Days 81-82: Highway of Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 76-77: Hitchhikers and Border Crossings

One of the crazy things about Alaska is that aside from a couple of main highways, there aren’t roads on the coast. To get to a lot of cities, you need to fly, take a boat, or take a snowmobile in the winter. In order to take my car on the ferry from Alaska to Canada, I needed to catch the ferry in Haines, Alaska to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Haines is southwest of Anchorage and is on the coast. It would make sense to take a road along the coast and go directly to Haines, but there’s not a road.  I had to drive northeast to Tok, Alaska and go back into Canada through the Yukon, British Columbia, and then back into Alaska again for a total of 750 miles.

I left Tok, Alaska after spending some time with my Airbnb hostel host. The small town is only about 20 miles from the Canadian border.

Pulling up to the border gate always makes me nervous, especially after having my car searched the first time I went into Canada. I pulled up to the booth right away since there weren’t any other cars. I handed my passport to a woman in the booth. She was serious and strict and asked me rapid-fire questions.

“Where do you live?” Los Angeles
“What are you doing here?” I drove the Alaska highway. I am on my way to Haines to catch the ferry to Prince Rupert.
“How long have you been traveling?” About six weeks?
“You have that much time off of work?” Yes
“Voluntary or involuntary?” Voluntary
“Are you staying in your car?” No, motels and Airbnbs
“Do you have any weapons?” No

I got through the border and stopped at the border signs again. It had been less than a month, but the leaves were quickly changing into fall colors.

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img_6992I was happy to be back in Canada. The Yukon and British Columbia are breathtaking, untouched, and there’s something about it that made me feel like I belonged there.

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I was getting tired from the drive. It’s common to drive two-three hours without seeing any sort of building, including gas stations. Finally, I was pulling up to a small town and saw a sign for the Kluane Museum of History. I pulled over because I needed to wake up. The cold wind tousled my hair as I ran inside. The temperature had ranged from 46-52 all day. The museum was small and there was only one other person  looking around. It focused on the animals that live in the north and I enjoyed reading about them.

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I continued driving and stopped occasionally to take in the view. At around 7:00 pm, I pulled into a gas station that was just off of a lake in the middle of nowhere at Destruction Bay. It had a restaurant and a motel attached to it. I was really tired and looked online at reviews of the motel. It was just ok and was pricey for a lower quality place, but it was the only place to sleep for the next couple of hours. I considered staying in Haines Junction a couple hours away, but there weren’t many rooms available.

I decided to stay the night at the Talbot Arm motel attached to the gas station so I could relax. I was elated when I realized the price tag of $110 a night was Canadian and it would only cost me $83 US dollars. I ate dinner at the restaurant attached to the gas station and enjoyed the view of the lake across the highway. While eating dinner, I booked a hotel in Haines, Alaska for the following night and a hotel in Prince Rupert, British Columbia the night my ferry would arrive.

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The next morning it was drizzling outside and only 43 at 11:00 am, so I turned on my seat warmers and hit the road. I was happy to have empty roads again. There’s no stress with cars tailgating and no urgency when nobody is around.

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The Yukon is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. The road winds its way through giant mountains and lakes, surrounded by vibrant, bright colors. At one point, I saw a grizzly bear on the side of the road and pulled to the shoulder with several other cars to watch as he foraged for food. I watched him for about 15 minutes and he didn’t seem to care that we were all just quietly hanging out.

I arrived in Haines Junction and stopped at the same gas station I had on my way north. I paid $8.35 for a latte and a packet of mini donuts again. Sometimes my road trip food is similar to my road trip food in college.

This time, I headed south towards Haines. I turned off my GPS as I would be following the same road for the next 147 miles. I entered into British Columbia and couldn’t believe that the views could get even better! My words can’t do it justice, so I will provide pictures instead.

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A few miles before the US border going back into Alaska, I saw a man and a woman toting backpacks on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. I pulled over and they told me they were from Luxembourg. The car that was parked just up the road in a small gravel lot was their rental car. They were told by the rental company they could not take the car into the US. When they asked at the border, the Canadians told them the GPS would recognize the car and they recommended they park it up the road and hitchhike.

I questioned them a lot before I decided to take them. Giving a ride to a fellow backpacker is one thing. Bringing unknown foreigners into the US is another story. They assured me they were legit, not criminals, and did not have drugs on them (just a bottle of wine). The couple was backpacking for a month in Canada. They had booked a day-long ferry from Haines to Juneau, and would return to their car in a couple of days.

They seemed like nice people, so I decided to give them a ride. However, I had been traveling for almost three months and my car was starting to get disorganized. I apologized as I moved stuff around so they and their backpacks would fit.

The couple appeared to be in their late 20s to early 30s. Within five minutes we arrived to the border. I was afraid and didn’t know what to say if the guy asked me how I know them. Thankfully, he asked us little questions. He made me sign my passport because apparently it wasn’t signed. For the couple, they needed to each pay a $6 permit fee. They didn’t have American money so the border agent said they needed to go inside to use their credit card. I pulled over and they hesitated leaving their backpacks in my car and said, “Please don’t leave us!”I went inside to use the restroom and also so they wouldn’t think I was going through their stuff.

When they returned to my car, they were speaking in their language and laughed. Then they told me, “We were just saying that’s how you got all of this stuff in your car. You pick up hitchhikers and then drive away with their stuff!” I laughed and said they were on to me.

It took about 30 minutes to get to their hostel. They were splurging by staying in a hostel that night instead of their tent. I offered them a coke and the guy seemed very happy to have one. The couple told me it was scary camping in Canada and Alaska because of all of the bears. The guy was wearing a shirt that said “Norway” and we talked about how much we love it there. They explained that camping in Norway was so different because they killed all of the bears and wolves. Canada and Alaska are more wild.

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The couple thanked me for picking them up and said they had been there for awhile because not many cars drove by and the ones that did, didn’t stop. They tried their best to look un-menacing by doing things like hanging their bright red crocks on their packs. It worked because I did feel safer that they were backpackers, not just random hitchhikers.

I dropped the couple off at their hostel that was a couple miles from the highway. They were very grateful and said, “You’ll get a lot of good karma for this!” After they got out of the car, I realized I never asked their name. I have a serious problem remembering to ask.

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I arrived to my hotel in Haines and was thrilled to have a nicer hotel with a kitchenette. The time zone changed back to Alaska time (an hour behind the Pacific Time Zone), which made no sense considering geographically that part of Alaska is further east of the Yukon.

It had warmed up to 65 and I walked across the street to a little shop and got a shirt representing my adventures in Alaska. I walked around their cute little Main Street and ate an elk burger pizza before heading back to my hotel to prepare for my 36-hour ferry ride the following morning.

I had been looking forward to the ferry for several weeks. I would be sleeping on the deck as I opted not to get a room, so I needed to make sure my backpack had what I needed. I enjoyed the plush mattress knowing it would be 48 hours before I had a bed again.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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