"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks."
John Muir

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sweet Seattle Days

Seattle, Washington--far more than just a via point on our journey.
Seattle is home to family.
Just letting that word roll on your tongue is akin to sweet candy.
("akin"--a pun for sure)

What a terrific few days spent with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew--
laughing, discussing, card-playing, sharing jokes, eating...
and TALKING! Talking in New York style--how I love that!
The interrupt one another, raise the volume, use hands for emphasis,
change subject often but usually return back for another point or two
kind of conversations that get my blood churning.
Invigorating discussion! Passionate! No limitations on subject matter!
All talking and listening simultaneously while no one gets their feelings hurt
waiting for their "turn" to speak.
This is my innate way to talk and, though I don't live where others use this
particular technique, it bubbles up with freedom and exuberance in a setting like this.

We shared thoughts, sought and gave advice, and bathed all our conversations in love.

We enjoyed a beautiful Seattle sunset while eating at a marina
and wondering what life would be were we to own one of these boats.

We appreciated the sunset on Mt Rainier and Puget Sound,

and shared many miles of walks together.
Here, brothers-in-law study a salmon hatchery area.
When families live their lives so scattered and connect only once every
few years, like we do, it's a wonder to recognize the bonds
that do bind us together.
It truly is an amazing gift to know the love of family.
Kindred spirits of distant kin.
I thank God we have them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Unexpected Delay at the Border

We were excited to see no traffic lines delaying our entry into the USA
at the border south of Vancouver.
It was a large and expansive crossing with this monument and park.
This structure represented the gate between the two countries and the words:
"Brethern dwelling together in unity" expressed goodwill and friendship.
We thought of so many other border crossings in this world that are places of strife, tension, debate and even death. We were grateful that our crossing would be uneventful and simple, or so we thought...
We answered with honesty the questions asked by the
US Border Patrol Officer.
Simple answers, passports shown, Shoeless's ID and shot record handed over.
Just as we casually planned to drive on through, the guard told us to pull into
the area of "secondary inspection". What? Where? Why?
He had no answers, just commands.

We gingerly drove into this other area and left the car to go into a large
building. There were others who had been told to go here, as well.
But we noticed that they were all of different ethnicities and some spoke other languages.
To our dismay, we watched as the contents in their cars were being spread in a wide area surrounding their vehicles. We glanced nervously at our own car, packed tighter than a drum with all of our luggage, some gifts, a cooler, neat looking rocks (ALWAYS rocks from wherever we travel), cameras, etc. etc...
We'd actually filled the back of the little Mazda 5 with so much that the rearview mirror was of no use, if you can understand how piled the stuff was.
We had to put Shoeless in a wire cage before the men went out to rummage through our car while we entered a big building.

The traffic lines we had avoided ended us being people lines waiting inside this cavernous building. Perhaps the size was for reasons of intimidation.
Called to a station, the guard was all business and NOT your friendly neighborhood cop.
He demanded to know if anything questionable was in our car.
"If you don't tell us now and we find it, you'll be breaking the law!"
That's enough to make anyone forget things like oranges and apples.
And homemade jelly.
Jack mentally reviewed the contents and said, "Some snacks."
No weapons, no big cash, no Canadian purchases.

The wait seemed longer than it was. They held our passports hostage.
Finally 2 guards arrived--holding our bag of little oranges.
Seems that some fruits are serious criminals that cannot enter the US.
But they were purchased in Alaska, we explained, also part of the USA.
Did you know that once fruit crosses into Canada it "loses its citizenship".
Honest! That's the reason, verbatim.

Once we relinquished those rather bruised and unappealing oranges,
we were given our official "leave". Just before walking away,
one (more pleasant) officer apologized for opening our little box of jellies.
(Oops, we hadn't mentioned them!)
He also remarked that we had some good looking rocks.
And they were still ours!
A bit timid to look at the damage from the car inspection, we were relieved that our car was pretty much intact. The duffle of maps and tour books was pillaged but, for the most part, we were good to go.
Just had to break Shoeless out of jail first.

Whew. Unexpected. Tense.
Why? Each border guard has to make a 15-second decision of the safety of each vehicle crossing into the US. Due to our jam-packed car, he obviously didn't feel secure in determining nothing sinister lurked in the boxes and luggage within. Our honest faces weren't enough.
Another price we Americans have to pay for our homeland security.
Is it worth the cost?
You decide. I'm still thinking about this one...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shoeless Joe's Quiz

Our best travel buddy, who travelled over 5,000 miles on this return trip
(never mind the over 4,000 miles north in June), loved being out of his back seat
while we wandered around the sea wall park in rainy Vancouver.
He wants to show you the interesting way the walkways were marked
so safety reigned and all were happy.
See if you can guess which events were permitted in each area.
Ready? He will start with an easy one.

How about this one?
Don't disregard the arrow, it's a one way route.

Shoeless Joe is sad to see how limited this area is.
No fun here.

But he likes this one.
He likes to go fast, himself.
Without the leash, if you don't mind.

He saved this one for last.
A bit tricky.
Think you get it?
It was near a snack bar and the pool.
A busy place on a hot, summer day.
Shoeless is proud to bring you these international symbols.
He knows you can still be active and safe, even if illiterate.
He is now wishing he could stay running in the park longer rather than
curl up with a sigh on his bed in the back seat.

But, we couldn't ask for a better back seat driver!
He NEVER gives a word of advice nor asks the question.
"Are we there yet?"
Just drools on our shoulders when the pretzel bag is open.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vancouver, a City of Contrasts

We reached Vancouver late in the day.
It was raining. It always rains, so they say. The hotel was warm and dry.
The beds super comfy. All was well for the night.
The next day we headed to Stanley Park along the water.

Though we were still far north, north of the USA, I was surprised to see
palm trees in Vancouver! Yes, palm trees. We were only an hour or so away from Whistler Mountain and other ski centers and yet there they were--healthy and strong palms.
I learned later that this is due to the Jet Stream coming from the warmer waters
of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Still a real treat to see! Tropical palm trees north of the border. Wow.

My man is Mr. Pool Man Himself, having taught every swimming and
water rescue class there is to teach.
He has planned and run all sorts of swim programs
in his life, starting with Boy Scout days waaaaaaaaay back.
He still teaches the lifeguards at the local pools before each summer.

While enjoying our walk along the seawall in Vancouver, accompanied by the
noisy gulls, we came across this massive public pool.
No way we could fit the whole thing in one picture
without some fancy wide-angle lens.
It had slides and diving boards and lane lines and shallow areas.
But the coolest part was that it sat tucked up against the Strait of Georgia, the inlet coming in from the Ocean. Barges, cruise ships and fishing vessels passed nearby the wall of the pool.
I guess when you are paddling along in the chlorine you can imagine
you're heading out to sea with the fish if you focus beyond the iron fence.
Jack was quite impressed with this pool and
we walked around it more than once.
Too bad it wasn't a "tad" warmer and we had our swimsuits...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Two Roads Diverged...

Two southerly roads diverged.
Sea to Sky to the west, the other the east.
We had planned on the famous Sea to Sky, noted for its
spectacular mountains. Part of it includes crossing Whistler, the mt venue
for downhill skiing in the recent winter Olympics based in Vancouver.
But, after questioning a local we met while poised at this crossroad,
he asked what we had just thought of the roads we'd been on.
I paled a bit and he admitted that Sea to Sky was
"a lot more turns and higher climbs".
Thus, we chose the other, still a real nail-biter
(that is, when I dared let go of the door handle).

These roads cut right through BC's Provincial Parks and Coastal Mountains.
Moisture from the Pacific Ocean dumps tons of snow which causes avalanches
and rockslides down the steep mountain edges.
Some mountainsides are too steep to carve a road and we passed through
many of these tunnels through the mountains, each named.
This one is "Hell's Gate".

Just to add some extra, though totally unneeded, excitement to the drive,
numerous fully loaded logging trucks shared our road.
In areas of rockslides, sometimes the inner lane of the two was narrowed by
scattered rock piles that still hadn't been hauled off and we somehow had
to find a way to pull to the edge to allow the truck to pass.
These times I closed my eyes and refused to breathe!

This large park area consists of many lakes, waterfalls and parks
fit for rugged camping and hiking.
Scattered and isolated towns have names like Squamish,
Coauihalla and Sasquatch.
We paused for a break in a tiny, quaint village called Hope on the Fraser River.
Lots of history of native peoples who lived here for 1,000's of years before
explorers entered the area, always in search of furs and gold.
The salmon return here in incredible numbers and it is known for excellent fishing.
It was a perfect place to pause and rest our rather jangled nerves.
Shoeless thinks it is perfect for munching down a burger.
Scary roads don't bother him one bit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who Is This Lineman-Superman?

While clutching the door handles as we swerved along
these wild mountain roads, I noticed these crazy electric wires.
They draped in long loops that dangled over deep valleys.
Probably a mile long, at least.
Rather like the tight rope that a circus star will walk.

How, we pondered, did these wires ever get suspended over these
wide open spaces that dropped down so far between mountains?
Helicopters? Cranes? Seemed impossible a task.

Miles later, when the towers were on our side of the valley, we even
stopped the car to examine these monster-like supports that held the wires.

Peer closely on the road, near the lower left--that's a big
tractor trailer with a load. That may help you understand the size of these towers.
Bigger and stronger than you can imagine,
they sported springs to support the great weight of these wires.
High winds can whip down these mountainsides during winter storms.
Those precarious live wires must sway and tug.
My respect for engineers never wanes.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lillooet, Guaranteed Rugged

Sometimes I pause before writing a word...


How do I describe the impact that this remarkable scenery had on me?
What words can I use to give you a glimpse into these roads?
My vocabulary and syntax are so limited.
I am redundant in my adjectives and adverbs.
So sorry.
Even the photographs taken with our little Canon are restricted.
But I still want to share with you, so please continue to come along
and catch a peek at what we experienced.


I thought that heading southward meant shorter mountains and
more population, but I was WRONG!
We chose to turn southward at Prince George and avoid returning to
Alberta, the route we took in June. We would enter the US in Washington
rather than Montana.
Never did we dream that our decision meant the most death-defying roads
we'd been on yet. Even worse than crossing the Northern Rockies.
We drove on hairpin turns requiring 25 mph and couldn't imagine going faster.
The high cliffs on our left and harrowing drop-offs on our right
(no guard rails) made me white-knuckled and whoozy.

After many miles (too many!), we came upon a town called Lillooet.
Most of these areas belong to Native tribes and have unfamiliar names.
This little town's houses cluster in a valley by the river.
A train track clutches onto the very river bank, weaving in and out.

This sign says it all!
Please note the curves marked in the roadsign.
Do these twists and turns at 8,000 feet never end?

Occasionally some concrete barriers let me expand my lungs
a bit with some deep breaths. But they were rare, indeed.
And the breath ended in a gulp when I saw the ribbon of highway
twisting along the edge up ahead.
Guaranteed rugged--I'll say!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Things are Bigger in Houston----Where??????

Moving on down the road in British Columbia,
we headed more east than south, pulling away from the Alaskan coastal border.
Getting near the town of Houston, we saw this sign.
Houston and wild horses--could we have arrived in Texas overnight????

Oh, but of course not!
Houston, BC, is nothing like Houston, TX.
For one, it has huge, thick pine trees everywhere.

For two, it is the home of many, many Grizzly bears.
This big fellow now stands in the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.
He weighs 975 lbs and "stands 11 feet when erect".
(Though, to be honest, I think his standing days are over.)
He spent much of his life in Hungry Hill, near Houston, and is known as
one of the phantom bears that had been killing livestock in the area.
We even picked up a flyer listing all of the warnings to alert people
on how to try to avoid bears, including:
garbage disposal, composts, beehives, barbeques, fruit trees and pet food.

This area around Houston is full of lakes and fly fishing.
Jack is posing with the "world's largest fly rod".
So tall I couldn't get the whole thing in the picture and still have
Jack recognizable. You'll just have to imagine its massive height
and be amazed... Are you????
I guess everything isn't ALWAYS bigger in Texas.
Sometimes the biggest things are in Houston......... British Columbia.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Don't Lose Faith

Once we finally got through the "closed" washout road behind the pilot car,
we had to drive on past our planned route to stay in Stewart.
We were tired of the car but there was no where to stop.
We had left Whitehorse at 7:30 AM.
With the 2 hour delay for the road deal, it was now past 8 PM.
Darkness soon set in.
The road was winding and narrow.
Our eyes grew tired watching intently for the bear, moose and fox that were
plentiful in the surrounding woods.
We saw them standing at the edges of the road. Lots of bear.
Thankfully they all stayed at the edge of the road, eyes glowing in dark shadows.
That's all we saw for hours.

Finally we reached Indian Reservation lands and then--
a lighted gas station. Such a welcome sight!
We greedily filled our empty tank then drove on in the dark.
At 11:30 PM we pulled into a motel called the Alpine Inn.
We were in Smithers, British Columbia.
Can you imagine how tired Jack was, having driven 16 hours
(well, 14 hours driving, 2 hours waiting rather impatiently)
on winding mountain roads and then dark ones.
Total miles for that day=780.
We fell into bed and slept hard.

I peeked out the window the next morning and saw a steel gray sky.
at least what I thought was sky--
but as my eyes focused upward I realized a huge mountain loomed
directly behind the motel.
It was wondrous! A ski center, no less.

The whole town of Smithers designed itself into a replica of
an Alpine Village surrounded by the Swiss Alps.

It was charming! Flags and storefronts reminded us of Olympic Villages
we'd seen on TV. We've never been to Switzerland but this seemed pretty authentic.

It even had one of these mountain men with the giant horn they use to
communicate across the valleys. For when they can't yodel.
( I know this because I read "Heidi" as a child.)
He was carved out of wood.
The fact that he stood in front of a very non-Alpine Subway
was rather inappropriate, but he was cute, nonetheless.

Anyway, thoughts of the night before's dark and treacherous drive
lingered with me for most of that next day. We had peered at the blackness
of the trees and wild animals. Anxiety had buckled himself into the backseat.
An uninvited guest. We settled for a motel without much choice.
Went to bed fatigued despite the beautiful scenery earlier in the day.
The snowcapped mountains, the bounding waterfalls, clear lakes up high
along these coastal mountains. It had been a wonderful day of beauty and
we had been blessed to be part of that wild land, traveling in a safe car with
enough gas to get through.
But the darkness changed our happy spirits.
Blocked our view. Brought the doubts and fears.
How quickly darkness will do that.

When I saw the mountains in the morning,
I knew they had been there all along.
Those final hours of night driving hadn't removed any of them.
We had just lost sight of their solidness, their massiveness, their strength.
We can do that in life--fall into despair and timidity because we've
lost sight of what we love and admire.
That's where FAITH comes in.
Believing in what we cannot see. Knowing. Trusting.
Looking beyond our circumstances.
Smithers reminded me of that powerful truth.
And I'm reminding you.
Because sometimes we can forget.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Where IS that pilot car, anyway?

We drove many hours southward near the coastline in glorious
British Columbia. Our goal was to veer off the Cassiar Highway onto
a little road to Hyder, Alaska. We'd heard this town is interesting in that
Hyder is officially in Alaska but the school is in Canada.
Not only different countries but time zones and currency, as well.
Also near a salt water fjord upon the US/Canadian border.
seemed worth the 80 miles off the route.
That was the plan, anyway.
Until around just one more bend in the winding road--WHOA!!

Being positioned behind a commercial truck, we came to a sudden halt.
In response to asking what the hold-up was all about we learned that we were waiting for a
pilot car to take us through. Well, that's a little delay but we've certainly had to wait for these cars before. Usually the longest wait was 30 minutes.
But honestly, seeing the road crew sitting in a chair with a log fire and portapotty
made us a bit uneasy. Seemed a bit too permanent.

Our senses were right on!
To our shock and dismay we learned that the pilot car wait was 2 hours--
And even worse, it only made the trip one more time this evening
and then closed the road until 8 AM. It was now 6PM.
What to do?
Well, the workers calmly told us that the line of waiting cars just sat there all night,
the people inside sleeping in the cars.
It was cold. We were miles and miles from any gas stations.
Couldn't risk using much gas for the heater. Quite a dilemma. Unbelievable, really.

Around 8:10 the pilot car showed up.
Driver got out and hung around visiting, no sign of urgency to stay on schedule.
I finally walked up to talk to her and get some information.
Road was washed out 2 weeks ago by heavy mountain rains.
That's it. This is life living in a coastal mountain area.

We eventually began the caravan, traveling 20 mph for an hour behind the pilot car.
We were amazed by the many pieces of heavy equipment working in this wide area,
trying to repair so many places where there was no longer a road.

Our arrival to Hyder/Stewart was totally blocked as there was another
washout on the road to there and it only opened 3 times daily.
Of course there was no cell service and we couldn't call to cancel.
We were so grateful that we were simply passing through because we had met
other drivers that had to do this as part of their daily commute.
Can you even imagine that kind of patience?


The moral of this true story is:
The next time you grow edgy sitting at a red light,
remember our adventure with the pilot car on the Cassiar Highway.
And breathe a sigh of thankfulness.
Your light will quickly turn to green.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

O, Canada! We're Back Again.

Expansive Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in Tok, Alaska,
was a perfect time for our first break in the drive.
Not far from the Canada/US border,
these wetlands, tundra and forests
are nestled within the Tanana River Valley.
700,000 acres of pristine wilderness set aside
for birds and animals to live in safety.
"That's a lot of real estate" is a comment Jack often repeated under his breath
as we drove the 65 miles of the Alaska highway that makes up
the northern boundary of the Refuge.
The painting on the door of the Visitor Log Cabin is of a trumpeter swan
with the words printed underneath:
"Come in and rest your wings." Nice, huh?

Crossing into Canada's Yukon Territory quickly reminded us
of the roughest stretch of trip in over 4,000 miles.
The permafrost heaves and holes jolted and tossed us up/down,
right and left. Poor Shoeless couldn't even stand up in the back seat.

Do you remember my post about the Drunken Forests caused by permafrost
on 9/21 ? Not only trees are affected by the thawing and freezing of
permafrost. We laughed at the precarious tilt of many telephone poles.
We rarely saw poles during most of the trips through northern Canada-
maybe this was why. We discussed the perils of being a lineman
in the Yukon Territory. The call to repair a "line down" must be common
since even the ones standing were already halfway there.

After a night in Whitehorse we turned right (sort of)
and headed south. This trip we chose to stay nearer the coastline
so we didn't hit snow in the Northern Rockies. We
decided to drive down the Cassiar Highway in NW British Columbia.
It is a narrow and winding road with few other cars but labelled a haul road
for logging trucks so we needed to give them the right of way.
The mountain peaks were stupendous and fall colors great!

The air is BC is clear and fresh as you can imagine.
We were puzzled when we noticed this sign.
Seemed a bit unnecessary up here in this wilderness.
No traffic jams, no parking, no stores--yet a warning to drivers
about idling to "improve air quality"--really??

We watched as snow began to adorn the high peaks as snow clouds
clustered over them. Looked like a dusting of powdered sugar shaken from a sifter.
Can you see the heavy clouds sitting on top of the mountain?
Once again, many miles of this amazing trip didn't call for any talking and
no cell towers nor radio transmitters were available.
Quiet and personal reflection settled in the car peacefully.
What a phenomenal world we have!
The majesty of the mountains humbles me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the Great One

"Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God."
Psalm 90:2

We pulled out in the yet dark morning
but the coffee in our cups was still warm when the sun
started his journey into the new day's sky.

Heading south, we were so pleased to look to the south and watch the
pink glow warm the snow on the Alaska Range of mountains.

Mt McKinley or Denali (the "Great One") is the highest peak in
all of North America. It glowed rich and warm with the sun's earliest rays.

As the miles grew behind us, we drove away from these beauties.
The glacier-fed braided river stayed next to us for awhile--
until we eventually turned eastward in our new journey.
Our eyes lingered on Denali for as long as it stayed in our view.
There would be many more spectacular mountains to come in the days ahead,
but this one was so special as its glory had been visible throughout the
weeks we lived in Fairbanks. Like a friend.
Goodbye, O Great One.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Packing Up the Memories-Weird, Wild and Wonderful

Time to leave this place.
We've packed the car and turned in the key.
Today's blog tries to do 2 things:
1. Show a few pictures that just haven't fit in anywhere and
2. Try to summarize the wild and wonderfulness of it all.

BE AWARE--there are lots of random pictures.
(Better than lots of words you say? I heard that!)

**A brief Photographic Tribute to Our Summer in Alaska**

The land that has:

-- a limited "road system" and depends on dog sleds, boats
or these bush planes. They frequent the skies above;

-- the "Kids Don't Float" program.
Not only the wisdom and warning, but the life jackets are there for the taking.
And people seem to be honest since they don't disappear.
Just borrowed for the day and returned when back on land;

-- the Large Arctic Animal Research Center
where we heard information on the big, hairy Musk Ox
(Try saying THAT fast 5 times! Musk Ox, musk ock, mock.....);

and these beautiful caribou;

-- races at midnight and no artificial lighting;

-- B & Maybe B--hee, hee
Let's hope you don't wake up with an appetite;

-- way too many rainy days...

but that rain sure made things grow in great perfusion!

-- weather that makes us sometimes wear winter coats in July and August.
(Jack is NOT a fan of this.);

-- moose casually hanging out along the roads

and learning how to deal with them;

-- finding buildings with this sign:
"Please Lock Your Vehicle"
Why would one even park here in the first place??

--and giving us memories of a lazy riverboat cruise down the river
with some of our favorite people.

Amidst the parades and festivities there was still a moment or two for culture.
The director of this concert was from the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC.

And lots of time spent loving on that dear little grandbaby.
(She's thinking, "Hmmm, Daddy's hair isn't like this?)

With this little 4th of July firecracker it didn't matter
that there was no fireworks display in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
She gives us all the sparkle and ooh's and ahh's we can take!

Even so, we knew our weird, wild and wonderful days were numbered.
This car sat in our parking lot every day reminding us of the dual
lives we were living and that we weren't alone in that duality.

Alaskans call leaving the state "going outside".
As we put the car in gear and headed "outside",
this friendly fellow watched us drive away and asked the big question:
When will we be returning to the land of the weird, wild and wonderful?
God alone holds that answer to that one!
For now we have memories to last quite a long time.
And that is good. Very good.