SAN JOSE — Another cold winter was looming in Wyoming and Karen Main was bored with her job, disappointed in her marriage and frustrated with the monotony of everyday life.
Three months later, after answering an advertisement for a mail-order bride, she was living in Hope, Alaska, in a cabin with no plumbing, no heating and no electricity.
She was sleeping in a flea-infested bed and traveling 90 miles once a month to go grocery shopping in Anchorage.
Now, two years after she asked a gold miner she had never met to "take me away from all this"--the drudgery of life in Gillette, Wyo.--Karen Main is divorced again, living in San Jose with her mother, working as a secretary for an electronics broker and enjoying the monotony of everyday life.
"As awful as it was, it was the best year of my life," Main recalled of the time she spent with Don (Hindu) Burden. "I loved Alaska."
Main, 46, was one of hundreds of American women who wrote letters to a handful of Alaskan men seeking mail-order brides after their leader, Tom Williams, appeared on the Phil Donahue television show.
Williams was the only other man to find a bride, and she left him after only three months of finding out what life in Hope was really like. The wedding was performed in Japan and was not binding in the United States, anyway.
Main stuck it out, at least for a while.
"I was serious about it," Main said during a recent interview at her office in Cupertino. "I had every intention of going through with it from the very beginning."
She says she was the "first modern mail-order bride."
Burden, 40, followed Main to Northern California and is working as a truck driver and living out of a suitcase.
"I still love him," she said. "I keep track of him. I know where he is."
Their rocky relationship had a rocky beginning.
Two years ago, he quickly responded to Main's offer to "take me away" and flew to Wyoming for a 10-day visit.
"It was a disaster," Main recalled. "We had nothing in common."
Nonetheless, after more correspondence, Main flew to Alaska for a visit in the spring of 1986. She stayed for a year.
"He was sort of dirty and rugged," she said, "and it was sort of appealing. He showed me how to pan for gold. We went ice-skating together. We went horseback-riding and to the movies in Anchorage."
But Burden, a big, bearded man known to his friends as Hindu, had two sides to him, Main said.
"He was a Vietnam vet and a borderline schizophrenic," she said. "He beat me. He almost killed me several times--just snap, and he was someone else."
They were married in July, 1986, and divorced six months later.
The wedding was performed by Williams in Paystreke, the tourist attraction and simulated mining town he built five miles outside Hope. The event had all the tradition and garb of a 19th-Century wedding, complete with top hats and gowns, can-can girls and ragtime music.
There was no honeymoon, other than the short drive to the nearby town of Moose Pass for dinner after the newlyweds finished cleaning up the wedding celebration mess.
Beautiful in Summer
Hope, Main said, is one of the most beautiful places on Earth during the summer, when the sun is out almost 24 hours a day. During the winter, however, the entire town remains snowed in and darkness prevails for all but a couple of hours each day.
"Everyone I met in Hope was strange," she said. "There was Wild Bill and Hippie John and Cracker Jack--he was the town chiropractor. Hope is where everyone who can't make it anywhere else in the world ends up. Everyone is a gold miner there."
One of the hardest things about living in Alaska, Main said, was being away from her family--Burden was her fourth husband and she has a son and daughter and two grandchildren from previous marriages.