Day 66: Bike Tour and Alaska State Fair

I signed up for a bike tour in Anchorage. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I love bike tours. We met at the log cabin visitor center in the morning and it was pretty cold – in the high 50s. The tour guides were two women in their 30s. They both had very short blonde hair and were fit.

I got into the van with two couples who appeared to be in their early 60s. One of the couples was from Toronto and the other was from Atlanta. The Atlanta couple was taking a train through Alaska.

We drove to a park near the airport and on the way there we got to know each other a bit. One of the tour guides is from Fairbanks and moved to Anchorage eight years ago. The other guide is from Portland, attended college in Juneau, and moved to Anchorage 15 years ago.

The guides told us that the city has to repaint the lines on the roads every year because the snow plows scrape it all off during the winter months. It can be difficult to drive in the spring when the lines aren’t very visible. They don’t bring the plows out until there’s at least four inches of snow on the road!

We arrived at the park, got the bikes from the trailer, put on jackets, and started riding on the bike trail with one of the guides while the other drove the van to our meeting spot. I was happy to have the jacket because it blocked the cold wind. The park was beautiful and we stopped periodically to see a site or learn something new.

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The sky started to clear up and the sun came out. They joked that I brought the sunshine from California. From the distance, we could see Mount Denali.

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As we rode through the thick trees, we saw a moose and her baby eating! We quietly pulled over and watched them for a little bit.

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The tour guide told us that the trails are used for hiking and biking in the summer and for cross-country skiing in the winter. Since it gets dark at 3:00 pm in the winter, they turn on the lights so people can ski. Professional skiers use those trails.

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We stopped at Earthquake park, a park dedicated to the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. It occurred on Good Friday at 5:36 pm and lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds with a magnitude 9.2. It’s North America’s most powerful earthquake recorded. Structures collapsed, tsunamis ensued, and 139 people were killed. The park is located where homes once stood and were washed away into the ocean during the earthquake, which literally changed the geography of the land.

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We continued on the bike path and stopped for some beautiful views of the downtown area across the ocean and later views of the downtown area across a calm lake surrounded by mountains.

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After the bike tour, I drove 45 minutes to the Alaska state fair. It was senior day and there was a line to get a ticket. While I waited, a gigantic dragonfly landed on the shirt of the man in front of me. I knew I’d be seeing giant vegetables there, but didn’t expect to see giant insects!

Once inside the fairgrounds, I saw booths like “Bad girls of the North,” “Guardians of the 49th” (state troopers), a gun raffle, and winners in the bakery contest.

I watched kids proudly racing their piglets for a prize, giant zucchini for sale, and of course an abundance of fried foods.

I walked into the huge barn that housed animals and the largest pumpkin contest was underway. The sunlight is so long in the summertime, they can grow enormous vegetables. They were bringing the pumpkins out on pallets and the risers were full of people anxiously waiting for the results. I didn’t stay to see the winner and kept walking around.

This place had everything! Arts and crafts, contests, a reptile house, and a flower garden.

I ate some food and continued to explore the booths. I saw a barn labeled Senior Storytelling, so I stood in the back of the crowded room and tried to listen. Some were good, and some were not so good at telling stories. But then this senior walked to the microphone and read a poem about love. He said, “Love is a tickling in the heart you can’t scratch.” It was a sweet reading.

I drove back to my Airbnb and started to pack up because I had a very early morning flight to Denver, Colorado so I could attend two weddings. I have a friend who lives in Anchorage, but she was out of town while I was there. I needed somewhere to keep my car while I was gone and she put me in contact with her friend, Amanda.

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I drove my car to Amanda’s house that evening and she offered to drive me back to my Airbnb while her 20-month-old twins fell asleep in the car. When I arrived, she gave me the medications I had shipped to her house since I didn’t have an address. She was so generous to do all of this for me considering I had just met her. Her husband stayed home and watched their son who was around six years old and his friend who was staying the night. Amanda loaded up the twins and we headed to my Airbnb, hoping they’d fall asleep.

After 20 minutes, we arrived to my Airbnb and she pulled into the driveway. I thanked her and started walking up the stairs, but then she texted me and asked if I could come back to her car. I went back and she asked if she could pray with me. I got back into the car and she held my hand while praying for me and my journey. Afterwards, we talked about how God has plans and is bigger than all of us. We need to remember to pause and thank him.

It’s sometimes uncomfortable praying with others out loud. My friend Debbie has gotten me more comfortable with it as she often prays out loud with me. God has totally provided for me during my life and during this trip. Amanda was encouraging, warm, sweet, and caring. God often sends people into my life at the right time and they provide for me in ways that make me incredibly grateful.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below or send me a message with any questions!

 

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

 

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