So Good to Go Home – Part II

_DSC0134

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

_DSC0134

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.

_DSC0054.jpg

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.

_DSC0095

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.

 

 

Getting Ready

_DSC0103

Spring dune flowers in Upper Michigan

It is August and today the weather has that late summer feel, when I start thinking of Fall and our annual 5-week camping trip from mid-August to mid-September. I am so eager to go as we are returning to the Canadian Rockies, the western side of Glacier International Park, and down to Oregon to see our grandson’s family. I have menu items planned, our bed made up for warmer nights, have started stocking the cupboards with staples, and have meals in the freezer so we don’t have to do much grocery shopping while on the road. Next week I’ll be able to start packing in earnest as we will need both warm weather and cold weather bedding and clothes. I really want to get this show on the road.

At the same time as I am eager to move on into Fall and our travelling home, I have been spending time looking at the photos from our last camping trip with friends to the very upper portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. Not surprising because both involve quiet, easy living. My request for a day trip was to go to Wilderness State Park that is situated where Lake Michigan narrows into the Straits of Mackinaw between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Our friend was asking if we would be able to see the Big Mac so I told him to pull over at a turn-off.

_DSC0110

I remember camping at Wilderness when our kids were young but the campground didn’t look familiar. That has happened several places because the shorelines change as sands shift resulting in the campgrounds needing to be redesigned and enlarged. What was the same was the sense of wildness and quiet. We were far away from towns.

It is a place where the kids learned how to entertain themselves with simple activities using nature’s toys. Maybe we don’t outgrow this pleasure.

_DSC0081

The vastness of each of the five Great Lakes pulls me into thinking about the greater questions of life as I gaze into the horizon. Sometimes we engage in small talk, but most of the time we just enjoy quiet time together.

_DSC0083

This is a beautiful wilderness in the summer months with warm sun and cool breezes off the water. In the winter the weather can be brutal although a lot of people enjoy the outdoor winter sports that are available. When I think of winter in northern Michigan, I think of Florida.

But before I think of Florida, I’m thinking of driving across Canada and down the Rocky Mountains into the northwest states. I’m thinking of traveling with our cozy little home behind us, spending time exploring the changing landscapes, eating healthy meals we cook ourselves, finding small pleasures along the way, and taking lots of photographs.

 

Traveling Relationships

_DSC0071

We heard them arrive the night before, well after dark when backing into an unfamiliar and dark campsite is always difficult. I heard the patches of conversation waif under our open window, like a summer breeze that may develop into a storm. It brought a smile as I remembered the hundreds of times I would have to take a deep breath and do a walk about in a tight circle to cool myself. I was curious about what our new neighbors looked like, what kind of lodging they brought with them; as if these two pieces of data would tell me their whole story.

I was sitting at the table by the window the next morning, with laptop open, mostly minding my own business or maybe engrossed in the photos of the previous day. They were getting their breakfast supplies, moving in and out of the door of their one-room bedroom/kitchen, just a few feet away. I heard words about the size of bowls and amount of cereal and sharing blueberries, a male voice with an edge but not escalating. I didn’t hear the female voice even though they seemed to be having a conversation. Then they sat down, eating their cereal, talking quietly.

Have they been married a very long time, or are they newly-weds on their first trip together? I’m not sure I would want to start a new relationship traveling in close quarters – we appreciate the fact that we have 50+ years of working together and knowing how to create some friendly distance while spending up to 5 weeks in something less than 150 square feet. We know how to schedule our individual morning routines around the other’s routine in spaces that the law of physics states can’t be occupied by both. We aren’t quite so good at negotiating nocturnal difference. I like quiet time writing or reading or working puzzles – alone time at the dinette. He likes quiet time in bed with lights off and eyes shut, asleep with me next to him. But most important, we have learned how to laugh about how my hand signals point him in two different directions as he is backing up. And we have decided to pay a little more to have pull-through sites.

While I cooked oatmeal I wondered if they are happy, do they trust each other to be there when the going gets bumpy, do they work equally hard to meet each other’s needs. As I poured the coffee and JB pulled on his tee shirt I looked out the window and they were gone. JB washed up the dishes, and I sat looking at the empty picnic table, thinking about how wonderful marriage can be and how difficult it is making it work.

Solitude on Prince Edward Island

DSC_0076

I’m going through my 2017 photography files, cleaning out photos I know, after a few months’ distance, I will never publish or print. One of the criterion I use is whether an image impacts me emotionally – some have really nice memories associated with them.

This was a beautiful August morning on the southern shore of Prince Edward Island where we were camping. I put my morning coffee into a travel mug and took a short walk to the edge of the small cliff overlooking the Northumberland Straits. The sun was just coming up, weakly warming me against the cool morning wind. And the world was quiet.