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The Hansen family

We are a family of 5 leaving Virginia to establish our home in Homer, Alaska. After a combined 70 year career supporting the Department of Defense (DoD) we have decided to leave the craziness of DC for the peace of Alaska. This plan was set in motion several years ago when we fell in love with Alaska, bought some property, sold our home in Virginia, retired from the military and DoD, designed our new home and planned this trip of a lifetime! The best way for us to get to Alaska is in a 30 foot RV since 3 of our family members have 4 paws! Our soft coated wheaten terriers (Pushinka, Molly and Bubis) are important members of our family so their comfort and safety are critical - plus, they outnumber us so we have to be mindful of their preferences! Jim, will serve as driver, comic relief and narrator. I, Denise, will be the navigator, blogger and photographer. Departure is scheduled for 29 July with arrival planned for 1 September. We will take in as many sites as we can along our route. Our route is Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio on our first day trying to get past Chicago by day two. We'll enter Wisconsin, go thru Minnesota, South Dakota, into Wyoming then into Montana over several days. Then it's into Canada and along the Alaskan Highway into our new home state. We'll enter Alaska near Tok then make our way through the state to Anchorage where we'll camp until our rental property is available on 1 Sep. Then it's on to Homer to observe the construction of our home! Our adventure will include the antics of 3 wild wheatens, 2 barely functional adults, and 1 ultimate road trip - we hope you follow along as we cross our spectacular country, leave the Lower 48 and enter The Last Frontier!

Click on the points on the map to see what we did at each location.

Jul 29, 2012

Our journey begins
Last minute pick up of remaining items and loading took longer than we expected. Instead of getting on the road at 5:30 AM it was closer to 8:30 AM. Perhaps not the smoothest (or calmest) start on record but we made it on the road nevertheless (and in spite of ourselves!). It was liberating to take our last drive on Rt66 leaving Virginia! Bye Bye Virginia! Blue skies, puffy clouds and clear weather the whole way...very hot! I wish I could say this RecV was smooth, quiet and spacious - it is not! I wish I could say it was easy to operate - it is not. The video made it look so simple and all I have to say to that is "LIAR!". It is like a rumbling tin can. Space is at a premium - for all our sailing and submarine friends you know how critical it is to live in tight quarters with everything having a space (and not much of it) while you keep constant attention to organization - we don't live like that so this is a challenge….an annoying one. My Mother always said we’d be better off if we put things back where we found them – I am regretting I never learned that lesson. The 3 wild wheatens are very unsettled by the sound and constant rumbling so I sit in back with Pushinka on half my lap, Molly on the other and Bubis at my feet - they are comforted by Mommy. Mommy will be comforted by alcohol!

So our first stop is for gas ($100!) and to walk the pups and the cab door is jammed. Jim has already turned off the engine, he goes around to fill up the tank then around to the other side to get the pups and...stuck! Can't unlock from the inside and can't open from the outside - we will die in this tin can from heat stroke! Called Travelers Assistance and they said they can see us next week but they authorized us to try to fix it ourselves. Not so helpful that Travelers Assistance. And so we climb out the front door to take our first break looking very disorganized, foolish and clumsy….this is the start of a theme! Lucy and Desi in “The Long, Long Trailer” comes to mind! We drive on thru West VA, MD and Pennsylvania - btw, Pennsylvania fix your roads! The rumbling is deafening! Sunflower seed husks are everywhere! Finally into Ohio – road work is required here but they make up for it with great rest stops!

Pulled in to the Toledo KOA after covering 490 miles! Once in our spot we are shocked to see so many RecVs – class A’s with experienced, relaxed folks sitting around campfires, cooking over elaborate BBQs, relaxing with their calm dogs – so many dogs. Watch out everyone – here comes Lucy and Desi with their wild wheatens! We are not as experienced and our clumsiness shows through. Remember…side cab door is stuck so every time Jim goes out to figure out a hose, a hookup, a something or other he has to climb over the doggie gate, into the front seat then out the front door – each time bumping the horn with some body part – causing even MORE attention to come our way. We pushed enough buttons inside, hooked up every hose we could find (once again, looked easy on the video!) and finally had AC inside! Now onto the door…this requires the tool bucket. Out the front door again, hitting the horn again – now people from nearby campsites are coming over to help us…or see who the novices are….or to shut us up! “Hmmm…never seen that before” but they stay to help and chat. Moving to Alaska is a good topic of conversation and everyone is interested! Neighbor dogs will all get treats to make up for this! AC on, water plugged in, door onto the table that turns into a bed. Let me explain….lift up table, unhook metal pole, lay table down, slide cushions together – voila…a bed! Video made it look easy…it was not. We thought this would make a nice big dog bed but since the back bedroom was too hot and it made me claustrophobic it turned into my bed….an uncomfortable one at that! Pushinka and Bubis didn’t mind – they quickly jumped on it and made it their own. Jim turned the sofa into a bed for Molly…oh, I mean for him. Not sure what time it was – didn’t care – we were exhausted by our first day as RecV-ers and so we crawled next to our baby dogs and fell quickly fell asleep. Holy Toledo – this RecV life is tough!

Jul 30, 2012

Chicago - ain't our kind of town!
Woke up to a pleasant Ohio morning – cooler, low humidity, clear. Took the pups for an early morning stroll before everyone got up. These folks were sleeping in so we took advantage of a cool quiet start compared to our arrival last night! A leisurely stroll around the campground versus rushing around to get to work – how civilized! Finally, a shower! Armed with my shower “go bag’, shower shoes and bed head I went in search of the campground facility. Quite surprised – clean, modern, and very refreshing! Clean, fed dogs, unhooked, locked up and on our way! 8:30AM.
35 years ago TODAY Jim travelled this route from Seattle to Aberdeen to officially become a member of America’s finest fighting force! Yay Jim! And thank you for your service! num num num num!

Goodbye Ohio – loved your state, loved your rest stops, off to Indiana. We left one side of the RecV as the bed for the dogs to have a large place to sleep (too hard to turn back into a table is more like it) and we turned the other side back into a sofa for me and Pushinka to sit on. Pillows, throws, Ralph Lauren down comforter for Molly and Bubis; my lap for Pushinka who still can’t figure out what’s going on. I threw a little calming tea in their breakfast so soon they’ll all be more relaxed today. Molly looks drunk and Bubis is snoozing! Pushinka is still clinging to me.

Jim plugged in the IPOD so we now have regular music to head on down the road so with Lady Gaga, Black-eyed peas, Pat Benetar and Michelle Shocked (look her up!) we cruised thru Indiana. Indiana is fairly uneventful, hot with bad roads – we forgot about this state and thought we’d be closer to Chicago earlier to beat the traffic. Indiana, you need better marketing….and stuff to do.

Welcome to Chicago! – hi Oprah! Can you do something about the traffic, bad rusty infrastructure and roads?! Of course there were some nice things to see while we sat in traffic – Cellular Field – Home of the White Sox, a very impressive Sears Tower, Lake Shore Drive (ok, only saw the exit for it but I know it’s cool!) and O’Hare airport. And still…the traffic!!

Jim prefers “Good job, Sweetums” to “Be careful, “Be CAREFUL”, “BE CAREFUL”! He doesn’t want or need to reminded to be careful – he’s the best driver I know but I’ve turned into my Mother and feel compelled to say it. He’s also annoyed by me constantly asking about Oprah – he’s not a fan.

Jersey barriers, orange cones, tight lanes, narrow bridges, low rusty overheads, rough roads, narrow toll booths, lots of traffic, construction – GOOD JOB SWEETUMS, Goodbye Chicago, Goodbye Oprah! Is everyone going to Wisconsin?

Pulled into the Madison KOA in Deforest Wisconsin – once again we were expecting secluded pull-ins with privacy and space. RecV’s were parked side by side – many looked like they were lifelong residents. This KOA is one of the nicest we’ve ever seen (we’ve seen 2) – very grassy, very modern with door to door hook up service. Nice, clean, modern facilities with a little shop to buy supplies, extra water and souvenirs. Lots of dogs! We chose going to Alaska in a RecV because we wanted to travel with our dogs and I would never fly them! I guess others had the same idea. The dogs enjoyed a few short walks around the property – good smells, wonderful distractions, and friendly people but as soon as other dogs approached we went back to the RecV. While Bubis is an overbarker inside he is the Mayor of Anytown USA outside, Pushinka is a little cranky with other dogs and Molly is following in her footsteps. We failed obedience school in making them socialized.

We arrived earlier than expected and with the one hour time difference there was plenty of time for a nap, computer time (this blog doesn’t type itself), another walk and an early bedtime! A trail of sunflower seeds were found in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin – a total of 8 states, 400 more miles, hundreds of dollars in gas and more memories that can be counted!

Jul 31, 2012

Heading West

A good start in Madison - had potable water, set up the coffee maker so fresh coffee 1st thing! What a difference a jolt of caffeine will do for ya! A few short walks of the pups, a nice shower at the facility and off we go at 8:00AM. An excellent KOA by our standards – and we don’t really have any but if we did this would rank high.

Wisconsin is B-U-ti-ful! Large, open, green pastures with lush rolling hills sprinkled with old fashioned farms – tucked in the hills are lovely farm homes and barns. Large green trees including many more pine trees with no development along this route (I90/94 for those of you following along the map!). Much different from yesterday’s trip thru Chicago! And thank you Wisconsin for smooth roads! It’s a much quieter ride and the wild wheatens are more relaxed! Heading I\on I90W; another $130 in Gas, 1000 miles down! Curious about “Onalaska” – is it O-nalaska or On-alaska or some other pronunciation? We would like our Wisconsin friends to answer that.

The day is a little overcast which makes the cab more comfortable. The AC from the front only does a fair job keeping the back cool so cloudy is good.

Just crossed the Mississippi River! A lovely rest stop along the river allows us to take in the view and give the wheatens a little break. We failed the heel command so the wheatens are off and running! Thank goodness for harnesses or they would have choked themselves with excitement to see the river. I’m seriously considering entering Molly in the Iditarod – that soft coated wheaten bull can probably go head to head with a husky! Off to Minnesota – well done Wisconsin!!

Minnesota, you could take a lesson or two from Wisconsin! 1) Roads and 2) Football! This is one bumpy, noisy ride! We miss our Lexus!

Here we are in Dexter Minnesota where are driving thru one of the largest wind farms we’ve ever seen – all spinning, all generating lots of electricity! Good for you, Minnesota! This route in Minnesota is very green and open but without the homey, folksy charm of Wisconsin. Road roughness is directly proportional to wheaten anxiety – Pushinka has tried to crawl on my head – Minnesota, enough electricity, pave your roads!

Meals have consisted of sunflower seeds and pepsi – the adjustment of Recv life has left us all a tad queasy. Although those are normal meals for Jim! Sans grilled ham and cheese with French fries.

It’s quite humid now in Jackson Minnesota. The weather is coming up from the Gulf bringing lots of moisture. High probability of thunderstorms tonight which will help clear out the air. Unfortunately, Bubis O’Reilly (his full birth name) was hoping to escape the thunder season of VA; he doesn’t do well with storms so we’ll outfit him in his thundershirt and give him a small dose of medicine to ease his stress. I might need something as well!

Arriving in Jackson Minnesota KOA – another nice campground – these KOAs are great! Affordable, wonderfully managed, pleasant people and nice facilities. When you call for a reservation they ask number of adults, kids and pets. When you say 3 dogs they always try to put you near the walking area or dog park. Nice touch, I think. Then they give you treats when you check in…hey, where’s mine? Hardly any dogs here with a nice area for walks so our wheatens are happy campers- so to speak. Of course our walks don’t last long with the heat, humidity and bugs. How can people sit outside their RecV in this weather?! There is no amount of frosty, adult beverage to make me to do that – can’t wait for the Alaskan summers (although not looking forward to the mosquitos). Inside the cramped quarters of the tin can with AC set to 56 degrees for us!

The RecVs have been very luxurious – these people travel in style! Our rental is low rent compared to the Deluxe, Mercedes-Benz, bump-out rooms, porch covered, Direct TV, super rigged up vehicles we’ve been seeing in the KOAs. When we get to Alaska we’ll end up buying one to travel around the state and have a place to stay – for our monthly trips to Anchorage for supplies at CostCo, a “few” fishing trips, and many outings across the biggest state in the country (take THAT our Texan friends!). Having our dogs travel with us on overnight trips is important and having a small one will allow that…although I’m eyeing that Mercedes-Benz vehicle!

We’re settling in for the evening and the kids are excited to see everyone pass by. We have to close the drapes to keep “Bub Barker” from greeting everyone and the girls from getting agitated. It also keeps the tin can cooler. We are really getting the hang of this Recv life! Stuff is stored more smartly, the pups are in a routine, I’m getting used to shuffling in a circle to turn around, Jim has learned not to talk to me while I’m under the AC unit…what?....what did you say?...WHAT? and we’ve all found a space to hang out – this calls for champagne!

The trick to settling in for the night is to get in bed before the dogs do (if they’re not already in it) – they take up prime real estate and we must contort ourselves in order to join them. It looks like another night of “Cirque du Soleil” try outs! Maybe tomorrow night I’ll get a jump on them. Til then we’ll have sweet dreams of Wisconsin, no storms!, the amazing Mississippi River, sunflower seeds, and Minnesota campgrounds – ya sure, you betcha!

Aug 01, 2012

All of this in one day?!

The pups shake their tags (we call it bling) when they want to go o-u-t and so sometime in the middle of the night they were shaking their bling. It is dark and dead quiet except when Jim says “I see ears” when he sees a rabbit. “Don’t go near the rabbit” I whisper. I’ve seen what Pushinka does to toads and she would go after this rabbit at mach speed dragging us along! Now I am aggressively whispering “Don’t go near the wabbit” trying not to wake the entire campground. The pups are so distracted by everything they don’t see the wabbit and don’t do the business they intended to do…we whisper “nightie-night” and go back into the recV. How do they know where the best spot on the bed is? It’s so nice and cool back in the recV – we’re using a lot of electricity those wind farms are generating. Thank you!

The alarm goes off – THE ALARM? We have a long road ahead and Jim wanted an early start. Mornings are so quiet, soft and easy – a very peaceful start to our day. Most RecV-ers are quiet, respectful travelers who turn in early (to their direct TV) and wake up later (after their full breakfast). We have neither. Jim showers at the wonderful bath facility and comes back giggling – it was a ceramic rabbit.

Showered, pumped with caffeine, fed, walked (away from the ceramic rabbit) and ready to go by 7:30AM. It looks overcast with weather coming from the north. We wish Chuck Bell could join us in our travels to lecture us about the weather. He and Jim could talk for hours about weather – Jim loves weather!

I90W – green as far as the eye can see! Not much traffic – hope we make it to Sioux Falls before rush hour. More large wind farms – these are very large, almost alien structures, a slow turning 3-pronged propeller in the sky. Modern technology next to what looks like well-established older farms. If I could figure out how to download pictures from my camera and Iphone then I’ll add pics of these wind farms to the blog. Talk about modern technology next to well established and older!

We made it into South Dakota! The 1st rest stop has a wonderful, large park to walk the pups! Got lots of great literature from the woman who works there – she obviously loves her state and I loved her accent! She showed us routes to the Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Wall Drug where vets get free donuts (does she mean veterinarians or veterans?….she said it right after I said we were travelling with 3 dogs – an honest misunderstanding) and they serve free water and 5 cent coffee…truthfully I stopped listening after free donuts but her explanation continued. At the speed limit of 75 mph we’re sure to make it across the state in no time! And with a mouthful of sunflower seeds Jim drives on.

Virginia did a real disservice when they shut down the rest stops. People need a break, learn about the sites and get their first impression of the state. Ok, Virginia I guess we know where you stand.

South Dakota has obviously had an abundance of rain – it’s very green here, ducks have full ponds in which to swim, cows have a place to bathe, crops are healthy and our country can be fed.

Approaching the Corn Palace! Yay! I hope we stop. Jim says he stopped there as a kid and it’s boring. WORLDS ONLY CORN PALACE. Waaahhhh! Jim asked me to check the KOA book and call for our next destination in Rapid City. I said I’d check it when we stop at the Corn Palace. Tee-hee. So many miles of corn fields, it’d be a shame to miss the palace! And it’s free! Jim says “Dicks Body Shop is free and we’re not stopping there”. He takes exit 232…could it be?? I know we’re not going to Cabelas – he has everything they sell! Down thru town (not an easy drive off I90) and there it is! The Corn Palace! Jim sits in the car while I race around it. It’s covered in husks, the street signs have corn cobs on them, Mitchell is hopping with activities from the 60’s. I run into the palace, the smell of butter fills the air, I run into the arena where I hope to see a show (of what? I don’t know) but the floor is covered with vendors. Kinda disappointing and Jim was right – boring. Did I miss something, Mitchell SD?

We navigate back to I90 which is not easy given the construction, detours and 1 lane. A lot of work for corn merchandise vendors. “Ears” to you, Sweetums, I owe you lunch – here’s another bag of sunflower seeds.

My next whine....oh, I mean request is to stop at Wall Drug. Free donuts! Free ice water! I have 258 miles to make my case. The signs advertising free ice water might be convincing enough!

This section of I90 is under construction with only 1 lane in each direction. Miles of corn fields, dozens of cows watching the road construction (c’mon cows, spread out – you have hundreds of acres!), blue sky, white puffy clouds, a horizon that goes on forever, hundreds of hay bales and free ice water ahead!

Wheaten update: a pinch of calming tea in their breakfast, smooth roads, and we have 3 happy wheatens!

Lots of billboards along this stretch of road! Place to eat, places to stay, casinos, antique malls, western wear, and the religious signs next to the signs for the Sugar Shack – an adult store. Then of course so many signs for Wall Drug – all that advertising; how can they afford to give away free ice water? We were tempted to stop off at a casino and take turns gambling (South Dakota Baby doesn’t have the same ring to it as Las Vegas Baby”) but we pressed forward.

It’s starting to look more rugged, free of billboards, green hills dotted with cows, a stiff wind blowing thru the green fields, not many trees, more ranch like and a big blue sky! A whole field of sunflowers! Field after field of them – a snackers paradise – well, at least for Jim anyway!

Jim reads a lot and in one of his many books he read how Teddy Roosevelt took a train to the Badlands to shoot buffalo – while he only found a few left alive he did spend many years here. The area was described as a temperate African plain with bear, cougar, lynx, wolves and coyotes feeding on the buffalo. We’re feeling some of that grand adventure and history as we travel thru South Dakota!

The next gas fill up costs $110 which also allows Jim the chance to look for Mrs. Fishers potato chips – a wonderfully heavy, greasy, flavorful local delicacy only found in the Midwest. He returns with Pringles – a national treasure.

Our first glimpse of the Badlands! Ruggedly beautiful! We will continue on I90 to Wall Drug (a bonus stop – yay me!), past our KOA exit but we will take the Badlands loop bypass on our way back to the KOA. Our day just got longer by one hour so we can squeeze in one more sight – and free ice water! The town of Wall is an interesting place, very touristy, very crowded. I run out to find Wall Drug leaving Jim with the wheatens in the recV and discover a huge emporium of sorts broken up into little stores filled with souvenirs. I run thru the masses of people looking for free ice water – Jim is waiting so I must hurry. Water in hand I dash out to relieve Jim and invite him to go see it. I can’t say I liked it so I can’t imagine Jim thinking much of it. He stayed an even shorter amount of time!

We’re now looping into the Badlands on our way to the KOA. It’s still early and we’re in desperate need of Mother Nature not touristy. The Badlands area is rugged, less green with few trees – they should bury their lines for an unobstructed view. Entrance fee is $15 and a lot of barking. Pushinka doesn’t like toll booth operators and apparently Park rangers. As we enter we are awestruck by its beauty! It’s like we’ve landed on the moon with limestone structures resembling large, sand castles – the kind you drizzle to make. Beautiful colors of limestone against a bright blue sky! Fresh clean air with no pollution. I took dozens of pics that I will share (somehow). We see a side road that I think would make an interesting trip where we could see a different perspective and not knowing the park I thought for sure this would be our only view of the Badlands. The RecV is not made for such gravel roads (this made the roads in PA seem smooth!). The pups were freaking out as was I, their ears were pinned back, eyes were bulging as were mine and they were clinging to each other. The sights were in fact amazing however with no guard rail, with the first step being a doozy and a gravel road I kind of wished Jim didn’t indulge me on this idea. We had to keep driving in order to find a place to turn around – 30 footers don’t make very sharp 3 point turns! Once turned around and off the gravel we continued down the main road where I realize it’s all so beautiful that our excursion was not necessary (as was the Corn Palace). So many safe pull-offs with spectacular views – why some areas eroded and others did not is a mystery. The park is not crowded so we can leisurely take our time. Up and up we go, overlooking the edge (no guard rails) and now my breath is taken away not only by the beauty but by the sheer drop off! With each pull off I got out to take pics while Jim sat with the pups – geez, I hope my pics turn out! Pinks, reds, browns, white, creams, stripes that look like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream in shapes only God could create. Each turn of the road revealed another landscape so unique in color, size and shape – soft and round curves to knife sharp edges! And then there were the prairie dogs that would scamper across the fields - if only Pushinka could see out the drapes! The drive thru the park is 30 miles taking us 1 ½ hours (“be careful” replaced by “slow down”). Once out of the park we head to our KOA – once again, a very nice location with a great fenced-in dog area and home cooked meals with 1 thing on the menu – but boy was it delicious! Indian tacos – similar to Mexican tostada with Indian Fry bread instead of a tortilla. One dessert item – same bread coated with cinnamon and ice cream. This KOA is tucked right outside the Badlands Park so the views are beautiful. A little buggy but very pleasant. Dogs fed – very tired today; People fed – very tired today; Dogs exercised; People….going to bed!

Nothing “bad” about today – it was great! Corn Palace, Wall Drug, and the Badlands! Added another 400 miles to our journey (1,500 miles total), in our 3rd time zone having been in 10 states! Teddy would have been proud of us!

Aug 02, 2012

George, Thomas, Teddy, Abe, Pushinka, Molly and Bubis!

The colors of the dawn are soft, light and once again the KOA is silent. There is crispness to the air so for the first time we turned off the AC that was set to 56 degrees!

We take the pups to the park and let them run – it’s good to see them off leash, acting like dogs – running, sniffing, exploring! Bubis, who is 10, is running like a puppy. Molly, who always has her battery charged, is 5 – she runs with her long tongue flailing and her ears flying back! Pushinka, who is 7, prances thru the yard like a fine thoroughbred finally having some space and privacy!

Showered, fed, walked, all set to leave “Interior, South Dakota”, population 67! We had 67 people just on our block in VA! Going back thru the alien-like terrain of the Badlands area – Stars Wars could have been filmed here. Back on I90W at 7:30AM! The wheatens are settled enough so I move back up to the passenger seat in front – Jim speaks of open roads, the environmental dangers of fish farms, how civilization destroyed the buffalo and endangered the prairie dog – I think he missed having a companion in the front seat these last few days. I let him go on because he’s so interesting and smart (I can ask him anything and he has either read about it, studied it, knows it, saw a show on it, memorized it, heard about it or makes it up…tee-hee) and he’s not yelling at the traffic (a daily routine in VA).

On our way we’re also discussing whether or not to go to Mt Rushmore – 30 ft RV, 3 dogs, switchbacks??...not sure. I say we should go because it’s a part of America and that’s why we’re making this move in a RV. I’ve seen it in my youth but need to feel the American spirit again. Jim says he too has seen it and because we can’t tour it as a family it would mean nothing to him (remember, no dogs are allowed in the park and we have 3 so someone has to always stay with them in the RV). I remember the trip as a kid with my parents and brother. We drove across country in a Pontiac tempest (a small car for 4, Dad rigged an antennae so we could watch tv – he was ahead of his time, and it was HOT). The car overheated (as did Dad’s temper) because of all the switchbacks (and Dad’s because of the car). I did not want to relive that!

After some consideration and remembering the woman at the rest stop saying the roads were good for a RV we decided to see Mt Rushmore! The roads ARE different from the days of the white tempest but not great. 25 miles off I90W! RV goes into 2nd gear, lots of traffic lights and increased activity. We pull closer to the park and I see it! I am all a’tingle, a bit nostalgic and weepy. I feel patriotism run thru my veins! Jim is clenching the wheel, finding $11 for the entrance fee and holding back Bub from jumping thru the front window to greet the ranger.

We find the RV pull off and discover we can ALL see it as a family so we take pics of us with the wild wheatens and Jim is satisfied. I ask if I can bring someone back for him knowing his love of history – a book, a video,?? – he asks for a hot pretzel (he's brilliant but not showy, huh?!). I march onto the park along Presidential trail and am in awe! This is so inspiring! The carving against a gin clear sky! The trail takes you up close and I am snapping away (I will add pics soon – promise!). I call my Mother to tell her about Mt Rushmore 30 years later…ok, 40….alright, 45 years later and to tell her I miss her and Dad. I had lots of great experiences seeing the country and the world because of them! Thanx Mom and Dad!

Everyone must see this site! Even in a RV! It took about 40 minutes to walk the full loop of the trail then I headed back without a hot pretzel – although I did look!

Aug 03, 2012

The Black Hills are covered with Ponderosa pines, green fields and gold – thar’s gold in them thar hills! On our way back to I90W Jim warns the RV-ers to save themselves! Driving to such sites in a 30 footer is so much harder than in a car – there’s so much to watch out for in towns where a sharp turn can wipe out a street sign and when you pull into a gas station you must always have an exit strategy.

Our first trip into Walmart to stock up on some supplies and knowing they are RV friendly we thought we could easily pull in. The sign says “No overnight RV parking”. That’s NOT what they advertise – I disliked them before and dislike them even more now – liars! Because we were low on water (and I wanted Red Vines) I swallowed my principles and went in but in the brief time I was there the skies turned black and threatening! Bubis must be drugged. I rush out!

Jim comments how he loves how the white clouds emanate from the big black clouds and how dramatic the rainstorm off to the east looks – he’s a weatherman wanna-be! Wyoming welcomes us with rain and impressive lightening!

Devils Tower National Monument is coming – Jim said he saw it in “Close Encounters”. SO? You saw Mt Rushmore in North by Northwest and National Treasure II and wasn’t it better in person? He agrees but we drive past the exit with the promise to return. We also pass by the initial visitor’s center thinking if we keep moving Bubis will be calmer – the weather has turned ugly! No literature, no fun facts – the thought there is a place in Wyoming that offers free ice water will haunt me – I will never know! Bub’s comfort and our safety are more important. No maps!

People here have “Ranches” on thousands of acres. They post signs with the name of their ranch at the entrance – you only see a large house off in the distance and lots and lots of land – maybe they have horses, cows, sheep, or ??? We will name our Alaskan residence “Wheaten Ranch” and we will have wheatens! Smaller house, less land and lots of wheatens!

Entering Sundance, WY – where the Kid got his name; not of the film festival fame. The storm is wicked! Many sunflower seeds were consumed during this portion. Chomping obviously has a calming effect on Jim. Ever since he quit smoking 3 years ago (Good job, Sweetums) he consumes bag after bag of sunflower seeds. Thanx to his friends he has a bucket load of them!

A fairly colossal storm, bolts of cloud to ground lightening fill the sky – Jim feels like a storm chaser! Glad we closed the back bedroom vent! Goodbye Sundance – love the movie; hate the weather! We now have clean windows and a pretty blue sky ahead. Jim keeps looking back to see the ginormous storm cloud that hangs over Sundance – he is impressed and can’t stop remarking how incredible it was – Bubis is NOT impressed.

Wildlife to date: red tailed hawk, other hawks, horses, cows, sheep, antelope, prairie dogs, toads, vultures, ceramic rabbit, elk and bear cubs (although we saw them from the road as we passed “Bear USA” so we really can’t take credit), and many dogs including 3 wheatens. Other than Jim’s ceramic rabbit sighting he has hawk eyes spotting wildlife before I can even focus.

Wyoming’s rest stops are hideous! They look pleasant from the road but once there the dog area is dry, prickly, exposed to the heat and dirty. Even Molly who tears out the RecV to mark every square inch (even with one drop) and pulls to sniff everything wanted to go back to the RV after one squat! The facilities were hot, broken down and had trickling hot water. No maps, no literature, no free ice water tips!

But boy you make up for it with scenery Wyoming! We are closing in on what looks like mountains – we see snow – they are The Rockies!

Wyoming’s terrain is quite unique with mounds that just pop up and are scattered across the land. Jim thinks he sees them as signs of volcanic activity – he’s a geologist and volcanologist wanna-be too. With no pollution and this altitude and no humidity the sun feels like a torch on your skin. Areas are very brown with no trees, then there is green but only due to irrigation, then there is a patchwork effect with grass, dirt, rock, and mounds. The air is crystal clear, visibility is perfect and the sun sparkles!

We see signs for Yellowstone and I don’t even ask! I don’t think it’s wise to go there with 3 dogs so we’ll visit that idea once we’re settled in Alaska, have a puppy-sitter, get the urge for another road trip and have that Mercedes-Benz RV! I think Jim is already looking on Ebay!

Entering the town of Buffalo – perfect for Wyoming, not so much for New York!

2,000 mile mark, 4:51 Mountain time, 3 August! We’ll cover less ground each day from here on in.

I see where Free Range beef comes from. These animals have thousands of acres to roam, graze, bathe, lie in the sun, enjoy the open fields and eventually get herded together to land at Ruth Chris, your supermarket, your favorite restaurant and on your plate. It’s a nice life…until the last part.

We arrive in Sheridan WY and go to our KOA….Kampgrounds of America, by the way. Very tight! Lots of dogs – big ones, too many people! We try to give the dogs a walking break but I’m a little nervous about the neighborhood. Shepards, goldie, small yappie ones, large mixed….all very well behaved so it was a surprise. We just need to keep our little ambassadors of disobedience calm as we walked by – eyes front, keep walking, let’s go, happy talk, happy pace and we make it to the pet area. Not so nice and right by a field of motorcyclists camping. Not good for them, not good for the dogs.

We head back to start the evening’s festivities which for some reason tonight was very disorganized. I can’t find stuff, space feels too small, Bubis is so relaxed he can’t move from the middle of the walkway, the AC is blaring creating a cone if silence right under it and we’re feeling cramped, hungry and cranky. Allan, where did you stash the tequila!??? I had Jim tear that RV apart tonight to find that and the bottle of Godiva Vodka (yumME)….they are nowhere to be found. And I was so looking forward to a margarootie! I’ll bet the Canadian border patrol finds it! We decide to take a slow, short drive tomorrow to our next KOA, including a trip to the liquor store. We can settle in early, relax, get organized. A good plan! Now onto dinner….steaks (probably free range), fresh veggies and potatoes on the grill….that’s what our neighbors are having. And since we are so stinkin’ close I can hear the sizzle of and smell every single morsel of it! The people who pull in on the other side have a bump out so there’s kitchen/dining area is smack up against us! They are having cheese (probably from Wisconsin), crackers and wine while luxuriating at their kitchen table. I have pretzels dipped in peanut butter and Jim has a pop tart and a beer on our table/bed taken over by wheatens.

There is an art to the RV life –we don’t have it. I said to Jim there must be some RV gizmos that people use to make life simpler. I want those gizmos. They must have tips, tricks, and suggestions – please share! And we need less stuff filling up cabinets that really are useless….both our stuff and cabinets are useless that is! We will get organized on tomorrows stop…ALLAN, WHERE IS THE TEQUILA???

Aug 04, 2012

If you liked Wyoming, you'll love Montana!

As I type this Jim is sleeping - I look over to the sofa bed and see Jim surrounded by all 3 pups (this bed is not that big, Jim is a big boy and the wheatens are bed hogs. He’s so tired he doesn’t even notice. A better night’s sleep – I now leave a light on in the back of the RV so that my claustrophobia doesn’t kick in and it seems to work.

In the morning Molly is like one of the flying Wolindas! Jumping back and forth from bed to bed, next hanging over the privacy cloth, jumping back onto Jim like he’s a jungle Jim! Good Golly Miss Molly, we need to sleep! On our morning walk we decide to cheat and not take the pups back to the dog area – too far away and there are too many dogs. We did NOT like this KOA! Spaces are too tight, too many dogs, not laid out well, showers trickle and it’s too noisy – we can’t wait to leave but before we do it’s time to empty the “gray water” tank. We don’t use the facilities aboard the RV – the bathroom and shower are filled with stuff and plus…yuck. We always use rest stops and the KOA. And btw Jaime Lee Curtis – Activia does not work! It’s Jim’s job to empty the tank and he hates it. It’s not so much our drainage – afterall our gray water is limited to water from the kitchen sink – it’s that he has to touch the hose that everyone’s else dumps their black water into…yuck. After multiple washes we’re on our way.
The morning once again is cooler and clear with blue sky and puffy white clouds. Bubis takes his spot behind Jim as his co-pilot, Pushinka seems more accepting of her new RV life and Molly’s battery has wound down just a bit so I go up front to listen to more of what Jim knows. He’s rockin out to…Celine Dion?....really? What next? Show tunes?

We continue to go west and north on I90. The first 4 lane highway Jim ever drove and received his driver’s education on. I wonder if Jim yelled at the traffic then?

We see square bales of hay stacked like loaves of bread which seems more efficient even though cylinders have greater volume (Jim is full of fun facts!).

Entering Crow Montana land originally owned by the Indian tribe (I’m tellin ya, this guy is smart!). Jim says Time magazine wrote that farming is the #1 profession to get into because of the increasing population and need for food – with the number of healthy farms we’ve seen along the way it looks like America will be well fed. But will we?

When my family drove across country (many times) my Mom and Dad would take turns driving every 100 miles – we are not doing that. Mom drove a tempest not a RV!

Passing thru Garryowen which Jim tells me is named after an Army officer and I thought it was named after the announcer for Laugh-In – our views of history are different. I’ll go with Army officer.

Just passed a town called Baaxuuuqashe! Little Big Horn Battlefield exit is coming up. Stopping here was an easier sell than the Corn Palace. It’s full of history and he’s in his element so in we go! We pay the entrance fee, grab the literature and follow the path past the visitor’s center. We didn’t stop to ask what to do nor did we read the literature – we just drove down the trail. Why is no one else driving here? Are we allowed? The road seems kind of narrow for tourists to be driving – is there a shuttle we were supposed to have taken? We keep driving. I start reading about the events that took place at each mile marker making it thru 5 or 6 then realize I started at the wrong end. Jim is unsure of this road and is definitely unsure about me! Now we approach a gate that says “Private Property” but we go thru anyway. The Griswald’s enter Little Big Horn! There’s no place to turn around but we see mile markers on the other side of the road…which I opted not to read about at this point! There must be a turnaround where I can redeem myself. We finally see the end of this road (or is it the beginning?) and we can now start following the events of Custer’s Last Stand. Few cars – c’mon people, get past the Visitors center! I start reading the brochure (again) and follow along with the battle. This battle was intensely fierce and not well thought out on Custer’s part. The trail takes you thru each piece and maneuver of the battle – eerily quiet – head stones mark the dead of both the Army and the Indian tribes. So much blood was shed on this ground. Was it a defining battle? If Custer won would it have made a difference? Would the course of history be changed?

Crossing Bighorn River – a famous trout river – Jim switches from deep historical thoughts to fishing. Entering Billings, Montana – the first sign of a skyline in quite some time. Larger developments, industrial plants, high rises, oil refineries, but it has a western feel and look to it as the city is nestled against some fairly rugged mountains.

I start googling BBQ places in Montana thinking this state must be loaded with good BBQ (better than Willards? Jim thinks not). The pop tart from last night’s dinner has long worn off and the thought of good western BBQ is making our mouths water. But he’s whining about the logistics of it given the RV, dogs, small towns so he’s eyeing McDonalds off the highway.

This area looks similar to New Mexico. Horses roam and graze along the road (no collars? We should rescue them!). They are wild and beautiful with their manes flowing in the air. It’s a mix of green trees, corn fields, rugged rocky mountains, cows, horses, the view goes on and on! Pine trees pop up in the middle of yellow grassy areas on rocky mountains. Next rest stop 2 miles – finally! The dogs have been crossing their paws for hours. This state is not big on rest stops – not like New Jersey that names their rest stops or anywhere in the east coast where the population almost demands it (Listen up, Virginia!).

Jim has read many books on Lewis and Clark and he points out that this was their trail. Lewis and Clark didn’t have GPS units or any high tech navigational equipment. The fact they navigated across the country to the west coast at times splitting up and reconnecting weeks later is amazing. They had a much better experience with the Indians than Custer. Lewis and Clark avoided Indians if they sensed hostility but for the most part Indians took pity on them, feeding them, and giving them Sacajawea, their female guide. Once the expedition hit the coast, they returned, dropped off their guide and headed home. Some studly frontier men (guided by a woman I might add!)!

Beartooth Mountain range off to our left. You can see signs of fire in the mountains – not sure when fire season is but one spark and this place could go up in flames. The Yellowstone River looks fishable yet no one is fishing. You can easily kick up some grasshoppers (there are millions of them!) onto the surface of the water and watch the trout snatch them up! As Jim would do as a kid – sacrificing poor defenseless grasshoppers to the fish. There is no fishing on this trip and a lot of pooiness because of it.

We are closing in our KOA in Big Timber but take one more exit to scope out the town (and to look for McDonalds). A few gas stations, a taxidermist, a real throw back to an era long gone, no McDonalds. Jim says we should have eaten in Billings – a burger in hand is worth bbq in the bush. I kid you not – he said that!

Another view of the river, lots of deer, sheep and possibly sand cranes and a cool cloud formation ahead and his mind leaves lunch and quiets his whining. He’ll have to make due with peanut butter and jelly!

Remember, the intent of an early pull-in was to get organized – well, some of that happened. I did some laundry, we napped, we walked the dogs in a very quiet and empty KOA, then a series of disappointing and frustrating phone calls about our home/property in Alaska spiraled the evening out of control. We had hoped the appraisal of our property and the architectural plans would be better – now we must think of what to do in order to meet our schedule. More hours were spent deliberating over that than organizing. Pooiness increases but still – a better day than what Custer had!!!!

Aug 05, 2012

There's no excuse for us!

A restless night – lots of bling shaking so we peel ourselves out of bed to walk the pups – not much “business” getting done, just lots of sniffing.

We eventually get up at the crack of 8! The latest we’ve slept so far! Molly’s tail has been waggling at full speed and she’s standing on Jim licking his face – c’mon Dad, let’s go, c’mon, c’mon, get up – she’s raring to go! It’s a little overcast and I might say – chilly. People are already heading to the shower in sweatshirts!

Our walk with the wheatens is more like a dance. Pivoting, swirling, turning, spinning, twirling, swinging, arms stretched wide then quickly crossing! Dancing with the Stars is nuthin’ compared to Dancing with the Wheatens! I’d like to see Max take a spin with Molly! Pushinka keeps pulling off in another direction from Molly and Bubis – I think she sees a new Airstream and wants to join that family. That is one sweet ride! I’m sure she’s thinking they’re making breakfast, sitting outside, calmly starting their morning and there’s no wagglebutt sister to bother me – I can sleep in as late as I want! While it looked like animal abuse I had to drag her back to our tin can and the realty that is her life now.

We have time for one google search – Garryowen. Garryowen is an army TERM of friendliness and Garry OwenS is the Laugh-in announcer. Who’s more right??

We really like this KOA. Nice spots, good facilities, few RVs and 1 dog (in the airstream – lucky dog!). We pull out at 10AM! We get the info we need to make a decision on the house so we pull out with clear minds (empty, some would say). 2,263 miles from our previous home; 2,800 to our new one!

Today’s plan is to take a short drive to our next KOA to…do I dare say it?...get organized (but I don’t say it as to not jinx ourselves because with us anything can happen!)

Montana is a very beautiful state but way over used. Hollywood discovered it a few years ago so there is a lot of hate and discontent with the longtime residents. Prices of property have soared (unless we bought here then they would plummet!), fishing has been limited and public access to rivers has been restricted. Lots of litigation in this state.

We’re getting close to Livingston which is where Ernest Hemingway set up home for a while given his love of fly-fishing. We’re listening to Jimmy Buffet who sings about Key West and margaritas, Hemingway also lived in Key West so it all comes together. Allan, no margaritas for me!

We’re passing thru a canyon that is quite windy. Lots of horses on the mountains, many yellow and blue flowers, lots of pine trees – a woman sits by the road with her dog – painting? Writing? Just enjoying the view?

No place to pull off and take pics – although if Montana had scenic pull off areas the entire state would be one. Big dramatic granite faces and large pine trees (many dead ones – probably a bettle infestation) along the mountain.

Time to pull off for gas since we’re down to ¼ tank and gas stations are not close together! Jim says if we don’t stop in Boseman we’ll run out of gas and have to spend the winter here. This causes some concern to Bubis who thrusts his big black licorice nose into the front seat (or maybe it was the donkey we just passed along the road). Kinda like what Dad did to my brother while travelling across country telling him we had no toll money so we’d have to stay on the highway forever (Dad tormented my brother that way). My brother would lunge forward, biting his nails worried that we had no money and we’d never get off the road! Good one Dad, that was always funny! For Bubis’s sake we got gas ($134) at Exxon (our stock soars on this trip!).

Montana Wool Shop – ooohhh – maybe I can pick up some wool and learn how to knit. Jim responds “Yes, Poodums. One pearl, two pearl, oh #$%^&!(*! And it gets thrown across the room. That would be the end of your knitting”. That man knows me too well. Maybe they sell sweaters!

We take the next rest stop to walk the dogs and we get a bonus! Bake sale by the local senior citizens. Jim says I can pick for the family so I get 2 glazed donuts and 1 chocolate chip cookies. HEY! It’s for the seniors (and we are them!)
Off I90 to Rt 287 to Helena – just to experience a “back road” way. The road feels like an earthquake under us! For a few miles the road is under construction and is worse that the excursion at the Badlands. This route allows us to get intimate with the landscape. The view is muted by the low hanging clouds and it’s spitting rain – this is a very straight flat road that goes on forever. Our conversation is more like “tthhhhiiiiissss rrrrooooaaaddddd iiiissss aaaaa liittttttllllleeeee rrrrooouuugggghhhh”
We’re driving along, I’m taking pics (I’m taking pics from a moving vehicle thru the window – aaaccckkkk!), enjoying the sites when Jim asks what mile marker do we turn for the KOA? Mile marker? So soon? We’re not at Helena yet, I responded. He says we’re not going to Helena today – we’re stopping well before that at Townsend (which is what I think we just passed). Hmmmm…I wondered why Jim said we’ll explore Helena tomorrow if we were going thru it and beyond today – not very feng shui and he’s always a feng shui driver! This seems fung shui or some other f word shui. I fear we have passed Townsend, mile marker 70 and our KOA. No place to turn around, still gravel road, lots of construction, the road is full of pot holes, and is narrowing. Ruh-roh! He says if we passed it and have to turn around and re-drive this path then I’m driving! I said “I’ll just drive to Helena” Problem sol-ved! He asked me to call the KOA. I can’t hear anything in this rumbling tin can and what would I ask them? We’re in the middle of Montana on a gravel road, how do we get to your KOA?! I think not. Jim and I re-visit the whole “You should have been looking at the map” and “You should have told me when to start looking” discussion many times each insisting we’re right. I thought we were going to Helena! Bubis doesn’t do well with loud voices so he’s poking his face up front (my brother didn’t like it when Mom and Dad had differences of opinion – generally about Mom’s lack of map reading ability). Pushinka has a very disgusted look on her face as if to say “You are both idiots; I want the family with the airstream”. Molly is jumping back and forth like she’s on a trampoline until she vomits on the Ralph Lauren comforter. Her valve in her throat doesn't close well so this is frequent behavior.

We see mile marker 80! The first one we’ve seen in many many miles! The gravel road turns less bad. Jim says – or I should say chatters - that my only saving grace is that we did not in fact pass Townsend, the mile markers are going down and we don’t have to go back on that portion of the road. That senior citizen donut is not sitting well with me now. I hold my breath – I see crosses on the side of the road to mark victims and think if the mile markers go up, one of those crosses will be mine! Mile marker 79 – I will live to see another day! I pay closer attention pointing out each mile marker and the sign for the KOA. I said, feeling proud of my recent effort that I have helped him as much as I can – he said I did not help at all!
This one in Townsend/Canyon Valley Lake is wide open and quite exposed. Not much grass, no trees and gravel sites (enough of the gravel!) and worst of all….no wifi! But the surroundings were pretty. With no internet connection we have a nightmare on our hands – we can’t print the documents from our bank for our construction loan. Any more delays and we’ll miss the narrow building window in Alaska. Winter comes early at our elevation of 1,500 ft our property gets snow early. The foundation has to go in when it’s dry – and soon! Fortunately we brought a mini mobile office and can take the laptop to the KOA office to connect and check for documents. Of course Jim then has to come back to the RV, print them out, scan them, go back to the KOA office to email them. We can do it! Printer – multiple cables, all hooked up. Scanner – multiple cables – missing one. Rummage thru the boxes (jinxed myself when I said we’re organizing tonight) – it’s nowhere to be found. Undo each box, go thru storage, un do those boxes – nowhere. I don’t understand how everything for our mini office is in one box but this one cable. Jim searches thru more stuff. Everyone else has pulled in, set up camp, sipping cool adult beverages, lighting their bbqs – not us! I suggest re-re-relooking in the office box. Jim says he’s looked thru all the boxes and we don’t have it! At the bottom of the office box I see a bubble wrapped item….oh, but wait Mr. Smartypants…it IS in here! I have redeemed myself! We are, as we say two barely competent people coming together to form a totally incompetent couple. Pushinka looks away in disgust and is convinced she was switched at birth and her real family has an airstream!
All systems are a go! Jim runs off to the office with the laptop, I clean up vomit and the pups nap (they’ve had a hard day). I wish it was as simple as pulling up to an Office Depot as many suggested we do.

As I wait I gaze out onto the Montana landscape – the day has brightened, the sun is sparkling, the clouds hang on the mountaintops and the vistas are huge! Then I see Jim and laptop approach! The email requests we scan some documents – first we must find them. Easy schmeasy – we have everything in folders! But where is that one folder with that one piece of info we need? Not in the overhead boxes, not in the bedroom, maybe in storage! You’re thinking if we just spent the time to get organized we wouldn’t have this drama! We both go to the storage to search those boxes and out of the corner of my eye I see a hairy animal approach – WOLF! I screech (in Jim’s ear who is now quivering he’s so annoyed). It was a playful dog from within the KOA – leash your dogs people! How could I know –we’re in Montana! Papers found, scanned, to and from office, phone calls to confirm receipt, family safe from wolves, time for a nap. You’re thinking we’ll never get organized if we keep napping, you’ll never see pics if we keep napping and those people should not be allowed without adult supervision!

While Jim napped I took a nice walk down to Canyon Ferry Lake – the sun is very bright, no real breeze to speak of, and no humidity. The round trip was probably a mile but even after walking at a brisk pace there was not one bead of sweat! On my way back I noticed the Flamingo Grill so I suggested to Jim we have take-out and we kissed pop tarts, PB&Js and pretzels good bye! And Nutrisystem!

These meals were very yummy – steak burger, fries and a strawberry milkshake. Hey, ya gotta support the local economy! A nice long walk with the pups to digest (Jaime Lee, we really need to talk!), we take in the soft colors of sunset – pinks, orange, blues, and admire the people who are eating bbq’d meals on cloth covered tables with glasses of wine. We prepare ourselves for bed at 8:30. We may not do much right but we have sleep down to a science!! And that is exactly what we do!

Aug 06, 2012

Any day that starts with Verizon can’t be good!
Let’s just say we will cancel our account once we’re settled in Alaska – even if that is the only service in Alaska we still won’t get it! The only they’re trained to do is say “I’m sorry” – in 3 different languages and truthfully I’m tired on pressing 1 for English! If we don’t respond to emails til Monday – which is when they said they could fix the issue – blame Verizon!

The pups are unsettled (Mommy is yelling at Verizon again). Molly has learned to push open the velcro closure on the window covers so a whole new world has opened up to her – the nosiest pup in America. Who wants breakfast?? Molly, the walking stomach, is eager to eat. Bubis will eat even under these tense conditions. Princess Pushinka is very finicky, will wait til the others have eaten then she will check their bowls and even then will turn her nose up on eating from her bowl - she will be hand fed! One big burp from Molly and the wheatens are happy! Let’s walk off breakfast and my anger at Verizon so we can get on our way! This day calls for a long sleeve shirt.

The couple in front of us really have their act together – they served up a nice dinner the night before (we went to bed) on a cloth covered table, then this morning she in her dress (me in khaki shorts with poop bags hanging out and hair dried under the ac vent) and apron and he in his perfectly coifed hair (too easy and I won’t say it), tucked in Orvis shirt and pressed shorts (Jim is some ripped t-shirt and Orvis shorts – yay we have a match!) ate a leisurely breakfast (I yelled at Verizon). Then, piece by piece they put everything back in its place, he washed the windows, she stowed some items and off they drove. Jim said it’s probably not their first time. I said we could learn a few things from them! Another family played badminton while their unleashed dog lay next to their tent. Simple pleasures!

This KOA was only ok – pretty surroundings, not great services, good food, unleashed dogs! Still not knowing the little gizmos that will make RV life easier I do know a broom to sweep out debris, stones and dirt as well as window washer is a good first step (Walmart here we come). Jim is convinced it’s a 36 inch flat screen tv (ebay here we come)!

Entering Helena, the capitol (thought we’d be here yesterday) where Jim wants to scope out a sapphire mine but since Verizon ate up our morning we decide to press on to Philipsburg. First you cost us our service, then my sanity, and now sapphires – damn Verizon!

We see a little more development, services, businesses, casinos, the NBC affiliate (we are NBC fans)….which I guess you’d expect from the state capitol. But no synchronized lights! We are the only RV in town so we wonder if crossing the Continental Divide will be another one of those “Why are we here?” experiences.

Lots of beetle damage to the pines in Helena National Forest – someone will blame global warming or climate change as they now say…Jim says neither; he’s not a believer! With all these dead pine trees this is one big fire hazard! We climb further and further up to 6.325 ft, ears popping! Hello Continental Divide – all the water now flows into the Pacific. Crossing Little Blackfoot River which is not as good anymore due to pollution with mining materials but Trout Unlimited is working hard to restore. Still a fishable river by Jim’s standards.

The bright blue sky is filled with what looks like dollops of whipped cream, the scenery is spectacular, the mountains are covered with green trees – it was so worth the drive over the Continental Divide on Rt12!

Back on I90W towards Missoula (of River Runs Through it fame). A rest stop provides a comedy routine for the local truckers. I go to the back to leash the dogs, Jim goes around to the door waiting for my signal (one trucker says she really must be mad at you if she’s not letting you in – he says you don’t wanna see what’s coming out!). The leashes get tangled, the pups got excited, one leash wraps around me, Jim opens the door, I get tangled with Jim, Pushinka’s leash gets loose, I swing one leg out to stomp it and as one large mass of 5 bumbling fools (2 fools, 3 dogs) we shuffle to the dog walk area. The truckers are now howling with us……or at us? Not our best performance….nor our safest one.

Heading to Philipsburg – got off I90W and are now on Rt1. Pintier Scenic Loop – oh look Sweetums, we love loops! Thru the old town of Pintier - really nothing – scenic, not so much. Why are we going to Philipsburg, Sweetums? Sapphires, he said. Jim cut my engagement ring from a sapphire he dug up in Montana so this excursion excites me! I’d be happy to sit in the RV with the pups while he digs for gems. After all he did it for me at Rushmore….seems fair and not at all selfish on my part.

This 2 lane road brings us thru a lovely valley with big pines, horses, big wooly sheep, cows, farms, fishable streams, and sapphires! When Jim runs for office his platform will be to bury the power lines! A simple but significant stand to take! What a lovelier valley this would be if not for the poles and lines! As someone who would like to take a picture without having to photoshop out the interference I would cast my vote for him! And for so many other reasons!

Philipsburg is a sweet, quaint town filled with shops, restaurants, cafes, galleries, B&Bs – a very old fashioned mining town. We don’t stop – Jim says he wants to come back when we can stroll the street and mine for sapphires together. He was satisfied enough just to see it for now. He had visions of a narrow, undeveloped alpine valley leading to Gem mountain (yes, that’s the name) where for hours you can grab some dirt, sift it and filter it for sapphires – a romantic notion as is his way. It was much more of a commercial operation than expected but we’ll come back.
Back on I90W to Missoula (47 miles) but I start freely handing out directions now so as not to relive yesterday’s experience. Some rafters along the Clark Fork (which Lewis named after him) but no fishermen much to Jim’s surprise. Jim said this place was hopping with fishermen in the 90s – such pristine water and no one is fishing. Not even Jim.

As we drive to Missoula Jim tells me of a huge glacier back in the major ice age that would block the mouth of this valley and water would build up for 100s if not 1,000s of years with 1,000s of gallons. Periodically, the dam would break releasing this water into the state of Washington like a tidal wave washing away all the topsoil in the center of the state, Even now if you look at it from a satellite it would look like a giant streambed. Even the valley in which we’re driving would have been under water. There are supposed to be high water marks in the mountains of Missoula – we will look. Thank you National Geographic for that interesting piece of information and to Jim for sharing it.

East Missoula has some nice homes, a wider part of Clark Fork River – people are rafting, a nice golf course, an airport, University of Montana – go Grizzlies, a conference center, CostCo, REI and also some cow fields on the side of the mountain – an interesting mix!

We see the exit for our KOA and the sign points to places to eat. Taco Time!!! A college favorite of Jims! We don’t know exactly what lane to get into, how many lanes of traffic we have to cross but as we merge, veer and cross Jim exclaims “There it is, Taco Time”! Like a hawk spotting his prey in a field of danger!

Our KOA is back behind a shopping plaza – it doesn’t look very outdoorsy being in the middle of town but we’re pleasantly surprised. A little oasis in the middle of Missoula’s downtown. Of course first order is to walk the 3 hoodlums – they have a fenced yard so they get to romp! Pushinka seems troubled by something so all she does is run in circles and bark. Molly spots a little dog and tries to pick a fight…c’mon, I can take ya you little scrawny schnauzer (until she gets scared and will want to be picked up). Bubis is happy to be peeing. Jim is planning his Taco Time dinner. He now understands why people tow cars behind RVs…not to tour more easily on difficult roads….to drive to Taco Time! I offer the girls at the check in some of my homemade doggie cookies for their dogs and while there I ask about taxis. I do not disclose to where. Jim is all a flutter with my surprise information. I call, she asks to where, I say Taco Time and please wait because you’ll have to bring him back, she will arrive at the KOA in 10 minutes! Jim grabs his wallet and runs off. I’ve never seen him move so fast. He returns in less than 3o minutes. He said he and cab driver had a nice chat about life in Missoula, the weather and then she asked the question all of you are asking “What’s the big deal with Taco Time?” He grabs 4 tacos, Mexican fries, some burrito thing for me and a cherry empanada for dessert. He said (with the exception of my delicacy) was his favorite and regular order! Taco Time offers mild Mexican food that eventually led Jim to trying more elaborate selections like chicken enchiladas. Jim is Norwegian with a delicate tummy so spices are not his friends. I am excited to share this memory with him. He opens each selection and the tacos look ok, the burrito looks tightly packed, and the Mexican fries were….were tater tots!! He was delighted to show them to me, knew they were tater tots and was excited to be reunited with them! Tater tots! Nothing Mexican about them. Then the “piece de resistance” Jim says in his Pepe LePew voice… cherry empanada…which I have to say was yummy. Hey, it’s a college memory that must be relived!

A quick walk of the dogs to the dog park which once again Pushinka runs in circles, Bubis is lost in thought over a scent and Molly, who is now stretching her XL wheaten suit, would rather stay inside and eat dinner (eyeing those tater tots no doubt). It was a quick trip back inside where Jim reads to me about Norman McLean, the author of “A River Runs Through it”, a real life story made into a movie, directed by Robert Redford…a must-see!! A beautifully directed movie Jim describes as trout fly fishing being a metaphor for life. I describe it as a movie with a young Brad Pitt. What’s not to love?! It was set in Missoula...Jim finds info and pictures on the internet and shares more than what the film showed. Jim buys some local Rhubarb wine in the RV store so we toast to Norman, a beautiful film, a tragic end to his brother, Paul (played by Brad – I canNOT watch this part!) and fly-fishing…YUCK, oh my goodness, this wine sucks! It was the thought that counts.
One more trip around the park, once more trip down memory lane, one more amazing day!!...Verizon who?????

Aug 07, 2012

Land yacht on the move!

Only one middle of the night interruption to walk the dogs. Molly HAS to be first so she charges out with Bubis, I quickly follow with Pushinka, the door slams against the side of the RV – another dramatic (and loud) exit. Back to bed – boys in one bed, girls in the other.

I wake up and see Molly’s belly – she is standing on me to look out the front window; Pushinka’s wet snout is to my right. I look over and Jim and Bubis are spooning….I don’t want to know….neither does Bub! I wake up looking like the loser in a WWF wrestling match (wild wheaten federation) - bruises, scratches, bites, broken nails!

We take the little rascals for their morning romp and come across a couple packing to leave who find Princess Pushinka, Prince Bubis and Court Jester Molly adorable! Want them? ….just kidding. The wheatens greet them with exuberance – I apologize in advance for any bruising. It is called the “Wheaten Greetin’” and I don’t discourage it. Dogs have short lives with few pleasures so I indulge ours in every one of them. We keep walking to the park where there are more distractions (due to the setting) so the pups aren’t paying attention to business. Pushinka is still running and crying – maybe missing her toads. Bubis and Molly are more interested in the cat walking down the drive. Back we go where the couple is still amazed at their energy! They could be sled dogs. One Airedale greets us with an aggressive hello so I walk quickly by but Jim is caught in the frenzy. Molly and Bubis have spun him around so many times his legs are wrapped with leashes so now he must walk like a geisha back to the RV until we can unravel him. The couple laugh – as do I.

The Missoula facilities are really nice! The fenced-in dog park was a key feature but the pleasant staff, manicured garden, well-kept pool and dryers in the ladies room put this one over the top! We did not partake of the ice cream social or buffet breakfast (see? We have diet discipline!) but they seemed like huge hits.
Off to the shower where I have my eye on that hair dryer – I have not dried my hair in a week and this is a treat. Thanx to Kalpana it looks great no matter what I do to it – thanx Kalpana! I will miss you!

We pull out and the weather is perfect…wave goodbye to Taco Time, hit I90E then to Rt200 to Great Falls. Crossing Blackfoot River – the river in “A River Runs Through It” – hi Norman! Hi Paul! Brad Pitt had such magical fly fishing skills in that movie – I thought handsome AND outdoorsy…then Jim said he had a stand-in for the really impressive scenes. His stand-in has since passed away – see the movie, really!

Lots of good fishing access along the Blackfoot, many good spots to cast a line – the water sparkles with the sun. Jim is crying he’s so desperate to go fishing and this river looks particularly inviting. The road opens up to a huge lush beautiful valley – not expected. Then the Blackfoot makes a dramatic reappearance and Jim is beside himself! I can’t photograph it (no pull off), Jim can’t fish it, we both lose.

Time to give the hellions a break, I need to take pictures and Jim needs to look out onto the river. A much more graceful performance. We see a guy and his unleashed dog – the dog does his business, the guy calls him and the dog returns. How does he do that? We are amazed! Ms. Buttinsky so much wants to see that dog that Jim is pulling her sideways…no, Dad I want to know what’s going on over there…yes, Molly, over there is an obedient dog! She seems puzzled by the behavior!

The oooohhhs and aaaaahhhs continue as we pass thru this lush large beautiful valley and fishable rivers. You could stop at each fishing access along this stretch of Rt200 and fish for weeks.
I see a sign for Blackfoot River Ranch for sale and I suggest to Jim it might be worth a peek. He says we have to focus on one house and we’re not doing that very well and it wouldn’t give us an escape from the Alaskan winter as Montana gets blistering cold with lots of snow. So, friends…one of you needs to buy property in Montana so we can visit – I know just the place! Although leaving Alaska during their best fishing time to come to Montana would be a tough call.

Passing through Lincoln, Montana – restaurants, saloons, stores, Mooseum, hotels, steakhouses, churches, community garden, library, public school – everything you need, Seems odd to see a town named after Lincoln here since Jefferson was the President who sent out Lewis and Clark to explore this new territory. Lincoln must be of some significance here.

This crossing of the continental divide is scarier than going over it before – very steep grade, 25mph, 2nd gear, hairpin turns – thrilling! Jim would have swallowed the sunflower seeds rather than take his hand off the wheel to spit them out! It’s beautiful, pine trees covering the mountains with deep overlooks below (chains in the winter, good breaks, a smart driver and a calm passenger – all essentials!).

Then we drive into a very dry area – not a tree to be found – a few horses, pockets of black, cream and white cows but mostly yellow grass on mountains for as far as the eye can see. Hundreds and hundreds of acres with black cows sprinkled everywhere. There’s a river valley ahead – finally a speck of green, trees and water. This is the town of Simms where Jim expects to see the outdoor gear distributor. Maybe there’s an outlet. Lots of dilapidated cars, junk busses, old farms and farm equipment – not the Simms Jim was hoping for.

Passing Sun River – another fishable river (but aren’t they all?) and we see some folks playing the water and a guy swimming with his dog. Our dogs don’t swim (even with lessons) so we’ll pass on this activity as their life jackets are in storage.

So far Jim hasn’t met a body of water he didn’t love – stream, lake, creek, ocean, bay, tub – all fishable! Plastic fish with a toy rod works!
I15 coming up, go left which is south to Great Falls – just as I called it! My map reading skills are better than my Mom’s – when I’m looking at it.
This is where we will pre-position ourselves before entering Canada, eh, stock up on supplies and figure out where to stay. KOAs aren’t prevalent in Canada so we’ll have to explore other campground options. We’ll spend 2 days here to complete bank paperwork for our construction loan, make phone calls, send emails, yell at Verizon, and drink all the alcohol before entering Canada. We will turn off and disable our cell phones in Canada so as not to incur large international charges.

Great Falls is very developed! At least this long stretch of 10th Ave. University of Great Falls, fast food places, stores, CVS (shouldn’t have thrown away my frequent bucks card), a mall with Sears, Penny’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond, neighborhoods – heavily congested. The Great Falls KOA is really nice!! Irrigation makes it green in the middle of wheat fields. Lots of trees, flowers, amazing views, great (but tight) lots, a huge grassy area for the dogs, a wonderfully laid out nature trail, basketball hoop – a great choice for 2 nights. As we drive to our site I suppose I forgot what the gal who checked us in said (free cookies! Turn where?) but I point the way with full confidence…except it was the wrong way. KOAs are parallel; one way drives each going the opposite way so that when you pull in head first you can leave in the direction of the exit. I perhaps pointed to the wrong row – I thought she said the one with the arrow - and we found ourselves going down the one way drive the wrong way. There is no spare room on either side at these sites and all we….I….could hope for is that another RV would not turn down our way. We come unscathed and try again going down the correct path – who knew they all had arrows!? She said the green arrow! We make a tight turn because some pig left his RV backend stick out too far and find our lot. Right across from the camp kitchen where they have entertainment and pancake breakfasts! And it’s a quick walk to the dog park! It is SO beautiful here. The KOA has an amazing view of the plains. The sun is intense but the shade is pleasant. Another nap (doing nothing is hard) and off to Walmart to stock up. We scope out some places to visit on our 2nd day – I could spend several days here!

The evening walks are gentle and quiet – that is until we see a bunny…many bunnies! Molly starts pulling so hard she’s hopping just like one of them! I hope that stainless steel o-ring on her harness doesn’t break. She’s already broken one of them – not the fabric that holds the loop – the actual stainless steel loop! Jim holds Molly and Bubis back as best he can while Pushinka and I head in another direction.

The entertainment has started for the evening. We stop and listen to a few tunes – not many people attend. Jim takes the 2 bunny chasers back to the RV and Pushinka and I sit on the slate bench, pick a few raspberries and listen to “Buttons and Bows”. I don’t think this couple has ever heard of Taylor Swift. They play good, old fashioned western music!...emphasis on “good”.

Tonight we will watch “A River Runs Through It” on our laptop. It’ll be the millionth time but it seems appropriate. I make some popcorn (hey, it’s a movie!), turn down the lights, snuggle next to Jim, Pushinka lies next to me, we hit play and…no sound. Jim insists he can fix it, I finish the popcorn, fall asleep, Jim does in fact fix the sound 45 minutes later and we plan to watch it another night. Molly dreams of bunnies, Pushinka of long lost toads, Bubis dreams of chasing cats, I dream of free cookies, Jim dreams of fishing!

Aug 08, 2012

Our 2nd day at Great Falls. This sure beats Morning Rush Hour in Northern Virginia!

Montana is glorious!! The mornings are cool, crisp, clear – 20% humidity at most. When you’re in the sun, you’re comfy; the shade is ~15 degrees cooler and is sweatshirt weather. No frizzies here, ladies! These bath facilities are 5 star!! Large, private, warm, luxurious – we rate them the best so far. Topped off with the KOA pancake breakfast (hey, ya gotta support the local KOA!) and the morning is perfect! I ordered additional bacon so the kids could have a special treat in their breakfast, a nice long walk chasing bunnies - Bubis gets in touch with his inner bear and finds some low hanging branches to rub his butt against; Molly starts to squat but some birds fly out of the bush and she freaks; Pushinka greets everyone with a bark – not Miss Congeniality but we do have a poop-fecta so we are ready to explore Great Falls. Did the wheatens eat all that Activia? First we must find a bookstore to buy The Milepost.

I like sleeping in, having a slow morning, not rushing to the next KOA, wrapping my hands around a hot cup of coffee and watching the KOA empty out. On our way to Barnes and Noble (poor Borders) I wonder if I should break my zen and call Verizon….??...?

After a series of press 1, press 3, press # I discover THEY’RE ON STRIKE! Goodbye…and I’m disconnected. They want more money for this crappy service? I re-dial for billing….4 presses later I get put on hold. I use my time wisely and floss while waiting. I could have had an entire cleaning done in this time! Transfer to another department…back on hold…I could have had xrays too! 1 hour and 42 minutes later (sitting in the Barnes and Noble parking lot) I am told service will be restored in 4 hours. Queen of the telephone, zen broken, back to the RV. Jim hooks up the technology so we can take care of bank documents sent to his work email…..if we relied on Verizon we’d be living in this RV in Homer! Before he hooks us up we take the dogs for a walk – 3 well behaved wheatens. Jim looks down and Bubis has a huge hot dog in his mouth – he is so proud of himself and is enjoying the rich smoky BBQ flavor when Jim rips it out of his mouth! Ya never know! Ah geez, Dad, I found it…can’t I eat it? Then the sprinklers come on (Bubis hates to get wet, sissy boy) and we all run back to the RV – hot dog forgotten.

Documents complete, scanned and emailed and now we must mail them. Where is the post office? I’ll go ask the front desk. Free cookie (I hope they didn’t mean free only upon check-in because I’ve been grabbing one every time I’m in there). 4PM – time to make it to the local post office and fit in some sightseeing! Thank you Verizon for sucking up most of our day with your bad business practices and horrible customer service…and by the way, 4 hours later and still no service…liars!
The Missouri River is wide, rushing and sparkling – fishable as Jim would say. We enter the Lewis and Clark Interpretive center along the river. We try to take the dogs along the trail but decide early on that cactus, rattlesnakes and heat did not make for a good outing (oh sure Lewis could survive but could Pushinka?! Or us for that matter?). Off to see Great Falls…the actual falls that Lewis had to portage around. A few snapshots of the river, the falls and a statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea (she was little). Not the same view now – no buffalo, grizzlies, wolves, eagles – and I’ll bet Lewis didn’t see a power generating plant or a dam!

With The Milepost in hand – a must have for those travelling in North country, especially Dawson Creek through Alaska – we head back to plan our route and stays in Canada, eh. We wanted to make all of the reservations for Canada in the U.S. because phone calls in Canada are so expensive. Jim had The Milepost, I had “RV across North America”, the phone and Pushinka on my lap and we spent the next 2 hours making reservations. We’re spending a lot of time in Canada and we made reservations at all 10 stops! We fist pump our accomplishment! Very nice people those Canadians, eh.

Once done I walked the Nature trail out in the pastures. The sun was setting and the sky was soft with color – pinks, oranges, blue, yellows. A tee pee stood out in the distance and even though I knew it was for the tourists I thought it would make an interesting photo against the field of wheat and golden sky. Plus, I needed to walk off the pancakes and free cookie. I even convinced Jim to take the hike when I got back and he loved it!! Well done, KOA!

Leaving the U.S. and crossing the border will be an interesting experience - I hope the wheatens are on their best behavior, eh! I hope we see some Mounties – but not officially!

Aug 09, 2012

Let's go to Canada, eh!

A full night’s sleep all the way til 6AM! I am sprawled out on the table/bed while Jim is walled off with all of the wheatens (schmearing him with peanut butter really worked!). A 3 dog night perhaps…which means one needs 3 dogs to keep warm it’s so cold. He said his leg cramped trying to break free so he just laid there.

Our morning walk found more bunnies – Molly’s front paws aren’t even touching the ground! The grass is a little wet so Bubis hesitates. Pushinka is consumed with scents. At one point I look over at Jim who is posing like the statue "Winged Victory"...arms spread wide behind him with each dog pulling in a different direction. His shoulders will suffer for this. The morning is bright and chilly – it’ll warm up but for now its long sleeve shirt weather. Unlike DC where if you don’t exercise before 9AM you’ll die of heat and humidity this place has desirable weather all day long – except in winter of course.

Back to the RV for breakfast – Molly’s favorite meal of the day! Or is it dinner? She loves them both - and lots of treats in between! Hey…wait a minute, Mom….yesterday we had bacon in our meal! So I went back to the Kamp Kitchen for 3 strips. Molly and Bubis are quick to eat however Pushinka doesn’t seem interested until we scold Molly for sneaking a bite. It’s as if she enjoys getting her sister in trouble! Each girl has their own eating disorder – Molly, too much; Pushinka, too little. Bubis eats just right!

One more walk in the pleasant grassy area, we unhook and head to Canada! Great Falls was an extraordinary location – we walked the land where Lewis and Clark portaged, we enjoyed perfect weather, we saw some amazing scenery and the pups had bacon bacon bacon!

2,843 miles covered with a few attributed to wandering around town. We have a greater appreciation of this land with an older, more mature eye. When travelling as kids we’d be more interested in getting to the next hotel so we could swim (hence I missed Carlsbad Caverns) or we watched TV instead of looking out the window. Kids now look at videos, play with their Gameboys and text – I sound like my Grandfather! Gosh darn whippersnappers! I suppose I was not different but if I had to do it over again I’d look out the window! The best show in town!

I15N – 6 cars on the road…traffic jam! We did not take the last turn to Glacier National Park – RV, dogs – but we will visit another time.

You can see a country mile from here…or 2 or 3 or 30 miles! Some rain activity to the west, big open fields with what look like volcanic terrain off to the east and a wide open road ahead! These roads are so well maintained! Why is it that the roads in the wealthier eastern states are in such bad shape while this area has terrific roads? Less travelled maybe?

Crossing the Marias River which is…say it with me…..fishable! Mile after mile of kind of flat (kind of boring) terrain then we fall into this beautiful Marias Valley. A quick stop at Shelby for gas and our breakfast – pop tarts and pepsi – breakfast of champions!

Passing through Sunburst, Montana – what a cool name! Someone asks “Where are you from?” Sunburst, Montana – I like it! They must have a lot of alkaline in their water as salt deposits are everywhere – not good for your blood pressure, Sunburst!

Approaching Sweetgrass, Montana where we stop to disable our phones and give the pups a break. The routine is I leash them up, Jim comes around the side, I grab the poop bags and out we go. Today I grab especially nice poopbags taken from the Lewis and Clark Center – they are like gloves that have a heavy duty lining. Mutt Mitts! For those discerning poopbag users these are worth buying - or taking!

I’m a little nervous approaching the border not knowing what to expect and how thorough a search they’ll do (if they find that tequila, Allan you’re taking the fall!). What if they use German Shepards to search the RV? How will the dogs react? Do they have guns? Last turn back before the border – Customs ahead – bye bye U.S.A.! We somehow feel like criminals yet we are good people! Inspections make us nervous – what if they misinterpret my unlabeled Benefiber for drugs (also not working)? Animal inspection station???? Jim tells me to chill – thousands of people do this every day…but they are not us!

We stop…Arret as they say in French. And we wait…which I forget how to say in French in spite of my high school classes. We approach the guard gate. He asks our license plate and we don’t know it (it’s a rental!; I run around to check). He points out we did not sign our passports which does not make them valid but he sees they belong to us. We tell him 2 adults and 3 dogs, we came clean with the alcohol, no tobacco, reason for travelling through seemed reasonable, length of stay was acceptable, didn’t even look at the dog papers – all good, passport stamped, in we go at 100 kilometers per hour – what the heck does that mean? Darn metric system – what’s next? Currency exchanges? All that drama in my head for nothing. We fist pump and giggle at our success at crossing the border. It looks like Montana…tee-hee. Just a few short 300 years ago it was all the same – no border, no checkpoints, no passports – no one owned it but the various Indian tribes. Jim wonders if the Canadians are kicking themselves for not getting Alaska. I think Canada is big enough without it. Roadside Turnouts are equivalent to our Rest Stops – not as nice and not named like the ones in New Jersey.

We enter Lethbridge and look for Bridgeview RV Park. We approach Mayor Macgrath Drive with Mr. Mike’s on the corner…hmmm…I wonder. Turn on Park Drive I say – the gal at the RV park gave me directions which I scribbled in the Milepost. Looking for Park drive along what is a busy street. Park…Park…eyes peeled…..OOOHHHH…Parkside Drive…turn here!! Missed it. A RV can’t turn on a dime….a 50 cent piece perhaps. Jim said I need to pronounce the entire word when giving him directions. Park and side together! He’s going too fast – I blame him. We need to pull off somewhere to make a U-turn then look for Parkside. Then what?, he asks; what other words will you withhold? We head down Parkside looking a sign but we get to the end of the road and we see nothing. We then pull into some sort of station or store to make another U-turn and I go in to ask. We’re not too far off but we’d never have found it without his help. We re-trace our steps up Parkside and turn right alongside a race track. Follow the signs to campground and we see it….but its Henderson Lake campground. What???? I look at my notes and we should be at Bridgeview! I know I made the reservation at Bridgeview and these are the directions so why are we here? I walk in and admit my shame….she says “Oh, I spoke with you yesterday, you’re Denise from the States (my reputation precedes me!). Yes I have your reservation”. I am clearly confused but relieved. If the others in Canada are this difficult to find we’re in big trouble! I think I'm in big trouble no matter what. We settle in and I start some laundry. I don’t have loonies or twonies (Canadian money) so I head into the office for change. Not only for laundry but for showers and internet access….it’s an ala carte menu here for services! Did you know the exchange rate sucks? The Canadian dollar is worth more than the U.S dollar! U.S dollar is worth 95 cents to a Canadian dollar – unbelievable! Our dollar took a 35 cent dive since 2009. A little nap, a snack, we add some pictures for you to follow along (sorry they may not follow exactly and they are not labeled but it’s us, life in a RV, traffic in Chicago, Corn Palace, Mt Rushmore, Badlands, Little Bighorn, and the pastures and skies of Montana), a few walks with the pups before the park fills up then crawl over the exhausted wheatens to find a little space for us to sleep, eh.

Aug 10, 2012

A&W - awesome and wonderful!

Good morning Canada, eh! An early wakeup call by the wheatens at 5:30 AM but they quickly do their business and we all go back to bed. We’re all a little tired. At one time all were with me then they all jumped the Mothership to sleep with Dad. A cool, clear, crisp morning, dogs fed (one piece of leftover bacon), coin operated shower, a quick walk (Jim didn’t like the looks of one guy hanging out by the ladies room so we were quick), and off we go at 9:45. A lot later than we wanted but we also wanted our sleep. As we leave Lethbridge we see signs for the Henderson and Bridgeview campgrounds! How could we have missed them? Why didn’t she tell us to go that way? Off to Calgary on Highway 3 then Highway 2.

The difference in RV parks is dramatic – the Canadians are heartier than us. No recreation, no water parks, no fenced in dog parks, fees for services, no kamp kitchens, no pancake breakfasts. This one is older with token operated showers, token operated wifi, skeevy – although there was a nice park with a nice trail around a lake – that we saw on our way out!!

Finally the mountains reveal themselves! We see signs for “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump” which according to the Milepost is the oldest, largest and best buffalo jumps in the world. Here, plains people stampeded buffalo over a 1,000 foot/305 mile long cliff to their deaths (buffalo, that is) for nearly 6,000 years. A practice that fed families all year long but would not be tolerated these days – animal cruelty!

Passing into Ft Macleod and picking up highway 2. Fort Macleod is a historic area in Alberta but what do we visit? Extra Foods… buy bacon for the dogs. Not exactly historic but important for the now-spoiled-by-bacon-in-their-breakfast wheatens. My first visit to a Canada grocery store and I tour it like a museum. I love seeing what other areas carry – perhaps see some local favorites and new brands, maybe a favorite from years past that the U.S. did away with but Canada still carries – oh how exciting that would be! I’m easily entertained. We take a quick peek at Fort Macleod – a replica of the original. I jump out to look through the fence, Jim tells me not to get arrested but there’s nothing to see unless we pay an admission fee and with the RV idling with 3 wild wheatens inside I decide not to go in. I get a glimpse of the Mounted Police – was that Dudley Do Right I saw?

Jim litters Canada with sunflower seeds – he says they’re biodegradable. I hand him my empty activia container – at least it’s good for something!

This area of Alberta is very flat – mountains off in the far far distance. They even bale their hay in the median strip – good use of land, Alberta! A truck drives by – Commercial Vehicle Enforcement. Inside what they call Peace Officers….the world should have more of them.

This highway has no overpasses, no long on ramps, railroads that go across so traffic goes driving straight across and trains go speeding by as vehicles go 100kmph – 60mph. Kind of disconcerting but it makes for a prettier skyline. Can you imagine the Springfield mixing bowl not having overhead passes?

Roadside turnouts have turned out to be pull offs with trash barrels – no facilities, no safe place to walk the dogs, no literature, no friendly greeting, no photo opportunity – c’mon Canada, you give your citizens free health care but you can’t invest in a nice rest stop?

Trying to make it to Calgary without too much hassle – with a million people we think it’ll be more congested. It seems like yesterday Calgary hosted the winter Olympics yet it was 1988!
City Centre (not Center) approaching – lots of high rises, smog, very modern. Crossing Bow River which is trickling ever so gently as we enter the outskirts of Calgary. Cows are grazing nearby. Moo, eh.

The inner city is still far off in the distance but traffic is heavy on highway 2 – which is called Deerfoot Trail. Merge lanes seem fairly well engineered as well as safe and clear for oncoming traffic. We swear the engineers who designed roads in Virginia hate drivers.
Major bridge construction, major delays so we sit. The lady on the GPS we purchased comes on and says “Traffic ahead” – how does she know? And where did she come from all of a sudden? And shouldn’t she say “Traffic ahead, eh”?

Not much room on the roads in this construction area but if the big trucks can do it then so can we. Good job, Sweetums! End of construction, that was quick, traffic eases up, we’re back up to speed at 100kmph.

The Calgary skyline is an interesting collection of architecture with tall skyscrapers, a tower that looks like Seattle’s space needle, and housing developments. I don’t dare ask to tour Calgary – I like being married too much. As soon as the city skyline appears it quickly fades back into green pastures. Jim fills his mouth with sunflower seeds and looks forward to the open road to Red Deer.

Another area of minor construction and 3 lanes go into 1. Jim’s dislike of road pigs has not diminished since leaving Virginia so he makes it difficult for latecomers who drive up along the side and wait til the last second to cut in. If Stuey was with us he’d offer them a finger. I worry about Stuey’s new commute now that we’re not there with our hybrid to drive him in – poor ol’ Stu!

The Alberta Provence – they call it “Wild Rose Country”. I haven’t seen a rose – wild or otherwise.

Molly has propped her head behind Jim and I feel Bubis’s not so sweet warm breath next to my ear – I move in closer for a kiss but he is stingy with his kisses coming late to the game – he shares a few gentle ones. Little Pushinka is lying on her bed away from the commoners – what a drama queen – I wonder who she gets it from? They all anxiously await a potty break. There is definitely a lack of facilities (mostly they are southbound) for dogs and humans alike. If that activia kicks in now I’m in big trouble.

A truck hauling some big-ass tires and another towing a house (hey, we could have done that!) – ya don’t see that every day. 30-wheeler not 18-wheeler trucks pulling very large loads!
Jim says when we get to Edmonton there will be heavier traffic and some delays. I thought we were stopping well ahead of Edmonton. I look at the map but I can't follow what he's saying. He said that’s for tomorrow – thinking ahead, always planning. No wonder I’m confused!

Co-op Gas gives a grassy place for the pups to wander but the doors are locked for us (special co-op card required). I hand Jim another pepsi to increase his desire to pee and off to Red Deer we drive.

Innisfail – home to Canada’s Police Dog Training Center...oh, I mean Centre. Pushinka seems very interested in learning official attack techniques as she frequently has to discipline her out of control sister. Molly rolls over and Pushinka lunges for her throat - very adorable, don't you think? Pushinka loves doing it.

Jim is curious why this area is so green with lots of trees and grass. He searches for a map to see if the Rocky Mountains pull away thereby allowing more rainfall in this area. Must you do that while you’re driving? Can’t this wait til we’re stopped? I look at the map for him and sure enough they do pull away – which is why we won’t be re-re-crossing the Continental Divide for miles/days. Chuck Bell would have proud of Jim’s reason for weather!...but not of his unsafe driving!

Passed the Pentagon Farm Center – What office funds farms?! Is that funded with RDT&E, O&M or Procurement? Questions that will only make sense to my Pentagon friends! Hi everyone - get back to those drills and impossible deadlines!

We see Gasoline Alley – the perfect place for gas, fast food, the Donut Mill – Jim’s mouth is watering and we’re hungry. He spots an A&W restaurant – Home of the Burger Family. He’s already telling me his order and is quite excited. We pull off, navigate back thru the facilities and we see the gas stations are blocked off, restaurant lights are out, parking lots are empty – NO POWER! Jim is crushed! No tanks or tummies will be filled here. Jim feels the whole world has turned against him – all he wanted was a stinkin’ Mama burger (whatever that is). A man can’t live on sunflower seeds alone. Jim is pooey. We drive on.

There is no litter here – maybe because every pull off has a big litter barrel – which is the only service they provide. It makes for nice clean roads – a nicer sight than soda cans, potato chip bags and fast food bags (hey…that’s the inside of our RV!). We also notice there is no roadkill here…NOT the inside of our RV! Clean, nevertheless. We stop at Husky Gas – 108.9 cents a liter. You do the conversion.

Highway 2A is an off-the-beaten path, 2 lane road – a totally unexpected surprise – much different from the area around Calgary – less travelled, lush, big swaths of bright yellow and green, wide open.

3,282 miles. Jim shares that if we drove straight across the country we’d be in the Pacific Ocean now. Not his finest fun fact!

Entering Ernineskin, an Indian reservation with a gas station called the Bow and Arrow. Now entering Wetaskiwin, home of our next RV camp and Jim is excited about seeing the oldest water tower in Canada…NOT! Let us not shortchange Wetaskiwin! He finds nothing desirable about this location until he sees… A&W – this is now Paradise! We drive past our RV road and head straight to the A&W. He gives me his order of a Mama Burger with lettuce and tomato with mustard, fries and what else? A root beer! I have never been to one but a spicy mama sounded good. I notice the mama burger has goop that Jim would never eat so he requires a special order with nothing of what’s on it and extra of what’s not. By the time I get the bag back to the RV its sopping wet with grease. Jim says “Excellent”! We sit in the RV enjoying our special lunch while Jim relives his childhood experience when his family would drive from Washington State to Illinois to visit relatives. His Dad would always stop at A&Ws. Jim’s special order would take longer – even as a kid he was high maintenance. Jaqi, pls confirm! Stopping at A&W was a refreshing treat after driving in a hot car and now, even while cooler, the treat is just as special. He was disappointed to know that Col Sanders bought out A&W in the U.S. and discontinued the food but was thrilled to know Canada still has them! You should never besmirch a town until you uncover all of its hidden treasures…A&W included! Mine was exceptionally tasty – better than all else with yummy sauce and spices. The root beer was cold and served with no ice to dilute it….and you get more….brilliant! A mama burger, lettuce, and tomato….it’s practically a salad! It was another fond fattening memory for Sweetums. Jimmy was happy.

We checked into the Wetaskiwin Lions RV resort (oooohhhh) with little problem. This is a lovely setting with a Trout Unlimited pond. Catch and release although we will not try today. After a spritz of much-need bug spray we walk the wheatens around the pond – or as our “neighbors” point out – they walk us. Pushinka quickly found her way into the pond up to her “knees” and it was a challenge keeping her out. Since it dropped off quickly and was deep I worked hard to keep her safe but also gave her enough leash to have fun. Back to the RV – “pause for paws”. Pushinka knows she has 4 of them and kindly lifts up each one for her servant to clean and dry. Did the Canadians wipe Princess Kate’s feet when she was here? With no wifi and with rain and thunder starting we resurrect the movie idea, hug Bubis and sit down to watch “A River Runs Through It”. …with sound! The scenes of Montana mean even more to me now and I have to say…I miss them. I can’t wait to wake up to that kind of majestic beauty every day in Alaska. One can feel very small against the enormity of Mother Nature.

I pull out my earphones when Norman has to go to the Police station one last time and re-engage when the family sits in church, now with grandkids. That movie still makes me cry but now with so many more reasons.

Reliving yummy mama burgers, beautiful Montana and favorite movies make it another memorable day!

Aug 11, 2012

Wait! What is that I hear?

It’s pouring a chilly rain with dark skies. I snuggle under the covers when Jim announces we’re pulling up camp and getting out of the storm. Another long driving day so we should start early – does this tin can have heat? Press the button for the coffee! We brought our own coffee maker with our favorite beans so we can make fresh, hot coffee first thing – it is really coming in handy today! Bubis does not like this weather! Molly helps herself to the insides of the trash bag and Pushinka props her head on my pillow looking out from the covers. This is the first bad weather we’ve had to start the day in the entire trip.

The following conversation mixed up so many numbers it would confuse our accountant and Sacajawea!:

J: What roads do we take to Edmonton?
D: 2
J: Then we look for 16?
D: No, 43
J: But it’s really 16.
D: It starts out as 43 then it turns into 16
J: Is that the bypass?
D: No, that’s 19 to 60 to 43
J: THEN does it turn into 16?
J: I’m sweating.

Just as my Dad would do when he got frustrated with Mom’s map reading ability, I throw the map in the back seat for the kids to read. I’m sure Pushinka will figure it out. Bubis has his paws clasped and I hear him woofing 3 Hail Mary’s. Molly would like to shred the map!

Rt60 comes up just as someone said - I forget who. Maybe it was the woman on the GPS! Jim still seems concerned about the directions – he says he’s been lost with me so many times so far that he’s double checking. I don’t think we’ve been lost; we’re just not where we want to be! I reassure him with multiple references to the Milepost that we are going the correct way – even though I was secretly wondering why the book said Rt16 and the road sign said Rt16A. What happened to Rt43? His concern remains high, asking me to check the map constantly and look for cities that are not in the Milepost. I tell him we’ll see the sign for Rt43, don’t worry. He worries.

Bear right for Rt43, Dawson Creek! Yay me! Jimmy’s happy….til the next route change.

The sky now requires sunglasses! We pass “Onoway”. Jim amuses himself by saying “O, no way!” Better yet, “O, no way, eh!” “O, no way, eh. Way!”. This routine went on for miles! This town has dentists, churches, vets, restaurants, car washes, grocery stores, museums…o, no way! Way! I get swept up in his silliness.

We were expecting to see some mountains or at least foothills by now – this area is very pretty looking much like Wisconsin but not as heavily forested. Contented cows were lying in the grassy fields, contented wheatens lying in the back of the RV.

Even though the Alaska Highway doesn’t officially start til Dawson Creek for all intents and purposes we are on it. This is the Super Bowl, the World Series, the International Synchronized Swimming Championship all rolled into one for Jim. He has dreamt of crossing the Alaska Highway since he was a kid – reading about the adventures in Outdoor Life magazines, visualizing traveling along with extra tires on the roof of his truck because the road was in such rough shape it would eat the car alive, so to speak. He often thought of escaping to Great Slave Lake to fish for a record breaking northern pike. This is what Pacific Northwest boys longed for. I, as an eastern girl, had no idea it existed. Where is Macy’s?

We stop at what looks like a nice pull off – sweatshirts off, sunglasses on, a slice of zucchini bread (hey, it’s a vegetable!), grab another bag of sunflower seeds, lasso up the kids and take them for a walk! They all got a chunk of salmon stick for being so good. We are working with Bubis…Gen-tle, Gen-tle…he’ll take a finger off! Molly leaps and snorts like a pig while grabbing hers. Pushinka sniffs hers then eventually takes it. Molly zooms in for the crumbs! A little pitstop for us as well – Jim tells me it’s an outhouse so be prepared. This is a test for how long someone can hold their breath! Oh, please activia don’t start working now! And it doesn’t. How much do I get back if I fail the 10 day challenge, Jamie Lee?

We pass a billboard for Super Dog treats enriched with Elk Antlers….maybe I should add that special ingredient to my Banana Peanut Butter Woofles!
Whitecourt, Alberta: Gas is a little more expensive, temp is 18 degrees Celsius, a nice aquatic centre, pretty walking trails, a lovely community.

Jim is intrigued by how wide and long the Athabasca River is and also what kind of fish are in there. Jim is convinced it’s fishable. The road is lined with birch and pines and the hope of seeing a moose….we’re out of the farming country and into deciduous trees. Here moosey moosey….
I wonder if the Verizon strike is over – we have no email service with them so if you’ve not heard from us and your emails get kicked back continue to blame Verizon. We are in an information vacuum – no Iphone, no tv, no internet in places, not much radio to speak of. It’s like we’re in a time warp! We search for a Canadian radio station and there are 2 – and they are both the same. Some weird music but we don’t have…..MOOSE!!!!!!!! We spot a moose.

3,500 miles entering Fox Creek, Alberta; gas prices go up even further to 116 cents per liter.
With no time for breakfast I think the pups are hungry. Molly pokes her face up front and kisses my face – probably not out of affection but in hopes I’ll regurgitate my mama burger (as mama dogs do in the wild). I disappoint her.

It’s the Merchandise Hour on the radio….I change the channel and it’s the Merchandise Hour on the other station. People call in to sell their goods and first up is a woman selling a 30 foot boat for $35,000 OBO. Jim, put down the phone! I put a CD back in.

We pull into Valleyview a little early (still not awake from our early departure) so we tour the city and find an A&W – lunch! I am hooked! We find a liquor store and head to the RV park. A long gravel path – scenic and restful, full services. We’re in a routine now where I check us in, we pull into our spot, Jim hooks up water and electricity (which means AC and popcorn), I leash up the pups, he comes around to the side and the kids explode out the door! 16 legs get exercise. Since we arrive early there are few RVs and dogs so we have full access to the park. Our walks have not gotten any more controlled though. Pushinka finds something to roll in – Mom, I want to smell like a bunny; they all find some door to sit in front of as if they think it’s their new home; if there’s something to chase they chase it; leashes still get tangled, Jim’s body parts still go in unnatural ways; all tugging in excitement of new smells! I think they have taken the poop quota for the family. Pushinka is quite shy, Molly exuberantly kicks and spins sometimes turning a full 360 degrees, Bubis quietly does his business then prances on. Tonight we see a few people around the site so we are getting dragged around. Most RV people like dogs and they enjoy seeing our 3 come at them. A few have a wheaten story of their own. Pushinka, Molly and Bubis must be tired of seeing only us so when new friends appear they run, jump and greet with joy! Everyone is a friend to a wheaten…except a few kids…yipes…they are terriers after all.

I love our evenings at the RV park. They are calm, quiet and relaxing. We’ve had a pressure-packed, stressful, activity-filled couple of months so it feels nice to sit quietly with a margarootie (yes, Allan we had to buy more tequila!), read a magazine, play with the dogs, nap, play on the computer and go to bed early. So much different from our lives up to 10 days ago. Interpersonal and sensory overload!!

Wait…what IS that I hear?? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Aug 12, 2012

BC here we come!

The night brought some pretty severe thunder, lightning and storms. Poor Bubis climbed on Jim’s head for comfort. I think I slept through most of it. Lots of crying, hopping, shaking at 6AM – terriers are persistent, if anything! The storm passed and it’s a cool, clear morning. Pushinka pulls me to the very spot she eyed earlier – obsessive too! Who says dogs have short memories? She and I run through the grass like we’re contenders in “Best in Show” – she prances with such a beautiful gait that I’m sure she’s expecting the blue ribbon. Bubis focuses on a blade of grass – you can’t get much more scent out of that, buddy. Back to bed when Pushinka’s crying begins again. There’s no crying in a RV! She seems very troubled by something so she must check it out – Nurse Pushinka to the rescue! I guess we’re up for the day! Another walk – dragged back to the same spot, sniffed the same blade of grass and all turn to watch someone walk from the bath to their RV – nosey too! Showered, fed, walked, (again) and we’re ready to go. Maybe the activia 10 day challenge is in metric days, Jayme Lee. Jim decides to clean up the front. I sweep the back (a broom - what a handy gizmo that is!) and the kids all look out the front. I hear a loud, deep growl and Molly jumps away. I suppose the kid got too frisky for the old guy and Bubis had to put her in her place. No one gets to look out the window after that! Much like me and my brother – it was always his fault so I’m sure Molly was innocent and Bubis was to blame. This RV park was nice – big grassy areas, ok facilities, quiet, nice people and wifi. Sherks RV Park – try it if you’re in Valleyview.

Off to Dawson Creek (239Km) in British Columbia – have never been there before! A short drive today. The morning (9:45) is sunny, warm and mostly clear. RV drivers are now waving to us like we’re one of them – and we are!

The road construction workers look of Athabascan descent. The moose have been pushed back off the road given the amount of clearing done. Lots of birch trees cut down. Jim is wondering how many logs he can fit into this RV. We have taken many excursions to pick up exotic woods, we have shipped it all across country multiple times, our friends have moved his collection from house to house, and finally he’ll have an opportunity to build something with it in Alaska. I hope our koa wood dining room table – I’ve waited 15 years.
The construction on this road is for “twinning” – building another 2 lane road just like the one already in existence. Twinning Rt 43 – those Canadians have words for everything, eh. The workers have to dig well below the permafrost level to lay the roadbed or else they’ll have frost heaves in the winter. Maybe this is where those big-ass tires were coming.

This part of Rt43 looks like Minnesota – a little more open, fewer trees, well-manicured areas, very neat, broad and flat. Entering Grande Prairie and we can see why – it is grande and it is a huge prairie. Large fields of yellow which Jim discovered is canola – a hybrid of rapeseed developed as a lower cholesterol oil seed. I feel my LDL lowering already. But it’s also a big city beyond the grassland – population over 50,000.
The main part of the city is booming with industry – agriculture, forestry, oil – very diverse. Oh my! The road ends – no warning; it just ends. The Milepost says to take the bypass. What does this mean? Do we take a turn like all others are? We follow, plug in the GPS, she says nothing, I say nothing. OH…I see the sign to pick up Rt43 but it’s too late – Jim has already pulled up to the light and miss the veer off to the right. You should have …ooh, there’s Petsmart!! Jim now has to find another place to make a U-turn for the land yacht.

That sucked as a bypass! You’ll be getting a letter from Jim. As Jim rants about the bypass a big black things thumps into the windshield! HE KILLED A BIRD! He said he didn’t do it on purpose but the end result is still the same! He said he couldn’t swerve the behemoth vehicle out of the way fast enough, KILLER! Jim swears it was “sparrowcide”.

I’m so traumatized by the bird I lose track of where we are in the Milepost – Molly and Bubis come up to comfort me. I point out that the little bird would still be alive if Jim made the turn when I told him to. He said since I did not call out the turn soon enough that it’s my fault the bird is dead. Stop talking and drive.

Entering Beaverlodge where we are greeted by a 15 ft beaver perched on a 19 ft log. I took a picture but will not post it – it’s not really Mother Nature. Population 2,264 – does that include the beaver?

I take advantage of the slower speed limit to go back and refresh our beverages. It takes a bit of balance to walk back to the “kitchen” while moving. I love the pups a bit leaving a big pink kiss on each then back over the baby gate. This takes coordination and maneuvering….and a frequent bunk to the head. One leg over, straddle gate, twist, hit head, next leg over and on the seat, turn, tuck, sit, life leg over console, face front and buckle up. Jim then realizes he’s not wearing his watch and asks me to go back for it. I said no.

Entering British Columbia Province – a new Province for us! BC is on Pacific time so we gain an hour. 3,683 miles covered. We continue our lack of understanding of the map and directions as we enter Dawson Creek and try to find Northern Lights, our RV park. Going through town on the weekend of thier popular festival was challenging – parades, rodeos, crowds – and it was coupled with not knowing where we were going (again). We hesitate at each light, turn and sign. We finally give in and ask for directions – Jim gets in touch with his feminine side. We are only 1 mile away! A big gravel lot – Pushinka protests. We find our spot, give the dogs a quick walk - Pushinka walks but quickly comes to a halt refusing to go any further – she bucks and wants to go back – this is not blue ribbon behavior!; all pups stop walking…a mutiny!

Let’s go explore the town! Must get gas first – WOW – 126.9 cents a liter – the highest yet. Many familiar places throughout town – Walmart, fast food places, gas stations, visitors centre and a Shoppers Drug mart – I wonder if they sell drugs we can’t buy in the U.S.! Dawson Creek is not at all what we expected. We were expecting a more Northern Exposure or Philipsburg (of sapphire fame) look to it but it was not that at all. It was a normal town – if “normal” meant rodeos and cowboy hats. Dawson Creek has significant historical significance – a railhead important during the construction of the Alaska Highway, completed in 1942. Mile 0 starts here! It also has a curling rink – Olympics here we come (with a little bit of practice – especially with the sweeping technique I’ve been perfecting lately). We tour the city one at a time, visit the museum where they have an interesting historical photo gallery of the Alaska Canada highway (ALCAN) construction. We asked a gal at the Visitor centre to take our picture at the entrance to the World famous Alaska Highway (posted under Dawson Creek). She enjoyed meeting the wheatens and they her. Dawson Creekers drive by as if it was nothing – much like we did the Washington Monument after years of living in DC. Very few tourists stop even though it’s a significant photo opp for us!

Beautiful British Columbia (as called on their license plate) sells really expensive pizza! Which you knew Jim was going to have eventually – it’s been 2 weeks – he’s so strong. Jim is craving pizza so we stop at Boston Pizza; I place the order – the usual, a large with 3 toppings. She rings it up and announces it will be $42. Hmmmm….seems high I say. She tries a different way of entering it then the manager tries telling me toppings are expensive…no kidding! The new way brings it to $36. Boston Pizza is almost 4 times more expensive than Pizza Hut! This better be the best pizza we’ve ever had and don’t even think about dropping a slice of olive cause that costs 75 cents! “Lunch and Learns” could never afford this! It was pretty good but not great. We’ve been in Dawson Creek for 3 hours and we’ve spent a fortune! Gas, pizza and cigars – hey, they’re Cuban. I suggest they change their license plate to “Expensive British Columbia”.

The neighbors in the RV park ask about where we’re from and where we’re going – they ask us over for a beer – nice, friendly folks in RV communities. Little do they know they’re right next to a killer!

Molly finds a pillow to lie down on (if there’s a way to increase her comfort she takes it), Bubis shakes a little from what we don’t know and Pushinka is sitting across from me thumping her paw. She slams her paw down as if summoning me to pet her. Pay attention to me! Molly has picked up on this and adds a quiver. Bubis is not as demanding as the girls….dogs and people are alike that way.

The AC feels good inside – it’s hot outside, if it stays clear we may see the northern lights – which would be appropriate given the RV park where we’re staying. I go outside to check and discover someone has removed our picnic table. Each site has a fire pit and a picnic table. Ours is gone. We don’t have much so leave us our picnic table! It’s not like we use it but it belongs to our site…and us. And we thought these people were nice! Jim is perturbed so when we go on our walk he searches for a site with an extra table. I think he’s ready to pick a fight. It’s the site with 2 RVs and a barking spaniel. So now I have Jim who wants to “put ‘em up” with some guy AND the dogs who want to go 3 rounds with the spaniel! Molly is convinced she can kick some spaniel butt! We continue our walk (without any fights) and the night is pleasant. Pushinka is having trouble with the gravel – no private place for her. We continue walking and see a Mother and young child. Oh good – wheatens LOVE kids…especially when they can knock them down and obsessively lick their faces! There is something about the scent of a child that disturbs Pushinka. We go around the potential law suit and back to our RV. We kick back with a margarootie and call it a night.

Jim killed a bird, Molly wanted to attack the spaniel, Pushinka wanted to hurt the child…I’m sleeping with one eye open!

Aug 13, 2012

A wish come true!

A bright, cool, refreshing morning in BC – very low humidity – one would say dry. A good sleep without our usual 6AM wake-up call. Picnic table returns! At 7:30 we’re all ready to wake up. These shower facilities/bathrooms are the best! It costs 1 loonie for 3 minutes but this is the best investment we’ve made – definitely worth it. Glass encased showers in private clean modern bathrooms. A wonderful 3 loonie experience – pizza was 36 loonies. Molly was especially rowdy trying to provoke Pushinka enough to invite a rumble. Pushinka was not interested and didn’t take the bait. A nice quiet walk around the gravel – 5 poops for 3 dogs – am I feeding them too much? I know we’re feeding us too much! Off to stock up on a few supplies before hitting the Alaska Highway. We start at Mile 0, fist pump then start our journey. Donned in my Alaska sweatshirt, moose socks (thanx Kathleen) and enthusiasm we head to Alaska! Traffic into BC was heavy – must be all for their big festival this weekend – the weather is spectacular for it! The land stretches out for miles – green, lush, tall trees, hay and fields.
The road we’re travelling on was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Canada. From the photos, the conditions were horrendous; clothes provided by the Army were insufficient for the cold, snowy, muddy weather; and the guys looked weathered, rough and haggard. Construction workers today have it a little better.

Jim thinks the drive from Key West (most south) to Prudhoe Bay (most north) with the pups of course would be great fun. There’s not enough activia for that! There’s some construction on the highway and we’re behind a big blue truck. Jimmy’s complaining. A few miles of this and the truck goes off to the side to let us pass. Not only does the road open up but so does the view – we enter a majestic, breathtaking view – a deep cut into the mountain and a flowing river below. 2nd gear down a 10% decline. Over a few frost heaves – didn’t lay the roadbed below the permafrost, guys – and rumbles. Is that the smell of burning tires and breaks?

Crossing the Peace River. This river ends up flowing north into the Arctic Sea. This bridge is an engineering marvel – crossing this river was one of the first challenges faced by the construction workers. A goal met in 1943. We blink and we’re through Taylor. More construction and we stop 2 more times behind many trucks and cars. Jim thinks I should use this opportunity to get sunflower seeds for him to chew on while we wait. This is not the Alaska Highway experience we were hoping for.

We enter Fort St John – the first field headquarters for the U.S. Army engineers working on the eastern sector of the highway. Now it’s a booming oil and gas city with everything from boutiques to chain stores (Macy’s?), gas, fast food, and every service you might need. I suggest we stop at the Visitors Centre to get free coffee and passes to the local attractions – Jim says no. Paybacks are hell.

The Milepost calls out historical events along the highway regarding the workers, highway construction, what each town provided the workers and sadly memorials to tragedies.

A truck with a loose St Bernard in the open bed flies by – idiot! Dangerous – I don’t care about the driver, the dog could get hurt! A stop at Shepard’s Inn for a quick walk and a cinnamon roll (hey, the Milepost says it’s a must stop). We stop and chat with a woman walking her baby and goldendoodle – a bigger, blacker, long tailed version of a wheaten. Same sweet face, same energy. The woman said “brrrrrr” when I told her we’re moving to Alaska. She said winter gets down to 40 below in her area but Alaska just sounds colder. Homer is on the water so we will not be enjoying the 40 below temperatures say of Fairbanks or at mile 72 of the Alaska Highway!
Jim spends at least $12 in gas passing a truck so he can have a clear road ahead. He didn’t come all this way to look at the back of a truck! Good job, Sweetums. Open highway, white puffy clouds dotting the blue sky, green tree-lined road, lots of low lying bushes and fireweed appearing for a splash of pink – here moosey moosey. Another picture through the dead bugs on the windshield. There really is not a good place to stop so this is the best we can do.

The road gets steeper, rougher and curvier – 2nd gear, reduced speed. Oh look! Jersey barriers to keep us from plummeting to our deaths. Hold on kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride! The clouds have taken over the majority of the sky and off in the distance we see mountains – I hope when we cross them they have jersey barriers!

We hit a pothole – no, it was longer and wider than a hole! It covered the lane and there was no way around it (or out of it). I read highlights in the Milepost to Jim (and the kids – they have a “What did you do for your summer vacation” report due at the end of this) at full voice because the road noise is so loud! Jim wonders why they just throw…baBOOM!, Holy Expletive!...another pothole…gravel down instead of packing it. Steep grade, extremely dusty, loose gravel surface, pot holes, dogs sitting on the edge, a few more cars, some construction (fix the pot holes!), 1 lane of traffic and a field of green ahead! Just when we think the tin can is fully out of alignment we see our RV park. Sikanni Chief River (accent on the first syllable as in sick – uh- knee). As in sick to my stomach with that road!

The woman asks what kind of site we’re looking for. I don’t know much about sites, we're just happy to be here! Since we’re the first ones there she gives me first dibs. She walks me to the Sikanni Chief river (nice!) and shows me a site with no water hook up. I tell her we don’t know how to fill up our water tank so we’ll need one with a water hookup. She smiles and shows me one just across the way. It’s close to the river but you have to back in. I tell her we don’t know how to back in. She pats me on my back, smiles and shows me one with full service and it’s a pull thru! We’re new to this RV life, I told her. The river is still really close – this is a great spot! We hook up, leash the hounds and down to the river we go! Pushinka immediately runs into it (up to her chest), followed by Molly who dunks her nose in it then comes up shaking, and Bubis goes in briefly but would rather than on the river rocks. I’m hopping over each rock thanx to Pushinka pulling me. Up one side, back down – this area is beautiful! The Sikanni river and its bridge is rich with Alaska highway history. The dogs are frolicking away and they are filthy! Pause for paws turns out to be a long stop for paws and the entire body. We fill up a bucket and decide to dunk each paw to really get the fine river sand out of them. Pushinka gives me each paw, we clean her chest, dry her off, in she goes. Molly has no balance so she tumbles every time I lift her paw. Jim carried her back after rinsing her off in the river so she’s not so bad. Bubis, who didn’t want to go into the water in the first place is protesting. In he goes.

Jim grabs his backpack, a cigar and walks the river for treasures. He’s really a kid at heart. This setting is absolutely lovely. The facilities are a little rough but the view of the long tall pines on the river more than makes up for it. I let Jim take the first nature shift as I sit back reading the handout the owner gave me about the significant, yet ignored, role the black Army troops played in the construction of the highway. She could have suggested reading the RV manual but instead she handed me a history lesson. Bubis spends the next hour grooming his paws, mumbling under his breath how he hates his sisters. The girls napped after their romp through the river.
Jim returns with no fossils but with many interesting rocks. The kids are all excited to see Daddy! Molly immediately rolls over on her back, kicks her back legs and flips her front paws – she’s the most submissive of all three. Pushinka thumps her front paw for his attention - she is the most demanding. Bubis finally looks up from his paws and takes a grooming break – he is the biggest wussy of all three.

Can I go back out? Huh? Can I? Can I? Yes, Jimmy you can go back out. A shot of scotch to wet his whistle and out he runs for another hour.

My turn to head out and I walk up and down the river taking photographs. I don’t get as much scent out of a blade of grass as Bubis but the smells of the area fill my nose – wonderfully fresh and fragrant, grass, clean air, wild flowers, a fire. I take the trail for a few hundred feet and spot remnants of one of the older bridges crossing the Sikanni. I head back and hear “Let’s have pizza!”. I don’t think many campers have pizza on their outdoor adventures, let alone leftover pizza. Jim says that’s too bad – for THEM! Molly, do I stare at you and drool when you’re eating your Zeal? No, I do not.

Before it gets too late and too crowded we go out for another walk before settling in. The walk is back down the river where we give the river rats one more romp in the water – this time with a camera. Molly gets filthy, Jim gets tangled, Pushinka gets soaked and Bubis is sniffing. I had a cute photo opp idea! Jim stands in front of the “his and hers” outhouses with Pushinka and Molly on the hers side and Bubis on the his side! So clever (I think - Jim does not)! Decide for yourself if it worked.

We try dunking each paw again but Molly tipped over the bucket onto Jim so we decide to let them have dirty paws. Clumsy and no balance.
“Settling in” only means unfolding the sofa bed for Jim, getting under the covers (mine now dirty from paws) – we sleep in our clothes making it easier to take the mongrels out – and turn off the lights. We change into fresh clothes each morning in case you were wondering!

Our first 162 miles on the Alaska Highway have been memorable! Thank you U.S. Army - of all colors - for working so hard, sacrificing so much and enduring such harsh conditions – a childhood wish has come true!

Aug 14, 2012

Check your pants!

What a great night’s sleep – interrupted only by a knock on the door by the manager (ruh-roh) telling us we won the camp raffle and we got our camp fee back! 30 loonies back in our pocket – yay us! Almost a large pizza.

We need a very early start because Jim discovered this next stretch of road is very steep, we must go slowly and guard rails are few. Little Mollita has developed a morning ritual. Jim removes the covers from the sofa bed; she squirms, rubs her back, gurgles, rubs her face, assumes the "wheaten pose" - butt high, head low, rolls over wanting to antagonize Pushinka into playing. Once again Pushinka does not bite – literally! C’mon girls, no playtime this morning. In fact, no breakfast – Molly stops abruptly and tilts her head!

The early morning sky has a pink hue to it with blue peeking out thru lots of gray clouds. A wild looking sky. As we prepare to leave I notice the RV/car next to us is from Virginia! Small world, eh.

At this hour we have greater chances of seeing wildlife so going slow will also give me a chance to take pictures. All good – except for the no guard rail thing.

We think it’s amusing and so like us to pick the hardest road in North America to RV as our first trip – start at the top, that’s what we say! The pups seem a little more anxious, Bubis especially. He pokes his big concerned head up to the front as if to add an extra set of eyes to the road…I think he heard no guard rails! Molly is worried about no breakfast.

Sunrise is masked by a bank of fog and lots of gray clouds – limited visibility. Our first chance to see the Canadian Rockies and it’s cloudy. Poo. We hit the next major town which is 30 miles away if you’re following along on the map. A mama moose and her calf greet us! It was so worth getting up at 5AM for this!

Some big crows have breakfast alongside the road. Jim counts….1….2…3….Counting Crows. He’s so silly for this early in the morning. Watch out – he’ll kill ya!

It’s very foggy and drizzling so I take a chance to ask Jim why the U.S. Army built the road and why did Canada let us? He explained that in wartime we were concerned about Japan seizing our strategic asset of Anchorage thereby increasing their presence in the Pacific so we wanted another access route in and out of Alaska (also why they built the Whittier tunnel in Alaska – home of the 110 pound halibut we caught!). And the Canadians agreed because they had a road built for free which increased their access to resources. The builders completed it in 8 months in some pretty difficult conditions. He’s like a walking PBS documentary.

A single lane gravel road and we see no one directing traffic. Rough, pot hole filled, single lane and the kids think we’re back in Pennsylvania the rumblings are so bad. I point out there is no guard rail – Jim says there’s 5 feet of gravel between us and the cliff – we’ll be fine.

4,000 miles! Mile 300 on the Alaska highway! We stop at Ft Nelson after being on the road for 3 hours – it’s pouring! Ft Nelson gets 4 pages in the Milepost – lodging, camping, attractions, gas - $1.459 per liter – this stop costs $202! A record – and one we don’t enjoy breaking. And there’s a Boston Pizza here. If gas costs this much can you imagine how much a large with 3 toppings would cost!?

It’s a challenge finding a place for the pups to walk – mud, rain, little grass. They are always more intrigued by what’s going on across the street than doing their business. Back to the RV! The RV floor is covered with dirt, the comforter is covered with muddy paw prints and Bubis will be grooming himself til the next RV stop. Ft Nelson has a nice museum, Recreation Centre, trails, golf courses (Canada is filthy with them!) – a nice, well-established town. It’s clearing up a bit – oh sure, after we leave! Off to Toad River...Pushinka is excited about the prospects of catching one.
2 caribou by the roadside! By the time we get closer they run back into the woods – pics are not that good. Another one appears so there may be hope I caught that one.

The road climbs up at 8% grade for the next 7 miles. Still raining. It’s all fogged in. The Milepost says to look out onto the sweeping vistas – there are none today! Sweetums, be careful – it just came out. He said he was going to speed, grab a beer and steer with his knee if that’s ok with me. Smart ass.

Miles go by, very slowly. Now we enter the steepest descent (what goes up, must come down). No visibility – let’s add some potholes – no guard rails. Hands tightly on the wheel and eyes front! Finally there are pull offs on both sides to check vehicles, provide a look out and trash bins. I point out these don’t even have port-a-potties. Jim, without hesitating, says they expect you to have already shit in your pants by now! I laugh so hard I think I wet myself! Jim is an admitted chicken (a colorful one at that) – bawk bawk bawk bawk!

We now see signs for the best sticky buns ever! Hey, it was a stressful drive! And they were marvelous. Jim still has to keep both hands on the wheel so should I eat it all myself? I peel off sections and feed him – he likes the crispy outside and I like the gooey inside. Perfect! If a bull moose pranced by right now I’d be out of luck – I’m NOT putting this yummy baked treat down to take a picture. Up we climb licking our fingers and into Stone Mountain area where Stone Sheep are known to be spotted – I hope they like the rain.
We hit Summit Pass – the highest point on the Alaska highway - 4,250 ft. I can’t imagine driving this in the ice and snow – which can come very early in the year – I hope August is too early! Today it’s only rain.

Jim is looking for sheep who are stumbling, with glazed eyes and slurring their baaas. STONE Sheep, Sweetums, not STONED Sheep! Ooooohhhh, he giggles at himself.

Text in the milepost is now schmeared due to globs of buttery sweet droppings of sticky buns on the pages.

Still raining! What a gray dreary day. We cross the MacDonald river and I point out there is good grayling and Dolly Varden fishing – he whimpers. The milepost says there are magnificent mountain views and lots of photo opportunities – I whimper. No breakfast – Molly whimpers.

No sheep – they’re probably sleeping it off somewhere with a case of the munchies. We find Toad River Lodge early and it’s pouring a cold, nasty rain. We take the wheatens to the water to explore and sniff moose droppings. Bubis is intrigued. They are drenched so it’s back to the RV. We are the only fools in shorts. I have a million coats – some actually perfect for this weather yet I didn’t bring a one of them. I brought this little white, flimsy, waterproof top which looks more like a beach cover up than a jacket. Jim shakes his head in disbelief, offers me gloves (you brought gloves? Why didn’t you tell me to bring gloves?) and suggests I buy a Toad River jacket. I am NOT buying a Toad River jacket! They are hideous and hideously expensive.
Back in the RV we dry everyone off, change into some dry, warm clothes, turn on the heat, snuggle under the comforter and while listening to the sound of the rain on the roof we fall asleep. We are easily lulled into a full deep snooze under these conditions. When we wake there is a pond outside our door, few people have arrived and the rain continues. Jim wonders if the restaurant next door has take out so he puts on his wonderful, waterproof full length rain jacket (wwaaahhh!) and walks over – he returns with a book and a menu. He of course doesn’t ask if they have take out – he leaves that up to me. He tells me his order and fellow lunch mates of Jim’s will be shocked and amazed at his order…a salad!! Not really, it’s a grilled ham and cheese with fries. No surprise there, huh? This food is much like that found in roadhouses back in the day – delicious, warm, hearty and full of grease. Everyone is fed and all are happy.

Jim sits reading “Tales of a Catskinner”, I write and the furry kids nap...I hear Molly snoring. It’s still raining! A marvelous day; dry, warm and contented people and pups….and clean pants!!

Aug 15, 2012

We Brake for Bison!

Not a comfortable night – dogs barked, shook bling – out we go and I step ankle deep into a pool of water, and it’s still raining. Back inside and Jim gets claustrowheatenphobia (fear of closed in spaces and getting smothered by wheatens). Bubis tucks in his feet, Pushinka is tucked into his tummy and Molly is lying on his chest. Wake up with achy back and cramped legs. It would be nice if a RV park offered morning yoga classes to limber up. It looks like everyone wakes up a little stiff. Jim wakes up first, turns on the lights (I reach for the broom handle to turn them off), he turns on the coffee, I go back under the covers. He wakes up spunkier than I do. He tells me we will miss the wildlife if we sleep in. When I finally get up and out I discover a glorious morning. Cool, clear, rain stopped. The views from the RV park are spectacular - beaver lodge set in the lake, a clear view of the snow covered mountains. I can’t wait to take the dogs back in so I can roam around and take some pictures. I prepare the dogs food (it must hydrate for 15 minutes) and Molly gets so excited she leaps across to the table/bed and completely misjudges. She scrambles to hold on but she falls flat on her back. She gets up a little scared then leaps into my arms. She is a bully on the outside but a baby on the inside. I add some bacon to her breakfast to ease her trauma – all better, Mum! I head to the shower, set up my toiletries, undress, turn on the water and…drip….drip….drip. Move everything over to the next shower where I enjoy a nice full warm shower.

We take a few pictures then head out to view these majestic Canadian Rockies, eh. The mountains are tipped with snow – every turn is amazing. We finally get to see what we missed yesterday. Jim talks about some plate tectonics causing these mountains to form – who has that kind of conversation this early? Toad River parallels the road for miles – a beautiful turquoise colored water, perhaps glacial. The white clouds, blue sky, snow covered mountains, green trees, and turquoise water – what a difference a day makes.

We come across a couple from Arkansas who tells us about critters up ahead. We can’t wait! Muncho Lake ahead – 400 feet deep; rumors are higher. The road is very curvy alongside the lake and there are no lights or guard rails. People have disappeared in the lake without anyone ever knowing – they miss a curve, drive over the edge and drown. Oh joy, the added bonus of going over the edge AND drowning!

We must wait for 15 minutes for oncoming cars to drive through one lane construction. Chance to take pictures, talk about the violent uplifting of plates thrusting them at an angle greater than 45 degrees making these mountains – really? Who talks about this stuff? – and taking in the view. The people from Arkansas didn’t tell us about this part. We are taken forward by a lead truck through the construction – like we would have gotten lost. There is now a trail of cars behind us. The lead truck is getting in the way of good pictures. The view before us is like a painting and I don’t want the back end of a truck in the photo.

My sunglasses are very dirty (Denise, you don’t take care of them), my eyeglasses are dirty (Denise, you don’t clean them), I’m a little hungry (Denise, you didn’t eat anything) and perhaps a bit of a whiner.

The road takes a steep decline – we cross Trout River – a rushing turquoise river – which would be an amazing picture but Jim drives by it too fast. He offers to stop and let me walk back over the bridge to shoot it. Hmmm….he seems eager to get me out of the RV. Perhaps he’s tired of my whining and will leave me behind. I take a few shots, walk back and he’s still there! Not pushing my luck I don’t whine when I get back in….where’s the bison? I want to see bison!....ok, a little whining.

We come across a road full of stone sheep! The dogs go crazy – it’s a barkorama! The sheep are not fazed by the barking – they continue grazing. At least 20 of them – they seem used to cars although the Barkette Trio was probably new to them. Just as we compose ourselves from the stone sheep we come across a field of bison (yay, my whining worked) and the Barkette Trio makes an encore performance. These are forest bison and there are dozens of them. Snouts buried in the grass – we are told they don’t look up so many are killed on the roads (and vehicles damaged). They are not at all disturbed by the barking – Jim is! I roll my window down a bit to take some pictures hoping Molly wouldn’t jump out and antagonize them. They are a lot bigger than her and while being a vegetarian they wouldn’t eat her they certainly could stomp her. Bubis would play with them and Pushinka would try to herd them. They are big, burly creatures! The barkfest continues in Jim’s ear. He drives on. The 3 Tenors got nothin’ on the 3 Barkers!

We climb above the Laird River which is tucked in large pines deep in the mountains. We come across a stray bison just standing along the side of the road. I asked Jim to stop – he only slowed down and said he didn’t want to piss him off and have him ram the side of the RV. Point taken! See? I didn’t need to get up early to see the wildlife.

We now cross the Laird River on the only suspension bridge left on the Alaska highway and we see another bison lounging in a dirt pit on the side of the road. I see something off on the other side of the road and Jim says “Oh, it’s just another bison”. What?! When have they become so commonplace?! We drive on through a big swoopy valley. From pine trees to deciduous trees, mostly birch – love the white bark with fluffy green tips. Big crows munching in the middle of the road. Jim says “Registered bird offender on board; get out of the way”.

Nothing to interfere with the air – no pollution, no smog, no rain – so the sky is an amazing shade of blue. Jim says it’s sky blue. Really? That’s the best you can come up with? The Laird River is enormous! Jim points out signs of a huge fire along both sides of the road and up the mountain. Recent enough that the trees haven’t fallen yet but long enough ago for the underbrush to have grown up – perfect for moose. The burnt trees produce pot ash that serves as a nutrient for the soil so the next generations of trees have a good start. Come to find out it was 2009 as noted much earlier in the Milepost. Is Jim smart or is he reading ahead?

A nice pull off to walk the outlaws other than it has a steep drop off into the river. We hold the leashes tightly! It’s a warm, slightly breezy afternoon – 12:30. Our black ensembles of long shirts and long pants while are slimming are a bit too much for today – and they look like we slept in a chicken coop – feathers from the comforter are everywhere! Pushinka focuses on a feather floating in the air and tries to snatch it.

The view crossing Coal river is huge – it goes on and on with greens, blues and white. The Coal runs into the Laird. Nothing but sheer unadulterated beauty – a much more poetic observation than sky blue, Sweetums. Nice one.

We pass through Fireside which ironically burnt down in 1982 by the Eg fire. Some sticks are still visible high on the mountains but mostly it has grown back to a lush, full, green forest. Unfortunately the business did not grow back so services are closed with signs of fire damage.

We miss the pull off for Allen’s Lookout for Laird river and Goat mountain. The road sign said “litter bin” so Jim didn’t think it was the place. They should mark historical landmarks and scenic spots with something other than a litter bin sign.

We see 2 bikers coming up in the opposite direction – pedaling not motorized bikers. How long might it take to cover the highway? Can you even do it in one season? This is probably not their first bike trip!

9Km up the road I point out there will be a historical milepost called Contact Creek where the regiments from the north met the regiments from the south in Sep 1942 completing the southern section of the highway. It might be marked as a litter bin turnout so keep your eyes open! Jim thinks I am making fun of him.

We briefly enter the Yukon Territory only to cross back into British Columbia – this happens 6 times before the official border. And this is the last province before Alaska! We approach Contact Creek for a bit of history and BOOM – what was that? The rough road shimmied everything to the edge of the counter and finally the turn off caused the kibble bucket to fall – kibble is everywhere. Molly is in pig heaven and even Pushinka has a snack. Before we take in the history and significance of this location we clean out the RV from all the kibble. I somehow feel we are disrespecting this historical ground by sweeping kibble onto it. A quick snack by all, we read the historical marker and drive off in shame….again. How cool was that?! Not the kibble part. We were standing on the ground where history was made close to 70 years ago.

Loose gravel, high dust area – they suggest turning on your lights. You betcha! A few cars pass and we’re in a complete whiteout. The Milepost says nothing of this.

The Hyland river is full of Jimmy’s favorite fish – grayling, Dolly Varden, Rainbows. Big lip comes out.

I continue reading directions to…Molly! What are you crunching on?....when everything fell off the counter so did a bowl of “stuff” including my lipstick. Fortunately I have several more – all pink. I continue reading….our RV park in Watson Lake. As we drive into Watson Lake I read about the attractions – a Signpost park which is a collection of thousands of – you guessed it – signposts! License plates, street signs, city signs, directions…all tacked up. You walk through a maze of them from all over the world. We drive over to the science museum where they have a show on the aurora borealis – we don’t stop – Jim is hungry. This is not a mecca of fine dining establishments. We end up at Kathy’s Kitchen where I grab some take out off a simple menu. Food that is green and leafy for me and meat for Jim – with fries. Over to the RV site which is all gravel…what part of “The Downtown RV park” says grass? A friendly guy checked us in and suggests a back-in if we want grass (12 blades of it). I tell him we need lots of space on both sides if we’re going to take it. He smiles and assures me we’ll be fine. And we are. The kids get a little walk (looking for pink poop), we get a little snack and log on. Connectivity is spotty at best with few Canadian “resorts’ offering wifi.

Today was a record breaking day! Record blue skies, record number of “wows”, record number of sheep, record number of bison, record number of whines, record number of memories!

Aug 16, 2012

To Whitehorse We Ride!

A restless night – for some reason my back has discovered a wooden edge around the window. I keep bumping it every time I move. Oh, I know why…I’m cramped in with 3 wheatens. And my dreams have been very vivid as if I’m awake through them. One night I was trying jeans on with Eileen for school and Kathleen came home – we made a mess of the house and Kathleen didn’t even notice. I wonder if my thoughts are with Eileen as she starts her college life – jeans and messy rooms! Then last night instead of having dinner with just Joie for some reason most of DTRA showed up. Maybe I’m thinking of her as she retires – I missed her party so maybe I’m just celebrating for her in my dream. Or maybe I just miss my friends.

This morning the Diva would not eat! We tried Zeal, adding Canadian baby food, Z/D, hand feeding…she backs up as if doing the Michael Jackson moonwalk and lies in her “day spa”. It’s Boeuf et Bouillion I say in my best Julia Child voice! I get her stink eye. Mollysaures Rex, on the other hand devoured her breakfast, burps and now woofs with an “eh”. She then waddles over to Pushinka’s bowl but quickly sits and gives me her paw as if to apologize in advance for sneaking a taste. Molly-waggles is so eager to please but she is also a terrierist – she usually has a lot to apologize for. Bubis seems content with his breakfast – when he sees more bison he’ll go “woo woo woo woo eh”.

The facilities at the Downtown RV park while gravel offer a few spots of grass. Showers are nice – checked water pressure before undressing! Warm with music piped in – showering to Celo’s “Forget You” was a nice bonus. It’ll do for one night.

Showered, walked – Pushinka tries to join another family, RV clean, we’re off to Whitehorse.
Crossing the Laird river again. I torment Jim by rattling off the fish found in the river. This is a mighty river for only a tributary to the Mackensie river. Jim wants to find a Canadian map to understand all of the rivers, how they flow into each other and ultimately into what body of water. Birthday present!

Jim spent 10 minutes cleaning my glass this morning (so I wouldn’t whine) – one visit from Miss Molly and they need to be cleaned again! She is a generous kisser!

Crossing the Little Rancheria (ran-chee-REE-a) – a 5 star river! Wide, rushing, winding, and flanked by tall pine trees. I tell Jim I don’t see any mention of fish – it is quickly downgraded to a 3 star.

We see stone messages along the roadside – travelers leave messages with white stones such as their names, a word or a couple. A Ft Nelson swim team started this in 1990 – those wild kids. We would see these on the Big island of Hawaii - white stone messages on black lava rocks.
Whitehorse: 364. Miles???? Oh my, we’ll be on the road all day! Kilometers, we’ll be there in a few hours.

For some reason my flash keeps popping up causing all of my photos to come out washed out – of course taking them thru the windshield doesn’t help. I’m annoyed. Jim thinks the cab overhang is fooling the camera into needing more light. He suggests reading the solution in “Canon 70D for Dummies” on how to override the flash. He’s annoyed that I don’t know my camera. I turn up the volume on the radio. I turn the camera upside down and fool the camera into thinking it has enough light. So THERE! All my pictures will be upside down so turn your heads. Once I get to Homer I will read the book and take a class…one of many things I’ll now have time to do.

We stop at a pull out that in the 60s offered services – all closed down now. A stroll around the area for pictures and a walk for the pups (Molly, where DO you store all of that?!). We wait while Pushinka has brunch, I hand Jim a pepsi and a pop tart, take away the coffee mugs and grab a breakfast bar for me – kitchen is now closed! I turn my back for one second and Molly tries to snatch the breakfast bar –oh, and it’s gluten-free – tasty, mum!

We just passed the Continental Divide (although there is no road sign, no rest stop, no pull off, no hoopla). We did not stop because I didn’t say anything – I didn’t read it in the Milepost until after we passed it. Jim was pooey. Signs of fire along this stretch of the road, a little rainy, some overcast. Jim points out the weather is not as good on this side of the Continental Divide – which he didn’t see!! Alright already!

We re-re-re-enter the Yukon Territory and we say “Welcome to the Yukon Territory”. As we do when we enter states, provinces, countries. It’s something my Parents did with us just as we crossed into each state – slowing down each syllable until we passed the state sign. My family memories are less fattening than Jims!

We pass the Marley river where northern pike are up to 8 lbs, grayling can grow up to 5 lbs and you can catch lake trout up to 8 lbs with what they call a spoon. A spoon?! What can you catch with a knife and fork?

We cross over the Nisutlin Bay Bridge which is the longest water span on the highway (1,917 ft) and into Teslin. Teslin has a very large native population in the Yukon – Tlingit, pronounced Klink-it. The teslin Lake parallels the highway, straddles the British Columbia-Yukon border and is 86 miles long, 2 miles across and194 feet deep.
4,500 miles! Continuing to hug the Teslin Lake. Raining, overcast, no much visibility, no pictures (no flash, no arguments), dust from the road is eliminated by the rain.

Crossing the Teslin River Bridge (Sweetums, do you have to adjust your IPOD now?!). This is the 3rd longest water span (1,770 ft). It was built with a very high clearance (IPOD down please!) to allow river steamers to pass under it. Guard rails are low, bridge is very high and very long, anxiety is high – I have goosebumps. Pearl, you would NOT like this bridge! The steamers stopped coming up this river once the road was built – the reason for building this bridge so high no longer exists.

We know there’s a view out there but all we see is road, some trees along the side and fog. Jim starts singing to Carly Simon tunes then it jumps to Karen Carpenter where he knows all the words (this must some sort of mix of his favorite female vocalists). Take the sharp instruments away from me. And now he’s in concert with Celine Dion – I wonder about him. If that little Jackie Evancho comes on I’m divorcing him.

With few rest stops it’s a long drive today – we’re sitting longer than usual sometimes for 2-3 hours. Marsh Lake appears to the west. Army LT Schwatta named it after one of his Yale professors – not sure if I discovered something I’d name it after anyone at the University of Delaware.
53 Kms away from our next RV stop and Jim needs to “prepare his mind” and asks for directions. “Prepare his mind”?? – another panty wetting laugh! Go back to singing the theme to the Titanic, Sweetums. Swan Haven is approaching but the window of best viewing is late March to early May – more like a “pass through” than haven don’t you think? The annual Celebration of Swans Festival is in late April – when they’re not even here?!! That seems odd to me.

Yukon river bridge – elevation 2,150 ft so it’s much lower. It’s narrower so the oncoming truck makes it exciting. The Yukon river is the 4th longest in North America..and some might say, fishable!

We give the IPODs a break, turn on some Yukon radio station. We hear what celebrities were just inducted to the bowling hall of fame – do I miss the news? NO! Oh, and it’s close to Madonna’s birthday – I’d rather listen to Celine.

10 miles away and Jim wants me to confirm the directions – I guess his mind is not prepared enough. Although I have a reputation of getting us lost. We easily find the Hi-Country RV park, check in, find our spot, read the city map and plot our course. Jim has been looking forward to Whitehorse since he was a kid. We need a few supplies and some food so off we go. The town has more charm than other places – the kind of charm we expected in Dawson Creek. Colorful residents, interesting galleries, Starbucks, some craft stores, quilt shops, and the worst Walmart ever! It seems this town has nice attractions for tourists but few conveniences – and few of them are familiar. We go to what looks like a grocery store (after a very annoying discussion about “Shoppers” – it is not a grocery store here it is a drug mart!) and I walk my list in from the furthest part of the lot (30 ft RV, remember). You have to pay a loonie for a cart then you get it back when you check out. I don’t have a loonie but I do have 7 things on my list. I need a cart but settle for a carrier. Trying to navigate through a strange store with words in French – “Where can I find Jimmy Dean Sausage Biscuits, s’il vous plait?” I decide they don’t carry them. Pretzels? I walk down the chip aisle and once again decide they don’t carry pretzels. “Ou es la licorice?” – Canada’s candy aisles suck! Is licorice feminine or masculine? La licorice or le licorice? Either way, they don’t carry it. The brand is generic and local. I do however find Pepsi, yogurts of some brand, margarootie mix, a lime and some creamer. My arm is numb the carrier is so heavy - I check out and we move on to the liquor store. Dear god…….please let there be tequila I can recognize! Oh yea! $76 for a small bottle of Patron. ALLAN!!!!!! We move on and discover what will probably be the last A&W we’ll ever see. The remaining towns are very small and once we cross into Canada we will no longer experience the grilled, juicy, flavorful Mama burger! Damn you, Col Sanders! So we decide to have a reunion with the “Home of the family Burger” – a family reunion! It was just as we remembered (from 3 days ago) although I got Jim an Uncle burger – larger, sirloin but with the same yummy toppings. We sit in the parking lot and for one last time savor our A&W meals. In mid bite I hear silence from the back – very unusual for 3 wheatens. I discover Molly found my white flimsy top and is eating the zipper! I am surrounded with Mama burger, fries, tequila, groceries and am basically stuck. Molly, stop eating the zipper! She doesn’t listen – never has, never will. She has always been the biggest shopper of the 3 with Pushinka coming in a close 2nd . She thinks her name is “Mollynoshopping” – she is called that often to get her down from reaching into the counter for goodies. I reach over a grab a bit of the fabric, trying not drop my mama burger and pull the jacket from her claws (I swear she has talons!). All are rewarded with leftover French fries. Can you imagine what they’d get if they were good?

We head back to the RV park to set up, do some laundry and take a nap. I usually get the splash of water in my face (and everywhere) when we first pull in and I turn on the faucet. Anyone who plugs in a hose while camping knows it spurts out with great force before settling into a flow. I never remember so I always get splashed and Jim laughs…tonight was his turn. Not so funny is it?! A quick walk for the dogs in the gravel lot – they too are tired – so we all head back for the evening. Molly now has hiccups (must be from my zipper). I don’t like this park – too much gravel, too many people, too much noise, too many RVs and the people who pull in next to us does it backwards so their door is facing is our door! And the people on the other side have a barking dog, kids are screaming, people are on cell phones. Jim says I’m a fussbudget. I have dog ears so I hear every little sound and I prefer peace and quiet.

The sun will set soon, the noise will quiet and we will fall fast asleep.

Aug 17, 2012

Peace, Quiet and Beauty

A restless night – we put the AC on to drown out the noise and boy was it chilly! 3 wheatens all trying to get warm with Mommy.

Little Mollita, our Mexican jumping bean, wakes up hopping from bed to bed, person to person (ooohhh, that’s another bruise). Jim leashes them up and the bed is all mine! I spread out and fluff the comforter! But with a pounding headache and against my will I get up – rainy and chilly – want to go back to bed. Since the dogs did not have dinner I presume they are hungry – 2 of them are. I put Bubis’s bowl down and I see Molly approach. I put Pushinka’s bowl down and oh, there’s Molly again. I finally put Molly’s bowl down and she devours it. As does Bub. Pushinka ignores hers and stays under the covers – ahhhh, the bed is finally all mine, she thinks.

Jim finally figures out the front privacy curtain – and we’ve been doing it wrong – no surprise there! It was not designed for wheatens – nosey ones at that. Because Miss Noseypants has to see outside like Gladys Kravitz in Bewitched we leave it the wrong way. We spend some extra time loving the baby dogs this morning – Pushinka is thumping, Molly keeps pawing for attention when we pet Bubis – me, Dad - me Dad – pet me. Bubis thinks since we have 4 hands so we can pet 4 dogs. We had 4 for a very brief time from a family who couldn’t care for the pup so we took him in. With 3 adult dogs all trying to teach the little guy life lessons it was too rough and unsafe. Hi Correy! We connected with a woman who “needed” Correy – we wanted him but her need was so compelling that on Valentines day we delivered her little cupid. Correy was adopted by that great family who we wish would adopt us! We know we will see them in Alaska! Right, Nancy?!

Jim and I proceed to have a highly intellectual discussion on whether the thing you wash dishes with is a sponge or a scrub pad. Scotch brite calls it a scrub sponge so we’re both right – geniuses, we are! I wonder if the folks at 3M had the same kind of conversation as we did when naming their product.

Jim returns from the shower (he wants me to note how handsome he is and how good he smells). He is greeted by the waggling wheatens who lick a layer of skin off of him – Daddy, we haven’t seen you in soo…ooo long!

I head to the showers and Jim compliments me on my choice of attire – FOR MIAMI!! He still wonders if I was paying attention when he said “Alaska…..North…..Cold” I walk in and 2 women have what looks like an entire Nordstoms makeup department on the counter – I have not thought to put on one stitch of makeup since starting the trip. I do however catch a glimpse of me in the full length mirror – Holy Mama burger! That’s a whole lotta sticky on those buns!

We exit the RV park and wait for someone who is blocking the exit lane while he takes advantage of the sani-dump! Take your $%^&* RV off the road, eh! We leave not liking this place.

Molly is jazzed about having the back curtains open jumping from side to side taking in the view. We now have nose prints on the windows. Bright and dry skies ahead! We see many more RVs on the road from Alaska – we are very close to the border so perhaps folks are vacationing and finally returning or leaving for the season. The vegetation off to the side of the road is more colorful – oranges, pinks, yellows, light green birch trees, and rich dark green of the pines. Off in the distance we see the beginning of the Kluane mountains topped with snow! Keeping an ever-vigilant eye out for elk. We see a mule deer. How many animals does that make, Jeffery?

We stop at a pull-off for the wheatens. I take some pictures of the old Canyon Creek Bridge and Jim claims to have fixed my flash. Very interesting and funky sky cloud formations and colors against a very bright blue sky. The Aishihik river is flowing over its banks, the bridge is under construction so it’s a very dangerous place to be.

I photograph the Kluane Icefield Ranges – this national Park hosts Canada’s highest and worlds largest nonpolar alpine ice filed. These are some rugged mountains! Interesting enough the flash doesn’t come on. Thank you, Sweetums. You’re welcome, you little impatient diva. I read the whole book and I did NOT see how to fix that – well, I read a few words of it anyway and I didn’t see it.

This scenery really gets Jim’s juices flowing – majestic snow covered mountains, pine lined roads, big sky. The big open pastures were nice but this is breathtaking and what makes us excited about moving to Alaska.

Welcome to Haines Junction – gateway to Kluane. We stop at one of the most famous landmarks on the Alaska highway (actually we drive by, circle back, swing into some parking lot while Jim complains I should have pointed it out sooner). It looks like a giant cupcake with an elk, sheep, wolf and an explorer on it. How could I know THIS was it?

Oh, and by the way, it’s Kloo-WA-nee, everyone. No more Kloo-Ane for us! The Corps of Engineers built the Haines highway too but we stay in the Alaska highway in the direction of Fairbanks.

The cloud cover gets a little thicker as we climb up through the mountains – Bear Creek Summit is the highest point of the highway between Whitehorse and Fairbanks. We pass a huge spruce forest where the milepost gives us an explanation of the spruce beetle infestation - gross but interesting. The half page text goes on and on relating the destruction to….I had to pause knowing Jim would hate the ending….global warming. Sorry Jackie and Al Gore.

Mollybug is inconsolable!! She obviously does not feel well and has been panting for quite some time. I give her a Pepcid to soothe her belly thinking she overate or ate too quickly.

Climbing to Boutillier Summit to Kluane Lake – the biggest lake in the Yukon (154 sq miles). Jim says it’s a big ass lake –too many mama burgers I suppose. The road literally hugs the edge of the water – you could drive right in! Fish are jumping – grayling, lake trout, northern pike. Not a boat in sight! Bright blue turquoise water turning milky blue turning bright again! This is just like the water seen in the islands! Are we in Caicos? Glad I brought my resort wear, Jim!

Jim can’t go over the fact that no one is fishing! George, get that big brand new boat out here pronto! Pushinka is napping, Bubis is grooming his paws (can never be too clean), and Molly is still panting.

We make a quick pit stop to walk the woofies. No signs of distress with Molly. She’s not eating grass, no bad poos, so let’s go back in the tin can and head to our next RV stop – we are very close! As I take off their leashes I notice a few small spikey burrs on Pushinka’s face which I gently remove. I feel Molly and her belly, chest, legs, buttsky and head is COVERED with them! You’d be upset too if your butt was covered with burrs! Turn off the RV – we’re going to be here for awhile! When did this happen? How did it happen? Gently brushing each hair to get these spikey things off of her - good golly Miss Molly, what did you get into? This is probably why she was so upset. I’m sure they’ve been pinching her since the last stop. 20 minutes of brushing her with 2 brushes – she’s squirming – and we think we got them all. Dust off the covers and we’re done. No problem with my tummy, Mommy. I should get cookies for this. Ok, burr free, we drive on!

We pass a memorial to a Tutchane man “Follow your dreams, be kind and always remember to enjoy every day of your life”. While we don’t use the “d” word we are doing exactly that!! When we first looked at property and homes in Homer our wonderful realtor told us stories of why the property was for sale. Inevitably, the couple spent their lives working hard, saving every penny and decided to build their “dream” home in Alaska. For some reason the Husband suddenly dies and the Wife decides to sell. 5, maybe 6 cases of this! Or the friend sells once his friend who owned an adjoining lot unexpectedly passes away – sad for him but that’s how we came upon our amazing property! Anyway, we don’t use the “d” word when describing our adventure. Our vision, our goal, never our dream!

We drive up to the Burwash Landing Lodge and Resort and don’t see any reference to an RV park. I check my notes, read the Milepost, and Jim says “Just-Go-In-And-Ask”! Alrighty then! We are in the one and only pull thru and its right smack dab on the lake! Lucky us!

A nice long walk, a romp in the water (Pushinka loves to bite the waves as they crash; up and down the gravel – she is a drowned rat), a hook up and a splash of margarooties (hey, it’s 5:00 Virginia time!). Pushinka will love romping along Kachemak Bay and along the spit. What a glorious view of the lake! Much nicer than last night albeit much more rustic. I prefer peace and quiet! Burwash Landing has one of the best views to date! Mountains, turquoise lake, trees, blue sky with white puffy clouds (although the gal who checked us in said this is the first day of sun in over a week). Once again, lucky us! This site takes advantage of all of this beauty!

Lots of dirt in this RV even though we sweep every day – several times! Are there RV shoes? Ones you can change into upon entering the RV leaving the ones filled with dirt behind, outside or on the step? And do they have them for wheatens?

We sat and set our route and RV parks for once we’re in Alaska while the dogs napped (Molly snored!). We ordered dinner from the Burwash restaurant - $13 for chili? After dinner Jim grabbed a cigar, an adult beverage and sat by the lake looking for fish and thinking big thoughts (sponge or scrub pad?). We took the water dogs back to the lake – this time with an extendible leash for Pushinka so she could do some serious wave snapping and I won’t do some serious damage if I fell on the rocky shoreline! Molly dabbles with the notion of going in and Bubis gets 2 paws in then runs out. Jim and I weave in and out crossing leashes over and under – oooh, there’s a double-over-over-leash maneuver rarely seen in this neck of the woods. If walking dogs was an Olympic sport we’d take gold! Clearly agitated that Pushinka got more freedom Bub and Molly run up to Pushinkas face as if to say “Who do you think you are?!” Pause for paws but there is no point – floor is dirty, bed is wet and dogs are soaked.

We’re soggy, tired, full and ready to call it a night!

Aug 18, 2012

Alaska here we ARE!

Another restless night – battling RV temps, Pushinka was restless and at one point I stretched out, felt no dogs but was unable to sleep. Ugh! The morning was quiet, sunny, and peaceful. The showers were broken so we must greet our new home state with bedhead and a disheveled look. You know that’ll be in our next Christmas card! A very bright start to today’s journey! Ready to go to Alaska, kids?! They have never been and are excited.

Lots of fireweed (named because it’s the first thing that grows after a fire), some stunted/leaning pine trees (rooted in tundra not soil) and some pretty rough/potholed/heaved roads.

We wonder if the Customs folks will want us to turn over our chickens. We know you have chickens in that RV – we see the feathers!! Feathers are everywhere! Note to self: never bring a down comforter on a cross country trip! Bubis is heard grumbling about that!

This is the worst part of the Alaska highway! Swerves, dips, rumbles – it’s like navigating through a minefield! Molly hopes the kibble bucket falls again. Slalom skiing with a RV around potholes – a new Olympic sport! There is a long explanation in the Milepost about the undriveability of this stretch of road due to the glacial origin of the soil and the constant melt/settle then freeze/expand cycles. Many undulations and cracks – it makes one queasy.

I start reading about Beaver Creek – last stop in Canada. We are 50 Km away but I didn’t want us to miss anything. Beaver Creek is one of two places…OH $%^&**@$!!!!!!!!! A blunt edge straight across the road! It’s not like these potholes are in the tire tracks – they are everywhere! I stop reading.

The wind causes some wave action on Reflection Lake so we miss a photo opp to see the mountains reflection in the water. Passing more big fat crows who are probably thinking here come more big fat tourists. Crossing the White river which was named because of its color (or colour as the Canadians write) – white from volcanic ash. I think’s it is more of a Café au lait river. The road is more like a slalom course.

Bubis has his head firmly beside Jim worried about his driving. The wheaten delegation sent Bubis forward to smell Dad’s breath – is he drunk? Why is he driving so erratically? Bubis comes back with a clean report. Molly is worried (more burrs on her butt?) and Pushinka has grown weary of our drama.

The jostling has broken the GPS units. Jim, you can fix that when we stop! There’s only one way to go so I’m sure we won’t get lost.

A beautiful shot of Moose lake and snow covered mountains but there is too much stuff hanging off the rear view mirror that I lose the shot – Madonna, air freshener, GPS…all I need is a pair of fuzzy dice!

A dip and huge pothole – Jim swerves violently and misses it. Bubis demands a blood test! Passing into Snag which served as an emergency airstrip for aircraft flying from Edmonton to Anchorage. Snag has Canada’s lowest recorded temperatures at -81.4F! No resort wear here.

There are vent like structures along the highway which are Permafrost Research Projects testing specialized construction techniques. This is an international project by the U.S. and Canada – our tax dollars at work. This portion of the road is maintained by the U.S. even though it’s in Canada because 85% of the use is Alaska-focused.

We say “Good luck buddy!” as we pass oncoming RVs! What a ride!

WELCOME TO ALASKA!!!!!!!! We stop for the obligatory photo shoot – one that we’ve looked forward to for years! 4,900 miles.

We give the kids another pep talk, encourage them not to over bark or try to jump out of the car. Bub ignored the “No Bark” command. The officer checks our signed passports, looks at the RV rental agreement and asks if we have any fruits or vegetables on board. Hah! Us? With vegetables?! Surely you don’t know us.

Au revoir, Canada! Miles, dollars, gallons, degrees Fahrenheit, Alaska time (one hour earlier) – it’s good to be back in the U.S.of A! So many years of planning for this – emotions are high – crying. This is definitely fist-pump worthy! We decide to press on from Border City and go directly to Tok. It’s earlier than expected and Jim is psyched! Adrenaline is flowing through his veins – he could probably drive through to Homer now (even though it’s another 600 miles away). So glad to be paying Alaska for our gas ($146 American dollars!) – hey, doesn’t it come from here? Shouldn’t it be cheaper?

Miles and miles of beautiful scenery! Snow topped mountains, pine trees, crossing one river after another, ponds and lakes on both sides. We pass an active sawmill producing log after log – ooooohhhh…..wood! This place made a lot of log cabin kits for the Eagle residents who lost their homes in the 2009 Yukon river breakup (a term used when a river’s ice breaks up).

Tok river – color of mud. We enter Tok – a city we’ve always wanted to visit. It sounds cool and very Spock-like – TOK! Although I’m sure we’re mis-pronouncing it. The Tundra RV park is very wooded with long spaces for pull thrus. A nice walk, a quick check with the manager about a good place for take-out (there is only one restaurant so that was easy! – Fast Freddies and it was hopping!) and off we go to explore Tok. The manager and his family moved her from Missoula Montana over 30 years ago – Missoula was one of our favorites so I chat with him about our stay in Montana.

We turn our cell phones back on and have connectivity to the world – hi Mom! Whew – she was happy to hear from us! Unfortunately we don’t have connectivity with our email account yet.

It stays brighter so much later – which we actually started noticing that a few days ago. Days will be longer for at least a few more weeks. We decide the best way to toast our first night in Alaska is with Alaskan beer! We have a celebratory alcohol for each event in Alaska. Off to the store where Jim finds beef sticks, bacon and a bag of his favorite licorice (the family bag – hey, we’re a family). All good “b” words, Sweetums – where’ the beer? Oh, we need a liquor store for that. We see a sign for the Canadian border – 97 miles. Been there, done that, eh.

Alaskan IPA – like mother’s milk to Jim. I think it tastes like soap not being a beer drinker but it’s the significance of it. Alaskan beer for our first night in Alaska. A toast – Welcome home! We start discussing the logistics of the Anchorage stop – lots to do with 2 people and 3 dogs. Clean RV, turn it in, empty stuff out, pick up Lexus, pick up Tundra, get Tundra fixed from transport, pick up boat, drop dogs off at daycare, where do we put the boat and truck?, pick up stuff in storage unit, sign banks papers, find hotel that accepts dogs!!!!!!! We may need another night in Anchorage and definitely another six-pack! We’ll figure it out – we always do – for now we are enjoying the moment, reflecting on all the many memorable moments and looking forward to a lifetime of more!

Welcome home. Yes indeed, Jim, Denise, Pushinka, Molly and Bubis, welcome home!