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I plowed my way south for about five hours.  I was thrilled to have seen Denali in the morning light, and now I was privileged enough to see the sun set beside it as well.  I stopped for some panoramic shots as well as a cup of coffee to go at The Longhorn Saloon in Cantwell!  Cantwell was a quiet, small town alongside some railroad tracks, a few miles from the main drag.  Inside were two old guys who were chatting over coffee and watching TV.  I don’t think I was an expected type to visit, but the one guy got up and poured me a warm Styrofoam cup for less than a dollar upon request.

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I drove, took pictures, drove some more.  I came up on a red truck and passed it.  Another solo woman!  I pulled over and took more pictures and she passed me.  I got back on the road and passed her again.  Later, at a beautiful sightseeing location for the Denali range, I pulled over and hiked to a high point to take photos.  I turned around to find the woman pulling in.  She hiked up beside me and took pictures as well.  Neither of us said anything.  When it was time to go, we both turned to our cars.  She waited for a few minutes while I got in mine and took off before she followed.  I think we both knew I would end up passing her and our game of tag was becoming a little annoying, although funny.

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Before I knew it, I had passed the exit for Talkeetna and was swiftly approaching Wasilla.  I stopped at Fishers Fuel and caught sight of a place called the Last Frontier Brewing Company.  I went there for a fish meal and beer.  Local brews, just like I like it!  I had eaten and drank my way through Alaska, but, looking around at the locals, I felt like I had had the real experience.  Then my mind raced back to the fact that I was in Wasilla, Sarah Palin’s very own!  I wondered if I could find where she lived… Sure enough, a Google search proved fruitful.  I typed in the address and realized it was just up the road, where I had just passed.  I paid my bill and took off towards the Palin’s.  I found the driveway and took a picture of the classic road sign in front.  I couldn’t exactly see anything, but I was satisfied.  It was enough for me.  I decided to stop off at a Wal-Mart for a CD to take me the rest of the way into Anchorage.

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Sign outside of Sarah Palin’s house.

I would have stopped sooner, but this Wasilla Wal-Mart had been the closest to me on my entire trip north.  My mom got a kick out of my text earlier in the day, when I said “I’m in Healy and the closest Wal-Mart is 117 to Fairbanks or 209 to Wasilla!”  When distances are hard to describe, the amount of hours to the nearest Wal-Mart seems to put remoteness into perspective for most people.  I bought three things at the Wal-Mart: a Taylor Swift CD, an Alaska flag (which I love), and black leggings.  The last item seems bizarre, but let me explain… I had been looking for black leggings in a size small for months and every store in Cleveland was wiped out!  Here, they had plenty, so it was an obvious buy!

I blasted my new CD on the way back to Anchorage.  I have a thing about trips.  I always try to pick a song that, no matter how many times I hear it, will always take me back to a trip, to a place, to a group of friends, to a particular night.  Gangnam Style had become the hit of the Boeing party, a good reminder of the AISES Conference and how much fun I’d had with my Hawai’ian friends.  But my trip up north?  I immediately found my hit: Treacherous.

This slope is treacherous
This path is reckless
This slope is treacherous
But I, I, I, I like it… 

Two headlights shine through the sleepless night and I will
Get you a-, get you alone
Your name has echoed through my mind and I just
Think you should, think you should know
That nothing safe is worth the drive and I will
Follow you, follow you home
I’ll follow you, follow you home…

And it was true.  Nothing safe is worth the drive, at least not one like what I did today!  The more treacherous, the more thrilling, and I now knew that first hand.  Thank you, Taylor Swift, for forever establishing these memories.

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As my goodbye to Alaska, I decided to stop in the parking lot of the hockey rink and pack my bags.  It only seemed fitting.  Hockey.  I threw my stuff in the bed and, while the album kept spinning, I rolled my sleeping back and repacked my clothes and poster.  When the time came, I sadly got back in and waved goodbye.  I drove to the airport, left my truck, turned in my keys because it was past hour, then slipped into the airport to check in.

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Geese flying through the terminal.

I settled in at a bar and had my final local brew.  As the time ticked away, I realized how fond I had become of Alaska.  I was sad to say goodbye to the city, the state, and the conference, but it was time.  At around midnight, I was boarding my plane and saying my final goodbyes from the sky.  I was absolutely exhausted, but proud of myself nonetheless.  It was a long day.  I slept almost the whole way to Denver, thoroughly worn out.  Regardless, I felt like a real, tired, and gruff Alaskan outdoorswoman.