Black From the Pot: Driving the AlCan in Winter

We headed out of Dillon, Montana in the morning and made our way up I-15 through Butte and Helena, both pretty mountain towns.  Someday, I’d really enjoy staying and exploring when the weather is more conducive to doing so.  Lots of mountainous winter driving with hills and turns until we dropped down from the hills towards Great Falls, then straight north on flat land towards Shelby and the border.  Mostly flat landJust before you get to Shelby is a small canyon that the highway dips down into before climbing back up which the Marias River flows through.  It wasn’t horrible when we went through but if the weather had been icy, may have been some trouble.

Last glimpse of blue skies, heading into the storm

As we continued north, we could see the cold front to our west that had been threatening.  It felt to me like we were racing against some really bad weather, which we were.  We made some last calls to family before we entered Alberta, Canada and garnered international rates, then went through customs.  I made a point to be sure the guards had a look at Moonlight’s papers this time.  I spent good money to make certain she had them, dammit!  LOOK AT THEM!  Which they did and we began our 1,900 mile trek across Canada.

It was starting to get dark as we got underway again but didn’t start looking for a place to stop until around midnight.  We saw the town of Leduc, which had some motels listed on Yelp but it seemed too far out of our way to consider stopping.  I found one that had been rated with 5 stars just outside of Edmonton, so we went there.  We were tired and agreed to the $100 deposit, since we didn’t have enough on our credit card to use it, then went to our room.

Moonlight did NOT approve

It stank like ancient chain smoker with stains and burns on every surface, but we took showers and tried to sleep.  After an hour and a half nap, we both woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep so we packed up, and got our deposit back and left.  What a nasty place.

Cigarette burns

We drove on for another few hours and then stopped in the parking lot of a large convenience store/truck stop in Whitecourt, where we fell asleep for a few hours in our seats.  We woke up, I went inside to use the bathroom and bought hot coffee while Robert walked Moonlight, and we traded places so Robert could sleep a little while I drove.  It was pre-dawn and the traffic was heavy with many pickups and semis heading out with us to the oil and gas fields, which got lighter as the day got brighter and we made our way towards Dawson Creek, the “official” start of the Alaska Highway.  Along the way, we passed over Pink Mountain, the nefarious bane of our journey south.  In the light of day, it almost seemed like a smallish hill.  But we know better, don’t we.  Yes.  We drove on and stopped at Sasquatch Crossing where we saw a truck with it’s blinkers on and a couple of people walking back towards the lodge.  They were actually from Indian Valley, close to Anchorage, and their truck had broken down.  I hope they made it to where they were headed to down in the Lower 48, the opposite direction we were headed.  If they had been interested in going back, we could have offered them a ride.

Slipping between two storm systems

We spent the night at the new Motel 6 in Fort Nelson, where there was even a little, snowy dog area in a corner of the lot for Moonlight to potty in.  It was comfortable, and we slept so very, very well and soundly that night.

Much better!

We sure did need it.  The only trouble we had was the light switch for the bathroom had been connected to the fridge, so we had to pour out the milk I had been keeping for our coffee.  It was almost gone by that point but still somewhat annoying.  Which brings us to the subject of what we’d been eating on this trip.  Well, tamales from Texas, of course!  Back in Arizona, we bought one of those plug in coolers for our food.  We had milk, eggs, cheese, hotdogs and 5 dozen frozen tamales that my father in law had bought us before we left Houston.

Plug-in cooler

The tamales stayed frozen, for the most part, since the cooler was well packed, but as we traveled on, the other things got used up and so they started to thaw after we left Colorado.  During one of our stops in Idaho for fuel, I saw a little portable oven that is apparently popular amongst truckers, that gets plugged into your 12-volt cigarette lighter like the cooler, and bought it along with some aluminum pan-type inserts.

RoadPro 12-volt oven

I tried it out with some hotdogs first.  After about 20 minutes of driving, we started to smell the hotdogs so I picked the cooker up off the floorboard by my feet and opened it up in my lap.  Hot water from condensation in my lap!  But then it was cold water.  Yuck.  But we had hot hotdogs! Then we had hot tamales.  And hot tamales.  And hot tamales.  We had tamales for three days.

Hot food while you drive

It was a very long day, preceded by a very long night, preceded by a string of very long days, but since we no longer had our travel trailer to sleep or eat in, we were compelled to keep going.  That takes coffee, and lots of it.  Whether in the form of those bottles of Starbuck’s chilled mochas bought at the store or steaming hot, black from the pot at a lonely lodge along the highway, caffeine is the fuel that keeps the weary traveler alert and content enough to keep driving on.  Coffee and cinnamon rolls.

There are two places we stopped at where they make their cinnamon rolls fresh every day, and they aren’t too far from each other.  Plus, they’re both really good! The first we came to was the Tetsa River Lodge, where they have a great little ad in The Milepost for the “Cinnamon Bun Centre of the Galactic Cluster”.  The coffee was amazing as well, and we had a nice chat about Trump with the owner.  The next place we stopped at was at Double G, where we got more coffee and more cinnamon rolls!  Yay!  Robert took photographs of the old lights above the fuel island, he’d been wanting to since we’d passed by on our way down, so I’m glad he had the opportunity to do so.

Robert taking pictures before going in and finding fresh cinnamon rolls and coffee!

Backstory:  In 2010, when Robert and I were traveling up from Alabama so we could live together as man and wife, finally… we stopped at the Double G for breakfast one morning.  We enjoyed a wonderfully delish meal but the proprietor was super cranky so we ever afterwards called him the surly cook. He wasn’t there this time, but a super friendly younger guy was there with the coffee and rolls.  Apparently, the old guy is the owner and spends the winters down south now.  I’d love to go back through in the summer while he is there just to see if his attitude is any better.

Folded Mountain

Another long day and driving and driving.  Moonlight is starting not to like going for rides in the truck.  Even if she gets to look out the window and bark at the locals.

Wood Bison

We spend the night in Teslin at the Yukon Motel.  It’s older but clean and quiet, so we wake up in the morning ready for strong coffee and a last, great push towards home.

We make stops to fill up the truck with diesel at every major town along our way, because you just don’t know who’s going to be open this time of year.  It’s the 23rd of December and there might be folks out visiting family.  So, stops in Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Destruction Bay before we make our way up towards the Alaska-Canada Border, where the guard on duty on the U.S. side gives Moonlight a biscuit and talks about bushwhacking on his off days to a local lake in the area.  It’s remote forest, what else is he gonna do when he’s not working?  We totally get it.

The sun is going down as we cross into Alaska and is full dark by the time we get to Tok.  I briefly consider going into the RV campground to retrieve the stash I hid there but there’s no way I’d be able to with all the snow.  We continue on, keeping ourselves going with music and conversation, already planning our next adventure.  We know we’re going to do this again and we outline some of the changes we’ll make and ways to do things better.  We pass familiar landmarks in the darkness, a faint green glow to the north, not enough to really call it auroras.  We pull into our driveway at 1:22 am on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve.

What a trip!

Goodbye, Trailer. Hello, Winter

I need to write about the last month before it all fades away into the black hole I tend to get in my memory.

We had driven from Houston to San Antonio, where we stayed for three days with my best friend from high school, Anne Marie, and her husband, Harry.  They had a buddy who was interested in buying our travel trailer but who ultimately had to decline due to the quickly approaching Christmas holiday.  Understandable.  We still came out ahead since we were able to enjoy a very nice and unhurried visit with our friends.  But we had to get going to stay on schedule, so left and made our way towards El Paso, across the bottom of New Mexico and into Arizona.

A view out the truck window at Juarez from the U. S. side

Neither Robert nor I had ever seen saguaro cactus in real life…they are a trip, with their “hands” in the air, big as trees.  We would love to come back and take pictures with them, but since we were actually in a bit of a hurry by then to sell the trailer and they don’t grow to the north of Phoenix, where Prescott is located, we had to pass them by.  Unfortunately for Moonlight, another thing that grows down there is grass that produces caltrops-like burrs that stabbed and stuck to her paws.  Every time we stopped for her to go potty, she stepped on a few, even on the sidewalks.  She was most unhappy.

Put your hands in the air, like you just don’t care!

Robert had made an advertisement for the trailer on Craigslist while we were still in Texas, so he started getting texts and calls about it a couple of days before we even arrived at our friend Sue’s house.

Robert in our very clean trailer, ready to show to prospective buyers.

We wound up selling it to a young guy with a little family who wanted to park it out on his lake property.  Cool beans!  We lined up a uhaul rental trailer for our return trip back to Alaska and managed to transfer our entire household’s belongings into the compact 4×6 space and the back of the excursion.  Robert packed it in such a way that it would be easy(-er) to offload some furniture I wanted to give to my eldest daughter, as we would be stopping by again to see her, the grandkids, and my son in Grand Junction.

The Electric Igloo going off with her new family. I hope they love her as much as we did.

While staying with Sue and her husband, we also were able to meet with Joe and Bobby, also from Anchorage, and have a nice dinner out, all together.  Being involved with the Chugach Gem and Mineral Society has brought us some wonderful friends.  Good times, indeed.  Sue took us to a really cool junk shop near her house, where I picked up a sad-looking trumpet for $25.  Not entirely certain why or what I’m going to do with it but I used to play in middle school, so I bought it.

Of course we HAD to stop here!

After saying goodbye to Sue, we headed on to Durango, Colorado where we stayed a very pleasant night with our friend Rose, who used to be an antique dealer and whose lovely home is full of interesting curiosities and brimming with beautiful artifacts.  Just the kind of place that gets a couple of collector’s such as ourselves’ hearts beating faster, and in such gorgeous surroundings!  We both are anxious to return to the southwest area of Colorado someday soon.

Instead of taking the more direct route of Highway 550 north from Durango to Montrose, Colorado, we opted to stay out of danger from avalanches and a lack of guardrails and go up and around into Utah through Moab.  What an interesting place.

Decent into the Moab area

There were orange sandstone formations, including an obligatory arch, waves and ripples and humps of stone.  Another place we intend to investigate more thoroughly in the future, by jeep, if at all possible.

I don’t know what this is but there’s a hole at the bottom

 

There’s a hole in this one, too

A short visit with Josh and his girlfriend over dinner, then on to secure a hotel room before meeting with Katie to give her a little round antique table and hope chest that had belonged to my Grandmother DeRuiter.  I would have liked to have brought them up to Alaska with us but there are already two chests in this house.  Besides, Katie needs more room for hope right now, so I lovingly turned the heirlooms over to her.  The next day we were scheduled to leave on our trip north, but little Erabella had been sick that night so Katie and the kids stayed home and we visited a little more.  We left Grand Junction around noon and took I-70 west towards Salt Lake City, Utah.

The entire corridor from Provo through SLC to Ogden must have used to have been so incredibly beautiful, set in between two mighty and picturesque rows of mountain ranges as it is, but now is so built up with ugly beige buildings, businesses and subdivisions that it’s hard to see the appeal to warrant such sprawl.  A thin but noticeable brown cloud of pollution hung over it all.  We both really dislike having to go through mile after mile of intense traffic, but once you get through it into Idaho, a deep sigh has usually dispelled the aversion.

The ‘burbs of Salt Lake City, Utah

We had radio to listen to and cell service, however, and we learned that there was a winter storm barreling down from the northwest which we were on course to intercept unless we tried to race it and get into Montana that night.  We debated whether to chance spending the night in Pocatello, Idaho or try to get over the passes before the storm got worse.  Being the navigator at that point, I suggested we try slipping over before the worst of the storm hit the passes, and Robert agreed.  So we drove that night until we got to Dillon, Montana where we got a room and slept in a bit that next morning.

The last leg of our epic road trip was nigh; Montana through Canada to Anchorage.  In three days in the dead of winter.

Texas

We’re about to leave Texas today, after having spent the last month here, mostly camped out in my in-law’s driveway.  We would come inside every morning to enjoy coffee and breakfast while still having a getaway for privacy or just to be out of their hair.  There were friends to visit and family to catch up with, places to reminisce over and I have to admit I’ve been able to sooth my yen for good BBQ.  We’ve enjoyed some very beautiful and sunny weather along with famously torrential rains and thunderstorms.  Now, it’s actually getting COLD at night!  So naturally, it’s time to head back up north, right?  Our adventure is coming to a close, due to some obligations I have to take care of in Alaska.  Plus, we’re running out of money.  For now.

Mack the horse getting his hooves trimmed by Tommy the farrier.

 

Grapefruit tree at the In-Law’s

The travel trailer has kept us mostly dry, mostly warm and was an excellent place to lay our heads at night or have a quick potty break and a snack.  Our very own hidey-hole that could be pulled along behind the truck and available to us at any time we desired to stop.  This entire trip, and this trailer in particular, has been an experiment to see if we could do it or even if we even LIKE having an RV.  We do.  We want to do this again.  Unfortunately, it won’t be with this particular trailer.

Beautiful Texas pine trees remind me of Art Deco paintings.

After having such a misadventure with the icy mountain in Canada, we won’t be towing the Electric Igloo back to Alaska with us, not in January!  So, we’re opting to sell her and just rent a little U-Haul trailer for our stuff and go back that way.  10,000 pounds of toyhauler is too much weight that could pull us all down an icy hill with it if things go sideways.  Plus, the wear on Babe the Expedition has been a non issue so far but why push it when there’s the very real chance we could find ourselves in -40 (and more) cold temps?  Better to let the home on wheels go, and live to RV another day, another way.  At least Robert and I are still friends and loves after living in such close quarters for the last three months or so.  We can do it.

Today, we’ll continue on through El Paso, Texas and then across New Mexico.  Tomorrow we should be in Phoenix, Arizona and up to see our friend Sue in Prescott, where we have an add up on Craigslist for the trailer.  After visiting a few days and repacking our belongings, we’ll meander our way up into Colorado to see the kids and grandkids before traversing Canada, to home.  Somewhere between here and the border we’ll need to find a vet so Moonlight can get her health certificate paperwork updated for a smooth crossing in and out of Canada.

But we’re not done yet.  More adventure awaits, we can all bet on that!

Sunrise at Seabrook Sailing Club house

Boobies

“Today is the first day I’ve gone braless in public without the security of a sweater or my wool shirt, mainly because it’s just too hot here in Colorado to wear them.  I did feel self conscious because I’m not very small chested but I was assured by my daughter and husband that I would be okay and that I didn’t look terrible. And I was okay.  At $20-50 a pop, I think I’ll quit spending money trying different styles and just let it go.”

I wrote the above on November 8th while in Grand Junction, Colorado.  I had been feeling some painful “hot spots” in my right breast and thought I should probably just go without wearing one any more.  I spent most of the trip from Anchorage to Michigan with no bra and was very comfortable, especially with my cozy sweater over all for a layer of camouflage.  Since wearing a bra again, my ladies were NOT happy.  I would guess that if a man were made to wear a jock strap for hours on end, day after day, his balls would probably feel about the same.  Or not.  I don’t have balls so I don’t know.

So, it’s been a few more weeks and everything is settling down and I feel pretty comfortable.  The pain is gone and as far as I can tell, nobody really gives a damn what my boobs are doing under my shirt.  I felt so self conscious about it, I still do, but it’s getting easier.  I think mostly it was other women who I was concerned I’d see unkind looks from but so far I haven’t seen anything.  Not one look or sidelong glance.  I’m glad, too!   I know what I would have to say if I ever did have a disapproving look directed at me and that would be a faux sad sigh and “Doctor’s orders.”  Which isn’t entirely true, but neither is it untrue.  I’ve had some scary incidences which resulted in a biopsy, and more recently having to “stay after” a mammogram and have an ultrasound done.  I asked the doc if there was anything I could do to keep my breasts healthy, specifically regarding bras because they seem to bother me, and she said that if I’m comfortable, I could consider not wearing one.  Among other things, of course.  But, you know.  I’m cleared for public flopping.  Just one more piece for my eccentricity puzzle.

Ramble On

After spending almost two weeks in Colorado, we woke up this morning with chilled toes and cold noses, the rest of us being ensconced within our layers of flannel and wool.  It had been warm during the days, well into the 60’s, and only recently dropping into the 30’s at night, but last night hovered close to freezing temps.  Time to move on to our next destination, Texas.

While spending time with family here on the Western Slope we had also taken a weekend trip to my old stomping grounds of Colorado Springs, on the Front Range.  Here we spent time with my good friend, Jennifer and her boyfriend, Taylor, and drove around like tourists looking for yard sales in Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs.  Robert enjoyed the many fine examples of neon workmanship announcing the presence of dining rooms and motels, and some not so fine remains of what had been beautiful signs that had been allowed to rust and decay.  I had some issues finding my way around town since some landmarks have been replaced by new growth, but by the end of our stay I was getting my bearings again.

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Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep on the way to Colorado Springs on Hwy 50

Our trip had another purpose, and that was for us to reconnaissance a possible suitable route through the mountains.  The last time we had come to Grand Junction to visit, we took Highway 50 over Monarch Pass on our way to Texas.  This is a daunting idea with such a heavy trailer, especially after our experience with the Pink Mountain Debacle.  Long and steep is the approach to the pass, with many curves, and the off side is brutal on brakes.  I used to visit my Dad when he lived near Crestone in the San Luis Valley and I would take a less traveled road which I remembered had more gradual grades and a lower altitude pass, Highway 114.  So we checked it out on our way to the Springs, sans trailer, and it seems to be our path of choice.  We’ll head south through the San Luis Valley and over towards Raton Pass, another area of concern, but after that we’ll be on (mostly/comparatively) flat land.  The caveat being, we need to leave before any precipitation hits those mountain passes, because if it gets snowy and icy, we’ll need to go through Utah and down to Arizona instead.  So far, so good…fingers crossed!

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A view of South Park from Wilkerson Pass on Hwy 24

After our visit, we took a different route going back to Junction, taking Highway 24 through South Park and meeting up with I-70 at Minturn.  Just outside of Minturn is the abandoned mining town of Gilman, where we stopped to take some pics.  I reckon the stream flowing below the mine has got some placer gold in’t.

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Gilman. I’d pan that.

There was another couple also at the pull off, who asked where in Alaska we were from (our license plates are a conversation piece, we’ve found!) and we told them and lo and behold, they were from Alaska originally and just moved down here a couple years ago!  I didn’t get their names but the guy is a two time Iditarod musher.  Yeah, because who else do you meet on a secondary road pull off, but an Alaskan musher?  Sorry, guy.  I wish I had asked yall’s names!

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Mushers gonna mush

Yesterday, we went grocery shopping and sanitized our freshwater tank, today we’ve rinsed and filled the tank with good Colorado water and I’ll be packing up for an early departure in the morning.  We’ve both had such a good time in Colorado, it seems a shame to leave.  We’ve had fun spending time with our little grandchildren and the kids, as well as with friends.  However, the nip in the air is undeniable, and there will be Thanksgiving dinner with Robert’s family in a couple of weeks, so it’s time to ramble on.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Right now we have a problem, and I’m trying to stay positive despite it, but losing ground fast.  We had set out on this journey to have an epic adventure, which if you’ve been following us, know we’ve been getting it in spades.  What we have not gotten so much of is that stuff you need to have to buy fuel, food and electricity….money, which we had planned on making by buying fun little things that we could pick up for cheap and sell on ebay and also fit into a flat rate box.  If it fits, it ships, right?  Unfortunately we’ve been finding very large things for cheap, like $50 antique console radios and $40 vintage gas stoves, etc.  Really great stuff that some elbow grease would make beautiful and useful again but would have to be carted around with us for weeks or months until we could bring them to a more marketable city or even bring back with us to Alaska.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of not being overly extravagant with our eating habits but it continues to be our greatest expense.  I had been careful to pack as much as our fridge and freezer could hold but since coming back into the lower 48, I haven’t been as diligent about keeping the larder stocked.  I find myself in a cycle of running low on supplies, then not replenishing our stocks due to financial concern, to then not having any prime pantry items and winding up going out to eat, resulting in spending twice as much (at least).  So, having identified the issue, I know what I need to do to correct it.  The wolf isn’t at the door but I’ve heard him around 3 am, howling in the neighboring pasture we’re camped out by.

So with these factors weighing down on us, we’re starting to consider selling our abode either before we leave Grand Junction in a couple of weeks or after we get down to Houston where my in-laws live.  I’m confident that our fortunes will change for the better after we get down to Texas, so the question now is, Will it make better sense to keep it to live in even though we can’t get it to the farms and into neighborhoods where our bread and butter lies?  (See Robert’s post all about this very subject here:  http://www.novioljourneys.com/?p=293)  Or should we cut our losses and get a couple thousand dollars from the sale of it and start anew with something smaller?  We truly love and feel comfortable in the Electric Igloo but perhaps we should downsize even further to something more maneuverable and economical to tow.  I think we’ll begin to have a clearer picture of what we ought to do in a few days.

On a happier note, we’ve been spending precious time making memories with our grandchildren, Bella who is 3 1/2, and Bo who is 2.  They are busy and fun, but Grandma and Grandpa know that their own child rearing days are over.  We are exhausted.  But so, so happy.  Relieved to be able to have our own peace and quite afterwards certainly, but happy.  See?  I feel hopeful again already.

 

The Northwoods

 

We are comfortable and resting at my mom’s home in Midland, Michigan, enjoying a second helping of the autumn season we just left a couple of weeks ago in Alaska, this one’s colors much more flamboyant.

After the adventures of Pink Mountain, we had less travail as we eased down into the plains of Alberta and our outlook improved at pace with our gas mileage.  We no longer had as many issues with the water lines wanting to freeze up at night, driving became more enjoyable under better conditions and we settled back into our daily routines.

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Morning on the shores of Oldman River.

 

We spent our last night in Canada at a pretty little RV park outside of Fort MacLeod named the Daisy May Campground, where we easily backed into two spots next to the Oldman River.  We did have a bit of hassle getting gas at the Costco in Calgary the previous day, with none of our cards working at the gas pump and a couple of trips in and out of the store to get cash and then to buy a store card to use.  But none of the other people waiting to buy gas honked at us, so it was all good.

We passed back into the States without any issues and continued on into Shelby, Montana.  We said our farewells to Sue, who would be continuing on to Great Falls that afternoon and then to her home and husband in Arizona.  I don’t think that we would have had such a good trip through the wilds of Canadia without her and we were sad to part ways.

While in Shelby we visited with our friend Sandra and had a nice lunch with her and were also joined by her daughter and granddaughter, who brought a large bag of clothes for us to bring for Erabella.  After lunch we stopped by O’Haire Manor, where Robert had taken photos of the neon room lights several years earlier when our daughter Katie had her wedding in Shelby, and had become friends with the proprietress, Angela.

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Geographical Center of North America In Rugby, ND Not something we were looking for, but we’re glad we found it. Half way there?

Off we went, heading east.  By the time we hit the far eastern side of North Dakota, we could see the landscape becoming more forested.  Most of the leaves had fallen but colors were still evident as we traveled.  We spent one night in Bemidji, Minnesota in a sweet little campground nestled in the trees appropriately named Royal Oaks RV Park.  Very pleasant.  I think we could be enticed to relocate to this part of the country, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as well.  We weren’t as impressed with Wisconsin as much for some reason.  Maybe just because it’s Wisconsin.

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Tree used for example purposes only. Actual tree color may have been much more amazing than tree shown.

Oh!  In Bemidji we found some of the most delicious mocha we’ve had on the trip.  It was soooo good we decided to track down more of it while we were in Duluth, since it’s a small chain, Dunn Bros Coffee.  Well, it wasn’t quite as good at the second location but I guess it’s only going to be as good as the barista makes it.  (Male or female, they are a barista.  It’s Italian, not Spanish.  Just found this out.)

In the Northwoods, there are trees, trees, trees.  So beautiful, dark and deep, I would look out the window as Robert drove and my eyes would try to wander down the many dirt paths we passed as we rushed by.  The green pines interrupted by flashes of color from oak, larch and maple, with poplar and birch chiming in, especially as we neared Lake Michigan.

The atv we had been carrying in the back of the trailer was finally delivered in Iron Mountain, which is so close to the Wisconsin/Michigan border, I had to look up exactly which state it’s actually in (Michigan).  We spent an uncomfortably short night in the Walmart parking lot there, woke up to the low battery alarm a couple times, truckers pulling in for a snooze, and when lightning and thunder woke up Moonlight with a start, we wearily packed up and left at the next series of low power beeps.  Sans coffee, even.

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Pre-dawn Post storm Lake Michigan shoreline.

 

We drove for a few hours and found a rest stop on the shoreline of the Lake.  We took Moonlight out for a run-around on the beach then took a nap for a couple of hours, and so freshened up we started out once more.

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Big Mac

When we got to the Mackinac Bridge, it was pretty well socked in with fog but I took a couple pictures as we went over anyway, and the fog dissipated as we made our way inland towards Midland.  The foliage was stunning.  We were exhausted.  But we made it to my mom’s house, who had dinner waiting for us….and it was still hot.

Escape From Pink Mountain

Settling into a routine seemed to be going well as we traveled.  We would awaken around 7:30 and get dressed, take Moonlight for a walk, drink coffee, eat an English muffin and maybe some cereal or eggs and then pack and secure items inside the trailer for the day’s drive.  This past Saturday began no differently and we started out from where we’d spent the night at Muncho Lake.  Heading towards Fort Nelson, we kept seeing cars and trucks coated with what looked like frozen, brown slush.  We knew what it meant deep down inside but successfully ignored it until after we fueled up in Fort Nelson.  The coatings were becoming thicker and covered a little bit more of the surface of the vehicles.

As we climbed into the hills, we started rolling through patches of wet gravel that froze, quickly covering both truck and trailer with the same brown, icy mess.  We started to relax a little since we’d figured out the mystery.  We stopped for more fuel in Buckinghorse River, which had a cozy-looking cafe.  Sue said she wished we could stop and park the RV’s and have a hot meal but the Milepost indicated that there was an RV park at Pink Mountain only 30 miles away.  Why not just keep driving and stay the night there instead, says I.  I mean…what’s another 30 miles?  Plus, it’s not very late in the afternoon.  So, onward we went.

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I snapped this as dusk was falling near the Royal Lodge, for Veronica.

We had been warned about Steamboat Pass and how rotten the weather is this time of year and well into the spring, so when we successfully traversed that one we thought we were golden.  Not true.  We hit snow well about the time we got to the Royal Lodge and asked about staying the night but they had no room at the Inn, so we continued on up the mountain headed to the next available shelter, Pink Mountain Campsite.  As we toiled up the last hill approaching the campground, we lost traction but grabbed hold momentarily and crawled up a few feet before squirreling all over the road as tires found ice under the snow.  Sue, who had been behind us holding her own, was in danger of being knocked into a slide if we lost it and hit her on the way down, so I radioed her to go around us.  Robert was driving and told her not to since he was afraid he would hit her from the way the rig was skittering over the highway trying to find a tire-hold.  This moment of conflicting direction was enough to halt Sue’s forward advancement and she lost traction and stopped.  We did as well but also began to slide backwards down this freaking mountain.  Backwards.  I thought we were going to die.  There was a sudden stop as we bumped into Sue’s rig.  I’m convinced, even if Robert is not, that that is what saved us from dying in a mangled, steaming heap at the bottom of that hill.

Robert and Sue both had their feet planted on their brake pedals, any jolt could dislodge us all from where gravity and maybe a pebble had us.  We were in the middle of the highway, blocking traffic.  Not for long, though.  Cars, many pickups and semi trucks began to weave their way around us.  Most of them were oilfield workers and it was Thankgiving weekend for the Canadians, so everyone was in a hurry and we were in the way, dammit!  Finally, one guy pulled up by us and asked if we needed help and Robert explained the situation.  This man, who’s name was Adam, had a dually flatbed which he positioned in front of us and proceeded to put his chains on, slipping and sliding as he moved around his truck and back and forth to check on us and Sue.  I was terrified that we were going to get slid into by his truck as he backed up towards us to hook a chain up to us and send us back down the mountain, but nothing happened.  I prayed and kept my eyes shut tight as he pulled us about 750 feet up to the top of the hill and into the campground parking lot.  That’s how close we were to the top!  Adam was going back down to get Sue when we heard her on the radio saying she had just been hit by a semi.  Thank god she hadn’t been sent crashing down but she had been sideswiped and had damage.

When Adam towed her to where Robert and I were at the top, we saw that her awning had been broken and was half hanging down towards the ground, she had a busted window and the aluminum rain gutter crimped over the top of her side door rendering the door useless, among various other damage.  Robert secured spots for us to spend the night at the campground and I walked Moonlight around to where I guessed we would be parking.  The snow was deep, I was having a little trouble walking it but this wasn’t registering.  So when we drove along to find our spots, we got stuck in the snow, ice and mud that made up this campground driveway.  Robert went to find a manager or maintenance person and came back with good news and bad news:  the good news was that they weren’t going to charge us for the night’s stay, bad news was that the maintenance guy wouldn’t be in until morning.  We had power cords snaked out to where we had become mired by the camp worker, and we were just glad to be alive and warm for the night.

Truck stuck in muck.
Truck stuck in muck.

In the morning we had a visit from Wade and Joey, who were up for the challenge of trying to pull us out.  Wade is the tall, thin Head of Maintenance for Pink Mountain Campsites and Joey was a not so tall and not so thin oilfield water truck operator.  After a few tries and a huge bump, Babe and The Electric Igloo were free!  We had gotten our hindquarter hung up on a stack of logs, which made it pretty much impossible to get ourselves clear of.  They towed us up to the high point of the park and we eased our way down to the front parking lot, where we had mustered the night before.  Soon, Sue joined us, and we set to the task of making her rig roadworthy again mostly by removing parts and stopping up the airflow through her window.  Also, Robert and I were starting to think our pipes may have frozen during the course of the cold night.

Robert with Joey and Wade, two awesome Canadians.
Robert with Joey and Wade, two awesome Canadians.

We got underway and were very happy to find the road no longer slick with ice, but had warmed to wet slush once more.  Not wanting to tax ourselves or the RV’s we had a short day and I called ahead to see if the Northern Lights RV Park was open, which they were not, but since they lived there and had had their Thanksgiving dinner the day before, they would keep an eye open for us after we found dinner.  We stopped for pizza and went to find the park, and what a park!  So clean, not too big and not too small but just right…Goldilocks style.  The one rule that was most strictly admonished was no outside shoes allowed in the washroom area.  Because it is clean.  The cleanest public style restroom and laundry I have ever seen, ever.  It was worth every penny and the plentiful hot water helped to sooth our feelings about the previous night’s adventures so much that we stayed to recuperate for two nights.  The roads were fully dry and safe today.  There is heat, there is food, Robert fixed our water, we are okay once more.

Now, that's a NICE bathroom!
Now, that’s a NICE bathroom!

 

Tok-in

We two. Thank you to Yael Hickok for being our photographer!
We two. Thank you to Yael Hickok for being our photographer!



We got a little bit of a late start leaving this morning and it’s not my fault, not this time. I’ll blame it on the blanket I bought yesterday. Yeah.

Okay, so several nights ago we had woken up chilled after running our propane out during the night. (Because when you run out of propane it’s going to be in the middle of the night, right?!) The vents were blowing frigid air from about 2am when we groggily got up and just shut off the system, then until about 5:30 we tossed and turned and shivered but were too sleepy to actually get up and DO anything about it. I woke up with an amazing title for this choice piece of fun, “The Wool is Not Enough”, but I got too ferociously busy in preparation for the start of this trip to write it.

But really, wool is what we have on the bed, along with flannel sheets. Talk about cozy. The only thing is, is that the bed is about a queen size and the blankets are twin so I laid them across the bed sideways. The only thing about THAT is, when you’re huddling under the blankets and drawing the top edge within comfort range of your chin, your feet are simultaneously exposed. No. Thank you.  I made it a part of my to do list to buy a real, full/queen sized blanket, which I did. Whew! One thing!

We were so warm and so comfortable this morning that we stayed put for at least an hour longer than we planned to, but we still managed to NOT forget the rice, silverware, oatmeal, a load of laundry, dog treats, dog leash or my shoes. Seriously, I almost forgot all that stuff. I made sure I had that blanket though, by god.

Robert and I had sad goodbyes with Veronica, Gabe and puppy Hugo, then our next door neighbor, Glen, stopped by with a farewell packet of his smoked salmon as we settled into the Excursion. We waved. Robert pulled us out of the driveway; Moonlight standing midway into the front seat and I still waving at my daughter. So grown up. A few minutes out of town, we stopped to say hi-bye to Yael in Chugiak on our way out, and she met us with fresh squeezed apple juice and big smiles. I had made her a little winged horse and gave it to her but forgot to give her a box of rocks we had intended for her son so now they’re coming on the trip with us. I hope they’re good traveling companions.

Somewhere on the Glenn Highway between Sutton and Glenallen
Somewhere on the Glenn Highway between Sutton and Glenallen

After a day of driving we bought fuel in Glenallen and again here in Tok, then had ourselves excellent burgers and fries at a place called Fast Eddie’s. Fun fact: I have a cousin who goes by the same name. No shit! He’s a DJ. We drove around for a while trying to find an open campground and after trying a couple of possibilities with no luck, we were directed to the Sourdough Campground. Hurray! We backtracked down the road a little and found that no one was home, but the light was on. Robert went to see what the sign on the locked door said and found a stack of site maps and an envelope in which to fill out some info and put cash money in. We picked out a spot, which was the very best spot in the the place since we were the only patrons….so far. We’re expecting our friend from the rock club (Chugach Gem and Mineral Society) to meet up with us tonight and we’ll all continue on together in the morning. We two and our doggy Moonlight and Sue with her three cats.

There was a burger here.
There was a burger here.

In the meantime, we’re in Tok, Alaska. And I’m not going to spend the evening in Tok, Alaska without doing just that. 😉

Great Walls of Fury, pt 1

This trailer has walls.  They aren’t particularly bad looking, but since they’re covered by the same pattern of colors throughout the living space it trends to boring and monotonous.  So, when we replaced the walls affected by the leak I decided that a new coat of paint would go well with the wood paneling.  Not that the current wallpaper doesn’t go with everything, because it DOES.  That’s why it was selected to be on the wall in the first place, it’s just dated, dull and doesn’t do anything for me.

Light gray and white background with tan spatter and blue crackle.
Light gray and white background with tan spatter and blue crackle. Meh.

At first, I was thinking a deep, dark red would be appropriate for our bedroom.  Passionate red.  For our little love-nest.  But then I read that red makes you hungry for food, not love, so I thought about soothing colors.  Pink is actually a very soothing color, plus you look really good in pink surroundings, which harks back to the pink bathroom of the 50’s.  See:  http://savethepinkbathrooms.com/

I thought back to other bedroom walls I’ve had, and there was the ChickenShack in Alabama that had dark slate blue walls, reminiscent of the underside of a storm cloud, which I loved.  Then, in our Anchorage house, there were a light aqua along with a couple shades of gray from when Veronica had been going through an interior decorating phase where she only wanted gray.  I wanted to save money, so I started thinking about the leftover cans of paint stashed around the house and how I could reuse them somehow.  On a trip over to the hardware store to mail some Ebay stuff with Robert, I asked a worker if it would be possible to add a few drops of blue to the aqua paint we had purchased there a few years earlier, to make it more teal.  He called around the store to find out but all he got was that the paint was probably expired and to buy a new can.  Hmmm.

Later, we were grocery shopping at Freddy’s and went by the paint department to see what they had in the mis-tint section.  Mis-tints are paint that has been ordered by a customer but when they see the color of the proof that has been dabbed on the lid and dried, they don’t like it.  Then you get the opportunity to like it instead of them, and usually at an awesome discount.  So, I see this pint of paint on the shelf and it’s an amazing purple color, my favorite.  I look at it and it makes my eyes light up, it’s so good.  And I think about that gray paint at the house and I say to myself, “Lavender gray is so freaking soothing!”  Back to the house I go, with purple paint…very cheap purple paint, actually.

Painting over the existing wallpaper.
Old walls, new color.

I have some wooden stirrers and carefully pour the purple paint into what’s left of a gallon of moderately gray paint until it’s as purple-y gray as I want, and then stir in light gray to achieve the lavender I’m looking for.  I amaze myself sometimes.  The paint goes on over the vinyl wallpaper satisfactorily and I have a pretty fun time painting and listening to music over the radio.  Oh yeah, our trailer has a system with multiple speakers in every room.  As it’s late evening when I finish, the walls appear much more gray than anything else, it looks nice but I’m a little put off by how dark it is.  However, the next morning it lightens in the daylight to a gorgeous lavender gray with hints of blue.  It’s lovely.  It’s soothing.  It’s purple!  It gets Robert’s approval (of course) and we now have a fabulous bedroom to stay in on our trip.

Our otter painting by friend, Danika Hopper
Our otter painting by friend, Danika Hopper

As we’ve spent more time living in the trailer, we’ve noticed that the color changes with the light, ranging from dark gray at night to light purple blue in the daylight.  These pics don’t do it justice!

50 shades of lavender gray.
50 shades of lavender gray.