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!

 

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.

 

Our RV (pre)Adventure

This past February, my husband, Robert, and I flew down to Portland from Anchorage, rented a small SUV and had a road trip to see sights and family for a couple of weeks.  We drove down through Oregon, stopping in Klamath Falls, then across the top of Nevada into Elko.  While there, we had a nice coffee visit with our friend Steve, whom Robert had previously worked with at Aerometric.  Aerometric was an aerial surveying and mapping company where Robert was Director of Missions Operations and Steven was Chief Pilot.  Long story short, after the company was acquired by an investment firm, safety was no longer a priority and sensible people felt it prudent to remove themselves therewith.  Posthaste.  Anyway, we had a nice visit, somewhat nice coffee, and were on our way to Colorado to visit our kids and grandbabies.  Afterwards, we made our way down to Texas to visit with Robert’s family and had a wonderful time until it was time to go home, so we headed back to Portland for our flight to Alaska.

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Northern Nevada is surprisingly beautiful!

Now, we had been living off of the 401k money, which was being stretched by my income as well as Robert going through and auctioning on Ebay, his massive collection of junk.  (Settle down, Robert.  When I call your precious belongings “junk”, it’s only in the most respectful and endearing manner.  No, really!  Okay, junque is better.)  Somewhere in the wilds of Utah, Robert suddenly turns to me and says, “You know, Ebay doesn’t care where you send an item from, just as long as the person who won the item receives it in the allotted time frame.”  I’m like, okay.  That makes sense.  Why would Ebay care where it came from, as long as it got there?  Then he says something to the effect of, “We could go around the country and buy “junk” and resell it to make a living while driving around having a good time!”  That’s what I heard, at any rate.  And I’m all for it!  What could be better than being on an epic road trip, looking at cool old stuff and getting PAID!?!  So, while in Portland, we stop in at Powell’s Books, which is the best and biggest used bookstore ANYWHERE….and I find some research material about RVing and living in your RV full time (called fulltiming).  Research then commences, including websites, youtube videos, facebook groups, blogs, vlogs, magazine articles, etc.  Fun stuff!

When we feel we have steeped ourselves in enough knowledge to do so, we start looking into buying an RV, or rig, as they’re sometimes referred to.  We have a friend who had recently driven from Anchorage to Montana in an older Dodge Travco motorhome, a real retro beauty.  He moved down to work at his family’s car dealership and has a viable set up we could acquire rather economically.  It’s an older Class C, the kind that looks like a van with the overhanging loft.  Plus, it would come with a cargo trailer for our stuff.  We seriously consider checking it out for some weeks.  But THEN!  Our friend Steve…remember him?….he mentions to Robert one day that he has just what we’re looking for, and he wants to give us a good deal since he’s selling his place in Anchorage.  Heck ya!  We drive over to his house to check it out, but we can’t get into it since he’s still in Nevada.  We’ll have to wait a while until he can get back into town for him to show it to us, but it does, indeed, look like what we’re wanting!  A 28 foot bumper-pull toy hauler travel trailer and 2002 diesel Ford Excursion.  The diesel is a huge plus to Robert, as well as the spacious garage for storing junque in the back of the trailer, and I’m excited by the thought of having a toilet available at any stop.  We wave at Steve’s security camera and give him thumbs ups as we get back into our car for the ride back over to our house, and a slightly middle aged couple gets as enthusiastic as teenagers with life plans and adventures forthcoming.

It’s some time until we get to see the inside and by then we’ve decided that this is the very thing we need to make our antiquing dreams come true.  We’ve withdrawn almost the very last gasp of savings and kept it separate from everyday living expenses and we’re ready for a walk through of the trailer and test drive of the truck.  Things seem to be pretty well taken care of, as Robert knows from working with Steve that he’s a stickler for operational readiness.  Actually, what Robert says is that Steve is slightly anal retentive, but no judging here!  It’s preferential to buy such things from that kind.  The guys go over maintenance issues while I and Steve’s wife go over trailer creature comforts like the mattress and galley storage.  I’m not impressed by the stock decor or how impersonal the interior looks, but it’s certainly functional which is the main focus.  Money changes hands, we get a lesson in hitching up, and Robert drives the rig to our house while I follow and maintain contact via cell phone.  No issues or mishaps later, we back the trailer into our driveway and unhitch it.  And that’s when the real work started!

 

IMG_1387Our new home parked in front of our old home.