Day 227: Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand around 8:00 am. I was curtly ushered towards customs. “Wrong. Walk around.” I was a little intimidated to be in a country where I did not speak the language and I tried hard to navigate the airport effectively.

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I arrived at the baggage carousel and found my bag with the two clear plastic bags draped loosely around it. The attendants in Osaka, Japan did their best to keep my items inside after the luggage handlers had ripped both zippers and the lock off of my bag. Unfortunately, my items were starting to spill out. I ended up losing my sunglasses in that debacle.

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After getting my luggage and getting through customs, I headed to a booth that sold local SIM cards. Everything is on my phone and my AT&T plan cost an extra $10 a day for international use (in addition to my $85/month bill). I would be in Thailand for 30 days, so that wouldn’t be cost effective. Instead, I opted to get a local Thai SIM card.

The two young women at the booth were busy as they swapped out SIM cards for other travelers. When it was my turn, one girl grabbed my phone and quickly went through the prompts, which were all in Thai. The SIM card was cheap – around $10 USD for 15 GB of data. They only took cash so I quickly walked over to the ATM.

I needed to get to my hotel and there was a booth offering shuttle and taxi rides. I paid the $11 USD and got into a taxi. I didn’t realize they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. I talked with the taxi driver until he said his English was “just ok, but you talk very fast.”

I arrived at the hotel around 9:30 am and hoped to check in since I had gotten less than three hours of sleep in the last 32 hours of travel. Chiang Mai is 14 hours ahead of Los Angeles, which makes the jet lag pretty rough. I only got about four hours of sleep the night prior to leaving Los Angeles, so I was feeling incredibly sleep deprived. Since it was the Chinese New Year, all of their rooms were fully booked. The front desk informed me that I wouldn’t be able to check in until the afternoon.

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I walked to the outdoor restroom by the pool, put in my contacts, left my luggage at the front, and started walking. I decided I should get my nails done because they were in bad shape and I thought it would be much cheaper to have them done in Thailand than in the U.S.

I wandered through the narrow streets that didn’t have sidewalks. Cars and motorbikes zipped by me at rapid speeds. Following Apple Maps, I wandered through narrow alleyways, checking out the back of houses, their fences, and clothes drying on lines.

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It was a cool 68℉ with a real feel of 71℉. I finally found the nail salon, but it was closed due to the holiday. I continued to wander around and ended up at a river. The beautiful trees and flowers shimmered in the bright sunlight. I walked along the path and crossed a bridge to the city center.

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I found a coffee shop on the other side. The air was getting warmer by the minute and I was starting to regret wearing my mid-length jeans. I stopped inside, bought a cold coffee drink, and relaxed on a couch under the air conditioner. I was starting to feel tired, so I got up and continued to walk around. I found an outdoor market selling belts, souvenirs, scarfs, elephant pants, etc.

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I ended up walking to an inside part of the market. It was huge and had fresh foods. On the upper level, I found a merchant selling luggage. It was the perfect time to buy a new bag since mine was completely ruined. I debated whether or not I should continue with a duffle bag or get a suitcase. The duffle bags were small and I was afraid it wouldn’t be sturdy enough for my long-term travels. I didn’t want to lug around a suitcase, but it would be sturdier (or so I thought-spoiler alert). The suitcase was priced at $1,300 Baht, but I talked the saleswoman down to $1,100 Baht ($35 USD).

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I rolled my empty suitcase behind me as I headed back outside. It was now lunchtime and food vendors were starting to put small tables and chairs in the middle of the walkway. I picked out four pieces of sushi at one vendor and some noodles at another. Each one only cost me $0.60 USD.

I was annoyed by my suitcase as I continued walking around the market. It was getting hot outside (it was now 84℉ with a real feel of 92℉) and I was wondering where all the tourists were.

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I found another nail salon on Apple Maps that was on the way to my hotel. I walked for another 20 minutes, dragging my suitcase along with me on the sides of narrow streets, hoping a car wouldn’t hit me. I made it to the small nail salon that was attached to a hotel. I walked inside and the woman across the hall in the hotel front desk came running over. She said she could give me a mani/pedi for $14 USD, but she didn’t have gel so it would just be regular polish.

Exhausted, I agreed. She turned on the air conditioning unit when she saw how hot I was. The woman started with a pedicure and put my feet into a small shallow glass bowl. My feet are large (I wear size 12), so they didn’t quite fit. I didn’t care. I was extremely exhausted. The heat, lack of sleep, and jet lag made me fall asleep in the chair. I would occasionally wake up – startled and wondering where I was. I would look at the woman who smiled and slightly laughed. Then I’d fall right back asleep. She must have thought I was so strange, but I was exhausted enough not to care.

After my mani/pedi, I walked back to my hotel. I could now check-in and I desperately wanted to curl up in bed. I got my bags and the front desk staff looked at me funny as I carried my new suitcase upstairs. The room was huge! I thought about sitting at the enticing pool, but I feared I would burn as I snoozed. Instead, I passed out on the bed for two hours.

When I woke up, it was time for dinner. I was still exhausted and could have easily continued to sleep, but I forced myself to get up in an attempt to get acclimated to the new time zone. I found a dinner restaurant online that was just a short 10 minute walk from my hotel on the riverfront. When I arrived, they seated me outside by a pool surrounded by beanbags and tables. Beautiful string lights were hanging above, making it a perfect romantic spot for dinner.

The server didn’t speak much English, so we communicated through pointing. She put a bottle of bug spray on the table, but it was such a nice night I didn’t even need it. I ordered Pad Thai, one of my favorite foods, and enjoyed the evening.

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On my walk back to the hotel, I searched for convenient stores so I could buy some water. After a few attempts, I gave up and walked back to my hotel. I had taken off my belt during my nap and my jeans were now falling down. I took a shower and crashed hard that night.  

The following morning, I ate breakfast at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel. The waiter seemed surprised to see I was alone and since I had two vouchers for food, he kept trying to give me two meals. Great. It’s not embarrassing at all to be alone, with two meals at your table.

As I sat at my table waiting for my multiple plates of food, Facebook reminded me of a video I had shared in 2014. It was a video they had created of a montage of pictures over the years. Almost every picture involved Aaron from a life that no longer exists.

I hate wasting food, so I almost ate two full breakfasts. I went back to my room to pack my bags. I needed to get a taxi to another hotel where I’d start my REI Adventures trip. This would involve hiking and biking across northern Thailand and I couldn’t wait! There were 15 people signed up for the tour and I was excited to see who I would be spending the next nine days with.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 196-222: Life in Missouri

Once my pounding spinal tap headache was gone, I tried to develop a routine with writing and working out, while figuring out where I’d travel to next. The thing is, I hadn’t been back “home” at my parents house in more than 15 years. My sister, her husband, and two children (aged 11 and 14) were temporarily living in my parents’ basement while they were building a house on some land they had purchased.

My parents have one dog and one cat. I had brought my cat from Los Angeles, who needed to be sequestered for a while because she wasn’t used to being around other animals. My sister brought her three dogs with her (two that are huge). It felt like a small animal farm.

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For my whole adult life, I’ve either lived alone or I’ve lived with one other person (roommate or husband). I’ve never owned a dog. I like to pet and play with dogs, but I do not like to take care of them and I don’t like all of the problems they can create. One day in early January, my brother-in-law’s dog Maximus (a Rottweiler) walked into my room and started to eat one of the only souvenirs I’ve purchased. It was a block of wood from Whistler (my favorite city) that was locally made and said “Wild + Free.” My sister grabbed it from his mouth, but Maximus had already ruined it.

I was extremely upset. I have always valued my personal space and I felt violated. I immediately went on my laptop and started looking at new destinations. I found a hiking and biking tour in Thailand for nine days through REI Adventures. I had gone on an REI Adventures trip to Norway in 2017 and I loved it. The tours are expensive, but they include everything you need except  airfare.

I planned on going to Thailand at some point in my travels, but I was nervous because I’ve never been to Asia and I don’t speak any of the languages. I figured starting with a tour guide would help me to learn the basics and feel more comfortable traveling on my own. I hit the purchase button and waited for confirmation.

A few days later, I received an email that my space was confirmed! I had a couple of weeks to get plane tickets, figure out what I needed to bring, and book some hotels. I spent days researching things like how to get around without a car. Sometimes it felt overwhelming. Knowing I only had a few weeks left in Missouri, I tried to spend my time wisely.

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Logistics

I made a couple of trips to REI to buy some things that would be useful for the trip, like bike shorts and bike gloves. I also had to sort through my backpacks and decide which one would be best to bring.

My California license was expiring and they were requiring me to go into the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV), the most dreaded place. The California DMV has always taken three hours. They are also notoriously rude and unhelpful. Since I was in Missouri, I couldn’t go to the California DMV, so I decided to get a Missouri license. I’ve also been using my parent’s address since I don’t currently have an address.

I went to the Missouri DMV without an appointment and only waited 20 minutes. I was called up, took a quick eye exam, gave the woman my paperwork, and five minutes later, I was out of there. Missouri may not be as exciting as California, but they are certainly more efficient!

I also needed to switch my car insurance from California to Missouri since my car would be behind while I traveled overseas. I was extremely happy when the price for insurance was half of what I was paying in California. It was so cheap, I was even able to upgrade my coverage for a very small amount.

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Doctor Appointments

My sister Amy is a holistic chiropractor who looks for the root cause of a problem. She has a practice called The Center for Natural Health and patients have seen amazing results from her. She agreed to see me a few times a week in her office, which was very generous. I was finally there long enough for her to get some work done. Amy helped me to start feeling better, so I took her out to dinner as a “thank-you.” I also got a couple more massages from the massage therapist, which were great.

The other nice thing about Missouri is the wait times at doctors’ offices. I was able to get an 8:00 am monday morning appointment at the ophthalmologist with only a week notice. My mom sees the doctor and recommended him. I was still having blurry vision and still didn’t know if I needed to follow up with a neurologist.

The doctor was in his 60s, was friendly, and I told him all about the hole in my retina in June, the fuzzy optical nerves on the scan, and the spinal tap. He turned off the lights and stared into my eyes with a magnifying glass. He confirmed that he saw the hole and the repair that my doctor in Los Angeles had done.

The doctor backed up and said, “Well, the good news is that I don’t think you need to see a neurologist. The bad news is that your eyes are much older than your stated age.” He went on to explain that I have Vitreous Detachment. The vitreous is the gel that fills the back of the eye from the retina. As we age, the gel turns to liquid and millions of fibers break and separate from the retina. The main concern when this happens is the retina will detach.

My vitreous gel has liquified, which is why I got the hole in my retina in June. Thankfully, they caught it before the retina detached and they repaired the hole. Unfortunately, my gel has rapidly turned to fluid and the millions of fiber that have detached have caused a lot of floaters. According to this site, it “usually affects people over age 50, and is very common after age 80.” I was 38 when the doctor was telling me about this.

I was upset because this has been the story of my adulthood, getting diseases that usually affect those decades older than me. It’s also led to frustration as I’ve gone to doctor after doctor because they never suspect that I could have these diseases. For example, I had two parathyroid tumors removed in 2016 after seeing doctors for seven years. Most patients who get them are over 50, and typically over 70.

I asked the doctor what I can do about the floaters. Sometimes it’s not bad and I barely notice them. Other times, I can’t stop thinking about them because I have a hard time seeing without blinking and moving my eyes a lot. The last few months at my job, I had a hard time seeing screens in meetings. The doctor told me there isn’t anything they can do and hopefully over time, they’ll settle towards the bottom or I’ll get used to them.

I was disappointed to hear this, but I was glad that I didn’t need to see a neurologist. On my way out, the doctor said, “If your retina detaches, you need to call me immediately and come in so I can repair it.” I explained to him that I was about to leave for Thailand. He said, “Well, you’ve already had the hole and it’s already liquified so you likely won’t get a detached retina.” Great.

Investment

I had been wanting to invest some of the money from the sale of my house, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I looked at houses in downtown St. Charles, Missouri because there is a cute Main Street and a University there. I thought it would be a great place to put a house on Airbnb. Plus, I had furniture for two bedrooms in my storage unit in Los Angeles. I was paying $240 per month for a small unit because everything is expensive there. This would allow me to stop paying storage fees. Plus, I’d have somewhere to live when I needed it.

To get financing, I sent in all the needed paperwork to a finance guy and within a day, I was approved. I looked a few properties, but there was hardly anything on the market for sale. It was cold and snowy outside, which means people aren’t listing their houses as often.

Before I left, I set some things up so my parents could sign for me if a property came up that I liked. My realtor and friend Trudy, my sister, and my parents have been great at looking at properties for me while I’ve been away. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything yet.

Family and Friends

I had some time to hang out with family and friends while I was in Missouri. My sister Amy, my mom, and I watched the entire series of Game of Thrones to get ready for the new season. I was able to get some Thailand research done while watching the series and it was great watching it with them. We could talk about things we had missed when we first watched the show and theories about what we thought would happen in the future.

One day the weather was great and we went for a hike with the dogs. Taking four dogs on a hike is a challenge, let me tell you. They battle over who is at the lead. I’ll stick to being a cat owner.

One weekend we got more than a foot of snow! We drove to my sister’s land which was an empty lot and we played around in the snow. I built a snow-woman and Amy built a snowman. My dad built a huge snow fort. I helped to make snowballs so the fort was loaded for battle. It was such a fun time!

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My second cousin Kirsten, her husband, and two young daughters were headed to Nashville from Minnesota and stopped to hang out for a couple of days. Because of the snow, we all hunkered down and relaxed. It was fun getting to know them better. We don’t get to see them a lot outside of weddings and family reunions. This was a chance to spend quality time together.

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My friends Melanie and Laurie met me twice for dinner. We went to youth group together in high school. It was great to catch up without having to rush. Normally, I have such a limited time in Missouri that I don’t get a chance to see people outside of my family. They were encouraging about my upcoming travels and made me laugh as I told them about Tinder.

I went to my brother’s house one night and watched a movie with him and my nephews. I also watched my nephews who are in high school play some video games, which was entertaining for them.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a busy time in Missouri as I worked out at the gym, went to doctor appointments, got things done with my car, and saw family and friends. It was great to unload my car and get it cleaned. I felt prepared for my trip to Thailand and I could stay for 30 days without needing a visa. I planned to go to Vietnam next and stay for 30 days there as well. I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d go after that.

I packed up my duffle bag and small carry-on bag. I also had a medium sized backpack for hiking and biking. I was disappointed that I had so much luggage, but traveling for several months and needing clothes for hot and cold temperatures meant I needed it all. My medications and daily use contacts also took up a lot of space.

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I said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. I was flying to Los Angeles first for two days. I needed to give my tax accountant my documents for the tax year so she could complete them in time for filing in April. It would also give me a chance to see a couple of friends. I spent almost six weeks in Lake Saint Louis and it flew by. It was great to see people, but I was ready for my next adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 178-182: Family and Friends Across the USA

I left Idaho Falls, Idaho just after 1:00 pm and headed towards Denver, Colorado. I knew I wouldn’t make it there that day because it was too far. I decided to drive until I was tired and then find a place to stay.

I drove through Idaho and southwest Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of ranches and mountains. It was December 19th, so the snow was on the top of the mountains, but the lower elevations were clear.

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The first parts were dry desert mountains, but then it progressively became more mountainous and green. I imagined the drive must be incredible in the summer.

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I had been nervous about driving to Missouri in December, knowing I’d have to go over the mountains. I drove around lakes, stopping to take pictures. I was enjoying the drive immensely because the roads were clear.

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Suddenly, it began snowing lightly and the roads were no longer clear and dry. As I continued to climb the mountains, I tightly gripped my steering wheel, fearing I’d slide off the road. I lowered my speed because I’m not used to driving in snow. I was happy that I had my Subaru Outback and my new tires handled the road well.

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I planned on checking out Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming at some point during my travels and I was bummed I had to quickly pass through to make it to Missouri by Christmas. I knew I’d be back again one day though, hopefully when the weather is a little better.

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After driving for almost five hours, I decided to stop in Rocks Springs, Wyoming. I pulled into a parking lot and booked a place on Orbitz. However, when I pulled in, the place looked creepy, old, dark, and vacant. I found the lobby across the street and went inside. I asked the guy at the front desk why it was so dark across the street at the motel. He said someone must have forgotten to turn on the lights.

I was getting the creeps from the place and he said I needed to pay because Orbitz didn’t collect my money yet. Relieved since Orbitz usually charges me a non-refundable charge right away, I asked if I could cancel since I hadn’t paid yet. The guy told me I could cancel, so I left. I booked an okay room at a Best Western for more money, but it was better than the seemingly abandoned motel I had just escaped.

The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast down the street and hit the road. The wind gusts through Wyoming were crazy strong. There were digital displays on the highway with warnings about the gusts, 60 MPH+, so I went a little slower through some parts. I was worried about my rooftop storage unit.

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The drive was flat until I hit Colorado. It was strange because western Wyoming was beautiful and full of mountains, but the middle and driving south was flat and windy.

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Once I entered Colorado, the skies turned blue and the sun was shining. I was staying the night at my second cousin John’s house, but I wanted to meet up with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim who live about 20 minutes from John. I met them for a beer and it was great catching them up on my recent travels. I had stayed with them four months prior when I flew out for their son’s wedding.

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We had a great time laughing and hanging out, but I needed to get to John’s house. I arrived and we headed to dinner. John, his wife Lori, and I went to Roadhouse Grill and ate way too much for dinner. It was so delicious and I had a lot of fun with them, but my stomach started to hurt. We went back to their house and I immediately put on my PJ’s.

In the morning, I left to drive to Colorado Springs (about an hour away) to see my friend, Mandy. She wasn’t available until the afternoon, but my second cousin Susie works in Colorado Springs, so we agreed to meet for breakfast.

We had a great breakfast at a cafe and then shopped at the mall for a bit. Since it was just before Christmas, she had some time off work, but had errands to run at the mall. I had zero gifts and Christmas only a few days away.

After the mall, I stopped at Mandy’s house. Mandy and I met in the 5th grade when we both lived in Canon City, Colorado. She was my best friend for the three years that I lived there and we had some unforgettable adventures. I moved back to Missouri right before 8th grade, but we stayed in touch. Sometimes we’ve gone a few years without seeing each other, but when we see each other, it’s like no time has passed.

We stayed in touch by phone and text, but sometimes we’ve gone a year without talking. It’s so funny though, because it’s never awkward when we see or talk to each other again.

When I arrived around 2:00 pm, Mandy was getting the house ready for a Christmas party she and her husband Chris were throwing for their friends. She asked me to stay, but I told her I needed to make more progress that day and would probably stay the night somewhere in Kansas.

Mandy was painting her nails and offered to paint mine too while we drank some wine. She had started to edit my blog for me the past couple of months and I was catching her up on more recent things since my blog has been behind.

Mandy knew what she was doing with the nails and wine. She convinced me to stay for the party and stay the night at her house. I didn’t have a hotel booked and thought I could still make it to Missouri by Christmas. I was really enjoying the nomad life.  

Mandy’s friends started to arrive and it was so great to meet them. I hadn’t met any of Mandy’s friends over the years because when we’d see each other, it’s mostly been for a brief period of time. This time I was able to spend a few hours catching up with her and then the party began.

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Mandy used to be a Grant Writer for several non-profit organizations and after a decade of doing that, she’s taking a brave step by joining the police department in the hopes of eventually becoming a detective. Her husband, Chris, is a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office. There were a lot of lawyers and some very smart people at the party. They were a blast to get to know and were all very welcoming.

People asked how I knew Mandy and I couldn’t resist telling them about our adventures growing up. We used to sneak out of her mom’s house in the middle of the night to ride our bicycles down the old Main Street and pretend we were cars. We were also entrepreneurs and created our own restaurant called “Le Fancy Feast” and turned my mom’s kitchen into a full-on restaurant in the middle of the night.

Mandy was always the daredevil and I was the worry-wart. I would caution her and another friend about the crazy shenanigans they seemed to always get themselves into – like tubing down a drainage ditch and almost getting sucked under the road. It turns out my worrying was often justified.

After everyone left the party, Mandy, Chris, and I stayed up talking about politics. We often don’t agree, but I respect their views and we were able to have good discussions. Sometimes it was a little heated because we can be honest with each other. But in the end, we had a productive conversation until 3:30 am, when we realized we needed to get to bed.

I left Mandy’s house at 11:30 am and as I loaded my car, it started to snow. I hurried so I wouldn’t get stuck in it. After a couple of hours, the snow stopped.

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I drove through eastern Colorado and into Kansas. Growing up in both Missouri and Colorado, I’ve done that drive many times. The drive through Kansas is one of the worst drives in America. It’s eight hours of a flat highway with nothing around.

I was exhausted and it was dark, so I stopped in Salina, Kansas. I booked a room at Days Inn and walked across the street to IHOP for dinner. I was exhausted from driving about six hours and still had another full day of driving ahead of me.

The next morning, I continued through Kansas. It would be another six hours of drive-time to Lake Saint Louis, where my family lives. The drive was painfully boring. I amused myself by listening to Kansas on my satellite radio while driving through Kansas.

Once I hit Kansas City, the drive was familiar. I went to college at the University of Central Missouri, which is near Kansas City. I hadn’t driven that route in more than  a decade. I was tempted to drive the extra 30 minutes to my old stomping grounds to see what’s changed, but nothing would be open.

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After making a couple of food and bathroom stops, I arrived in Lake Saint Louis at 5:00 pm on December 23rd. I made it in time for Christmas! It was a surreal feeling being back. I hadn’t driven my own car there since I moved away in 2003. I had only been back to visit on holidays or vacation. This time, I didn’t have an end date.

I went to dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. I was exhausted, but I was happy to see them. I was also happy to have a break. It had been six months of travel and I had driven more than 15,000 miles. I needed some time to figure out where I was going next. The possibilities were endless…

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 175: Leaving Whistler with a Bang!

After spending six weeks in Whistler, it was time to leave. As I packed, I reflected on my time there and all the things I did:

  • I wrote a lot, oftentimes sitting in a reading nook, peering out the window. A few times, I was able to watch the snow fall.

I settled in, bought groceries and cooked. I even joined a gym while I was there.

  • I watched fall transition to winter, and enjoyed taking in all of the changes during walks in the forest and around town.

I took the bus to town and got to know some locals. I even took advantage of locals’ only discounts!

  • I cleared more than eight inches of snow off my car a few times, drove in the snow, and scraped ice off my gas tank so I could add gas.
  • I met a few guys. Each one helped me learn what I want and don’t want in a relationship.
  • I sat at bars alone, often times listening to live music. Sometimes I felt lonely, but I made myself get out and about anyway.
  • I attended a wine festival and a film festival.
  • I went snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

I did a beer tour tour, a nightclub crawl, and went to a vodka freezer.

  • I went to game nights, pub trivia, and bar bingo.
  • I made several new friends.

I very much enjoyed my time in Whistler and could see myself living there someday. I don’t get that vibe often with places. I don’t know where I’ll end up living, but Whistler is on my list of possibilities.

Before I left Whistler, I wanted to give a letter to Josh, who I had met right after Thanksgiving. When I dropped Josh off after spending 16 hours together, I didn’t know his last name or phone number and I had hoped he would reach out to me. I was 99% sure I’d never hear from him, which made me bummed. I wrote him a letter telling him how I felt because I’m tired of living life afraid – afraid to be me, afraid of rejection, and afraid of being vulnerable. I knew he worked at a fine dining Italian restaurant, but I couldn’t remember which one so I held onto the letter until I could figure it out. Before I left town, I planned on walking into his restaurant, handing him the letter, and walking out.

When I got sushi with my new friend Brittany, she connected me to a Whistler Facebook group. I found Josh on the group and felt relieved that I at least knew his last name and had a way of contacting him. One night at bar bingo, my new friend Saya convinced me to send Josh a message on Facebook. I thought I had seen him at the bar, but the guy disappeared. After a few drinks, I decided it was a good idea.

Of course, my message was lame (what did you expect?) and I said, “Are you around?” This was after not seeing or talking to him for two weeks. I had become accustomed to guys either not responding, responding very late, or responding in a disrespectful way after online dating. I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back within 15 minutes. We conversed about the weather and how the snow was great. He said now that it was snowing, he was waking up very early every morning to ski. He told me which restaurant he worked at, so I was happy that I could give him my letter.

It was my last day in Whistler and after snowmobiling, I showered, ate dinner, and prepared to leave my Airbnb to surprise Josh with the letter. I was extremely nervous.

“He will probably think I’m a weirdo.”

“What if I become the laughing stock of his friends?”

My friends back home all thought I was crazy. Their response was always the same – if he was interested in you, he would have contacted you. He just wanted to have a fun night and you’ll never hear from him again. That’s how men are. I could hear the tone in their messages as they told me I’m such a hopeless romantic and that this likely would end with a broken heart. I didn’t care.

I knew logically they made sense. It was likely that he never wanted to know me past the night we met. But my instinct kept telling me that he was different. He wasn’t a jerk, he was actually a caring individual. I spent many hours getting to know him, and he didn’t act like other guys. He was tender, he was real, and he had a good heart. I didn’t blame him for not contacting me. It was a strange situation. I was traveling and was only there temporarily. Nobody wants to do long distance, so I didn’t blame him for that. I just needed him to know that I cared and that our time meant something to me, even if that meant I’d be rejected.

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I had a few shots of vodka in preparation for going to the restaurant where he worked. I arrived around 10:20 pm and couldn’t get myself to walk inside. It’s a fine dining restaurant. It’s not like I could just walk in and find him in a sea of people enjoying their fancy meals. I also didn’t want to ask for him because then his coworkers would all wonder what was going on.

I saw a second door that led to a hotel that was connected and went through it. I used the restroom, trying to convince myself that I had the strength and the nerve. People always tell me I’m the bravest person they know – I can assure you that does not apply to the romance department.

Sweating, I managed to get myself into the side door that was by the bar. There was not a single person at the bar, so I asked the bartender if the bar was open. He said it was and got me a menu. The section to my left was crowded with tables full of people enjoying dinner. Behind me, there were lounge tables and some dinner tables, but they were mostly empty.

The bartenders were all from France and were so friendly that it helped to calm my nerves. That, or the vodka was settling in. I ordered a drink and texted my friends. Kristina, who was from Germany, came down within 15 minutes and sat with me at the bar. I slowly turned around, looking to see if I could find Josh. I didn’t know if he was working that night, but it was my last shot.

Kristina and I talked all about her life in Germany. She told me about how she thought Canada would be a lot like the U.K., but she found that is not at all the case. She described German people as being very straight forward, but in Canada, they consider it rude. I told her it’s because Canadians are known for being very nice.

I was enjoying Kristina’s company. At some point, I thought I saw the back of Josh walk by me twice. He was headed the other direction so he only saw my back. I was also trying to cover my face with my hair. I told Kristina about my letter and my dilemma.

At just past 11:00 pm, two servers who were running the bar after the bartenders left said they needed to close out our tabs. I panicked and told Kirstina to stall. We slowly paid and I messaged Josh, asking him to come to the bar. He wasn’t responding and after a few minutes, our bill was closed.

Kristina, being a straight-forward German, asked the servers, “Is Josh here?” The girls looked at each other and one said, “I think he just left.” The other chimed in, “Yeah, he was helping a large party and once they were done, he went home. He just left.” Kristina immediately said, “Can we give you something to give to him?”

Panicked, I said, “No, it’s ok.” The sweet servers enthusiastically said, “Yeah! We can give him something.” Kristina tried to grab the letter from my hand and I tried to shove it back into my purse as I quietly told her, “It’s fine. I’ll message him.” The servers, trying to be helpful, said, “We can tell you his schedule tomorrow.” I assured them it was fine and that I’d message him.

Kristina and I walked outside and met our friends Saya and Misato from Japan, who had just arrived after getting off of work. We brainstormed as to what I should do. I wanted to just run away. Kristina reminded me that I wanted to tell him how I felt and I came there to give him the letter, so I should do it. She told me I could give the letter to her and she’d go back the next day and give it him. I gave her the letter and we all decided to go have a drink at Brickworks bar.

They all thought the idea of writing a letter and giving it to Josh was romantic and they gave an “awe…”. I explained to them what my brother used to say many years ago, “If the person likes you back, they’re flattered. If they don’t like you back, it’s stalking.” I think he’s right. I had no idea if Josh would consider this romantic or consider me a stalker.

As we sat at Brickworks, Josh messaged me back and said he was in bed after skiing and working all day. I told him it was my last night in Whistler and there was something I wanted to give him. He said he would come back out, but he was too exhausted. He asked when I was leaving the following day and said he could meet me to say goodbye.

I was happy that he offered to meet me. I told him once I checked out of my Airbnb, I was going to the holiday market at one of the hotels, and then I needed to head south by around 2:00 pm. He said he’d keep me posted because he would be skiing early in the day and then had to work that evening, but he thought he’d have some time to meet me in the village to say goodbye.

My new friends and I had a great time talking over some wine. I played some classic American songs on the jukebox and we talked about relationships, what it was like in their home countries, and how much fun we’d had together. They are amazing people with warm hearts, and they were so encouraging. I felt lucky to have met them and figured I’d go visit their countries once they were back there. They walked me to the bus station and we hugged goodbye.

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The next day, I checked out of my Airbnb and drove to the winter market at the hotel. Misato met me there and we looked around at the locally made items. It was much smaller than we anticipated, so we walked through the village. Misato hadn’t been in Whistler very long and was working a lot, so she didn’t have a lot of time to shop around yet. It was a great time because we got to know each other better now that it wasn’t in a loud bar or while we were playing a board game.

Josh messaged me at 1:00 pm saying he was about to do his last run and he’d be done by 2:00 pm. Then at 2:00 pm, he was done and asked where to meet me. Misato and I had just finished shopping and were by the Pangea Pod hotel, which is a hostel. They have a nice restaurant on the second floor overlooking the village. We went inside and I told Josh to meet me there.

When we walked inside, Brittany, my friend from the beer tours, was there to get people to sign up for the tours. It was perfect because I hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye to her. We talked for a bit and then Misato and I went to the bar to order some coffee while Brittany was at her table with promotional material. I was incredibly nervous and this time didn’t have alcohol to help give me courage.

As I was looking at the menu, Josh tapped me on my left shoulder. I turned around and he had a big smile on his face. I was awkward of course and messed up giving him a hug. He was in his ski gear, took off his jacket, and sat down. I was pleasantly surprised because I wondered if he’d just message me saying he was downstairs and ask me to come outside to give him whatever I had to give him. Or maybe he’d come upstairs, but quickly leave.

I introduced him to Misato and she ordered coffee, talking with the bartender. I was turned towards Josh, talking. We talked about the ski conditions and how amazing the snow had been the last two weeks. Within about ten minutes, Misato had to go to work so she hugged me goodbye. Ten minutes later, Brittany came over and hugged me goodbye because she had to leave.

I continued to talk to Josh over the next hour. I kept thinking he was probably about to leave at any moment. After 40 minutes, the bartender asked if I wanted to order anything (I never ordered my coffee) and I said no because I thought Josh was about to leave. To my surprise, he ordered an espresso.

We continued to talk and I told him about my snowshoeing and snowmobiling experiences. As he told me about skiing, he was enthusiastic and never made me feel awkward. I enjoyed talking with him and it was reassuring that we could still have great conservations, even without any alcohol. It reminded me why I liked him in the first place. He was so easy to talk to and I was attracted to him.

After an hour, Josh said he needed to go because he had to change for work. I told him I needed to get headed south to make it to Mount Vernon, Washington that evening to stay the night with a friend. We put on our coats, walked down the stairs, and went outside. He gave me directions on how to get back to my car and then he gave me a hug.

As we hugged, I reached into my purse to grab the letter. I had printed it at the library and put it in an envelope. I was terrified about how he’d react, but he came out to say goodbye and I was reminded that I like him. I could also run away right after I gave it to him.

At the end of the hug, I pulled the folded envelope out of my purse and said, “Just don’t make fun of me.” Josh looked down, took the letter, and looked up with a huge smile on his face. He immediately gave me another hug. I felt relieved that he didn’t make me feel like a weirdo. We said goodbye and went our separate ways.

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I drove to Washington feeling amazing. I had conquered a tremendous fear. I let myself be vulnerable, even if it meant embarrassing myself. I trusted my instincts and they were right. Josh wasn’t a jerk and he didn’t make me feel like it was a pity goodbye. He seemed happy and being able to see and talk with him again confirmed what I believed about him.

I know I can’t control the future. I can’t make someone like me. I am a hopeless romantic and I desperately want life to be like the great books and movies where big gestures happen and anything is possible. They say that you should “be the change you want to see.” Well, I want to see people letting themselves be vulnerable. I want to see people taking risks in life. I want to see people express themselves to those they care about. So, I decided to start with me. I can’t expect someone else to treat me that way if I’m not willing to do the same.

I knew I probably wouldn’t hear from Josh for at least a few days. I was feeling happy and content that I was able to say goodbye in person and give him the letter.  Now it was in his hands.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 170-174: Snowshoeing and Snowmobiling

There was snow at the top of Whistler Mountain, so they were finally doing snowshoe tours. I love the snow and having lived in Los Angeles for the last 15 years, I was missing it. I met the group of six (and two tour guides) at the office and we started to put on boots that would be good for hooking the snowshoes onto.

The group consisted of  the following:

  • A married couple in their 50s from Victoria, British Columbia. They were celebrating the wife’s birthday, which was that day.
  • A married couple in their 50s from North Vancouver, British Columbia. They were visiting their daughter who lives there.
  • An Aunt and a niece from Australia. They don’t ski (the mom was out skiing), so they signed up for snowshoeing. The aunt said she figured out what she wants to do with her life in her 50s, which is farming and forestry. It’s never too late to discover this!

We boarded the gondola, which took about 20 minutes to reach the top. Kierra, one of the guides, was in my gondola. She appeared to be in her 20s and was from Australia. She told us that she came to Whistler in 2011 and spent some time there, but then went back to Australia. She just returned for the new season and had a work visa.

Kierra commented on how things have changed a lot since she was first in Whistler years ago. Maybe it was because Vail (a U.S. company) bought them out. She said, “Maybe it’s because the U.S. dollar is worth more than the Canadian dollar, but there are a lot more Americans here now.” I thought that was strange considering I had only met two Americans. I told her I had mostly met Australians. She responded, “That’s because we’re the loudest.”

Kierra also told our group that she noticed the party and drug scene was much more prevalent than it was years ago. Like most people working in Whistler, she commented about the housing situation. Kierra described it as large corporations taking advantage of young people who don’t mind sharing rooms. But as people age, they want their own space.

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We arrived at the top of Whistler Mountain and it was a beautiful, clear day with bright blue skies. We put our snowshoes on and started walking towards a reservoir. The mountain range in the distance was magnificent!

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We passed the ski and snowboard runs with care and once past them, we got to walk on fresh snow. It was deep and took effort. As we walked towards the reservoir, the guides told us to be careful not to step on baby trees that might be just below the snow.

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We walked around the reservoir and took some pictures of Blackholm Mountain. Once we walked around it, we climbed up a small hill. The snow and icicles were picturesque. The sun reflected off the snow and provided some warmth.

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Once at the top of the small hill, we slid on our butts down a little patch that some other people had created. It was a lot of fun! We had to walk back uphill to the gondola to return. As we walked, I talked with the other guide, Annabel.

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Annabel is from northern England. She had been in Whistler for one year and had another year to go. Once her visa expired, she planned on going to Japan and Australia. Annabel told me she was an excellent student in high school, but she decided not to apply for University because she wanted to experience and live in other countries. She said, “My teachers were all surprised, but I think I’m gaining more life lessons these last couple of years than if I were at University.” Annabel said her friends that were currently in University were unhappy and it’s a big party scene. She’s not into partying, so she felt it was better she wasn’t around that.

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I understand Annabel’s situation. As a society, we’ve pushed higher education on everyone even though it may not be the best path for everyone. She was learning a lot about different cultures, had to problem solve on her own, and navigate traveling – skills she wouldn’t learn at University.

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Annabel told me that before coming to Whistler, she was an Au Pair for a family in Spain and had a good experience. However, her next Au Pair position was for a family in Greece for six weeks. The parents were highly successful and had two children around seven and ten years old. The entire family was super fit and healthy, and worked out all of the time. When she arrived, the kids showed her their 6-pack abs and asked to see hers, which she declined.

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Annabel was thin and I was shocked as she told me the seven year old gripped her leg one day,pulled out an inch, and said, “If you lose this much, you’ll be great.” When she would be out in public with the kids, they’d laugh at overweight people. Annabel has overweight family members and was offended. When she told the mother she thought the comments were insulting, the mother said they probably got it from her, but she’d talk with the children.

We arrived at the gondola and started to head back down the mountain. Annabel was in my gondola and told us all how the family in Greece asked her to speak with a London accent because they didn’t like her northern English accent. In Whistler, she used to work at the Four Seasons hotel and watched children in the daycare center. The hotel also asked her to speak with a London accent. She’d only been to London once, so she was still working on eliminating words they asked her not to speak and fine-tuning her inflections. I thought it was rude that they asked her to change how she speaks.

Once we finished the tour, we parted ways. I walked over to Merlin’s Bar and Restaurant and ate a burger. It was almost completely empty, except an older guy next to me training his seeing-eye dog. Before I left, skiers started to come inside because it was getting dark. I loved being in the snow and seeing all the skiers made me want to learn how to ski…One day!

I wanted to stay in Whistler a little longer because the snow was finally in the forecast, but my Airbnb wasn’t available. I booked another Airbnb that was just down the road and was in the same building as the gym I had joined. When I checked out of my Airbnb that had been my home for the last five weeks, the owner, Lisa, stopped by to get the key. She also brought me a bottle of wine as a “thank-you” for putting up with all of the construction in the unit above me.

I loaded my car in the rain, frustrated it wasn’t snow. It had snowed a few days earlier, but the rain was now making all of the snow melt. I was able to check-in at my next Airbnb early. It was also a studio apartment, but this one had a loft for the bedroom. It was on the top floor, which provided great views of a nearby river. However, I had to carry my bags up four flights of stairs.

The next day, it was snowing! It was finally snowing hard, with large flakes. I looked out the balcony window and just watched the snow fall while I enjoyed my breakfast and coffee. It was so beautiful and it was exactly what I had been wanting for over a month. I was able to get cozy inside my apartment and write while watching the snow fall.

The following day, I woke up to a message from a friend asking if I wanted to know what the profit sharing was for the company I used to work for. I knew it would be very high because of the new tax breaks. He told me the amount and it was the most the company has ever given out. It was painful realizing that if I had stayed working there for six more months, I would have received that money.

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I decided to go for a walk. It was snowing, but I could still see where the concrete path went through the woods. It was beautiful. Peaceful, clean, and clear. I walked around a lake and to the train tracks. The snow was deep and I loved smashing my boots through it.

I walked back and continued across the highway to Creekside Village. I watched the skiers and snowboarders going up and down the mountain. I went to the gingerbread house and ordered an apple brown-butter latte. I sat there thinking about the money I lost because I quit my job.

Then I thought about how I’d spent the last six months: the things I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met, and the beauty that I’ve seen. I believe you have to be willing to give up “good” to experience “great.” I gave up my job, house, money, status, and comfort to pursue my dreams. I was happy with my decision. Chasing your dreams is hard and making sacrifices for your dream is harder. But I have faith that it will all be worth it in the end.

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That evening, I took the bus to the village and enjoyed some live music at the Fairmont Chateau. It was much busier now that dead-season was over. There was a holiday party for a healthcare company and I briefly talked with a woman from the party who was at the bar waiting for her drink. Seeing the holiday party reminded me of the holiday parties with my old company and I missed some of my friends.

The next day it was finally time for snowmobiling! I had been wanting to do this for weeks, but due to the lack of snow, they weren’t offering tours. Whistler had received 36” of snow in the last 48 hours (and 72” in the last seven days), so it was very deep.

The van took our group of five about 15 minutes out of town and halfway up a mountain. They had snowmobiles and other summer outdoor treetop activities there, which involved climbing and walking across ropes to various trees. The others in my group were a mom and daughter, and a couple who appeared to be in their 30s.

Our tour guide was from Australia and said he came to Whistler six years ago and never left. Back then, he applied for a visa and received it in seven days. As he showed us a 60 second demonstration on how to use the snowmobiles, he casually included, “Because of the deep powdery snow conditions today, at least one of you will flip. Any questions?”

I hadn’t driven a snowmobile since I was about 12 years old. I had a blast with my brother and dad riding through the Colorado mountains, but that was decades ago. Alarmed, I said, “Excuse me, You said we might flip? What exactly do we do if this happens?”

The tour guide said, “Well, keep your feet inside the foot holders or when it flips to the side, you could break your ankle. Also, if the machine starts to go off the mountain, make sure you jump off. But jump backwards so you don’t fall down the mountain. We don’t care if we lose the machine. We only care if we lose you.”

I thought, “Does this guy think I’m Tom Cruise and I can jump through the air backwards off of my machine and let it go crashing down the mountain?”

The couple was riding on one machine and they were right behind the  guide. The mom and daughter drove their own machines and were behind me. We started out immediately climbing on an old fire road on the side of the mountain.

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There were some tours in the morning, so there was some tracks we could follow and put our blades in. Because it had just snowed and not many people had been on the trails, it was extremely powdery and bumpy. The guide told us to make sure we shifted our weight on the machine on bumps and curves or we wouldn’t be able to turn. He was correct and I had to put my weight into it.

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Halfway up the mountain, we lost the mom and daughter and the guide went back to find them. It turned out that the daughter had flipped to the side. He was able to get her back up and continue driving.

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I was ecstatic as we continued to gain elevation! Giant pine trees covered in snow surrounded us. When there was a break in the trees, we could see the beautiful mountain range.

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Once we arrived at the top, we got off our machines to take pictures. As soon as I stepped unto the snow, I sank almost to my knees! The snow didn’t look that deep so it surprised me. We had a blast playing in the deep snow banks on the side and taking in the view.

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The sun was starting to set as we headed back down. I took off my goggles because they were tinted, which made it harder to see. I could see better without them, but it started to snow and it was getting in my eyes.

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We went much faster going down the mountain and it was a blast! We turned on our headlights and raced down. I loved snowmobiling so much and I decided I want to live in the mountains and own a snowmobile.

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Once we finished, we headed back to the village in Whistler. I was happy that I finally was able to enjoy Whistler’s famous deep snow. While November was the warmest, driest month on record, December ended up receiving the most snow in Whistler history. The lesson? Sometimes periods of drought are followed by periods of blizzards.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 134-140: A Week in Whistler, Canada

I drove to the local rec center to check out their facility. It was large and new, with a lot of machines. They also had a swimming pool and an ice rink. But there were also a lot of people. To get there, I had to drive about four miles down the main road. I worried that it would be difficult to access when the snow came and it was more expensive than the small gym I could walk to. I decided to join the Whistler Athletic Club instead.

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I needed to get some items and since I didn’t want to pay the high Whistler prices, I drove 45 minutes to the Walmart in Squamish. The drive was beautiful as the sun set behind the snow-capped mountains.

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Squamish is larger than Whistler, so they have more shopping options like Walmart and Home Depot. I got the items I needed and drove back to my place in Whistler. I made tacos for dinner and relaxed.

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Over the next two days, I worked out at my new gym, talked to several friends on the phone, and walked around Creekside Village. The main village was a couple of miles away. Creekside was older and much smaller, but it was walking distance. There were a few shops and a market, but it was mostly empty. I knew it was dead season, but I was hoping there would still be some things going on.

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I decided I needed to get outside and enjoy the day because the sun was shining. I went to Whistler because I thought I wouldn’t be tempted to venture out in the snow and could get some writing done. Well, it turned out that Whistler was having their warmest, driest November on record. I put my hiking clothes on and walked to a nearby trail.

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Whistler has a lot of amazing paved paths that go all around the forest, connecting to the village. It was sunny, but cool outside. The fall colors were beautiful and I enjoyed seeing the changing seasons. I was walking down the trail near my place and there was hardly anybody outside. I passed a beautiful lake under the bright blue sky.

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After about 20 minutes, I came to a split in the trail and a sign. As I headed towards the sign, a couple was standing there staring at something. They quietly told me, “There’s a bear over there.” Surprised, I walked towards them, looking for the bear. Sure enough, he popped up from a boulder by a marsh, looked at us, and then walked over to the paved path. He just cruised around the path, heading to the backyards of some houses to scavenge. He even walked on the right side of the path!

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I was surprised that the bear was out there because I thought he should be hibernatin, but the warmth was preventing that. After the bear was out of sight, I followed the path he was on. I took it to a lake and kept my eyes peeled for the bear. There was a small park there and the lake was beautiful and peaceful.

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The following day I walked to the gym to work out, came back and showered, and drove to the post office. I needed to mail a check for my health insurance. The post office is in the main village, so while I was there I walked around. Once the sun set it got very cold, so I bought a hat. The village is a beautiful area – shops, restaurants, and bars that are all in wooden cabin-like buildings. The brick sidewalk was lined with trees and gave the town such an amazing mountain feel.

I walked over to Portobello, my favorite restaurant for dinner. However, it was off-season, so it closed at 2:00 pm. Instead, I ate a burger at a nearby restaurant. I didn’t feel like going back to my place because I had been pretty bored the last week. I went inside the Fairmont Chateau, which is where Portobello was located. Just past the lobby, they had an upscale bar and lounge area. I saw they had live music that night, so I sat at the bar to listen.

I ordered a drink and a piece of cake and talked with the bartender, Frederick. He got me a local magazine so I had something to look through. I found homes for sale and couldn’t believe the high prices. Even small condos with a fraction of ownership were overpriced. For example, one townhouse was for sale for $128,500 for ¼ of the ownership (12 weeks a year). Or you could purchase 1/10 ownership of a 3 bedroom townhouse for $195,000. Sure it was 2,449 square feet, but your $195,000 only got you a tenth ownership (5.2 weeks a year).

Frederick told me it’s been a huge problem for years. Builders only want to build multi-million-dollar homes for the rich (who stay there a few weeks a year), which leaves nowhere for regular people to live. Being a ski town, Whistler is based on hospitality. But what happens when staff members can’t afford to live there? Frederick told me, “It’ll be interesting to see what happens this coming season.”

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I enjoyed the conversation and the live music, which was a solo guy with a guitar. The atmosphere was beautiful, but it was expensive. Mixed drinks ranged from $17-$22 each, so I stuck with beer for $9. I love fancy hotels, but sometimes I forget that I’m not currently earning any money. The magazine that Frederick gave me was helpful. I found out about a craft crawl, which was an afternoon beer tour. I signed up for it the following day. Unfortunately, it was cancelled because not enough people signed up. Instead, they offered the nighttime club crawl. I asked if I was too old for that and they assured me I wasn’t.

After spending a day and a half writing, it was time for the club crawl. It started at 8:00 pm at one of the bars. I decided to take the bus down there so I could drink and not worry about driving back. There was a bus station about a three minute walk away from my place and it cost $2.50 each way. I arrived at the station in the dark and could barely see, but I could tell there was a guy there holding a lamp.

While we waited for the bus, he told me he was from the U.K. His dad had purchased a place in Whistler, but he couldn’t live there because his dad was renting it out. The guy is helping his dad as the property manager, and he had to replace a lamp, which is why it was in his hand. I told the guy I drove to Alaska and am writing a book about the John Muir Trail.

Just then, the bus pulled up and we both got on. The first section of the bus has seats facing each other. I was on one side, while this guy was on the other. There were other people around us and he said, “Now you have me intrigued.” I told him a little bit about my travels until we arrived at his stop. He got off and wished me luck.

When I arrived at the bar, I met Brittany, JD, and George. They were the organizers and there were 17 of us signed up for the club crawl.

Brittany and I had corresponded previously about the craft crawl and night club crawl, and it was nice meeting her in person. To help with ice breakers, they had games that involved clothes pin, and taking a shot from a shot ski.

The group was mostly women. There was a group of girls celebrating a 30th birthday, and another group of 23-year-olds there for a bachelorette party. I started talking with another single girl there, Ashlyn. She was from Ottawa and had just graduated college. She moved to Whistler a month ago and was working at a company that does property management. She was able to get staff housing, but has a few roommates.

Ashlyn and I talked about relationships. She had a long-term boyfriend in high school but hadn’t had a relationship since. As we talked near the bar, a guy accidentally hit my arm right as I was taking a drink, which made the glass hit my teeth and spill my beer. He was very apologetic and bought me a shot to make up for it. I looked at Ashlyn, “I probably shouldn’t be taking a shot from a stranger, but oh well.”

The group leaders told us that we needed to go to the next bar and Ashlyn told me she wasn’t continuing with the group. She was friends with one of the tour leaders and just came out for a quick drink. She had an 11-hour shift the following day and wanted to get to bed early. I was bummed because she had been my friend at that first bar.

The rest of the group was made up of the two parties and two single guys. As we walked to the next place (a club) the 23-year-old girls from the bachelorette party welcomed me to their group. They were from Vancouver and were really sweet. They joked that they were fostering me since I was alone. One of the girls would always say, “Come on, Christy” as we went from place to place.

We went to a total of four different clubs, dancing and drinking. The clubs are all underground because of noise ordinances. The girls bought me a pickle juice shot, and paid for one of my drinks. It was really nice that they accepted me as part of their group.

At one of the clubs, several of the girls and I went to the bathroom. While we waited in line, I told them I was on Tinder and Bumble, but I wasn’t having much luck. They said Bumble was better and it’s how one of the girls met her current boyfriend.

One of the girls told me, “If you’re going to hook up with someone here, please use protection. I’m a nurse in Vancouver and I can tell you Whistler has a problem. They have more STI’s than any other city in all of Canada. They actually had to pass a law here requiring that people use protection and if you’re caught not using protection, you can be in trouble. It’s all because of the Australians. They are promiscuous and they don’t like to use protection.”

Wow, ok. Good to know. I had noticed there was a very large number of Australians in Whistler. There are also a lot of people from the U.K. and New Zealand. Weeks later I asked someone why that was and they told me it’s because they’re all part of the Commonwealth so they can easily get two-year work visas when they’re under 31. Then they apply for permanent residency. They told me that 20 years ago, Australians all went to London. But now they all go to Whistler.

I bought the girls shots and we headed to the last club. It was very cold outside and each club had a coat check at the entrance. I was definitely not used to that in Los Angeles. As we walked through the village to the final place, I talked with one of the guides, George. He was 24 and was from Australia. He works a construction job during the day building a large house on the side of the mountain. He said, “Everyone here has three jobs, or this place would shut down. The problem is there isn’t enough staff housing.”

As we talked, a girl walked up to George and kissed him, saying, “Remember me?” He replied, “Yeah, you kissed me.” And walked away. We arrived to the final club and 15 minutes later, they told us we were on our own for the rest of the night. My new bachelorette friends said they were going to find some food and asked me to go with them. We had just gotten there so I stayed at the club.

I regretted that decision shortly after. I hung out alone in the corner watching much younger people dance. About 15 minutes, I took the bus back to my place and ate some ramen noodles. I was 38, feeling like I was 23. Sometimes that’s just the kind of night you need.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 107-120: Life Back in Los Angeles

Over the next two weeks, I spent time in the Los Angeles area visiting friends over lunches and dinners, going to several doctor appointments, and running errands.

My Cat

Jen had been taking care of my cat, Cali, since I left and I missed her very much. Jen was such an angel and would send me videos of Cali while I was on the road so I knew how she was doing. Jen had somewhere to be, so I was only able to see Cali for about ten minutes. She was not doing the best because she’s very attached to me. I got her from the shelter when she was just three months old and she is now 14.

Jen has a few other cats and also fosters cats from a kitty bungalow nearby. Cali is a pretty particular cat and kept hissing at other cats if they started to approach her. She had been living in Jen’s bathroom so she would have her own space. It was a very large bathroom and she had her cat stand and a window to look out of, but I worried about a long-term solution. I also couldn’t keep imposing on Jen. I told Jen I would come up with a plan and take her to my parent’s house in Missouri soon.

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Doctor Appointments

Ophthalmology

I went to my ophthalmologist’s office for a follow-up appointment. Right before I left California, I got a hole in one of my retinas. The doctor was able to laser around the hole to prevent my retina from detaching, but he wanted to follow up to make sure things were ok.

I had only met the doctor once. He’s a retina specialist and most of his patients are several decades older than me. The doctor is about my age and while he was examining my eyes, he asked, “How is work going?” I paused, “Well, I actually quit my job, sold my house, and I drove to Alaska. I just got back a couple of days ago.”

The doctor pulled back astonished and started asking questions. I told him I was trying to finish a book about hiking the John Muir Trail. He was very interested in that and kept asking questions. I found myself getting excited, telling him about my coldest night on the trail and sending myself resupplies. It was so fun to talk to him about my adventures and his excitement got me pumped up.

Restorative Medicine

When I was leaving my appointment with a restorative medicine doctor, the office manager and I chatted while she ordered some supplements for me. Brittany is 32-years-old and we have a lot in common. We both grew up without a lot money and in order to fit in with our friends and buy clothes, we started working at a young age. She continued working and was now in school as well. She talked about how hard it is to work full-time and go to school.

I sympathized with her because I did that right after high school and I couldn’t wait until I was only doing school or work. Doing both full time is draining. Brittany was so fun to talk with. She had known me for a few years and I’ll never forgot the big smile on her face when she said, “You seem so happy.”

Breast Center

I was on a six month follow-up program to monitor dense tissue in my left breast. This would be the two-year mark and if the dense tissue hadn’t grown, I could go back to annual evaluations. I arrived at the Breast Center and a nurse, Carrie, took me back and did the mammogram. She was in her 50s, had shoulder length dark blonde hair, red glasses, and spunky tennis shoes.

Carrie asked me all sorts of questions about my travels and then she told me about her desire to retire in Hawaii. She said she found mother-in-law suites that she could rent for $2,000-$2,500 a month. She wanted to volunteer at the Botanical Gardens pulling weeds. She said, “My kids and family are here, but they’ll probably come visit me since it’s Hawaii.”

The doctor came in after evaluating the results and said the dense tissue did not change so I could go back to annual exams (YAY!). As Carrie walked me back to the dressing room, she gave me a hat for breast cancer awareness and said, “I’m glad I met you. You’re so brave and gutsy.” I was feeling fantastic!

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Dentist

I see my dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning. One of the hygienists, Cherry, has worked there the entire time I’ve been seeing the doctor (about 13 years). When I first started going, she was working at the front desk and always had the biggest smile on her face, which instantly put me in a good mood. She always recognized my voice on the phone and always remembered the things going on in my personal life. When I got engaged, she congratulated me. Then Aaron started going there too. Then the questions about babies started, but eventually stopped as the years passed. The last time I was in there, I had to tell her about the divorce. At that time, it was still difficult to say that word, so we didn’t talk much about it.

This time, I felt great! I checked in with the new receptionist and Cherry, now a hygienist, came out to say hello. I told them about my travels and recent changes in my life. With tears welling up in her eyes, Cherry told the new receptionist, “I’ve never seen her this happy. Usually, she’s pretty quiet and doesn’t talk too much.” It warmed my heart to hear her say that.

When I got into the dentist chair, I had a different hygienist and my dentist came in. I updated her on my new life. She longingly said she would love to do what I’m doing, but she’s still five to seven years away from retirement. She thinks she’s too old now and I assured her you’re never too old.

Primary Care

I also had an appointment with my primary care doctor for an annual follow-up. She asked me how work was going and I told her about quitting. She paused, and chatted with me for the next 30 minutes. She asked “How are you doing? I ask because jobs create a lot of stress. The thing in life is that you are always learning about yourself. I’ve learned that I overdue things. There is no such thing as doing things half-way for me, or mediocre. So I need to learn to say no sometimes.”

My doctor went on to describe that she was always jumping at her pager when it went off. Until one day, she stepped away from dinner with her family and the page ended up being for Tylenol. She realized she can’t live like that and maybe it’s ok if her job waits for 10-15 minutes.

She’s a good doctor and told me about how her perfectionism goes overboard, creating stress for her and her family. One time it was her turn to bring the snack to soccer practice and what she started as a healthy fruit snack turned into strawberry shortcake sundaes with all of the toppings. It was so overboard that her son told her, “Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but some parents can’t go all out like that and they might feel bad now.” My doctor told me, “You’ve always got to look into the mirror, see yourself, and be willing to make changes.” As I left the office, my doctor said, “If you get published, I want a signed copy. I’ll buy the book, but I want you to sign it.”

I was having such a good time at each appointment. Normally, I was there before or after work, or even on my lunch break – always rushing and stressed out about the time. This time, I was relaxed and not stressed out at all. At each appointment, I was able to have meaningful conversations with people. It was eye-opening. My whole aura felt different and people noticed. It made me feel like I’m on the right path.

Friends

I missed my friends, so I was grateful to everyone who made time to see me, even if it was a quick lunch. Each time I’d meet up with a friend, I’d talk about my adventures and what it was like being back. They always wanted to know my plan, so I told them I was going to spend a month in Whistler so I could focus on my writing. There is no way I would make progress in the Los Angeles area – there’s too many distractions and too many people to see. I also wanted to hear all about their lives and it was just the fuel I needed. Almost everyday I met up with one or two friends.

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One night, Ryan, (who’s house I was staying at) was playing an added show in Pomona with his band, Julien-K. His girlfriend Caitlyn, roommate Max, and I all went to see his show. We were able to see him backstage and meet the other band members. On the way, I got to know more about Caitlyn and Max.

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Caitlyn grew up in Utah, but has spent most of her adult life in the Los Angeles area. She had such a kind heart, but was also a badass. She was in one of band’s music videos (she could easily be a model), and used to rock out on stage with them. Max was from Santa Barbara, but spent the last six years on the east coast. His partner was in New York, so once his internship was complete, he would be moving there to be with him.

We grabbed beers, talked with the band backstage, and then got to see Ryan in action. He has an amazing voice and owns the stage. I enjoyed every song and they even finished their set with playing Blue Monday. Since Ryan was a founding member of Orgy, he is able to still play the song. I highly recommend you check out Julien-K’s album, California Noir – Chapter two: Nightlife in Neon.

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During my two weeks in Long Beach, I was able to have some relaxing days with friends too. One rainy Saturday, my friend Trisha and I spent the day doing retail therapy, having dinner, and seeing a movie. It was just the sort of day I needed. Another day, the weather was great – warm and sunny. My friend Debbie and her husband Robin were going to the beach with their 10-month-old son. I tagged along and enjoyed a relaxing day at the beach under their canopy and eating delicious, fresh-made sandwiches.

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The weather had been so warm most of the trip that I went standup-paddle boarding with my friend Lori. It was my first time and I gripped the board tightly with my feet. After about 20 minutes, I had to pull over in the bay to stretch my feet because they were cramping. We continued, but boats were coming in and creating waves. One wave was too much for me to control and I flipped into the water. Lori helped me get back on and we were both impressed that I had managed to grab my sunglasses as they fell. However, about five minutes later, I fell again and this time didn’t grab my sunglasses. It was a great day on the water, but it was much harder than I anticipated.

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I spent a night out in Manhattan Beach with my friends Toni and Jessica. We had been wanting to have a night at the Strand House, which is a luxury hotel, restaurant, and bar. We ate a high quality dinner and then had drinks and danced at the bar. It was an awesome girls’ night out. That is until I realized the bar accidentally charged my credit card an extra $1,000 for bottle service that a different group ordered.

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On the Uber ride back to Long Beach that night, I talked with my driver, who was in her 20s. I told her all about my time in Canada and Alaska during the 30 minute drive. When I got out of the car, she told me that I inspired her. It felt so good to hear that. Those kinds of comments help me to understand what I want to do with my life. I want to inspire.

Work

One morning, I woke up to a text from a friend telling me that a former coworker had passed away. Phil was my age and died in his sleep. They didn’t know why and were going to do an autopsy. It really affected me. Phil had been my final interview when I was hired in 2007. I didn’t work for him directly much, but he was someone who made a huge impact. He was a fun and wild guy, but he was also incredibly intelligent. He graduated from Yale University and made a lot of wonderful contributions to the company. A few years ago, he left to become a Vice President at another company. He had a wife and two young children.

It was less than a week from when I had found out one of my doctors had passed away suddenly. You always hear about these things, but when it’s people you know, it strikes you differently. These were both highly intelligent, successful, and kind people who made incredible contributions to the world. It just made me realize how quickly it can all end. It was yet another reminder to me that I need to do what I’m passionate about before my time is over.

I stopped into my old work one afternoon. I thought I’d be there saying hello to people for a couple of hours, but it turned into six hours. I had lunch with a friend like old times and then went inside the office. During my time there, I worked in several departments and hired hundreds of people, so I know a lot of folks.

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My heart was filled with joy as I was able to catch up with each of them. I told someone that now that I was in the building again, it felt like I had only been gone a week. The person said, “Then how about you sit back at your desk and do some work.” The thought of doing actual work was unappealing. I prefered to just hang out and talk. I was surprised by how many people told me that I looked the happiest they’ve seen me. I kept hearing, “You’re glowing.” To me, that is a sign that you know you’re doing what you were created to do. Many people told me they were following along through my blog and I am extremely appreciative for each and every person who reads it. So thank you, dear reader.

My Mind Adjusting

I had a wild dream one night that was so vivid, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours. I dreamt that I was outside in front of a Target store, leaning against a half-wall. I used to be a manager there many years ago in real life and I can’t remember if I was an employee in my dream.

All of a sudden, a giant wave was crashing into the parking lot. But then it just started to slowly rise above everyone, going over the top of the building. It was slow motion and then it froze over instantly, leaving all us trapped underneath. Everyone was running around screaming and panicking. I was calm, fascinated by the whales and other sea creatures that swam above us – dinosaur-like creatures that nobody knew existed.  

Then a male friend of mine walked over to me and asked, “So, do you think you’ll make it out alive?” I confidentially answered, “Well, in my stories, I’m always the hero. And hero’s always find a way to survive.” The male friend kissed my cheek softly and I continued talking because I was nervous and trying to avoid acknowledging the kiss. It was such a crazy dream and I think my mind was trying to wrestle with all of the changes in my life.

While I was in California, I had a chance to get some writing done, go to the gym, get my hair cut, my car washed, attend church, and go to the store to buy some needed items. I also went to my chiropractor to help with my back and neck pain. It’s a husband and wife team who also attend my church. They were so encouraging and prayed for me while I was there to give me words of encouragement.

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It was the first time being back in my old stomping grounds after making a huge life change. It was incredible to receive so much support from friends, doctors, and acquaintances. At the end of my time there, I would fly my cat to Missouri to be with my parents, and then fly back to Los Angeles to get my car and head back to Whistler, Canada. The first leg of my travels was complete and this was my new life. Did I regret my decision? Absolutely not! I felt like for the first time in my life, I was on the track I was destined to be on.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 104-106: A Typical Los Angeles Adventure

I arrived at Ryan Shuck’s house around 8:00 pm. I met him through a mutual friend and he lives there with his girlfriend, Caitlyn. Ryan is a well-known musician (currently the lead singer and guitarist in Julien-K) and he was about to leave for a six week tour, so he wanted to review things in the house with me before he left so I could keep an eye on it. His girlfriend and a roommate would be there too, but they worked a lot and weren’t around very much. The timing worked out perfectly.

I texted Ryan that I was there and he met me out front to help me with my luggage. I was embarrassed that my suitcase had just broken and was missing a wheel. We walked through the front gate, passed the pool, and went inside the house. The house had a beautiful 1950s design and Ryan did an amazing job decorating. He did such a good job, that his house has been featured in magazines.

After I set my bags down, Ryan showed me around the house because it was my first time staying there. He had a soundproof recording studio with a lot of guitars and a rack full of black leather jackets. I asked, “What all do you record in here?” He laughed, “Lots.” Other musicians record there too.

Ryan and I chatted over some wine in the kitchen. Ryan is tall, about 6’3”, and has a thin, athletic build. He has dark hair that was styled like a rockstar – shaved on the sides and long on top. He is in his 40s and exudes charisma. I felt embarrassed by my bland shirt and jeans.

Ryan and I talked about relationships, my recent travels, and his business endeavors. As Ryan told me more about his career, I was blown away. I only knew of him as a regular guy when I was first introduced to him, but he has platinum records on the wall, his music has been in movies, he has had top positions on the Billboard Charts, has been on Total Request Live, and has sold over three million albums.

According to Wikipedia, he is an “American singer, songwriter, guitarist, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. He has been a founding member of the industrial rock band Orgy. As of now, he is the leader of the Electronic rock / indietronica / dance project Julien-K and the guitarist and backing vocalist of Dead By Sunrise, the alternative rock side project of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. Growing up, Shuck played in the Bakersfield-based rock band Sexart, alongside Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, Adema bassist Dave DeRoo, and Videodrone frontman Ty Elam. Aside from his musical career, Shuck also owns four popular restaurants in the Orange County, CA area and a recording studio in Long Beach, CA.”

Ryan is such a nice guy and it was awesome to have a normal conversation with him, even though he’s famous. We took our wine outside and sat by the pool, where we continued to talk. He made me feel welcome and he was easy to talk with.

After a couple of hours, Ryan’s girlfriend, Caitlyn, arrived after being in New York for work. She is tall (5’10”), thin, beautiful, 29-years-old, and super fashionable. She joined us at the pool and told us about her recent business trip. She works for a custom blinds store, but she used to sing in their band at times. It was getting late, so we all headed to bed. It didn’t feel like I was back in Long Beach because I wasn’t at my own place. As I was lying in the comfortable bed, I kept thinking about what a crazy adventure this has been.

The next morning, I went for a run around the neighborhood. It was surreal being back in California. It was October and very hot outside (in the 90s F). I was missing my cool fall temperatures in the north. I ended up running right by the golf course where Aaron and I got married. I hadn’t actually been that close to it since our wedding. I ran right by the fence that separated the outdoor pavilion and I paused to look at it. I guess it was closure for me. I know I take longer than most people to grieve and move on, but it’s necessary for me.

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Halfway through my run, my knee got a sharp pain. I couldn’t get it to go away so I had to walk back. It was probably because I hadn’t gone for a run in a long time – just a couple of times while on the road. After my run, I drove to Target to get some items that I was low on, like shampoo. Walking around there made it feel like I never left.

I picked up some food on the way back and ate it at Ryan’s place. As I ate lunch, Ryan was cutting the hair of his band mate so it was fresh for their tour. I had purchased one his albums on iTunes and had been listening to it during the day. I couldn’t believe how good it was! Ryan has an amazing voice and the beats were so unique, they put me a good mood.

Afterwards, I met Max. He was staying in the room next to mine. He was there for four months while he was doing a physical therapy internship. Max was in his late 20s, in great shape, had dark blonde hair, and was really friendly.

I had to shower and get ready for a friend’s birthday party. As I did my makeup, Ryan was running around the house packing for his tour. My friend’s birthday party was on a boat that he rented in the harbor in Marina Del Rey. I had to be there before the boat left and it was a 45 minute drive so I quickly left.

I arrived on time, but the birthday boy, Rohan, was running late with his pre-party crew. There were about five of us already there and they let us board the boat. It was beautiful as the sun was setting on the water. Rohan and the rest of the party showed up and we took off to the ocean. There was around 40 people packed on this boat.

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It was so much fun and I was able to catch up with some old coworkers. As we sailed around the harbor, it reminded me of why Los Angeles can be a pretty spectacular place to be. Several of Rohan’s friends from MIT flew in just to celebrate his birthday. I had a blast talking about my time in Alaska and Canada.

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Once the boat arrived back to the dock, we went to an Airbnb that Rohan and some of his friends had booked in the Hollywood Hills. It was a giant mansion on the side of the mountain – something you’d see in the movies. We hung out there for awhile and then took Ubers to West Hollywood. The clubs were ridiculous with mostly-naked people swinging around the place.

Once all of the clubs closed, we headed back to the Airbnb. We were partying and it was starting to die down around 3:00 am. I fell asleep while sitting on the couch, only slightly leaning back. I woke up at 6:30 am because I was very cold and shivering. There were other people passed out on the couch and I decided I needed to go back to Ryan’s place to get a good rest. Before I left, I walked outside to the back yard where the sun was rising over the Los Angeles skyline. It was beautiful and reminded me that it can be a pretty magical place.

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After a crazy and fun night celebrating Rohan’s birthday, I slept in until the late morning. I cooked myself some food while summarizing my trip so far. I enjoy data, so here you go:

Leaving Long Beach – arriving back in Long Beach:

  • 104 days (just under 15 weeks)
  • 10,400 miles driven
  • Approximately $1,350 spent on gas
  • 45 overnight locationsMotel: 11
    • Hotel: 3
    • Airbnb (room): 9
    • Airbnb (private space): 3
    • Airbnb (bed and breakfast): 2
    • Airbnb (house/condo): 2
    • Airbnb (guesthouse/lodge): 2
    • Hostel: 3
    • Friends/family house: 4
    • Cabin: 2
    • Lodge: 1
    • Deck on a ferry: 1
    • Structured Tent: 1
    • Backpacking Tent: 1
  • Total spent on accommodation: $7,539.64 (average per night $81.07)
  • 2 countries; 7 states/territories; 34 cities
  • Met up with 6 friends
  • Met over 65 people new people
  • 15 hiking trails; 5 bike tours; 5 ferry rides

I loved looking at the data. It put into perspective just how far I had driven, and how many different places I had spent the night. I still had a lot ahead of me, but I think it’s important to pause and reflect on your journey from time to time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider
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Day 95: Train Wreck and Suspension Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 90: Arriving to Whistler, British Columbia

The muscle relaxer and pain pills for my neck and back kept me asleep until 10:00 am. I got dressed and went into the kitchen. Ash, my Airbnb host, wasn’t around. My room was supposed to come with a cooked breakfast from Ash, but I slept so late that I didn’t blame him for leaving.

All of a sudden, Ash came out of his room. He said “You slept in too?!” I said “Yup!” Ash started making breakfast and showed me a short documentary about Whistler.

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The documentary told the history of Whistler – it was formed in the 1960s as an attempt to host the Olympics. Being a ski town the 60s, its population was heavily into drugs. Whistler Mountain was frequented by traditional skiers and speed skaters, and when Blackholm Mountain came along right next to it, it quickly became the mountain for snowboarders and freestyle skiers. There was a big rivalry between the two until the Peak to Peak gondola was built in 2007-2008, connecting the two mountains. In 2010, the Winter Olympics were finally held in Whistler.

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Ash was 65 years old and retired. He’s originally from Canada, but moved to the US when he was 12. He lived in Denver, Seattle, Portland, and LA. Ash moved back to Canada in 1999 and six years ago started a bike tour company. His Airbnb came with a three-hour electric bike tour, which is why I booked with him.

Ash was a character. He was around 5’11” and was fit, but had a big belly. He had white hair and a small white goatee. Ash has six stents in his heart and said “From ages 40-60, you lose 50% of muscle mass if you don’t do strength training.” When he lived in Seattle, he had a high pressure job that wasn’t good for his heart. Ash gave up his green card to the US when Trump was elected and now the US won’t let him back him, even to visit. He seemed regretful about that decision.

Ash told me more about Whistler and why he loves it. There are only 10,000 residents, but they host between 30,000-70,000 tourists a day. All of the jobs available are in hospitality. A lot of people volunteer for perks around the city. For example, you could volunteer to be a greeter at one of the museums and get a yearly bus pass. Or do a volunteer shift for 22 weeks and get a ski pass ($1,500). Ash said the small town and all of the volunteer work means you often run into the same folks, which helps to ensure people are nice to each other. You will likely end up working or volunteering with that person down the road, so you don’t want it to be awkward.

I told Ash about my back, neck, and shoulder pain and he asked, “Would weed help?” I declined his offer and he recommended I check out physiotherapy. He helped me call and get an appointment. I told Ash I was also going to check out the Scandinave Spa because the hot tubs and saunas might help my muscles. He asked if I wanted some mushrooms and I declined those as well. He told me to be careful in the hot tub because a friend of his recently died in one. He said, “We all eat mushrooms, smoke weed, and drink so that probably contributed to it.”

I drove to the physiotherapy place and had a 30 minute appointment. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The girl who was helping me was from the UK. She said that because of my limited movement, she would do some pressure points as I sat on the table. I’m not sure that it helped at all, but it was worth a try. The girl told me about how she was getting married next year and wanted to do a big road trip around British Columbia, so she was asking me for tips.

After physiotherapy, I walked over to a massage place and a got an hour long massage, hoping my muscles would loosen a bit. Once the massage was done, I drove to the Scandinave spa.

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This place was incredible! It’s situated in the mountains, has two hot tubs, several saunas, cold pools, relaxation rooms, and fire pits. I arrived at the front desk at 5:30 pm and the girl gave me instructions: spend 10-15 minutes in one of the hot areas, 10 seconds washing in the cold, and then 10-15 minutes in a relaxation room. Then do it all over again, and again, and again.

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I put on my swimsuit and headed for a hot tub. There is no talking of any kind allowed so it made me feel less alone since nobody else could talk to their buddy. It wasn’t crowded because it was off-season and I was excited to try each room. It was cold and sometimes raining outside, so the heat felt good. It was fun being outside in the rain in a hot tub.

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After about an hour, I went back up to the cafe inside to eat some dinner. I was upset when I saw they decided to close the kitchen early because they didn’t have enough staff. All I could get was a yogurt parfait and a piece of cheesecake for $13.

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I went back down to enjoy the luxurious spa. My favorite steam room was the eucalyptus room. I kept rotating between hot tubs, steam rooms, and relaxation rooms. It reminded me of the movie, Last Holiday, where Queen Latifah thinks she’s dying so she spends her life savings living it up in Switzerland. I stayed until they closed at 9:00 pm.

When I got back to my Airbnb, Ash was hanging out drinking a beer. We ate candy together as I told him about my day. He told me about mushrooms again. He had a bike tour in the morning at 9:00 am and two people already signed up, so I said I would join that group. I went to bed and took some more medication, hoping I would be capable of the bike ride in the morning.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 85-87: Loneliness in the Burbs

After experiencing an allergic reaction the night before, I slept in and took my time getting ready. I searched for things to do and attempted to go to two different places, but they were both closed when I arrived. I went to Wal-Mart to get some Benadryl and then cooked some food.

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It was pouring rain and I was extremely bored. I watched TV, something I hadn’t really done in the last few months. After awhile, I paced around wondering what I could do. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was being in the suburbs, or maybe it’s just me.

Even as a kid, I would get so bored in the summer when school was out of session. I would whine around the house complaining there was nothing to do. My poor mom would suggest cleaning my room, which I rejected.

Sometimes the feeling of boredom is so powerful, I feel like I’ll lose my mind. If my mind is not stimulated in some way, it feels like torture. I watched TV, looked outside at the rain, cleaned out my email, and wondered what else I could do. The clock ticked painfully away as I stared at it. I could have been writing, but I didn’t feel like it. I purposely wanted to spend a week there so I could relax. Maybe I’m not capable of relaxing?

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The next morning I went for a run and it felt good to get some exercise. I was cooking up some breakfast when an old coworker called me asking for some advice on his career. It was good to talk with him and to feel useful again. It made me miss work a little bit and the routine that it brings.  

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Sometimes having so much freedom and free time feels overwhelming. I have to constantly make decisions on how to spend my time. Before, I would get up and go to work. After work, maybe I’d workout, eat dinner, watch some TV and go to bed. Weekends I worked out, cleaned my house, ran errands, and hung out with friends.

Now it often feels like I’m going to make the wrong decision and miss seeing something. Or I worry that I’ll waste the day, so I see what there is to do in whatever city I’m currently in. Having freedom requires constant decision making.

In the late afternoon, I drove to Vancouver and battled horrible traffic for an hour and a half, only to arrive to the Capilano Suspension bridge right before they closed. They recommend that I come back because I wouldn’t have time to see everything. Frustrated, I got back into traffic and headed back to the burbs.

I stopped at Hard Rock casino and gambled. I ended up walking away with a free dinner, entertainment for two hours, and about 20 extra dollars in my pocket.

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The following day, I tried to go to a few historic sites, but the road near the house was closed. I asked the girl directing traffic what was going on. She said they were filming something and the place I was trying to go to was closed for two weeks.

A grade school had just let out and parents were lining up to pick up their kids. It struck me as a world I knew nothing about. I was always at work when schools were letting out and I don’t have children. There are times like this that make me sad that I haven’t experienced that world. A whole life of running kids from school to practice, and making sure homework gets done.

Eventually I made it to a tourist garden where I ate a pastry and had some coffee. After walking around the garden for awhile, I drove to Mill lake. The lake had a great walking path all around it and it was a beautiful, rain-free day.

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I walked all the way around the lake as three women in workout clothes power walked, a couple held hands, two men at a picnic table read bibles, and a young couple kissed at the end of the pier.

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There were tables with men playing cards, a group of middle-school aged kids hanging out, and two older women passing me saying, “Nothing can damage me. It can hurt me, but it can’t damage me.”

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As I rounded the last part of the lake, a girl in her early 20s was pushing a stroller while frantic on the phone, “Alia put her finger into a mushroom and then into her mouth. Do you think she’ll be ok? Well, the inside was squishy.”

I drove back to the house feeling rejected. I was supposed to hang out with Ian that evening and he messaged me saying he was going to the gym after work and wouldn’t have time. I know we weren’t dating, but I was angry that I had reserved time for him and he brushed me off.

I was feeling incredibly rejected and lonely – the feeling of not being good enough for someone to choose me over working out. The feeling of not being a priority to anybody.

My friend Debbie called me that evening for our weekly FaceTime call. She asked how I was doing and I couldn’t pretend. I broke down sobbing, telling her how rejected I felt. She was so patient and understanding. She told me how she understands and life is not easy to go through without a partner.

I got more frustrated when I realized even though I’m an independent person, I still long for a partner. I end up letting guys like Ian make me feel unwanted and rejected. I hate that I let them have power over me. I don’t want my self-worth to be tied to someone else. It’s a pattern I continually fall into.

Through the snot and tears, Debbie helped me understand I’m not alone and I have a lot to offer someone. She assured me that lots of people struggle with not having a partner and things will get better.

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After I got off the phone, I went to a local restaurant and sat at the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and an appetizer. The place was mostly empty and I read articles on my phone about how betrayal in your relationship leaves you scarred for awhile. One website stated, “Suddenly the rug has been pulled out from under your feet, leaving an incredible sense of loss and bewilderment behind as you become companion-less.”

Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe the betrayal in my marriage and the aftermath it causes takes awhile to move past. I went to bed and prayed that the loneliness would go away.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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