Day 66: Bike Tour and Alaska State Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Days 52-53: Unexpected Feelings at the North Pole

After spending ten days driving from Vancouver, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska I was ready to rest. I spent day 52 doing laundry, cleaning out my email, and booking the ferry from Alaska to Canada for my return. There was Netflix in the Airbnb and I caught up on Orange is the New Black. It was cold and raining outside: a perfect day for binge watching!

The next day I needed to get out and about. I drove 25 minutes to North Pole, Alaska. It’s a small town of about 2,000 and sits just outside of Fairbanks. The main thing to do is to check out the reindeer and Christmas shop that is home to Santa all year long.

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I walked inside the large gift shop that was bursting with Christmas decorations,  Christmas music, and delicious sweets to eat. Although it was August, dreary, and about 50℉, I instantly felt transported to the holiday season. I was trying really hard not to purchase souvenirs and so far I had only purchased a shot glass at Hard Rock Café since I collect them. The ornaments were so cute and the place did a such a nice job of creating the Christmastime feeling that I decided to buy a moose ornament. He was just too cute to pass up!

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As I continued to browse the store, a middle-aged woman started talking to me about an item, thinking I was her husband. Shocked, she apologized for the confusion. I laughed and said, “It’s ok. Someone the other day also thought I was their husband.” She explained, “It’s your height. In my peripheral vision, your height matched his.”

Walking through the store, I passed Santa. I noticed small children with their family taking pictures and suddenly I felt sad that I didn’t have children. It was a strange and unexpected feeling.

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My ex-husband and I always said we’d have children two-three years into our marriage. The time came and went and it never seemed like the right time. The time went by too fast. Year after year, there was some reason we decided not to have kids (jobs, travel, health, etc.).  There were also many times I told Aaron I didn’t want to have kids unless our marriage was very strong – everyone says kids make marriage harder.

One day after eight-nine years of marriage, Aaron and I got into a fight. He told me he was upset that we didn’t have kids, and said I always come up with excuses as to why we can’t have them. He said, “I think the truth is that you just don’t want kids with me.”

The comment surprised me and I didn’t know how to respond because it was probably true. I couldn’t trust him, didn’t want to end up having to take care of him and a child, and I didn’t want to end up with split custody if we ever got divorced.

There was a stretch of several months that we tried to get pregnant and didn’t so I’m not even sure that I can. But year after year, I would tell Aaron that it wasn’t the right time. Looking back, I think he was right, and it was that I just didn’t want kids with him. When I filed for divorce at 36 years old, I knew it likely meant I wouldn’t have kids.

A lot of people assume I don’t want kids. It’s weird. I’ve always seen myself being a mom at some point in my life, it just hasn’t felt like the right time. I don’t know if having kids is in the cards for me and I’m ok with that. I try to focus on living my life to the fullest each day, following God’s path, and being content with where I’m at.

Standing there watching this cute young family made me sad that I might not ever experience that. It was such a surprising feeling because honestly, it doesn’t usually cross my mind. If it does, it’s usually more of a “Ugh, those kids are screaming. Glad I don’t have kids.”

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I left the shop and drove by the little statue of the actual North Pole and then headed to a farmer’s market in Fairbanks. The market was small and it was cold and wet outside, but everyone seemed so happy despite how expensive the produce was – a miniature cucumber was $1 and a regular sized one was $3.

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After the market, I went to the botanical garden at the college. There were only a couple of people walking around the spread out gardens. A woman started talking to me, thinking I was her adult daughter. We laughed as I said this happens to me all the time. Apparently, I sneak up on people.

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Raindrops were adorning the flower pedals and the colors were beautifully vivid. Once I finished there, I headed to the museum on the college campus. I watched a national Geographic movie about extreme weather, walked through the exhibits, and learned more about Alaska.

Yelp failed me with a recommendation on a Philly cheese steak that was terrible. I headed to Walmart to pick up some supplies and the military presence was very noticeable – there is an Army base in Fairbanks.

I went back to my Airbnb to rest and thought about the day. It was nice to get out a little and see some of Fairbanks. I thought about having children and wondered how much my view towards having them (or not having them) would change over the next decade. Time will tell.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Days 17-18: Discovering Portland, Oregon

I purposely booked nine nights in Portland so that I could take my time exploring the city, get some writing done, and not have to pack/unpack every one-two nights. I needed to get my tire looked at since it kept losing air so I took it to Costco. For $10, they repaired it and removed a hard piece of plastic. While I waited for it to be repaired, I ate at the food court and noticed they had acai berry bowls available and Al Pastor Salads – both items I had not seen at Costco before. You can tell a lot about a city by what the restaurants (including fast food) serve. They cater to their markets.

Around 4:30 pm, my friend Justin met me at the hostel to hang out. I met Justin while hiking the John Muir Trail two years prior; he was the first person I had met on the trail. During the second night of hiking, I was exhausted, and I didn’t know where to set up my tent. He helped me pick out a spot and we chatted the following morning as well. We stayed in touch, messaging every several months or so.

Around 40 years old, thin and fit, with ear-length dark hair (with some grey hair starting to show), Justin is attractive and has a good heart. He works as an engineer and used to be a director at his company until he decided he preferred to have more time outside of work. Years ago, he spent time biking through different countries and camping. He’s a rare mix of business and outdoorsy. Justin has been in Portland for about 13 years and is originally from Pennsylvania. He came to Portland for grad school and stayed. Overall, he enjoys it, but he has to get out of the city every winter for a few weeks and go somewhere that has sun and no rain.

He arrived at the hostel in shorts and a t-shirt, holding a refillable water bottle. He suggested we walk around the city a bit and explore. Justin mentioned there was a rose garden not too far away and we could walk through some trails to get there.

As we walked through the northwest corner of the city towards the park, we caught up on our lives and my recent travels. When we got to the park, the trail was uphill, including many stairs that were covered in trees. It was very hot outside and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Regretting my decision not to wear shorts, I started sweating right away.

We climbed the stairs and my heart was racing. I have bradycardia, which is a slow heartbeat. I’ve seen a cardiologist a couple of times because it’s usually in the low 40’s (during a 24-hour heart monitor test, it dropped to 38 while I was at work). They determined I have a murmur and it skips, but they can’t do anything to speed up my heart, except put in a pacemaker – and I’m too young for that. For the most part, it’s fine. But when I go up stairs or climb a mountain, my heart starts racing and it gets hard to breathe. It’s like my body doesn’t know what to do with a fast heartbeat. It’s frustrating because I start to breathe heavily, making me look out of shape. I do a lot of cardio to try to help with it but haven’t been able to fix it.

It’s embarrassing and I tried my best to not appear like I was dying. After too many stairs to count, Justin and I arrived at the International Rose Test Garden. It was absolutely worth the climb. Row after row of roses in all colors and sizes were lined up. Justin said we could check out any rose we wanted and we browsed along as we continued to talk – smelling some along the way.

After checking out the rose garden, we headed back towards the downtown area. There is a section of town were food trucks are always ready to serve. We checked out the whole square block and I decided on getting a gyro wrap and Justin got some vegetarian Greek food. We took our food and walked a couple of blocks to a city park. It had a water fountain, tables and chairs, and was pretty much all concrete (except the trees giving some shade).

Justin and I found a table, ate our food, and chatted about the dating scene. Justin and his girlfriend met online three years ago and dated for about six months but then broke up for a while. They started dating again and he recently moved in with her. I told him about my woes of online dating – how guys would match with me and then not message. That in L.A., guys always think they can get someone better because it’s the city of models and actresses. And then there’s the ghosting phenomenon where guys just simply disappear for no reason at all. Justin said when he went on a date with a woman and didn’t feel the chemistry, he’d always tell her instead of ghosting. This confirmed my belief that he’s a good guy. His advice to me for online dating was to be picky and only go on dates with guys who I really liked. The thing is, I think my problem has been that I’m too picky.

We headed back to the hostel around 8:00 pm and continued to have great conversation. Justin had to get home so he headed home after we got back to the hostel. I really enjoyed hanging out with him. It was also nice to have someone show me around the city as a local.

The next day I had an appointment at The National University of Natural Medicine (it is a school of naturopathic medicine) for a nasal balloon clearing. My doctor in L.A. had recommended I go there because my allergies are always so stuffed and I have a deviated septum. My ENT doctor wanted to do surgery to correct the deviated septum but I thought trying this might help clear everything out.

When I arrived at the center, I had to fill out all sorts of paperwork and insurance information. When I left my job, my health insurance ended when I was no longer an employee. With Cobra, you can elect to keep your same insurance plan for up to 18 months, if you pay the premium. I was very lucky to have an employer who paid my premiums 100% so I didn’t even know what the cost was. When I left the company, I found out it would be over $500 a month to keep my plan. I decided to keep it through the end of the year since I had already paid so much into the deductibles. You have 60 days to enroll into the program and I was waiting to receive all the forms in the mail to my parents’ house. During those 60 days, once they receive payment, the insurance plan will continue uninterrupted. However, at that very moment, I was in the beginning of the 60-day window. I knew the insurance would be retroactive and there wouldn’t be a gap in insurance but I was afraid they’d run the card and find out it had technically been cancelled. Thankfully, they accepted my card for the time being.

The naturopathic college has students learning as they practice medicine. A young girl grabbed me from the lobby and did a thorough exam, following everything she was taught. I wasn’t prepared for such thoroughness as I thought this would just be a quick exam. The good news is that I no longer had a job to get back to, so I wasn’t stressed about the time. Normally when I’d go to doctor appointments, the anxiety would set in because I usually needed to get back to work and every minute sitting there waiting on the doctor caused stress. But not working any longer made me much more relaxed.

The student doctor did all her tests and questioned herself when she took my heart rate – 42. When she put it into the computer system, it was flagged with an exclamation mark. This always forces me to explain my slow heart beat and that I’ve seen a cardiologist multiple times and it’s fine.

The doctor came in and went over all the things I could do to improve my allergies to pollen and then said he might not do the procedure because of my deviated septum. What?! I was devastated. I came all that way and was very hopeful for some relief. He was also concerned that my eye doctor had wanted me to follow-up with a neurologist about my blurry vision and fuzzy optical nerves in my eyes, which I had yet to do. I basically pleaded with him to do the procedure and assured him I was fine. He said he’d try to do the side with the deviated septum first because if it was too restricted, he wouldn’t be able to continue.

I laid on the table and he put a device up my nostril and it went through. Then came the part where he shoots a balloon thing up my nose. He described the pressure like going into the deep end of the pool quickly. It lasts about 2 seconds, is painful, and does indeed feel like going into the deep end of the pool. I held my breath and it hurt. It immediately made my eyes water. Now I know why he gave me tissues before we started.

The doctor did the left nostril and it went in perfectly. Then he had to do three different cavities in each nostril. It was a total of four painful shots up the nose on each side. Each time I had to hold my breath, experienced two seconds of pain, and then my eyes watered. On the third one, my ears popped.

Once we were finished, the doctor said, “Good job. You know, doctors are now doing this procedure and putting people under anesthesia.” I can see why. It hurt! But it didn’t last long and my nose was clearer. The doctor said it would be clear that day, but tomorrow would likely get clogged again and then get better a few days later. However, patients need to do this procedure two-three times, spread out over a few weeks. What?! I thought this was a “one and done” type of thing. I told him I would only be in Portland for another week but he was out-of-town the following week. I agreed to come back in two weeks since I’d be in Seattle and it wouldn’t be too far away. As for the third time coming in, that would have to wait until further notice.

I got back to the hostel and watched some episodes of the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu on my ipad mini. Through the thin wall I could hear a few guys talking in the kitchen. One guy had a southern accent and two guys had Indian accents. Here are parts of the conversation I could hear:

Indian accent: “Do you want a beer?”

Southern accent: “No thanks. 1 beer turns into 15. I can never have just 1.”

Indian accent: “Why are you in Portland?”

Southern accent: “I’m here with my business partner for a seminar.”

Indian accent: “Oh, we’re just here for fun. How old are you?”

Southern accent: “I’m 23. You?”

Indian accent: “Guess”

Southern accent: “24?”

(Laughing)

Indian accent: “No, I’m 32 and have my PHD!”

A little later…

Indian accent: “I also do standup comedy. I’m still trying to find that one perfect white racist joke.”

Shortly after, they all decided to play a card game that was on the bookcase in the kitchen. It made me laugh that I could hear their conversation word for word and they had no idea.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Days 9-11: Hood River, Oregon

After breakfast in Bend, I headed to Hood River, Oregon. I kept seeing these adorable little huts with drive-through lanes, called Dutch Bros Coffee. One of the huts was across the street from my motel and I stopped in the day before. During that trip, I ordered a delicious blended coffee drink and the guy gave me a stamp card and stamped all the little coffees so my next coffee would be free. On my way to Hood River, I saw another hut and stopped for my free coffee. They have genius marketing because the cute little design made me want coffee every time I saw one.

Full of green trees, mountains, and blue sky, the three-hour drive was beautiful…until I climbed to the top of the mountain. Suddenly, the sky turned cloudy and ominous. I stopped at this look-out point to take a picture and it was so cold and windy that I hurried and took my picture and ran back to the car!

Once I got to Hood River, it was warmer again – probably in the low 80s. It was quite nice outside. Hood River is a mountain town through a gorge, about an hour outside of Portland. It has about 7,700 people and about 30 minutes east of there is The Dalles, with a population of 15,500. I booked a motel in The Dalles since they had cheaper options, but my friend Tracey had just moved to Hood River so I headed there first.

I arrived in Hood River around 3:00 pm and went straight to Tracey’s house. Tracey used to be a Vice President at the company I worked for, had recently retired, and moved to Hood River. We had the same last day at the company and I had made a video for her retirement to celebrate all of her contributions. She and her husband were settling into their new home and I was their first visitor!

Tracey showed me around her new house and the charming backyard that was surrounded by trees. We had a snack and caught up on both of our recent adventures. Then we went for a walk around her neighborhood. The neighborhood is on top of a hill with great views down to the gorge. We walked down a gravel walking path near her house and passed farms with cows and farms with berries. It was peaceful, quiet, and it felt good to get some fresh air.

I look up to Tracey. She’s a great role model because she’s intelligent, hardworking, and curious. She had only been in Hood River for a couple of weeks and had already volunteered for a local organization and found all sorts of local hikes. Her capacity for work is truly astonishing.

For dinner, Tracey and her husband (Farron) took me to a nice restaurant by the river. It was the first time I had quality food at a nice restaurant for quite some time. We had a really fun time with great discussions. After dinner, I headed to The Dalles to check into my motel.

It was dark when I arrived to Motel 6 and the lobby was small. I asked if there was a room on the first floor and was told no, there was nothing available so I’d have to be on the second floor. The woman instructed me to park on the other side of the building, towards the back because there was a door and steps there, which were closer to my room. I followed her instructions but my keycard wouldn’t open the door. Frustrated, I dragged my suitcase and bags all the way to the door in the middle of the motel. That door wasn’t even locked so I went inside and first went to the lobby. The woman who helped me was on the phone so another woman assisted me.

Me: “My keycard wouldn’t open the back door so before I go all the way upstairs to my room, can you make sure I have a key that works?”

The woman: “Oh, that back door is persnickety. Guests tell us that sometimes it works, but only after they try it over and over. And other times it just doesn’t work at all.”

Me: “Persnickety. Really? Well you should tell that to her (glare at the other woman) because she specifically told me to park by that door so now I have to lug all my luggage around.”

Woman: “Sorry about that.”

Huffing and puffing, I reluctantly made multiple trips to carry my luggage to my room. A sign by the broken door read “Do not prop door open.” Really? Well if your door worked, people wouldn’t have to prop it open. And why does it matter? Considering your middle door doesn’t even lock. Things like this really irritate me.

When I got to my room, I realized it was decent and would do just fine for a few nights. There was a mini-fridge, which is always nice to have.

The next morning, I researched some hikes nearby and found one called Eightmile Loop Trail, which was actually 7 miles long. It also had over 1,200 feet elevation gain and was listed as only lightly trafficked.

I headed out and drove to the east and then south for about 45 minutes. The east side of the mountains were dry with yellow fields of dead grass. Occasionally, I spotted farms, with their giant rolling sprinklers painting the fields bright green. It looked like puzzle pieces because if it wasn’t being watered, it was dry and dead.

I arrived at the trailhead and there was a man about to start mountain biking and shortly after, a woman also showed up to mountain bike. The trail was a loop and started off covered in trees so there was a lot of shade. It was very green and lush, which I was happy about since the drive had been dry. There were wild flowers along the trail and it mostly climbed for the first five miles. The trail was well maintained but narrow and had a couple small bridges to cross over streams.

After about five miles, the trees cleared to this breathtaking view that extended for miles. It was incredible to see the thousands of pine trees that rolled over the mountains. To the east in the far distance, I could see where the land turned to more of a desert. This happens because the mountains are so high up, they gather all the moisture (which creates all the greenery) but then after the weather passes the mountains, there’s no precipitation left (so you end up with more of a desert environment).

After taking in the amazing view, I headed down the tree-covered trail towards the finish. All of a sudden, I saw a deer about 30 feet in front of me, on the trail. He just sort of looked at me for a minute and then slowly walked to the side and started eating some flowers.

I got back to my car and headed back to the motel, but I decided to take the route that heads west so I could go through Hood River on my way back. Unfortunately, I didn’t have cell service. I knew I needed to turn right from the trail head and thought it would be straight forward on how to get there. I was wrong. The road suddenly turned into gravel, was surrounded by trees, and nobody was around. After 30 minutes of this, the road split into 3 options. I couldn’t tell which way I should take and started to feel a little panicked as it was around 6:30pm and the sun was getting close to setting behind the mountain.

After sitting there for a minute, I decided turning left would be my best bet. I continued down the gravel road and started thinking what I would do if it got dark and I was still driving around on these roads. Would I turn around and try to backtrack? Wait, didn’t I make other turns? Would I remember where I turned?

After about another 10 minutes I saw a pickup truck coming from the opposite direction. I contemplated flagging him down and asking where I should go but I was too embarrassed. I continued on and the road turned back into pavement so I felt like I must be closer to a sign. To this point, there were no street signs or signs giving any directions. I pulled over when I saw an amazing view of Mount Hood to take a picture.

After another 10 minutes or so, I came to a road with a sign directing me to Hood River and I eventually regained cell service.

When I got back to the motel, I decided I would go on the 4-day backpacking trip with Mandy and her friend. I called the hostel in Portland to move my reservation and the guy said he would have to move people around and he’d email me in the morning to confirm if he was able to move it.

When I woke up, I had an email from the hostel saying they were able to move my reservation. I let Mandy know I would be joining her and then I spent the next several hours getting my supplies ready. I hadn’t done an overnight with just my backpack in about two years. I went to K-mart nearby and got some snacks and sorted through all my stuff.

It was the 4th of July and Tracey had invited me over for dinner with her and her husband. We hung out for a bit before enjoying some grilled burgers, potato salad, and vegetable salad. The food was so delicious and I was really enjoying having a home-cooked meal. And as always, great conversation.

Around 9:50pm, Tracey and I decided to drive around to see if we could find a spot on top of the mountain so we could see the fireworks. As we drove around the small-town streets, we could see people lined up everywhere – in parks, the sides of streets, the side of the road. We weren’t going to attempt to go to the bottom of the gorge where the majority of people were so we drove up a curvy road that went up the side of the mountain. Tracey found a place that she could park her car (on the side of the road) by slightly off-roading. There were lots of people who did the same thing along the road.

We got out of the car, crossed the street and had a beautiful view of the gorge. The fireworks started right away and we stood next to a couple of people, where the trees had a bit of a break so we could see the fireworks. It was so much fun! Occasionally a car drove by and we’d scoot closer to the grass; otherwise, we stood on the road. The show was great, there was a cool breeze, and it was just a fun outdoorsy environment.

After the firework show, I headed back to my motel to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the backpacking trip the next day.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek