Scotland II: Rental Car Disaster with Redeeming Characteristics

Scotland II: Rental Car Disaster with Redeeming Characteristics, October, 2019


Since we planned to travel around Scotland, to the Highlands and hopefully, the Isle of Skye, we rented a car. Jim, who has driven every imaginable vehicle from small to huge, was a little leery of driving on the other side of the road. Nevertheless, we rented a car through the “Scorecard Rewards” place that allowed us to use our accumulated credit union Visa points for all our airfares and car rental.

Alas, I made a mistake booking and needed to change one date. The price was higher and so the agent found another rental place “Green Motion.”  Hmmmm, I thought but went ahead with it.

Luckily we took a taxi from the Glasgow hotel to the car rental place as it was not near the airport.

It was a small door at the back of a strip mall with mostly Mercedes, Peugots and very few small cars. The cars all had scrapes where renters had trouble with the roundabouts. The agent tried to sell us the liability insurance dazzling us with figures on a sticky note. We turned it down. We had to put a $3,000 deposit down even though we had car insurance in Alaska and some Visa coverage. We had paper maps of Scotland but none showing us how to get out of Glasgow. “Green Motion” didn’t provide the most rudimentary map.

They offered us an upgraded car, a Mercedes, with a SATNAV (GPS) for $80 more. We couldn’t figure out how to operate it. The agent showed us, even he had trouble,  but it was still confusing.  With my brain, still foggy from travel, I didn’t think to just use my IPhone GPS.

Finally, after photographing every scratch, we  headed to the Highlands  with plenty of time to reach our cottage before dark. Jim did not like the bigger car, driving on the narrow roads, on the left side of the road.  We drove along Loch Lomond with Jim’s white knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel.

We reached the halfway point. There was a piece of wood in the road and Jim ran over it, unable to go around it. We had a flat tire. Luckily, we pulled into the parking lot of an Inn.


Jim checked the trunk, but there was no spare tire, or jack. There was an empty bottle of “pump it up” stuff. I called the rental place but was directed to the Mercedes car support line. I spent 45 minutes with them discussing the problem. Having not heard from them in the promised 30 minutes, I called again. My request was lost. We started all over again. Hope of getting to our lodging in the Highlands before dark was gone.

“Redeeming Characteristic.” We went into the Drover’s Pub and Inn. The building was built in 1705 and it is sheep country. It was crowded with happy people. A sign at the door said “Don’t take off your boots or shoes.” The help, male and female, wore kilts and T-shirts that said “ Best Pub 1705”.

We ordered a bite to eat and a Guinness for me for sustenance. Jim talked to the innkeeper while I talked to Mercedes. Even in this old pub there were vegan offerings and  “let us know if you have allergies” comments in the menu.


“There are rooms upstairs available,” said Jim. I wasn’t sure if that was good news or bad news. I had never stayed in a 1705, shingled inn in the Scottish countryside, frequented by sheep drovers. The Scots are very friendly and helpful. There are many bars I would not venture into in North America, but in Scotland, the pubs are “family affairs.”

Finally, I received a text from the tow company. A very large tow truck arrived with orders to return us to the Glasgow car rental place. It closed at 8pm and if we did not get back before 8pm we would have to wait for the next day. We were appalled.

“Redeeming Characteristics” The driver was a tall, lanky Scotsman, who was efficient, helpful and…….funny. He drove the Mercedes onto the ramp of the truck and we climbed into the cab behind him and started back to Glasgow while John managed the very large truck and the narrow road like the expert he is.

John had served in the British Army in both Afghanistan and Iraq driving an armored tank carrier. He dearly loved the Highlands.

John:  “The best stars in the world are in the Scottish Highlands.”

Me:      “We live in Alaska.”

John:    “Well I’ll shut up then.”

Pause: . . . . . . .

John:    “The best stars in Scotland are in the Highlands.”

We continued down the road with John in charge. A lumber truck was coming and for the first time, John pulled over to the side.

John: “He’s bigger than me”

The whole way back John cheerfully chattered, offering suggestions of what to see and where to go, his strong brogue  was delightful but sometimes hard to understand. He told Jim about another way to Ft William, our destination,  that was longer, but wider and straighter. He made a difficult situation bearable and got us to “Green Motion” before 8pm. He unloaded the car, maneuvering it into its tiny spot, said goodbye and good luck and headed to retrieve his car and go home. I offered him a 10 pound tip that he took reluctantly. It was pleasant to be in a country where people are paid a livable wage and one is not expected to tip everywhere.

“Green Motion” was ready for us with the small car we originally booked. The agent couldn’t resist a smirk because we didn’t take their liability insurance. However, I doubted/hoped that a tire would not cost that much. The caveat was that we must make ANOTHER $3000 deposit in lieu of their liability coverage. They held the original deposit until they could “thoroughly” evaluate the damage done to the Mercedes.  They did have a portable Tom-Tom SATNAV device we could rent for $80 for our Honda. We took it but ended up using my iphone, though we were pretty clear about the way out of Glasgow by then.

We headed off into thickening darkness knowing it will be quite late when we arrive at our destination in the Highlands far from city lights.

Scotland II: Rental Car Disaster with Redeeming Characteristics

Across the Pond to Scotland October, 8-24, 2019, Glasgow Part 1

Across the Pond to Scotland October, 8-24, 2019

Part 1

Me:  We’re going to take a trip this fall. Which country?

Jim:  Scotland

And so the hours of planning began, as we prepared for the travel across 9 time zones. Where to start—so many things to see. We wanted to go to the Highlands and possibly visit the Isle of Skye. We decided to fly into Glasgow. Wisely, we stopped in MI (4 time zones) to acclimate and visit family. On the way back we planned to stop in NY to visit grandson Max at Bard College.  It’s a long way just to get out of Alaska so stops are a must.

Jim grumbled about the upcoming long, overnight flight. “It’s not quite like domestic travel, “ I told him. Indeed the seats were bigger, —Jim liked the hot towels, snacks, dinner and breakfast and Delta’s specialty—small movie screens for each passenger with many movies to choose from. Sleep escaped us both.

GLASGOW (“the dear green place” as it poetically translates from its Gaelic moniker)

The airplane landed and traveled for what seemed like miles to get to the terminal. The day was overcast but warm to us. We groggily collected our luggage and quickly cleared Customs. We found the taxi area, with helpful people and took a taxi to the center of Glasgow to the Abode Hotel, an elegant, old building. I had requested early check-in and they gave us into a room on the first floor as soon as we arrived. It seemed a bit noisy as we passed through the lobby, by the elegant, old gold elevator and a keyed fire door but as soon as we reached the rooms, silence greeted us. The thick walls of old buildings make the best rooms. I wanted to adhere to the recommended “out and about, sunshine and time zone acclimation”, but Jim was having none of that and jumped into bed with its cozy duvet. I soon followed and we slept for a few hours.

Glasgow is a rejuvenated city known for its shopping, entertainment and history. Not too long ago, it was a city with a high rate of knife attacks and rated one of the most dangerous. Kudos to an emergency doctor who had enough of it and implemented a successful deterrent program.

The City Centre surrounded us and we left to explore and find dinner. There are many colleges and universities in Glasgow and Saturday night was alive with students and others walking everywhere. There was a mix of very old buildings and many American brands as we walked the streets.

We settled for “Pie” for dinner, a pub attached to the hotel. It was still early and the Pub was about half filled. A waiter wearing tight plaid pants and a smallish handlebar mustache gladly waited on us. Known for their “pies”, e.g. Shepherds, I ordered a Shepherd’s pie while Jim ordered fish and chips. HNDScglnQwyOIkisl4mYug

The pie, small by American standards, was a perfect, size: hot, crusty and small. It came with (don’t cringe) nicely spiced mashed parsnips. The pub was filling up, the noise louder and so we climbed the stairs back to the street and into the hotel for the night. Thankfully, the thick walls stopped any revelry from reaching us

I awoke in the night, recognizing we were still so exhausted, our brains scattered, and wondered what I got us into. Poor Jim.  I remembered his cancer treatment that included thrice weekly injections of chemo into his brain through a port in his head over a five month period, not to mention the other chemo and the stem cell transplant. Not to mention lingering effects of my brain injuries and brain tumor.I despaired. We’ll never do this again. It is hard for both of us to walk with his foot neuropathy and my caudal equine syndrome and numb feet. Finally I went back to sleep.

We felt better Sunday morning and went to breakfast. The restaurant was packed and two harried waitresses ran from table to table. The cold bar held beautiful pastries, fruit, cheese, ham, juices, yogurt jars and a broad mix of cereals to which you could any many dried fruits. We ordered breakfast, Jim the full Scottish, and I the vegetable frittata, and copious amounts of tea. Delicious.


Fueled with good food and sleep we set off to visit Glasgow Cathedral and The Necropolis Cemetery on the hill behind the cathedral. We passed beautiful building murals, interesting signs and a few people.

I stopped at a shop to buy Jim a soft, wool scarf to keep the chill off. I had requested no camo or baseball cap on this trip.









We passed The Royal Infirmary, a large, old imposing building finished in 1915 and known as a major trauma (casualty) Center in Scotland.  One Emergency Room doctor said that it is one of the few cities in Europe where patients still came in with sword wounds.91T%NkrpTXqWrhDBA2RE2w

The “Royal”, which has been operating since1794 made many contributions to world medicine. In addition, Mrs. Rebecca Strong introduced the world’s first systematic training for nurses.

We visited the Necropolis first. Like similar Victorian cemeteries, it was designed as a botanic and sculptural garden to “improve the morals and tastes of Glaswegians.” It is the resting place of 50,000 people.

One grave that caught my eye was the grave of William Miller who wrote Wee Willie Winkie. Of personal note, when I was six my mother dressed me as We Willie Winkie for Halloween for our small Canadian town’s community party and I won first prize.mwl9uvfgToGZvRXBzCVxJg

I recited the poem for Jim but he wasn’t terribly impressed. The Bridge of Sighs, connecting the Cathedral and the Necropolis is described as a “separation between time and eternity.”

Originally Catholic, named for St. Mungros , the Glasgow Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th century, soon converted to a Scottish Christian religion.  The imposing stone structure, known for its stunning stained glass windows, includes an outsized main room with many dedicated war memorials. As we entered the huge foyer, the massive pipe organs sounded a magnificent hymn that resonated through the massive cathedral signaling the ending of the service. Two men stood at the edge of a roped off area where the congregants would enjoy refreshments and conversations after the service, separated from the tourists. Many of them were well dressed, including spectacular hats on women and men in kilts. A sign near the cathedral entrance reminded men to remove their hats


We walked over to a nearby building, St. Mungro’s Museum of Religious Life and Art., It includes relics and information from the world’s major religions. It was also a chance to sit down in the cafe for a drink and snack.  The cafe is known for its “simple, honest, British grub.” An interesting element was signs on certain tables that said, “if you welcome a chat, sit here so people will know to join you.”

When we went walking in Glasgow, the weather was balmy with clouds and an occasional sprinkle. We thought it to be lovely weather. At the Cathedral gift shop, the clerk, upon hearing we were on holiday from Alaska, apologized for the poor weather. I explained that being from Alaska, no country below the Arctic circle can outdo our weather.  While here we experienced no volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, -30F degrees, wildfires, horizontal, or freezing rain.

The Shetland Islands, the Northern most Scotland latitude, is at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, but we had no plans to go that far north.


Of major interest to me was visiting various works of the architect Charles Rene Mackintosh who was born in Glasgow, The Lighhouse was on the way back to the hotel. To reach it, we walked through the pedestrian mall with its 200 stores, including a “One Pound” store and a “Refill” store. The street was filled with shoppers and we stopped at L’Occitane  where I treated myself to a large bottom of verbena  bath oil. Note: Scotland is very concerned about recycling and waste.

Many people were walking around as well as buskers—one on a tightrope playing the flute and another was a showcase of several mechanical animals. The shops, for the most part were tucked in old buildings that lined the streets.


We walked on to the Lighthouse, known as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a young draughtsman in the architectural practice of Honeyman and Keppie when he designed the Mitchell Street building, which now houses The Lighthouse. The Herald Building was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission. The building, designed in 1895, was a warehouse at the back of the printing office of the Glasgow Herald. Mackintosh designed the tower – a prominent feature of the building – to contain an 8,000-gallon water tank. It was to protect the building and all its contents from the risk of fire.

Alas, the viewing platform on top was closed but Jim walked up the circular staircase to the top while I excitedly examined some of MacKintosh’s designs in the “Mack Room” Interpretive Center. I wasn’t disappointed. Mackintosh drew his inspiration from natural forms and was a major influencer of the Art Nouveau Movement. Several quotes about his work are spread around the walls. Like many brilliant men, MacKintosh was autistic, but obviously completed major works and eventually left the City for the South of France where he focused on painting water colors with his wife.



We started back to the hotel. We had walked too far and our neuropathied feet protested while our tired brains wanted only rest. My mind was bursting with the stimulation of this city. Already we love Glasgow and Scotland’s kind and gentle people. Though it does seem a contrast to the mighty clan battles that took place here. While Jim took a nap, I thoroughly enjoyed a bath, with an indulgent amount of verbena bath oil.

The next morning, Monday, feeling better, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast again in a far less crowded room. Jim settled for scrambled eggs and bacon and a delicious pastry while I enjoyed an avocado toast with sprouts. And of course a pot of tea. Ahhhh so good to be back in Britain where tea is served with milk, and is always available. Ironically, in Scotland, coffee is also served with milk.

We needed to pack and head out to the car rental place. However, it was important to me to visit the Willow Tea Rooms, another Mackintosh architectural marvel. I left the hotel and walked down a block to a main pedestrian street that was just getting busy. Jim declined to come along and I had one hour before check out.

This area, Sauchiehall St, not far from our hotel, is a smaller version of the fancy pedestrian mall we walked down on Sunday. It was early and there weren’t too many people about. I heard the sound of a man singing before I saw him.


As I got closer, I wanted to hear more. I noticed an elderly man sitting and just enjoying the music.  I dropped a donation in his box and noticed he had a CD for sale for a 5 pound donation and bought one.

fullsizeoutput_1df4.jpeg It was a basic computer disk with a simple cover. His name or contact information was not on it I didn’t expect much from the CD but was delightfully surprised when I played it today. However, with no contact information, I can’t tell him that a woman from Alaska who lives in a log cabin near the end of the road is now enjoying his music.


cuKqvNelQ7+Yf%pkpu6EeAI reached the Willow Tea Rooms and stood outside for a few minutes admiring the architecture. This was a highlight of Glasgow for me.

I went into the shop and entrance to the 4-floor exhibit, staffed by volunteers and immediately struck up a great conversation with one of the volunteers whose brogue I mostly understood. A new friend, but thousands of miles away.  I slowly toured all the floors reading about the combined efforts of an extraordinary business woman, Miss Cranston, and MacKenzie. Mackenzie’s wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh also provided some of the art work.  I immersed myself entirely in the details of the exhibit. I was even more impressed. I returned to the exhibit entrance and talked again to my new friend about all the details I had seen.

I decided I simply had to go into the Tearoom for a pot of tea and a scone. The hostess escorted me to a table with an interesting wooden hook at the side of it that held my walking stick and coat. Indeed I was sitting in a MacKenzie chair, admiring the decorations surrounding me and looking at many of the items I learned about in the exhibit. As I had learned, the higher you go in the tearoom, the fancier it is. I was content to sit on the first level, drinking my selected tea, Russian Caravan, a “smoky Lapsang blend that evokes the historic caravan travels” (with undertones of camel dung) and enjoying a scone with clotted cream and jam while watching the tearoom fill up as lunch neared. The lovely Burleigh Pottery used in the tea rooms is a replica of the one used by Miss Cranston in 1903. I purchased a small pitcher.


Finally, I finished and it was time to return to the hotel. I apologized to Jim when I arrived back at one o’clock not 11 o’clock as he was somewhat frantic afraid I had fallen. However, I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the history of Mackintosh, this beautiful building and my time in the tearoom as if it were 1901.




Across the Pond to Scotland October, 8-24, 2019, Glasgow Part 1

Stories along the Way: British Columbia, The Yukon, and Alaska and Bears, Bears, Bears…..The end of the Trail.

British Columbia, The Yukon, and Alaska and Bears, Bears, Bears. End of the trail, May 2019

The ferry docks in West Vancouver and we head north. The Sea to Sky Highway is mountainous, curvy and spectacular. It downgrades all other “scenic byways” . Indeed starting at sea level and rising, rising to the sky to Squamish B.C.  We drive through Whistler, the ski resort, basking in 75 degrees. The snow shines, like all the previous days of our trip. No rain coats.

May 9

Last night we stayed in the Owl Creek Forest Reserve, north of Pemberton, B.C.,15 campsites, no services which is ok with us. Owl Creek ran briskly by the Sprinter. The Forest. The Sea. The Creek. Best sounds for sleeping.  It’s off the beaten track or paved roads—our favorite. A little dinner, into bed and sleep for Jim, while I tuck in besides him to read and then sleep deeply through the night. This morning , after breakfast and a walk along the creek in the warm sun, we are back on Hwy 97, into the mountains and winding along the narrow road and its one lane bridges. We pass the Fraser River and into the green, robust Fraser Valley. Ironically, Jim and Darrel and caught White Kings in Homer in March that are spending their time in the ocean before it’s time to head to the Fraser River thousands of miles away to spawn.

Hero Jim O’Neill can’t be stopped. He spied a whitetail considering crossing the road in front of us. He slowed and watch the deer to decide to run in front of the Sprinter!! Another life saved not to mention the Sprinter front.

Hero Jim O’Neill has done it again. Driving along the winding mountain roads we spotted a fat mouse running back and forth just below the windshield. He must have joined our eXpedition at the campground.  Jim pulled over to side of road, opened the hood, bravely picked the critter up by the tail and flung him into the woods where it happily scampered off to tell his tale.

Memory for a rainy day:   It’s sunny and bright. Jim drives the Sprinter around the winding road thinking about riding the curves on his BMW motorcycle and I in my Mini Cooper. Our favorite 60’s and 70’s mix plays loudly while we sing along (me anyway), the window is open so I can snap photos in between knitting. The feeling is happy, free, and good times past and present.

May 10

We’re tired and having a hard time  finding a place to camp.It doesn’t happen  very often. We turn into West Lake, a Provincial Park, after looking for advertised forest roads that are blocked off. There is a no camping sign We drive to the farthest parking place on the lake. We are rule followers but sometimes……. It doesn’t  matter  to us if they “lock the gates” at 9pm. The Sprinter has no markings on the outside to suggest a camper. The Park quiets and no one disturbs us.  It is a lovely, peaceful night. A couple of early morning kayakers arrive as does a hummingbird. Jim heard a loon and geese in the night. The lake is placid. A loon swims nearby and a butterfly hops on my leg as I do morning Qi Gong. I love our life.

May 11

wXx6%JSTQbuHqztlBZlzoAYesterday, it was a shocking 82 degrees in  the Prince George area of B.C.  It is a fire concern so early in the year. No rain in B.C. , just sunshine. The wildfire concern is already high. Rivers still filling with snow melt but forest lands are dry.

The Cassiar Hwy is our selected route to the Alaska Hwy. This means we can drive through Smithers, a thriving midsize community with a regional hospital.  Two years ago, I walked around Smithers shopping a bit and had the brilliant idea to knit Jim, cancer survivor, a sweater to keep him warm. The catch was my inexperience. I asked at a fabric shop if  there was a yarn shop and was told we must stop in the next little town,  Telkwa, for The Wooley Ewe yarn shop on the river. The area is a fly fishing  center. The sweater has taken on a life of its own. 1 1/2 fronts remain to do and I need more yarn.

At the shop I meet Kristy  one of  the two owners who welcomed us and pondered the extra wool needed since I didn’t have enough yarn to finish the sweater and the original wool was no longer available. They knew some of the “sweater story”—6 yarn shops and 30 knitters contributed to Jim’s sweater. How could such a sweater knitted with so much love not keep Jim cozy?

The knitting/work table from a tree slab is still the center of the store.  The door is open on the warm day and people wander in and out. Two other women sit at the table, one a retired doctor , who visited ANMC with a group she worked with, a retired nurse (Kristy). Both of these women are adventurers and do canoeing/kayaking trips out of Yellowknife in the Yukon and Alaska’s Arctic. Kristy’s daughter ( a nurse)and young grandson came in for a short visit, The doctor’s partner stops in to buy local coffee, greeting us before he leaves. Another woman came in, who was also retired from the same hospital in Smithers. Talk turned to healthcare—her son is under treatment in Vancouver for a brain tumor and is enrolled in a clinical trial.

Jim the sweater man, didn’t feel well and napped in the Sprinter. It is such a friendly, easy group of people, the time flew by and it was time to go.  What a good feeling!! They loved the story of the sweater knitters and the yarn shops. I shared some of the photos from other places and they look forward to the story when the sweater is finished. After Kristy added another button hole and a few rows and I bought enough yarn with leftovers for a Jim beanie, we left .

It’s time to look for a place for the night. It’s hot and we are having a hard time. The supposedly open forest areas are closed. There are no provincial parks open yet. Finally, we come upon a First Nations campground near Old Hazelton. The office is closed, but we are used to that. We’ll find a place and pay in the morning. There is only a  handful of campers and RV’s and we find a place on the river that runs swiftly through the campgrounds. It’s a “dry” row, meaning no “hook-ups” but we don’t hook up anyway. There is a washroom with running water, showers and laundry if needed. 

It cools in the night and we sleep well. A restored Jim, jumps out of bed and tells me his breakfast choices and starts my tea. We eat breakfast on the picnic table on another sunny day. He’s ready to go. 

“Stop rushing me,” I say. My morning duties take more time than his. I remember when I was a child and didn’t worry about such things. Finally we’re  ready. He stops in to pay—$22.  Thankfully the heat is 20 degrees less than yesterday. I notice the stickers on the campground manager’s car—no fracking, no pipelines. The First Nation’s position is pretty clear. The campground manager expresses his concern about the lack of rain.

I find a couple of  potential campgrounds for the night with the help of  my phone and the map. I know we will have neither Internet or cell for the rest of the day as we start up the Cassiar Hwy.

Three times we see black bears by the side of the road eating and a young moose running. Is it our car or did he spot a bear?  It’s too soon for moose calves to be born.

Baby green is the color we see again against the older spruces and cedars and the mountains in the distance are snow covered. We drive on until we get to our favorite—offf-the-grid-luxury-Italian-helisport lodge.  It’s lunch time for us and, as before, we admire the soapstone fireplaces and the seemingly successful lodge so far away. I can’t even imagine the cost of a week here.

The Cassiar Hwy  has  little traffic which suites us . Jim wants to drive another couple of hours but I discourage him from driving all the way to Watson Lake. We’ll find a place to pull off when we need to. I suggest we not camp near “Gnats Pass.” With so many wonderful camping spots on the water, I’m a little sad that this luxury will end soon.

May 12

Sawmill Point on Lake Dease

We find it almost by accident. Jim buys a $9 pint of Haagendaaz Vanilla in the Dease Village store and sat and ate some of it before we drove on. Then he stuffed it in the back of the freezer. His idea of a milk shake is milk poured over vanilla ice cream, a treat he loves dearly. When he was in Seattle getting cancer treatment with a very poor appetite, I couldn’t tempt him with a milkshake—he didn’t want to ruin it as the chemo affected so many foods he liked.

A small sign says “Sawmill Pt Recreation Area” and we bump down a narrow road and pick a campsite in the empty park, luxuriously parking the Sprinter to take full advantage of the lake view.  Water is open at the edges of the lake and a clear stream runs merrily into the lake near our camp site.

After climbing in bed with the sun still high in the sky we continue listening to our audio book “Where the Craw Dads Sing” completely engrossed in the story. Jim goes to sleep while I read and the sun gives one more burst of light directly into my eyes, before sinking behind the mountain and the sky stays bright and colored for a long time. 

The next morning there is ice on the windshield and 32 degrees, but Jim repositions the Sprinter to allow the warm sun to pour inside. It’s a beautiful morning. And I pull on my old red, recycled wool sweater for instant warmth. Up until this point, I didn’t need a sweater. 

Jim goes for a walk as I make breakfast and then tells me about the history of the area from the signs posted around the campground. It was a larger area during the Gold Rush and the town and lake were named by an indigenous chief for a white man stationed there. He must have been helpful to the people as that is not seen very often. Dease also traveled twice with Franklin on a couple of his exploration trips.

Jim starts the cleanup and I go for a walk.  The sun is warm and the air is crisp. For the first time it feels like my favorite “Alaska air” that I can never get enough of. I realize it is really “Northern Air” with northern British Columbia, then Yukon and Northwest Territories all sharing this special, pure, clean air. 

The trees changed many times during our trip, from the tall, lush cedars and spruce of northwest Washington and lower British Columbia to the sparse, spindly evergreens and cottonwoods that remind us of home. 

May 13 

Last night we camped at Fox River campground on Hwy 2 on our way to Dawson.  We parked by the still frozen lake for free. Our picture window revealed a snowshoe hare that had turned to summer colors except his feet are still white. A couple of  Arctic ground squirrels ran by and crows swooped across the ice. The temperature dropped and we snuggled in bed warm and comfortable. I must start wearing a sleep mask, the further north we drive, the more daylight.  This morning the temperature was 30 degrees and I reached over and turned the heat/stove top on to warm us up before getting out of bed. Jim started my tea and then smiled at me with my hands wrapped around my cup enjoying how much “I love my morning cup of tea.”  After a quick breakfast of a cereal and fruit we take a short walk where Teacher Jim explains the type of ice–needle ice. The sun warms the day quickly. With B.C. wildfires underway,  it seems everyone is concerned about climate change.

Black bears, our first brown bears and elk make the trip interesting as well as vast landscapes and waterways.  Smalls signs along the way tell the year of forest fires—from 1958 to recent. Jim said when he drove the road in late summer a few years after a major fire, brilliant fireweed was everywhere.

Along the highway high over a river is a viewing platform with steps going down to the river. During the Klondike gold rush, it was an important area for those heading to Dawson City on their way to making their fortune in gold. The adventurers had to make their boats and make them sturdy enough to travel through many river hazards.

 We drive into Dawson City with its old buildings and history on every corner.The gold rush of the late 1800’s  centered  here—at the time the largest city next to Seattle on the West and  Winnipeg on the East. Our treat is a hotel for the night and we check into the Aurora Hotel. We ask what the ferry schedule is ….we need to take it to connect with the Top of  the World Highway for a shortcut back to Anchorage. Unfortunately, the hotel manager tells us in spite of early break up, the river is too low for the ferry after no rain. In addition they haven’t figured out how to clear the road of winter debris on the other side and there’s poor communication with the US immigration officer who must clear everyone once they cross to the U.S.  Tomorrow we will drive back to Whitehorse and then to Anchorage, taking one more day than planned. In the meantime,  we visit the Jack London museum and listen to the interpreter tell the story of Jack in the gold rush. He didn’t stay long, but it influenced his writing strongly. Nearby was Robert Service’s cabin and across the street Pierre Berton’s house where he lived in his early years. I found Jim a large book by Berton about the Klondike in my library volunteer gig.

The city has a frontier feel with its dusty streets, old buildings and storefronts and themes of its plays and entertainment. There is only about 1,100 people livie there year round, but the number increases dramatically in the summer which is just starting to rev up. But the town has a feel of cohesiveness and community and while the gold rush is long gone, the sense of community offers a good feeling to visitors.

The shower feels good as does a shampoo before dinner. I am disappointed though. No bathtub. Surely when the miners came to town after months of dirty work they wanted a luxurious bath, not a short shower. After  a good dinner in the hotel restaurant, it’s back to the room where Jim fills up on hockey always available on Canadian TV and then goes to sleep. I soon follow.

Back to Whitehorse the next morning, but just the outskirts as Jim wants to make Tok for the night. We pass through Kluane, another beautiful area we love.

At Haines Junction we stop for fuel and dinner at a rundown bar/restaurant/hotel. We discovered on previous trips, the Chinese food is delicious and made with lots of fresh vegetables.

Our last camping night is near Haines at Pine Lake Provincial Park. Again only a couple of other campers and a quiet, beautiful night with a walk to the lake on the other side of the trees in the morning.

In Tok we catch up with Jim’s former village teacher friends. They met when Frank was in the Peace Corps in Thailand. Yuanita, an expert craftswoman, takes on my latest mistake on Jim’s sweater and it gets a bit longer.

On the road the next morning we  pass through Beaver Creek, a famous stopover for our Dillingham AK running team, The Women Who Run with Salmon.

We cross the border into the U.S. questioned by a cheerful border guard which is unusual. We stay at a hotel in Anchorage to “citifize” ourselves before we park the Sprinter and take an airplane to Minnesota for my surgery, parastoma hernia repair, and several days in the hospital.

We agree it was one of our best trips. But we can’t wait to be home on our lake with our kitty for the Alaska summer. Traveling in shoulder season is ideal for us. No crowds and no extreme weather. Because of the sunny days on this trip, we felt no need to stay in hotels and our camping costs ranged from $0 to $22  Canadian (the high for one night). Three years after our inaugural trip, we are also stronger and I’m better able to attend to modified body parts enroute.

Who knows where The Grey Panther will travel to next?


Stories along the Way: British Columbia, The Yukon, and Alaska and Bears, Bears, Bears…..The end of the Trail.

Stories along the Way: Vancouver Island BC and a little bit of Port Townsend

Port Townsend and Vancouver Island

May 3-5, 2019

Kathy, a nurse, and her husband Karl, a physical therapist, along with Scout, an aging Jack Terrier and Riley, a lovable rescue dog, recently moved from their long time home in West Seattle to Port Townsend, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. West Seattle, was long considered a sleepy town outside thriving downtown Seattle. Amazon and Microsoft and other companies outstripped Seattle of it’s livable spaces  and suddenly discovered West Seattle—transforming it from all that made it special, to a high-rise bedroom community, knocking down the small, tidy homes. They moved to Port Townsend WA

The drive took us down narrow dirt roads until we passed forest lands and a few houses, stopping at a gate with Karl, Scout and Riley eager waiting to welcome us. It is an unusual house, designed to take full advantage of the water view . It is long with high ceilings so that all rooms open to the water. Large glass doors open everywhere letting in the sea and tree air.

Not all friends are enjoying retirement as we are, and we make it clear that we don’t need to be entertained while they go to work. We have everything we need and welcome their company. Down by the water sit two red Adirondack chairs. The air is different here—salt water air.  It is easy to sit and just watch. Karl has a phone app that identifies each boat and ship, except submarines,  that pass by and the Straits are quite busy. I see a big difference in Riley and Scout, too. At their former home, they were always on guard, as people and dogs walked by frequently, not to forget the mailman who deserved a special “welcome.” They are almost tranquil here, just like people, content to watch nature before them. Like us living on a lake, Kathy and Karl find themselves staying home more now, why leave this nirvana?? 

Lots of laughter, talk, eating , napping and a Saturday morning trip to the Farmer’s market for Kathy and me. After a wonderful morning, buying fresh eggs, bread, greens, and a few other items, we arrive home at 11am as promised with Jim sitting in the driver’s seat waiting—we all laugh.A few more hugs and goodbyes and we’re off to the ferry to Vancouver Island from Port Angeles. Only an hour away from Port Townsend, it’s a lifetime away in “community style.” 

The weather holds and it is a beautiful sunny Saturday when we come ashore in Victoria after a 90 minute ferry ride. I picked out a campground north of town, but changed my mind, wanting some city time in a city I love, and found the James Bay Inn. Located in a residential area, it has continuously operated as a hotel since 1911, except from 1942 – 1945  when the hotel was purchased by Mother Cecilia’s religious order and operated as St. Mary’s Priory. It was during this period that the hotel welcomed its most famous guest. Canadian artist and author Emily Carr a patient at the Priory, dying there March 2, 1945.

Indeed seeking out Emily Carr’s work is one of my wishes for the Victoria trip. I am a long time admirer of her and for her commitment to nature in her paintings and respect for indigenous people. Not realizing she stayed at the hotel, I’m delighted to see many of her prints hanging as well as her portrait. She lived her young life across the street and the “Emily Carr House” is worth a visit but we can only walk the grounds this trip as it is open Tuesday – Saturday. I hung a poster of  her tall cedar tree over my home desk in Anchorage.  In tough times it reminds me that my roots are deep.

The hotel is beautifully restored, maintained and very clean. We pick the cheapest room “The Petite Room’ with a single double bed, but with a nice tub and shower as well as windows that open. It’s perfect. At night, we leave the window open and it’s mostly silent with an occasional car driving by or the gentle clip-clop of a horse drawn carriage touring the city. It’s a 15 minute walk to downtown and reasonable walks to other sites.  Of course Jim likes it because he can lean out the window to check on the Sprinter in the parking lot. The Sprinter attracts attention as we gather clothes to take into the hotel. There are renovations going on and Jim was sitting in the Sprinter with the side door opened and a workman asked him if he was the European fine cabinet maker they were expecting.


When it first opened in 1951, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria exhibited art in a historic mansion dating to 1889. The historic building is still used by the art gallery, and is adjacent to the institution’s seven modern galleries. With almost 17,000 works of art, the Art Gallery has the largest public collection in BC and is a vibrant and active part of Victoria’s artist community.

On Sunday we walked to the Art Museum,  passing beautiful small and big homes, many flower gardens carefully maintained and parks. Walking is hard for both of us and Jim took the time to sit under the trees outside. I toured the Emily Carr section and some of the “Group of Seven” the well-known Canadian artists that incorporated nature into their paintings. I was delighted to see a painting by AY Jackson titled—“The Alaska Highway 1943.” Unexpectedly there was a beautiful woodblock exhibit from the Japanese Edo period and also by Phillips.

It also has the only Shinto temple in North America.



After a good turn around the gift shop (I love museum gift shops) I request a 10 minute rest before heading off for tea at the garden created by the Georgian Prince and Princess Abkhazi,


The Abkhazi Garden is an exquisite heritage home and garden located in Victoria, British Columbia, a city known for its wonderful gardens.  Prince and Princess Abkhazi began creating their garden in 1946.   The garden is very discreet from the street, with only hints of what exists beyond the hornbeam hedge.  What the visitor does find is a garden that embraces a natural landscape that is unique to Victoria.  The garden is blessed with dramatic glaciated rocky slopes, magnificent native Garry oaks and gorgeous vistas.

The last time I dragged Jim to afternoon tea was about a year ago at the historic “The Saskatchewan Hotel”.

We are exhausted from the walk and I’m so happy to sit down and have a nice cup of tea as well as the three course food selection offered for Afternoon Tea. Surprisingly Jim admits the tea also rejuvenates him, too ,though he “won’t admit it in public.”  The food is delicious and just the right mix. We are rejuvenated, but not enough to walk home.



he restaurant hostess graciously calls a taxi for us. She tells us it is “yellow.” We walk outside the gate and wait. A yellow car across the way drives into the driveway that ends at the front gate. A jolly woman jumps out of the Suzuki and asks us if we are waiting for a taxi. She then says she isn’t a taxi inspite of  her aged yellow car and is a volunteer here and is collecting some things. 

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” She asks. We assure here we have called a cab that arrives shortly afterwards and is clean, well-running with a polite, competent driver. 

Note: Jim and I had to take so many “yellow” taxis when we were in Seattle for his cancer treatment, and we still bear the scars.

On Monday we check out of the hotel, singing our praises to the desk clerk, and we leave the Sprinter to walk downtown. I have only two stops to make. Murchie’s Tea, offering beverages and food celebrating 175 years of service to Victoria and  the Munro bookstore, equally wonderful and historic next door.  We enjoy food and tea and I wander a bit in the shop, buying a few things and congratulating the salesperson  already offering a 15% discount  on Prince Charles tea for the new royal birth even though he is only a few hours old.  The shop is crowded though it is a Monday and populated by both the young with their computers typing away and the old, waiting for tea to be poured.  I could sit here all day drinking tea and watching.

Jim chooses to sit outside as I go into the bookstore. Once again the store, the books ,and the staff are friendly, helpful and  sympathize with their friends working at the tea shop as it is very busy. There are four large seasonal paintings high on the wall, with the very tall ceilings. I bought 2 seasons of those cards at the gift shop. 

Can there be any  better neighbors than an elegant tea shop celebrating 175 years and a well established book store in an equally old building?

Time to head back to the hotel, I didn’t have the strength to go into the lobby of  The Empress Hotel.  Teens with musical instruments pass by near the  Parliament Building. As we walked we saw they were gathered together with hundreds of other teens playing music together.

We store my packages in the Sprinter and leave Victoria. I want to stay longer. But it’s time to  continue our island exploration. Jim hasn’t visited Tofino on the West Coast of the island. A bit like Alaska, there is only one road in and out of the town. It’s a beautiful drive but some tricky areas.

First we drive along the coastal road to Yellowpoint Lodge. Karl and Kathy have vacationed there for many years and wanted us to join them sometime. However, you can only stay there if recommended by a current guest and have to be ready to go when there is an opening. Impossible for us in Alaska. But I was curious about it and we enjoyed touring the Lodge and can see why it is beloved by many.  We also visit the Crow and Gate pub, a popular dining spot for Yellowpoint guests and others.

The last time I was in Tofino was 25 years ago and enjoyed a lovely stay at the Cable Cove Inn, a wonderful tiny inn that delivered breakfast with fresh juice and pastry at the requested time, outside your door. It was a sleepy little town.

Hmmm, the BC park campground is full, strange for week nights at this time of year. Finally, we settle on a private campground, expensive and quite full. What’s going on?  Breakfast in Tofino today!!  Driving into town, crowded with cars and people and SURFBOARDS. Surfing dudes and dudas fill up every space DURING THE WEEK IN EARLY MAY! The remaining smidgens of space are filled with bewildered older tourists walking around.  What happened in the past 25 years? We give up on breakfast and quickly leave town, driving through the Pacific Rim Wildlife Reserve and stop at the Wild Pacific Trail.

A group of well-traveled Italians in Toyotas stop at the Trail. Their cars say “African Adventures” and post the countries they have traveled to. Quite interesting. My biggest question though is how one woman manages to keep her white linen tunic so clean and fresh looking?

Ucluelet beckons with a special sign and we travel to the other end of the road. The town is not yet like Tofino and moves at a slower pace and is not crowded.


We find a lovely spot for lunch that is. very granoly and healthy.

I even find an event I would like to go to.

I stop in a small jewelry shop run by a couple from Poland, their accents too strong. “Yes, says the woman,” Tofino gets busier every year. The jewelry they sell includes a special piece designed by their son–the first 3d wave necklace. It’s called the “West Coast Wave”.

We passed through a village proclaiming itself the best fishing village ever, Fort Alberni and took this special photo as we waited for traffic.

Up the winding road we drive behind a double truck laden with commercial fishing nets. We both move over to let an ambulance go by. Hopefully they aren’t in a hurry, as the dangerous road near Kennedy Lake is being reconstructed. Jim loves construction sites

We clear construction and travel on, pulling over to a scenic stream flowing around the rocks. There is a fence with many things, mostly locks but not sure why. We go down the stairs, Jim a little freer than me. Neither of us can “scamper over the rocks” anymore but we still enjoy the view.

The last stop for the night before we take the ferry in Nanaimo over to the “lower mainland” is the provincial park in nearby Parkside, and it is a gem. Jim is even more delighted to find an ice cream store near the entrance. We walked, ate, went to the beach. The beautiful path around the water was well used by runners and walkers. The water tap was a place for two couple to gather like the office “water cooler” said Jim. They hadn’t known each other but were chatting like old friends. The sunset was beautiful and it was a peaceful night.

And Finally on to the ferry and the Sea to Sky Hway.

Stories along the Way: Vancouver Island BC and a little bit of Port Townsend

Stories along the way: Spring 2019 Week 2 and a bit more

Stories along the way, Spring, 2019 Week 2 and a bit more.

“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”             Mary Oliver

April 24

The deeper we drive into Crater Lake, the higher the snow banks.  Highway 62 is open year round but ohhh the snow banks are high. We wind into the park until we can go no further—the road is not plowed. Lots of people are here with designated parking in the middle of the road. There is a school bus from South Dakota and the happy kids pour out of the bus and up the snowbanks throwing snow at each other as middle school kids do. A ranger leads a group of young children on snowshoes down the road. They enjoy the clanking sound of the snowshoes on the road and work hard to make the sound louder.  Jim declares we must climb up the snowbank to see the lake. It is somewhat crushed down as many people are up there. I’m a bit dubious and grab two poles and we make our way to the top.

Jim has seen the lake before,  but I haven’t. It is truly a Grand Canyon type breathtaking site. The beautiful lake is not frozen and it’s a deep blue and glistening in the sunlight with many “doubles” reflecting in the water. The little island is a remaining part of the volcano and I’m so glad we made the effort to get up here.

Traveling on, we near Bend, OR in the high desert. I find another forest service campground a few miles south of Bend with 6 spots on the Deschutes River. There is boat takeout spot here—kayaks and canoes and rafts.  We stop early, which is nice and put our loveseat on the bank of the river. It is beautiful and peaceful. Unfortunately, mosquitos arrive sending us back to the Sprinter for the night after eating dinner at the picnic table. We have a leisurely morning and watch busy hikers and boaters arrive and leave. Sitting by the river deadlineless leaves us in a tranquil mood. I find a broken branch from a fir tree with three tufts, ideal for Ikebana which I will make for friends in Salem.

Through the power of FB, a friend from my days at the Alaska SeaLife Center,  Millie, posts asking if we are near Bend. I tell her we are and would love to meet for coffee. She now lives in Prinvile and we agree to meet in Redmond. She finds a delightful coffee shop in a wonderful area with old homes remodeled to restaurants and shops. It’s great fun catching up! A world traveler, Veterinarian assistant  and many other skills and jobs fill her life.


April 25

We arrive at Chuck and Elise’s house in Salem. They moved here after Chuck retired from teaching. I’m so impressed with how they have established their “community” here from knowing no-one—Chuck with his running, biking and math tutoring and Elise with her art and agility training. Chuck who was “Mister Mathematics and a BP Teacher of the Year” sports a very different outfit now that I kindly post so his former students can see him. We meet Bindi, the new toddler rat terrier, an absolute delight. Dear Bode, the steady old-timer dog feels quite jealous about the newcomer and the attention she gets, rather demands. Jim needs a day of rest and so he sleeps, Chuck and Elise go about their activities and I drive out to the country to see the tulip fields.

Naively, I have a picture in my head of tiptoeing through the tulips, the only one there, as I did in Provence seeking out the lavender fields with Leslie and Mike. I drive through the beautiful countryside with long time family farms anticipating my tulip experience. Alas, in the distance I see hundred of cars—-surely it’s not the tulip fields?  Indeed it is a carnival of sorts with a large gift shop, outdoor vendors, carnival rides, wine tasting and CBD oil from their own hemp. The tulips are a fair distance away but I decide to walk to them and they are beautiful with mountains in the distance. Not a very good photographer, I try a different angle—taking pictures of people taking pictures so it’s great fun.

I return home, Jim is up and cheery and soon Elise and Chuck are home. We gather for our regular evening chat with Bindi as the lead entertainer. It is so fun to visit them and it’s an easy time so we feel relaxed and welcome while staying at their home. They always make us feel so welcome.


Before heading to the coast, we stop at a grocery store with a wide range of healthy food and good variety. Jim is a lover of processed food and he doesn’t get much from me in that area. When I first met him, his freezer was full of “Hungry Man” frozen dinners. I didn’t know they even still made them! On impulse, I bought 2 cans of Pringles and noticed he devoured them quickly. At the store, I found a “healthy variety” at 3 times the price of Pringles, but he didn’t really notice the difference. 

April 27

“I must go down to the sea again……for the call of the sea is a wild call and a call that cannot be denied,” William Manchester.

We decided to bypass the Oregon coast this year in favor of other new travel spots, but the Oregon coast is a siren call for me. I first discovered it in the early 2000 while on a work visit to the Newport Aquarium. The Oregonian had a great Sunday section on the coast and after I finished work, I stayed at the Nye Beach hotel in old Nye Beach. It was a funky hotel and I loved staying by myself in the Honeymoon Suite. Three stories and narrow, it had sliding doors on each side and a gas fireplace and deep bathtub in the living room. I loved it. I would have Scotch Eggs in the eclectic dining room with interesting art in the morning chatting with the Scottish manager. I walked the beaches in rain or shine, coming back to warm my body in the bathtub and in front of the fireplace. Alas it was torn down and the property sold to a private owner. Not nearly as perfect, I’ve had other trips alone and with my daughter, son and grandsons and now Jim. My grandsons so loved the coast when they were young, Max the philosopher declared “sometimes kids just need to be out in Nature” when they chose to run and run on the beach with Dakota the young Rhodesian Ridgeback. I came to the coast to practice walking after knee surgery when Anchorage was too icy.  Jim and I came to walk the beach when we were both recovering from serious medical conditions. The beach is magical, the hard packed even sand, a perfect base for walking.  Somehow we seem to be able to walk faster and longer on the beach.

Today is no different. It’s windy and cooler after experiencing 70 for the last several days. But we head into the wind —our feet strong and willing on the sand.  A small group of golfers—-hunh? Practice hitting balls on the beach. The tide is out so the beach is wide and supportive. Turning around with the wind at our backs, we return to the car and drive north. Jim claims I have the biggest smile when I walk on the beach.



Jim has one goal and one goal only  when we travel Hwy 101—a vanilla milkshake at the Tillamook Creamery. He can’t wait!! The place is huge and packed. Surely Saturday is the busiest day of the week here. But he is happy waiting in line and skirting crowds to get his favorite shake. He dislikes crowds any other place. fullsizeoutput_13f7

We want to find a campground for the night but are far too naive in expectations. The campgrounds are filled with many people and the sites are close together. I find a ‘NATURAL FOREST SITE” North and  away from the coast.

We stop at Canon Beach to buy a book I want ,and end up with a few more as the owner and I chat happily about books we love.  Independent booksellers are the best. We eat fish and chips at a recommended place, Tom’s, but as tasters of fish and chips across the U.S. it ranks just ok. The fish is fresh and is cooked perfectly but the batter is wrong. The bookseller recommended a different place, but it was packed.

Off we drive to the Saddle Mountain State Natural Area, inland but not too far from the coast. We climb and climb on the 2 lane narrow, well maintained road. We keep looking for the camping area but don’t find it. We pull off the road into a nice, dry spot for the night, knowing that we won’t be interrupted. We walk over a bridge and down a short lane discovering secure gates across the side roads prohibiting ordinary people from entering the “Lewis and Clark Timberland Recreation area”. There are lovely wild flowers out including many that make me feel like I’m back in Alaska—spruce tips, fiddlehead ferns, even the dreaded “Pushki”. And Trillium! But Jim tucks in our bed early and we listen to the roar of the nearby stream, happy to be away from the crowds. There is no cell service— just ordinary (but magical) forest sounds t. iIt is getting dark, I turn on one of our solar lamps—charged by day in a sunny window. Time for me to crawl in bed with the delicious decision of which book to read first.

April 28

After a pleasant night the sun sneaks through the trees bringing sunlight to us. Jim walks to the stream again but doesn’t spot a record-making fish while I make breakfast. Then I walk as he cleans up. Surprisingly, a number of cars rush by us to the left. Church goers?  Questions unanswered. Where does the road go? We are deep into an old growth forest that was logged and replanted a very long time ago from the size of the stumps and new trees. I am fascinated by supposedly dead trees that show a young sapling growing back. Resilience inspires me. 

Seaside is next and we quickly drive on. Already this early Sunday morning the streets are packed with tourists. Astoria is our next stop a town I love for its eclectic feel. It doesn’t have t-shirt and knick knack shops one after the other. It’s a sunny, warm day and the water front draws us to hang over the railing  watching ships and ducks move about in the morning air. A few store doors are open and draw me in like a magnet while Jim hangs outside. I end up buying 4 sturdy purple placements with French words on them—just because I can. I have a good chat with the store owner and we stroll on. Godfather’s Book store is next, obviously an old timer in Astoria which was founded by Finns. I get a latte and wander about. Jim is seriously studying a book which could be history, and it is in away— about hunting a killer who killed an RCMP.

A narrow bakery draws us and we buy pastries and sit out in front of the store on a small red table and chairs. It’s a leisurely day and so enjoyable. When ready, we walk back to the Sprinter, our morning walk done and drive on.

The bridge between Astoria, OR and Washington state carries us high over the Columbia river. Our first trip in January 2016, was cold and rainy. This is much better. 

Skipping the Lewis and Clark museum, we drive out to Ledbetter PointK+dM9OvaQW+3HK6HlWLNlw

and hike one of the shorter trails and then sit on a log watching the shore. An older couple walk by us, he tenderly holding his wife’s arm in his as she walks bent over with a cane. The slow pace doesn’t bother either of them as they focus on the shoreline and talk about what they see. Their small fluffy dog comes over for a visit and we share a laugh. 


Oysterville. I so love having time to investigate small places. A historic town with original buildings from 1854 and tall, strong trees. We by no oysters but I enjoy a cup of clam chowder. 


April 29

 Grayland State Park in Washington is our stop for the night. At first we are appalled at the price, $25 a night. Every other site, though rustic g has been free. It is a beautiful, peaceful place.  Mostly large RV’s and motorhomes, but we find a spot tucked away from any hookups-which we don’t need.   A picnic table. Real restrooms and showers, though tokens required. The trail next to us leads to the beach and the view is spectacular, but too many water patches from the rain. It is very windy so we ate dinner in the Sprinter with the “Patio door” wide open. Perfect temperature, about 60.  Tired Jim hops in bed early. I read for a bit, dozed and then got up for a sunset snack.

This morning the sun rose bright in the blue sky and I cook breakfast to eat outside. Can cooking bacon smell any better than out camping? Jim doesn’t seem to think so and comments on the “scent of bacon in the air”. I could have reeled him like a fish if he weren’t already  mine.     

The restrooms are single and uni-sex, modern, stark and windowless with an electric outlet to charge my computer. It seems  plush after the last two weeks.   I need to irrigate Rosa the stoma and it takes about an hour. I must admit I’d been cursing my stoma and need to self-cath on the trip.  I  sat on the coverless toilet typing waiting to finish irrigation (it’s like giving yourself a 1000cc enema in the middle of your stomach every other day). The tricky part is finding a place to hang the bag so the water flows right.

Finally done, and Jim finished with washing the dishes, we set off to hike down to the beach from a different trail.  The sunny day was even more welcome after being shut in the bathroom. This time, it is an easy walk to the shore. We didn’t know these are on the Washington coast. What a delightful find!

April 30

The Washington coast keeps getting more beautiful!! It helps that we haven’t worn rain gear once this trip. 

Pacific Shores State park. Small dunes with hundreds of clam holes on the wide hard beach. We take two walks a day on these beaches 1-2 miles, but sometimes it is too exhausting and I must skip it. The area reminds me a bit of the Oregon coast before it was developed. There is no cell or wifi, but I walk up to the one coffee shop in the small town for a latte, cookie for Jim and email catch up. Possibly in a few years the world will find out about Pacific Shores and I’m so glad we’re here now.

The next morning we drive into the Olympic National forest and a sunny day. The largest Sitka Spruce tree in the world, 1000 years old is a small hike off the main road and we hike in to see this majestic tree that has seen and endured so much. The Quninnault Lodge is a beautiful old building and there are many small cottages that appear to be part of family tradition for many generations.


Oh the trees. What a gift to be among such majestic trees. Old, broken, moss covered, ferns and flowers soaking in their old nutrients, saplings springing from somewhere in their vast root system that still has life. The best example of determination and resilience. Their stories, the sights they’ve seen, devastation, regrowth. I feel so small next to the lives they lived.

May 1

Kalaoch is a state park right on the shore of the ocean. Many RV’s line the front row while we are the only one in the non-hook up area, a small distance away. It’s a national Forest and so our night stay is only $11 with senior pass—and flush toilets!! Again walking on the hard sand listening to the ocean fills us with joy and happiness. There are few other people on the beach but those that are here enjoy the day with slow walks, stopping to look at a clam hole, or driftwood or just the ocean. 

Fairholm campground in the NationalPark is our next stop. It isn’t an old growth forest but looks like it was replanted a few decades ago. Few campers again and we are in a wonderful camp site directly on Crescent Lake. We walk down the narrow trail to the boat launch and swimming area, though no one is enjoying swimming today. There are forget-me-nots, curious shaped trees, birds including a robin, jay and a friendly duck that waddles out of the water and past us. Jim sees a deer and fawn that didn’t startle. The washrooms were HEATED.


A delightful stop in Sequim WA for a little shopping for me, nap for Jim and a visit to Costco for tire rotation. It was the unbusiest Costco ever, a blessing indeed…but a couple of interesting people.

On to Port Townsend to meet with friends Kathy and Karl who recently moved from West Seattle to a beautiful airy home on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Welcoming, happy friends make visits so much fun. I walked down to sit on the Adirondack chair at the edge of the bluff that drops dramatically down to a small beach and water. There are distinctly different sensations sitting by a river, lake or the ocean. This time I felt the ocean air and took a surprised in breath at its wonder. Like us, they don’t leave home as often now. The draw of a home on the water, the silence, the joy of sitting quietly listening and watching Nature go about her busy work is simply the best.

Tomorrow, we’ll take the ferry over to Vancouver Island, Victoria and TEA, TEA AND TEA!! 

Stories along the way: Spring 2019 Week 2 and a bit more

Stories along the way: Spring Trip, 2019 Week 1

 Spring trip 2019 Week I 

It’s hard to leave Alaska when the spring air entices us to stay home and the blue sky frames the warm sun. But the call of the trail is a strong call once we make a decision to go. We’ll fly to  Billings, MT where friends have dropped off The Grey Panther and head to Sheridan to stay for a few days visiting. We’ll spend about a month seeing new things and ending up back in Nikiski. Hopefully we’ll spend a good amount

of time on Vancouver Island and travel to Dawson City and back down on the Top of the World Hwy.

We have only vague guidelines for our travel and those can change on a whim. When we settle on an approximate distance to drive before we settle for the night, I look for a place, (preferably off the grid), on my phone—ALLSTAYS app. We prefer Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, forest service and national parks. Neither the National Parks and state parks are yet open for camping. We have all we need in the Sprinter so know we can find somewhere to stay. Of course, a multitude of places appear long before we are ready to stop for the night.

April 16


Good morning Alaska moon. See you in a month. It’s 5 am as we begin the 30 minute drive to the airport. It’s still dark and by the time we get back it will be mostly around -the- clock day light.

Argh! Air travel. TSA especially bizarre in Anchorage. “Take out any food items. Do you have any shoes in your carryon?” It’s hard enough traveling with rearranged body parts but every time they get more vigorous with my pat down. As I protected my stoma she was trying to get to it. I wanted to say “leave it alone or you will activate THE ALIEN.

I will never take 4 miserable flts in one day again. My legs were rubber by the time we were done. But there was the Sprinter in the Billings airport parking lot. Jim O’Neill had to stop me from kissing the Sprinter all over! We had a Sprinter appointment the next morning for an airbag recall and I wanted a close hotel. It turned out to be directly across from Mercedes dealer. Exhausted? I need a stronger word. We fell into bed. 

April 17

I was delighted to find a wonderful healthy food store, Lucky’s, the next morning—twice as good as Whole Paycheck and half the price. I stocked up Jim was strangely patient as I eagerly  traveled each aisle. He waited in the Sprinter.

On to coolish Sheridan to stay for 3 nights to catch up with good friends from Alaska. You know how it is, you have to move away before you actually have lengths of time with friends. When you are in the same city, you always make plans for “next week” but many activities interfere. It is so wonderful to have “almost enough time” for a real visit. The next day it was 75 degrees.

Chris (former ANMC Oncology clinic manager) and I enjoy our time together rather than a few minutes here and there in Anchorage. We shop, eat and talk. Jim ends up spending the whole time chatting guy stuff with Dave, Chris’s husband.

The Big Horn mountains still tower over us with snow gradually disappearing. The grass is greening and cattle and horses enjoying roaming in the spring sun.

Sheridan WY is one of the top polo locations in the world. Polo ponies are worked hard and when no longer able to perform are sent away. Etta was a polo pony and was finished with riding. Instead of sending her to the glue factory, Debbie and Greg Marino asked to take her as they have fenced pastures for her to roam freely.  It was one year before the gentle Marinos could touch her. She was afraid of being ridden hard again. Now Etta is a delightful, friendly horse. She always seems to be chuckling about her own joke. She roams around the pastures and has a neighbor’s cat that comes to visit. Jim loves feeding her as she is always vocal, telling him a joke he never gets.

Greg Marino stretches after his bike ride and Etta comes over for a chat.

Saturday morning Jim brought me a nice cup of tea in the bathtub. I won’t be seeing another tub soon. I listened to the cranes fly over and the turkeys gobbling and the cheerful robin announcing spring is  really here in Sheridan. From year to year I forget how magical the returning of the birds is until I hear their song again.

After breakfast, and with great hugs, we say goodbye to Greg, Maggie the aging, still happy dog and Etta. It’s consoling to come back to friends and find the earring I lost last time sitting on the window sill In the bedroom.

Finally on our way to explore and sleep in our beloved sprinter. After 45,000 miles we still love it dearly and look forward to finding out -of the- way, off the grid spots to spend the night as we cross the continent. The weather is beautiful, warm and sunny. It seems we left Alaska just in time to miss the returning snow.

Still in WY, we drive past big horn sheep, just ewes, on the rocky roadside. Crows pose in a tree and large nests are on top of utility poles. We spend the night (free) at a BLM site for 6 campers. These sites are rarely marked or only with a small sign so we are dependent on directions in our “allstays” app.  It’s on a river with rock hills surrounding it. Sometimes these places are pristine, sometimes vandalized and sometimes in the middle. This is in the middle, quite clean and quiet but the modern architecture of the Mens Leaning Loo with aerating bullet hills puzzles Jim as he decides not to use it.

But it’s a lovely evening after enduring 70’s weather and we set up our folding loveseat next to the bubbling river, sit back and relax. Our first night on the road after a long day.  After soaking in the joys of the river and solitude, we walk the trail and then eat at the concrete picnic table enjoying each other’s company and our latest adventure. Jim diligently insists on putting the loveseat away as rain is expected and we tuck in for the night watching the changing weatherscapes from the big window at our feet—thunder, rain, blue sky, puffy clouds, rain clouds, snow clouds.

April 20

The Easter Bunny found Jim and stuck a delicious Fran’s solid bunny (ears intact ) in his boot he luckily found before sticking his foot in it. However, the Bunny missed me and there was no delicious hollow bunny for moi.

It is raining in the morning and we’re quite smug enjoying our warm  bed that no raindrops touch. Jim makes my tea, delivering it to me in bed. Then I got up to boil water to serve as a double boiler to warm my long-cooking steel oats because we happen to have strawberries,( organic and washed) bananas, blackberries and sunflower seeds——one of my all time favorite breakfasts. Jim prefers his cheerios. We have freshly squeezed oj from Lucky’s in Billings. I use the warm water to wash the dishes.

We can’t recycle as  much as we usually do on the road, but we use German and English china and cloth napkins as well as the silver we don’t use at home as you can’t put it in the dishwasher. It’s the small things that make life just a little more fun…..especially in the wilderness. 

April 21

Off we head towards Jackson Hole, the Big Buck ($) town with intermittent rain, snain, snow and sunshine along the way. Traffic is light this Easter Sunday as we drive through Teton National Park.  The ski lifts are quiet in the dirty-covered snow slopes but I did get a chance to get a latte, the New York Times and a bit of shopping done while Jim chased down an ice cream store only to find it closed.

The results of heavy spring rains show in the flooding along the roads. We drive next to the lake that leads to Palisades Dam. Heavy mists stream across the road and we stop at an accessible area and walk towards the lake watching a pair of cranes slowly walking near the water, mists hiding them and then they reappear. Again, we are overcome with love for the land and this wondrous experience.

We continue on with the  new goal of Crater National Park in Idaho. The mounds of lava on each side of the road are black and interesting.Miles of lava to the left and right of the road seem to be from another planet. It’s hard to imagine hot, flowing lava from the active volcano a long time ago.

I breathe the breath of contentment. While I love to visit cities, my real peace and tranquility come from nature, the further from cities as possible. It seems, the closer to cities a park is, the more trash, vandalism and over use there is. 

April 22

Silver Creek West campground is truly a special place. After a quiet night, we awake to sun and a few puffs of white clouds. Jim flings the side door open for my “open air” tea in bed as I stay cozy and warm. He sets up our loveseat and I make breakfast. I love taking in the view as I cook. After a leisurely breakfast, the cook’s assistant does the dishes and we walk.  Can there be a more beautiful time to travel than off season in the spring when the birds return with their mates or find mates in a ritual as old as the earth? Their songs in the quiet air come through clear and strong—hawks, cranes, geese, ducks, this is their time.  They swoop and dance around us showing off to mates and hopeful mates courting songs.

Settled in for the night near Picabo, ID, free 10 campsites, beautiful trout stream, birds—cranes, ducks, owls and song birds. Being off season, no one else is here. It pours beautiful ,clean rain. The sun comes out showcasing a magnificent sunset. I go for a short walk listening, just listening. 

Jim wanders by the stream as I begin the morning duties required of modified body parts, so much more pleasant alone in the sun. He spots an 18in trout (fisherman measure) in the clear, running stream. We meander down the lane watching and listening. It is a grand way to celebrate Earth Day!! So grateful for all the natural beauty earth offers.

Back on two lane Highway 20, we drive through ranch land and rocky mountains, through elk and deer country. Boise National Forest. New spring life is everywhere. Though it happens every year the excitement of being part of it never grows old. The countryside is awash in a green palette—baby green of budding trees and shrubs, blue-green shrubs and sage, deep steady, year—round evergreen green intermingled with yellow, white and pink wild flowers.

HomeMountain is a small town known for “not much.” There is a nearby Airforce base and we meet a woman from Fairbanks AK who met an airman there and ended up with him here. A resident wanted the city to “make a statement” somehow and garnered support for mural paintings in an alley. The effort is remarkable with many unusual murals sponsored by different groups. One of the murals “The mountains are calling and I must go,” is made of thousands of tiny photos. The day is sunny and after searching out all the murals we stop for a taco. I really enjoy seeking out the unexpected.

Tuesday April 23

We drive  through eastern Oregon and I guide Jim down a long winding up and down dirt road with widely spaced,  long established, small ranches. There are no fences and cattle and horses wander freely across the narrow road. Bright green covered pastures and hills are dotted with early wildflowers, Black Angus cattle and horses. We’re off the grid again and finally reach Beulah Reservoir, a branch of the Mahleur River near Juntera. The drive in and our campsite take our breath away. Earth Day at its finest. Sunny and 70 degrees, we go for a walk along the dirt road. Once in a while a truck passes by. Back at the campsite we go down to the placid water and watch the birds.  We set up dinner by the lake and eat slowly relishing the food and our great luck of being here…..and being alive.

In the morning, Jim slides the side door open and I welcome the day. I wait for tea reading a section of the New York Times and listening to a red-winged black bird singing in the tree in front of me. The water is blue and calm, doves coo on the utility poles behind us, ducks swim by, a pair of  smoothly synched geese touch down on the water.

I make breakfast—eggs, bacon, orange, sourdough raisin cinnamon bread from home and tea. Each bite, the taste, smell and texture of it, blends with scents of spring. Then we sink into the loveseat. I’m always on Jim’s right, so my one hearing ear is next to him. We rest and look around…..lingering in the present moment, so much easier here than back home with the call of busy lives. We are far away from the distressing politics of today.

 I go down to the water and do my QI Jong for back and neck. When I lived in Anchorage, opportunity to practice this and T’ai Chi outdoors was special. Both in Nikiski and on the road, I can gather the outdoor energy of nature whenever I want.

We close up the Sprinter and drive to the dam, passing a small group of cows and calves lying under a tree. Roadside cows are curious, watching as we pass by, a young calf trying to trot along side of us. It is a pleasant 70 degrees though we wish it no warmer.

The dam is a masterpiece in managing the water from the giant reservoir for the verdant ranch lands below. Water is high and little is released. Jim tells me how the machines in the screened damn powering room work. Always the teacher!  We hate to leave, driving slowly back down the road to the highway.  We look at the green land stretching far below as with the river winding through it. It takes our breath away.

We make a decision to alter our route and go to Crater Lake through Klamath Falls. Part of the park is still closed from winter snow and we aren’t sure how close we’ll get. It doesn’t matter, time is not of essence and it’s a beautiful feeling to change directions.

If I were a ranch animal, I would want to live on the Beaulha Reservoir road.


Stories along the way: Spring Trip, 2019 Week 1

Alaska and Hawaii: Different Latitude Sisters

Alaska and Hawaii: Different Latitude Sisters  Hana, 2019

Strange but true, the last two states in the U.S with extreme climates, are sisters. With a direct flight from Anchorage to Maui in about 6 hours, Alaskans breathe a sigh of relief for not having to travel 18 hours or so to get to a warm climate. Similar in latitude to Zihuatenano, Mexico, that takes 18 hours of air travel, the 6 hours to get to Maui is a nano second. Remember it takes 3.5 hours airtime just to get out of Alaska from Anchorage, the state’s hub.

Think about it: 

  • Last two States 49 and 50
  • Airplane and boat travel for most of the state
  • Extreme climates 
  • Unforgetable beauty
  • Horrible treatment of indigenous populations
  • Sky high food prices that get even higher as you travel from population centers
  • Moose vs mongoose (both wander a lot)
  • Moist sultry air/crisp fresh air
  • Picking oranges, avocados, bananas /berry picking
  • Sophisticated city centers
  • Wild remote places
  • Tourism important to both
  • Few roads and dangerous
  • Extreme weather Both have tsunamis, volcanos, rock slides, earthquakes
  • Hawaii calls the other states “The Mainland” Alaska calls it “Outside”


As the plane filled, it included a large number of small children and the large accoutrements that go along with small kid travel these days—car size strollers, mammoth car seats. In front of us were two children 5 years and 2.5 yrs and their conscientious Girdwood parents. They seemed to know several people on the plane.  Mom and Dad took turns sitting in the aisle seat next to the two boys who had their own kid iPads. The parents used their smartphones for movie screens. It’s a long six hour flight for small children, but all was ok for the first four hours and kids paraded up and down the aisles with parents taking them to the bathroom. After all, we were all looking forward to Hawaii.

Suddenly the two year old started throwing “the mother of all tantrums” that went on and on as desperate Mom and Dad traded the screaming child back and forth. I know it was hard for them. I said to the Mom who was well aware of the loud screams, 

“Someday you will laugh about this, but not today.” 

“Thank you,” she said gratefully.

About 45 minutes into the tantrum, or was it five hours, the child fell asleep. The parents were exhausted. The 5yr old remained consumed by his video screen the whole time.  

I wondered where the bag of critical bribe snacks was?  The books to read to the child? In my experience reading a book to a child often results in dozing off—it’s important to avoid dozing off yourself before the child does. And don’t even consider skipping a page in a favorite book. Small cars? Games for parent child interaction? It seemed the parents wanted everyone to just be entertained by video screens the whole flight—an impossible task for a 2.5 year old.

As we left the plane (we were near the back) , the floor looked like a movie theatre in the days when you dropped everything on the floor. The cleaners were going to have a heck of a time getting the plane ready for the next flight in the short time allotted. 


It is always hard for me to winnow down my books for travel. If It is work travel, that includes long flights to Washington D.C., it’s two books, one for each way and most likely I’ll pick up another one or two on the trip. I like to take paperbacks with me, those that I’ll only read once, and leave for others to enjoy. 

On one trip, I tried to leave a really good book behind three times—someone rushed after me with the book, saying I left it behind and it looks like “a good book.”  What could I do but take it? On trips with friends where lots of talking and shopping happens, it’s one or two books for bedtime reading or early morning.


This is our first trip to Hana, Maui. Friends graciously offered us use of their second home that they built 20 years ago. Anyone we told that we were going to Hana, told stories of the dark, winding, narrow road. It is important to finish the trip before dark because it is soooo dark.

We arrive on Maui 3pm, collect our luggage and car and  go grocery shopping. Our hosts warned us of the high cost of food in Hana, with only two small general stores available. Indeed some of the prices even shocked seasoned Alaskans—half gallon of milk, $7. In direct contrast to Alaska, wonderful fruits are ready for picking or buying at farm stands.

Alas, it was almost 5pm when we start up the highway, sunset coming quickly. While it is only about 50 miles to Hana, 30 miles for us,  it takes two hours with average speeds of 10-20 miles an hour. It makes Alaska’s Seward Highway with its feet of snow,, high winds, avalanches, mountains ALMOST look like a straightaway. Certainly as we went down a hill and around a corner, we entered a cave of vegetation and hanging vines that would make Tarzan proud. One-car bridges, waterfalls, rain, dark, narrow roads made for a trying trip.

Finally we arrived at the house and immediately love it. Beautifully built with lots of wood and tastefully decorated, we walked around enjoying it. While on a street with other houses, we couldn’t see them. The long lanai provides long views all the way to the ocean. The lanai traverses the length of the house with many sliding doors letting in the sultry air that drifted across us while we slept. Soft breezes, cool or warm are one of my favorite hight time treats. One of the bookshelves holds the most incredible selection of classics, new and enticing books. I didn’t need to bring any books.

The next morning we drove into Hana, exploring the small town and then north of Hana for the beaches, stopping to pick up papaya, passion fruit and star fruit at an organic stand. The stand cashier was in a work/exchange program. I asked him to pick out a good papaya for me as I could pick out a good salmon for him, I was clueless about tropical fruits. A friend of his is working on a work/exchange program in Alaska.

The very old general store has a bit of everything except the Phillips screw driver Jim wanted. I looked at a reusable bag with a flower on it. I admired the authentic replica gecko pin on the top of the bag. “What a clever addition to a bag,” think reaching out to touch the pin and the “real live”gecko and I both jump as it runs off.

As we near home, we find a delightful farm stand/store with magnificent homemade ice-cream for a mere $5 a serving and giant taro chips, a favorite. We shamelessly stop by for ice cream a couple times more.fullsizeoutput_12fc



As important as books are, having proper tea and supplies is critical for any trip. Strong, hot tea, usually Irish Breakfast in the morning is a must. I also like to use items we bought on other trips as a memory of that time. For this trip I picked a sturdy 4-cup yellow tea pot along with a travel tea cozy and thermal mat. We picked these up in Lake Magog, Quebec while on our way to the Gaspe Peninsula . This is the town that Jim’s mother and grandmother summered at traveling from their home in Montreal. It was the first visit to Magog for us.

He likes to make my tea in the morning and bring it to me in bed or on the lanai.  I drink the tea watching the morning awaken around me. It’s the same ritual on our deck in Alaska, particularly when the sun rises enough to hit the deck and provide a little warmth. For as Mary Oliver says, “Why should I not sit and greet every morning…

As often happens on a plane to Hawaii we run into friends/colleagues from Alaska. Now retired, I do miss those work moments .  This time it is Ellen and Richard. We agree to meet one day for lunch in Maui. We make the trip again down the Hana Road.  Once again two hours for 30 miles, beautiful or not too difficult.  It rains off and on but doesn’t seem to faze these two in their classic Porsche.fullsizeoutput_12c8

We do a couple of errands and meet our friends for lunch. It is worth every minute of the trip down the mountains. Ellen and I plan a summer rendezvous with another friend who moved to Homer.

We enter a few days of rain, not just sprinkles but RAIN, not the horizontal freezing rain of Alaska, but dense sheets of warm water that pour down .  It stops but we can see the next squall on it’s way—a bit of blue sky, white clouds and then heavy dark clouds. Surprisingly, we don’t mind. The house is spacious and comfortable.  We can usually sit on the lanai and watch the rain and read. This is an unusual holiday for us. Usually we travel many miles in the Sprinter visiting friends or staying at a hotel for a day or two when we need a break. We like this vacation style!! I read four books, Jim, two. I never read during the day at home—always something I feel must get done. The rain stops and the lush grass and foliage turn greener and sparkly. Lushness is all around. One morning I find a green flower vine draped on the porch. Thank goodness for FB one as a friend quickly identifies is for us.

We drive a short distance to the Lava Tube attraction and then on another 1.5 miles to the botanical gardens even though the sign near the lava tube says “closed.” As we get close, the road is flooded with at least a foot of water flowing from the waterfall across the road and down into a stream. Another day.

Jim elects to stay home  one day while I drive around in the rain. I stop at the beautiful, but pricey art gallery at the equally pricey hotel in Hana and chat at some length with the manager. A lawyer and a teacher, she taught art for several years at the public schools. We touched on the abhorrent treatment of Alaska Native and Hawaiian Native children—both punished for speaking their language and practicing customs. Like Alaska, the missionaries  came in to “save” the indigenous people. “Now,” she said,”Traditional Hawaiian language is taught starting in primary school.”

I walk around the mostly outdoor lobby admiring a wooden chair and big cushy leather chairs under a roof. I look at the bulletin board of classes offered and snap a photo of the bamboo spear throwing class, certain Jim would love it. He declines.

I collect roadside flowers and leaves for Ikebana here and there. The size, various shades of greens and unusual shapes attract me. A sandwich board sign for  Hana Tropicals is on the side of the road and I drive up the narrow mud road. It’s still raining. I pass a food truck for Ethiopian food that is unfortunately closed,  past a few ducks and stop at visitors’ parking. An open main building with green houses in the back draws me into the shop. I wander around looking at many beautiful orchids and flowers. A tall young woman greets me. She and her boyfriend came from South Carolina three years ago for a work/exchange program. After their stint, the owner asked them to manage the nursery. Her skin glows with youth and moist air. She loves her work and it shows in her face as she talks about the flowers and how they ship all over the U.S.  Alaska, too?,I ask surely challenging her. “Last week we shipped orchids to Fairbanks when it was -40,” she said proudly, “They arrived in fine shape.”

What could I do but order an orchid? After checking on its potential viability in my home, (I assured her there is a great deal of light) she picked one out for me. She made sure to let me know that it is important to watch for Fed EX to bring the plant in right away.This is a special plant prepared by a loving gardener.  We talk more about the work/exchange program. There is a North American one as well as an international program helping young adults learn about gardening and the environment. I encounter an enthusiastic worker from South America on the way out.

I pick a large lemon from a bowl that says “Lemons, $1” She tells me they are the juiciest lemons they grow and wants to give me one. Indeed, it makes the best ever lemonade, no sugar needed.  But, it seems the money goes to the work/exchange staff who earn no salaries, so I put money in the basket. They do flower arranging also and there are buckets of beautiful flowers for $1 each. I pick out a few and she insists on giving me a Bird of Paradise with a few leaves wrapped around it “for our house.”

It’s still raining but I drive down the road to the nearby state park and park near the water. Only a few diehards are here in the pouring rain standing by their cars wearing cotton hoodies. I never see a rain coat on anyone the whole trip —must be un Hawaiian. I sit and watch a well-fed ginger cat near the garbage bins. A mongoose is jumping in and out of the bin with food scrapes. It seems the cat and mongoose have an understanding. It isn’t until the mongoose leaves that Ginger Cat takes her turn at the garbage bin—she must be slumming it for the day.

After stopping by a unique fruit stand, I drive home having had the best ever afternoon, the kind of driving around that Jim dislikes strongly. He, in turn, had fun watching movies, dozing and reading. Over dinner, I tell him about my travels. 

Hawaii is near the equator and so the sun roughly rises at 6am and goes down at 6pm. We find ourselves rising early.  Rain seems to diminish with bright sun showing. We drive past Hana to the national park. We want to hike to the Bamboo Forest but it is an hour each way and muddy. We settle for a shorter trail down by the ocean. 

From here we drive further on Hwy 360 driving closer to the “no-driving” section. If you get in an accident, rental cars won’t cover you. We continue along the road, more  broken up now and the scenery with the ocean below us is beautiful. Soon, though, we find the road narrowing and I cling to the side of the mountain with my finger nails. The rain starts again and we decide it best to turn around, our curiosity satisfied.

A bright, sunny day greets us on Tuesday and we set out, first to the Lava Tube, my one and only lava tube tour. Jim loves them and tells me about more we can visit until I shut him down. It is also a former nuclear fall out shelter for 50 people. The sunny day draws other people who join us heading down the stairs to the dark, dripping slimy lava tube. We each have a flash light. It is the blackest of black when we turn our flashlights off. Interesting lava stalactites and stalagmites are all around. One of the signs says how the centipedes and the worms that live in the tube, are now born without eyes, but longer antennae to find their way around and “please don’t step on them.” Further along a sign tells us about the “20 inch eyeless worms that live down here, and leave them alone if you see one.” We duck under a 4ft rise into the “Chocolate Room.” Indeed the lava looks like dripping chocolate. We mustn’t touch it, but “Boy Scout O’Neill touches it. We turn around and repeat our steps and finally out into the sunshine. It’s important to try everything once and for some things, once is enough.

The closed sign is gone for the Botanical Gardens and we drive down the road again. Indeed the water has diminished to a trickle across the road. We pay and park and walk the beautiful grounds with ancient Polynesian worship areas, and look at the churning sea below the rock cliff. Extensive work is underway to remove invasive plants and replace them with indigenous plants better able to stop erosion.

The sun still shines and we head to the State Park. This time the parking lots are mostly filled. A skinny black cat lounges under a car near by. I get a piece of cheese but he backs away. I leave it and it is soon gone. There is a wonderful walking path of boards all along the water, along with ways to go down and clamor over the rocks, past the black sand beach and down a path along the cliff splashed by the incoming surf. I thought Jim might want to go down to the beach to watch the babes in bikinis but he declines. Instead we walk further along the path and watch two 16 year olds swimming in a cove. Unfortunately the way in and out of the cove is over huge rocks. They manage it and then they walk by us over the volcanic rock path in their BARE FEET. To them, that is the way it will always be. To us we know that ability disappears quickly with age. No more two dollar flip flops, it’s $100 Keen sandals to protect tender feet. 

There are tents all around on the grass, far apart. There is also a number of skinny cats wandering around. Two women lean over the railing looking at one and offering a tuna snack. The wily cat stays back and then quickly snatches some tuna and runs around the rock with it. I’m surprised, this is a popular park and wonder why the cats haven’t been caught, neutered and released.  

It’s been a busy day for us and we’re both tired, still coughing from our colds. It’s a happy day thought and we talk about it over dinner. It’s early to bed and a good sleep.

In the mornings we pick up oranges from the ground for fresh squeezed juice. Ironically I bought two dried out oranges at the grocery store in Maui for $3.49/pound. We met the gardener who keeps us supplied with apple bananas and the creamiest just-picked avocados. We made a stop at an organic fruit stand and added star fruit, passion fruit and papaya to our bounty. I brought a loaf of my sourdough bread with me and made modified “Avocado Melt Sandwiches”, a favorite of many Alaskans from The Midway Cafe in Anchorage. I must say though, due to the freshness of our vegetables, they were even better. It will be hard to go back to imported avocados and tomatoes in Alaska. Even “meat and potato” Jim loves the sandwiches.

I meditate in the bedroom with the lanai doors wide open. The rain slows to plunking drops on the roof. A soft, moist breeze touches my cheek. The birds start singing and chattering, happy the rain stopped. The scent of oranges drifts past my nose—it’s Jim squeezing the oranges for juice in the kitchen. 

Wednesday is our last day and we go no where. We pack, read, lounge around and watch the birds and mongooses in the yard. I make a big breakfast and we eat it on the lanai. It is so peaceful with a slight breeze .

It’s time to go home and we are ready. It’s been a wonderful holiday, but home is home and we’ll collect DustyKitty in Anchorage on our way.

Thursday morning we are up early to head to the airport. Jim squeezes one last glass orange juice and once again the aroma floats into the bedroom. We finish the packing and load everything in the car.

“Goodbye Gecko.” Jim says to the gecko hanging on the wall. “ I wonder if  he’ll miss us?,”

It’s one more hairy ride down the Hana Highway. Twists and turns, one lane bridges, lots of traffic going to Hana. “As if I needed a sign,” said Jm passing a “winding, narrow road”sign. I admire the beauty of the drive, Jim is too busy.


Soon enough we are at the airport checking in and through security and another agriculture check on the way to the gate. The plane is packed, once again filled with parents and small children that surround me, my penance for making a comment about the lack of parent/child interactive books or games on the plane.

A very special Hawaiian holiday thanks to our friends.

PS My orchid arrived in a snowstorm in perfect condition !



Alaska and Hawaii: Different Latitude Sisters

This Christmas


Though yellow and curling, I still periodically unearth a newspaper article titled “The Unhappiness of Christmas “ from decades ago. The article talks about the fact that very few people live in the stereotypical Christmas so warmly painted by Norman Rockwell. Death, grief, illness, money, depression, loneliness, food insecurity, homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, heartbreak, job woes, single parenting and relationship woes contribute to a more realistic picture than Rockwell’s.

In my 70 years I experienced many hard and forgettable Christmases, in addition to happy ones.

Sometimes though, tough times turn into a treasure. After a divorce, I returned to university. I only completed one year before marrying. There was simply no extra money. I despaired how few presents I could buy for my 4 year old and 7 year old even after discretly selling some of their toys from younger times and working an extra job at holiday breaks. In desperation I called my parents, across MI from Kalamazoo and asked if we could come on Christmas Eve. They welcomed us. That began a tradition that continued through their high school years, a ritual they dearly loved. Christmas Day was a feast with nearby cousins, aunts and uncles.

In 2018 I put up a real tree, the first time since 2009.

This year, Christmas makes me happy, almost a bit Norman Rockwallish. Jim and I and DustyKitty sit in our cozy living room looking out on the pure, white snow and iced lake, enjoying the twinkling tree, content that all packages are sent. At almost 12 years Dusty is too lazy to climb the tree and chase ornaments. I soak in happiness and want to share it with everyone.I have so much happiness that I offer it to those in harder places.

My husband, Rick, was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2008. With ongoing chemotherapy, he managed to continue to work and do some of the things he loved. But he was an angry man and his cancer made it worse. Christmas was a rote time we went through, half-heartedly decorating the house, giving each other presents and sharing Christmas with friends. Pretend happiness is hard.

When he died in September 2011, I was exhausted and depleted. I finally went back to work, but did little else. When Christmas came, I declined all invitations—I just could not be jolly. No decorations, no baking—I just wanted to be alone with DustyKitty, my staunchest friend and cuddler.

My grief became manageable, but I still did not muster the strength to celebrate Christmas, choosing to cook myself a lovely dinner, light the candles and be at peace. Widowhood was just fine with me. Luckily, friends did not desert me and gently urged me to join them in their festivities. I just couldn’t.

In May 2014, I met Jim who went through a difficult and humiliating divorce, something so alien to this warm, gentle, man. We grew closer and closer. In October I was diagnosed with a rare and disabling large tumor in my lower back. As I contemplated what to do and where to do it, we rushed Jim to Seattle in early November with Stage 4 lymphoma. We stayed there 5 months for his treatment with me leaving at the end of December for a month at the Mayo Clinic for tumor removal surgery. Unfortunately the tumor that pushed on the nerve bundle resulted in nerve damage and lower trunk paralysis. Learning to walk again was hard.

In Seattle, we stayed in a corner apartment in the Seattle Cancer housing with big windows. I wanted to decorate even though we would spend Christmas morning getting blood work for Jim—cancer doesn’t honor holidays. By this time, I walked with a painful limp that worsened the more I walked. But I found some decorations in the hospital and clinic gift shops. A foot high fake Christmas tree, some cutout felt ornaments and colorful cardboard reindeer/caribou and white plastic angels that lit up. Jim happily joined in putting our decorations together. We planned a day out with a rental car. We went to Ikea and I pushed Jim in a wheelchair. I promised him meatballs, but almost killed him!! I wanted more angels, we needed all the help we could get.


We put the angels all around the windows and sat on the bed watching their soft, warm light. We hung the felt ornaments around the room and set up the caribou. It made us happy in spite of months of cancer treatment ahead of Jim and my pending surgery. We didn’t need other people or fancy dinners on Christmas Day, we had each other and a holiday bedroom.

In November 2015 I went back to Mayo for another 10-hour surgery, but Jim came too. The only decorations that year were our angels. In 2016, we flew home from Arizona for a few weeks, leaving The Grey Panther at an airport parking lot. We really missed Alaska and home and were so tired. In November 2017 my knee was replaced in Soldotna, close to home. Angels brightened the long and dark Alaska night.

This November I felt happy and wanted to decorate for Christmas—even get a tree. Jim was all for it. I found my boxes of decorations and we hauled them to the living room and I placed them around the room.

We bought a “living tree” at a nursery—5 ft tall in a bucket of soil. We lost our two biggest spruce trees this past summer to the spruce beetle, home to birds and squirrels and the first place to lose snow in the spring. The moose liked to lounge there in the sun.

So this spring we will plant our Christmas tree near where the big trees lived for 70+ years. In the interim, we will pack it with snow on the side of the house until it is time to plant it. Jim put the batteries in the angels and turned them on. He put the caribou back together and claimed, like he does every year, that there were two wounded caribou without back legs.

I know there will be troubled days ahead. How long Jim’s cancer stays in remission is unknown. How long my rearranged body parts and back tumor behave is unknown. How long we can stay in this beautiful place we call home is unknown. But we are so happy here on Daniels Lake we decided to stay here as long as possible instead of moving closer to medical facilities and supportive care.

We don’t formally buy each other presents for Christmas and birthdays. If we want something we buy it ourselves or just decide to buy each other something on a whim. Our materialistic days are pretty much over and we celebrate every day as beautiful and special.

Being open makes the world a different place. I never wanted to even visit Alaska—but I’ve lived here for 28 years and miss it when I gone.