumped on a plane and flew to Skagway. Now that’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before but even better yet I was able to leave Scrubs behind. When I arrived I introduced Laura to the best coffee shop in town and the famous Skagway McMable breakfast. After coffee, hiking, playing on a train, days of 98 show, more hiking, a random pickle purchase, and a spruce tip ale it was time for me to catch the last flight back to Juneau. I set out on this endeavor because I wanted to “Let no one ever come to me without leaving better and happier”. I know she had a great time but in the end it was also I who left feeling better and happier. I needed that little adventure so bad. This has been a long summer of work. Laura and I still talk and I know we have more adventures to come.
This winter I will post videos and pictures of my summer in Juneau Alaska. I will talk more about my experience with the VA system up here in Alaska. It’s not quite what I thought it was going to be.
But wait, the story is not quite over I asked Laura if she would consider writing about her experience while in Alaska, and our adventure. In no time at all, I receive this Great addition to this post from Laura
Right Place, Right Time
I recently went on the adventure of a lifetime, with a person I barely knew, and it very much changed my life for the better.
My best friend Billy is working on a cruise ship that sails through Alaska, and we had decided months ago that I would come cruise with him. Billy decided I should do 2 week-long back to back cruises so we didn’t “hurt ourselves”. We would have enough time for both party nights and amazing sightseeing days. And my first week on the ship was awesome. I was awe-struck the first time the ship pulled into Juneau. It was a beautifully sunny day and mountains were epic in proportion. Billy and I rode the tramway up Mt. Roberts and hurt ourselves on amazing food. In Skagway the next day we hiked to Reid Falls, and as Billy predicted, Skagway was hands down my favorite port. I loved how down to earth it was. Overall I felt a spirit of wildness in Alaska that both captivated and invigorated me. Its really indescribable unless you’re there, breathing it in. One of my friends back home said, “Well you’re wild. So that spirit probably speaks to you.” Haha Glacier Bay was ridiculous and Ketchikan was a blast between Dolly’s House, the Lumberjack show, and hanging with new lumberjack friends.
Although we had an amazing first week, I really hadn’t done anything off the beaten path since arriving in Alaska. Billy and I decided it was time to buckle down. I scheduled a tour in Juneau to take a helicopter to a glacier and go dog mushing! It was hands down one of the coolest things of my life. Billy was busy on the ship all day, so I was on my own, which anyone who knows me knows that I love. After warming back up on the ship, I headed out again to try a crab leg at Tracy’s and see what type of divey bar I could find. I walked by the Alaskan, which looked right up my alley since it was dark with just a few people inside. Also checked out the Imperial since the dancers onboard had told me to go there, but ended up doubling back and finding myself at the end of the bar at the Alaskan ordering a jack and ginger.
One thing I should tell you about myself – I love people. I love meeting people, talking to people, learning about their lives, and learning from them. So it’s not unordinary to find me at a bar by myself, slowly chatting up anyone who’s interested in talking. I talk to people pretty much anywhere, but I’m happiest doing it while pulling up a barstool in a divey place and ordering a drink.
That’s the night I met Tom. He was sitting there looking at his phone with an awesome dog who I later learned is named Scrubs. Scrubs seemed really cool and so did Tom. He asked me something about why I was there or where I was from, and I explained that my best friend was the lead singer on a ship and I was just a friend on board. We quickly learned that we were separated by just a few degrees. A friend he had met in an airport one time, and who worked in the Days of 98 Show in Skagway, was good friends with a good friend of mine. We confirmed this via Facebook Anyways, through a very short conversation, the wheels were set in motion to head out of the bar on an adventure. Tom showed me where he worked, a tour company with a GORGEOUS view overlooking the water, ships, and a yacht he deemed Mr. Fancypants. After giving me some bomb smoked salmon AND a separate plastic container to store it in, we decided to head up the tramway in the rain and the mist.
You might be wondering, were you scared hanging out with someone you had just met and barely knew? I can answer you this. Good people are hard to find. But you know when you find them. Tom had given me plenty of outs if I didn’t feel like hanging. And what kind of serial killer gives you a plastic container so your fish doesn’t stink up the fridge? Like I said, good people.
The tramway was AWESOME. We had a private ride up, and I’ll never forget the clinking sound as the tram headed up its cables and was pelted by rain. It was gloomy, foggy, and mysterious. We loved it! Tom walked me back to the ship, mentioned something about working there some summer, to which I replied “Of course I would!” because I really would, and off I went, back onto the ship with some delicious salmon and a special sail-away to watch from the deck.
That night we became facebook friends and Tom messaged me later that night saying he had a hankering to fly to Skagway the next day. I was so stoked! Billy knew I wanted adventures, and his work schedule that week wasn’t going to allow for it on his end. This was a perfect chance to explore my favorite town with a new friend, and an insider no less. Tom had lived there years ago. I again checked with Billy, “Is it safe to just chill with a stranger? I mean I think it is, but I’m pretty out there, so I need your second opinion” Billy: “People who want to hurt you don’t usually friend you on Facebook and then comment on your picture.” Haha good call We made the plan and I couldn’t wait for what tomorrow would hold.
That morning I got up semi-early to go to the gym, and Tom texted me that he had booked a flight that got in around 10:45. He called me from down the (one) street in Skagway and when we spotted each other he threw his arms up in the air, walking down the middle of the street. What an energy this guy has, I remember thinking. We were like 2 peas in a pod, just like the night before. So strange, yet so wonderful to connect with someone like that. Just two people being themselves and in the moment. And two people who for whatever reasons needed each other that day. I firmly believe that timing is everything in life, and for Tom’s and my adventure, we were both in the right place at the right time.
We went to breakfast because I was starving and he asked if he could buy me breakfast which was very sweet. We talked a little about our past and future lives and then headed out to check out an old train that he thought would be cool. Was it ever! We were able to climb on top of it, well I was able to after a hand from Tom We took tons of pics since he’s also a photographer, and just had an overall blast. Then he showed me where he used to live, with it’s accompanying outhouse, old tour buses he used to drive, and a haunted corner where people fall off bikes! Then we headed out to the Point, which blew my mind and is definitely my favorite place in Skagway thus far. Now that I’m back in the city it’s my happy place. The place where I can close my eyes and feel like I’m right back there, listening to the water calmly lap up against the rocks and feel the cool air on my face. One of us had a hankering for pickles without even realizing it. So after Tom told me all about the one grocery store in town, we headed in and found a delightful afternoon snack that came in a convenient jar. Then we met up with Billy and had some more pickles in a little courtyard that houses the Skagway Bazaar, as well as my new friend Paul. That was another top moment of the day for me. All of my worlds colliding with new friends and old friends and lots of laughs.
The Day of ‘98 Show was great and I would love to be in it. I would honestly do almost anything to spend a summer in Skagway, hiking the Upper Dewey and chilling at the Point everyday. I don’t know if that’s in my deck of cards, but I do know that Skagway holds a piece of my heart.
The rest of the day was spent at a cool bar tasting Spruce Tip Ale, which much to Tom’s dismay is not for me, and exploring the Skagway Rock Store. We walked back to the airport, which was everything I had hoped for and more, with one person working there who may or may not have opened Tom’s growler of beer. When we realized we had an extra half hour to spend together we were like two kids in a candy store. We hurried out the door and tried hiking the path less travelled, since Tom had never done it. We stumbled upon a pet cemetery, looked for lots of non-poisonous mushrooms to no avail, and ate some raspberries that Tom was none too happy about since they weren’t local vegetation. One of the coolest parts of that little trip was finding some seals who were feasting on fish as we walked back over the bridge. I knew I had to get back to my friend, who was waiting oh so patiently for me back at the Ale House, so we started to head back that way. After a few minutes of walking in silence we simultaneously heard his plane, turned to look at it, embraced, and he ran off towards the airport. It was a perfect ending to a day I’ll never forget.
I can’t say why we ended up in that bar at the same time that night in Juneau, and I can’t explain all of the reasons we interacted quite how we did, but I do know that I will forever be grateful to my friend Tom for showing me a real Alaskan adventure. For telling me about the place that he lives and loves, and even encouraging me to lead the way sometimes.