Day 92: Peak to Peak Gondola

My Airbnb host, Ash, made me breakfast while we talked about relationships. He’s been married three times, each time for less than a year. They were all party girls and one had an expensive cocaine habit. He lived with his last wife for three years before they were married, but it still ended shortly after they got married. He reflected, “Maybe I didn’t put in effort.” Ash wasn’t really interested in dating and didn’t know how to use Tinder. He said maybe he’d meet someone in a bar.

Ash told me about the housing problems in Whistler and how the big companies take advantage of young people working and pay them the minimum wage of $12 an hour. There isn’t enough housing, so people are living six to seven people per apartment. For a few months a year, Ash goes to Mexico and rents out his place so workers coming up for the season have somewhere to live. The town is full of people from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand because they can easily get two-year working permits if they’re under 31. After two years, they can leave for a day, come back, and get another two years. Once they get older, they no longer want to live in shared bedrooms, but there just isn’t affordable housing. There are mansions sitting empty most of the year.

Ash vented to me about Vail Resorts taking over Whistler and how they don’t understand the locals and they’re trying to run it like they do in the US. For example, the Peak to Peak gondola only runs on weekends in the fall even though it has gotten very busy. He also vented about Airbnb and how he liked that it started as people in homes renting out space. Unfortunately, there is now a lot of investors buying property just to put on Airbnb. In his opinion, it ruins the whole purpose of doing an Airbnb – shared space with a local.

After talking with Ash for awhile, I packed up and loaded my car. I had only booked his place for three nights. My first day in Whistler was spent relaxing and going to the spa because of my back pain and I loved the town. The weather was improving and I wanted to stay longer. However, I wanted some more privacy so I booked a little one-bedroom apartment in the village. I couldn’t check in yet so I drove to the Peak to Peak gondola.

I parked in a parking lot and had to walk about 15 minutes to the village. There was a beautiful paved path through trees and suddenly a skate park appeared with a competition going on.

Once I arrived at the gondola, I saw hundreds of mountain bikers in line to go up the mountain, and others coming down the bumpy bike paths. They were all covered in mud.

The gondola going up Whistler Mountain fits about six people, but it wasn’t crowded so it was just me and one other woman. She was 30 years old, from Malta, and had been living in the US for the last eight years. She was in Vancouver for a chemical biology conference and decided to do a day trip to Whistler over the weekend. It took about 20 minutes to reach the top so the woman and I talked about things to do in Whistler.

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When I arrived at the top, I lucked out and the sun came shining through.  There were amazing views in all directions for miles. There were a lot of people at the top taking pictures of the Olympic Rings.

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To get to Blackholm Mountain, you need to board the Peak to Peak gondola that connects the mountains. I boarded that gondola, which fits about 20 people.

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The gondola dipped in the valley between the mountains, and then climbed up Blackmon Mountain. A sign boasted:

  • World’s longest unsupported (free) span for a lift of this kind in the world.
  • World’s highest lift of its kind.
  • World’s longest continuous lift system.

It took eleven minutes to cross to Blackholm mountain. It was incredible to float above the trees with the valley below, surrounded by mountains that seemed to go on for days.

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When I got to Blackholm mountain, there was a small hiking path at the top. I climbed up and walked around the path, seeing marmots and birds along the way. Once the short hike was finished, I went inside the building and watched a movie about the gondola.

On the way back to Whistler mountain, the fog was setting in, making it look like the cable disappeared  into nothingness. I was grateful I made it before the fog set in.

I walked around Whistler mountain for awhile, checking out the building inside and the famous rock statue that sits on the top.

Once I got back to my car, I drove to my next Airbnb. I was happy when my car with the rooftop storage unit fit inside the underground parking. I liked the place. I had a little apartment right in the village, near a grocery store.

That evening, I went to see Adam’s band play again at a local bar. I felt more nervous for some reason. I was also very tired after a day of exploring.

When I walked in, his band was on a break and he was talking to a table of people. I stood in line to get a drink and he waved at me. I felt like a groupie, and I could tell my body language was closed off. Adam came over to say hello, but didn’t give me a hug. He asked how my day was and I told him about the gondola. He also asked if I switched Airbnb’s and I said I did. Adam had to use the restroom before his break was over so he said he’d see me later.

I sat at the bar and the band was to my left, sort of behind me. I didn’t want to just stare at him, so sometimes I played on my phone while his band played. They were really enjoyable to listen to and Adam is really good at getting the crowd pumped up. There were several people dancing at the stage.

When Adam was done playing, he came over and talked for a bit and said he’d be back after he loaded up his van. He mentioned he had a 7:00 am doctor appointment the next morning. I figured it was his way of giving me a heads up that he wasn’t going to hang out afterwards and I felt disappointed.

Once Adam was done loading the van, he came over and told me he’s been waiting for the appointment with a foot doctor for eight months. He was having some pain in his foot and it would take him almost two hours to get to the appointment in Vancouver. Since he wasn’t going to get much sleep, he said he was going home. He gave me a hug and said, “See you later?” I responded, “Sure.”

I felt rejected. I know he had an early appointment, but I also know that people prioritize what’s important to them. I don’t blame him because it was an early appointment. I just wish he had told me the day prior or even that day. The day before he said he wanted me to come to his show and was still messaging, so it seemed like he was still interested. I couldn’t tell if he was blowing me off and was suddenly not interested, or if he legitimately just wanted to make sure he didn’t miss his appointment.

I finished my drink and walked back to my Airbnb. The village has a lot of bars and clubs, and people were out and about having fun. I was bummed because I thought I would be hanging out with Adam after his show. I was still going to be in Whistler for a few days and I hoped I’d see him again.

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 75: Hiking on a Glacier

I woke up to the sound of rain against the roof of my tiny, rustic cabin. I cringed at the thought of getting out of my warm sleeping bag to the bitter cold air and rain, so I decided to play on my phone with the small amount of battery I had left. I reached for my glasses on the floor beside the box spring I was laying on and realized they were almost frozen. It was painful to put them on my face. I had tried to charge my phone with my solar charger, but it was too cold and the phone wouldn’t charge.

I played on my phone for about an hour and heard the rain stop. I threw my coat over my thermals and braved the cold so I could go to the bathroom. Looking across the small river, I noticed the clouds and mist had rolled in, creating an eerie feel.

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My quick venture outside left me feeling very cold, so I jumped back into my mummy sleeping bag and walked around the cabin with it wrapped around me as I dug through my backpack for breakfast options.

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I was elated when I discovered I had a powdered Starbucks vanilla latte packet. I used my Jetboil to make the latte and sat on the porch enjoying the view.

I ate a poptart for breakfast and packed up my gear. With my paid admission, I could stay there all day and hike Matanuska glacier. Once packed up, I drove about a mile to the parking lot. The natives own the rights to the glacier, but Bill (whom I had met the day before) owns the access rights. There is some sort of guidance on the first mile of the glacier.

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People are able to hike the glacier by themselves or they can book a tour where a guide will walk them to other areas, like the ice caves. They’ll also provide crampons for your shoes. I decided not to do a tour because it was expensive. I’ve also hiked on a glacier in Norway and didn’t feel it would be all that different. Plus, I could still hike it on my own to the main areas.

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The first section of the hike was sandy and muddy. Certain sections had metal grates or wooden pieces of boards to help stabilize the ground so people don’t sink. There was a “path” for people to follow, which was basically just scattered orange cones here and there.

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I started the hike and was trying not to sink. About ten minutes into the hike, I ran into Keenan, the guy who I had talked with the night before about camping. He was leading a handful of people on a tour. He stopped to talk to me and asked how my night was. I told him it was super cold, but the views made it all worth it. He replied, “Right on!”

I continued hiking, mesmerized by the still pools of water, gray sand, and ice slowly popping through. I started to head towards the ice caves, but a tour guide warned me not to go that direction without crampons. I found the trail again and continued.

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I came across an area with a crevasse that I needed to cross in order to continue. It was a pretty large gap and not having crampons made me nervous. I watched as a girl struggled to cross, squatting down because she was too scared to make the leap. Her friends on the other side were trying to convince her to jump. I walked further down and found an area that I thought was safer and crossed there.

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The ground was deceptive. It was gray from the dirt, but was actually ice. I got closer to the main body of the glacier and got worried that I would slip. After about 30 minutes of hiking, I made it to the top and the stopping point. To go further, you needed to be on the other side with crampons. It was incredible to see such a majestic glacier. The blue and white colors intertwined with streaks of brown dirt. It looked fake and it was hard to fully comprehend the size and scope of it.

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After taking in the views, I hiked back to my car. As I got closer, I ran into Keenan again. This time he was leading a new group to go out to the glacier. I asked him, “Don’t you get tired of doing these?” He replied, “No man, it’s something different every time! Are you sticking around for the day?” I told him I needed to keep driving north so I could catch a ferry back to Canada.

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When I got back to the parking lot, Bill had just pulled up with a bus full of people who were getting ready to take tours. I stopped outside of the driver’s side window to talk with him. He said, “It’s a good thing you had the cabin last night with all the rain. Kept you and your stuff dry.” I was indeed happy to have that cabin.

When I got to my car, I plugged my phone in so I could book a hostel in Tok. I had stayed there on my way to Alaska and I would go right through there again. I enjoyed my stay the first time so I booked a room to ensure it would be available.

The drive was beautiful as the fall colors were making their way into the forest. It was only September 6th, but yellow, red, and orange were starting to sweep the trees and bushes. I pulled over to take some pictures of the lakes that made perfect mirrors of the mountains.

I pulled into the hostel’s gravel parking lot around dinner time. I had booked one of the rooms that had two twin beds because it was cheaper than the private room with one twin bed and a bathroom (the one I stayed in previously). However, while I was booking it online, two guys were booking it in person. Because of the double booking, I got my old room again for the same price!

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I put my bags inside my room and two German guys who were staying in the room with two twin beds were about to make dinner. They told me they had salmon, vegetables, and rice, and I was welcome to join them. I hadn’t eaten dinner so I joined them in the kitchen while they cooked.

The guys were from a small town two and half hours from Munich. Flo was 29 years old and studied civil engineering (which is different than how the US describes it). He worked as a mechanic for a bit and wanted to stay with the company since they had good benefits, so he had recently accepted a role as a Safety Engineer/Manager and said, “Nobody likes you in this role.” Flo’s uncle moved to Prince George, Canada 40 years ago and raised his family there on a farm. Flo has visited them a couple of times, but this time he wanted to explore Alaska.

Julian was 30 years old and was a tax accountant. He worked at his dad’s company, which had about nine employees. He works with private citizens and small businesses and explained, “Taxes are complicated.”

The guys get six weeks of paid vacation a year. If people in the US received as much vacation as Europe or Australia, maybe we wouldn’t have to quit our jobs to travel.

Flo and Julian were taking two and half weeks to explore Alaska and started in Whitehorse, Canada. They looked into renting an RV, but it would cost them $4,500 euros, plus additional fees for going into the US and driving on gravel roads. That’s part of the reason I didn’t do an RV. It’s incredibly expensive to rent them, you still have to pay for hookups, can’t park it anywhere you’d like, and I didn’t want to attempt to drive it by myself.

Instead, the guys were staying in a tent they bought at Canadian Tire and said they didn’t realize it would be so cold already. Staying at the hostel was a treat for them. They were following a guide book and were heading to Valdez the next day.

The salmon that they pulled out of the cooler was caught by a guy at a campground they stayed at. They bought it off of him and did a great job cooking it. The three of us sat down to eat dinner like we were a family.

Shelley, the owner of the hostel stopped by to say hello and told me that her brother (who she had wanted me to go on a date with) couldn’t get his plane ready in time to take me on a ride. She said she’d stop by and pick me up in the morning because she wanted me to meet a friend of hers who lived in a log cabin that her husband had built. I agreed to go with her the following day.

Flo and Julian told me about life in Germany. They learn another language at ten years old. A lot of people choose to learn French and their president said learning French was a great way for them to mend their relationship with France after being at war with them for many years. Flo said, “In 100 years, I don’t think there will be any wars or issues between Germany and France. We know each other’s languages and we’re close now.”

Hearing Flo and Julian talk about their view of Alaska was hilarious! They rented a Malibu and thought it was too full of plastic. They joked, “Good thing it’s not hot here or else the plastic would all melt.” They were shocked at how many Alaskans drove trucks. They described Alaskan men as having “beards, stains on their shirts, hunting, fishing, shooting, and have a crack in their windshield.” They thought it took a special person to live in Alaska.

As we were eating dinner, two woman came in to stay in the private room with a double bed. They were about 50 and 70 years old and one was dragging in an oxygen tank. The women were worried about the noise, but we couldn’t hear it once they closed the door.

We finished dinner and I washed the dishes while they dried and put them away. They asked that I help them with some English words. “What is the word for a female cousin?” they asked. I laughed and told them, “female cousin.” One of them said “snorkeling” instead of “snoring” and we all laughed.

I took a much needed shower after spending the night in a cabin with no water. I was happy to have a bed again in a heated room. It was so great to meet Flo and Julian. They were generous with their food and were very hospitable. Each day brought new people into my life and it’s much richer because of it.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 48: Tear Inducing Scenery

The Liard River Hot Springs was only a 45-minute drive north from where I was staying at the Northern Rockies Lodge. I drank a protein shake, loaded up my car, and headed to the hot springs.

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When I arrived, I paid a small entrance fee and the guy at the gate told me I would need to park and then walk for about 15 minutes on a boardwalk through the swampy area to get to the springs.

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The area was surrounded by trees and was very beautiful, despite the strong smell of sulfur that emanated from the springs. After changing, I slowly got into the hot springs. The further to the right that I went, the hotter it got. It was quiet and most people weren’t talking. I felt awkward just hanging out alone.

After 15 minutes, I swam near a few people so I could listen in on their conversation. They talked about the fires in Toronto and how it was going to take hours before the redness subsided from their face due to the heat.

After 30 minutes, I was getting too hot so I got out, changed, and walked back to my car. Shortly after leaving the hot springs, I came across buffalo on the side of the road! There must have been more than 20 of them on both sides of the highway, and occasionally crossing the road. The few of us on the road pulled unto the shoulder to take pictures and video. It was slightly raining, but the buffalo didn’t seem to care. They just kept nonchalantly grazing.

I continued north as dark blue clouds rolled in, making the mountains look even more majestic.

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I crossed into the Yukon, which is a different territory than British Columbia. The landscape was so beautiful and so isolated, that tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was fortunate enough to be here and experience this wondrous place.

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When I arrived at the town of Watson Lake, I saw a forest made entirely out of sign posts. I pulled over and saw thousands of street signs from around the world! It was incredible. The signs were nailed to giant wooden posts standing far above my head.

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In 1942, the town of Watson Lake didn’t exist, but there was a US army camp located there. It was common for the military to put up a sign post indicating the direction of surrounding communities. One day, Private Carl K. Lindley was recovering from an injury at the base and added his hometown sign of Danville, Illinois because he was homesick.

The Sign Post Forest has become world famous and there are now over 72,000 signs. Visitors who didn’t bring their own can buy a piece of wood from the visitor center. I walked through the forest amazed and got excited when I’d see a sign from a place I knew. It was such a neat concept and I had no idea it existed.

I drove to the gas station next door to fill up and to see if I wanted to stay the night in Watson Lake. The gas station was sort of like a truck stop, with a small market and a restaurant attached to it. In the restroom, there was a large orange bucket on the counter filled with condoms. The sign warned of STI’s and said the condoms were free. I thought, “Whoa, looks like I’m in the Yukon now.”

I sat in my car and decided to stay in the next town, Whitehorse. I booked a place on Orbitz that was a B & B but they only offered a very small breakfast. The drive continued to impress me and the fellow travelers became fewer and farther in between. Sometimes I pulled over in one of the look-out areas, and other times I just stopped right on the road, rolled down my window (or quickly stepped out) and took pictures.

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The rain stopped and I passed a coyote on the side of the road. The road winded through the mountains, and lakes just kept appearing. The Yukon was giving British Columbia a run for its money. The dark blue clouds returned, bringing forth more rain. The sun reflected off of a giant lake as it started to set. Everywhere I looked was like a postcard.

It was more than eight hours of driving that day, but I never got bored. People have asked me if I listen to podcasts and wondered how I could tolerate so much driving. If you saw the scenery, you’d understand. It’s breathtaking and peaceful. All I need is my music.

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I successfully arrived at Whitehorse, but was struggling to find the B & B. I called the owner and he explained it’s actually located 30 minutes south of the town, which meant I passed it. As I left town, a rainbow appeared but I was heading into dark storm clouds and it was getting dark.

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Since it was dark and raining, I couldn’t find the small gravel road that would take me up the hill to the small B & B. I called the owner again and he stayed on the phone with me for several minutes until I could find the road.

I drove to the top of the hill and arrived at 10:00 pm. There were a few cars in the gravel lot and I ran inside, trying to avoid the rain and the cold (it dropped to 50 degrees F!). My room key was on the small entrance table, so I grabbed it and walked down the hallway to my room. It had two twin beds and I had my own bathroom. Of course, there was a creepy spider hanging out inside.

The B & B had a shared kitchen, living room, and dining room. There seemed to be around five rooms and I could hear some kids playing around in a room near mine. After a nice warm shower, I went to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up too late to have the small breakfast and coffee, so I packed up my stuff. I was getting really behind in my blog posts so I asked the girl who was cleaning rooms if I could stay in the dining area and use the Wifi for a little while. My room was emptied so she could clean it. She let me stay and I ended up writing for the next two hours.

I had a great view out the window and I enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere. I like cities too, but after spending 15 years in Los Angeles, I prefer less crowded areas. Being in such a remote area, I realized how much light pollution there is in cities. The darkness and lack of people makes life feel simpler. It helps clear my head and not to be caught up in the rat-race.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider