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 50: Alaska Arrival!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Agent: “What are you doing in Alaska?”

Me: “I’m driving the Alaska highway.”

Agent: “How long will you be here?”

Me: “A few weeks.”

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

Me: “No”

Agent: “Ok, welcome home!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 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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