***I wrote this at three different times, so if I switch in and out of tenses, it is not because I’m crazy, it’s because I’m too lazy to go back and fix it. You’ve been warned.***
The original plan was for me to fly out of Houston and into Anchorage on Wednesday afternoon, unfortunately I had some cases come up at work that made that logistically impossible (take note people of the earth- if you decide to show up even 5 minutes late for your scheduled surgery time, you are seriously screwing up a ton of people’s day, not just your doctor, so don’t be an inconsiderate nincompoop). Thankfully I was able to switch my flight to Thursday afternoon, it just shortened my trip by a day.
Normally bizarre things happen to me at the airport, but Thursday was surprisingly normal. Except for the Saudi man who gave me his card and basically offered me a flight any time anywhere to “be with him” (uhhh, no thanks) and the gate agent who DEMANDED that I either put on my ski coat or check my bag, because my coat put me over the carry-on limit (I put on my coat and sweat my ass off). So after those few flight hiccups (and more than a few champagne hiccups in the United Club [and no, I didn’t fall this time]), I made my way to Anchorage.
This was admittedly a last-minute trip, as I had booked a flight somewhere else that wasn’t working out, so I didn’t have my usual amount of time to plan. First, I felt pretty clueless on what to pack. Naturally I turned to my mountain man brother and my well-traveled boyfriend. Do you know what the first thing they BOTH told me to pack? BEAR SPRAY.
What the hell kind of vacation have I booked that the FIRST thing people tell me to take is BEAR SPRAY. FUCKING BEAR SPRAY. I had to ask the almighty Google what it was and where to buy it. Also, bear spray is roughly $80 (seriously!) and TSA doesn’t allow it on the plane (and I refuse to check a bag). And even if they did allow me to bring it on the aircraft, the two Academy stores I went to were sold out. Question, who are all these Texans that are so frightened of bears that they have bear spray sitting around their urban homes? I have lived in Houston almost 8 years, and I have seen exactly ZERO bears roaming around inside the 610 loop. Get a grip Houstonians.
In case you ever wondered how to really piss off a bear, this is a good starting point. Bears are assholes.
I basically have now ignored the advice of my boyfriend and brother, and packed a bunch of warm clothes, “fishing pants” (they are the ugliest thing I have ever purchased, and I once bought Crocs in college [don’t judge me]), my binoculars, a camera and a bird book. Hopefully one of those will protect me from bears*. If I were a bear, I wouldn’t want to be seen with someone wearing fishing pants**. Gross.
After a smooth (but long) flight, we touched down in Anchorage. It was basically midnight, and raining cats and dogs (but not of the Iditarod variety). Honestly, I probably had my expectations set wayyyyy to high, but landing was kind of a let down. I think in my mind I was anticipating fireworks shooting out of everyones ass and a parade upon my arrival, but it was pretty anti-climatic (minus the fact that all three of the jet walk workers were Inuits, and I almost peed my pants from excitement). I called my driver as I walked through the airport (it was packed, which I found to be really strange considering the time of day), and thankfully he pulled up just minutes after I walked out into the torrential rain. Once we got to the hotel, I grabbed my key (Hilton lets you check-in and choose your room online now!), and promptly passed out (side note: someone remind me that my next mattress is going to be purchased through Hilton, because I never have a hard time sleeping in their beds [and when we went to the Hilton Austin a few weeks ago, I slept until 9am, which is personal record!]).
Around 4am, I was wide awake and ready to get moving. Unfortunately, the place where I rented a bike for the day did not open until 8am, so I had some time to kill. I pulled out my Sibley’s and brushed up on some birds that I wasn’t super familiar with (because I’ve never seen them with my own two eyes), and then went to YouTube and listened to songs and calls for an hour (which I’m so glad I did). I then went to breakfast (egg white omelette and black coffee), and headed to downtown Anchorage to pick up my bicycle.
The first thing I noticed as I walked around downtown, was that there is a fur shop every 20 steps (and that isn’t an exaggeration). The second was there are gorgeous flowers everywhere. I picked up my bike from the really sweet guy named David at the bike shop, who didn’t even flinch when I lifted up my outer layer to show him my awesome bike themed tank top (apparently he’s been flashed before, or so he claimed). The goal for the day was to bike the entire Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (12 miles) and then circle back through the city on my way back (about 13 miles). If you are ever in Anchorage, and have at least 3 hours to kill, I would put this on my MUST DO list. I would also make sure you have a bicycle that is equipped to go up and down hills (I say this, because my gears were more screwed up than Lindsay Lohan, and I wish I’d figured that out before I was 5 miles in).
45 seconds into the Coastal Trail, my ears were assaulted. THERE WERE BIRDS EVERYWHERE. I didn’t know who to listen to first. I passed the first lagoon and saw birds galore. Rednecked Grebes, Cook’s Petrels, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, and Pelagic Cormorants. . .to name a few. I started to take photos, but quickly came to the executive decision that it would be considerably less stressful for me, to just watch, remember, and take notes. By the end of the ride, I was so thankful I did this because it would have taken me hours and hours if I’d kept whipping out my camera.
Birds were EVERYWHERE. F’realz.
The trail is really phenomenal as it takes you directly along the coast (you can see the famous mudflats for miles and miles), and unfortunately for my out of shape legs, is full of some very large hills. A few miles in, I realized that my bike gears were ummmm. . .not exactly working. There were basically two modes- the lowest gear, and the highest gear. Needless to say, by mile 7, my legs were completely wasted. I hoped (and prayed) that the trail would flatten out. And then I hit mile 8. Straight uphill. For what I believe was over a mile. I was about 10 seconds away from quitting, when I passed a man standing in an open field (on the interior side of the path). He silently waved at me to come over. After giving him the once over (I could definitely take this guy down), I hopped off my bike and walked over.
He’s holding binoculars and has the biggest lens I have ever seen attached to the camera around his neck. I pull out my binoculars, and then immediately realize, that I don’t need them. There is a giant bull (moose) standing 50 feet from us, chomping away on a tree. I look at him with my jaw on the floor. Then he points further to the right. It is an even BIGGER bull. We stood watching them in silence for about 15 minutes until they wandered out of sight. I then started chatting with the gentleman (Lee), about wildlife in the area. He was a native Alaskan, and was a wealth of information for all things nature related. He whipped out his camera and started showing me the photos he had taken that morning of various birds, and said he had stumbled on the moose when he was birding. Naturally, I asked if I could tag along, and we wandered around the trees spotting yellow warblers, willow ptarmigan and even a hairy woodpecker. I was ecstatic.
This guy probably weighed a ton. And he was all mooscle.
Needing to get back to the bike shop so I could head out on my guided hike, I parted ways with Lee and continued on my bicycle journey. I made my way to the end of the Tony Knowles trail and then circled back through Anchorage to scope out the city (it’s a pretty average “big” city, in my opinion). I landed back at the bike shop right at 12:15pm, 15 minutes early for my 12:30pm check-in for a 1pm hike of Flattop Mountain.
Looking a little worse for the wear towards the end of the Tony Knowles Coastal Ride.
Now, if you know me in ANY capacity, you know that I put a very high value on being punctual and on time. I get massive anxiety if I am not 15 minutes early FOR EVERYTHING (and yes, I know this drives everyone in my life crazy, but I’ve been like this since childhood, so don’t expect it to change anytime soon). So just know that I wasn’t late, in fact I was really early. I walked my bike into the shop, my legs completely shot from riding a less than stellar bike, and really sweetly let them know that there is an issue with the bike (so the next person doesn’t have to deal with the same issue I did). I didn’t ask for a refund, or complain, I just stated that the gears maybe needed some help. Here is where things started to go awry.
I want to preface this story with this statement: Anyone that has ever gone ANYWHERE with me, knows that I am friendly and nice to any person that crosses my path. I ask everyone their name, use it, remember it, and treat them with respect, even when it isn’t shown back to me. I remember every waiter, flight attendant, bartender and sales persons name that I’ve had in at least the last 3 years (if not longer), and it is a very rare day that I receive bad service.
The manager takes my bicycle, and says he’ll take a look at it. Another gentleman that we will call “TJ” (short for The Jerk), looks at me and says “you probably don’t know how to use a bike“. I smile and tell him I ride my bike a couple of times a week at home, but maybe he’s right and I’m just a dumb blonde. He looks me directly in the eyes and says “you need a tissue”. He was right, my nose was a little drippy from getting sweaty and also being out in the cold. He turns around and reaches for a Kleenex box. He pulls two tissues out, puts the box back on the shelf behind him and proceeds to BLOW HIS NOSE.
Y’all, I kinda felt like I was getting punked. I didn’t know what to do, so I laughed and said, “maybe I get a tissue when you have a chance“. His response was “maybe”. And then he stood and stared at me. Things were getting weird, so I decided to get out of there. I explained that I had paid for my hike (and showed him my receipt), and then asked where I could go grab some quick food to eat in the car on the way to the trailhead. Here is exactly how this went down:
ANB: I haven’t eaten since 7 am, where is the fastest place to grab a sandwich or a something with some sustenance for lunch?
TJ: You don’t have time to eat.
ANB: Ummmm. . .it’s not even 12:30 and the car doesn’t leave until 1pm, so I should have time, right?
TJ: You can’t go. I will sell you a banana here. It’s $2.00.
ANB: Actually, I think I’m probably going to need more than a banana if I want to finish this hike, so I’ll just go grab something really quick. [Bananas give me tummy aches, so I really didn’t want that]
TJ: There is a sandwich place around the corner called Brown Bag Cafe. It’s too busy, you don’t have time. There is also a place called Corner Cafe, which is better, but you don’t have time.
ANB: Okay, well I see a convenience store across the street, so I’ll just go over there. I’ll be right back.
I walked across the street. Bought some Cheez-Its and an apple, and walked back across the street. I was gone at a MAXIMUM 3 minutes. It was 12:29pm when I walked back inside the bike shop. TJ and the manager are standing at the front.
TJ:I told you that you didn’t have time to get food. What do you think you are doing? Do you not listen?
ANB [I am starting to get irritated by this mans very bizarre behavior]: Sir, I won’t be able to hike if I don’t eat. I’m here and you haven’t left yet. I think it would be better if I go stand outside and wait for us to leave.
The Manager: The car you’re going in is out front, you can go hop in and wait. It’s going to be about 30 minutes.
I walk outside, fuming. My face was literally hot from trying to keep my cool. I honestly could not understand who peed in this mans Cheerios, and why it was being taken out on me (a paying customer). I hop into the front seat of the car, and wait. A few minutes later the manager walks out and tries to give me a banana and Gatorade (which I can’t drink because I have an aspartame allergy). I politely decline.
The Manager: I’m sorry about TJ, he’s just an old man set in his ways. I told him to take it easy on you during your hike.
EXCUSE ME. THIS ASSWIPE, IS MY HIKING GUIDE? NO WAY. NO FUCKING WAY. I honestly didn’t know what to do. Let me tell you what I should have done- I should have asked for a refund and taken myself on a hike somewhere else, alone. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
20 minutes go by, and TJ hops into the driver side of the car. He looks at me like I am an alien, and tells me to get in the back. I can’t make this shit up.
So I opened the door and got in the back seat. And he drove us up to the trailhead of Flattop. The entire 25 minute ride, he berated me for going to get food, while I sat quietly in the back trying not to cry, or completely go ballistic on his ass. (I’m getting upset even thinking about this entire scenario again)
We arrived at the trailhead and he explained we’d hike to the 4th summit of the peak, and turn around at about 4:00pm.
ANB: I just biked all morning and my legs are pretty wiped, so I’m totally okay if we don’t reach the top. I’d rather just enjoy myself, see some birds and have a nice afternoon.
TJ: The plan is to reach the 4th summit.
I am livid. Since the car ride, I’ve been texting with my boyfriend (who is in Romania), and he encourages me to stand up for myself and tell this dude to fuck off, because I am paying him, and he should tailor this hike to me. I should have followed his advice. Instead, shaking, and trying to take the high road, the following happened:
ANB: Okay, I’ll try my best.
We start hiking, and this guy TAKES OFF. I have long legs, and a decent stride, but there is no way I can keep up this pace. He is basically the Usain Bolt of the hiking world, and I am screwed. I holler at him that I’d like to slow down, and he stops for a brief second, looks at me, and keeps going. I really did try to keep up, but I physically couldn’t. Especially because I could hardly see from the tears pouring out of my eyes and streaming down my face. I had such a perfect morning, and this douche nozzle had completely spoiled my afternoon.
Finally after an hour of busting my butt to keep up, I yelled at him to stop.
ANB: TJ, I just can’t keep going like this. We either have to slow down, or I have to quit.
TJ: WE AREN’T SLOWING DOWN. WE HAVE TO REACH THE 4TH SUMMIT BY 4:00.
ANB [this cannot be happening!]: Okay, well then, I’m going back down.
And that was that. No offer to come back down. No offer to drive me back to the bike shop (that was a 25 minute car ride from the trail head). So I marched down the mountain, and once I had phone service, I called a cab. It was cold, and there was no way on earth I was going to sit and wait for that vile man to hike up and then back down to drive me home. It took 30 minutes for the cab to show up, but I have never been so happy in my entire life to see a taxi cab (and I have taken my fair share of drunk cab rides).
The driver took me back to my hotel, and I charged my phone, waiting for a call from the guide company to apologize for their guides behavior. I’m still waiting for that call***.
I took a shower, went down to the hotel bar and had a very large glass of wine, and then went to a place called Humpy’s for dinner. After dinner, I headed back to my hotel and crashed to prepare for an early morning.
This photo is out of order, but while I was resting my legs, this eagle and his buddy landed SOOOO close to me, that it startled me.
*I am going first thing in the morning to buy bear spray. I’m not a total idiot. Sheesh.
**Fishing pants for men aren’t bad.It’s like they make ladies fishing pants fugly on purpose to try and deter women from fishing. It didn’t work this time, fishing pant makers!
***I called and left a message for the manager. I still have not received a call back. This company will be getting a VERY bad review (with a link to my website) on TripAdvisor. For what it’s worth, I’ve never given a bad review to anyone on TripAdvisor, but I suppose there is a first time for everything.