These folks are experienced fulltimers who have lived and enjoyed this lifestyle for many years. They knew RV systems, the importance of good maintenance, and were safe and cautious in their approach to the lifestyle. But once in a while bad things happen to good people.
This tragedy reminds me again of the importance of having a "grab bag" prepared and near you at all times. We first heard about this idea when we attended a Life on Wheels conference before we started fulltiming almost 4 years ago. The concept is to have as many of your important and tough-to-replace papers and documentation in one place -- a portable bag of some kind -- and close enough so you can quickly grab it if you have to vacate the RV in an emergency. Things like a supply of cash, insurance papers, IDs, passports, birth certificates, a list of account numbers and passwords, cell phone, list of important phone numbers, backed up computer files on a USB thumbdrive, maybe a laptop computer as well. No system is 100% assured of working in every situation... you just do the best you can to cover the most likely scenarios. It certainly would make putting your life back together again much easier. We haven't done a good job of maintaining this grab bag discipline, but this tragic event has motivated us to get back at it.
Hmmm, where did I lay that insurance policy?
You know, I've noticed this too. In fact, it's become so endemic that it's hard not to notice. It seems that it really doesn't matter what thing it is, if it's in or near the RV, it's a target for this naming phenomenon -- cars, trucks, RV, motorcycles, electronic gizmos, appliances, and on and on.
After pondering this for a while, I think it might derive from loneliness, or boredom, or terminal cuteness, or, perhaps an attempt at humor. In reality, it's probably some combination of all of the above. Come on, how can I be lonely or bored when I have Mr. Hoover (my vacuum cleaner) to help me clean, or Mr. Dell (my laptop computer) to help me with my email and paying my bills, or Philomina Blacktank (!!???) to hold and protect my wastes, or Old Blue (my bicycle) to take me for rides, or Buffy (my electric buffer) to put a shine on the camper, or Winnie Winegard (my TV antenna) to help me tune into my favorite TV shows? And let's not forget Sabrina, the voice in my GPS, who tells me where to go -- which Dar also does from time to time. All you've got to do is read a few blogs produced by fulltimers and you'll soon be caught up in this anthropormorphic web. Before long, you'll be on the bandwagon and your truck will become Miss Daisy (driving Miss Daisy... get it?).
Oh, and what about the truly meaningful real people in their lives? Well, there's a convention among fulltimers that the female spouse or partner becomes simply "the DW" and the male becomes "the DH". What's with that? For a long time I thought DW meant DishWasher and DH stood for DaHunk. But recently, my DW, in her unique way of dealing with my occasional ignorance, let me know that DW actually means Dear Wife and DH, yes, Dear Husband. I think I'll remember this long after the lump on my head goes down.
After returning from the Oregon Coast we wandered the Columbia River shoreline in Vancouver on Friday where we also lingered for refreshments at a restaurant's outside deck... and ended up lingering right through dinner. The warm cloudless day prompted a lot of people to come out of hiding and bask in the sun, so people-watching was enjoyable. Mt. Hood stood watch in the East and the river was full of boaters getting an early start to the weekend. One of the nicer days of the week so far.
But Saturday may have been even nicer. We started the day with breakfast at a cool little bagel place in downtown Vancouver, followed by visiting the farmers market just a couple blocks away. Vancouver has one of the nicest farmers markets we've ever seen and our visitors from the east agreed that it's a great way to spend a Saturday morning. The other planned excursion for the day was the OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) Tram near downtown Portland. The three minute ride from the Willamette Riverfront to the top is 3,300 linear feet long with a vertical rise of 500 feet. Despite some tense moments for Dar (a terrific fear of heights) we all enjoyed the impressive views of 5 mountain peaks and the city below during the ride up and from the observation platform at the top. Grandson Ryan, in particular, thought this was just about the coolest thing we could have done. The evening was spent again at Gage and Andrea's house.
Today, Sunday, Dar's planning a visit to a couple wineries in the Columbia Gorge. I'm the designated driver.
We'll keep them pretty busy with visiting Andrea and Gage and the two munchkins... their great-grandkids (our grandkids... Ryan and Evan) and some other sightseeing Dar has in mind.
|Marion and Cal at Cape Meares Lighthouse|
After a long couple days of exploring we took today "off" to rest and recover.
Wondering what Dar has up her sleeve for the rest of the week...
In a few minutes, we're going down to the Amtrak Station to pick up Dar's Mom and Dad. They wanted to take a trip this fall and, after some deliberation, decided to take Amtrak's Empire Builder out to Washington. They'll be in town for a week.
The weather doesn't look the best for their time here but tomorrow and Wednesday look to be the best for outdoor stuff and sightseeing. The plan at this point is to run over to the Oregon coast for a day or two. It's one of the most scenic coastlines around -- but the trick is to catch it on one of the relatively rare really nice days to get the best experience (and photos). We're hoping.
We've been maxing out our time with the grand-kids of course. And we enjoyed seeing more of our Washington family at a birthday get-together yesterday for Gage (son-in-law) and Shirleen (Gage's Mom). It was a lot of fun.
Journal updates might sparse this week, considering all the activity. But I'll fit in what I can when I can get away from the group for a few minutes and pound something out.
Thinking I hear a train whistle...
We left the Grand Coulee area about 9am and headed back to Wilbur. In order to drive all of US-2 we had to get back the point where we got off... and that meant rolling about 20 miles eastward to Wilbur in order to preserve the objective.
Once pointed in the right direction again we came to Coulee City, the town on the south end of Banks Lake. There, a 2 mile long earthen dam was constructed across the Grand Coulee gorge to form the lake. Hwy 2 sits atop that dam... Banks Lake to the north, and Dry Falls to the south.
|Dry Falls (photo by Ikiwaner)|
Viewed from a pull-off along Hwy 2, it's a stunning sight to soak in. Because of it's size photos don't capture the essence of the experience. Memories will have to do.
|Down into Moses Coulee|
|Dropping down to the Columbia River near Orondo|
From Orondo US-2 follows the Columbia south for a few miles before turning westward again just before Wenatchee. This next leg of the drive... about 100 miles or so... would take us up and over the Cascade Mountains. Of note, we passed through the Bavarian-esque community of Leavenworth, where the confluence of Bavarian architecture and close steep mountains do make one feel like you might be in a mountain village in Southern Germany. Someday we'll stop back and explore the area more deeply.
|Along US-2 on uphill run to Stevens Pass in the Cascades|
|Downhill from Stevens Pass|
US-2's western terminus is the point where it joins I-5 in Everett, WA. From the beginning of our US-2 trek, in St. Ignace, MI., we've traveled almost every foot of it's 2,119 mile length. We've seen a large stretch of the USA along its shoulders... from the woods of Northern Michigan, the Lake Superior shoreline in Wisconsin, the lake country of Northern Minnesota, the rising waters of Devils Lake North Dakota, the booming oil industry and open range land of Northwest North Dakota and Eastern Montana, the looming Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park, the forest and peaceful lakes of Northern Idaho, sparky and spunky Spokane, the vast gold-yellow wheat fields of Central Washington, and then today... with some of the most dramatic and breath-taking scenery this side of Glacier. It's been quite a trip... one we'll remember for as long as we live.
Giving the exhaust brake a "break" for a while...
What I haven't covered yet is our visit to the Grand Coulee area of Washington. Since our trek west on US-2 comes within a mere 30 miles of big Dam, and since Dar hadn't seen it yet, we diverted from our path at Wilbur to check it out.
|photo by Farwestern / Gregg M. Erickson|
We explored the visitor center exhibits and wandered around outside to shoot pictures. We also came back after dusk to watch a laser light show which uses the dam itself as the projection screen -- something you don't experience everyday. But the highlight of the afternoon was the drive along Banks Lake.
For more photos of Banks Lake and Grand Coulee Dam, Dar promises to have them uploaded into an online photo album in the next few days.
Eyes hurting from all the beauty...
|Live entertainment at the rooftop party.|
|Julianne and Jimmy, with the Spokane River in the background.|
Outside... feet up... typing away...
|No deceptive business practices here.. In Spokane they "tell it like it is"!|
|Oh, and a couple days ago we hit the 30,000 mile mark with the bus-house.|
Firewood has been our biggest problem. After a busy summer of campers scavenging the woods for every dry stick and twig the only option left is to either bring your own (which all locals do), or buy it. But despite being in the middle of billions of trees and the forest products industry being the major economic activity around here and no shortage of people trying to eek out an existence up here... the price of firewood is the highest we've run across in our travels. $5 for a small bundle seems to be the going rate... and it's really a small bundle. It takes a minimum of two bundles for an acceptable fire that won't last much beyond dinner. Yesterday Dar and I went down the road a ways in search of another less expensive source, but had to resort to buying a couple bundles at an Ace Hardware store. At least these were slightly larger than the little bundles available at the campground. Oh, and the price? That's right... $5 per bundle.
This afternoon we're heading down to Spokane. We're meeting a couple of fellow explorers that we first met up with last year at Zion National Park. They're from the Spokane area and will be leaving in the next week or two on a maybe 6 month long exploration of the perimeter of the USA. Julianne and Jimmy are an interesting couple who have done some amazing things through their lives. At Zion, we enjoyed a couple meals together, a hike, and couple of memorable campfires -- one of which involved re-engineering the traditional campfire S'mores recipe. That's all I'll have to say about that. Here's a link to their website.
Because we're so close to our destination -- the Portland area, a couple grandkids, and some wonderful family and friends, the horse is "smelling the barn". The plan now is to leave here on Tuesday, spend a night somewhere near Grand Coulee Dam, then traverse the Cascades on US-2 to it's terminus in Everett, WA. There, we'll spend another quick night before driving to our month long camp near Portland/Vancouver on Thursday.
That's it for this morning kids...
In the last few years, if they wanted to build an Interstate Highway across a mountain range they'd pretty much just bulldoze the mountain, put the material from the high spots into the low spots, pour 4 wide lanes of concrete... and you'd have a nice straight stretch of road that was easy to drive but would lull everybody to sleep. Add a few Holiday Inn Expresses, Cracker Barrels, McDonalds, and Flying Js and you'd have a road that looked and felt like every other I-road in the USA. I mean, why go to Idaho if you can experience the same driving sensation you find in Indiana?
The great thing about driving the old US highways... like US-2... is that you drive around mountains, through small towns, and experience how people are living in, ohh, say, Libby, MT. or Bonners Ferry, ID. All senses are active in this endeavor... you smell the bacon frying on the grill at a local breakfast and lunch joint as you drive by... you see the pride (or lack of pride) in the town's architectural dress, cleanliness, and neatness... you hear the activity of people going about their daily chores... you feel both the potholes and the newly laid asphalt roadway... you can taste the way people feel about their town... just by driving through and letting your senses do the work.
And here we were, plotting a course west. Ah, but because US-2 was built many years ago... when they used to build roads that went around mountain ranges... first we headed due south. Then, after a short spell of westward movement, we headed north, traversing valleys lined with high ridges and dark green forest. Then, after another short spell of westward movement, we headed due south again. At the end of the day we put on a little over 200 miles to reach a point that was only a little over 100 air miles from where we started this morning. But, oh, what a drive.
Tonight we're camped at another Corps of Engineers campground... the Riley Creek Recreation Area a little south and west of Sandpoint, ID. We'll be here through the weekend.
Ready for a good nights sleep...
Maybe I'll dig into a new book...
After our working weekend it was time to get out and back into the Park again. So yesterday, Tuesday, the plan was to take US-2 east from Columbia Falls, down around the southern end of the Park to East Glacier, up MT-49 and US-89 to St. Mary, followed by a full-length transit of Going to the Sun Road back to West Glacier and our starting point -- total distance of about 200 miles.
We had already traversed US-2 westbound when we arrived in the area last week. But taking the same route by car allowed us to stop at more points of interest, stop more often for photos, and be more spontaneous in our explorations. The real objective of the day was to explore the east side of the park which we’ve really neglected the past few days.
One necessary stop was Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier. Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913, it was the first destination hotel completed and the gateway to the rest of the Park. The East Glacier Amtrak station is immediately adjacent to the Lodge. We visited here 30 years ago and, once again, had to reconcile our memories with reality. The lobby is magnificent… three stories high, the timber roof supported by 500 year old Douglas Fir logs still clinging to their original rough bark. A huge fireplace complete with roaring fire added physical warmth to the warm woodsy lodge atmosphere. In a growing tradition when visiting National Park Lodges, we had lunch in the lounge – needed nourishment before heading into less refined parts of the Park later in the day.
The next stop was Two Medicine. This part of the Park was once, before the completion of Going to the Sun Road, the focal point of activity at Glacier. Today, its a secluded and peaceful spot with a small campground and some of the best hiking trails in the park. Amazing vistas, waterfalls, a sparkling lake, and an abundance of wildlife reward those that stop here. We spent a good deal of time watching a black bear feasting on berries just on the other side of a creek. The attached photo is blown up and fuzzy, but it’s the best one we took. What fun!
MT-49 is the shortcut for those traveling between East Glacier and St. Mary. It’s paved… most of it anyway… but a road that needs to be worked with and paid attention to. There are many places where the roadway is sinking, “breaking”, away from the hillside that supports it.
But if you take a little time to enjoy the scenery and pull off once in a while to experience things with all your senses, what you find may surprise you. We stopped at an overlook and took a few photos. Just a little way further up the road, off on the low-side of the road, in vegetation too dense to really see much, we could hear a bellow or cry of a large animal. It sounded like a cow but we didn’t think cows or cattle are common in this area. We drove a little further… to the next pull-off, shut off the car and listened. There it was again… just down the hill from our location. Vegetation was thick and a good view wasn’t obvious from the car. I got out, walked over the the edge, pulled the brush aside, and looked down the hill… right at a black bear having lunch just a few feet away. (What’s the old adage… “first you say it, then you do it!”?) Yikes.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Dar had also gotten out of the car and was starting toward me when she saw my reaction – which apparently was startled and quick. There was no question in her mind that I was beating a hasty retreat back to safety. By the time I made it back to the car, just 4 or 5 steps away, she was already back inside and trying to lock the doors… with me still outside! I’ve heard wise old men say that you’ll find out what’s really in a woman’s heart during times of stress and panic. I think I learned something new that day. The bear, I assume, took off in the opposite direction, probably as scared of me as I was of it.
With bear encounter number two behind us, we continued along MT-49 to another pull-off. There, a couple hunters in a pickup truck were scanning the many square miles of mostly open country far below. I struck up a conversation and they said they were watching a grizzly bear sow and her two cubs. With binoculars we could clearly see them… mom busily eating and putting on fat for the winter… the two cubs playing and chasing each other more than eating. Identifying a grizzly is relatively easy. Besides that distinctive hump on their back, right between the shoulders, many of them have silver-ish, white-ish ends on their fur. This, our first sighting of a grizzly in the wild, is one of those memories we’ll carry with us forever.
Later in the afternoon, at a wide pull off on our way back to West Glacier on Going to the Sun Road, Dar spotted another bear high on a grass and rock filled slope above us. With binoculars we quickly identified it as another grizzly… this one solo and closer than the last sighting. For a few minutes, until it walked into a hollow behind some trees, we watched and helped a few others spot it. What a day.
During the course of the day we spotted other wildlife too. Three more bighorn rams (one of which was only 10 feet away on the side of the road), a couple young osprey, and various other small animals and birds. And of course, just being in this unbelievable setting with these dramatic mountain vistas is almost more than can be absorbed.
Besides the usual road dust and mud, we had a little extra cleaning to do on the bus-house's front end. I often have to deal with your normal bug squishes, but we drove through a section of US-2 in Eastern Montana where the lowest 3 feet of the front end (what you might call the bumper area... if we actually had a real bumper... which we don't...) got pelted with grasshoppers. It sounded like we were getting hit by small arms fire, a constant staccato of small impacts of bug with bus. They apparently like sitting on the road during the heat of the day, and when a vehicle, especially a big vehicle, approaches, they do what they've evolved to do when threatened... they hop. They hop upward about 2 feet or so and if they've timed it just right, they reach the apex of their hop just as the big ol' bus-house smacks 'em at 60 miles per hour. The resulting carnage isn't pretty and takes a measure more elbow-grease to remove. It really bugged me!
That's what kept me occupied today. Yuck!
Dar helped out with my chore, but she also thought it only appropriate that she labor away on some laundry... seeing how it's Labor Day and all.
We're hoping for a little more sun tomorrow for another exploration into the Park.
You might want to check out a couple recent Glacier Park photo albums on our online photo gallery. The one titled "Going to the Sun" really took a lot of work. Dar had to cull through 470 photos from two cameras... couldn't get the "saves" any lower than 175, of which 54 are online. She tells me that a lot of great photos from that day ended up in the trash bin. This is the album with more great photos of our encounter with the Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats. I believe you'll enjoy the view almost as much as we did.
I played with a couple video clips we took on our drive up Going to the Sun Road on Friday. After adding titles and getting it formatted for internet viewing, I uploaded it to YouTube. It's easily viewed on our video page right here on the TDHoch website. I wanted to give viewers a taste of the experience of traveling along one of the most amazing roads in the USA.
I also put up three links to some excellent Glacier Park webcams on the photo page on our website. The quality of these images is so much better than many of the webcams out in cyber-land. I thought some of you might like to see what's going on in the park in near-real-time. These images are updated every minute or so. In the next few days we're going to stand in front of the camera at Apgar Village and wave to whoever might be watching.
As I write this on Sunday... about noon... it's raining lightly. I've got some outside chores to do, but the rain helps keep my guilt about not being out there doing 'em in check. I'm warm, the rain is pattering on the roof, I'm getting my inside chores done... life is good.
Haven't taken a nap lately... might give it a try this afternoon.
Glacier National Park was created by Congress in 1910. Early visitors arrived via the Great Northern Railway and stayed in a series of chalets or grand hotels which were also built by the railroad. During the 1920s work began on the Going to the Sun Road. It was designed to cater to a growing number of automobile-borne tourists and to join the East and West sides of the Park. After years of difficult engineering and construction challenges the 53 mile long road was completed in 1932.
And what an amazing road it is. Because it's so narrow and curvy vehicles longer than 21 feet and wider than 8 feet (including mirrors) are prohibited. There are many places where the rock walls intrude into the roadway... which could be big trouble for vehicles higher than 8 feet or so. The highest 10 miles of the road on the west side of Logan Pass, the summit, is carved out of a nearly vertical rock face called the Garden Wall. In places, masonry archways support the roadway and keep it attached to the rock wall.
The road is closed during most of the year... buried under dozens of feet of snow. In late Spring every year snowplowing crews, using huge dozers and other heavy equipment, spend as much as 10 weeks opening the road for Summer visitors, often making progress of only a few hundred feet each day. It's usually open by early June and can close again in October. The road really takes a beating too... not just from the traffic but also from nature. Freeze/thaw cycles, rock slides, avalanches, and water erosion conspire to wear it away and send it back down the mountain where it came from. As a result, the Park is in the middle of a major road restoration project that will go on for years more, but is necessary to keep the road safe and capable of handling the throngs of tourists every year.
Along our route to the top, we stopped at many pull-outs to explore, to enjoy a snack along a creek, or to just soak up the views. Of course Dar also loves snapping pictures, hundreds of them on a day like today. Traffic was heavy, but moved right along. In some places the road rehab project has the road down to just one narrow lane with traffic signals controlling an alternating flow of traffic.
30 years ago, on our visit here with daughter Andrea, we stopped at Logan Pass and took the 1-1/2 mile (each way) hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook. Once again we wanted to chase those old memories and do it again. There may be a more scenic and awesome hike somewhere else in Glacier, but I don't know of it. As you straddle the continental divide at over 6,000 feet elevation, you look out on soaring peaks and mountains all around. You look down into valleys and ridges far below. Alpine lakes that hold some of the runoff from the 80 feet of snow that falls up here each winter... blue green and clear as glass. And the wildlife.
Check out these photos... and, as always, see more pics of our day in our online photo gallery which should be available in the next day or so.
Can it possibly get any better than this?
We're trying to take advantage of the good weather predicted for Thursday and Friday because things should deteriorate after that. The future looks wetter with a chance of rain every day through next Thursday. So while I'm behind on Journal posts, and Dar's behind on our photo albums, we're going to pack as much exploring as we can before Saturday.
We entered the Park through West Glacier, the commercialized gate community at the junction of US-2 and Going to the Sun Highway. First stop was Apgar Village at the foot of Lake McDonald. With the bright blue sky and clear air, the snow-dusted mountains at the other end of the lake seemed so close. Between the two of us we must have taken 50 photos.
Further along Going to the Sun Highway (the central road through the Park) we found the campground where we camped 30 years ago. We both had similar recollections of the approximate location of our campsite but the trees seemed so much larger. Of course, that's what trees do... get larger with time. My memory is that this campground was called Lake McDonald Campground, but it turns out it's called Sprague Creek. I'm thinking the name changed over the years but haven't been able to confirm this yet.
And just up the road from the campground was Lake McDonald Lodge, where we wandered the grounds, re-explored the lodge itself, enjoyed a beer and snack in the lounge, and took a bunch more photos. My memories held up pretty well as it was just as I remembered it. 30 years ago I stood in the lobby fireplace and did so again yesterday.
A little out of the ordinary, we witnessed a helicopter ambulance come in to take care of someone who'd become ill. Caught some good shots for the album too.
Time evaporated quicker than we'd thought so it was time to head back to camp. On our slow drive back down Going to the Sun Highway we stopped at most pullouts and enjoyed the views. With only a few people around we often felt like we had the place to ourselves.
|Still using the same tour buses we saw 30 years ago.|
Pinch me... am I dreaming?
Our first night after setting up camp at this un-named RV campground near Glacier provided a few tense moments for our intrepid explorers. The "perps" were a young couple, (he was celebrating his 20th birthday -- just a baby), their 2 yr. old child (do the math... babies having babies!), and a couple relatives (brother? brother-in-law? and spouse? girlfriend?) who were there to apparently help this 20 yr. old celebrate this monumental occasion. They, the couple and their kid, were living in a very small RV trailer amid piles of accumulated trash and debris just a short distance from our campsite -- supposedly there helping out the campground owner cut and split 10 cords of wood for the wood shed -- at least that was the story. The rest of the campground looked nice, normal, and as you'd expect. In retrospect, we were initially uncomfortable with the messy situation, but, due to the busy holiday weekend (campsites near Glacier are hard to find), decided it probably wouldn't become an issue and wouldn't have to deal with anything anyway.
Here I was, after midnight, listening to this ruckus. How do I deal with this? In almost 3 and a half years of living fulltime and camping in hundreds of places, this is the first time we were confronted by anything like this. In their drunken condition (and showing signs of being mean drunks, displaying that young male competitive bravado -- each trying to outdo the other in feats of daring-do, at least in their addled minds.
I reckoned any attempt to ask them to quiet down would probably fail and the situation might well deteriorate from there. What other options do I have? I could call the campground office and prompt a confrontation with the owner. I could call 911 and get the cops involved. Hmmm. The options were many. But I wasn't liking the possible outcomes from these options... especially the last few.
Neither I nor Dar, who's also awake at this point, are feeling personally threatened. It's just a bunch of drunks making noise. So let's wait it out and see how the situation progresses. We had options to exercise if things deteriorated... things to do if it got worse. As we listened to the slurred speech and the nonsense spewing from the mouths of these "kids" having their little party in the middle of the night, we'd already determined that this would not only be our first night at this campground... but our last as well. We'll find a new camp tomorrow... after a little discussion with the owner.
And that's exactly what we did. Eventually the situation eased... probably as participants passed out. I fell back asleep by 2am... Dar by 3am. This morning we both headed to the office, had our discussion, and received a reasonable refund for our trouble. By 11am, despite the busy weekend, we had another place lined up... a very nice RV Park in Columbia Falls... just a dozen miles down the road.
|Our new camp in Columbia Falls, MT.|
And you'll sleep soundly... even in a Walmart parking lot.
Tonight, we're at a small RV Park just outside the west entrance to Glacier NP. The campgrounds in Glacier don't have hookups at all, and since the temps are predicted to get down near freezing the next night or two, we opted for a place with "plug-eens" (power) for our little electric heater. That's one thing we like about this lifestyle... having options.
I'd have included a picture of our campsite here... but Verizon is being cantankerous... and not cooperating with me. So photos will have to wait until tomorrow.
Ready for the sack...