Days 126-129: Pacific Coast Highway

Jimmy and I ate breakfast in Sierra Madre and then walked around the cute, small city. Afterwards, I made edits to my blog while Jimmy left to hang out with some friends.

I realized I was only a short 15 minute drive away from Mount Wilson, a mountain that I had hiked many times before. It’s one of the most difficult hikes in the area because it’s nonstop climbing. I enjoy the hike because it’s also mostly empty.

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The afternoon sun was beating on me. There isn’t much shade the first one and a half miles and it was 89°F with a real feel of 93°F. The dry air was mixed with smog. The hike was beautiful and offered some amazing, hard-earned views of the metro Los Angeles area.

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I finally got to a tree-covered area, but the heat didn’t let up. I was happy to enjoy the sunny day, but I was also looking forward to going north to cooler temperatures. I hiked a total of six miles and watched the sun move behind the mountain to set. The hike was difficult, but it was a good kind of difficult.

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I went back to Jimmy’s place to shower and then I drove to West Los Angeles for my friend Jessica’s birthday party. I saw some other friends there and met some new people too. There were a few women there that were interested in hearing more about the book I was writing about the John Muir Trail. I was also telling them about my travels. One woman said, “I’ve never met someone who actually did this. We all think about it, but you actually did it.”

The next day, I went to brunch with Jimmy and a mutual friend, Nguyen. We got to meet Nguyen’s boyfriend, who I had heard a lot about. We ate some delicious dim-sum and then had to part ways. I went back to Jimmy’s place to pack up my stuff and hit the road. Before I left town, I stopped at Costco in Burbank to get some water bottles and it took me 20 minutes to find a parking spot. The crowd made me happy to get away from the city.

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I started driving north, planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway this time. Previously I had driven highway 5, which goes through farmland. It’s quicker, but very boring. The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful roads in the U.S. It goes along the coast of California and winds its way around the mountains. It takes much longer because of the amount of turns and elevation gains, but the scenery is a fantastic payoff.

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I arrived at Morro Bay just as the sun was setting. I found my motel, Harbor House Inn. I parked my car outside of my room, brought my bags inside, and then walked down the street to grab dinner. I found a restaurant and ordered a sandwich to-go.

As I was paying for my order, the young guy around 20 years old asked, “You’re not from here?”

I replied, “No, LA.”

“Cool. Are you just on vacation?”

“Well, I’m traveling for two years.”

“Nice! It’ll be good to find a place you’ll want to live when you’re older.”

Flattered, I thought, “How old does this guy think I am?”

I ate my dinner in my motel room and went to sleep. The next morning, I was loading up my car to check out and there was a guy in his late 20s to early 30s unloading his car into the room next to mine. He asked me, “Does your directv work?” I explained that I had issues with the HDMI cable and it seemed to be a known issue with the staff. The guy said, “I just got here 30 minutes ago and it’s not working. I guess I shouldn’t be watching TV anyway, right?”

I walked to the front office to hand in my key and check out. I walked back to my car to leave and the guy was still hanging out by his car. He said, “You’re leaving? Where are you going?”

“Hearst Castle and then probably Eureka.”

“At Hearst Castle, take the movie tour. Some people say it’s cheesy, but I think it gives you a good base of the place. Are you just on vacation?”

“No, I’m traveling for two years.”

“Wow! That sounds like a conversation I’d love to have with you. Dang it. Why couldn’t this have been a couple of days ago? You can’t stay another couple of nights?”

“No, I actually have plans in Whistler. Are you on vacation?”

“No, it’s a long story, but not as fun and adventurous as yours. Dang, I wish we could have a conversation.”

“Well, I gotta go, sorry.”

I got into my car and drove over to the large, famous rock that Morro Bay is famous for. I walked around, taking pictures and enjoying the cool breeze.

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After that, I drove 45 minutes to Hearst Castle. I joined a tour and we boarded a bus that took us on a 15 minute ride up the mountain.

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The place was built between 1919 and 1947 by California’s first female architect, Julia Morgan. William Hearst was a publishing tycoon and wanted to build “something a little more comfortable,” which became the extravagant castle on the large property where he grew up camping with his family. In the 1920s and 1930s, movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant all went there for parties.

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The tour was informative and we walked all around the property, stopping at the famous outdoor Neptune Pool. William Hearst died in 1951, and in 1958 the Hearst family gifted the property to the State of California and it became a historical monument. The family still owns most of the 82,000 acres surrounding the castle.

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Once the tour was finished, I took the bus back to the main office to get my car. I continued driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway. The views were incredible! This was the first time I had driven the highway through central California. The road forced me to make turn after turn after turn.

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I was surprised by how busy the road was considering it was the end of October and should have been off-peak season. I saw a lot of rented RV’s, especially near Big Sur.

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I stopped many times on the shoulder when I had the opportunity. The mountains against the ocean was a site to see. I was also lucky enough to watch the sunset over the ocean.

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I was on the highway for several hours before I hit San Francisco and then started to head more inland. It was dark as I drove past the city, but I didn’t want to get a hotel there because that area is the most expensive in the country. I drove to Williams, California and got a room at a Motel 6. The drive on Pacific Coast Highway is magnificent and I highly recommend you drive it at least once in your lifetime.

The next day I checked out of the motel, grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s and continued north, driving though some mountains in Oregon. I was saddened when I saw the damage from fires that that occurred a few months prior. When I spent time there in June and July, it was green and beautiful. But when I was in Canada and Alaska, several major fires blazed through the area. I could see the burnt trees along the Highway and couldn’t believe how different it looked.

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The landscape was dry and starting to flatten out as I continued north. After a full day of driving, I arrived at the Red Lion Inn & Suites in Vancouver, Washington, which is just past Portland, Oregon. It was around 9:00 pm and dark outside. The hotel wasn’t very nice, but it would do for the night.

I walked across the street to Subway and brought a sandwich back to my room. I had an Airbnb booked in Whistler starting November 1st, so I had to cover a lot of ground each day in order to make it in time. I was exhausted from so much driving and couldn’t wait until I had some downtime in my favorite mountain town.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 73: Misophonia, Glaciers, and a Familiar Face

I flew into Anchorage just after midnight and grabbed an Uber to my Airbnb. My driver was born and raised in Anchorage and said the “winters aren’t that bad.” He loves it there.

My Airbnb was in the basement level of a house and had its own entrance on the side. It was very dark as I carried my luggage down the wide steps that wrapped around the house. It was a little studio with a lot of space. It was much bigger than what I had experienced the previous few weeks. I was bummed I had only booked two days there.

Early the next morning, I took an Uber to Amanda’s house where my car was being kept. I briefly talked to Amanda, but had to leave to make my car appointment at the Subaru dealership to repair my window.

After waiting for two hours, the dealership told me they wouldn’t have the car finished by the time I needed to leave for the glacier tour I signed up for. I took their shuttle to the visitor center to meet the group.

The tour time was changed to an earlier time, which threw off my day, but they assured me I’d be back to the dealership by 6:00 pm to pick up my car. The tour guide, Bill, was originally from Minnesota. He was in his 60s, had a short white beard, and was wearing a beret and driving gloves. He talked in a tight, raspy voice that almost seemed fake.

Bill was on the phone with his boss about filling up the tour, so he accepted a walk-on guest for cash. It was clear that it was the end of the season because they combined the tours and only offered one that day. In our group, there was a guy in his early 30s from Rhode Island, a girl in her early 30s from San Francisco, two girls from Australia in their 20s, a woman in her 60s, and a girl in her late 20s that we picked up 40 minutes outside of Anchorage. I was really surprised to see so many single travelers.

We all got into the van to head towards the first stop: a glacier about an hour south of Anchorage. I sat in the front seat next to Bill. While I was happy to see the beautiful views on the clear day, Bill kept pointing his finger at things right in front of my face. He was also smacking gum, which was driving me insane. The woman in her 60s sitting behind me was also making some sort of strange noise, like she was sucking her spit through her teeth. I absolutely can’t stand noises like this. It invokes a rage inside of me and I’m unable to focus on anything else. It’s a thing, it’s called Misophonia.

Maybe it was the disgusting sounds, or the fact that the woman kept asking stupid questions while talking over Bill, but I was feeling annoyed by the tour. Bill was clearly not a tour guide, he was basically just a driver. I felt that I could have just driven myself to the glacier and the animal park where we were going. However, it was a beautiful day and I had the opportunity to see Turnagain Arm in clear skies and without having to focus on the road. We stopped a couple of times to see some amazing views.

Bill told us that when it’s low tide, the water sinks back so far that muddy quicksand appears, making the area look unfamiliar everyday. When I drove this road from Homer, it was indeed a completely different experience because it was cloudy and high tide.

We were running ahead of schedule so we stopped at a river where people can view salmon. There’s no fishing allowed so the salmon population can grow. I couldn’t believe how big the salmon were!

On the drive, Bill told us that Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than anywhere else. Alaskans are proud of this – I had heard it from a few people. Bill told us that Alaskans also have more ATVs, planes, boats, and motorcycles than anywhere else.

We made a quick stop to eat lunch on our own at a cafe near the glacier. Shortly after, we were dropped off to board a boat to see the Portage Glacier.

The guide did a good job telling us about the glacier and the geography of the area. The boat crossed the lake full of melted glacier water and there were giant pieces floating around.

As we got closer to the glacier, it started to look bigger and bigger. It was white and blue with a streak of brown down it from all of the eroding debris that gets trapped.

The boat stopped a few times while we waited to see if a piece would break off into the water. While glaciers are melting globally, they are melting the fastest in Alaska.

We didn’t see any pieces break off, but it was a sight to see. It’s crazy to think that the water in the glacier has been frozen for so many years.

Once the boat returned to the dock, we boarded the van and were taken to a wildlife refuge, where we could explore on our own for an hour. It was a large property and I watched the bears feeding, wolves jumping on a roof, and other animals roaming around.

On the way back to Anchorage, the woman behind me opened a bag of Fritos for all of us to smell and of course chomped on them. We saw several police officers that had pulled over fellow travelers. Bill told us the police will pull people over if they’re holding up five or more vehicles because they’re going too slow. I had seen signs telling people to pull over if they’re holding up five cars – it’s the law. That road is a big tourist road and Bill was happy to see them pulling over tourists who were going too slow. Just then, we watched a police car turn on his lights to pull over another car. Bill told us Alaska was short on police, but 100 new recruits just finished training and they were hiring another 100.

Bill dropped me off at the Subaru dealership at 5:45 pm, just in time to pick up my car before they closed. I drove to downtown Anchorage to meet a friend, Amy, who lives there. She was at a storytelling networking event and welcomed me there. This was a group of people who shared their stories as a form of art.

I enjoyed some appetizers while meeting people who had previously shared their stories. One guy worked at Enron and told a story about espionage. Another guy, Eric, worked at AIG during the collapse and moved to Los Angeles to change careers. He was working as an unpaid intern for a movie studio when he decided to sue them because of their unfair practices. They were basically working people full time for free and calling it an internship. Eric won the case against them, but it lost on appeal. However, movie studios now pay for internships out of fear of lawsuits.

Eric went on to law school and became a lawyer. He was supposed to be in Anchorage for a one-year contract, but now he works for the ACLU and has been in Anchorage for three years. They all joke that Anchorage has a way of pulling people into staying longer.

I also met a woman who had told a story about her divorce and sexual discoveries after it. I wished I had been there when they had originally told their stories, but I was happy I got to hear the summaries.

Once the networking event was over, Amy and I went to another restaurant for dinner on the rooftop. It had been 60℉ that day, but as the sun set it started to feel much colder. The sunset was incredible and I was happy that this was how I was spending my last night in Anchorage.

Amy and I used to work together many years ago. She sat across from me in another department and we had some mutual friends. She left the company long before I did, but through Facebook I was able to get to know her better. It was awesome to catch up in person.

After being married for 13 years, Amy got a divorce. It had been three years since the divorce and we bonded over our similarities. Amy is really smart, thoughtful, and friendly. She moved to Anchorage because that is where her ex-husband is from. She’s stayed because it’s grown on her.

It was late and getting cold, so I took Amy home and then went back to my Airbnb to rest. I am so thankful to know people who live all over the world. It’s really encouraging to see a friendly, familiar face in an unfamiliar land.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 64-65: Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 62: Sadness in Anchorage

I checked into my Airbnb around 10:00 pm and followed the directions to get inside. I climbed the stairs outside and took my shoes off at the landing. The house had three stories: the top floor where the owners live, the lower level with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom, and the basement level floor with two more rented rooms and a shared bathroom.

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I got settled into my room and went to sleep feeling happy and content. The few days prior to arriving in Anchorage were wonderful, fun, encouraging, and beautiful. They were also tiring. I didn’t get much sleep and I was starting to get a cold. I took some cold medicine and tried to let myself sleep in the next day, but I still woke up after about seven hours. I laid around and got some things done like writing reviews of my recent Airbnb stays.

After a few hours, I headed to Target to do some shopping. I talked with my sister while sipping on my Starbucks latte. For the first time in a long time, it felt like a regular day that I would have experienced before I started traveling.

After Target, I headed to Subway to grab a sandwich. The music playing was a country song I had heard many times on the radio station in Fairbanks. It goes “sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat.” It was so noticeable to me because you never hear country music playing in Los Angeles. But I had heard this song so much in the last week, I actually recognized it.

I got back to my room at the Airbnb, ate, and watched Like Father on my iPad mini. A guy I had matched with on Tinder messaged me and asked if I like to watch volleyball because there was a game that night and the following night at the University (my profile mentions volleyball). I asked what time the games were and he said 7:30 pm. I thought about it for awhile because I needed to pay bills and catch up on some work, like writing. I finally showered and messaged him around 6:30 pm asking if he still wanted to go to the game that night. He wrote back around 7:15 pm saying “Oh, I’m sorry Christy! I was just telling you about the game. I came over to my buddies to help him move.” He continued to message, trying to get to know me.

What the heck?! Who does that? I felt like an idiot for thinking he was asking me out. My face literally got flush with embarrassment. But then I got irritated wondering why he would ask me if I liked watching volleyball and then give me the details as far as days and times, but not actually ask me out. That’s pretty crappy. I didn’t respond to his other messages.

My parents called and I talked with them for awhile about their current trip in Colorado. I briefly mentioned that I was on a dating site. My dad started into a rant about what I need to look for in men worth marrying. This really frustrated me. I told my dad I do not plan on getting married again. It cost me significantly, both emotionally and financially, to get out of my marriage. Nobody can ensure their partner will actually be a decent person for decades. My dad was not happy about this and the whole conversation left me feeling incredibly judged and alone.

I want a life partner. I want someone who loves me for me. Not for the person they think I am or for the person they wish I was. I want someone who sees me. My ex-husband never saw me. He didn’t notice anything about me. He didn’t love me. I want someone who actually remembers things about me, asks about my day, asks about things that make me who I am.

I was feeling incredibly lonely. Not just lonely, but completely alone. It’s the feeling that I am not “number one” to anybody. Not a single person in this world puts me first. I am nobody’s “person.” Friends, family – they all have a number one. I am not it. I am somewhere on the list, but will never be number one. There was a pain in my heart knowing I was down on every single list.

I felt sad. And then I felt frustrated. I don’t want to get married again and people can’t seem to understand that, especially my parents. I do want a partner. But there are no guarantees in life. If that person is not who they led me to believe or they change drastically into a terrible person, I want the freedom to get out easily without losing all of my money.

Marriage is one thing in life you cannot control. You can work so hard, do all the right things, and it can still fail. You cannot force your partner to invest in the relationship, and if they don’t, you have two choices. Your first choice is to stay in the marriage, unhappily and hope it gets better. A lot of people do this. I see people all the time who are unhappily married. Your second option is to get a divorce. That’s it. There is not a third option.

This is a bad deal in my eyes. I feel that when people are married, they know they can slack off and their spouse will not divorce them for little things like forgetting a birthday or not helping out around the house. The thing is, all those little things add up. That’s what makes or breaks a relationship. If you’re just dating, people know it’s easier for their partner to end it so they’re more likely to keep investing and be a good partner. Because if not, your partner could easily end it. But with marriage, there’s no such thing as an easy ending.

I was frustrated with the fact that I could have a few amazing days and suddenly feel so sad and lonely. My Myers Briggs personality says my personality type is the type most at home in a relationship and always looking for that life-long partner. It feels like a curse. I am independent and I would rather be alone than be with the wrong person. But yet, I still want that partnership. I want the love, the intimacy, and the adventure. And I don’t have it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment below or message me if you have any questions!

 

Day 56: Friends in Fairbanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or message me if you have any questions!

Days 54-55: Locals in Fairbanks

The next day I tried to sleep in but the people above me were incredibly loud, stomping all over the floor. Frustrated, I headed out for a riverboat cruise. When I arrived, there were many buses and lots of people lining up to board the huge boat. One bus had a sign that read Princess Cruises. I asked the woman holding the sign, “Princess Cruises, as in the cruise? How are you in Fairbanks?” The woman explained that they offer a “land and sea” cruise. The passengers take a six-hour bus ride to Fairbanks so they can explore inland.

It was cold and very windy outside, but I sat on the top open-air deck anyway. I love top decks because I get to see so much more and I enjoy the fresh air. I grabbed my free coffee and donut and attempted to eat and drink without spilling all over myself.

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The riverboat cruise had a narrator that shared many interesting facts about Fairbanks. The boat stopped while we watched some dog mushers training their huskies.

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Then the boat came to a village that local natives set up to replicate what their villages looked like many generations ago.

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We disembarked and sat through a few demonstrations and presentations about life in the village and preserving their culture. It was really neat and they did a great job of storytelling.

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Once the riverboat tour finished, I drove to the Alaska Pipeline. There is an area where the pipe is above ground and visitors can see it and read a little about the history. It’s actually pretty fascinating. Spanning 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez with a diameter of 48”, it crosses three mountain ranges and more than 500 rivers and streams. According to the sign, it cost $8 billion to build in 1977, which was the largest privately funded construction project at that time.

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Near the pipeline was a place called Gold Daughters. I arrived just before they closed, but they still let me pan for gold. The business was started by two sisters who appeared to be in their 20s-30s. They were both very pretty women, wearing shirts that read Professional Gold-digger. They are from Alaska and their father was a miner. They teach you how to pan for gold, and then you buy a bag pay dirt (ranging from $20-$100) and whatever gold you find, you can keep.

One of the sisters taught me how to pan properly using some regular dirt. The water was cold and hurt my fingers. While she helped guide me, she asked me if I was there for work. I told her no and explained I was traveling. She lives in Fairbanks from March through September and the rest of the year she lives in Portland with her husband who is a lawyer.

My pay dirt had several little nuggets, which they told me was pretty good because most people just get shavings. We took my gold inside and the other sister showed me keychains and necklaces with little lockets, and explained they could put the gold in one of those. I selected the keychain and my little gold nuggets sat inside the small round locket.

I liked that keychain. A couple months later, I was getting into my car and the locket hit something, the clasp broke open, and my gold nuggets went flying all over my car. They scattered under my seats and spread all over the inside of my console, never to be seen again.

The sisters were really friendly and stayed late to let me finish up. It was time for dinner so I drove to the nearby Silver Gulch Brewery. It was busy so I sat at the bar. The bartender was friendly and recommended the fish and chips, which is what I ordered. To this day, it’s the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten!

The restaurant filled up and I overheard someone say the wait for a table was 90 minutes. To my right was a couple who have been married for 25 years. We started to talk and I asked what it’s like living in Fairbanks. They said the winters aren’t too bad – it gets to -40 or -50 ℉. Not that bad?!

I talked politics with the couple because I really enjoy hearing perspectives from other parts of the world. They told me Alaska had a big vote coming up in the November election because there was an initiative called Save the Salmon. They told me the campaign was started by a group in Oregon, people who don’t actually live in Alaska. The couple was very upset about the initiative because they described it as limiting for any new development. The couple told me how much locals use the salmon to fish for food and it reminded me of the riverboat cruise and how the natives also fish for salmon all summer, dehydrate them, and feed them to their dogs all winter. Salmon fishing was very  important to their way of life.

The couple went on to tell me how Alaska was very divided because “Anchorage is full of young liberals who want to increase taxes and legalize weed.” They said their utility and tax bill each year is about $20,000 because of how much energy they have to use in the winter months. The younger generations say they’re ok paying income tax, but this couple described what they’re paying already in taxes and utilities and why they need the tax breaks to keep living there. They also said that “three in every five cars on the road now has someone high driving.”

As the couple talked, I realized I was having an allergic reaction to the cider I was drinking. I have severe allergies and had been having random reactions the past few months, something my doctor has been trying to figure out. My chest was in a lot of pain and I didn’t have any Benadryl on me so I asked the bartender for some water and drank a couple of glasses, hoping to flush it out. Thankfully this helped!

The couple left the bar and the restaurant was starting to empty out a bit, so I started talking with the bartender. He is from Pennsylvania and came to Fairbanks for the summer in 2001. He ran out of money so he stayed for the winter, working. That kept happening over and over and he kept getting pulled into staying. He talked about how his wife moved to Idaho while they were dating, but came back because she missed it there. We talked about how hard it is crossing the Canadian border. One time he lost his voice and Canadians gave him a hard time getting through.

I asked him why he likes Fairbanks so much and he said, “In the winter, it becomes less about living, and more about surviving. If someone’s car breaks down on the side of the road, someone will pull over and help. We have to. It’s a community and we’re all in it together – to survive the winter.” I thought that was a nice way to put it and a nice sense of community.

Another bartender came over and gave me tips of things to do in Fairbanks, Denali, and told me I must go to Homer, Alaska. He said, “Homer is what all the postcards of Alaska look like. Go there and go to the Salty Dog Saloon.” I appreciated all of their tips and decided I’d make a trip to Homer before leaving Alaska.

I booked six nights in Fairbanks because I needed to get some things done, like a much-needed oil change, so I spent the next day on errands. Almost two months of traveling meant that I had driven more than 5,000 miles. My passenger side window was giving me problems as well. Ever since Oregon, the window would randomly get stuck, or bounce back down once it hit the top of the door frame. I had spent the last month avoiding opening the window.

Ken at the Subaru dealership smugly said, “Let me show you a trick.” He held down the electronic window buttons at the same time and held them there for about 30 seconds to “reset” them. He ignored me as I told him a reset wouldn’t work because there was something wrong with the mechanism. As I suspected, it didn’t work and frustrated Ken. He said, “Now you’re going to make me look bad because it’s not working.”

I sat in the waiting room while Ken had a mechanic look at my car. It struck me how relaxed I was. Normally, I’d be waiting at the dealership with anxiety, thinking about my to-do list. Or I’d impatiently take an Uber home so I could get some stuff done. Now that my time is much more flexible, I felt at peace just hanging out at the dealership. There is so much freedom living a life that is not “busy.”

Ken walked over and gave me the bad news: a window mechanism was broken and they didn’t have the part in stock. Fairbanks is remote, so the delivery would take seven days to arrive. Since he couldn’t repair my window, Ken offered to give me the $75 oil change for free.

My neck had been hurting for days (probably because of so much driving), so I went to a local chiropractor in a strip mall. When I walked inside, a few men were at a counter across the room and stared at me. I noticed guns hanging everywhere and I slowly backed my way out of the store. Looking up at the sign in confusion, I realized I accidently walked into a gun store, not the chiropractor’s office. I was definitely in Alaska.

When I walked into the correct office, I noticed that the woman behind the counter had a baby strapped to her chest. It took me by surprise because I wasn’t used to seeing people working with their babies in tow. The chiropractor was talkative and helped relieve some of the pain.

On the way out, he followed me to the sidewalk and asked, “Hey, can you give me your honest opinion? What do you think about the receptionist wearing a baby?” I told him that at first I was surprised and figured it’s a smaller, more remote area so maybe that’s how things are done here. I also told him that I have a lot of friends with babies and it’s hard for them to go back to work, hard to find childcare, and it’s difficult to balance both. If an employer is willing to help them out and let them bring their baby into work, I don’t think it’s a problem as long as they’re doing their job. He thanked me for my input and said they’re trying it out to see how it goes.

The chiropractor recommended a restaurant called The Turtle Club so I went there for dinner. It was a nice restaurant, so I sat in the bar area that was more casual. I had a table to myself and it quickly got crowded. I wasn’t feeling well, so once I ate I went back to my Airbnb to take some Emergen-C and rest up.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

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 50: Alaska Arrival!

On my way out of Haines Junction, Yukon, I stopped at a gas station to fill up. I was advised to drive on the top half of my gas tank because the stretches between gas stations could sometimes be hours.

Two older women from Whitehorse struggled to operate the pump and one said, “Ugh, small towns.” Inside, I got a latte and a small pack of mini donuts for $8.35, which I thought was overpriced. As I walked back to my car, the poor gas station attendant had to run outside and help someone else operate the gas pump. To be fair, the pumps can be confusing. Sometimes you have to leave your card in, other times you need to take it out. You also have to preauthorize an amount before it will start to pump.

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I continued on the Alaska highway into the mountain range that had taken my breath away for the last several days.

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All of a sudden, I spotted a large, majestic moose on the side of the highway! He took off as soon I came to a stop. Shortly after seeing the moose, I saw a bear foraging on the side of the road! I stopped in the middle of the road and watched him for several minutes until a large truck honked his horn behind me. This is part of why the Yukon feels so untouched.

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After driving for just under four hours, I arrived in a tiny town called Beaver Creek. I didn’t have cell service most of the drive, so I pulled into the visitor center. I went inside and an older man with long gray hair welcomed me by shaking my hand. He told me the US border is only 20 miles away, but the first two small spots in the US that had accommodations are now closed down. The first available place to stay the night would be in Tok, about two hours and 40 minutes away.

The man told me that there are only four motels in Beaver Creek and he believed they were all sold out for the night. I sat in my car and checked Orbitz. Sure enough, it showed four motels and they were all sold out. I decided I would continue on to Tok, Alaska. I booked a private room in a hostel to make sure I had a room.

Before leaving town, I stopped to fill up on gas again. The bees were no joke and surrounded me and my car. When I ran inside to get a snack, I saw that the gas station was attached to a motel. I asked the girl behind the counter if they had any rooms and she confirmed that they too were sold out.

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I was almost to the US border and I started to get nervous because I was hassled when I came into Canada. I had apples and blueberries with me so I quickly googled and found that as long as fruit is from the US or Canada, it’s fine to take across the border.

Just before the border, there are signs showing the line between Alaska and Canada. I pulled over and looked into the forest. A line of trees was cut out to show where the border was. There were a few people in RVs taking pictures and it was exciting to be at this milestone! I took some pictures and couldn’t believe I was already to Alaska.

When I pulled up to the small border station, the agent asked me a few questions.

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Agent: “What are you doing in Alaska?”

Me: “I’m driving the Alaska highway.”

Agent: “How long will you be here?”

Me: “A few weeks.”

Agent: “Ok, that should work. Did you buy anything in Canada that you’re bringing into the US?”

Me: “No”

Agent: “Ok, welcome home!”

I felt so relieved! Getting into Canada felt like I had to prove I wasn’t a criminal.

Once I was in the US, things were different. There were more cars, the power lines were tilted and looked like they were falling over, and a few places were abandoned. I was also getting into more of a valley and the mountains were in the distance. I was used to being right in the mountains for days, so the views seemed a little underwhelming.

img_5800img_5808img_5811I arrived at the hostel at 7:00 pm. It was a small, wooden cabin with a shared living room and kitchen, four bunk beds in the living room behind a curtain, and three private rooms. My private room had a twin bed and a small bathroom attached. My name was on the list and the key to my room was in the door.

I needed dinner so I drove a ½ mile away to Fast Eddy’s. It was a rustic restaurant and it was packed! Tok is a small town (population of 1,300), so this was probably one the few restaurants that offered a sit-down dinner.

The hostess said it would be a few minutes until she had a table available. In front of me was another single female waiting for a table. She was in her 20s, had two long braids, and had an earthy look to her. I felt so plain next to her. She was the type of girl who looked like she went on adventures and lived life as a free spirit. I look like a regular, plain girl.

I get self-conscious of this at times because I’m not someone who looks “cool”. I don’t wear the most fashionable, hip, earthy, or free-spirit kind of clothes. My look is very regular and oftentimes boring. So many women have such a great sense of style.

But then I remember not to judge a book by its cover. While I may look pretty average, I’m not average. Instead of sitting there in self-pity, I gave myself a pep talk. I reminded myself that I’m the one that hiked the JMT solo. I’m the one who quit a successful job, sold a house, and am on an amazing adventure. I may not look like it, but I am a free-spirit and I am badass. Often times people look like a free-spirit, but once you get to know them, you realize they’re actually just pretending and living a pretty regular life. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and I have to consciously remind myself that I am me – nobody is like me and I don’t need to dress how someone expects me to. If I look plain, so be it.

I was seated at a table, enjoyed the salad bar, and ordered the overpriced salmon. Once I finished my salad, the waitress told me, “Your salmon is behind that bus.” Confused, I asked “What?” She said, “We got a bus full of 50 people and your salmon order is behind them, so it’s going to be awhile.”

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The restaurant was expensive and I figured it was because it was so remote. Then I remembered I was no longer in Canada, so the price was actually the price in US dollars – no more Canadian discount.

When I got back to the hostel, there was a middle-aged woman named Sharon sitting outside on the porch. I joined her while her husband was inside resting in one of the private rooms. We enjoyed the fresh air and the fact that it was 9:00 pm and still light outside.

Sharon and her husband were from Winnipeg and flew to Whitehorse a few days prior. They were on their way to visit their kids who were working in Dawson City, but they wanted to explore a little bit first. Their kids are 23 and 24, and work as a dishwasher and a waiter. They were both working there for the summer because Dawson City has a hard time finding enough workers for their tourist season. In your first year working there, they give you 40% of your rent back and the second year, they give you 50% of your rent back and a week-long cruise.

Sharon was talkative and fun to talk to. She told me about their trip and the things they planned on doing. She also told me about their trip so far and things they had seen. They had stayed the previous night in Beaver Creek and went to a show at a bar with two older women playing music. One woman sang, “I might be twice the woman now…” referring to her weight gain as she aged.

Sharon and her husband have been married for 30 years and were high school sweethearts. She thought it was cool that I was on this adventure. As we talked, a middle-aged couple pulled up on their motorcycle. They were from Chili. Sharon had talked to them earlier and said they rode their motorcycle all the way from the tip of South America.

The four bunk beds weren’t occupied, but the three private rooms were taken. I love staying in places like this because it brings people together. I get a chance to hear other people’s stories and I get to enjoy some company for the evening. I went to bed and the cold wind howled against window, reminding me that I was indeed in Alaska.

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 42: A Stranger Named Pete

It was time to check out of my romantic safari tent and hit the road. Sweat started to drip from the heat and humidity as I carried items up the steep incline to my car. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was headed next and didn’t have anything booked.

I was told I needed to see the Skookumchuck Narrows before I left the area. The Skookumchuck Narrows is a straight forming the entrance of Sechelt Inlet and people come from all over the world to see it. Twice a day, the tide changes and the flow of seawater switches, reversing the direction of the rapids.

After the quick 20-minute drive, I arrived at the entrance of the trail. The sign didn’t include much information, but it said no cars were allowed. I grabbed my purse, thinking this would be a quick hike. It was touristy and some people were wearing regular clothes, so I thought this couldn’t be much of a “hike”…famous last words.

After walking down the gravel road for 15 minutes, I came to another sign: the hike would be another 4 KM (2.5 miles)! I hadn’t eaten breakfast, was carrying my gigantic purse, and wasn’t in proper hiking attire, but I didn’t feel like walking back to my car.

Once leaving that sign, the trail became an actual hiking trail. I felt unprepared without my hiking shoes and backpack, and I hate sweating in normal clothes. If I’m prepared to hike and sweat, it doesn’t bother me at all. Unfortunately, this sort of ruined the hike for me because it was such a distraction.

I passed several people walking back to their car. Some were wearing workout clothes and others were in flip-flops. I heard people speaking in Chinese, Russian, French, and English.

As I was close to arriving at the Narrows, I saw a memorial adorned with flowers. “In memory of Pete Tipping who died on Friday, July 27, 2018 while hiking with his family on this trail.”

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There was also a packet of papers inside a laminated file with information about Pete. I pulled out the papers and read through some it. It described Pete as a “Devoted husband, loving father, and a joyful soul with a smile for everyone and a joke for every occasion.” He was only 41 years old and a “towering personality, even beyond his 6’3” frame, whose genuine warmth and concern for others was an honest reminder of what the world can be and should be. He was smart but never pretentious; he was sarcastic but never mean spirited; chatty but always ready to listen; opinionated but always thoughtful.”

Pete was from Toledo, OH and had died one week before I was on the trail. I had no idea how he died. Was it from the trail? Did he trip and fall? Did he have a heart attack? It made me sad to think this guy was on vacation, probably having a great time. And just like that, he’s dead. Someone went to the effort to put a memorial there for him with his life story so I felt it deserved to be read.

It made me think about how short our lives are. When you go on vacation, you don’t expect to die. Something about dying when you’re supposed to be having such a good time made me sad. For your family members, it must feel like the rug was pulled from under their feet.

Shortly after my stop at the memorial, I arrived at the lower level of the narrows. Although I missed the time of day when the water is most active, there were little whirlpools forming all around. A boat was crossing, using all of its power to make it through the narrows.

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I leaned against a rock and took in the sun, watching the whirlpools and thinking about Pete. Reading about Pete reminded me to treat each day as a precious gift. Even on days when I don’t feel good or feel happy, I still want to appreciate it.

The breeze dried off some of my sweat and I was getting hungry. When I got close to the entrance of the trail, there was a little café that was serving baked goods and some lunch-type food. I got a sandwich and sat outside cooling off and hydrating.

It would take about an hour and a half to get back to the ferry. I still didn’t know where I was going, but figured I should head back towards Vancouver.

I stopped for gas for the first time in Canada. The price was $1.55 – so cheap!  However, the gas pumped right passed 17 gallons. That was when I realized we were talking liters, not gallons. Sometimes I forgot I was in Canada, until something like the metric system reared its head.

I arrived at the ferry and lined my car up into a stall. I had about an hour wait until the next one arrived, so I searched for places to stay on Airbnb in Vancouver. It happened to be a holiday weekend for Canada so there weren’t many places available. Those left were extremely overpriced – around $180 for a 2-star motel.

I sent a request to book a room in an Airbnb and boarded the ferry while I waited for a response. The ferry ride was just as beautiful as before.

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I was getting nervous about not having anywhere to stay when I suddenly found a room to rent on Airbnb for only $52 for the night and booked it. The room was on the east side of the city, so I didn’t arrive until 8:15 pm. I followed the instructions to open the small fence, walk down the sidewalk on the left side of the house, go up the stairs in the backyard, and find my room – number four.

As I climbed up the stairs in the back, a man in his 30s greeted me on the deck outside. He was a tenant and had been renting a room in the house for a long time. He asked me, “Are you here for room 4?” I replied, “Yes, I just booked it about an hour ago.”

The man explained that the owner had just built room four and I was the first guest. That explains why the room magically appeared online during my frantic search on Airbnb.

I walked through a shared kitchen and small living room to arrive at my room. It smelled brand new, so I opened the two small windows to let it air out. No windows screens yet again.

After bringing in my stuff, I drove down the street to Dairy Queen to eat dinner and finally tried the poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy). It was ok – very heavy.

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My Airbnb gave me access to a washer and a dryer, so I did some laundry. As I was getting ready for bed, I went into the kitchen, where two women in their pajamas stood. I quietly asked if I could get some water and one of them sternly whispered, “Shhh! Don’t wake the baby.” They had just put a crying baby to sleep. I headed to bed, hoping I wouldn’t be awakened by the baby in the middle of the night.

As I laid in bed, I thought about my adventure so far; the ups and downs, the friends I saw along the way, and the people I had met. Tomorrow I’d start heading towards the Alaska highway, which was my ultimate destination of this trip. Thinking about Pete and his short life, I was happy that I took the plunge to quit my job and experience all of this.

In December 2016, I had my first mammogram because my grandma died of breast cancer at age 42. They saw dense tissue in my left breast and told me I need to monitor it every six months to see if it grows because it could be breast cancer. That was a wakeup call for me. I had thought, “What if I only get 42 years on this planet like my grandma? Is this how I would want to spend my last few years?” The answer was no, which is what pushed me to follow my dreams. Sometimes we need reminders from people like my grandma and Pete to help us get out of a cycle and to see the big picture. If I only get 42 years, I’ll be happy with how I’ve spent the last few years.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider