Everything went pretty smoothly after the peanut butter incident in Oakland. I arrived at the Fairbanks airport at about 4:45 PM that same day—Monday, March 21, 2016—and was picked up by my host, a friend of my aunt’s from college, who we’ll call Terri. That first day was pretty uneventful; I was dog-tired from all the travel, but I was able to stay awake long enough to grab sushi for dinner with Terri and her son. I visited the University of Alaska the following day—Tuesday, March 22—and met with a selection of geology professors, transfer specialists, and administrators starting as early as 9:00 AM.

Okay, 9:00 AM isn’t that early, but I had to wake up three hours prior in order to consume caffeine, eat something, and walk from Terri’s house to campus. It was at least two miles, so, at least an hour’s walk, but I didn’t have any other option—I couldn’t rent a car because I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, and even if I did have my license, I was still too young to rent a car; I suppose I could’ve woken Terri and asked for a ride, but I didn’t really know her all that well. So, I walked.

The air temperature was 8° Fahrenheit when I left Terri’s house that morning, and by the time I got to campus, it had only risen to about 10°. Just before reaching campus, I passed a small farm, upon which were grazing a group of reindeer. I stopped to watch them for a moment and realized that they were all disfigured in some way—one had three legs, another had only one antler—and I decided they were photo-worthy. As I pulled out my phone to snap a few photos of them, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the dark screen. I had to do a double-take, and then turned on selfie mode to be certain I wasn’t just seeing things, but, indeed—my face was paler than I thought possible for a living person, and my lips had turned a dark purple from the cold. I realized I was going to need some other means of transportation, or at the very least, extra layers.

The reindeer ranch!

Despite waking up three hours early, I was late to my first meeting on campus. Luckily, I was the only campus visitor that day, and when I walked in sporting that corpselike pallor, the administrator immediately got to his feet and asked if I wanted some hot chocolate or tea—both of which I declined—and then gave me a free University of Alaska, Fairbanks “Nanook Nation” beanie, insisting that I put it on. He went on to say that he had been starting to worry about my lateness, and kept asking if the temperature was comfortable in the meeting room.

He either really wants me to go to this school, or he thinks I’m a pussy, I thought, observing his short-sleeved button-up.

I don’t remember much of the tour or the subsequent meetings, probably because I was far from being interested in the academic aspect of moving to Fairbanks. I did pay careful attention to the sports complex—namely, the indoor climbing gym, and the outdoor climbing wall, which was actually an ice-climbing wall for most of the year, since the cold, northern air allowed things to stay frozen for a long, long time. I also found out that the school has its own cross-country ski park at the back of campus. The ski park is, according to one of the administrators I met with, a nice place to go for an easy winter hike, since you didn’t have to wear snowshoes—so many skiers slide over the trails that the snow gets packed as tightly as asphalt, he assured me.

After my tours and meetings were over, I wandered around campus for a little while, and then decided to check out the ski par. It was nice—the trails, flanked by birch trees, surrounded a small lake, which was frozen over and covered with snow.

Me on a frozen lake

When I was done enjoying the peaceful scene, I started to head back through campus to make my way back to Terri’s place, when I heard music blasting out of an open garage near the student housing area.

It was the student-run bike co-op.

I stopped walking, noticing a sign that announced something about renting bikes. They had mountain bikes, road bikes, fat bikes—

“Can I help you?”

I looked up. A young man covered in bike grease, wielding an Alan wrench, was squinting at me through the sun.

“Oh, uh,” I blubbered, “I’m looking for, uh; do you guys have, uh, good bikes…for riding in the snow?” I winced. I was a road-bike person, not a mountain-bike person, at that point in my life, but I knew how bikes worked. I knew what I bike was. I wasn’t as naïve as I’d just made myself sound.

He smiled, clearly amused. “We sure do.”

“I’m on a tight budget,” I added suddenly, surprising myself. “How much are your rentals?”

His smile broadened. “We’ll figure something out,” he said. “Why don’t you come in and take a look?”

An hour or so later, I was riding back to Terri’s on a mountain bike with studded tires. Studded tires on a bike is an underappreciated feat of engineering, I must say—I didn’t slide once on the ice-sheets that served as roads during the winter months in Fairbanks. The best part about the bike? The guy didn’t charge me a cent, and I had it through Thursday afternoon.

My noble steed

The studs in the tires!

How I felt, riding home

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Flying to Fairbanks, Alaska was a huge deal for me. High-maintenance, anxiety-prone Xannie on a plane, alone? Bad combo. I had—still have, to some extent—a fear of flying; turbulence, back then, was enough to trigger a full-on panic attack. Add to that the fact that I hadn’t flown in years, and that this would be the first time I flew alone, and well, needless to say, I was a nervous wreck.

Standing in line at the TSA checkpoint around 8:00 AM on Monday, March 21, 2016, I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I just about picked my fingernails clean off. I was so focused on the upcoming flight, in fact, that I forgot to worry about the fact that I had weed in my carry-on.

Those were the days when I couldn’t do anything without weed. It was my teddy bear; it had to go with me wherever I went. The night prior, I had unwrapped a fresh pack of American Spirit cigarettes, removed ten of them, dumped their contents into a dish, and then carefully repacked each one two-thirds of the way with freshly-ground marijuana and the rest with tobacco. Once they were back inside the pack of cigarettes with all twenty little butts full-mooning the observer, you couldn’t tell them apart. I was very proud of myself.

I made it through TSA without trouble, at first. I was sitting on a bench at the end of the conveyor belts and security scanners, lacing my shoes back up, when I heard a deep voice bellow, “WHOSE BAG IS THIS?!?”

A TSA agent was standing on a bench as if he were Mufasa on Pride Rock, brandishing a canvas, Whole Foods shopping bag above his head as if it were the Royal Son.

That’s my bag, I thought dreamily. And then I frowned as the thought kicked in. Of course—my Whole Foods bag, my grocery bag; it contained the food off of which I planned to live for my entire trip. It contained the cigarette pack.


“It’s mine,” I said shakily.

The TSA agent whipped around, eyes wildly scanning the crowd for the speaker. I raised my hand. Our eyes met, and he hopped down from the bench, motioning for me to follow him as he made his way to a secondary scanning area. I felt my stomach leap into my throat as I helplessly obeyed. This is it, I thought; I’m done for. I’m going to jail.

The agent calmly placed my bag onto the conveyor belt and let it glide into the scanner. I stood beside him, watching the screen as strips of an image were coughed out at a rate akin to geologic time. The agent drummed his fingers on the side of the scanner impatiently and I began to feel like a criminal waiting for the executioner to find the right key to the gas chamber. He cleared his throat and shot a glance in my direction. I met his eyes, hoping I looked like some cherubic child, upon which he might take mercy once he saw the horrible thing I’d done.

An alien and a TSA agent examine a computer screen

I guess I did something right because he smiled at me. “Just standard procedure,” he said. “They saw something funky in their scan, so, I have to scan it a second time. No big deal; I’m sure it’s nothing.”

Absolutely nothing, my brain chimed.

The image finally loaded, and I studied the agent’s face while he scrutinized the contents of my grocery bag.

“Now, what in the hell is that?” he asked, jabbing his finger at the screen.

I shuffled a little closer, gulping down my pounding heart. He was pointing at a large rectangular object in the middle of the image. The scanner had colored it dark blue. I studied it, trying to determine whether it was too large to be the cigarette pack, but I struggled to focus—the agent was now studying my face, with such intensity that I thought my face would melt.

“What is it?” he barked.

“I-I-I-I don’t know!” I blurted.

Before I could say or do anything else, he wrenched the grocery bag out of the scanner and began rifling through it with both hands. After a moment, he paused, frowning into the depths of the bag, and then his face went slack.

My blood ran cold.

“You have got to be kidding me,” he said, and a smile cracked across his face.

Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh—

He retracted his arm and presented a Costco-sized bottle of Skippy peanut butter, still smiling.

I stood there with my face quivering as I tried to wrap my head around what I was looking at. When I first saw it, the Skippy label had temporarily been the American Spirit label, but when I blinked, it was, truly, just peanut butter. Just a gigantic bottle of peanut butter from my trip to Costco with Mountain Man last week.

I became aware that my mouth had been hanging open, so I snapped it closed, slapping a hand over my mouth in embarrassment. I couldn’t help it—a giggle escaped, and then I was cracking up, almost crying. When I finally managed to look at the TSA agent again, his smile had faded to a sort of grimace, laced with confusion at my reaction. I realized I needed to pull myself together, or he’d take another look in that bag.

“You can’t have this on the plane,” he said matter-of-factly.


“You can’t take this on the—”

“It’s just peanut butter.” I frowned. “It’s not even a glass container.”

“I know,” he said, and I sensed a twinge of sorrow in his voice, “but our machine thinks it’s liquid, and liquids aren’t allowed.”

“It’s literally not even open,” I said, my frown deepening in annoyance. “Unscrew the lid and you’ll see—it still has the foil over it.”

He looked at the jar—he actually thought about it for a second—but then he shook his head quickly and held it out to me. “No, I’m sorry, ma’am. You’ll have to either eat it or throw it out.”

As I took the jar from him, I gave him an incredulous look. “Eat…it?”

“Sorry, I meant throw it out,” he said, waving his hand as if clearing the air of a particularly raunchy, lingering fart.

I snorted, too annoyed to laugh at his stupidity. “Cool.” I snatched my bag off the counter by the scanner and stomped over to where I’d left the rest of my belongings—I hadn’t even finished lacing up my shoes—and plopped down on the bench.

I was about to chuck the peanut butter into a nearby trash bin when a moment of genius struck me. Back on the other side of the TSA checkpoint, I’d passed an airport-exclusive Chinese restaurant. There’d been a dude behind the counter, opening up shop, preparing his “kitchen” for the day; as I’d walked past, I’d noticed some of those tiny, plastic containers—the ones you’d fill with your choice of sauce if you’re taking your meal to go—and beside them, most importantly, a stack of lids.

I realized that I couldn’t throw the peanut butter away. It was the main source of protein I’d planned for the trip—I didn’t have anything else, except for a few Powerbars. I needed that peanut butter, for survival!

There was a TSA agent reorganizing the shoe bins next to me. “Excuse me,” I said.

She looked up.

“If I were to…” I trailed off for a moment, looking at my peanut butter and trying to determine how best to lay out my plan for this unsuspecting woman—“If I divided this jar of peanut butter into smaller, one-milliliter containers, would it set off the alarm on the machine?” I asked, pointing towards the scanners.

She studied me for a second. I could tell she thought I was totally nuts, and yes, that pun was 100% intended. “It should be fine,” she said hesitantly.

“Okay, great,” I said. “How do I get back to the other side of TSA?”

She let me through a gate and I, with all of my belongings dangling from my extremities and jostling about, ran back to the Chinese restaurant. I asked the man if I could have some, ten? Fifteen? of his plastic containers and a spoon. He was perplexed, but he allowed it, so I sat at his bar, spooning chunky peanut butter into those plastic containers while he, and number of passersby, looked on with unabated interest.

The second time’s the charm, right? I almost missed my flight, but I made it through TSA without a problem after I’d scooped the peanut butter into all those plastic containers. And, what do you know? I was so giddy about how strange the morning had been so far that I was no longer anxious about the plane ride.

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On account of the past seven or eight months of my life being entangled with Mountain Man’s, I was only capable of recognizing the most prominent of my personal wants and needs: the want to become a Forensic Architect, and consequently, the need to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering. All other personal sentiments had become entwined with Mountain Man’s, and I could no longer discern where mine ended and his began.

An internal conflict arose when I became infatuated with vengeance at the end of January, 2016. Apart from learning how to drive a car, I can’t think of a single thing I did that Spring that didn’t stem from a desire to give Mountain Man a taste of his own medicine. I was still peeved by his complete dismissal of my feelings about Colorado; in fact, I wanted to bring him to his knees, turn the tables, force him to worship me for a change. My career goals and this growing hunger for revenge fought for dominance in my conscience. Neither one could maintain the throne, and I soon realized I would have to find a way to kill two birds with one stone—I had to devise a plan that would both demand retribution of Mountain Man and satisfy my academic needs.

A semi-logical plan revealed itself in early February: choose a four-year university to transfer to, but keep it secret from Mountain Man for as long as possible. The idea was to render Mountain Man speechless with jealousy and shock, so I determined that whichever university I picked would have to be in a location desirable to him (i.e. in a mountain town or in some remote, wilderness-dominated area), since I knew that simply announcing to Mountain Man that I’d be transferring to “some engineering school” wouldn’t be enough to completely floor him.

As it were, in February of 2016, when I wasn’t in class, at work, or learning how to drive, I was testing a long list of U.S. universities against my criteria. By the end of the month, I had narrowed down my choices to three schools: Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte, MT; the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO, and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, AK.

While all of this was going on, my step-grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She was about to start an intense, hit-or-miss type of treatment, and my family was pretty worked up about it. On March 8th, I checked in with my grandfather by phone. I told him about my plan to transfer—but not about my plan to destroy my boyfriend—and he asked me if I was going to visit any of the campuses. I was taken aback, admitting that I hadn’t even considered that as an option, citing financial struggles as my primary concern. He then offered to pay whatever was necessary to get me to Alaska and Montana, but we both agreed that traveling to Colorado wasn’t necessary, since I’d just been there.

It wasn’t often that my grandfather offered to help me achieve my goals. He tended to dismiss them because they rarely aligned with the goals he thought I should have. It dawned on me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance; besides the fact that it would help immensely in my decision-making process to physically experience the campuses, I’d get to visit two states I’d never visited before, so I decided to take him up on the offer. We negotiated via email, and it was determined that I would first visit the University of Alaska—March 21-25—and then Montana Tech—April 14-17.

I reached out to the University of Alaska on February 26th, and to Montana Tech and Mines on Friday, March 11th to introduce myself and mention that I’d be visiting (at least, visiting the first two). It was all very exciting, as can be seen in this little snippet from an email I sent to my grandfather on Sunday, March 13th:

I think my list in order from favorite to least favorite is Montana Tech, Colorado, Alaska. Although really, I want to go to all 3 at the same time. I'm going to have to make some kind of diagram or chart when it comes down to it; I guess it really depends on which ones I get into. I'd be happy at any of them, I think. … Alaska and Montana are insanely affordable, but...if I don't get an amazing scholarship, Colorado might be out. We'll see, I'm so excited to see how it all plays out!!

But it wouldn’t pan out to be all sunshine and daisies, of course. For starters, I realized after obtaining plane tickets to travel to both Alaska and Montana that I’d just ruined my own plan to keep transferring schools a secret from Mountain Man—I was going to have to tell him where I would be during those dates, and I was going to have to do it soon. Impulsivity had struck again—it seems that this was a growing issue, especially between Mountain Man and me: he hated it when I did something without thoroughly examining each and every consequence. Unfortunately for both of us, I was incapable of doing this in the Spring of 2016. I was only making decisions based on what was going to help me exact revenge on Mountain Man, what was going to help me get through school, and what was going to push me towards a career as a Forensic Architect. As a result, I was blind to all potential side-effects and consequences associated with my choices.

At least it made for some good stories.

The next personal-story segment will tell the story of my visit to Alaska, and the segment after that will tell the story of my visit to Butte. I may intersperse these with other articles, but still—brace yourself for a wild ride.

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