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 98: Thoughts Driving on Vancouver Island

Before leaving Tofino, I stopped by an outdoor market selling locally made items. It was small, but I enjoyed walking around. I went to a restaurant, sat at the outdoor bar, and ordered a poke bowl. Afterwards, I got some ice cream at a small shop next door. The girl told me that the power was going to be out the following day, so most businesses were closed. She was discounting her ice cream before it melted.

Most people in the town were at an all-female surf competition. I drove by the entrance to the competition, but there wasn’t anywhere to park. I kept driving and hiked to a beach with beautiful views.

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My next Airbnb was in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, with a metro area population of 367,000. It’s on the other side of the island so it would be just over four hours to get there. Part of the drive was going back the way I had come, but this time I was able to see it in the daylight.

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At one point, I pulled over on a gravel shoulder to take some pictures of a lake. I left my car running and crossed the street. I noticed there was a small path leading to better views of the lake, so I hurried down to take some pictures. The lake was picturesque. It was huge and clear, surrounded by blue mountains.

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I saw evidence of a recent campfire fire and started to feel creeped out – like someone might be living out there. Just then, I heard a car door. Panicked, I realized I left my car running with all of my stuff in it, and couldn’t see it. Adrenaline kicked in as I started to run back up the small hill to my car. I yelled at myself, “You aren’t in the isolated Yukon any longer!” Relieved to see my car still on the shoulder of the road, I saw that a fisherman had just pulled up and was getting the gear out of his car.

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I continued my drive and noticed signs proclaiming that you are not allowed to hold up five or more cars. If you are, you need to pull over and let them pass. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the beautiful drive this time. The road wound its way around large boulders to my right and a lake to my left. I couldn’t believe all of this was on an island.

As I drove, I thought about where I’d go next. I knew I needed to be in Los Angeles soon for some doctors’ appointments and a friend’s birthday, but I also needed time to catch up on my writing. When I left California, I knew I wanted to see Canada, Alaska, Thailand, Australia, and Eastern Europe. But I wasn’t feeling it. My gut was telling me it wasn’t the right time to go overseas.

It’s difficult to decide where to go when you can go anywhere. There’s an immense pressure to not make the wrong decision. I was also realizing that traveling long term meant that I might not be able to date. If I traveled for two years, that meant no dating for two years. I had already been single for a year and a half, but it seemed much longer because the last few years of my marriage I felt alone and unloved.

Then I thought about the movie, The Holiday. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do a house switch between  LA and the English countryside. They are both fishes out of water, which is hilarious. Then, they each meet a man that’s just right for them, while also discovering more about themselves. Life can be like that, right? I could meet someone while traveling?

I arrived at my Airbnb in the dark and it was slightly drizzling outside. I was renting a room inside a house, but it had its own little studio-like area. A door separated the living room from my apartment, which included a bedroom, bathroom, and a small living space.

I met the owners – a young husband and wife with a toddler and two giant labs. We said our hellos and the wife showed me my space. I grabbed my bags and had to walk from the front door through the living room. The husband was playing video games on the large TV, and wearing headphones while saying “f*ck” a lot. The wife was folding laundry in the kitchen while also taking care of the toddler.

As I relaxed in my little living space, I could hear the husband playing video games for hours. I felt sad for the wife. This sort of marriage is so common. The woman takes care of the house and child while the husband plays games. I am aware it’s not always like that. Sometimes it’s the man doing all of the work, and sometimes people have very happy marriages with shared responsibilities.

My marriage was similar to this couple’s arrangement, only we didn’t have a kid. Even though we both worked full time, I did most of the house work while he watched TV. Even though I get lonely at times, this was a good reminder to me that I do not want a relationship like that. I would much rather be alone than be in a boring, monotonous marriage, doing the same thing over and over, in something that resembles a business arrangement more than a marriage.

I know everyday can’t be exciting and there is comfort in being still with a loving partner. But we get such a short amount of time on this planet and I don’t want to spend it like that. Waiting for the kid to grow up or waiting to retire. I want to live the life I believe I was created to live. I don’t know if I will live to be 100, but if I live my life the right way, it’ll be great no matter how many years I get.

POst Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 96-97: Whales in Tofino, Vancouver Island

I woke up in my bachelor pad Airbnb and used the restroom. Coming back to my room, I noticed my key inside the keyhole. I was very confused as to how it got there. Was that my key? Was it the owner’s second key? I was pretty sure I took the key out, but I couldn’t find mine. Great, I slept with the key inside the keyhole so anybody could have just walked inside.

I drove to downtown Vancouver so I could check out a store called Long Tall Sally. They make clothes for tall women and closed all of their US locations several years ago. I’ve had to order clothes online and this was my chance to try on some clothes in person. Driving through the city was frustrating and I was realizing more and more that I don’t want to live in a large city any longer.

I hate trying on clothes. It seems stores put the worst lighting in there. Plus, my weight is always fluctuating and it makes me feel depressed when clothes don’t fit. After purchasing a couple of items, I walked over to a coffee shop. The girl behind the counter rounded down the total because I was paying with cash and Canada got rid of the penny. She said they’ll probably get rid of the nickel soon.

After I got my coffee, I drove to the ferry terminal to go to Vancouver Island. I arrived at 1:50 pm and the next ferry left at 3:30 pm. The attendant said if the ferry was full, I’d have to wait until the next one at 5:30 pm. It cost $75 and I patiently waited in my car, praying there was a spot available. Thankfully, I was the last car allowed to board!

The ferry ride was beautiful. In the distance, I could see the high-rises in Vancouver. I love taking ferries as a mode of transportation because it has the added bonus of being a scenic boat ride. I wandered outside to take in the view. It was a clear day and the sun reflected off the water. We passed islands and mountains that reminded me of Norway.

The announcer made the call to return to our vehicles, so I made my way down the stairs to the lower car deck. A girl around nine years old was yelling and said, “F*ck!” Her mother said, “I didn’t think it could get any worse, but you just did it. Don’t talk like that.” The young girl started to hit her mother and the mother calmly replied, “Don’t hit me.” The girl hit her several more times as the mother kept saying, “Stop hitting me.” When we arrived at the car deck, the girl ran off as the mother shouted, “Stop!” I couldn’t resist any longer and I got right behind the little girl and sternly said, “You should show some respect.” She turned around at me with a shocked look on her face as she slowly walked back towards her mother.

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When we arrived, I started driving towards Torino. It would take a few hours to get there because it was on the other side of the island. The drive was beautiful and felt undiscovered. I drove through the tree-filled mountains, passing still lakes as the sun disappeared.

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During the drive, the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was taking place and Facebook offered the option to watch it live. I still had cell service so I played the video and I listened to it while I drove. I had the time so I was able to listen to most of the hearing. In my regular life, I wouldn’t have the time to listen to the whole hearing and instead would have to rely on news outlets to recap it. It felt awesome to be able to get the whole picture and to make my own conclusions. I didn’t have to rely on a reporter’s opinion about what happened. Most news outlets in the US unfortunately no longer report the facts without adding their personal opinion to it.

When I studied broadcasting and film in college in 2000, we were taught not to add our opinion. As a reporter, you are to remain neutral and report the facts. You shouldn’t cry when reporting about murders, for example. You just report the facts and let people come to their own conclusions. I don’t know of any news outlet in the US that simply report the facts without including biases. So for the first time in a very long time, I could simply listen to testimony and make up my own mind. I was surprised by how many people on Facebook used the phrase “believe all women.” Personally, I believe in listening to every case (testimony and evidence) before I will simply believe something.

It got dark at 7:30 pm and I didn’t arrive at my Airbnb until 9:00 pm. I had a hard time finding it on the dark country roads. The owner talked with me and helped me find it. It was more like a small lodge or a motel. I had my own room, complete with a creepy spider in the bathroom sink. At this point, all I could do was laugh since a spider was in almost every single place I stayed.

I updated my blog and went to bed late that night, so I slept in the following morning. When I opened my front double-doors I had an amazing view!

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I found two hikes in the temperate rainforest that were just a five-ten minute drive. I drove there and started to hike “trail A.” It was humid outside, but still slightly cool. I prefer temperate over tropical rainforests because they’re much cooler, but offer all of the greenery.

The trail had a wooden bridge path that wound its way through the forest with steps guiding me down and back up. Once I completed that trail, I walked across the road and did “trail B.” This was a similar trail that had a boardwalk. I passed giant trees, climbed lots of stairs, and listened to the birds sing.

Once I completed these trails, I hiked on a small trail that led to the ocean. I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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I signed up for an afternoon whale watching tour so I drove to the meeting place. The guide said this was their last tour of the season and I was happy I made it just in time. Our group put on full-body life jackets and we walked towards the boat. There was a family of four with adult children, two couples, and another single female. They were all from Germany. On the walk over, I talked with the single female. She said that she and her partner shipped their RV from Germany and are spending a year in Canada and the US. They started in Baltimore and explored a little bit of the east coast and then drove the Trans Canada Highway to the west coast. They planned to spend the winter in Carmel, California.

We boarded the small inflatable boat and rapidly took to the ocean. The boat was loud and the quick motor meant the guide didn’t talk while we were in route. The ride was so fun! We blasted through the water, skipping off waves in search of whales. At one point, our guide got a call that there were some whales in a specific area so we waited for them to surface.

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As we sat there waiting patiently, the boat rocked up and down with each wave. I get motion sickness on boats when I can feel waves. I tried hard to convince myself that I was fine, but I was on the verge of throwing up. I slowly reached into my water-tight bag to find my Dramamine. I didn’t have any water with me and even with water, I struggle to swallow pills. However, the motion sickness was so bad, I gathered spit in my mouth and was able to get the pill down. Thankfully, it worked pretty fast and I avoided having to chuck over the side of the boat.

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All of a sudden, a whale popped up from the water! We mostly just saw the water being sprayed from his blowhole, but then we were able to see the top of his back as he went back into the water. We stayed at the spot for around 30 minutes and were able to see two whales from a distance coming up and back down a few times.

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Our guide received a call saying a baby whale about three years old was in a nearby cove. They knew of this whale and our guide was excited as he raced over to the cove. We were the only boat there and as we patiently waited, the baby whale popped up right beside our boat! Normally the guides stay farther back so they don’t scare or injure the whales, but they said this baby whale liked to surprised boats like that. It was so awesome to watch him swim around us.

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Next, we went over to some rocks sticking out of the water where a lot of sea lions were sunbathing. After watching them jump into the ocean, we drove over to an area where otters were hanging out among seaweed and logs. They looked like little stuffed animals just playing around.

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The sun was setting and we sat there watching it sparkle on the water. We made our way to shore just in time to watch the sun make its final descent.

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I said my goodbyes to the group and drove over to a fish shack that had good reviews. I ate outside in the dark with a dimly-lit light above the table. As I ate, I surfed Facebook and saw post after post on both sides of the issue about the Kavanaugh hearing. I tried to tell myself to stop reading. Stop surfing. It was only making me angry and ruining the good feelings I had from whale watching. Eventually, I put the phoneaway and tried my best to be in the moment and enjoy my fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 92: Peak to Peak Gondola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 80: Hipsters and Coincidences

I checked out of my motel in Prince Rupert, British Columbia and felt like I should see a little bit of the city before I started my drive to Vancouver. I went to a small cafe in town, ordered a breakfast bowl, coffee, and set up my laptop. I needed to figure out my travel plans.

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A couple in their early 20s sat near me, also trying to figure out their travel plans on their sticker-laden laptop. They looked like privileged hipster backpackers and had pretentious attitudes. The guy told the girl, “I’m not trying to challenge you. You look up Jasper and I’ll look up Banff.”

After searching for a while, the girl replied, “There’s like films and a farmer’s market that day. We’ll want to be there for that.” The guy replied, “Yeah, it’s fine if we’re ahead of schedule. We can always hang out at a place longer.”

The guy told the girl he received a text from a friend in Portland saying they might cast him, “Good, I won’t shave my beard.”

I was annoyed by this couple. There are a lot of different types of travellers and that’s one of the best parts about traveling. But sometimes I feel isolated. When I run into people who travel long-term, it always seems like the same scenario – they’re in their 20s and didn’t sacrifice much to travel.

There are also people who are retired and have worked their whole lives to travel. I am often the odd one out, nearing middle age, no trust fund for support, and not retired.

I personally only know of one person who willingly left a successful job to travel with his wife in his early 30s for about five months. Then he took a risk and started his own company. Other than him, everyone I’ve known who quit their jobs to travel didn’t give up much (or often received a severance after being forced out). It’s hard for me to connect to some travellers because I willingly quit a job after working more than 15 years to earn a good salary. I started traveling at 38 years old, not 25. I sold a house in Los Angeles, which took me until I was in my mid-thirties to afford.

I get annoyed when I meet fellow travellers who don’t realize how good they have it. Someone who thinks it’s just a normal thing to do – travel for several months before starting a career after college. I did not grow up with money and the thought of being able to travel the world at that age was unthinkable. I know, I know, people who are in their 60s and retired think I’m young to be traveling. It’s all about perspective. I just think having to earn things in this world, having to make sacrifices, gives you an appreciation for things that others who were given things don’t understand.

I don’t mean to criticize other travellers because giving up anything to follow your dreams is meaningful, and they should all feel proud. It’s just that sometimes I feel like I can’t relate and it can feel isolating. I still applaud anyone who takes a risk and I love meeting fellow travelers, most of the time.

Forgive my rant…moving on! Before leaving Prince Rupert, I stopped at a local museum and browsed through it, learning more about life in the far North and the natives who come from the area. After that, I wandered through a beautiful garden. I left just after 1:30 pm and started my drive east towards Prince George.

 

The drive was beautiful as it wound its way through the mountains. “Avalanche area” signs reminded me that it must look very different in the winter.

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After driving for a couple of hours, I stopped at a gas station in a small town. On my way inside to use the restroom, I recognized a guy getting on a motorcycle. I had seen this guy on the ferry two days prior. He was sitting in a chair on the deck near me as I talked on the phone with my cousin. We didn’t talk, but I saw him a few times around the ferry.

When I got to my hotel in Prince Rupert, he was checking in right before me. We had randomly parked next to each other, and smiled as we passed each other carrying our luggage inside. This was now a day later and I hadn’t left Prince Rupert until 1:30 pm. What are the odds I’d see him at a gas station hours from there?

I laughed and said, “It’s you!” He laughed back, “Ha! The guy you’re probably sick of seeing!” For the first time, we chatted. He drove his motorcycle from New York and crossed into Canada through Montana. He drove to Alaska and took the ferry back too. He was making his way back to New York, but was hoping to drive to the Grand Canyon first. He quit his job and was trying to figure out his next move.

He appeared to be in his early 40s and asked me about my travels, which I told him about. He asked, “Are you vacationing or trying to figure things outs?” I replied, “Ha! I guess figuring things out too.” We wished each other well and went our separate ways.

I drove away astonished about the coniendences. What are the odds we’d take the same ferry, stay at the same hotel, and end up at the same gas station half a day later at the same time?

In high school we read Huckleberry Finn. My friend Lindy thought the book was unrealistic and said there is no way real life is full of that many coincidences. I’ve always been a dreamer (some would say naive), so I would tell her that life is like it is in movies and in books. Actually, real life is greater than any movie could be! Every time something unbelievable would happen in high school and college, I would shout to Lindy, “Huckleberry Finn!” People thought we were nuts, but it helped to point out every time life presented a crazy coincidence. Astonishing things happen all the time, but you have to open your eyes to see it.

 

Anyway, I arrived at Smithers and pulled into a parking lot to book a place to stay. I found a lodge on Airbnb that was sort of like a bed and breakfast, except they didn’t provide breakfast. I ate some dinner and headed to the lodge around 7:30 pm.

The owner let me inside and walked me to my room. She was 43, but looked to be 30 years old. I couldn’t believe it when she said she had five kids and the oldest was 23. She was really friendly and told me about her family, their 5-star rating, and about the two guests who left unpleasant reviews. You can’t please everyone all the time.

 

I was excited when I saw there was a hot tub on the deck upstairs, just past the kitchen. I changed and headed up. There was a middle-aged couple in the living space and we said hello.

 

I soaked in the hot tub, looking out at the mountains silhouetted against the night sky. It was so relaxing. While the day annoyed me at the start, it ended up being a pretty good day after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 75: Hiking on a Glacier

I woke up to the sound of rain against the roof of my tiny, rustic cabin. I cringed at the thought of getting out of my warm sleeping bag to the bitter cold air and rain, so I decided to play on my phone with the small amount of battery I had left. I reached for my glasses on the floor beside the box spring I was laying on and realized they were almost frozen. It was painful to put them on my face. I had tried to charge my phone with my solar charger, but it was too cold and the phone wouldn’t charge.

I played on my phone for about an hour and heard the rain stop. I threw my coat over my thermals and braved the cold so I could go to the bathroom. Looking across the small river, I noticed the clouds and mist had rolled in, creating an eerie feel.

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My quick venture outside left me feeling very cold, so I jumped back into my mummy sleeping bag and walked around the cabin with it wrapped around me as I dug through my backpack for breakfast options.

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I was elated when I discovered I had a powdered Starbucks vanilla latte packet. I used my Jetboil to make the latte and sat on the porch enjoying the view.

I ate a poptart for breakfast and packed up my gear. With my paid admission, I could stay there all day and hike Matanuska glacier. Once packed up, I drove about a mile to the parking lot. The natives own the rights to the glacier, but Bill (whom I had met the day before) owns the access rights. There is some sort of guidance on the first mile of the glacier.

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People are able to hike the glacier by themselves or they can book a tour where a guide will walk them to other areas, like the ice caves. They’ll also provide crampons for your shoes. I decided not to do a tour because it was expensive. I’ve also hiked on a glacier in Norway and didn’t feel it would be all that different. Plus, I could still hike it on my own to the main areas.

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The first section of the hike was sandy and muddy. Certain sections had metal grates or wooden pieces of boards to help stabilize the ground so people don’t sink. There was a “path” for people to follow, which was basically just scattered orange cones here and there.

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I started the hike and was trying not to sink. About ten minutes into the hike, I ran into Keenan, the guy who I had talked with the night before about camping. He was leading a handful of people on a tour. He stopped to talk to me and asked how my night was. I told him it was super cold, but the views made it all worth it. He replied, “Right on!”

I continued hiking, mesmerized by the still pools of water, gray sand, and ice slowly popping through. I started to head towards the ice caves, but a tour guide warned me not to go that direction without crampons. I found the trail again and continued.

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I came across an area with a crevasse that I needed to cross in order to continue. It was a pretty large gap and not having crampons made me nervous. I watched as a girl struggled to cross, squatting down because she was too scared to make the leap. Her friends on the other side were trying to convince her to jump. I walked further down and found an area that I thought was safer and crossed there.

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The ground was deceptive. It was gray from the dirt, but was actually ice. I got closer to the main body of the glacier and got worried that I would slip. After about 30 minutes of hiking, I made it to the top and the stopping point. To go further, you needed to be on the other side with crampons. It was incredible to see such a majestic glacier. The blue and white colors intertwined with streaks of brown dirt. It looked fake and it was hard to fully comprehend the size and scope of it.

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After taking in the views, I hiked back to my car. As I got closer, I ran into Keenan again. This time he was leading a new group to go out to the glacier. I asked him, “Don’t you get tired of doing these?” He replied, “No man, it’s something different every time! Are you sticking around for the day?” I told him I needed to keep driving north so I could catch a ferry back to Canada.

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When I got back to the parking lot, Bill had just pulled up with a bus full of people who were getting ready to take tours. I stopped outside of the driver’s side window to talk with him. He said, “It’s a good thing you had the cabin last night with all the rain. Kept you and your stuff dry.” I was indeed happy to have that cabin.

When I got to my car, I plugged my phone in so I could book a hostel in Tok. I had stayed there on my way to Alaska and I would go right through there again. I enjoyed my stay the first time so I booked a room to ensure it would be available.

The drive was beautiful as the fall colors were making their way into the forest. It was only September 6th, but yellow, red, and orange were starting to sweep the trees and bushes. I pulled over to take some pictures of the lakes that made perfect mirrors of the mountains.

I pulled into the hostel’s gravel parking lot around dinner time. I had booked one of the rooms that had two twin beds because it was cheaper than the private room with one twin bed and a bathroom (the one I stayed in previously). However, while I was booking it online, two guys were booking it in person. Because of the double booking, I got my old room again for the same price!

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I put my bags inside my room and two German guys who were staying in the room with two twin beds were about to make dinner. They told me they had salmon, vegetables, and rice, and I was welcome to join them. I hadn’t eaten dinner so I joined them in the kitchen while they cooked.

The guys were from a small town two and half hours from Munich. Flo was 29 years old and studied civil engineering (which is different than how the US describes it). He worked as a mechanic for a bit and wanted to stay with the company since they had good benefits, so he had recently accepted a role as a Safety Engineer/Manager and said, “Nobody likes you in this role.” Flo’s uncle moved to Prince George, Canada 40 years ago and raised his family there on a farm. Flo has visited them a couple of times, but this time he wanted to explore Alaska.

Julian was 30 years old and was a tax accountant. He worked at his dad’s company, which had about nine employees. He works with private citizens and small businesses and explained, “Taxes are complicated.”

The guys get six weeks of paid vacation a year. If people in the US received as much vacation as Europe or Australia, maybe we wouldn’t have to quit our jobs to travel.

Flo and Julian were taking two and half weeks to explore Alaska and started in Whitehorse, Canada. They looked into renting an RV, but it would cost them $4,500 euros, plus additional fees for going into the US and driving on gravel roads. That’s part of the reason I didn’t do an RV. It’s incredibly expensive to rent them, you still have to pay for hookups, can’t park it anywhere you’d like, and I didn’t want to attempt to drive it by myself.

Instead, the guys were staying in a tent they bought at Canadian Tire and said they didn’t realize it would be so cold already. Staying at the hostel was a treat for them. They were following a guide book and were heading to Valdez the next day.

The salmon that they pulled out of the cooler was caught by a guy at a campground they stayed at. They bought it off of him and did a great job cooking it. The three of us sat down to eat dinner like we were a family.

Shelley, the owner of the hostel stopped by to say hello and told me that her brother (who she had wanted me to go on a date with) couldn’t get his plane ready in time to take me on a ride. She said she’d stop by and pick me up in the morning because she wanted me to meet a friend of hers who lived in a log cabin that her husband had built. I agreed to go with her the following day.

Flo and Julian told me about life in Germany. They learn another language at ten years old. A lot of people choose to learn French and their president said learning French was a great way for them to mend their relationship with France after being at war with them for many years. Flo said, “In 100 years, I don’t think there will be any wars or issues between Germany and France. We know each other’s languages and we’re close now.”

Hearing Flo and Julian talk about their view of Alaska was hilarious! They rented a Malibu and thought it was too full of plastic. They joked, “Good thing it’s not hot here or else the plastic would all melt.” They were shocked at how many Alaskans drove trucks. They described Alaskan men as having “beards, stains on their shirts, hunting, fishing, shooting, and have a crack in their windshield.” They thought it took a special person to live in Alaska.

As we were eating dinner, two woman came in to stay in the private room with a double bed. They were about 50 and 70 years old and one was dragging in an oxygen tank. The women were worried about the noise, but we couldn’t hear it once they closed the door.

We finished dinner and I washed the dishes while they dried and put them away. They asked that I help them with some English words. “What is the word for a female cousin?” they asked. I laughed and told them, “female cousin.” One of them said “snorkeling” instead of “snoring” and we all laughed.

I took a much needed shower after spending the night in a cabin with no water. I was happy to have a bed again in a heated room. It was so great to meet Flo and Julian. They were generous with their food and were very hospitable. Each day brought new people into my life and it’s much richer because of it.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 74: Alaskan Adventure!

Before checking out of my Airbnb, I took advantage of the washer and dryer. After finishing my laundry,  I drove to Costco to get new tires. While I waited, I shopped around and ate at their food court. I noticed they had chili on the menu. It made me laugh. Portland had kale and quinoa salads.

I searched for a place to stay that night somewhere between Anchorage and Tok, but couldn’t find one that seemed right. By the time I left Anchorage, it was around 4:00 pm and I didn’t know how far I’d make it that day.

It was 65℉, clear, and sunny. I drove northeast through the mountains and the views were incredible! I felt the drive was prettier than the drive directly south from Fairbanks.

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Around 6:00 pm, I saw a sign on the side of the road that read “Glacier” with an arrow pointing down a gravel road. Intrigued, I drove down the windy road for a couple of miles until I arrived at a gate and a small shop. I went inside and was told it cost $30 to drive to Matanuska glacier, the world’s largest drive-up glacier, which was just about two miles away. 

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Two cars paid the admission and drove through the gate. I talked with a guy in his early 20s. Keenan told me that people park their car in the dirt lot and walk on the glacier. They offer tours to go further into the glacier, which includes ice caves. They closed in a couple of hours so I would have to hike it fairly quickly and still find a place to sleep.

Keenan told me that they offer camping spots, which “are basically just a flat part of the dirt and you can use the porta potty nearby.” It would cost $55 to camp and hike the glacier. I debated my options out loud, explaining I wasn’t prepared to camp that night, but I did have all of my gear in my car. My tent is only three season, however, and they told me it would drop to freezing that night. My sleeping bag is rated for 10℉ and Keenan said, “You can survive with that, but you’ll basically just be surviving.”

The owner, Bill, sat at the next register, looking serious and occasionally chiming in. He said he had a basic cabin that he’d let me use. He asked , “Do you have your sleeping pad?” I told him that I did. He said, “I can let you stay in my cabin. It’s just four walls and a box spring, but it’ll keep you warmer than your tent.”

There was nobody else camping there that night. They had been very busy during Labor Day weekend, but now the people who were there were just there for the day. I wasn’t sure about the cabin because it was about a mile from the glacier, while the tent spaces were right at the glacier. I asked Keenan which I should choose and he said, “Definitely the cabin.” The owner offered to show me the cabin and the tent spots so I could decide.

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I paid the $55 and followed the owner in my car to the cabin. Sure enough, it was just four walls and a box spring. The front porch didn’t have stairs, so I had to take a giant step to climb up it. There was no electricity, no water, and no heat. There was a sliding glass door on the porch with a view to die for.

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We drove to the tent spaces and they were basically in the gravely dirt parking lot and looked very unappealing, so I elected to stay in the cabin. The owner said, “We close up at 8:30 pm and aren’t back until 9:00 am so you’re on your own.” Them he drove away. I’ve survived worse. I backpacked three weeks in the Sierra mountains on my own.

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I unloaded my car with my backpacking equipment and put on pants and a coat as the sun set and the temperature started to drop. I was so thrilled to be staying there! It was completely secluded and I had a million dollar view all to myself.

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I was very happy to find a freeze-dried dinner that I had left over from a backpacking trip in Washington. I ate my food on the porch overlooking the small river of glacier water, and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. The clouds started to roll in, so I probably wouldn’t be able to see any Northern Lights.

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I went to the bathroom behind a tree and got ready for bed at 9:30 pm. I put on my thermals because it was already very cold. At 10:30 pm, I had to get up and go the bathroom again. I grabbed my headlight and went towards the trees. I could see my breath.

The sliding glass door on the cabin didn’t close all the way and there was a small gap letting freezing air inside. I got snug inside my sleeping bag and then heard some noises. It sounded like a large animal scratching something. I tried to convince myself that the cabin would keep me protected, even though the sliding glass door wouldn’t close all the way. Keenan told me it was unlikely I’d see a bear so tried to ignore the sounds. Eventually, all became quiet.

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I started to warm up a little inside my sleeping bag and was very pleased with my decision not to book a place and to just drive. If I would have booked a place, I wouldn’t have turned down the road to the see glacier. Or maybe I would have, but I wouldn’t have been able to stay the night there and there wasn’t really anywhere to stay that was very close. This felt like an adventure. This is why I came to Alaska.

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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