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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Days 59-60: Homer, Alaska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where?”

“Just up the road.”

“Well that’s pretty vague”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 57-58: Denali National Park

It was time for me to check out of my Airbnb and head towards Denali National Park. Living as a nomad has its challenges. I needed some refills on medications and though my doctor overnighted them to my Airbnb, they still hadn’t arrived. The owner said that overnight to Fairbanks takes about three days and she offered to ship them to me in Anchorage once they arrived.

My next motel was in Healy, Alaska. It’s only an hour and a half drive south of Fairbanks and it’s the closest city to Denali National Park. The drive was fairly flat and I missed  driving through British Columbia and the Yukon. But as I got closer to Healy, mountains appeared in the distance.

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I pulled into the deserted gravel parking lot of the Denali Park Hotel (which was actually a motel) around 4:00 pm. The lobby was in an old train car. I asked the girl at the desk what there was to do there and she gave me a map that included some hikes. She told me the motel used to be inside the park until a law was passed prohibiting accommodations inside the park. They relocated, but were able to keep the original name.

I pulled my car in front of my room and unloaded my bags in the cold wind. The motel seemed to be on a raised foundation and it sounded hollow below my feet.

It was an ok motel, but the view from my window was fantastic! A massive, beautifully majestic mountain loomed just outside.

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Despite the view, I was angry that I paid $375 for two nights there. This was the most expensive place I had stayed so far and it felt unfair that they could charge so much just because it was close to Denali. There are a few hotels right outside the entrance to Denali National Park, but they were $300-$700 per night!

There were just a few businesses (grocery store, gas station, restaurant) along the two-lane highway that ran through the tiny town. I went to the small, expensive grocery store and picked up some food. After returning to the motel to eat dinner, I turned on the TV. I watched a classic, Groundhog Day, and relaxed.

The next morning, I prepared for a hike in Denali National Park. Denali mountain is the tallest peak in North America and only 33% of visitors actually see the top of the peak because clouds often roll in. Visitors can only drive 15 miles into the park. To see more, you have to take a guided tour bus. I considered taking one, but they ranged from six-ten hours and I didn’t want to spend my time inside of a bus. I preferred being closer to nature and hiking.

One of the bartenders in Fairbanks told me about an 8-mile hike (roundtrip) that starts at mile 13 of the drive inside. I found the trail entrance pretty easily and there was plenty of parking. The hike started out flat and easy, but within half of a mile, it started to climb.

I was nervous about wildlife, bears in particular, so I kept my eyes peeled. Once I started to climb, the trees became less dense and I had outstanding views! I was really happy that I chose to hike instead of take a bus.

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After about a mile in, I passed two rangers who were taking a break from repairing a section of the trail. After two miles, the elevation gain was noticeable and the cold wind kicked in harder. Without tree cover, my shorts and a t-shirt weren’t going to cut it. I saw a few other people who were wearing pants and coats and probably thought I was crazy.

I took my pants and jacket out of my backpack and put them on. I’d start with my wind/rain jacket first and see how warm it kept me. I also put my gloves on because my hands were starting to hurt from the cold.

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I arrived at the top and the wind was dramatically worse, making it hard to keep from being blown over. The gorgeous rocky mountains full of green trees reminded me of Norway.

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I continued on the trail that went down the other side of the mountain to the parking lot at mile 15 of the road. The hike wasn’t as pretty as the other side and I needed to hike back the way I came to make it to my car, so after a mile I turned around. The total would be six miles with 1,800 ft elevation gain and I was pleased.

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When I came to the peak again, the wind seemed to be even stronger. A woman and her mother asked me if I’d take a picture of them together. I took theirs and they took mine. As they started to hike away, she yelled something to me. She was about 10 feet away from me and I couldn’t hear her. After having her repeat what she said a few times, I realized she was just telling me to have a good hike. The wind was that loud!

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I thought about putting my coat on, but my jacket was better at resisting the wind. It felt like it must be about 35° F. I can only imagine how cold it is when it’s not summertime.

I was happy to get back to my warm motel and to rest. Attempting to be productive, I downloaded pictures from my phone to my PC and got some writing done.

The next morning, I needed to drive to Homer, Alaska. It was 500 miles away (about eight and a half hours of drive time). I knew it was an ambitious day, but I wanted to check out Homer after the bartender told me about it.

The first two hours of the drive was beautiful as it winded alongside Denali National Park. It was raining and the clouds were hovering above. I was told the best place to see the elusive mountain peak is south of the park. I kept my eye out, but I’m not sure if it saw it. It didn’t bother me. The hike inside the park was beautiful enough for me.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 44: Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway

The route from Prince George to Dawson Creek kept getting more beautiful with rolling hills covered in bright green pine trees. I couldn’t believe how the mountains continued for hours. The road turned into two lanes with a speed limit around 55-65 MPH. There weren’t many cars and they could easily pass me. It was nice not having someone behind me, pressuring me to go faster. I passed a huge, RV convoy of about 25 RVs going south, heading home after the holiday weekend.

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I needed to use the restroom so I stopped at a small general store that was housed in a log cabin. It was one of the only places I had seen for a while, but there was only one bike outside. I walked inside and a middle-aged woman was talking to a man in biking clothes who appeared to be in his 30s.

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I asked where the restroom was and the woman told me they didn’t have one. I wanted to support this small business since they didn’t have any other customers and I was getting tired. I asked for some coffee and she made me some using a Keurig machine.

While my coffee brewed, the woman asked me where I was headed and I told her I was going to drive the Alaska highway. She said a couple came through there recently saying they were moving to Alaska from Florida to get away from the kids.

The biker continued on his trip and I headed out. About 10 minutes after I left the general store, I came to a gas station, so I pulled over to use the restroom.

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I arrived in Dawson Creek just after 4:00 pm. The town is small, so it was easy to find the sign indicating the start of the Alaska highway.

I took some pictures and a middle-aged couple in an RV offered to take a photo of me with the sign. It was incredibly windy and the clouds started to roll in, but I couldn’t contain my excitement!

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Another RV pulled up with two middle-aged couples, and we all talked about driving the Alaska highway. They were surprised to see I was alone and not in an RV and asked where I was staying. I told them motels and Airbnbs and they seemed curious about it.

I read through the sign posted about the history of the highway. The sign read, “In the early hours of March 9, 1942, the first troop trains of the United States Army Corps of Engineers arrived in Dawson Creek to begin construction of the 2,450 kilometre (1,523 miles) Alaska Highway.”

The sign went on to describe that “Though the highway was completed in record time, it was not without its mishaps. One of the worst tragedies occurred in Dawson Creek in February 1943 when 60,000 cases of dynamite exploded in the centre of town, injuring many but, miraculously taking only five lives.”

After checking out the visitor center for a bit, I drove to main street where another sign was on display in the middle of an intersection.

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I was taking pictures when two women passed me asking if I wanted them to take my picture. I said sure and we chatted about our travel adventures.

img_9812 Click to watch a short video of the scenic drive.

I wanted to cover more ground for the day and Dawson Creek didn’t look like it had many sleeping options. I sat in my car searching for a place to stay and found a Best Western Plus in Fort St. John, about 46 miles away. I got a good deal on Orbitz and decided to stay two nights. After seeing a tick in my bed that morning from my motel in Prince George, I was desperate to have a better place to sleep.

When I pulled into the Best Western, it was a hotel, not a motel and they had an elevator! Finally, I wouldn’t have to carry my suitcase up the stairs. The woman checking me in was very nice and when I got into my room, I saw I had a little kitchenette area, a seating area, and a wonderfully comfortable clean bed. I was in heaven. I laid on the bed, remembering how much I love quality hotels. I could tell that the place was new.

After bringing in my bags, I drove around looking for food and found a sushi restaurant. It was huge inside, but only had a couple of customers. I was really craving quality food, so I was so disappointed when some of the sushi arrived was warm. It was pretty bad overall and I hoped I wouldn’t get sick.

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At 10:00 pm, I enthusiastically went to the hotel hot tub. None of my previous accommodations had hot tubs and after two days of mostly driving, my muscles were desperately in need of relaxation.

A couple came in and joined me, Marguerite and Matt. They looked like they were in their early 20s, tall, and both very fit. Matt had light brown hair and Marguerite had long dark hair. They looked like they could be fitness models.

Marguerite goes to school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She plays volleyball and said at school, it gets so cold (-40 degrees) that if you’re outside longer than 10 minutes, you’ll get frostbite. When she walks to class, she’s completely covered up except for her eyes and when she arrives, she’ll have frost on her eyelashes.

Matt is from Vancouver but was currently living Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. He’s a paramedic and said in order to get a better position in the city, you need to do tours in smaller, remote towns first.

Matt, Marguerite, and I talked about the differences in the US and Canada from burgers and beers, to police (there are a lot more police in the US). Apparently, they call Tim Hortons “Timmys” and they love Jack in the Box and wished it was in Canada. I told them my sushi there was terrible and Matt said, “Let me give you some advice. If you’re not near an ocean, don’t ever get sushi.”

We talked about hiking and bears in the area and they told me about Canadian Tire (which is like Home Depot). Matt said if I’m going to hike at all, I should get some bear spray or a pen thing that shoots a firework above the bear’s head to scare it away.

The hot tub closed at 11:00 pm so we all got out. They had a 5:00 am flight to catch in the morning. I was happy that I met Matt and Marguerite. I hadn’t had much interaction with people in the last several days and being a “people person,” I crave connection. I jumped into my plush bed content with my trip so far. I was feeling more confident talking to strangers. The reason I love travel so much is getting the chance to meet new people. Sure, the sites are beautiful, but it’s the people and their stories that fascinate me.

 

Day 39: Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider