top of page

Getting There Is The Hardest Part

I've told myself for some time, there are two places in the US I would do anything to get to, to live in: Hawaii and Alaska. So, when I graduated a commercial pilot program in February with my CFII, I thought, "When will I get a better chance than this to go for it?"


So I went for it.


I quickly realized, if I wanted to keep my dream alive, Alaska was going to have to be a secret until/ if it happened. The last frontier is daunting to those of us in the lower 48 and my people wanted to keep me safe.


"Alaska is too dangerous!" some said.

"You'll need WAY more experience before going up there. The winds are crazy!" others chimed in.

"Just stay where you are comfortable." a few advised me.

"Alaska is isolated and you need to be around people and where things are happening." my friends cautioned.


Still, I always imagined myself in Alaska.


So I stopped talking about it and worked to make it a reality.


A few months later, I got a phone call from an Alaska number, mid workout. In my excitement, I nearly dropped the weight on my toes. I rushed out the door, asked if I could call back in 30 minuets, just enough time to get home and whip out my resume.


That was the interview that took my dream and made it a reality.


I accepted a position as a flight instructor at a small part 61 school in Palmer, AK that specialized in accelerated courses for Private Pilot and Instrument students. I packed up three suitcases and flew over 5,000 miles in the middle of Alaska's famous "breakup" season. The only connections I had were the friendly women I had connected with from various pilot groups and one friend-of-a-friend I was hoping to meet up with.


Alaska here I come!

Boarding the plane in Phoenix felt odd. I was the only person carrying a thick Carhart jacket and dressed in layers. I had made that climb out from Sky Harbor countless times.


But, this time felt different.


This time I was leaving and I didn't know when I'd be back. I felt sad for a moment, face pressed against the window in the back of the plane.


"Just breathe," I told myself. "Getting there is the hardest part. Soon you'll be living your dream."


I didn't sleep a wink from Phoenix to Seattle, and again from Seattle to Anchorage. I was too excited.


As the plane made it's way up the coastline from Juneau to Anchorage, a snowy white landscape covered the ground.


Mountains broke out from pillow soft surfaces and sliced through a hazy sky so bright I could barely stand to stare without my sunglasses. I felt like I was flying over Hoth, the snowy planet from Star Wars.




Landing, I was greeted with a surprise: my cell phone service didn't work in Alaska.


But that was just the start of a series of unfortunate events that became my welcome to Alaska.


  1. I had no phone service (You know this.) and couldn't call my hotel to make sure the van was on time to pick me up... It was not. So, instead I stood outside, with all my luggage, trying to fish out my gloves and beanie in 35 degree temperatures where I waited over a half hour. And yes... it started to snow.

  2. The hotel I was staying at gave me bed bugs. Which I didn't realize until after staying two nights in a smoky, dirty room where I laid out all my belongings to try and feel at home.

  3. I met my new boss, co-workers, and first student with big, bulging, red bites on my face and hands, the only places I couldn't hide. I knew it was silly and they'd go away, but what a way to make a first impression.

  4. It rained and snowed constantly for the first few days I was in Palmer. My pre-first -time-student-ever training became nonexistent. Before I knew it, my student was there and I would have to wing it.

  5. I moved into the house I'd be renting. I found myself living alone, without WIFI, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and 25 minuets from the small town of Palmer, where I'd work.

  6. My first day at work, the plane was stuck in the hangar for maintenance. I had a disappointed student, frustrated boss, and found myself making up a much longer than anticipated ground school on day one. My student happened to be an A&P so my system lesson went by too quickly and left me feeling inadequate.

  7. I was so tired after work, I kept forgetting to stop by the grocery store on my way home. All I really needed was some food and blackout curtains. But, for a week straight, I barely ate and barely slept. I lost about 10 pounds.


By the end of week one I was thinking maybe it was a mistake to come.

The rain continued but I eventually MADE TIME to get a few essentials at the store. Those essentials included itch cream and a large bottle of Gin.


In addition to hours of ground school, I flew three times a day, every day with my student and then I flew as much as I could with other instructors to familiarize myself with the planes and the area. I was tired getting to work and tired coming home from work.



I wasn't blind. Looking around, I was in some of the most beautiful country I could possibly imagine to be in, let alone fly around. I lived for the moments in the sky.


I leveled with my student and told him I was new to Alaska and to instructing. He could tell and there was no point faking it. From there, we started to get along more and even had fun flying together. As we flew, he pointed out landmarks like "Sleeping Lady" and Denail. (By the way, you're supposed to call it Denali, no one says "Mt. Denali.") I was starting to love the flying. Still, I felt like an imposter.


I felt ashamed that I had come so far only to be so miserable. I was cold constantly and lonelier than I had ever been. I was living to work and working to live, something I promised myself I would never do.


Here I was, a 28 year old woman, calling my mom every night, cold, tired, and in over my head.

Something had to give.

By the end of week two, I was convinced I wasn't cut out for this.

My bed bug bites finally cleared and I was starting to get used to the rain and the cold. I had been bored and inactive, but I knew I had to change that.


I decided to be present in the moment. I couldn't get enough of the views as I flew and decided to revel in that. Alaska loved it's breweries and I decided to revel in that. My student and I were becoming friends and there was joy in that.


I went for a hike in the mountains just past my backyard, Hatchers Pass.


People were cross country skiing over the trails covered in snow and the whole ground shimmered from the sun bouncing off every surface it touched.


I made it about 10 yards before sinking to my knee in snow. Laughing, I pulled my boots free and trekked on. Another 5 yards in and I sank to my hip.




That was the first moment of solo adventure I had tasted out here and I felt more like myself than I had since making the move.


By the end of my first month in Alaska, I decided if I was going to enjoy my time here at all, something had to change.

I reminded myself, getting there is the hardest part. I was here. The hard part was over.


I looked at the situation I had been given and realized I was pretty fortunate.

I got to live in an adorable, clean, safe house all by myself. My home was comfortable and I had a few people who had helped me make it happen. I started to reach out more and try and make some new friends.


Towering mountains and pine trees were everywhere I looked. And the coffee... there was a drive through coffee shop around every corner.


One morning, driving to work, two grown moose crossed the highway right in front of me. One of them came to a stop in the middle of the road and turned to look at me. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to drive slowly around him, honk, or stop myself. He wandered lazily off after a few seconds





After a month in Alaska, I bit the bullet and bought my own car. I wanted to be able to stand on my own two feet, or tires, whatever. I paid $2,100 for an ashtray on wheels. I was lucky enough to find a gun holster in the glove compartment of my white stick-shift hot rod. While the radio had been ripped out and the trunk wouldn't close, I had my freedom.


I joined a gym, which was 20 minuets away from home or work, no matter which way you looked at it. I actually started to go, in part to get back into shape and in part to just be around other people again.


I splurged on making my phone a hotspot and picked up the goods for a movie night: popcorn, wine, a face mask, and nail polish. I stocked up on face sunscreen, body lotion and protein powder. In short, I started to care about taking care of myself again.


I was getting out of the house more and exploring the little shops and parks around Palmer. I also was learning how to work my schedule to fit my needs more.

The snow started to melt, uncovering green trees, grass and flowers.


As week five turned into week six, I started to find little moments of happiness in my surroundings.

The worst part of my transition was over. It almost felt serendipitous; my outlook on the last frontier was thawing, just as the world around me was.


I hadn't had a day off in since the day I arrived, but I wasn't as tired as I used to be. One friend from Arizona surprised me for a visit, and shortly after, my sister and brother flew up to see me too.


I joined a social media app to meet people and went on a bike ride around a national park, walked along the shoreline in Anchorage, and tasted wine at a local bistro. It was fun spending time with other people and I appreciated getting to see Alaska through their eyes.


As the warmer weather makes it's way north, I find myself excited now. I'm happy I made the big move. I'm even happy I had a rough start to getting here. It made me appreciate little moments with myself and my surroundings.


I can't promise the rest of my time here will be perfect, but I can promise I will make the most of it.







14 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page