The morning sun shone brightly through my cracked windshield as I headed out of Wasilla, through Palmer, on my way to show a property to a client in Chickaloon.
New. So many new experiences. I marveled at the sights that each bend in the road brought into view; pulling over like a tourist to take a picture in an attempt to freeze the majestic beauty of the mountains covered in their green blanket of summer.
It was almost a year ago since I had driven this highway in the opposite direction pulling a pop-up camper, following my husband who was pulling all of the necessary possessions a 20 ft. trailer could hold as we turned into the final leg of our two week journey. Our journey together had begun in Anchorage and almost 30 years and three states later, our journey brought us back full circle to Alaska, our home.
I was a real estate salesperson in the lower 48, so it made sense that I should obtain my real estate license in Alaska. “How hard can this be?” I asked myself as I began my research into different real estate companies scattered across the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in search of a broker who would be a good fit for me.
Marty came highly recommended by my sister, also in the real estate industry. Only problem was that Marty wasn’t looking to add an agent to his company; but after several conversations he was willing to give me a try.
“Chickaloon. Can you show a property in Chickaloon, Sheila?” he asked me.
The art of learning how to read one’s broker can be tricky. I studied his usually serious face the best I could, not certain if I had noticed a twinkle in his eyes or if the light was just hitting his eyes especially bright in that moment.
“Of course!” I instantly responded. I had no idea where Chickaloon was or what I was committing to. “How hard can this be?” I thought to myself as I hurried out the door.
Mapquest and Google Maps were of little help to me in my search for the correct address. I knew I could find Chickaloon, population 272, four people per square mile; how hard could it be to locate my property?
I drove for the better part of an hour when all four wheels suddenly hit dirt just as I squinted to read a sign which read, “End State Road Maintenance.” The narrow road, canopied with trees, felt barely wide enough to contain the size of my small Ford Focus. Continuing down the dirt road, I noticed a yellow “School Crossing” sign nailed to a tree. I didn’t see a school, or a person, or a house. I scratched my head but was unable to divert my eyes from the bumpy, pot-holey road.
A few bends in the gravel road later I was surprised when I looked up to see a utility truck with two utility workers doing something alongside the road. They looked a little surprised to see me too, yet motioned for me to go around them along the ditch to get past. By this point I had a clue that I might be lost.
I was a chick alone in Chickaloon.
Determined to not call Marty to ask for help with directions, and with my husband out of town for the week, I found myself rolling down my window to ask for help from two total strangers.
The men chatted between themselves for a minute. I put on the best “calm” composure I could muster each time they looked down at me to speak; yet I felt small like a grasshopper in the land of giants as I looked up at them from behind the wheel of my modestly sized sedan.
Without asking, one of the men shouted over his shoulder as he headed for his truck, “Follow me.”
I followed him for what felt like a very long time. All the while talking out loud to myself, “Way to go, Sheila, this could be the most stupid thing you’ve ever done. Anything happens and no one will ever find you.”
My new friend eventually pulled into the correct driveway, stepped out of his truck, pointed in the opposite direction of where we had just driven and stated, “If you go THAT way when you leave, it’s a lot easier and a lot faster too. No one really goes the way you came.”
“Okay,” I shouted with an overzealous wave good bye, hoping my false confidence might convince him that I had meant to go the difficult way.
The utility truck left a trail of dust as my rescuer headed back to his job post. Breathing a sigh of relief, both because I had still arrived early to my showing and because I was still alive, I smiled to myself, That wasn’t so hard.
I’m not certain how things work in Chickaloon, but within two minutes a large 4×4 pulled into the driveway in front of me having appeared from, um, nowhere. The driver window was down, two dogs were barking, and the driver was yelling out his window, “Are you my new neighbor?” all before the truck came to a stop. “Hi there,” I replied, with the laugh I seem to find when I’m lost for words. “Um, no. I’m a realtor and I’m meeting a client here to show the property.”
In his seventies, *Billy (*not his real name) introduced himself, and without me asking, began telling me everything I’d ever want to know about Chickaloon, the neighbors, and himself. I didn’t know what to say, which didn’t seem to matter since Billy had plenty to say.
Somewhere between swatting mosquitoes off my face and watching Billy’s two little dogs fall asleep in the sun on the front seat, I felt myself begin to relax. I had nowhere to hurry off to and no reason to not listen to this man and his history lessons. He was fascinating and unhurried; his life filled with many highs and lows as revealed in the lines around his eyes and the way his voice softened and his eyes grew distant in the telling of some of his stories.
Billy knew of every trail leading up to Castle Mountain, which I learned was the mountain towering behind me. He shared stories of younger days and his many adventures in wild, untamed Chickaloon. Billy pointed to the different trails up the mountain, listing the pros and cons of each choice. He shared both of the thrill of the climb and the danger of the climb. He told stories that ranged from respecting the bears in his back yard to the grief of his neighbor losing a son in the war, and the support the entire small community of Chickaloon continues to give to their own.
Listening to Billy reminded me of what really matters in life—people. Every person we meet. Whatever their occupation, whatever their age; wherever their paths may cross. New people, unfamiliar people, strangers. Life has a way of putting fascinating people in our paths if we are willing to slow down and pay attention.
The road back to Palmer was much shorter having heeded the advice of my new friend and taking the shorter, paved route.
Almost back to Palmer, Marty called me, “Just checking in. Are you okay?”
“You didn’t tell me to pack a lunch when you asked me to go to Chickaloon,” I joked.
“I told you that you were going to Chickaloon.” Marty responded assuming that any fool would know that the trip wouldn’t be a fast one. I could hear his smile and see the twinkle in his eye, even through the phone.
“You’re having fun with this rookie, aren’t you?!” I laughed.
“How did everything go?” He sounded like he cared so I figured I should tell him. “Great. It went really well.” And it had.
“Hey, I have a client who’s a dog musher looking for property in Willow, can you help her?” Marty asked. I swear he was still smiling.
“Sure, I’d love to!” I quickly replied, all the while thinking to myself, “How hard can this be?”
Story by Sheila Cote
Categories: Outdoors & Recreation