Road Trip 2019, Part 2, Chapter 1.

After a week at home, during which we reconsidered some of the issues we had with the van, balanced the books, and visited with friends and family. We spent the weekend packing for the next phase of our mad tour. The instigating mission for this part of the tour is the Association of Northwest Weavers Guild biennial conference, held odd years. This year, it is once again in Canada, at Prince George, British Columbia.

Expanded accessory power strip in van.

First thing when we got home was to research and order a set of hard-wired 12-volt auxiliary sockets for the van, having fought with a Rube Goldberg nest of doublers, triplers, and high-amperage USB add ons from Walmart and Canadian Tire on the last trip. We now have seven sockets, including the original in-dash socket. The six extra ones, in sets of three, I mounted on a steel sheet recycled from a furnace remodel a few years ago. The bending brake I installed on the workbench many years ago for use in aircraft construction came in handy. I also installed a heavy-duty toggle switch to shut off the six-pack, as the in-dash socket is “always on” and we had to pull the plug when we stopped, adding to the wear and tear on the devices.

Still woefully behind on processing video from our bike rides here and there across the continent, I had to forgo working on those for a few days to migrate a web site I had managed for the last 12 years to a new site and hand off the content management to a new web editor. As I may have mentioned a the start of Part 1, the original web site server got hacked and the administrator locked it down, so we couldn’t make any changes to the content. The organization waited until we were almost home to decide what course of action to take, of the several I suggested. While never happy about abandoning a job under unpleasant circumstance, I was well ready to relinquish the task, as we have been away from the organization for 10 years: there wasn’t opportunity to get in members’ faces to elicit content, so the site wasn’t as dynamic and up to date as it should have been. With most of our business taken care of, we were as ready as we could get for Road Trip 2019, Part 2.

Day 1: With four days to get the 1000 km from home to Prince George, we load the van and sit in the driveway until Monday’s mail arrived, then set out on our journey. But not far, as we had decided we needed a more convenient waste management for the rearranged van floor plan, so we stop for a basket to fill in the remaining gap between the seats beside the refrigerator, a stop to refuel (our last fuel stop had been in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), and lunch. We join the stop and go parade on I-5 through Tacoma and Seattle. The late start has the advantage of dropping us onto the northbound express lanes in downtown Seattle, so we quickly make up time, soon arriving at Bellingham, the largest city closest to the border, where we detour for a currency exchange, then off on back roads to the quiet border crossing at Sumas.

Chilliwack River, Mt. Church in distance

Our destination for the night is a private RV park and campground on the Chilliwack River, a bit off the highway, but a beautiful setting and typical mom and pop retirement venture, a little worn and full of semi-permanent summer residents, who rent the spaces by the year. But, there’s always a transient spot waiting to park the van and plug in phones, refrigerator, and computers. The WiFi, however, typical of many hotspots throughout Canada, has free WiFi, but you have to have an account with the Cable/DSL internet providers to actually connect to the Internet, similar to the XfinityWiFi connections in the U.S. So, we’re off-line until we can get to a Starbucks in the morning. After 12 days with no phone service and no cellular data when in Ontario, we did update our phone plan to include international roaming and, because International Roaming plans are expensive, calling over WiFi service as well. Our new carrier has a true smorgasbord plan, where you have to pick each feature you want. These don’t add to our basic plan cost, but allow us to spend money by the minute, message, or megabyte when we use it. But, we have to ask for even the “on-demand” services. While we’re traveling, though, the phones will be in Airplane mode when there is No Service and cellular data turned off meanwhile. And, we will only check voice mail and make outgoing calls when we have WiFi available. We’ve also downloaded off-line maps onto our phones so we can navigate without using cellular data.

So it goes. We commandeer the game room at the RV park, as we have been known to do at other RV parks we’ve stayed at, to spread out a bit more than we can in the van. We’ll get the hang of this vagabond life yet.

Bridal Veil Falls, BC

Day 2: We rise early and headed for town (Chilliwack) for breakfast at Starbucks. Instead of creeping through the red lights of main street, we thread through the residential streets and rural roads to join the freeway a few kilometers farther east. The first goal of the day: Bridal Veil Provincial Park, to hike up the steep trail to the falls. After a stop in Hope to ogle the chainsaw carvings that festoon the downtown, we turn north up the Fraser Canyon, a scenic drive on the Trans-Canada 1. Most of the traffic now travels on Route 5, the Coquihalla Highway, making the canyon drive more pleasant. Lunchtime finds us at Fat Jack’s Restaurant at an unnamed “wide spot in the road.”

The road turns up the Thompson River at Lytton, taking us into the drier plateau. On a lark, we take a quick dash down into the river canyon through Ashcroft, then make early stop for the evening at Cache Creek as the afternoon temperatures creep into the 30s.

Day 3: We breakfast in our room from our stash, load up, hit the coffee shop next door to the motel, and head north on BC 97. In about 5 km, we are no longer in the desert, but in a region of forested hills and lush meadows, farms, blue lakes, and meandering streams. It’s a good day. We stop for fuel at 100-Mile House, then a brief detour to see the historic St. Joseph Mission (a small chapel with old log buildings around it) before stopping for lunch in a coffee shop next to the library at bustling Williams Lake.

Continuing north after lunch, we notice gathering clouds to the north and west, getting a few drops on the windscreen passing through Quesnel (kwin-EL), where we turn off on BC 26 for an 80 km side excursion to the Barkerville Provincial Park. Barkerville is a restored gold mining town, decked out in a representation of it’s appearance in the early 1870s, with docents in period constume, interpretive presentations, and horse-drawn coach tours. We pay for a campsite at the campground located 2 km down-valley, mark our campsite, and return in pouring rain for a self-guided walking tour of the town: entrance through the visitor centre only. The rain stops as soon as we enter the 1870s, but even on a warm spring day there are still piles of snow on the north sides of some of the buildings. No climate change yet in the 19th century. After a quick stroll up and down the main street and a side street, we grab the last scoops of ice cream of the day at the sweet shop, discovering that bowls come in 2-scoop size only, so we splurge and get two scoops—each. The park is closing, so we push through the one-way gate into the 21st century, and back to our mosquito-infested campsite, where the heat has evaporated all traces of rain. It’s been a frabjous day.

Blacksmith shop in Barkerville, BC

Day 4: It has rained all night, drumming on the roof of our van. We dash to the showers between squalls, but the rain comes again briefly before we get back to the truck. It stops long enough for us to pack up and roll out to the visitor centre parking lot, where we tap into the WiFi. When the park opens, we wander the historic town, stepping under porches during the rain squalls. It’s us and the horses, shuffling in their stables or nose-down in the feed, waiting to carry tourists on carriage tours of the narrow town. We photograph interesting displays, wandering back down the street as people begin to filter in: staff–some already in costume–and teens up exploring.

Wake Up Jake still has the “Closed” sign out, but it is after 9:00 am and we see people inside, so we step in and are seated for breakfast. The rest of the patrons appear to be park staff, some in costume as coach drivers. Service is good and the prices aren’t bad for a park concession. It’s a nice cafe like you find in many small towns, basic breakfasts and lunches, and really good food, served with style in the 19th century gold rush town setting. After breakfast we cross the street to the town bakery, getting pastries to share later. The bakery fare is early Canadian, flaky pastries. We chose an eccles (eck-els) cake, a flat, round, filled-cookie-like cake, and an almond croissant.

We stow the pastries out of sight in the truck and head down the canyon, 80 km winding up and down the canyon sides back to the section of BC 97 known as the Cariboo Highway. BC 97, which we’ve been on since Cache Creek, follows the numbering of US Highway 97. US 97 starts at Weed, California and winds north, 1070 km through Klamath Falls and Bend, Oregon, crossing the Columbia River at Maryhill, Washington to Oroville, where it becomes BC 97 at Osoyoos, BC and continues 2081 km to the border with Yukon Territory. We’re only traveling as far as Dawson Creek this trip. We’ve driven most, if not all, of the portions through Oregon, Washington, and as far as Kamloops in BC. The Cariboo is by far the prettiest section, so far. We stop at a wayside to make short work of the pastries, dividing them in half to share, careful to not cover ourselves with crumbs in the process. Our plan was to not eat them until we were too far from Barkerville to turn back for more.

Black clouds loom ahead as we approach Prince George. We drive the last 20 km in driving rain, which comes in waves of heavy squalls. Between squalls, we pick up our conference registration packets, check in to our hotel, have lunch at a very good Asian Fusion restaurant attached to the hotel, and check out the conference venue to see where we will spend the next two days of classes, displays, and social events. It’s a tradition at the weavers conferences for individual guilds to decorate a 3×3 meter booth with fiber creations that reflect the conference theme. Because this conference is so remote, more than 1000 km from Seattle, with the added hassle of bringing conference displays through customs, only two guilds from the U.S. have entered: Seattle, of course, and Tacoma, one of the guilds to which we belong. The booth committee arrived early for extended workshops and to build the booth. I was on the booth committee six years ago, when the conference was in Bellingham, Washington: then, we partnered with a guild from Alberta, so they wouldn’t have to haul the structures. The other guild we belong to, Olympia, elected not to present, due to the difficulty transporting the presentation materials so far. We could have offered, but it would have been inconvenient to camp around additional baggage in our van, and we’re continuing our explorations after the conference.

Prince George is the largest city in northern BC, with about 100,000 population in the metro area, and is a major transportation hub, at the crossroads of the major north-south and east-west highways in the region. We’re in the centre of the city: everything is walkable, so we explore a bit more, finding the local Starbucks (in another hotel nearby) and head back to our hotel to shift from vagabonding to conference mode. As is our traveling habit, we’ve had a light breakfast out, lunch at a nice cafe, and snack from our portable refrigerator and grocery supplies in the evening.

3D printing on fabric, electro-luminescent wire, 3D-printed weaving accessories.

Day 5: Conference Day. We get breakfast at our hotel, wander over to Starbucks, then scout out where our classes will be in the Coast Hotel next to the Civic Centre. Judy is taking a class on how to open an Etsy shop, to market her art journals. I’m taking a class on how to computerize your clothing. Yes, it’s a thing. I’ve known about it for some time, but haven’t gotten into it, and it has been on the back burner. The instructor updates us on all the latest tech from Adafruit and Sparkfun and shows examples of her work. The bicycle jacket with turn signals built in seems to be a practical first project. We also get tips and tricks on avoiding electrical shorts when sewing with conductive thread, and the iterative approach to debugging wiring and programs.

Lunch at conferences consists of pre-packaged soggy sandwiches, but it’s convenient to give us time to peruse the galleries of work by attendees and instructors. Over the lunch break, we encounter fellow guild members Betty, Lynne, Gail, Lynn, and Tami as we cross paths between classes. We don’t have an afternoon class, so after we see all the exhibits, we head uptown to Books and Company for a mid-afternoon early dinner, espresso, and indulge in some heavy book-buying: the shop has a number of half-price racks, so we succumb to the temptation and walk out with a $50 pile of books we probably wouldn’t have purchased at full price.

Evening finds us back at the Civic Centre for the Keynote Address and social hour. Arriving early as usual, we review the day and plans ahead on one of the benches in the foyer. The security personnel keep an eye on us. I realize that, with scruffy beard, well-worn military-style cargo pants that are beginning to fray, weathered ball cap, and a slightly-too-large casual jacket, I could be one of the homeless guys we see sleeping in office building entryways nearby.

The keynote address, delivered by a spinner and weaver who grew up in Peru in the 1970s with her American parents and now lives there again, was fascinating, as she relayed the tale of how the local tribal life centers around fiber: dyeing, spinning, and weaving, and how different the culture is, and how it differs from the western-style culture the mining companies tried to force the people into after taking their land for mining, and how they rebelled to return to the old ways, bringing down government helicopters with stones from hand-woven slings. She said the people were sad that she would miss the Winter Solstice celebrations, but happy she was going to a place where other people still practiced the right way to live, creating cloth with their hands, a culture they thought was lost in North America. So, we carry on, preserving the traditions that, for millennia, have defined what it means to be human.

We don’t see any of our friends in the crowd, so we do a little crowd-watching as we sip our beers at a side table. The room empties quickly, and we walk back to our hotel against the setting sun. It’s been a good day.

Day 6: Conference Day, again. Today we have a full day of classes. Because of schedule changes, both of us ended up in the same class, which is OK, because it’s one we’re both interested in. Kumihimo, Japanese braiding, using a round disk with a hole in the middle as a form. We’ve both done some simple versions, using home-made forms and a simple pattern. Today, we learn the traditional way and how to make traditional patterns.

The day starts with the routine from yesterday, complimentary breakfast at the hotel, then a hike a few blocks over to Starbucks for our usual espresso drink. We take a slightly different path, across vacant lots, where we are accosted by a homeless person looking for $15 to buy Chinese buffet (he says). We don’t normally give money to these folks, but he was so convincing in his spiel we gave him what was left of our small change, maybe two dollars, maybe less. We walked the usual way back to the Civic Centre, beside a construction site. Cities in Canada are in a constant state of flux: old buildings get torn down and new buildings rise in their place. The economy here appears sound. There are a few homeless folks in this part of town, but not many for a city this size.

Learning kumihimo with a braiding disk

Class is an excellent tutorial. The instructor has her own method of numbering the thread positions, the system of which will be apparent later in the session. We braid a small sample, then start in on a sequence of sample patterns, shifting the thread order between patterns. The morning goes quickly.

We lunch at a nearby Mediterranean grill. The waitress notices our conference badges and gives us a 10% “Show Your Badge” discount. We had been told to check the merchant list for participating businesses, but most weren’t of interest or we had no idea where they were or if we would use them. The food is good and service cheerful, as it has been in most of the bistros at which we’ve eaten in Canada.

Back in class, we learn how to make our own braiding patterns, a real revelation worth the price of the course. I made a mistake in the morning session, which put a glitch in my pattern, but this afternoon, I make another mistake and confidently unbraid to the error and recover. The afternoon goes fast, and we are off to the motel, where we snack from our dwindling food supply and unwind a bit before returning to the Centre for the fashion show and closing awards. The two-and-a-half days we’ve been at the conference have been full. The conference was smaller than usual: many felt the distance was too great, but those of us who did come from south of the border were glad we did, and others, like us, chose to take advantage of the opportunity to tour this beautiful and vast part of the world.

Prince George Civic Centre

Tomorrow, we are again headed north, part of a great loop. Alaska beckons, but it is twice as far away as we will have journeyed in total by tomorrow night. Not this year.

To be continued…

Road Trip 2019, Part 1, Chapter 5: The Long Road Home

Day 29:  It’s a pleasant day, with lunch on the patio at the local watering hole with the kids. Yes, they’re still “the kids,” even in their 40s and 50s.  The GPS calls the bar by its old name, but now it’s Cowboy Jacks on the marquee.  Not much has changed except for a mechanical bull next to the bar.

Sunday breakfast at The Egg and I cafe with grandchildren CJ, Travis, and Ashley. The boys are engrossed in video games (CJ, still in high school, is a game programmer), while Ashley converses with her mother and Judy (off camera).

Day 30: The first highlight of the day is breakfast out with all three grandchildren and their mom.  It’s a beautiful day: afterward, we unload our bicycle, deciding to revisit the Pheasant Branch Trail, which we remember as a pleasant fast-paced paved trail winding down the Pheasant Branch Creek through woods and the nature conservancy.  Unfortunately, last year, a flash flood destroyed almost the entire trail.  The many bridges across the creek have been restored, but much of the paving is gone, replaced with gravel. We navigate the gravel portions successfully, continuing this time on the packed gravel trails through the lower Conservancy, and return via city streets, which treats us to traffic and hills.

After our ride, we meet Matt and Darice at Jack’s again, halfway between our motel and their apartment, for post-ride nachos and bebidas.  We’re not sports fans, but the kids are, so we are obligated to watch basketball and baseball when visiting.  We’re confused, but it’s fun to watch the fans enjoying the games.

Surprise, surprise: Matt has become quite a good cook.

Day 31:  Memorial Day thunderstorms are predicted.  We spend the day indoors at our son’s apartment, watching movies and baseball, except for a run to take our grandson back to his mother’s.

Day 32: We’re on the move again.  We stop for fuel, take a wrong turn, and get back on our intended path through a beautiful farming valley we would have missed otherwise.

This large park, on Barron Island, Wisconsin, and the adjacent marina are closed due to flooding on the Mississippi River.

Our intended route home takes the “blue highways,” staying off the freeways as much as possible.  After our slight detour, we end up on US14, the “Frank Lloyd Wright Trail,” through Spring Green, site of Wright’s Taliesin estate and near the controversial “House On The Rock.”  A light rain comes and goes.  It’s a pretty route: we’ve driven the Iowa and Minnesota sides of the Mississippi before, but not this road.  US14 doesn’t follow the river, but winds up and down the valleys and over the Wisconsin River.  We don’t stop at the attractions, but proceed on to La Crosse and into Minnesota, over the flood-swollen Mississippi.  We stop for lunch at Winona, at the Acoustic Cafe.  I know where it is; we’ve been there before.

After lunch, we stop at a bakery and indulge in pastries familiar from my childhood in Minnesota, before heading up through the cliffs and deeply carved valleys of the Driftless region, so-called because it lacks the glacial drift that covers the plains to the west.  We emerge onto the prairie, still following US 14.   I grew up in southern Minnesota, on the plain, and never knew much of this scenic and rugged region until we started traveling through it after a son moved to Wisconsin.

We refuel at New Ulm, where I took my polka band in 1959 to play in the Polka Days celebration.  We were too young then to take part in the beer fest that lined Main Street, but one highlight was jamming with an all-girl polka band, which would have been more fun had we not jazzed up our repertoire: the girls stopped playing to scribble our Polish-style improvisations onto their sheet music.  There are geeks in every endeavor, and we were obviously polka geeks, not ladies men.  Later, we met “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt, leader of a popular band, whose recordings played all the time on the local radio station, KNUJ, my mother’s favorite station.  We understood the “NU” stood for New Ulm, but someone in the FCC apparently had a sense of humor, granting a call sign that spelled “Junk” backwards.  Some folks just don’t appreciate ethnic music.

We go a bit farther on 14 than we intended: many roads are closed around the Minnesota River Valley, taking us on detour out of our way through Sleepy Eye, a name I remember from childhood, though I can’t remember passing through before.  Our intended destination is Fort Ridgely State Park, on a creek feeding into the Minnesota River, north of Sleepy Eye.  The campground is empty. There are mosquitoes.  There is a pit toilet and two sani-cans.  It’s a bit spooky, and the fee is $37.  We drive on, deciding a motel for a few dollars more is a better option.

We turn west again at Fairfax.  In 1947-48, I lived just east of Fairfax.  We rented a house on a farm with no electricity, and no running water.  I remember my father taking me to a wild game and bison feed at the Veterans of Foreign Wars club in Fairfax, in the fall of 1947, where we sampled everything.  It would be many decades before I tasted such again.   My uncles hunted game birds, but not deer.  We moved south to our old home town the next winter, after my sister Jane was born.  The Rural Electrification Act had passed in 1936, but the high-voltage towers didn’t march across the prairie until 1948, on the state highway to the south, out of reach.

At Morton, another tiny town, to the west at the junction with US 71, we stop for the night at the town’s only motel, convenience store, and gas station.  We had decided to be spontaneous in our trip back.  Initially, we thought we might take the usual Great Circle route to the Northwest, I-94, through St. Paul and Minneapolis, spend some time in the north lakes country, and then across the High Line through Montana, one of our usual routes when we have time.  I hadn’t contacted my cousin who lives north of Minneapolis, or Judy’s cousin in North Dakota, so we had no obligation to drop in, and choose a different route.  Our spontaneous route takes us close to other cousins, but  we’re getting weary and don’t want to impose, so we’ve not made plans to see everyone along the way.  We’re trying to find different ways we haven’t been, which is getting difficult, as there are only so many east-west routes that don’t meander, so it’s inevitable to repeat some segments.

Day 33: We leave early from the Morton Inn, heading toward Redwood Falls for coffee. The convenience store offers brewed coffee and packaged pastries to motel guests, but we’re not fond of such fare.  US 71 somehow doesn’t look familiar, until I see the old road and steel trestle bridge to the side, the bridge blocked at both ends. Ah, we’re on a new road.  We drove this way often when I was growing up, between Jackson and my aunt and uncle’s place just north of Morton. One of my cousins still lives on the old homestead, but we didn’t know we were coming this way until we did, so we don’t stop. We’d come north on this road a few years ago, and had found a funky coffee shop in Redwood Falls, the Calf Fiend Café, and we’re headed there now. But, we take a left turn into Old Town this time, and the Blue Highway time warp catches us: the Calf Fiend is there on Main Street, all right, but in this universe it won’t open for business until next week. The old highways are like that.  Maybe the café is seasonal, or simply closed for vacation over Memorial Day, or maybe we’re months or years earlier than when we passed by before.  Time is fluid on the old roads.

We turn around and head west for Granite Falls. More road closures send us yet on other back roads, this one past a monument for the 1862 Indian War. My hometown has a similar monument. In 1862, the newly-minted State of Minnesota sent their entire state militia off to join the Union Army—including 13-year-old Criness Larue, as a drummer to keep cadence on the long march to battle—leaving the frontier undefended. A faction in the local indigenous population was unhappy with the government arrangement with the trading agents, the latter withholding payments due the tribes according to the treaties.  The militants took advantage of the reduced military presence and attacked many settlements, killing settlers. The outcome, when the U.S. Army intervened later that year, was a mass hanging in Mankato of 38 members of the warrior band, the largest mass execution in U.S. History, along with hundreds jailed.  The surviving several thousand members of the bands involved were then deported to reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota territories, where their descendants remain to this day.

Young Criness, my great-grandfather, survived the war to grow up and, in 1879, marry Lucy Tanner Koon, whose father, Dennis Weed Tanner, was killed at Harpers Ferry, serving  with the 5th New York infantry. Lucy’s stepfather and half-siblings died in one of the epidemics in the 1870s, and what was left of the family resettled in southern Minnesota.

We haven’t given up on our search for coffee. Granite Falls doesn’t have a coffee shop, but the next town, Montevideo (pronounced Mon-tah-Vid-AY-oh, not “mount a video”) does, and we soon roll up in front. It is open in this space-time continuum. The barista, a friendly woman about our age, says she grew up in Iowa, near where I went to college. It always helps to try not to be a stranger when passing through small town America.

In addition to some very good espresso, I snag a bar made from toasted rice and barley breakfast cereal and topped with a peanut-butter/chocolate mixture. “Bars” are as popular with Minnesotans as “hotdish” and Jello salads, with various puffy breakfast cereals a common main ingredient. Ordering one makes me feel right at home. Eating the gooey, over-sweet confection reminds me why I left.

Leo’s Good Food, Redfield, South Dakota., on U.S. Highway 212.  Sandwich prices were south of $5, and the menu was from the 1950s. We estimate most of this region is locked in a time warp sometime in the 1980s. On our last trip across northern South Dakota on US 12, we ate in a restaurant that had posters that declared “This is Reagan Country,” as if the Great Communicator was still in charge.

Soon, we cross into South Dakota and back a few decades, on the poorly maintained roads characteristic of Red states. We stop for lunch at Redfield, pick up a couple of Bavarian Cream-filled Bismarcks at the local bakery, against our better judgement, then cross the street to the recommended café for lunch. The menu hadn’t changed in 60 years, nor the prices in 20.  An elderly man comes up, puts his hand on my shoulder, and cracks Santa Claus jokes, obviously referring to my full white beard.  I respond with my standard line, “You must have mistaken me for my brother, Nick.  I’m Bob Claus. I deal in lumps of coal.”  He says, “I thought there had to be two…”   He takes up residence at the end booth and orders his usual.

Judy orders a breaded chicken cutlet sandwich and I order soup and an egg salad sandwich. We simply don’t eat this way, unless we get trapped in the 1950s in a Blue Highway time warp, where plant-based food is relegated to salads and over-cooked sides served with gravy and pot roast. We share a slice of Strawberry Pie to fortify ourselves for the antique lunch. Returning to the car, we realize the Bismarcks won’t survive the afternoon, so we wolf those down, too, the pudding-like filling threatening to gush out and down our fronts. Finishing the calorie-laden treats unsoiled, we push on down the road toward the 21st century.

The Dakotas are relatively flat through the Plains, so snow melt and spring rain collects in low spots and doesn’t go anywhere, mostly, once the ground is saturated. What does run into the rivers and creeks quickly overflows into the fields and forests before proceeding downstream to bring misery to folks living along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in states farther south.

After a long time, we cross the Missouri River, here at the midpoint of Lake Oahe, dammed just above the capital, Pierre (“Pier,” not “Pee-Air”), snapping back into the 21st century, but an hour earlier, in the Mountain Time zone. After passing through a large reservation and getting into a more hilly region, we arrive quite early at Faith, where we had planned to camp in the city park. While the park is reasonably priced, there isn’t much to do for the rest of the afternoon, so we walk around the park until we get a good enough cell signal to check out other possibilities.

Red sunset at Llewellyn Johns State Recreation Area, South Dakota, courtesy of out-of-control wildfires in Alberta and Northwest Territories, up to 2000 km away.

We end for the night at a state recreation area campsite an hour’s travel north. Despite being the only ones in the campground, we have to call the 800 number to reserve a site and pay for it, including the service fee, so the cheap $15 campground is a couple of dollars more than we thought, plus tax, plus a car permit, which is separate, cash in an envelope deposited in a vault next to the reservation directions. At this point, $10 for the city park, including flush toilets sounds better, back at Faith, but we’re here.  Kathy, the reservation clerk, doesn’t have a clue where we are at, because she is in San Diego and has never been to South Dakota, except she’s heard of Mount Rushmore and thinks we might be in Custer State Park, 330 km to the south.  I have to spell the name, “Llewellyn Johns, Double-Ell E Double You E Double Ell Why En, Jay Oh Aitch En Ess, just like it sounds (snicker).” Nevertheless, the setting is pleasant, there are birds singing, the sunset is awesome, and the mosquitoes have been slow to find us. And, we are a bit closer to home.

Day 34: We wake to find we have neighbors, another camper, in after dark.  We wonder if they bothered to go through the reservation system: we had very little phone reception and no data connection to use the web site. We quietly break camp and drive north on the under-construction highway, which has construction delays, gravel, and potholes, to Lemmon, where I clean bugs off the windscreen while Judy shops for breakfast at the supermarket. Then, we are off on US 12, angling briefly up into North Dakota before crossing into Montana, where we stop at Lawler’s in Baker, for the only espresso we’ve seen since Minnesota. We’d been here before, too. Strange to have favorite stops thousands of kilometers apart, in small towns.

Makoshika State Park, Glendive, Montana. This panorama covers about 270 degrees of breathtakingly  tortured loess formations, a treasure trove of fossils on the Dinosaur Trail. The other 90 degrees is the town of Glendive, immediately behind us, but behind the bluff.

We head north now, to Wibaux (wee-BOW), through changing terrain, and briefly on the Interstate to Glendive and the gem of Montana’s State Parks, Makoshika (ma-koh-SHI-kah). The park is closed for repaving. After 20 years of living and traveling through Montana, the day we decide to visit, it’s closed. But, one trail is open, the Bluebird Trail, that winds up the hills behind the visitor center. It is a true gem, that reminds us of the Painted Rocks in central Oregon. If the roads had not been closed, we would have missed this jewel of a trail.

Lunching out of our food stash, we head northwest for the long, lonely run across Eastern Montana on MT 200. Montana is one of the larger states, but has one of the smallest populations: like Wyoming, it has only one Representative in Congress, but two senators, like everywhere else, so a Montanan’s vote is worth about eight California votes on the national stage. Being large, it also has a lot of roads. Given the ratio of roads to cars, statistically, one should meet another car on the road about every 10-15 kilometers. Since the freeways have the most traffic, old blue highways like MT 200 have fewer than average. The highway climbs westward in a series of ridges with rollers between. We top one after another without seeing another vehicle in the distance.  The empty roads bring on a sense of complacency which is quickly dispelled as we encounter memorials along the road, about every 10-15 kilometers, where previous travelers had met, with disastrous results.  The old markers are simple white crosses, but there are poignant newer shrines adorned with flowers and teddy bears, tended by still-grieving families.  Montana still has one of the highest highway fatality rates in the nation.

In late afternoon, the hills become forested as the highway climbs higher into the Judith Mountains, an island mountain range in the middle of the Judith Basin.  At long last, we come to Lewistown, self-check-in to an RV park, and end the day at a Mexican Restaurant, the usual safe bet for meatless meals in cattle country, but only if you are vigilant.

We know we are in Montana because I order a Bean and Cheese Burrito, and the waiter writes down Deluxe Beef and Bean. The burrito has a strange taste and texture, which I conclude must not be plant-based. We’ve seen thousands of Steak Steers and Hamburger Cows across the prairie, and one has somehow ended up in my food. But, I’m hungry, so I eat it. Why people persist in grinding up animals and adding them to their food escapes me, but it is almost impossible to get any meal in the mid-west or mountain west without some sort of animal parts mixed into it.  When we ask about meatless options, the response is usually, “Somebody gotta eat them cows.”  A line of humorous postcards poking fun at Montanans had one showing steak-wielding men “deprogramming” a vegetarian. It’s true. I imagine the waiter didn’t believe what he heard, so served me what an ordinary Montana man would find acceptable. No one has ever accused me of being ordinary, but it’s nice to be mistaken for being so, once in a while. After all, I was wearing a Montana ball cap. Next time, though, I will be more careful, and possibly complain. But, I’ve reverted after a couple of days traveling through Minnesota: Minnesotans talk about misfortune a lot, not to complain, but to demurely boast how stoically they endured the experience.

Day 35: Up early, we head downtown Lewistown to the Rising Trout Cafe, where we get excellent espresso and bagels. As we head out of town, we have a brief scare: the truck motor quits as we turn into a rest area. It’s been running well, but a bit rough at idle. It restarts, and we continue on.

The haze that has been building since mid-South Dakota is thick now: we can barely see the foothills of the Rockies ahead. We learn there are early-season fires in Alberta, to the north, which have blanketed our route from Minnesota to Washington.  I’ve been working on a climate disaster novel set in 2076.  It appears I’m about 50 years too late in my projections.  It’s here now.

At Great Falls, we stop again for coffee and fuel for the truck. We pass through a few light rain sprinkles, climb over Rogers Pass (1700 meters), past the turn-off to where Unibomber Ted Kazinski’s cabin used to be, and into Lincoln for lunch. The Pit Stop looks like the best bet, and we are not disappointed. Judy orders the special, a tuna melt, being a true “road kill” vegetarian, and I order a veggie personal pizza.

It seems strange to pass through Missoula without stopping, but we’re anxious to get home this weekend, so we continue on, grab ice cream at the travel center in St. Regis, and drive through rain over Lookout Pass.  We stop for the night at Cataldo, where there is an RV park next to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. They have one RV spot left: we take it.

We unload our bike and pedal east to milepost 44, where we turned around on the freezing morning we last rode the trail on Day 2. We reverse, riding past the campground, when we spot a moose on the river bank. Several other campers are harassing the moose, which moves in our direction, giving us a good photo-op. It appears to be a young female calf, more curious than aggressive.  We continue down the trail, hoping to complete yet another substantial segment.

Coeur d’ Alene River at Cataldo, with threatening thunderheads not so far away. Fortunately, they passed to the right.

Just after we pass milepost 40, the dark clouds ahead  dump rain; lightning flashes and thunder peals overhead. We crank on toward milepost 39 at top speed, reverse and sprint back to the campground, setting what, for us, is a speed record for a 15-km course, 20 km/hr, our best in at least 10 years.  We quickly load the bike in the truck.  The rain goes another direction, but clouds still threaten into the evening. But, we’ve chewed off another 10 miles (16 km) of the 144-mile (230 km) round-trip, leaving the section between mileposts 29 and 39 and the section between mileposts 58 and 72 for another time.

Day 36: We’re up at dawn, before the end of “quiet time” in the campground, and slip away, headed for home.  We refuel at Coeur d’ Alene, usually the source of cheaper fuel, but this time the price is higher than we paid in South Dakota or Montana.  We remember that “cheaper” is relative to Washington, so we hope to get home on this fill.  When we travel, cooking in camp on an overnighter isn’t time-efficient, so we grab breakfast with coffee at Starbucks and press on, stopping again in Ellensburg for coffee and lunch.

We’ve seen a lot of scenery over the last month, but driving over the Cascades into Western Washington is always the best part, not only because it’s jaw-dropping scenic when the mountains are out, as they are today, but because we’re close to home. The growing traffic congestion as we descend into the Puget Sound region is not the best part, however.   At the end of four days travel on mostly back roads, averaging over 625 km a day, we’re ready to be done traveling for a week.  We arrive home in late afternoon to find the rhododendrons nearly bloomed out, but the weigela is in full bloom, the peonies are ready to pop, and the hardy geranium have spread and bloomed.  It’s good to be home.

Statistics:

36 days, 35 nights: 13 nights at timeshares, 1 AirB&B, 4 camping, 2 nights with friends,  15 nights in motels.  12 days in Canada.

Truck: 6900 miles (11000 km); bicycle: 173 miles (280 km).  12 bike rides, 20 days point-to-point driving, 90 – 860 km/day.

Part 2, British Columbia, starts next week: stay tuned.