September/October 2007

Breezin’ Along with the Breeze

  Alaska, Yukon, British Colombia and back to the US

Racing winter down the Cassiar Highway.

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Travel tip:  if you find yourself all dirty from wandering around on wet, unpaved roads --- try wet and rainy paved roads!  Instant car wash; does the trick every time!

Well, since we last spoke, dear reader, we have been moving south.  We do, however, seem incapable (or unwilling) to simply pick up and move in a straight line from one spot to another.  We left you when we were in Alaska; since then we’ve come south through British Columbia and back into the States, to South Dakota and ultimately to Texas.  From here we’ll head to the East Coast, then back to Texas, before making a bee-line for Mexico.  Nobody could say that was a straight line to anywhere!

We really did enjoy Alaska, far more than we had expected.  And we stayed as long as we thought practical.  In part, we hung around so we could spend time with son Jason, who was visiting friends in Anchorage.  In the end, we sent him off on a motorcycle ride through some lovely areas, and beat feet for the border.  Leaving Alaska, we went back through the Yukon, dropping down through Whitehorse one more time.  On this visit, Whitehorse had already received its first snows on the hillsides above town.  Our thought had been to stay at least overnight (wi-fi, groceries, a movie, laundry, a chance to check out the local purveyor of free-trade coffee…..) but we kept looking at the white on them-thar hills, and kept moving.  We passed by Marsh Lake, the headwaters of the Yukon River we had seen so often this summer, and tipped our hat.  The campground there was closed due to all the flooding of this same river this wetter than normal year.

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At this point we were back on the Alaska Highway, the main road traveled by tourists in and out of the area.  Many of the roadside attractions, campgrounds and even fuel stops were already closed now because most of those tourists had left the area.  We felt somewhat smug, but made sure to keep our fuel tanks filled when opportunities presented themselves.  For those of you who have traveled this road, even Mukluk Annie’s was shut down until next season!

We reached the turn for the Cassiar Highway, and headed down through northern British Columbia, immediately realizing we had a treat ahead of us.  The Cassiar runs alongside a beautiful mountain range, now with fresh snow, and beside streams decorated with cottonwoods that were now a beautiful fall yellow.  It was truly delightful.  And, for you travelers who are familiar with this road, it is now totally paved.  This is a relative term, of course, but there are no more long stretches of dirt road, except one or two spots where they are tearing it apart and rebuilding it, natch.  It’s cold now, down into the high 20s at night, and the weather is misty and rainy much of the time, but this added to the beauty of the drive, with the mountain peaks appearing through the clouds.  We saw a lynx, a coyote, a family of black bears.  The bears were so busy eating the ripe berries at the side of the road that they could hardly be bothered to care about us, but mama finally told the kids to come on and they crossed the road to a safer spot.  We were delighted with the experience and were sure not to get too close (love that new 400mm lens).

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As we came further down through British Columbia it was quite cold at night but a bit warmer during the day, and we also noticed there were still some wildflowers beside the road.  It felt like we were drifting back in time, to an earlier point in the summer.  The propane regulator started acting up; then finally keeled over and died.  So what’s the significance?  Without the regulator, no propane into the system.  No propane?  No heat, period.  No stove, period.  No generator, period.  Can’t make coffee; the world as we know it has ended.  We made it through the night; we woke up to 41 degrees outside, and 48 degrees inside.  Help!  Stopped in the nice town of Terrace and the folks fixed our problem for us, and on we went.  Happy campers again.

We were about half way down British Columbia now; Terrace is on the road west toward our next destination, Prince Rupert, a nice spot right on the coast.  We had visited here two years ago, and had seen so many eagles they became “just birds, after all.”  The road follows the railroad line and the lovely Skeena River, and it’s an enjoyable ride; the forests come right down to the road, there are many other rivers joining the Skeena, and tons of waterfalls.  Water was everywhere, including huge amounts of it coming out of the sky.  It rained and rained and rained on us, and deposited more fresh snow just a little way up the hills.  We were deluged the whole time we were in Prince Rupert, and with all that coming down, the eagles were safe and dry somewhere ….. else.  No birds.  But a nice museum, and Tim Hortons for lunch and a fresh supply of coffee.  We enjoyed ourselves despite the weather, and swore to return someday when the sun was shining.  Prince Rupert, by the way, is about to open a major container ship port, so the town will be changing.  It is the northernmost port in western Canada, to date mostly grain, coal and forest products.  No more!

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All this was learned by reading the local paper, which also talked about compensation for the local Mohawks who had been put into “residential schools” years ago and who were suing for loss of culture; Haida tribal attempts to repatriate bones that had been dug up around 1900 in the name of science; snow removal contracts being let; and Pizza Hut drivers needed.  The usual.  More importantly, logging is down in Canada, due mostly to housing starts being down in the U.S.; but mining is becoming more important (we had seen this in other parts of the country as well) – locally, it’s primarily gold.

Well, we were getting soggier and soggier, at least in our minds.  And it was impossible to dry anything out once it was wet.  So we headed back inland, turned our noses back in a southerly direction and found we had rejoined the “civilized” world.  British Columbia, once you get back down to where more people are, is very structured, very proper.  We knew we had left “the wilderness” when we saw road caution signs about problems ahead, and First Aid trucks beside large construction projects.  

Down, down, down; our first bales of hay in the field, and horses/cows/sheep.  Llamas guarding the sheep.  Our first metal deer statue in someone’s yard.  We were re-entering the “real world”, kicking and screaming you can be sure.

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We stopped at Mt. Robson, which is close to the entrance to Jasper NP.  We considered going into Jasper and down the Icefield Parkway, then out through Banff.  But we’ve been here before, the weather is not good, and we’d been promised that if we traveled south a little further west of this area, along the Thompson River, we would not be disappointed.  And we weren’t.  This is the western edge of the Canadian Rockies.  Tremendous country, and the road we took was lovely.  We stayed the night along the river, and woke to rare lovely sunshine.  We meandered on, and then visited an area we had been told we’d love:  Wells Gray Provincial Park.  Wells Gray lived up to everything we’d been told.  For one thing, it’s a huge wilderness park and the entire area was at the peak of fall color.  Must remind you that in western Canada this means mostly yellow, with a bit of orange thrown in.  It was stunning.  We had a lovely sunny afternoon in the park, which is known for its really huge (REALLY HUGE) waterfalls.  We had had so much rain in the last week or so that we really reveled in the warmth; and the waterfalls were great.  We drove and walked and took pictures until we could do no more.  We took the road into the park all the way to the end, where there is a beautiful, quiet campground where we stayed the night.  The next day the clouds/gloom were back, but we’d had our moment, so it was okay.  We drove back out and headed further south.

Our destination was the upper Okanogan Valley, which was just beginning to see fall color.  Two winters ago, we had met some delightful folks from here, down in Mexico, and had a standing invitation to visit.  We were going to take them up on it!  Such great folks; we had a wonderful time.  They have a beautiful home they’ve built above the nice town of Vernon, and great friends they took us to meet who live above Enderby, also charming.  Pretty area; we could see why both couples had settled there, and we saw once again why it’s hard for Canadians to give up their homes and travel full time.  They love being on the road, but they also love where they are from.  They want the best of both worlds, and who can blame them.  We waved good-by and promised we’d all try and link up again down the road; and then on we went.

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Vernon’s not far from the U.S./Canadian border, but one last bit of beauty you can visit before you cross back over is to drive east, over a couple of mountain passes, and down along Kootenay Lake.  We did and t’was brillig, as the man said.  (I hope I have that right; if not, someone will be sure to straighten me out…..)  We had a couple of lovely days; they involved two ferry crossings, always a pleasure, and then back across the U.S. border, below Creston.  For once I was prepared for the Gestapo, and they got no food from me (of course we had nothing left to eat and had to shop again right away!).

Well, back in the United States.  We made a short list of things we wouldn’t be seeing for awhile, the best British Columbia has to offer:  curling clubs and tea rooms; baskets of hanging flowers in every town; prettiest rest areas in the universe; loonies and toonies; unending wilderness vistas, lush forests and water everywhere; my beloved kilometers (they go by so fast)……eh.  We do love Canada, even at the higher costs imposed by our crashing US Dollar.

We crossed into the Idaho panhandle and then rapidly into northwestern Montana.  And dryness.  What a difference a border made!  We knew this, but were startled nonetheless.  We had left some of the most desirable country in Canada (southern British Columbia) and entered some of the most isolated and undeveloped, most rural part of the United States.  All within a few miles.  Something to ponder.

We wanted to spend some time at one of our favorite spots in western Montana, outside Libby, along the Koocanusa River.   This is on the western edge of the Rockies; now we were higher up again, and fall color prevailed once more.  We had spent two weeks here back a couple of years, and had enjoyed it tremendously.  Still a lovely place; we could have stayed another couple of weeks, but by now were getting anxious to get back to South Dakota and begin some projects.  So after one night we moved on, over the Continental Divide again (6325 feet) and down into Helena, across the Missouri River and into Townsend where the 2006 girls golf team had been state champions; you go girls!  Now we are dropping quickly down onto the northern Plains, intermixed with scattered small ranges.  Pronghorns everywhere here; you’d think the ranchers were raising them.  Temperatures now in the mid-60’s; we were delighted!  Through White Sulphur Springs, with a nod to writer Ivan Doig and his excellent word pictures of this area; through Billings and across the Yellowstone River and then, yuck, onto the Interstate freeway.

We didn’t stay on I-90 long, just until below Hardin and the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  After a short stop there, we headed straight for the barn, but with a delightful detour to see some more friends.  These buddies are also folks we had met in Mexico one winter.  We tracked them down where they were helping out on a rural cattle ranch tucked back into a valley east of the Little Bighorn.  What lovely countryside; no wonder the natives didn’t go quietly.  We had a grand visit and wished we’d planned to stay longer; we certainly were welcome.  This is a working cattle ranch; we learned a lot about how such an operation succeeds – through hard work, helpful friends and neighbors, and good luck.  It’s not an easy life.

But we were headed for the barn, or as much of a barn as we can claim in our adventuring.  Back to Rapid City and our spot at Hart Ranch.  We hauled the Foretravel out of storage in order to have a work area, and got busy with the list of chores to be completed before we could move on again.  Rick had made arrangements for his annual VA physical, and a couple of other appointments, all of which would keep us here until near the end of October.

And we sold our motorcycle.  After a great deal of agonizing, we decided it was the right thing to do.  The rack on the back of the Tiger, upon which the bike rode, was failing; the bike, riding back there, was bouncing around and doing damage to both the Tiger and the bike; we weren’t ready to buy a new rack, or a trailer to haul the bike in; we were still trying to find ways to carry the tools and supplies we felt we’d need for an extended time away in addition to the bike gear; and frankly, we weren’t sure just how much use we would get from it while in Latin America.  The Tiger can take us anywhere the bike can.  After many lengthy chats, we put the bike up for sale, and immediately it was bought by a delightful fellow from Minnesota who flew in, handed us a check, and rode it home, all during a week of lovely Indian summer weather.   End of an era; Rick is without a bike for the first time since 1981.  We’ll buy another one, maybe in Europe?  But the Tiger is happy, getting better mileage and not getting whumped in the rump.  Life goes on.

You’ll also notice in the pictures that we had new exterior storage boxes built for the Tiger to finally be able to carry the things we need.  Without the motorcycle back there we had the space and weight capacity to improve our storage considerably.  Oh and we’ve added a new slogan to the Tiger’s decorations; “Sea Menos Más”, which is Spanish for Less is More and pretty much sums up our enjoyment of our new, smaller mode of travel.  You’ll also note our new world map on the side (you can see this better in the photo further down).  We hope to be able to decorate this with our route and the countries we’ve visited as we travel.

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And we’re moving the Foretravel to Texas.  We’ve found covered storage for Fred in Nacogdoches, with friends who will keep an eye on him in case of hurricanes.  So our first chore upon leaving South Dakota is to take Fred to his new home.  Chores, chores, and more chores; how come retired life isn’t just a never-ending series of pleasures?  When we come to Rapid City, Rick always wears himself out working through a long list of things that need to be done to one vehicle or another.  We order parts – and then hope they will arrive in time.  We try and outguess the weather, working outside on good days and inside when it’s too cold – rainy – windy to be outdoors.  So much to do, and we’re always anxious to move on.  But it all gets finished up eventually.

And, you’ll maybe notice, we’ve named the Tiger; we think this one will stick:  Trav’ler he is.  For two reasons, really:  we consider ourselves travelers, not tourists.  And secondly, we have long admired Robert E. Lee, the confederate general.  His fabled horse, his long-time companion, was named Traveler.  So there you have it.  (Sorry, Mabelle, Hobbes really did get a lot of consideration, but ultimately…….)

Pheasant season started October 20 in the Rapid City area; hunters abound.  It’s that time of year.  The hunter migration coincided with a delightful sight for us, however:  the sand hill cranes are passing overhead on their way to their winter grounds.  They talk a lot in the air, seeming to be arguing over the route as they swoop back and forth before moving away to the southeast.  We were reminded of the other times we had seen them this year, first at their summer nesting grounds in the Northwest Territories, then in Fairbanks, Alaska as they began their trek south.  Many of them, we know, will end up in Nebraska for the winter; others will go on to Texas.  Seeing them overhead reminded us how late in the year it had become.

Getting out of Dodge (oops, Rapid City) ultimately proved easier than sometimes.  A final appointment got cancelled on us, we tidied up loose ends business-wise with the folks at Hart Ranch, and we convoyed out of town.  Rick has found through the school of hard knocks that it’s unwise to let Kathy lead; she makes abrupt right turns, won’t keep her speed regular, and brakes for wild geese.  So our little twosome is Fred in front, with Kathy and Trav’ler bringin’ up the rear.  First east to Sioux Falls; we have business there, need to talk to the folks who forward our mail.  (What to do when we’re going to be out of the country for an extended period?  Turns out DHL may be a good option:  they deliver world-wide and you can send packages to their office for pickup there.  Awesome.  Need more research, but looks promising.)  Talk to the driver’s license people: can we renew our licenses now, even though they have another year to go?  Noop.  Rats.  Well then, no reason to hang around here.  Off we go.

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We dropped on down into Texas, enjoying increasing sunshine and warmth.  We stopped in Omaha to devour great steaks at Johnny’s Café, then through the Ozarks, which were deep into fall color.  This is a lovely area; we keep intending to spend more time here.  We get put off by the “hick” tone to things (and the proliferation of yards full of small engines that need to be repaired), but once you get beyond these little annoyances and the professional false folksiness, the people are delightfully friendly and welcoming, the rolling hills are great – and it’s warm!  We had been cold for long enough that just being able to be comfortable in shirtsleeves was enough.  We stopped at a favorite pie place but it was already closed for the day; never fear, there are always more pie shops!   And so we trucked on, ending up in Nacogdoches.

Nacogdoches is a nice town, big enough to have services available but easy to navigate.  We spent several days, catching up on things with our friends Robert and Jeanne and preparing Fred to be entrusted to their safekeeping.  On Wednesday, October 31st we waved good-by to Fred and friends, and plunged on, heading on a journey through the Southeast which will end in the Carolinas.  After Thanksgiving in Raleigh, we will return to Texas to finish up a couple of things, then head for Mexico and beyond.

October 31st is a special day for us.  Six years ago today we left California to start our new life.  For us, a day for reflection (most folks do this at New Years; not these goblins!).  We feel wonderful about what we’ve done so far, and very excited about what’s to come.  Try these numbers on for size:  in six years we’ve put 144,000 miles on various motor homes, and 63,000 miles on various motor cycles.  We’ve been in every state except Hawaii and Rhode Island (yes, Leeza, we promise; it just may be awhile!); we’ve traveled extensively in every Canadian province, and in all but one territory (there are no, repeat no roads, ferries, or bridges to Nunuvut).  We’ve wintered in Mexico three different seasons, and, of course, Mexico will be our first stop as we head into Latin America and beyond.  Our health is good, if somewhat challenged by excess girth.  We are stress-less, tension-less, and full of the joy of life; most importantly, we still love each other more than you could possibly believe.  

Our life isn’t for just everyone.  You have to be nuts to enjoy living in a shoebox, not knowing where/when your next “real” shower will be, and carefully choosing fruit that will last exactly as long as the number of days before you get to your next shopping opportunity.  But what the hell; everybody’s life has its challenges!

We love you and miss you; we will try to get one more message off just before we cross the border, mid-December.  Have a great Thanksgiving.

Rick, Kathy, and Trav’ler

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018