In which I (briefly) second-guess the hostel.

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for 17 years. About 15 of those years were spent in a trailer whose flat roof needed to be shoveled. My now-ex husband never acknowledged the existence of household or maintenance duties, so I was the one who clambered up.

I was then and am now afraid of heights. The second-worst part of the chore was stepping off the ladder and onto the roof.

The worst part? Getting back on, because there was nothing to hold onto save the top of the ladder, which extended a couple of feet past the roof line.

The first time I looked at the job I knew that getting back down was going to be scary. That’s why I came up with the strategy of leaving a patch of snow next to the ladder.

After the rest of the roof was clear I would sit down in the little snowdrift. Once my ass got cold enough I’d do anything to get off that roof – including swinging my left leg around through open air until I felt a ladder rung and then swinging my right leg around, too.

I thought of that strategy twice on this trip – the nights when I was assigned to the upper bunk of a hostel pod bed.

Hey, ho, up she rises

Just as an icy butt urged me down a ladder, extreme weariness sent me up one. But this wasn’t a real ladder, as you can see from this photo:


That's my stuff on the lower bunk. I couldn't trespass indefinitely, though.

That’s my stuff on the lower bunk. I couldn’t trespass indefinitely, though.

Nope, just three weirdly spaced rungs – and worse, no hand-holds above them. All I could do was grip the edges of the narrow bed frame.

Apparently it’s a simple process if you’re young and confident, or even old and flexible. But my still-wonky right ankle hurt as I balanced on it, trying to coax my left leg up to the next rung, my fingers scrabbling desperately for better holds.

It took several false starts: One foot up and on, hands pulling myself upward, and then my body would start to shake as I tried to move higher. Back down to the floor I’d go. One foot up and on, then back down. And once I finally did get near the top it seemed impossible to propel myself up over the ledge and onto the mattress.

Think “I Love Lucy,” but climbing into a pod bed rather than a vat full of grapes.

In the morning was worse: Still no hand-holds, and doing it backwards. Then there’s that full-bladder thing.

What goes up must come down

Both times I asked to be reassigned, but both times they were full-up. My downstairs neighbors were never around I was awake so I couldn’t ask to trade.

The first time coming back down was the worst. That was the morning I woke up to a male voice. It turned out to be an elderly Irish guy who was already on his second can of beer. Not to perpetuate a stereotype.

He stood there grinning as I struggled to maneuver myself onto the ladder. And yep: It took several false starts then, too.

When I finally thumped to the floor I looked pointedly at his choice of beverage. Still grinning, he told me that it was “French beer,” which still didn’t make 7:30 a.m. tippling classy.

“I have orange juice for after,” he said. “But this gets me going.”

I bet it did. Especially, oh, about 20 minutes after it was consumed.

The upper-bunk nights were the only two occasions I regretted my decision to use a hostel. On the whole, I’m glad I’m here: Cheap sleep = longer stay.

But I sure am glad that I won’t have to climb up there again. Or shovel roofs, for that matter. Or share a room with a guy who takes beer before his orange juice.

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  1. Mary Lambert

    “Beer”….it’s not just for breakfast! lol You sure have met some interesting characters in your journeys. I salute you for LIVING life!!

    I think my son would have slept on the floor rather than climb up there….and the roof in Alaska would DEFINITELY have caved in! You’re very brave, facing your fears!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Mary Lambert: I guess it’s good for me to do that. But I still don’t like heights. 🙁
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. Everyone who reads your blog is totally hating your ex husband for not clearing the roof for you.

    I’m loving your travel stories!

    • Donna Freedman

      @iamtheworkingpoor: I would have settled for him doing it (and other household chores/maintenance) even half the time. Grrr.

  3. You got me this time, Girlie. I don’t even know what to say! HA!

  4. Mary Lambert, that was my thought–I would just sleep on the floor. Donna, it sounds as though your ex was as useless as mine. At least you didn’t have to listen to his piously preaching every Sunday. But, I only made it 14 years….wicked me. If you have reservations at more hostels, can you request ahead of time a lower bunk? You are such a brave soul on that ladder. My only thought was that at least it would not fall over.

  5. I’ve stayed in hostels. As far as I know, you can’t request a lower bunk ahead of time.

  6. Depends. That’s what I’d have to bring with me on a trip like that. At home, my bed is 4 steps from the bathroom, and that’s just barely close enough. Years ago I went on a church retreat where the accommodations were very similar to this. I could not do it today. No way. I’d sooner sleep outdoors.

  7. That’s why you should travel with a complete sucker like me. A friend and I were hostelling around Italy for a couple of weeks, and any time there was a top bunk, I wound up in it because he also had trouble with heights. However, since we were also sharing rooms with not-entirely sober men, I took some solace in being difficult to reach if anyone was looking for a companion.

    That trip was one of the best of my life, though, and would have been impossible without the cheap accommodations. It’s a fair trade!

  8. Shame on the Irish gentleman for not offering you some of his morning “courage”.

  9. Agreed with Karla. A proper gentleman would have made sure you were not thirsty on your way down. 🙂

  10. lostAnnfound

    He could have at least offered to catch you 🙂

  11. Lovin your travel stories. I painted my mom’s 3 decker, it was scary as hell being on the 3rd story..I told myself I’d never to do it again…but now I paint my 2 story house. It’s not nearly as bad because I have a chance of surviving if I fall.

    I would love to take some time off and just travel with my kids in tow. The youngest is still too young though to be practical.

  12. Your ex-husband sucks. I’m seriously highly annoyed at his behavior lol I guess because I can totally see my ex husband behaving like that!

  13. Thank you for yet another reminder as to why I never remarried. If you have to fend for yourself anyway, why should you also have to deal with the extra burden of having another full-grown adult around who also expects you to take care of all their needs?


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