Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 12 - Home improvement day

Today was home improvement day (as was yesterday). Actually, it was "remodel kitchen" day. We spent most of yesterday visiting home improvement centers in Hayward, looking for the materials we had in mind for remodelling our kitchen. There is this rather ugly, busy linoleum on the floor:
The kitchen walls are in need of a fresh coat of paint, and the stove/oven needs to be replaced because the oven door won't close properly. (When we had it checked before buying the house we were told it could not be fixed.) We're also rearranging things, putting the frig in a different place, and installing some additional cabinets and counter top.

We went to Duluth, MN today to see what Home Depot and Menards had to offer. We would prefer to buy everything from local businesses in Hayward (rather than a big box store) but we're on a tighter budget now and just can't afford the prices. We will buy some things locally, but not everything. After first thinking we would put some kind of laminate or vinyl tile on the kitchen floor (that looks like ceramic tile), we decided instead on a hickory hardwood floor. It will be more labor intensive to install but we think it will be worth the effort.

We also bought a used dresser from a Craigslist seller in Duluth. (I love Craigslist!) We came back to Hayward this evening with a van full of cabinets, hardwood flooring and a dresser. We had some difficulty finding cabinets to match the existing ones, but what we found is very close and will do.

Before leaving Duluth, we stopped at "Grandma's Saloon & Grill" for dinner (recommended to us by Juneauite Rose Welton, a Minnesota native). Chicken Tettrazini on a bed of wild rice was the dish we both chose, the Tuesday "special." Excellent!

It finally cooled down today (64 F this morning according to a temp sign we passed on the way to Duluth). It was in the mid-80s yesterday but the humidity was less than the couple days before so felt cooler. Right now it is 58 F and will drop to the mid-40s later tonight, downright cool. We might even sleep with a blanket on tonight.

July 10 - Unloading the truck

We finished unloading the U-Haul truck today and returned it to the rental place. Everything came through the trip intact and in good shape. Having shelving units in the truck on which to store many of the boxes worked very well to keep everything from shifting and in place. Our bicycles that were stored above the cab on a sheet of plywood came through unscathed. We both were a bit worried because we hit some pretty rough roads along the way from AK to WI.

Our garage is just about full of boxes. We're trying not to put any of the boxes in the house until after we clean it. It needs a good cleaning. We started out the day by going to our favorite breakfast place in Hayward, the Norske Nook. Each day (except Saturday) they have a breakfast special. Today's special was two eggs any style, two sausage links, toast, and hashbrowns or American fries (kind of like scalloped potatoes) for $3.99. Our total cost for breakfast, including coffee and tip was $12.30.

After unloading the truck, we rewarded ourselves with icecream in order to cool down on a hot day as the temperature rose to at least the mid-80s today.

This evening, as we were sitting at one of our few pieces of furniture, a dining room table, discussing plans for remodeling our kitchen, a deer walked by in the backyard. And speaking of wildlife, we have an American robin family that has made a nest on a lamp on the house outside our front door. We didn't see any birds on the nest when we arrived, but our first night here I went outside for a minute, after it had turned dark, and there was a flutter of wings as I scared one of the adults and it flew off the nest and hit the living room window. I felt bad. We have tried to avoid disturbing them the past two days by going in and out the back door. I watched from a distance with binoculars today and saw that there are two or three young chicks in the nest. One of the adults was feeding them and I could see their little beaks pop up. We hope the robins will realize we mean them no harm and will stick around.

July 8, 2011 - We've arrived in Hayward

We arrived in Hayward tonight, just past 5:30 p.m. Central time (2:30 p.m. Alaska time)!

The day started off in St. Malo, Manitoba where we spent the night. After by-passing Winnipeg on Thursday night, we headed south toward Minnesota on Hwy 59. We went through a couple of small towns with French names, St. Pierre-Jolys and La Rochelle, before reaching St. Malo. The French cultural influence appears to be quite strong in this part of Manitoba. All the road signs were in both French & English (not the case elsewhere). St. Pierre-Jolys felt like a little French village, with a winding, tree-lined road going through town with quaint old homes intermingled with local businesses rather than a straight, sterile business strip.

We got an earlier start Friday morning than other days, rising at 7:00 a.m. We had breakfast at the little cafe/restaurant attached to the St. Malo Motor Hotel. The cafe was filled with middle-aged and older men, nearly all of them speaking French. Four different guys, who were local regulars, offered to refill our coffee, helping out the one woman who was doing everything else. One of the men brought us a couple of local newspapers to read. There was an old poster of Betty Boop on the wall, advertising "Boopsicola," and an old Corvette sales & service sign in bas-relief.

As we got up to leave, I felt like saying, en francais, "Au revoir, messieurs, je pense que je suis en France," ("Good-bye, sirs, I think that I am in France") but I was too shy to do so. (In hindsight, I wish I had followed my heart and spoken to these men in French. Like Mike said, what did I have to lose?) As we stepped outside, an old man road up to the cafe on an old one-speed bicycle and, as we were leaving town, we saw three men, all of whom appeared to be in their 70s, riding bicycles into town. I truly did feel like I was in France.

We crossed the U.S. border just before 9 a.m. without any hassle. The customs agent asked just a few questions and told us we were too young to retire. He peeked inside the back of the truck but didn't ask us to remove anything. He didn't even look in the van. The weather was sunny and hot again yesterday. The temperature was 85 F in Grand Rapids, MN at mid-afternoon. We stopped to get fuel at a place that sold forty five kinds of "brats" and wild rice, a sure sign that we were in Minnesota.

By 4 p.m. we were passing thru Duluth (bordering Lake Superior) and over a bridge into Superior, Wisconsin, only about 60 miles from Hayward. We made much better time because the quality of the road surface in MN was much better and smoother than the last few days in Canada. When we arrived in Hayward, we dropped off the trailer at the local U-Haul place, drove the truck to our house and went out to dinner to celebrate at the local brew pub, the "Angry Minnow." I can't believe it was only a week ago Friday that we left Juneau on the ferry!
The sun sets on our journey to Hayward.

July 7 - Alberta to Saskatchewan to Manitoba

We are stopped just outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba for a bite to eat. We're still seeing field upon field of yellow canola, something we have seen ever since entering Alberta. Since entering Alberta we've also seen much evidence of "black gold," with little oil rigs dotting the landscape and, yesterday, large black oil storage tanks scattered among the farmlands.

I saw one of these tanks with a the following message painted on it - "Welcome to Marshall, Black Gold country." (Missed a photo of this, darn.)

Yesterday, we also saw evidence of agribusiness, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) train cars and Cargill grain silos.

I often wonder, when I see farmhouses off in the distance, adjacent the hundreds of miles of crop land, are any of these lands still owned and farmed by families or are they all owned by corporate agribusiness?

Speaking of farms, the past few days we have witnessed on the highway what I decided to call Unusual Farm Vehicles (UFVs) also known as Farm Vehicles of Unusual Size (FVOUSs).

Weather has been hot and sunny the past two days, altho' it's cooling down now that it's 8 p.m. We will try to make it close to the US border before stopping this evening and then will cross over from Manitoba into Minnesota, on either Hwy 75 or 59.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 6 - I thought we were in Canada

We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I thought we were in Canada but, somehow, we ended up in Kandahar.

July 5 - Vermilion, Alberta

We are in Vermilion, Alberta this evening, about 150 miles east of Edmonton. We bypassed Edmonton (a city of over 700,000 with over a million in the surrounding area) by going on some smaller roads north of the city. That worked fine for one of the roads but the second one was even smaller, turned to dirt, and then had a sign that said "No trucks." We were forced to turn around and retrace our route. For the first time, we (i.e. Mike) had to back up the truck and trailer. He did a fine job under my direction. :-)

We eventually made it to Highway 16, which we followed to Vermilion. Once again a long day, stopping finally at 10 p.m. We first went to a Super 8 but were told they had no rooms available. Turns out the oil industry buys a block of rooms for their workers and this is why they had no rooms. Speaking of the oil industry, ever since entering Alberta we've seen little oil rigs here and there, dotting the landscape, amidst fields of grain or canola or some other kind of plant.

We stopped for dinner at a Boston Pizza joint and parked the truck/trailer in the nearby Walmart parking lot. We parked next to an RV that had an interesting license plate, en francais.
Translation: Retraite = Retired
The four phrases in the corners = No time (no hours to keep), no address, no telephone, no money.

July 4 - Valleyview, Alberta

Today was our longest day on the road yet. We didn't stop for the night until 10 p.m. Took an alternative route from Dawson Creek toward Edmonton in order to avoid hills. We are now in the prairie lands of Alberta and it is mostly flat. We saw fields and fields of a yellow-flowered plant that we thought was mustard seed but we found out is canola. No signs of the Alberta tar sands; apparently they are in NW Alberta. Very little wildlife yesterday; saw three black bears shortly after leaving Fort Nelson. Now that we're in farmland, we're seeing cows, horses, goats and grain silos. The evening light on the yellow fields beckoned for a photograph, or three.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 3 - Fort Nelson, BC

We're in Fort Nelson, BC tonight. Arrived about 8 p.m. local time after starting out at 9:30 this morning. Another day of hilly, mountainous terrain but we did a little better on gas mileage, averaging 7.59 mpg on a 155 mile section of road. This stretch of road had some very curvy, narrow sections, especially around Muncho Lake and beyond. Also some steep downhills that were a bit scary, with 7, 8 and 9 percent grades.

We had a bonanza of wildlife viewing today, starting off with a lone buffalo sauntering slowly down the middle of the road within an hour of leaving Watson Lake and two others grazing on the side shortly thereafter.
Then, we saw two herds of bison, with lots of precious young calves, just before and after Coal River Lodge; one herd had over 30 bison and the other over 40. The young bison calves look very similar to caribou calves.

We saw five stunning stone sheep just after Muncho Lake, four caribou just past Summit Lake, and a total of eight individual black bears at various locations, most quite small, grazing in the grasses along the side of the road. Also saw one deer and a marmot.

We're camping tonight (much to Mike's chagrin) at the Triple "G" Hideaway RV Campground at the north end of Ft. Nelson. Because fuel is costing us more than we anticipated, I convinced Mike that we should cut back on other expenses. So far, gas prices in Canada have ranged from $5.14/gallon to $6.50.

July 1-2, 2011 - Juneau, Alaska to Watson Lake, Yukon

Our journey to Hayward began the afternoon of July 1 as we departed Juneau on the ferry for Skagway. A number of our wonderful friends came out to the ferry terminal to see us off. It is bittersweet to be leaving Alaska, our home since 1975, but we're looking forward to new adventures in the Midwest.

We're in Watson Lake, Yukon tonight. We arrived about 8:00 p.m Alaska time after leaving Skagway just before 10 a.m. Neither of us slept very well last night so we slept in this morning. Making it up White Pass was a slow haul, averaging 15-20 mph on the steepest sections. It was raining in Skagway and at the pass but the weather improved as we got further from the coast. Mike drove the truck the first part of the day and I took over in the afternoon. I was a bit nervous about driving such a big rig pulling a trailer but it was easier than I thought and now I feel comfortable with it.

The truck is an automatic but has three gears in addition to "Drive." There is a fuel economy indicator gauge that shows when you should shift to a lower gear to get the best mileage. When you're driving on anything other than flat terrain you have to constantly shift between "drive" and the three gears. At this point we're averaging only a little better than 5 mpg. Sure hope that improves as the terrain flattens out. 

We're staying at the Airforce Lodge tonight, a restored barracks from WWII. Michael, the German fellow who owns the place, is really nice. He told us that the original barracks was in such bad shape that he got it for free. It was cut in half and moved from its airport location and is the only surviving building from the military installation that was once here. He has completely restored it and has done a beautiful job.