Days 141-144: Game Night and Beer Tour

I spent day 141 hungover after the night club crawl. I talked with my cousin on the phone, worked out, and worked on my blog. The following morning, I spent hours on the phone with my doctor in Los Angeles, the pharmacy, and my medical insurance. The pharmacy filled a 90-day supply, but my insurance only allows for 30 days at a time. It was infuriating that I had to spent hours rectifying this and explaining to all parties involved what happened.

That evening, I was looking for things to do that would get me out and about. It was dead season, so there was not a lot going on. On the Whistler community website, I saw that they were hosting a few game nights over the next several weeks on Monday evenings at the library. It was free and I love board games, so I was sold.

The library was closed, except for the room near the entrance that was hosting game night. Volunteers were helping explain the games that people weren’t familiar with and handing out cups of popcorn. I was intimated walking inside because I didn’t know anybody. There were probably around 25 people there, already divided and playing games. I was only five minutes late, but clearly these people all arrived early.

I saw a guy and a girl sitting together and they hadn’t picked a game yet, so I asked if I could join them. They said I could and then three girls walked in late. They joined our group and we looked through all of the large plastic bins of games to find one we wanted to play. One of the volunteers, who owned all of the games and was letting everyone use them, helped us pick a game. He was tall and sort of nerdy. Let’s be honest, it’s a game night at the library, we were all sort of nerdy.

The volunteer recommended we play a game called Dix It because it was good for non-native English speakers. In our group, we had one girl from Taiwan, one guy from Chili, and three girls from Japan. Their English was good, but they were still learning. None of us had played Dix It before, so the volunteer helped walk us through the instructions.

As we played, I got to know a little bit more about the players. The girl from Taiwan worked with the guy from Chili. Two of the girls from Japan were roommates, and they had just met the third girl from Japan right before they arrived.

All of them, except for one, had a work visa for one to two years. They were relatively new to the area and still getting used to where things were. One girl from Japan who was sitting across from me said she was just there to vacation and snowboard. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any snow.

The girl to my right, Saya, was from Japan and had a one year work visa. She started in Vancouver, but several friends told her about Whistler because they’re all skiers and snowboarders. She came to Whistler a few months prior, got a job, and decided to spend the rest of her year there. She works two part-time jobs in a kitchen and a bakery.

Saya and her ex-boyfriend hiked most of a popular trail in the south end of New Zealand in 2016. We bonded over hiking and I told her I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2016. The year she hiked in New Zealand, they were having a horrible summer with constant rain, so they didn’t complete the hike.

In two hours, we played two games and Saya won them both. It was really fun! Sometimes the guy from Chili had to look up words to see their meaning. It was a good game for them to practice their English, and it challenged me to find ways to explain certain words. They mentioned they were all going to a free English class later in the week and asked if I wanted to go. I laughed, “I’ve had enough English classes in my lifetime, I’ll pass.”

Once game night was over, I walked over to a bar that I saw had a trivia night. I was too late to join in, so I sat at the bar and had a beer while I listened. I was bummed that I didn’t have friends to join me and regretted not asking my new game-night friends if they wanted to go. Sometimes it’s hard to put myself out there. Even with friends, there’s a fear they’ll reject me.

I spent the next day working out and writing. On day 144, it was time for the afternoon beer crawl. I met up with the hosts, Brittany and JD, who I had met at the nighttime club crawl. Brittany was 30, fit, with straight, long dark hair. She’s from North Vancouver, but was currently living in Squamish (about 45 minutes south of Whistler). JD appeared to be in his late 20s, was tall, and had light brown hair. He is from Tasmania, lived in a few other Canadian cities, and now lives in Whistler. They were both really friendly and helped to make the time enjoyable.

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In the group, there were two customers: Abbie and Caleb. Abbie was 28, tall, thin with long blonde hair, and was from the U.K. She spent eight months in Australia, but her work visa expired so she figured she’d go to Canada or New Zealand. Canada is closer and friends told her about Whistler. In May, she found a job and a place to live, so decided to stay until her visa expired. She doesn’t see herself living in the U.K. and said, “I’m 28, maybe I should be applying for permanent residency and put down some roots.” Abby told me that one time she went to the south in the U.S. and the waitress kept wanting to hear Abby talk because she had never met someone from England. Abby couldn’t believe someone could be 60-years-old and not have met a person from England before.

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Caleb was in his 20s, was a around 5’9”, and had dark blonde hair. He was from Australia and had been in Whistler for two years. He works at the same hostel as Abby. I mentioned my board game night and Caleb said he used to be part of a monthly board game club.

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I was happy that our group was small enough that we could get to know each other better. We went to four different bars, sampling lots of beers. Brittany and JD provided a lot of good information. At one point, Brittany’s roommate, Dan, joined us for part of the tour. We had a couple of appetizers at one place, but over the course of a few hours, we had a lot of beer.

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Brittany and JD had a meeting to attend so they took off, but Abby, Caleb, and I were hungry and needed some food in our stomachs. They said there was a local wok restaurant that had a half-off special for locals since it was dead season. We walked over there, loaded up on food, and got really  tired.

The three of us walked to the hostel where they worked. The upstairs has a restaurant overlooking the sidewalk in the village. It was much nicer than what you’d expect for a hostel and they had board games in the corner. We grabbed Uno and started playing with a few other people. There was one girl there who kept changing the rules of Uno to suite her, which was frustrating.

After Uno, a few of us played Settlers of Catan. It was my first time playing, but I had heard a lot about it. They taught me how to play, and it took me awhile to figure out a strategy – I did not win. While some of the guys were getting drinks, Abby told me about her relationship with the manager there she’d been dating for the last few months. He was temporarily back in Spain and she was feeling distant. I totally understood her concerns and how hard it was to find someone who had the qualities she kept looking for, but struggled to find…until she met her current boyfriend. Once you find that, the fear sets in that you’ll lose it.

I went home after the board games and was starting to feel like I lived there. I was getting discounts for locals and the people I met lived there, they weren’t tourists. Whistler was such an international city. I loved that I was meeting people from all over the world. I was starting to see myself there for the long-term.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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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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Day 63: Brewery Tour and Tinder

I needed to get out of my funk so I booked a brewery tour in the afternoon. I met the group at the log cabin visitor’s center in downtown Anchorage. I was surprised by how small and short the buildings were in the downtown area.

Our tour guide, Roberta, appeared to be in her 30s, had shoulder-length, red hair and was spunky in her jeans and tennis shoes. She asked me and a couple to hop inside the van so we could head to our first brewery. Roberta told us that there was a family of five who also signed up, but their flight was delayed and they were going to meet us at the first brewery.

Once we boarded the van, Roberta told us how she grew up in a small town just north of Anchorage and when she was 16 years old, she couldn’t wait to move away. During college, she lived in Wisconsin and then Washington. She noticed she kept moving her school schedule around so she could spend more time in Alaska, so she ended up moving back 15 years ago. She said, “Alaska is a hard life and you need to choose it. It’s different living here when you choose it.”

The couple who was sitting across from me in the van looked to be in their mid to late 30s. They were gorgeous, fit, and looked like they were heading to an expensive ski resort with their scarves and nice boots. The guy, Richard, had a reddish beard and his girlfriend had long, beautifully curled blonde hair. It turns out he grew up in Canon City, Colorado, where I lived for three years growing up. He was a year younger than me so we didn’t remember each other, but we must have seen each other (it’s a small town). After living on the east coast for 15 years, he now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

On the drive to the brewery, Roberta told us about the relationship Alaska has with alcohol. There are many small towns that have limits or ban alcohol because people were too drunk all the time. She explained that the reason bartenders often ask to see your driver’s license is because they are looking for the “red stripe,” which means you are only allowed to buy alcohol at bars, not at a store, where it is limited. Drunk drivers usually get the red stripe on their license.

Roberta told us that Alaskans drink more beer per capita than anywhere else in North America. I wanted to see if this was true, so I Googled it afterwards. According to this Thrillist article, Alaska is the third booziest state in the United States. However, this article from Anchorage Daily News shows that Alaska is the number one state for the cost of alcohol abuse. I mean, it’s ridiculously cold up there, so what else are people supposed to do?

Roberta also explained that most of the breweries there are local beer and are only sold in Alaska because it’s too expensive to ship it outside of the state. But they don’t have a problem consuming all of it in Alaska.

We arrived at the first brewery and met the family of five who just flew in from Denver, Colorado. The three children appeared to be in their 20s. We were all taken to the back where they brew the beer. We stood there listening to the brewing process for what seemed like an eternity, only getting small samplings of four different beers. Maybe it’s because I have done brewery tours before, but I was getting bored with all of the information and just wanted to drink some beer.

We all boarded the van and headed to the next brewery. When we first arrived, a woman who worked there gave a five-minute, behind-the-scenes tour and let us pour beer from a plastic fish on the wall. She quickly led us upstairs for the tastings. We sat around a table with some cheese and meat appetizers while we tried large samples of beers. These beers were very strong and we were all starting to feel it.

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The brewery had a system where people could buy a beer for someone, write their name on a piece of paper, and hang it on a metal board. If you had the name on a piece of paper (and could show ID) the beer is yours. I perused the board and saw a variety of names: a realtor who bought a beer for his clients; if your name is Ben and graduated from MIT; if you have passed level 1 and level 2 of TOGAF certification. I thought it was a really cool concept. Some were specific people, others were generic and just paying it forward. Sadly, I didn’t find one waiting for me.

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We boarded the van again to head to our third and final brewery. This time we were able to sit at a table, try different beers, and chat. The owner sat at the end of the table near me and told us a little bit about how she and her husband started the brewery two years ago. She appeared to be in her 50s and had a stern look about her. She was a former lawyer and her husband was a scientist/engineer. He was always brewing beer, so they decided to try out the brewery business. She said this is a lot more fun than practicing law, but not as lucrative.

Across the table from me was the mother in the family of five. It turns out she’s a lawyer and sues the government for discrimination. Her family was taking an Alaskan cruise out of Seward, but they wanted to check out Anchorage for a day first. After the cruise, they were going to spend a couple days in Vancouver so I gave her a lot of tips. We had a really enjoyable conversation and she was incredibly sweet. She offered me a place to stay if I’m in Denver and I appreciated her hospitality.

I was mad at myself for originally not thinking so highly of the family of five. My first impression was unflattering and judgmental. When I first saw that family, I think they reminded me of parts of myself that I’ve tried so hard to change. I’m always working out trying to lose weight and I’m still self conscience about my uncool clothes at times. We’re often the most critical of those that resemble the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. I think we all stereotype people and it’s up to us to check ourselves and change the mindset.

The brewery tour finished and I drove to Moose’s Tooth, a famous pizza place. There was a 65-minute wait for a table, but one seat available at the bar. The pizza was really good and I took some home for the next day. I went back to my Airbnb and watched a movie on my Ipad mini.

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Cody, the guy who had told me about a local volleyball game the day before, but hadn’t actually asked me to go to it, messaged and asked if I wanted to meet him at a bar. They had a reggae band playing and it was a Saturday night.

I wasn’t tired so I figured, why not? I didn’t arrive to the bar until close to 1:00 am and he was sitting at the bar with a bright red t-shirt. Cody was 29, had a semi-long, brown/reddish beard, was thin, and his long hair was pulled back underneath his ski hat.

I wasn’t really nervous meeting him because I wasn’t that interested in him, but figured it would be fun to see some nightlife in Anchorage. Cody was pleasant and talked a lot. He told me about five jobs he works, concerts he’s been to, and hiking. He’s from Anchorage and has traveled a little bit in the United States.

Cody told me that he spent a month in Toronto with a girlfriend, but got sick of her so he made up an excuse that he needed to see a concert. He drove from Toronto to Alaska in a few days and left her in Toronto. Great, another liar. I found myself being less and less interested.

The bar closed at 2:00 am and he asked if I wanted to get another drink at a bar down the street that was open until 3:00 am. We just started walking and ended up going inside the small dive bar. He had no problem with me paying for my drinks. In fact, he never even offered to pay. I don’t mind paying for myself, especially if I don’t like the guy. I never like to feel like I owe someone something. However, it is a nice gesture when a guy pays, or at the very least offers.

The bar closed at 3:00 am and we walked down the street towards our cars. Standing at the corner, I pointed towards my car and stopped walking. After talking for another few minutes, Cody said, “It’s really cold outside. Maybe you could drive me to my car so we can still talk for a bit without freezing?” We didn’t have jackets and it was pretty cold. I didn’t want Cody inside my car because I was afraid he’d try to kiss me. I replied, “I have a lot of stuff in my car.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, that happens to me too. I just move it all to the back seat.” I didn’t really respond to that and shortly after said I needed to get going.

Once I got back to my Airbnb, Cody continued to message me saying we were only two miles away from each other (Tinder shows distance). Surprised he didn’t get the hint that I wasn’t interested, I tried to politely not respond too much.

I reflected on Cody as I laid in bed. The good thing about meeting different guys is that it’s helping me determine what I want and what I don’t want in a relationship. Cody was immature, scrambled to get by, and wasn’t very smart. All of those were turn-offs to me and it was a good lesson. I was also proud that I didn’t force myself to like him as I probably would have done in the past. I was happy that I seemed to have learned that being alone is better than being with the wrong person.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 59-60: Homer, Alaska

When I was in Fairbanks, the bartenders recommended that I go to Homer because it looks like the postcards of Alaska. They said it was a great, quaint little town on the water and was very walkable because all of the shops/restaurants are close together.

It was raining when I hit the road and clouds hovered around the mountains as the rain toggled from a sprinkle to a downpour over and over again. Once I got through Denali, the drive was flat and there wasn’t much to see. I talked with my cousin, Misty for a bit and that helped break up the monotony.

I passed through Anchorage, but still didn’t see much. After Anchorage, the next hour held incredible views as the road wrapped around the base of the mountain to the left and the ocean to the right. On the other side of the water were more mountains.

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It was a stunning drive until the landscape became fairly flat again for the next three hours. I talked to my friend Debbie and it helped with the long drive.

I arrived at the Airbnb around 8:30 pm. It was a large house on the side of a mountain, overlooking Homer and the Spit. The house was beautiful, had a front and back porch, and a bright green well-maintained yard. Two rooms are rented out, but I was the only guest.

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Jerry let me inside and showed me my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen. He was 68 years old, had a gray, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, and exuded a strong sense of confidence. His wife, Corrine, was in her 60’s, had long dark hair, manicured nails, was fit, and beautiful.

Jerry asked if I wanted a beer so I accepted a Corona. He got himself some whiskey. Corrine showed me a map of Homer and gave me some suggestions on what to do while I was there. She said, “Jerry calls me his wife, but we’re actually divorced. We were married for 30 years but we’ve been divorced for about four years. He bought this B and B and called me up and asked if I’d come help him run it so here I am.”

We all sat on the front porch, taking in the amazing view and watching the sunset. Their nine-month-old fluffy white little dog named Daisy took turns being cuddled by Jerry and Corrine. It had stopped raining but was still wet outside. It was also about 50° F so we put our jackets on.

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I learned a lot about Jerry and Corrine. Jerry is from Wisconsin and Corrine grew up a military brat, but had been in Anchorage for 38 years. They worked together at a transportation and moving company. Jerry had worked his way up to Vice President and Corrine worked in Sales, but they were retired now. They have a daughter and a granddaughter who live in Olympic, Washington and a son and grandsons who live in Anchorage.

Corrine went back inside while Jerry and I continued to chat. After retiring, Jerry did some consulting work in the transportation and moving industry. But then he decided they should escape the winters and move to Prescot, Arizona – where they had a friend. After two years, they decided to divorce and Jerry moved back to Wisconsin. He grew up there and still had friends and some family there, but he quickly realized things changed a lot over the 30+ years he’d been gone. He jokingly told me that his 50th high school reunion was coming up in the fall, but he didn’t want to go so he told his friend he had to stay in Alaska for moose hunting season. He laughed, “And he believed me!” Maybe it was the alcohol, but we laughed so hard at that.

When they lived in Arizona, Jerry was the president of the Home Owners Association. We shared horror stories (I was an HOA president for a condo complex in California) and Jerry told me about a tree he had cut down because it was damaging the wall near it. The guy who owned the house near the tree liked the shade and told Jerry, “I’m going to think you’re an a**hole from now on.” Another time, Jerry called animal control about feral cats roaming the neighborhood because he was worried they were carrying diseases. Some residents got angry at him and said they were going to call PETA because they loved cats. Jerry and I agreed that being president of an HOA is a thankless job that you can’t win.

Jerry had dated a few women – one he met at Costco. She was serving food samples there. I asked if he’d tried online dating and he responded, “If I can’t meet a woman in real life, there’s a problem.” Recently, he had dated a woman who lived in Seward (a couple hours north of Homer). This is a woman he dated on and off for nine years before he got married to Corrine. He said they realized there was no passion and they felt like roommates. Things were just different than the decades before so they broke up. Jerry was cracking me up. He is funny, smart, and was a boss. He’s super friendly and I could see why the women loved him.

Corrine told me in the kitchen (with Jerry not around) that she had tried Match.com in Arizona and within 20 minutes, she had over 200 matches. I could see why. She looked amazing for her age, and was a spunky and fun woman. She said some of the guys on there were terrible and didn’t have anything to their name. We both agreed that it’s best to date someone who is your equal. Equally successful and hardworking.

After living in Wisconsin for two years, Jerry decided to buy the house in Homer to make it a bed and breakfast. He bought the house based solely on pictures because there were six people coming to look at the house the following day. He had just broken it off with that other woman and called up Corrine in Arizona and asked her to help him run it. They had only been managing  the bed and breakfast for the last couple of months.

I asked Jerry why they got divorced. He said they both worked so hard all their lives, it was go go go. After they retired, they moved to a retirement place for those 55 and up, but it turned out most people were around 70 years old. He described one guy who would go get the paper, bend down and Jerry would be worried he wouldn’t get back up. Jerry and Corrine were the youngest ones there. They went from 90 miles an hour to 1 mile an hour. They just grew apart and had nothing to talk about.

I told Jerry I was divorced. He said, “It must be hard being single at your age. You’re in your prime. What are you, 32?” I told him I was 38 and he responded with, “You’re still in your prime.” We stayed on the porch talking until around 12:30 am.

In the morning, Jerry had cooked up breakfast – fresh caught salmon, hash browns, and eggs. He sat with me at the table and we talked about politics. I told him that while I was in Fairbanks, I was told there was a vote coming up about “save the salmon” that was an initiative created by a group of people in Oregon and asked if it was true. Jerry said, “Yes, it’s true. And the vote is no.” He described it the same way the couple had in Fairbanks. The initiative would hurt everyone living in Alaska. We sat outside drinking coffee, waiting for it to warm up a bit.

I headed to the Homer spit, which is the largest one in the world. The spit is a 4.5-mile long piece of land jutting out into the Kachemak Bay. The harbor serves up to 1,500 commercial and pleasure boats at its summer peak. Homer has a population of about 5,500 people and has fairly mild winters (for Alaska standards). The average temperature in the winter is 25° F.

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I drove to the end of the spit, at Land’s End. There were huge rocks at the end so I sat there for a long time, just absorbing the sun that had come out, feeling the wind on my face, and looking across the water to the mountains. The waves crashed as a boy threw rocks into the water for his dog to happily chase them into the shoreline.

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I walked around all the shops as I enjoyed some taffy and a latte.

After a couple of hours walking around, I went to the Salty Dog Saloon. The bartender in Fairbanks, as well as Jerry and Corrine, had told me to check it out. It was the only bar on the spit and there are dollar bills hanging from the walls and ceiling inscribed with notes from the bar’s visitors. Every November, the owners take down a lot of the bills and donate them.

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I walked into the dark, low-ceilinged dive bar. It was crowded, but there was one seat at the bar available. Most of the tables were taken as well. I sat down, ordered a beer, and the guy to my left started talking to me. His name was Matt and he had a short beard, was probably in his early 40’s, and was an average-looking guy. He told me about his two ex-wives in Minnesota, which he assured me was a low number of ex-wives for crab fishermen and joked that he’s “collecting ex-wives”. He described his marriages like this, “My first wife saw that I made good money crab fishing, own a commercial boat, and she wanted a kid so she got me to marry her and have a kid. We were married for about five years. My second wife was a midwife and wanted to live in the desert so we divorced. But I got some good kids out of it.” His oldest was 21 and his youngest was 13. He assured me he gets along with his ex-wives really well.

Matt owns a successful commercial crab fishing boat. He asked me why I was there and I explained my journey. He asked where I was staying and I said, “At an Airbnb.”

“Where?”

“Just up the road.”

“Well that’s pretty vague”.

Ugh, I’m not giving you the address, dude. Matt asked if I was married, single, or divorced. I said I was divorced and he follow it up by asking if I date. I told him that I do date but it’s hard while traveling. He bragged about how successful he was and showed me a video of one of the guys from the show Deadliest Catch. He knows him and the video showed them all hanging out at a fishing place. I ordered another beer and he pulled out his wad of cash and paid for it. He was getting more aggressive and I was feeling uncomfortable.

Matt asked if I had checked out the harbor and I said I didn’t know you could walk down to it, but I saw it. He said he has a boat there and he could give me a harbor cruise. I said I’d pass. He kept asking what I was doing for dinner and later that evening. I said I didn’t know. He finally started to get the hint, but as he was leaving he made me take his phone number and said to call him if I wanted to get dinner or go see his boat. I wasn’t attracted to him, but most importantly I didn’t get a good vibe from him. I usually have good instincts so I tend to trust them. Plus, it’s a big turn off when a guy brags about his money. It’s so much better when you just discover it. No need to brag.

I went to the restroom and hanging from the mirror was a little plastic holder with about six condoms in it. This was the second time I had seen free condoms in the bathroom.

There was a jukebox in the corner so I walked over to play some music. There was already credits available because the bartender wanted people to play music. I saw some songs like Ice, Ice, Baby. I quietly chuckled to myself out loud as I imagined that song playing in a dive bar full of fishermen. I picked a few songs and returned to my bar stool.

A guy came over and sat down next to me. He was also in his early 40’s and had a black/gray beard. He reeked of cigarette smoke and was rough around the edges. He chatted for a bit and then asked if I needed another beer. I turned the bottle so the label was blocking his view of my mostly empty beverage and said I was good. He seemed annoyed. Shoot, he clearly saw that my bottle was almost empty. He drank his mixed drink and said, “Too bad the bartenders like me. Too much alcohol in here.” I didn’t want to go through the whole situation again of trying to politely decline his invitations, so I quickly left.

I walked around the shops and the harbor a bit and soaked up the sun. It got up to 60° F and the sky cleared. The view was so peaceful. I sat on a bench overlooking the harbor, but then realized the first guy might still be around, looking for me to take a ride on his boat so I quickly got out of there.

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I hadn’t eaten dinner so I drove to a place that served tacos, according to Yelp. I sat at the bar and texted with the guy I connected with on Tinder in Vancouver. I went back to the Airbnb with 7-Up and Pimms Cup and made some drinks for Jerry and Corrine and we sat on the porch. After 20 minutes, we went inside to finish the movie they had been watching, Chalet Girl. It was actually a good movie about a girl snowboarding and of course, involves her falling for a rich cute guy (she’s poor). After we finished that, we saw a movie on Netflix called Coffee Shop – a romantic comedy. They made some delicious fresh popcorn and we watched the movie like we were a family.

The movie finished and none of us were tired. Jerry was out of cigarettes so he ran to the store to get some more. Corrine and I chatted about relationships. When Jerry got back, we all grabbed a drink and sat on the porch with our jackets. Daisy, the dog, cuddled up with each of us.

Around 1:45 am, Corrine went to bed while Jerry and I stayed out until around 2:15 am talking. Since it was a late night, we all agreed to sleep in. I woke up in the middle of the night breathing heavily and burning up. I had a nightmare about that first guy from the bar. He was driving me somewhere in a truck and when he stopped to drop me off, he tried grabbing me and kissing me. I had my arms out, pushing against him and trying to open the door. I got it open and jumped out. After running through a closed-down amusement park, I thought I had a large enough lead that I could escape for good. But then he came around the corner. There was another entrance I didn’t know about and he was close to me. He started running towards me and I ran towards the hill I needed to climb to get home. But it was like slow motion. I thought “I’ll never be able to outrun him. He’s going to catch me.” And then I woke up, panicked. It was really scary. I didn’t realize how much that guy had freaked me out. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was hard not to think about it.

I was woken up at 9:00 am by my doctor’s office asking for my new address. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I played around on my phone and finally got ready and packed up. It was almost 11:00 am and Jerry was outside drinking coffee and about to make breakfast. The next guest had asked to check-in at 11:00 am since his flight was arriving early. He was coming in town for a wedding over the weekend.

I felt guilty for keeping Jerry and Corrine up so late and he still had to cook us breakfast. I changed the sheets for him and put the dirty ones in the washer so the room was ready for the next guest. I put my bags by the front door and Jerry made pancakes and sausage.

As Jerry cooked breakfast, he told me about how he grew up poor in Wisconsin. They lived on a small dairy farm and didn’t have a refrigerator until he was twelve years old. They also didn’t have running water or electricity. They used an outhouse and he said, “In the winters, you really didn’t go the bathroom unless you had to.” They used water from a nearby creek. He didn’t have friends over because he was embarrassed. His family had to make one chicken last for two meals so he might get a leg, or the neck.

Jerry had never eaten McDonald’s until he joined the Air Force at 18 years old. When he joined, they stopped at a McDonalds to eat and burgers were $.10 each. He bought 10 burgers and ate all of them. Later, when he arrived at his first base, they asked him what he wanted for breakfast in the mess hall. He asked for ten eggs and twelve pieces of bacon. He ate all of it. It was the first time he had eaten bacon.

Jerry and I agreed that hardships make you a better person. You appreciate things more. If you earn a new phone, you’re going to love it. But if someone just gives it to you, you don’t always appreciate it as much. He said his kids didn’t want for anything because of how he grew up. But when they wouldn’t finish their food, he would tell them the chicken story. Of course, over time, it became an exaggeration and they’d all laugh about it. I told Jerry about the studies that show spending money on experiences instead of things makes you happier. He agreed.

Jerry also told me that he had three siblings, but one of his brothers had passed away from a brain tumor. He was diagnosed and they put him on chemo. Then he had to have breathing tubes, and all sorts of procedures done. But he still died. His wife thought something was wrong so she made them do a biopsy. It turns out the tumor wasn’t even cancerous. All the chemo and procedures killed him – not cancer. I couldn’t believe it.

We sat down to eat and the next guest arrived. He got settled in the room and came out to join our conversation in the kitchen. He’s a high school math teacher and soccer coach in Portland, Oregon. We all talked about private schools vs public schools and he seemed to really care about his students. He said teaching math now involves a lot of critical thinking and problem solving, not memorizing formulas. People will just Google things so he tries to teach them how to be resourceful.

It was close to 1:30 pm and check-out was at 11:00 am, so I loaded up my car. Jerry checked my tires because I told him that the Subaru dealership in Fairbanks said I needed new ones. He confirmed they need to be replaced.

Corrine and Jerry are made to do bed and breakfasts. They are adorable together. They’re basically still together, but not married. It works for them and their chemistry together is infectious.

We all said our goodbyes and hugged. I pulled away from the driveway feeling grateful for their generosity, kindness, friendship, conversation, and humor. We had such a great couple of days getting to know each other and laughing so much. They felt like family members I hadn’t met until then.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment below 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 38: Bike Tour in Vancouver, BC

I signed up for an afternoon bike tour with Cycle Vancouver that started in downtown Vancouver. It was advised not to drive into the city because parking was around $20. I pulled up the Uber and Lyft apps, but received a notification saying they was not available in that area.

I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to using Uber and Lyft. I looked for taxis on Yelp and called one. It was only about 6-7 miles to downtown Vancouver from where I was staying in West Vancouver, but they quoted me $25 each way. This is why I never use taxis. An Uber or Lyft would have cost me around $7-$10.

I decided to drive but was now running a little behind. Fighting downtown city traffic, I found a parking garage for $13 for the day if I parked all the way on the top – going up 8 floors.

I jogged down the stairs, paid for parking, and hit the street with about five minutes until the tour started. Rushing into the bike store slightly out of breath, I told the handsome guy who looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s that I was there for a tour. It appeared there were several groups getting ready to ride. He was friendly, smiled, and got me a bike suitable for my height, and took me outside to meet my tour guide, Ben.

Ben welcomed me to the group and we all introduced ourselves. About six of us were going on the tour. It was sunny, warm with a cool breeze, and a beautiful day. The bikes we were using were electric bikes. I’ve done a lot of bike tours in cities around the world but have never used an electric bike. Ben gave us instructions and it was pretty straight forward. We’d still peddle like normal, but the bike would assist us going up hills.

We first rode through the city towards Stanley Park. We learned more about the city, the totem poles that have been put up to remember the tribes once located there, statues, bridges, and the beach. The tour lasted several hours, with stops every 15 minutes or so to take pictures.

The tour guide, Ben, was around 5’10” with blonde hair and blue eyes, and looked like Aaron Paul (when he was younger). From the beginning of the tour, I was right behind Ben so we ended up talking a lot. We got along really well and had some fun conversations.

Ben is from Ottawa and came to Vancouver to get his film degree. After college, he spent time on film sets as part of the production team. This involved carrying heavy items around in the rain for 12-15 hours a day with relatively low pay.

Ben got tired of that so he went to work in a sound studio where he was working in an office, which was pretty boring. In April, he ran into a college friend at a bar after not seeing him for a while, who told him about doing bike tours. His friend had opened his own bike shop and asked Ben if he wanted to do tours. Ben decided being in nature daily sounded a lot better than being in an office, so he quit his job and started doing bike tours.

I told Ben that I also studied film in college so I know how hard it is, and we bonded over that. I asked Ben why Uber and Lyft aren’t available there and he said, “Places like LA roll out new things and work out the kinks as they go. In British Columbia, we wait for places like LA to work out all the kinks first, and then we’ll join.” I said, “We’ll, you’re pretty far behind on the ride-sharing opportunities”.

Ben told me he likes living in Vancouver because he’s “a sweater guy”. I laughed at that and asked what he meant. He replied, “You know, I like wearing sweaters. I don’t like wearing shorts.” He was currently wearing blue jean cut-off shorts and a t-shirt. For some reason, I pictured him wearing a cardigan and it just didn’t fit his vibe.

“Vancouver is currently in an affordability crisis with housing”, Ben described. “There is a difference between an expensive city like Los Angeles, and an affordability crisis like Vancouver. In Los Angeles, you have jobs that can support the high cost of housing. But in Vancouver, we don’t have jobs that support million dollar condos.”

Ben and I talked so much while riding, I think the others were starting to notice. It felt nice to meet someone I could easily talk to. I asked Ben how hard it was to move to Canada, being an American. He went through the list of all the ways, like being a skilled a worker for something they are in need of. Overall, it isn’t very easy and it takes years. After he listed all of the typical ways, he said, “Of course, there’s always the ‘marry a Canadian’ way”. I said, “That’s true.”

I told Ben he looked like Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and he said he hasn’t watched that show because he’s a contrarian – a person who opposes popular opinion. Of course he is a contrarian. I always find this type of guy attractive. I told him Breaking Bad is actually my favorite show and even though it’s popular, he should watch it.

As we continued to ride, we stopped at a lake that had a few beavers, saw the hockey stadium, and passed through the beach. Towards the end of the tour, we rode through Chinatown and the Gastown, which is the current hip neighborhood that has been gentrified. We were about finished with the tour and I asked Ben how old he was. He said he was 24. What?! I thought he was around 30. Apparently, I’m terrible at guessing age.

We finished the bike tour and I used the restroom. When I came out, Ben was talking to a customer at the counter about something in French. “What?! He speaks French too! Nice”, I thought. Once he was finished, I gave Ben my card and told him it was nice meeting him. He shook my hand and said he also enjoyed meeting me. I asked for food recommendations for dinner and he told me about a sushi place up the street.

On the way to get sushi, a young woman approached me and asked if I could spare 30 seconds for her to explain the cause she was raising money for. I accepted her 30 second challenge and she did a nice job explaining she was raising money to help kids starving in Yemen and for $20/month, I could help. I told her that her speech was well done, quick, and I would help but I’m unemployed now and can’t really afford $20 a month. She said she was from Palos Verde (only about 30 minutes from I lived in California). She shook my hand, thanked me for listening, and said it was good experience for her.

After sushi, I headed to a famous ice cream shop by the water. The line wasn’t crazy long, but would take about 15 minutes. As I waited in line outside, an old man was sitting at a table and told his friend, “These guys waited 30 minutes for ice cream. Young people have that kind of time.” “Ok….”, I thought. “You’re just sitting here doing nothing, so it looks like you have plenty of time, dude.”

I enjoyed my ice cream sitting on a bench overlooking the water. The city looked beautiful as the sun set.

Since my car was parked for the day, I figured I should see more of downtown so I headed to the Gastown area. A lot of little shops were closed but restaurants and bars were hopping. I went into The Alibi Room and the wait for a table was over an hour. Thankfully, there was one seat available at the bar so I headed there. This is one of the nice things of traveling alone – I can usually sneak into the bar and avoid the wait.

After enjoying a flight of beers and some edamame, I decided to leave because the place had actually emptied out quite a bit. When I got back to my Airbnb, I went to the kitchen to get some water and ran into a guy. He looked to be in his late 20s, with brown hair, and pretty average looking. His girlfriend came and joined us when she heard us talking in the kitchen. She was around his age, with long, dark blonde hair, and a little overweight.

They had just arrived to the Airbnb and wanted to know if I knew of places to go out for nightlife. I said there likely isn’t anywhere as it was around 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night. The place I was at died down by 9:30 pm and that was in downtown. I explained we were in West Vancouver, and Uber and Lyft aren’t available there. They were shocked not to have Uber and Lyft and tried to think through their options. They also wanted to shower first so I explained by the time got anywhere, it’d be 11:30 pm, and I didn’t think they’d have any luck.

The couple was from North Carolina and they flew into Oakland, California on Friday night. They bragged that on Saturday, they explored San Francisco for eight hours and saw more than most people see in eight days. “We saw everything”, they bragged. That night, they drove to Portland (an 8-hour drive), which meant they were awake for 36 hours by the time they arrived in Portland in the late morning. I told them it was a shame they drove through Northern California at night as it’s an absolutely beautiful drive. They looked disappointed and I could see them trying to calculate how they could see it on their way back.

The day they arrived to Vancouver, they had woken up in Portland and driven four hours to Seattle, Washington. They did some sightseeing and then drove another three hours to Vancouver.

The next day, they planned on checking out Vancouver and then taking the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington. Their plan was to stay north of Olympic National Park, do some basic hiking, and then drive to the coast and stay the night. They were just booking things as they went. They had eight days to do all of this and their flight left from San Francisco.

They were generally nice people, but I was irritated by their “cram everything into eight days” mentality. Seeing four major cities, a national park, and the ocean in eight days (and covering over 1,000 miles) seemed like such a shame to me. This represented a mentality in travel that I think is spreading – quantity over quality.

People try and cram everything in just to say they’ve been there. Spending eight hours in each city is not doing the city any justice. Personally, I prefer to see fewer places but spend more time there, really getting to know the city and the people. I often see people’s profiles on dating apps state how any countries they’ve been to. I don’t count the countries or states. I’m just not into volume. I’m into great personal experiences and taking my time.

The couple didn’t know much about hiking. I explained that I had spent four days backpacking in Olympic National Park and there are bears so they are required to carry a bear can. They had no idea what a bear can was and as I described things they’d encounter, like banana slugs, they seemed terrified. I showed pictures and explained the rules for backpacking and camping. They said, “Wow, you’ve just prepared us so much more now.”

We talked until midnight so they never made it out to see the nightlife. I hoped that I had prepared them for what they were about to encounter. As I laid in bed, I was happy about my travels. I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – something I worked 22 years to be able to do and enjoy. But I’ve been able to see so much, meet local people, and learn the history of places. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Post Edited By: Misty Kosek

 

Day 35: History of Seattle and Getting a Kiss

It was my last day in Seattle and I wanted to learn a little more about the city so I signed up for an underground tour. Meeting in downtown Seattle, the tour began in a basement of a skyrise. It was dark and had a setup like what you’d see during Halloween.

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The tour had about 15 people and as we sat in dark pews, the tour guide started by giving us the rundown of what the next 90 minutes would look like. We began by going around the corner and seeing the old store fronts.

Seattle was originally a logging town and port city, but really started to boom when they realized they could take advantage of people flocking to Canada and Alaska in search of gold. Seattle became a place where people (mostly men) could rest, buy supplies, and eat.

Being mostly men coming through the city, Seattle developed a seedy underground full of booze and prostitutes. The police and government officials overlooked all of this as long as these establishments paid their “tax” – which was basically a bribe. This went on for about 100 years until the 1970s when the FBI did an investigation and put a stop to all of it.

The shoreline of Seattle used to be giant cliffs overlooking the ocean, so people couldn’t build many houses there. The city center was near the port on soft ground and the tide changed dramatically at the end of the day. The tide would literally come into the little town, wash things away, and flood it.

The roads were made of a mixture of sawdust and dirt (remember, it was a logging town) and when the horse and carriages would come through the city, they’d poop on the street. The tide water became a combination of many things, including horse poop. There were some sections that had a consistency of oatmeal, and were like quick-sand causing people would drown. People literally risked their life to walk down the street.

In 1889, the city had a massive fire (miraculously, nobody died) and it cleared out thousands of rodents that carried diseases. It gave the city the chance to rebuild in brick and stone, and fix the tide issue. They decided all new streets would be graded one to two stories higher than the original streets. During this construction, the streets were built first and the sidewalks later. Merchants stayed open during construction and used ladders for people to climb down to their store until the sidewalks were complete. Lots of people actually died falling off of these ladders.

Once the sidewalks were complete, the storefronts were moved to the 2nd story, and the first story now became the basement, and the underground was born. Buildings were not connected to each other underground, but it gave way to the seedy happenings in the city. They installed makeshift “skylights” using little glass tiles so light came through. You can still see the mosaic titles on the sidewalks in Pioneer Square.

In 1907, the city condemned the underground because of bubonic plague carried by rats. After years of most of the underground being abandoned, they restored a few sections and started giving tours. In 1965, Bill Speidel starting giving tours and still operates today (which is the tour I took).

The city also spent time regrading the other parts of Seattle and demolishing the cliffs so houses and roads could be built. They used high-pressure water hoses to make the cliffs more like steep hills.

The tour was fascinating and I was able to see a few underground sections, including the Comedy Underground club, where comedians perform. Learning the history helped me to understand why the streets were so crappy and full of potholes – they sink 1/8th of an inch every year because underneath them it’s still sawdust and dirt.

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After the tour, I walked around downtown a bit and messaged a guy I had been talking to on Tinder, Jerry. I told him that it was my last night in Seattle (wanted to be clear I don’t live there as to not repeat the previous date I had when I first arrived to Seattle) and I was told I need to try the oysters. I asked if he wanted to go and he said he did and would pick me up.

I took an Uber back to my Airbnb to change into pants and freshen up. I thought it was nice he offered to pick me up. Most guys say they’ll meet you somewhere so this felt promising. Jerry arrived and I got into his car. He was about 5’11” – 6’ tall, with blonde/reddish hair, and was on the thinner side but fit. The wrinkles on his face made him look older than 32.

We decided on a place in downtown and Jerry had to parallel park. Backing into the space up a steep hill, he was nervous he’d mess up since I was watching. It actually felt nice for someone else to be nervous.

Jerry hadn’t eaten oysters in about 10 years so we didn’t know which ones to order. I said, “I’ll ask the waiter for help.” Jerry responded, “I’m usually embarrassed to ask and show I don’t know.” I explained, “Yeah, but my take on it is this. You ask and are embarrassed once. Then you know how to do it going forward and don’t have to worry about it again.” He smiled and said, “That’s true.”

We ate the oysters but agreed we don’t care for them very much. While eating, I learned a little more about Jerry. He has his master’s degree, was in the peace corps for two years, and is a project engineer for a nonprofit in Sierra Leone. He spent two years in Sierra Leone but told his company he can’t keep living there. They compromised and said he can do three months there and then three months in Seattle, as a rotation.

After oysters, Jerry asked if I wanted to walk around so we did. Lots of people were walking the streets as a parade had just finished. We walked for close to an hour and I noticed my hand kept hitting his. I thought my purse that was crossed over my shoulder must be bumping my hand into his hand. At one point, I quietly said, “Sorry”. But then I noticed Jerry kept looking at my hand. I thought, “Wait, is he trying to hold my hand. Crap. What do I do now??”

My problem is that I get very nervous at the anticipation of meeting someone, or holding hands, or kissing. It had been 2-1/2 years since I separated from my ex-husband after being married for 9 years. I hadn’t held hands or kissed anyone since my ex. Part of me just wanted to get it out of the way because otherwise, the more time that passed, the more anxious I became about it. It felt like a “build-up” and I would start to feel sick to my stomach.

Jerry and I arrived at a bar and he bought me a beer. Sitting close to me at the bar, Jerry became more flirtatious. Right after we finished our beers, the bartender asked if we wanted another one. As I was about to say yes, Jerry said no. Then he turned towards me and said, “If we’re going to have another beer, I shouldn’t drive so we should go to a bar close to my house. I can park in between my place and your place and walk you home after the bar and then I can walk home.” He lived about half a mile from where I was staying so it made sense.

As we left the bar and walked to Jerry’s car, he held my hand. It felt really nice to hold someone’s hand – it was sweet and genuine. Once Jerry parked near his house, we walked towards the bar and he continued to hold my hand.

We arrived at the bar, but it was closed. Jerry said he knew of another one nearby, but it was a dive bar. I was fine with that so we headed there. He bought us some beer and we sat across from each other at a small table near the pool table. I was holding my glass with my left hand and I noticed he kept looking down at my hand. So I grabbed my glass with my right hand and let go of the glass with my left hand. Jerry grabbed my left hand and held it. Then held it with both of his hands. I’ve never had a guy hold my hand across the table before and it was sweet.

We had a good conversation and it felt like Jerry was a good guy. When I felt he was going to kiss me, I got nervous and continued talking like a crazy person. Finally, we kissed! It was sweet and instantly I didn’t feel so nervous. It’s the lead-up that makes me feel sick. I hadn’t held hands or kissed someone in so long, I forgot how nice it was to have human touch. We are designed to have human touch – it’s one of the five love languages. I never realized how much I missed it until I didn’t have it for so long.

Jerry thanked me for asking him to get oysters and I thanked him for going with me. I knew I’d likely never see him again, but I was ok with that. He had spent a lot of time in Sierra Leone and I think he was in the same boat – we needed to connect with someone, even if it was just temporary.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Days 19-21: Learning About Portland, Oregon

I often go on bike tours when I’m checking out a new city because bike tours are the perfect way to see the sights and learn about the city’s history. You go faster than walking but slower than a car. It’s the perfect speed. Plus, you get some exercise and can feel the breeze.

I started a bike tour in Portland at 9:00 am. There was a family of four (the kids were around 8-12), and a single female in her late 20s or early 30s. The kids immediately went up front near the tour guide. I stayed in the back and chatted a bit with the single female. She was from the San Francisco area and traveling alone. She figured Portland was an easy flight and she’d never been before.

We rode our bikes through the city, the old China town, under bridges, and even got to stop for 15 minutes to shop around a little. The tour guide recommended we check out Blue Star donuts during the stop so the family of four and myself headed there. While I liked Voodoo donuts, Blue Star donuts tasted higher end. They had artisan flavors that were really unique using quality ingredients. The price is high though – around $3.50 each.

On the bike tour, I learned things about the city – like why it’s called Stump Town. The city started as a port town and was growing so quickly that they had to cut down trees to make room. But they did a pretty crappy job and left the stumps of the trees around.

You might think the city is named Portland because of the port activity, but it’s actually because the two founders had an intense coin toss to determine who could name the city. One guy was from Boston, Massachusetts and the other was from Portland, Maine. They both wanted to name this new city after their hometowns. The guy that won the battle was from Portland, Maine so he named this city Portland as well. If that coin toss had gone the other direction, it would’ve been named Boston.

You can see the growth in Portland’s recent history by all of the high-rise condos that have gone up and are continuing to be built. They’re all close together, look modern, and have a clean look to them.

Homelessness is a big problem for the city and the homeless population is not all centralized like in L.A. Homeless people are scattered throughout the city and you can see them all the time.

Portland’s water supply was so bad way back in the day because the water from the local river was extremely polluted. Because the water made them sick, people mostly drank beer. People were always drunk, all day! Then in 1912, a businessman named Simon Benson came along and said that it was crazy and dangerous that everyone was drunk all the time. He particularly didn’t like that his workers were drunk at time lunch. To fix the problem, he gave the city $10,000 to install 20 bronze drinking fountains which gave the city fresh drinking water. You can still see them around the city today.

These are the reasons I love doing bike tours. I always learn so much history about a city in an entertaining way, that I feel connected to the place. Once the bike tour was finished, I checked out Powell Book Store. This famous bookstore is gigantic! It has multiple floors, old and new books, accessories, and has a really cool vibe. I spent a couple of hours there and bought a few books, including maps of Alaska and Canada in case I lost cell service and got lost on the next leg of my journey.

After the book store, I headed to the art museum because they had an exhibit called The Shape of Speed. The tour guide also told us that on Thursdays admission was only $5. When I went to the counter to buy my $5 ticket, I was informed the price of $5 only applied to the first Thursday of the month. Dang it. I ended up paying $20 to get in. But the series of cars on display was worth it. There was a car that looked like a version of the mini-van we know today.

The cars on display were so unique and unlike any cars I’ve seen. For example, there was an orange car that only had one wheel in the back instead of two. The back of it was narrow to accommodate only having one wheel. The plaque next to it read, “Only one prototype Airomobile was ever built. It was projected to sell for $550, when a new 1937 Ford Tudor sedan was $579. Lewis drove his three-wheeled car all over the United States to demonstrate it, completing 45,000 miles in less than a year, and averaging 43.6 mpg. But he failed to attract financial backing to put his curious car into production.”

Think about how crazy that is. If this car had gotten financial backing, this could be the style we drive around today. It made me realize that the only difference in a design being successful or not is what ends up being financially backed. All these unique artists competed and the designs that didn’t get financing disappeared. Just like that. These cars were works of art and it was an awesome experience to see them.

The next day, I went for a 6-mile hike in Forest Park. The park is only a ten-minute drive from downtown but it felt like I was deep in the forest. I only ran into a few people. This is one of the reasons I ended up really liking Portland – nature is right there and it feels secluded. The trees and greenery looked a lot like Olympic National Forest that I had hiked the week before.

The following day was a Saturday and I checked out the Saturday market – which is actually on Saturday and Sunday. It was neat to see all the little shops and booths but I’m trying really hard not to buy stuff. Souvenirs and trinkets just end up in a drawer somewhere and I’d rather have memories and picture to remember trips, not more stuff. I walked around but didn’t buy anything.

I looked on Facebook events a few days prior to see what was going on in the city for the weekend. I saw that Bill Burr was doing standup at the Keller Auditorium. His name sounded familiar so I googled him and watched a few videos. He seemed funny so I bought tickets.

I took an Uber pool to get to the theater. My driver’s name was Atnafu and he is from Ethiopia. He’s been in Portland for the last six years. He enjoys it there but said it can be hard with such rainy winters. We picked up another rider since it was an Uber pool. He is a drummer in his late 20s, from Austin, TX who plays at a piano bar. He wanted to check out Portland and asked several friends but they all backed out at the last-minute so he said, “Well, I’m going on my own then.” He had spent the last week exploring the city and was going to check out the local piano bar. Next, he said he’ll check out all the surrounding nature.

I liked that this was the second person I had met in a couple of days who was traveling alone. I wasn’t happy that they were alone, but I was happy that they didn’t let their friends stop them. Sometimes that happens. Friends bail or you don’t know anyone who can travel with you. Don’t let it stop you. Go anyway. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the experience and the people you’ll meet.

I arrived at the theater, grabbed a glass of wine, and got to my seat. Bill Burr put on a great show! The guy who did the intro for Bill was also really funny. I was getting used to going to events alone and this time it didn’t bother me. I like seeing comedy shows so that was my focus, not on being alone.

After the show, I took an Uber pool back to the hostel. I got into the front seat because there was a guy and girl in the backseat. The guy sounded like a surfer dude and had longish blonde/light brown hair. Here’s some of the conversation between these 20 somethings:

Guy: “Oh dang, I didn’t know we were picking someone up. I only did Uber pool once. I made a comment to the girl in the car about Africa being a country and she was like, ‘it’s a continent’ and I was like ‘damn, don’t be like that. I got sisters from Ethiopia.’ So I was ruined on Uber pool.”

Guy: “Whoa! What’s going on tonight? Where are all these people coming from? Dang, I have major FOMO (fear of missing out).”

Me: “Bill Burr was performing at the theater.”

Guy: “Oh, is that where you were?”

Me: “Yes, it was good.”

Guy to girl: “Dang, you should have gotten pizza. If I was high, I would’ve already had Dominos ordered.”

Guy realizes he’s more drunk than the girl.

Girl: “You had a lot more to drink than me.”

Guy to girl: “Yeah, I was keeping tabs. What? I was paying for the drinks. I had four and you only had one. Then I was like ‘Dang, am I too drunk?’”

Guy to girl: “Do you have at least 20 more minutes left in you before you fall asleep?”

Girl: “Yes”

Guy: “Can I stay the night?”

Girl: “Yes”

Guy: “I figured I could but thought it would be gentleman of me to ask. I talk a lot more than you when I’m drunk.”

We arrived at the girl’s place and the guy was on crutches, so he was struggling to get out of the car.

The driver and I laughed.

Driver: “Lol, they didn’t know I was picking someone else up. I usually drive before midnight. It’s a different crowd after midnight.”

Indeed it is.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Day 8: Friends in Bend

The nice thing about staying in motels or hotels vs Airbnb’s is that they usually offer breakfast. I enjoyed a pretty typical American continental breakfast and headed towards a hiking trail I had found on an app, AllTrails.

The trail was a 30-minute drive west of Bend. I pulled down the gravel road and remembered it was a Saturday because the small parking lot was full of cars. Cars also lined the sides of the road, parking wherever they could find enough space halfway into the shrubs and halfway into the road.

I found a spot on the side of the road and headed towards the trailhead. There were a few different trails so at least it wasn’t crazy crowded on each trail. Originally, I had wanted to go all the way to the top, where there is a lake called “unnamed lake”. The pictures online looked amazing but the road that takes you closer was shut down because it wasn’t maintained. That means you have to hike even further. It would definitely be an all-day affair and pretty exhausting. I wasn’t sure I was prepared for that so I stuck to about 6 miles.

Right away, the trail took me to a beautiful lake. An older couple asked that I take their picture so I obliged. I noticed they were mostly just walking from their car to this point of the lake to take a picture. It was only about a 15-minute walk from the parking lot and there were picnic tables under the trees.

I continued on the trail around the lake and was surrounded by orange butterflies everywhere. They were sitting on the trail, swirling around the trail, and swirling around me. They were so peaceful but sometimes it was hard to walk down the path because they didn’t want to move.

As I circled around the lake, I saw lots of people where the trees opened up. They had blankets and were lounging and eating. This is definitely why it was so crowded in the parking lot. It’s an easy hike to get to the end of the lake and people just chill there. To continue on the trail, however, there were wooden boards on the ground because it was swampy. A couple of times I had to maneuver around and sort of sank a little in the mud.

Once I made it around the lake, I hiked up the side of the mountain a little so I got more of a workout.

I went back to the motel and showered so I could meet Sarah’s friend, Bethany. My friend Sarah had put us in touch through Instagram and we agreed to meet up that evening. I met Bethany, her husband, and their two children (around ages three and five). We met at a really cool place that has food trucks, some picnic tables, and an indoor/outdoor bar.

It was great meeting Bethany and her family. We ordered some beer and sat outside in the warm sun. Bethany is someone I would totally be friends with back home. She was nice, smart, friendly, and loves the outdoors. Her husband is a nurse at the local hospital and Bethany is able to work from home. Her husband’s family lives in Bend and her mom recently moved up there too. They described Bend as a great place to live but housing is pretty expensive. This is partly because the city put in restrictions for building more houses. They don’t want it to become too big and ruin the reason many people like living there – its proximity to nature. Jobs are sometimes hard to come by there too.

Bethany’s two little boys played around the area and played with some of the outdoor games that were provided. We grabbed some food from the trucks and continued to hang out. It’s funny, I had just met these people, but they felt like people I had been friends with for a long time. I was very grateful that Sarah introduced us. Until this point, I had been completely alone in my travels and hadn’t really met anybody. Hanging out with them drinking some beer made me feel like me again. I needed that comfort and I’m incredibly grateful they were willing to meet up with a complete stranger.

The next morning, I met my friend Mandy for breakfast. I had originally met Mandy two years prior while on a training hike in Orange County, CA. I had my huge backpack on because it was my last hike before leaving to hike the John Muir Trail. Mandy also had a big backpack because she was training for the Trans Catalina Trail. She was so friendly and we had hiked together for about 20 minutes – until she had to take a different route. I friended her on Facebook after that and we had only interacted through Facebook in the last two years.

Mandy had recently finished school as an x-ray technician and moved to Bend after hearing about how beautiful it was. I met Mandy at a local café in Bend and we got in a long line to order some food. We were catching up about my trip and why I had decided to do this. When we got to the register to order our food, Mandy told the woman behind the register that I quit my job and I’m traveling the world. I was surprised at how excited the woman was and said that was her dream. I handed her the business card I created with my blog information and said “If you’d like to follow along, here you go?” I was surprised by her enthusiasm, “Yes, absolutely, I want to follow along.” That really pumped me up.

As Mandy and I caught up over breakfast, I told her how surprised I was that Oregon so far was very rural and did not seem like the stories you hear on the news about Portland. It seemed more like rural towns in the Midwest. She said that’s because Portland and Eugene are liberal but most of the state outside of those two cities is conservative. Mandy told me that when her new landlord saw her girlfriend come over, they suddenly started to say there were rules for how often she can have guests over. I felt bad for her. She’s one of the nicest people I know so to have people treat her poorly because of her sexual orientation made me frustrated.

During breakfast, Mandy told me that she had planned a 4-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Forest with a friend from Orange County. Her friend was flying in and they were going to drive up to the rainforest. She had it all mapped out and would hike about 16 miles to the Enchanted Valley and 16 miles back. She invited me to come along. I was torn because on one hand, I did have all of my backpacking gear and I wanted to see the forests in Washington state. On the other hand, I would have to go to Washington and then backtrack to Oregon to see Portland. I had also just booked the hostel in Portland for a week since they were filling up as this was their busy season. I wanted to stay somewhere for at least a week because staying 2 nights in places was exhausting. By the time I unloaded and got settled and then also researched what to do, there just wasn’t enough time to see the place. I wanted to feel a little more settled. I would need to move my reservation at the hostel if I went with them so I told Mandy I’d think about it and get back to her. After breakfast, she headed to work and I headed to Hood River.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek