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She was stranded on an Alaskan highway. A stranger saved the day

When Vanessa Foster found herself stranded in Alaska, a stranger with bright blue eyes stopped to give her a lift.
Vanessa Foster
When Vanessa Foster found herself stranded in Alaska, a stranger with bright blue eyes stopped to give her a lift.

Being stranded in the middle of nowhere, Alaska was not what Vanessa Foster imagined when she decided to leave behind her life in Texas. But that's exactly where she found herself one chilly evening in 1985.

She and her then-husband had just hopped on a flight to Alaska without much of a plan. When they landed, they used the last of their money to buy an old truck and started driving across the state. Foster was beginning to feel like her world was spiraling out of control.

"I had nothing left in the world. Nothing," she said.

A little while into their drive, they saw a hitchhiker on the side of the road, and her husband decided to give him a ride. The stranger climbed into the cab of the truck, and they continued to drive. After a few hours, they pulled over at a rest stop.

"I hopped out, rushed over to the ladies room, and when I came out a few minutes later, my husband was exiting the men's room," Foster remembered. "And we locked eyes, and we looked over at the parking lot, and [the] hitchhiker and our truck were gone."

The man had left them with nothing. No car, no money. They only had about a dollar in change left between them.

"So we became the hitchhikers," Foster said.

As they walked down the highway, none of the cars slowed down to pick them up. Finally, an El Camino pulled over. Sitting in the driver's seat was a middle-aged man with bright blue eyes. He told them to hop in.

"I'll never forget glancing over at him while we were driving down the road and seeing that he held the steering wheel the same way my father did," Foster remembered. "When I saw that, the way his hands were positioned on the steering wheel, I took it as a sign that I could trust this man."

Foster says the man's kindness in picking them up restored her faith in humanity. And it didn't stop there. When he heard the couple was unemployed, he offered them summer jobs and a place to stay on his ranch near Homer, Alaska. They gladly accepted.

After a time on the ranch as a cook, Foster divorced her husband and started a new life. The experience impacted her to such a degree that she wrote about it in a book titled More ThanEverything. Looking back on that time in her life, all these years later, she says she'll never forget that man with the bright blue eyes.

"I would really like to just give him a hug and just let him know how much I appreciate his kindness toward a couple of strangers on that Alaskan highway," she said.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to

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Autumn Barnes
Tara Boyle
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.