Days 104-106: A Typical Los Angeles Adventure

I arrived at Ryan Shuck’s house around 8:00 pm. I met him through a mutual friend and he lives there with his girlfriend, Caitlyn. Ryan is a well-known musician (currently the lead singer and guitarist in Julien-K) and he was about to leave for a six week tour, so he wanted to review things in the house with me before he left so I could keep an eye on it. His girlfriend and a roommate would be there too, but they worked a lot and weren’t around very much. The timing worked out perfectly.

I texted Ryan that I was there and he met me out front to help me with my luggage. I was embarrassed that my suitcase had just broken and was missing a wheel. We walked through the front gate, passed the pool, and went inside the house. The house had a beautiful 1950s design and Ryan did an amazing job decorating. He did such a good job, that his house has been featured in magazines.

After I set my bags down, Ryan showed me around the house because it was my first time staying there. He had a soundproof recording studio with a lot of guitars and a rack full of black leather jackets. I asked, “What all do you record in here?” He laughed, “Lots.” Other musicians record there too.

Ryan and I chatted over some wine in the kitchen. Ryan is tall, about 6’3”, and has a thin, athletic build. He has dark hair that was styled like a rockstar – shaved on the sides and long on top. He is in his 40s and exudes charisma. I felt embarrassed by my bland shirt and jeans.

Ryan and I talked about relationships, my recent travels, and his business endeavors. As Ryan told me more about his career, I was blown away. I only knew of him as a regular guy when I was first introduced to him, but he has platinum records on the wall, his music has been in movies, he has had top positions on the Billboard Charts, has been on Total Request Live, and has sold over three million albums.

According to Wikipedia, he is an “American singer, songwriter, guitarist, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. He has been a founding member of the industrial rock band Orgy. As of now, he is the leader of the Electronic rock / indietronica / dance project Julien-K and the guitarist and backing vocalist of Dead By Sunrise, the alternative rock side project of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. Growing up, Shuck played in the Bakersfield-based rock band Sexart, alongside Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, Adema bassist Dave DeRoo, and Videodrone frontman Ty Elam. Aside from his musical career, Shuck also owns four popular restaurants in the Orange County, CA area and a recording studio in Long Beach, CA.”

Ryan is such a nice guy and it was awesome to have a normal conversation with him, even though he’s famous. We took our wine outside and sat by the pool, where we continued to talk. He made me feel welcome and he was easy to talk with.

After a couple of hours, Ryan’s girlfriend, Caitlyn, arrived after being in New York for work. She is tall (5’10”), thin, beautiful, 29-years-old, and super fashionable. She joined us at the pool and told us about her recent business trip. She works for a custom blinds store, but she used to sing in their band at times. It was getting late, so we all headed to bed. It didn’t feel like I was back in Long Beach because I wasn’t at my own place. As I was lying in the comfortable bed, I kept thinking about what a crazy adventure this has been.

The next morning, I went for a run around the neighborhood. It was surreal being back in California. It was October and very hot outside (in the 90s F). I was missing my cool fall temperatures in the north. I ended up running right by the golf course where Aaron and I got married. I hadn’t actually been that close to it since our wedding. I ran right by the fence that separated the outdoor pavilion and I paused to look at it. I guess it was closure for me. I know I take longer than most people to grieve and move on, but it’s necessary for me.

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Halfway through my run, my knee got a sharp pain. I couldn’t get it to go away so I had to walk back. It was probably because I hadn’t gone for a run in a long time – just a couple of times while on the road. After my run, I drove to Target to get some items that I was low on, like shampoo. Walking around there made it feel like I never left.

I picked up some food on the way back and ate it at Ryan’s place. As I ate lunch, Ryan was cutting the hair of his band mate so it was fresh for their tour. I had purchased one his albums on iTunes and had been listening to it during the day. I couldn’t believe how good it was! Ryan has an amazing voice and the beats were so unique, they put me a good mood.

Afterwards, I met Max. He was staying in the room next to mine. He was there for four months while he was doing a physical therapy internship. Max was in his late 20s, in great shape, had dark blonde hair, and was really friendly.

I had to shower and get ready for a friend’s birthday party. As I did my makeup, Ryan was running around the house packing for his tour. My friend’s birthday party was on a boat that he rented in the harbor in Marina Del Rey. I had to be there before the boat left and it was a 45 minute drive so I quickly left.

I arrived on time, but the birthday boy, Rohan, was running late with his pre-party crew. There were about five of us already there and they let us board the boat. It was beautiful as the sun was setting on the water. Rohan and the rest of the party showed up and we took off to the ocean. There was around 40 people packed on this boat.

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It was so much fun and I was able to catch up with some old coworkers. As we sailed around the harbor, it reminded me of why Los Angeles can be a pretty spectacular place to be. Several of Rohan’s friends from MIT flew in just to celebrate his birthday. I had a blast talking about my time in Alaska and Canada.

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Once the boat arrived back to the dock, we went to an Airbnb that Rohan and some of his friends had booked in the Hollywood Hills. It was a giant mansion on the side of the mountain – something you’d see in the movies. We hung out there for awhile and then took Ubers to West Hollywood. The clubs were ridiculous with mostly-naked people swinging around the place.

Once all of the clubs closed, we headed back to the Airbnb. We were partying and it was starting to die down around 3:00 am. I fell asleep while sitting on the couch, only slightly leaning back. I woke up at 6:30 am because I was very cold and shivering. There were other people passed out on the couch and I decided I needed to go back to Ryan’s place to get a good rest. Before I left, I walked outside to the back yard where the sun was rising over the Los Angeles skyline. It was beautiful and reminded me that it can be a pretty magical place.

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After a crazy and fun night celebrating Rohan’s birthday, I slept in until the late morning. I cooked myself some food while summarizing my trip so far. I enjoy data, so here you go:

Leaving Long Beach – arriving back in Long Beach:

  • 104 days (just under 15 weeks)
  • 10,400 miles driven
  • Approximately $1,350 spent on gas
  • 45 overnight locationsMotel: 11
    • Hotel: 3
    • Airbnb (room): 9
    • Airbnb (private space): 3
    • Airbnb (bed and breakfast): 2
    • Airbnb (house/condo): 2
    • Airbnb (guesthouse/lodge): 2
    • Hostel: 3
    • Friends/family house: 4
    • Cabin: 2
    • Lodge: 1
    • Deck on a ferry: 1
    • Structured Tent: 1
    • Backpacking Tent: 1
  • Total spent on accommodation: $7,539.64 (average per night $81.07)
  • 2 countries; 7 states/territories; 34 cities
  • Met up with 6 friends
  • Met over 65 people new people
  • 15 hiking trails; 5 bike tours; 5 ferry rides

I loved looking at the data. It put into perspective just how far I had driven, and how many different places I had spent the night. I still had a lot ahead of me, but I think it’s important to pause and reflect on your journey from time to time.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 78-79: Camping on a Ferry

I arrived to the ferry terminal later than I should have, around 8:00 am. No matter how hard I try, I am often running slightly late for anything that requires me to wake up early. I was waved on to the ferry shortly after I arrived and they asked me to parallel park in a very tight space. I was successful and the guy guiding me said, “Perfect, wow!” You can’t live in Los Angeles for 15 years and not know how to parallel park.

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I grabbed my backpack and headed to the deck of the ferry. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw there were only a handful of people up there. I found a good lawn chair and dragged it to the window, right at the start of the solarium. The solarium is a partially covered area with heat lamps. Being at the edge, I could have the views and some heat from the lamps.

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There were two girls slowly waking up near me. One was wearing a George Washington sweatshirt and looked upset at having to wake up for the stop. It was a two hour stop in Haines to off-load and reload people (they were getting off at that stop). The girls had just finished the Klondike relay race and were exhausted.

I blew up my thermarest sleeping pad and got my sleeping bag out so people knew that chair was taken. Once I was all set up, I enthusiastically walked over to the uncovered deck and was attempting to take a selfie. A man walked over and offered to take my photo.

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Ralph is from Boulder, Colorado and is retired. He was thin and had short gray hair. Ralph was traveling in a van that he retrofitted so he and his friend could sleep in it. They drove through Montana, Banff, Alaska, and now back through Canada. They were doing a lot of fishing on their travels. I told Ralph that I was awed by the drive from Haines Junction to Haines and he said he thought it was more beautiful than driving through Banff.

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Ralph told me about life in Boulder and how Google set up a small shop there, which has caused the cost of housing to increase. He said there are times when he goes for a hike in the evening and a cohort of 12-15 people will be climbing up the mountain after work, sometimes with their Google badge still on.

Ralph and I talked about our travels and why we chose to sleep outside. When taking this ferry, people can pay for a room (would have cost about $200) or people can sleep anywhere inside or outside. The ferry is very basic and so are the rooms. It’s definitely not a cruise ship. There is one restaurant onboard open during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a small movie room that plays movies a few times a day. But that’s all there is.

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The inside does have a couple of large rooms with chairs to watch the views. People who choose to sleep inside put their sleeping bag in between the rows of chairs, which is what Ralph’s friend was doing. As long as they’re not blocking the aisle, they can sleep anywhere.

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On the outside of the ferry, you can set up a tent on the deck or just sleep on one of the lawn chairs under the heaters. I was planning on doing the tent until the man I met while flying to Denver recommended that I shouldn’t bother with a tent. I’m glad I took his advice. Because it was the end of the season, there weren’t any other tents and I still felt like I had privacy.

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After talking with Ralph for a bit, I headed to the restaurant to eat some breakfast. I was almost finished eating when Ralph showed up with his tray of food and joined me. Shortly after, the ferry pulled away from the dock and we were on our way.

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Ralph told me he’s been to Alaska eight times. Sometimes he’s flown, other times he’s driven. He’s gone with his wife, and once with his daughters. For this trip in his newly renovated van, he and his friend had been eating the salmon they caught. This was his first meal in three weeks that was “eating out.”

Ralph’s friend Dave joined us at the end of breakfast and Ralph introduced me. He laughed, “She’s retired too.” Dave just finished taking a shower and they told me when they were in Valdez, they took advantage of showers at the public pool.

I told the men that I was thrilled to be on the ferry because it felt so fun and so basic. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of amenities like cruise ships have. There aren’t any distractions – we could sit back and enjoy the scenery. They told me, “You’re too young to cruise. They have casinos, and shows, and it’s too flashy.”

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Ralph and Dave used to be mechanical engineers at IBM and knew of “the big yellow book” that the industrial company I worked for during the last 11 years produced every year.

After breakfast, I walked around the ferry to see what else was there. I walked past the reclining room, which gave people a nice, relaxing way to watch the world go by.

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I was surprised that I still had cell service. I called my cousin Misty and we were able to catch up while I sat on the deck watching the mountains. It was incredible. Mountains were on both sides of the ferry and didn’t seem like they’d stop anytime soon.

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For lunch, I ate my leftover pizza in an empty room that used to be the bar. The ferry was stopped in Juneau for more loading and unloading. There was a guy sitting near me who was a maintenance technician for the ferries. He was getting to Juneau as a stopping point to board another ferry that was delayed. He explained to me that the city of Juneau is 13 miles away from where the ship docks, so it wouldn’t be worth it for me to get off. He pointed out that cruise ships get the spots close to downtown.

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The man told me the ferries closed the bars about two years ago because they said they didn’t make any money. He didn’t believe them because a friend of his said he’d make $900 on a 36-hour ferry ride. They closed the gift shop at that time too.

The man told me I might see some whales. He explained that the ferries try their best to avoid pods so they don’t kill them, but one had died from a ferry recently. He angrily pointed out that cruise ships just go right through pods of whales and don’t care if they are killed. Ferries at least try and avoid them.

The man got off the ship and I took a nap in the warm sun on the deck under the solarium. Once I felt rested, I went back to the deserted bar and wrote a blog post for my next entry. After that, I ate dinner at the restaurant, watched a movie “Geo Storm,” which was terrible movie, washed my face, and headed to bed.

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I slept surprisingly well thanks to my sleeping pad. My sleeping bag and the nearby heat lamps kept me warm as I listened to the waves and the engine. Occasionally the ferry would stop in some city and make a few announcements, which woke me up.

The sun started rising around 5:00-6:00 am. A loud, rude, woman came to the deck asking for a lighter so she could smoke. When no one had one, she said, “You guys are backpackers? In tents? And none of you have a lighter? What year were you born?”

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For breakfast, I found Ralph and Dave in the restaurant and joined them. We took our time eating and having great conversations ranging from the work they used to do as engineers, the fires they encountered in British Columbia, the giant salmon they caught and ate, and how the human population is decreasing. We talked about how the birth rate is low in most countries. People aren’t dying much any more like they used to, so the there’s still a lot of people. But what happens in a few decades when the low rate has been going on for so long?

I told them about an article I read pointing out people in Japan don’t want to get married and aren’t having kids (or even interested in having sex). It’s so bad, the government has stepped in and spent lots of money arranging social events trying to get people to date.

We talked about border crossings and Ralph said that years ago he was crossing into Canada in an old Subaru and looked like a hippy. He was pulled over and his whole car was searched for over an hour until he was released.

I was loving the conversations with these men and was happy I met new friends to keep me company. The ferry arrived at Ketchikan, which is where they were getting off. Ralph went to the deck to grab his backpack while Dave and I watched some seaplanes. He nostalgically told me he’d be a pilot in another life. He said when Ralph was 24, he flew a plane from Colorado to Fairbanks.

I hugged Ralph goodbye and felt honored to have met them. Intelligent, adventurous, and kind men. After they disembarked, I decided to walk into town during the quick stop. I only made it to Safeway, where I bought some lunch and brought it back to the ferry.

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I spent the afternoon writing some more, watching “Only The Brave,” which made me cry, and sitting on the deck enjoying the views. I watched the sunset just before we arrived to Prince Rupert around 9:00 pm. It started to drizzle and get very cold. I was thankful that the weather had been amazing up until that point.

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I drove my car off the ferry and had to go through customs since I was now back in Canada. Thankfully, it was painless. I arrived at my 2-star hotel in Prince Rupert in the dark, exhausted and in need of a shower.

The hotel was gross and I thought it was ironic that the ferry was more clean and comfortable. The ferry definitely lived up to all of the hype!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 76-77: Hitchhikers and Border Crossings

One of the crazy things about Alaska is that aside from a couple of main highways, there aren’t roads on the coast. To get to a lot of cities, you need to fly, take a boat, or take a snowmobile in the winter. In order to take my car on the ferry from Alaska to Canada, I needed to catch the ferry in Haines, Alaska to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Haines is southwest of Anchorage and is on the coast. It would make sense to take a road along the coast and go directly to Haines, but there’s not a road.  I had to drive northeast to Tok, Alaska and go back into Canada through the Yukon, British Columbia, and then back into Alaska again for a total of 750 miles.

I left Tok, Alaska after spending some time with my Airbnb hostel host. The small town is only about 20 miles from the Canadian border.

Pulling up to the border gate always makes me nervous, especially after having my car searched the first time I went into Canada. I pulled up to the booth right away since there weren’t any other cars. I handed my passport to a woman in the booth. She was serious and strict and asked me rapid-fire questions.

“Where do you live?” Los Angeles
“What are you doing here?” I drove the Alaska highway. I am on my way to Haines to catch the ferry to Prince Rupert.
“How long have you been traveling?” About six weeks?
“You have that much time off of work?” Yes
“Voluntary or involuntary?” Voluntary
“Are you staying in your car?” No, motels and Airbnbs
“Do you have any weapons?” No

I got through the border and stopped at the border signs again. It had been less than a month, but the leaves were quickly changing into fall colors.

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img_6992I was happy to be back in Canada. The Yukon and British Columbia are breathtaking, untouched, and there’s something about it that made me feel like I belonged there.

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I was getting tired from the drive. It’s common to drive two-three hours without seeing any sort of building, including gas stations. Finally, I was pulling up to a small town and saw a sign for the Kluane Museum of History. I pulled over because I needed to wake up. The cold wind tousled my hair as I ran inside. The temperature had ranged from 46-52 all day. The museum was small and there was only one other person  looking around. It focused on the animals that live in the north and I enjoyed reading about them.

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I continued driving and stopped occasionally to take in the view. At around 7:00 pm, I pulled into a gas station that was just off of a lake in the middle of nowhere at Destruction Bay. It had a restaurant and a motel attached to it. I was really tired and looked online at reviews of the motel. It was just ok and was pricey for a lower quality place, but it was the only place to sleep for the next couple of hours. I considered staying in Haines Junction a couple hours away, but there weren’t many rooms available.

I decided to stay the night at the Talbot Arm motel attached to the gas station so I could relax. I was elated when I realized the price tag of $110 a night was Canadian and it would only cost me $83 US dollars. I ate dinner at the restaurant attached to the gas station and enjoyed the view of the lake across the highway. While eating dinner, I booked a hotel in Haines, Alaska for the following night and a hotel in Prince Rupert, British Columbia the night my ferry would arrive.

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The next morning it was drizzling outside and only 43 at 11:00 am, so I turned on my seat warmers and hit the road. I was happy to have empty roads again. There’s no stress with cars tailgating and no urgency when nobody is around.

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The Yukon is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. The road winds its way through giant mountains and lakes, surrounded by vibrant, bright colors. At one point, I saw a grizzly bear on the side of the road and pulled to the shoulder with several other cars to watch as he foraged for food. I watched him for about 15 minutes and he didn’t seem to care that we were all just quietly hanging out.

I arrived in Haines Junction and stopped at the same gas station I had on my way north. I paid $8.35 for a latte and a packet of mini donuts again. Sometimes my road trip food is similar to my road trip food in college.

This time, I headed south towards Haines. I turned off my GPS as I would be following the same road for the next 147 miles. I entered into British Columbia and couldn’t believe that the views could get even better! My words can’t do it justice, so I will provide pictures instead.

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A few miles before the US border going back into Alaska, I saw a man and a woman toting backpacks on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. I pulled over and they told me they were from Luxembourg. The car that was parked just up the road in a small gravel lot was their rental car. They were told by the rental company they could not take the car into the US. When they asked at the border, the Canadians told them the GPS would recognize the car and they recommended they park it up the road and hitchhike.

I questioned them a lot before I decided to take them. Giving a ride to a fellow backpacker is one thing. Bringing unknown foreigners into the US is another story. They assured me they were legit, not criminals, and did not have drugs on them (just a bottle of wine). The couple was backpacking for a month in Canada. They had booked a day-long ferry from Haines to Juneau, and would return to their car in a couple of days.

They seemed like nice people, so I decided to give them a ride. However, I had been traveling for almost three months and my car was starting to get disorganized. I apologized as I moved stuff around so they and their backpacks would fit.

The couple appeared to be in their late 20s to early 30s. Within five minutes we arrived to the border. I was afraid and didn’t know what to say if the guy asked me how I know them. Thankfully, he asked us little questions. He made me sign my passport because apparently it wasn’t signed. For the couple, they needed to each pay a $6 permit fee. They didn’t have American money so the border agent said they needed to go inside to use their credit card. I pulled over and they hesitated leaving their backpacks in my car and said, “Please don’t leave us!”I went inside to use the restroom and also so they wouldn’t think I was going through their stuff.

When they returned to my car, they were speaking in their language and laughed. Then they told me, “We were just saying that’s how you got all of this stuff in your car. You pick up hitchhikers and then drive away with their stuff!” I laughed and said they were on to me.

It took about 30 minutes to get to their hostel. They were splurging by staying in a hostel that night instead of their tent. I offered them a coke and the guy seemed very happy to have one. The couple told me it was scary camping in Canada and Alaska because of all of the bears. The guy was wearing a shirt that said “Norway” and we talked about how much we love it there. They explained that camping in Norway was so different because they killed all of the bears and wolves. Canada and Alaska are more wild.

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The couple thanked me for picking them up and said they had been there for awhile because not many cars drove by and the ones that did, didn’t stop. They tried their best to look un-menacing by doing things like hanging their bright red crocks on their packs. It worked because I did feel safer that they were backpackers, not just random hitchhikers.

I dropped the couple off at their hostel that was a couple miles from the highway. They were very grateful and said, “You’ll get a lot of good karma for this!” After they got out of the car, I realized I never asked their name. I have a serious problem remembering to ask.

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I arrived to my hotel in Haines and was thrilled to have a nicer hotel with a kitchenette. The time zone changed back to Alaska time (an hour behind the Pacific Time Zone), which made no sense considering geographically that part of Alaska is further east of the Yukon.

It had warmed up to 65 and I walked across the street to a little shop and got a shirt representing my adventures in Alaska. I walked around their cute little Main Street and ate an elk burger pizza before heading back to my hotel to prepare for my 36-hour ferry ride the following morning.

I had been looking forward to the ferry for several weeks. I would be sleeping on the deck as I opted not to get a room, so I needed to make sure my backpack had what I needed. I enjoyed the plush mattress knowing it would be 48 hours before I had a bed again.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 75: Hiking on a Glacier

I woke up to the sound of rain against the roof of my tiny, rustic cabin. I cringed at the thought of getting out of my warm sleeping bag to the bitter cold air and rain, so I decided to play on my phone with the small amount of battery I had left. I reached for my glasses on the floor beside the box spring I was laying on and realized they were almost frozen. It was painful to put them on my face. I had tried to charge my phone with my solar charger, but it was too cold and the phone wouldn’t charge.

I played on my phone for about an hour and heard the rain stop. I threw my coat over my thermals and braved the cold so I could go to the bathroom. Looking across the small river, I noticed the clouds and mist had rolled in, creating an eerie feel.

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My quick venture outside left me feeling very cold, so I jumped back into my mummy sleeping bag and walked around the cabin with it wrapped around me as I dug through my backpack for breakfast options.

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I was elated when I discovered I had a powdered Starbucks vanilla latte packet. I used my Jetboil to make the latte and sat on the porch enjoying the view.

I ate a poptart for breakfast and packed up my gear. With my paid admission, I could stay there all day and hike Matanuska glacier. Once packed up, I drove about a mile to the parking lot. The natives own the rights to the glacier, but Bill (whom I had met the day before) owns the access rights. There is some sort of guidance on the first mile of the glacier.

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People are able to hike the glacier by themselves or they can book a tour where a guide will walk them to other areas, like the ice caves. They’ll also provide crampons for your shoes. I decided not to do a tour because it was expensive. I’ve also hiked on a glacier in Norway and didn’t feel it would be all that different. Plus, I could still hike it on my own to the main areas.

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The first section of the hike was sandy and muddy. Certain sections had metal grates or wooden pieces of boards to help stabilize the ground so people don’t sink. There was a “path” for people to follow, which was basically just scattered orange cones here and there.

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I started the hike and was trying not to sink. About ten minutes into the hike, I ran into Keenan, the guy who I had talked with the night before about camping. He was leading a handful of people on a tour. He stopped to talk to me and asked how my night was. I told him it was super cold, but the views made it all worth it. He replied, “Right on!”

I continued hiking, mesmerized by the still pools of water, gray sand, and ice slowly popping through. I started to head towards the ice caves, but a tour guide warned me not to go that direction without crampons. I found the trail again and continued.

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I came across an area with a crevasse that I needed to cross in order to continue. It was a pretty large gap and not having crampons made me nervous. I watched as a girl struggled to cross, squatting down because she was too scared to make the leap. Her friends on the other side were trying to convince her to jump. I walked further down and found an area that I thought was safer and crossed there.

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The ground was deceptive. It was gray from the dirt, but was actually ice. I got closer to the main body of the glacier and got worried that I would slip. After about 30 minutes of hiking, I made it to the top and the stopping point. To go further, you needed to be on the other side with crampons. It was incredible to see such a majestic glacier. The blue and white colors intertwined with streaks of brown dirt. It looked fake and it was hard to fully comprehend the size and scope of it.

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After taking in the views, I hiked back to my car. As I got closer, I ran into Keenan again. This time he was leading a new group to go out to the glacier. I asked him, “Don’t you get tired of doing these?” He replied, “No man, it’s something different every time! Are you sticking around for the day?” I told him I needed to keep driving north so I could catch a ferry back to Canada.

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When I got back to the parking lot, Bill had just pulled up with a bus full of people who were getting ready to take tours. I stopped outside of the driver’s side window to talk with him. He said, “It’s a good thing you had the cabin last night with all the rain. Kept you and your stuff dry.” I was indeed happy to have that cabin.

When I got to my car, I plugged my phone in so I could book a hostel in Tok. I had stayed there on my way to Alaska and I would go right through there again. I enjoyed my stay the first time so I booked a room to ensure it would be available.

The drive was beautiful as the fall colors were making their way into the forest. It was only September 6th, but yellow, red, and orange were starting to sweep the trees and bushes. I pulled over to take some pictures of the lakes that made perfect mirrors of the mountains.

I pulled into the hostel’s gravel parking lot around dinner time. I had booked one of the rooms that had two twin beds because it was cheaper than the private room with one twin bed and a bathroom (the one I stayed in previously). However, while I was booking it online, two guys were booking it in person. Because of the double booking, I got my old room again for the same price!

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I put my bags inside my room and two German guys who were staying in the room with two twin beds were about to make dinner. They told me they had salmon, vegetables, and rice, and I was welcome to join them. I hadn’t eaten dinner so I joined them in the kitchen while they cooked.

The guys were from a small town two and half hours from Munich. Flo was 29 years old and studied civil engineering (which is different than how the US describes it). He worked as a mechanic for a bit and wanted to stay with the company since they had good benefits, so he had recently accepted a role as a Safety Engineer/Manager and said, “Nobody likes you in this role.” Flo’s uncle moved to Prince George, Canada 40 years ago and raised his family there on a farm. Flo has visited them a couple of times, but this time he wanted to explore Alaska.

Julian was 30 years old and was a tax accountant. He worked at his dad’s company, which had about nine employees. He works with private citizens and small businesses and explained, “Taxes are complicated.”

The guys get six weeks of paid vacation a year. If people in the US received as much vacation as Europe or Australia, maybe we wouldn’t have to quit our jobs to travel.

Flo and Julian were taking two and half weeks to explore Alaska and started in Whitehorse, Canada. They looked into renting an RV, but it would cost them $4,500 euros, plus additional fees for going into the US and driving on gravel roads. That’s part of the reason I didn’t do an RV. It’s incredibly expensive to rent them, you still have to pay for hookups, can’t park it anywhere you’d like, and I didn’t want to attempt to drive it by myself.

Instead, the guys were staying in a tent they bought at Canadian Tire and said they didn’t realize it would be so cold already. Staying at the hostel was a treat for them. They were following a guide book and were heading to Valdez the next day.

The salmon that they pulled out of the cooler was caught by a guy at a campground they stayed at. They bought it off of him and did a great job cooking it. The three of us sat down to eat dinner like we were a family.

Shelley, the owner of the hostel stopped by to say hello and told me that her brother (who she had wanted me to go on a date with) couldn’t get his plane ready in time to take me on a ride. She said she’d stop by and pick me up in the morning because she wanted me to meet a friend of hers who lived in a log cabin that her husband had built. I agreed to go with her the following day.

Flo and Julian told me about life in Germany. They learn another language at ten years old. A lot of people choose to learn French and their president said learning French was a great way for them to mend their relationship with France after being at war with them for many years. Flo said, “In 100 years, I don’t think there will be any wars or issues between Germany and France. We know each other’s languages and we’re close now.”

Hearing Flo and Julian talk about their view of Alaska was hilarious! They rented a Malibu and thought it was too full of plastic. They joked, “Good thing it’s not hot here or else the plastic would all melt.” They were shocked at how many Alaskans drove trucks. They described Alaskan men as having “beards, stains on their shirts, hunting, fishing, shooting, and have a crack in their windshield.” They thought it took a special person to live in Alaska.

As we were eating dinner, two woman came in to stay in the private room with a double bed. They were about 50 and 70 years old and one was dragging in an oxygen tank. The women were worried about the noise, but we couldn’t hear it once they closed the door.

We finished dinner and I washed the dishes while they dried and put them away. They asked that I help them with some English words. “What is the word for a female cousin?” they asked. I laughed and told them, “female cousin.” One of them said “snorkeling” instead of “snoring” and we all laughed.

I took a much needed shower after spending the night in a cabin with no water. I was happy to have a bed again in a heated room. It was so great to meet Flo and Julian. They were generous with their food and were very hospitable. Each day brought new people into my life and it’s much richer because of it.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 74: Alaskan Adventure!

Before checking out of my Airbnb, I took advantage of the washer and dryer. After finishing my laundry,  I drove to Costco to get new tires. While I waited, I shopped around and ate at their food court. I noticed they had chili on the menu. It made me laugh. Portland had kale and quinoa salads.

I searched for a place to stay that night somewhere between Anchorage and Tok, but couldn’t find one that seemed right. By the time I left Anchorage, it was around 4:00 pm and I didn’t know how far I’d make it that day.

It was 65℉, clear, and sunny. I drove northeast through the mountains and the views were incredible! I felt the drive was prettier than the drive directly south from Fairbanks.

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Around 6:00 pm, I saw a sign on the side of the road that read “Glacier” with an arrow pointing down a gravel road. Intrigued, I drove down the windy road for a couple of miles until I arrived at a gate and a small shop. I went inside and was told it cost $30 to drive to Matanuska glacier, the world’s largest drive-up glacier, which was just about two miles away. 

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Two cars paid the admission and drove through the gate. I talked with a guy in his early 20s. Keenan told me that people park their car in the dirt lot and walk on the glacier. They offer tours to go further into the glacier, which includes ice caves. They closed in a couple of hours so I would have to hike it fairly quickly and still find a place to sleep.

Keenan told me that they offer camping spots, which “are basically just a flat part of the dirt and you can use the porta potty nearby.” It would cost $55 to camp and hike the glacier. I debated my options out loud, explaining I wasn’t prepared to camp that night, but I did have all of my gear in my car. My tent is only three season, however, and they told me it would drop to freezing that night. My sleeping bag is rated for 10℉ and Keenan said, “You can survive with that, but you’ll basically just be surviving.”

The owner, Bill, sat at the next register, looking serious and occasionally chiming in. He said he had a basic cabin that he’d let me use. He asked , “Do you have your sleeping pad?” I told him that I did. He said, “I can let you stay in my cabin. It’s just four walls and a box spring, but it’ll keep you warmer than your tent.”

There was nobody else camping there that night. They had been very busy during Labor Day weekend, but now the people who were there were just there for the day. I wasn’t sure about the cabin because it was about a mile from the glacier, while the tent spaces were right at the glacier. I asked Keenan which I should choose and he said, “Definitely the cabin.” The owner offered to show me the cabin and the tent spots so I could decide.

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I paid the $55 and followed the owner in my car to the cabin. Sure enough, it was just four walls and a box spring. The front porch didn’t have stairs, so I had to take a giant step to climb up it. There was no electricity, no water, and no heat. There was a sliding glass door on the porch with a view to die for.

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We drove to the tent spaces and they were basically in the gravely dirt parking lot and looked very unappealing, so I elected to stay in the cabin. The owner said, “We close up at 8:30 pm and aren’t back until 9:00 am so you’re on your own.” Them he drove away. I’ve survived worse. I backpacked three weeks in the Sierra mountains on my own.

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I unloaded my car with my backpacking equipment and put on pants and a coat as the sun set and the temperature started to drop. I was so thrilled to be staying there! It was completely secluded and I had a million dollar view all to myself.

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I was very happy to find a freeze-dried dinner that I had left over from a backpacking trip in Washington. I ate my food on the porch overlooking the small river of glacier water, and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. The clouds started to roll in, so I probably wouldn’t be able to see any Northern Lights.

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I went to the bathroom behind a tree and got ready for bed at 9:30 pm. I put on my thermals because it was already very cold. At 10:30 pm, I had to get up and go the bathroom again. I grabbed my headlight and went towards the trees. I could see my breath.

The sliding glass door on the cabin didn’t close all the way and there was a small gap letting freezing air inside. I got snug inside my sleeping bag and then heard some noises. It sounded like a large animal scratching something. I tried to convince myself that the cabin would keep me protected, even though the sliding glass door wouldn’t close all the way. Keenan told me it was unlikely I’d see a bear so tried to ignore the sounds. Eventually, all became quiet.

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I started to warm up a little inside my sleeping bag and was very pleased with my decision not to book a place and to just drive. If I would have booked a place, I wouldn’t have turned down the road to the see glacier. Or maybe I would have, but I wouldn’t have been able to stay the night there and there wasn’t really anywhere to stay that was very close. This felt like an adventure. This is why I came to Alaska.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 73: Misophonia, Glaciers, and a Familiar Face

I flew into Anchorage just after midnight and grabbed an Uber to my Airbnb. My driver was born and raised in Anchorage and said the “winters aren’t that bad.” He loves it there.

My Airbnb was in the basement level of a house and had its own entrance on the side. It was very dark as I carried my luggage down the wide steps that wrapped around the house. It was a little studio with a lot of space. It was much bigger than what I had experienced the previous few weeks. I was bummed I had only booked two days there.

Early the next morning, I took an Uber to Amanda’s house where my car was being kept. I briefly talked to Amanda, but had to leave to make my car appointment at the Subaru dealership to repair my window.

After waiting for two hours, the dealership told me they wouldn’t have the car finished by the time I needed to leave for the glacier tour I signed up for. I took their shuttle to the visitor center to meet the group.

The tour time was changed to an earlier time, which threw off my day, but they assured me I’d be back to the dealership by 6:00 pm to pick up my car. The tour guide, Bill, was originally from Minnesota. He was in his 60s, had a short white beard, and was wearing a beret and driving gloves. He talked in a tight, raspy voice that almost seemed fake.

Bill was on the phone with his boss about filling up the tour, so he accepted a walk-on guest for cash. It was clear that it was the end of the season because they combined the tours and only offered one that day. In our group, there was a guy in his early 30s from Rhode Island, a girl in her early 30s from San Francisco, two girls from Australia in their 20s, a woman in her 60s, and a girl in her late 20s that we picked up 40 minutes outside of Anchorage. I was really surprised to see so many single travelers.

We all got into the van to head towards the first stop: a glacier about an hour south of Anchorage. I sat in the front seat next to Bill. While I was happy to see the beautiful views on the clear day, Bill kept pointing his finger at things right in front of my face. He was also smacking gum, which was driving me insane. The woman in her 60s sitting behind me was also making some sort of strange noise, like she was sucking her spit through her teeth. I absolutely can’t stand noises like this. It invokes a rage inside of me and I’m unable to focus on anything else. It’s a thing, it’s called Misophonia.

Maybe it was the disgusting sounds, or the fact that the woman kept asking stupid questions while talking over Bill, but I was feeling annoyed by the tour. Bill was clearly not a tour guide, he was basically just a driver. I felt that I could have just driven myself to the glacier and the animal park where we were going. However, it was a beautiful day and I had the opportunity to see Turnagain Arm in clear skies and without having to focus on the road. We stopped a couple of times to see some amazing views.

Bill told us that when it’s low tide, the water sinks back so far that muddy quicksand appears, making the area look unfamiliar everyday. When I drove this road from Homer, it was indeed a completely different experience because it was cloudy and high tide.

We were running ahead of schedule so we stopped at a river where people can view salmon. There’s no fishing allowed so the salmon population can grow. I couldn’t believe how big the salmon were!

On the drive, Bill told us that Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than anywhere else. Alaskans are proud of this – I had heard it from a few people. Bill told us that Alaskans also have more ATVs, planes, boats, and motorcycles than anywhere else.

We made a quick stop to eat lunch on our own at a cafe near the glacier. Shortly after, we were dropped off to board a boat to see the Portage Glacier.

The guide did a good job telling us about the glacier and the geography of the area. The boat crossed the lake full of melted glacier water and there were giant pieces floating around.

As we got closer to the glacier, it started to look bigger and bigger. It was white and blue with a streak of brown down it from all of the eroding debris that gets trapped.

The boat stopped a few times while we waited to see if a piece would break off into the water. While glaciers are melting globally, they are melting the fastest in Alaska.

We didn’t see any pieces break off, but it was a sight to see. It’s crazy to think that the water in the glacier has been frozen for so many years.

Once the boat returned to the dock, we boarded the van and were taken to a wildlife refuge, where we could explore on our own for an hour. It was a large property and I watched the bears feeding, wolves jumping on a roof, and other animals roaming around.

On the way back to Anchorage, the woman behind me opened a bag of Fritos for all of us to smell and of course chomped on them. We saw several police officers that had pulled over fellow travelers. Bill told us the police will pull people over if they’re holding up five or more vehicles because they’re going too slow. I had seen signs telling people to pull over if they’re holding up five cars – it’s the law. That road is a big tourist road and Bill was happy to see them pulling over tourists who were going too slow. Just then, we watched a police car turn on his lights to pull over another car. Bill told us Alaska was short on police, but 100 new recruits just finished training and they were hiring another 100.

Bill dropped me off at the Subaru dealership at 5:45 pm, just in time to pick up my car before they closed. I drove to downtown Anchorage to meet a friend, Amy, who lives there. She was at a storytelling networking event and welcomed me there. This was a group of people who shared their stories as a form of art.

I enjoyed some appetizers while meeting people who had previously shared their stories. One guy worked at Enron and told a story about espionage. Another guy, Eric, worked at AIG during the collapse and moved to Los Angeles to change careers. He was working as an unpaid intern for a movie studio when he decided to sue them because of their unfair practices. They were basically working people full time for free and calling it an internship. Eric won the case against them, but it lost on appeal. However, movie studios now pay for internships out of fear of lawsuits.

Eric went on to law school and became a lawyer. He was supposed to be in Anchorage for a one-year contract, but now he works for the ACLU and has been in Anchorage for three years. They all joke that Anchorage has a way of pulling people into staying longer.

I also met a woman who had told a story about her divorce and sexual discoveries after it. I wished I had been there when they had originally told their stories, but I was happy I got to hear the summaries.

Once the networking event was over, Amy and I went to another restaurant for dinner on the rooftop. It had been 60℉ that day, but as the sun set it started to feel much colder. The sunset was incredible and I was happy that this was how I was spending my last night in Anchorage.

Amy and I used to work together many years ago. She sat across from me in another department and we had some mutual friends. She left the company long before I did, but through Facebook I was able to get to know her better. It was awesome to catch up in person.

After being married for 13 years, Amy got a divorce. It had been three years since the divorce and we bonded over our similarities. Amy is really smart, thoughtful, and friendly. She moved to Anchorage because that is where her ex-husband is from. She’s stayed because it’s grown on her.

It was late and getting cold, so I took Amy home and then went back to my Airbnb to rest. I am so thankful to know people who live all over the world. It’s really encouraging to see a friendly, familiar face in an unfamiliar land.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 64-65: Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage

I spent day 64 sleeping in, running some errands, editing a video of a recent backpacking trip, and eating leftover pizza. The following day, I took my car to the Subaru dealer for an appointment about my broken window.

When I arrived, I explained to the guy about my experience in Fairbanks and how there is a broken mechanism, but they didn’t have the part. They assured me that Anchorage, being a larger city, would have the part. After waiting for an hour and a half, he came to the waiting room and told me that they do not have the part.

I was angry and asked why he didn’t check to see if they had the part sooner. He explained that they had to take my window apart to confirm which part was needed (and still needed to put it all back together). He could order it, but it wouldn’t arrive for seven-ten days. Frustrated, I told him I wouldn’t be there because I was flying to Colorado for a wedding. After arguing with him and talking with his manager, he agreed to pay for three day delivery and repair the window when I returned from Colorado.

I planned on hiking that day so I went back to my Airbnb to change my clothes and grab my gear. It was recommended that I hike Flattop Mountain trail, which is about three and a half miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. I was happy the parking lot wasn’t crowded since I heard it was a popular trail.

It was about 50°F, cloudy, and misty. The trail started out at an incline, but was fairly smooth with a few rocks. The green trees looked bright against the looming clouds whisking above.

The trail quickly turned difficult. Immediately, rocks popped up on the trail, and I was cautious to avoid a sprained ankle.

Then the stairs appeared – wooden blocks that had been dug into the dirt on the side of the mountain. Set after set of stairs appeared, forcing me to stop to catch my breath. The other people on the trail were also pausing from time to time to take quick breaks.

As the trail continued to climb, the clouds started to cover the trail and it was difficult to see much farther than about 30 feet. The mist was attaching itself to my arm hair, making it appear white.

As I got close to the peak, the trail wound its way through rocks the size of basketballs. The trail was hard to find through the rocks, so I was following a group of people ahead of me until I lost them into the fog.

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The trail seemed to disappear, so I stopped to look around for where it continued. Three guys in their 20s-30s who had been behind me stopped, and I asked if they knew where the trail continued. They responded, “We were following you. It’s our first time here.”

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The four of us navigated the trail together. We realized the “trail” continued up the sharp boulders. It was wet, visibility was poor, and it seemed unsafe. I wasn’t going to continue, but they convinced me to stay with it. I had come that far and I really wanted to see the flag that was supposed to be at the top.

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I left my trekking poles at the base of the boulders and started to climb. The guys grabbed my hand and helped me to the top. We were the only people up there and it was indeed flat. I heard that some groups host festivals at the top from time to time and I couldn’t imagine people carrying everything up the mountain.

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We walked around on the flat surface, which felt like walking on the moon with the rocks below us and visibility only about 10 feet. I found out the guys (Colin, Robert, and Newman) were in the National Guard stationed in Tennessee. They worked in computer science and were in Anchorage for training purposes for the week. They laughed and said they were doing more training than learning while they were there.

We talked about things to do and see in Alaska while they there. I told them I quit my job, sold my house, and was traveling. Newman responded, “Wow, you hear of people doing that, but I’ve never met someone who has. How do we do that?”

Unfortunately, there were not any views due to the thick fog. I didn’t mind much, however, because the atmosphere added an element of mystery to the mountain. The guys were shocked when they noticed their facial hair was white from the freezing mist. We walked back to where we climbed up, towards the flag. We took pictures and I was really happy I made it to the top, even though my legs were shaking.

Newman brought a glass jar of peanut butter and jelly and was eating from it. Colin was in heaven because his wife can’t have peanut butter in the house. Two girls made it to the top and said they were from St. Louis, Missouri (where I grew up). It’s such a small world.

As we made our way down the boulders, Robert helped me down by lending his hand. He said, “I like your dinner bell” referring to the bear bell hanging from my backpack. I explained my encounter with a bear in the Yukon a couple weeks prior and why I now hike with a bear bell.

We got to the base of the boulders and three guys from the Air Force were climbing up. They asked about getting to the top and we explained you have to use your hands and feet. They decided they had enough of the tough trail and headed down.

The National Guard guys hiked down the mountain with me. I pointed out the berries on the side of the trail and ate some. They were hesitant, but I assured them I had been eating these berries since my time in Washington and they were fine to eat. The clouds cleared up a bit and we were treated to some really beautiful views of Anchorage and the ocean.

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We got to know each other better and watched a group of 7th grade hockey players running up the stairs with their coach. When we arrived to the parking lot, the other guys they came with were waiting for them to go eat dinner. We said our goodbyes and I thanked them for helping me climb up the boulders.

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I got back to my Airbnb, showered, and watched a romantic comedy. For some reason I had been really into them those last couple of weeks and had watched a few. I did laundry, which was upstairs where the owners lived. I felt like I was sneaking into someone’s house, so I tiptoed and tried to be quiet. That’s one of the funny things about Airbnb’s, you don’t even know the people whose house you’re sneaking around in.

My body was sore as I laid down to sleep. The hike was beautiful and I was thankful that those three guys were there to help me get up and back down the mountain. This is one of the reasons why I don’t mind traveling alone. People are generally very friendly and helpful. It’s an opportunity to see the goodness in human beings.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 57-58: Denali National Park

It was time for me to check out of my Airbnb and head towards Denali National Park. Living as a nomad has its challenges. I needed some refills on medications and though my doctor overnighted them to my Airbnb, they still hadn’t arrived. The owner said that overnight to Fairbanks takes about three days and she offered to ship them to me in Anchorage once they arrived.

My next motel was in Healy, Alaska. It’s only an hour and a half drive south of Fairbanks and it’s the closest city to Denali National Park. The drive was fairly flat and I missed  driving through British Columbia and the Yukon. But as I got closer to Healy, mountains appeared in the distance.

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I pulled into the deserted gravel parking lot of the Denali Park Hotel (which was actually a motel) around 4:00 pm. The lobby was in an old train car. I asked the girl at the desk what there was to do there and she gave me a map that included some hikes. She told me the motel used to be inside the park until a law was passed prohibiting accommodations inside the park. They relocated, but were able to keep the original name.

I pulled my car in front of my room and unloaded my bags in the cold wind. The motel seemed to be on a raised foundation and it sounded hollow below my feet.

It was an ok motel, but the view from my window was fantastic! A massive, beautifully majestic mountain loomed just outside.

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Despite the view, I was angry that I paid $375 for two nights there. This was the most expensive place I had stayed so far and it felt unfair that they could charge so much just because it was close to Denali. There are a few hotels right outside the entrance to Denali National Park, but they were $300-$700 per night!

There were just a few businesses (grocery store, gas station, restaurant) along the two-lane highway that ran through the tiny town. I went to the small, expensive grocery store and picked up some food. After returning to the motel to eat dinner, I turned on the TV. I watched a classic, Groundhog Day, and relaxed.

The next morning, I prepared for a hike in Denali National Park. Denali mountain is the tallest peak in North America and only 33% of visitors actually see the top of the peak because clouds often roll in. Visitors can only drive 15 miles into the park. To see more, you have to take a guided tour bus. I considered taking one, but they ranged from six-ten hours and I didn’t want to spend my time inside of a bus. I preferred being closer to nature and hiking.

One of the bartenders in Fairbanks told me about an 8-mile hike (roundtrip) that starts at mile 13 of the drive inside. I found the trail entrance pretty easily and there was plenty of parking. The hike started out flat and easy, but within half of a mile, it started to climb.

I was nervous about wildlife, bears in particular, so I kept my eyes peeled. Once I started to climb, the trees became less dense and I had outstanding views! I was really happy that I chose to hike instead of take a bus.

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After about a mile in, I passed two rangers who were taking a break from repairing a section of the trail. After two miles, the elevation gain was noticeable and the cold wind kicked in harder. Without tree cover, my shorts and a t-shirt weren’t going to cut it. I saw a few other people who were wearing pants and coats and probably thought I was crazy.

I took my pants and jacket out of my backpack and put them on. I’d start with my wind/rain jacket first and see how warm it kept me. I also put my gloves on because my hands were starting to hurt from the cold.

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I arrived at the top and the wind was dramatically worse, making it hard to keep from being blown over. The gorgeous rocky mountains full of green trees reminded me of Norway.

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I continued on the trail that went down the other side of the mountain to the parking lot at mile 15 of the road. The hike wasn’t as pretty as the other side and I needed to hike back the way I came to make it to my car, so after a mile I turned around. The total would be six miles with 1,800 ft elevation gain and I was pleased.

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When I came to the peak again, the wind seemed to be even stronger. A woman and her mother asked me if I’d take a picture of them together. I took theirs and they took mine. As they started to hike away, she yelled something to me. She was about 10 feet away from me and I couldn’t hear her. After having her repeat what she said a few times, I realized she was just telling me to have a good hike. The wind was that loud!

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I thought about putting my coat on, but my jacket was better at resisting the wind. It felt like it must be about 35° F. I can only imagine how cold it is when it’s not summertime.

I was happy to get back to my warm motel and to rest. Attempting to be productive, I downloaded pictures from my phone to my PC and got some writing done.

The next morning, I needed to drive to Homer, Alaska. It was 500 miles away (about eight and a half hours of drive time). I knew it was an ambitious day, but I wanted to check out Homer after the bartender told me about it.

The first two hours of the drive was beautiful as it winded alongside Denali National Park. It was raining and the clouds were hovering above. I was told the best place to see the elusive mountain peak is south of the park. I kept my eye out, but I’m not sure if it saw it. It didn’t bother me. The hike inside the park was beautiful enough for me.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 56: Friends in Fairbanks

It was my last full day in Fairbanks and I hadn’t done any hiking for about a week. I found a trail that was near the Chena Hot Springs. It was about an hour and a half drive northeast, so I filled up on gas before leaving town. I tried my newly learned trick: asking for free coffee with a fill up. It worked!

I arrived at the Angel Rocks Trail around noon. It was a beautiful day. The crisp air felt refreshing as I worked up a sweat. There were a decent number of people hiking that were all heading toward the giant rocks. The trail passed a river, went over a  boardwalk, and then became laden with tree roots.

After about 1.5 miles, I arrived at the giant boulders that overlook the bright green trees lining the mountains.

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The large boulders had cracks that allowed for some climbing. I only climbed on them a little bit, as I didn’t want to fall off. There were a few teenagers who had climbed to the top and were struggling to get down. Thankfully they made it down safe.

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After eating a power bar, I continued on the trail towards the Chena Hot Springs. The trail climbed up the mountain and then down another, but the Chena Hot Springs were another several miles away. I wouldn’t have time to go all the way there and back, but I wanted to keep hiking. I continued on the trail and once I passed the boulders, I was completely alone.

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I enjoyed the scenery, but at times I got scared. I had my bear spray and a bear bell hanging on the bottom of my backpack, just in case. The views of the rolling green mountains were like postcards. I much preferred being out in nature than being in the city of Fairbanks.

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I hiked a couple more miles, but the trail got rocky and wasn’t well maintained. I turned back once I made it to the top of one of the peaks.

By the time I got back to my car it was 6:45 pm. I wanted to check out the ice museum at the Chena Hot Springs, but the last showing was at 7:00 pm. The map showed it was a 10-minute drive, so I raced out of the parking lot.

I arrived at the Chena Hot Springs at 6:58 pm, but had to put on my pants and a coat. I frantically grabbed my pants from the backseat and stood outside my car putting them over my shorts. I grabbed my coat and jogged to the front desk.

The girl behind the counter was helping a co-worker at another register on the opposite side. They moved in slow motion and without any care as they attempted to get some people some food. I paced nervously, hoping to get her attention.

Finally, after five minutes, she casually made her way towards me. I told her I needed a ticket to see the ice museum. She said, “Oh, the group already left.” I explained that I had seen the group on my walk over and asked if I could still join them. She replied, “Well, once they close the door, they can’t let anyone in. I don’t want to sell you a ticket because if you can’t get inside, I don’t have a way to refund you.”

After pleading with her to hurry up and just sell me a ticket and her not selling me a ticket, I ran outside towards the ice museum across the parking lot. Breathing heavily, I knocked on the large wooden door. I heard voices, but the door was locked. I knocked again and a girl said, “Someone is at the door.”

The tour guide opened the door and asked if I had a ticket. I tried to explain that the girl wouldn’t sell me one in case I couldn’t get inside. Out of breath, I pleaded with him to let me inside and I promised to pay later.

Thankfully, the tour guide let me inside and I was able to see the sculptures and rooms completely made of ice! After briefly talking about the place, the tour guide let us explore on our own or purchase a martini.

I sat at the ice bar and got the green apple martini that was poured into a glass made of ice. Thankfully, the ice stool had a piece of fur on top of it.

Sitting next to me was a girl with short, spiky, brown hair and a ski hat on. I assumed she was with one of the groups, but it turned out she was also a single female traveler.

Lilly was in her mid-20s, and was from Anchorage but went to college in the Bay area in California. After her studies, she worked as an engineer at a tech company. She was no longer working there and was figuring out her next step in life. She was in the process of driving her car back to Anchorage so she could leave it there while she traveled overseas for a couple of months. Lilly told me, “You’re the first solo female traveler I’ve encountered in my whole drive so far.” She had been staying in hostels and had only met male solo travelers or women who were with other people.

The tour guide didn’t let us stay inside the museum too long because of the cold. Those of us who purchased the martini brought the ice glass outside. It’s tradition to make a wish and smash the glass. Lilly and I took our glasses and smashed them against the pavement.

Lilly had already been inside the hot springs and said she was going back in. They were open until around 11:30 pm so I figured I’d go in first and then eat some dinner. They had changing rooms and lockers for rent, so Lilly and I headed there.

Once I changed, I walked past the indoor pool filled with screaming children (children can only go to the indoor pool and aren’t allowed in the hot springs). The hot springs had a ramp with a railing that allowed people to slowly get inside. It was extremely slippery so I was thankful for that railing.

There were several people enjoying the hot, salty water. It was fairly large and had a fountain in the middle that was spitting out water like raindrops, and a high-pressure waterfall in the back corner that was great for a massage. As I headed towards the back, I saw Lilly and swam towards her. There were a few people near her and we all started to talk.

A guy who appeared to be in his late 30s started talking with me and it felt as if he was hitting on me. Within a few minutes, however, he mentioned something about climate change and how mankind is destroying the earth. I told him that I was at a museum in the Yukon recently and they listed eight reasons for climate change, only one which was influenced by human interaction. He angrily said, “Oh yeah, and who funded that museum?!”

I replied to the man, “I don’t know who funded the museum, but I don’t think there’s some conspiracy. They just mentioned things like the tilt of the earth, the 40,000 year rotations, things like that. The earth has been cooling long before the industrial age. It was just interesting to hear other things that are happening to the earth from scientists. Things that have been happening for hundreds of thousands of years.”

The guy was visibly upset and responded, “Yeah, well, when 99% of scientists agree about climate change, they’re right.” I asked, “And who has funded all of those scientists?” He responded, “Oh!! Sure, you think it’s some conspiracy!” Confused, I said, “Wait, when you asked me who funded the museum in the Yukon, that was a legit question? But when I ask who funded your scientists, that’s not a legit question, it’s a conspiracy theory?”

Others joined in the conversation, but in a much more productive way. Lilly talked about gas and oil companies wanting to tear Alaska apart and how she is concerned for her home state. I respected her opinion because she was able to have a productive conversation and explain her points. The guy, however, slowly swam away and disappeared.

I laughed to myself and thought, “And that’s why I’m single.” I can’t help it. I like to have good discussions with people and I’m pretty informed. If I’m not informed, I have no problem asking questions. But I’m not the person who will jump on a bandwagon or agree with someone just for the sake of agreeing.

As Lilly and I talked, another guy, Zack, who was nearby starting talking with us too. He was in his early 20s and was stationed at the army base in Fairbanks. He was there alone, so the three of us just started hanging out.

After an hour or so, I was really hungry and told Lilly and Zack I needed some food. They were hungry too, so we all agreed to go to the restaurant on site. It was rustic, but expensive since it was so remote. There was also a hotel onsite but none of us were staying there because of the high price tag.

We put on some clothes, but were still fairly wet as we sat at the table and ordered our food. I was able to learn more about them while we waited. Zack was married and had a child around six months old. He seemed so young to have a spouse, be raising a child, and working for the military.

Lilly had been dating a guy from the UK for the last couple of months and she was going to visit him over there once she dropped her car off in Anchorage. The relationship was still new and she had met him in the bay area. I thought it was sweet she was going to see him in the UK.

The three of us got to know each other better and talked about a few political topics, but not in-depth. It was clear we probably didn’t see eye-to-eye on all things. Zack talked about bringing guns into Canada for Army training and how the Canadians hated the guns. Lilly disliked guns and we laughed when Zack told us the average Alaskan owns 12 guns. Zack definitely made up for Lilly’s lack of a gun.

My heart was so full of joy as we all talked. Three people who come from different backgrounds, who have some different beliefs, but who all recognized we’re just people. We were all there alone, just trying to figure out life. It felt like we had a respect for each other and saw the things we did have in common. I believe we all have more in common with each other than our differences, and it seemed like our little group of three realized that too. We weren’t defined by our political beliefs, we were defined by who we are as people. We talked and listened without judgment and felt at peace in each other’s company.

After dinner, we went back to the hot springs and continued to talk. Zack told us that often times you can see the northern lights there, but the soonest the lights would show was in a few days. He said even when there is snow all around, the place is jamming with people watching the northern lights late into the night. Because it was August, they closed at 11:30 pm that night.

We were still lounging in the hot springs when a flashlight shined on us, telling us we needed to get out. The three of us were the last ones out of the hot spring. After changing, we met each other out front and all friended each other on Facebook. I was really happy to have met these two and to have made some new friends. Lilly is a smart engineer working her tail off in a male-dominated world. Zack is defending our country while also being there for his family. My experiences during my travels have proved time and time again that despite our differences in this tumultuous political climate, we can still learn to respect and enjoy each other.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or message me if you have any questions!

Days 54-55: Locals in Fairbanks

The next day I tried to sleep in but the people above me were incredibly loud, stomping all over the floor. Frustrated, I headed out for a riverboat cruise. When I arrived, there were many buses and lots of people lining up to board the huge boat. One bus had a sign that read Princess Cruises. I asked the woman holding the sign, “Princess Cruises, as in the cruise? How are you in Fairbanks?” The woman explained that they offer a “land and sea” cruise. The passengers take a six-hour bus ride to Fairbanks so they can explore inland.

It was cold and very windy outside, but I sat on the top open-air deck anyway. I love top decks because I get to see so much more and I enjoy the fresh air. I grabbed my free coffee and donut and attempted to eat and drink without spilling all over myself.

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The riverboat cruise had a narrator that shared many interesting facts about Fairbanks. The boat stopped while we watched some dog mushers training their huskies.

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Then the boat came to a village that local natives set up to replicate what their villages looked like many generations ago.

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We disembarked and sat through a few demonstrations and presentations about life in the village and preserving their culture. It was really neat and they did a great job of storytelling.

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Once the riverboat tour finished, I drove to the Alaska Pipeline. There is an area where the pipe is above ground and visitors can see it and read a little about the history. It’s actually pretty fascinating. Spanning 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez with a diameter of 48”, it crosses three mountain ranges and more than 500 rivers and streams. According to the sign, it cost $8 billion to build in 1977, which was the largest privately funded construction project at that time.

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Near the pipeline was a place called Gold Daughters. I arrived just before they closed, but they still let me pan for gold. The business was started by two sisters who appeared to be in their 20s-30s. They were both very pretty women, wearing shirts that read Professional Gold-digger. They are from Alaska and their father was a miner. They teach you how to pan for gold, and then you buy a bag pay dirt (ranging from $20-$100) and whatever gold you find, you can keep.

One of the sisters taught me how to pan properly using some regular dirt. The water was cold and hurt my fingers. While she helped guide me, she asked me if I was there for work. I told her no and explained I was traveling. She lives in Fairbanks from March through September and the rest of the year she lives in Portland with her husband who is a lawyer.

My pay dirt had several little nuggets, which they told me was pretty good because most people just get shavings. We took my gold inside and the other sister showed me keychains and necklaces with little lockets, and explained they could put the gold in one of those. I selected the keychain and my little gold nuggets sat inside the small round locket.

I liked that keychain. A couple months later, I was getting into my car and the locket hit something, the clasp broke open, and my gold nuggets went flying all over my car. They scattered under my seats and spread all over the inside of my console, never to be seen again.

The sisters were really friendly and stayed late to let me finish up. It was time for dinner so I drove to the nearby Silver Gulch Brewery. It was busy so I sat at the bar. The bartender was friendly and recommended the fish and chips, which is what I ordered. To this day, it’s the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten!

The restaurant filled up and I overheard someone say the wait for a table was 90 minutes. To my right was a couple who have been married for 25 years. We started to talk and I asked what it’s like living in Fairbanks. They said the winters aren’t too bad – it gets to -40 or -50 ℉. Not that bad?!

I talked politics with the couple because I really enjoy hearing perspectives from other parts of the world. They told me Alaska had a big vote coming up in the November election because there was an initiative called Save the Salmon. They told me the campaign was started by a group in Oregon, people who don’t actually live in Alaska. The couple was very upset about the initiative because they described it as limiting for any new development. The couple told me how much locals use the salmon to fish for food and it reminded me of the riverboat cruise and how the natives also fish for salmon all summer, dehydrate them, and feed them to their dogs all winter. Salmon fishing was very  important to their way of life.

The couple went on to tell me how Alaska was very divided because “Anchorage is full of young liberals who want to increase taxes and legalize weed.” They said their utility and tax bill each year is about $20,000 because of how much energy they have to use in the winter months. The younger generations say they’re ok paying income tax, but this couple described what they’re paying already in taxes and utilities and why they need the tax breaks to keep living there. They also said that “three in every five cars on the road now has someone high driving.”

As the couple talked, I realized I was having an allergic reaction to the cider I was drinking. I have severe allergies and had been having random reactions the past few months, something my doctor has been trying to figure out. My chest was in a lot of pain and I didn’t have any Benadryl on me so I asked the bartender for some water and drank a couple of glasses, hoping to flush it out. Thankfully this helped!

The couple left the bar and the restaurant was starting to empty out a bit, so I started talking with the bartender. He is from Pennsylvania and came to Fairbanks for the summer in 2001. He ran out of money so he stayed for the winter, working. That kept happening over and over and he kept getting pulled into staying. He talked about how his wife moved to Idaho while they were dating, but came back because she missed it there. We talked about how hard it is crossing the Canadian border. One time he lost his voice and Canadians gave him a hard time getting through.

I asked him why he likes Fairbanks so much and he said, “In the winter, it becomes less about living, and more about surviving. If someone’s car breaks down on the side of the road, someone will pull over and help. We have to. It’s a community and we’re all in it together – to survive the winter.” I thought that was a nice way to put it and a nice sense of community.

Another bartender came over and gave me tips of things to do in Fairbanks, Denali, and told me I must go to Homer, Alaska. He said, “Homer is what all the postcards of Alaska look like. Go there and go to the Salty Dog Saloon.” I appreciated all of their tips and decided I’d make a trip to Homer before leaving Alaska.

I booked six nights in Fairbanks because I needed to get some things done, like a much-needed oil change, so I spent the next day on errands. Almost two months of traveling meant that I had driven more than 5,000 miles. My passenger side window was giving me problems as well. Ever since Oregon, the window would randomly get stuck, or bounce back down once it hit the top of the door frame. I had spent the last month avoiding opening the window.

Ken at the Subaru dealership smugly said, “Let me show you a trick.” He held down the electronic window buttons at the same time and held them there for about 30 seconds to “reset” them. He ignored me as I told him a reset wouldn’t work because there was something wrong with the mechanism. As I suspected, it didn’t work and frustrated Ken. He said, “Now you’re going to make me look bad because it’s not working.”

I sat in the waiting room while Ken had a mechanic look at my car. It struck me how relaxed I was. Normally, I’d be waiting at the dealership with anxiety, thinking about my to-do list. Or I’d impatiently take an Uber home so I could get some stuff done. Now that my time is much more flexible, I felt at peace just hanging out at the dealership. There is so much freedom living a life that is not “busy.”

Ken walked over and gave me the bad news: a window mechanism was broken and they didn’t have the part in stock. Fairbanks is remote, so the delivery would take seven days to arrive. Since he couldn’t repair my window, Ken offered to give me the $75 oil change for free.

My neck had been hurting for days (probably because of so much driving), so I went to a local chiropractor in a strip mall. When I walked inside, a few men were at a counter across the room and stared at me. I noticed guns hanging everywhere and I slowly backed my way out of the store. Looking up at the sign in confusion, I realized I accidently walked into a gun store, not the chiropractor’s office. I was definitely in Alaska.

When I walked into the correct office, I noticed that the woman behind the counter had a baby strapped to her chest. It took me by surprise because I wasn’t used to seeing people working with their babies in tow. The chiropractor was talkative and helped relieve some of the pain.

On the way out, he followed me to the sidewalk and asked, “Hey, can you give me your honest opinion? What do you think about the receptionist wearing a baby?” I told him that at first I was surprised and figured it’s a smaller, more remote area so maybe that’s how things are done here. I also told him that I have a lot of friends with babies and it’s hard for them to go back to work, hard to find childcare, and it’s difficult to balance both. If an employer is willing to help them out and let them bring their baby into work, I don’t think it’s a problem as long as they’re doing their job. He thanked me for my input and said they’re trying it out to see how it goes.

The chiropractor recommended a restaurant called The Turtle Club so I went there for dinner. It was a nice restaurant, so I sat in the bar area that was more casual. I had a table to myself and it quickly got crowded. I wasn’t feeling well, so once I ate I went back to my Airbnb to take some Emergen-C and rest up.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 49: Mama Bear

I wrapped up my writing at the B & B and drove into the town of Whitehorse (the capital of the Yukon) to get something to eat at McDonald’s. The town seemed confused. Looking around, there were parts that were artsy, parts that had a small-town feel, and other parts that felt like a city with a new rec center, golf course, and cabaret show.

When I walked inside McDonald’s, I noticed they had delicious-looking pastries and a chicken parmesan sandwich. It seemed much fancier than the McDonald’s I’m used to in the US. Before leaving Whitehorse, I stopped at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, a small natural history museum.

I walked up to the front desk and the middle-aged man told me they just started a movie and I should go watch it and come back to pay later. I thought that was really nice and trusting. I headed to the small theater and watched a short movie about the Yukon and its history.

Once the movie finished, one of the workers named Tracey told the five of us she was about to start a demonstration on hunting and she recommended we attend. We all walked outside to the back where wooden silhouettes of animals stood about 30 feet away.

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Tracey looked to be in her 40s, was strong and stocky, and had a short gray mohawk. She passionately explained what the Yukon was like during the last several thousands of years. She held a spear thrower and said we’d learn how it was done, but first she gave us some history.

Tracey explained that humans are not part of the food chain, we’re above it. This is because we’ve adapted and learned. There is no longer a danger for humans to eat prey. Every animal puts themselves in danger when they attack their prey. There is only one other species other than humans that does not risk their life. It’s the spider. They build a web, sit back, and wait for the prey – no risk involved.

Tracey asked how much we knew about cultural appropriation and we all shrugged our shoulders, saying not much. She said, “You didn’t jump at the word because you’re all Americans and you’re less politically correct than Canadians.” Tracey seemed annoyed with cultural appropriation and said, “There’s no such thing. Every culture throughout time has adapted and learned from each other.” She went on to explain that natives in the Yukon went south for a bit and learned about the bow and arrow. But the ice in Alaska and the Yukon melted so fast 40,000 years ago (so fast there’s nothing to compare it to today) that it made Australia an island. Natives there did not get other influences so they never got the arrow. Tracey said, “We all learn from each other’s culture and always have.”

Tracey showed us how to throw the spear with the use of a hand tool that the natives used. We each got to try to hit the wooden cut-out animals and it was actually pretty hard. Tracey told us that people who lived there thousands of years ago moved an average of nine times a year, always setting up a new camp and following herds.

After the demonstration, I went inside to learn more about the Yukon. There was a section about climate change and a sign that explained there are eight factors as to why the climate is constantly changing. One is the Earth’s orbit. The sign read, “Three main characteristics of the Earth’s orbit affect climate: Obliquity (the tilt of the Earth’s axis), Eccentricity (the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun), and Precession (the time of year the Earth is closest to the sun).” These cycles happen over 22,000 to 400,000-year cycles.

The sign listed the other factors to the climate changing: Continental movement, Glacier Lake Drainage & Melting Ice, Volcanic Eruptions, Sunspots & Solar Weather Activity, and Human Activity. It was refreshing to read about climate change in a scientific way, not in a hysteria way. The sign explained that since the industrial age, human activity contributed to the changing climate because “increasing amounts of greenhouse released since the beginning of the Industrial Age is trapping more of the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.”

It was interesting to see the other seven factors affecting climate change, and it’s been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. Human interference is speeding things up a bit, but it doesn’t look like there is any way to stop it – these are changes that the earth has been experiencing long before human interaction. I’m not saying we can’t do our part to help the Earth, but scientifically speaking, the Earth has been changing since the beginning and is going to change until the end.

I continued to look around the museum, seeing bones from wooly mammoths and the various animals that live in the tundra. It was fascinating to think about what life was like in the area thousands of years ago and how much it has changed. Our lives are so much easier than what most of humanity has experienced.

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I paid for my admission to the museum and continued my drive north, feeling really happy. As I listened to music, I was excited that I was on this adventure, learning new things and meeting new people.

I arrived at Pine Lake, near Haines Junction, where I had booked an Airbnb. I rented a room in a beautiful wooden house overlooking the lake. There were only nine houses there, so it felt pretty remote. I followed the instructions to get inside and there was a note from the owners saying they were on a hike and they’d see me later that night. When they rent out rooms, they stay in a tent on the property somewhere, but use the bathroom in the basement.

The other rooms weren’t rented out and my room was on the top floor in a loft style room. The shared living room and kitchen had magnificent views! I couldn’t believe the place was basically mine since the other rooms weren’t rented out.

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On my dresser was a pamphlet about bears in the area – black bear and grizzly bears. The pamphlet went on to describe what to do in scenarios of each bear and determining if the bear is in a defensive mode or an attack mode. I changed into hiking gear and drove down the road about five minutes to the start of a trail.

As I was stretching, a girl came out from her gravel driveway. She was in her late 20s and said her parents have a house there and she was visiting. I told her I was nervous about bears and asked if she thought I’d see one while on my hike. She replied, “You’ll most likely see a bear.” Terrified, we continued talking about the area while another girl in her 30s came from the other driveway and said, “Hey, I just saw a black bear behind you guys in the forest, heading that way (pointing towards the trail).” She also explained that there was a grizzly bear with three cubs in Haines Junction the other day.

I reluctantly started my hike with my bear spray on the side pouch of my backpack and my headphones turned off. I walked through the dense forest and heard the chainsaw from the house of the first girl I talked with (she said the chainsaw should scare the bear away). The trail was pretty steep, but I kept climbing.

About 20 minutes into my hike, I was close to a large boulder when I saw a large black bear about 25 feet away me, to the left of the boulder. Panicked, I gasped, turned around, and started heading back down. Then I realized I’m not supposed to do that and I’m supposed to scare him. I turned around, hoping he wasn’t charging me. He saw me and jumped up on the boulder like it was nothing and headed in the direction of the trail.

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My heart was racing. I hadn’t actually seen a bear in the wild while hiking and being in the Yukon made me feel slightly more terrified. I waited a few minutes and then continued to climb the large boulder.

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Once on top, I had a great view and continued climbing more rocks and boulders.

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After about ten more minutes, I realized the trail was too steep and I was too afraid of seeing that bear again (or another one). I paused and thought about my options. One of the girls I had just met said the trail gets so steep at one point, there is a chain you have to use to pull yourself up. I’ve never given up on a hike that I had planned; however, they always say not to hike alone and I was hiking alone…with a bear nearby. I decided to trust my intuition and I turned around and headed back. I was able to see some amazing views, but the wind was pretty strong and it was making it a little cold.

When I got back to the Airbnb, I ate dinner and brought my laptop to the table on the back deck. The view was like a postcard and I felt so fortunate I was able to stay there. A cat that the owners told me not to let inside the house kept rubbing against me and getting in front of my laptop.

As the sun started to set, I went inside to get warmer. The views were still incredible through the giant windows. I searched for ferry options to go from Alaska to Canada and sent an email inquiring about my options since I had a car.

At 11:00 pm, it finally got dark outside and fireworks started going off across the lake. I’m not sure what the fireworks were for, but I was enjoying them. Once the fireworks stopped, I started hearing creepy noises throughout the house. It was dark outside with no curtains and the owners weren’t back yet. I tried to talk myself through the noises – it’s nothing, just the house settling. But the later it got, the more I worried about the owners. Could they still be out hiking? It was cold and dark, so I was nervous for them. I texted them asking if they were ok. No reply.

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After taking my shower, it was midnight and the owners still weren’t home. I couldn’t sleep. What if they were attacked by a bear and I’m the only one who knows they were out there hiking? I thought about calling the police or search and rescue, but I didn’t know where they were hiking. They hadn’t replied to my message but in their note, they said they would likely lose cell service. I reread the note and they definitely said they’d be back that night.

I started to pace. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe Airbnb had an emergency number for them and I could ask a family member if they knew where the owners were hiking. Maybe they had watched the fireworks and it was nothing. But the fireworks had ended at 11:30 pm. I was so nervous and didn’t know what to do.

Finally, at 12:30 am, I saw a car pull into the gravel driveway. Noelle came inside and I told her I was worried. She said they got caught up in the nature and beauty of it all so they stayed out longer than they anticipated. Then they decided to grab a bite to eat in town before heading back. Noelle looked to be in her 30s, and had long, thick, blonde dreadlocks. She was petite and fit, and didn’t seem concerned about showing up at 12:30 am.

I stood there in my pajamas talking with her in the dark foyer about hiking, bears, and how I turned around. She said, “People get so afraid of bears, they’re afraid to leave the house. But it’s fine out there.” Her husband was moving stuff from the car to the basement and after talking with Noelle, I didn’t see them again.

I felt relieved that they were ok and that I wouldn’t be spending my night talking with search and rescue, only to find out they died on a hike. I felt like an overprotective mother, but come on, who does that?

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider