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.

My Last Week of Work or, Home is Where the Coffee Pot Sits

As I sit here enjoying a cup of coffee, I….wait.  The coffee cup is empty.  Again.  Why is the coffee always gone?  Just a moment…!

Good morning!!!

A new office every day.
A new office every day.

Today is the start of me saying goodbye to the majority of my clients, as I had put in my notice to my good friend Yael, who just happens to be my boss.  Or my boss Yael, who just happens to have become such a wonderfully good friend.  Either way is correct.  I had come to work as a subcontractor at her business, Workplace Massage, what.  Five years ago, now?  Five and a half?  Something like that.  Anyway, I’ve met so many great people, we’ve told one another our stories, I’ve tried to do my best to sooth their bodily aches as well as lend a listening ear without judgement.  I love them.

Giving Yael massage somewhere north of the Arctic Circle (Prudhoe Bay, Alaska)
Giving a massage somewhere north of the Arctic Circle (Prudhoe Bay, Alaska)

I’ve always striven to create a space of unconditional love wherever I’ve worked, especially (or despite!) doing my work at my clients’ place of business.  An oasis of calm relaxation in the middle of a hectic day.  And now I’m leaving.  I know I’m leaving my clients in the capable hands of my replacement, but this is still going to be a painful parting, no matter how excited I am to go on this trip.  Bittersweet.

Massage is good for every-bear-dy!
Massage is good for every-bear-dy!

The more aged I become, the more nuanced the understanding and complex the feelings that can be described as Bittersweet.

Take coffee, for an example.  It’s a black and bitter brew, but with a little milk and honey to cut the bitterness and lend some sweetness, it’s such deliciousness.  Add some chocolate, amaretto or Bailey’s and it becomes a sensation.

Speaking of coffee, we’ve been sleeping in the trailer, getting up with the unwelcome assistance of the alarm clock, getting dressed from the drawers and closet.  The computer is on the table and there are pictures on the walls.  But I haven’t really felt like we had been moved in until last night, when I brought the coffee maker in from the house and Robert set it up on our little kitchen counter.  That’s when it became real, having coffee brewing this morning and coming in from letting Moonlight out for potty, opening the door to the welcoming aroma of a cozy home on wheels.