Sunday, September 26, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Home in Palmer, AK

This is it, guys - we dunnit and we're here. Left Tok this morning in some difficult road conditions - the first few hours were wet ice - but as we worked our way down the Tok Cutoff, the storm that was hovering over Glennallen kept moving north and west of us, and within a couple of hours we had gorgeous sunshine over the freshly snowcovered mountains. Jaw drops around every corner stuff. Worked our way over the Mentasta Range and then began to hit some of the edges of the rain/snow stuff near Glennallen.

But between there and maybe 50 miles north of Palmer, we had sunshine again. Weather so much better than we expected. A long stop at a road construction area conveniently placed us underneath a couple dozen Dall sheep on the cliffs high above, so we just pulled out the long lens on the camera and watched them while we waited to proceed.

So really the only weather we hit, besides the knuckle-whitening road stuff this morning, was just as we descended into the Mat-Su Valley, rainy and thick with clouds. Arrived at George and Becky's house an hour and a half ago, and have just been visiting and relaxing since. Becky has a pot of soup on the stove and six loaves of bread in the oven - I know I'm home. :) We've made this trip a bit of a gastronomic experiment all the way actually - had some great 'fruit of the forest' pie last night, um, and today... (some experiments take repeating)

So it's 5442 miles later for me, and 4362 miles for Phyllis, and we haven't killed each other yet. Phyllis still has six days here - we never needed the disaster buffer - and so we hope to get rested and then do a little more Alaska exploring to maximize her time here.

Phyllis says she feels every mile in her hind end. I guess that means that any of you who want to know what that feels like, know who you can see about it.

The dinner bell is ringing, so we're signing off. Thanks for riding these miles with us.

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

We were unbelievably lucky with weather this entire trip, despite the 90F in the beginning. It's interesting to go from feeling sweaty and hot to a parka and gloves. If the good weather had held, we were going to drive an extra couple of hundred miles so I could see the end of the Alaska Highway and drive the whole thing, but that wasn't safe and we were both tired. That we even considered it was amazing.

And no, I certainly did not drive on snowy mountain roads. Except for 6 hours, Peg drove the entire way. I am a happy passenger. But I do feel all those miles. One of my desperate hopes is to go to Seward and take a harbor tour to see wildlife (Note: never happened. I couldn't willingly get in the car again for 5 more hours.)
If you have never driven the Alaska Highway, I strongly urge you to consider it. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is not to be missed in your lifetime.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Tok, AK

Yes, it's been two days since we wrote, sorry. We were "Safe in Watson Lake, YT" last night, but the hotel phones were out, no internet connection or cell availability, so all we did is make a couple quick pay phone calls to immediate family.

The drive on Friday from Dawson Creek to Watson Lake was just gorgeous. That's my favorite part of the whole highway, and our weather was blue, sunny, spectacular. The terrain is so diverse, with each new hillcrest or bend in the road opening up another breathtaking vista. We sighted deer, caribou, Rocky Mountain sheep, and four groups of buffalo along the road. We got just enough cloud mixture toward evening to keep the sun from blinding us and to give us a dramatic sunset. Got into Watson Lake late in the evening and crashed for the night.

Up pretty early this morning, we stopped first in Watson to see the signpost forest - it's made up of tens of thousands of signs that people have put up on the rows of poles provided. I can almost guarantee you that everyone to whom I'm writing this message has got a sign for their hometown there. [Phyllis's photo here was focused on "Green Bay" directly center.] Came nose to nose with a bull moose in the highway, crossed the Yukon River and pushed on to Whitehorse for some lunch and to make a stop at a great knitting shop that Phyllis wanted to visit. [Photo: The significance of the antler-locked moose relative to knitting is unknown but doesn't it look WAY COOL? Here's the background on their grudge match. The shop has since moved from here so I guess we got there just in time, if death-locked knitting moose is your gig.]

Headed out again in the afternoon under still-clear sky, came past Kluane Lake and stopped there at Sheep Mountain to make sure that Phyllis got her sheep sighting - counted about three dozen Dall sheep up there in the sunshine. As we got closer to Tok, the scars of the wildfires became apparent - lots of charred forest there.

So my traveling companion who claimed she wasn't a good long-distance traveler will have to change her tune after these last two days - 615 miles on Fri and 680 miles today, more than I had intended to ask of her, but maximizing our travel time during such great weather was the only sensible thing for us to do. Particularly since that is about to change. The weather as we arrived in Tok tonight was a little slick and snowy. Reports from friends indicate that Anchorage has had snow all day, and Palmer is getting some rain and snow mixed. So it looks like after all these thousands of miles, it's the last day tomorrow that has the potential to be the bad driving day for us as we come through a series of mountain passes. We'll just sleep in a bit in the morning so we have plenty of daylight when we start, then go carefully and take our time. Haven't come all this way to screw up now.

In the meanwhile, we have a clean, comfortable room at one of the few motels that hasn't closed for the season, and we're near to the famous Fast Eddy's restaurant where we had a great, late dinner tonight. I thought the fire season was about over but we had a posse of firefighters in the restaurant tonight - and gosh, we just hated that. We might have to linger over breakfast there tomorrow.

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

What an unbelievable, beautiful, memorable day. It was one of those days you dream about. The scenery is so stunning I can no longer just sit and knit. The wildlife is plentiful, although I kept whining for sheep (what else would you expect from a knitter?). Peg finally pulled over, while I plaintively repeated "sheeeeepies....", to a good sheep sighting spot. We couldn't have had better weather, either.

The knitting shop in Whitehorse was the one stop I really wanted to make, and Peg made it happen. I had been through their website so much that I knew exactly what I wanted,
a mitten kit of black and red qiviuq yarn (from musk ox - 8 times as warm as wool and far more difficult to collect) with a musk ox design. I didn't make them last year but will this fall.

I still have not driven more than 6 hours total on this whole trip.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Dawson Creek, BC

And on a free, high-speed internet connection - finally, one night that I'm not paying long distance to check email.

Today was just about putting miles behind us. We stopped first thing at Tim Horton's (Canada's answer to Dunkin Donuts) to fuel up and then hit the road for Edmonton. [Note: While I'm sorry that NHL hockey star Tim Horton did not survive to see his restaurant chain reach its full level of success, I'm kind of glad he didn't survive to see the advent of the horridly named donut seeds called Timbits. That's just...gross. Of course, we called them Bits of Tim, so can hardly judge.]

We drove through the Edmonton city center just to get a look at the heart of things up close, then headed west and north through miles and miles of Alberta prairie. Montana may be the Big Sky, but Alberta is the Big Sky's Bigger Brother, and we pushed on through a gorgeous sunny day with squadrons of small puffy clouds lined up in formation as far to our south as we could see. Alberta is the province which receives the most sun yearly, and we stopped at a nice visitor center in Valleyview to plant a letterbox with a bright-sun stamp in honor of this fact and our own beautiful drive.

On these longest driving days, the books on tape help pass the time - so far we've enjoyed 'The Birth of Venus' by Sarah Dunant, 'Mrs. Kimble' by Jennifer Haigh, 'Life Sentence' by David Ellis, and are almost finished with 'Something Rising: Light & Swift' by Haven Kimmel.

Our backs are holding up pretty well. Not sure what we'll do tomorrow - last year I did the distance Dawson to Whitehorse (in the other direction obviously) in a day, but that's 900 miles and I know we aren't going to do that. So we'll probably try to get to either Muncho Lake or Watson Lake tomorrow night, Whitehorse the next. Weather is supposed to be scattered clouds and some minor rain. If that schedule holds we'll be in Palmer by late Sunday night, but we're not tied to it.

Peg and Phyllis

[Postscript: And now the journey...begins.]


Phyllis remembers:

Now we're talking! Tim Horton's (despite Peg's not being impressed, I insisted on this treat. I would not be denied). I consider the sheer quantity of drive through donut places to be one of the best aspects of Canadian culture.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Calgary, AB

Actually we're just north of Calgary - pushed on past the city tonight so we wouldn't get caught in rush hour traffic in the morning, and are staying just north in Airdrie.

Got a slow start out of the blocks today with a stop at the Owl Cafe in Hayden (just north of Cd'A) - I'd asked Matthew for his best diner recommendation and I think we agree that this is possibly the best breakfast you can find in North America. I called Matthew to thank him and he said "And was it an authentic local diner experience, complete with a cast of characters?" - it was, and the food was just spectacular.

We waddled to the car and then headed just north to Athol, where a letterboxing stop came up empty but found us a treasure anyway. We stopped at the old deep-water Navy training base that was open during WWII, and has since been turned into a state park. Of the multiple camps and facilities once there as part of what was the second-largest naval training base in the world in its day, in which nearly 300,000 sailors received their basic training, only the brig still stands and has been turned into a museum. It's a standard cellblock layout around a concrete courtyard. You can't actually go in through the gates but their museum entrance is along the outside wall, and they sent a volunteer over to open it up for us. The exhibits are not flashy and occupy the space of about eight or ten 4-man cells. [Check out the rope work!]

Then we puttered around looking for the letterbox, and as we gave up and started to leave, a park ranger we'd said hello to earlier approached us again - and that's where the fun started. He said "I could show you a few things that you didn't see in the museum tour..." and with that he swung open the huge steel main gates of the prison and ushered us in. He took us through all of it - it's completely unrestored and falling down, and they are just trying to get grants to reclaim bits and pieces of it. So it was about as behind the scenes as you can get, as we stood in the solitary confinement block amid cells that have been demolished, piles of lumber, ceiling falling in - and Al the park ranger told us the story. Of how this place had been fish & game land for years, and then the Girl Scouts decided they wanted to hold a camporee there. They were turned down, and they went to the First Lady (who was then Lady Bird Johnson) and she got the place turned into a state park so the Girl Scouts could camp there. But she had a few changes in mind. For one thing, she didn't want it to look like a prison. So this brig sports homey wooden slat shutters that cover all the jail windows, and the solitary block was virtually destroyed because it appeared so inhumane and we couldn't have any Girl Scouts see that either.

Later administrators also had no vision for the future that this place in history should be saved, and made further demolitions. Our guide said he'd been there for 22 years now, and he was so obviously passionate about every little piece he's been able to restore, that I asked him what had brought him to this point in his life. He said that at first it was just a job, but about two years into it he'd had a dream where a clear voice told him that the reason he was put in the world was to save the historical resource of the Farragut Naval Training Base for posterity. A few years after, he started a veterans' reunion which brought 6 men the first year. Their most recent one was two weeks ago and brought over 4,000 men of the greatest generation.

I can't put into words how it was to walk around this facility which to anyone would frankly look like a ruin (and a government-issue ruin, no less) and hear this man's single voice of pride and hope in the stewardship of this piece of history. It was well worth the time we took to see something that few members of the public are allowed to view.

But we had to push on - and had a beautiful drive through the border crossing and into British Columbia, and then into southern Alberta before cutting north toward Calgary. Our detour route had meant Phyllis wasn't going to get to see the big wind farms in northern North Dakota - but it turns out that southern Alberta has just as many, and it was amazing to see scores of those giant turbines stretch for miles across the landscape. We had a quick dinner stop and then pulled into Calgary after nightfall. Started looking around for a place to stay then decided to push north a little further and here we are in Airdrie, which should give us a bit easier start in the morning.

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

Somewhere around this point I realize that every time I offer to drive, Peg says no thanks. So far in total, I have driven for 3 hours each on two days, somewhere in the middle of that long straight stretch that goes on for days in between Minneapolis and Coeur d'Alene. So I spend my time staring out the window and knitting. She seems to be happy driving, and I am content to stare out the window. We also had very good books on tape that kept us both happy. The view here on the plains, however, is...uhm...pretty plain except for the wind farms.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Canada awaits

We're settling down in our motel room in Coeur d'Alene after a day offroad. I spent the morning at the hospital with Matthew while Phyllis got a little extra sleep. When I got back to the room around noon, she had all of our laundry done. We went for a long walk along the lakefront under dazzling sun and then came back to the room to do paperwork and trip planning.

The whole family is bearing up under some strain right now. Both of Alice's parents (Alice is Matthew's wife) are in crisis- they have been up here visiting all summer and now having medical things going on - and Alice's brother had come up from CA to be of help with their dad. Alice needed to get him back to the airport, and then when Matthew was finally released late this afternoon, Alice's mother had taken severely ill and Alice had to go with her to the ER, so we ended up loading Matthew and all his stuff into the little car and bringing him home. We visited some more and watched some videos of my niece Kaci and her dance troupe which competes all over the country.

After some hours the family began to gather a bit, and Kaci, Phyllis & I went out to fetch some Chinese food since that's what sounded good to Matthew after a couple of weeks of hospital food. In an unfortunate incident involving a hot grill and chili oil, the chef inadvertently napalmed the restaurant and our lungs are still burning. It was awful. It didn't keep us from our dinner though. We looked through some photos and then once Josh got there (his fiancee's parents were arriving by plane this evening) we took a few photos and then I said goodbye to the family.

I am sad tonight but I am so grateful that Matthew is home, feeling and looking well, and that he has a supportive workplace - the university has told him not to worry about sick leave, and so he will have the entire semester to recover and heal, and not worry about going back to work until after the Christmas holidays. I'm also glad to have spent a little time with my niece and nephew, and to meet the remarkable young woman that Josh will marry this weekend.

And I am grateful for a traveling companion who takes all of this in stride. I believe she felt welcomed and loved by my family and her help in all this was such a relief to have.

We need to settle down and rest, and hit the road in the morning. For those tracking us, our path from here is straight north through Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry, to the Eastport crossing into British Columbia, then work our way generally east back into Alberta and pitching north to Calgary. We'll overnight there, and then the next morning once we make Edmonton, our detour is completed, and we are back on our original route for home. [Postscript: Here is my beautiful family just a few days later. You can't even see the wires holding the groom's father together.]

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

A lovely day with a bright daytime walk around one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen, and we were even able to be helpful by getting Matthew home while Alice tended to her mother. Between a sick husband, sick father, sick mother, and a wedding in mere days, Alice has impressed me no end. Most people, including me, would fall apart in the face of so much to deal with simultaneously. Not Alice.

It was wonderful to see their home, meet the dogs, and just hang out and chat. Despite the truly awful napalm incident (see previous reference to my asthma and smoke; I was standing behind Peg and Kaci when Peg turned to me and said "are you all right?" And I said sure, why shouldn't I be?" when the smoke hit. I ran out like a dog after a rabbit, leaving Peg and Kaci to have a little quality time alone).

I have rarely been so impressed by any family as I was by Matthew's. Or by The Owl. What a diner!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Coeur d'Alene, ID

The end of the day news comes first: I have just spent the evening with my big brother, who is in a hospital room about 2/3 mile from our motel. I have met my 19-year-old niece Kaci for the first time, and seen my 25-year-old nephew Josh for the first time in 20 years. Matthew may be allowed to go home from the hospital tomorrow – he tanked a couple of days ago with extremely low blood pressure and low pulse, and they have changed his medications. He looked really well tonight, with good color, and if things continue to progress in this way he will go home tomorrow.

So, to the day’s summary…

We woke up to mixed snow and rain in Bozeman this morning, snow level was around 6,000 feet and so we caught some of it. We didn’t go down to Yellowstone due to the distance, but the weather considerations would have made it a poor choice anyway. We did go that direction as far as Gallatin Gateway in order to step foot in the Gallatin National Forest, and take the requisite touristy photos. And then headed back north to the interstate to push on through Montana.

Letterboxing once again was responsible for two neat stops today. The first was near Three Forks, at the Madison River Buffalo Jump – a huge rimrock formation where the Indians harvested buffalo in large numbers by stampeding them over the cliff face.

Then when we stopped in Butte, we took a side trip right up the mountain on which the city is perched, to go look at the Granite Mountain Memorial. It recognizes the 168 lives lost in the country’s largest metal mine disaster, back in 1917 when the Speculator Mine went up in flames. That whole part of the mountain is still under active work, so you just kind of wind your way back over a mud track – Alaskans, think the Hatcher Pass road in bad weather - and eventually find this monument while bulldozers roar nearby. [I found this news headline profoundly moving - it literally freezes in time both the shock of the disaster and what turned out to be the futile hope that not all lives were lost.]

The weather today made for some really interesting changes of scene. We went through everything from bright sunshine to driving rain to totally socked-in, and lots of changes in between. We crossed the continental divide at 6393 feet just east of Butte, and our descent in bright sunshine lit up the rugged rock faces in so many shades of gold and red and orange –compare that to the deep cool evergreen forests of northern Idaho, with mountain after mountain fading away in softer profile as the fog obscured each a little more than the last. I don’t have the words for the beauty we saw today. I do think you could set me down in either Bozeman or Missoula and I would feel entirely at home making a life there. And our joint observation is that the men of Montana have got it going on – it got to the point today that when we stopped at a café for lunch, by the time the third long cool range rider walked in the door, Phyllis and I looked at each other and said only “you know, we really just have to get out of Montana.” There’s only so much a girl can take.

And I don’t really have the words for how it was to see my family tonight after this many years apart. I got to meet Josh’s fiancée Tiffani – they are to be married on Sunday, so with all this medical stuff, wedding plans have gone haywire – and Phyllis was a real champ to just sit there in the hospital room with us all evening. Mostly it is so gratifying to see Matthew looking so well tonight and to just hold his hand and feel like it has always felt between us – that even when years go by between phone calls or emails, we just pick up where we are and in the end there has never felt like more needed to be said.

So we will take a day here, visit a little more with family, catch up on things like laundry and bill-paying, and enjoy the setting here on the edge of the beautiful big lake. We leave Wednesday morning for Calgary.

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

Peg's family is - not surprisingly - amazing. How they were able to be gracious to a total stranger in the middle of such difficult times is a true testament to their strength and spirit. They made me feel as welcome as if they'd known me forever. Matthew's family, and a couple of the kids' friends, all spent time jammed in this one hospital room. The laughter flowed constantly. The phone kept ringing with people checking up on Matthew. I was simply amazed.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Bozeman, MT

It was much cooler and overcast today. We did a few more touristy things since we only had about 360 miles to make today to get to Bozeman. We started by exploring the Badlands right there in Glendive, as Montana's largest state park, Makoshika, is just a mile south of town. It is an immense repository of marine and land fossils, including Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus. Phyllis also found a tiny (and female, we presume) scorpion in the women's lavatory basin!

Continuing to follow Lewis & Clark's footsteps across the state, we climbed Pompey's Pillar to see William Clark's own signature where he carved it into the rock in 1806. And then stopped near Billings to explore the caves in Pictograph State Park.

We finally ran into the thunderstorms just before we got to Bozeman, but as we pulled into town the clouds broke into dazzling sun on the mountains.

We were too tired to do further exploring here tonight, but family honor requires me to go at least a little way into the Gallatin National Forest in the morning. The many Gallatin landmarks in this part of the country are also related to the Lewis & Clark expedition - Albert Gallatin was the secretary of the treasury under Jefferson, so essentially he was the money man behind the Corps of Discovery and so they sucked up and named a bunch of stuff after him. So Gallatin Peak, Gallatin Range, Gallatin River, Gallatin Gateway, blah blah blah - that's all here, right down to the name of the conference room and the pizza delivery service in our motel…. (I felt silly the other night when making the motel reservation, I was giving my maiden name as it's on my credit card and automatically spelled out G-a-l-l-a-t-i-n, then realized what I was doing. I said “er, um, I didn’t really need to spell that for you did I."… "No ma'am, not really."

We're also trying to decide whether to detour another 50-60 miles south - West Yellowstone isn't that far from us and we'd both like to see Old Faithful.

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

We started out with a personal highlight: as we drove through the Badlands, I blasted one of my favorite songs from my favorite musician: Springsteen's "Badlands." What a feeling!

That little tiny scorpion in the ladies' room was unnerving. Thankfully, since Peg managed to pack everything including the kitchen sink, I just used towellettes instead of the scorpion-lined sink.

I have a mild case of asthma, usually only set off by smoke, bleach, and running or climbing. Thus, while climbing the steps of Pompey's Pillar I started to huff and puff like the proverbial wolf. But all was worth it. That view was incredible.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Glendive, MT

Both of us were awake very early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so we got going around 5:30 am and were out of town by a little after 7am. We were in Bismarck by mid-morning and had a couple of serendipities happen today.

Because Phyllis was interested in seeing the state capitol building (the city’s only skyscraper), we happened upon the North Dakota State Heritage Center which is just a wonderful exhibit and was very quiet on a Saturday. We are still following Lewis &Clark's footsteps here and so there was tons of interesting info on that, as well as on the development of the primitive cultures and then the westward expansion. [Photo: Naze House circa 550 B.C. is the oldest house yet excavated in North Dakota.]

And then a letterbox pursuit took us to Fort Abraham Lincoln, where the 7th Cavalry under Custer was quartered. It made so much of that part of history come real for us as we walked among the reconstructed buildings – they are slowly bringing back the entire encampment which includes a cavalry post, infantry post, and Indian village. Their exhibits were interactive - no one was there to tell you not to touch as you explored the barracks, dug through the foot lockers to find their gear, family letters and personal items. I'm stunned that people don't just walk off with this stuff (even though it's all reproductions of course).

We toured a replica of the second Custer home on the site – the first was lost to fire and the second eventually cannibalized for building lumber as was the entire encampment. Our interpretive guide took us back into 1875 as though we were guests of the Custers arriving for dinner that evening, and so all of our questions and discussion had to be framed in context, or the guide would go blank if we mentioned anything that existed after 1875 (like kerosene…or, um, the Battle of Little Big Horn). Phyllis and I were shown the ladies’ dressing rooms and advised to please finish putting on our clothes before coming to dinner, as no ladies would ever be seen walking around in their bloomers (shorts).

Custer’s home was soooo opulent and BIG at 4000 square feet, I never had that in mind when considering the privations the camps dealt with in that remote and harsh territory. They are slowly collecting some of the original furnishings as they are tracking them down, but since the whole place was ripped apart for buildings, things go far and wide. But some are known - for example, the original staircase of the Custer house was removed intact, and still exists where it was next installed, in an elderly woman's home in Bismarck.

We wouldn’t have enjoyed either of these jewels otherwise, so were very very glad to have made these discoveries. Finally got back on the road and had a blistering hot afternoon in the car – temps today were in the 90’s, although in Bozeman just 360 miles to our west it’s 25 degrees cooler. And of course there are no shade trees anywhere in western North Dakota, so we just broiled in our little car with no AC. Cooler weather will be here tomorrow. We enjoyed the massive change in scenery from yesterday – we went through the Painted Canyon and now are on the edge of the Badlands with its craggy buttes and ribboned mesas.

So tonight we are in a small cowtown on the edge of the Yellowstone River. We make another huge scenery change tomorrow, heading into mountain peaks of over 11,000 feet, to overnight in Bozeman.

Peg and Phyllis

PS: Phyllis wants to add that she got one of the greatest compliments of her life today when Peg said that traveling with her was just as easy and companionable as traveling with a dog… Peg adds that since she has opposable thumbs, there are instances in which she is actually more useful than a dog too, but if that ever comes back on me I’ll deny it.


Phyllis remembers:

I'm not thrilled with high summer temps, and Peg is the only person more averse to them than I am. So here we are traveling in 90F temps. I tried hard not to whine, and it was an effort.

The State Heritage Center and the Custer home at Fort Abraham Lincoln were both highlights of the trip for me. I love that kind of history, even if I was only wearing bloomers. Our tour guide was excellent and really brought history alive. The beds in the bunkhouse are so tiny - we forget how much people have grown since then. I can't imagine anyone other than a child sleeping comfortably there.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Safe in Fargo, ND

Pleasant and relatively uneventful day today as we got up at a comfortable hour, took the time to completely unpack the car and repack it again – very pleased with how our little chariot is loaded and how we know where everything is and how we can get to everything important (i.e., snacks) with a minimum of fuss and bother. We said our last goodbyes to Phyllis’s adorable fluffydogs Fred and Ginger (Fred gave us a last-minute scare by coming up lame last night at the dog park, but was okay this morning), and headed out of Madison under a sunny, warm sky, around 9:30 a.m.

The miles flew by while we chatted and got caught up, and by mid-afternoon we hit the Twin Cities and made our way to Marilyn’s beautiful home on Lake Minnetonka. The gorgeous wolfhounds Medora and Emma greeted us – Emma has grown so much since I saw them last – and the table on the deck was prepared with a lunch as lovely and elegant as Marilyn herself. We sat on the deck and visited and also got to tour Marilyn’s remodel – there’s a whole new floor on top of her home that wasn’t there when I came through a year ago! – and it is just a drop-dead-stunning addition with a huge master bedroom, library and more. It was far too brief a visit but what a perfect break to our driving day.

Back out onto the interstate under a completely clear sky, cranked up the tunes, got ourselves some caffeine and pushed four hours through a beautiful sunset to sneak just over the ND line into Fargo. So it was a pretty straightforward travel day but it was fun to just be on the road together. Tomorrow takes us straight through central North Dakota and we’ll stop just on the other side of the Montana line.

Peg and Phyllis


Phyllis remembers:

What Peg hasn't mentioned is that she is an expert packer. And I do mean expert. I still cannot believe how much stuff she calmly and quietly got into a little teeny tiny Toyota while leaving room for two people. She should hire this out as a service.

Marilyn, by the way, is one of the most gracious hostesses I have had the pleasure to encounter. Her home is stunning and would be without the gorgeous remodel. But her home is not as beautiful as her wolfhounds. Oh my!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Peg's Travel Advisory - Safe in Madison, WI

It was a very long day and there's much to tell, but it was such a long day I'm not going to tell it all. The best thing that happened (besides arriving here and seeing Phyllis and her doggies and kitty) was that I never had to see Chicago today. Howzzat???

I got away late from Columbus because Lenette and I went and did a few letterboxes first thing, including one at the Field of Corn sculpture in nearby Dublin:

This piece first struck me as ironic being as how it supplanted an actual cornfield, then I thought it was kind of weird and tweaky, and then I read the interpretive plaques about Sam and Eulalia Frantz who farmed that land from 1935 to 1963, and that's when I realized the setting of the sculpture looks just like a graveyard for their lost farm. So I had a lot of different reactions to this piece of art.

I picked up two other letterbox finds in Ohio and then moseyed into southeast Indiana and did three more, which took me to a beautiful falls hidden under a highway with no sign or anything to tell you it was there; to a covered bridge that's been relocated as the centerpiece of a public park (and learned about the Kennedy brothers who built nearly all the covered bridges in Indiana); and then to a bird sanctuary.

Finally I decided it was getting time that I actually drove somewhere. But the hour was so late I was concerned about going through Chicago during evening rush, so I called Phyllis for a little research on routes and calculating whether it might be to my advantage to keep pushing west into Illinois before making the pitch north. She called a travel agent who said the mileage increase was minimal and it was well worth it because (the part I didn't know) there was substantial construction on the interstate around Chicago. UGH. So I said fine, it's off to central Illinois and congratulated myself for being so smart, and a little later on I got confirmation in the form of a big orange highway sign that was surely NOT approved by the Indiana Department of Tourism:


and had every interstate number possible listed on the sign.

So I did, and in the late afternoon when the haze and humidity and heat ceased, I had a clear, lovely, pleasant drive through parts of Illinois that I'd not seen, including the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge over the Illinois River in Bloomington. It was lovely and the traffic was almost nonexistent.

So I worked my way north through Rockford and finally late tonight just as I passed Beloit and thought I was home free to Madison, I hit the same interstate construction that was supposed to keep me out of Indiana and Chicago. The detour headed me east instead of west, and 30 miles later I learned that it intended to take me east on the interstate all the way to Milwaukee, and return me all the way back to Madison by way of a different interstate. Well THAT was just stupid. Luckily in my detour I passed a US route that I recognized as one that would (eventually, 50 miles later) go right past Phyllis's house. And when it also dead-ended into road construction, I recognized the second route that I knew would do the same thing. Damn it's a good thing I've got a sense of direction and occasionally a useful bit of memory.

Long story but basically I spent the late evening under a beautiful starry sky, mid 50's temps, driving on side roads through a bunch of towns until I finally got to Phyllis's despite the defense perimeter set by the state of Wisconsin.

Just winding down now, will unpack and repack the car in the morning and then be on our way. The name of our advisory will change tomorrow with the increase in personnel, but you'll have to read tomorrow to see that. We intend to make a brief stop in Minneapolis tomorrow to see Marilyn and her wolfhounds, and make Fargo by tomorrow night.

Peg (and Phyllis)

[Postscript: Here's a sweet pic that Knatolee took - top to bottom Phyllis, Ginger, Fred]


Phyllis remembers:

Despite Wisconsin's every attempt to keep out of state travelers out of the state, Peg arrived in a remarkably upbeat mood. I would have been spitting and swearing at all the detours but she is a much more seasoned traveler than I am and is more adjusted to such realities. I am nervous because I have never undertaken a trip this long and am worried that I'm just going to be a drain on her by making her stop much sooner than she would otherwise. But oh well. Great conversation and safety is worth quite a bit on the road.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Peg's Travel Advisory - Safe in Columbus, OH

Actually I got here about three hours ago but Lenette and I have been visiting. I've been getting to know her newest Sheltie, adorable one-eyed Manning, and catching up with the other Sheltie thugs Angus and Keegan, and Bailey The Beautiful But Unpredictable Cat.

The weather through western Pennsylvania was crummy - fog and pelting rain - but then the clouds opened up and I sweltered into Ohio. But I will take the sun and clear roads anytime.

Leaving as early tomorrow as I can manage to get going - we'll see. Through Indiana and Illinois tomorrow to get to Madison WI by evening. Getting ready to go get some dinner - Lenette says where we're going, we can throw peanut hulls on the floor, so it sounds like dinner AND a show...


PS: Had forgotten how nice it is on these road trips to pass gas station after gas station - went from Hamburg PA to Zanesville OH on 3/4 tank and I'm sure I could have made it all the way to Columbus.


Phyllis remembers:

So as the trip approached, I worried less about Fred and got more and more excited at the prospect of two whole weeks of not worrying about him every single minute. I really needed some time off from being a caretaker. The night Peg was driving around trying to get into Wisconsin, I took Fred and Ginger to the dog park for a good last run. Sure enough, Fred stuck a leg in a hole and was instantly lame. The two vet techs who were sharing house sitting duties both came over later and examined his shaking, non-weight-bearing leg. I looked at him and said "Fred, this is NOT life-threatening. I'm going on this trip!" And I'm so glad I did.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Peg's Travel Advisory - T minus 8 hrs

Tomorrow morning it's only to put the final bags in the car, say goodbye and head west. I'll be checking in from the road each day if I can find an internet connection.

Be safe and well, my darling boy -
I will send for you as soon as I can.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Long Haul Chicks Tour - Prologue

This is actually being written in early August 2005, as I prepare to upload the posts from my drive from Pennsylvania to Alaska a year ago September. This is by way of introduction.

Some time I might post the daily log from the trip the year before, when I left my home here in Alaska and drove the route east alone. That trip log is mostly a terse, strained account of miles achieved, with a few comments here and there calculated to give the impression I was handling things well. There was so much I wasn't saying - how I wept every day as I headed into the morning sun, certain that east was not the direction I was meant to go. How sometimes those tears turned into shaking wailing sobs. How I wrestled with my soul. How heartaches upon heartaches had broken me until I felt that my only chance to exist meant abandoning my one safe place.

I drove hard every day, I kept my eyes straight ahead, I thought compulsively of my personal safety every moment, I saved every dollar I could and drove those 4400+ miles without so much as pulling through a McDonald's for coffee. Though there were moments that I sang at the top of my lungs while driving in moonlight, I couldn't ever really fully relax. But oh, how my friends tried to help me with that. Jude in Calgary got me a luxury hotel suite. Marilyn in Minneapolis took me for long walks in autumn leaves. Phyllis and Anne shared all the comfort food Wisconsin could offer. Lenette turned me over to the hands of the tallest masseur I have ever seen...and those are two hours of my life that won't be written in words anywhere.

And I was proud of myself at the end. Though I was driven somewhat by desperation, I was also self-reliant and I was prepared, and I did something not every woman would do by herself.

Eleven months later, as I prepared to make the drive back home by myself, I had a fleeting thought and I emailed Phyllis. I told her simply that when I pictured the drive home, I saw her in the shotgun seat of my tiny little car. She said simply okay.

[She did tell me later that she had a bad back and she was a terrible long-distance traveler. I determined points along the route at which I could put her on a plane home if I had to.]

An unexpected turn in the story was when my brother Matthew in Idaho had a heart attack. Suddenly our plans were diverted another 800 miles and a few days, to hug the brother I'd last seen on my wedding day in 1984.

We still pushed hard. We still kept our wits about us. But there were stops to see important things, and stops just for the sake of stopping, and there was companionship and love on every mile of the road. And so it is a much different story.

I'll ask Phyllis to share her remarks too, and will include them as posts rather than bury her words in the comments. It's been interesting to me to read these again, and think of what happened each day that we selected to share, and what small moments went unchronicled.

And although there really is no place like home, I find myself thinking today that I wouldn't mind doing this again sometime. And I know who I'd want in the shotgun seat.

So let's hit the road.


Phyllis adds:

Actually, when Peg e-mailed to say she saw me riding shotgun on this trip, I immediately wrote back and said "OOOOOHHHHHH that could be arranged." Needless to say I didn't actually think about sitting in a car for that long. But it sounded like so much fun I wanted to go. Most people who go to Alaska fly and thus miss the Alaska Highway, and here I had a chance to go with someone who was paying for the trip and who had experience on this particular road. But still....

Why on earth would I say no? In January, my dog Fred was diagnosed with anal sac cancer. He is my baby, my heart dog, my therapy dog at the Children's Hospital. I live 10 minutes from the vet school in Madison, WI, with a nationally-known oncology department. Fred's Children's Hospital therapy program was created by the vet school and I know many people there. I decided to bite the bullet, empty my savings account, and treat my baby. Treatment - surgery, radiation, and chemo - was horrible, but he survived and is still doing well. It all worked out, thankfully, but I warned Peg that if he popped up with a recurrence even 24 hours before we left, I would not be going on the road with her because I'd rather stay home and have every day I could with him. It must have been very unnerving on her end - "I have a traveling companion unless her dog has a cancer recurrence." But she didn't say boo about it.

I have no clue as to why people think it's odd to vacation with someone you know mostly from e-mail. Peg and I have met in person before - twice, as a matter of fact, including staying at her house while on a prior vacation to Alaska. But still, sitting in a car for days on end with someone you know from e-mail appears to daunt some people. I have no idea why, unless you have a bad back. Peg is exactly the way she sounds in e-mail. She is exactly who I thought she was (except she has this thing against fast food, unlike me) and I knew we'd be fine.