Friday, August 29, 2008

Washington Friends

August 22-25, 2008 Puyallup, Washington

Friendship is like a prism through which the many variations of beauty are revealed in our lives.

There’s a miracle of friendship
that dwells within the heart
And you don’t know how it happens
or where it gets its start
But the happiness it brings you
always gives a special lift
And you realize that friendship
Is THE most perfect gift. -Anon.

Photo left: Pioneer Park, Puyallup, WA.
The photos above are some of the people most special in our lives throughout our 7 year stay in Puyallup, WA. Unfortunately, we could not meet (or photo) all the friends we've made over the last several years, they will be missed.

Other special friends we will miss are Janet, Mark, Jerry, Roy, Wanda, the physicians at Cascade, all the derm support staff, my tennis buds, the phenomenal women of my bookclub and many other great people I've had the privilege to work with at Cascade Eye & Skin.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lake Chelan, Washington USA

August 19-22, 2008

Our two month tour of Vancouver Island, Alaska and British Columbia ended at Lake Chelan this morning. Two days ago we camped at Canyon Hot Springs outside of Mount Revelstoke after leaving Banff. We had planned hikes but it rained the whole time. We later drove through the dry and river ladened Okanagan Valley and boondocked in a valley wildlife parking lot between Osoyoos and Oliver, BC. I awoke to a coyote watching me watch him…beautiful.

When in Kelowna we visited a monument to wine: Mission Hills. This superlative modern architectural structure influenced by the missions is on a prime piece of real estate overlooking Okanagan Lake and Valley. We took a tour and tasting, bought a couple of bottles and off we went.

Okanagan Valley is known for their wineries, cherry and peach farms and lakes and rivers. Okanagan Lake is home to Ogopogo (analogous to the Lock Ness Monster) and there is a $2 million reward for good photos of this mysterious being. I tried to talk Bruce into going out in the lake and thrash around simulating Ogopogo but since he’s lost so much weight on this trip, the thrashing may be his call for help because he quickly sinks to the bottom. I don’t think he ever learned to swim.

The lake itself is 76 miles long and 1-3 miles wide and the water reportedly replaced 2-3 times per year by its spring fed source. The whole Okanagan Valley from BC to WA is one postcard photo after another.

Lake Chelan is another long clear water lake. No wonder I had so many patients with skin cancer, it’s beautiful and they'd spend their summers here. We camped at 25 Mile Camp and headed to Puyallup the following morning to get our few possessions in storage. We’ll be staying with friends over the weekend and then head to Montana, Colorado and on to Texas. The month of September will be with side trips to NYC and Florida to visit friends and other family before heading to Mexico.

The trip through Alaska and BC was well worth it. Weather-wise the summer season has not been the best for this part of North America, but we’d do it all over again. We prefer the more remote areas of Vancouver Island (western and northern), Northern BC, the Yukon and Alaska. In the remote areas, the provincial and state campsites are cleaner, have more privacy, less noisy and crowded. Also, the park personnel and other camp-goers seem more lad-back, friendly and happy.

It was surprising how expensive things are in Canada (we crossed the border several times), even more so than Alaska. We never paid less than $5/gal of gas (the highest $6.42 in Dawson City) in Canada and the food was 20-30% more. It was just as expensive as my trip to France in March. Even the Swiss campers we met said expense was no different than Switzerland. We chuckled when we saw a sign that read, “Beer is cheaper than gas”.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Northern British Columbia to Jasper/Banff National Park

August 17-19, 2008

In two days we covered over 600 miles to the end, actually mile “0” - the beginning of the Alaska Hwy. Expanses of forests, meadows, mountains, lakes and rivers can be seen mile after mile. With the amount of construction we ran into on the Alaska Hwy they must replace the highway every 2-3 years. Lucky for me, I haven’t touched the steering wheel the whole trip.

We made it to Jasper National Park just across the Alberta province border. Again, we forgot how busy national parks are. However, perfect for family vacations, especially those that love to camp. Honeymoon campground had the most tranquil swimming lake close by.

The night we camped we enjoyed a display of high mountain dry lightning, no accompanying thunder. Something I’ve never experienced before. It rained a few hours later in the middle of the night for quite sometime. The rivers were topped out on their banks and rapidly flowing the following day which continued to be rainy. We kept our stops to the turnoff highlights all the way to Banff National Park/Lake Louise.

Lake Louise must be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world with one of the busiest parking lots in the world. We’re lucky enough to grab a spot and step out for a full 10 minutes before burning rubber out the parking lot. Bruce’s irritation level increases proportionately to the number of people around. He mumbles “where do all these people come from”. I keep reminding him, we are “these people”….he never accepts it.

Photo right: Fast peddling canoers on Lake Louise. Bruce said they were peddling fast since the canoe rental fee is $55/hr.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Eastbound Alaska Hwy, Northern British Columbia

August 16, Saturday

What started out as a typical relaxing foggy morning soon became eventful. After breakfast we sat by the river watching the fog slowly dissipate. Back on the highway we saw two dead buffalo apparently hit by cars. Further down the road around a bend the aftermath of a rollover accident.

We stopped and to see if we can help the injured. No ambulance or police had reached the site yet. The first responder had the single occupant/driver out of his totaled vehicle sitting in the cab of his own truck and a family of six was picking up all the victim's strewn belongings. The SUV looked as if it rolled over 2 and half times ending on its top. Fortunately, the first responder had the driver out of harms way but was unsure if he should meet the ambulance coming from Watson Lake ~160 kilometers (~96 miles) away. I helped secured and buckle the victim in and encouraged the responder to meet the ambulance. Bruce helped the family with the scattered items.

The injured man was conscious, obviously shaken and informed me of his disability from several back injures and surgeries, one being recent, and of his left shoulder and rib pain. He wore a heart monitor but part of it was lost in the accident. It appears the accident happened out in the middle of nowhere around 830 am, the first responder arriving at 845 and called an ambulance. At the time we stopped it was 945. The first responder left at 10 am with the victim.

The biggest concern for the injured driver was the loss of one of his dogs. He had two small terriers and one could not be found. The driver explained his wife, recently deceased, had given him the dog and it would only respond to him. I figured if any one could coax a dog out of hiding it would be Bruce, who has special animal charm. For 45 minutes we looked, called and begged for the dog, named Rat, to come out. No luck. The other terrier was with his owner, shaking uncontrollably, licking his hand.

The driver explained he did not sleep well due to noisy neighbors so got up and drove. He had the truck on cruise control and then he doesn’t know what happened. I surmised he fell asleep at the wheel, or could have dodged a buffalo. Also, due to his chronic back trouble he was on Oxycodone and trazadone, the former being pain medication and latter a sleeping and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication. He was in the process of moving to Texas with all his possessions. It just goes to show, you don’t know who behind the wheel coming at you.

The family and other helpers were almost done with the clean up and said they would continue to look for Rat. I hope the guy recovers and his dog is found. I"m just glad the driver did not end up as a cross on the side of the road.

For the remainder fo the day we drove 360 miles and spent the night at Sikanni River campground. The wildlife for the day was caribou, a horned sheep and two black bear. Bruce said the Alaska Hwy is a thousand mile Lion Country Safari.

Alaska Hwy Eastbound from Whitehorse, Yukon

August 15, 2008 Friday

We awoke to clear skies and would have witnessed a glorious sunrise from the bed in our van but a huge RV filled the horizon. Off to the Baked Café for coffee, hot chocolate and internet business but after a while our wifi connection became spotty. We finished our business at Canadian Tire where they had public wifi. By 1130 am we were on the road.
From Whitehorse we drove 375 miles eastward and enjoyed the wide open landscape. The wildlife included ravens (the bigger cousin of that pesky crow), osprey and other birds of prey. The van stopper was a small herd of 30 buffalo.

Thinking we could find a campsite just east of Watson Lake was a mistake, there were none. Fortunately, we happened upon Whirlpool Canyon rest area, between the speck towns of Fireside and Coal River. This seems to have been an abandoned campground at an elbow of the Laird River. Perfect for boondocking as we were the only ones there.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On the Alaskan Hwy: East to Whitehorse

August 14, 2008 Thursday

We stayed at Snag Junction CG (campground) last night and slept in till 930. It was so quiet I woke up in the middle of the night to savor the silence. Hoping to see the Northern Lights on this trip we’ve had no luck due to the rainy and cloudy summer. We’ve had only a few nights with star studded skies and last night was perfectly clear but still no polar lights. To my understanding it’s usually a spring or fall phenomenon.

The wildlife viewing from the highway is meager and the views of the mountains, landscape, trees and lakes are majestic. Luck would strike in the view of a coyote (or is it a fox) considering crossing the road. We stopped to watch him but he ran back into the bushes, caught a small rodent and proceeded to play with it before devouring the rascal. Several artic ground squirrels can be seen along the roadside as well.

We spoke too soon about the meager wildlife viewing because as we approached Whitehorse, right on the side of the road was a mother grizzly and her cub eating berries. Exquisite is all we can say. We instantaneously became slack-jawed gawkers.

We boondocked at the Walmart in Whitehorse with all of the other huge RVs and had one of the quietest nights ever. One guy had a weather station mounted on his RV with an enclosed satellite dish and towing an SUV. The thing had to have 600 sq. ft. of room.

Anchorage: Met with the Bums

August 13, 2008 Wednesday

We finally met up with Ali and Pat of fame and had breakfast at Snow City Café in downtown. They are true world travelers. They’ve sailed around the world and are now driving the land parts in their 1958 VW camper that draws attention everywhere they go. Even our waiter stepped away from his busy morning to check out the “the bus”. We highly recommend visiting their website, but be forewarned, it is hard to stop once started and the story is ongoing. They are a young down-to-earth couple doing what many dream about. To those inclined, go to this Link and click on "Buy the Bums a Pizza".

We started making our way back to Puyallup, slowly, but we wanted to get to Canada before night fall. Leaving after breakfast Bruce drove for next 9.5 hours. The Glenn Hwy met up with the Alaska Hwy and we encountered a lot of road work along the way.
Drunken trees at the edge of the lake, kinda like Texans at the lake.

Driving on the Alaskan Hwy is like riding in a commercial jet in moderate turbulence. The permafrost (ground frozen under the surface) under the highway melts irregularly producing a wavy, rolling, driving surface. Also, much of the highway is under construction so many parts are gravel. The windshield is at risk from flying gravel. From Anchorage to Tok we’re pleased to see we’re getting 19mpg.

Whittier to Anchorage

August 12, 2008 Tuesday

We visited Whittier this morning, a small fishing, glacier and wildlife touring launch and a port for a cruise ship and the Alaska Marine Hwy ferry. The 2.5 mile single-lane tunnel in which to get there is interesting as it is shared by the train. Whittier was founded as a secret base for WW2 and the tunnel built to service the town has dimensions to accommodate the height and width for the train. You actually drive on the rails. Much like Seward, on a smaller scale, Whittier is surrounded by glaciers and snow-capped mountains.

From there we drove to Anchorage to clean up, visit a bookstore and meet a friend for dinner. Bruce and I met my friend Tara at the Moose’s Tooth Pizza and Bruce basically pigged out then had the nerve to complain about a belly ache all night.

As if the belly ache wasn’t enough we decided again to spend the night in the Anchorage Centennial campground, where we slept the week prior. This time we were entertained at midnight with a large and rotund lady yelling to a homeless man, “I’ll kick your ass”. Pissed, Bruce stepped out of the van to confront the woman but upon seeing her, knew she could back up her claim. Bruce woke me wanting to move to another site, but I told him unless they start shooting we’re staying put. We opted to move to another site closer to the entrance away from the bowels of this evil campground. Borden’s Corollary once again has been proven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Portage Lake Near Whittier

August 11, 2008 Monday

We had decided to drive the 100 or so miles to Whittier. We stopped at the Safeway in Soldonta to stock up the refrigerator and were pleasantly surprised to find that Safeway has WiFi. There goes a couple of hours checking email, updating the blog, checking stocks, reading the NY Times, etc.

At Whittier we planned to explore the town then jump the Alaskan Marine ferry to Valdez but we got sidetracked…again. The weather was so nice and the mountains surrounding Portage Lake were so beautiful that we opted to camp at the Williwaw Campground and get in a hike to the Byron Glacier. It was well worth the stop and we played on the ice in perfect weather and blue skies.

Pat is practicing her flute as I type this and it is amazing how I can tune her out when needed. Her playing has improved dramatically and I can now identify most of the songs she is practicing.

Homer to Anchor Point, Alaska

August 10, 2008 Sunday

We slept in this morning to almost 9 am. On a whim I turned on the van’s TV and the PGA Championship was starting...and I had a great picture. Pat decided to indulge me by doing the laundry and taking a shower while I watched golf in the van.

So I am in the laundry parking lot watching golf, the views of the mountains out the van window is spectacular, Pat is taking a shower ($6!) and doing the laundry ($4 a load!), and we have a great internet connection. If just one more thing happens this may be the best day of the trip. Then I look into the field next to the laundry and out step 2 moose. Big moose. Bingo, I think we have a winner. I walk up to them to take several pictures but instead of them walking away the largest one starts walking towards me. Since Bullwinkle out weighs me probably 6 to 1, I retreat. Beautiful animals and very healthy looking…probably would have kicked my ass and had his way with me.

Photo left: Bullwinkle giving Bruce the stink eye.

We drove north out of Homer to Anchor Point and finally found a sign noting the road as the westerly most highway in North America. Success! We also decided to spend the night at the Halibut Campground in Anchor Point. Fishermen everywhere and a nice couple brought us some delicious grilled Halibut to where we were sitting on a bench waiting for the sun to go down. I reciprocated by giving their 3 kids some of my double fudge cookies.
Photo left: Fisherman filleting halibut like a surgeon, note forearms are as big as Pat's thighs. The fish was delicious!

The sunset over the Aleutians was spectacular.

Sergio should take up tennis.