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
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment below of message me if you have any questions!

 

Days 52-53: Unexpected Feelings at the North Pole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 49 – Mama Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 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
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Click to watch a quick video of the incredible drive!