Days 134-140: A Week in Whistler, Canada

I drove to the local rec center to check out their facility. It was large and new, with a lot of machines. They also had a swimming pool and an ice rink. But there were also a lot of people. To get there, I had to drive about four miles down the main road. I worried that it would be difficult to access when the snow came and it was more expensive than the small gym I could walk to. I decided to join the Whistler Athletic Club instead.

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I needed to get some items and since I didn’t want to pay the high Whistler prices, I drove 45 minutes to the Walmart in Squamish. The drive was beautiful as the sun set behind the snow-capped mountains.

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Squamish is larger than Whistler, so they have more shopping options like Walmart and Home Depot. I got the items I needed and drove back to my place in Whistler. I made tacos for dinner and relaxed.

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Over the next two days, I worked out at my new gym, talked to several friends on the phone, and walked around Creekside Village. The main village was a couple of miles away. Creekside was older and much smaller, but it was walking distance. There were a few shops and a market, but it was mostly empty. I knew it was dead season, but I was hoping there would still be some things going on.

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I decided I needed to get outside and enjoy the day because the sun was shining. I went to Whistler because I thought I wouldn’t be tempted to venture out in the snow and could get some writing done. Well, it turned out that Whistler was having their warmest, driest November on record. I put my hiking clothes on and walked to a nearby trail.

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Whistler has a lot of amazing paved paths that go all around the forest, connecting to the village. It was sunny, but cool outside. The fall colors were beautiful and I enjoyed seeing the changing seasons. I was walking down the trail near my place and there was hardly anybody outside. I passed a beautiful lake under the bright blue sky.

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After about 20 minutes, I came to a split in the trail and a sign. As I headed towards the sign, a couple was standing there staring at something. They quietly told me, “There’s a bear over there.” Surprised, I walked towards them, looking for the bear. Sure enough, he popped up from a boulder by a marsh, looked at us, and then walked over to the paved path. He just cruised around the path, heading to the backyards of some houses to scavenge. He even walked on the right side of the path!

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I was surprised that the bear was out there because I thought he should be hibernatin, but the warmth was preventing that. After the bear was out of sight, I followed the path he was on. I took it to a lake and kept my eyes peeled for the bear. There was a small park there and the lake was beautiful and peaceful.

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The following day I walked to the gym to work out, came back and showered, and drove to the post office. I needed to mail a check for my health insurance. The post office is in the main village, so while I was there I walked around. Once the sun set it got very cold, so I bought a hat. The village is a beautiful area – shops, restaurants, and bars that are all in wooden cabin-like buildings. The brick sidewalk was lined with trees and gave the town such an amazing mountain feel.

I walked over to Portobello, my favorite restaurant for dinner. However, it was off-season, so it closed at 2:00 pm. Instead, I ate a burger at a nearby restaurant. I didn’t feel like going back to my place because I had been pretty bored the last week. I went inside the Fairmont Chateau, which is where Portobello was located. Just past the lobby, they had an upscale bar and lounge area. I saw they had live music that night, so I sat at the bar to listen.

I ordered a drink and a piece of cake and talked with the bartender, Frederick. He got me a local magazine so I had something to look through. I found homes for sale and couldn’t believe the high prices. Even small condos with a fraction of ownership were overpriced. For example, one townhouse was for sale for $128,500 for ¼ of the ownership (12 weeks a year). Or you could purchase 1/10 ownership of a 3 bedroom townhouse for $195,000. Sure it was 2,449 square feet, but your $195,000 only got you a tenth ownership (5.2 weeks a year).

Frederick told me it’s been a huge problem for years. Builders only want to build multi-million-dollar homes for the rich (who stay there a few weeks a year), which leaves nowhere for regular people to live. Being a ski town, Whistler is based on hospitality. But what happens when staff members can’t afford to live there? Frederick told me, “It’ll be interesting to see what happens this coming season.”

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I enjoyed the conversation and the live music, which was a solo guy with a guitar. The atmosphere was beautiful, but it was expensive. Mixed drinks ranged from $17-$22 each, so I stuck with beer for $9. I love fancy hotels, but sometimes I forget that I’m not currently earning any money. The magazine that Frederick gave me was helpful. I found out about a craft crawl, which was an afternoon beer tour. I signed up for it the following day. Unfortunately, it was cancelled because not enough people signed up. Instead, they offered the nighttime club crawl. I asked if I was too old for that and they assured me I wasn’t.

After spending a day and a half writing, it was time for the club crawl. It started at 8:00 pm at one of the bars. I decided to take the bus down there so I could drink and not worry about driving back. There was a bus station about a three minute walk away from my place and it cost $2.50 each way. I arrived at the station in the dark and could barely see, but I could tell there was a guy there holding a lamp.

While we waited for the bus, he told me he was from the U.K. His dad had purchased a place in Whistler, but he couldn’t live there because his dad was renting it out. The guy is helping his dad as the property manager, and he had to replace a lamp, which is why it was in his hand. I told the guy I drove to Alaska and am writing a book about the John Muir Trail.

Just then, the bus pulled up and we both got on. The first section of the bus has seats facing each other. I was on one side, while this guy was on the other. There were other people around us and he said, “Now you have me intrigued.” I told him a little bit about my travels until we arrived at his stop. He got off and wished me luck.

When I arrived at the bar, I met Brittany, JD, and George. They were the organizers and there were 17 of us signed up for the club crawl.

Brittany and I had corresponded previously about the craft crawl and night club crawl, and it was nice meeting her in person. To help with ice breakers, they had games that involved clothes pin, and taking a shot from a shot ski.

The group was mostly women. There was a group of girls celebrating a 30th birthday, and another group of 23-year-olds there for a bachelorette party. I started talking with another single girl there, Ashlyn. She was from Ottawa and had just graduated college. She moved to Whistler a month ago and was working at a company that does property management. She was able to get staff housing, but has a few roommates.

Ashlyn and I talked about relationships. She had a long-term boyfriend in high school but hadn’t had a relationship since. As we talked near the bar, a guy accidentally hit my arm right as I was taking a drink, which made the glass hit my teeth and spill my beer. He was very apologetic and bought me a shot to make up for it. I looked at Ashlyn, “I probably shouldn’t be taking a shot from a stranger, but oh well.”

The group leaders told us that we needed to go to the next bar and Ashlyn told me she wasn’t continuing with the group. She was friends with one of the tour leaders and just came out for a quick drink. She had an 11-hour shift the following day and wanted to get to bed early. I was bummed because she had been my friend at that first bar.

The rest of the group was made up of the two parties and two single guys. As we walked to the next place (a club) the 23-year-old girls from the bachelorette party welcomed me to their group. They were from Vancouver and were really sweet. They joked that they were fostering me since I was alone. One of the girls would always say, “Come on, Christy” as we went from place to place.

We went to a total of four different clubs, dancing and drinking. The clubs are all underground because of noise ordinances. The girls bought me a pickle juice shot, and paid for one of my drinks. It was really nice that they accepted me as part of their group.

At one of the clubs, several of the girls and I went to the bathroom. While we waited in line, I told them I was on Tinder and Bumble, but I wasn’t having much luck. They said Bumble was better and it’s how one of the girls met her current boyfriend.

One of the girls told me, “If you’re going to hook up with someone here, please use protection. I’m a nurse in Vancouver and I can tell you Whistler has a problem. They have more STI’s than any other city in all of Canada. They actually had to pass a law here requiring that people use protection and if you’re caught not using protection, you can be in trouble. It’s all because of the Australians. They are promiscuous and they don’t like to use protection.”

Wow, ok. Good to know. I had noticed there was a very large number of Australians in Whistler. There are also a lot of people from the U.K. and New Zealand. Weeks later I asked someone why that was and they told me it’s because they’re all part of the Commonwealth so they can easily get two-year work visas when they’re under 31. Then they apply for permanent residency. They told me that 20 years ago, Australians all went to London. But now they all go to Whistler.

I bought the girls shots and we headed to the last club. It was very cold outside and each club had a coat check at the entrance. I was definitely not used to that in Los Angeles. As we walked through the village to the final place, I talked with one of the guides, George. He was 24 and was from Australia. He works a construction job during the day building a large house on the side of the mountain. He said, “Everyone here has three jobs, or this place would shut down. The problem is there isn’t enough staff housing.”

As we talked, a girl walked up to George and kissed him, saying, “Remember me?” He replied, “Yeah, you kissed me.” And walked away. We arrived to the final club and 15 minutes later, they told us we were on our own for the rest of the night. My new bachelorette friends said they were going to find some food and asked me to go with them. We had just gotten there so I stayed at the club.

I regretted that decision shortly after. I hung out alone in the corner watching much younger people dance. About 15 minutes, I took the bus back to my place and ate some ramen noodles. I was 38, feeling like I was 23. Sometimes that’s just the kind of night you need.

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 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