Week 1

Sunday, May 18, 1997 Ely, Nevada

In some ways, our first day of real retirement. We're free as the breeze and off on an adventure. We left from Arroyo Grande, California, bright and early at 6:00 AM. Ouch. Does the fun have to start so early? Fortunately, no one was killed as I struggled to remove my sweatshirt while driving.

Just outside of Bakersfield, we entered the Sequoia National Forest and had a very pleasant drive through the canyons, following the Kern River. Were I forced to live in Bakersfield, it would almost be tolerable, being able to come out here each weekend.

It was a long day today since we wanted to make it the 600 miles to Ely. This leaves us with only a fairly moderate drive tomorrow to make it to my aunt and uncle's home in Idaho. Alas, 600 miles goes by very slowly at 55 mph or less. We're heavily loaded with lots of our belongings that we plan to leave at the cottage. Hill climbing is tedious and at times we even have to drop down to first gear.

We did eventually make it to Ely. We were curious and asked a local just how the town's name is properly pronounced. "EELY," we were told. Perhaps we were just tired but the town seemed to have about as much charm as a bunch of eels.

Monday, May 19 Rupert, Idaho

Just 300 miles to drive today before reaching my aunt and uncle's home where we spent the afternoon and night. It was kind of amazing how dramatically the landscape changed almost the moment we left Nevada. Dry scrub and rocks turned quickly into rolling grassy hills. We had fresh picked asparagus for dinner, straight from the nearby roadside ditches.

Tuesday, May 20 St. Mary, Montana

Today we entered Montana and the scenery was wonderful. Lots of trees and mountains and nobody on the roads. The speed limit here is "reasonable and prudent" rather than any fixed number. We managed to keep our speed well below triple digits. That's just as well because we were driving on the state highways, not interstates, and at one point we came across about a billion cattle wandering alongside and across the road. We slowly danced our way through them, hoping none of them would decide to challenge us. At the end of the cow slalom we found two cowboys (cowgirls, actually) happily keeping the cattle moving. We're not sure where they were headed. Texas, maybe?

We'd planned on staying in Browning, Montana tonight. It was the last town of any size on our route before the Canadian border. But Browning turned out to be amazingly shoddy. We drove through town twice looking for dinner and hotel possibilities. We aren't very fussy, but we couldn't stomach the thought of staying anywhere here. We decided to press on.

That turned out to be a good decision because after an hour of driving through the best scenery so far, we came to St. Mary, a minuscule hamlet right at the entrance to Glacier National Park. It was the anti-Browning. Beautiful, clean and with a very nice motel. The restaurant next to the motel was run by the same family and had delicious home-cooked meals at reasonable prices and very friendly staff.

By now you may be asking yourself why we were looking for a motel when we are driving around in a portable motel. Well, our portable motel was jammed with stuff bound for the cottage. Until we could unload and temporarily store it in Calgary, we couldn't even set foot in the back of the motorhome, let alone try to sleep in it.

Wednesday, May 21 Calgary, Alberta

While getting dressed this morning we listened to the news and heard that Calgary had just gotten a freak snowstorm and had several inches of snow. It was apparently the coldest place in the entire country yesterday. Great. Let's go there...

Despite stories we had heard of difficulties when entering Canada in an RV, we breezed through with no problems. However, when the customs officer asked where we were from I replied, "Uh...California, I guess." Hint for future reference -- don't add "I guess" onto your answers. It just added unnecessary complications in trying to explain that we don't currently have a permanent address.

On the way to Calgary we passed through Ft. Macleod and admired the delightful names the Canadians have for things. We crossed over the Oldman River and soon came to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

As we got closer to Calgary, the snow we could see on the ground kept getting closer and closer to the road. By the time we reached Calgary, it was covering everything except the roads. It was just as well that the roads stayed dry since I wasn't really looking forward to seeing how well the motorhome handles on the snow.

We managed to find Sandra's cousin's house and then unloaded an embarrassingly large pile of clutter that we moved to their basement. Getting the windsurfer out the side window proved to be very difficult. If we hadn't managed to get it in the same way I would have sworn that it simply wouldn't fit through there.

Thursday, May 22 Edmonton, Alberta

We loaded up Sandra's parents and Alaska here we come. Actually, today's drive was fairly boring. Alberta is mostly just lots of grassy fields. But the soil is incredibly black.

We stopped for the day at Rev. and Mrs. Caan's home. They are the parents of one of Sandra's friends from when she was living in Nova Scotia. Also, Rev. Caan married us. We had a nice visit and they fed us tons of yummy food, gave us a good bread recipe, and put us up for the night. Okay, so far the trip hasn't involved too many hardships. Doesn't everyone go camping like this?

Friday, May 23 Dawson Creek, B.C.

Today was more fairly boring driving through the plains and rolling hills of Alberta. We passed time by playing Hangman and trying to think of as many homonyms (e.g., sale & sail) as possible.

There was one bit of excitement today. We were motoring along the highway when the Ford Expedition in front of us suddenly barrel rolled and spun into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. As we pulled to a stop beside him, the driver was already crawling out of the truck. His truck was pretty smushed but he was basically okay (he'd been wearing his seatbelt) except for some fairly minor cuts on his left arm from the broken glass of the driver's side door. We cleaned up his arm and swept up the broken glass on the highway while he went to a nearby house to use the phone. The accident had been caused by his rear wheel suddenly falling off! He'd had new tires put on the previous week and apparently the shop hadn't properly tightened his lug nuts and they eventually just worked themselves loose. I imagine he'll be having an interesting conversation with that tire shop. After witnessing this, we resolved to check our lug nuts when we stopped this evening because our rear tires had just recently been installed too.

We ended the day in Dawson Creek, just inside British Columbia. This is where the Alaska Highway begins. At the Visitors Centre we watched an interesting one hour video describing the building of the Alaska Highway.

We spent our first night ever "camping" in the motorhome. We weren't roughing it too much -- at the RV park we hooked up to electricity and running water while bathrooms and showers were just a short walk away. Heck, it's just like sharing an extremely small house with lots of people.

Saturday, May 24 Summit Lake, B.C.

We put our wheels on the Alaska Highway today. Not a bad road at all. When I was last on it, back in 1970, it wasn't paved at all, at least not until you reached the Alaska border. Now the whole thing is paved, except for areas undergoing construction. Naturally, we hit a big section of just such an area. They were blasting and we had to wait in line for about half an hour while the assorted heavy machinery was busy on the road. It was raining all the while, almost snowing; the dirt road was an incredible mess. Our motorhome immediately turned into a giant mudball. And remained that way for the rest of the trip.

Our propane supply was down to about the last 1/3 so we stopped in Fort St. John to get some more. The gas station wouldn't refill our propane cylinder because it was 12 years old and apparently they need to have an inspection and the valve changed every ten years. They couldn't do that work, but sent us to another place that could. The next place wouldn't do it either because we still had too much propane left in our tank. So they offered to simply refill it for us instead. Okay by us!

We saw our first wildlife beside the road today, moose and caribou. Yaa. Now it is starting to feel like we're really getting out into the boonies. Incidentally, reindeer and caribou are the same animals. In North America the caribou run around free and but if they are domesticated they're called reindeer. While in Europe, they're called reindeer regardless. That seems to make more sense.

Towards the end of the day we were pretty far from any towns, it was cold and rainy, and we didn't feel like going further. So we stopped at the nearest provincial park for the night. That turned out to be at Summit Lake, the highest elevation on the whole Alaska Highway. We had the whole place to ourselves, although a ranger did stop by once to collect the $10 camping fee. Okay, now we're finally starting to rough it ... freezing cold and no facilities (except a pit toilet). We cooked supper in the motorhome, which required a bit of cooperation from everyone since space is very limited. But it came out just fine. I even made biscuits in the oven.

After supper, it began to snow heavily.

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