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 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

Day 50 – Alaska Arrival!

On my way out of Haines Junction, Yukon, I stopped at a gas station to fill up. I was advised to drive on the top half of my gas tank because the stretches between gas stations could sometimes be hours.

Two older women from Whitehorse struggled to operate the pump and one said, “Ugh, small towns.” Inside, I got a latte and a small pack of mini donuts for $8.35, which I thought was overpriced. As I walked back to my car, the poor gas station attendant had to run outside and help someone else operate the gas pump. To be fair, the pumps can be confusing. Sometimes you have to leave your card in, other times you need to take it out. You also have to preauthorize an amount before it will start to pump.

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I continued on the Alaska highway into the mountain range that had taken my breath away for the last several days.

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All of a sudden, I spotted a large, majestic moose on the side of the highway! He took off as soon I came to a stop. Shortly after seeing the moose, I saw a bear foraging on the side of the road! I stopped in the middle of the road and watched him for several minutes until a large truck honked his horn behind me. This is part of why the Yukon feels so untouched.

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After driving for just under four hours, I arrived in a tiny town called Beaver Creek. I didn’t have cell service most of the drive, so I pulled into the visitor center. I went inside and an older man with long gray hair welcomed me by shaking my hand. He told me the US border is only 20 miles away, but the first two small spots in the US that had accommodations are now closed down. The first available place to stay the night would be in Tok, about two hours and 40 minutes away.

The man told me that there are only four motels in Beaver Creek and he believed they were all sold out for the night. I sat in my car and checked Orbitz. Sure enough, it showed four motels and they were all sold out. I decided I would continue on to Tok, Alaska. I booked a private room in a hostel to make sure I had a room.

Before leaving town, I stopped to fill up on gas again. The bees were no joke and surrounded me and my car. When I ran inside to get a snack, I saw that the gas station was attached to a motel. I asked the girl behind the counter if they had any rooms and she confirmed that they too were sold out.

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I was almost to the US border and I started to get nervous because I was hassled when I came into Canada. I had apples and blueberries with me so I quickly googled and found that as long as fruit is from the US or Canada, it’s fine to take across the border.

Just before the border, there are signs showing the line between Alaska and Canada. I pulled over and looked into the forest. A line of trees was cut out to show where the border was. There were a few people in RVs taking pictures and it was exciting to be at this milestone! I took some pictures and couldn’t believe I was already to Alaska.

When I pulled up to the small border station, the agent asked me a few questions.

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Agent: “What are you doing in Alaska?”

Me: “I’m driving the Alaska highway.”

Agent: “How long will you be here?”

Me: “A few weeks.”

Agent: “Ok, that should work. Did you buy anything in Canada that you’re bringing into the US?”

Me: “No”

Agent: “Ok, welcome home!”

I felt so relieved! Getting into Canada felt like I had to prove I wasn’t a criminal.

Once I was in the US, things were different. There were more cars, the power lines were tilted and looked like they were falling over, and a few places were abandoned. I was also getting into more of a valley and the mountains were in the distance. I was used to being right in the mountains for days, so the views seemed a little underwhelming.

img_5800img_5808img_5811I arrived at the hostel at 7:00 pm. It was a small, wooden cabin with a shared living room and kitchen, four bunk beds in the living room behind a curtain, and three private rooms. My private room had a twin bed and a small bathroom attached. My name was on the list and the key to my room was in the door.

I needed dinner so I drove a ½ mile away to Fast Eddy’s. It was a rustic restaurant and it was packed! Tok is a small town (population of 1,300), so this was probably one the few restaurants that offered a sit-down dinner.

The hostess said it would be a few minutes until she had a table available. In front of me was another single female waiting for a table. She was in her 20s, had two long braids, and had an earthy look to her. I felt so plain next to her. She was the type of girl who looked like she went on adventures and lived life as a free spirit. I look like a regular, plain girl.

I get self-conscious of this at times because I’m not someone who looks “cool”. I don’t wear the most fashionable, hip, earthy, or free-spirit kind of clothes. My look is very regular and oftentimes boring. So many women have such a great sense of style.

But then I remember not to judge a book by its cover. While I may look pretty average, I’m not average. Instead of sitting there in self-pity, I gave myself a pep talk. I reminded myself that I’m the one that hiked the JMT solo. I’m the one who quit a successful job, sold a house, and am on an amazing adventure. I may not look like it, but I am a free-spirit and I am badass. Often times people look like a free-spirit, but once you get to know them, you realize they’re actually just pretending and living a pretty regular life. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and I have to consciously remind myself that I am me – nobody is like me and I don’t need to dress how someone expects me to. If I look plain, so be it.

I was seated at a table, enjoyed the salad bar, and ordered the overpriced salmon. Once I finished my salad, the waitress told me, “Your salmon is behind that bus.” Confused, I asked “What?” She said, “We got a bus full of 50 people and your salmon order is behind them, so it’s going to be awhile.”

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The restaurant was expensive and I figured it was because it was so remote. Then I remembered I was no longer in Canada, so the price was actually the price in US dollars – no more Canadian discount.

When I got back to the hostel, there was a middle-aged woman named Sharon sitting outside on the porch. I joined her while her husband was inside resting in one of the private rooms. We enjoyed the fresh air and the fact that it was 9:00 pm and still light outside.

Sharon and her husband were from Winnipeg and flew to Whitehorse a few days prior. They were on their way to visit their kids who were working in Dawson City, but they wanted to explore a little bit first. Their kids are 23 and 24, and work as a dishwasher and a waiter. They were both working there for the summer because Dawson City has a hard time finding enough workers for their tourist season. In your first year working there, they give you 40% of your rent back and the second year, they give you 50% of your rent back and a week-long cruise.

Sharon was talkative and fun to talk to. She told me about their trip and the things they planned on doing. She also told me about their trip so far and things they had seen. They had stayed the previous night in Beaver Creek and went to a show at a bar with two older women playing music. One woman sang, “I might be twice the woman now…” referring to her weight gain as she aged.

Sharon and her husband have been married for 30 years and were high school sweethearts. She thought it was cool that I was on this adventure. As we talked, a middle-aged couple pulled up on their motorcycle. They were from Chili. Sharon had talked to them earlier and said they rode their motorcycle all the way from the tip of South America.

The four bunk beds weren’t occupied, but the three private rooms were taken. I love staying in places like this because it brings people together. I get a chance to hear other people’s stories and I get to enjoy some company for the evening. I went to bed and the cold wind howled against window, reminding me that I was indeed in Alaska.

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

 

Days 12-15: Backpacking in a Rainforest (Olympic National Park)

My friend Mandy had planned a four-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park, Washington. The plan was to hike about 14 miles to the Enchanted Valley and hike back out. Mandy’s friend, Lori, was flying to Bend, Oregon and then on July 5th, they would drive to the forest and start hiking.

Mandy told me she’d pick me up in Hood River, which is about three hours north of Bend. This worked out perfectly because I could leave my car and valuables at my friend Tracey’s house while I was backpacking.

During the last five minutes of the thirty-minute drive to Tracey’s house that morning, a warning light flashed on my dashboard warning me about low tire pressure. “You’ve got to be kidding me”, I thought. Tracey’s husband, Farron, checked all four of my tires while I unloaded my backpacking gear from my car. He found out my front drivers-side tire was low. Farron said he had an inflator and he’d check it periodically while I was away to see if it was a bigger problem.

Just after he checked the tire, Mandy and Lori pulled in the driveway in Mandy’s new Subaru Crosstrek. They made quick bathroom breaks, Tracey headed to the airport to pick up her sister and nephews, and I grabbed my gear and squeezed it into Mandy’s car. I sat in the backseat next to my backpack and it was surprisingly very comfortable and roomy.

We left around 9:30am. The drive was about five to six hours from Hood River but the time flew by.

We all talked and got to know each other better. Mandy is in her mid-30s, has short blonde hair (with part of it shaved), and is thin. She always has a huge, energetic smile on her face that shows her love of life. For work, she’s an X-Ray Technician at a hospital in Bend.

In her 20s, Mandy was a professional skater. She told us about life on the road while competing. You want to talk about pay inequality? Look at female sports. At one point, Mandy was the number-one-ranked woman’s skateboarder in the US. The top prize she ever received was $3,000. Meanwhile, the top prize for the exact same event for the male was $25,000. I couldn’t believe it when she told us. I know people’s argument for women’s sports is “but people don’t watch them.” But that is not true. Men’s sports do get more viewership, but that is because of marketing. I remember when Apolo Ohno was in the winter Olympics. There was a huge story and background. The program talked about his training and whole life story. I felt like I knew the guy and was so excited to root for him during the Olympics. If these organizations did the same story backgrounds and marketing for women as they do for men, the viewership would be there.

Mandy’s life as a professional skater seemed hard. They often had to stay at people’s houses or in vans. But sometimes kids would come up to her after recognizing her on the street and be so excited to meet her. As she told us stories of her former life, I thought, “How cool is she? How cool is it that I know her?”

Lori is in her 50s, fit, has a daughter who is in college, and has the kindest heart you’ll ever know. After I told them about my divorce and marriage of 10 years, Lori told us about her divorce several years ago. I know there are always two sides to a story, but it seems Lori got the short end of that stick. Lori is very smart and used to be an architect. During the recession, she transitioned to work for the Girl Scouts. I was a brownie for one year growing up, but never got to be a girl scout.

Mandy and Lori met a decade ago when Mandy was teaching Lori’s daughter how to skateboard as part of the Girl Scout’s program. I think it’s awesome they became friends and have been friends for a decade. Mandy only got into backpacking about two years ago – once she could afford the equipment. Lori has gone on a few backpacking trips with Mandy and different friends. They were also preparing a trip later in the summer in the Sierra mountains so this trip would be good training for them.

We pulled up to the ranger station in Olympic National Park around 2:30pm. We got in line behind a couple who was also getting a permit. While one of us waited in line, the others took turns using the restroom and buying a little coin in the little gift shop we were standing in (great for opening our bear cans). We had been in line for about 10 minutes while the couple in front of us had no cares in the world asking the ranger every possible question known to man. The ranger was also in no hurry as he volunteered unnecessary details.

While Mandy was in line, I walked over to the information board and read an entire flyer about berries. I walked back over to Mandy and said, “Dude, I read an entire flyer about berries and you haven’t even moved an inch.” We laughed at the absurdity of the couple in front of us.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, it was our turn to talk to the ranger. It cost $8 per person per night to backpack overnight. We each paid for three nights, answered a few of the ranger’s questions, and headed out.

The drive on the gravel road up to the trailhead took about 30 minutes and was already so beautiful, I knew this was going to be a great trail.

Once Mandy parked the car on the side of the road near the trailhead (there were a lot of cars there) we sorted through our stuff to make sure we had everything. Mandy recorded asking us where we were going and both Lori and I said “I don’t know. Wherever you’re going.” We laughed because Mandy had done all of the research and we couldn’t remember the name of the trail we were about to hike.

We started the hike at 4:00pm and figured we’d hike as far as we could before dark so we’d have less to hike the following day. It would also give us more time to spend in the Enchanted Valley. I’m usually the only person starting a hike this late in the day and the fact that they had no problem starting a hike this late me feel right at home.

The trail started off sort of wide. Two people could fit across and it was mostly uphill. It was so green, lush, and dense, that we kept stopping for pictures. The first campsite was three miles in so we knew we’d have to go at least that far. By “campsite”, I mean a very small flat area that has already been used for setting up a tent.

At mile three, we arrived at the campsite, which overlooked a raging blue-green river. The campsite was at least 20-30 feet above the river on a ledge. There was a fire pit that had been made and a nice log to sit on. We stopped here for a snack break. It was a beautiful campsite but there wasn’t a way down to get water at the river and we wanted to hike more than three miles, so we kept going.

The trail became narrow and only one person could fit across. There were ferns everywhere, it was very humid, and pretty hot. I almost stepped on a giant banana slug and called the girls over to look. We were all amazed at this fat, slimy slug slowly making its way down the trail.

We continued to climb and about an hour after leaving the campsite, Lori and Mandy stopped to look at something in the ferns. Right after, Lori noticed she had lost her glasses. She had them on a strap that goes around the head, but they had been hanging from her shirt instead because the humidity kept making them slide off her face. She can’t see very well without them and they were new. Because of insurance, she wouldn’t be able to get new glasses until October. She figured they fell off somewhere on the trail so she and Mandy started backtracking. I searched the area around where we had stopped but didn’t see anything. I walked back down the trail and asked two women who were setting up their tent if they had seen any glasses. They hadn’t.

Mandy and Lori backtracked a lot and after about 20 minutes, didn’t find the glasses. We decided to continue forward and we’d look again in the spot they had stopped earlier. I said a prayer in my head, “God, please let us find her glasses in the next three minutes. She needs these glasses.” We got back towards the place they had stopped and I looked down in the ferns and moved some branches with my trekking pole and found the glasses! Within two minutes. We all rejoiced that Lori could see again! It’s funny because I had looked all over there before and didn’t see anything.

Around 9:00pm and after hiking six miles, we found a campsite that would do just fine. According to the map, we should have arrived at a campsite that had a porta potty but as most maps go, the mileage was incorrect. It was starting to get dark and we were exhausted so we started to set up camp.

There wasn’t enough space for both of our tents where the fire pit was so I set my tent up about 15 feet away. It was a little scary being further away from them because there are bears in the area. Mandy gave me her whistle and said to blow it if I heard any bears and she’s come save me with the gun she brought.

Mandy started a fire, which was nice. We all cooked dinner on our stoves in the dark using headlamps. It was a fun time and we shared this amazing berry crumble dehydrated dessert that Mandy brought. I had never really brought desserts on backpacking trips before and man, it’s totally worth it! That tasted so good after a day of hiking.

When you’re in bear country, you are required to carry a bear canister. A bear canister is a locked container that a bear cannot open. You have to put all food items and items that have a scent locked inside and put it about 50 feet away from your tent. Lori grabbed her bear can so we could all walk up the hill towards the trail to place the canisters. But when she grabbed it, there was a giant banana slug making its way from the side to the top of her can! She screamed because those things are nasty. She got it off her canister with a stick but it left a slimy residue. From this point on, we were always paranoid when grabbing our bear canisters. And poor Lori. She kept dreaming that night that a banana slug would crawl into her backpack or shoe.

It was hot that night so I slept in my shorts and shirt instead of my thermals. The next morning, we made our breakfast (oatmeal and coffee), filled up water, and packed up our stuff. It took awhile so we didn’t leave camp until around 11:00am. After about a mile, we found the trail that led to the campsite with a porta potty. We hiked down a pretty steep trail for about 15 minutes and got to the porta potty, which was wooden and hidden by ferns and trees. It was so small, that I couldn’t sit down because my legs are too long and my knees hit the door. It was also full of flies and mosquitos. We just wanted a place to take a number two but that thing was incredibly disgusting.

We hiked back up the trail and continued on. It started to rain so we put our rain covers on our backpacks. It was still pretty warm so Lori and I didn’t put our jackets on. It only rained briefly and then would sprinkle here and there.

As we hiked along, we described the forest as “Jurassic” because everything was gigantic! The ferns were as tall as Mandy and Lori, the trees towered above us, and the insects were huge! It seriously looked like we were in the movie Jurassic Park. It also looked like the movie Fern Gully and since there were so many ferns, we kept referring to it as Jurassic Park and Fern Gully (complete with theme music).

The trail was mostly uphill and we were getting tired. We knew we were close to the Enchanted Valley but the map was incorrect on the mileage. It would be a nine-mile day for sure. About 30 minutes before we got to the valley, it started raining pretty hard. We continued to hike along and then came across a log bridge that only had a railing on the north side of it, was slanted to the south and was suspended very high over a raging river. I am very afraid of heights when I don’t feel stable. When I worked at Target, I wouldn’t go up more than two steps on a ladder because I’d start to shake, sweat, and freak out. I’m 6’1” so thankfully, I can usually reach most things. I did not want to cross this bridge but it was raining, I was tired and cold, and the campsite was only about half a mile away. Mandy crossed first and I followed behind her. I grabbed the side railing tightly and my glove soaked up all the rain on the ledge. I made it because I knew I had no choice but to cross.

We arrived in the valley around 4:00pm and the rain turned into a sprinkle. Clouds hovered over the mountains, it was cold, and the view made it all worth it.

After looking around for a good campsite, we chose one near the river that also had a few trees covering it. Thankfully, Mandy and Lori brought two tarps and set them up to give us a break from the rain. Shortly after we got to camp and set up the tarps, it stopped raining. There was a log to sit on and a fire pit. We put on our pants and jackets, and sat on the log to rest and eat some quick snacks.

We sat on the wet log and admired the view of the steep mountain in front of us with clouds covering the top and swirling around. There were also pockets of snow in the crevasses across the river on the mountain. Shortly after eating our snacks, it started raining again so we got under the tarps. There was nowhere to sit over there so we sat on our bear canisters.

Mandy and Lori set up their tent (mine was already set up) and then we all made dinner. It was fun to sit under the tarp with rain coming down, in the cold. It felt like a true adventure. For dessert, we shared a crème Brule dehydrated meal that I brought. It was also delicious and I cannot recommend bringing desserts on backpacking trip enough.

We headed to bed once it started getting dark around 10:00 pm. I ventured to the porta potty about a quarter-mile away, which proved to be a mistake. The tall grass on the sides of the trail got my pants all wet and the porta potty was super small and just terrible.

Mandy and Lori’s tent was under the tarp but my tent was getting directly rained on. My tent is a very small two-person tent. I can only sit up if I’m directly in the center of it. I figured as long as I didn’t touch the sides, it should keep the rain out. It did very well in the rain, but in the morning, it was still raining and every once in a while, a drop of water would fall directly on my face and wake me up. Other times, mist sprayed my face. I was very confused as to where this water was coming from. It was also cold that night, probably in the 40s, so I used my thermals.

Finally, around 9:00 am, it stopped raining and we got out of our tents. I realized the water hitting my face was from the condensation that had built up in my tent. When rain on the outside would get too heavy, or a big drop would fall, it would knock the condensation on the inside of my tent to drop a droplet of water on me or spray a mist.

Mandy really wanted to fish so she grabbed her pole and attempted to get some fish in the river while Lori and I ate breakfast. Mandy caught a very tiny fish so she put it back. We’re not sure there were actually any fish in there that were any bigger.

The sun came out and we took advantage of being able to lay our tents and clothes out so they could dry off. It only took about an hour to dry things off so we could pack it all up. We packed up and headed out just before noon. The day was clearer, giving us even better views of the valley.

We came to that high bridge again and I started to freak out. I didn’t think I could cross now that I knew it was coming. Mandy crossed and waited for me on the other side but I struggled to get myself to do it. Lori and Mandy told me not to look at the fast-flowing river below and instead just look straight across to the other side. I tried that but twice I looked down to make sure my feet were actually on the log and I wouldn’t slip off. Those brief glances down made me dizzy because I couldn’t not see the river. The movement of it made my head spin and I started sweating. I was in the middle and realized I had to finish so I took a deep breath and keep walking, trying my best not to look down. I made it and then Lori crossed it too. That is one of the scariest bridges I’ve ever crossed.

We continued to hike back to the trailhead, in the direction we came. The day was beautiful. It was warm with a cool breeze. We had funny conversations, crossed other small streams, passed huge fallen trees, ate all sorts of berries growing along the trail, and even saw bears! We had heard what we thought was a bear making a grunting noise above the trail and stood around to see if we could see the bear but we couldn’t see it. However, about 20 minutes later when we were in a valley area, we saw a small black bear foraging in the forest about 200 feet from us. Shortly after, we saw another one. He looked up at us, and then went back to foraging. See, black bears are scavengers. They’ll go for easy food, but generally are afraid of humans.

A couple of hours later, we saw a strange-looking bird that looked like he had a huge hole in his neck. He was making that extremely loud grunting sound, which made us realize it was not a bear that first time, it was this bird. It was a Blue Grouse and that was his mating call. We ended up seeing and hearing a few more. I mimicked their call and got pretty good at it and they seemed to think I was also a Blue Grouse. Later, we saw a female and she did not have the huge hole in her neck and I think I serenaded her pretty well with my call.

We set up camp very close to where we camped the first night, but this time we were close to each other, and had more seclusion from the trail. Mandy and Lori fished for a bit but didn’t catch anything.

I went to scope up water in the river into my water filter bag and the rocks were so slippery, that my foot slide into the river and I dropped to my knee. It hurt so bad because the bone on my left knee hit directly onto a rock. I put a band-aid on it because it was slightly bleeding. It was mostly just swelling up and was really painful. The next day hiking out, I could feel that knee hurting with each step.

I gathered some firewood but it was too wet and Lori and I couldn’t get a fire started. Mandy saved the day and got it to light and it burned for a little while (although she had to keep grabbing more small twigs).

We ate dinner, shared another dessert – seriously best thing during backpacking. We checked our bear canisters for slugs and got eaten by mosquitoes. Especially Lori. In the morning, she found bites all over her. It looked painful.

We headed back to the trailhead, which was six miles away. As we got closer, we saw more people hiking in for a small day hike. It was warm and humid again.

We arrived back at the trailhead around 1:00pm after hiking a total of 30 miles in four days. There was a large group of people in the parking lot preparing for their hike. Over ten rented beer canisters were spread out on a tarp with little piles of food. They had huge bags of pasta and I couldn’t imagine lugging that around.

We stopped at the ranger station to use the restrooms on our way out and then we hit the road. It would be a long drive back (about five to six hours to Hood River and nine hours to Bend). I didn’t realize how tired I was – I fell asleep in the backseat almost immediately. After about an hour, Lori was trying to find a place to eat on Yelp, but there was nothing around. Just farms. Mandy was really craving sushi because Bend doesn’t have any good sushi there. We decided we’d stop in Portland and get sushi there. We didn’t arrive until around 5:30pm but it was delicious sushi. Yes, we went to a nice sit-down restaurant after not showering for four days and being full of dirt and sweat. Don’t judge.

We arrived back to Hood River around 8:30pm so I could get my car. Mandy and Lori headed off to Bend and I talked with Tracey for a bit about the trip. She also let me know that she and her husband put air in my tire twice but it kept deflating so I’d need to get it checked it out (but it would get me to Portland, an hour away). She also said they couldn’t get my passenger side window to roll up. Great. I was having problems with that window before I left Los Angeles but the dealership supposedly fixed it. After juggling with the buttons several times, I got it to roll up but I’d have to get it checked out.

I headed to a suburb of Portland because I couldn’t check into the hostel until the following day. I drove through the gorge as the sun was setting and it was picture perfect and my heart felt full.

I had wanted to go backpacking in Washington but didn’t feel comfortable going alone. I was so glad I went with Mandy and Lori. We had great conversations, laughed a ton, and the scenery was unreal. I am grateful that God put them in my life and everything worked out perfectly. They were able to pick me up and drop me off on their way from Bend. I was able to leave my car at Tracey’s house so my valuables were protected. Tracey and her husband were able to help with my tire situation. Mandy planned the whole trip so all I had to do was go along. This was exactly what I needed. I had been mostly alone during my travels and spending four days with these wonderful women made me feel whole.

Click here to watch a 5 minute video of the trip!

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek