Travels With Oso con Migo

Sojourn In America

OAE On The Road Again, North To Alaska... Finally

20 July 1998, last letter 17 July 1998 (Letter 98e)

Gentle Readers,

23 May 1998, Looking For Work

I'm holding up well I guess but the bus is giving me fits. I have considered settling in Eugene Oregon but its too rainy all the time. The other extreme would be to abandon The Cat Drag'd Inn and escape while I can in the lifeboat truck. But the middle way is to spend the big bucks and keep going. After all I have 20-30 thousand into her now what's another ten, eh? Probly won't be all that much, but close. The tranny is more than three and then there is the installation... In the mean time I've redone the fix to the leak in the roof under the forward photo-voltaic panel and added a fuse to protect the ignition wire that burned up a few days ago. 

24 May 1998, Sunday, Portland, OAE Stone Soup

I'm trying to catch up on some of the visiting I'd wanted to do here on the way through to Seattle. The bus is in Eugene waiting for parts so I'll run around for the long weekend and go back there Tuesday.

The GreenTortise is a bus that runs north and south along the west coast offering inexpensive transportation over long distance. They go very fast for a tortise; even pretty fast for a bus. I've read some about the GreenTortise service but never seen one until today when one went screaming past me. I played leapfrog for a few miles to get a closer look.

Janet has a hairless Mexican something or other dog who's medically prescribed diet is exclusively venison and peas. Some sort of allergy. Doyle says the dog eats better than he does. Hershey, the dog, sounds like an espresso machine when he gets to digging around in the sheepskin on the back of the couch in their spare room. They'll host this Stone Soup which looks to turn into a cook-in with the typical Oregon weather the way it is. Jim brought ribs and Tonya brought ice cream and beer. I made my favourite cream cheese stuffed dates while Janet and Doyle made salad and potatoes. Yum! 

25 May 1998, Monday, Astoria, Finally The Sun Shines

When I woke the first time the sun was streaming in the window; I thought I must be dreaming so I went back to sleep and woke to the rain later and tried to remember the dream. But then the sun came out again as I took leave of Janet and Doyle and Hershey. Oregon highway 47 meanders northward through Veronia, Pittsburg, Mist, past piles of large logs and signs that proclaim "Tree Farm - Planted 1983". The road wanders in serpentine curves over the hills--would be a great place for a motorcycle or a bicycle--past sweeping vistas of planted trees, rank upon rank of hybrid cottonwood, spruce, fir. An interesting visual effect results from all the trees being planted at the same time: as the trees grow all at the same rate, they develop branches all at the same level and orientation so when looking at the forest from a distance you see horizontal striations that give the scene a kind of fresnel effect--jarring to the eye--unnatural-- strange.

The town of Astoria Oregon was founded by John Jacob Astor as a trading post. It is the oldest settlement west of the Mississippi. Louis and Clark wintered here during their journey to the Pacific coast. Astoria is the only port of call for the USS Missouri on her journey from Bremerton to Hawaii.

Little Jon designs things and he has a yellow 1967 MG for a hobby. We use to work together at The Mount Washington Observatory when I had a yellow 1967 Chevy van. 1967 was the last model year they were both well made. The local neighborhood attractions include the house around the corner where the smashing the bedroom window scene in "Free Willie" was filmed and the cantaloupe eating cat Norton who purrs like his namesake. 

"The Astoria column began as an idea of Ralph Budd, president of the Great Northern Railway, and Electus Litchfield, a New York architect. It was to be a final monument in a series erected along the route of the Great Northern Railway. It uses the sgraffito work of Artist Attilio Pusteria and is patterned after the Tragan Column erected in Rome by Emperor Trajan in 114 A.D. The artwork begins with the discovery of the Columbia River and ends with the arrival of the railway train. In between, all of the events which led to the establishment of American claims to the Northwest Territory, and the ultimate winning of the west, are depicted on the face of the Column. The 125 foot tall column has stood above 600 foot Coxcomb Hill in Astoria for 70 years." ---JCL. Thanks Jon.

2 June 1998, Tuesday, Camping In A Garage

The roads all seem a lot longer from down on the pavement than they look from up above the map. (Hey! That might be an original aphorism worth saving, eh?) But I did get out to the sand dunes on the coast. Great place! And I've been riding on the bike trails in the neighborhood of the garage.

Sunday I went to the beach -- Go fly a kite said I to my Self -- and so we did. It is a strange community here abouts. Most people are still dressed as if it were winter. Even at the beach. Whilst I was wearing my next-to-nothings pareu. The little purple diamond kite was with me, flying and walking across the dunes, dodging frisbees and dune buggies. One voice heard over my shoulder exclaimed: --Is he wearing a speedo? and his companion replied: --Not even that by the looks of those cheeks...

At least camping in this garage I need not worry about the leak in my roof. And the owner is permitting me electric and water. But if this goes on another few days not only is it going to jeopardize my ferry reservations to Haines, I am going to have to call for a honey wagon and a propane delivery. When I returned from the beach yesterday I hollered in at the bay door: --Honey, I'm home! All the mechanics got a laugh out of that.

3 June 1998, Wednesday, Willie Nelson Sings...

On The Road Again... Finally. The Cat Drag'd Out on a road test. Sprang out! is more like it. This new (rebuilt) transmission, an Allison MT643, is a different model from what was in her. Quite a bit bigger, stronger, with different shifting characteristics--heavier too--but mainly it is properly suited to the application of moving this bus. One of the differences, an automatic lockup clutch, permits the engine to operate about 500 rpm lower for the same speed over the road; this will translate to better fuel mileage and cooler operation of the engine and the transmission. The Cat Drag'd Inn may have to have a new name: The Cat Leap'd Out!

11 June 1998, Ketchyercan Aklaska, And Yer Salmon Too

Score Fifty. It hardly counts in this vast state to say one has been here by just having touched one corner of it but I went ashore from the Malaspinia when we docked after two days sailing from Bellingham for a short walk, an eagle sighting, and a whale watch--a pod of orca and at least two humpbacks (I recognised the hump of one as one I'd seen at Palmer several years ago)--and then aboard for the next town north.

The little truck is sitting next to the Radke barn in Ferndale and all the bikes are stuffed between the bunks. We're all on our own now. David flew in Wednesday followed by Cassius and Charles on Thursday. We spent the weekend getting acquainted at the Lake Associates Recreational Camp near Mount Vernon Washington, just off the Conway exit of I-5; Charles promptly taking a header off his bike raised welts that would have kept a phrenologist busy for days. 

Getting the bus onto the Malispinia was no problem but we had to shut down the propane and direct all auxiliary power to the fridge; it was not enough to save the B&J's. During the first part of our voyage, through Canadian waters between our port of embarkation at Bellingham Washington and the first port call at Ketchikan, while the ship flew the red and white maple leaf from her starboard yardarm, pet calls were allowed three times a day. Pet tenders could go below to the car deck to feed, walk, and clean up after their dogs, cats, and spider plants.

By the end of the second day at sea it was evident to the discerning eye that the battery was discharging faster than I anticipated and emergency ice cream eating measures had to be implemented at once. First to go were the Doonsberry sorbet and the New York Super Fudge Chunk. Cassius and David and me took those two to the ships galley and invited other passengers to help us devour them. The next day it was even worse; the Coffee-Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz and the Cherry Garcia were near critical meltdown, the World's Best Vanilla had already liquefied into a sodden mess that could have been easily mistaken for a frappe. Other passengers were again recruited for the ordeal after we'ed exceeded our maximum daily calcium and caloric intake requirements. Finally the only thing left in the freezer is a dozen ice-less cubes and three packages of vegie burgers.

The M/V Malaspina is named after the Malaspina Glacier. In the early 1960s when the ship was constructed the glacier was said to be the largest on the North American continent, about the size of the state of Rhode Island. Malaspina, the glacier, is located north of Yakutat, between Mount Saint Elias and the sea, and was at that time a receding glacier. Malaspina, the glacier, was named after Captain Don Alessandro, an Italian seaman who sailed the waters of the Alaskan coast in 1791, doubtless in a vessel considerably smaller than this. Malaspina, the vessel, was originally 352 feet in length and could carry 500 passengers and 100 autos at 18 knots while consuming fuel at the rate of 42 gallons per hour. The ship was later lengthened by 56 feet. The original cost of construction was five million dollars; the additional 56 feet, inserted amidships, cost six million. 

12 June 1998, Friday, Sitka and Juneau

The sundeck looks like a Scout camporee where we've been camping. Some folks are sleeping in deck chairs while others have pitched tents. I tried setting aluminium tent pins into the steel deck plates but found that ductape works better. Four of us have our tents tied together and to long lines I set between the port rail and a midship mast. The temperature and rain are not all that uncomfortable but several tents have sustained damage from the wind: two have misshapen poles while in mine the poles held the load but punched their grommets from the tabs. 

17 June 1998, Wednesday, The Land of The Midnight Sun

Today is Wednesday, rainy 17th, at the Chena Hot Springs Resort Camp somewhat east of Fairbanks. We're taking a day off from driving to do some housekeeping and soak in the pools before making the crawl to the circle. I'm sure the clich‚ should be "dash to the circle" but the roads being as they are, or, perhaps, rumored to be, we will have all The Cat Drag'd Inn can do to maintain a crawl. 

Yesterday we went panning for gold. Not nearly enough to retire on, but I did find some. Certainly enough to make one speculate that if it really was that simple then, notwithstanding all the preparation required to find and get to the "pay dirt"--just the panning part-- one could take in about fifty dollars an hour. A better choice would be working for the Alyeska Pipeline company. Perhaps I could commute by riding a pig from Prudhoe to Valdez.

Another thing we did yesterday was have a fuel spill. Probly a couple of gallons of number two diesel went over the side due to over filling the main tank complicated by procedural problems with the fuel transfer system and the inclination of the roads hereabouts. 

18 June 1998, Beyond The End of The End of The Pavement.

Chena Hot Springs really shouldn't be called that. Chena Warm Springs maybe; Chena Tepid Springs would be more to the point. I found the place over regulated, under serviced--tho that is not to imply the hard working staff was not doing a satisfactory job. It seems that the water coming out of the ground is at a respectable temperature but by the time the State of Alaska regulates the mix down to a degree more in concert with your typical Alaskan its about ready to cause hypothermia. Interestingly enough, the showers are hot enough to satisfy a Maine lobster.

On the way north, beyond the end of the pavement on the Dalton Highway, the air dryer commenced to act up causing a loss of air to brakes and steering during the decent of a 9% grade and a panic stop at a wide spot in the road. Looked like a good place for supper. In the course of repairs, between entree and desert, three other motorists stopped to see if we were ok. As ok as we can be considering we don't know what's wrong yet not to mention how to fix it. Eventually, during coffee, a good dose of WD-40 into the purge valve of the air dryer seemed to restore operation and we were on our way again as soon as the dishes were washed and put away.

The bridge over the Yukon River is 2290 feet long at a six percent grade; the north end of the bridge is 140 feet lower than the south. 

21 June 1998, Gobbler's Knob, Land of The Midnight Sun

Furthest point north for The Cat Drag'd Inn: N66ø43.5' W150ø42.8' (give or take half a mile) as best I can determine from the Delorme GPS which as we travel north of Haines displays our location with increasing error. We are on a height of land called Gobbler's Knob overlooking a vast valley to the north, the Brooks Range forms the distant northern horizon while a ridge rises sharply behind us where the Trans Alaska Pipeline passes by underground. The sun circles the sky, in and out of low clouds, as we take a day to walk and bike (and sunbathe of course). There is a small snowfield to the northeast and a profusion of wildflowers that remind me of the Alpine Gardens of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Big trucks continue to roar past and from the ridgetop one can see their dust tail wending across the tundra for miles north and south.

Given the nature of time zones and longitude astronomical midnight happens about 01h30 on the local clock. We take turns napping, walking and feeding our several pet mosquitoes, watching the sun make curtain calls in her dance from peak to peak along the Brooks Range. There is some discussion about what it means: "Sun Set"... When the lower edge of the sun touches the earth? When the last sliver of the upper edge disappears? What if the sun slides along, she's not really "going down" here, and goes behind a mountain and then comes out again--does that count as a sun set? ...and then another sun rise? Ethan?

24 June, 1998, A Busman's Holiday At Denali National Park

Healey--Into The Wild--The Stampede Trail looks like it has developed some since Chris McCandless hitched in to the crossing of the Teklanika River but road maintenance has not kept pace with construction; the surface is actually in worse shape than the Dalton Highway so we did not go in more than a few miles. Originally I'd wanted to perhaps bike all the way in to the river, some twenty miles, to try and get a feeling of what the young man McCandless had in mind when he hitched and walked his quest into the wilderness but my own quest was pressing and this part of it was set aside.

At Denali we parked The Cat Drag'd Inn and took a shuttle bus ride of eleven hours through mostly rain and animals. Our hike in the wild country outside the park, from an undefined rest area to the north, was more noteworthy in many respects: I wore my Limmers for the first time in many a moon. Our route took us downstream along a fast cold brook--we hopping from bank to bank as the stream dashed from stone to stone, cutting a deep, serpentine canyon, down steeply we climbed along the walls to the embankment of the Alaska tourist railroad just as the train bound for Fairbanks rolled past.

The shuttle bus connects visitor center, campgrounds, trailheads, river crossings, along an eighty mile route through tundra where the road is built on a high berm and over mountain passes where it clings to precipitous alpine meadows. More than once I wondered if the tyres had traction on the rain slicked gravel as good as the Dall sheep that lounged along the edge. Or if there were eagle wings secreted under the coat of mud splashed up by our passage and the passing buses going the other way. At each pit stop passengers would surround the bus to wash their windows; sometimes we'd just leave them open if the rain was not too bad. I think the most interesting animal we saw was a small fox observed sitting on the edge of the berm near the end of our tour. He paid no heed as the bus approached and stopped a few feet away. And then amid the scramble amongst the passengers for good viewing through the mud veiled windows, while the driver admonished us to be quiet lest we frighten off this sensitive creature now the object of our frantic clicking and beeping, the fox deigned to look over her shoulder and recognise she had an audience. She stood, preened, stretched, sat--facing us now--and rolled over. Does she do this for every bus? Was the driver issuing commands with a secret dog whistle? What does the Park Service put in her food... or is this one of Henson's Muppets or Speilbergs animatrons...

In Anchorage we fell in with KL7G and a local Amateur Radio Club at their annual Field Day weekend. Ham radio accounts for four of the twelve antennae on the roof of The Cat Drag'd Inn and we explained in our first contact with the club that we'd driven all the way from New Hampshire just to be part of Field Day in Anchorage. All of us had licenses of one sort or another (AZ9CS, KD7BQU, N1CMD, K1OIQ) and we were equipped to operate on seven bands so while the beans bubbled on the back burner more antennae were raised and generators started and power cords stretched and tangled with guy lines and burger queues. We made several contacts--NC6I, K7LHC, N7OY--enough to show we could do it and then went on with other recreational activities: balsa model building and leaded glass windows, bike riding and chicken racing, visiting around and being visited.

30 June 1998, Across the Frontier, From English to Metric

By the time we'd been around the loop to our second appearance at Tok the laundry needed doing again and it was time to have the brakes adjusted. Tok RV Village is one of those who place "modem friendly" on their list of features right up there with laundry and dump station so we stayed there and added email to the list of things to be done: laundry, showers, blackwater, potable water, snailmail (some general delivery was following us around the outback) groceries, brake adjustment, fireworks (how can one enjoy skyrockets when the sky never gets dark?) vehicle wash... oh yes, email. Willard's Auto Electric found time to squeeze The Cat Drag'd Inn between other jobs (Thanks! Willard, the brakes were much better after your ministrations--we got the air dryer fixed in Prince George) while the kids went looking for a gravel pit. 

Getting past Canada customs was one of my more interesting crossings. They were rather more thorough than usual but I have a feeling it was only as one of the two inspectors with a fine tooth comb said: -- We've been sitting around the office all day and welcome this chance to check on your declaration compliance.

6 July 1998, Oh Canada ... Say, Can You See?

Whitehorse for Canada Day, and evening, was our substitute for Fourth of July. We all got our fill of fireworks mostly along the road in one gravel pit or another; hardly dark enough to make them worth while except for the noise and the smell and the possibilities. The sky is far too bright to see any lights or colours. First stop was at Klondike II, a sternwheel steam ship that use to ply the Yukon River.

When our tour finished we were just in time for the Canada Day parade which came along Second Ave and ended at Rotary Peace Park where all sorts of food and games and speeches were arranged. We got out the Saco River tubes from the bellybox under the bus and went Inner tubing the Yukon River in the wake of Klondike II.

Later in the evening we took in a performance of the 29th season of Frantic Follies. Robert Service wrote in his poems (The Cremation of Sam McGee, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and his Ballads of a Cheechako) of the goldrush days in Whitehorse and Dawson City--the marge of Lake Lebarge is just north of Whitehorse on the Yukon River. The Cremation was one of the poems recited as a skit before a nearly full house. Even better was a skit portraying The Ballad of The Ice-worm Cocktail:
"... A coctail I can understand--but what's an ice-worm please?"
Said Deacon White: "It is not strange that you should fail to know,
Since ice-worms are peculiar to the Mountain of Blue Snow.
Within the Polar rim it rears, a solitary peak,
And in the smoke of early spring (a specticle unique)
Like flame it leaps upon the sight and thrills you through and through,
For though its cone is piercing white, its base is blazing blue.
Yet all is clear as you draw near--for coyly peering out
Are hosts and hosts of tiny worms, each indigo of snout.

To miss or not to miss, that is the question. Needless to say we could well have used a month in Alaska alone: There is much unique there. There are also the usual coterie of franchises to avoid. Even without adverts on the telly, when I insisted on NOT going to Pizza Hut my guests managed to find the next biggest chain by simply noticing that TwoForOne pizza had more than one store. --Wow! Two pizzas for the price of one! they said. But what, I asked, if you only want one pizza? --Then I guess we have to go to Pizza Hut! giggle-giggle-giggle.

Perhaps I will have to return soon, before the roads are widened much and all the curves are straightened. 

Email was difficult at best north of the border. Cell service is spotty or unavailable. A new feature some campgrounds are sporting, right up there with hot-tub and showers, is "modem friendly" and to that end will have a phone jack and power available at a desk in a lounge open to guests. The phone service is limited to local calls and 800 numbers. All one need do is jack in and log on. One such place was so friendly they even let me use their access after I canceled my reservations.

13 July 1998, Lake Bronson, Finally The Sun Comes

Everyone is gone home now, its just me and Oso con Migo again, and after weeks of mostly cloudy-partly rainy weather today the sun is beating down, already I am finding parts of me that missed the sun even more than I did.

Its not too late for you to join me for the last leg of this Circumdrivebulation of The Lower 48: from Portland Oregon across southern Idaho to Driggs, maybe Yellowstone, then north to Bozeman Montana, and east to Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Some of the places along the way I expect to visit OAE's, in Saint Paul I want to try to take in a performance of The Prairie Home Companion before going on the long way around Lake Michigan to Ohio and then east through Pennsylvania, the Finger Lakes Region of New York and finally into northern Vermont to visit my motorcycle and "home" to the garage in Center Conway to close the loop and have a well earned oil change and greese job. Write me for details.

Stay Gold, bcnu, Send Money, Love, ajo

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