Days 126-129: Pacific Coast Highway

Jimmy and I ate breakfast in Sierra Madre and then walked around the cute, small city. Afterwards, I made edits to my blog while Jimmy left to hang out with some friends.

I realized I was only a short 15 minute drive away from Mount Wilson, a mountain that I had hiked many times before. It’s one of the most difficult hikes in the area because it’s nonstop climbing. I enjoy the hike because it’s also mostly empty.

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The afternoon sun was beating on me. There isn’t much shade the first one and a half miles and it was 89°F with a real feel of 93°F. The dry air was mixed with smog. The hike was beautiful and offered some amazing, hard-earned views of the metro Los Angeles area.

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I finally got to a tree-covered area, but the heat didn’t let up. I was happy to enjoy the sunny day, but I was also looking forward to going north to cooler temperatures. I hiked a total of six miles and watched the sun move behind the mountain to set. The hike was difficult, but it was a good kind of difficult.

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I went back to Jimmy’s place to shower and then I drove to West Los Angeles for my friend Jessica’s birthday party. I saw some other friends there and met some new people too. There were a few women there that were interested in hearing more about the book I was writing about the John Muir Trail. I was also telling them about my travels. One woman said, “I’ve never met someone who actually did this. We all think about it, but you actually did it.”

The next day, I went to brunch with Jimmy and a mutual friend, Nguyen. We got to meet Nguyen’s boyfriend, who I had heard a lot about. We ate some delicious dim-sum and then had to part ways. I went back to Jimmy’s place to pack up my stuff and hit the road. Before I left town, I stopped at Costco in Burbank to get some water bottles and it took me 20 minutes to find a parking spot. The crowd made me happy to get away from the city.

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I started driving north, planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway this time. Previously I had driven highway 5, which goes through farmland. It’s quicker, but very boring. The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful roads in the U.S. It goes along the coast of California and winds its way around the mountains. It takes much longer because of the amount of turns and elevation gains, but the scenery is a fantastic payoff.

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I arrived at Morro Bay just as the sun was setting. I found my motel, Harbor House Inn. I parked my car outside of my room, brought my bags inside, and then walked down the street to grab dinner. I found a restaurant and ordered a sandwich to-go.

As I was paying for my order, the young guy around 20 years old asked, “You’re not from here?”

I replied, “No, LA.”

“Cool. Are you just on vacation?”

“Well, I’m traveling for two years.”

“Nice! It’ll be good to find a place you’ll want to live when you’re older.”

Flattered, I thought, “How old does this guy think I am?”

I ate my dinner in my motel room and went to sleep. The next morning, I was loading up my car to check out and there was a guy in his late 20s to early 30s unloading his car into the room next to mine. He asked me, “Does your directv work?” I explained that I had issues with the HDMI cable and it seemed to be a known issue with the staff. The guy said, “I just got here 30 minutes ago and it’s not working. I guess I shouldn’t be watching TV anyway, right?”

I walked to the front office to hand in my key and check out. I walked back to my car to leave and the guy was still hanging out by his car. He said, “You’re leaving? Where are you going?”

“Hearst Castle and then probably Eureka.”

“At Hearst Castle, take the movie tour. Some people say it’s cheesy, but I think it gives you a good base of the place. Are you just on vacation?”

“No, I’m traveling for two years.”

“Wow! That sounds like a conversation I’d love to have with you. Dang it. Why couldn’t this have been a couple of days ago? You can’t stay another couple of nights?”

“No, I actually have plans in Whistler. Are you on vacation?”

“No, it’s a long story, but not as fun and adventurous as yours. Dang, I wish we could have a conversation.”

“Well, I gotta go, sorry.”

I got into my car and drove over to the large, famous rock that Morro Bay is famous for. I walked around, taking pictures and enjoying the cool breeze.

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After that, I drove 45 minutes to Hearst Castle. I joined a tour and we boarded a bus that took us on a 15 minute ride up the mountain.

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The place was built between 1919 and 1947 by California’s first female architect, Julia Morgan. William Hearst was a publishing tycoon and wanted to build “something a little more comfortable,” which became the extravagant castle on the large property where he grew up camping with his family. In the 1920s and 1930s, movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant all went there for parties.

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The tour was informative and we walked all around the property, stopping at the famous outdoor Neptune Pool. William Hearst died in 1951, and in 1958 the Hearst family gifted the property to the State of California and it became a historical monument. The family still owns most of the 82,000 acres surrounding the castle.

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Once the tour was finished, I took the bus back to the main office to get my car. I continued driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway. The views were incredible! This was the first time I had driven the highway through central California. The road forced me to make turn after turn after turn.

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I was surprised by how busy the road was considering it was the end of October and should have been off-peak season. I saw a lot of rented RV’s, especially near Big Sur.

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I stopped many times on the shoulder when I had the opportunity. The mountains against the ocean was a site to see. I was also lucky enough to watch the sunset over the ocean.

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I was on the highway for several hours before I hit San Francisco and then started to head more inland. It was dark as I drove past the city, but I didn’t want to get a hotel there because that area is the most expensive in the country. I drove to Williams, California and got a room at a Motel 6. The drive on Pacific Coast Highway is magnificent and I highly recommend you drive it at least once in your lifetime.

The next day I checked out of the motel, grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s and continued north, driving though some mountains in Oregon. I was saddened when I saw the damage from fires that that occurred a few months prior. When I spent time there in June and July, it was green and beautiful. But when I was in Canada and Alaska, several major fires blazed through the area. I could see the burnt trees along the Highway and couldn’t believe how different it looked.

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The landscape was dry and starting to flatten out as I continued north. After a full day of driving, I arrived at the Red Lion Inn & Suites in Vancouver, Washington, which is just past Portland, Oregon. It was around 9:00 pm and dark outside. The hotel wasn’t very nice, but it would do for the night.

I walked across the street to Subway and brought a sandwich back to my room. I had an Airbnb booked in Whistler starting November 1st, so I had to cover a lot of ground each day in order to make it in time. I was exhausted from so much driving and couldn’t wait until I had some downtime in my favorite mountain town.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 103-104: Feeling Strange

Tracey was in the middle of remodeling her kitchen and the construction guys showed up in the morning. Since she did not have a working kitchen, Tracey and I went to town to eat a delicious breakfast. Hood River is a cute town in a gorge about 45 minutes east of Portland. We took our time enjoying breakfast and then I loaded my car and hit the road.

The first part of the drive was scenic as it climbed up and down the mountains in Oregon. However, once I was past the mountains, the drive was flat and boring. I was trying to make it to Redding, California because my friend who I was staying with in Long Beach asked that I make it there by the following day. It was seven hours of drive time to make it to Redding and I didn’t arrive until late evening.

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I had a hard time not falling asleep during the long drive. It was strange considering I had just driven thousands of miles and didn’t get tired more than once or twice. But driving to Alaska was exciting and new things were in store everyday. Now, I was going back to what was familiar.

I pulled into my Motel 6 in the dark and when I jerked my hard, plastic suitcase out of the trunk, one of the wheels broke off. The suitcase had been irritating me for months because I had to completely open both sides to get into my suitcase (the zipper was split right in the middle of the case). That made it difficult or impossible to fully open it when I was in small rooms.

I had to carry my suitcase up a flight of stairs and then drag it across the floor to my room. I showered and went to bed. I figured I would get a new bag when I went to Long Beach.

The next morning, I left early because I needed to make it to Long Beach and it would be just over eight hours of drive time. The drive was occasionally beautiful during the first hour or so. But then I hit central California – flat, dry farmland. I saw a lot of billboards displaying information about the water crisis. Most of the signs talked about how the farmers need the water to grow the food, food the entire U.S. eats. According to the OC Register, “California produces 13% of the total cash agricultural receipts for the U.S., it is the sole producer (99% or more) for the following crops: Almonds, Figs, Olives, Peaches, Artichokes, Kiwifruit, Dates, Pomegranates, Raisins, Sweet Rice, Pistachios, Plums, and Walnuts.”

California produces a lot of food. There are a lot of problems with the California water supply. Like laws that go back to the 1800s when things were very different. I remember seeing a documentary about the water rights years ago and they talked with a farmer. He said if he chooses to plant a more drought tolerant food and doesn’t use that much water, the state will limit his water usage going forward, preventing him from growing different crops that might require more water. Because of this, farmers waste water so they won’t be restricted in the future.

There is a great article describing the problems with the California water crisis and the debate over the use for farmers (who use 80% of the water) and environmentalists who want to save the salmon.

In the article, the author, Jeff Pawlak states, “The river diversion debate symbolizes the coastal-rural tension of California politics; highly represented urban liberals versus disenfranchised inland conservatives (I’m generalizing, but it is mostly accurate). This is largely visible when you drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles down Route 5. Once you leave the progressive bubble of San Francisco — dotted by rainbow LBGT flags and Bernie or Hillary bumper stickers — the entire highway is filled with billboards protesting the state government’s “water grabs” or warning of an artificially created dust bowl (or during the 2016 election — Trump-Pence campaign signs). Reduced water diversions may in fact damage their livelihoods, and they are angry about it.”

I appreciate the article because he talks about other ways to help solve the problem: “Unacceptable levels of treated water leak out of California pipes every year (known as non-revenue water) — as much as 10–25% annually. While the farmers and the environmentalists fight about the river water use, this is a problem that is rarely discussed. If we addressed our leak issues, there would be considerably more freshwater available for all uses.”

He concludes the article with, “We cannot simply regulate our way out of a water crisis. California’s water situation demands technological innovation that makes life possible for both the farmers and the fish.”

As I continued driving through the flat, windy central part of the state, I thought about going back to Long Beach. I planned to be there for just over two weeks to take care of doctor appointments and see some friends. Going back made me think about my ex-husband.

Aaron was in denial that our marriage was falling apart, even when we were separated for six months. When I told him I was going to file for divorce, he finally realized the severity of the situation. He cried for the first time in all of the separation. It wasn’t until he was leaving the house, knowing the next time he’d be back would be to sort out who got what, that he broke down. We hugged and I felt so much pain and cried with him. I worried that he wouldn’t be okay and that it was all my fault because I was ending it.

The guilt plagued me. I tried hard to remind myself that the marriage ended because of his lies and ambivalence. Over the next few months, we met over dinners to discuss how things would be divided, how we would file taxes, etc. We were still getting along and in April 2017, I asked him if he planned on dating. The papers were signed and we were just waiting for it to be legal (it takes six months in California). He adamantly told me he had no desire to date – he’d have a puppy before he had a girlfriend. I asked if he planned on going on dating apps and he said no, but he was happy we could talk openly about it.

A month later, Aaron joined Tinder and started dating the first girl he matched with. He lied to me about it, reminding me that it was a good decision to end the marriage. Within two months of dating (three weeks after our divorce was final), he moved in with her. On their one year anniversary, he proposed to her in Spain. It was a strange feeling knowing that he could be so good at convincing me that I was destroying him, making me feel so guilty that he’d never be okay without me, only to be perfectly fine within a few short weeks.

I learned how cruel and deceptive people can be. Everyone told me, “Men just move on quicker.” I disagree with that statement and I hate when people normalize it. It’s not healthy to leave a 12-year relationship, one that you say you don’t want to lose because that person is the love of your life, and within such a short amount of time, fall in love with someone else. To me, that means he doesn’t understand what love is. I know people move on at different speeds, but every expert would agree that you need to heal and grieve when a long-term relationship ends.

Aaron and his new fiancé lived one mile away from me in Lakewood and days before I left, I ran into them at the grocery store. There was hardly anybody there, but Aaron quickly walked away and pretended not to see me. I was in shock and kept walking. We hadn’t talked in a year. It’s such a weird feeling knowing that I spent more than a decade with this person who now pretends not to see me. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it makes it very hard to trust people or to believe things are more than just temporary.

I worried about how I’d feel staying only a few miles away from where I used to live. I had been traveling for more than three and a half months. I felt different and things in my life were different. I no longer had a place to live or a job. Staying with a friend made me feel like I was still on the road, but going to familiar doctor appointments and seeing friends made things feel like old times.

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Once I hit the northern part of Los Angeles, the insane traffic began. It reminded me of one of the reasons I never wanted to live there again. I sat in stop-and-go traffic for two hours to get to Long Beach. I missed my open roads. It was bizarre to be excited to be “home,” but also sad to be back.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider
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Days 101-102: Back to the U.S.

In the morning, I made phone calls to set up healthcare  appointments during my time in Los Angeles, like my six-month teeth cleaning. I also needed a mammogram, so I called my OBGYN. The girl who answered the phone told me that Dr. Kelvie passed away.

I couldn’t believe it. I sat there on the phone in complete shock. Dr. Kelvie was healthy and fit. She was in her 50s, but looked much younger. I believe she had children in middle school. When I was there in March for a mammogram, she was out of the office on medical leave, so I saw a different doctor in the office. I had no idea that Dr. Kelvie’s medical leave was for a life-threatening condition.

Stunned, I asked the girl if she could tell me what happened. I had been seeing Dr. Kelvie for ten years. The girl told me, “I’m not 100% sure, but she had a brain hemorrhage and died.” I apologized to the girl because I couldn’t focus on why I had called in the first place.

Once I got off the phone, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. Kelvie. I remember when I was in my early 30s she told me, “You should really think about having children. You’re married, you have stable jobs, and you have a condo. You’re also getting older. You’re in your early 30s and I see patients all the time who thought they could wait until they were 40 because they see all of these celebrities that age and pregnant. But I’m telling you, most of the time, those celebrities had medical help to get pregnant. I see patients all the time who are struggling to get pregnant because they waited too long.”

Dr. Kelvie tried to convince me it was a good time to have a child and how she’d be delighted to be my doctor during the pregnancy and delivery. I never ended up pregnant, but I’ll never forget that conversation. I was so sad to learn of her passing. I sat there and cried, thinking of her children that were left behind. She worked so hard to become a doctor and was great at it. It was a reminder that life is incredibly short. We all have a limited amount of time on earth and we need to make sure it’s a life worth living.

I felt I needed to get out of the house so I found a hike nearby to Mill Hill. I got my backpack and walked about a mile to the entrance. There wasn’t anybody around. The fallen, dead leaves reminded me that it was officially autumn.

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As I climbed the small mountain, I saw a blue bag stuffed and tied up. It looked like a dead body and my adrenaline starting pumping. Did somebody dump a body here? Do I call the police? I decided to get closer and see what I could find. As I poked around, I saw it was a bag full of leaves. Relieved, and slightly embarrassed, I continued up the mountain.

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I reached the top and was treated with amazing views! I could see 360 degrees in the clear blue sky. In the distance, I could see Victoria and the ocean. Below me were the suburbs where I was staying.

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The rolling green hills surrounded the area. It was a clear day, but it was incredibly windy. I put my jacket on and walked around the top. I sat on a bench and enjoyed the view until I was too cold and needed to hike back down.

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I went back to the airbnb and ate some leftover food I had in the mini-fridge. I paid some bills and watched Netflix before I went to bed.

The next morning, I checked out of the airbnb and drove through morning rush-hour traffic to get to the ferry. I was taking it from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. I had to arrive 90 minutes before boarding because I would have to go through customs. Of course, I had some veggies and apples in my cooler.

The security guy walked up to my car window as I was parked in line. He asked why I had been in Canada and I enthusiastically told him I drove the Alaska highway. I figured if I was excited and friendly, maybe they would stop drilling me so much. It worked and the guy started asking me what it was like. He asked if I had any food and I told him I only had a sandwich that I planned on eating on the ship. He gave me the ticket and said I needed to go inside and show them my passport.

On the way inside, I threw my veggies and apples away just so there wouldn’t be any problems. I was cleared and got back inside my car to wait to board. When I drove my car onto the ferry, they squeezed us in like sardines and I could barely get out of my car.

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I went upstairs and worked to update my blog while I ate in the cafe for the 90-minute ferry ride. All of a sudden, I received a presidential alert on my phone. The US was testing it to make sure it worked. In case of an emergency, the President has the power to send an alert to notify citizens. It’s a pretty good system and I was happy that I received the alert.

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When we arrived in Port Angeles, Washington, I went through customs in my car and got through pretty easily. My phone wasn’t providing directions because we were in a remote area. I called my mom and asked her to help me navigate so I knew where I was going. I made it to the main road and lost connection with her.

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After a couple of hours driving, my AT&T service was still not working so I pulled over at a Starbucks. It was “police day” so there were police everywhere and of course, free donuts. It was nice to see the police and community interacting together in a positive way. One officer in a Starbucks apron walked over and gave me a donut sample. I used the WiFi and uploaded my blog. I also used it to make sure I had directions to my next destination: Hood River, Oregon.

I had to turn my phone off and on several times after I left Starbucks to get it to work. It was about a five-hour drive to Hood River. During the drive, I noticed the wrinkles on my hand. Maybe it was the cooler, dry air, but they didn’t look my hands. They looked old and tired. It’s a strange realization when you do not recognize yourself.

I arrived at Hood River in time for dinner. I was staying the night with my friend, Tracey. Once I put my bags down, Tracey, her husband Farron, and I went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was so much fun talking about my adventures in Canada and Alaska, and hearing about her new retired life in Hood River.

We talked some more before bed. It was great to see a friend again and to have someone relate to having a whole new life. It was also helpful to have someone to talk with about how I was feeling about things like my doctor passing away. Sometimes the road can be isolating, but friends seem to pop into my life when I need them the most.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 98: Thoughts Driving on Vancouver Island

Before leaving Tofino, I stopped by an outdoor market selling locally made items. It was small, but I enjoyed walking around. I went to a restaurant, sat at the outdoor bar, and ordered a poke bowl. Afterwards, I got some ice cream at a small shop next door. The girl told me that the power was going to be out the following day, so most businesses were closed. She was discounting her ice cream before it melted.

Most people in the town were at an all-female surf competition. I drove by the entrance to the competition, but there wasn’t anywhere to park. I kept driving and hiked to a beach with beautiful views.

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My next Airbnb was in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, with a metro area population of 367,000. It’s on the other side of the island so it would be just over four hours to get there. Part of the drive was going back the way I had come, but this time I was able to see it in the daylight.

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At one point, I pulled over on a gravel shoulder to take some pictures of a lake. I left my car running and crossed the street. I noticed there was a small path leading to better views of the lake, so I hurried down to take some pictures. The lake was picturesque. It was huge and clear, surrounded by blue mountains.

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I saw evidence of a recent campfire fire and started to feel creeped out – like someone might be living out there. Just then, I heard a car door. Panicked, I realized I left my car running with all of my stuff in it, and couldn’t see it. Adrenaline kicked in as I started to run back up the small hill to my car. I yelled at myself, “You aren’t in the isolated Yukon any longer!” Relieved to see my car still on the shoulder of the road, I saw that a fisherman had just pulled up and was getting the gear out of his car.

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I continued my drive and noticed signs proclaiming that you are not allowed to hold up five or more cars. If you are, you need to pull over and let them pass. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the beautiful drive this time. The road wound its way around large boulders to my right and a lake to my left. I couldn’t believe all of this was on an island.

As I drove, I thought about where I’d go next. I knew I needed to be in Los Angeles soon for some doctors’ appointments and a friend’s birthday, but I also needed time to catch up on my writing. When I left California, I knew I wanted to see Canada, Alaska, Thailand, Australia, and Eastern Europe. But I wasn’t feeling it. My gut was telling me it wasn’t the right time to go overseas.

It’s difficult to decide where to go when you can go anywhere. There’s an immense pressure to not make the wrong decision. I was also realizing that traveling long term meant that I might not be able to date. If I traveled for two years, that meant no dating for two years. I had already been single for a year and a half, but it seemed much longer because the last few years of my marriage I felt alone and unloved.

Then I thought about the movie, The Holiday. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do a house switch between  LA and the English countryside. They are both fishes out of water, which is hilarious. Then, they each meet a man that’s just right for them, while also discovering more about themselves. Life can be like that, right? I could meet someone while traveling?

I arrived at my Airbnb in the dark and it was slightly drizzling outside. I was renting a room inside a house, but it had its own little studio-like area. A door separated the living room from my apartment, which included a bedroom, bathroom, and a small living space.

I met the owners – a young husband and wife with a toddler and two giant labs. We said our hellos and the wife showed me my space. I grabbed my bags and had to walk from the front door through the living room. The husband was playing video games on the large TV, and wearing headphones while saying “f*ck” a lot. The wife was folding laundry in the kitchen while also taking care of the toddler.

As I relaxed in my little living space, I could hear the husband playing video games for hours. I felt sad for the wife. This sort of marriage is so common. The woman takes care of the house and child while the husband plays games. I am aware it’s not always like that. Sometimes it’s the man doing all of the work, and sometimes people have very happy marriages with shared responsibilities.

My marriage was similar to this couple’s arrangement, only we didn’t have a kid. Even though we both worked full time, I did most of the house work while he watched TV. Even though I get lonely at times, this was a good reminder to me that I do not want a relationship like that. I would much rather be alone than be in a boring, monotonous marriage, doing the same thing over and over, in something that resembles a business arrangement more than a marriage.

I know everyday can’t be exciting and there is comfort in being still with a loving partner. But we get such a short amount of time on this planet and I don’t want to spend it like that. Waiting for the kid to grow up or waiting to retire. I want to live the life I believe I was created to live. I don’t know if I will live to be 100, but if I live my life the right way, it’ll be great no matter how many years I get.

POst Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 96-97: Whales in Tofino, Vancouver Island

I woke up in my bachelor pad Airbnb and used the restroom. Coming back to my room, I noticed my key inside the keyhole. I was very confused as to how it got there. Was that my key? Was it the owner’s second key? I was pretty sure I took the key out, but I couldn’t find mine. Great, I slept with the key inside the keyhole so anybody could have just walked inside.

I drove to downtown Vancouver so I could check out a store called Long Tall Sally. They make clothes for tall women and closed all of their US locations several years ago. I’ve had to order clothes online and this was my chance to try on some clothes in person. Driving through the city was frustrating and I was realizing more and more that I don’t want to live in a large city any longer.

I hate trying on clothes. It seems stores put the worst lighting in there. Plus, my weight is always fluctuating and it makes me feel depressed when clothes don’t fit. After purchasing a couple of items, I walked over to a coffee shop. The girl behind the counter rounded down the total because I was paying with cash and Canada got rid of the penny. She said they’ll probably get rid of the nickel soon.

After I got my coffee, I drove to the ferry terminal to go to Vancouver Island. I arrived at 1:50 pm and the next ferry left at 3:30 pm. The attendant said if the ferry was full, I’d have to wait until the next one at 5:30 pm. It cost $75 and I patiently waited in my car, praying there was a spot available. Thankfully, I was the last car allowed to board!

The ferry ride was beautiful. In the distance, I could see the high-rises in Vancouver. I love taking ferries as a mode of transportation because it has the added bonus of being a scenic boat ride. I wandered outside to take in the view. It was a clear day and the sun reflected off the water. We passed islands and mountains that reminded me of Norway.

The announcer made the call to return to our vehicles, so I made my way down the stairs to the lower car deck. A girl around nine years old was yelling and said, “F*ck!” Her mother said, “I didn’t think it could get any worse, but you just did it. Don’t talk like that.” The young girl started to hit her mother and the mother calmly replied, “Don’t hit me.” The girl hit her several more times as the mother kept saying, “Stop hitting me.” When we arrived at the car deck, the girl ran off as the mother shouted, “Stop!” I couldn’t resist any longer and I got right behind the little girl and sternly said, “You should show some respect.” She turned around at me with a shocked look on her face as she slowly walked back towards her mother.

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When we arrived, I started driving towards Torino. It would take a few hours to get there because it was on the other side of the island. The drive was beautiful and felt undiscovered. I drove through the tree-filled mountains, passing still lakes as the sun disappeared.

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During the drive, the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was taking place and Facebook offered the option to watch it live. I still had cell service so I played the video and I listened to it while I drove. I had the time so I was able to listen to most of the hearing. In my regular life, I wouldn’t have the time to listen to the whole hearing and instead would have to rely on news outlets to recap it. It felt awesome to be able to get the whole picture and to make my own conclusions. I didn’t have to rely on a reporter’s opinion about what happened. Most news outlets in the US unfortunately no longer report the facts without adding their personal opinion to it.

When I studied broadcasting and film in college in 2000, we were taught not to add our opinion. As a reporter, you are to remain neutral and report the facts. You shouldn’t cry when reporting about murders, for example. You just report the facts and let people come to their own conclusions. I don’t know of any news outlet in the US that simply report the facts without including biases. So for the first time in a very long time, I could simply listen to testimony and make up my own mind. I was surprised by how many people on Facebook used the phrase “believe all women.” Personally, I believe in listening to every case (testimony and evidence) before I will simply believe something.

It got dark at 7:30 pm and I didn’t arrive at my Airbnb until 9:00 pm. I had a hard time finding it on the dark country roads. The owner talked with me and helped me find it. It was more like a small lodge or a motel. I had my own room, complete with a creepy spider in the bathroom sink. At this point, all I could do was laugh since a spider was in almost every single place I stayed.

I updated my blog and went to bed late that night, so I slept in the following morning. When I opened my front double-doors I had an amazing view!

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I found two hikes in the temperate rainforest that were just a five-ten minute drive. I drove there and started to hike “trail A.” It was humid outside, but still slightly cool. I prefer temperate over tropical rainforests because they’re much cooler, but offer all of the greenery.

The trail had a wooden bridge path that wound its way through the forest with steps guiding me down and back up. Once I completed that trail, I walked across the road and did “trail B.” This was a similar trail that had a boardwalk. I passed giant trees, climbed lots of stairs, and listened to the birds sing.

Once I completed these trails, I hiked on a small trail that led to the ocean. I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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I signed up for an afternoon whale watching tour so I drove to the meeting place. The guide said this was their last tour of the season and I was happy I made it just in time. Our group put on full-body life jackets and we walked towards the boat. There was a family of four with adult children, two couples, and another single female. They were all from Germany. On the walk over, I talked with the single female. She said that she and her partner shipped their RV from Germany and are spending a year in Canada and the US. They started in Baltimore and explored a little bit of the east coast and then drove the Trans Canada Highway to the west coast. They planned to spend the winter in Carmel, California.

We boarded the small inflatable boat and rapidly took to the ocean. The boat was loud and the quick motor meant the guide didn’t talk while we were in route. The ride was so fun! We blasted through the water, skipping off waves in search of whales. At one point, our guide got a call that there were some whales in a specific area so we waited for them to surface.

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As we sat there waiting patiently, the boat rocked up and down with each wave. I get motion sickness on boats when I can feel waves. I tried hard to convince myself that I was fine, but I was on the verge of throwing up. I slowly reached into my water-tight bag to find my Dramamine. I didn’t have any water with me and even with water, I struggle to swallow pills. However, the motion sickness was so bad, I gathered spit in my mouth and was able to get the pill down. Thankfully, it worked pretty fast and I avoided having to chuck over the side of the boat.

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All of a sudden, a whale popped up from the water! We mostly just saw the water being sprayed from his blowhole, but then we were able to see the top of his back as he went back into the water. We stayed at the spot for around 30 minutes and were able to see two whales from a distance coming up and back down a few times.

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Our guide received a call saying a baby whale about three years old was in a nearby cove. They knew of this whale and our guide was excited as he raced over to the cove. We were the only boat there and as we patiently waited, the baby whale popped up right beside our boat! Normally the guides stay farther back so they don’t scare or injure the whales, but they said this baby whale liked to surprised boats like that. It was so awesome to watch him swim around us.

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Next, we went over to some rocks sticking out of the water where a lot of sea lions were sunbathing. After watching them jump into the ocean, we drove over to an area where otters were hanging out among seaweed and logs. They looked like little stuffed animals just playing around.

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The sun was setting and we sat there watching it sparkle on the water. We made our way to shore just in time to watch the sun make its final descent.

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I said my goodbyes to the group and drove over to a fish shack that had good reviews. I ate outside in the dark with a dimly-lit light above the table. As I ate, I surfed Facebook and saw post after post on both sides of the issue about the Kavanaugh hearing. I tried to tell myself to stop reading. Stop surfing. It was only making me angry and ruining the good feelings I had from whale watching. Eventually, I put the phoneaway and tried my best to be in the moment and enjoy my fish.

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Day 95: Train Wreck and Suspension Bridge

I checked out of my Airbnb and sat in the parking lot to book my next place in Vancouver. I didn’t get the chance to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge last time I was there, so I was heading back to see it. Before leaving Whistler, I wanted to see a literal train wreck.

I found the trail online, but the directions were confusing because there were two ways to get there. I ended up off the side of the main road on a small gravel shoulder. I found a small trail with a sign stating that I could hike at my own risk.

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I was wearing jeans, my hair was down, and I was carrying a purse. I wasn’t prepared to hike because I thought it would be a quick walk to the train cars. The trail I was on was steep and in a wooded area. It was a shorter distance than the flat path from a parking lot, but it was definitely more of a hike. I wished I had a hair tie as my sweaty hair stuck to my neck in the humidity.

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I arrived to a set of train tracks and just after I crossed, I saw the damaged train cars. In 1956, a train derailed on a section of the track that was undergoing construction and had a speed limit of 15 MPH. The freight train was going 35 MPH when it crashed. Three cars were wedged in the narrow canyon and a local logging company brought their equipment to the site to assist with the clean up efforts. According to a sign posted at the site, “Five of the derailed boxcars were salvageable, but the remaining seven were too damaged to save. Those seven boxcars were stripped of useful material and dragged out of the way, which was the quickest way to get trains back on schedule.”

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To access the train cars, people had to walk down the unsafe track, so the city created a trail. They also added a bridge over the Cheakamus River so people could safely access the site. I accidentally took the non-approved way to the site.

There was just a handful of people walking around taking pictures, so the area felt isolated and eerie. Spray paint covered the rusty cars and the metal was dented and bent.

This was just one more reason why I loved Whistler. There are so many unique places to discover. The giant train cars were fascinating to explore.

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I hiked back to my car and headed towards Vancouver. It was a beautiful, sunny day. When I drove up there from Vancouver a week earlier, it was a cloudy, rainy day and I couldn’t see much. This time, I could for miles and miles.

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I stopped a couple of times to take in the view. Lush, green mountain tops with the occasional snow-pack covered the mountains in the distance.

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As I got closer to Vancouver, I could see the ocean to my right. The sun glistened off the water. The Sea to Sky Highway was appropriately named.

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I arrived to the Capilano Suspension Bridge about two hours before they closed. That would be enough time to explore, but I’d have to hurry. The bridge is 460 feet long and 230 feet above the Capilano River.

I briefly joined a free tour with a guide and a few people, but he was taking too long so I ventured off on my own to explore. During my brief time with the guide I learned that the bridge was originally built in 1889 by George Grant Mackay because he wanted to hunt on the other side of the river. In 1903, the bridge was replaced with wire cables. The bridge was sold a couple of times and was completely rebuilt in 1956.

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In 1983, the bridge was sold to Nancy Stibbard, the current owner. In 2004, Nancy opened Treetop Adventures: seven footbridges suspended between old-growth Douglas Fir trees. The guide told us that the bridge was originally purchased for $6,000 and is now worth 7.2 billion dollars!

I arrived at the bridge and was terrified to cross it, but I had to in order to get to the tree top bridges. I stepped onto the bridge that was sturdy, but also shaky. It’s a long, scary walk to the other side. When people passed me, the bridge would sway to the left and right several inches, making me feel like it would flip over. I gripped the side railing as hard as I could and tried not to look directly down to the raging river. I told myself that thousands of people walk across this bridge everyday and they all survived.

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I happily made it to the other side and started to explore the wooden path that wound through the giant trees. I came to a section that overlooked the river where  people throw coins onto a large boulder to make a wish. I contributed and made my wish (can’t tell you what it was or it won’t come true!)

The last thing to see on that side of the bridge were the tree-bridges. This is a series of rope and wooden bridges that take you from treehouse to treehouse.

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Even though I was high off the ground, I was loving it! I felt stable enough that I didn’t feel like I’d fall. It reminded me of my favorite Star Wars movie – the one with Ewoks. Me and my sister used to have stuffed Ewoks growing up and I loved playing with mine. He was my buddy that I carried around. Walking across the trees took me to the Forest Moon of Endor (home of the Ewoks).

Once I finished with the tree-bridges, I walked across the main suspension bridge to get back to the other side. This time there was less people on it, so it wasn’t as shaky.

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Next to the bridge on that side was a walkway attached to the rock wall. It jetted off the side and I walked across it. I walked quickly and had to keep telling myself I would be fine. The drop below was terrifying!

I finished my adventure right as the bridge was closing. I only planned on staying in Vancouver one night because the following day I was taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. I knew I wouldn’t get there until late and I would leave in the morning, so I booked one of the cheapest rooms I saw for $34.

I ate near the house so I wouldn’t have to go back out once I checked in. The neighborhood wasn’t very nice and I was getting a little worried about my choice. I parked on the street and arrived at the Airbnb around 8:00 pm. It was dark outside and I followed the instructions to get inside, which said the front door is left unlocked.

I was renting a room with a shared bathroom. The owner lives there and the living room and kitchen are not shared. He rents out several rooms so he keeps the front door unlocked, but each room has its own key.

In the foyer was a rental room to the right and stairs leading upstairs. The rest of the main floor was closed off. I walked up the stairs with my bags and two men in their 30s were talking in the living room near a massage table. I tried to open the door to my room, room three, but it was locked. The key was supposed to be left in the door for me. I asked one of the guys who was wearing a robe if he was the owner and he said he was. I explained my door was locked. He checked and said, “Hm, they must have taken your room. Here, just take room four. It’s better anyway.”

Room four was right next to room three. I opened the door and there was a box spring and a mattress on the floor with a comforter. The plain room had a small desk and a tv on a simple stand. The walls had smear marks on them like someone tried to wipe them down, and nails were left where pictures once hung. It smelled of weed and spices, and it was hot. I opened the window since there wasn’t air conditioning and the noise from the metro came roaring inside.

I went back to my car to get some things, like my small fan. Once I was back inside my room, I heard the owner talking to another guest, “Hey! It’s a girl so you can put the moves on her.” The guest laughed and replied, “No, that’s the Colombians.” WTF, I have no idea what that meant. Of course they were surprised. No sane single woman would be staying in this bachelor pad.

I waited to use the shower until I thought everyone was asleep because I wasn’t about to leave my locked room. The bathroom was right next to my room and I used it first to assess if anyone was still awake. As I came out, a guy from downstairs peaked his head up, “Do you know how to use the shower? I couldn’t get it to work.”

I looked and noticed it had the same set up at an Airbnb I stayed at while I was in Anchorage. I showed him how to use it and he was grateful. I had to wait for him to shower and then I showered.

I went to bed feeling creeped out. This was one of those times traveling as a solo female can be scary. I made a choice to spend as little money as I could find on Airbnb and I definitely got what I paid for. Just like crossing the bridge earlier that day, I told myself I would be fine. This was a day of positive self talk!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 88-89: Navigating Health Issues on the Road

 

After cooking a delicious breakfast, I headed to Bellingham, Washington. I needed to get my blood drawn to monitor some of my medications and just for some general health check-ups. I had to get this done now so the labs were ready when I got to Los Angeles a few weeks later.

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One of the borders in the US is in Abbotsford. Occasionally I’d drive about one mile from it when I was just driving around the city. Even though the border is so close, crossing it is another story.

I also made an appointment with a chiropractor because the day before it felt like I had pulled a muscle in my neck and the pain was now moving into my back. I arrived to the US border and told them I was just going to Bellingham for a chiropractor appointment and I was staying in Abbotsford. Thankfully, my car was mostly empty so it didn’t look suspicious.

I got through the border and it would be about 40 minutes to Bellingham. The road winds its way through farms and fields. The speed limit is only about 35 MPH.

I arrived at Labcorp to get my blood drawn and the guy at the front was dramatic and entertaining. Once that was complete, I drove to the chiropractor office. There was a 2-½ year old golden retriever lying behind the counter. The woman behind the desk told me the dog might be pregnant and they were anxiously waiting for the results.

Once I got into the adjustment room, I noticed a black lab lying on the ground. The office reminded me of the office I visited in Fairbanks, Alaska. (LINK) The chiropractor made an adjustment, but he also used a hard vibrating tool on my spine to try and loosen the muscles. It was painful and felt like it made things worse.

I drove back to Abbotsford and started packing up since I was leaving in the morning. My next stop was Whistler, a ski town an hour and a half north of Vancouver. I felt sad to leave the house. I had my own place again for a week and it felt good to have space and privacy. In Whistler, I would be back to renting just one room inside a condo. Then I thought about how lonely I had been in Abbotsford. Maybe being in shared spaces is good for me. It forces me to socialize. I’ve been told on a personality test before that I have a tendency to go into “unhealthy bouts of isolation.”

That night, the pain in my neck and upper back was so severe I had a hard time getting into bed. I couldn’t move my head around and the pain was increasing. I took ibuprofen, but it wasn’t helping. As the night went on, I could not find a position that relived the intense pain. Turning over took about 30 minutes and made me scream.

I lied there all night, unable to sleep, in the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I knew there was no way I could load my car in the morning and drive north, but I had to check out of the house and the owners were flying in that day to stay there.

At 6:00 am, I wondered how I’d get out of bed. Should I call 911? Does 911 work in Canada? I couldn’t move. I thought through my options and realized the frozen muscles were very similar to what I experienced a couple of years ago in my lower back. The muscles froze so much, I couldn’t stand straight or roll over in bed. The only thing that helped me was getting muscle relaxers from an Urgent Care.

I realized Bellingham wasn’t too far away and I could go to Urgent Care there, where I knew my insurance would work. I painfully forced myself out of bed and got dressed. I packed up all of my stuff and left it in the kitchen. I didn’t want to cross the border with a full car or they wouldn’t believe I was just going for a quick visit.

I made it to urgent care and was told the wait would be at least an hour wait. I sat in the chair and the pain wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t turn my head and couldn’t stand or sit up straight. After about 30 minutes in the chair, I hobbled up to the counter and told the woman I was in an immense amount of pain and begged to be seen.

The woman said she couldn’t get me in sooner, but she offered me some water and a room so I could lie down. It was a little better than the chair. Finally after being there for an hour and a half, the doctor came in. He said he didn’t think I needed x-rays and it was likely muscular. He gave me a prescription for some muscle relaxers and pain medicine.

I went to Rite-aid to fill the prescriptions and it was a 30 minute wait. I messaged the Airbnb host and let her know what was going on and that my stuff was still in the kitchen. She was very understanding and said they’d just set their stuff down and go to lunch.

I took a pain pill, but couldn’t take the muscle relaxer because it causes drowsiness. I drove through the country roads again back to Canada and got through the border. Just past the border was the Costco where I had ordered contacts weeks earlier. I have very bad eyes and they said it would take a couple of weeks to get them in.

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I went inside, did a quick eye exam, and paid for my contacts. The guy helping me was very nice and pointed out that I was smart to buy contacts in Canada, where I get a 30% discount.

I drove back to the house and painfully loaded my car with my bags in the sprinkling rain. I started my two and a half hour drive to Whistler, leaning my head against the headrest, trying not to move it.

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Despite my discomfort, the foggy and rainy drive to Whistler was beautiful! The road climbed through the lush mountains, at times overlooking the ocean.

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When I arrived at my Airbnb, I parked in front of the condo and followed the instructions to get inside. It was evening and Ash, the owner, left me a message saying he was out, but would leave the door unlocked for me. I’ve gotten very used to walking into stranger’s homes.

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The condo was cozy and had a mountain cabin feel. I ate some of the food I brought with me and put the rest  in his refrigerator. Ash told me I was free to use and eat anything I’d like. He lives there and rents out two of the rooms, but the other room wasn’t occupied.

I was exhausted and desperately wanted to sleep. The cloudy, rainy weather was perfectly suited for napping. I took a muscle relaxer and while I was still in pain, I was able to find a decent position and fall asleep.

At 10:15 pm, I woke up and could hear that Ash was home. I was embarrassed that he must think I’m a lazy weirdo who was asleep so early. I walked out of my room to the living room and Ash was watching TV with headphones on. I said hello and he waved. I walked back to my room, still exhausted after navigating so many obstacles to find pain relief, and decided I would talk to him in the morning.

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Days 81-82: Highway of Tears

I checked out of the lodge and pulled into a park to book my next place. Looking at the map, I determined I could make it to Williams Lake. I drove past farms and tractors for sale. Despite the giant billboards cautioning of the dangers of hitchhiking, I did see an occasional hitchhiker.

The billboards intrigued me, especially one that said “girls don’t hitchhike on the highway of tears.” I had also noticed missing posters in various gas stations and fast food restaurants. It was heartbreaking. There seemed to be an unusual amount of warnings and missing women, so I looked into it.  According to Wikipedia, “The Highway of Tears is the series of murders and disappearances along a 720 Kilometer (450 mile) corridor of highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada beginning in 1970.” It explains that 16-40+ women have been murdered or abducted and “There are a disportionately high number of indigenous women on the list of victims.”

Wikipedia goes on, “Poverty in particular leads to low rates of car ownership and mobility, thus hitchhiking is often the only way for many to travel vast distances to see family or go to work, school, or seek medical treatment. Another factor leading to abductions and murders is the area is largely isolated and remote, with soft soil in many areas and carnivorous scavengers to carry away human remains; these factors precipitate violent attacks as perpetrators feel a sense of impunity, privacy, and the ability to easily carry out their crimes and hide evidence.”

It broke my heart to see the faces of so many people who had vanished. It was a reminder that traveling as a solo female can be dangerous. I try my best to be aware of my surroundings and generally feel safe. But the sad reality is that women are often targets simply for being a woman.

When I was heading to Alaska, many people told me, “You know there’s twice as many men in Alaska as women. Be careful.” Curious, I googled it and according to this article, Alaska has the highest ratio of men to women in the United States. But it’s not as much as people think. For every 100 women in the state, there are 107 men. It used to be more dramatic, but since the 1980s, economic development has brought more women to the state.

The more interesting part is the culture of violence against women. Alaska has the highest number of reported rapes than any other state – three times the national average.

The article goes on to say, “There are a number of complicated reasons Alaska is dangerous for women, from its long, dark winters to high rates of alcohol abuse and, perhaps more important than either, an awful history of cultural trauma and colonial violence…State surveys show that an estimated 37% of women in Alaska suffer from sexual violence — and nearly six in 10 suffer from sexual and/or intimate partner violence, which includes threats of violence.”

There are a lot of remote villages that do have significantly more men than women and often have a culture of colonial violence. If you want to know more, I recommend you read this article about a woman who moved to a remote village to teach English and was assaulted. Unfortunately, the school and government officials seem to think it’s the norm.

I was happy to see the billboards in British Columbia and see that there is an organization bringing attention to the Highway of Tears and the missing people, hopefully preventing more attacks. I feel for the families that have been affected. It was a good reminder to be cautious when traveling and understand there is evil out there.

After a couple of hours of driving and reflecting, I pulled into a 7-Eleven gas station to use the restroom and get some lunch. The place was packed with high-school kids. I waited in line to get some hot food and fumbled to find the correct currency. The woman asked, “Are you American?” “Yes, sorry, I’m still getting used to which coin is which.” I asked her why it was so busy and she said they are the only gas station in town and right by the school, so they get two lunch rushes.

I continued my drive towards Williams Lake. When I arrived, there was a billboard boasting, “Want fun? Easy exercising? Try square dancing!” I laughed at the thought of square dancing. I remember learning it in school growing up and of course, was so excited when the boy I liked asked me to be his partner. Flustered, I struggled to go the correct way, which made him grab my belt loop so he could pull me in the correct direction. I’m a very clumsy person.

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I checked into my Super 8 motel and walked across the parking lot a restaurant for dinner. It was already dark outside and I spent the evening booking my next Airbnb.

The next morning, I checked out of the hotel and drove to Chevron for some gas. As I got out of my car, I dropped my wallet and  $6 fell out. I grabbed the $1 bill, but the $5 bill flew under my car. I crawled on the ground attempting to reach it but couldn’t . I pulled my car up slightly and was able to get it. I pulled my car back to the pump, unscrewed my cap, and a guy on the overhead speaker said, “The pumps aren’t working right now.”

Did he just watch me do all of that, probably laughing hysterically? Embarrassed, I drove down the street to a Petro-Canada station, but a large semi was blocking the entrance. At a stop light, I found another gas station on the map, just over a mile away, so I headed there. I pulled up and, you guessed it, closed off. They were filling up all of the stations so nobody could get gas.

I ended up driving back to the Husky gas station right by my hotel and filled up my tank as a semi truck with a skull on the side blasted heavy metal music. I felt so frustrated  after this debacle. Sometimes travel is amazing. Other days, it feels like the world is against you. I suppose it’s just like in normal life.

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I left Williams Lake and headed towards Abbotsford. The drive wasn’t as scenic, but there were more places to get gas and snacks. At one point, I pulled into a gas station and the guy behind the counter convinced me to buy a lotto ticket. As I walked out, he yelled, “Don’t forget about me if you win!”

As I drove up a mountain, I noticed a small amount of snow on the ground from the night before. I pulled over to takes pictures and I couldn’t believe snow was already hitting higher elevations – it was only September 13th.

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I was sad that my drive to Alaska was over. I tried my best to take in all of the beautiful mountain scenery around me. It didn’t look the same as it did when when I went north now that the season was changing.

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I arrived to Abbotsford in the late afternoon and couldn’t check in to my Airbnb yet, so I got a manicure and pedicure. That bought me enough time and I checked in. I had rented an entire three bedroom house in the suburbs of Vancouver for a week so I could unwind after so much driving.

The house reminded me of my house in Los Angeles and made me miss it. I ordered some pizza and got cozy inside my new (temporary) house. Then I tried to figure out how I would spend the next week in the suburbs.

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Day 80: Hipsters and Coincidences

I checked out of my motel in Prince Rupert, British Columbia and felt like I should see a little bit of the city before I started my drive to Vancouver. I went to a small cafe in town, ordered a breakfast bowl, coffee, and set up my laptop. I needed to figure out my travel plans.

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A couple in their early 20s sat near me, also trying to figure out their travel plans on their sticker-laden laptop. They looked like privileged hipster backpackers and had pretentious attitudes. The guy told the girl, “I’m not trying to challenge you. You look up Jasper and I’ll look up Banff.”

After searching for a while, the girl replied, “There’s like films and a farmer’s market that day. We’ll want to be there for that.” The guy replied, “Yeah, it’s fine if we’re ahead of schedule. We can always hang out at a place longer.”

The guy told the girl he received a text from a friend in Portland saying they might cast him, “Good, I won’t shave my beard.”

I was annoyed by this couple. There are a lot of different types of travellers and that’s one of the best parts about traveling. But sometimes I feel isolated. When I run into people who travel long-term, it always seems like the same scenario – they’re in their 20s and didn’t sacrifice much to travel.

There are also people who are retired and have worked their whole lives to travel. I am often the odd one out, nearing middle age, no trust fund for support, and not retired.

I personally only know of one person who willingly left a successful job to travel with his wife in his early 30s for about five months. Then he took a risk and started his own company. Other than him, everyone I’ve known who quit their jobs to travel didn’t give up much (or often received a severance after being forced out). It’s hard for me to connect to some travellers because I willingly quit a job after working more than 15 years to earn a good salary. I started traveling at 38 years old, not 25. I sold a house in Los Angeles, which took me until I was in my mid-thirties to afford.

I get annoyed when I meet fellow travellers who don’t realize how good they have it. Someone who thinks it’s just a normal thing to do – travel for several months before starting a career after college. I did not grow up with money and the thought of being able to travel the world at that age was unthinkable. I know, I know, people who are in their 60s and retired think I’m young to be traveling. It’s all about perspective. I just think having to earn things in this world, having to make sacrifices, gives you an appreciation for things that others who were given things don’t understand.

I don’t mean to criticize other travellers because giving up anything to follow your dreams is meaningful, and they should all feel proud. It’s just that sometimes I feel like I can’t relate and it can feel isolating. I still applaud anyone who takes a risk and I love meeting fellow travelers, most of the time.

Forgive my rant…moving on! Before leaving Prince Rupert, I stopped at a local museum and browsed through it, learning more about life in the far North and the natives who come from the area. After that, I wandered through a beautiful garden. I left just after 1:30 pm and started my drive east towards Prince George.

 

The drive was beautiful as it wound its way through the mountains. “Avalanche area” signs reminded me that it must look very different in the winter.

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After driving for a couple of hours, I stopped at a gas station in a small town. On my way inside to use the restroom, I recognized a guy getting on a motorcycle. I had seen this guy on the ferry two days prior. He was sitting in a chair on the deck near me as I talked on the phone with my cousin. We didn’t talk, but I saw him a few times around the ferry.

When I got to my hotel in Prince Rupert, he was checking in right before me. We had randomly parked next to each other, and smiled as we passed each other carrying our luggage inside. This was now a day later and I hadn’t left Prince Rupert until 1:30 pm. What are the odds I’d see him at a gas station hours from there?

I laughed and said, “It’s you!” He laughed back, “Ha! The guy you’re probably sick of seeing!” For the first time, we chatted. He drove his motorcycle from New York and crossed into Canada through Montana. He drove to Alaska and took the ferry back too. He was making his way back to New York, but was hoping to drive to the Grand Canyon first. He quit his job and was trying to figure out his next move.

He appeared to be in his early 40s and asked me about my travels, which I told him about. He asked, “Are you vacationing or trying to figure things outs?” I replied, “Ha! I guess figuring things out too.” We wished each other well and went our separate ways.

I drove away astonished about the coniendences. What are the odds we’d take the same ferry, stay at the same hotel, and end up at the same gas station half a day later at the same time?

In high school we read Huckleberry Finn. My friend Lindy thought the book was unrealistic and said there is no way real life is full of that many coincidences. I’ve always been a dreamer (some would say naive), so I would tell her that life is like it is in movies and in books. Actually, real life is greater than any movie could be! Every time something unbelievable would happen in high school and college, I would shout to Lindy, “Huckleberry Finn!” People thought we were nuts, but it helped to point out every time life presented a crazy coincidence. Astonishing things happen all the time, but you have to open your eyes to see it.

 

Anyway, I arrived at Smithers and pulled into a parking lot to book a place to stay. I found a lodge on Airbnb that was sort of like a bed and breakfast, except they didn’t provide breakfast. I ate some dinner and headed to the lodge around 7:30 pm.

The owner let me inside and walked me to my room. She was 43, but looked to be 30 years old. I couldn’t believe it when she said she had five kids and the oldest was 23. She was really friendly and told me about her family, their 5-star rating, and about the two guests who left unpleasant reviews. You can’t please everyone all the time.

 

I was excited when I saw there was a hot tub on the deck upstairs, just past the kitchen. I changed and headed up. There was a middle-aged couple in the living space and we said hello.

 

I soaked in the hot tub, looking out at the mountains silhouetted against the night sky. It was so relaxing. While the day annoyed me at the start, it ended up being a pretty good day after all.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 78-79: Camping on a Ferry

I arrived to the ferry terminal later than I should have, around 8:00 am. No matter how hard I try, I am often running slightly late for anything that requires me to wake up early. I was waved on to the ferry shortly after I arrived and they asked me to parallel park in a very tight space. I was successful and the guy guiding me said, “Perfect, wow!” You can’t live in Los Angeles for 15 years and not know how to parallel park.

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I grabbed my backpack and headed to the deck of the ferry. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw there were only a handful of people up there. I found a good lawn chair and dragged it to the window, right at the start of the solarium. The solarium is a partially covered area with heat lamps. Being at the edge, I could have the views and some heat from the lamps.

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There were two girls slowly waking up near me. One was wearing a George Washington sweatshirt and looked upset at having to wake up for the stop. It was a two hour stop in Haines to off-load and reload people (they were getting off at that stop). The girls had just finished the Klondike relay race and were exhausted.

I blew up my thermarest sleeping pad and got my sleeping bag out so people knew that chair was taken. Once I was all set up, I enthusiastically walked over to the uncovered deck and was attempting to take a selfie. A man walked over and offered to take my photo.

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Ralph is from Boulder, Colorado and is retired. He was thin and had short gray hair. Ralph was traveling in a van that he retrofitted so he and his friend could sleep in it. They drove through Montana, Banff, Alaska, and now back through Canada. They were doing a lot of fishing on their travels. I told Ralph that I was awed by the drive from Haines Junction to Haines and he said he thought it was more beautiful than driving through Banff.

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Ralph told me about life in Boulder and how Google set up a small shop there, which has caused the cost of housing to increase. He said there are times when he goes for a hike in the evening and a cohort of 12-15 people will be climbing up the mountain after work, sometimes with their Google badge still on.

Ralph and I talked about our travels and why we chose to sleep outside. When taking this ferry, people can pay for a room (would have cost about $200) or people can sleep anywhere inside or outside. The ferry is very basic and so are the rooms. It’s definitely not a cruise ship. There is one restaurant onboard open during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a small movie room that plays movies a few times a day. But that’s all there is.

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The inside does have a couple of large rooms with chairs to watch the views. People who choose to sleep inside put their sleeping bag in between the rows of chairs, which is what Ralph’s friend was doing. As long as they’re not blocking the aisle, they can sleep anywhere.

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On the outside of the ferry, you can set up a tent on the deck or just sleep on one of the lawn chairs under the heaters. I was planning on doing the tent until the man I met while flying to Denver recommended that I shouldn’t bother with a tent. I’m glad I took his advice. Because it was the end of the season, there weren’t any other tents and I still felt like I had privacy.

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After talking with Ralph for a bit, I headed to the restaurant to eat some breakfast. I was almost finished eating when Ralph showed up with his tray of food and joined me. Shortly after, the ferry pulled away from the dock and we were on our way.

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Ralph told me he’s been to Alaska eight times. Sometimes he’s flown, other times he’s driven. He’s gone with his wife, and once with his daughters. For this trip in his newly renovated van, he and his friend had been eating the salmon they caught. This was his first meal in three weeks that was “eating out.”

Ralph’s friend Dave joined us at the end of breakfast and Ralph introduced me. He laughed, “She’s retired too.” Dave just finished taking a shower and they told me when they were in Valdez, they took advantage of showers at the public pool.

I told the men that I was thrilled to be on the ferry because it felt so fun and so basic. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of amenities like cruise ships have. There aren’t any distractions – we could sit back and enjoy the scenery. They told me, “You’re too young to cruise. They have casinos, and shows, and it’s too flashy.”

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Ralph and Dave used to be mechanical engineers at IBM and knew of “the big yellow book” that the industrial company I worked for during the last 11 years produced every year.

After breakfast, I walked around the ferry to see what else was there. I walked past the reclining room, which gave people a nice, relaxing way to watch the world go by.

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I was surprised that I still had cell service. I called my cousin Misty and we were able to catch up while I sat on the deck watching the mountains. It was incredible. Mountains were on both sides of the ferry and didn’t seem like they’d stop anytime soon.

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For lunch, I ate my leftover pizza in an empty room that used to be the bar. The ferry was stopped in Juneau for more loading and unloading. There was a guy sitting near me who was a maintenance technician for the ferries. He was getting to Juneau as a stopping point to board another ferry that was delayed. He explained to me that the city of Juneau is 13 miles away from where the ship docks, so it wouldn’t be worth it for me to get off. He pointed out that cruise ships get the spots close to downtown.

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The man told me the ferries closed the bars about two years ago because they said they didn’t make any money. He didn’t believe them because a friend of his said he’d make $900 on a 36-hour ferry ride. They closed the gift shop at that time too.

The man told me I might see some whales. He explained that the ferries try their best to avoid pods so they don’t kill them, but one had died from a ferry recently. He angrily pointed out that cruise ships just go right through pods of whales and don’t care if they are killed. Ferries at least try and avoid them.

The man got off the ship and I took a nap in the warm sun on the deck under the solarium. Once I felt rested, I went back to the deserted bar and wrote a blog post for my next entry. After that, I ate dinner at the restaurant, watched a movie “Geo Storm,” which was terrible movie, washed my face, and headed to bed.

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I slept surprisingly well thanks to my sleeping pad. My sleeping bag and the nearby heat lamps kept me warm as I listened to the waves and the engine. Occasionally the ferry would stop in some city and make a few announcements, which woke me up.

The sun started rising around 5:00-6:00 am. A loud, rude, woman came to the deck asking for a lighter so she could smoke. When no one had one, she said, “You guys are backpackers? In tents? And none of you have a lighter? What year were you born?”

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For breakfast, I found Ralph and Dave in the restaurant and joined them. We took our time eating and having great conversations ranging from the work they used to do as engineers, the fires they encountered in British Columbia, the giant salmon they caught and ate, and how the human population is decreasing. We talked about how the birth rate is low in most countries. People aren’t dying much any more like they used to, so the there’s still a lot of people. But what happens in a few decades when the low rate has been going on for so long?

I told them about an article I read pointing out people in Japan don’t want to get married and aren’t having kids (or even interested in having sex). It’s so bad, the government has stepped in and spent lots of money arranging social events trying to get people to date.

We talked about border crossings and Ralph said that years ago he was crossing into Canada in an old Subaru and looked like a hippy. He was pulled over and his whole car was searched for over an hour until he was released.

I was loving the conversations with these men and was happy I met new friends to keep me company. The ferry arrived at Ketchikan, which is where they were getting off. Ralph went to the deck to grab his backpack while Dave and I watched some seaplanes. He nostalgically told me he’d be a pilot in another life. He said when Ralph was 24, he flew a plane from Colorado to Fairbanks.

I hugged Ralph goodbye and felt honored to have met them. Intelligent, adventurous, and kind men. After they disembarked, I decided to walk into town during the quick stop. I only made it to Safeway, where I bought some lunch and brought it back to the ferry.

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I spent the afternoon writing some more, watching “Only The Brave,” which made me cry, and sitting on the deck enjoying the views. I watched the sunset just before we arrived to Prince Rupert around 9:00 pm. It started to drizzle and get very cold. I was thankful that the weather had been amazing up until that point.

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I drove my car off the ferry and had to go through customs since I was now back in Canada. Thankfully, it was painless. I arrived at my 2-star hotel in Prince Rupert in the dark, exhausted and in need of a shower.

The hotel was gross and I thought it was ironic that the ferry was more clean and comfortable. The ferry definitely lived up to all of the hype!

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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