Day 231: Hiking in Thailand

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 230: Villages in Thailand

On the third day of the REI Adventures tour, we were able to enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel. Right after I sat down to eat, I received a notification from Airbnb that my studio apartment I had booked once the tour ended was cancelled. Confused, I logged on to see what the problem was.

I messaged the owner and let her know that my reservation was cancelled by mistake through Airbnb. The home owner and I agreed that I would just pay her cash when I arrived and she’d keep the apartment available for me. I was happy because the price for my stay in this apartment was only $23 a night.

Dealing with Airbnb and the homeowner meant I had to frantically scarf my food down and ignore my roommate, Nicole. We had to be at the vans ready to go, so I didn’t have much time. Thankfully, I was able to get it resolved and get to the vans.

We left the hotel and drove towards the mountains to visit hill tribe villages. The roads in Thailand are often bumpy and windy. I get carsick if I try to read in the car. Sometimes if my head is turned sideways looking at someone talking, I will start to get nauseous. The best place to sit for motion sickness is the first row because you get less bumps there. Unfortunately, there were several people in our group who also get motion sickness, so I sat in the back.

My roommate Nicole also gets carsick. We were in the van for a couple of hours and Nicole and I were talking to each other in the backseat. She told me about her travels and hiking various famous mountains. Her accomplishments were impressive, but she was humble. We talked for awhile, until we both needed to look out the window to attempt to alleviate the nausea. I took a dramamine in hopes that the motion sickness would subside.

When we arrived to the villages, our guide, Tri, talked to us about the general life in a village. The area we were visiting was a combination of many different tribes. They built this area to showcase a mini-village of each tribe, their customs, and their people.

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Tri stood in front of a large painting of the king of Thailand. He told us there are six main tribes in Thailand and they are mostly in the mountainous northern and western parts of the country. Generally speaking, the women work harder than men. When a family gives birth to a girl, they are very happy because she’ll bring in money from the husband. She’ll also work harder both in the fields and in the home, while the men will take opium and sleep in the fields.

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We wandered through the streets and saw several different tribes selling hand-made items. The tribespeople weren’t pushy though. They just casually stood near their booth and would tell us the price of an item if we pointed at it.

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We saw some women weaving fabrics, while others proudly displayed their products. One tribe is known for their long necks. They put rings around their neck and keep adding to it in hopes that their necks will stretch. I bought a couple of items, mostly to support their efforts.

Once we finished exploring the villages, we stopped at an outdoor market on our way to lunch and were given ten minutes to browse. There were fresh vegetables and even fried insects – beetles, crickets, you name it! I declined trying one and kept walking.

I was walking alone and a vendor asked me, “Where are you from?” I replied, “America.” He got very excited, “Oooooh! USA! Super Power!” I smiled and slowly kept walking. He continued and mentioned how tall I am and then asked, “You married?” “No”, I replied. “Ooooh, are you alone?” As I walked away, I told him I was with a group.

For lunch, we went to a restaurant that sat right off of a river where people on rafts raced through the rapids. We ate family-style, but this time the vegetarians asked Tri not to be separated because it didn’t allow them time to talk with the non-vegetarians. We each had our own plate of pad Thai, which was delicious!

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I sat next to Scott and Andrea, who are from Minnesota. Scott works as an industrial engineer and Andrea works as a physical therapist. They told us how cold Minnesota was when they left and how a huge snow storm was sweeping the area. They were happy to have escaped it.

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Once lunch was finished, we began a hike to the village where we’d stay the night. It was hot and humid. This hike would take more than three hours and involved a lot of climbing.

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The thick forest was unforgiving. The dense vegetation often brushed up against my legs. I was sweating profusely in the extraordinary humidity. When I sweat too much, I need to take salt pills so I don’t lose too much salt. About 30% of people are salty sweaters. The group was moving so fast, I was struggling to keep up. I didn’t have time to take my pills. In addition, the Dramamine made me feel tired.

I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. I felt bad and hoped I wasn’t keeping them from the rest of the group. Kristen assured me that she also likes little breaks – we were soul sisters. We would often stop for 60 seconds just to take a breather. There was another guide, Sak, in the back with us. The four of us had a fun time looking around at the Jurassic-sized leaves and learning from Sak. He told us that when bamboo dies, it sprouts a flower. Just one flower it’s entire life and only when it is about to die.

The rest of the group would stop every 20 minutes or so to let us all catch up. Those of us in the middle and the back would arrive, and within one minute, we were off again.

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I felt my heart pounding and realized I should have taken my salt pills. Once my electrolytes are out of balance, I can feel it in places like my heart.

While the hike was challenging, it was also beautiful! We were the only ones on the  trail. Finally, we arrived towards the top and were rewarded with incredible views. The sun was just starting to set and was giving off splendid rays of light.

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This fueled me to get to the homestay. As we approached the small village, I couldn’t believe people lived there. It was extremely remote, steep, and the dirt road was in terrible condition.

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Our homestay was with a local family who had a large main room filled with 15 pads to sleep on. Each thin pad had a mosquito net above it. The floor was made of thin pieces of bamboo and I was afraid I would fall through, so I stuck to walking near the main wooden beam down the middle.

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I’m sensitive to people snoring so I asked that I be on the end and not near any snorers. I brought earplugs, but the sound of snoring is usually so loud they only slightly work. I had my iPod shuttle just in case.

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It was evening and there was only one shower available. It was outside in a small concrete building that was not completely enclosed, letting the cold air inside. They don’t have electricity so we were warned the water would be cold. People made a verbal list of who would take a shower next. I was number four on the list until some of the women decided to make another list and I was bumped towards the bottom.

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The sun was quickly setting and we were desperate to get a shower in before it was dark since there wasn’t a light in there. When it was my turn, it was almost dark, so I brought my headlamp inside to see my shampoo and soap. I knew the water would be cold, but I didn’t expect it to be freezing. A thin stream of water forcefully came shooting out! I gasped for air and almost started to hyperventilate from the harsh cold. I showered as quickly as I could.

To use the toilet, there were two small rooms in the same concrete building. Because they don’t have plumbing, there is a pot full of water next to the toilet. Once you’re done using the toilet, you have to scoop the water with a bowl and dump it inside the toilet, which slowly drains it. You have to put a few bowls of water in order to get it to fully go away. Behind the toilets were pigs, which you could hear while you took care of business.

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As we all showered and drank some beers, the guides and homeowners cooked our dinner. On the rough dirt street, young children drove by on motorbikes, often 2-3 per bike. Stray dogs also roamed around and we were instructed not to touch them as many of them carry disease.

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There were a few people who didn’t get showers because they didn’t want to shower in the dark. Dinner was ready and there were a couple of dim lights hanging above the table. As we sat down to eat, Clark gave a nice speech. After a tiring day of hiking, it was nice to have some time to unwind.

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After dinner, we enjoyed the stars above with the complete absence of light pollution. The village was celebrating the Chinese New Year, so the occasional firework went off. Tri told us that families will kill one of their pigs and eat it over the next three days and basically have a party the whole three days.

Once the sun fell, it got much colder. After star gazing, we all headed to bed. I put my earplugs in, but I kept waking up because I needed to use the toilet. Of course. This never happens when I’m inside of a house. But if I go camping or have the toilet outside, I suddenly have to go. I tried to ignore it because it sounded like rain was pouring down outside. I wondered if it was flooding. I didn’t want to put my glasses and shoes on and slip through the mud.

Then suddenly I realized maybe it was wind and not rain. I listened intently and realized I didn’t hear anything hitting the roof, so it must be wind rushing through the trees. I reluctantly put my glasses on, walked down the entire room following the beam with the light from my cell phone. I put my shoes on that were sitting outside by the front door steps and made my way to the toilet. Sure enough, it was extremely high winds, not rain.

I returned to my bed and went back to sleep. At 4:40 am, roosters started to crow. The sound was deafening so I tried to smash my head into my pillow. It didn’t work. I put my headphones on and played music on my iPod shuffle. We were warned about those roosters and they weren’t kidding. The roosters crowed for the next several hours. The thin bamboo walls did nothing for soundproofing.

Steve had noise cancelling headphones, but he still heard the roosters. He joked the next morning that if a company can create the ultimate soundproof headphones, their slogan should be “Strong enough to combat roosters.” I also found out the next morning that Mimi fell into Steve and Andrea when she went outside to use the toilet. Having 15 people sleep in the same room only inches apart makes for an interesting night.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 228-229: Overcoming Fears? Maybe Not…

I arrived at the hotel and met the 15 people who I would be spending the next nine days with through REI Adventures. My taxi was late getting to my previous hotel to pick me up, so I arrived about ten minutes late. Everyone was fit and standing in the lobby of the outdoor/indoor hotel. The guide, Tri, was giving the group an overview of what the week would look like. I met everyone so quickly, I couldn’t remember who came with who or anybody’s name.

The two vans would be leaving soon to take us to our first destination for the afternoon. While we briefly waited, a girl walked up to me and said, “Hi, you must be my roommate. I’m Nicole.”

We were both solo travelers and neither of us paid the $600 single supplement fee, so we were roomed together. Nicole was 44, but looked like she was in her early 30s. She had brown hair, a sweet smile, and was very athletic. She lived in Denver, Colorado and worked from home as a project manager.

It would take me two days to learn everyone’s names and remember where they were all from, but here they are!

Nancy and Steve: Married couple in their 50s who live in North Carolina

Andrea and Scott: Married couple in their 40s who live in Minnesota

Christian and Kristen: Married couple in their early 30s who live in Washington

Terri and Cathy: Two women friends in their 50s who live in California

Mimi and Lisa: Two women friends in their 50s who also live in California

Tien and Clark: Friends Tien (in his 40s) and Clark (in his early 60s) who live in New Mexico

Neil: Man in his 60s who also lives in Washington

Nicole: Woman in her 40s who lives in Colorado

We boarded the two ten-passenger vans and drove to Wat Suan Dok Temple. I sat in the front row of one of the vans, next to Cathy and Clark. We talked and got to know each other. It was clear that there were different personalities on this trip.

We arrived at the temple and had to climb up 300 steps. I was wearing mid-length jeans that made it an uncomfortable journey to the top. To get into the temple, women need to have their shoulders and knees covered. I was wearing a tank top, so I was provided a short-sleeve shirt to wear while I was inside.

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Our guide, Tri, had been leading tours for several years. He was short, had black hair, and had a huge, welcoming smile. His English was pretty good, but sometimes we struggled to understand each other.

The temple was outdoors and I was sweating in the sun. We had to take off our shoes and leave them outside. The stone floor was warm on my feet and I didn’t like walking around barefoot. We huddled around statues as Tri told us about the stories behind them. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist. I was starting to get overwhelmed after 30 minutes. It was a lot of information to take in and the heat wasn’t helping.

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The temple was full of tourists. With a group of 15, it was difficult to navigate through the crowd. At one point, I accidentally lost the group and the people behind me were now lost with me. Clark teased me because he had been following me. Oops. We eventually found the rest of the group and then headed back down the 300 steps.

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We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant. All of our meals would be shared family-style. There were five vegetarians, so Tri asked that they sit together to make sharing easier. During lunch, I was able to talk to a few people and tell them about my travels. They were surprised to hear that I had been traveling for seven months and they enthusiastically asked me questions.

Nancy works at an REI store, which is a separate division of REI Adventures. Her khaki clothes gave her an outdoorsy look. It seemed to make sense that she’d work there. She knows a lot about the outdoors, so I’m sure she is super helpful to customers. Her husband, Steve, works as an engineer and is also into the outdoors. He struck me as responsible and smart.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to check-in and clean up a bit. The hotel was a beautiful resort that had a lot of green trees and impeccable landscaping. It had soft, comfortable beds.

For dinner, we boarded the vans again and went to a restaurant. Because it was Chinese New Year, Tri gave us the option of going to an outdoor market to check out some festivities. Some people in the group had just flown in that morning, so they were exhausted and opted to go back to the hotel. A few of us went to the market.

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It turned out to be the market I had visited the day prior. Now that it was nighttime, it was packed! It was difficult not to get separated from the others. We watched some festivities on a stage and walked around the booths.

After walking around a little bit, we decided to go back to the hotel and get some rest. The next day would be our first hike and ziplining. I was excited for hiking, but less excited about ziplining.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, which had an incredible buffet spread, and left for our hike. We drove to a small village of wooden houses precariously built on a steep hillside on the side of a mountain and started our hike.

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Once we passed the houses, we started to climb on a trail through the forest. It was warm outside, but there was a cool breeze. I quickly fell to the back of the group. Ascending is harder for me because it’s hard to catch my breath. My slow heartbeat starts beating too fast and I need small, 30-second breaks.

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I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. They’re the young married couple from Washington (Seattle). Christian works for REI Adventures and does the planning part before people leave for the trip so they’re all prepared. He had been working there for less than a year and really liked it. He wanted to make it clear he was just on vacation and wasn’t working.

Kristen worked in admissions at a university in Seattle. She was so sweet and friendly and also wanted little breaks, so we stuck together. They are one of those couples that is really cute together because they are both kind and thoughtful.

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The trail was narrow and not very well maintained. Trees and bushes often overtook the trail. The dense forest was beautiful and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t more humid. It was “cool season” for them and being in the mountains made it much cooler than the rest of Thailand. Thailand has three seasons: Cool, Hot, and Rainy.

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We arrived at a beautiful waterfall where we took pictures and ate snacks. I took a picture with Nicole, my roommate. She was hiking at the front of the group because she’s very athletic.

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After our snack, we continued climbing. There were a few bridges, which were ladders laid down with some fences, that we had a cross. One bridge was more a swing-type bridge.

At times, the trail was steep and narrow on the side of the mountain. Tri said once during the rainy season, a guest slipped and slid down the side. She ended up being ok, but was cut up. I was grateful it wasn’t raining.

After several miles of hiking, we went to a beautiful outdoor restaurant for lunch. Most places in Thailand are outdoors, which makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.

During lunch, I talked with Tien. He’s a psychiatrist, but was going to start a new job soon working in more of the administration side of a healthcare company. He was married with two young kids. Tien had a subtle sense of humor. We talked about my travels and his job throughout lunch.

I also talked with Clark. I told him about my solo travels and some of the things I need to be aware of as a solo female. He said, “You’d be hard to kidnap.” I asked why and he replied “Because of your attitude. You don’t seem like a victim.”

After lunch, it was time for ziplining. We drove five minutes to Flight of the Gibbon. We were fitted with gear and weighed because they have weight limits. Because our group was so large, we split into two. My group had the following: Clark, Tien, Scott, Andrea, Mimi and Lisa.

Clark and I were both nervous. He’s tall and extremely fit. He does a lot of trail running behind his house in New Mexico and can be pretty hardcore with his workouts, but ziplining didn’t appeal to him very much.

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We jumped off the platform one by one. To stop, this zipline company doesn’t use brakes. The zipline in Canada that I had gone on a few months prior had a brake system. Instead, you have to raise your legs when you’re coming into the treetop platform and the guide will help stop you before you smash into the tree. I was nervous about this because on the zipline in Canada, I kept inadvertently turning around, so I always went backwards. This time I needed to make sure I didn’t turn or I wouldn’t know when to raise my feet.

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The zipline has 14 lines, which is a lot. The two other places I’ve ziplined only had six to seven lines. I zipped across, tightly holding my harness. I could not relax because I kept thinking I’d be too heavy and I’d fall. What if the safety standards haven’t been met? I tried to convince myself thousands of people do this and I’d be fine.

Once I landed on a tree platform, the guide would hook my harness onto a cable wrapped around the tree. This was necessary because the platforms were very high into the tree with very limited space for standing. The seven of us would pile on, hugging the tree as we waited for everyone to finish. A couple of times, there were still people on the tiny platform from a group in front of us. I worried there were too many people on the platforms, but at least we were clipped to the tree.

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We continued zipping through the forest, and each time I was scared. I just wanted to get done with it. The trees were beautiful, but I just couldn’t shake the fear. The local guides sometimes did crazy things like pulling on the line when someone was on it, making the person bounce. On one line, they recommended we go “Superman” style where our face would go first, facing the ground. Then we’d have to climb up a rope net. I just did the regular line instead of that contraption.

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Most people were really enjoying the adventure, even if they questioned some of the safety standards. Clark, on the other hand, was like me. I couldn’t tell if he was joking at first because he’s a big jokester, but he was just as frightened as me. Fourteen lines is a lot and it was starting to weigh on him. He knew there was no way out – we had to complete the lines. At one point, he turned to me, “I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m serious. I have nothing left to give.” I knew exactly how he felt.

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Halfway through, we came to a section where we had to rappel down from high above on the tree platform. I’ve never repelled before and having to rely on the guides lowering me down was not comforting. I knew I had no other option to get down. I sat down and tried to get myself to go through the small square hole in the platform. I told the guy to go slow and said I just want to get home alive.

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We continued on several more lines until we were finally done. The final line was to rappel down again. This time I enjoyed it. The guide lowered me slower than others, which made me feel better. Once we were done, I was relieved.

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A few months later, Scott came across an article about that zipline, Flight of the Gibbon. A 25-year-old Canadian tourist was on those same lines two months later and fell to his death. He was halfway through one of the lines when “the lock on his body harness and the main line broke.” His girlfriend watched as he fell and I can only imagine the horror they both felt. My heart breaks for them.

Reading about that accident and the history of accidents at that zipline made me incredibly grateful we were all safe. I recognize that many thousands of people have been on those lines and have not gotten injured. However, the company has had other accidents and even deaths over the years. From my own experience, I can say the safety standards were poor. Pulling on lines to make people bounce around was not safe. The company is currently shut down for an investigation. REI Adventures has discontinued using that operator and instead of zip lining, people will now meet elephants. I think that’s a great alternative and I’m happy they are always looking out for the safety of their members. I can confidently say that was my last zipline adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 227: Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand around 8:00 am. I was curtly ushered towards customs. “Wrong. Walk around.” I was a little intimidated to be in a country where I did not speak the language and I tried hard to navigate the airport effectively.

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I arrived at the baggage carousel and found my bag with the two clear plastic bags draped loosely around it. The attendants in Osaka, Japan did their best to keep my items inside after the luggage handlers had ripped both zippers and the lock off of my bag. Unfortunately, my items were starting to spill out. I ended up losing my sunglasses in that debacle.

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After getting my luggage and getting through customs, I headed to a booth that sold local SIM cards. Everything is on my phone and my AT&T plan cost an extra $10 a day for international use (in addition to my $85/month bill). I would be in Thailand for 30 days, so that wouldn’t be cost effective. Instead, I opted to get a local Thai SIM card.

The two young women at the booth were busy as they swapped out SIM cards for other travelers. When it was my turn, one girl grabbed my phone and quickly went through the prompts, which were all in Thai. The SIM card was cheap – around $10 USD for 15 GB of data. They only took cash so I quickly walked over to the ATM.

I needed to get to my hotel and there was a booth offering shuttle and taxi rides. I paid the $11 USD and got into a taxi. I didn’t realize they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. I talked with the taxi driver until he said his English was “just ok, but you talk very fast.”

I arrived at the hotel around 9:30 am and hoped to check in since I had gotten less than three hours of sleep in the last 32 hours of travel. Chiang Mai is 14 hours ahead of Los Angeles, which makes the jet lag pretty rough. I only got about four hours of sleep the night prior to leaving Los Angeles, so I was feeling incredibly sleep deprived. Since it was the Chinese New Year, all of their rooms were fully booked. The front desk informed me that I wouldn’t be able to check in until the afternoon.

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I walked to the outdoor restroom by the pool, put in my contacts, left my luggage at the front, and started walking. I decided I should get my nails done because they were in bad shape and I thought it would be much cheaper to have them done in Thailand than in the U.S.

I wandered through the narrow streets that didn’t have sidewalks. Cars and motorbikes zipped by me at rapid speeds. Following Apple Maps, I wandered through narrow alleyways, checking out the back of houses, their fences, and clothes drying on lines.

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It was a cool 68℉ with a real feel of 71℉. I finally found the nail salon, but it was closed due to the holiday. I continued to wander around and ended up at a river. The beautiful trees and flowers shimmered in the bright sunlight. I walked along the path and crossed a bridge to the city center.

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I found a coffee shop on the other side. The air was getting warmer by the minute and I was starting to regret wearing my mid-length jeans. I stopped inside, bought a cold coffee drink, and relaxed on a couch under the air conditioner. I was starting to feel tired, so I got up and continued to walk around. I found an outdoor market selling belts, souvenirs, scarfs, elephant pants, etc.

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I ended up walking to an inside part of the market. It was huge and had fresh foods. On the upper level, I found a merchant selling luggage. It was the perfect time to buy a new bag since mine was completely ruined. I debated whether or not I should continue with a duffle bag or get a suitcase. The duffle bags were small and I was afraid it wouldn’t be sturdy enough for my long-term travels. I didn’t want to lug around a suitcase, but it would be sturdier (or so I thought-spoiler alert). The suitcase was priced at $1,300 Baht, but I talked the saleswoman down to $1,100 Baht ($35 USD).

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I rolled my empty suitcase behind me as I headed back outside. It was now lunchtime and food vendors were starting to put small tables and chairs in the middle of the walkway. I picked out four pieces of sushi at one vendor and some noodles at another. Each one only cost me $0.60 USD.

I was annoyed by my suitcase as I continued walking around the market. It was getting hot outside (it was now 84℉ with a real feel of 92℉) and I was wondering where all the tourists were.

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I found another nail salon on Apple Maps that was on the way to my hotel. I walked for another 20 minutes, dragging my suitcase along with me on the sides of narrow streets, hoping a car wouldn’t hit me. I made it to the small nail salon that was attached to a hotel. I walked inside and the woman across the hall in the hotel front desk came running over. She said she could give me a mani/pedi for $14 USD, but she didn’t have gel so it would just be regular polish.

Exhausted, I agreed. She turned on the air conditioning unit when she saw how hot I was. The woman started with a pedicure and put my feet into a small shallow glass bowl. My feet are large (I wear size 12), so they didn’t quite fit. I didn’t care. I was extremely exhausted. The heat, lack of sleep, and jet lag made me fall asleep in the chair. I would occasionally wake up – startled and wondering where I was. I would look at the woman who smiled and slightly laughed. Then I’d fall right back asleep. She must have thought I was so strange, but I was exhausted enough not to care.

After my mani/pedi, I walked back to my hotel. I could now check-in and I desperately wanted to curl up in bed. I got my bags and the front desk staff looked at me funny as I carried my new suitcase upstairs. The room was huge! I thought about sitting at the enticing pool, but I feared I would burn as I snoozed. Instead, I passed out on the bed for two hours.

When I woke up, it was time for dinner. I was still exhausted and could have easily continued to sleep, but I forced myself to get up in an attempt to get acclimated to the new time zone. I found a dinner restaurant online that was just a short 10 minute walk from my hotel on the riverfront. When I arrived, they seated me outside by a pool surrounded by beanbags and tables. Beautiful string lights were hanging above, making it a perfect romantic spot for dinner.

The server didn’t speak much English, so we communicated through pointing. She put a bottle of bug spray on the table, but it was such a nice night I didn’t even need it. I ordered Pad Thai, one of my favorite foods, and enjoyed the evening.

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On my walk back to the hotel, I searched for convenient stores so I could buy some water. After a few attempts, I gave up and walked back to my hotel. I had taken off my belt during my nap and my jeans were now falling down. I took a shower and crashed hard that night.  

The following morning, I ate breakfast at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel. The waiter seemed surprised to see I was alone and since I had two vouchers for food, he kept trying to give me two meals. Great. It’s not embarrassing at all to be alone, with two meals at your table.

As I sat at my table waiting for my multiple plates of food, Facebook reminded me of a video I had shared in 2014. It was a video they had created of a montage of pictures over the years. Almost every picture involved Aaron from a life that no longer exists.

I hate wasting food, so I almost ate two full breakfasts. I went back to my room to pack my bags. I needed to get a taxi to another hotel where I’d start my REI Adventures trip. This would involve hiking and biking across northern Thailand and I couldn’t wait! There were 15 people signed up for the tour and I was excited to see who I would be spending the next nine days with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 91: E-Bike Vs. Pedestrian and a Musician

I was regretting my decision to do the 9:00 am bike tour with Ash, my Airbnb host, because I was tired and it was dreary and cold outside. When I left my bedroom, Ash wasn’t around so I drove myself to the meeting place. I met one of Ash’s guides, who said he wasn’t told I was coming, but said he could add me to the tour.

While we waited for a couple to arrive for the tour, I walked over to a nearby restaurant and bought a bottle of water. When I returned, the tour guide said he received a message from Ash saying he moved the 9:00 am tour to 1:00 pm because the other couple asked for it to be pushed back.

I was frustrated because I would have preferred to sleep in and I had just paid for parking. The guide was also frustrated because he wasn’t told earlier. I went back to the Airbnb and went back to bed. My back and neck were still recovering and the extra sleep felt good.

When it was close to 1:00 pm, I walked out of my bedroom and saw Ash getting ready to leave. He asked if I wanted to share a taxi so I agreed. While we waited for the taxi, Ash asked me how my day was yesterday and if I made it to the physiotherapy place. I was confused since we talked all about it the night prior. I said I went there and then went to the spa. He responded, “Oh, great! You went to the spa too?!” He clearly did not remember talking to me when I got home…must be the mushrooms.

Ash and I arrived at the tour meeting place a little early so I grabbed a coffee and a pastry at the restaurant next door.

For the tour, we used electric bikes (e-bikes). I used an e-bike once in Vancouver, but these bikes were much more powerful. You still pedal, but there is a battery pack that assists you on hills and makes pedaling easier. We tested the bikes in the underground garage to make sure we were all comfortable on them.

There were four other people on the tour: two women in their 40s from Montreal, and a couple near retirement age from the UK. It was 47° F and raining. Whistler has a lot of paved bike paths, so we rode through the town on the paths. We were surrounded by huge green pine trees, rode by lakes, and stopped at the Valley of Dreams (a pioneer house from the early days of the town).

The rain poured on us at times, making it hard to see. Thankfully, it let up a bit for part of the ride. Ash told us stories as we arrived to each sight – like a lake where people swim naked and hang out during the summer.

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Toward the end of the tour, we were riding very fast (about 25 MPH) down the windy path. A group of five tourists was walking and taking up the entire two-lane path. Ash and the two women passed them, which scared the group, who had split into two groups. One of the girls realized her group was now on both the left and right side of the path, forcing us to drive in the middle of them. She was crossing, but decided to stop in the middle and scream…right as I was trying to pass. I slammed on my breaks right as she turned to face me. I couldn’t stop in time and I ran into her, but she was able to grab the handle bars and help stop me. Her friends apologized because they knew she jumped right in the middle at the last second, giving me nowhere to go. Thankfully, we weren’t hurt and I continued on.

The bike tour finished up and Ash offered to buy me a meal since he dropped the ball telling me the tour time changed. The couple from the UK joined us as well. We went to the restaurant where I had gotten a pastry and coffee earlier – Portobellos. We all got the chicken and mushroom pie, which was incredible!

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Susan and Tony from the UK were awesome. We talked all through the meal and ended up staying to talk afterwards for a couple of hours. Ash didn’t talk much and was on his phone once he finished eating. Then he quickly left. Susan and Tony told me they had signed up for the 9:00 am tour, but received a message that morning from Ash saying he needed to move the tour to 1:00 pm because a guide cancelled on him. Right before we started the tour, he was drinking a beer and asked them if they wanted one. I told them about my experience and we realized that Ash had fibbed because he didn’t want to do two tours.

Susan retired last year after working in home health care. Tony chimed in, “She’ll be able to take care of me when I’m old!” Susan shrugged, “It’s quite different taking care of someone when you’re not getting paid.” Tony hasn’t retired yet and works for the Department of Defense repairing submarines. They have two sons in their 30s who are married with kids.

Susan and Tony have been to Canada a few times. For this trip, they would be there for 25 days, in Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Whistler, and Alberta. They gave me some good tips about Vancouver Island and told me about all of the bears they saw.

I swapped stories with Susan and Tony about crossing borders and police. They told me when they were visiting the US, they were pulled over when driving a rental car. They were scared and didn’t know what to do. Do they get out of the car? Do they wait for the Officier to come to them? They got a speeding ticket and were embarrassed to tell their son, who is a police officer in the UK.

When they went into the US to see Niagara Falls, they were asked to pull over while their car was searched at the border. They ended up just having to pay a travel fee in US dollars, which was a problem since they didn’t have US cash. They used a prepaid card and it worked.

I really enjoyed talking with Susan and Tony. They were friendly, kept me company, and it was fun swapping stories.

I went back to the Airbnb, showered, and rested for a bit. A guy I had been messaging on Tinder for the couple of days asked me how my day was. He said his band was playing at a local bar that night so I said I’d come see him play.

Adam was 37 years old and was from Toronto, but had been living in the area for many years. He messaged me the first night I arrived in Whistler when my back and neck were extremely sore. He was really nice asking how I was doing and telling me about his pulled neck muscles as well.

I took the free bus to the village that Ash told me about. It was a quick ride, but shortly after I boarded, a British girl jumped on and we chatted for a bit. She had just finished a catering event and was hired separately from the caterers to “make sure rich people had wine at all times.” She was excited about the job because she said she was paid for the work of two people ($25 an hour) for a five hour shift where she talked to people for 70% of her time. They let her take home three bottles of expensive wine because the label was ripped (but the cork was still on). She said, “They also didn’t care if I drank on the job.” Maybe Ash’s description of Whistler of being the Wild West was correct.

I arrived at the bar where Adam was playing and ordered a drink. I purposely sat towards the back at a cocktail table. His band was really good and they played cover songs. Adam was the lead singer, had a great voice, and was charismatic on stage. I was nervous and wondered why he was interested. He seemed much cooler than me.

The band was done playing and the bar was still open for about an hour. I figured Adam would message me asking if I was there and where to find me. I always hate the first in-person meeting. Will he be attracted? Will I be attracted? Will there be chemistry?

As soon as the band finished, I looked up from my Long Island Iced Tea and saw Adam running towards my table. We made eye contact and he got a huge smile on his face, came around the table and gave me a hug. He said, “I really want to talk to you, but I have to use the restroom really bad! I’ll be right back!”

Adam ran off down the stairs to use the restroom. I felt relieved. The anticipation was over, he was happy to see me, he made me feel accepted right away by giving me a hug, and he was cute.

Adam came back from the restroom and stood by the side of my round table. We briefly talked and then he said he had to help the band clean up and load their equipment in their van. He asked if I was sticking around and I told him yes. For the next 20 minutes as Adam was loading the van, he’d stop by my table to chat for a few minutes here and there. He had a lot of energy and it made me feel excited.

Once Adam was done loading the van, he sat at my table with me. He’s been sober for over five years so he didn’t order anything. He was about 5’11”, thin, had wavy black hair that was just above his shoulder, and full sleeve tattoos on his arms. He looked like a musician – sort of like Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.

Adam and I talked for the next 45 minutes about where we’ve lived and politics. He liked Trump, even though he can be crass. He said he likes to disrupt the system. Canada and the US were in the middle of trade talks that weren’t going well, so we talked about the current climate between our countries. I enjoy talking about politics so we continued for a while. At one point, he got a big smile on his face and said, “You get really passionate talking about this.”

I really appreciated him saying that with a smile on his face. My ex-husband, Aaron, hated that I got passionate about topics like politics. One time we were out with a few friends for dinner and I was getting animated while talking about politics. Under the table, he squeezed my leg and looked at me like, “Stop, you’re embarrassing me.” After we left the restaurant, I asked him to never do that to me again. It made me feel so belittled and controlled. But a few months later, he did it again while I was talking with some other people about politics at a restaurant. This time, I was angry that he was making me feel like I couldn’t be me and also angry that he was hiding the fact that he was squeezing my leg. He always liked to appear to be the “nice guy.” I said to the friends, “I’m sorry. I’m embarrassing Aaron. He’s squeezing my leg under the table to get me to shut up.” Understandably, there was an awkward silence.

Having Adam appreciate my passion for politics felt amazing. He wasn’t embarrassed, he liked it. I could be me without judgement. At 1:20 am, the bar was closed and they were cleaning up while trying to get people to leave. We decided we should leave and as we walked outside, Adam said, “You’re just so real – I like it.” We talked outside for a bit and I mentioned I thought some places were open until 2:00 am. He explained that only the underground clubs are open that late and he doesn’t do those clubs.

After talking for another 10 minutes, Adam offered to take me back to my Airbnb since I had taken the bus there. His van was illegally parked on the sidewalk so he needed to move it too. When we arrived at my Airbnb, there was nowhere to park so he just pulled up out front. We talked for a little bit, but I couldn’t invite him inside because I wasn’t allowed to have guests. I got out of the van and said maybe I’d come see his show the following night. He said he would like that.

Adam lived in Pemberton, about 20 minutes north of Whistler. When he got home, he messaged me for a bit, flirting, and then telling me goodnight. I was happy to have met him. He’s one of the rare guys on Tinder that messaged me shortly after we matched. He was always nice and fun, and I looked forward to seeing his show the following night.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 88-89: Navigating Health Issues on the Road

 

After cooking a delicious breakfast, I headed to Bellingham, Washington. I needed to get my blood drawn to monitor some of my medications and just for some general health check-ups. I had to get this done now so the labs were ready when I got to Los Angeles a few weeks later.

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One of the borders in the US is in Abbotsford. Occasionally I’d drive about one mile from it when I was just driving around the city. Even though the border is so close, crossing it is another story.

I also made an appointment with a chiropractor because the day before it felt like I had pulled a muscle in my neck and the pain was now moving into my back. I arrived to the US border and told them I was just going to Bellingham for a chiropractor appointment and I was staying in Abbotsford. Thankfully, my car was mostly empty so it didn’t look suspicious.

I got through the border and it would be about 40 minutes to Bellingham. The road winds its way through farms and fields. The speed limit is only about 35 MPH.

I arrived at Labcorp to get my blood drawn and the guy at the front was dramatic and entertaining. Once that was complete, I drove to the chiropractor office. There was a 2-½ year old golden retriever lying behind the counter. The woman behind the desk told me the dog might be pregnant and they were anxiously waiting for the results.

Once I got into the adjustment room, I noticed a black lab lying on the ground. The office reminded me of the office I visited in Fairbanks, Alaska. (LINK) The chiropractor made an adjustment, but he also used a hard vibrating tool on my spine to try and loosen the muscles. It was painful and felt like it made things worse.

I drove back to Abbotsford and started packing up since I was leaving in the morning. My next stop was Whistler, a ski town an hour and a half north of Vancouver. I felt sad to leave the house. I had my own place again for a week and it felt good to have space and privacy. In Whistler, I would be back to renting just one room inside a condo. Then I thought about how lonely I had been in Abbotsford. Maybe being in shared spaces is good for me. It forces me to socialize. I’ve been told on a personality test before that I have a tendency to go into “unhealthy bouts of isolation.”

That night, the pain in my neck and upper back was so severe I had a hard time getting into bed. I couldn’t move my head around and the pain was increasing. I took ibuprofen, but it wasn’t helping. As the night went on, I could not find a position that relived the intense pain. Turning over took about 30 minutes and made me scream.

I lied there all night, unable to sleep, in the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I knew there was no way I could load my car in the morning and drive north, but I had to check out of the house and the owners were flying in that day to stay there.

At 6:00 am, I wondered how I’d get out of bed. Should I call 911? Does 911 work in Canada? I couldn’t move. I thought through my options and realized the frozen muscles were very similar to what I experienced a couple of years ago in my lower back. The muscles froze so much, I couldn’t stand straight or roll over in bed. The only thing that helped me was getting muscle relaxers from an Urgent Care.

I realized Bellingham wasn’t too far away and I could go to Urgent Care there, where I knew my insurance would work. I painfully forced myself out of bed and got dressed. I packed up all of my stuff and left it in the kitchen. I didn’t want to cross the border with a full car or they wouldn’t believe I was just going for a quick visit.

I made it to urgent care and was told the wait would be at least an hour wait. I sat in the chair and the pain wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t turn my head and couldn’t stand or sit up straight. After about 30 minutes in the chair, I hobbled up to the counter and told the woman I was in an immense amount of pain and begged to be seen.

The woman said she couldn’t get me in sooner, but she offered me some water and a room so I could lie down. It was a little better than the chair. Finally after being there for an hour and a half, the doctor came in. He said he didn’t think I needed x-rays and it was likely muscular. He gave me a prescription for some muscle relaxers and pain medicine.

I went to Rite-aid to fill the prescriptions and it was a 30 minute wait. I messaged the Airbnb host and let her know what was going on and that my stuff was still in the kitchen. She was very understanding and said they’d just set their stuff down and go to lunch.

I took a pain pill, but couldn’t take the muscle relaxer because it causes drowsiness. I drove through the country roads again back to Canada and got through the border. Just past the border was the Costco where I had ordered contacts weeks earlier. I have very bad eyes and they said it would take a couple of weeks to get them in.

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I went inside, did a quick eye exam, and paid for my contacts. The guy helping me was very nice and pointed out that I was smart to buy contacts in Canada, where I get a 30% discount.

I drove back to the house and painfully loaded my car with my bags in the sprinkling rain. I started my two and a half hour drive to Whistler, leaning my head against the headrest, trying not to move it.

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Despite my discomfort, the foggy and rainy drive to Whistler was beautiful! The road climbed through the lush mountains, at times overlooking the ocean.

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When I arrived at my Airbnb, I parked in front of the condo and followed the instructions to get inside. It was evening and Ash, the owner, left me a message saying he was out, but would leave the door unlocked for me. I’ve gotten very used to walking into stranger’s homes.

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The condo was cozy and had a mountain cabin feel. I ate some of the food I brought with me and put the rest  in his refrigerator. Ash told me I was free to use and eat anything I’d like. He lives there and rents out two of the rooms, but the other room wasn’t occupied.

I was exhausted and desperately wanted to sleep. The cloudy, rainy weather was perfectly suited for napping. I took a muscle relaxer and while I was still in pain, I was able to find a decent position and fall asleep.

At 10:15 pm, I woke up and could hear that Ash was home. I was embarrassed that he must think I’m a lazy weirdo who was asleep so early. I walked out of my room to the living room and Ash was watching TV with headphones on. I said hello and he waved. I walked back to my room, still exhausted after navigating so many obstacles to find pain relief, and decided I would talk to him in the morning.

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Days 81-82: Highway of Tears

I checked out of the lodge and pulled into a park to book my next place. Looking at the map, I determined I could make it to Williams Lake. I drove past farms and tractors for sale. Despite the giant billboards cautioning of the dangers of hitchhiking, I did see an occasional hitchhiker.

The billboards intrigued me, especially one that said “girls don’t hitchhike on the highway of tears.” I had also noticed missing posters in various gas stations and fast food restaurants. It was heartbreaking. There seemed to be an unusual amount of warnings and missing women, so I looked into it.  According to Wikipedia, “The Highway of Tears is the series of murders and disappearances along a 720 Kilometer (450 mile) corridor of highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada beginning in 1970.” It explains that 16-40+ women have been murdered or abducted and “There are a disportionately high number of indigenous women on the list of victims.”

Wikipedia goes on, “Poverty in particular leads to low rates of car ownership and mobility, thus hitchhiking is often the only way for many to travel vast distances to see family or go to work, school, or seek medical treatment. Another factor leading to abductions and murders is the area is largely isolated and remote, with soft soil in many areas and carnivorous scavengers to carry away human remains; these factors precipitate violent attacks as perpetrators feel a sense of impunity, privacy, and the ability to easily carry out their crimes and hide evidence.”

It broke my heart to see the faces of so many people who had vanished. It was a reminder that traveling as a solo female can be dangerous. I try my best to be aware of my surroundings and generally feel safe. But the sad reality is that women are often targets simply for being a woman.

When I was heading to Alaska, many people told me, “You know there’s twice as many men in Alaska as women. Be careful.” Curious, I googled it and according to this article, Alaska has the highest ratio of men to women in the United States. But it’s not as much as people think. For every 100 women in the state, there are 107 men. It used to be more dramatic, but since the 1980s, economic development has brought more women to the state.

The more interesting part is the culture of violence against women. Alaska has the highest number of reported rapes than any other state – three times the national average.

The article goes on to say, “There are a number of complicated reasons Alaska is dangerous for women, from its long, dark winters to high rates of alcohol abuse and, perhaps more important than either, an awful history of cultural trauma and colonial violence…State surveys show that an estimated 37% of women in Alaska suffer from sexual violence — and nearly six in 10 suffer from sexual and/or intimate partner violence, which includes threats of violence.”

There are a lot of remote villages that do have significantly more men than women and often have a culture of colonial violence. If you want to know more, I recommend you read this article about a woman who moved to a remote village to teach English and was assaulted. Unfortunately, the school and government officials seem to think it’s the norm.

I was happy to see the billboards in British Columbia and see that there is an organization bringing attention to the Highway of Tears and the missing people, hopefully preventing more attacks. I feel for the families that have been affected. It was a good reminder to be cautious when traveling and understand there is evil out there.

After a couple of hours of driving and reflecting, I pulled into a 7-Eleven gas station to use the restroom and get some lunch. The place was packed with high-school kids. I waited in line to get some hot food and fumbled to find the correct currency. The woman asked, “Are you American?” “Yes, sorry, I’m still getting used to which coin is which.” I asked her why it was so busy and she said they are the only gas station in town and right by the school, so they get two lunch rushes.

I continued my drive towards Williams Lake. When I arrived, there was a billboard boasting, “Want fun? Easy exercising? Try square dancing!” I laughed at the thought of square dancing. I remember learning it in school growing up and of course, was so excited when the boy I liked asked me to be his partner. Flustered, I struggled to go the correct way, which made him grab my belt loop so he could pull me in the correct direction. I’m a very clumsy person.

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I checked into my Super 8 motel and walked across the parking lot a restaurant for dinner. It was already dark outside and I spent the evening booking my next Airbnb.

The next morning, I checked out of the hotel and drove to Chevron for some gas. As I got out of my car, I dropped my wallet and  $6 fell out. I grabbed the $1 bill, but the $5 bill flew under my car. I crawled on the ground attempting to reach it but couldn’t . I pulled my car up slightly and was able to get it. I pulled my car back to the pump, unscrewed my cap, and a guy on the overhead speaker said, “The pumps aren’t working right now.”

Did he just watch me do all of that, probably laughing hysterically? Embarrassed, I drove down the street to a Petro-Canada station, but a large semi was blocking the entrance. At a stop light, I found another gas station on the map, just over a mile away, so I headed there. I pulled up and, you guessed it, closed off. They were filling up all of the stations so nobody could get gas.

I ended up driving back to the Husky gas station right by my hotel and filled up my tank as a semi truck with a skull on the side blasted heavy metal music. I felt so frustrated  after this debacle. Sometimes travel is amazing. Other days, it feels like the world is against you. I suppose it’s just like in normal life.

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I left Williams Lake and headed towards Abbotsford. The drive wasn’t as scenic, but there were more places to get gas and snacks. At one point, I pulled into a gas station and the guy behind the counter convinced me to buy a lotto ticket. As I walked out, he yelled, “Don’t forget about me if you win!”

As I drove up a mountain, I noticed a small amount of snow on the ground from the night before. I pulled over to takes pictures and I couldn’t believe snow was already hitting higher elevations – it was only September 13th.

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I was sad that my drive to Alaska was over. I tried my best to take in all of the beautiful mountain scenery around me. It didn’t look the same as it did when when I went north now that the season was changing.

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I arrived to Abbotsford in the late afternoon and couldn’t check in to my Airbnb yet, so I got a manicure and pedicure. That bought me enough time and I checked in. I had rented an entire three bedroom house in the suburbs of Vancouver for a week so I could unwind after so much driving.

The house reminded me of my house in Los Angeles and made me miss it. I ordered some pizza and got cozy inside my new (temporary) house. Then I tried to figure out how I would spend the next week in the suburbs.

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Day 80: Hipsters and Coincidences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Days 76-77: Hitchhikers and Border Crossings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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