Time Hasn’t Quite Stopped Here

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We pulled off the highway in western Montana, on our way to Glacier. I had seen some promising signs of fresh cherries and peaches along the side of the road and directions to this town with a name I don’t remember. I expected a fruit stand – but the only promising place was a general store/antique store at the end of the road in the opposite direction. We appeared to be the only ones in town, although they seemed to believe there would be more by the looks of the flags and the for sale sign.

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I kept thinking I was missing something but this is all there was, because the mountain raising up precluded any side streets. Just the highway, the mountain, and two people trying to sell something.

When I entered the store, a bell clanged loudly to announce my arrival and a woman appeared. No, she didn’t have any fresh cherries but she had fresh, pitted, frozen cherries.

“No, thank you.” It was a dark place, like the mountains and time had shut out all light entering. There was the usual merchandise a small general store would have – one or two containers of one choice of a wide variety of packaged food and toiletries. A few hardware items and some postcards. And interspersed were antiques and second-hand articles, seemingly placed where they would fit more than according to any grand plan.

I wish I hadn’t had cherries as my only goal. I wish I hadn’t been tired from hearing train horns blaring 50 yards from my bedroom for the past 4 nights. I wish we hadn’t felt the pull of having to be somewhere down the road that night and the bigger pull of starting towards home. I wish Jim hadn’t felt the misery of having a new cold set in.

I wish I would have chatted with the woman who came from somewhere in the back to help us. I wish I would have asked her questions that, even now, I can’t seem to formulate. I would have liked to know about her and the town and the other people who must live there, somewhere along the only street through town. But this is the knowledge that is gained from staying around a while, caring enough to put off doing what was already in the plans. You learn these stories by building trust that only comes from making a commitment.

So Good to Go Home – Part II

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Highway 2 – Michigan Upper Peninsula

When we left Glacier in the sunshine I wanted to believe that we would drive for the next five days in sun, broken up with big white clouds – even though I had looked at the weather forecasts along the way. The scientists said grey skies and rain.

They were right. We soon had heavy clouds and periodic rain and signs saying construction ahead. This was Montana still and I even got a glimpse of a sign that said “seek alternative route.” Anyone who as traveled in Montana, or maybe just looked at a map, will know that Montana doesn’t believe in lots of roads. If I remember right there were major roads going east/west; one in the north (under construction) and one in the south. Besides I have lived through lots of major construction and learned that you can always get through – unless it is a bridge that has been taken out. Jim teases me about saying “Just keep going, we can get through.” We kept going.

Oh my. As a lifelong resident of Michigan, I know potholes. They open up with every spring thaw and dodging them is our seasonal sport. Everyone in Michigan knows how to live with potholes. What we encountered in Montana is beyond comprehension. I think they had created a new road (U.S. Highway 2) of gravel and dirt so they could rebuild the bridges. And then it rained – from what I was told, for days. And potholes formed. So many of them that the surface was more pothole than road. We tried to avoid them, only to hit more. They jarred our teeth loose and moved our vertebrae into new positions. Our truck bounced right and the trailer bounced left. And the rain came down so all the potholes were filled with water that passing semis bathed us in.

We were ready for lunch but I knew the chances of finding a sunny, grassy little park to pull off in to have our usual lunch of crackers, cheese, apple, hummus and fig preserves was about as likely as my being asked to be backup singer for Diana Krall. And besides, we were miserable, needing some real, big-time comfort food.

We were bouncing through a small town and there on the right was The Wild West Cafe, with lots of big (dirty) trucks parked all around it. People were going in and people were coming out. I said, “Let’s get some lunch there, I need some comfort food, something hot.” By the time I had communicated this, I had driven past. That’s the way it is when we are pulling the travel trailer. Jim said we would have to go around the block – which I did and found parking long enough along the curb on the wrong side of the street, right beside the restaurant. I took it.

It was one of those warm and cozy restaurants where people knew each other. When we were taken to a booth, I noticed the woman in the next booth had just what I wanted – but I couldn’t tell what it was. When I learned what it was, I said, “That’s just what I need.”

And then she delivered it, set it right down in front of me. A big bowl of mashed potatoes (the real thing I was told) with corn and cheese and crispy, deep-fried chicken bits heaped on top. And gravy in a dish on the side. I looked at it with a smile on my face, pushing almost all guilt aside, poured on some gravy and took a bite. Just the comfort I needed. I took another bite and another, before I put a small scoop on Jim’s plate for him to try. Then I took another soothing fork full. I finished it all – and I was ready to roll.

We rolled out of Montana with just one more construction zone and into North Dakota and our next surprise. We have been frequently asked if we ever have trouble finding a spot to sleep for the night and we say no, there are always state and private parks. We can still say that because we did find one in the sparsely populated northern North Dakota. I found a sign at a small motel that looked like it was being remodeled. It said RV Park so we drove in because RV park usually means full hook-ups. As we are getting older we are enjoying having water hooked up so we don’t have to fill our tank (unsanitized) and carry drinking water and we like being able to dump holding tanks on site. When we drove in I noticed the water hook-up was a hose coming out of the ground hanging on a short shepherd’s hook – not the usual practice. I hooked it up and as water started running into the lines, I ran inside to turn off the open valves that allowed lines to drain out when we last prepared for travel. When I went back outside, Jim said he didn’t know where the sewage dump pipe was. Then he called me over where he had lifted the green cover by the water hose. There in an 8″ diameter hole was the smaller dump hole sitting in water with sludge floating on top, the green water hose emerging from it connected to a shut-off valve underneath the water. The most appropriate words spoken were, “Oh, shit.” Needless to say we didn’t use the water for showers, cooking, washing dishes, or drinking – and we flushed out the lines and the hot water heater really well at our next stop while boiling our drinking water. This now goes to the top of our gross camping stories – one up from watching a man eat an ice cream cone while emptying his holding tanks.

The next day, things were looking brighter even though the heavy clouds persisted. We were in Minnesota and the terrain was looking more familiar. I love seeing new geographical locations with changing terrain, but seeing the deciduous and pine forests that line the roads and the gently rolling farmlands brought me a sense of peace after five weeks of being on the road. Then we hit Wisconsin, one of the Great Lake states, and we knew we were close. Our next to the last night out was just inside the Michigan Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin. We were in Yooper territory, we were home.

Footnote: Yooper was a resent Merriam-Webster “Word of the Day.”

 

 

So Good to Go Home

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Sometimes things don’t work out even though careful planning took place. We did the best we could but we weren’t able to finish our trip as we had been dreaming of doing. “Things happen.” Could that be my accumulative wisdom from 75 years of living?

The last important place we wanted to visit on this trip was the west side of Glacier National Park in Montana. We have been looking forward to riding the Red Bus on the Going to the Sun Road up the west side since we took the bus up the east side a few years ago. I booked three nights in the newly opened RV park right outside the park entrance – that turned out to be the best part of our stay.

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As we neared the park, the skies grew darker, the clouds hanging low over the mountains threatening to leak, just a little bit. Jim was struggling with the beginnings of a cold, and I was too tired to cook something from the freezer so I asked the young people in the office if the cafe on the corner of the road to the RV park was good. We went and had one of those meals that brighten the spirits. We split an elk burger, a new meat for us, and some healthy and not-so-healthy sides, the waiter was good, and the atmosphere was warm, comfortable with good music in the background, allowing us to share our ideas about our next few days.

As it turned out there wasn’t much planning to do. After trying online to book seats on The Red Bus tour, I gave them a call. There were no seats available on either day except two on the 8-hour trip that covers both the east and west road. I declined those seats because by this time it was about 45 degrees F (feeling like 38), with almost steady rain, the clouds covered the mountains half way down, Jim was really feeling bad, and I was getting an “intermittent” sore throat that let me believe my immune system would block whatever Jim had even though we were sharing the close quarters of the camper (never more than 12 feet apart) or sitting beside each other in a truck cab. I chose to believed this because we didn’t share silverware or toothbrushes.

Yes, it was providence that we couldn’t get tickets because the next day I had a fever and my joints were so sore I could hardly walk the 6 feet to crawl into bed. Our only conversations were about what OTC seemed to work best for which symptoms and did we have enough to get us to tomorrow. We were two sick puppies. Jim is holding to his story that he had a cold because he is still coughing, I know I had a respiratory flu because in three days I felt quite good. Good thing neither one of us has a high investment in being right, at least not any more. They are just our stories and we are sticking to them.

When we woke up Thursday morning the sun was shining, we could see the mountains and we felt good enough to hook up the truck and start for home along Highway 2. I was even able to get some beautiful parting shot as we were leaving Glacier, including this beautiful barn that was in a landscape photo I posted a few days ago.

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We were in high spirits because we only had a little over half of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, the narrow top of Wisconsin, the long width of Michigan’s UP, and the length of Michigan’s LP to go. Hurray! We were on the road again, again, again, again, again, and again.

Don’t go far, I have more of this story.

 

 

Bonneville Lock and Dam

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Jim was excited about visiting the Bonneville Locks and Dam – and he is so accommodating about going where I want to go for photo taking, how could I say no. And I do find machine-type things interesting.

The Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge, was started in 1933 and provided jobs for about 3000 people during the depression through the Public Works Administration (their literature). Jim went into the turbine building where the generators are and found it really interesting and impressive. The generators are enormous.

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Salmon use the Columbia River for spawning and building the dam would interfere with this so the Corps of Engineers brought on several experts in fisheries. Building fisheries to get fish past something as big as this dam had never been done before so their plan included fish ladders and fish locks for the fish going upriver and passageways for the juvenile fish going back to the ocean. After the fish navigated past the dam it became evident that the fish preferred the ladders to the locks. After watching them fight the rapids going through the ladders and sometimes being swept backwards, this surprised me.

At any rate, I chose to view and photograph the salmon going up the ladders through the viewing windows instead of going to view the generators with Jim.

There is a fisheries complex by the dam and they do a lot of research and activities to make sure the fish populations are healthy and growing as salmon fishing is an important economic activity in the area – especially for Native Americans. I heard a guide say that they have people counting the fish going up the ladders – now that sounds like a mind-numbing job. They also distinguish between fish bred in the wild and those in the hatchery, by the presence (or absence) of the top fin just in front of the tail. Some have one, and others don’t depending on where they started their lives.