Day 92: Peak to Peak Gondola

My Airbnb host, Ash, made me breakfast while we talked about relationships. He’s been married three times, each time for less than a year. They were all party girls and one had an expensive cocaine habit. He lived with his last wife for three years before they were married, but it still ended shortly after they got married. He reflected, “Maybe I didn’t put in effort.” Ash wasn’t really interested in dating and didn’t know how to use Tinder. He said maybe he’d meet someone in a bar.

Ash told me about the housing problems in Whistler and how the big companies take advantage of young people working and pay them the minimum wage of $12 an hour. There isn’t enough housing, so people are living six to seven people per apartment. For a few months a year, Ash goes to Mexico and rents out his place so workers coming up for the season have somewhere to live. The town is full of people from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand because they can easily get two-year working permits if they’re under 31. After two years, they can leave for a day, come back, and get another two years. Once they get older, they no longer want to live in shared bedrooms, but there just isn’t affordable housing. There are mansions sitting empty most of the year.

Ash vented to me about Vail Resorts taking over Whistler and how they don’t understand the locals and they’re trying to run it like they do in the US. For example, the Peak to Peak gondola only runs on weekends in the fall even though it has gotten very busy. He also vented about Airbnb and how he liked that it started as people in homes renting out space. Unfortunately, there is now a lot of investors buying property just to put on Airbnb. In his opinion, it ruins the whole purpose of doing an Airbnb – shared space with a local.

After talking with Ash for awhile, I packed up and loaded my car. I had only booked his place for three nights. My first day in Whistler was spent relaxing and going to the spa because of my back pain and I loved the town. The weather was improving and I wanted to stay longer. However, I wanted some more privacy so I booked a little one-bedroom apartment in the village. I couldn’t check in yet so I drove to the Peak to Peak gondola.

I parked in a parking lot and had to walk about 15 minutes to the village. There was a beautiful paved path through trees and suddenly a skate park appeared with a competition going on.

Once I arrived at the gondola, I saw hundreds of mountain bikers in line to go up the mountain, and others coming down the bumpy bike paths. They were all covered in mud.

The gondola going up Whistler Mountain fits about six people, but it wasn’t crowded so it was just me and one other woman. She was 30 years old, from Malta, and had been living in the US for the last eight years. She was in Vancouver for a chemical biology conference and decided to do a day trip to Whistler over the weekend. It took about 20 minutes to reach the top so the woman and I talked about things to do in Whistler.

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When I arrived at the top, I lucked out and the sun came shining through.  There were amazing views in all directions for miles. There were a lot of people at the top taking pictures of the Olympic Rings.

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To get to Blackholm Mountain, you need to board the Peak to Peak gondola that connects the mountains. I boarded that gondola, which fits about 20 people.

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The gondola dipped in the valley between the mountains, and then climbed up Blackmon Mountain. A sign boasted:

  • World’s longest unsupported (free) span for a lift of this kind in the world.
  • World’s highest lift of its kind.
  • World’s longest continuous lift system.

It took eleven minutes to cross to Blackholm mountain. It was incredible to float above the trees with the valley below, surrounded by mountains that seemed to go on for days.

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When I got to Blackholm mountain, there was a small hiking path at the top. I climbed up and walked around the path, seeing marmots and birds along the way. Once the short hike was finished, I went inside the building and watched a movie about the gondola.

On the way back to Whistler mountain, the fog was setting in, making it look like the cable disappeared  into nothingness. I was grateful I made it before the fog set in.

I walked around Whistler mountain for awhile, checking out the building inside and the famous rock statue that sits on the top.

Once I got back to my car, I drove to my next Airbnb. I was happy when my car with the rooftop storage unit fit inside the underground parking. I liked the place. I had a little apartment right in the village, near a grocery store.

That evening, I went to see Adam’s band play again at a local bar. I felt more nervous for some reason. I was also very tired after a day of exploring.

When I walked in, his band was on a break and he was talking to a table of people. I stood in line to get a drink and he waved at me. I felt like a groupie, and I could tell my body language was closed off. Adam came over to say hello, but didn’t give me a hug. He asked how my day was and I told him about the gondola. He also asked if I switched Airbnb’s and I said I did. Adam had to use the restroom before his break was over so he said he’d see me later.

I sat at the bar and the band was to my left, sort of behind me. I didn’t want to just stare at him, so sometimes I played on my phone while his band played. They were really enjoyable to listen to and Adam is really good at getting the crowd pumped up. There were several people dancing at the stage.

When Adam was done playing, he came over and talked for a bit and said he’d be back after he loaded up his van. He mentioned he had a 7:00 am doctor appointment the next morning. I figured it was his way of giving me a heads up that he wasn’t going to hang out afterwards and I felt disappointed.

Once Adam was done loading the van, he came over and told me he’s been waiting for the appointment with a foot doctor for eight months. He was having some pain in his foot and it would take him almost two hours to get to the appointment in Vancouver. Since he wasn’t going to get much sleep, he said he was going home. He gave me a hug and said, “See you later?” I responded, “Sure.”

I felt rejected. I know he had an early appointment, but I also know that people prioritize what’s important to them. I don’t blame him because it was an early appointment. I just wish he had told me the day prior or even that day. The day before he said he wanted me to come to his show and was still messaging, so it seemed like he was still interested. I couldn’t tell if he was blowing me off and was suddenly not interested, or if he legitimately just wanted to make sure he didn’t miss his appointment.

I finished my drink and walked back to my Airbnb. The village has a lot of bars and clubs, and people were out and about having fun. I was bummed because I thought I would be hanging out with Adam after his show. I was still going to be in Whistler for a few days and I hoped I’d see him again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 61: Alyeska Resort

It was a cold, rainy day when I left Homer, Alaska. I was headed to my next Airbnb in Anchorage. The owner said I couldn’t check-in until late that evening and Jerry (my previous host) recommended that I stop at the Alyeska Resort on my way there.

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The bright red fireweed blazed on the side of the road as the clouds hovered among the mountains. I had to pull over a couple of times to soak in the beautiful scenery.

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The Alyeska Resort is a ski resort in Girdwood, a small city about 45 minutes southeast of Anchorage. Being late August, it was pretty dead at the bottom of the mountain. The girl behind the ticket counter told me the tram ticket to get to the top of the mountain would cost $30. Jerry told me to try a famous drink from the restaurant, Seven Glaciers, which was at the top. It’s a AAA, four diamond award-winning restaurant. I had come this far, so I paid the $30 and headed to the top.

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There is a small museum at the top in a circular building and it was closing soon, so I went there first. It displayed photos of when the ski resort was first built and information about the early years of the city.

I walked around a little bit and enjoyed the sprinkling rain. The empty ski lifts disappearing into the fog gave the mountain an eerie feel. The green foliage was so bright it didn’t even look real.

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I walked to the front desk of the fancy restaurant feeling underdressed. The hostess asked if I had a reservation and I told her I did not. She said she had a seat available at the bar and I was happy with that.

The view from my chair was incredible! I asked the bartender about the secret drink Jerry told me about – a drink he couldn’t stop talking about. It’s called the Fizz and they limit how many drinks people can have because of its high alcohol content. The bartender explained that there is only one bartender who makes it, it’s a secret receipt, and he only makes it in the winter.

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I ordered dinner and a different drink, and started talking with the guy next to me. Mike and his friend worked at the restaurant and were there on their day off because they had a wine tasting event. He looked to be around my age and was balding.

Mike asked me what I was doing there and I told I had quit my corporate job, sold my house, and was traveling. He raised his glass to mine and said, “Cheers to midlife crises!” Mike moved to Anchorage two and a half years prior and recently moved to Girdwood. He grew up in various places, but spent a while in Portland before moving to Anchorage.

Mike moved to Alaska to be closer to his sister who lived there with her young children. He wanted to be a “super uncle” and be there for them while they were young. He wasn’t sure if he’d have children down the road.

Mike was very talkative and told me all of this within ten minutes of me meeting him. He got up to use the restroom and told me, “I’ll be right back”. Apparently, we were friends now.

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The bartender was James. Before moving to Alaska three years prior, he lived in Texas, Florida, and New York. He spent six years in the military previously and said he loves Alaska because he can get away from society within an hour.

James used to work at a local distillery, but it went under so he recently got the job at the restaurant. The upcoming winter would be his first ski season there and people told him it will get very busy then.

The restaurant is called Seven Glaciers because you can see seven glaciers through the 360° windows. With the clouds looming around, I could only see three. I didn’t mind though, I was enjoying the cold, wet vibe.

The dinner was incredible and worthy of the reputation. I decided to treat myself to dessert and ordered another drink.

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Mike and his friend left and a couple sat in their seats – Sue and her husband Dave. They appeared to be in their 50s and had a classy edge to them. Sue had spikey salt and pepper hair, and Dave had long gray hair in a ponytail.

Sue sells Rodan and Fields (a skincare company) and we bonded over their products because I use them. Sue also writes for a local newspaper about local events happening, musicians, and artists. They moved to Anchorage 12 years prior for Dave’s job in the oil industry. He knew of the company I worked for previously and said when he started there, the first thing he was introduced to was our signature “Big Yellow Book” filled with industrial supplies.

Sue and Dave were at the restaurant celebrating their anniversary and they seemed happily in love and flirtatious. We talked about all sorts of things, but then they mentioned the bar in Dawson City that has the drink with a toe inside. I laughed so hard because another couple had told me about that bar and the story of the toe-laden drink. Sue told me how a few of the toes have been lost/stolen/drank over the years so they’ve had to get new ones. The toe sits inside the glass and your lips have to touch it. So gross!

Sue and Dave were a blast to talk with and their energy was so much fun. They were encouraging of me traveling on my own and seemed genuinely happy that I was on this adventure. Their table was ready so they left and shortly after I decided to leave and make my way to Anchorage before it got too late. While I was waiting at the top for the tram, the guy in his 20s working it got off when it arrived and said he’d be right back.

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Five minutes later, he came running back to take me and two other people to the bottom. He said to me, “Dave and Sue told me to tell you to be proud.” I explained to him that it was regarding my travel adventures. He told me that they all play in a band together sometimes and he ran inside to get a key from them. He had recently bought a 1965 Dodge truck for $500 site unseen. It had a wooden camper on top of it, and it had been sitting at Dave and Sue’s condo in Girdwood. The side mirror fell off on the highway, the windshield wiper fell off at some point, and when he opened the driver’s side door, the handle fell off! He said he could get inside by crawling in from in the passenger side. He said, “Maybe I’ll put it on Airbnb!”

This guy was enthusiastic and told me how he’d love to just travel in it, but he has things tying him down. He planned to use the truck for local trips instead. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain and as we said our goodbyes, he high-fived me and said, “Good luck with your trip!”

I got into my car feeling amazing. I had just finished a wonderful trip in Homer and my time at the restaurant kept up the positive momentum. Dave and Sue were so fun and unique. I felt so honored that they mentioned me to their friend and said I should feel proud. They made me feel confident and supported, even though we had only met briefly. I couldn’t wait for what else was in store for me.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 47: Northern Rockies Lodge

As I packed up to leave Motel 6 in Fort Nelson, I watched the news. I like watching news from other countries to see how things are reported differently from the US. The Canadian reporter was explaining problems they were having with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had unleashed a video campaign against Canada, saying they did terrible things to the aboriginal people, and that they suppress women’s right.  The female reporter ended the piece saying, “FYI, Canada scored 10/10 for security and 10/10 on freedom for women. Saudi Arabia scored 5/10 for security and 0/10 on freedom for women.”

Before I left town, I stopped at a local museum. After paying a small fee, the girl behind the counter said they offer free tours if I’d like. I took her up on the offer.

A girl with long black hair enthusiastically came over to walk me through the property. As we walked outside to the first barn-type building filled with old cars, the girl asked where I was from. I let her know I was coming from Los Angeles. She replied, “Wow! How luxurious!”

The old car collection was from a private owner who had amassed around 20 antique cars. He still drives some of them in parades or to nearby towns.

After checking out the cars, we toured through an old log cabin, church, and a shop. Some of the buildings were originally located in the town, others were close by, but they were moved to this location to be preserved.

The whole place had a very local, small town, private owner feel. The property wasn’t all that well maintained, but it was really cool to see how people lived 100 years ago. I couldn’t imagine living that far north in Canada during that time. They didn’t even have indoor bathrooms for a long time, so using the restroom would be painful, especially at night!

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This was a rich family who had an indoor toilet. But they had to empty it out manually. It’s basically just a bucket.

The girl was giving a great tour, telling stories that painted the way of life. The last stop was in a log cabin where they skinned animals to use their fur to stay warm. The girl took my picture wearing an traditional jacket and a fur. As she wrapped up the tour, she told me that she grew up in a small remote village. She was native to Canada and she knows how to deliver a baby, but she wants to go to school to get certified. In the winter, she spends six weeks in a remote cabin ice fishing. How cool is that?

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I stopped to get some gas before I hit the road and bees swarmed my car as I tried to wash the windshield. Remembering that the pharmacy told me they had more than 300 patients with stings, I tried to get in and out of my car as quickly as possible. The bees seemed to love all the dead bugs on my car.

I got some coffee and still didn’t have any cash, so I pulled out my credit card. The women behind the counter said, “Just the coffee? You just filled up on gas, right? Go ahead and take it.” Wow, nice.

The night before I had booked a room at a lodge I found online. It was only about a three-hour drive, which left me with enough time to go to the museum and get to the lodge in time to do a small hike.

The drive was breathtaking as usual. The picturesque lakes were around every corner. The green-filled mountains as a backdrop weren’t too bad either. The road wound through the sides of the rocky mountains and I was impressed that the army was able to build a road in such rugged terrain.

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The lodge was right off of the highway, and I arrived around 4:00 pm. I booked a hotel room in the main lodge, but the young guy at the front desk told me he had a cabin available and he’d give it to me for the same price as my room. The only problem is that I would have to park my car a little further away after unloading it. I asked what he recommended and he said, “I’m going to put you in the cabin. You’ll like it.”

I pulled my car up to the cabin to unload and was impressed by the size inside. It had three full-sized beds! It was modern but rustic and I loved it. Before it got too late, I got ready for a hike.

I asked the guy at the front desk if there was one close by that I didn’t have to drive to. He told me to walk down the highway and there would be a trail that went up the mountain. He described the trail as steep, but fairly short with great views at the top. He cautioned about bears, so I took my bear spray.

The high winds made it feel much colder than it was. I walked along the road as it winded along the lake with cliffs on the other side. After about 20 minutes, I figured I must have missed the trail so I turned back before it was too late. The views of the lake were incredible so I enjoyed the walk.

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On the way back, I found the trail. It was not marked, barely a trail, and went straight up the cliff. I decided to give it a try and started climbing on the moss. The dense trail had an eerie feel. My backpack kept getting snagged on tree branches so I turned off my headphones. It was so dense with forestry, I felt like a bear could come out of nowhere.

After about 15 minutes, I lost the trail. I tried to find it, but was worried I’d get lost. Looking back at the steep climb I had already done, I decided it was time to hike back down before I got attacked by something.

Back at the property, I walked around (they also have RV spots) to get some more exercise, and found their seaplanes. When checking in, I noticed a sign in the lobby advertising discounted tours in the morning for $250. I thought about it, but then thought about all of the times I’ve seen  small prop plane crashes on the news. I decided against it.

I cleaned up a little and headed to the restaurant for dinner. The dining area had large windows overlooking the property and felt romantic. Just after I sat down, it started to pour rain. I hadn’t encountered any rain my entire trip so far, so it felt refreshing. The waitress closed the windows as the rain brought cold air into the restaurant.

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I ate dinner and was texting a guy who I connected with on Tinder from Vancouver. He didn’t message me until after I had left the area, but once he found out I’d be going back through Vancouver on my way south he asked if we could just message each other. It was fun having someone to message. I didn’t have much cell service, but with Wi-Fi I could send iphone messages. Even though he wasn’t there, it felt nice to have someone interested in how my adventure was going.

I ran back to my cabin in the rain, showered, and got into my plush bed. I loved the sound of the rain beating against the roof, and felt at peace as I fell asleep.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
img_9900 Click to watch a quick video of the incredible drive!

 

 

 

 

Day 43: Welcome to British Columbia!

I was happy to have a bedroom inside a house again after spending two nights in a tent, but I had a very difficult time sleeping. I was burning up. I had the fan on me with the windows open, but spent most of the night wide awake. Still unable to sleep by 5:30 am, I gave in and played on my phone.

At 9:00 am, I was packing up my car to head out because I had a lot of driving ahead of me. Looking at the map for sleeping options in a decent-sized city, I found Prince George about an eight-hour drive away (500 miles).

I drove to Wal-Mart to get some cheap snacks for the drive ahead. I had a soft cooler on the floor of the passenger seat so I could try and eat healthy snacks (like string cheese, humus, and fruit) instead of gas station junk food.

As I left Vancouver, it felt like this would be a different chapter in my travels. It was going to be a lot of driving through British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. I was excited about leaving cities behind and experiencing a part of the world not many people have seen.

The kilometers per hour confused me on the speed limit since my car shows my speed in miles per hour. I kept using a converter app to help me understand my speed. It was strange to see signs showing 100 kph (which is only 62 mph). It took me days to realize my car does show kph in small print just inside the mph.

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The first 90 minutes of the drive was flat, but the mountains loomed in the background. Then the road started winding through the mountains. I went through tunnels, saw rivers, and drove on the side of cliffs. It was hot outside, and climbing into higher elevation didn’t seem to cool things down at all.

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Parts of the mountains were dry, which reminded me of southern California. Trains passed through the corridor, wrapping around the mountains. Just as I saw a sign warning of “wildlife corridor,” I saw some big horn sheep. The sheep were mostly on the side of the road, but sometimes I had to stop and wait for them to cross.

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The rest-areas were usually situated off of a lake, with restrooms available in small wooden buildings. The entire drive was stunning.

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When I stopped to take some pictures on the side of the road, I saw white-water rafters cruising down the raging river in the gorge.

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It was close to 9:00 pm when I arrived at my motel in Prince George. The motel was located in a somewhat sketchy part of town, but I needed a place to sleep. As I carried my suitcase to the second floor, I noticed the motel was not in good shape. The carpet on the outside walkway and in my room had stains. The essentials like the bed and the bathroom seemed to be acceptable though, so I got ready for bed and went to sleep.

The next morning, I ate toast in the small restaurant and packed up my bags. As I was grabbing a bag, I noticed a small tick crawling from the side of the white sheets near the headboard to the top of the bed. Panicking, I started searching my body for ticks. I thought I was going to throw up. I’ve never seen a bug in my bed. I prayed that guy just arrived and was alone.

I carried my suitcase to the parking lot in the back of the motel where my car was parked. As I got close to my car, a skinny, wrinkly man with long gray hair in his late 50s started walking across the alley towards me. He asked where I was headed and where I was from. His name was Roger and he’s from Prince George. When he was 18, he moved to Toronto for a bit and worked at a newspaper place. He told me he delivered 3,000 papers in three hours and was faster than the trucks.

I was nervous as Roger talked to me while I loaded my suitcase. He told me he has COPD and I could hear the strain in his lungs when he talked. Then he asked me for some money. I told him I only had American cash on me and he said he’d take it. I explained that my purse was in the motel and I’d be right back. I was afraid he’d mess with my car or stuff inside if I didn’t oblige.

When I came back to my car with my purse and last of my bags, I gave him $5. He told me the Husky gas station down the road would exchange the American money for Canadian money. I appreciated his tip. He asked again where I was headed and told him north, to Alaska. He warned me that there aren’t many roads up north.

I headed out and stopped at the Husky gas station to exchange my money. The attendant said he’d exchange my money, but would give me the same amount I gave him. If I gave him $20 US, he’d give me $20 Canadian. I explained that the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, but he was basically doing it as a favor. I declined his services and went outside to pump some gas. As I was pumping, a guy in a truck next to me yelled with excitement, “Welcome to British Columbia!” and nodded towards my California license plate. I smiled and thanked him.

I headed towards Dawson Creek, where the Alaska Highway begins. It would take about four hours (250 miles) and I couldn’t wait to arrive at the start. The start of what? I didn’t know. But I couldn’t wait to see what was in store on this famous highway.

img_9710 Click here to see a quick video of the beautiful drive.
Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Day 40: Glamping in Madeira Park

After checking out of my Airbnb and grabbing a quick breakfast at a local café, I headed to the Hard Rock casino so I could buy the one souvenir that I collect: a Hard Rock shot glass. At the front entrance of the casino, a young girl scolded me for trying to walk inside, and asked me for my ID. Surprised since the gambling and drinking age in Canada is 19, I showed her my ID. Shocked, she said, “Oh wow. I’m sorry. You just look very young for your age.” I told her it was no problem and I happily headed towards the gift shop.

While I was there, I figured it couldn’t hurt to gamble a little bit. I changed a $20 US bill for $25 Canadian dollars. Within five minutes, it was gone on slot machines. That was fine since I didn’t really have the time and I was nervous leaving my car outside with all of my stuff (worried ever since my car was broken into in Portland).

My next reservations were in Madeira Park on the Sunshine coast. It’s not technically an island, but since it’s only connected to land many miles up north with no road access, you have to take a ferry to get there from Vancouver.

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I got in line for the ferry and saw row upon row of cars lined up for the ferry to Vancouver Island. Thankfully, I was going to Gibsons, and there weren’t nearly as many people trying to get there. I didn’t have a reservation, but thankfully I made it on the next ferry. After sitting for about 45 minutes, I drove my car onto the ferry and walked to the top deck.

The 40-minute ferry ride was stunning!  The giant mountains rising above the ocean reminded me of traveling through a fjord in Norway. Not many people were outside because it was incredibly windy. So windy that I tried not to take many pictures for fear my phone would be ripped from my hand. I used my GoPro since I could grip it better.

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At the front, top deck was one other person – a guy close to my age. He was thin with blonde dreadlocks reaching his lower back. He had headphones on and looked out to the ocean in a whimsical way. I wanted to talk to him but didn’t know how to start a conversation.

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https://vimeo.com/301753810

When the ferry arrived in Gibsons, I drove my car off and headed towards Madeira Park. The road winded through the trees and gave glimpse of the ocean as it followed along the coast. I lost cell service but still made it to my next Airbnb, a tent.

I arrived to the resort at 5:30 pm and checked-in at the outdoor front desk. I had booked the “safari style” tent for $99, but it was only available for one night. They also offered cabins, but I wanted the experience of staying in a safari tent. I asked the women if they had anything available for a second night and she said the only one they had available was their private, romantic tent. It cost more but since she didn’t have it booked, she’d give it to me for two nights at a discount.

I figured since I spent the time and money getting there, I should stay for two nights, so I told her to sign me up for the romantic private tent.

The only problem with this tent is that I had to park my car on this little gravel area just off a road on their property, walk down a steep gravel road, then down steep stairs, before arriving to my tent.

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See my car in the top left corner

The tent had a front porch and a side porch with two chairs and a mosquito net.

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I unzipped the plastic covering over the door, unlatched the screen door, and went inside.

It had a beautiful bed, a small table, and a little fireplace-looking heater. The wood floor was nice to have for a tent, but it had cracks in it between boards and I worried bugs would get in. It definitely had a romantic vibe and I was a little sad I didn’t have a partner to spend time with there…like that cute, dreadlocked stranger on the ferry.

The property also had a porta potty near a large wooden gate to keep the area private. In front of the cabin was a ravine falling away into a river below.

After I brought a few things down the hill from my car, I was ready for dinner. I walked down the road past the cabins to the restaurant they had on site. The entire place was very outdoorsy and I only had cell service in a couple of spots.

The only food available was at the Italian restaurant near the check-in area, which was pretty expensive. Having no other options, I sat down and ordered some salmon tortellini and dessert.

As I was finishing dinner, the sun was setting across the lake on the other side of the main paved road. The resort owned the dock entrance to the lake so I walked over and took some pictures.

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On the way back to my tent, I walked across a shaky low bridge over a lake and past the cabins again.

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To wash my face, I had to walk back up the hill near my car to use the shared bathrooms. It was now dark so I headed back to my cabin. String lights lit up the porch and surrounded the tent, which helped.

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Once inside, I saw a spider hanging out in the corner. I figured he’d leave me alone and I was in his territory so I didn’t kill him. Having no cell reception or TV, I read a book and went to sleep. However, as I started to fall asleep, I heard something walking towards the tent. I figured it was my mind wandering, but then I definitely heard something or someone walking on the rocks right outside my tent.

My heart started racing. Was it a person who would attack me? Was it a bear who would eat me? I was defenseless with no cell reception. I tried to rationalize it by saying my tent was secluded and someone would have to climb down the hill and stairs, or open the wooden gate to even know I was there. If it were a bear, he’d have to climb up the ravine. I panicked at the sound of each leaf I heard crumpling.

I slowly got up, put on my glasses, and closed the plastic flaps over the two screened windows. I slowly laid back in bed, trying to prevent the bed from creaking. For some reason, having my glasses on and being wide awake staring at the ceiling made me feel better – like I would be prepared for an attack. I tried not to make any noise and hoped whatever was out there would eventually leave.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 39: Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider

 

Day 34: Hiking and Discovering Tinder

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

 

Days 9-11: Hood River, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman: “Sorry about that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Day 8: Friends in Bend

The nice thing about staying in motels or hotels vs Airbnb’s is that they usually offer breakfast. I enjoyed a pretty typical American continental breakfast and headed towards a hiking trail I had found on an app, AllTrails.

The trail was a 30-minute drive west of Bend. I pulled down the gravel road and remembered it was a Saturday because the small parking lot was full of cars. Cars also lined the sides of the road, parking wherever they could find enough space halfway into the shrubs and halfway into the road.

I found a spot on the side of the road and headed towards the trailhead. There were a few different trails so at least it wasn’t crazy crowded on each trail. Originally, I had wanted to go all the way to the top, where there is a lake called “unnamed lake”. The pictures online looked amazing but the road that takes you closer was shut down because it wasn’t maintained. That means you have to hike even further. It would definitely be an all-day affair and pretty exhausting. I wasn’t sure I was prepared for that so I stuck to about 6 miles.

Right away, the trail took me to a beautiful lake. An older couple asked that I take their picture so I obliged. I noticed they were mostly just walking from their car to this point of the lake to take a picture. It was only about a 15-minute walk from the parking lot and there were picnic tables under the trees.

I continued on the trail around the lake and was surrounded by orange butterflies everywhere. They were sitting on the trail, swirling around the trail, and swirling around me. They were so peaceful but sometimes it was hard to walk down the path because they didn’t want to move.

As I circled around the lake, I saw lots of people where the trees opened up. They had blankets and were lounging and eating. This is definitely why it was so crowded in the parking lot. It’s an easy hike to get to the end of the lake and people just chill there. To continue on the trail, however, there were wooden boards on the ground because it was swampy. A couple of times I had to maneuver around and sort of sank a little in the mud.

Once I made it around the lake, I hiked up the side of the mountain a little so I got more of a workout.

I went back to the motel and showered so I could meet Sarah’s friend, Bethany. My friend Sarah had put us in touch through Instagram and we agreed to meet up that evening. I met Bethany, her husband, and their two children (around ages three and five). We met at a really cool place that has food trucks, some picnic tables, and an indoor/outdoor bar.

It was great meeting Bethany and her family. We ordered some beer and sat outside in the warm sun. Bethany is someone I would totally be friends with back home. She was nice, smart, friendly, and loves the outdoors. Her husband is a nurse at the local hospital and Bethany is able to work from home. Her husband’s family lives in Bend and her mom recently moved up there too. They described Bend as a great place to live but housing is pretty expensive. This is partly because the city put in restrictions for building more houses. They don’t want it to become too big and ruin the reason many people like living there – its proximity to nature. Jobs are sometimes hard to come by there too.

Bethany’s two little boys played around the area and played with some of the outdoor games that were provided. We grabbed some food from the trucks and continued to hang out. It’s funny, I had just met these people, but they felt like people I had been friends with for a long time. I was very grateful that Sarah introduced us. Until this point, I had been completely alone in my travels and hadn’t really met anybody. Hanging out with them drinking some beer made me feel like me again. I needed that comfort and I’m incredibly grateful they were willing to meet up with a complete stranger.

The next morning, I met my friend Mandy for breakfast. I had originally met Mandy two years prior while on a training hike in Orange County, CA. I had my huge backpack on because it was my last hike before leaving to hike the John Muir Trail. Mandy also had a big backpack because she was training for the Trans Catalina Trail. She was so friendly and we had hiked together for about 20 minutes – until she had to take a different route. I friended her on Facebook after that and we had only interacted through Facebook in the last two years.

Mandy had recently finished school as an x-ray technician and moved to Bend after hearing about how beautiful it was. I met Mandy at a local café in Bend and we got in a long line to order some food. We were catching up about my trip and why I had decided to do this. When we got to the register to order our food, Mandy told the woman behind the register that I quit my job and I’m traveling the world. I was surprised at how excited the woman was and said that was her dream. I handed her the business card I created with my blog information and said “If you’d like to follow along, here you go?” I was surprised by her enthusiasm, “Yes, absolutely, I want to follow along.” That really pumped me up.

As Mandy and I caught up over breakfast, I told her how surprised I was that Oregon so far was very rural and did not seem like the stories you hear on the news about Portland. It seemed more like rural towns in the Midwest. She said that’s because Portland and Eugene are liberal but most of the state outside of those two cities is conservative. Mandy told me that when her new landlord saw her girlfriend come over, they suddenly started to say there were rules for how often she can have guests over. I felt bad for her. She’s one of the nicest people I know so to have people treat her poorly because of her sexual orientation made me frustrated.

During breakfast, Mandy told me that she had planned a 4-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Forest with a friend from Orange County. Her friend was flying in and they were going to drive up to the rainforest. She had it all mapped out and would hike about 16 miles to the Enchanted Valley and 16 miles back. She invited me to come along. I was torn because on one hand, I did have all of my backpacking gear and I wanted to see the forests in Washington state. On the other hand, I would have to go to Washington and then backtrack to Oregon to see Portland. I had also just booked the hostel in Portland for a week since they were filling up as this was their busy season. I wanted to stay somewhere for at least a week because staying 2 nights in places was exhausting. By the time I unloaded and got settled and then also researched what to do, there just wasn’t enough time to see the place. I wanted to feel a little more settled. I would need to move my reservation at the hostel if I went with them so I told Mandy I’d think about it and get back to her. After breakfast, she headed to work and I headed to Hood River.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek