Day 247: Bangkok to Phi Phi Island

I arrived at the Bangkok airport for my AirAsia flight to Phuket. I tried looking online for the baggage and weight allowance, but failed to find anything. When I purchased my ticket, I paid an extra $40 so that luggage was included.

I put my purse inside my small duffle bag and planned to use that as my “personal item,” my medium-sized backpack as a carryon, and would check my suitcase. I arrived at the counter to get my ticket and a woman pointed to a man to the left who was weighing bags. I put my suitcase on the scale and it showed 22.5 kilos (49.6 pounds). In the U.S., the weight limit of a checked bag is 50 pounds.

AirAsia has a total checked bag limit of 20 kilos (44 pounds), regardless of how many bags you have. The man informed me that the price for an overweight bag is $350 baht ($11.45 USD) per kilo and they round up. I was upset because I had already paid $40 for the bag and I thought this was excessive for a bag that would have met standards in the U.S.

The man then weighed my backpack as the carryon and said they only allow 7 kilos (15.4 pounds). My backpack weighed 7.2 kilos so he said he’d let me slide. He instructed me to another counter to pay for the excess weight of my suitcase. I was extremely angry that the information on baggage allowance and the additional fees are not listed anywhere online or at the airport. How was I supposed to prepare?

At the next counter, the woman rudely told me to put my suitcase on the scale. It showed 25.5 kilos and she demanded $2,100 Baht ($69 USD). Getting angrier by second, I told her that scale was incorrect because the man’s scale said it was 22.5 kilos. She didn’t care and wanted $2,100 Baht. I told her I’d pay $1,050 Baht. She said I could try the scale next to her, so I moved past the customers at the counter and put my suitcase on that scale. It also showed 25.5 kilos. Getting angrier still, I said I was only going to pay for 22.5 kilos because that is what the scale showed where the man already weighed my bag.

The woman let me walk 15 feet over to the original scale and put my bag on it so that I could show her. Sure enough, it showed 22.5 kilos. The woman reluctantly said she would charge me for 3 kilos over ($34 USD). She didn’t care that two of their scales were weighing bags incorrectly and overcharging customers. I tried to tell other customers about their shady business practices.

I’m not currently earning an income, so I care about wasting money. The airline was trying to charge me an extra $34 USD because of a faulty scale. I was angry that I still ended up paying a total of $74 for one suitcase that wasn’t even 50 pounds. Southwest Airlines lets you check two suitcases for free and each one can weigh 50 pounds.

I was even more angry that I couldn’t prepare. If I had known about the baggage fees, I likely would have paid more for a ticket on a better airline that has better baggage allowance, better leg room, and better customer service.

img_3134

After going through security, we were instructed to board the plane. We were bussed to the tarmac, climbed up stairs, and made our way to our seats. I sat down and couldn’t believe how little leg room was available. I know I’m taller than the average person, but my knees were so smashed into the seat in front of me that they were in a lot of pain. The person in front of me also decided to recline before we even took off.

We took off 40 minutes late, not because of a delay, just because they didn’t seem to follow any sort of schedule. I sat on that plane and decided I would never fly AirAsia again. I have flown other discount airlines and had good service. AirAsia was awful all around.

img_3133

Some people have said, “That’s why I only fly with a small carryon backpack that is seven kilos when I fly to Asia. I just bring sundresses and flip flops.” First, even if I brought the exact same clothes as someone else, mine would take up much more space and be heavier because I’m twice their size. I’m not 5’2”, I’m 6’1”. My shoes are also much longer than theirs. Second, I was traveling for eight months, going to varying climates that required both winter coats and swimsuits. I was doing a lot of outdoor activities and needed things like hiking gear. I was also doing city exploring. I wasn’t doing yoga in Bali and lounging at the beach all day.

That’s great that some people can fly with a seven kilo backpack. I am not one of those people and never will be. I’m also not an overpacker. I brought the things I needed for the weather, activities, and length of time I was traveling in three countries. Trust me, I don’t like lugging around my bags. But I had things like my vitamins and medications so I didn’t get sick, my keyboard and iPad so I can write, and the appropriate attire.

After a frustrating, but short flight, we arrived in Phuket. I booked the ferry to Phi Phi Island online in advance, which left at 11:00 am. After getting my suitcase, I walked to a booth that had cell phone data. My data was almost out so I topped it off for $5 USD and received another five GB. I used the ATM and paid a $7 USD fee (not including my bank fees), bought a bottle of water, and looked for a taxi. A man approached me and offered to give me a ride to the ferry for $700 Baht ($23 USD). I explained to him that I needed to arrive to catch the 11:00 am ferry. It was 10:22 am when we pulled away and he said it would be difficult to make it in time.

The taxi driver was driving fast at first. I called the ferry to see if they would wait for five minutes. They didn’t speak English, so the driver offered to talk to them. He spoke to them in Thai and handed my phone back. He started driving slower and said I likely wouldn’t make it.

We arrived at 11:07 am and the ferry was gone. Great, now they care about leaving on time. I went to the booth of the company I bought the ticket from and they said I could board the next ferry, but it didn’t leave for four hours. They recommended I buy another ticket with a different company that was leaving at 12:30 pm. I didn’t want to hang out at the ferry terminal for four hours, so I bought another ticket for the 12:30 pm departure for $600 Baht ($20).

I bought some breakfast, used the toilet and boarded the boat at 12:10 pm. It didn’t leave until 12:42 pm. I was frustrated. Did I just get swindled? Perhaps. The taxi company and boat companies sell tickets as combo packages. They all work together. Maybe my driver told the ferry to leave on time and he slowed down, making sure I missed it. The man who sold me the ticket for the ferry I was on tried very hard to get me to buy a new ticket and buy it fast. And this one didn’t leave on time, like most things in Thailand.

The ferry took a couple of hours to arrive at Phi Phi Island. Most of the tourists were French and German, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I got off the ferry when we arrived and walked to my room. I booked it through Airbnb, but it was actually a small hotel.

img_3151

There are no cars on the island, so you must walk everywhere. The fancy resorts that are farther away and up hills have men with carts that come and get people’s luggage for them. My hotel was cheap. I would not be getting any such service. I wandered through the narrow streets full of shops, tattoo shops, and restaurants, getting very turned around.

It was extremely hot and humid. The real feel temperature was 108 °F. I eventually made it to my hotel hot, sweaty, and out of breath. The woman showed me my room, turned on the air conditioning unit, and said, “I’ll show you the safe later. Maybe you could cool down and take a shower?” Wow, I must have been a hot mess.

After cooling off for 15 minutes, I asked the woman what she recommended that I do while I was there for a few days. She recommended that I hike to a lookout point that evening and watch the sunset, go to the beach the following day, and then go on the boat that my new British friends told me about.

Harry, Dave, and Charlie from England were on Phi Phi Island. We met in Chiang Mai the week before. I sent them a message letting them know that I had arrived and was about to do a hike to a lookout point. They said they were actually on their way and told me to hurry up and they’d wait for me.

I changed my clothes and wandered through the narrow, winding streets. The island has two large land masses with mountains on each side, but the middle is a skinny stretch of land. The skinny stretch is where the bulk of the hotels, bars, and restaurants are. I couldn’t tell which direction was the beach and once I finally found it, I didn’t know which side of the island I was on.

Harry called me and tried to help give me directions. The guys didn’t have cell service in Thailand, so they had to use WiFi. Harry would walk into a bar to use the WiFi so he could message me. I was walking on the beach and trying to make my way to the bar they were at. Then Harry called me and said they saw me in the distance and were worried that I was too far away. They didn’t want to miss the sunset, so they continued and said they’d see me up there.

I told Harry there were two paths to the lookout point. One uses a ton of stairs and the other is a pathway. The woman at my hotel recommended I take the stairs because it’s hard, but gets you there quicker. The path is long and takes awhile to get there. Harry didn’t know about the steps and said they were just going to follow the path. I found the steps and said I’d see them up there.

img_3160

After ten minutes and many, many stairs, I arrived at the first lookout point. It was beautiful and I took the opportunity to take some pictures and catch my breath. The island has mountains too, which really add to the scenery.

img_3174

img_3169

img_3164

It took another ten minutes to arrive at the very top. It was crowded and there was a small store selling drinks and popsicles. I bought a popsicle and sat on a large rock. The view was incredible! I could see the majority of the island, the mountains, lush trees, and the ocean.

img_3190

img_3220

img_3195

Off to the side and a little farther up, there was a bar and restaurant. In order to enjoy the view on their rooftop, you needed to purchase a drink. I bought a beer and sat at a tall table. Next to me were two French girls and a guy. I had run into those French girls at the first viewpoint and they were very rude and self absorbed, taking tons of pictures at the sign and ignoring the fact that others were waiting. The girls looked like Paris Hilton and didn’t seem to notice that I existed. They sat next to me drinking their coke and smoking their cigarettes.

img_3215

img_3230

img_3285

img_3293

I tried to ignore them and just focus on the view. I looked around for the guys on the rocks below me, but couldn’t find them. It turns out they ended up at a different viewpoint. There weren’t many people on the rooftop bar and it was more enjoyable. The bugs started to come out once it got dark outside, so I started the trek back down. I stopped at a restaurant and ate some Pad Thai before heading back to my hotel. I took a shower and was so exhausted that I fell asleep with the light still on.

img_3295

img_3298

That day was extremely frustrating. It felt like nothing was going my way and the world was against me. The beautiful sunset helped end the day on a better note, but I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to wake up refreshed. I wanted the next day to be better. I needed the next day to be better.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_1328
Neil and Tien

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.

img_1329

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.

img_1334

img_1333

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.

img_1364

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.

img_1358

img_1362

img_1383

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.

img_1412

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.

img_1406

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.

img_1419

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.

img_1421

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.

img_1424

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.

img_1425

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.

img_1426

img_1433

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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

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.

img_8047

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.

img_8056img_8063img_8057

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!

img_8094

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.

img_8156img_8154

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.

img_8161img_8169

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.

img_8186

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.

img_8207

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.

img_8260

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.

img_8222

img_8230

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.

img_8247

img_8293

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
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

 

Days 78-79: Camping on a Ferry

I arrived to the ferry terminal later than I should have, around 8:00 am. No matter how hard I try, I am often running slightly late for anything that requires me to wake up early. I was waved on to the ferry shortly after I arrived and they asked me to parallel park in a very tight space. I was successful and the guy guiding me said, “Perfect, wow!” You can’t live in Los Angeles for 15 years and not know how to parallel park.

img_7199

I grabbed my backpack and headed to the deck of the ferry. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw there were only a handful of people up there. I found a good lawn chair and dragged it to the window, right at the start of the solarium. The solarium is a partially covered area with heat lamps. Being at the edge, I could have the views and some heat from the lamps.

img_7212

There were two girls slowly waking up near me. One was wearing a George Washington sweatshirt and looked upset at having to wake up for the stop. It was a two hour stop in Haines to off-load and reload people (they were getting off at that stop). The girls had just finished the Klondike relay race and were exhausted.

I blew up my thermarest sleeping pad and got my sleeping bag out so people knew that chair was taken. Once I was all set up, I enthusiastically walked over to the uncovered deck and was attempting to take a selfie. A man walked over and offered to take my photo.

img_7200

img_7215

Ralph is from Boulder, Colorado and is retired. He was thin and had short gray hair. Ralph was traveling in a van that he retrofitted so he and his friend could sleep in it. They drove through Montana, Banff, Alaska, and now back through Canada. They were doing a lot of fishing on their travels. I told Ralph that I was awed by the drive from Haines Junction to Haines and he said he thought it was more beautiful than driving through Banff.

img_7201

Ralph told me about life in Boulder and how Google set up a small shop there, which has caused the cost of housing to increase. He said there are times when he goes for a hike in the evening and a cohort of 12-15 people will be climbing up the mountain after work, sometimes with their Google badge still on.

Ralph and I talked about our travels and why we chose to sleep outside. When taking this ferry, people can pay for a room (would have cost about $200) or people can sleep anywhere inside or outside. The ferry is very basic and so are the rooms. It’s definitely not a cruise ship. There is one restaurant onboard open during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a small movie room that plays movies a few times a day. But that’s all there is.

img_7233

The inside does have a couple of large rooms with chairs to watch the views. People who choose to sleep inside put their sleeping bag in between the rows of chairs, which is what Ralph’s friend was doing. As long as they’re not blocking the aisle, they can sleep anywhere.

img_7230

On the outside of the ferry, you can set up a tent on the deck or just sleep on one of the lawn chairs under the heaters. I was planning on doing the tent until the man I met while flying to Denver recommended that I shouldn’t bother with a tent. I’m glad I took his advice. Because it was the end of the season, there weren’t any other tents and I still felt like I had privacy.

img_7217

After talking with Ralph for a bit, I headed to the restaurant to eat some breakfast. I was almost finished eating when Ralph showed up with his tray of food and joined me. Shortly after, the ferry pulled away from the dock and we were on our way.

img_7218

Ralph told me he’s been to Alaska eight times. Sometimes he’s flown, other times he’s driven. He’s gone with his wife, and once with his daughters. For this trip in his newly renovated van, he and his friend had been eating the salmon they caught. This was his first meal in three weeks that was “eating out.”

Ralph’s friend Dave joined us at the end of breakfast and Ralph introduced me. He laughed, “She’s retired too.” Dave just finished taking a shower and they told me when they were in Valdez, they took advantage of showers at the public pool.

I told the men that I was thrilled to be on the ferry because it felt so fun and so basic. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of amenities like cruise ships have. There aren’t any distractions – we could sit back and enjoy the scenery. They told me, “You’re too young to cruise. They have casinos, and shows, and it’s too flashy.”

img_7222

Ralph and Dave used to be mechanical engineers at IBM and knew of “the big yellow book” that the industrial company I worked for during the last 11 years produced every year.

After breakfast, I walked around the ferry to see what else was there. I walked past the reclining room, which gave people a nice, relaxing way to watch the world go by.

img_7226

I was surprised that I still had cell service. I called my cousin Misty and we were able to catch up while I sat on the deck watching the mountains. It was incredible. Mountains were on both sides of the ferry and didn’t seem like they’d stop anytime soon.

img_7248img_7240

For lunch, I ate my leftover pizza in an empty room that used to be the bar. The ferry was stopped in Juneau for more loading and unloading. There was a guy sitting near me who was a maintenance technician for the ferries. He was getting to Juneau as a stopping point to board another ferry that was delayed. He explained to me that the city of Juneau is 13 miles away from where the ship docks, so it wouldn’t be worth it for me to get off. He pointed out that cruise ships get the spots close to downtown.

img_7258

The man told me the ferries closed the bars about two years ago because they said they didn’t make any money. He didn’t believe them because a friend of his said he’d make $900 on a 36-hour ferry ride. They closed the gift shop at that time too.

The man told me I might see some whales. He explained that the ferries try their best to avoid pods so they don’t kill them, but one had died from a ferry recently. He angrily pointed out that cruise ships just go right through pods of whales and don’t care if they are killed. Ferries at least try and avoid them.

The man got off the ship and I took a nap in the warm sun on the deck under the solarium. Once I felt rested, I went back to the deserted bar and wrote a blog post for my next entry. After that, I ate dinner at the restaurant, watched a movie “Geo Storm,” which was terrible movie, washed my face, and headed to bed.

img_7261img_7268

I slept surprisingly well thanks to my sleeping pad. My sleeping bag and the nearby heat lamps kept me warm as I listened to the waves and the engine. Occasionally the ferry would stop in some city and make a few announcements, which woke me up.

The sun started rising around 5:00-6:00 am. A loud, rude, woman came to the deck asking for a lighter so she could smoke. When no one had one, she said, “You guys are backpackers? In tents? And none of you have a lighter? What year were you born?”

img_7278

For breakfast, I found Ralph and Dave in the restaurant and joined them. We took our time eating and having great conversations ranging from the work they used to do as engineers, the fires they encountered in British Columbia, the giant salmon they caught and ate, and how the human population is decreasing. We talked about how the birth rate is low in most countries. People aren’t dying much any more like they used to, so the there’s still a lot of people. But what happens in a few decades when the low rate has been going on for so long?

I told them about an article I read pointing out people in Japan don’t want to get married and aren’t having kids (or even interested in having sex). It’s so bad, the government has stepped in and spent lots of money arranging social events trying to get people to date.

We talked about border crossings and Ralph said that years ago he was crossing into Canada in an old Subaru and looked like a hippy. He was pulled over and his whole car was searched for over an hour until he was released.

I was loving the conversations with these men and was happy I met new friends to keep me company. The ferry arrived at Ketchikan, which is where they were getting off. Ralph went to the deck to grab his backpack while Dave and I watched some seaplanes. He nostalgically told me he’d be a pilot in another life. He said when Ralph was 24, he flew a plane from Colorado to Fairbanks.

I hugged Ralph goodbye and felt honored to have met them. Intelligent, adventurous, and kind men. After they disembarked, I decided to walk into town during the quick stop. I only made it to Safeway, where I bought some lunch and brought it back to the ferry.

img_7296

I spent the afternoon writing some more, watching “Only The Brave,” which made me cry, and sitting on the deck enjoying the views. I watched the sunset just before we arrived to Prince Rupert around 9:00 pm. It started to drizzle and get very cold. I was thankful that the weather had been amazing up until that point.

img_7303img_7333img_7326

I drove my car off the ferry and had to go through customs since I was now back in Canada. Thankfully, it was painless. I arrived at my 2-star hotel in Prince Rupert in the dark, exhausted and in need of a shower.

The hotel was gross and I thought it was ironic that the ferry was more clean and comfortable. The ferry definitely lived up to all of the hype!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment!

Day 74: Alaskan Adventure!

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

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

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

img_6790-1

img_6796-1

 

img_6807-1

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

img_6806-1

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

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

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

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

img_6816-1

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

img_6820-1

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

img_6819-1

img_6832-1

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

img_6823-1

 

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

img_6825-1

img_6842-1

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

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

img_6846-1

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment or send me a message without any questions!

Day 73: Misophonia, Glaciers, and a Familiar Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Day 48: Tear Inducing Scenery

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

img_5457

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

img_5465

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

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

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

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

img_5490img_5493

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

img_5508

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

img_5512

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

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

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

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

img_5552img_5457img_5592

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

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

img_5602img_5606

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

img_5618

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

 

Day 41: Wasps and Didgeridoos

I was grateful that I woke up in the tent and was not attacked by a person and/or a bear. I wanted to get out and start hiking!

Having a hard time finding a good trail with the slow wi-fi at the front desk, I asked the woman working there (who was my waitress the night before) for suggestions. I wanted to hike without having to drive my car somewhere. She described a long hike with a lot of elevation gain that was just across the river. Then she told me that I was guaranteed to see a bear because that’s where they hang out.

I didn’t have any bear spray so I chose to do a small trail around the nature center that was next to the resort. I put on my backpack and got started.

Walking through the property, I passed some chickens and the safari tents. The tents were close together and there was a group of ten people sitting in folding chairs around a firepit, drinking. Their music was playing loudly and the area was strewn with birthday decorations. Overall, they were pretty obnoxious. I was happy to have my secluded romantic tent – even if I was alone and there were strange creatures that stalked me at night.

As I headed down the trail, I passed a bird house and a strange figure made out of branches.

The trail took me to the nature center and a girl was outside painting a picnic bench. I walked around inside the small building that showcased the local animals and terrain. The girl told me the trail continued around the lake, so I carried on.

img_5076

The trail was easy and quickly brought me back to the nature center. This time, there were two girls painting the picnic table. I asked them about bears and how often they see them in the area. They told me there is really only one that hangs around and he’s around two to three years old. He’s small and no longer with his mother.

A tall guy walked up with a German accent and said, “I’m just tending to my garden and stuff.” I replied, “That sounds like a good day!”

I asked what there is to do and the first girl took me inside and showed me some things on a large map. She pointed out the Skookumchuck Narrows and a place on Vancouver Island that has goats on top of the building.

We walked down a small hill, around the outside of the building and ran into the other girl, and a woman who appeared to be in her 50s with two long, gray braids. I told them about my travels and Braids told me about a local woman who was hiking 500 miles across Canada.

Two European guys who also work around there joined us, and Braids continued to tell stories. She said she once went on a date with a guy who took her on a ferry to the northern part of Olympic National Park in Washington. They hopped on a bus when they arrived, but the rain had washed the road out. Instead, they hiked to their destination. By that evening, they were in a tent. That was all on a spur-of-the-moment date. I thought, “Why can’t I meet a guy who takes me on dates like that?”

That reminded her of another time she took a ferry up north and set a tent up right on the beach. A guy who was camped nearby kept playing the didgeridoo and she was getting annoyed. But then, whales started popping up! The sound was being played for the whales and they loved it. She sat there on the beach under the moonlight watching whales while listening to a didgeridoo.

This woman was so full of life and I loved her authenticity. I hope I’m like that when I’m older: full of lovely stories about all of my crazy adventures.

I hiked back to my tent and decided to take a nap. The best naps are in a tent in the woods, feeling exhausted and content after a hike.

After my delightful nap, I did some writing on the front porch overlooking the river. For dinner, I went to the Italian restaurant again and ate more expensive pasta. The sunset was incredible and the night was so peaceful.

img_5091img_5093

Before bed, I hiked up to the bathroom to take a shower. There were two bathroom stalls with wooden doors, and two small showers. Once I turned on the water, there was a wasp that started flying around in my shower. I tried to shoo him away since I’m allergic to bees, but he kept diving towards me. I thought, “Great, if I have to use my epi-pen from being stung by a wasp in a shower, that’s going to be a ridiculous story.”

I did not get stung, thankfully, and headed back down to my tent. I closed the window flaps in case there were strange noises again. I also put my backpacking knife and my glasses beside my bed so I’d be prepared this time. Thankfully, I slept very soundly that night and dreamt of whales dancing to their favorite music.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 40: Glamping in Madeira Park

After checking out of my Airbnb and grabbing a quick breakfast at a local café, I headed to the Hard Rock casino so I could buy the one souvenir that I collect: a Hard Rock shot glass. At the front entrance of the casino, a young girl scolded me for trying to walk inside, and asked me for my ID. Surprised since the gambling and drinking age in Canada is 19, I showed her my ID. Shocked, she said, “Oh wow. I’m sorry. You just look very young for your age.” I told her it was no problem and I happily headed towards the gift shop.

While I was there, I figured it couldn’t hurt to gamble a little bit. I changed a $20 US bill for $25 Canadian dollars. Within five minutes, it was gone on slot machines. That was fine since I didn’t really have the time and I was nervous leaving my car outside with all of my stuff (worried ever since my car was broken into in Portland).

My next reservations were in Madeira Park on the Sunshine coast. It’s not technically an island, but since it’s only connected to land many miles up north with no road access, you have to take a ferry to get there from Vancouver.

img_5026

I got in line for the ferry and saw row upon row of cars lined up for the ferry to Vancouver Island. Thankfully, I was going to Gibsons, and there weren’t nearly as many people trying to get there. I didn’t have a reservation, but thankfully I made it on the next ferry. After sitting for about 45 minutes, I drove my car onto the ferry and walked to the top deck.

The 40-minute ferry ride was stunning!  The giant mountains rising above the ocean reminded me of traveling through a fjord in Norway. Not many people were outside because it was incredibly windy. So windy that I tried not to take many pictures for fear my phone would be ripped from my hand. I used my GoPro since I could grip it better.

img_5035img_5043

At the front, top deck was one other person – a guy close to my age. He was thin with blonde dreadlocks reaching his lower back. He had headphones on and looked out to the ocean in a whimsical way. I wanted to talk to him but didn’t know how to start a conversation.

img_5040

https://vimeo.com/301753810

When the ferry arrived in Gibsons, I drove my car off and headed towards Madeira Park. The road winded through the trees and gave glimpse of the ocean as it followed along the coast. I lost cell service but still made it to my next Airbnb, a tent.

I arrived to the resort at 5:30 pm and checked-in at the outdoor front desk. I had booked the “safari style” tent for $99, but it was only available for one night. They also offered cabins, but I wanted the experience of staying in a safari tent. I asked the women if they had anything available for a second night and she said the only one they had available was their private, romantic tent. It cost more but since she didn’t have it booked, she’d give it to me for two nights at a discount.

I figured since I spent the time and money getting there, I should stay for two nights, so I told her to sign me up for the romantic private tent.

The only problem with this tent is that I had to park my car on this little gravel area just off a road on their property, walk down a steep gravel road, then down steep stairs, before arriving to my tent.

img_5094
See my car in the top left corner

The tent had a front porch and a side porch with two chairs and a mosquito net.

img_5058

I unzipped the plastic covering over the door, unlatched the screen door, and went inside.

It had a beautiful bed, a small table, and a little fireplace-looking heater. The wood floor was nice to have for a tent, but it had cracks in it between boards and I worried bugs would get in. It definitely had a romantic vibe and I was a little sad I didn’t have a partner to spend time with there…like that cute, dreadlocked stranger on the ferry.

The property also had a porta potty near a large wooden gate to keep the area private. In front of the cabin was a ravine falling away into a river below.

After I brought a few things down the hill from my car, I was ready for dinner. I walked down the road past the cabins to the restaurant they had on site. The entire place was very outdoorsy and I only had cell service in a couple of spots.

The only food available was at the Italian restaurant near the check-in area, which was pretty expensive. Having no other options, I sat down and ordered some salmon tortellini and dessert.

As I was finishing dinner, the sun was setting across the lake on the other side of the main paved road. The resort owned the dock entrance to the lake so I walked over and took some pictures.

img_5071

On the way back to my tent, I walked across a shaky low bridge over a lake and past the cabins again.

img_5062

To wash my face, I had to walk back up the hill near my car to use the shared bathrooms. It was now dark so I headed back to my cabin. String lights lit up the porch and surrounded the tent, which helped.

img_5073

Once inside, I saw a spider hanging out in the corner. I figured he’d leave me alone and I was in his territory so I didn’t kill him. Having no cell reception or TV, I read a book and went to sleep. However, as I started to fall asleep, I heard something walking towards the tent. I figured it was my mind wandering, but then I definitely heard something or someone walking on the rocks right outside my tent.

My heart started racing. Was it a person who would attack me? Was it a bear who would eat me? I was defenseless with no cell reception. I tried to rationalize it by saying my tent was secluded and someone would have to climb down the hill and stairs, or open the wooden gate to even know I was there. If it were a bear, he’d have to climb up the ravine. I panicked at the sound of each leaf I heard crumpling.

I slowly got up, put on my glasses, and closed the plastic flaps over the two screened windows. I slowly laid back in bed, trying to prevent the bed from creaking. For some reason, having my glasses on and being wide awake staring at the ceiling made me feel better – like I would be prepared for an attack. I tried not to make any noise and hoped whatever was out there would eventually leave.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 39: Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

During the bike tour, the guide recommended a few hikes in the area that I wanted to try. I was already staying on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver, so the drive would be an easy 15 minutes to the trail head.

That morning, I finished up a blog post about how I had felt on day 5: depressed. I was nervous about posting it because it was so raw. The beginning of my trip was not easy. I experienced a tremendous amount of change in a very short period of time and had a hard time figuring out my new normal.

I uploaded the blog post and left for the hike around 4:00 pm. When I arrived at Eagle Bluff Trail, the Olympic rings were still on display from 2010. There was a vacant ski lift, swaying in the cool summer breeze. The clearing of trees showed the runs that skiers traversed the hills during the winter months.

The total trail was just under six miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. Large rocks quickly appeared on the dirt trail, making the incline a little more difficult. I passed several ponds and lakes.

The green trees against the bright blue sky reminded me of why I wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest so badly. After being in the California drought for more than a decade, it was what I needed. I could feel life growing in the forest.

Continuing to climb, the trail turned into roots from the towering trees above. They provided great shade, but were definitely trip hazards. A fellow hiker tripped on a root when she looked up to see me and fell. The guy with her and I made sure she was ok and they continued on.

Starting the trail, I didn’t have cell service. As I continued to climb, cell service would sporadically appear and a text message would come through – messages of concern from friends and family. Then the Facebook notifications appeared. Words of encouragement after reading my blog post on depression.

I started to panic and thought, “Why did I post that? I shouldn’t have written about it.” I felt embarrassed and exposed as I thought about all of the people who I’m connected with on Facebook – old coworkers, family, friends, and neighbors. I desperately wanted to take down the post but didn’t have much cell service. The entire climb up, I worried about that post and how it would make me look: weak.

When I arrived at the top of the mountain, there were a few people taking pictures and enjoying the view. I found a large rock to sit on, eat a powerbar, and admire the view. It was incredible!

Looking to the west, I could see mountains surrounded by the ocean. To the south was the ocean with some smoke in the background from a fire burning in the bog. To the southeast was the city of Vancouver. With 180 degree, the views didn’t stop.

I sat in awe and reminded myself that the reason I’m blogging about my trip is because I want people to experience what I’m experiencing. Sometimes it’s lonely, scary, and confusing. I was determined not to be afraid of revealing who I really am. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to please others and to be “good enough.”

img_4963

I believe God created each of us to be unique and I think he delights in who we are. I try my best to follow the path God has set for me. But society, parents, the workplace, friends, the church, and strangers all have expectations of who we should be. After trying to get the approval of all of these people, I finally broke. It was exhausting and left me feeling alone. Over the last few months, I decided to be me. I have to keep reminding myself of this as it doesn’t come naturally. I’m a people pleaser and I hate disappointing people. I decided I would leave the post up.

The climb was worth the view. A chipmunk attempted to get into my backpack several times and I had to keep scaring him away. I headed back down the mountain so I would finish before dark. On my way back down, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the top of the ski lift. I saw two very fit and attractive guys who looked to be in their late 20s taking photos. One guy had his shirt off, while the other took pictures. They also had a small dog with them. I couldn’t help but laugh in my head. Hopefully the pictures were for something legitimate, but I wondered if they were for his Tinder profile.

When I walked around the ski lift area, the bugs started to attack and they seemed to love my ears. The buzzing sound would make me scream every time. The guys I had seen a few minutes earlier showed up and asked if I knew where the trail was to get back down. I told them I think we made a wrong turn and it was back up the other way. Of course, a bug flew near my ear and I screamed, looking like a maniac.

The guys started heading down the rocky path. I went back to the trail and headed towards where I thought it diverged. I ran into a group of four young, attractive people in their 20s. One of the girls asked me for directions and I showed her on my map where they needed to go. I asked if they were heading to the top because it was getting pretty late. They said they were heading to the top to watch the fireworks.

My bike tour guide told me about the fireworks. It was their annual firework competition. Sweden was going to display their best fireworks by setting them off from a barge in the water. The previous Saturday, South Africa showcased their fireworks and the final show would be the following Saturday with South Korea.

img_5013

I didn’t want to hike down in the dark after the fireworks. Plus, I had a great view of the harbor from my Airbnb. I continued to the bottom and made it my car around 9:00 pm. When I got back to the Airbnb, I realized I didn’t have any food. I used Yelp to find a place, but most places didn’t deliver to West Vancouver.

I called a pizza place in West Vancouver and asked if they’d deliver. The man who answered was annoyed and said he would not deliver because they closed at 10:00 pm and he’s really busy. I said it was only 9:20 pm but I could come pick it up. After arguing with him, and having to call him back, he took my order and said, “If you’re not here to pick it up in 15 minutes, I’m closing up and you won’t be able to pick it up”. Dang.

I hurried there and picked up my pizza. They were not busy and I’m guessing he just wanted to close early to see the fireworks. I took my pizza back to the Airbnb and ate in the large dining room that overlooked the harbor. I sat in the dark so I could see the fireworks better. For 30 minutes, Sweden showed off their best fireworks in a stunning show.

I read through the messages, comments, texts, and emails that people had sent me about my blog post. Even though I still felt embarrassed, it felt good to know so many people could relate to my struggle and were there to encourage me when I needed it. I’m not alone. To date, that’s one of my most read posts.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider

 

Day 38: Bike Tour in Vancouver, BC

I signed up for an afternoon bike tour with Cycle Vancouver that started in downtown Vancouver. It was advised not to drive into the city because parking was around $20. I pulled up the Uber and Lyft apps, but received a notification saying they was not available in that area.

I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to using Uber and Lyft. I looked for taxis on Yelp and called one. It was only about 6-7 miles to downtown Vancouver from where I was staying in West Vancouver, but they quoted me $25 each way. This is why I never use taxis. An Uber or Lyft would have cost me around $7-$10.

I decided to drive but was now running a little behind. Fighting downtown city traffic, I found a parking garage for $13 for the day if I parked all the way on the top – going up 8 floors.

I jogged down the stairs, paid for parking, and hit the street with about five minutes until the tour started. Rushing into the bike store slightly out of breath, I told the handsome guy who looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s that I was there for a tour. It appeared there were several groups getting ready to ride. He was friendly, smiled, and got me a bike suitable for my height, and took me outside to meet my tour guide, Ben.

Ben welcomed me to the group and we all introduced ourselves. About six of us were going on the tour. It was sunny, warm with a cool breeze, and a beautiful day. The bikes we were using were electric bikes. I’ve done a lot of bike tours in cities around the world but have never used an electric bike. Ben gave us instructions and it was pretty straight forward. We’d still peddle like normal, but the bike would assist us going up hills.

We first rode through the city towards Stanley Park. We learned more about the city, the totem poles that have been put up to remember the tribes once located there, statues, bridges, and the beach. The tour lasted several hours, with stops every 15 minutes or so to take pictures.

The tour guide, Ben, was around 5’10” with blonde hair and blue eyes, and looked like Aaron Paul (when he was younger). From the beginning of the tour, I was right behind Ben so we ended up talking a lot. We got along really well and had some fun conversations.

Ben is from Ottawa and came to Vancouver to get his film degree. After college, he spent time on film sets as part of the production team. This involved carrying heavy items around in the rain for 12-15 hours a day with relatively low pay.

Ben got tired of that so he went to work in a sound studio where he was working in an office, which was pretty boring. In April, he ran into a college friend at a bar after not seeing him for a while, who told him about doing bike tours. His friend had opened his own bike shop and asked Ben if he wanted to do tours. Ben decided being in nature daily sounded a lot better than being in an office, so he quit his job and started doing bike tours.

I told Ben that I also studied film in college so I know how hard it is, and we bonded over that. I asked Ben why Uber and Lyft aren’t available there and he said, “Places like LA roll out new things and work out the kinks as they go. In British Columbia, we wait for places like LA to work out all the kinks first, and then we’ll join.” I said, “We’ll, you’re pretty far behind on the ride-sharing opportunities”.

Ben told me he likes living in Vancouver because he’s “a sweater guy”. I laughed at that and asked what he meant. He replied, “You know, I like wearing sweaters. I don’t like wearing shorts.” He was currently wearing blue jean cut-off shorts and a t-shirt. For some reason, I pictured him wearing a cardigan and it just didn’t fit his vibe.

“Vancouver is currently in an affordability crisis with housing”, Ben described. “There is a difference between an expensive city like Los Angeles, and an affordability crisis like Vancouver. In Los Angeles, you have jobs that can support the high cost of housing. But in Vancouver, we don’t have jobs that support million dollar condos.”

Ben and I talked so much while riding, I think the others were starting to notice. It felt nice to meet someone I could easily talk to. I asked Ben how hard it was to move to Canada, being an American. He went through the list of all the ways, like being a skilled a worker for something they are in need of. Overall, it isn’t very easy and it takes years. After he listed all of the typical ways, he said, “Of course, there’s always the ‘marry a Canadian’ way”. I said, “That’s true.”

I told Ben he looked like Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and he said he hasn’t watched that show because he’s a contrarian – a person who opposes popular opinion. Of course he is a contrarian. I always find this type of guy attractive. I told him Breaking Bad is actually my favorite show and even though it’s popular, he should watch it.

As we continued to ride, we stopped at a lake that had a few beavers, saw the hockey stadium, and passed through the beach. Towards the end of the tour, we rode through Chinatown and the Gastown, which is the current hip neighborhood that has been gentrified. We were about finished with the tour and I asked Ben how old he was. He said he was 24. What?! I thought he was around 30. Apparently, I’m terrible at guessing age.

We finished the bike tour and I used the restroom. When I came out, Ben was talking to a customer at the counter about something in French. “What?! He speaks French too! Nice”, I thought. Once he was finished, I gave Ben my card and told him it was nice meeting him. He shook my hand and said he also enjoyed meeting me. I asked for food recommendations for dinner and he told me about a sushi place up the street.

On the way to get sushi, a young woman approached me and asked if I could spare 30 seconds for her to explain the cause she was raising money for. I accepted her 30 second challenge and she did a nice job explaining she was raising money to help kids starving in Yemen and for $20/month, I could help. I told her that her speech was well done, quick, and I would help but I’m unemployed now and can’t really afford $20 a month. She said she was from Palos Verde (only about 30 minutes from I lived in California). She shook my hand, thanked me for listening, and said it was good experience for her.

After sushi, I headed to a famous ice cream shop by the water. The line wasn’t crazy long, but would take about 15 minutes. As I waited in line outside, an old man was sitting at a table and told his friend, “These guys waited 30 minutes for ice cream. Young people have that kind of time.” “Ok….”, I thought. “You’re just sitting here doing nothing, so it looks like you have plenty of time, dude.”

I enjoyed my ice cream sitting on a bench overlooking the water. The city looked beautiful as the sun set.

Since my car was parked for the day, I figured I should see more of downtown so I headed to the Gastown area. A lot of little shops were closed but restaurants and bars were hopping. I went into The Alibi Room and the wait for a table was over an hour. Thankfully, there was one seat available at the bar so I headed there. This is one of the nice things of traveling alone – I can usually sneak into the bar and avoid the wait.

After enjoying a flight of beers and some edamame, I decided to leave because the place had actually emptied out quite a bit. When I got back to my Airbnb, I went to the kitchen to get some water and ran into a guy. He looked to be in his late 20s, with brown hair, and pretty average looking. His girlfriend came and joined us when she heard us talking in the kitchen. She was around his age, with long, dark blonde hair, and a little overweight.

They had just arrived to the Airbnb and wanted to know if I knew of places to go out for nightlife. I said there likely isn’t anywhere as it was around 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night. The place I was at died down by 9:30 pm and that was in downtown. I explained we were in West Vancouver, and Uber and Lyft aren’t available there. They were shocked not to have Uber and Lyft and tried to think through their options. They also wanted to shower first so I explained by the time got anywhere, it’d be 11:30 pm, and I didn’t think they’d have any luck.

The couple was from North Carolina and they flew into Oakland, California on Friday night. They bragged that on Saturday, they explored San Francisco for eight hours and saw more than most people see in eight days. “We saw everything”, they bragged. That night, they drove to Portland (an 8-hour drive), which meant they were awake for 36 hours by the time they arrived in Portland in the late morning. I told them it was a shame they drove through Northern California at night as it’s an absolutely beautiful drive. They looked disappointed and I could see them trying to calculate how they could see it on their way back.

The day they arrived to Vancouver, they had woken up in Portland and driven four hours to Seattle, Washington. They did some sightseeing and then drove another three hours to Vancouver.

The next day, they planned on checking out Vancouver and then taking the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington. Their plan was to stay north of Olympic National Park, do some basic hiking, and then drive to the coast and stay the night. They were just booking things as they went. They had eight days to do all of this and their flight left from San Francisco.

They were generally nice people, but I was irritated by their “cram everything into eight days” mentality. Seeing four major cities, a national park, and the ocean in eight days (and covering over 1,000 miles) seemed like such a shame to me. This represented a mentality in travel that I think is spreading – quantity over quality.

People try and cram everything in just to say they’ve been there. Spending eight hours in each city is not doing the city any justice. Personally, I prefer to see fewer places but spend more time there, really getting to know the city and the people. I often see people’s profiles on dating apps state how any countries they’ve been to. I don’t count the countries or states. I’m just not into volume. I’m into great personal experiences and taking my time.

The couple didn’t know much about hiking. I explained that I had spent four days backpacking in Olympic National Park and there are bears so they are required to carry a bear can. They had no idea what a bear can was and as I described things they’d encounter, like banana slugs, they seemed terrified. I showed pictures and explained the rules for backpacking and camping. They said, “Wow, you’ve just prepared us so much more now.”

We talked until midnight so they never made it out to see the nightlife. I hoped that I had prepared them for what they were about to encounter. As I laid in bed, I was happy about my travels. I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – something I worked 22 years to be able to do and enjoy. But I’ve been able to see so much, meet local people, and learn the history of places. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Post Edited By: Misty Kosek

 

Day 30: Sightseeing in Seattle, WA

Visiting a city like Seattle means going to a lot of tourist sites. The city felt like a mini-Los Angeles due to the amount of people there. Being the largest city in the state of Washington and in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has a population of 725,000 people. The metro area, however, has 3.87 million. As one of the fastest growing cities, it’s the 15th largest city in the US.

In addition to the amount of people located there, the city has a lot of tourist attractions – such as The Public Market, the original Starbucks, and the Aquarium. They also offer harbor boat tours. You can buy a “city pass” and get a discounted price for the top attractions.

I headed downtown, after making a quick stop at a park that Aaron (the guy I had met the day before) told me about. Parking in downtown proved to be as bad as most major cities in the US. The parking garages were around $25. Now that I’m unemployed, that seemed too expensive, so I searched and searched for parking. In addition, the garages had low clearances around 6’8”. With my roof-top cargo unit on top, I was pretty sure my car wouldn’t fit. I think I needed around two more inches.

I eventually found parking on the street, but it had a three-hour time limit. I walked to the original Starbucks, but there was a line of about 70 people. It was hot outside and standing in line didn’t seem worth it. I continued on and made it to the Aquarium.

img_4446

My friend Trudy who lives in St. Louis was visiting the aquarium with her family that day. I joined them as we watched the seals, fish, and penguins swim around. It was nice seeing her kids’ reactions to each exhibit.

img_4436

After the aquarium, I walked back to my car to put more money into the meter, then walked to the Public Market. This is the famous outdoor market that you probably think of when you think about Seattle. Opening in 1907, it’s one of the oldest public farmers’ markets in the US. I walked around and resisted the temptation to buy anything. Getting into minimalism and not having a house to go back to help with the desire not to purchase anything.

img_4440

img_4429

Living up to its reputation, I watched vendors do a little show where they threw fish to each other. The overall atmosphere was great – although hot. I ate a fresh-caught salmon sandwich at a bar stool at one of the vendors and people-watched.

img_4511

On my way back to the car, I stopped back at the original Starbucks. This time the line only had about 25 people so I joined them. However, the line slowly moved as I continued to bake in the sun. After what felt like an eternity, I made it to the inside of the store – which only made me angry. The line was worse inside because people were all spread out and others waiting for drinks. I saw the merchandise on the wall that customers could buy to prove they had made it to the original Starbucks. I took a picture of a plaque, realized I didn’t need a souvenir, and I’d only end up ordering a regular Starbucks drink, and left.

img_4447-1

img_4448-1

Minimalism teaches people how not to consume just because society expects you to. The reality is that if I bought a souvenir cup, it would have sat in one of my bags, making it even harder for me to carry everything around. It’s also not something that would bring me joy, so I passed.

I’m not against buying souvenirs, by the way. But when I cleaned out my house, I saw a box full of little souvenirs from when I went to Europe. I bought limited items while there, but still ended up with a box of stuff – sitting in my closet. Considering I no longer have a closet, I’m trying really hard to resist buying those things that are “so cute!” or the things that are “a unique representation of that city.” Honestly, most souvenirs are made in China and aren’t actually made locally. Anyway, in my attempt to reduce my consumption, I walked away from that Starbucks empty-handed – and it felt good.

I put more money into the parking meter where I parked, calculating how much I paid in that stupid machine (in an attempt to not pay $25 for parking). I think I ended up paying around $18. I absolutely hate paying for parking because it feels like such a waste of money. The bigger issue, however, was the low clearance of the garages. I decided that I’d take an Uber Pool next time I came downtown.

The city pass that I purchased included a harbor cruise so I walked down to the dock to board. I sat on the top and enjoyed the breeze. The hour-long cruise showed off all of the high-rises and the Space Needle.

img_4453

img_4459

img_4472-1

I learned a little more about the city, see the giant barges up close in the port, and watch as the sun started to set behind the ocean. It was a perfect way to end the day.

img_4485

img_4507

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek