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