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Posts from the ‘Road Trip with the Dog – Alaska, Canada and the Lower Forty-Eight’ Category

HEARTLAND

Mare walks into a Minnesota mini-mart as soon as we cross the border from North Dakota. She looks at some maps next to the cash register. 

          “Is there a more scenic route through Minnesota than Route 2?” she asks the clerk.

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The Paul Bunyan Bowl

          The lady laughs. “This is Minnesota.  There’s nothing scenic about it.”

          “Oh come on,” Mare says.  “This is the land of 10,000 lakes.”

          “Doesn’t matter. The whole state is flat and boring.” 

          Well, the clerk proves to be correct, at least as far as the route we travel goes. After driving through Glacier National Park in Montana, and the Badlands of North Dakota, Minnesota comes up flat. We take one photo of the whole state and that is of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Ox in front of the Paul Bunyan Bowl. Yah, you betcha, we’re spending the night in Brainerd, “Fargo” fans.         

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The view from the Crest Motel

           As soon as we hit Ashland, Wisconsin, we cop a room for two nights for a total of $90, which includes a $5 fee for the dog. Our view of Lake Superior and the large, grassy front yard of the Crest Motel: priceless!

          Lake Superior could hold all of the other Great Lakes, plus two more Lake Erie’s. Friendly folks in the local pub serve up whitefish, and plenty of special brews. They tell stories of wild rice and walking on water in the winter.

          “You have to come back in February for the “Book across the Bay,” says Terry. As inviting as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing across Lake Superior in February sounds, Mare and I probably will pass.

          During their morning run along the lake, Mare teaches our dog, Jack, how to fetch a stick from the lake. He performs like a showdog, probably happy to not fight the salty ocean waves of the Oregon Coast, and relieved to get a break from running with Mare. He’s a freshwater dog.

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Jack is not only well-travelled he is very smart!

          Oh, what a nice oasis, and pleasurable break from driving. After one day off, it’s time to hit the road again. I have to leash Jack while he lies on the bed, because he does not want to leave.

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Summertime in Northern Michigan

          The drive through Northern Michigan does not give us much of a view. Torrential downpours remind us of being stranded on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. (A great place to be stranded)    

          Ahh…the rain stops and after a long day of driving, our butts numbed and flattened, the scenic shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron open up under the Mackinac Bridge. Jack swims in his second Great Lake. We love the view from our $55 room overlooking the bridge and lake so much, that we order a pizza. Why go out when you have the best view in the town? The next morning, before heading out, we walk Jack to his third Great Lake, where he now fetches a stick in Lake Huron. We put our wet dog back into the truck.

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The Mackinac Bridge

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Thanks for the hospitality Mary Anne!

          Next stop: the Shady Rest; a trailer park on a lake in the Ann Arbor area. Our good friend, Mary Anne, retired the same time as Mare. She treats us to some down-home hospitality, and her trailer is special because it has a sewer line. We drink, eat, and tell lies with her many friends. Then drink more, lie more, and…what a great time. Swans swim by with their families and when the wind kicks-up we build a fire. Okay…what happens in the trailer park stays in the trailer park. However, the long drive to Mingo Junction, Ohio the next day becomes a heavy-headed chore.  

          Ma and Pa are looking good in Mingo, and are happier to see Jack than us. I don’t blame them. We drink some of the hair of the dog that bit us last night, and food in every form appears in front of us. We will hang here for about a week and recoup. Our renters are running wild back in Phoenix, and we have lots of business to tend to. At least we do not have a house sitter to clean-up after.

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Home Sweet Home: Mingo Junction, Ohio

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ACROSS THE TOP

           Route 20 turns into Route 2 in Idaho. Light traffic makes the ride pleasing, while winding through rolling hills, staying about 25 miles south of Canada.  We find a motel in Bonners Ferry, Idaho for only $50 and crash after eating Bison burgers. Our waitress advises us to stop at Kootenai Falls along the way. This town sounds like it should be more appealing, but the river flows pretty much ignored, void of bars, restaurants and motels along its shores.  

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We would love to try and raft this one!

            Kootenai Falls blows us away. This location for the movie, “The River Wild” with Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep, offers staggering views of white water and short hikes take us down, as well as over, the raging rapids. We hear the roar while cool mist covers our bodies. The scene brings tears to Mare’s eyes. Jack freaks-out trying to walk the bridge to the river and refuses to attempt the swinging bridge. Hey, why force him?

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This is NOT fun

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"Going to the sun"

            Glacier National Park in Montana treats us to narrow, twisty drives through the heart of Glacier gorges. Home to about 27 glaciers (only two can be seen from the road) and 762 lakes, this 50 mile drive called “Going to the Sun” can only inspire those who see it. The Triple divide, thinly cut, high sharp peaks, determine whether a raindrop will become part of the Columbia, or Mississippi, or Saskatchewan River systems. These waters flow to the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay. Grizzly bears and wolves thrive here. This is where we love delays from road construction, which enable us to sit and gawk at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

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It really is "Big Sky"

           The rest of Montana teaches us why the state earned the name of “Big Sky.” They could have called it “Big Field” as well. At a farmers market in Harve, (not pronounced like Brett Farve, but Hav-er) we breakfast on fresh cherries, pig on a stick, nectarines and peas. The long straight road through the plains occasionally interrupts some small towns. In Malta, Jack runs loose in a ball field before we notice the sign “No Dogs Allowed.” Many of the towns appear ghostly, as we see no people. We hope this means they all have jobs and are working, unlike when we drove the highways of Morocco and unemployed men crowded the streets.

            Crossing into North Dakota, we are surprised to find a changing terrain. Our plan to blow across the state gets blown as the scenery lures us south off of Rt. 2 and through the Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Little Missouri National Grasslands.

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The North Dakota Badlands

          The bumpy hills of the Badlands and grassy fields of the Grasslands give way to rolling hills and fields with small lakes. The cool temperature of an overcast day, the scent of fresh sage, and the colorful crops of corn, sunflower and hay make us happy not to be on the Interstate. Deer and antelope appear periodically and a herd of Buffalo meander through a field. We expect to see Kevin Costner pop up anytime to dance with the wolves. 

           We land in Carrington, and take the lesser evil of the only two motels in town. A smoking room becomes pet friendly. Most businesses are closed on Sunday. We order a pizza from one of the three restaurants in town, and watch the Steelers get hammered by the Broncos.

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Home where the buffalo roam...

          Yaah…you betcha’…, tomorrow we’ll roll through Fargo and Brainerd. Maybe I will fix Mare some eggs and hopefully we will not run into any “funny looking fellers,” with wood chippers.

Writers, Reunions and Rednecks

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Mt. Hood rises above the Columbia River

          Entering the US after driving in remote Canada/Alaska gives us an initial traffic shock.  As we drive the Portland Freeways, long lines, construction, and mean drivers pull us back in to the mode. We make it to Waldport, where I am preparing for the Willamette Writers Conference, and Mare is enjoying the company of her sister. Delicious crab, oysters and clams climb back into our lives.            

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The Columbia River Gorge

           At the Portland Airport Sheraton, I join 850 attendees and presenters at The Willamette Writers Conference, while my wife and dog hang out in the city and surrounding area. Mare rediscovers the beauty of her home town and goes to an all-year High School reunion, while I freak out about meeting with a literary agent, in-between attending workshops and learning a lot of good information. I love meeting so many writers, screenwriters, producers and agents. I pitch my novel to an agent, and he wants to see my first three chapters. Another agent that I met in a workshop wants to see my first fifty pages. Great news, but realistically it is still a long-shot. Agents receive 1200 to 1500 queries monthly in their mail. They may ask to read about 100 of the manuscripts, and take about 4 of the 100 as a project. Hey, you can’t win if you don’t play! 

            Mare stumbles into the room early morning after her big evening, where she and her friends had to leave the reunion to find a good time at a local pub. We drive out to Corbet, in the Columbia River Gorge, where her brothers have made arrangements with a friend for us to stay practically free in a friend’s house.         

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Ron skiing in the Columbia River

           We hang with Mare’s brother Frank most mornings for breakfast and with her brother John and his conservative friends at the local tavern at 3:45 p.m. daily. In between I polish my first three chapters, while Mare catches up with old friends. A couple of dinners with family, a little hiking in the gorge, some water skiing on the Columbia River and it’s time to head back up to Vancouver to spend time with our friend during his last week there.

                    We love the city of Vancouver, where you can walk along the seawall on trails with space dedicated for bicyclists, roller bladders, joggers and walkers. The diversity, the food and the temperatures make us never want to leave. Alas, I am a slob, my dog stinks, and my wife goes to bed too early (tell me something I don’t know!). Sometimes living for a week with a friend does not go as well as planned. Time to move on.
           
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Diablo Lake

          Totally free again, with no specific deadline or date, we are riding in our truck through the spectacular scenery of Route 20 through the North Cascades National Park and across the top of Washington State. We pick blackberries, blueberries and apples along the way, before stopping to spend the night in the funky town of Winthrop, Washington. Sipping a few cold ones on a balcony overlooking a river we call a few friends and family just to feel some love. We like this town and may be back for the annual Blues Festival next July. 

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Ron and Jack enjoying The North Cascades National Park

          So, we have been traveling since June 8th.  We have spent 21 nights in motel rooms, 44 nights with friends and/or relatives, and have camped 15 nights. When staying with friends and relatives, we try to buy dinner for them every night, as that is the least that guests can do. But, even at that we can afford to continue traveling this way for awhile; however, looks like we’ll be sleeping in the truck tonight!

THE WAY THROUGH SKAGWAY

The realities of camping kick in to full gear with a downpour. Rain rattles our truck cap. We scramble to close the small screened windows and the tailgate, but everything is wet. We are cold. A stream flows under our tent, which holds our suitcases, so I must crawl out of the truck and throw a few bags into the cab. Jack jumps out into the mud and we both take a pee. Sodden, we crawl back into the truck bed and snuggle under the covers with Mare for our final night of camping in Haines. Rain camping makes us feel rugged, and dirty. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Goodbye Haines. I think we will be back!

             Rain continues through the fog the entire next day while we wait for the eight-thirty ferry to the town of Skagway. The “Bamboo Room” bar and restaurant provides food, shelter and internet. I call all three motels in Skagway and they have no vacancies, so we will set-up camp when we arrive around ten o’clock tonight. The one-hour ferry ride through the inside passage still astounds us with the beauty and isolation of wilderness. Although nights are not very dark around these parts, the Skagway campground/rusted trailer park appears pretty strange. Mare overhears the conversation of two young women in the washroom. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Black bear outside of Skagway

             “My ears are bleeding,” a young gal says. “Why is that?” They giggle. 

            “Here, try some chap stick,” her girlfriend says. 

            Mare emerges from the stall and sees both of the girls making faces in the mirror and laughing; tripping, no doubt.  At least we hope. 

            Lone strangers roam through our wooded campsite, in the rain, and this is the only time that I wish I had my firearm. Nobody bothers us though. After a night of sound sleeping in the cool woods, we pack camp in the fog of morning and head out. Our gear is soggy, we stink, and even Mare yearns for a motel room. We cannot find anyone to pay for our tent site, so, off we go. 

          Our efforts always receive a reward…waterfalls spill from the mountains and a big Black bear eats alongside the road in this Mars-like scenery. I stop about ten feet from the bear and try to keep Jack from barking, while Mare photographs him through the truck’s open window. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

A Grizzly with one of her two young cubs

           We decide to take a slight detour, sixty miles down a gravel road to the remote, small village of Atlin, next to Atlin Lake. The name “Atlin” means “Big Water” in the Tlingit language. This lake is the largest, natural freshwater lake in BC. We spot a mama Grizzly foraging with her two toddlers. Once we pull ourselves away from admiring the bears…, clank! The skid plate under my truck drags in the gravel. I get out and struggle with the only bolt holding the metal sheet on, while Mare keeps her eye on the grizzly bear, who still forages about 50 yards from us. That damn bolt takes forever to come off! 

          We are half-way to Atlin, and decide to keep on truckin. Well worth it. We get lucky and cop a yet-to-be refurnished cabin at “Atlin Inn.” From our window we see Llewellyn Glacier hanging on the mountain across the lake. A float plane takes-off near an island, and folks fish for trout. This little village is proud of its gold rush history dating from 1898. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Now where is that Grizzly Bear??

             Ahh…a warm shower feels so good. I cook some ground lamb with onions, peppers, broccoli and corn, in the same pot, and we dip tortilla chips into the heavenly hash. It’s good with eggs for breakfast as well. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Llewellyn Glacier

           “I have to get that splash plate fixed,” I say to Mare. 

          “The man at the tire shop said you really don’t need it.” 

          “He fixes tires for a living, doesn’t even have bolts, and I doubt he gets out much.” (Threads are stripped and need tapped) 

          I decide not to take mechanical advice from my wife, who deals with rattles on her car by turning up the radio. I mean, we have many more gravel roads to explore and I don’t want to get stuck out here, even if she does not agree.   

          We walk around Atlin, (doesn’t take very long) and take in sights such as a 78 foot, gas-powered, wooden lake boat built-in 1917. They cut her in half in 1927 to add 30 more feet to hold 198 passengers. The boat is currently being refurbished since her last season in 1937. Wooden churches, the Canadian Mounted Police station, and a small museum make up most of the town. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Views in Atlin, British Columbia

           After breakfast, we backtrack 60 miles out of Atlin. The grizzly and her toddlers are still foraging near the spot where we broke down. Once we make it to Whitehorse, every mechanical shop is closed on Sunday, so we camp. The following morning I get the truck fixed, throw in an oil change, and off we go. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Mama w/both babies

            The ALCAN Highway just does not have the close-up, remote scenery of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37). We turn off of the ALCAN and again, drive the 450 miles that twists through mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes and canyons on a mostly hard surface.   

          The primitive campsite on Dease Lake offers an outhouse, and that’s about it. I refuse to pay $10 for a bundle of firewood. It’s hot out anyway, and still, darkness is not really that dark. 

          The next day’s long drive brings us to the town of Smithers. Our guidebook paints the town as a haven for artists, poets, and writers. Our guidebook really paints a bright picture of everything. Smithers does have friendly folks and good pizza, and a plethora of outdoor sports activities abound for every season. But the temperatures soar, and we feel like we’re back in Phoenix. Bugs gnaw away at us all night long in the back of the truck, and we can’t leave fast enough the next morning. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Truck camping. Some nights are tougher than others...

           Now, covered in bug bites and a few welts, we drive about 400 miles to a nice motel on Williams Lake. Jack jumps onto the bed and does not move for the rest of the evening. Mare and I enjoy air conditioning, a shower and wi-fi before joining Jack.  Tomorrow we continue south towards the States. 

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Ahhh... Nothing like a nice motel room!

YUKON JACK IN WHITEHORSE

After clearing Canadian customs from Hyder, we get to drive through the fjords again, and up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. This rustic, part-gravel route runs through thick woods, and has hardly any traffic. We spot a red fox and a couple of moose, but are not quick enough with the camera. A full day of slow driving awaits us.

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The Stewart-Cassiar Highway

           An ominous thunderstorm looms ahead. Cold winds keep our windows closed and camping seems like too much of a chore this evening. So, we stay at an overpriced motel near Dease Lake. Many motorcyclists stop here, as the next town in either direction is far away. Jack loves sleeping on a motel bed probably more than we do. We have not seen television in a long time, and still there is nothing on. The following morning we head to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon.            

How many moose in this photo?

           We are back on the ALCAN Highway, which reminds us of our journey with brother Frank several years ago. In keeping with a custom that Frank and I started, Mare takes the wheel at 3:00 p.m. and I crack a cold one. We roll through hills and valleys dotted with ponds, streams, lakes and pines. We spot a moose munching the bottom of a pond, while several others chew leaves from the trees. Today’s drives lands us in Whitehorse.                  

Yukon River Trail

We take Yukon Jack on a long walk along the Yukon River in Whitehorse. Making camp in a square sandbox separated by a row of trees from the next site suites us just fine. We really need a shower. In the washroom, the shower calls for one loonie for five minutes.

            “What is a loonie?” I ask a man who stands at the sink grooming.

Two young eagles hang out in a man-made nest

“A loonie is a dollar,” he smiles.

             “I’m a loonie too.” (I can’t resist.)

             “Yes, you seem to be,” he says. “And, a ‘toonie’ is two dollars.”

             “Okay then…for three bucks we get looney tunes.”  We laugh until an uncomfortable silence descends with the awareness that we’re both standing in a bathroom.

             The dramatic walkway along the Yukon River leads us into downtown Whitehorse. Eagles and Kingfishers fly while we enjoy a brisk walk. In town we enjoy some great food at “Klondike Rib and Salmon Bake,” where Elk and Musk Oxen stroganoff are also on the menu. John and Nancy befriend us, a couple who pull a 5th wheel from California. We convince a German couple, who join our picnic table, to order the ribs. 

Time to take flight!

          Canadians enjoy a $16.25 daily tax credit just for living in the Yukon Territory. Wages are higher here than in B.C., and the cost of living is lower. Still, Vancouver draws them away. 

            Two days in Whitehorse helps us to catch up on internet stuff, before we head out towards Haines, Alaska. Along the way, we stop in Haines Junction for an exhilarating, single-prop airplane ride through Kluane (pronounced clue-way-nee) National Park and Reserve around mountain peaks and over glaciers. Crevices that run several hundred feet deep sometimes fill with fluorescent blue pools of water. Our one-hour flight brings us over the most spectacular section of the Kaskawulsh and South Arm Glaciers.

Soaring amongst Canada's highest peaks

We can see Canada’s highest peaks in the St. Elias Mountains and the world’s largest non-polar ice-fields. The flight is well worth the splurge of over $300. The plane barely crests the tips of the peaks and then buzzes just above the cracking glacial ice fields. It is a real rush! 

          What are the odds that we share this five-seat plane with the German couple that we met at the Klondike Restaurant back in Whitehorse? We seem to run into folks over and over again in this vast territory.  The cliché is true. It’s a small world. Mare gets concerned when Trevor, our 23 year old pilot, lets the German man fly the plane. However, he attests to flying Gliders through the Alps, and probably has much more experience than Trevor.

The Kaskawulsh Glacier

Bright blue water in glacier's crevices

Flying so low!

            In Haines we find a campsite for $16.50 per night, run by the nearby Halsingland Hotel. Nothing compares to the peace and quiet of a camp in the woods, with your wife and dog. We book this spot for three nights. And then…a busload of 32, yes 32 teenagers arrive and set-up tents on two sites right next to us.

Sumo wrestling in Haines - Help me Mr. Wizard!

           Before long, they form a circle, and in the middle a few of them wear big diapers…let the Sumo Wrestling Tournament begin! Let us get the hell out of here, and we spend most of the evening at a local restaurant/pub, The Fireweed, for some pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. Our new friend, Brad, brags about the nearby Mexican restaurant, curious about our opinion of the food, since we are from Phoenix.

           Later in the night, the kids serenade us to sleep with singing and cursing. At least they leave the following morning, giving us an even deeper appreciation of peace and quiet.

On top of Riley Mountain viewing Lynn Canal

          We take Jack along a hike up Riley Mountain. This steep trail of switchbacks winds through forest thick with trees, skunk cabbage and hoards of other green vegetation. About three miles up to the summit, where we lunch on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, we enjoy spectacular views of glaciers, peaks, Lynn Canal, Taiya Inlet and the Chilkat River. The many trails around Haines provide hikes with incredible views. Walking the spongy soft forest trails is certainly one of our favorite activities.

          Back at the camp, Sue, a retired school teacher who lives in Missouri, travels with her Jack Russell terrier and camps throughout the Northwest Territory. She tells us of a job opening, as a camp hosts, where you live in a log cabin and, obviously host the camp. We drive to the end of a gravel road and speak to John and Jenny, the couple who currently work there.

           “It’s kind of like living in a fishbowl,” the man says. “But you get used to it. We get to live here in this little “look-out” cabin for free, and they give us $300 monthly to help cover food costs.”

View from Chilkat State Park - Our new job site?

          Mare and I consider this “job” for next summer. We will try to talk to the Ranger before leaving Haines. But first, we must try Moseys Mexican Restaurant, which we like. 

          Over coffee at the market the next morning, of course we run into Brad, who is delighted to hear us rave about the Mexican food.

          This evening, I cook fresh caught Sockeye Salmon, with potatoes, onions, and peppers, out in the wild. We munch on the meal next to our fire, drink some cold ones, and enjoy the peace and quiet of camping. Tomorrow we will take the ferry to Skagway,  after a treat of halibut and chips at the Bamboo Room.

HIDING IN HYDER

Bear Glacier along Highway 37A

Perhaps the most dramatic scenery of all comes at us through Highway 37A, a side trip to Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska. Approaching Bear Glacier, waterfalls gush down from the tops of fjords, where avalanches rumble in the winter. A fjord cuts the border between Canada and the U.S., where the small town of Hyder hides. Cut-off from the rest of Alaska, the 100 people that make up the town of Hyder sit as Yankees who are accessible to the motherland only by sea or air.

Back in the U.S.A.

            Crossing into the U.S., the prices and taxes drop significantly. Maybe socialized medicine is not all it’s cracked-up to be. We stop at the Sealaska Inn to inquire about camping.           

           “We have tent sites for $12 nightly, with free firewood,” the barmaid says. “I wouldn’t recommend camping though. I lost my son-in-law to a rouge Grizzly Bear several years ago down there.”

            “Do you have rooms available?” Mare asks. “We have a dog.”

            “Yes, and we take dogs for $75 a night.”           

Yukon Jack

          We decide to check-out the only other motel in town, “The Grandview Inn.”

            “I have a room with a kitchenette for $70,” the lady tells us.

            “We’re thinking about pitching a tent for $12,” Mare says.

            “I wouldn’t advise it,” she says. “We have black bears and grizzlies.” She points to a cut out newspaper article pinned to a bulletin board. “”George went down there after his wife kicked him out of the house. They had a fight. People say that George threw-up all over himself, and a grizzly bear tore him up.”

            “How long ago?” I ask.

            “About 5 years ago. There is a dump down by that campsite that attracts bears, and so does the smell from the food in the restaurant.”           

Bear Camp

          Mare and I look at each other. I know that look. We don’t have to speak a word. We cannot resist.

            Back at the Sealaska Inn, the barmaid writes our ticket to tent camp for two days for a total of $24.

          “Don’t leave any type of food out. Be careful. If you get near a Grizzly, play dead. Black bears usually don’t attack, but if one does, fight back. At least act big by waving your arms and yelling at him.”

          Our campsite sits in a paradise setting snug in the woods, surrounded by mountains on two sides, and bordered by an estuary for Canadian Geese on the Portland Inlet. We learn that the town of Hyder was originally named “Portland City.” However, the US Post Office decides that there are already enough “Portlands” in the U.S. So, rumor has it, that Mr. Hyder, who made a habit of buying rounds for the locals in the bar, was nominated as the town’s namesake. Anyway, at our little camp, the beers pour especially easy. The fire roars, as we dip chips into Habanera salsa.  

Mare dances while the Dutch women sing

          Oh no! Just my luck. It happens to be Karaoke night at the Sealaska Inn. Off we go, on a short walk past the washroom and Laundromat. Two women from Holland end up singing a song by “Meatloaf,” and Mare dances solo on the barren floor. She tries to entice the bearded, burley men and women (some without beards) out onto the floor, but they won’t budge.  Mare hops around, having the time of her life, while I film the surreal scene with the Dutch ladies’ video camera.

          After an eternity, the song ends. The Dutch women are pissed because I did not catch the episode on film. I held that dang camera up forever, but obviously hit the wrong button. Maybe I drink too many beers. Nah….

          The following day we drive 23 miles on a primitive road to Salmon Glacier. We pass by 20 some glacier formations. We sit on the edge of civilization and lunch from our cooler.

Lunch at Salmon Glacier

          Back in Hyder we try to dine at the Seafood Express, a school bus converted into an outdoor eatery. The proprietor, we find out, is out prancing around town, as her husband is gone for several days on a fishing excursion. (I doubt he will ever read this!) We end up dining on fresh halibut sandwiches at the Glacier Inn instead, where Karen, the bartender, tells us that we’re crazy for camping. She has her own version of George’s grizzly death which she is only too happy to share.

"Mad Max" meets "Into The Wild"

          The sun around here shines until at least eleven o’clock in the evening and the end of the world atmosphere is beyond description.  No wonder Hollywood filmed such movies here as Insomnia, The Thing, and Leaving Normal.

          Back at camp, we tend to “normal” things like laundry, and then walk down to the estuary. Along the way, a junkyard surprises us. It looks like a cross between a Mad Max movie and Into the Wild.

          We leave the next morning, having seen no bears. I suppose that that is a good thing. And I must confess, we slept in the truck, safe and sound under the cap, not in the tent.

FIFTEEN HOUR FERRY

Lighthouse along Inside Passage

Jack has to stay inside the truck during the 15-hour ferry ride. He cannot see the bald eagles, trees, and mountains that line the Inside Passageway from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the town of Prince Rupert. Mare and I get to go down and visit Jack every two hours, for fifteen minutes. He does not relieve himself when we walk him among the vehicles…for fifteen-hours. He thinks that he is in the house – not uncommon for dogs, according to a ferry worker.           

The "road" to Prince Rupert

We sit on the sun deck and absorb this abundant scenery. An Orca Killer Whale breeches the surface, showing off his huge tail fin before plunging back under the sea. Porpoises have the purpose of playing in the ship’s wake. Lighthouses pop up on points once in a while. Mostly, we see trees, snowcapped mountains, and water…along with other passengers. A solo biker will ride the mainland as far north as he can. Others will drive east to the Canadian Rockies in Banff. (We drove through there last year) The total cost for the ferry ride of $730 actually cuts off about three days of travelling and motel/gas/food costs. Canada is expensive eh? You betcha. We dine from our cooler on homemade sandwiches – avocado & tomato, or peanut butter & jelly.           

How many eagles can you see?

Eagles in Park McClymont

          Dusk descends upon the fishing town of Prince Rupert when we arrive at eleven o’clock. A motel sounds better than trying to camp at this point. My leg hair hurts from sitting for so long. In the morning, we hike through the mossy forest of McClymont Park, one of many such parks, where salmon streams cut through the hollows. Eagles nest and soar all over the place. Rain pours onto Prince Rupert most of the time, keeping the thick vegetation green. This fishing/logging port town is also a major tourist stop for cruise ships and ferries.

            At the “Breaker’s Pub” I approach a group of young, stud swat-force looking cops.

            “You guys here for some training?” I ask. “My wife and I are retired Peace Officers.” (I knew that would get them to talk to me).  “You bet-cha.” A few guys shake hands with me.

Making friends in Prince Rupert

            I ask about the size of the police force in Prince Rupert.

          “We have eight constables, and about 28 officers. It’s pretty quiet most of the time.”

          “Do you have a fugitive apprehension unit?”

          “No. We’re not like the States.” John shakes his head. “Our penal system is way too soft. Fugitives don’t run. They commit crimes sometimes to get into jail for the winter.” He laughs at my confused expression. “Your penal system is too hard. What we need is something in-between.”

          I must agree, and head back to the table where Mare talks with a fisherman, a deep-sea diver, and farmer turned casino worker. The diver gives us two frozen packets of homemade smoked salmon. The casino worker complains about the “too liberal” system of Canada. The fisherman tells a fish story…They caught too much fish yesterday. (They go out for four days at a time) They netted a school of grey cod and had to dump the ice from the boat to make room for the fish. They have Rangers on board, who monitor them. They can’t throw the fish back because the cod blow their bladder when raised to the surface – dead. So, they get fined for catching too many fish. We never imagined that a fisherman could catch too many fish.

          The next morning’s drive takes us on a twisty road along the Skeena River. Railroad tracks barely fit between the river, the road, and tree-covered mountains that shoot straight up like cliffs. I find it difficult to watch the road, because the scenery steals my attention.

Jack exploring the Nisga'a Lava Beds

          We drive east through the Nisga’a Lava Bed stopping to hike down to Vetter Falls where we lunch on our smoked salmon.  The lava beds appear to be covered in a furry, white moss, but it is actually the lava and is hard.  The scene looks eerie, like walking on the moon.

A sow and her cub watch us watch them...

          Near Cranberry Junction, we turn off the main road onto gravel. The non-maintained logging road provides a 40 mile shortcut to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Along the way we spot a Black Bear. The sow is feeding with her cub. Magical.

TELEGRAPH COVE

          After we book a tent campsite at Telegraph Cove, we embark upon a sea kayak built for two. Luke, our guide from “North Island Kayak” describes some of the sea sites. 

Kayaking in Johnstone Strait

            “First Nation People use the gel from this rock weed to protect their skin from the sun.” Luke grabs some floating seaweed and squeezes clear gel from buds on the end. “It’s also the same chemical composition in anti-aging gels. Want to try some?”

            We rub the gel all over our face. Hey, I’m all-in for anti-aging. 

            Luke laughs. “Actually, that is from the plant’s gonads. We love to tell folks about this, because it’s true. But still, you’ve just lathered your face with reproductive juices.” He howls. I squeeze out some more juice, because I do not look very young yet. 

Water dog!

            Although we see no killer whales today while sliding in our silent boats, seals lift their heads out of the water, and several bald eagles float overhead. Paddling the waves, we are getting an awesome core work-out. Luke tells us that boaters call kayaks “speed bumps.” Bobbing around islands, Luke explains that he use to work in an “oil patch” before deciding to go to college to study tourism. As logging and fishing industries slow, people are forced to make a grueling switch. 

            “It’s hard for some rough loggers to enter the hospitality business.” He tries to avoid me, but I crash our kayak right into his. “No worries. I love what I do. It doesn’t pay much, but it is one heck of a lifestyle.” 

            We paddle for over ten nautical miles…and Luke commends us for being so strong, surprising for our age. (Not sure if that’s a compliment or not) 

Cement ghost ship in Bauza Cove

           We enter a cove where a ghost sailboat is buoyed, unmanned, for over seven years. “Go touch that boat and tell me what it’s made of,” he says. 

            Cement. A sailboat made of cement…they thought it was a good idea at the time, but when it pits, it is too hard to repair. The boat just happens to be in Bauza Cove near our campground. 

            Starving, and rather fatigued after a day of kayaking in the sea, we get a couple of salmon burgers to go, and make our way to set-up camp. The grilled salmon filets are the best we have ever eaten. So what if hoards of mosquitoes’ surround us. Our camp rocks! Our fire roars! Our dog sleeps.            

Camp Mitchell

          Put kettle on! Drip coffee and scrambled eggs are being served in the camp next to the babbling brook. I can cook in the wild, but can’t clean very well, wild or not. 

          We walk Jack through the forest, and into the cove, where the ghost sailboat intrigues us. Jack has become a water dog, sometimes submerging his entire face to satisfy his curiosity. We love the remoteness, but for the price of many bugs. 

            The three of us hop onto a ferry today. The forty-minute ride to Alert Bay, where historic First Nation People live, proves to be chilly. 

Sacred Burial Grounds Alert Bay

          Totem Poles in the sacred burial grounds stand as reminders of a hardy people. We walk through the Ecological Park over an eerie swampland. No restaurants are open on Sunday, so we eat a round slice of pizza from the supermarket deli, in a small park overlooking the bay, and drink a can of beer with an eighty-year-old English alcoholic. He thinks that he is fascinating. Too bad we can hardly understand a word of what he says.  Maybe he is fascinating. 

            Two nights of camping for the price of one night at the Dalewood Inn satisfies all of us. Before leaving Telegraph Cove, we treat ourselves to Swedish pancakes at the “Seahorse Café.”  They are not as good as Mare’s, but close. However, the salmon burgers are the best!   

Eating swedish pancakes at the Seahorse Cafe in Telegraph Cove

          We make our way back to the no-tell motel, overtop the liquor store in Port McNeill. I’ll tell ya…we love the Dalewood lnn. It’s friendly, inexpensive and very accommodating. We’ll wake at four o’clock in the morning, drive up to Port Hardy, and jump on to a ferry for a fifteen-hour ride to Prince Rupert, anticipating the new adventure….but not before Mare drives back to Telegraph Bay, to catch us two more salmon burgers to go.

NORTH ISLAND: THE END OF CIVILIZATION

Driving to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, we pass through Cathedral Grove which contains some of the oldest trees. Most of the forest here has been logged and replanted, two or three times…and we would never know the difference. However, in this area we see 800 year old Douglas firs and tree trunks 3 meters in diameter.

Big, old trees!

          In the town of Campbell River, we cop a motel, and shower for an hour. After dinner, (linguine with calamari, scallops and shrimp) I forget to take the doggie bag. Actually, we don’t like the food that much.

            “Hey!” Claire, our waitress yells from down the hill. The hefty Nordic looking woman sprints up the sidewalk toting our doggie bag. Our first reaction is to start running. We look at each other in disbelief and laugh.

          “You still want this?” She catches up to us, out of breath. “You left it behind.”

Seymour Narrows

          “Wow, thank you so much, Claire.” I probably should have tipped her more.

          We wonder how far she would have chased us if we ran. Better to be chased by Claire than a black bear.

          During our drive the next morning, I eat the linguine with a pair of needle-nose pliers while Mare takes some photos of Seymour Narrows, a treacherous sailing pass even after the explosion of rocks to clear the channel.

          Many south-islanders say that north of Campbell River is “the end of civilization.” Rolling along, the twisty two-lane road cuts through trees, revealing snow-capped mountains in the distance and we start to agree.          

North to Port Hardy

          When we reach the top of the island, at Port Hardy, Mare wants to camp. I do not. I’m tired after a day of driving. So is Jack. So…we search motels and the cheapest is a dirty $125. We head a half-hour south to Port McNeill, and find the most inexpensive motel on the entire island, for $60. Who cares if it is above a liquor store and taxi stand? The Dalewood also has a pub and restaurant. Let’s book it for two nights.

          The following morning we drive rutted, gravel logging roads into the remote forest at the northernmost point of Vancouver Island. When we stop for Mare to take a photo, a blasting horn blares and in the rear view mirror I see two headlights flying towards us through the dust. I pull Mare into the truck and floor it. The logging truck behind us cannot stop, and we barely avoid him. This active logging area posts signs such as: “This area reforested in 1900, fertilized in 1920.” As we drive, we see a black bear eating berries with her cub. She saunters into the bush before we can snap her photo – like we should stop for another photo!

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But Jack wants to go!

          At Cape Scott Provincial Park, a sign at the trailhead of San Josef Bay Trail discourages hiking with pets in this mossy rainforest, because of black bears and cougars. Now we be remote, babe…and Jack the dog wants to come along. We hike through the forest to a secluded bay, and do not linger, because all I have with me is a Leatherman tool…handy needle-nose pliers, good for eating leftovers, useless against a cougar.

          Speaking of cougars…the bartender back at our motel pub kicks me out, because the male strippers arrive. The place is full of neglected women so hungry for action that some of them wear plastic penises on their heads, and hold a blow-up naked man-doll. I’m getting scared. Mare stays for a few photos, until the bartender asks her to pay the $15 cover. She’s too tight for that, so she leaves. Mare can see a naked man anytime she wants.

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Want to see something REALLY scary?

SURF IS UP IN TOFINO

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Kennedy Lake, Vancouver Island

Let’s hit the road, Jack. The two-hour ferry transports us to Vancouver Island. We find a small fishing cottage next to the Strait of Georgia in Qualicum. The old oil-burning stove heated meals for Soldiers during WWII. Like a step back into time, grassy lawns hold retirees jockeying their chairs to follow the sunshine. For the Canadians, this is warm weather, and some even swim. We are content to bundle up and watch.

Another "room" with a view

            After a drive across the island, through snow-capped mountain passes and lakes, we find the town of Tofino. This hot spot offers kayaking, whale watching, surfing, camping, hiking, and of course, fishing.

          Our campsite sits atop a small cliff overlooking the massive beach. Signs post warnings to keep dogs on a leash, because of bears and cougars in the forest. Mostly, though, we see families, as the campground fills to capacity. The rates rise to $48 per night during this high season. The grounds offer toilets, and a shower that will give you two minutes of hot water for one dollar. We sit next to our tent, overlooking the ocean. Bocce ball games, soccer, boogie boarding, doggie Frisbee and some small surfing entertain us from our home for the next three nights; however, simply sitting, sun-bathing and reading a book seems to be the primary activity.

Jack however has it pretty good

          I realize that camping in itself is an active sport. It’s hard. Funny, camping used to be much easier in my youth. Cooking, cleaning, and finding a comfortable place to sit now becomes all-engulfing. We build a fire, and cook S’mores. The melted marshmallow adheres to my beard like hardened glue. S’mores seemed much better in my youth as well. 

          Most of the campers are families with many children. They are mannerly and seem comfortable living in crowded conditions. We are solo folks at heart, who have camped out of the back of the truck, in solitary environments next to rivers, oceans, parking lots, etc. The intimacy with our fellow campers, and each other in our small tent, is a challenge. Eventually, the ocean waves sooth us to sleep, along with the occasional mother yelling at her child, and a dog barking in the distance.

Tofino

          The cawing of crows wakes us in the morning. We have difficulty getting out of the small tent. Actually we fall out of it. Make some coffee (Put kettle on) and fry some bacon and eggs. Sound good? This sounds great when sitting on your lounge chair talking about it, similar to the S’mores and camping in crowded grounds. We are sore, dirty, and ready for some activity. But for now, we sit, look and listen to the ocean below. After a long walk on the beach, where Jack will not give us the Frisbee back once he retrieves it from the waves, we head into town to see what we can get in to.

Ron kayaking in Clayoquot Sound

          Jack sleeps in the truck all day, while we kayak around the islands in the Clayoquot Sound. Eagles soar above us. Float planes take-off and land, fishing boats head out with hope, as our silent kayaks glide through the waves, and over kelp beds. We pass a settlement that claims to be over 10,000 years old. Crab baskets hang from colorful floats on the water. This activity revives us. We paddle for hours, amazed at the lack of fatigue.

          Another night in the tent becomes more active. A loose dog roams around our site, and Jack emits a high-pitched whine. He tries to escape from a zipped-up tent. The inside of our tent becomes a circus, and Jack has sharp claws! We finally calm him down, as the dog outside must have gone away. Now, raccoons make sounds from up in the trees, and Jack tries to get out again. Hiss…the sound of air leaking from a tire. Our air mattress no longer has any air…

We could do this all day long... and we did!

          The following morning after we stumble out of the tent, Jack runs partway down the cliff. I chase after him, to find a dog, all curled up under a bush. He’s not dead yet. So…we find campers with a sign posted for a lost dog. They are so happy to find him. “He has dementia,” the owner says. “We were afraid that he went off to die somewhere.”

          Let’s get back to some activity and explore surfing lessons. Lying on the dirty floor in a small shack, the young female instructor jumps from her stomach to her knees, in a stooped position.

         “That’s how you get up,” she says. “It’s easy.”

          I know that my knee cannot handle such a position, but try anyway. “Ouch! Can’t do it.”

Hiking in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

          The surf instructor admires Mare’s muscles as she watches her spring right up to her feet. “I’ll tag along and take photos of you,” I say.  But Mare decides to decline. I think that the necessity of wearing a wet suit in cold waters has something to do with it. “Let’s try some hiking,” Mare suggests. This place is one of the best places to learn how to surf, due to small but constant waves.

          Off to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve were we hike through old growth forests which open up onto secluded coves and expansive beaches. Jack is once more leash-less and we enjoy the privacy so lacking in our camp.

Love these leash-less beaches!

Our final morning in Tofino, we sit on the patio at the coffee shop. Talking with laid-back surfing/grunge type folks, we finally feel the place. We don’t want to leave, but our campsite is full and we only had reservations for three nights. Dingy hotels want $160 for one night. George, one of the locals, tells us about his life in Tofino.

          “I left for a while. Hated the development, condos and stuff where some of my favorite spots used to be.” He pets Jack. “But now I’ve come to an understanding with it all. After twelve years being “retired”, at least now I have a job.”