Day 75: Hiking on a Glacier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 64-65: Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage

I spent day 64 sleeping in, running some errands, editing a video of a recent backpacking trip, and eating leftover pizza. The following day, I took my car to the Subaru dealer for an appointment about my broken window.

When I arrived, I explained to the guy about my experience in Fairbanks and how there is a broken mechanism, but they didn’t have the part. They assured me that Anchorage, being a larger city, would have the part. After waiting for an hour and a half, he came to the waiting room and told me that they do not have the part.

I was angry and asked why he didn’t check to see if they had the part sooner. He explained that they had to take my window apart to confirm which part was needed (and still needed to put it all back together). He could order it, but it wouldn’t arrive for seven-ten days. Frustrated, I told him I wouldn’t be there because I was flying to Colorado for a wedding. After arguing with him and talking with his manager, he agreed to pay for three day delivery and repair the window when I returned from Colorado.

I planned on hiking that day so I went back to my Airbnb to change my clothes and grab my gear. It was recommended that I hike Flattop Mountain trail, which is about three and a half miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. I was happy the parking lot wasn’t crowded since I heard it was a popular trail.

It was about 50°F, cloudy, and misty. The trail started out at an incline, but was fairly smooth with a few rocks. The green trees looked bright against the looming clouds whisking above.

The trail quickly turned difficult. Immediately, rocks popped up on the trail, and I was cautious to avoid a sprained ankle.

Then the stairs appeared – wooden blocks that had been dug into the dirt on the side of the mountain. Set after set of stairs appeared, forcing me to stop to catch my breath. The other people on the trail were also pausing from time to time to take quick breaks.

As the trail continued to climb, the clouds started to cover the trail and it was difficult to see much farther than about 30 feet. The mist was attaching itself to my arm hair, making it appear white.

As I got close to the peak, the trail wound its way through rocks the size of basketballs. The trail was hard to find through the rocks, so I was following a group of people ahead of me until I lost them into the fog.

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The trail seemed to disappear, so I stopped to look around for where it continued. Three guys in their 20s-30s who had been behind me stopped, and I asked if they knew where the trail continued. They responded, “We were following you. It’s our first time here.”

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The four of us navigated the trail together. We realized the “trail” continued up the sharp boulders. It was wet, visibility was poor, and it seemed unsafe. I wasn’t going to continue, but they convinced me to stay with it. I had come that far and I really wanted to see the flag that was supposed to be at the top.

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I left my trekking poles at the base of the boulders and started to climb. The guys grabbed my hand and helped me to the top. We were the only people up there and it was indeed flat. I heard that some groups host festivals at the top from time to time and I couldn’t imagine people carrying everything up the mountain.

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We walked around on the flat surface, which felt like walking on the moon with the rocks below us and visibility only about 10 feet. I found out the guys (Colin, Robert, and Newman) were in the National Guard stationed in Tennessee. They worked in computer science and were in Anchorage for training purposes for the week. They laughed and said they were doing more training than learning while they were there.

We talked about things to do and see in Alaska while they there. I told them I quit my job, sold my house, and was traveling. Newman responded, “Wow, you hear of people doing that, but I’ve never met someone who has. How do we do that?”

Unfortunately, there were not any views due to the thick fog. I didn’t mind much, however, because the atmosphere added an element of mystery to the mountain. The guys were shocked when they noticed their facial hair was white from the freezing mist. We walked back to where we climbed up, towards the flag. We took pictures and I was really happy I made it to the top, even though my legs were shaking.

Newman brought a glass jar of peanut butter and jelly and was eating from it. Colin was in heaven because his wife can’t have peanut butter in the house. Two girls made it to the top and said they were from St. Louis, Missouri (where I grew up). It’s such a small world.

As we made our way down the boulders, Robert helped me down by lending his hand. He said, “I like your dinner bell” referring to the bear bell hanging from my backpack. I explained my encounter with a bear in the Yukon a couple weeks prior and why I now hike with a bear bell.

We got to the base of the boulders and three guys from the Air Force were climbing up. They asked about getting to the top and we explained you have to use your hands and feet. They decided they had enough of the tough trail and headed down.

The National Guard guys hiked down the mountain with me. I pointed out the berries on the side of the trail and ate some. They were hesitant, but I assured them I had been eating these berries since my time in Washington and they were fine to eat. The clouds cleared up a bit and we were treated to some really beautiful views of Anchorage and the ocean.

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We got to know each other better and watched a group of 7th grade hockey players running up the stairs with their coach. When we arrived to the parking lot, the other guys they came with were waiting for them to go eat dinner. We said our goodbyes and I thanked them for helping me climb up the boulders.

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I got back to my Airbnb, showered, and watched a romantic comedy. For some reason I had been really into them those last couple of weeks and had watched a few. I did laundry, which was upstairs where the owners lived. I felt like I was sneaking into someone’s house, so I tiptoed and tried to be quiet. That’s one of the funny things about Airbnb’s, you don’t even know the people whose house you’re sneaking around in.

My body was sore as I laid down to sleep. The hike was beautiful and I was thankful that those three guys were there to help me get up and back down the mountain. This is one of the reasons why I don’t mind traveling alone. People are generally very friendly and helpful. It’s an opportunity to see the goodness in human beings.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 57-58: Denali National Park

It was time for me to check out of my Airbnb and head towards Denali National Park. Living as a nomad has its challenges. I needed some refills on medications and though my doctor overnighted them to my Airbnb, they still hadn’t arrived. The owner said that overnight to Fairbanks takes about three days and she offered to ship them to me in Anchorage once they arrived.

My next motel was in Healy, Alaska. It’s only an hour and a half drive south of Fairbanks and it’s the closest city to Denali National Park. The drive was fairly flat and I missed  driving through British Columbia and the Yukon. But as I got closer to Healy, mountains appeared in the distance.

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I pulled into the deserted gravel parking lot of the Denali Park Hotel (which was actually a motel) around 4:00 pm. The lobby was in an old train car. I asked the girl at the desk what there was to do there and she gave me a map that included some hikes. She told me the motel used to be inside the park until a law was passed prohibiting accommodations inside the park. They relocated, but were able to keep the original name.

I pulled my car in front of my room and unloaded my bags in the cold wind. The motel seemed to be on a raised foundation and it sounded hollow below my feet.

It was an ok motel, but the view from my window was fantastic! A massive, beautifully majestic mountain loomed just outside.

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Despite the view, I was angry that I paid $375 for two nights there. This was the most expensive place I had stayed so far and it felt unfair that they could charge so much just because it was close to Denali. There are a few hotels right outside the entrance to Denali National Park, but they were $300-$700 per night!

There were just a few businesses (grocery store, gas station, restaurant) along the two-lane highway that ran through the tiny town. I went to the small, expensive grocery store and picked up some food. After returning to the motel to eat dinner, I turned on the TV. I watched a classic, Groundhog Day, and relaxed.

The next morning, I prepared for a hike in Denali National Park. Denali mountain is the tallest peak in North America and only 33% of visitors actually see the top of the peak because clouds often roll in. Visitors can only drive 15 miles into the park. To see more, you have to take a guided tour bus. I considered taking one, but they ranged from six-ten hours and I didn’t want to spend my time inside of a bus. I preferred being closer to nature and hiking.

One of the bartenders in Fairbanks told me about an 8-mile hike (roundtrip) that starts at mile 13 of the drive inside. I found the trail entrance pretty easily and there was plenty of parking. The hike started out flat and easy, but within half of a mile, it started to climb.

I was nervous about wildlife, bears in particular, so I kept my eyes peeled. Once I started to climb, the trees became less dense and I had outstanding views! I was really happy that I chose to hike instead of take a bus.

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After about a mile in, I passed two rangers who were taking a break from repairing a section of the trail. After two miles, the elevation gain was noticeable and the cold wind kicked in harder. Without tree cover, my shorts and a t-shirt weren’t going to cut it. I saw a few other people who were wearing pants and coats and probably thought I was crazy.

I took my pants and jacket out of my backpack and put them on. I’d start with my wind/rain jacket first and see how warm it kept me. I also put my gloves on because my hands were starting to hurt from the cold.

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I arrived at the top and the wind was dramatically worse, making it hard to keep from being blown over. The gorgeous rocky mountains full of green trees reminded me of Norway.

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I continued on the trail that went down the other side of the mountain to the parking lot at mile 15 of the road. The hike wasn’t as pretty as the other side and I needed to hike back the way I came to make it to my car, so after a mile I turned around. The total would be six miles with 1,800 ft elevation gain and I was pleased.

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When I came to the peak again, the wind seemed to be even stronger. A woman and her mother asked me if I’d take a picture of them together. I took theirs and they took mine. As they started to hike away, she yelled something to me. She was about 10 feet away from me and I couldn’t hear her. After having her repeat what she said a few times, I realized she was just telling me to have a good hike. The wind was that loud!

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I thought about putting my coat on, but my jacket was better at resisting the wind. It felt like it must be about 35° F. I can only imagine how cold it is when it’s not summertime.

I was happy to get back to my warm motel and to rest. Attempting to be productive, I downloaded pictures from my phone to my PC and got some writing done.

The next morning, I needed to drive to Homer, Alaska. It was 500 miles away (about eight and a half hours of drive time). I knew it was an ambitious day, but I wanted to check out Homer after the bartender told me about it.

The first two hours of the drive was beautiful as it winded alongside Denali National Park. It was raining and the clouds were hovering above. I was told the best place to see the elusive mountain peak is south of the park. I kept my eye out, but I’m not sure if it saw it. It didn’t bother me. The hike inside the park was beautiful enough for me.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 56: Friends in Fairbanks

It was my last full day in Fairbanks and I hadn’t done any hiking for about a week. I found a trail that was near the Chena Hot Springs. It was about an hour and a half drive northeast, so I filled up on gas before leaving town. I tried my newly learned trick: asking for free coffee with a fill up. It worked!

I arrived at the Angel Rocks Trail around noon. It was a beautiful day. The crisp air felt refreshing as I worked up a sweat. There were a decent number of people hiking that were all heading toward the giant rocks. The trail passed a river, went over a  boardwalk, and then became laden with tree roots.

After about 1.5 miles, I arrived at the giant boulders that overlook the bright green trees lining the mountains.

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The large boulders had cracks that allowed for some climbing. I only climbed on them a little bit, as I didn’t want to fall off. There were a few teenagers who had climbed to the top and were struggling to get down. Thankfully they made it down safe.

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After eating a power bar, I continued on the trail towards the Chena Hot Springs. The trail climbed up the mountain and then down another, but the Chena Hot Springs were another several miles away. I wouldn’t have time to go all the way there and back, but I wanted to keep hiking. I continued on the trail and once I passed the boulders, I was completely alone.

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I enjoyed the scenery, but at times I got scared. I had my bear spray and a bear bell hanging on the bottom of my backpack, just in case. The views of the rolling green mountains were like postcards. I much preferred being out in nature than being in the city of Fairbanks.

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I hiked a couple more miles, but the trail got rocky and wasn’t well maintained. I turned back once I made it to the top of one of the peaks.

By the time I got back to my car it was 6:45 pm. I wanted to check out the ice museum at the Chena Hot Springs, but the last showing was at 7:00 pm. The map showed it was a 10-minute drive, so I raced out of the parking lot.

I arrived at the Chena Hot Springs at 6:58 pm, but had to put on my pants and a coat. I frantically grabbed my pants from the backseat and stood outside my car putting them over my shorts. I grabbed my coat and jogged to the front desk.

The girl behind the counter was helping a co-worker at another register on the opposite side. They moved in slow motion and without any care as they attempted to get some people some food. I paced nervously, hoping to get her attention.

Finally, after five minutes, she casually made her way towards me. I told her I needed a ticket to see the ice museum. She said, “Oh, the group already left.” I explained that I had seen the group on my walk over and asked if I could still join them. She replied, “Well, once they close the door, they can’t let anyone in. I don’t want to sell you a ticket because if you can’t get inside, I don’t have a way to refund you.”

After pleading with her to hurry up and just sell me a ticket and her not selling me a ticket, I ran outside towards the ice museum across the parking lot. Breathing heavily, I knocked on the large wooden door. I heard voices, but the door was locked. I knocked again and a girl said, “Someone is at the door.”

The tour guide opened the door and asked if I had a ticket. I tried to explain that the girl wouldn’t sell me one in case I couldn’t get inside. Out of breath, I pleaded with him to let me inside and I promised to pay later.

Thankfully, the tour guide let me inside and I was able to see the sculptures and rooms completely made of ice! After briefly talking about the place, the tour guide let us explore on our own or purchase a martini.

I sat at the ice bar and got the green apple martini that was poured into a glass made of ice. Thankfully, the ice stool had a piece of fur on top of it.

Sitting next to me was a girl with short, spiky, brown hair and a ski hat on. I assumed she was with one of the groups, but it turned out she was also a single female traveler.

Lilly was in her mid-20s, and was from Anchorage but went to college in the Bay area in California. After her studies, she worked as an engineer at a tech company. She was no longer working there and was figuring out her next step in life. She was in the process of driving her car back to Anchorage so she could leave it there while she traveled overseas for a couple of months. Lilly told me, “You’re the first solo female traveler I’ve encountered in my whole drive so far.” She had been staying in hostels and had only met male solo travelers or women who were with other people.

The tour guide didn’t let us stay inside the museum too long because of the cold. Those of us who purchased the martini brought the ice glass outside. It’s tradition to make a wish and smash the glass. Lilly and I took our glasses and smashed them against the pavement.

Lilly had already been inside the hot springs and said she was going back in. They were open until around 11:30 pm so I figured I’d go in first and then eat some dinner. They had changing rooms and lockers for rent, so Lilly and I headed there.

Once I changed, I walked past the indoor pool filled with screaming children (children can only go to the indoor pool and aren’t allowed in the hot springs). The hot springs had a ramp with a railing that allowed people to slowly get inside. It was extremely slippery so I was thankful for that railing.

There were several people enjoying the hot, salty water. It was fairly large and had a fountain in the middle that was spitting out water like raindrops, and a high-pressure waterfall in the back corner that was great for a massage. As I headed towards the back, I saw Lilly and swam towards her. There were a few people near her and we all started to talk.

A guy who appeared to be in his late 30s started talking with me and it felt as if he was hitting on me. Within a few minutes, however, he mentioned something about climate change and how mankind is destroying the earth. I told him that I was at a museum in the Yukon recently and they listed eight reasons for climate change, only one which was influenced by human interaction. He angrily said, “Oh yeah, and who funded that museum?!”

I replied to the man, “I don’t know who funded the museum, but I don’t think there’s some conspiracy. They just mentioned things like the tilt of the earth, the 40,000 year rotations, things like that. The earth has been cooling long before the industrial age. It was just interesting to hear other things that are happening to the earth from scientists. Things that have been happening for hundreds of thousands of years.”

The guy was visibly upset and responded, “Yeah, well, when 99% of scientists agree about climate change, they’re right.” I asked, “And who has funded all of those scientists?” He responded, “Oh!! Sure, you think it’s some conspiracy!” Confused, I said, “Wait, when you asked me who funded the museum in the Yukon, that was a legit question? But when I ask who funded your scientists, that’s not a legit question, it’s a conspiracy theory?”

Others joined in the conversation, but in a much more productive way. Lilly talked about gas and oil companies wanting to tear Alaska apart and how she is concerned for her home state. I respected her opinion because she was able to have a productive conversation and explain her points. The guy, however, slowly swam away and disappeared.

I laughed to myself and thought, “And that’s why I’m single.” I can’t help it. I like to have good discussions with people and I’m pretty informed. If I’m not informed, I have no problem asking questions. But I’m not the person who will jump on a bandwagon or agree with someone just for the sake of agreeing.

As Lilly and I talked, another guy, Zack, who was nearby starting talking with us too. He was in his early 20s and was stationed at the army base in Fairbanks. He was there alone, so the three of us just started hanging out.

After an hour or so, I was really hungry and told Lilly and Zack I needed some food. They were hungry too, so we all agreed to go to the restaurant on site. It was rustic, but expensive since it was so remote. There was also a hotel onsite but none of us were staying there because of the high price tag.

We put on some clothes, but were still fairly wet as we sat at the table and ordered our food. I was able to learn more about them while we waited. Zack was married and had a child around six months old. He seemed so young to have a spouse, be raising a child, and working for the military.

Lilly had been dating a guy from the UK for the last couple of months and she was going to visit him over there once she dropped her car off in Anchorage. The relationship was still new and she had met him in the bay area. I thought it was sweet she was going to see him in the UK.

The three of us got to know each other better and talked about a few political topics, but not in-depth. It was clear we probably didn’t see eye-to-eye on all things. Zack talked about bringing guns into Canada for Army training and how the Canadians hated the guns. Lilly disliked guns and we laughed when Zack told us the average Alaskan owns 12 guns. Zack definitely made up for Lilly’s lack of a gun.

My heart was so full of joy as we all talked. Three people who come from different backgrounds, who have some different beliefs, but who all recognized we’re just people. We were all there alone, just trying to figure out life. It felt like we had a respect for each other and saw the things we did have in common. I believe we all have more in common with each other than our differences, and it seemed like our little group of three realized that too. We weren’t defined by our political beliefs, we were defined by who we are as people. We talked and listened without judgment and felt at peace in each other’s company.

After dinner, we went back to the hot springs and continued to talk. Zack told us that often times you can see the northern lights there, but the soonest the lights would show was in a few days. He said even when there is snow all around, the place is jamming with people watching the northern lights late into the night. Because it was August, they closed at 11:30 pm that night.

We were still lounging in the hot springs when a flashlight shined on us, telling us we needed to get out. The three of us were the last ones out of the hot spring. After changing, we met each other out front and all friended each other on Facebook. I was really happy to have met these two and to have made some new friends. Lilly is a smart engineer working her tail off in a male-dominated world. Zack is defending our country while also being there for his family. My experiences during my travels have proved time and time again that despite our differences in this tumultuous political climate, we can still learn to respect and enjoy each other.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 49 – Mama Bear

I wrapped up my writing at the B & B and drove into the town of Whitehorse (the capital of the Yukon) to get something to eat at McDonald’s. The town seemed confused. Looking around, there were parts that were artsy, parts that had a small-town feel, and other parts that felt like a city with a new rec center, golf course, and cabaret show.

When I walked inside McDonald’s, I noticed they had delicious-looking pastries and a chicken parmesan sandwich. It seemed much fancier than the McDonald’s I’m used to in the US. Before leaving Whitehorse, I stopped at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, a small natural history museum.

I walked up to the front desk and the middle-aged man told me they just started a movie and I should go watch it and come back to pay later. I thought that was really nice and trusting. I headed to the small theater and watched a short movie about the Yukon and its history.

Once the movie finished, one of the workers named Tracey told the five of us she was about to start a demonstration on hunting and she recommended we attend. We all walked outside to the back where wooden silhouettes of animals stood about 30 feet away.

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Tracey looked to be in her 40s, was strong and stocky, and had a short gray mohawk. She passionately explained what the Yukon was like during the last several thousands of years. She held a spear thrower and said we’d learn how it was done, but first she gave us some history.

Tracey explained that humans are not part of the food chain, we’re above it. This is because we’ve adapted and learned. There is no longer a danger for humans to eat prey. Every animal puts themselves in danger when they attack their prey. There is only one other species other than humans that does not risk their life. It’s the spider. They build a web, sit back, and wait for the prey – no risk involved.

Tracey asked how much we knew about cultural appropriation and we all shrugged our shoulders, saying not much. She said, “You didn’t jump at the word because you’re all Americans and you’re less politically correct than Canadians.” Tracey seemed annoyed with cultural appropriation and said, “There’s no such thing. Every culture throughout time has adapted and learned from each other.” She went on to explain that natives in the Yukon went south for a bit and learned about the bow and arrow. But the ice in Alaska and the Yukon melted so fast 40,000 years ago (so fast there’s nothing to compare it to today) that it made Australia an island. Natives there did not get other influences so they never got the arrow. Tracey said, “We all learn from each other’s culture and always have.”

Tracey showed us how to throw the spear with the use of a hand tool that the natives used. We each got to try to hit the wooden cut-out animals and it was actually pretty hard. Tracey told us that people who lived there thousands of years ago moved an average of nine times a year, always setting up a new camp and following herds.

After the demonstration, I went inside to learn more about the Yukon. There was a section about climate change and a sign that explained there are eight factors as to why the climate is constantly changing. One is the Earth’s orbit. The sign read, “Three main characteristics of the Earth’s orbit affect climate: Obliquity (the tilt of the Earth’s axis), Eccentricity (the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun), and Precession (the time of year the Earth is closest to the sun).” These cycles happen over 22,000 to 400,000-year cycles.

The sign listed the other factors to the climate changing: Continental movement, Glacier Lake Drainage & Melting Ice, Volcanic Eruptions, Sunspots & Solar Weather Activity, and Human Activity. It was refreshing to read about climate change in a scientific way, not in a hysteria way. The sign explained that since the industrial age, human activity contributed to the changing climate because “increasing amounts of greenhouse released since the beginning of the Industrial Age is trapping more of the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.”

It was interesting to see the other seven factors affecting climate change, and it’s been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. Human interference is speeding things up a bit, but it doesn’t look like there is any way to stop it – these are changes that the earth has been experiencing long before human interaction. I’m not saying we can’t do our part to help the Earth, but scientifically speaking, the Earth has been changing since the beginning and is going to change until the end.

I continued to look around the museum, seeing bones from wooly mammoths and the various animals that live in the tundra. It was fascinating to think about what life was like in the area thousands of years ago and how much it has changed. Our lives are so much easier than what most of humanity has experienced.

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I paid for my admission to the museum and continued my drive north, feeling really happy. As I listened to music, I was excited that I was on this adventure, learning new things and meeting new people.

I arrived at Pine Lake, near Haines Junction, where I had booked an Airbnb. I rented a room in a beautiful wooden house overlooking the lake. There were only nine houses there, so it felt pretty remote. I followed the instructions to get inside and there was a note from the owners saying they were on a hike and they’d see me later that night. When they rent out rooms, they stay in a tent on the property somewhere, but use the bathroom in the basement.

The other rooms weren’t rented out and my room was on the top floor in a loft style room. The shared living room and kitchen had magnificent views! I couldn’t believe the place was basically mine since the other rooms weren’t rented out.

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On my dresser was a pamphlet about bears in the area – black bear and grizzly bears. The pamphlet went on to describe what to do in scenarios of each bear and determining if the bear is in a defensive mode or an attack mode. I changed into hiking gear and drove down the road about five minutes to the start of a trail.

As I was stretching, a girl came out from her gravel driveway. She was in her late 20s and said her parents have a house there and she was visiting. I told her I was nervous about bears and asked if she thought I’d see one while on my hike. She replied, “You’ll most likely see a bear.” Terrified, we continued talking about the area while another girl in her 30s came from the other driveway and said, “Hey, I just saw a black bear behind you guys in the forest, heading that way (pointing towards the trail).” She also explained that there was a grizzly bear with three cubs in Haines Junction the other day.

I reluctantly started my hike with my bear spray on the side pouch of my backpack and my headphones turned off. I walked through the dense forest and heard the chainsaw from the house of the first girl I talked with (she said the chainsaw should scare the bear away). The trail was pretty steep, but I kept climbing.

About 20 minutes into my hike, I was close to a large boulder when I saw a large black bear about 25 feet away me, to the left of the boulder. Panicked, I gasped, turned around, and started heading back down. Then I realized I’m not supposed to do that and I’m supposed to scare him. I turned around, hoping he wasn’t charging me. He saw me and jumped up on the boulder like it was nothing and headed in the direction of the trail.

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My heart was racing. I hadn’t actually seen a bear in the wild while hiking and being in the Yukon made me feel slightly more terrified. I waited a few minutes and then continued to climb the large boulder.

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Once on top, I had a great view and continued climbing more rocks and boulders.

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After about ten more minutes, I realized the trail was too steep and I was too afraid of seeing that bear again (or another one). I paused and thought about my options. One of the girls I had just met said the trail gets so steep at one point, there is a chain you have to use to pull yourself up. I’ve never given up on a hike that I had planned; however, they always say not to hike alone and I was hiking alone…with a bear nearby. I decided to trust my intuition and I turned around and headed back. I was able to see some amazing views, but the wind was pretty strong and it was making it a little cold.

When I got back to the Airbnb, I ate dinner and brought my laptop to the table on the back deck. The view was like a postcard and I felt so fortunate I was able to stay there. A cat that the owners told me not to let inside the house kept rubbing against me and getting in front of my laptop.

As the sun started to set, I went inside to get warmer. The views were still incredible through the giant windows. I searched for ferry options to go from Alaska to Canada and sent an email inquiring about my options since I had a car.

At 11:00 pm, it finally got dark outside and fireworks started going off across the lake. I’m not sure what the fireworks were for, but I was enjoying them. Once the fireworks stopped, I started hearing creepy noises throughout the house. It was dark outside with no curtains and the owners weren’t back yet. I tried to talk myself through the noises – it’s nothing, just the house settling. But the later it got, the more I worried about the owners. Could they still be out hiking? It was cold and dark, so I was nervous for them. I texted them asking if they were ok. No reply.

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After taking my shower, it was midnight and the owners still weren’t home. I couldn’t sleep. What if they were attacked by a bear and I’m the only one who knows they were out there hiking? I thought about calling the police or search and rescue, but I didn’t know where they were hiking. They hadn’t replied to my message but in their note, they said they would likely lose cell service. I reread the note and they definitely said they’d be back that night.

I started to pace. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe Airbnb had an emergency number for them and I could ask a family member if they knew where the owners were hiking. Maybe they had watched the fireworks and it was nothing. But the fireworks had ended at 11:30 pm. I was so nervous and didn’t know what to do.

Finally, at 12:30 am, I saw a car pull into the gravel driveway. Noelle came inside and I told her I was worried. She said they got caught up in the nature and beauty of it all so they stayed out longer than they anticipated. Then they decided to grab a bite to eat in town before heading back. Noelle looked to be in her 30s, and had long, thick, blonde dreadlocks. She was petite and fit, and didn’t seem concerned about showing up at 12:30 am.

I stood there in my pajamas talking with her in the dark foyer about hiking, bears, and how I turned around. She said, “People get so afraid of bears, they’re afraid to leave the house. But it’s fine out there.” Her husband was moving stuff from the car to the basement and after talking with Noelle, I didn’t see them again.

I felt relieved that they were ok and that I wouldn’t be spending my night talking with search and rescue, only to find out they died on a hike. I felt like an overprotective mother, but come on, who does that?

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 39 – Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

During the bike tour, the guide recommended a few hikes in the area that I wanted to try. I was already staying on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver, so the drive would be an easy 15 minutes to the trail head.

That morning, I finished up a blog post about how I had felt on day 5: depressed. I was nervous about posting it because it was so raw. The beginning of my trip was not easy. I experienced a tremendous amount of change in a very short period of time and had a hard time figuring out my new normal.

I uploaded the blog post and left for the hike around 4:00 pm. When I arrived at Eagle Bluff Trail, the Olympic rings were still on display from 2010. There was a vacant ski lift, swaying in the cool summer breeze. The clearing of trees showed the runs that skiers traversed the hills during the winter months.

The total trail was just under six miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. Large rocks quickly appeared on the dirt trail, making the incline a little more difficult. I passed several ponds and lakes.

The green trees against the bright blue sky reminded me of why I wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest so badly. After being in the California drought for more than a decade, it was what I needed. I could feel life growing in the forest.

Continuing to climb, the trail turned into roots from the towering trees above. They provided great shade, but were definitely trip hazards. A fellow hiker tripped on a root when she looked up to see me and fell. The guy with her and I made sure she was ok and they continued on.

Starting the trail, I didn’t have cell service. As I continued to climb, cell service would sporadically appear and a text message would come through – messages of concern from friends and family. Then the Facebook notifications appeared. Words of encouragement after reading my blog post on depression.

I started to panic and thought, “Why did I post that? I shouldn’t have written about it.” I felt embarrassed and exposed as I thought about all of the people who I’m connected with on Facebook – old coworkers, family, friends, and neighbors. I desperately wanted to take down the post but didn’t have much cell service. The entire climb up, I worried about that post and how it would make me look: weak.

When I arrived at the top of the mountain, there were a few people taking pictures and enjoying the view. I found a large rock to sit on, eat a powerbar, and admire the view. It was incredible!

Looking to the west, I could see mountains surrounded by the ocean. To the south was the ocean with some smoke in the background from a fire burning in the bog. To the southeast was the city of Vancouver. With 180 degree, the views didn’t stop.

I sat in awe and reminded myself that the reason I’m blogging about my trip is because I want people to experience what I’m experiencing. Sometimes it’s lonely, scary, and confusing. I was determined not to be afraid of revealing who I really am. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to please others and to be “good enough.”

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I believe God created each of us to be unique and I think he delights in who we are. I try my best to follow the path God has set for me. But society, parents, the workplace, friends, the church, and strangers all have expectations of who we should be. After trying to get the approval of all of these people, I finally broke. It was exhausting and left me feeling alone. Over the last few months, I decided to be me. I have to keep reminding myself of this as it doesn’t come naturally. I’m a people pleaser and I hate disappointing people. I decided I would leave the post up.

The climb was worth the view. A chipmunk attempted to get into my backpack several times and I had to keep scaring him away. I headed back down the mountain so I would finish before dark. On my way back down, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the top of the ski lift. I saw two very fit and attractive guys who looked to be in their late 20s taking photos. One guy had his shirt off, while the other took pictures. They also had a small dog with them. I couldn’t help but laugh in my head. Hopefully the pictures were for something legitimate, but I wondered if they were for his Tinder profile.

When I walked around the ski lift area, the bugs started to attack and they seemed to love my ears. The buzzing sound would make me scream every time. The guys I had seen a few minutes earlier showed up and asked if I knew where the trail was to get back down. I told them I think we made a wrong turn and it was back up the other way. Of course, a bug flew near my ear and I screamed, looking like a maniac.

The guys started heading down the rocky path. I went back to the trail and headed towards where I thought it diverged. I ran into a group of four young, attractive people in their 20s. One of the girls asked me for directions and I showed her on my map where they needed to go. I asked if they were heading to the top because it was getting pretty late. They said they were heading to the top to watch the fireworks.

My bike tour guide told me about the fireworks. It was their annual firework competition. Sweden was going to display their best fireworks by setting them off from a barge in the water. The previous Saturday, South Africa showcased their fireworks and the final show would be the following Saturday with South Korea.

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I didn’t want to hike down in the dark after the fireworks. Plus, I had a great view of the harbor from my Airbnb. I continued to the bottom and made it my car around 9:00 pm. When I got back to the Airbnb, I realized I didn’t have any food. I used Yelp to find a place, but most places didn’t deliver to West Vancouver.

I called a pizza place in West Vancouver and asked if they’d deliver. The man who answered was annoyed and said he would not deliver because they closed at 10:00 pm and he’s really busy. I said it was only 9:20 pm but I could come pick it up. After arguing with him, and having to call him back, he took my order and said, “If you’re not here to pick it up in 15 minutes, I’m closing up and you won’t be able to pick it up”. Dang.

I hurried there and picked up my pizza. They were not busy and I’m guessing he just wanted to close early to see the fireworks. I took my pizza back to the Airbnb and ate in the large dining room that overlooked the harbor. I sat in the dark so I could see the fireworks better. For 30 minutes, Sweden showed off their best fireworks in a stunning show.

I read through the messages, comments, texts, and emails that people had sent me about my blog post. Even though I still felt embarrassed, it felt good to know so many people could relate to my struggle and were there to encourage me when I needed it. I’m not alone. To date, that’s one of my most read posts.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider

 

Day 34 – Hiking and Discovering Tinder

The fan attempted to cool me off as I relaxed in my Airbnb, and I researched places to stay in Vancouver, British Columbia – my next destination. Sadly, I was finding some bad places online. For example, I found two listings by the same guy for $27 a night. In one listing, you could stay in the old, crappy motorhome sitting in his driveway. You are allowed to use the indoor bathroom and kitchen, however. The other listing was a couch in his living room. It was looking like Vancouver was going to be an expensive city to stay in.

To pass the time that evening, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for Tinder. I had heard that Tinder has changed and now people find actual relationships on there, not just hook-ups. Very quickly, I started to get matches and messages, which felt a little overwhelming. It was also addicting. I had a hard time stopping myself from swiping – the guys on there didn’t end. I wanted to see who else was out there.

The next day, I went for a hike in the mountains about 45 minutes east of Seattle, called Granite Lakes Trail. I found the trail on an app I use frequently called, All Trails. It was about eight miles long, and involved just under 2,400 ft elevation gain. I enjoy a hard hike because it feels like a successful workout.

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I didn’t start the hike until around 3:00pm (I was up too late diving into the world of Tinder). The stifling heat made sweat start to pour right away. The trail winded through the trees, had some amazing views, and at times had a river nearby.

 

About a mile into the trail, I passed three older women, each about 50 feet away from each other. Shortly after that, I passed a man and his mother. After that, I didn’t see another person the entire hike. This can be a little scary at times but I’m pretty used to it.

After 3.5 miles, I had to stop and put on bug spray as bugs were eating me alive. There was no breeze and the spray sat on top of my sweat. Shortly after I stopped to put on bug spray, I heard something in the bushes that lined the narrow trail. I stopped, turned off my headphones, and looked around.

Researching trails in the area, I saw reviews that said people had seen a mountain lion. People gave advice about never turning your back on a mountain lion, always look them in the eye, and back up slowly.

This terrified me because I was used to preparing for black bears. With black bears, you should make yourself look large, talk, make noise, and scare them off. Reading those reviews about mountain lions, and how they can easily tear you apart, made me paranoid.

Hearing something in the bushes made my heart race. I was certain it was a mountain lion and he would kill me. I slowly pulled out a small pocket knife from my side pouch on the waist belt of my backpack. I opened it and held it on top of my trekking pole. I slowly walked in silence with my heart racing, looking in all directions. I know that knife likely wouldn’t save me, but it made me feel like it was better than nothing. These are the times it’s scary hiking alone.

Terrified, I ventured on and made it to the top, which had a beautiful lake. There were some giant rocks just off the lake to the side so I hopped over smaller rocks to a large one that I could sit on and eat a snack. The mosquitos were insane at the lake so I put more bug spray on and watched them coast on the water.

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After eating my power bar, I headed back down the trail. The sun was behind the mountain as dusk set in. By the time I got to my car, I was starving. It took about 15 minutes to get to the highway and I searched for somewhere to eat.

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I spotted a Costco off the highway, and a slice of cheap pizza sounded delicious. As I walked towards the window, the employee announced, “Last call for food”. I picked up my pace since I was in the parking lot and he said “Ok, just for you, I’ll stay open.” I ordered a slice of pizza and a frozen yogurt. Sitting outside to eat, the sun had now set and it was dark outside.

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By the time I got back to the Airbnb, it was around 9:30 pm, and I was exhausted. A match from Tinder asked if I wanted to go over to his house but I declined. I showered and went to bed. As I laid in bed, I was “super-liked” by a guy who was 36 years old.

His first message to me was, “You know those word association tests? The first thought that came to my mind when I saw your photo yesterday was that you were my kindred spirit.”

I asked him what made those words to mind. He responded, “You look REALLY familiar. When I look inward to understand where this feeling comes from, I stumble across a divergence between who I am, and who I imagine I am. Your image represents who I think I am, so it makes me really happy. It’s like you are a ‘warm and fuzzy’ machine on full blast! But that is just physicality; important, yet ultimately fixed. What about the things that we can change?”

“Whoa,” I thought. “Maybe I got myself into more than I expected”.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

 

Days 26-27: Friends on Whidbey Island, Washington

The main reason I decided to stay on Whidbey Island is because my friend Trudy (who lives in Missouri) was vacationing there with her husband, three kids, mom, and sister. Yes, I crashed their family vacation. They rented a cabin off the bay in Coupeville (in Puget Sound), about 25 minutes from where I was staying in Oak Harbor.

Trudy is a couple of years older than me and we’ve been friends for about 22 years. I met her when I was 16 and started my first job – the packaging department of a baby photo company. We interviewed the same day and I remember thinking that she seemed so cool – too cool for me. This was in the mid-1990s and Trudy was wearing overalls, had a short haircut, and was sort of punk rock. I was a very regular teenager and not at all cool.

Trudy and I started work at the same time and ended up becoming friends. Trudy always said what was on her mind, sometimes to a fault. I have always admired her for that. She doesn’t care what others think about her – she does her own thing. Meeting Trudy at age 16 helped shape me by making me feel accepted, and making me ‘try’ to not care what people think of me. We’ve continued to be friends through all these years, which I’m very grateful for. But I will say, she’s really not all that cool after all (love you Trudy!😉).

When I arrived at the cabin Trudy’s family was renting, her kids were looking for clams, and Trudy and her sister, Katie, were kayaking. Her mom and step-dad had some friends over who lived nearby so I was able to tell everyone about my travels.

We spent the afternoon walking along the beach and looking for clams spitting water as the tide receded. Since beginning my trip, this was the first day that it was cloudy and cool, and I was eager to wear a jacket for the first time in months.

Trudy, her daughter Fiona, and myself went to the little nearby grocery store  to get some food. While at the 4-way stop outside of the market, a deer pranced through the intersection as the cars all waited for him to pass. It was pretty funny seeing a deer just like that, right outside the market.

I’ve known Fiona since she was born and now she’s 14 years old. She’s grown to be such a cool, smart, sweet, and fun person. We both enjoy sweets so she was my collaborator to get some desserts into the cart. We laughed and giggled because Trudy eats pretty healthy. It definitely makes me feel old knowing I first met Trudy when she was 18. And here I was, having a blast with her 14-year-old daughter. It’s funny how time works.

The house had a fire pit with some chairs on the sand. Trudy and I sat on the chair (without a fire) and caught up on life. I told her how it was hard traveling alone but it started to get better once I was able to meet up with friends. I couldn’t help but cry a little as I told her about it. But spending time with friends, like Trudy, was really helping.

For dinner, Trudy’s husband cooked up the clams that they all found during the day and made a soup. I gotta admit, the clams were chewy and I don’t think I’ll eat clams again. After dinner, we all played a dice game. It was so much fun! First off, I love board games. I will play anytime someone suggests it. I used to beg my family to play with me when I was a kid. Second, this was a new game for me and it was so much fun to compete with all the family members, even the kids. It was a late night and it all felt so fulfilling. Being around good people, laughing, and getting to know each other better is what life is all about.

The next day I went hiking. The trail started at the lower, north side of Deception Pass. Starting the trail was a little annoying as there were a fair number of tourists taking pictures and having picnics at the tables.

Thankfully, as I continued on the five or so mile hike, I left the tourists behind. I crossed a couple of beaches and made my way around two different parts of land that were almost like islands.

At one point, I got to the top of a ridge and nobody was around. Normally, I’d take a quick break by sitting on a rock and eating a snack. But I remembered that I had a folding chair in my backpack that I had never used. I pulled it out, sat down, and enjoyed a snack in the blazing sunshine. It was warm with a cool breeze. The sun felt so good as it reflected off the ocean. I closed my eyes and soaked up that sun for about an hour.

After the hike, I showered, ate some dinner, and headed back to Trudy’s cabin. It was evening time and the sun was starting to set. At one point, her 12-year old son Vaughn came running inside and said the little boat they used to catch clams, was floating away. Michael, Trudy’s husband, ran outside, jumped into a kayak and started chasing the boat that was indeed floating away. Vaughn also jumped into a Kayak and they frantically went paddling after it.

The tide changes a lot in the evening and they had been out crab fishing earlier in the day and didn’t pull it up far enough from the rising tide.

Apparently, the tide started to take the boat away and it was probably half a mile away – down the beach and a little out towards the open ocean. Michael caught the boat and pulled it to the shore down the beach so he could jump into the boat to paddle it back. Vaughn paddled the kayak back. But then poor Vaughn had to walk back down the beach to get the other kayak.

The whole event was hilarious! We were all really grateful Vaughn noticed the boat disappearing before it was really gone!

That evening, Michael cooked the crabs and they were delicious! The fresh caught crab melted in my mouth after it was dipped in butter.

The next morning, I went to check out of my Airbnb and as I was bringing my bags down to the foyer, Barry (my host) said “Christy, come look at the deer.” Sure enough, in his backyard was a deer and her baby eating the fruit from his trees! It was so cute to watch them enjoy the food and then just jump over the short wooden fence into the next yard.

This whole time I wondered if Barry was divorced, widowed, or married. But then his wife was there, in a robe! We said hello and she talked about a restaurant they own that she couldn’t wait to get rid of and fully retire. I’m not sure where she was for the three days I was there, but it was nice meeting her. She also gave me some great tips of things to see in Seattle. She used to work there four days a week and then live in Oak Harbor the other three days a week.

Before heading out to Seattle, I stopped by to see Trudy and her family for a couple of hours. On one hand, I felt bad that I intruded on their family vacation. On the other hand, I had such a fun time and it felt like quality family time that I really needed.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Days 19-21: Learning About Portland, Oregon

I often go on bike tours when I’m checking out a new city because bike tours are the perfect way to see the sights and learn about the city’s history. You go faster than walking but slower than a car. It’s the perfect speed. Plus, you get some exercise and can feel the breeze.

I started a bike tour in Portland at 9:00 am. There was a family of four (the kids were around 8-12), and a single female in her late 20s or early 30s. The kids immediately went up front near the tour guide. I stayed in the back and chatted a bit with the single female. She was from the San Francisco area and traveling alone. She figured Portland was an easy flight and she’d never been before.

We rode our bikes through the city, the old China town, under bridges, and even got to stop for 15 minutes to shop around a little. The tour guide recommended we check out Blue Star donuts during the stop so the family of four and myself headed there. While I liked Voodoo donuts, Blue Star donuts tasted higher end. They had artisan flavors that were really unique using quality ingredients. The price is high though – around $3.50 each.

On the bike tour, I learned things about the city – like why it’s called Stump Town. The city started as a port town and was growing so quickly that they had to cut down trees to make room. But they did a pretty crappy job and left the stumps of the trees around.

You might think the city is named Portland because of the port activity, but it’s actually because the two founders had an intense coin toss to determine who could name the city. One guy was from Boston, Massachusetts and the other was from Portland, Maine. They both wanted to name this new city after their hometowns. The guy that won the battle was from Portland, Maine so he named this city Portland as well. If that coin toss had gone the other direction, it would’ve been named Boston.

You can see the growth in Portland’s recent history by all of the high-rise condos that have gone up and are continuing to be built. They’re all close together, look modern, and have a clean look to them.

Homelessness is a big problem for the city and the homeless population is not all centralized like in L.A. Homeless people are scattered throughout the city and you can see them all the time.

Portland’s water supply was so bad way back in the day because the water from the local river was extremely polluted. Because the water made them sick, people mostly drank beer. People were always drunk, all day! Then in 1912, a businessman named Simon Benson came along and said that it was crazy and dangerous that everyone was drunk all the time. He particularly didn’t like that his workers were drunk at time lunch. To fix the problem, he gave the city $10,000 to install 20 bronze drinking fountains which gave the city fresh drinking water. You can still see them around the city today.

These are the reasons I love doing bike tours. I always learn so much history about a city in an entertaining way, that I feel connected to the place. Once the bike tour was finished, I checked out Powell Book Store. This famous bookstore is gigantic! It has multiple floors, old and new books, accessories, and has a really cool vibe. I spent a couple of hours there and bought a few books, including maps of Alaska and Canada in case I lost cell service and got lost on the next leg of my journey.

After the book store, I headed to the art museum because they had an exhibit called The Shape of Speed. The tour guide also told us that on Thursdays admission was only $5. When I went to the counter to buy my $5 ticket, I was informed the price of $5 only applied to the first Thursday of the month. Dang it. I ended up paying $20 to get in. But the series of cars on display was worth it. There was a car that looked like a version of the mini-van we know today.

The cars on display were so unique and unlike any cars I’ve seen. For example, there was an orange car that only had one wheel in the back instead of two. The back of it was narrow to accommodate only having one wheel. The plaque next to it read, “Only one prototype Airomobile was ever built. It was projected to sell for $550, when a new 1937 Ford Tudor sedan was $579. Lewis drove his three-wheeled car all over the United States to demonstrate it, completing 45,000 miles in less than a year, and averaging 43.6 mpg. But he failed to attract financial backing to put his curious car into production.”

Think about how crazy that is. If this car had gotten financial backing, this could be the style we drive around today. It made me realize that the only difference in a design being successful or not is what ends up being financially backed. All these unique artists competed and the designs that didn’t get financing disappeared. Just like that. These cars were works of art and it was an awesome experience to see them.

The next day, I went for a 6-mile hike in Forest Park. The park is only a ten-minute drive from downtown but it felt like I was deep in the forest. I only ran into a few people. This is one of the reasons I ended up really liking Portland – nature is right there and it feels secluded. The trees and greenery looked a lot like Olympic National Forest that I had hiked the week before.

The following day was a Saturday and I checked out the Saturday market – which is actually on Saturday and Sunday. It was neat to see all the little shops and booths but I’m trying really hard not to buy stuff. Souvenirs and trinkets just end up in a drawer somewhere and I’d rather have memories and picture to remember trips, not more stuff. I walked around but didn’t buy anything.

I looked on Facebook events a few days prior to see what was going on in the city for the weekend. I saw that Bill Burr was doing standup at the Keller Auditorium. His name sounded familiar so I googled him and watched a few videos. He seemed funny so I bought tickets.

I took an Uber pool to get to the theater. My driver’s name was Atnafu and he is from Ethiopia. He’s been in Portland for the last six years. He enjoys it there but said it can be hard with such rainy winters. We picked up another rider since it was an Uber pool. He is a drummer in his late 20s, from Austin, TX who plays at a piano bar. He wanted to check out Portland and asked several friends but they all backed out at the last-minute so he said, “Well, I’m going on my own then.” He had spent the last week exploring the city and was going to check out the local piano bar. Next, he said he’ll check out all the surrounding nature.

I liked that this was the second person I had met in a couple of days who was traveling alone. I wasn’t happy that they were alone, but I was happy that they didn’t let their friends stop them. Sometimes that happens. Friends bail or you don’t know anyone who can travel with you. Don’t let it stop you. Go anyway. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the experience and the people you’ll meet.

I arrived at the theater, grabbed a glass of wine, and got to my seat. Bill Burr put on a great show! The guy who did the intro for Bill was also really funny. I was getting used to going to events alone and this time it didn’t bother me. I like seeing comedy shows so that was my focus, not on being alone.

After the show, I took an Uber pool back to the hostel. I got into the front seat because there was a guy and girl in the backseat. The guy sounded like a surfer dude and had longish blonde/light brown hair. Here’s some of the conversation between these 20 somethings:

Guy: “Oh dang, I didn’t know we were picking someone up. I only did Uber pool once. I made a comment to the girl in the car about Africa being a country and she was like, ‘it’s a continent’ and I was like ‘damn, don’t be like that. I got sisters from Ethiopia.’ So I was ruined on Uber pool.”

Guy: “Whoa! What’s going on tonight? Where are all these people coming from? Dang, I have major FOMO (fear of missing out).”

Me: “Bill Burr was performing at the theater.”

Guy: “Oh, is that where you were?”

Me: “Yes, it was good.”

Guy to girl: “Dang, you should have gotten pizza. If I was high, I would’ve already had Dominos ordered.”

Guy realizes he’s more drunk than the girl.

Girl: “You had a lot more to drink than me.”

Guy to girl: “Yeah, I was keeping tabs. What? I was paying for the drinks. I had four and you only had one. Then I was like ‘Dang, am I too drunk?’”

Guy to girl: “Do you have at least 20 more minutes left in you before you fall asleep?”

Girl: “Yes”

Guy: “Can I stay the night?”

Girl: “Yes”

Guy: “I figured I could but thought it would be gentleman of me to ask. I talk a lot more than you when I’m drunk.”

We arrived at the girl’s place and the guy was on crutches, so he was struggling to get out of the car.

The driver and I laughed.

Driver: “Lol, they didn’t know I was picking someone else up. I usually drive before midnight. It’s a different crowd after midnight.”

Indeed it is.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Days 12-15: Backpacking in a Rainforest (Olympic National Park)

My friend Mandy had planned a four-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park, Washington. The plan was to hike about 14 miles to the Enchanted Valley and hike back out. Mandy’s friend, Lori, was flying to Bend, Oregon and then on July 5th, they would drive to the forest and start hiking.

Mandy told me she’d pick me up in Hood River, which is about three hours north of Bend. This worked out perfectly because I could leave my car and valuables at my friend Tracey’s house while I was backpacking.

During the last five minutes of the thirty-minute drive to Tracey’s house that morning, a warning light flashed on my dashboard warning me about low tire pressure. “You’ve got to be kidding me”, I thought. Tracey’s husband, Farron, checked all four of my tires while I unloaded my backpacking gear from my car. He found out my front drivers-side tire was low. Farron said he had an inflator and he’d check it periodically while I was away to see if it was a bigger problem.

Just after he checked the tire, Mandy and Lori pulled in the driveway in Mandy’s new Subaru Crosstrek. They made quick bathroom breaks, Tracey headed to the airport to pick up her sister and nephews, and I grabbed my gear and squeezed it into Mandy’s car. I sat in the backseat next to my backpack and it was surprisingly very comfortable and roomy.

We left around 9:30am. The drive was about five to six hours from Hood River but the time flew by.

We all talked and got to know each other better. Mandy is in her mid-30s, has short blonde hair (with part of it shaved), and is thin. She always has a huge, energetic smile on her face that shows her love of life. For work, she’s an X-Ray Technician at a hospital in Bend.

In her 20s, Mandy was a professional skater. She told us about life on the road while competing. You want to talk about pay inequality? Look at female sports. At one point, Mandy was the number-one-ranked woman’s skateboarder in the US. The top prize she ever received was $3,000. Meanwhile, the top prize for the exact same event for the male was $25,000. I couldn’t believe it when she told us. I know people’s argument for women’s sports is “but people don’t watch them.” But that is not true. Men’s sports do get more viewership, but that is because of marketing. I remember when Apolo Ohno was in the winter Olympics. There was a huge story and background. The program talked about his training and whole life story. I felt like I knew the guy and was so excited to root for him during the Olympics. If these organizations did the same story backgrounds and marketing for women as they do for men, the viewership would be there.

Mandy’s life as a professional skater seemed hard. They often had to stay at people’s houses or in vans. But sometimes kids would come up to her after recognizing her on the street and be so excited to meet her. As she told us stories of her former life, I thought, “How cool is she? How cool is it that I know her?”

Lori is in her 50s, fit, has a daughter who is in college, and has the kindest heart you’ll ever know. After I told them about my divorce and marriage of 10 years, Lori told us about her divorce several years ago. I know there are always two sides to a story, but it seems Lori got the short end of that stick. Lori is very smart and used to be an architect. During the recession, she transitioned to work for the Girl Scouts. I was a brownie for one year growing up, but never got to be a girl scout.

Mandy and Lori met a decade ago when Mandy was teaching Lori’s daughter how to skateboard as part of the Girl Scout’s program. I think it’s awesome they became friends and have been friends for a decade. Mandy only got into backpacking about two years ago – once she could afford the equipment. Lori has gone on a few backpacking trips with Mandy and different friends. They were also preparing a trip later in the summer in the Sierra mountains so this trip would be good training for them.

We pulled up to the ranger station in Olympic National Park around 2:30pm. We got in line behind a couple who was also getting a permit. While one of us waited in line, the others took turns using the restroom and buying a little coin in the little gift shop we were standing in (great for opening our bear cans). We had been in line for about 10 minutes while the couple in front of us had no cares in the world asking the ranger every possible question known to man. The ranger was also in no hurry as he volunteered unnecessary details.

While Mandy was in line, I walked over to the information board and read an entire flyer about berries. I walked back over to Mandy and said, “Dude, I read an entire flyer about berries and you haven’t even moved an inch.” We laughed at the absurdity of the couple in front of us.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, it was our turn to talk to the ranger. It cost $8 per person per night to backpack overnight. We each paid for three nights, answered a few of the ranger’s questions, and headed out.

The drive on the gravel road up to the trailhead took about 30 minutes and was already so beautiful, I knew this was going to be a great trail.

Once Mandy parked the car on the side of the road near the trailhead (there were a lot of cars there) we sorted through our stuff to make sure we had everything. Mandy recorded asking us where we were going and both Lori and I said “I don’t know. Wherever you’re going.” We laughed because Mandy had done all of the research and we couldn’t remember the name of the trail we were about to hike.

We started the hike at 4:00pm and figured we’d hike as far as we could before dark so we’d have less to hike the following day. It would also give us more time to spend in the Enchanted Valley. I’m usually the only person starting a hike this late in the day and the fact that they had no problem starting a hike this late me feel right at home.

The trail started off sort of wide. Two people could fit across and it was mostly uphill. It was so green, lush, and dense, that we kept stopping for pictures. The first campsite was three miles in so we knew we’d have to go at least that far. By “campsite”, I mean a very small flat area that has already been used for setting up a tent.

At mile three, we arrived at the campsite, which overlooked a raging blue-green river. The campsite was at least 20-30 feet above the river on a ledge. There was a fire pit that had been made and a nice log to sit on. We stopped here for a snack break. It was a beautiful campsite but there wasn’t a way down to get water at the river and we wanted to hike more than three miles, so we kept going.

The trail became narrow and only one person could fit across. There were ferns everywhere, it was very humid, and pretty hot. I almost stepped on a giant banana slug and called the girls over to look. We were all amazed at this fat, slimy slug slowly making its way down the trail.

We continued to climb and about an hour after leaving the campsite, Lori and Mandy stopped to look at something in the ferns. Right after, Lori noticed she had lost her glasses. She had them on a strap that goes around the head, but they had been hanging from her shirt instead because the humidity kept making them slide off her face. She can’t see very well without them and they were new. Because of insurance, she wouldn’t be able to get new glasses until October. She figured they fell off somewhere on the trail so she and Mandy started backtracking. I searched the area around where we had stopped but didn’t see anything. I walked back down the trail and asked two women who were setting up their tent if they had seen any glasses. They hadn’t.

Mandy and Lori backtracked a lot and after about 20 minutes, didn’t find the glasses. We decided to continue forward and we’d look again in the spot they had stopped earlier. I said a prayer in my head, “God, please let us find her glasses in the next three minutes. She needs these glasses.” We got back towards the place they had stopped and I looked down in the ferns and moved some branches with my trekking pole and found the glasses! Within two minutes. We all rejoiced that Lori could see again! It’s funny because I had looked all over there before and didn’t see anything.

Around 9:00pm and after hiking six miles, we found a campsite that would do just fine. According to the map, we should have arrived at a campsite that had a porta potty but as most maps go, the mileage was incorrect. It was starting to get dark and we were exhausted so we started to set up camp.

There wasn’t enough space for both of our tents where the fire pit was so I set my tent up about 15 feet away. It was a little scary being further away from them because there are bears in the area. Mandy gave me her whistle and said to blow it if I heard any bears and she’s come save me with the gun she brought.

Mandy started a fire, which was nice. We all cooked dinner on our stoves in the dark using headlamps. It was a fun time and we shared this amazing berry crumble dehydrated dessert that Mandy brought. I had never really brought desserts on backpacking trips before and man, it’s totally worth it! That tasted so good after a day of hiking.

When you’re in bear country, you are required to carry a bear canister. A bear canister is a locked container that a bear cannot open. You have to put all food items and items that have a scent locked inside and put it about 50 feet away from your tent. Lori grabbed her bear can so we could all walk up the hill towards the trail to place the canisters. But when she grabbed it, there was a giant banana slug making its way from the side to the top of her can! She screamed because those things are nasty. She got it off her canister with a stick but it left a slimy residue. From this point on, we were always paranoid when grabbing our bear canisters. And poor Lori. She kept dreaming that night that a banana slug would crawl into her backpack or shoe.

It was hot that night so I slept in my shorts and shirt instead of my thermals. The next morning, we made our breakfast (oatmeal and coffee), filled up water, and packed up our stuff. It took awhile so we didn’t leave camp until around 11:00am. After about a mile, we found the trail that led to the campsite with a porta potty. We hiked down a pretty steep trail for about 15 minutes and got to the porta potty, which was wooden and hidden by ferns and trees. It was so small, that I couldn’t sit down because my legs are too long and my knees hit the door. It was also full of flies and mosquitos. We just wanted a place to take a number two but that thing was incredibly disgusting.

We hiked back up the trail and continued on. It started to rain so we put our rain covers on our backpacks. It was still pretty warm so Lori and I didn’t put our jackets on. It only rained briefly and then would sprinkle here and there.

As we hiked along, we described the forest as “Jurassic” because everything was gigantic! The ferns were as tall as Mandy and Lori, the trees towered above us, and the insects were huge! It seriously looked like we were in the movie Jurassic Park. It also looked like the movie Fern Gully and since there were so many ferns, we kept referring to it as Jurassic Park and Fern Gully (complete with theme music).

The trail was mostly uphill and we were getting tired. We knew we were close to the Enchanted Valley but the map was incorrect on the mileage. It would be a nine-mile day for sure. About 30 minutes before we got to the valley, it started raining pretty hard. We continued to hike along and then came across a log bridge that only had a railing on the north side of it, was slanted to the south and was suspended very high over a raging river. I am very afraid of heights when I don’t feel stable. When I worked at Target, I wouldn’t go up more than two steps on a ladder because I’d start to shake, sweat, and freak out. I’m 6’1” so thankfully, I can usually reach most things. I did not want to cross this bridge but it was raining, I was tired and cold, and the campsite was only about half a mile away. Mandy crossed first and I followed behind her. I grabbed the side railing tightly and my glove soaked up all the rain on the ledge. I made it because I knew I had no choice but to cross.

We arrived in the valley around 4:00pm and the rain turned into a sprinkle. Clouds hovered over the mountains, it was cold, and the view made it all worth it.

After looking around for a good campsite, we chose one near the river that also had a few trees covering it. Thankfully, Mandy and Lori brought two tarps and set them up to give us a break from the rain. Shortly after we got to camp and set up the tarps, it stopped raining. There was a log to sit on and a fire pit. We put on our pants and jackets, and sat on the log to rest and eat some quick snacks.

We sat on the wet log and admired the view of the steep mountain in front of us with clouds covering the top and swirling around. There were also pockets of snow in the crevasses across the river on the mountain. Shortly after eating our snacks, it started raining again so we got under the tarps. There was nowhere to sit over there so we sat on our bear canisters.

Mandy and Lori set up their tent (mine was already set up) and then we all made dinner. It was fun to sit under the tarp with rain coming down, in the cold. It felt like a true adventure. For dessert, we shared a crème Brule dehydrated meal that I brought. It was also delicious and I cannot recommend bringing desserts on backpacking trip enough.

We headed to bed once it started getting dark around 10:00 pm. I ventured to the porta potty about a quarter-mile away, which proved to be a mistake. The tall grass on the sides of the trail got my pants all wet and the porta potty was super small and just terrible.

Mandy and Lori’s tent was under the tarp but my tent was getting directly rained on. My tent is a very small two-person tent. I can only sit up if I’m directly in the center of it. I figured as long as I didn’t touch the sides, it should keep the rain out. It did very well in the rain, but in the morning, it was still raining and every once in a while, a drop of water would fall directly on my face and wake me up. Other times, mist sprayed my face. I was very confused as to where this water was coming from. It was also cold that night, probably in the 40s, so I used my thermals.

Finally, around 9:00 am, it stopped raining and we got out of our tents. I realized the water hitting my face was from the condensation that had built up in my tent. When rain on the outside would get too heavy, or a big drop would fall, it would knock the condensation on the inside of my tent to drop a droplet of water on me or spray a mist.

Mandy really wanted to fish so she grabbed her pole and attempted to get some fish in the river while Lori and I ate breakfast. Mandy caught a very tiny fish so she put it back. We’re not sure there were actually any fish in there that were any bigger.

The sun came out and we took advantage of being able to lay our tents and clothes out so they could dry off. It only took about an hour to dry things off so we could pack it all up. We packed up and headed out just before noon. The day was clearer, giving us even better views of the valley.

We came to that high bridge again and I started to freak out. I didn’t think I could cross now that I knew it was coming. Mandy crossed and waited for me on the other side but I struggled to get myself to do it. Lori and Mandy told me not to look at the fast-flowing river below and instead just look straight across to the other side. I tried that but twice I looked down to make sure my feet were actually on the log and I wouldn’t slip off. Those brief glances down made me dizzy because I couldn’t not see the river. The movement of it made my head spin and I started sweating. I was in the middle and realized I had to finish so I took a deep breath and keep walking, trying my best not to look down. I made it and then Lori crossed it too. That is one of the scariest bridges I’ve ever crossed.

We continued to hike back to the trailhead, in the direction we came. The day was beautiful. It was warm with a cool breeze. We had funny conversations, crossed other small streams, passed huge fallen trees, ate all sorts of berries growing along the trail, and even saw bears! We had heard what we thought was a bear making a grunting noise above the trail and stood around to see if we could see the bear but we couldn’t see it. However, about 20 minutes later when we were in a valley area, we saw a small black bear foraging in the forest about 200 feet from us. Shortly after, we saw another one. He looked up at us, and then went back to foraging. See, black bears are scavengers. They’ll go for easy food, but generally are afraid of humans.

A couple of hours later, we saw a strange-looking bird that looked like he had a huge hole in his neck. He was making that extremely loud grunting sound, which made us realize it was not a bear that first time, it was this bird. It was a Blue Grouse and that was his mating call. We ended up seeing and hearing a few more. I mimicked their call and got pretty good at it and they seemed to think I was also a Blue Grouse. Later, we saw a female and she did not have the huge hole in her neck and I think I serenaded her pretty well with my call.

We set up camp very close to where we camped the first night, but this time we were close to each other, and had more seclusion from the trail. Mandy and Lori fished for a bit but didn’t catch anything.

I went to scope up water in the river into my water filter bag and the rocks were so slippery, that my foot slide into the river and I dropped to my knee. It hurt so bad because the bone on my left knee hit directly onto a rock. I put a band-aid on it because it was slightly bleeding. It was mostly just swelling up and was really painful. The next day hiking out, I could feel that knee hurting with each step.

I gathered some firewood but it was too wet and Lori and I couldn’t get a fire started. Mandy saved the day and got it to light and it burned for a little while (although she had to keep grabbing more small twigs).

We ate dinner, shared another dessert – seriously best thing during backpacking. We checked our bear canisters for slugs and got eaten by mosquitoes. Especially Lori. In the morning, she found bites all over her. It looked painful.

We headed back to the trailhead, which was six miles away. As we got closer, we saw more people hiking in for a small day hike. It was warm and humid again.

We arrived back at the trailhead around 1:00pm after hiking a total of 30 miles in four days. There was a large group of people in the parking lot preparing for their hike. Over ten rented beer canisters were spread out on a tarp with little piles of food. They had huge bags of pasta and I couldn’t imagine lugging that around.

We stopped at the ranger station to use the restrooms on our way out and then we hit the road. It would be a long drive back (about five to six hours to Hood River and nine hours to Bend). I didn’t realize how tired I was – I fell asleep in the backseat almost immediately. After about an hour, Lori was trying to find a place to eat on Yelp, but there was nothing around. Just farms. Mandy was really craving sushi because Bend doesn’t have any good sushi there. We decided we’d stop in Portland and get sushi there. We didn’t arrive until around 5:30pm but it was delicious sushi. Yes, we went to a nice sit-down restaurant after not showering for four days and being full of dirt and sweat. Don’t judge.

We arrived back to Hood River around 8:30pm so I could get my car. Mandy and Lori headed off to Bend and I talked with Tracey for a bit about the trip. She also let me know that she and her husband put air in my tire twice but it kept deflating so I’d need to get it checked it out (but it would get me to Portland, an hour away). She also said they couldn’t get my passenger side window to roll up. Great. I was having problems with that window before I left Los Angeles but the dealership supposedly fixed it. After juggling with the buttons several times, I got it to roll up but I’d have to get it checked out.

I headed to a suburb of Portland because I couldn’t check into the hostel until the following day. I drove through the gorge as the sun was setting and it was picture perfect and my heart felt full.

I had wanted to go backpacking in Washington but didn’t feel comfortable going alone. I was so glad I went with Mandy and Lori. We had great conversations, laughed a ton, and the scenery was unreal. I am grateful that God put them in my life and everything worked out perfectly. They were able to pick me up and drop me off on their way from Bend. I was able to leave my car at Tracey’s house so my valuables were protected. Tracey and her husband were able to help with my tire situation. Mandy planned the whole trip so all I had to do was go along. This was exactly what I needed. I had been mostly alone during my travels and spending four days with these wonderful women made me feel whole.

Click here to watch a 5 minute video of the trip!

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