Stories along the way: Malaspina Ferry Sitka to Haines, Alaska

 

The Sitka ferry dock is seven miles from downtown and, in the Alaska way, the taxi charges “per head.” Downtown is icy, a plague of the freeze/thaw Alaska cycle. Thankfully I have my walking sticks with me. We see the Fearsome Four from the ferry, whose ages I have downgraded to mid-20’s. We’re going to a Lounge,” they say. I think I am a mother figure to them, maybe it’s the traveling pearls or the red silk scarf.

We slip and slide to the Highliner Coffee Shop, a favorite of mine. With purchase I get my own special Internet code for 90 minutes. Jim enjoys a hot chocolate (with whipped cream) and a warmed blueberry coffee cake while I type away silently cursing the lack of high speed Internet in Alaska. I get spoiled in Portland and Salem.

Jim and I taxi back to the ferry just in time.  As the elevator door closes, I see my glove on the ground. A burly arm reaches out and stops the elevator door from closing so I can fetch it. The passenger list now exceeds 300 with the addition of more happy athletes from Sitka and Mt Edgecumbe (which is a respected boarding school for primarily Alaska Natives but open to all). It’s lasagna for dinner, which Jim can never resist and so we find a corner of the cafeteria as the din increases with the new passengers. Juneau is 10 hours away and I can’t imagine the teens will sleep.

On the way back to our cabin, we encounter the Fearsome Four who have commandeered the no-wi-fi-no-sleeping-no-sitting-on-the–tables computer room, sleeping bags already on the floor and the lights out. “We are so tired of kids,” says one of them. Ironically they have left that age group just a few short years ago.

We retire to our “stateroom” for the night as it is the only corner left uninhabited. During the night we hear “call-outs” for Hoonah and Juneau. In the early hours we feel the ferry moving more and we sway in the beds. Squeaking noises appear around the cabin as the strain of the increasing seas rock the ship. Jim makes tea and coffee (a must) carefully pouring the boiling water over the coffee in the strainer. He’s much better at it than I am.

Jim heads to the deck anxious to see what is going on with the weather. He comes back quickly. “You have to see this,” he says. The ferry is eerily quiet now as the teens left in Juneau and we head to front row seats in the forward lounge. The wind whistles through the ship.

The seas are wild with huge waves and whitecaps everywhere. The front windows are covered with sea spray and it is hard to see through them. There are only a handful of passengers in the lounge and everyone is watching the ferry bounce in the violent seas and wind. The ferry’s engines never quaver and it proceeds forward. Suddenly I see a black hooded shape moving outside the windows trying to get to the bow. He has a hard time, buffeted by the waves and turns back. Sometimes a crewmember goes to the bow and so it’s really bad when he can’t get there.   He has hard time pulling the door from the deck open and comes into the lounge. It’s one of the Fearsome Four, the redhead!! “I couldn’t make it,” he says.

A stocky, balding man in a t-shirt sits in one of the chairs casually watching the ferry’s progress and laughing at the Fearsome One. He is obviously a frequent ferry traveler. The stocky man doesn’t change his relaxed position and laughs quietly.

“I keep thinking of Harry Chapin’s Dance Band on the Titanic,” I tell the Fearsome One. “ I realize the blank look means he has no idea what I am talking about. “Your’re too young.” I turn to the stocky man, “but you do.” He nods and smiles. “Ok now you will have it stuck in your head for the whole day,” I tell him.

We pack the “stateroom” consolidating as much as possible to make one trip to The Grey Panther then go back up top to watch the ferry plod forward. There will be a two-hour delay as the captain searches for a different route to avoid the worst of the high seas. Jim and I have both been in smaller boats in high seas and they are not pleasant memories, but it’s fun to watch now. No one panics about the delay—this is Alaska and delays are part of life.

What shall I do with the little bouquet of flowers that has made me so happy in the cabin? I know the young woman in the lounge has too many things to handle with her baby. I walk down the hall and see a dark-haired youngish crew woman seriously studying her clipboard. “Would you like these flowers?” I ask. “You don’t want them?” she asks surprised. “I’m leaving the ferry,” I said “and want to give them to you.” She looked from me to the flowers. “I love them!” she said. “I’ll take them to my cabin.”

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Back in the lounge Jim and I sit near the young woman with her baby and we chat in the casual Alaska way. The happy baby has a beautiful quilt and crocheted blanket made by her grandmother and great-grandmother. She is traveling to Haines where her husband is running their heli-ski operation from February to May 1. Until the baby arrived she was his partner. He has not seen his daughter for a month now and she reflects how much harder it is being in total charge of this little life. Their home is in Montana. She admires my black lowtop boots wanting to know the brand. It makes me feel a little younger. She points out a spot on the coast, “We had a house there until last year,” she said. “But it was so hard to get water. When girl friends came to visit and constantly flushed the toilet, I kept thinking, that’s 2.2 gallons!” I decided not to tell her about my stay at the Buddhist temple in Santa Fe that does not allow you to flush unless absolutely necessary. I notice a tiny bottle of nail polish on the window ledge–from the teens. Jim said that there will be a pile of “left-behinds”

I watch an old man sitting near us. In Sitka while we were at the dock he struggled to the bow and took some photos. I am curious, he’s not a novice. Now I watch as he studies the ferry’s course and goes back to sitting near us in the front row. Finally he puts on his scarf and eventually his worn jacket. I know he has a story but time……..

Shore call, time to go and we head down to the car deck and to The Grey Panther. The Fearsome Three hug each other. Surprisingly the black pick-up truck in front of us from Virginia belongs to one of them, while the long-curly haired man climbs into the Sprinter beside us. It has a Utah license plate. We wave goodbye and drive off on to the dock passing a truck with a rocking chair and skis. The Third member, in a white car pulls up with a Texas license plate next to the pickup truck and wait for the Sprinter—not quite ready to say goodbye to their new friends in the Alaska Frontier. That’s just the way Alaska is……..

We drive around Haines a little and eat at the Chilkook Bakery and Restaurant that serves Thai food. And has British soap in the washroom. Awww Alaska. We notice a Tiny House for sale

We’re getting close to home now, spending a night in a hotel before we tackle the 1,000 miles and plan to leave early for the 400 mile drive to Tok where the temperature is expected to reach -35 degrees. Then onto Grandview overlooking the Matanuska Glacier to see friends we never get to see often enough. We will reflect on our ferry ride as we absorb it as another wonderful adventure.

The Shooting of Sam McGee

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,

And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;

With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,

A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;

While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —

Then you’ve a haunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.

Robert Service

Stories along the way: Malaspina Ferry Sitka to Haines, Alaska

Stories along the Way: Malaspina Ferry, Ketchikan to Sitka

The quiet calm of the ferry changed in Ketchikan as 200+ high school athletes, coaches, teachers, chaperones and fans boarded the ferry to Juneau for basketball tournaments. It’s Alaska’s version of “March Madness”, a tribute to the NCAA basketball playoffs. It’s the highlight of the year for Alaska’s hundreds of small communities not connected by roads where basketball is king. Wrestlers, dance/cheer teams are part of the mix. Extended family members come along to support them including grandparents, aunties, parents, siblings and small children.

 

They take over the ferry and can be found in every nook and corner draping their flexible bodies over chairs, tables and the floor. The air is filled with excited chatter showing their happiness to be with friends and on the way to the much anticipated tournaments. Alaska teens are at home in boats and small airplanes as their mainland counterparts are in school buses.

In the forward lounge, adults sit near boxes of Costco food, fruit and vegetables. A teen happily munches on a red pepper as she walks down the aisle. But the vending machines receive constant visitors.

 

They take over the non-functioning bar with large blow up mattresses and sleeping bags (in the old days, when I traveled to the villages, we were lucky to get a smelly gym mat on the floor). They manage to get video games on the TV.

Like teens everywhere, they dress in jeans, sweats, hoodies and logo t-shirts proudly proclaiming past tournament victories. The local fashion touch is x-tra tough rubber boots folded down to the height of ankle boots.

They lounge in the computer/study room even though there is no wifi. Sitting on tabletops next to “do not sit on table” signs, their happy chatter is nonstop.

I admire their casualness with each other and between the sexes, far different than my ‘60’s high school days. Though, in general, it’s still groups of girls playing cards together and groups of boys playing cards and games like Risk.

Its not all fun though. Periodically, an announcement is made requiring a certain school to gather in a location for a study meeting. Teens periodically complete assignments by themselves. I see an advanced Trig book on top of a pile. Good grades are a requirement for sports.

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A boy sits reading a paperback, ignoring the chatter around him, a girl sits on the floor deep in homework, a tall young couple tries to find a private corner to no avail and resort to sitting next to each other in the corner of the cafeteria (I simply can’t call it a café) his arm around her trying to coach the practiced pout from her face.

They seem to fill every inch of space– in the lounge with reclining seats where sleep is allowed, favoring the floor beneath a row of seats. The tail of a camo sleeping bag moves like a sea lion; a fully clothed couple squeeze into floor space sharing a sleeping bag. Up front girls pointedly blow up their giant mattresses that only fit beneath the front windows. The navigation rule is lights off at sunset and the darkness deepens. A couple of cabinless passengers manage to find places to sleep, the three across seats providing a little comfort. They curl up in their clothes to sleep, covering themselves with a coat.

As girls jump up and down on the bench seat in the cafeteria joining and leaving the card game and conversation, retired high school teacher Jim, says “I retired from this.” But surely sitting next to a bouncy dance/cheer team is not all bad.

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These are a good bunch of kids, and it does my heart good to see the upcoming caretakers of the world. They are smart, fit, happy and boys and girls both play sports……and never stop talking. More schools will join the ferry in Kake, Petersburg, Hoonah and Sitka. There are weary eyes this morning as sleep was short, but soon they perk up and the chatter picks up speed. Even the ferry crew is delighted to have the enthusiastic teens join the trip.

And now the passenger update, though we lost a few in Ketchikan including a snorting, rattlely truck and semi truck that carefully left the car deck with its load of goods for Ketchikan. Jim received a PA call to move our Sprinter on the car deck, so now it is parked next to a Sprinter of the same colour.

  • plaid flat golf cap is wearing the same outfit and has had a hot dog and fries for dinner for the last three days that he eats with relish (ha ha). I have not been able to catch the title of his book
  • The attractive couple lives in New York and left Alaska three years ago, originally from Biloxi, Mississippi. She was a nurse at ANMC, Providence, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. They miss Alaska “Who travels to Alaska in the winter?” he laughs. They will leave the ferry in Juneau and fly to Anchorage for a few days, talking about the city they love.
  • Ms booging -black -Mountain –Hardwear-coat still steps outside regularly for a smoke, but is alone and looks sad.
  • A threesome, husband, wife mother help the bright crocheted hatted mother and her cane as the ferry rocks. We are now on regular greeting status. They get off in Sitka
  • The smartly black dressed flat golf hat man walks around the ferry. I did notice that he slept on three-seats amongst the teens and doesn’t have a cabin. He wears his NorthFace back pack.
  • A table of four late 20’s-early 30’s men sit at a table in the noisy cafeteria next to Jim and me. Two joined the ferry in Bellingham, –I recognize the dreamy-eyed long curly haired man, but the other two came aboard in Ketchikan and quickly found new friends. A stocky knit capped man T-shirt says “dark seas” while the fit red-head next to him wears a hoo doo T-shirt. There is no alcohol sold on board so their laughter and talk is pleasant.

 

We stop in Wrangell for departing passengers and pick up another school team. There’s little snow compared to Ketchikan’s fresh foot of snow and a little blue peeks through the clouds. Like most of the small SE towns and villages the houses are near the water that backs up to the forested mountains with some climbing a small distance in the hills behind them.

Walking back to our “stateroom” from the cafeteria, I pause again at the painting of an Alaska Native woman and child by the well known artist Claire Feyes that is a gift to the captain and crew for her “safe journey” aboard the ferry. There are many items around the ferry that tell of its decades of service and there’s plenty of time to search them out—including this 1969 nuclear accident warning. Next to the purser’s desk, there is a handout of the ship and its mechanical makeup. Jim is quickly absorbed in it—“it burns 5gallons of fuel a minute.”

Jim and I head back early to our “stateroom” missing the peace and quiet of the ferry yesterday but also a little caught up in the excitement of “March Madness.”

Monday morning dawns bright, cold and windy with Jim reporting back to me in the cabin where I am enjoying a second cup of tea. The nice hammock rocking of the ship is also a little brisk. Jim said the teens are out running around on the decks in the wind, as only teens will do. I see a few pairs of shorts and flip flops in the cafeteria. The port side windows are covered with salt spray. This morning’s passenger count is 254 though it seems like much more!! I sit on a couch next to the purser’s station, (a quiet spot) and love the sound of the brass bell chiming on the quarter hour and watch it being wound again this morning.

A girl stops at the station concerned about the lack of wifi so she can consult a dictionary. “Don’t you have an app?” he says but gets a loaner dictionary for her.

Sitka is up next, one of my favorite places and we have a 3-hour layover. Who knows who will join the ferry there! My favorite walk in rain or shine, is the Totem Forest, a national park. I always walk it when I come to Sitka with it’s beautiful totem poles and tall, tall trees that were here when the Russians invaded the area. But, I don’t think I can make the walk this time. Next time for sure!!

 

Ferry sails from Sikta at 1615hours

 

Stories along the Way: Malaspina Ferry, Ketchikan to Sitka

Stories along the Way: Aboard the Malasprina ferry, Bellingham to Ketchikan

Cold, rainy Bellingham. Last minute errands before mandatory 3 hour line wait for ship boarding. Feeling rushed. In Target an agile 70+ Japanese man motioned me to his line and began scanning my items. Suddenly he started to softly sing “oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day” from the musical Oklahoma. We sang it together. He knew all the words I hummed the parts I can’t remember. “Thank you,” I said as he handed me my receipt and I walked out with happy spirits. Thinking back, he had probably been interned as a child during WWII, a shameful event.

Scheduled to sail at 6pm from Bellingham, WA, we arrive the mandated three hours prior to departure and line up in the vehicle staging area glad we aren’t the dogs sniffing cars or working in the cold, driving rain. We’re sailing to Haines, AK as we head home to Nikiski. There is too much winter on the Alaska Hwy to drive all the way. We will still drive about 1,000 miles through some of the coldest areas in Alaska, e.g. Tok (-25 degrees) stopping at friends along the way. The ferry is not cheap–$2400 for a simple, 2 bunk, windowless, no refrigerator room, the Sprinter (camped on the car deck), Jim and me. That’s with the winter and senior discounts. Haines is as far north as the ferry goes until late spring when a trip across Prince William Sound adds another $1000 to the fees. But we are adventurers so we look at every part of our trip as exciting. It gives Jim time to rest from driving. He realizes that he doesn’t like to drive long trips as he did before cancer (B.C.) and when he was younger. My little bouquet of flowers adds a dash of colour to the drab cabin with the traveling pearls draped over them at night.

The Malasprina, named for an Alaska Glacier, was launched to great excitement in 1963. It still makes the trip through the Inside Passaage in Southwest Alaska carrying vehicles, people and goods to destinations along the way. In 1997 it was supposed to be retired, but it is still sailing faithfully. They are large dated paintings of Alaska’s wild animals in 1960’s style hung during the Malasprina’s early years.

It holds 450 passengers but only 79 travel on this trip. When you live in Alaska, you learn flexibility and patience quickly. If the ferry needs repairs the day before your departure, there are no options. The fare is returned and rescheduling is attempted, but “no guarantees”. There is no optional transportation when traveling with a vehicle until spring clears the highways of snow.

During the winter, Alaska residents are the main travelers. They know the Alaska Highway is too dangerous and welcome the time to sit back and watch the stunning scenery along the way or wander the decks, read and sleep There are strict rules about where you can and can not sleep for the traveler with a sleeping bag and lacking funds for expensive cabins. During late spring, summer and fall the ferry is packed with passengers traveling to the Last Frontier. Limited vehicle space requires reservations months in advance. Deck space is at a premium when tents are set up and the lounge is littered with remnants of “tiny living”. The ferries are a chance to do stopoffs at ports along the way continuing your trip another day when the ferry travels its regular route.

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I feel a little like an airplane traveler when an announcement is made that “we are waiting for a part and it should be here any minute.” Harry Chapin’s “Dance band on the Titanic” starts playing in my head. Two hours late we leave Bellingham…..without the part.

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We muster for the life jacket presentation in the café with it’s primarily meat and potatoes menu. When it launched in the 1960’s, an exquisite dining experience was part of the trip. It’s a ball-cap-plaidshirt-bluejeans-Carhart crowd with more men than women. As the saying goes, in Alaska the odds are good, but the goods are odd. Tattoos, sloganed-tshirts add to the mix. A couple of small families with young children, solo travelers and a few couples make up the passenger list. It’s easy to spot the occasional “old timer”. With his scraggly red beard, worn ball cap and semi-fingerless red gloves he represents the image of mining, logging and fishing Alaskans. The gloves are not to use his smartphone but as a result of long years of use. But then again, he might be a rocket scientist. Only 29 passengers attend the safety demonstration to the annoyance of the presenter.

Other passengers include a nicely dressesd couple reading NYTimes recommended books; a man wearing a plaid golf type hat and Northface Scandanavian sweater with two pairs of glasses around his neck—obviously a reader; a young couple with toddlers and singles in all adult ages.

Pets must remain in the vehicles on the car deck. Four times a day a 15 minute vehicle visit is announced. Dog owners rush to the car deck to feed, water and walk the barking dogs happy to see their owners. Several signs remind passengers to clean up after their dogs. One man gets out his dog’s dish and smells it ??? while holding his energetic dog on the leash.

We are soon in Canadian waters and a sign warns passengers without international cell plans they will face large charges. Luckily, I have a Canadian plan. However, for much of the trip there is no cell coverage and no wifi at all adding to the need to just…PAUSE.

There is no handout of a written schedule and the current schedule is posted at the purser’s station. I understand why when Hoonah is suddenly added to the schedule and Sitka says “To be Announced” Different signs pop up periodically including: tentative times for rough waters, a large group of high school students will board the ferry in Ketchikan bound for the basketball championships in Juneau leaving the ship in the wee morning hours, and movie titles and times.

Travel is tame now compared to the 1960’s and the 1970’s when the bar was the central meeting place filled with booze and smokers trying to “out tell” Alaska experiences. Joel McGinnes’ book Going to Extremes represents this Alaska well.

We fall asleep in our little cabin to the rhythmic sound of the churning engines with occasional swaying. We brought tea and coffee supplies in from the Sprinter last night and Jim makes our morning drinks

Leaving the cabin, a blue sky, sunny morning with a few cloud puffs and anthropomorphic white clouds in the sky greets us. After breakfast we go for a walk around the decks, breathing in the beautiful Alaska and Canadian air—cool, clean with touches of sea and forest. The ferry winds it way through narrow passages lined with tall evergreens and open seas. Very simply, it is beautiful in the most natural way. It’s too early for the whales’ journey from Hawaii to Alaska but the passing landscape is breathtaking.

A couple of women walk the decks around and around with a brisk pace, a man expertly jump ropes in the sun, a bar-hard woman expertly flicks her cigarette ashes on the deck since smoking is banned inside the ship. Jim heads for a nap, I realize how stressful driving in Seattle is for him and now he relaxes, or maybe it was my IKEA trip? I head outside and sit on a sun-warmed red life jacket container soaking in the peace. I forget the draw of the North until I come home again.

The day passes quickly with naps, reading, scenery gaping, and knitting. Jim keeps his binoculars handy to check out the surrounding waters and land.

A young woman dressed in black Mountain Hardwear gear on the deck outside the fore lounge happily boogies to her music with a cigarette in one hand and a water bottle in the other hand. The way she raises it to her mouth makes me suspect that it is “flavored” water. She chats with other smokers as they come by. A man walks along the outside deck with his cane and cigarette. A curly long haired woman sitting outside turns her book over to talk to a man who stops by. It’s windy now and the temperature is falling.

We pass the first communities we have seen, the Canadian Old Bella Bella on the left and New Bella Bella on the right. There are no roads and so float planes and boats provide the only access to the communities. A tall totem pole stands next to a dock.

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The fore deck is set up theatre style, with “no sleeping” signs posted. The ongoing movie that is offered is the finest National Geographic special. People gather for the 2nd film of “Sun Rise. Sun Set” as darkness ends the day. They linger to see the last bit of light surrender to the night.

Tomorrow morning we arrive in Ketchikan for a four hour stop after a 36hr trip from Bellingham. We’ll welcome excited high school basketball players as they casually travel on the ferry to Juneau. They are used to flying or taking a boat to their games.

We sail at 1130 hours.

Stories along the Way: Aboard the Malasprina ferry, Bellingham to Ketchikan

Jim’s Love Sweater 6 and Alberta Arts

We’re off again shortly heading to Astoria, OR and ever north moving closer to home in Alaska. It’s been a great few  days with Andy, Jennifer, AbbyTabby and Daisy the dog.

They live in the Alberta Arts district of Portland and right around the corner of  their early 1900’s house is a street filled with small shops, all kinds of food and murals. I so love seeing the young women entrepeneurs and their success ful little shops!

Resale items are always interesting and Portland is no different, Why, I think looking at an halibut tail and a uh um hat rack? How about your ATM. Boring? This one lights up at night.

Jim did a little home improvement with Andy’s help. I like to keep him entertained so Jen and I can go play.

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Today we walked to the waffle shop and then I went on to the knit shop, Close Knit for some desperate help to finish the back of Jim’s sweater.

I figured Monday morning would be light but I was wrong, the little door bell tinkled constantly. I waited while she helped two older “Pussy Hat” supporters, gathered some yarn to continue on with my blanket whichis 6 inches long but Jennifer’s is almost done. Inspiration comes in many ways.

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Finally my turn and she quickly ripped out (gasp) the offending two rows and then showed me how to shape the armholes to finish the back. She loved the story of the sweater and invited me to attend the Wednesday night knitting group, but alas it’s time to go.

I walked back to the house taking little shots of the Alberta Arts District, so lively, so supportive of all people. Even the pest control for the attic squirrel “Nature First Pest Control only hires vet, retired police and fire fighters.

Jim’s Love Sweater 6 and Alberta Arts

STORIES ALONG THE WAY: “I go to the sea to breathe” t-shirt words

One day I will walk on a sandy beach and not stop to pick up a stone, stick or shell. I won’t stop to watch a scurrying crab, a little girl in pink with her bucket and big plans, foamy waves and other seaside distractions, but not today.

We’re having a lovely respite from driving at the Ester Lee motel in Central Oregon, in our 1940’s cottage with four big windows looking out over the coast. It rains off and on but the sun peaks out occasionally and the temperature is good.

The Oregon coast was a solitary, replenishing venture for most of my visits over the years. But now I’m happy to share it with Jim. We rest the first night content to watch the sunset from comfortable chairs near the large windows. Jim’s still a little gun shy regarding “rogue waves” after one unexpectedly tipped us over a year ago when we were weaker. His concern is magnified by a story of a man and baby who perished when they were taken out to sea by a “sneaker wave” so we wait for low tide.

The sun and the tide are out and we head for a walk wearing rubber knee boots to wade across small streams that cross our path. A tattooed man takes off his shoes and socks to wade across a cold stream. Somehow a block of sand remains intact on a rock in the stream.

Other people come out to enjoy the day—couples, kite-fliers, a runner, agate hunters and solo walkers. But the summer crowds are gratefully missing. “You’re smiling ear to ear!” Jim says. No matter how I feel, what I am worrying about, walks along the sandy beach cheer me up, and invigorate me. I’m using walking poles and we walk a long time as I fill my pockets with treasures.

A driftwood forest rises on our left, and a long four -trunk beached tree, its leafless bones half-buried in the sand lies next to the water. A mighty force of wind and water moved it to the shore. Its roots are intact so perhaps it tumbled off a cliff as it eroded. We turn back and Jim counts the rings in another tree thrown far up on the beach. It’s as tall as he is and about 100 years old.

He goes ahead while I follow, stopping to observe shells in a rock, pick up more treasures to stuff in my bulging pockets and study a coco cola pallet and a driftwood “dodo” bird.

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Jim waits patiently for me knowing how happy I am right now. Back in our cottage, we take off our boots and I sink into a comfortable chair by the window and sort my treasures. There is no need to leave the cottage except to walk, we eat what we have, when we are hungry.

I am fascinated by small rocks with a shallow carved in them by the wind, water and sand. I like to find a stone to fit in the hollow. I first saw them by a vendor at the annual “Bad Girls of the North” art show in Anchorage. She grew up in northern California and Southern Oregon and found them during her walks. Ever since I look for them on my walks and find stones that fit.

We’re tired and it is good to watch the sun slowly set changing the colour of the sky and the water many times before darkness wins, but the sound of the sea still charms me as the tide comes in. Maybe tomorrow I won’t pick up a stick, a stone, or a shell.

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STORIES ALONG THE WAY: “I go to the sea to breathe” t-shirt words

Stories along the way: Route 66

Stories along the way: Route 66

“If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route 66.”—Bobby Troup

In his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck called Route 66 the “Mother Road” because it beckoned to desperate migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl as they moved west in search of jobs in the 1930s. Route 66 — the road on which the refugees, drifters and icons of America’s cultural past journeyed — is now the destination.

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We checked into the Ramblin Rose motel for the night in Kingman, AZ. Camping spots are sparse and even our last ditch Wal-Mart review warns about intruders. Ramblin Rose, $42 including tax, on Route 66 is worth a try. It was built in 1958 when Rte 66 was still an important cross country route. An old postcard shows the hotel’s  full parking lot when it was known as The Travel Lodge. Owned and run by the same multi-generation family for 25 years, with Mama firmly in charge…do you have pets? NO, Do you smoke? NO. “For 4 more dollars you can be on lower level. No thanks. I have a nice corner room upstairs with a big window, but you can’t see your vehicle” Do you have break-ins” No, just some people like to see their vehicle. We are here 24 hours a day. We sleep here.

Up the stairs and into the worn, but clean room. Fridge, microwave, TV, decent towels, the smell of bleach on the sheets and the large Bedroom window and bathroom window.

Jim is extra tired tonight, lots of driving, but also a day of physical work yesterday at his brother’s in NM. He falls asleep as soon as we got in the room.

The Internet isn’t great,….and the walls thin, but it is  quiet. The trains on the railroad tracks near us seem to come in the bathroom window and out the bedroom window quite often, but at least we just hear the rythmic click, clack of the wheels and not the whistle blowing. We sleep solidly, discovering we left the room unlocked during the night. Whoops.

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The next morning I study the room more closely. There is a writing nook, no plug for a computer, from a time when travelers sat down and wrote postcards or letters home. I imagine a traveling salesman, wanting to be home, writing a letter to his wife telling her about the area. There is  a real closet. A locked door leads to the next room in case you bring your family. The shower is completely tiled, no plastic. The bathroom window opens. Although the hotel advertises an outdoor swimming pool, it’s filled with sand. “Hmm,” said Jokester Jim. “I would have a difficult time diving .”

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I chat with Mrs B the next morning and tell her that we are pleased with the motel and praise her for its cleanliness. She said they have owned it for 25 years and managed other properties before this one.  Her husband is from India while she is from Central Africa–“Yes, say Central Africa, say that” she smiled. She tells me her husband is handy and repairs things. I don’t mention that I saw her mother-in-law in her sari in the tiny back garden. She is a little more open now—before we say goodbye and she goes back to managing the desk and cleaning the rooms. My brain is filled with imaginary Rte 66 stories….and some very special immigrants

Stories along the way: Route 66

Rambling Meanderings I

Interstate highways are for the tightly scheduled. The destination is the journey. We have certainly done our share of these highways as we hurried here and there. But, now, the journey itself is the destination. I find the Interstates boring and too fast to study roadside scenery passing rapidly. Sometimes we have little choice, but I love the meanderings through the countryside.

It’s late afternoon and we need a place for the night and leave I-40 near Sayre to drive 30 miles north on a two lane road…. the brown winter grass is out of place in 77degrees. Stark tones of brown and black tree trunks give way to ever diminishing bare branches as they twist up to the sky until they became small twigs. The grass lands were farmed until the Dustbowl wiped out the farmers’ crops, then the banks foreclosed on the farms and the banks failed.

Hundreds of tall, white, stork-like windmills turn in the wind. There are so many of them on the roadside prairies and the occasional old wooden windmills looks out of place now…

a horse grazes in a dry, brown field…..black Angus cows are stark against the red soil and green winter grass…..a large flock of small birds take flight. So many things to see now and I’m alert and focused at the sights along the way…. Jim wants to get to the campground after a long day of driving and promises better meaderings when we continue the trip tomorrow. We negotiate a deal—I get one turnaround a day to photograph something that went by too fast. ….black cows, walk up a red soil lane, single file; a metal sign shows a cowboy leaning down to kiss a woman on her tiptoe;.a shiny, red pickup truck parked against a worn, grey building; a double wide trailer house still split down the middle though it has been there for some time;…..curved low oil pumps….a lone mailbox in the middle of the road….I wonder how many times it has been hit in bad weather….. …neatly plowed red furrows with tufts of green…rolling hills…the deserted Cheyenne golf club..

We turn into the Department of Agriculture Grasslands recreation area as the daylight fades. Not sure where to camp, we drive to the end, past the Dead Warrior Creek. A brown cow stands behind a red gate watching us. No one else is here in the nicely kept campground. Jim parks The Grey Panther by the Creek, with our very own ensuite bathroom and double trash bins nearby. It’s still warm and we wander down to the rickety dock on the creek. Silence. Beautiful Silence as the wind pauses. We leave the side door open and eat supper, wandering down to the dock to the sun setting over the water and the almost full moon rises.

As the soft, warm darkness surrounds us, a coyote calls, followed by a flock of geese arguing with each other on a small island in the water. In the Sprinter, we settle for the night….do you hear the owls?, Jim asks. I listen and hear the quieting hoot, hoot. ..and we sleep.

The next morning we watch the sun rise from the big window at our feet and Jim gets up to fix coffee and tea… I wait in bed, he slides open the door and I’m in the middle of an ad of a beautiful bed in middle of the outdoors, but warm and sleepy under the duvet….

It’s time to go and we meander down the road to I 40. Jim stops at designated places. I exercise my turnaround when we drove past a wooden cross on the right. The cross is inscribed at the top “44” down further, “1968-2012. Barbed wire spikes spread out like rays..,in the main pole holds carefully arranged colourful beads in a wire nest. On the ground below surrounded by weeds is a tire rim and a metal object like a large toy jack…. another smaller cross next to it I wonder…..

 

Down the road a broken down weathered building sits next to a red soil road. I step aside as a red covered tank truck lumbers by. Three red covered bottles lie next to each other in the soil…vines almost cover a window….the remains of a porch… after a hard day of farming did the farmer sink wearily into a chair, breathing in the night air…. did his wife answer the door in her faded housedress?..,the roof of the porch is scalloped….the hand made shingles are falling.

A ‘60’s BSA motorcycle sits on a post above a “Crandalls” sign on top of a faded “beware of dog” sign….broken down weather-worn buildings and deserted farm equipment on a small, nearby hill. Where did their dreams go?

Back on the road we continue to the Interstate driving through the small town of Cheyenne. But then I see a sign… and we turn right instead.

Rambling Meanderings I