Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fort to Fort

Fort St. John to Fort Nelson

Kathy spent the evening obtaining bruises and bumps from the Sundancer as she fought to stop a leak under the kitchen sink and instead made it worse. Our wonderful filtration system is leaking and we now have a small collection of screws, bolts, wood buttons that have shaken loose during our 3,000 + miles over the AlCan highway.  The filtered water system wasn't hooked up when we bought the rig last year and it took two different shops to finally get it in working order.  Now we're thinking that maybe we should have left it disconnected.  Thankfully, Kathy was able to get the in-line filter on our outside hose to stop leaking so we still have filtered water.

Spending a few hours crammed into a small space under the seat put us both in a bad mood and we had our first unhappy night for the most part.  We stayed at the rotary RV park near Lake Charlie and Fort St. John but asked for a pull-thru site which meant no picnic table, no grass, no fire ring and no shade.  We paid $37 Canadian to sleep in a gravel parking lot.

Joy has been fighting daily headaches since leaving Houston and has not been sleeping well.  All of us, including the dogs, were road weary and looking forward to getting to Tok and staying a few months.  We were like that for a couple of days and then must have found a second wind because the weariness has passed and we are rocking and rolling once again.

The roads narrowed with many trucks hauling a variety of loads.  Oilmen and RVs fill most every business parking lot while temporary buildings fill with oilfield workers.  Bad drivers pass and hit their brakes just like anywhere else but we have to say that the drivers in Canada are pretty bad.

During a gas stop at Pink Mountain, Kathy chatted with a solo motorcyclist who was her dad's age.  He was born in 1942, the same year construction of the Alaskan highway began, and said it had always been his dream to ride the highway on a bike.  His 2001 Goldwing was covered in bugs and road grime but he looked happy as a lark with a camera around his neck and his camping gear piled up behind him.  He was from Denver and heading back south to home.  He told Kathy where the roads were particularly bad and where we'd see moose and bear.  He showed her an amazing picture on his phone he'd taken of a grizzly that was just across the street from him.  The photo was amazing! Unfortunately, it would be the only grizzly we'd see on this trip.

Our first moose sighting was near Ft. Nelson and came on a day that was rich in wildlife for us.  We found a grocery store and Joy talked to parking lot dry campers while Kathy shopped.  Two were from Pennsylvania and didn't even realize they could dry camp at nearby Beaver Lake, which is where we were headed.  When Kathy returned from shopping, Joy, who has been desperately hunting for wild berry bushes, showed her the wild raspberry bushes currently in bloom right by the drivers door.  They weren't quite ripe enough yet to pick but Joy was getting closer to claiming her berry catch.  We had dinner at A&W before heading out of town and back to the woods.

Beaver Lake is just 10k north on 77 and was completely mosquito infested.  Road work had the road down to one lane with a flag woman but within just a few minutes we were at the first of only six sites, set up and walking the pups.  We pulled out our mosquito netting hats and used bug spray to walk the dogs.  Kathy sprayed a couple of bandanas with bug spray and put them around the dogs' necks to keep the blood suckers off of them, as well.  Shorts, t-shirts and flip flops were replaced with long pants, long sleeved shirts and shoes so that very little skin was exposed.  When we bought the RV we read about how to get stains off the various fabrics and laughed about the paragraph addressing blood stains on the fabric ceiling.  We're not laughing now and will try the formula as soon as we get to Tok.

We opted for a fire and cleaning the campsite since it looked like the spot had been used for a party session recently.  Kathy took the garbage to the dumpster up the road but couldn't open it by herself because the lid was too heavy. We know, now, that it was bear proof.

We've been experiencing about 19 hours of daylight so it's still light when we go to bed and when we wake up.  We had been putting a blanket over one of the windows in the bedroom but we don't bother with it now.  We are usually tired enough to sleep regardless of how much sun is still out.

On this night, we slept with the bedroom window open and it stayed pretty warm though the night.  At about 4 am, Kathy was awakened by a loud noise under the back of the RV.  She couldn't quite place the noise but knew it was caused by someone or something.  Once away, she heard it again and immediately woke Joy up with, "Someone's messing with the RV!"  We both sat up and listened.  Thankfully it was light out so we could see outside.  Kathy looked out the open bedroom window and there, face to face with her, was a black bear standing on his hind legs peering in.

"It's a bear!  Get the camera!"

Actually, there were two of them snooping around the campsite and the RV.  They tried a couple of times to open the outside storage areas but luckily we had locked the all the night before - something we don't usually do. The camera was in the cab of the RV so Joy took pictures with the cell phone.  Miraculously, the dogs were (or acted) completely clueless - even Frances, the protector against all things evil and not evil.  They both were quiet which meant the bears took their time checking us out.  At one point, one of them stood up and peered into the cab of the RV.  It was an incredible experience and we are so lucky to have had it!

We packed up quickly after breakfast, which was a little scarier since we now knew who our neighbors were.  We hit the road separated, with Joy driving the jeep for the first few miles until we found a turn out to pull over and connect.  The first scheduled stop was just a few miles down the road, the Andrews place, aka Testa River RV Park aka cinnamon roll heaven.  The place was full with an RV caravan and parking was difficult.  We ended up parking in what we thought was a turn around but found out it was blocked.  We can't back up with the Jeep connected so the decision about where to park is never taken lightly.  We weren't too concerned, though, as we knew we could simply disconnect the Jeep and back the RV up, if needed.

Luckily, we took our time inside the shop, enjoying some awesome cinnamon rolls and watching a movie about the construction of the Alaskan highway.  The RV caravan left which opened up plenty of room for us to turn around and get back on the road. Somehow, we ended up behind a big diesel pusher towing a truck who was driving 10-15 mph below speed limit for miles.  It made for some good photo ops for Joy thanks to the slower speeds but after road construction, one lane driving and loose gravel, the slow driver from South Dakota was driving us mad!  He finally pulled over at one of the turnouts - surely after seeing the 1/2 mile of traffic built up behind him.  We actually celebrated his departure from the road not knowing that during our next stop he'd somehow pass us and we would be behind him again. LOL

The winding road through this part of the trip was breath taking.  Around, between, and amongst the great Canadian Rockies and along beautiful Muncho Lake we traveled.  We saw Rocky Mountain sheep that look like old rough coated goats, more black bears playing in the roadside wild flowers, plenty of bison and deer, and even a red fox and large ground hog or beaver (not sure which.)



The rain came again and we drove past it - but when we stopped, just like the diesel pusher from South Dakota, it caught up with us again.  It slightly rinsed the Yukon dust off the RV and Jeep but very little.  That stuff is caked on and will take some serious brushing to get off.

Monday, June 23, 2014

PC to BC via Alberta

Pincher Creek to Sundre

Apparently we lost a day somewhere on the road as Kathy thought it was Wednesday the 18th on Thursday the 19th. We drove from Pincher Creek, Alberta to Sundre, Alberta. We left late because Joy went into town to do the laundry and to give our eternal friend, rain, a chance to go away. When she arrived at the laundromat she realized the washing machines did not take US coins so her 20 pounds of quarters, etc that she had drug with her were worthless.  Thank goodness there was a Canadian couple in the laundromat who agreed to exchange the US money for Canadian money.  After Joy exchanged the $10 of quarters she realized the machines actually took two loonies and two quarters, the equivalent of $2.50 US dollars.  So, a second exchange took place and Joy now had the requisite amount of loonies and quarters.  The kind gentleman at the laundromat was extremely talkative and reminded Joy of someone she knew long ago in Corpus Christi Texas.

The Canadian Loonie
While Joy finished the wash, Kathy prepared the RV for yet another journey. When she was nearly ready to go she decided to go and take a shower at the bath house.  She left the RV unlocked but took the keys with her.  When she returned, the door was lucked.  It finally happened - Frances, the traveling poodle, had locked the RV by jumping into the cab and using her front legs to look out the window (and step on the lock button!)  The mule deer who had been hanging around since we arrived thought the whole thing was quite amusing.

We have learned to fill our fresh water tank whenever we are able so that no matter where we end up parking for the night we'll have water.  We did so today, too.  A little discussion about directions came up but as always we got back on track and before long we were northbound on highway 22.  The weather was still a little dreary.  Road signs warned of steep grades, strange looking deer, school buses, berry picking and moose.

We decided to skip sandwiches for lunch and sought out a local dive instead. The Longview Hotel was the perfect choice!  Obviously any place called Longview must have cattle, which made Kathy a little homesick. She ordered chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy. Joy ate a cordon bleu chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries.  Neither was good enough to return for seconds but they sure hit the spot at the time.

As had been the case the last few days, the rain began to fall harder as we got closer to our destination. Miraculously, by the time we got to our site the rain had stopped.  We uncovered the bicycles.  The cover is not in as good of shape as when we left, but Joy's sewing and duct tape is holding it together well enough to keep the bikes mostly dry.

We considered staying in Sundre two nights but the rodeo was heading to town so we could only get a site for one night.  We were remarked how grateful we were that we rolled in when we did and not a night later.

Sundre to Valleyview

The drive from Sundre to Valleyview was a quiet peaceful one for the most part. We started the day by cleaning the RV, which meant a good vacuum. Joy again taped up the bike cover and stored it for later if necessary. The weather was perfect for coffee al fresco with the puppies and we had a cup on the picnic table before tearing down.

The green foothills and signs threatening of elk, deer, and moose left us somewhat disheartened since we only saw two deer along the road. Snacks and lunch were quick breaks from driving for Kathy and but we wanted to power on since we had dry weather. We decided to push it hard and see how much ground could be covered and didn't stop until after 306 miles.  To some of you that may not seem like much, but we typically average 55 mph and towing a jeep up and down mountains can get a bit tiring.

Of course, what would a day on trip be if we didn't hit rain?? We once again drove through a pretty good storm but it was short-lived and we were thankful it go some of the dust off the RV and Jeep. We went ahead and paid for two nights so we could have some down time. The RV park was nestled in the woods and was described as being "restful and quiet."  Indeed, it was.

The next morning, we discovered army worms invading. They were climbing everything looking for food and there were so many of them it looked as if the grass was alive and crawling. Kathy remarked that she hoped no one was tripping on acid or else we might all be in trouble.

We decided to explore downtown Valleyview, which included a bowling alley, a garage sale, clothing stores, and a dollar store.  Kathy bought a new wallet (the first one in nearly 20 years that didn't have a badge holder in it) and Joy purchased more poop bags for the dogs.  We also bought groceries and washed the Jeep.

After lunch back at the RV, we did some exploring in the woods across from the park on our bikes. We found a snowmobile trail that edged a little pond with ducks and wild roses.  When we returned to the RV, the war with the army worms continued while trying to enjoy the great out of doors. We lost mostly, as they were crawling on our chairs, in Joy's hair, on the picnic table, etc.  Kathy steak and chicken and noted that the smoke kept the worms away.

The RV park had a lot of men who worked for oil companies.  The guy next to us worked for Chevron and had been there for 40 days.  He was a great old guy to talk to you and we found out he is building a house in Belize and his property there actually has Mayan ruins on it.  He told us places to stop and see on our way to Alaska and we really enjoyed his company.

We are still a day ahead of schedule and as of this posting have driven over 2400 miles.  We found Alberta to be a little boring with it's flat grasslands and are looking forward to seeing mountains again.  We are both a little road weary and are looking to getting to Tok and settling in for a couple of months. Thanks for traveling with us - preparing the blog allows us to relive our favorite moments of the day and reminds us of what awesome lives we live.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rain, rain go away.....

Staying with the hippies at Mountain View Motel and Campground  in Buffalo, WY was a great choice although our neighbors were quite close and somewhat too neighborly.  The staff bent over backwards to accommodate - letting us use extensions for the electric and cable.  We met a nice guy from Hillsborough TX who was heading to Gillette for the Airstream rally.  Tony was driving a 1985 Airstream 6 cylinder turbo diesel motor home, a rare find that he in the process of renovating. The picture is not of Tony's rig but of another one that has been completely renovated.

We rode our bikes downtown to explore Buffalo on Sunday morning but didn’t expect to find too much open.  We happened upon a three-on-three basketball tournament near city hall and the museum.

We locked our bikes on the street and stepped into the Wild West – enjoying liquid libations in the saloon in the Occidental Hotel at 10:30 in the morning.  We chatted with the barkeep, a fellow Texan from the Bastrop area wearing a Longhorns cap, about what it's like to live in Buffalo.  He didn't recommend it during the winter, of course, and seemed kind of bored with the whole town.
We wondered down to The Sports Lure, a sporting goods, western wear, and outfitter.  It was three or four stores all connected inside the old downtown store fronts.  They sold flying fishing equipment, ski and camping supplies, concealed carry purses, guns, and clothing.  They even had boogie boards next to plastic sleds.  Kathy bought a new field bag and discussed shipping her gun to Alaska.  We moved on to the art pottery store and the rest of downtown, collecting visual mementos since they take up absolutely no room in the RV!

Getting hungry, we headed home, cleaned the RV, ate lunch and drove out to see the Johnson County airport.  The evening was relaxing and we worked on the blog.  Joy drove down to a little ice cream shop we’d passed earlier in the day, Lickity Splits, and purchased ice cream treats.  They have a great selection of flavors and textures and Joy wants to go back to try the artistic spaghetti and meatballs ice cream - vanilla ice cream shaped like spaghetti with strawberry sauce, and chocolate meatballs.

The neighbors’ grand kids sharing the picnic table was a little irritating because they moved our bikes without asking and sat outside our door for several hours.  They weren't too loud, though, and we were in bed as usual around 9:30.  Buffalo, WY must be the quietest town on earth and we slept well all night until Keila wanted to play ball in the morning at 5:30.

Kathy decided to use the gun store in Buffalo to ship her gun to Alaska. After a few calls back and forth, it was apparently shipped to the Alaskan shop’s headquarters near Anchorage instead of their outpost in Tok. After a few e-mails to the HQ office manager, we hope it will be delivered via the Tok grocery store. LOL She’s sure it will find her before we leave Alaska and really isn't too worried about it.

The road to Billings was nice - no wind, no rain and lots of pronghorns.  Driving by rivers that were high and inviting, we stopped to walk the dogs at a beautiful wayside rest.

We saw the signs for the Little Big Horn Battlefield and knew that was our next destination.  There wasn't any trailer parking available so the ranger instructed us to take the 4.5 mile interpretive drive.  It was a beautiful day with steady winds along the ridge where bugles blew and men fell in pools of blood for no good reason. Custer’s troops and the native Americans they were sent to destroy died in these fields during a June long ago.  You could feel death among the wild flowers as the horses echoed ghosts of fallen warriors. At one point, as we read about three natives who died on a ridge overlooking the battlefield, we looked over to the very ridge and saw exactly three horses standing there, overlooking the battlefield.  As we write this it still deeply moves us.

We left the park hungry and searched Billings, MT for the Don Luis restaurant which was supposed to have excellent jalapeno poppers and Indian tacos.  Billings was not impressive and of course it began to storm as we parked.  The restaurant was dark and lacked a single window. We thought, “well, if there’s a tornado we’re in the perfect spot.”  The poppers were great (and HOT) but the Indian fry bread didn't live up to its reputation.  At least we were out of the weather as we ate and the downtown homeless population dispersed before we returned to the RV.

Leaving Billings was a crazy trek up a ridge to the airport round about. The storms returned but we found our next scheduled stop of Harlowton City Park easily. The park was nice and was located near a rodeo arena.  The bathrooms were open and clean with a fresh coat of paint.  The site had electric only but we were prepared as we had filled our fresh water tank before leaving Buffalo.

We waited for the rain to stop after parking but it never really did.  We walked the dogs and set up in the rain, looking for the pay box but couldn't locate it.  As we were preparing to eat leftovers for dinner a guy with the city pulled up and we paid him our $15.  He said we could have paid at the sheriff’s office if he hadn't stopped by.

The park, like the campground in Buffalo, was very quiet.  We couldn’t find any TV stations so we watched “Desert Hearts” (probably the 25th time for Kathy.)  Joy wondered what Cinema Sips would suggest as a drink with this movie (hint hint, Elizabeth.)

The next morning we left - in the rain.  Before getting dressed Joy walked the dogs and discovered her swim shoes match her pajamas.  Of all the discoveries we’ve had over the past 10 or so days this one tickled her the most!

We turned north to avoid steeper grades but the drive was mostly wet.  Joy saw  two elk and a few pronghorn. Kathy saw several Humvees and wondered where the missiles were.  Mostly we saw farm country, including wind farms.  Every state has had at least one large wind farm thus far.

Frances decided that two pillows were perfect

Great Falls is kind of sleepy with casinos that aren't rally casinos but rather some kind of video bingo.  We stayed at a pet friendly Motel 6 while the RV got an oil change and inspection.  The hotel was minimal but very clean.  We walked to the nearby Best Western, a sister hotel, to print the dogs’ rabies certificates in case we needed them to cross the border.  We ordered pizza (a treat!) and Kathy was asleep before 9:00 as Joy got her TV fix and fought Frances for space in bed.

We were all early to rise, as usual, thanks to Keila wanting a potty trip.  Of course, it was raining and cold.  Joy headed to CVS and then Albertson’s for a tetanus shot and bought a few groceries while Kathy and the pups gassed up the RV.  A quick re-wrap of the bikes, hitching up the Jeep and we were back on the road again.  We stopped at a Conoco Phillips for fresh water, drove by Froze Out Lake, saw Canadian geese with goslings and another Humvee.

Found a lovely section of highway 89 that was six miles of gravel, Kathy's favorite, as the rain continued and the creeks rose, the water in the ditches rose, the rivers rose, the water in the tire tracks rose…..

We cut across the northeast corner of Glacier National Park and the rain turned to ice.  We crossed into Canada in the park and it was easy.  Declared our pepper spray and were allowed to keep it.  Didn’t have to show vaccination records for the pups, weren’t asked about alcohol, and we weren’t inspected.  We were asked about what we do for work and told that our bike cover was flapping (oh, did the duct tape fail??)

Kathy braved the weather and checked the bikes.  Sure enough, the cover ripped at another seam - more duct tape is in order.  The Rockies were no longer teasing us but had made their presence very known, even in the rainy fog.  Their snow-capped presence brought tears to our eyes.  Yeah, it’s real.

Driving into Pincher Creek on our way to Beauvais Lake Provincial Park we listened about all the flooding on the radio.  We saw a campground sign and decided we should stop instead of driving to the park. Canadian officials were everywhere watching the rivers and checking bridges.  By the way what’s the bridge clearance in meters - quick do the math.  LOL

Despite a cold, rainy drive we are good – in fact, we’re great.  We are at Pincher Creek Veterans Campground and besides the host there is only one other camper here.  The swollen river is roaring behind us and it’s raining - but we got WiFi, folks, so enjoy!