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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Days 59-60: Homer, Alaska

When I was in Fairbanks, the bartenders recommended that I go to Homer because it looks like the postcards of Alaska. They said it was a great, quaint little town on the water and was very walkable because all of the shops/restaurants are close together.

It was raining when I hit the road and clouds hovered around the mountains as the rain toggled from a sprinkle to a downpour over and over again. Once I got through Denali, the drive was flat and there wasn’t much to see. I talked with my cousin, Misty for a bit and that helped break up the monotony.

I passed through Anchorage, but still didn’t see much. After Anchorage, the next hour held incredible views as the road wrapped around the base of the mountain to the left and the ocean to the right. On the other side of the water were more mountains.

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It was a stunning drive until the landscape became fairly flat again for the next three hours. I talked to my friend Debbie and it helped with the long drive.

I arrived at the Airbnb around 8:30 pm. It was a large house on the side of a mountain, overlooking Homer and the Spit. The house was beautiful, had a front and back porch, and a bright green well-maintained yard. Two rooms are rented out, but I was the only guest.

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Jerry let me inside and showed me my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen. He was 68 years old, had a gray, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, and exuded a strong sense of confidence. His wife, Corrine, was in her 60’s, had long dark hair, manicured nails, was fit, and beautiful.

Jerry asked if I wanted a beer so I accepted a Corona. He got himself some whiskey. Corrine showed me a map of Homer and gave me some suggestions on what to do while I was there. She said, “Jerry calls me his wife, but we’re actually divorced. We were married for 30 years but we’ve been divorced for about four years. He bought this B and B and called me up and asked if I’d come help him run it so here I am.”

We all sat on the front porch, taking in the amazing view and watching the sunset. Their nine-month-old fluffy white little dog named Daisy took turns being cuddled by Jerry and Corrine. It had stopped raining but was still wet outside. It was also about 50° F so we put our jackets on.

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I learned a lot about Jerry and Corrine. Jerry is from Wisconsin and Corrine grew up a military brat, but had been in Anchorage for 38 years. They worked together at a transportation and moving company. Jerry had worked his way up to Vice President and Corrine worked in Sales, but they were retired now. They have a daughter and a granddaughter who live in Olympic, Washington and a son and grandsons who live in Anchorage.

Corrine went back inside while Jerry and I continued to chat. After retiring, Jerry did some consulting work in the transportation and moving industry. But then he decided they should escape the winters and move to Prescot, Arizona – where they had a friend. After two years, they decided to divorce and Jerry moved back to Wisconsin. He grew up there and still had friends and some family there, but he quickly realized things changed a lot over the 30+ years he’d been gone. He jokingly told me that his 50th high school reunion was coming up in the fall, but he didn’t want to go so he told his friend he had to stay in Alaska for moose hunting season. He laughed, “And he believed me!” Maybe it was the alcohol, but we laughed so hard at that.

When they lived in Arizona, Jerry was the president of the Home Owners Association. We shared horror stories (I was an HOA president for a condo complex in California) and Jerry told me about a tree he had cut down because it was damaging the wall near it. The guy who owned the house near the tree liked the shade and told Jerry, “I’m going to think you’re an a**hole from now on.” Another time, Jerry called animal control about feral cats roaming the neighborhood because he was worried they were carrying diseases. Some residents got angry at him and said they were going to call PETA because they loved cats. Jerry and I agreed that being president of an HOA is a thankless job that you can’t win.

Jerry had dated a few women – one he met at Costco. She was serving food samples there. I asked if he’d tried online dating and he responded, “If I can’t meet a woman in real life, there’s a problem.” Recently, he had dated a woman who lived in Seward (a couple hours north of Homer). This is a woman he dated on and off for nine years before he got married to Corrine. He said they realized there was no passion and they felt like roommates. Things were just different than the decades before so they broke up. Jerry was cracking me up. He is funny, smart, and was a boss. He’s super friendly and I could see why the women loved him.

Corrine told me in the kitchen (with Jerry not around) that she had tried Match.com in Arizona and within 20 minutes, she had over 200 matches. I could see why. She looked amazing for her age, and was a spunky and fun woman. She said some of the guys on there were terrible and didn’t have anything to their name. We both agreed that it’s best to date someone who is your equal. Equally successful and hardworking.

After living in Wisconsin for two years, Jerry decided to buy the house in Homer to make it a bed and breakfast. He bought the house based solely on pictures because there were six people coming to look at the house the following day. He had just broken it off with that other woman and called up Corrine in Arizona and asked her to help him run it. They had only been managing  the bed and breakfast for the last couple of months.

I asked Jerry why they got divorced. He said they both worked so hard all their lives, it was go go go. After they retired, they moved to a retirement place for those 55 and up, but it turned out most people were around 70 years old. He described one guy who would go get the paper, bend down and Jerry would be worried he wouldn’t get back up. Jerry and Corrine were the youngest ones there. They went from 90 miles an hour to 1 mile an hour. They just grew apart and had nothing to talk about.

I told Jerry I was divorced. He said, “It must be hard being single at your age. You’re in your prime. What are you, 32?” I told him I was 38 and he responded with, “You’re still in your prime.” We stayed on the porch talking until around 12:30 am.

In the morning, Jerry had cooked up breakfast – fresh caught salmon, hash browns, and eggs. He sat with me at the table and we talked about politics. I told him that while I was in Fairbanks, I was told there was a vote coming up about “save the salmon” that was an initiative created by a group of people in Oregon and asked if it was true. Jerry said, “Yes, it’s true. And the vote is no.” He described it the same way the couple had in Fairbanks. The initiative would hurt everyone living in Alaska. We sat outside drinking coffee, waiting for it to warm up a bit.

I headed to the Homer spit, which is the largest one in the world. The spit is a 4.5-mile long piece of land jutting out into the Kachemak Bay. The harbor serves up to 1,500 commercial and pleasure boats at its summer peak. Homer has a population of about 5,500 people and has fairly mild winters (for Alaska standards). The average temperature in the winter is 25° F.

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I drove to the end of the spit, at Land’s End. There were huge rocks at the end so I sat there for a long time, just absorbing the sun that had come out, feeling the wind on my face, and looking across the water to the mountains. The waves crashed as a boy threw rocks into the water for his dog to happily chase them into the shoreline.

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I walked around all the shops as I enjoyed some taffy and a latte.

After a couple of hours walking around, I went to the Salty Dog Saloon. The bartender in Fairbanks, as well as Jerry and Corrine, had told me to check it out. It was the only bar on the spit and there are dollar bills hanging from the walls and ceiling inscribed with notes from the bar’s visitors. Every November, the owners take down a lot of the bills and donate them.

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I walked into the dark, low-ceilinged dive bar. It was crowded, but there was one seat at the bar available. Most of the tables were taken as well. I sat down, ordered a beer, and the guy to my left started talking to me. His name was Matt and he had a short beard, was probably in his early 40’s, and was an average-looking guy. He told me about his two ex-wives in Minnesota, which he assured me was a low number of ex-wives for crab fishermen and joked that he’s “collecting ex-wives”. He described his marriages like this, “My first wife saw that I made good money crab fishing, own a commercial boat, and she wanted a kid so she got me to marry her and have a kid. We were married for about five years. My second wife was a midwife and wanted to live in the desert so we divorced. But I got some good kids out of it.” His oldest was 21 and his youngest was 13. He assured me he gets along with his ex-wives really well.

Matt owns a successful commercial crab fishing boat. He asked me why I was there and I explained my journey. He asked where I was staying and I said, “At an Airbnb.”

“Where?”

“Just up the road.”

“Well that’s pretty vague”.

Ugh, I’m not giving you the address, dude. Matt asked if I was married, single, or divorced. I said I was divorced and he follow it up by asking if I date. I told him that I do date but it’s hard while traveling. He bragged about how successful he was and showed me a video of one of the guys from the show Deadliest Catch. He knows him and the video showed them all hanging out at a fishing place. I ordered another beer and he pulled out his wad of cash and paid for it. He was getting more aggressive and I was feeling uncomfortable.

Matt asked if I had checked out the harbor and I said I didn’t know you could walk down to it, but I saw it. He said he has a boat there and he could give me a harbor cruise. I said I’d pass. He kept asking what I was doing for dinner and later that evening. I said I didn’t know. He finally started to get the hint, but as he was leaving he made me take his phone number and said to call him if I wanted to get dinner or go see his boat. I wasn’t attracted to him, but most importantly I didn’t get a good vibe from him. I usually have good instincts so I tend to trust them. Plus, it’s a big turn off when a guy brags about his money. It’s so much better when you just discover it. No need to brag.

I went to the restroom and hanging from the mirror was a little plastic holder with about six condoms in it. This was the second time I had seen free condoms in the bathroom.

There was a jukebox in the corner so I walked over to play some music. There was already credits available because the bartender wanted people to play music. I saw some songs like Ice, Ice, Baby. I quietly chuckled to myself out loud as I imagined that song playing in a dive bar full of fishermen. I picked a few songs and returned to my bar stool.

A guy came over and sat down next to me. He was also in his early 40’s and had a black/gray beard. He reeked of cigarette smoke and was rough around the edges. He chatted for a bit and then asked if I needed another beer. I turned the bottle so the label was blocking his view of my mostly empty beverage and said I was good. He seemed annoyed. Shoot, he clearly saw that my bottle was almost empty. He drank his mixed drink and said, “Too bad the bartenders like me. Too much alcohol in here.” I didn’t want to go through the whole situation again of trying to politely decline his invitations, so I quickly left.

I walked around the shops and the harbor a bit and soaked up the sun. It got up to 60° F and the sky cleared. The view was so peaceful. I sat on a bench overlooking the harbor, but then realized the first guy might still be around, looking for me to take a ride on his boat so I quickly got out of there.

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I hadn’t eaten dinner so I drove to a place that served tacos, according to Yelp. I sat at the bar and texted with the guy I connected with on Tinder in Vancouver. I went back to the Airbnb with 7-Up and Pimms Cup and made some drinks for Jerry and Corrine and we sat on the porch. After 20 minutes, we went inside to finish the movie they had been watching, Chalet Girl. It was actually a good movie about a girl snowboarding and of course, involves her falling for a rich cute guy (she’s poor). After we finished that, we saw a movie on Netflix called Coffee Shop – a romantic comedy. They made some delicious fresh popcorn and we watched the movie like we were a family.

The movie finished and none of us were tired. Jerry was out of cigarettes so he ran to the store to get some more. Corrine and I chatted about relationships. When Jerry got back, we all grabbed a drink and sat on the porch with our jackets. Daisy, the dog, cuddled up with each of us.

Around 1:45 am, Corrine went to bed while Jerry and I stayed out until around 2:15 am talking. Since it was a late night, we all agreed to sleep in. I woke up in the middle of the night breathing heavily and burning up. I had a nightmare about that first guy from the bar. He was driving me somewhere in a truck and when he stopped to drop me off, he tried grabbing me and kissing me. I had my arms out, pushing against him and trying to open the door. I got it open and jumped out. After running through a closed-down amusement park, I thought I had a large enough lead that I could escape for good. But then he came around the corner. There was another entrance I didn’t know about and he was close to me. He started running towards me and I ran towards the hill I needed to climb to get home. But it was like slow motion. I thought “I’ll never be able to outrun him. He’s going to catch me.” And then I woke up, panicked. It was really scary. I didn’t realize how much that guy had freaked me out. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was hard not to think about it.

I was woken up at 9:00 am by my doctor’s office asking for my new address. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I played around on my phone and finally got ready and packed up. It was almost 11:00 am and Jerry was outside drinking coffee and about to make breakfast. The next guest had asked to check-in at 11:00 am since his flight was arriving early. He was coming in town for a wedding over the weekend.

I felt guilty for keeping Jerry and Corrine up so late and he still had to cook us breakfast. I changed the sheets for him and put the dirty ones in the washer so the room was ready for the next guest. I put my bags by the front door and Jerry made pancakes and sausage.

As Jerry cooked breakfast, he told me about how he grew up poor in Wisconsin. They lived on a small dairy farm and didn’t have a refrigerator until he was twelve years old. They also didn’t have running water or electricity. They used an outhouse and he said, “In the winters, you really didn’t go the bathroom unless you had to.” They used water from a nearby creek. He didn’t have friends over because he was embarrassed. His family had to make one chicken last for two meals so he might get a leg, or the neck.

Jerry had never eaten McDonald’s until he joined the Air Force at 18 years old. When he joined, they stopped at a McDonalds to eat and burgers were $.10 each. He bought 10 burgers and ate all of them. Later, when he arrived at his first base, they asked him what he wanted for breakfast in the mess hall. He asked for ten eggs and twelve pieces of bacon. He ate all of it. It was the first time he had eaten bacon.

Jerry and I agreed that hardships make you a better person. You appreciate things more. If you earn a new phone, you’re going to love it. But if someone just gives it to you, you don’t always appreciate it as much. He said his kids didn’t want for anything because of how he grew up. But when they wouldn’t finish their food, he would tell them the chicken story. Of course, over time, it became an exaggeration and they’d all laugh about it. I told Jerry about the studies that show spending money on experiences instead of things makes you happier. He agreed.

Jerry also told me that he had three siblings, but one of his brothers had passed away from a brain tumor. He was diagnosed and they put him on chemo. Then he had to have breathing tubes, and all sorts of procedures done. But he still died. His wife thought something was wrong so she made them do a biopsy. It turns out the tumor wasn’t even cancerous. All the chemo and procedures killed him – not cancer. I couldn’t believe it.

We sat down to eat and the next guest arrived. He got settled in the room and came out to join our conversation in the kitchen. He’s a high school math teacher and soccer coach in Portland, Oregon. We all talked about private schools vs public schools and he seemed to really care about his students. He said teaching math now involves a lot of critical thinking and problem solving, not memorizing formulas. People will just Google things so he tries to teach them how to be resourceful.

It was close to 1:30 pm and check-out was at 11:00 am, so I loaded up my car. Jerry checked my tires because I told him that the Subaru dealership in Fairbanks said I needed new ones. He confirmed they need to be replaced.

Corrine and Jerry are made to do bed and breakfasts. They are adorable together. They’re basically still together, but not married. It works for them and their chemistry together is infectious.

We all said our goodbyes and hugged. I pulled away from the driveway feeling grateful for their generosity, kindness, friendship, conversation, and humor. We had such a great couple of days getting to know each other and laughing so much. They felt like family members I hadn’t met until then.

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
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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
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Day 51 – Female Role Models

As I emptied my private room in the hostel in Tok, Alaska, one of the owners was in the kitchen cleaning up. Shelley was a tall, fit blonde with meticulous hair and manicured nails. She was 70 years old, but looked 20 years younger. Shelley and her brother own the hostel and a Boy Scout camp nearby. In the winter, she lives in Arizona.

Shelley and I talked about my adventures and tall clothing. Both of us being tall, we bonded over our woes of not being able to find jeans long enough or cute shoes big enough to fit us.

Shelley asked me how old I was and I told her I was 38. She said, “I have a brother who’s looking for a woman. He owns his own plane, land, he’s tall, outdoorsy, and adventurous…but…he’s 65. That might be too old for you. You have to come back through Tok on your way south and when you do, let me know. We’ll go get coffee or dinner with my brother and maybe he’ll take you on a plane ride.” It was such a sweet gesture, but my dad is 65 years old and I had never been out with someone older than 32.

I enjoyed talking with Shelley – she was a fun character. I continued north towards Fairbanks.

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The drive was flat and the “scenic outlooks” weren’t very scenic. I missed British Columbia and the Yukon.

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I arrived in Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway, after about two hours and wanted to stop. I found a small roadhouse museum that said it was free, so I went inside.

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The museum was housed in an old roadhouse that was used in the early 1900s for people traveling north in search of gold. When I walked in, I met a volunteer named Don. Don was in his 60s and enthusiastically showed me around the small cabin and explained what life was like back then.

People coming in the winter months traveled by a large, open-air sled pulled by horses. It had to be open-air or people would get sick from the smoke of the charcoal heaters at their feet. Entrepreneurs set up roadhouses so travelers had a place to sleep and eat on their journey.

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The roadhouse on display was from a husband and wife team: John “Jack” and Florence Sullivan. They were both from Wisconsin, but met in Nome in 1900. They mined in the area for four years and in 1905, moved to the Valdez-Fairbanks trail and opened a roadhouse. Jack built the roadhouse himself with logs, which was a pretty amazing feat.

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Don immediately started to tell me about how hard life was for women back then. He said, “You hear about the men at the time, but let me tell you about the women. Florence was up every morning at 4:30 am to get the fire going and bread baking. After breakfast was served, she’d have to change and wash all the sheets, more meals, tending to guests, and it kept going all day.”

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Don explained that in those harsh conditions of the snow and cold, communities had to rely on each other. Florence was impressive. The sign explained that in 1899, she “hired two men to haul her outfit from Dawson to Nome and that she walked the entire distance, breaking trail ahead of the dog teams, preparing camp, and cooking for the party. She was considered by many to be as good a dog musher as any man in the area.”

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I appreciated that Don told me about Florence and the role women played back then. Jack and Florence were both early Alaskan pioneers and I respected their adventurous spirit. It made me think about how so many people do extreme things today, like climb Mount Everest. I think we’re built with a desire to explore and experience harsh conditions, but our lives are so easy now. It often leaves people feeling unsatisfied. Don and I talked about how harsh conditions make you a better person overall. You’re stronger and have an appreciation for things in life. I’ll take Jack and Florence as role models any day over a Kardashian.

Don and I continued to talk and our conversation ventured into the world of politics: oil, taxes, California, Trump, and immigration. I had a great time hearing his perspective and experience in life. Two other people came into the museum, so I left Don to attend to them.

I drove over to the sign post that represented the official end to the Alaska highway. As I was taking pictures, a man in his 50s walked over and said, “I saw your license plate from Long Beach, CA.” He said he was from San Pedro, California but now lives in Arizona. He had been traveling in his RV for five months and recommended I go a little farther north than Fairbanks, but warned me that it’s a loose gravel road and you have to drive about 20 miles an hour or you’ll break your windshield.

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The visitor center was at the sign post, so I went inside and the two girls there gave me a map of Fairbanks and many recommendations of things to do while I was there.

I continued my drive and arrived at Fairbanks about an hour and a half later. I was a little disappointed as I drove through the city to get to my Airbnb. There were random gravel driveways and a lot more cars on the road. Overall, it looked like any other American city.

My Airbnb was in the basement level of a large house. I had my own entrance and access to the stairs leading to the next level so I could do laundry. The level above me had four doors that appeared to be apartments. Above them was the main level house, where I guessed the owners lived.

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My space had a small, makeshift kitchen with a microwave, mini-fridge, and a coffee maker. I had a TV with Netflix, which was nice because I hadn’t watched TV in weeks. Being a basement level in 55℉, the little studio was freezing! I turned on the heat, which felt strange since it was August.

After unloading my bags, I went to town to eat dinner and then stopped at the grocery store to pick up some food. The previous week I had spent on the road, only staying one night in each place. I booked six nights at this Airbnb so I could rest and take my time exploring Fairbanks. Just as I laid down to relax, I heard the crushing, creaking sounds from the people above my bed against the low ceiling. It was so loud and low to my head that I worried the ceiling would cave in. After such a tiring 10 days, I wanted to cry.

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 48 – Tear Inducing Scenery

The Liard River Hot Springs was only a 45-minute drive north from where I was staying at the Northern Rockies Lodge. I drank a protein shake, loaded up my car, and headed to the hot springs.

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When I arrived, I paid a small entrance fee and the guy at the gate told me I would need to park and then walk for about 15 minutes on a boardwalk through the swampy area to get to the springs.

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The area was surrounded by trees and was very beautiful, despite the strong smell of sulfur that emanated from the springs. After changing, I slowly got into the hot springs. The further to the right that I went, the hotter it got. It was quiet and most people weren’t talking. I felt awkward just hanging out alone.

After 15 minutes, I swam near a few people so I could listen in on their conversation. They talked about the fires in Toronto and how it was going to take hours before the redness subsided from their face due to the heat.

After 30 minutes, I was getting too hot so I got out, changed, and walked back to my car. Shortly after leaving the hot springs, I came across buffalo on the side of the road! There must have been more than 20 of them on both sides of the highway, and occasionally crossing the road. The few of us on the road pulled unto the shoulder to take pictures and video. It was slightly raining, but the buffalo didn’t seem to care. They just kept nonchalantly grazing.

I continued north as dark blue clouds rolled in, making the mountains look even more majestic.

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I crossed into the Yukon, which is a different territory than British Columbia. The landscape was so beautiful and so isolated, that tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was fortunate enough to be here and experience this wondrous place.

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When I arrived at the town of Watson Lake, I saw a forest made entirely out of sign posts. I pulled over and saw thousands of street signs from around the world! It was incredible. The signs were nailed to giant wooden posts standing far above my head.

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In 1942, the town of Watson Lake didn’t exist, but there was a US army camp located there. It was common for the military to put up a sign post indicating the direction of surrounding communities. One day, Private Carl K. Lindley was recovering from an injury at the base and added his hometown sign of Danville, Illinois because he was homesick.

The Sign Post Forest has become world famous and there are now over 72,000 signs. Visitors who didn’t bring their own can buy a piece of wood from the visitor center. I walked through the forest amazed and got excited when I’d see a sign from a place I knew. It was such a neat concept and I had no idea it existed.

I drove to the gas station next door to fill up and to see if I wanted to stay the night in Watson Lake. The gas station was sort of like a truck stop, with a small market and a restaurant attached to it. In the restroom, there was a large orange bucket on the counter filled with condoms. The sign warned of STI’s and said the condoms were free. I thought, “Whoa, looks like I’m in the Yukon now.”

I sat in my car and decided to stay in the next town, Whitehorse. I booked a place on Orbitz that was a B & B but they only offered a very small breakfast. The drive continued to impress me and the fellow travelers became fewer and farther in between. Sometimes I pulled over in one of the look-out areas, and other times I just stopped right on the road, rolled down my window (or quickly stepped out) and took pictures.

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The rain stopped and I passed a coyote on the side of the road. The road winded through the mountains, and lakes just kept appearing. The Yukon was giving British Columbia a run for its money. The dark blue clouds returned, bringing forth more rain. The sun reflected off of a giant lake as it started to set. Everywhere I looked was like a postcard.

It was more than eight hours of driving that day, but I never got bored. People have asked me if I listen to podcasts and wondered how I could tolerate so much driving. If you saw the scenery, you’d understand. It’s breathtaking and peaceful. All I need is my music.

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I successfully arrived at Whitehorse, but was struggling to find the B & B. I called the owner and he explained it’s actually located 30 minutes south of the town, which meant I passed it. As I left town, a rainbow appeared but I was heading into dark storm clouds and it was getting dark.

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Since it was dark and raining, I couldn’t find the small gravel road that would take me up the hill to the small B & B. I called the owner again and he stayed on the phone with me for several minutes until I could find the road.

I drove to the top of the hill and arrived at 10:00 pm. There were a few cars in the gravel lot and I ran inside, trying to avoid the rain and the cold (it dropped to 50 degrees F!). My room key was on the small entrance table, so I grabbed it and walked down the hallway to my room. It had two twin beds and I had my own bathroom. Of course, there was a creepy spider hanging out inside.

The B & B had a shared kitchen, living room, and dining room. There seemed to be around five rooms and I could hear some kids playing around in a room near mine. After a nice warm shower, I went to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up too late to have the small breakfast and coffee, so I packed up my stuff. I was getting really behind in my blog posts so I asked the girl who was cleaning rooms if I could stay in the dining area and use the Wifi for a little while. My room was emptied so she could clean it. She let me stay and I ended up writing for the next two hours.

I had a great view out the window and I enjoyed being in the middle of nowhere. I like cities too, but after spending 15 years in Los Angeles, I prefer less crowded areas. Being in such a remote area, I realized how much light pollution there is in cities. The darkness and lack of people makes life feel simpler. It helps clear my head and not to be caught up in the rat-race.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

 

Day 47 – Northern Rockies Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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