Day 266: The Chinese Border

After we said goodbye to Erik and Melana, we continued our trek through the mountains in northern Vietnam. Ben and Berry rode on the back of the bike of two guides and I continued to drive my own bike. It was colder that day, 48°F (8°C), so I put my coat on instead of my wind jacket. It helped, but the wind still made its way through and made me feel a little cold.

Opi told me I was one of the few people who came prepared for cold temperatures. He said most people on his tour think it’s always hot in Vietnam and they only have shorts and t-shirts. I explained that a friend who had been to Vietnam in February told me it was cold in the north (especially the mountains) and warm in the south. Since I knew I was going to be there in March, I prepared for both warm and cold weather. I was happy that I had my extra luggage that day.

The mountains seemed to go on forever. They were steep, sharp, and unlike any mountains I had seen before. They were lush and beautiful. Everytime we passed people, they waved and smiled. Sometimes the kids would try to high-five us as we drove by.

We were headed to the border with China and as we got closer, I saw a few disturbing sights. When we turned a corner, I saw a cat that had been tortured. His head was up against a rock with a stick sticking out of his head. Then, a motorbike going the opposite direction of us had a crate attached to the back that was full of puppies. When we stopped at the border, I asked Opi, “Were the puppies in the back of that crate for people to sell and eat?” Opi looked sad and said, “Yes. Some small villages in China still eat dog and they trade with some villages in the north of Vietnam. It’s illegal in Vietnam, but because they’re close to the border, it still happens.”

Berry and I were on the verge of tears. She thought the cat was just laying on the rock until we explained that it had been tortured. We agreed that it was becoming a sad day in Vietnam.

We parked our motorbikes and walked towards the border. There was a fence and a large opening, but there wasn’t anybody guarding it. Warning signs of landmines were posted and Opi told us that some landmines are still buried from the wars with China.

He told us not to step even a foot across the border because the Chinese are known to hide out and if someone steps across, they’ll arrest them. At the time, China was holding several American and Candian tourists, accusing them of being spies because of the trade war.

We took pictures at the landmarker and I chose not to cross the border. Berry is originally from China and has dual citizenship. We saw merchants on the other side with items they were selling in a van. It was in the middle of nowhere, but I guess they were there to trade with Vietnam. Berry confidently walked across the border and over to the van. After talking to them for five minutes, she came back and said they were there selling items they had made.

We continued driving and Opi took us to a gazebo. First, we had to drive through a small village and then went on a very small concrete path that had very little guard rails. I definitely wouldn’t have known about this area on my own. When we arrived at the parking lot, several flights of stairs took us to the gazebo overlooking the valley below. We were the only people around.

Opi pointed out the mountain across from us and the river below that separated the two mountains. He said across the river was China. Just then, Berry’s phone welcomed her to China, thinking she was there because we were so close. Her phone changed to a Chinesse network and she said, “Let’s test it.” She tried to pull up Facebook, Instagram, and Google and all three were blocked.

I couldn’t believe it. I always heard things are restricted in China, but I’ve never actually experienced it. I asked why they are restricted and Berry explained it’s because the government doesn’t want people influenced. They have similar websites, but they’re regulated by the government. I felt very grateful to live in the U.S. where freedom of speech is expected (even though it’s often under attack).

We continued driving and passed kids walking with garden tools. They were guiding some cows and goats. The oldest kid who appeared to be around nine years old held a beer in his hand. Berry pointed it out and it just added to our list of sad sights that day.

We took pictures and enjoyed the scenery. However, as we drove through the small town to get back to the main road, we saw stray dogs that were in poor health. We also saw a woman walking a pig on a leash. It was so different than the U.S. where dogs are on leashes and pigs are in pens.

For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant on the side of the mountain. Ben broke out his drone and we tried over and over to get a shot with all of us jumping at the same time. We failed because of the delay of the camera, but we had a fun time trying.

Our next stop was the King’s Palace. The palace is on display for tourists and there were tour busses in the parking lot. The palace was owned by a Hmong King who made 20 tons of opium each year. The palace was protected from bombs by the mountain. In 2004, they opened it to the public. Some of the extended family members still live nearby. It took seven years to build and it looked like places I’ve seen in movies. It was worn and empty, but had several square courtyards inside without roofs.

The king had three wives, but the second wife was never pictured because she only birthed girls. We walked through all the rooms and saw guns on display that people could grab. Opi picked one up and showed us how they used the holes to fire from. The doorways were so short that I had to duck.

We continued our drive and stopped at a lookout point with an incredible view of the road that snakes its way through and around the mountain. We were on the main road where small tour busses go, so there was a parking lot there. Usually we just pulled to the side of the road to take pictures because most of the time the roads weren’t that busy.

As we took pictures, a boy who appeared to be around eight years old grabbed a cigarette from Opi. Opi just stared at the kid in surprise and watched as the kid lit the cigarette and started smoking. The boy was wearing extremely worn out, dirty clothes and his body was covered in dirt. He casually sat on the half wall smoking and sharing the cigarette with some younger boys.

Then we saw young girls who also appeared to be around eight years old, but they were dressed in beautiful, clean clothes. They were wearing way too much makeup and held flowers that they were trying to sell. The girls were beautiful.

Opi told us not to give the kids any money because they stop going to school and do this instead. Tourists will stop and take pictures of them and in return they’ll give them money or candy. They think they’re helping, but it is why the parents have their kids do this instead of going to school. They can make more money for the family from tourists. Opi told us that in the peak season, they can make $45 USD a day. The average salary in Vietnam is $200-$250 USD per month.

The boy smoking pulled out a kitkat and ate it as he watched for tour buses. We asked Opi if we could take pictures and he said we could. We just shouldn’t give them anything. All of a sudden, a tour bus was coming up the windy road. The kids all got so excited, but the bus kept driving by and the kids got bummed out.

It was heartbreaking. These kids didn’t know any better and their parents were incentivized to have their kids do this. In Thailand, their theory was not to give money to homeless because it teaches bad behaviors. They don’t have many homeless people, so maybe their theory works. It saddened me to think that westerners were creating these behaviors, thinking they were helping.

We drove down the windy road and it almost made me dizzy from going left to right over and over again. It started to get foggy and colder. We stopped briefly for pictures and Opi and Eddie looked freezing and uncomfortable.

We made a stop in a small town for some coffee and yogurt with fruit. It was always nice to take a quick break.

By the time we arrived at our homestay, it was 6:30 pm and it was almost dark. This time, there were other travellers staying there too. Ben and Berry had a room to themselves and I was assigned a mat in the large room that was shared. They had a curtain separating the large room into smaller rooms and had doors to the balcony that were separated, so it felt like my own room. That is until I could hear others next to me talking. They were speaking Dutch, so I couldn’t understand them. My little room had three mattresses and mosquito nets. The mattress and the bathrooms were pretty nice.

For dinner, we met in a downstairs room that was indoors. There wasn’t any heat though, so it felt freezing in there. I kept my coat on until enough happy water (rice wine) warmed me up. The family who owned the house was a young couple with a little girl around four years old. There were also some older women and their husbands who helped cook and clean. We all ate as one big family.

Across from the dinner table were three travellers with another group of guides. They were from Holland and were on day one of the four-day tour. Our guides all knew each other, so they chatted. The Holland travellers (husband, wife, and friend) were in their early to mid-20s, and all had blonde hair. All three of them((Jelle, Malou, and Hanna) were in medical school and had some time off. They were spending five weeks in Vietnam on holiday. Jelle was driving his own bike, but Malou and Hanna were riding on the back of bikes.

We all agreed that the roads were crazy and bumpy. Ben, Berry, and I told them what to expect since they were only on day one. They were going the opposite direction that we were going. We all had such a fun time talking, eating, and drinking happy water. The happy water was always in a reused water bottle and it flowed freely into our little shot glasses. Ben, Berry, and I warned the Holland travellers about the happy water and how much they’d end up drinking. We started enjoying the happy water so much that we’d call regular water “sad water.”

After dinner, the generous hosts surprised Malou with a birthday cake. I was thrilled! Berry turned to me and laughed, “You finally get your cake!” After enjoying the delicious cake, the guides busted out their karaoke microphone. There was an app on their phones that connected the wireless microphone and amplified the sound.

We all had a blast singing songs and being silly. We realized we needed to have Zing involved in karaoke because he promised us we’d do it and he’d sing “My Heart Will Go On,” but the night before he was too tired. Melana, Erik, and Zing had made it back to Ha Giang and Zing was waiting with them to make sure they made it safely on the night bus. We Facetimed them through Facebook messenger video call and sang the song for them. They sang along while people stared at them on the sidewalk. It was so fun and the perfect way to say goodbye before they boarded their bus.

Berry and I stood up and sung “I Just Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Huston. We laughed, danced, and had such a fun time. Berry was so fun and sweet that I was really enjoying our friendship. We goofed around and took shots together celebrating our last night together in the North.

The party started to move outside and we asked Opi what he was doing on his phone. He showed us Tik Tok and Ben, Berry, and I all made a funny video with Opi for the social media platform. We weren’t familiar with Tik Tok, so afterwards we asked him about it. It turned out he had a crazy high amount of followers. We said, “Wait, so you’re famous?” He humbly laughed it off, but we weren’t surprised because Opi is a funny, creative guy.

It was cold outside and getting late. I took a shower and went to bed before I ended up with a hangover. I went to bed with a smile on my face. I loved that people from so many different cultures could be comfortable around each other and have so much fun together. It’s moments like this that make me realize why I love traveling.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 265: Being Silly

I woke up in a homestay in the northern mountains in Vietnam. I tried to use the bathroom, but was told the power was out and I needed to use the bathroom downstairs. Melana and Erik didn’t take a shower the night before because they were tired, so they had to take cold showers using buckets of water. 

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The homeowners made all of us different breakfasts based on what we requested. I had scrambled eggs on a baguette. We took pictures with the hosts on a table outside and thanked them for their wonderful hospitality. Opi found Erik’s and my height fascinating and he took a picture in between us. He thought he was our height if he was on his tippy-toes, but he couldn’t quite get there. 

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We drove away and continued our trek through the mountains. I felt better on the bike and my legs were less sore. I was doing a better job at shifting and braking. Going up steep hills, I quickly down-shifted, so I could make it up. I avoided the many, many potholes. My back and shoulders hurt a little bit though because we were on the bikes for so long. 

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The clouds and fog weren’t as bad as the day prior and we were treated to breathtaking scenery. The entire drive was amazing. We saw cows on the side of the road that were led by a woman. They stopped and grazed on the side of the mountain. Kids played around houses that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere on steep ledges. 

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We were feeling a little tired and stopped at a restaurant with incredible views of the canyons. I got a yogurt with fruit and enjoyed the break. Once we were back on the bikes, the road was rough. It was difficult to navigate and to stay on the concrete sections. 

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We stopped for lunch, which was shared. I always enjoy shared meals because I get to try different foods. As we finished up, the group of women in their 40s-50s stopped in for lunch. Melana and Erik told us that they had met the women on their bus ride to Ha Giang. The women said they all planned on driving their own bike. They had never driven a motorbike before and thought they could learn now. Melana and Erik were skeptical that they could learn on the steep mountains. Sure enough, within one block, two women crashed their bikes and one had road rash. The drivers made them all ride on the back instead. 

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At lunch, Melana told us that she was a breast cancer survivor. She had surgery and the night before was her one-year anniversary of being cancer free. She was only 33 years old and I couldn’t believe she had gone through that. It reminded me of my friend, Kirsten. She found out she had breast cancer when she was 29 years old and pregnant. She had to go through chemo while she was pregnant. Thankfully, she and the baby are doing great. I was happy that Melana survived. My grandmother died of breast cancer at age 42. This was another reminder for me to enjoy every single day because we truly don’t know how many days we’ll get. 

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After lunch, we stopped at some beautiful passes and took pictures. Now that we all knew each other better, we had a blast being silly. Ben and Berry are the cutest couple. They took a picture of them holding hands, so I mimicked them holding my hand out to no one. Sometimes I can laugh that I’m single. 

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Now that we were on the main loop, it was more crowded. One time when we stopped to take pictures, two french guys stopped too. They were driving their own motorbikes, had go-pros on their helmets, and blasted Prince music. They got off their bikes and danced to the music. Zing, being our musical talent, joined them as we walked towards them. We all laughed hysterically at the random dance party between strangers. 

We stopped at a lookout point that had a castle-like edge. Other tourists were stopped there too. Some came in busses and some were riding on the back of motorbikes. We climbed down the stairs and enjoyed the river below in the middle of the canyons. When I got back on my bike, people seemed surprised that I was driving myself. 

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The drive kept getting better and better. I loved every second of it. The others asked me if I was able to see the scenery since I had to pay attention to the road. I felt that I was still immersed, felt the wind in my face, and had enough moments that I could look around at the beauty.

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We arrived at our hotel in Dong Van. I had my own room with two small beds. We had two hours to relax and shower before dinner. It was nice to just lay down for a bit.

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Dinner was at the restaurant next door. We enjoyed lots of happy water (rice wine) once again and we were so slap happy (and a little drunk), tears of laughter ran down my face. 

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We bonded over our sore butts and the fun times we just had over the last two days. Erik and Melana would be leaving in the morning and would head back to Ha Giang, so we wanted to have a fun night before they left. Melana struggled to use the chopsticks after the happy water, which made us all laugh.  

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After dinner, the guides went to their rooms while the rest of us walked around the town. I was really craving cake, or any sort of dessert. It was hard to find it in Southeast Asia. We walked around the two main streets, but did not find any sweets. Instead, we got boba tea at a cafe. As we waited for our orders to-go, a woman walked into the shop and had her friend take a picture of her with Erik because of his height. Then she saw me and took a picture with me on one side and Erik on the other. 

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As we walked around, we stopped at a bar and got a drink. We talked about our travels and where Melana and Erik were headed next. They redeemed hotel points and were staying at a resort in the middle of Vietnam. They were looking forward to the warmer weather and the luxury that came with resorts. This was their annual two week vacation, so I completely understood their desire to relax. 

We walked back to our hotel and I enjoyed a night of sleep on a thick mattress and some privacy. The next morning, we ate breakfast at the same restaurant next door.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Erik and Melana. Zing was Melana’s driver and Opi’s dad was Erik’s driver, so we’d have to part with them too. Even though I only knew them for two days, it was sad to say goodbye. We all bonded on our first trip to the mountains in Vietnam. 

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider 
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Day 264: Driving a Motorbike Through the Vietnamese Mountains

I woke up in my hotel, packed my bags, and asked the front desk where the nearest ATM was located. The man didn’t speak much English, but gave a few instructions. After walking for seven minutes and not finding the ATM, I asked store owners if they could help. I kept getting led astray and could not find the ATM anywhere. Opi, the tour guide for the motorbike tour called me and asked where I was. I explained that I couldn’t find the ATM (I needed to pay him the final amount of the tour in cash).

Opi explained where the ATM was located, but it was pretty far away. I walked as fast as I could and finally made it. The money in Vietnam is called dong and a bottle of water usually costs $10,000 dong. Most ATMs in Vietnam would let me take out $3,000,000 dong ($130 USD). For some reason, this ATM was only letting me take out $200,000 dong ($8.60 USD). I still had some cash on me, so it would give me enough to pay Opie. However, the ATM gave me small $10,000 bills, which was really annoying.

As I walked back to my hotel, Opi drove up on his motorbike and told me to get on the back. I hopped on and he took me to the hotel, called a taxi for me because of my bags, and drove off. I took the taxi to Opi’s hostel. Opi lived there and no longer rented out the hostel to guests. He allowed me to put my bigger bags in his room and I brought my medium-sized backpack for the things I needed during the four-day motorbike tour.

It seems that I’m always rushed and flustered. I tried to calm myself down, but the morning had already made me anxious. Opi introduced me to the others on the tour: Erik and Melana, and Ben and Berry. We said our hellos and Opi quickly took me outside. He showed me the motorbike that I would be driving and said he needed to make sure I was capable of driving it before we started our path up and down the steep mountains. He handed me elbow and knee pads, and a helmet.

The group, including Opi’s friends, were all watching as I sat on the motorbike and Opi showed me how to change gears. I had driven an automatic bike a few times, most recently on an island in Thailand. This bike, however, was semi-automatic and to shift I had to use a foot pedal. While one foot had to shift, the other foot had to use the back brake. One of the handle bars also had a brake for the front tire. To accelerate, I had to turn the throttle with my hand.

As Opi instructed me, I failed at looking like I knew what I was doing. I saw the look of worry on his face. Then I looked at his friend’s faces, who appeared to think I was crazy. I was late arriving there and didn’t want to hold anybody up, so I tried to convince myself to hurry and just do it. Opi told me to drive down the street, turn down another street, turn around and come back.

I kept hesitating because the motorbikes and cars seem to rush past me on the street. Opi told me to scoot back and he jumped on the bike in front of me. He drove down the street and turned onto another street that wasn’t as crowded. Opi got off the bike and I drove away. I was pleasantly surprised that I could drive it. Shifting with my foot was a challenge because I had to move it to get to the pedal. I succeeded in merging in traffic and making a turn and I made it back to the shop.

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Once we were back, the others put their pads on and strapped their backpacks to the bikes. Opi gave all of us a large bottle of water and secured it to the bike as well. Then I noticed that the others were all riding on the back of a motorbike. I was the only one driving my own bike. I didn’t even realize it was an option to ride on the back of a bike, but I felt proud that I was driving my own.

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Just like that, we were off! We left Ha Giang and headed towards the mountains. Opi led the way with Ben on the back of his bike. He instructed me to follow directly behind him in case there was a problem. It also allowed him to gauge if I was able to keep up. We drove single file and at first the road was flat, which I was grateful for. I was feeling confident and was loving the scenery!

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We drove on the windy road at a good pace, occasionally stopping for pictures. The green fields surrounded the road. The mountains were quickly in front of us as we drove through small towns. Motorbikes with items like over-sized bundles of bamboo and supplies were strapped to them as they zipped by us. Villagers, often women, were carrying the bundles that weren’t being hauled on motorbikes.

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All of a sudden, we started to climb up a steep mountain. The signs read “10% grade,” which is pretty steep. The fog was coming in very thick, making it difficult to see all of the scenery. It was cold outside, but was bearable with a wind jacket. The roads had many large potholes, so I was always very alert and doing my best to avoid them.

The road wound its way up the mountain and I noticed that Opi would honk his high-pitched horn several times as we turned into the curve to warn others that we were coming. The road was narrow, so this was necessary. I was close enough to Opi that I usually didn’t need to honk, but as time went on, I confidently honked my horn too.

Occasionally busses would pass us, which made me a little scared. They were smaller and more narrow than most busses that I had seen, but on the narrow, steep roads, there wasn’t much room to pass. The bus would honk its horn (which sounded like a funny cartoon horn) and we’d all drive as far to the right as possible. It was difficult at times because if I went too far to the right, I’d hit the gravel and get nearer to the edge of the mountain.

We stopped on the side of the mountain to take pictures and to enjoy the view. Opi told me that I was doing a great job at keeping up and driving safely. He and the others told me that I was a “badass” for driving myself. Opi and I decided to take a photo showing our bad-ass selves.

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Opi pointed out the village below and the surrounding mountains. Two of the peaks were nicknamed “breast mountains” because they look like two even breasts. The fog was thick, but we got views of the breast mountains from above and down below.

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We stopped a few times to take pictures. We frequently passed two groups: the British girls I met on the bus getting to Ha Giang and a group of four masculine women who appeared to be in their late 40s to early 50s. They were all riding on the back of the motorbike of guides and we were the only ones wearing protective pads, giving me more confidence in Opi.

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At one point we stopped at a coffee shop that was in a hut on the side of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. It was great to stretch and get a warm drink. I ordered the “Coffee + lots of milk” and sat on the bar that overlooked the scenery. I sat next to the girls from the U.K. and we chatted. They were all traveling solo, but met in a hostel. They hired three guys to drive them on the Ha Giang Loop. They appeared to be in their 20s. One girl, Cherrelle, told me that I was brave to drive on those roads by myself.

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Another girl, Harmeet, told me that she was traveling for a couple of months, but had to get back to London by summertime because she had five weddings to attend. Between bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and weddings, her whole summer was packed.

Once we finished our drinks, we continued to drive up the mountain. The road was very windy as we kept climbing. As we neared the top of the mountain, there were ferns and pine trees. It reminded me of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.

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Shortly after, we stopped for lunch. We sat outside at a table with umbrellas. As our lunch of shared dishes was being prepared, the guides took breaks. I sat at the table with the others in the group and got to know them:

Melana and Erik – She was 33, had medium-length brown hair, was about 5’7”, and was a physical therapist. Erik was 32, had short brown hair, was about 6’4”, and was a manufacturing engineer. She and Erik were dating and lived in Ohio. Melana has lived in many places, even in Kuwait, and didn’t care for Ohio. She loved to take pictures at various sites of her doing the splits because it had become a tradition. They were on a two-week vacation and were only doing the three day tour, so they’d be with us for two days and then would head back to Ha Giang with their guides.

Ben and Berry – Ben was 33, had short black hair, was about 5’8”, and used to work in IT. Berry was 31, had straight black hair just above her shoulder, was about 5’2”, and used to work in IT on the front end. She was originally from China, moved to Sudan for a couple of years in middle school, and moved to the U.S for college. Ben was originally from Taiwan and moved to the U.S. in high school. In college, Ben and Berry met in their first class on their first day of school. They started dating and have been together ever since (now they’re married)! After college, they moved to New York. They thought it was fun in their 20s, but it became the “same old.” It’s also too expensive to live there. Berry quit her job and Ben went on an eight month sabbatical so they can travel. They rented out their apartment and started traveling the month prior. They spent a week in Taiwan, then went to Hawaii, Thailand, Burma, and now Vietnam.

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Opi and the guides joined us and introduced us to “happy water,” which we’d later realize was homemade rice wine. They poured the clear happy water in small-sized shot glasses and it tasted strong. We took the opportunity to get to know the guides.

Opi was in his early 20s, was around 5’9”, had bleach blonde hair on top, earrings, and an athletic vibe. He was from the area and grew up in a small village. He taught himself English in three months from watching YouTube videos. A couple of years ago, he opened a hostel in Ha Giang, but then the city started putting in bogus rules. He lives there with some friends, but no longer runs it as a hostel. Instead, he started his own company, Ha Giang Roadtrip, to offer motorbike tours. What made his company different than others was that the tour guides were all from local tribes. There is a large company that offers tours, but Opi focuses on homestays and getting off the beaten track. His tours drive the Ha Giang Loop, but also go into side areas that most people don’t know about. Opi was a smart, funny, light-hearted guy who was a blast to be around.

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Opi’s friend Zing was a character! He also recently learned English from YouTube videos and was still practicing. He’d often ask us what a certain word meant and to correct him when his English was incorrect. He was Opi’s “right hand man” and Opi was teaching him how to respond to customers who emailed or texted. He was also being taught how to lead tours on his own as Opi’s business was expanding. Zing was always hilarious, singing Celine Dion’s, “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. Melana was on the back of his motorbike and he’d sing it for her while driving.

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The other two guides didn’t speak English, so we didn’t get a chance to know them much. Opi told us one of them was his father and we all thought he was joking until days later when we realized he actually was Opi’s father. The final tour guide, Eddie, was Opi’s friend who appeared to be in his early 20s as well.

After lunch, we continued driving and stopped in a small village where Zing was from. They took us into a small bamboo building where women and girls were weaving rugs and all sorts of fabrics. One woman gave us a demonstration of how she uses a wooden machine to help her weave the rug.

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Next, she showed us how she gets a shine to the rug by standing on a flat piece of stone with a circular stone piece beneath. She rocks side to side, allowing the fabric to be smashed between the two with the rocking motions. It takes a lot of hip movements and Zing demonstrated it for us. Melana and Erik gave it a try and said it was difficult.

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After the demonstration and browsing the shop, we continued our journey through the mountains. We saw farmers on the side of the mountains, picking from their fields. I couldn’t believe how they created ledges that were just a few feet long on the side of the mountain to farm. Then they’d create several more, making the side of the mountain look like it has long horizontal steps going down it. They handpicked and planted, carried the crop up to their motorbike, and strapped very large bundles to the back and drove off. Others would strap the bundles to their backs and walk to their home. It made me reflect on what we call “hard work” in the U.S.

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As we reached the top of a mountain, the sun started to peek through the fog and clouds, giving off rays of light as it began to set. We stopped to take pictures and it felt angelic up there. The views were constantly breathtaking with lush greenery on the steep mountain peaks.

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Halfway down the mountain, there was road construction. The entire road turned to loose, medium-sized gravel for about two miles. Opi told me to be careful and not to hit my back brakes too hard because I’d skid. I gripped my handles hard and tried my best to keep control of the bike, but it was difficult. I had to go with the flow without sliding off the side of the mountain. My arms were so tight that they started to ache. It was an intense section, but I made it out successfully without losing control or crashing.

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 Once we were at the bottom, we drove through a small village and arrived at our first home stay. When we got off of our bikes, the others told me that I looked like a professional driving down the gravel road. I felt relieved that maybe I did know what I was doing. Zing told me that I was a “super driver.”

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The homestay was operated by a local family – a young couple with a baby. Right next to the house was a rice field. Opi showed us around and where to sleep. The others had private rooms, which consisted of four walls and a double mattress that was about two inches thick. My mat was in the main room where the guides would sleep. There were several mats and I took one in the corner in hopes of avoiding any snorers. The guides ended up taking mats on the other side of the room, so nobody was directly next to me. We had mosquito nets above our mats and I had a curtain at the end of mine, which was nice.

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While the family cooked us dinner, we got settled and drank some beer. Some of the guides had “happy flower,” which is marajuana from a bong. The downstairs had open walls to the outside, a pool table, and two wooden tables. Our bedrooms were upstairs, which had thin wooden walls. The two bathrooms were also upstairs, but off to the side. We had to walk across a bamboo balcony to get to the bathrooms.

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When dinner was ready, we all ate in the middle of the room upstairs where most of the mats were. They placed a large rug on the floor and we sat in a big circle. Small plates of food were prepared and we ate in a communal style. The food was delicious! The host kept serving happy water and I was feeling slightly drunk. We did the vietnamese “cheers” which consists of shouting several verses:
Một hai ba zô
Hai ba zô
Hai ba uống

In English, it means:
One, two, three, cheers!
Two, three, cheers!
Two, three, drink!

It was a very fun dinner, even if we couldn’t communicate very well with the homeowners. There were universal hand signals, smiles, and thank-yous. The husband kept filling our shot glasses as soon as they were empty. Melana said she struggles using chopsticks when she’s been drinking, so she put her hand over her shot glass. It seemed to be the best way to communicate “no more please.” For dessert, the wife cut a pineapple in a way that impressed us all. The baby was a favorite and we all played with her. I switched my body positions often because my legs kept falling asleep.

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Once dinner was complete, I talked with Ben and Berry about travel planning and how time consuming it is. It felt good to have someone understand what it involves. When I first arrive in a new city, I have to spend time finding things to do and don’t want to miss things that I would love. Then I spend time doing the things, which leaves no time for actually writing. Ben and Berry were vlogging about their travels, but were also very behind. Ben will edit their videos while Berry researches the next city. As we stood in the main room upstairs talking and laughing, the lights were turned off. We assumed this was our cue that we should go to bed.

I grabbed my shower items and went to the bathroom to take a shower. The room had two large windows that were mostly open to the outside. The floor was bamboo, which made me fear that I’d fall through the uneven floor. There was a slab of rock underneath the showerhead, which was helpful because it gave a more sturdy base.

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After my shower, I went to my mat to sleep. I was used to homestays like this because of the adventure tour I did in Thailand. The mat was thin, so my hips hurt a little bit. I turned and woke up a lot to switch sides since I’m a side-sleeper. Overall, I was very happy to be on the tour. I really enjoy seeing areas outside of major cities. I was getting to see small villages and had the opportunity to see how they live. So far, the locals were all very hospitable and friendly.

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Day 262: Learning about Vietnam

When I arrived at my hotel lobby, I intended to grab a quick breakfast, but my tour guide showed up early. The hotel staff, being concerned about my breakfast, made me an omelet to-go. As I walked to the van with my tour guide, Trung, he said, “Vietnamese don’t like empty stomachs.”

The tour would take us a few hours northeast to Ha Long Bay for the day. I sat next to Trung while we picked up the others. He appeared to be in his late 40s and was talkative. He told me that his father was a photographer for the communist government and he hoped that Trung would take over and save the world. Trung told me, “I don’t want to be friends with the computer. I’d rather be friends with you guys.”

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Trung was from Hanoi and he loved the city. He explained that families live together and keep adding floors to the house when the family expands. He said, “If one family member goes to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s very sad because they’ll have nobody. They’ll be on their own.” Trung didn’t seem to like Ho Chi Minh City in the south. He said Hanoi in the north takes care of homeless people, but the south doesn’t, so they have a lot of homelessness.

Once we picked up all of our passengers, Trung continued to talk to the group about Vietnam. He told us that HIV is a huge problem for the country, with 50 new cases each day. He pointed out their red-light district, where sex workers charge for services by the hour. Trung said that because people live with lots of family members, they don’t have a lot of privacy, so many go to the red-light district for prostitution and drugs. He warned us to watch out for needles on the street because they could be infected.

We passed Samsung City, which is a compound developed and owned by Samsung. There are 130,000 people living and working there. It’s so big that they have their own schools and hospitals, and they have to take a bus to get to other buildings. Trung told us that it’s mostly run and operated by the Koreans. There are half a million Koreans in Hanoi.

Trung told us that Vietnam and Singapore are the most expensive places to buy a car. Vietnam tries to control the number of cars sold, so there is a 250% tax on cars. If everyone owned a car, the streets would all be in gridlock. The country has 97 million people and more than 60 million motorbikes. Trung told us, “You could bring your car from the U.S. that you paid $10,000 USD for and sell it here for $30,000 USD.”

Vietnam has a large population considering the size of their land. Four million Vietnamese live outside of Vietnam, with the majority in the U.S, France, and Australia. Trung told us about the corruption with the police in Vietnam. He said, “The cops here are rich. They are not rich in the U.S.” He explained that the cops will pull you over and you will be forced to pay them to stay out of jail. They have a term called “umbrella,” which is when you know someone in the government who can get you off. In return, you’ll need to give them the most expensive lobster and whatever items you sell or make.

Trung pointed out the relatively safety of Vietnam and the fact that they don’t have bombings or terrorists; however, he said they have problems with China, Laos, and Cambodia (their surrounding countries).

In China, they have a shortage of women, so men go across the border to remote towns in the north of Vietnam and tell women they will marry them, give them children, a job, and a good life. These women are so isolated that they believe them. When they get to China, they’re sold into prostitution and work for free. If someone is caught trafficking five or more women, it’s a death sentence. Trung told us that they used to shoot people for $.50 each, but since 2015, they instituted lethal injection. It now costs $10,000 each. Trung said, “I prefer the bullet. Save the money for the people.”

The problem with Laos is the drugs that come from the Golden Triangle (borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar). Technically the law states that if you have more than six grams, it’s a death sentence, but people with money can buy their way out. This has allowed a lot of drugs to get into Vietnam.

The problem with Cambodia is the gambling. There is gambling in Vietnam, but only foreigners are allowed to partake. Trung said that Vietnamese people love to gamble, so they go across the border to Cambodia. They end up losing a lot of money and borrowing from the casino. Eventually, they lose enough that they have to sell their kidney for $5,000. Then rich Chinese come and buy it for $40,000. Trung told us that there are five million kidneys for sale there.

I was thoroughly enjoying learning about Vietnam, but then we stopped at a pearl palace. We had some time to browse and buy jewelry. They have a huge pearl industry there and I bought a pair of earrings. Shortly after the pearl store, we arrived at the boat that would take us through HaLong Bay. We were seated at tables for lunch. We joined another group, but there was still only about 30 people on our tour.

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I was seated with Joanne and her parents. They were from Singapore and welcomed me into their family. Joanne appeared to be in her 30s and was very pretty. She worked in hotel sales and had been working for a Thai company for the last eight months, but planned to start a new job when she returned from holiday. The Thai company was too “old school” and once the top boss said yes, there was no arguing. Joanne’s parents have been to the U.S. and enjoyed their visit, but it was close to 30 years ago.

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The boat cruised through Ha Long Bay, which was incredible! Large rock formations were spread out all over the place. There are thousands of rock islands that vary in size. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is nothing built on the rock islands, most likely because they are steep cliffs.

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We were served various fish dishes to share. I had a hard time eating some of them, like octopus. We arrived at a rock island, climbed a lot of stairs, and looked around inside a cave. The cave had a very large main room and it was just our group there. During the war, they used it as a make-shift hospital. Hospitals were often targets, so this allowed them to treat patients without the threat of bombs. Trung told us that during their rainy season, tourists have to take their shoes off because the cave starts to fill with water.

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We took the boat to another area that had a large pontoon platform to get into smaller boats. The smaller boats would take people through an archway, into a circular area, and then back to the pontoon. There were a lot of boats that had dropped off large groups of people. It was maddening to watch the chaos as people tried to line up to get on various small boats. Most of the tourists were from China. They tend to travel in very large groups and they don’t follow lines when waiting for something, so Trung was frustrated. He told us, “We welcome westerners and all the Chinese show up. We don’t welcome them, they just come. If we stop welcoming westerners, the Chinese will stop coming.”

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We got into small boats and a local rowed us through the archway and into the circular area. It was a short boat ride, but it was fun. We got back to our boat and were served fruit and coffee on the top deck. It would take about an hour to get back to the port and the boat weaved its way through the islands as the sun started to set.

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I talked with Joanne while enjoying some fruit. She was really sweet and we shared our contact information because I had a 24-hour layover in Singapore on my way to Australia and we hoped to meet up. Joanne planned to do some volunteer work in Fiji for several months. She had a very empathetic heart.

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The views of Ha Long Bay were beautiful and I was happy that I had the chance to visit. Joanne and I had to say goodbye once the boat docked because we were in separate vans.

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On the way back, Trung asked me if I had a man at home and was traveling without him, or if he was at the hotel. I said, “I’m divorced. I’m traveling alone.” Trung excitedly said, “Oh! You’re forever free?!” I responded, “Yup.” Trung was married for 13 years and had two kids, but he and his wife ended up getting a divorce. He told me that after ten years, you just get so bored of seeing the same person over and over. Early on in their relationship, they partied and had fun, but not anymore. They had an amicable split in the end.

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Trung dropped me off at my hotel and I walked down the street to eat Bun Cha. It was my favorite dish on the food tour, but this restaurant wasn’t very good. Next to me was a young couple smacking on their food so loud that it was driving me crazy. It seemed that many people in Vietnam were on a mission to eat as loud as possible. I ate as quickly as I could and went back to my hotel. After working on my blog, I was off to bed. The next day I would be leaving for a motorbike tour in the northern mountains for four days and I couldn’t wait.

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Days 256-257: Final Days in Thailand

Once I completed my dive certification, I needed to figure out how I was going to leave the island to catch a flight to Vietnam. Down the street from the dive shop was a hotel that also booked ferries and flights. I spent the next two hours reviewing my options. Weeks earlier I booked a flight from Phuket to Vietnam with a layover in Bangkok. When I booked the flight, I didn’t know I would be going to Koh Tao.

Phuket was now in the opposite direction and would take a full day to get there by ferry and bus. The nearest airport was on another island, Koh Samui, which was a two-three hour ferry ride away. I planned on taking the overnight ferry and bus to Bangkok and pick up my flight there from the layover. The woman at the hotel told me that the ferry that left that night in a few hours was their crappy one with uncomfortable cramped beds that were all in the same room. The thought of having to pack my bags and spend an overnight on a crappy ferry and then a long bus ride after several exhausting days getting my dive certification sounded like torture.

I was still in my swimsuit and all I wanted to do was rest. I had two problems: 1) My flight was already booked. 2) My visa was expiring the following day. The woman at the hotel was very helpful and connected me to AirAsia just to make sure I could actually get on the flight if I didn’t start in Phuket and joined in Bangkok. Unfortunately, their customer service is awful. They told me that if I didn’t get on the plane in Phuket, my ticket was invalid and I couldn’t get on in Bangkok. Even if I made it to Phuket, I couldn’t fly that soon after so much diving.

I decided to just forget about the plane ticket and lose the $135 that I paid. I extended my Airbnb by another day and searched for plane tickets from Koh Samui and Chumphon. The only options for flights had me leaving Thailand one day after my visa expired because of long layovers in Bangkok. I searched online and found that most likely, I’d just need to pay a fee and it would be fine, especially if it was just a day.

Once I had things booked, I decided to enjoy the rest of my time in Thailand. I met Davina for dinner because she was still on the island. She told me about her life back in Wales. She was a nurse and as long as she worked once every six months, she could continue in that career. Once her 15-year-old daughter moved in with her ex-husband, he took her to court for child support (even though she never received any when she had custody). She made a lot more money than him and decided to sell everything and spend nine months in a van touring Europe. Davina then went back to Wales and worked for a few months to save up money and then started traveling again – this time to New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand.

I completely understood Davina and was happy she found a way to live life on her terms. I also made a lot more money than my ex-husband and it cost me financially when I filed for divorce. Thank goodness we didn’t have kids. I have many female friends who have had to pay child support to their husbands who either didn’t make much money or didn’t work at all. It’s an awful feeling to watch the money you worked so hard for disappear.

Davina and I talked about how it is to date at our age. I swiped through Tinder with her to show her people in the area. It was awesome to chat, laugh, and have some company for the evening. Davina was starting to feel sick and had to move her advanced diving class back a few days and she’d end up not completing the dive class.

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The next day, I tried to ignore the construction banging next door because I desperately wanted to sleep in. I spent some time editing my blog and making a video. Then, I took my motorbike to the other side of the island. After walking down several stairs, I ended up at a restaurant where I enjoyed a happy hour two-for-one drinks. The views were incredible and I was trying to soak it all up before I left the following day.

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I continued driving my motorbike around in the sun. I ended up back at the lookout point I had found a few days prior. I enjoyed a refreshing coconut drink and then a beer as I watched the sun set. The sunsets on Koh Tao are some of the most magnificent ones that I’ve ever seen.

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I drove to Siree Beach and ate dinner at a busy restaurant with cushions on the floor with low tables. My fish wasn’t good and my legs started to hurt from sitting like that. I didn’t want to spend my last night in Thailand alone and a guy from Tinder had messaged me. He wanted to hang out a couple nights earlier, but I went to dinner with Davina instead. That night, he said he’d be off work at 11:00 pm and we could meet for a drink. He was from France, was 33, and was there for a few months helping a friend with a restaurant.

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Harry, my British friend, was eating at a nearby restaurant after finishing his homework for his dive class. I joined him, but got there as he was finishing his meal. We had some beers, but he didn’t want to stay up late because of the early-morning dive class. I enjoyed Harry’s company. I saw a lot of potential in him, but told him that he needed to mature a bit. Harry told me that he had matured a lot in the last couple of years. Before, he had no morals. His parents divorced when he was 12 and probably contributed to his behavior.

Harry told me that before he went to Australia solo two years prior, he didn’t do anything for himself and was pretty spoiled. We talked about how traveling solo makes you wiser and makes you have different priorities. In London, Harry would wear very expensive outfits, but in Thailand he just wore t-shirts. I thought it was great that Harry was taking on solo travel, especially at his age. I’m not sure that I would have been able to handle it at age 23.

Harry said he’d stay with me until my date was available. However, at 11:00 pm, the restaurant wouldn’t serve beer unless we went to the bar, so Harry decided to leave and get some rest for his class. After finishing my beer, I walked around while messaging the guy from France. He said he was cleaning up and we were trying to figure out where to meet. Then he stopped messaging, so I walked to a small outdoor bar.

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I sat at the bar and talked to a guy from Denmark who was extremely wasted. He ordered shots for his friends and then didn’t have the money to pay, so he denied that he ordered them. After accidentally knocking over his drink, he left with his friends. Next, I talked with a guy from Sweden who works on a cruise ship in Norway. He works for 22 days straight and then has 22 days off.

The bartenders were a couple who owned the bar. The guy was from Germany and had long blonde hair pulled back on top and shaved on the bottom. He was tall, had lip rings, and seemed smart. The bar had a board on the wall next to me showing how many shots were bought and consumed by each country. I took a shot for the USA and saw that some guy from Alaska took an insane amount of shots over a few days to try and get us to win. We came in third place in the first round and were making good progress in the current round.

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There were 18-year-olds from Europe dancing at the bar to the upbeat music and it was a fun night. The owner of the bar gave me a lot of tips for Australia because he spent a year there. He told me not to miss Tasmania because it was his favorite part. He came to Thailand eight months prior to get his dive master certification, but realized he could make more money running a bar. The guy wrote down things for me to see and do on my phone, so I wouldn’t forget. His girlfriend didn’t seem very happy about it. I went back to my Airbnb and was happy that the French guy ghosted me. I had a great night without him. He messaged me the next day saying he fell asleep and apologized.

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I packed my bags and checked out of my Airbnb. I stood in line to check in at the ferry station and ran into Michael from Serbia. I had met him during my “try dive” a few days prior. We sat together on the ferry until he got off at Koh Pha-ngan. I was taking the ferry to Koh Sumai. I asked Michael if Serbia was safe to travel to as a foreigner. He said it was and he gets asked that all of the time. He explained that they haven’t had a war since the 90s. The US was bombing them for “political reasons,” he explained. Michael said they tend to have wars every 30 years and it’s coming up to 30 years without war. He said, “Come visit while you can!”

Michael’s company was letting him work remotely for two weeks after his holiday, but it was an exception. He’s a leader at his company, so they weren’t going to let him do it full time. It was great talking with him, but we had to say goodbye. I continued on the ferry and fell asleep.

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When the ferry arrived in Koh Samui, I took an hour van ride to the airport. At the VietJet Air counter, the guy asked to see my visa for Vietnam. I showed him my preapproval letter in my email, but he had me print it. He also made me show him my plane ticket out of Vietnam before I could board the plane.

When I arrived to customs, there were large signs on the walls saying that if you overstay your visa, even by one day, you could be jailed. I started to panic. I did not want to be jailed in Thailand. When I got to the man and showed him my passport, he asked why I overstayed by a day. I explained that I couldn’t fly because of diving and missed my flight. He told me I needed to pay the fee, which was $500 baht for each day ($16 USD). I was grateful that he didn’t put a red stamp in my passport, which I read would decline re-entry.

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My SIM card ran out because it expired after 30 days. I was trying to book a hotel in Vietnam using WIFI, but it wasn’t letting me connect. It was time to board the plane, so I walked outside and climbed the stairs. When we arrived in Bangkok, there were three of us marked as “quick transfer” because we had a connection to Vietnam. A woman met us as we got off the plane and escorted us to a van that took us across the tarmac. The woman explained that our bag might not make it, but it would be put on the next flight. Great.

After being dropped off, we had to walk all the way through a long hallway, up the escalator, and back through security. Then we walked to our gate. They looked at my passport and made me show my visa again. Thankfully, the flight was running 20 minutes late, so I connected to the WiFi and booked my hotel. As we boarded the plane, a man backed up and accidentally rolled his suitcase over my bruised toe, making me wince in pain.

I was on the plane to Vietnam and was happy that I wasn’t jailed for overstaying my visa. I reflected on my month in Thailand. I hiked and biked in the jungles with REI Adventures and some really awesome people. I explored cities and temples. I ate some delicious new food. I swam in clear, warm waters and learned how to dive. I watched some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The best part is all of the people I met. Even though I was traveling solo, I was rarely alone. I met people who made my time in Thailand such a special place to visit. I look back on my time there with nothing but fond memories.

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Day 231: Hiking in Thailand

I woke up in our first Thailand homestay feeling surprisingly refreshed. I was worried that I wouldn’t sleep well since the padding was pretty thin and there were snorers in our group. I slept much better than I thought I would and I was excited for another day of hiking.

Our guides and the homeowner cooked up a huge, beautiful spread for breakfast. We ate outside on the covered picnic table. The fresh air, the rising sun, and bright blue sky created a gorgeous scene. We all got dressed, packed up our day packs, and started hiking.

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REI Adventures drove our bags to the next place so all we had to carry was our day pack. I really liked hiking to our destinations. There’s something satisfying about knowing my own two feet brought me there.

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As we walked out of the small village, Tri looked back and told us about their traditions to celebrate Chinese New Year, which involves slaughtering pigs. Mimi, being a vegetarian, got very upset and asked Tri to stop talking about it. I wanted to know about it so I asked Tri to continue. Frustrated, Mimi walked off. I don’t really understand not listening to someone explain a culture and their practices just because you don’t personally agree with it.

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We continued hiking and made it into the jungle once again. The bright green foliage surrounded us. I rotated from being in the back to being in the middle. We passed through bamboo sections and then a wheat field.

I was feeling much better that day because I was taking my salt pills when I should. The heat and humidity were high, but the breeze made it bearable. I was still a sweaty mess, but taking the pills really helped to ensure my electrolytes were balanced.

For lunch, we stopped in a semi-open space. The guides quickly gathered jurassic-sized banana leaves for us to sit on. Then they handed each of us our own little fried rice wrapped inside of a beautiful banana leaf. One of the nice things about going on an REI Adventures tour is that they feed me much better than I would feed myself. On hikes, I usually just bring protein bars and packaged foods like tuna.

We had a fun time laughing and relaxing on our banana leaves. I was happy to have a break and let my muscles rest after so much climbing.

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We continued hiking through the thick trees and brush. We even walked through a fruit tree farm and were able to pick some fresh fruit and eat it as we continued to hike. Once we reached the peak of the mountain, we started our descent. Going down is much easier for me, so I was elated to get the break.

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After hiking 11 miles with significant elevation gain, we arrived at our next homestay around 4:30 pm. This time we had two showers available. While the water was still freezing, we had lights inside and the sun hadn’t gone down yet. We made a list and let the people who didn’t get a shower the night before a chance to go first. Because I was the last to arrive, I was put at the bottom of the list. Just like the night before, the water was so cold, it took my breath away!

For sleeping arrangements, two of the married couples got their own rooms in small cabins. The rest of us had to fight it out for a space in the main upstairs of the house. Because I hiked in the back, the spaces were mostly taken by the time I arrived.

I climbed up the wooden staircase on the outside of the house and went inside. There were four mattresses in a small area and around the corner, there was a small nook with a double mattress. The other five mattresses were on the balcony. Each mattress pad had a mosquito net just like the night before.

The only beds left were the double mattress in the nook, one on the balcony, and one in the inside by the door. Nicole, Christian, and Kristen also still needed a bed. It made sense to give the double mattress to Christian and Kristen. But that meant my roommate Nicole and I would be separated. We had become good friends, so I was disappointed.

I was hesitant to be on the balcony, but I was next to a couch, making it harder for me to fall off. I was outside with Mimi, Lisa, Terri, and Cathy. They tried to make me feel at home, but I was upset that Nicole and I were left with whatever beds remained.

We were told to bring our shoes inside for the night because otherwise the dogs would take them and run off. There are a lot of stray dogs in Thailand because they don’t spay and neuter, and they don’t have shelters for animals. They are often in poor condition and carry diseases, so we were instructed not to touch them. It wasn’t clear if the dogs around the property were stray dogs or the owner’s pets. We also saw cats climbing around on the roofs.

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We all took showers and changed into warmer clothes as the sun started to set. The property was beautiful and very isolated. There were benches overlooking the mountain range. As people showered, some of us sat on a bench eating some nuts and beans, getting to know each other better.

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Nicole and I joined Neil who was enjoying a large bottle of Chang beer on the picnic bench. The bottle was indeed large, but Nicole and I agreed to each get our own. Cathy and Lisa asked us if we wanted to share our beer, but we declined. We wanted the full bottle. We giggled as we started to feel the effects of the beer.

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Neil, Nicole, and I were the three solo travellers. Neil had a sweet personality and could make me laugh with the slightest comment. He was easy-going, retired, and had done a bit of traveling. The three of us were slap-happy and couldn’t stop laughing as we drank.

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Cathy told us about her son in high school and her husband. She’s very fit and works out a lot – she loves pickleball. She can be very serious and regimented at times. Her favorite quote was “No calories through beverage”, whenever someone asked if she wanted a drink. She did, however, love Thai iced tea. She let herself indulge once a day to have a sugary beverage. I kept trying to get her to have more drinks (coffee, tea, shakes, beer) and I’d say, “You’re on vacation. Enjoy it a little.” I suppose that’s why I have extra weight on me that I’m lugging around.

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For dinner, the guides and the homeowners cooked up another amazing, freshly made meal! I was enjoying all of the family-style meals because it gave us all a chance to bond, just like a family.

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After dinner was complete, a few of us watched the stars shine brightly above. It was incredible not having any light pollution around for many, many miles. It started to get a little cold outside, so we headed to bed. In the main house, I could hear one of the guides snoring so I put my earplugs in. It didn’t work too well, so I put my headphones in and played some music.

It was actually really refreshing to sleep on the balcony. The fresh air and sounds of nature were peaceful. Of course, I had to use the toilet in the middle of the night. I swear this never happens when a toilet is easily accessible. Using a headlamp, I had to put my shoes on outside, walk down the outdoor staircase, and across the yard to the toilets.

In the morning, I heard Cathy quietly sit up, turn around, and whisper, “There’s a beautiful sunrise.” I sat up, turned around, and saw the orange sun starting to make its way up to the sky. It was amazing to just sit on my mattress pad and watch it unfold. I was happy that I ended up on the balcony.

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Shortly after I woke up, I used the toilet and walked to the ledge where I could see the mountain range. Steve and Nancy were up early and taking pictures. One of the advantages of going on an REI Adventures tour is you get an opportunity to stay in homestays in remote areas. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own.

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Days 178-182: Family and Friends Across the USA

I left Idaho Falls, Idaho just after 1:00 pm and headed towards Denver, Colorado. I knew I wouldn’t make it there that day because it was too far. I decided to drive until I was tired and then find a place to stay.

I drove through Idaho and southwest Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of ranches and mountains. It was December 19th, so the snow was on the top of the mountains, but the lower elevations were clear.

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The first parts were dry desert mountains, but then it progressively became more mountainous and green. I imagined the drive must be incredible in the summer.

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I had been nervous about driving to Missouri in December, knowing I’d have to go over the mountains. I drove around lakes, stopping to take pictures. I was enjoying the drive immensely because the roads were clear.

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Suddenly, it began snowing lightly and the roads were no longer clear and dry. As I continued to climb the mountains, I tightly gripped my steering wheel, fearing I’d slide off the road. I lowered my speed because I’m not used to driving in snow. I was happy that I had my Subaru Outback and my new tires handled the road well.

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I planned on checking out Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming at some point during my travels and I was bummed I had to quickly pass through to make it to Missouri by Christmas. I knew I’d be back again one day though, hopefully when the weather is a little better.

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After driving for almost five hours, I decided to stop in Rocks Springs, Wyoming. I pulled into a parking lot and booked a place on Orbitz. However, when I pulled in, the place looked creepy, old, dark, and vacant. I found the lobby across the street and went inside. I asked the guy at the front desk why it was so dark across the street at the motel. He said someone must have forgotten to turn on the lights.

I was getting the creeps from the place and he said I needed to pay because Orbitz didn’t collect my money yet. Relieved since Orbitz usually charges me a non-refundable charge right away, I asked if I could cancel since I hadn’t paid yet. The guy told me I could cancel, so I left. I booked an okay room at a Best Western for more money, but it was better than the seemingly abandoned motel I had just escaped.

The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast down the street and hit the road. The wind gusts through Wyoming were crazy strong. There were digital displays on the highway with warnings about the gusts, 60 MPH+, so I went a little slower through some parts. I was worried about my rooftop storage unit.

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The drive was flat until I hit Colorado. It was strange because western Wyoming was beautiful and full of mountains, but the middle and driving south was flat and windy.

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Once I entered Colorado, the skies turned blue and the sun was shining. I was staying the night at my second cousin John’s house, but I wanted to meet up with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim who live about 20 minutes from John. I met them for a beer and it was great catching them up on my recent travels. I had stayed with them four months prior when I flew out for their son’s wedding.

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We had a great time laughing and hanging out, but I needed to get to John’s house. I arrived and we headed to dinner. John, his wife Lori, and I went to Roadhouse Grill and ate way too much for dinner. It was so delicious and I had a lot of fun with them, but my stomach started to hurt. We went back to their house and I immediately put on my PJ’s.

In the morning, I left to drive to Colorado Springs (about an hour away) to see my friend, Mandy. She wasn’t available until the afternoon, but my second cousin Susie works in Colorado Springs, so we agreed to meet for breakfast.

We had a great breakfast at a cafe and then shopped at the mall for a bit. Since it was just before Christmas, she had some time off work, but had errands to run at the mall. I had zero gifts and Christmas only a few days away.

After the mall, I stopped at Mandy’s house. Mandy and I met in the 5th grade when we both lived in Canon City, Colorado. She was my best friend for the three years that I lived there and we had some unforgettable adventures. I moved back to Missouri right before 8th grade, but we stayed in touch. Sometimes we’ve gone a few years without seeing each other, but when we see each other, it’s like no time has passed.

We stayed in touch by phone and text, but sometimes we’ve gone a year without talking. It’s so funny though, because it’s never awkward when we see or talk to each other again.

When I arrived around 2:00 pm, Mandy was getting the house ready for a Christmas party she and her husband Chris were throwing for their friends. She asked me to stay, but I told her I needed to make more progress that day and would probably stay the night somewhere in Kansas.

Mandy was painting her nails and offered to paint mine too while we drank some wine. She had started to edit my blog for me the past couple of months and I was catching her up on more recent things since my blog has been behind.

Mandy knew what she was doing with the nails and wine. She convinced me to stay for the party and stay the night at her house. I didn’t have a hotel booked and thought I could still make it to Missouri by Christmas. I was really enjoying the nomad life.  

Mandy’s friends started to arrive and it was so great to meet them. I hadn’t met any of Mandy’s friends over the years because when we’d see each other, it’s mostly been for a brief period of time. This time I was able to spend a few hours catching up with her and then the party began.

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Mandy used to be a Grant Writer for several non-profit organizations and after a decade of doing that, she’s taking a brave step by joining the police department in the hopes of eventually becoming a detective. Her husband, Chris, is a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office. There were a lot of lawyers and some very smart people at the party. They were a blast to get to know and were all very welcoming.

People asked how I knew Mandy and I couldn’t resist telling them about our adventures growing up. We used to sneak out of her mom’s house in the middle of the night to ride our bicycles down the old Main Street and pretend we were cars. We were also entrepreneurs and created our own restaurant called “Le Fancy Feast” and turned my mom’s kitchen into a full-on restaurant in the middle of the night.

Mandy was always the daredevil and I was the worry-wart. I would caution her and another friend about the crazy shenanigans they seemed to always get themselves into – like tubing down a drainage ditch and almost getting sucked under the road. It turns out my worrying was often justified.

After everyone left the party, Mandy, Chris, and I stayed up talking about politics. We often don’t agree, but I respect their views and we were able to have good discussions. Sometimes it was a little heated because we can be honest with each other. But in the end, we had a productive conversation until 3:30 am, when we realized we needed to get to bed.

I left Mandy’s house at 11:30 am and as I loaded my car, it started to snow. I hurried so I wouldn’t get stuck in it. After a couple of hours, the snow stopped.

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I drove through eastern Colorado and into Kansas. Growing up in both Missouri and Colorado, I’ve done that drive many times. The drive through Kansas is one of the worst drives in America. It’s eight hours of a flat highway with nothing around.

I was exhausted and it was dark, so I stopped in Salina, Kansas. I booked a room at Days Inn and walked across the street to IHOP for dinner. I was exhausted from driving about six hours and still had another full day of driving ahead of me.

The next morning, I continued through Kansas. It would be another six hours of drive-time to Lake Saint Louis, where my family lives. The drive was painfully boring. I amused myself by listening to Kansas on my satellite radio while driving through Kansas.

Once I hit Kansas City, the drive was familiar. I went to college at the University of Central Missouri, which is near Kansas City. I hadn’t driven that route in more than  a decade. I was tempted to drive the extra 30 minutes to my old stomping grounds to see what’s changed, but nothing would be open.

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After making a couple of food and bathroom stops, I arrived in Lake Saint Louis at 5:00 pm on December 23rd. I made it in time for Christmas! It was a surreal feeling being back. I hadn’t driven my own car there since I moved away in 2003. I had only been back to visit on holidays or vacation. This time, I didn’t have an end date.

I went to dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. I was exhausted, but I was happy to see them. I was also happy to have a break. It had been six months of travel and I had driven more than 15,000 miles. I needed some time to figure out where I was going next. The possibilities were endless…

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 175: Leaving Whistler with a Bang!

After spending six weeks in Whistler, it was time to leave. As I packed, I reflected on my time there and all the things I did:

  • I wrote a lot, oftentimes sitting in a reading nook, peering out the window. A few times, I was able to watch the snow fall.

I settled in, bought groceries and cooked. I even joined a gym while I was there.

  • I watched fall transition to winter, and enjoyed taking in all of the changes during walks in the forest and around town.

I took the bus to town and got to know some locals. I even took advantage of locals’ only discounts!

  • I cleared more than eight inches of snow off my car a few times, drove in the snow, and scraped ice off my gas tank so I could add gas.
  • I met a few guys. Each one helped me learn what I want and don’t want in a relationship.
  • I sat at bars alone, often times listening to live music. Sometimes I felt lonely, but I made myself get out and about anyway.
  • I attended a wine festival and a film festival.
  • I went snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

I did a beer tour tour, a nightclub crawl, and went to a vodka freezer.

  • I went to game nights, pub trivia, and bar bingo.
  • I made several new friends.

I very much enjoyed my time in Whistler and could see myself living there someday. I don’t get that vibe often with places. I don’t know where I’ll end up living, but Whistler is on my list of possibilities.

Before I left Whistler, I wanted to give a letter to Josh, who I had met right after Thanksgiving. When I dropped Josh off after spending 16 hours together, I didn’t know his last name or phone number and I had hoped he would reach out to me. I was 99% sure I’d never hear from him, which made me bummed. I wrote him a letter telling him how I felt because I’m tired of living life afraid – afraid to be me, afraid of rejection, and afraid of being vulnerable. I knew he worked at a fine dining Italian restaurant, but I couldn’t remember which one so I held onto the letter until I could figure it out. Before I left town, I planned on walking into his restaurant, handing him the letter, and walking out.

When I got sushi with my new friend Brittany, she connected me to a Whistler Facebook group. I found Josh on the group and felt relieved that I at least knew his last name and had a way of contacting him. One night at bar bingo, my new friend Saya convinced me to send Josh a message on Facebook. I thought I had seen him at the bar, but the guy disappeared. After a few drinks, I decided it was a good idea.

Of course, my message was lame (what did you expect?) and I said, “Are you around?” This was after not seeing or talking to him for two weeks. I had become accustomed to guys either not responding, responding very late, or responding in a disrespectful way after online dating. I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back within 15 minutes. We conversed about the weather and how the snow was great. He said now that it was snowing, he was waking up very early every morning to ski. He told me which restaurant he worked at, so I was happy that I could give him my letter.

It was my last day in Whistler and after snowmobiling, I showered, ate dinner, and prepared to leave my Airbnb to surprise Josh with the letter. I was extremely nervous.

“He will probably think I’m a weirdo.”

“What if I become the laughing stock of his friends?”

My friends back home all thought I was crazy. Their response was always the same – if he was interested in you, he would have contacted you. He just wanted to have a fun night and you’ll never hear from him again. That’s how men are. I could hear the tone in their messages as they told me I’m such a hopeless romantic and that this likely would end with a broken heart. I didn’t care.

I knew logically they made sense. It was likely that he never wanted to know me past the night we met. But my instinct kept telling me that he was different. He wasn’t a jerk, he was actually a caring individual. I spent many hours getting to know him, and he didn’t act like other guys. He was tender, he was real, and he had a good heart. I didn’t blame him for not contacting me. It was a strange situation. I was traveling and was only there temporarily. Nobody wants to do long distance, so I didn’t blame him for that. I just needed him to know that I cared and that our time meant something to me, even if that meant I’d be rejected.

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I had a few shots of vodka in preparation for going to the restaurant where he worked. I arrived around 10:20 pm and couldn’t get myself to walk inside. It’s a fine dining restaurant. It’s not like I could just walk in and find him in a sea of people enjoying their fancy meals. I also didn’t want to ask for him because then his coworkers would all wonder what was going on.

I saw a second door that led to a hotel that was connected and went through it. I used the restroom, trying to convince myself that I had the strength and the nerve. People always tell me I’m the bravest person they know – I can assure you that does not apply to the romance department.

Sweating, I managed to get myself into the side door that was by the bar. There was not a single person at the bar, so I asked the bartender if the bar was open. He said it was and got me a menu. The section to my left was crowded with tables full of people enjoying dinner. Behind me, there were lounge tables and some dinner tables, but they were mostly empty.

The bartenders were all from France and were so friendly that it helped to calm my nerves. That, or the vodka was settling in. I ordered a drink and texted my friends. Kristina, who was from Germany, came down within 15 minutes and sat with me at the bar. I slowly turned around, looking to see if I could find Josh. I didn’t know if he was working that night, but it was my last shot.

Kristina and I talked all about her life in Germany. She told me about how she thought Canada would be a lot like the U.K., but she found that is not at all the case. She described German people as being very straight forward, but in Canada, they consider it rude. I told her it’s because Canadians are known for being very nice.

I was enjoying Kristina’s company. At some point, I thought I saw the back of Josh walk by me twice. He was headed the other direction so he only saw my back. I was also trying to cover my face with my hair. I told Kristina about my letter and my dilemma.

At just past 11:00 pm, two servers who were running the bar after the bartenders left said they needed to close out our tabs. I panicked and told Kirstina to stall. We slowly paid and I messaged Josh, asking him to come to the bar. He wasn’t responding and after a few minutes, our bill was closed.

Kristina, being a straight-forward German, asked the servers, “Is Josh here?” The girls looked at each other and one said, “I think he just left.” The other chimed in, “Yeah, he was helping a large party and once they were done, he went home. He just left.” Kristina immediately said, “Can we give you something to give to him?”

Panicked, I said, “No, it’s ok.” The sweet servers enthusiastically said, “Yeah! We can give him something.” Kristina tried to grab the letter from my hand and I tried to shove it back into my purse as I quietly told her, “It’s fine. I’ll message him.” The servers, trying to be helpful, said, “We can tell you his schedule tomorrow.” I assured them it was fine and that I’d message him.

Kristina and I walked outside and met our friends Saya and Misato from Japan, who had just arrived after getting off of work. We brainstormed as to what I should do. I wanted to just run away. Kristina reminded me that I wanted to tell him how I felt and I came there to give him the letter, so I should do it. She told me I could give the letter to her and she’d go back the next day and give it him. I gave her the letter and we all decided to go have a drink at Brickworks bar.

They all thought the idea of writing a letter and giving it to Josh was romantic and they gave an “awe…”. I explained to them what my brother used to say many years ago, “If the person likes you back, they’re flattered. If they don’t like you back, it’s stalking.” I think he’s right. I had no idea if Josh would consider this romantic or consider me a stalker.

As we sat at Brickworks, Josh messaged me back and said he was in bed after skiing and working all day. I told him it was my last night in Whistler and there was something I wanted to give him. He said he would come back out, but he was too exhausted. He asked when I was leaving the following day and said he could meet me to say goodbye.

I was happy that he offered to meet me. I told him once I checked out of my Airbnb, I was going to the holiday market at one of the hotels, and then I needed to head south by around 2:00 pm. He said he’d keep me posted because he would be skiing early in the day and then had to work that evening, but he thought he’d have some time to meet me in the village to say goodbye.

My new friends and I had a great time talking over some wine. I played some classic American songs on the jukebox and we talked about relationships, what it was like in their home countries, and how much fun we’d had together. They are amazing people with warm hearts, and they were so encouraging. I felt lucky to have met them and figured I’d go visit their countries once they were back there. They walked me to the bus station and we hugged goodbye.

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The next day, I checked out of my Airbnb and drove to the winter market at the hotel. Misato met me there and we looked around at the locally made items. It was much smaller than we anticipated, so we walked through the village. Misato hadn’t been in Whistler very long and was working a lot, so she didn’t have a lot of time to shop around yet. It was a great time because we got to know each other better now that it wasn’t in a loud bar or while we were playing a board game.

Josh messaged me at 1:00 pm saying he was about to do his last run and he’d be done by 2:00 pm. Then at 2:00 pm, he was done and asked where to meet me. Misato and I had just finished shopping and were by the Pangea Pod hotel, which is a hostel. They have a nice restaurant on the second floor overlooking the village. We went inside and I told Josh to meet me there.

When we walked inside, Brittany, my friend from the beer tours, was there to get people to sign up for the tours. It was perfect because I hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye to her. We talked for a bit and then Misato and I went to the bar to order some coffee while Brittany was at her table with promotional material. I was incredibly nervous and this time didn’t have alcohol to help give me courage.

As I was looking at the menu, Josh tapped me on my left shoulder. I turned around and he had a big smile on his face. I was awkward of course and messed up giving him a hug. He was in his ski gear, took off his jacket, and sat down. I was pleasantly surprised because I wondered if he’d just message me saying he was downstairs and ask me to come outside to give him whatever I had to give him. Or maybe he’d come upstairs, but quickly leave.

I introduced him to Misato and she ordered coffee, talking with the bartender. I was turned towards Josh, talking. We talked about the ski conditions and how amazing the snow had been the last two weeks. Within about ten minutes, Misato had to go to work so she hugged me goodbye. Ten minutes later, Brittany came over and hugged me goodbye because she had to leave.

I continued to talk to Josh over the next hour. I kept thinking he was probably about to leave at any moment. After 40 minutes, the bartender asked if I wanted to order anything (I never ordered my coffee) and I said no because I thought Josh was about to leave. To my surprise, he ordered an espresso.

We continued to talk and I told him about my snowshoeing and snowmobiling experiences. As he told me about skiing, he was enthusiastic and never made me feel awkward. I enjoyed talking with him and it was reassuring that we could still have great conservations, even without any alcohol. It reminded me why I liked him in the first place. He was so easy to talk to and I was attracted to him.

After an hour, Josh said he needed to go because he had to change for work. I told him I needed to get headed south to make it to Mount Vernon, Washington that evening to stay the night with a friend. We put on our coats, walked down the stairs, and went outside. He gave me directions on how to get back to my car and then he gave me a hug.

As we hugged, I reached into my purse to grab the letter. I had printed it at the library and put it in an envelope. I was terrified about how he’d react, but he came out to say goodbye and I was reminded that I like him. I could also run away right after I gave it to him.

At the end of the hug, I pulled the folded envelope out of my purse and said, “Just don’t make fun of me.” Josh looked down, took the letter, and looked up with a huge smile on his face. He immediately gave me another hug. I felt relieved that he didn’t make me feel like a weirdo. We said goodbye and went our separate ways.

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I drove to Washington feeling amazing. I had conquered a tremendous fear. I let myself be vulnerable, even if it meant embarrassing myself. I trusted my instincts and they were right. Josh wasn’t a jerk and he didn’t make me feel like it was a pity goodbye. He seemed happy and being able to see and talk with him again confirmed what I believed about him.

I know I can’t control the future. I can’t make someone like me. I am a hopeless romantic and I desperately want life to be like the great books and movies where big gestures happen and anything is possible. They say that you should “be the change you want to see.” Well, I want to see people letting themselves be vulnerable. I want to see people taking risks in life. I want to see people express themselves to those they care about. So, I decided to start with me. I can’t expect someone else to treat me that way if I’m not willing to do the same.

I knew I probably wouldn’t hear from Josh for at least a few days. I was feeling happy and content that I was able to say goodbye in person and give him the letter.  Now it was in his hands.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 126-129: Pacific Coast Highway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I replied, “No, LA.”

“Cool. Are you just on vacation?”

“Well, I’m traveling for two years.”

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

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

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

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

“Hearst Castle and then probably Eureka.”

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

“No, I’m traveling for two years.”

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

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

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

“Well, I gotta go, sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 98: Thoughts Driving on Vancouver Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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