Day 74: Alaskan Adventure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Day 48 – Tear Inducing Scenery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

 

Day 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Post Edited by: Misty Kosek