Days 130-133: Getting Settled in Whistler, Canada

On Halloween morning, I left Vancouver, Washington and drove about four hours to Mount Vernon, Washington to stay the night with my friend Chanell. I arrived in the early evening and enjoyed a delicious crockpot meal that Chanell had prepared. Her adorable children, ages 1 and 3, had carved some pumpkins that were proudly displayed on the front porch.

Once it got dark outside, I tagged along with Chanell, her husband Matt, and the kids to go trick-or-treating. I absolutely love taking kids trick-or-treating. I love the costumes, the fun vibes, and the excitement as kids gather more and more candy. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me and my siblings trick-or-treating, and I was determined to get as much candy as possible. I used a pillow case and because I’m a saver, I would slowly eat my candy over the next year.

It was a foggy night outside, which created the perfect ambiance. Once we were finished and the kids went to bed, Chanell and I stayed up late talking. We talked about how she was doing during her current pregnancy, and what books she was reading. She had a lofty goal of reading two books a month and was on track to achieve it.

After enjoying a relaxing breakfast at Chanell’s house, I continued my drive north towards Whistler, British Columbia. The U.S. and Canada border is only about an hour and a half north of Mount Vernon. I arrived fairly quickly, but I always worry about getting through. The intimidating police officers and border security scare me.

I pulled up to the booth when it was my turn and a young, blonde, girl with a French accent sternly started asking me questions:

Where are you staying?

For how long?

Why did you drive instead of fly?

Do you have friends here?

I was surprised by some of her questions, like asking why I drove my car, because I hadn’t been asked them before. Just then, she received a phone call and closed her window to talk on the phone. I started to worry. Were they calling her because there was a problem?

Thankfully, she opened her window, handed me my passport, and said I was free to go. I drove past high rises in Vancouver and then hit the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler. Whistler is about an hour and a half north of Vancouver and it’s a very scenic drive. It was raining and foggy, however, so I couldn’t see much.

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I arrived at my Airbnb at 4:00 pm, which was a small, recently remodeled condo. It had been remodeled in gray and white with all things IKEA. Lisa, the owner, met me there to let me inside and show me around. I had booked the place for the month, so I’d be there for a while.

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Airbnb on a clear day

Lisa was in her 40s, thin with long blonde hair, pretty and spunky. She was from Melbourne, Australia and said, “I came here 25 years ago for a three month holiday and then I never left.” That seemed to be the story with most of the people in Whistler. We couldn’t get the cable to work and we played around with several wires. Eventually, her friend got on the phone for assistance and we got it to work.

The place was beautiful, but small. It was a studio and the couch converted into the bed. Lisa knew I would be doing a lot of writing so she got me a small wooden folding table and chairs. There was also a great reading nook with windows looking out to the driveway below and a view of gorgeous trees.

I unloaded several bags from my car and then drove to the market to get some groceries. As I walked around the produce section, I noticed several attractive, single men in their late 20s to late 30s. I was pleasantly surprised and thought this could be a great place to be.

The food was extremely expensive and my total came to $275! Thankfully, that was only $209 US dollars. I had to buy things like salt and pepper since the condo was new and didn’t have anything. I loaded my car in the pouring rain. I had a hard time making my way back the few miles in the dark with such little light pollution. I pulled up to the front door and carried all of my bags down to the first floor. Then I had to move my car to the parking lot around a second building and down a hill. I thought, “I’m prepared for a winter in the mountains, right?”

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It was raining the following day and was perfect weather to stay indoors and write. I unpacked some clothes and got settled. It was the first time in four months I could unpack. While the rain was nice writing weather, I was anxiously waiting for the snow. I had a goal of writing while I was cozied up inside my little apartment, watching the snow fall.

The next day I went to a small gym, the Whistler Athletic Club, that was a 15 minute walk down the road. I was able to do a free workout to try it out. It was small and not the nicest, but it had the machines I like to use. At $68 a month, it was also the cheapest.

I spent the day writing and listening to music because that’s part of my process. At 10:15 pm, I heard a knock on my door. I was still in my workout clothes and answered the door.

A short man about 5’7” in his 40s who looked like a serial killer was standing there. He introduced himself as Kelly who was staying in unit 109 for the month while he was there for work. He was doing laundry and accidentally locked his phone inside the room. The laundry room uses a passcode, and everyone has their own code. Kelly told me he knocked on my door because he could hear my music, so he figured I was still awake.

I was slightly worried since he seemed a little strange, but I gave him the paper with my code. He came back a few minutes later and said it didn’t work. He couldn’t message the owner because he didn’t have his phone. I took the paper with my code and followed him to the laundry room. The room is at the other end of the long, windy hallway. I thought, “Is this guy trying to lure me away so he can kill me?”

I tried the code and it wouldn’t work. I texted the maintenance guy since his number was listed on my paper. While we waited for a reply, Kelly told me he’s from Calgary and he was hired as a consultant for a car repair shop that wasn’t doing well. He mentioned that he lived in the U.S. for seven years in many different states. Kelly liked the U.S., but said he doesn’t want to live there. He pointed out that Americans say “uh-huh” all the time, so I pointed out that Canadians say “eh?” all the time.

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Kelly went on, “Here’s the difference in Americans and Canadians: If an American doesn’t like you, they’ll tell you. If a Canadian doesn’t like you, they’ll tell everyone else.” I told Kelly about my drive to Alaska from California. He responded, “People tell me that California has more people than all of Canada, and I’m like ‘You think that’s a good thing!?’”

I had messaged the owner of my unit and she provided another code for me to try. It also didn’t work. Then I noticed the sign on the door listed the hours until 10:00 pm. I told Kelly it’s probably not working because it’s past 10:00 pm. On the way back to my unit, I stopped by Kelly’s unit, where he had left the door open. He ran inside to grab paper and write down the new code we were provided. He messed up the number and said, “Sorry, I have brain damage.”

I went back to my unit and locked the door. I like helping people, but something seemed off about him. I found out from the maintenance guy the following morning that the door codes stop working after 10:00 pm, which is what I had suspected. I had only been there a few days, but it already felt like my own little apartment, dealing with everyday issues like laundry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 37: Stuck at the Canadian Border

I made myself a delicious breakfast at my friend Chanell’s house while she kept me company, trying not to throw up from morning sickness. I felt so had for her. I could see the nausea she was going through and she still had to care for two small children. She was a trooper.

Once I left Chanell’s house, I drove north towards Vancouver.

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I got to the Canadian border around 3:30 pm. With excitement, I drove up to the drive-through window when it was my turn.

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The middle-aged man asked me all sorts of questions as I handed over my passport.

“Where do you live?” – Los Angeles

“What do you do for a living?” – Well, I used to be an operations manager, lol.

Used to be?” – Yeah, I quit my job and sold my house so I can travel.

“How much money do you have access to?” Um, that seems personal.

“Credit cards?” – Yes. I have plenty of money.

“What are you doing in Canada?” – I’m driving the Alaska highway to Alaska!

“How long will you be in Canada?” – Um, a few weeks as I drive up north.

“Do you have any weapons? Guns? Knives?” – I have a small backpacking knife.

“Pepper spray?” – Oh yes, I do have a small thing of pepper spray.

“That’s illegal in Canada.” – Oh, I didn’t know. I can give it to you (digging through my purse)

“No, you need to pull your car over there. We’re going to search your entire car.”  – But I can give it to you right now…once I find it.

“No, pull your car over there and go inside.”

Oh no. I had no idea pepper spray was illegal in Canada. I parked my car and went inside the building. I stood in the line for Americans (I was the only one) and nervously looked around at the immigration officers who now seemed unfriendly.

Definitely trying to intimidate me, the officer called me to the desk and asked for my passport. I explained I didn’t know pepper spray was illegal. I never carry it on me but as I was packing up my house, I saw a bottle in a drawer I had forgotten about. I purchased it years ago but figured since I was a single female traveling alone, I’d bring it with me. I was now regretting that decision.

I was told to sit down in the waiting area while they searched my car and took my pepper spray. I started freaking out while sitting in the hard, plastic chair. I thought, “What else do I have in my car that’s illegal? I don’t know Canada’s laws. OMG, am I not getting into Canada? I just want to turn around. What if there is something else in there and they detain me? Every time I travel, I meet a Canadian and they’re always nice. But these guys are not nice.”

There was a TV in the corner with no sound and of course, a hockey game was on. The other 20 people sitting there were all Asian or Middle Eastern. A guy next to me was sending a text to someone and asked me how to spell immigration.I feel you, dude, I thought. I helped him and asked why he was there. He replied, “My visa expired.” I said, “Oh. I brought in pepper spray, which is illegal apparently.”

I didn’t have cell service (I think they purposely block signals) so I couldn’t search for Canadian laws. I noticed the agent who had helped me was on the phone at the counter. Thoughts raced through my head, “Oh no, who’s he talking to? What’s happening?

After 30 painstaking minutes, my name was called so I headed to the desk. “You also had apples in your car. You cannot bring them into Canada. I put them on your hood and you need to throw them away”, he said.

“So I can go?” I asked.

He lightened up, “You need to sign off on the pepper spray. Did you want to pick it up when you leave, or have us dispose of it?”

“You can dispose of it.”

“You know, this probably cost you $10 in the States. But it costs us $50-$60 to dispose of it properly in an environmentally friendly way.”

“Sorry?”

“Bear spray is legal. But not people pepper spray.”

“Really? That’s funny. In California, bear spray is illegal and people pepper spray is legal.”

I headed to my car and threw the apples away as the officers watched me. I felt relieved but also still shook up. It’s not a good feeling when you think you’re about to be detained. I am a law-abiding citizen, and I respect law enforcement. Being made to feel like a criminal felt horrible. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I always meet Canadians when I travel and I’ve always thought they were so nice. I wondered, “Are the border patrol agents tired of the “nice” reputation so they overcompensate and intimidate people?” At any rate, I would end up crossing the border many times and each time I was nervous because of this incident.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

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