Direction: Dillingham

6 06 2011

We awoke to another sunny Anchorage morning after sleeping like logs. I told John this was waaaay better than trying to hang out in the airport for 24 hours, an option we considered only momentarily.

We walked down to Starbucks downtown and had steaming bowls of oatmeal with walnuts and dried cranberries. I worked on the blog while John caught up on e-mail. We enjoyed the fresh Anchorage air and the walk.

We asked for late check-out at the Econo-Lodge since our plane would not be leaving until 3:20 pm, but they said they do not do that. So when we returned from Starbies and checked out at 11 am, our driver was there and we opted to go to the airport early.

I posted blog while John read and then we had lunch–my leftover Wasilla White from last night’s dinner at the Snow Goose. It filled us BOTH up–so I guess that counts as the third meal from my previous night’s entrée! We topped it off with a stop at Yogurtland, with a bit of several different frozen-yummy flavors. John picked up our two fish boxes, which we had opted to put in a locker at the airport overnight and we headed for security.

I got randomly selected, so they wiped my hands down with a cloth. A few minutes later they decided I was ok. Then they held us up again. Computer? Check. John’s jacket? Kick-out. They tend to get excited over the CO2 cartridge in his float coat, and we invariably forget to remove the cartridge and put it in a checked bag. At Walla Walla last summer, they did some research and told us they had actually been approved. Somehow, though, the rules have been changed yet again, or else Anchorage didn’t get the memo. . . So once again, we lost another cartridge; we have certainly lost more to airports than to detonation for the purpose of life preservation! Eventually they allowed us to pass off into the wild blue yonder. And yes, it was sunny in Anchorage this morning.

We waited at the gate, boarded, waited some more, and eventually landed in DLG to a dreary, rain-soaked earth. Hmmm. . . bad omen?

We got to see our friend Margarita who owns Alaskan Espresso at the Airport, and then we were able to get a ride with Peter Pan, for whom I do the summer tours. Mike and Jeff were both on hand with rigs to pick up incoming workers. Jeff said to hop on in and that sounded like a good offer, so we took him up on it. He dropped us right at our boat storage place.

We visited a bit to catch up with our storage-mates. That was fun, but then we got down to business. Some of John’s plumbing work from last summer mu$t now be re-done. More time, more money. And it looks like the rear seal is going out on our trusty (make that crusty) old van. Bye bye van? And another issue has come up that we must deal with. Ah life. . . !

We tried to think what to do first, and decided to go get water from the Catholic church near the airport. The church is well-known for having the best water in the area and they have kindly installed a push-button water pressure pump for users with a suggested donation of $1 to $5. We filled up our jugs, drove up to Icicle, our seafood market headquarters, and met Evan, the new beach boss.

We stopped for some hot supper at the Bayside Diner, as we have no food at the moment. A bowl of soup and toast later, we gaped at the size of the bill!!

We stopped at the boat yard. The business who did our aluminum work is no longer at the boatyard! We found out where he had moved and then ran out to track him down, as he did not complete the work on the boat last fall that he had promised.

Bottom line:  we are back at it. Things change, yet in the changing remain the same. . . A lot of running around is what it takes to make things happen in this business.

Well, bloggies–it has been great having you along to share this AlCan trip with us. We are officially back to the grind, and working our little tails off.

Nearly two days after our arrival–and the first time I’ve been able to be on the internet–the sky is a bit brighter and we almost have some sunshine out there.

I may consider packing you along in my bag as we head south again, this time down the Cassiar Highway, which is an alternate, and more westerly, route. We will have less time on the way south, so no promises! I will have to play that by ear, and I have even less idea whether we will be having access to the internet, which of course is the only way I can take you along.

Wherever you are, as I sign off I thank you for coming along with us. You’ve been great company!

Affable Anchorage

6 06 2011

We breakfasted with Kent, Ibbie, and Vonya before parting with the crew as they prepared to go after the garden work again today. I must tell you that these folks are absolutely master gardeners! Ibbie has won prizes for her beautiful dinnerplate dahlias for years, and she is a supplier of fresh bouquets for the Carrs-Safeway conglomerate. In one day, they sold well over 200 of her bouquets. She blesses many people with her lovely flowers.

Kent has such a buoyant, happy spirit. It is impossible not to enjoy time spent with Kent. He keeps us all in stitches with his hilarious tales of romps through the past. He sees the funny side of anything with any sort of potential for good humor. He also takes life seriously though–when necessary–and has been a leader in the Palmer community for years.

It was such a privilege to see Vonya again, with her quiet, winning ways. It was a joy to be able to spend some time with her after not seeing her since she was a little girl. She is absolutely precious to me.

We are grateful to our friend Dan, who rode in to Anchorage with us in our Jeep and then returned it to Kent’s for the summer. We hope to be able to pick him up when he arrives in Dillingham in a day or two.

Dan dropped us at the Middle Way Cafe in Anchorage where we had a delightful visit with friend Ivy whose family has just sold out their fishing interests. We will miss her sweet smile and gentle voice in the bay, but it was really fun to catch up over smoothies and coffee.

Ivy then dropped us at the Spenard Roadhouse where we met Larry, Dave, and Leon, three of John’s fraternity brothers from Linfield college days who have all settled down in Anchorage. We had a great visit. John had not seen Leon since the mid-60’s.

Leon took us to the airport and John checked us in at the kiosk. Our bags were required to be checked in 40 minutes before the flight and we didn’t get them to the checker-inner until 36 minutes before the flight. So after some reconnoitering, we caught a shuttle to the Econo Lodge which is close to the heart of Anchorage.

We walked downtown and had dinner at the Snow Goose, a place that we had enjoyed a number of years ago. John had some smoked salmon corn chowder that he reported was to die for. I also enjoyed my Wasilla White Pizza.

We returned to the hotel, blogged a bit in the lobby, and sacked out.

Patter in Palmer

5 06 2011

Our eyes opened to a lovely Matanuska morning! It feels like home.

We headed off to church with our friends and had a quick-paced church class and excellent morning message admonishing us to not forget to connect with people via the gift of hospitality.

We saw long-time friend Dan, plus friend Matt, and friend Doni whom we hadn’t seen in years, and his wife Wendy. Good reconnections.

Kent told us there was no rush home, so we went out to drive by the first home we lived in when we moved to Alaska. I barely found the home, and it has changed A LOT! The big red barn is being crowded by business locations, the white frame house has been painted yellow, as well as the pump house and Grandma Arendt’s little log cabin. The woods behind the house have been divided into lots for a sub-division and there are business locations there as well. The roomy front yard I remember seems overgrown and crowded, and the house has had a large 2-story fiber-board addition put on. The people who live there are friendly and said they have lived there for 20+ years. They told me that the moose still go right next to the house and surprise them when they open the drapes. Additionally, the moose still like to curl up just beneath the windows of Grandma Arendt’s cabin. SOME things don’t change!

We were privileged to share another lovely dinner of Ibbie’s home cooking. It was wonderful to visit with Kent, Ibbie, Vonya, and to get acquainted with Izzy their latest little two-year-old schipperke. We resurrected more stories! Kent shared how our friend Kathleen, a VERY nice lady, as he put it, had been approached by Cecil, a free-shooting stone who gathered no moss, to go into business with him as a massage therapist. She adamantly turned down the invitation, as this was in the days when massage therapy was neither regulated nor respected as a legitimate adjunct to effective health care. Bert had a used-goods store, and he got in a load of massage equipment. He called Kathleen and told her to come down to the store because he had something there he thought she would really be interested in. Kent was hiding behind something upstairs when she came in to the store. As Bert explained about the massage tools he wanted her to see, her face became red with anger until she spied Kent, still partially hiding upstairs. Her reputation restored, they all shared a good laugh!

Eventually we bade the day goodbye with some buttered popcorn, more stories, juice, and more stories again. We were grateful for a wonderful day of reconnecting.

On Pause in Palmer

4 06 2011

Hang on baby! We are busy having fun and I won’t be able to catch you up until sometime soon–can’t promise exactly when. But I promise to finish out our trip for you.  Stay tuned!

Deja Vu

3 06 2011

We awoke to overcast with no rain. Several mosquitoes were still lurking in the screens of our rear-window ventilation system. We headed out by 7 am and nibbled along the way on what remained of our food box–slices of Swiss cheese, dried figs, drie/roasted/salted green peas, and small boxes of OJ. We sighted a couple more animals to add to our list–a red fox waving a bountiful tail, a porky headed over the bank, and several more bunny rabbits.

Since we had finished our experiencing of The Golden Spruce as we navigated the B.C. forests, we picked up a quick-read book, finished, and discussed it through the day. Where Doesn’t it Hurt? was written by a Minnesota doctor and a long-time patient of his who did research together from a random patient base. They used a 10-question survey to elicit patient’s attitudes toward healthcare. Reading the book spawned good discussion, but although he posits an interesting solution, we both felt it was simplistic and narrow, failing to address basic and essential factors of our current failing health care system.

We made a quick stop at the Caribou Cafe, where I had a bowl of chunky monkey oatmeal with peanut butter, dried cranberries, and cream. I picked out the 8 walnut-sized chunks, placed them on the plate under the bowl, and ate the rest. John had a cinnamon roll and ate every bite. The workers were chatty and congenial and the walls were graced with wonderful panoramic framed photos of nearby mountain ranges. As we pulled out of the lot, we snapped a shot of an old cache, a small house raised above ground where the old sourdoughs kept their food to protect it from bears. Along the road we saw power poles that had been eased to one side or the other by the shifting bogs of the tundra.

As we rolled down a long hill with a sharp turn over a bridge, I thought, “That looks like Caribou Creek!” When we crossed the bridge the sign confirmed my memory. It absolutely delighted me that I would remember the lay of the land enough to recognize it some 50+ years later.

We passed the Matanuska Glacier as we continued on. It is the longest glacier I believe I have ever seen. A good share of this particular glacier appears black because of the wind patterns that blow dirt and gravel along one side of the glacier.

I began to share a memory with John or tell a story at what seemed like every turn in the road. We passed through Chickaloon and I recalled my sweet friend Penny who used to tell me stories about Sikunny Guy. I have not seen her since she was a young girl. How I would love to see her again!

You may recall a reference in an earlier blog entry to our having up to 10 kids living under our family roof at various times during our years living in Palmer. As we passed Chickaloon Road, I told John what I remembered about the story of Ray, the father of three of them, who had lived up the road. About five years after they had stayed with us, Louis (then 14) and Gary (12) were living up that road with their dad. A neighbor was driving down the road when he saw Ray thrashing Louis. The neighbor, Johnny, stopped and shot the father dead at point-blank range. He stuck out his hand to Louis and asked, “Are you with me boy?” My young friend was in shock, and just said, “No! You shot my Dad!” Johnny drove off and Louis and Gary were left to drag their father’s body into the pickup, and try to figure out how to drive to some place where they could report what had happened. Police did show up and arrest Johnny, but he was held in the jail in Anchorage for just about three weeks before they released him. He had a family with 9 kids and had to work to support them!

As we drove in to Palmer I was amazed to see how much it has grown! I recognized the location of Koslosky’s Department Store. On Main Street by the railroad tracks I showed John where the gargantuan Overland Train was parked for a while. Built for use by the US Army to traverse glaciers or tundra, it looked for all the world like a giant orange grasshopper, with antennae rising above large bug eyes. The tires were so big that a 6′ man could stand inside the wheel rim! I saw Hartley’s Motors and pointed out where Doc Sweeney had lived.

Doc Sweeney had a family with several children. One winter they had a new baby; his wife was holding the baby on her lap when they decided to take a spin in their new car. Doc was driving toward Wasilla and decided to do a bit of squirreling on Wasilla Lake. Let me explain if this is an unfamiliar term for you. When the ice froze really thick, we learned from the locals what it meant to squirrel on the lake. We would drive out on the lake and get up to about 70 mph at which point we would turn the wheel sharply in one direction, spinning donuts until our tires would smoke. This was really fun, but a bit of reconnaissance was needed ahead of time to determine where the springs were because these upwellings were a bit warmer water and the ice wasn’t thick enough in those places. As Doc and his family pulled out onto the lake, they hadn’t gone very far when the ice began to crack. Everybody piled out of the car and headed for shore. Mom, baby, and all watched from the shore as Doc’s new car slid slowly beneath the ice.

We headed for a Starbucks in a large shopping center and I worked on posting the last blog entry while John went to a car wash and cleaned out the car in preparation for our trip south at the end of the fishing season in late July.

With the blog completed at last, we pointed the Jeep out of town toward our old home. We turned the corner, crossing the Matanuska River and onward in the direction of our dear friends’ place in the shadow of the Butte. In 1935, our friend Kent was just a little tyke when his parents, Ingolf and Agnes, were moved from Minnesota to the Matanuska Valley by the government as part of an agricultural settlement program. These original colonists are referred to as the “’35-ers.” After completing his schooling in the “Lower 48” Kent brought his new bride back to Palmer and moved in near to his folk’s original homestead between what is known as The Butte and the magnificent Pioneer Peak.

When my family arrived in Palmer for the first time on a Friday afternoon in August, 1958, Kent and Ibbie were the ones we had been instructed to call. They were warm and welcoming. Ibbie is a wonderful cook and I have fond memories of enjoying a terrific fresh-from-the-garden meal that evening.

Kent and Ibbie again shared their warm hospitality. Their youngest daughter Vonya was visiting when we arrived, and I was so pleased to see her for the first time since she was a little girl. We all visited, and visited, and visited some more. We took turns bringing up memories, in turn shaking our heads as well as chuckling over these re-runs. We enjoyed a tummy-warming supper and sank into the comfortable bed in the guest room. Deja dreams!

North to Alaska!

2 06 2011

Morning found us in no hurry to get out of bed. Whitehorse was good to us. I reminisced this morning about the first time we were in Whitehorse in 1958 as my family was moving north for the first time. I recall my mother asking an old sourdough how cold it got in the winter in Whitehorse. He replied, “75 below!” She asked him what they did when the weather got that cold. He looked at her like she was from another planet–and uttered the guttural response, “We get in!”

We headed downstairs to the kitchen and John made coffee while I fired up my laptop and downloaded yesterday’s pictures. We ate sourdough toast and bananas and I sipped on a mocha while I worked on the blog.

We were soon joined by Peter and Jacquie, our fellow overnighters from New Zealand. They were a fascinating couple and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with them. After sharing the breakfast table for their fried eggs and toast, they hurried off to provision for their lengthy canoe trip north to Dawson.

John suggested we head down to “Baked”, the coffee hangout that keeps the locals buzzed and connected. They had the largest biscotti we have ever seen. I had to try chocolate with crushed peppercorns because I had never heard of it before. I worked on the blog while John Googled items of interest.

We returned to the house and I Skyped Dad from there because it was a quiet place with good net access. He sounded better this morning and seemed to be of good courage. He was pleased to talk with me, knowing we were on the AlCan, which for him is so familiar at this time of the year. He told me the doctor had come by, and that he was a nice man. He had prayed with him that morning and he felt very blessed to have his doctor pray with him. Dad was aware that his hip repair was scheduled for 2 pm today; I called him just after noon to be certain to get him before they whisked him away to prep him for surgery. He was very pleased to hear from me. I told him if I were anywhere in the neighborhood, I would be there and he said he knew that I would be. I called friend Bill and he said he would sit with Dad in my place before his surgery; I was so grateful. I am also deeply grateful for all that Shirley is doing, as a daughter, and in her position as power of attorney for Dad’s healthcare.

Along the way, as we packed on the miles, I prayed, I processed, I cried. And John was there. And God was there. The mountains wept and the trees hung their heads as the world around me joined in showing support, love, and care for my precious father in a tough spot and so far away.

We finished our food from last night’s doggie boxes as we drove along. I can vouch for the Klondike BBQ, as my oven-roasted veggies and John’s elk stroganoff were still good the next day!

Kluane Lake

Eventually we arrived at Burwash Landing, where we stopped for gas. Burwash has grown some from what I remember of it in 1972. I asked Ollie, (spelled this way, but pronounced Oley) who manned the gas pumps and owned the 29-year-new Burwash Landing Resort, to tell me about the airport. It was a mile up the road, he said, on the right. It had been there ever since the war. A few years ago they had changed the direction of its layout to closer match the prevailing winds. I asked about the community and he began to tell yarns. After the war, the community was known as Jacquot’s Post, named by the Jaquot (JACK-o) brothers, who ran it. Sometime between 1948 and 1951, Lachlan Taylor Burwash moved in; the Jaquot brothers became very good friends with him and they subsequently decided to name the community Burwash Landing in his honor. Ollie began to tell about the annual “fam trips,” or to the unitiated–“familiarization trips,” used by Ottawa statesmen to bring Canada’s foreign ambassadors out to the bush. For a time a renowned French chef who had put in an appearance on the David Letterman show hung out in Burwash and cooked for some of the brass. One time the ambassador from a Middle Eastern country had had a death threat a few days before his arrival and he had not left his room in days. During those times, Burwash was the only place he felt safe to go outside and mingle with others. We enjoyed Ollie’s yarns until we drove lakeside to see his new resort. We snapped a few photos of mounted heads (moose, caribou, sheep) and bought some sourdough starter before driving on to the airport.

And therein lies a story. Buckle your seat belts, and don’t say I didn’t warn you! Back in 1972–thirty-nine years ago–my Dad asked our friend Don, a flight instructor, to fly his (my dad’s) plane back down to the “Lower 48” as Alaskans like to refer to the main conglomeration of States. Don’s daughter Cherry and I decided to fly out with him. After leaving the strip at Northway where we had gassed up we ran into some bumpy weather. Cherry, who was riding in the back at that point, became airsick and was afraid she might toss her cookies, as they say. We tried to switch seats while airborne, but there was just no way we could make it happen. Don had the bright idea of making a quick stop at the abandoned airstrip at Burwash Landing. The field had plants growing up the length of the runway and there was a tiny little boarded-up shack mid-strip about the size of a couple of outhouses put together. We touched down, Cherry and I switched places, and we took off. Her tummy feeling better, all was coming up roses. Until we got about 30 minutes out of Whitehorse. When Don switched to the local radio frequency to listen for traffic and call in for landing, we began to hear descriptions of our plane and a blow-by-blow report of our progress in reaching Whitehorse. Don’s face blanched. As we reported in and landed, we were met by a phalanx of emergency vehicles and law enforcement officers who escorted us to a stop at Canadian customs. The extremely-serious customs agents wanted to know why we had landed in Canadian territory without reporting. They were threatening to seize Dad’s plane and throw us all in jail. I’m sure they thought we had made a quick drug drop. When we told them what had actually happened, they berated us loudly and at length, marveling at our absolutely incomprehensible stupidity. After tearing the plane apart but finding nothing incriminating, they finally allowed us to be on our way. We will never, but never, pull a stunt like that again! OK, ok, the seatbelt sign is off now and you can relax again.

As we headed on up the highway toward the U. S. of A., particularly between Haines Junction and the Alaskan border, the Jeep jounced along the road like a bucking bronco! There were many frosties, the upheavals that occur during the winter creating deep dips and unpredictable veins of upswelling in what used to be smoothly-paved roads. I actually tried to do some offline writing for this blog post, but no way could I keep my sweet laptop stable enough to use the keyboard. It reminded me of a rough day on Bristol Bay!

We saw several lovely Canadian black bears yesterday, and one in particular took a fancy to us, actually crossing the road, going around behind the Jeep, and standing up on his hind legs. He reached up for the roof rack in a knowing way, as though he expected to find something yummy up there. He scratched along the back window on my side with his left paw! What a thrill. Of course I wanted to go nose to nose so John could photograph the kiss of the century, but I confess I rolled up my window with a bit of speed as he was approaching that latter maneuver!

Alaska Again

We passed the Canadian customs office, which we were surprised to find was 30 miles inside of the Canada-Alaska border! We arrived at the Alaska border. After talking with the customs officer, we wertwo obliged us to give up 2 lovely oranges–we heard them hit the bottom of the trash can–but other than that, I guess he thought we were OK to let back in the country.

This afternoon we finished our reading of The Golden Spruce, recommended to us by Rod, a fishing friend from last summer in The Bay. This book proved to be a thrilling true story of First Nations Haida, magnificent old-growth forests, and mythical mutants. John Vaillant is a truly brilliant Canadian author, and we found this book to be the perfect read for the time we spent on the road in western Canada. His comment on page 229 about the Haida reads, “On a regular basis they perform large, inclusive ceremonies whose grandeur, complexity and sheer spiritual voltage is simply stunning. The healing and bonding power of these events is deeply felt–even by off-island visitors.” I must admit to being completely snockered by this sentence. . .

We stopped at Deadman Lake Campground, pulled off, registered, and ate a simple rig supper. We watched the mosquitoes milling with frustration outside our windows, just daring us to get out so they could get at us.

We decided we would rather get on down the road toward Tok, and did so. As soon as we got into phone service–now back in the States–we called sister Shirley for a report on Dad’s surgery. I could hear her smiling over the phone before she even answered our unspoken question. He was given topical anesthesia to avoid his cardiac/blood pressure issues, and the surgery went very well. Shirley reported he said, “I can’t believe it’s over already!” We are deeply grateful for all the prayers of those who care for Dad, and continue to thank God deeply for His care and work on Dad’s behalf.

We filled the tank in Tok before heading out of town. We stopped in a small cleared area a few miles out of Tok-town where we were able to get off the road behind a few trees and zone off. . .


1 06 2011

We left Teslin this morning and John drove all the way back to the Yukon Lodge for a good hot cup of coffee. We have no cooking facilities along on this ride.

It wasn’t long before we were on the way and on into Whitehorse. In spite of seeing a highly cosmopolitan business community, including food choices from around the world, this bustling metropolis has managed to maintain the flavour of what I remember. Little log cabins are interspersed with functional square achitecture in the style of the north, nestled in among modern high-rise buildings. Whitehorse has great energy, and we thoroughly enjoyed walking through town.

In search of a place to blog, I signed on at Starbucks and was pulled up short by an e-mail from sister Shirley who related that our dad had fallen the day before and broken his right hip! Ouch!! He fell and broke his left hip on March 21, 2010, while in Coeur d’Alene for a memorial service for a cousin, Shirley Baker. I phoned my sister from my laptop in the crowded and noisy entryway to Starbucks and she requested input from me regarding the medical planning for Dad.

Doctors conferred, decided not to send him out, and said the options were to do nothing–in which he would be lying in bed for two months for his break to heal–or to do surgery, in which his cardiac issues present major challenges for the anesthesia.

I am in conflict about how much to share about this, but it is such a major thing for me and processing it was the primary focus of the day.

We processed together as we lunched at Ruby’s, an award-winning vegan restaurant touted by the States-published Vegetarian Times magazine. Ruby, native of Tobago, but 41 years now in Canada, came out and introduced herself. On the wall we found posted many awards for her skills as a chef, but I believe they were equalled only by her smile and warmth. Her husband Pierre is French and he waits tables while she holds forth in the kitchen. John had spicy buffalo wings with a dipping sauce and I had Roti with a dal filling and split pea soup. I also drank mauby (MOH-bee), an iced drink decocted from mauby bark. Delicious! We fell in love with the sweet spirit of Ruby and Pierre. Ruby spent 35+ years working as a nurse, and they moved to Whitehorse to be near her daughter. She shares her passion for keeping people healthy through her vegan cooking.

We stopped by the Visitor Centre and then toured the S. S. Klondike, a riverboat queen that plied the waters of the Yukon hauling freight until a road was pushed through from Whitehorse to Dawson City in 1955. With a length of 210′ and a 42′ beam, she is well-designed for her purpose. We enjoyed a 30-minute film and then toured the boat, which is set up much as it was in her days as a working girl, hauling passengers as well as freight of all kinds to the families up and down the Yukon River. In the early ’50s she ran aground at the Five Finger Rapids. Alas! But the faithful crew went and meticulously dismantled the top two decks, left the hull in the river, mind you, and transported the topsides back to Whitehorse, where they refitted it onto a newly-built hull just for her!! She is still a grand denizen of old river traffic and much appreciated!

We checked into our bed & breakfast, with hosts Bernie and Pam and their two dogs Eddie and Sofie. They are a friendly crew and we were given an upstairs room with a view of downtown Whitehorse. Bernie holds forth in their 1908-built frame house that Sam McGee and his family once lived in.  Sam McGee is the old Yukon sourdough who was made famous by Robert Service, bard of the north country, in his epic poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee, in which Sam exults as his body is being burned,

Please close that door,
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear
you’ll let in the cold and storm–
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
it’s the first time I’ve been warm.

–from The Cremation of Sam McGee, Robert Service, 1907

The two-story frame house is a gentle treasure, and decorated appropriately with all manner of rustic treasures. Bernie and Pam were gracious hosts and we were able to kick back for a few minutes in the cozy living room and call my sister again via Skype to respond to her request for our thoughts regarding our dad’s surgery–or not. We Skyped her and then my brother with our views for dad, our interest being for him to have as little pain and hassle as possible while healing as well as possible. We opted strongly for the surgery. He seems to be in good spirits, as he has been through this before and come out the other side pretty well, with his active engagement in his healing process. On the other hand, with each new event, he grows weaker. . . We are lifting him up to the Great Physician Who not only sustains us as according to His inscrutable plan, but has our best good in mind, and comforts us when we sorrow.

We walked to the Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ a few blocks away. A charmingly casual place where we shared an old dining hall table with new friends, the service was friendly, the atmosphere a treat, and we loved the food. John had a flavorful bison stroganoff and I had an oven-roasted vegetable plate, served over garlic mashed potatoes, drizzled with an aioli sauce and served with a bannock, a dilly bread made on-premises. Although perhaps we should have passed, we thoroughly enjoyed sharing a piece of bumbleberry pie with vanilla ice cream.

We walked back to our little house and met an exciting couple–Peter and Jacquie–from New Zealand. They will be taking off on a 400-mile canoe trip down the Yukon River to Dawson City from Whitehorse. This feels very strange to me, to say the least! Although they will be changing latitude in a northward direction, traveling from Whitehorse to Dawson, because of where we are relative to the continental divide, they will be headed downriver–to the north–on their trip to Dawson. Fascinating little challenges to our inner geographer!

We slept in a real bed, tuned in to our vivid Klondike dreams.

Yukon Gold

31 05 2011

We awakened to another gorgeous day, and by 6:20 we had snuck off to the half-mile boardwalk that leads to the hot springs. After our laundry endeavors, we still had a few pieces that were not quite dry and we didn’t want to add to the “wet load” with more fully-wet items. John was encouraging me to soak au naturel but I was skittish. I decided to use my sky-blue soft cotton undies, which would cover more than a lot of swimwear out there. We met the caretaker at the gate and he told us to have fun–we would have the place all to ourselves.

The soak was even more blissful than it was the night before. As we were basking in the warmth, two guys arrived and waded into the pool. We struck up a conversation and learned that they were from Montana and heading to Wasilla, AK. One had a girlfriend there and would be working for the summer; the other was just along for the trip. They had been driving all night. Soaking in the hot springs was a great way to start the morning! It was hard to get out of the perfect-temp water. Eventually we bade our new friends goodbye and headed back to the campground. It wasn’t until we got back to the Jeep that I began to giggle and it struck me that I had been standing there in my underwear talking straight-faced with two twenty-something uni guys from Montana! Context is everything!!

We packed up and went across the road for coffee and toast before heading on up the road to the Yukon Territory. We passed yet more bison, including a mamma with her calf. They don’t seem to mind being the subject of our scrutiny, scarcely lifting their heads to stare back at us for a moment.

We arrived at Watson Lake, explored the town, and enjoyed the signs from all over the world that Watson Lake is famous for. There were many, many more signs than the last time I was through here 20 years ago! There were city limits signs, personal family signs, evangelistic signs, silly signs, and one guy had nailed a bedpan to the post with his name on it. One sign said “Repent and be saved” and another sign nearby said, “Come over to the dark side; we have cookies!”

We had lunch at Kathy’s Kitchen. John had a brat dog and I had poutine (pooTEEN), A French delight I had run into on our last time in Canada. For the uninitiated, poutine is simply French fries topped with grated cheese and then a translucent brown gravy. We also shopped for Wet Ones wipes and a few food items including baking potatoes, which we found, wrapped in foil. I had heard that you could cook potatoes on the engine block as you drive. We tried this but we will need to find a better way, as the place we chose was not hot enough to cook through. If we leave them there longer, it may work; we may also conclude that certain engine configurations are not conducive to this type of cooking.

As evening drew on, we arrived at Teslin Lake, where we planned to camp. We learned from a roadside gazebo with informational signs that Teslin is a Tlingit (TLING-kut) Indian word that means “long narrow water.” Teslin Lake is 78 miles long, but just two miles wide. The longest bridge on the AlCan crosses on the east end of the lake. We stopped at the Yukon Motel, a log lodge with a beautiful art gallery and gift shop. An artist had created beautiful dioramas of local animals in their natural settings. We also had a bowl of corn chowder, with toast and tossed green salad at the restaurant where we could use the internet to post the blog from the day before. As night fell, we slid into our cozy lair and drifted into our Yukon dreams.

Roughing It

30 05 2011

We awoke to a truly chilly Summit Lake morning–highest point on the highway. I swear I heard some tiny teeth chewing away before I got up; no mouse was found, but I admit I didn’t look very hard. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I was in fine fettle, and I asked John if he knew what was required to call oneself a sourdough. My friend Lauri told me when I was young that her mother, Phyllis, was a sourdough because she met the 3-point criteria. 1. You must have spent a winter in Alaska, 2. You must have drunk from the Yukon River, and 3. You must have shot a man! Phyllis met criteria because, in addition to the first two, she was a nurse and had shot many men–with her hypodermic!

I was telling John the other day how glad I am that we are not driving some humongous behemoth; we can scoot around easily, we don’t have to worry about parking a trailer, and we’re pretty much self-contained. John built a wooden platform under which boxes of our stuff store easily. With a thick foam mattress, our bed is quite comfy. He designed dark-gray felt to attach to the back windows to darken our sleeping room during night hours, and he installed screens on the back windows so that we can roll them down for as much ventilation as we want. It doesn’t hurt our feelings any that we are running around acting several decades younger than we actually are! And no–I am not wearing purple these days–but camping along the AlCan makes me smile.

John asked me if he could share a devotional moment with me.

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fibre thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, 1869

One small surprise I had on the highway were eye-catching wildlife caution signs that were surrounded with tiny winking lights. Indeed, we saw several Stone Sheep beside the road. As we photographed them at point-blank range, they were quite complacently chewing their breakfast and didn’t seem bothered in the least by our presence!

I have learned from roadside signs that although the U.S. troops pushed through the rough road of the AlCan to open a land route for supplies to Alaska during WW II, the Canadians refined it. And of course they very nicely maintain it. This traveler appreciates the joint effort. I did see one milepost sign that was billed as “Historic Milepost 467.” I wonder what it will say 20 years from now? Prehistoric Milepost 467??

Muncho Lake flanked the west side of the highway for a number of miles. While Summit Lake was a deep emerald, Muncho Lake is characterized by an intense glacier green. Both are breathtakingly beautiful! A small float plane was tied to the dock beneath a bright-orange wind sock at the Muncho Lake Lodge, looking for all the world like it was tired of being earth-bound. We stopped in at the Muncho Lake Campground just so I could reminisce about earlier days when I had camped there with my family. I grabbed the chance to wash out some of our dirty dishes at the hand pump. Although it has been renamed Strawberry Flats Campground, I could see some of the spots along the lake that I remember.

One of the geologic features of interest we passed today were the alluvial fans. When torrents of water flood down from points higher in “major gullywashers” as John calls them, beds of gravel fan out beneath and remain behind long after the waters have made their headlong rush to the sea.

We arrived at Toad River Lodge just after a rig breakie of pepper jack cheese, garlic crackers, and bananas. We stopped in and finished our meal with coffee and a hot cinnamon roll for John and a piece of mixed-berry pie for me. Early morning decadence?? We learned that they had internet and decided to use the blog-post opportunity. The Lodge sports a wall-to-wall hat collection, with a most recent count of 7,929 ball caps nailed to the ceiling! Word has it that a couple of local guys were belting back a beer or two when one of them had to go see a man about a horse. He returned to find his hat nailed to the ceiling, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Our waitress was a 20-something sweetie. We learned that she is from Medicine Hat, Alberta, and is working her second year at the Toad River Lodge. She went to college for a year after graduating high school, but decided to go to work for a bit instead. Her plan is to save $30,000 during her April-to-October work at Toad River, and use it as a down payment on a house. She wants to return to college when she is about 25, before moving on to start a family. Impressive!

Just before arriving at Liard (natives say Lee-ARD) Hot Springs, we began to see bison along the road. I do not remember ever seeing bison years ago and we are wondering if they have been recently introduced. However they got here, they appear to be thriving and it is fun to see these docile, mighty-beefy-looking creatures along the road.

We decided to quit driving early and camp for the night. We picked out a camp spot and then decided since it was a beautiful day we could do some laundry. We have no basin along, so we used a basket in which we store food items, lined with John’s heavy-duty rain poncho. I had some organic soap along and John strung up a line between two trees for drying. It felt good to get ahead of the dirty clothes. I believe we could have gone across the road to the lodge and been able to do laundry there, but we figured we would do it ourselves by being creative, and soak in the hot springs while it was drying!

I also ran out of our supply of Wet Ones wipes, so I used the empty container and put some select-a-size paper towels in it, covering them with just enough water to keep them wet. When we arrive at a larger store that has some, we will replace our supply. John thought today’s blog should be called Roughing It (EASY), and probably this is so compared to his backpacking trips, but I think it does apply for me.

We headed for the hot springs and loved the soak. We returned to camp with the plan to go back in the morning prior to hitting the road again. Once in camp, we read our book together for a while. We are making good progress with The Golden Spruce, which is an amazing story that we both appreciate deeply.

Just before retreating to our cocoon, one of our European camping neighbors shyly stepped in to our camp wanting to know if the water from the pump was OK to drink. We explained about the signs with the cup beneath showing that the water was potable. At the Summit Lake Campground, the sign had said to boil the water for 5 minutes before using to cook or drink. Another campground said that the water was tested there on a monthly basis throughout the camping season. So far we have had no problem filling our water jug with Canada Wet.

We fell asleep with our side windows rolled all the way down so we could drink in the unbelievably sweet fragrance of the cottonwood, aspen, and birch trees.

Catch as Catch Can!

30 05 2011

I was all set to post today when we arrived at Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. Then the lady at the gas station said that we could only get wi-fi outside a new hotel going in. Following that, the girl at the cafe asked us to please not get caught stealing the new hotel’s wireless because then it would ruin it for the rest of the locals who use their net. Arghh!  So being caught betwixt and between, I thought I would just sin a little bit–just enough to let you know why I can’t post yesterday’s entry yet.

Check back tomorrow for another exciting report for the 30th and 31st. Lots is happening!