I’m amazed by how quickly I’ve adjusted to this new reality. I think that I actually just have a terrible memory, rather than great adaptability or resilience, or whatever characteristic it takes to be happy bouncing around sans stability or a consistent community. I am loving life here.
Alaska has been amazing for so many reasons. I’ve been here for about 40 days, so it’s almost hard to write about the experience of being the matriarch of this hostel, and living in this tiny, bizarre town, from an examined perspective. Where was I before this?
Now, regular life is stopping at the general store for a 6-pack of local IPAs on my $40 cruiser bike to enjoy in the 11pm “pseudo sunset” on the riverbank with whatever bunch of mountain guides is in town. It’s endless loads of laundry, dreams about TripAdvisor reviews, and getting to play hostess to the badass type of travelers who manage to find themselves in a tiny hostel in Talkeetna, Alaska. It’s learning that hitchiking as an acceptable form of transportation, a Leatherman and trucker hat are daily wardrobe necessities, and getting used to everyone knowing everyone at the sole local bar. Regular life is rebuilding a fence, taking my trash to the landfill, learning to mend my clothes, fix a cabinet, use a Sawzall, and unclog a toilet. Sometimes, when I’m driving our giant, empty 16-passenger van back from Anchorage and singing along to some country station after dropping off a guide at the airport, I’ll see one of many gorgeous mountain ranges in my rearview mirror and am blown away by the re-realization of “holy crap, I live here- this isn’t vacation.”
(Learning to drive stick shift on a trip to the general store! Only stalled five times, nbd. I had to get rid of this truck a few days later after a mechanic announced it was a piece of junk on the inside.)
(This awesome family stayed at the hostel for a few days during their motorcycle trip from Colombia to the Arctic Ocean!)
(Mik. American Alpine Institute basecamp coordinator and my BFF for the season.)
(Lovely people come through Talkeetna! And the local beer from Denali Brewing Company [pictured here] is awesome.)
(You can also drink DBC beer in boats.)
Alaska is amazing. I already know that this won’t be my last season up here. I love the open space, the closeness to real wilderness, and the balance of self-sufficiency and community that is required to sustain life here. I really don’t think I’ll winter up here, but at this point I’m very open to the possibility of coming back to this same gig again next spring/summer.
(So many Hillebergs getting ready to be packed away at the end of the climbing season. Guides use the lawn of K2, our partner flying company, to store and stage gear. The airport is maybe a 5 minute walk from the hostel.)
(Growler from Portland’s Basecamp Brewery (my favorite!!) full of DBC Ice Axe Pale (my other favorite!!) was gifted to me for winning a ping pong challenge.)
(Lead guide Richard with his visiting son Sammy- reigning champ of Battleship at the hostel.)
What “this gig” entails was never totally clear before getting here. After Portland having been the smallest city I’ve ever lived, I had no idea towns could be as small as Talkeetna. Google it. I’m in the middle of nowhere, but the jumping off point for Denali/Alaska Range expeditions. We’re called “A quaint little drinking village with a climbing problem.” Talkeetna attracts climbers from all over the world, and has a more eclectic, outdoorsy population than you’d expect from a place this size. The “Talkeetna Hostel International” is a few minutes walk from downtown, which consists of one stop sign, two bars, a brewery, three restaurants, the general store, and a few tourist traps. During the day it’s flooded with cruise ship passengers who are bussed or train-ed in. That crew though doesn’t make it out to my hostel, so I haven’t really had the opportunity to be annoyed by them. I genuinely like tourists though, and like talking to them, so I don’t participate in the making fun of tourists that happens after hours among those of us who live/work here.
(4th of July parade down Main Street)
(Guides & guests & I watching the parade.)
Talkeetna has no mail delivery, trash pickup, recycling option, public transportation, sidewalks, police station, or many other things I’d previously taken for granted. I live on a gravel road and am at least 1.5 hours from the nearest hospital or big grocery store.
(This is what I get to share my kitchen with.)
(Post Denali team BBQ at the hostel)
(Koda’s dad is a fishing guide, so sometimes I get to hang with Koda.)
(Yoga and drying expedition gear around the bonfire pit.)
Rather than the tourism world, what I have become totally entrenched in is the climbing world. It’s awesome. A month and a half ago I would have been totally intimidated by/enamored with anyone who’d climbed Denali (tallest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. One of the Seven Summits.) Now, people guiding and climbing at this level comprise the majority of my social circle. I’ve discovered, and been embraced by this crew of awesome guys and gals who are at the top of the game, climbing-wise, and generally don’t have the cockiness that comes with feeling the need to have something to prove. I basically live in a house, and am “hostel mom” to a rotating cast of guides who spend several days at the hostel before or after Denali trips. I’m Facebook friends with most of them now and they can read this, but even if they couldn’t I’d definitely have only good things to say about the rad people who put everything into getting their clients safely up and down ‘the mountain’ and then come to the hostel to play guitar on the couch, make dinner with me, and go for beers at The Fairview. I’ll be sleepily eating my cereal and a sunburnt guide friend will offer “Hey, wanna see a video from the summit of Denali the other day?” Or, “Check out these photos from my last Patagonia trip!” I’m started to feel conditioned to amazing stories and beautiful pictures, and the occasional venting session, when I happen to be a friendly face in the right place.
I’ve embraced this job of “Hostel Mom” and really enjoy providing the hospitality to the travelers, climbers, and guides coming through. The American Alpine Institute owns the hostel and employs both me (“Hostel Manager”) and the guides, and we all share this house-turned-hostel nestled in the woods on the quiet side of town. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m back where I lived in a big communal setting in Alberta House, my Jesuit Volunteer house, or the giant off-campus house I shared in college. There’s never enough fridge space, there’s always someone to hang out with, and little actual “alone time.” I’ll write some other time on what managing a hostel is actually like, but for now- it’s fun! This job suits my personality incredibly well. I love my expanding network of friends and acquaintances around the world, and the constant exposure to adventure and new ideas, while being very rooted in a place and having responsibilities. There is zero separation between “work” and “life” but it feels natural.
(And in case it was a burning question, I’ve always been opposed to mixing dating with either work, or my living situation, so that’s not a thing.)
(Summit of Denali via flightseeing. You know climbers, there’s an easier way…. 😉)
Unfortunately the tear in my hip labrum has only become more of a problem, and the pain keeps me from doing a lot. Oh well. It’s probably a good time to not feel tempted to go out and do fun hiking or backpacking trips because there’s always loads of work to do here. It’s looking more likely that I’ll get surgery at the end of this season to repair it. Whomp whomp.
(This is my “holy crap what am I doing with my life, this is terrifying I just got to Alaska and I’m on a bus to my new home and I’m all alone and I live here now” selfie.)
And now some photos from the Sinsky family trip up here and to Seward!
Thanks for reading! Come visit!