Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reflections of the Great Northern Trip

June 27, Vancouver, BC
The situation has determined that I spend the afternoon babysitting our two canine companions that have developed less than thrilling case of liquid stools. Upon leaving, Kamala sweetly suggested that it would be nice if I were to write a journal entry. So with that sweet suggestion as my motivation I will toss out a few thoughts. 

Tomorrow we exit Canada ending the Canada/Alaska portion of our trip so let me share with some subjective emotional and cognitive snapshots of that section of this wiggly line of life.

Hell of great road trip.  Would I do it again? Sure, with time and money and with the accompaniment of my best friend,  Kamala.  Of course Kamala makes all road trips, long or short a great road trip. It was loooong and tiring at times.  And we sometimes let the trip push us along a little too fast. But, then don't we tend to wish that we would have had "more" of the good stuff in life.

#1 takeaway-- the immensity of the Northern forests, mountains, and rivers.  To drive mile after mile, after mile with few settlements and to realize what I was seeing was just the tip of the iceberg.....that was truly awesome.

Beauty! If you're into beauty like clear watered lakes with glacial silt reflecting the blues of the sky while snow-capped mountains play as a backdrop, (and who isn't?)  And is there a soul with a heart so cold as to not be all warm and fuzzy when they first see Mama Moose and her young calf? Well, I'll tell you, something is all wrong with them. For the rest of you, you need to consider a road trip to the North.

Money-- the gas was expensive, the food in grocery stores was expensive, eating out was expensive.....are you beginning to see a trend? If you are going to the North Country my best advice is to be rich, or at least moderately affluent.  I kept asking myself, how do low income people survive here? 

Now, that being said, you "bite the bullet" on gas, or the occasional meal or that "just have to do" attraction because, hey, it's a once in a lifetime thing, or at least decade. It helps to have a good cook along to keep the costs down.

Camping is pretty reasonable, especially if you dry camp and stay away from commercial campgrounds (think about it, they have only a few short months to make a living).

I'm not a fisherman (this is not my choice. you know that t-shirt that says "fish fear me" well mine says "fish laugh at me") Anyway, I think that if you avoided the tourist fishing guides and chartered boat thing fishing would be very cheap.

Tourism-- The Fat Cats of mining, oil, and lumber dominate the economy so if you aren't serving one of those Overlords, then tourism is about all that's left. So where there is something to see (and sometimes when there's not too much to see) tourism reigns with flights and boat rides (big and small) ATV rides, buses and, of course, museums with most starting and ending in a gift shop. And as Disney knew people love a good stage set. To each his own, but I think I could find something as good and cheaper, even Disneyland would be a better deal, in the lower 48.  That being said, the experience of being on the bow of that boat as the captain pointed it right into the face of the glacier with a cold 30 mile per hour wind coming off of it was, well, breathtaking. I was freezing my butt off, but I couldn't turn away. It was exhilarating. Sorry, Disney.

Roads-- Okay, I read the travel books.  I knew about the two seasons, winter and road construction. So I just saw an occasional 5 to 10 minute delay as a chance to look around while the pilot car showed up. Besides, I found the traffic guards entertaining and I started taking their picture.  One young girl in her neon jumpsuit was quite comical trying keep one hand warm in her pocket, smoking a cigarette and holding her stop/slow sign in a cold 25 mph wind. Another fellow came over to the truck and started telling us about fixing his girl friend's car  He had paid to have her car repaired and all she had said was "Okay".  "Okay is not even a conversation," he exclaimed. It made me think of using the word in a conversation in the future.

What I didn't count on was how slow we would have to drive on the roads that weren't actually being worked on. Rolling, waving, permafrost roads, but not to worry, we were able see more going 40 to 45 mph.  It did throw off our original daily estimate miles traveled. The sign that the road would get bumpy was thick patches of black spruce (the only trees that will grow over permafrost).  Mind the Canadian signs. When signs show bumps (or lumpy-bumps, as Lori so aptly named them) or say slow or 30 km--SLOW DOWN! The Canadians don't play around with their signs. 

Kamala even started a poem:
I'm riding the waves of a permafrost road
The black spruce beside me lean to and fro
Dandelion seeds float in the a
I have no needs, not a single care.

I'm riding the waves of a permafrost road
The Dr Seuss spruce all dancing and laughing
At our travel, both speed, and mode 
Uppity,down, rock and roll, twisty, turny
Makes for great stories of this Northern Journey

Land of the midnight sun-- I've known what the term meant, but it was only after being up at  midnight and realizing that the sun was still up did it really sink in. "Holy Crap, Midnight Sun!" so  now there's plenty of sunshine. I don't remember night ever happening in the Yukon or Alaska. At 9 in the evening the sun was still shining bright. At 2 in the morning, it was still light outside. We didn't see our first sunset until the other day at Williams Lake, BC--while we were still awake. But this had little affect on our circadian rhythms.

Traveling with a tiny caravan of two was really nice. If anything went wrong, we were all there to help and figure out the situation. Lori and Lynn made wonderful traveling companions as our big shadow. Then came the beauty to share. When you're seeing such magnificence, it becomes magnified when you're able to share it with someone. We'd all stop and jump out of our respective vehicles and Oooooo and ahhhhhh in unison. We'd all be hanging out of the windows at times taking pictures--especially of those couple of grizzlies by the road.

So little time and so little internet. It's been difficult keeping up the posts on this trip. Between our 3 cameras and Lori and Lynn's cameras, photos are countless at this point. We will post pics when we get home and begin to sort through things. Promise.

Finally, we came to the conclusion that it must be a Casita pilgrimage to go to Alaska. Of the 14 Casitas we saw so far on the trip, 12 were in Alaska, and 3 were in the Whitehorse Walmart parking lot. So we made the pilgrimage, now it's your turn.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Does it ever end

Holy Shit! We finally made it to Fairbanks Alaska in our little fiberglass bubble. I was beginning to think that the road would never end.  That traveling along the Alaska/Canadian Highway was some kind of Twlight Zone plot where a small group of travelers traveled on and on forever on a road that just never ended.
 "And did they ever return? No they never returned, they just chugged along forever in land that just gets bigger, and bigger."
Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed it all, the green, green hills and green fields, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains. Wow! All the pictures in the brochures weren't lying, they just couldn't get the real immensity of it all in the pictures. Nor did I really understand the time and the "slowness" in travel to get it all in.  We rode a bicycle through northern Europe some years ago and at one point I got a bit down on how slow we were going because there was a side walk cafe, or a bakery, or a castle or a garden to photograph and Kamala had to say, " Look where we're at! We're in Europe, and you're worried about speed of travel." Well this trip has been like that.  We've been taking our time and that in hindsight we should have been taking even more time.  If you're coming up to Alaska in a RV, TAKE YOUR TIME.. The sheer size and beauty of this adventure is definitely, trully awesome.
Now, I'm not a big one on museums, historical reinactments, or those Disneyish type amusements that lead to a gift shop and there are certainly plenty of those if that's your thing (A whole town with Christmasey names and a Gift shop an acre in size, done well, but COME ON, Christmas all year long? --Am I a grench?)  The thing I've enjoyed is the subtle changes in the landscapes, the forests, and the people who, by the way, speak very good English, even the Canadians.  How many tumbling rivers or snow capped mountain ranges can you see without getting blown away. Wel, I'm working on it.
I know after years of traveling on a bicycle and now pulling a small travel trailer around the country that the best stories are usually born of hardship. Something like the tornado the found you lying in the ditch, a malfunction of your wheels, flats, mosquitos the size of crows.  Well, sorry, I've got none of that stuff. Our little Casita has performed wonderfully (being covered in mud doesn't really make a good story unless it somehow sidelined you and it has not gotten that way yet.

So I started a blow-by-blow, turn-by-turn travelogue about this trip. But if I were reading that as if someone else wrote it, I would go to sleep. We have done the toursity route this trip. We have looked at and been overwhelmed with the travel brochures of what to do and where to go. We've gone to the Royal Tyrell museum in the Canadian Badlands. We've gone to the largest mall in North America. This has been good. But in the end it is about the beauty. What can I say about pure breaking-taking beauty? How many times can I say beautiful? The Yukon put it all in perspective. The pure poetry of vision. The sheer vastness, empty of people, filled with wilderness, endless wilderness, wild--ness. Wild. With wildlife so plentiful they spill over onto roadways so we can conveniently take pictures. The trip is not over yet. We're leaving Fairbanks tomorrow. Truly the land of the midnight sun. I write this with sun streaming into my Casita's window at 9:30 at night. I know that it will continue to shine and only begin to set around 12:30 am. Extra energy flows through my veins. It's hard to give it up. Light energy. We head south slowly to Anchorage tomorrow. More beauty to fill my vision, my memories. What's better than beauty? It is to be able to share it with someone you love, and friends you love.

There is a bit of delay posting this so we are now in Denali National park campground. There are two other Casitas in this particular campground loop. We have seen two other Casitas and two Scamps on the long road. We have been sighted by three Casita owners. One in Montana who drove up to us and jokingly said, "You have our trailer!" The other owner was in the Yukon. He was driving an antique car up from Seattle. He ambled over and asked us how we liked our Casita. Of course we told him that we loved it! The other owner was at our first campground in Alaska. She didn't have her Casita with her but was tagging along with her friend and met her through introductions at a Ranger presentation. She was tickled to finally meet someone from the Casita forums.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Deviation can bring lovely surprises

We will meet our friends, Lori and Lynn, the Barksmore sisters, at our rendezvous point in Fort Collins Colorado. Lori and Lynn are their actual first names, but Barksmore is a cute little handle that derives from the fact that they have 4 dogs (n'uff said).  Everything is going as planned. Before they arrive a late snow storm hits the plains and the rockies. We wake to a white blanket which quickly disappears with the warmer winds. Our son and family have recently relocated to this beautiful area where the rockies meet the prairies. Fort Collins, along with the rest of Colorado, is an outdoor-thinking area so there are well used bike paths and walking paths EVERYWHERE! So as we wait for our friends to arrive we enjoy the outdoors and conversations with family.

Finally our friends arrive in their Holiday Rambler and the sightseeing begins!

Now Ft. Collins' Chamber of Commerce could probably point out things to see and I'm certainly not a tour guide, but if you find yourself in Ft. Collins country I recommend two things to kick to the top of your "to do" list.

#1 The Swetsville Zoo -- And it's not a zoo, it's an art exhibit and for all you cheapskates out there, it's free.  Oh, you could put a

couple bucks in the bucket if you choose to donate, but no one's there to make you feel guilty. That being said this cheapskate kicked in a few bucks just 'cause I enjoyed the show. This fellow definitely sees more things in a pile of junk than the average dude. You're not going to hang this art on your wall but you are likely hear, or say, things like...."Hey Honey, come look at this."...."Well, would you look at that"..."Hey, it's an alligator." "A chain, I'll be. He made that with a chain"....    Oh yeah, while this is an opinion of an old crumugin, I think kids would like it too. For you romantics out there, it's a love story also, he made all this art for his wife.

#2 The Campbell's Soup Can
First of all, it's free. So what have you got to lose?  They don't even want your stinking donation.
Our friend, Lynn!
Well it's a big tank, cut and painted in the proportions of Andy Warhol's classic painting, but big.  I know, I know, I laughed too when I first read it.  I mean it just sits there and looks all soup canney, but then someone pointed out that you could have your  picture taken in front of it.  Bang! Just like that I was in.  I wanted a picture,  Ok, think about it and I'll bet you'll want one too. And yes kids (especially kids) will want one too.

Hand-held CB radios link our rigs as we venture down the road;
our next stop 10 miles east Cheyenne, WY on I-80 at Mel Gould's Buryville. The four of us marvel at how this welding artist has a different twist in how all his creations move with the wind.

I've got to tell you, as far as travel is concerned, this retirement thing is just great (Why didn't someone tell me about it sooner?). The flexibility of traveling with few time constraints is absolutely liberating. Our goal of touring Western Canada and Alaska is still a strong tug, but we agree that maybe we should take our time by slowly zig zagging our way north.  We choose to visit some sites that we have seen on previous trips. We agree that Devils Tower seems like something to see again. So we're off to northeastern Wyoming and Devils Tower.

Now, I suppose that someone might see this igneous monolith with bear claw marks running up and down it so often that it becomes blase, but I assure you twice ain't too much. And, hey, it's a Federal campground, which means cheap and I so do like cheap.  We arrive in the evening with wind rocking the Casita and with on-again, off-again showers. The planned cookout is canceled.  Fear not we will find a nice place for a fire and cookout in the next few days. We drift off to sleep, snug in our little fiberglass egg, rain drops dancing on the roof. I love it.

Morning comes with the tower out our window shrouded in low lying clouds and then the cloud settles about the tower's base with the top popping out. How cool is that? It's easy to see why the Native Americans thought it was sacred. Sunshine drives the leaking clouds away and we seize the opportunity to circle hike the big rock. Ahh, beautiful, and twice isn't too much to see this National Monument (Thanks Teddy).

However, there is a problem. Our fellow travelers, the Barksmore Sisters, have discovered that their 31' Holiday Rambler has sprung a leak above the driver's seat and since we are unable to find an RV supply nearby and since more rain is predicted we find ourselves headed to Camping World in Rapid City, South Dakota to get some of that super duper sticky tape to put on the seam. The negative is we are going to have to go away from Alaska, albeit through the
magnificent Black Hills (ahaa shucks!) The positive is that we don't have to be anywhere at any particular time and we will get the leak fixed. And...and the cherry on the top, we will get to see Kamala's nieces, grand nieces, and great grand nephews, because we are arriving at the same time as a family dinner is scheduled.   Whoopee!

Truly, as Conner points out in his Art of Travel: one should be able to deviate from your course when you want to. And that, folks is why retirement rocks.  A planned itinerary is great, but deviation can bring some lovely surprises if you got the time to explore and the willingness to let go of plans.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sometimes Sweethearts can be Heroes

A hero is someone who, through skill, intelligence, fortitude or some other neat attribute saves the the day. Now if you're one of the Avengers and have those superduper type skills like throwing big hammers across football fields, or turning into an angry, very angry big green man, well then they make movies about your deeds.  But even us mere mortals can be heroes by excelling in tough situations.  Ok, so, I'd like to nominate my wife for getting us out of a tough situation.
Today we're driving in the high country above Boulder Colorado, looking for a place to lite for the night with Kamala at the wheel. Being very cheap, we're checking out Federal campgrounds. (Gotta love that Golden Age Pass)  A quick search of the books and apps shows that just up the road is a campground.  The small two-lane country road is leading us into the forest, and now, without a warning from Bob, our friendly GPS voice, who usually announces such things, it's suddenly a one lane gravel road and we begin to worry a touch, but being the brave pioneers that we are, we soldier on.
Let me assess our predicament by noting that the road is getting more and more narrow, the skies are drizzling, there is a drop off to the left, not much--maybe 12 feet.  On our right is the mountain with a riverlit of water from the afternoon rain running along it's base beside the road. Up a hill, around a curve and then there it is, a mushy snow pack about 14 to 18 inches high and 20 feet long. Dark muddy ruts cut across the pack, so obviously someone has gone this way before, however Kamala and I are in harmony on the decision not to try to run it, but then the alternative is to back up a couple of football fields. Kamala, who usually backs up as I guide whenever we back the Casita in a campground is insistent that "I can do this".  So here we go, ten yards, forty, a hundred around the curve, down the hill and we are here at a small, very small and short drive way and finally after much deliberation amongst ourselves, and a couple of rangers who have stopped to see the show, Kamala is backing the Casita at a right angle off the road. Trailer is hitting the small drive way perfectly, but she has to get it into the shallow part and then about 3 feet up the side of the mountain in order to get so the truck can make the turn on the 12 foot road.  I'm amazed as the Casita sails up the mountain at about a 30 degree angle from the truck. Just enough to turn the whole rig.  Great job. Finally, Kamala turns to the two smiling rangers and says, "Crazy Texans, huh?"
Side note: No Casita was harmed on this adventure tale. By the way, we're really glad we had that high-lift axle put on the trailer! We do regret not getting a picture of our little trailer going up the side of the mountain at a 30 degree angle from the truck.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Curtains......Afraid of the dark? I think not! But I've come to a conclusion that most of America is. Everywhere you go, there's light. Neon lights, street lights, security lights, porch lights, and I can't forget the cute little solar butterfly lights that brighten the path in my backyard. I get it. I do. Security, safety, and attempting

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Paranoia and mudflaps

A story of rumors and quandary
This is a blurb about mud flaps, well fear too. Yeah, mud flaps and fear, but first let me preface my tale by telling you that we're a couple of weeks away from lift off to Alaska and points north. Because, we're going to share this little excursion of Northern

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Casita on the Casa for the Casita

 We had the guys from  Chaparral Steel Supply put up this little metal roof awning (we call it a techo here in the border area) 20' X 12' to protect the Casita.  Great! So what now? Top's protected, but the sides look naked.  We decide that we can put up a side and a back ourselves. So it's off to the local salvage lot (Yes, it's a junk yard, because we're responsible, green, and, of course cheap), Used 3/4 inch plywood sheets at 5 bucks a piece with a whole lot of nails to pull. But, hey, did I say we were cheap?

So now, we're cleaning, cutting and painting a base coat and I'm thinking maybe we'll paint stars, or symbols, or how about a fire breathing dragon, (Dragons are cool). But Kamala says it's a Casa for

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sweet anticipation

Ah, the sweet feeling of anticipatory planning for a trip--well, actually two trips (there be more on the second trip later). Right now, we're in between trips. I'm in limbo. With launch date set at the beginning of May and lots of to-dos to check off, I find that while I 'gotta' live in my house to prepare for the trip, I 'gotta' pack also. 

Usually we leave the house with a general idea, general direction, and general timeline. We adopted this overall idea while riding our recumbent tandem on our first long 2,800 mile bicycle tour from El

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Perception, Such a Narrow View of Life

See the Elk?There's actually more than one. It's all about perception.
Sunshine streaming in the window, jump out of bed, fling open the window and I'm treated to colors of a beautiful sunrise, so full, so magnificent and to complete the perception, a cool breeze and a cacophony of birds, dogs, and morning sounds. So big, so filling, so complete...well not quite, but, damn, it sure seems like it from a perceptual point of view. And, for the most part, we walk around

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Taking leaps

It's difficult to get away if you work at a job that only gives you two to three weeks off per year. When I was a CPA, that was all I was given for vacation. I started to take time off during slow periods without pay. Weekends were precious and we would take many mini-vacations to surrounding areas by taking off Friday after work and returning home on Sunday. 

Personal time is worth so much. What were we working for