The Epic Road trip of Awesome Day 6: “YAY! EARTH!”

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Thursday, August 31, 2017
I don’t notice the time, but I can hear vehicles driving down the highway. A slight breeze ruffles my hair and I burrow deeper into my sleeping bag. For some reason I can’t quite explain, I am more content than I have been in a long time, and I drift off to sleep again.
The next thing I hear is someone’s alarm. It’s 6:30 (though my phone, stuck on Pacific Time, tells me differently). Ben says he woke up at about 2:00 and saw this full complement of stars above his head, and wishes he could’ve shared that moment with Sarah. Sarah, for her part, says SHE woke up at 2:00 AM and saw those stars. I think of those drowsy contented moments with the breeze playing with my hair, and think that maybe, just maybe, we all unknowingly experienced simultaneous magic.
I stretch and we start rolling up sleeping bags and deflating our mattresses. Jenny, annoyed at being cooped up in the car all night, bounds out of the back seat and starts sniffing the area vigorously. After a quick pee and breakfast, she’s further annoyed at being put back in the car so we can load up the roof bag and search for showers. We’ve stuffed our dirty laundry into the bags that normally contain our air mattresses. The glorious foot room from yesterday is no longer available, and I hope this changes soon.
We find washrooms… but no showers.
Ben has cell reception, and he confirms the campsite lists “showers” as an amenity. We drive around the campsite in case we miss something and…
No showers.
After the long drive yesterday, there is no way we are going without showers!
We pull up alongside a couple of women – campers? – and ask if they know where there are showers. They pause (“oh, gosh!”) and consider it, before recommending a nearby campground, or possibly a truck stop in Idaho Falls. Ben rolls up the window and thanks them.
Idaho Falls looks like our best bet.
After fifteen minutes or so of driving, we locate KJ’s Travel Center and pull in to the parking lot. Ben goes inside to see if there are showers. And hallelujah! THEY HAVE SHOWERS!

We pay $7.50 per shower and are handed keys, towels and face cloths. one of us needs to wait for the fourth shower to be cleaned, and Ben says he’ll wait.

I have what I can only describe as the most amazing shower of my life. I want to stay under the spray for hours, but everyone else will be annoyed, and I’m hungry, so I turn off the water and nearly slip in the puddles my feet leave on the floor. It’s only now that I notice a mat I could have used to avoid this…

Changing in to clean, dry clothes, I shove yesterday’s clothes into my toiletry bag, pick up the towel and washcloth and make sure I’m holding the key before I let the door close behind me.

To my astonishment, I am the first one out of the showers! As the others meet me in the hall, everyone agrees that those showers were incredible! Ben notices a little room off to the side, and we’re thrilled that it contains washers and dryers! We tromp back downstairs, move the car to a better location, and four humans and one dog haul all of our dirty clothes up the stairs. Sarah gets quarters for the washer and dryer and buys soap from the little store downstairs, and we load two washers with the dirty camping clothes of four people.

While the washers spin, we go back down the stairs to locate the diner. When Jenny and I enter, you’d have thought no one had ever seen a dog before! We are stared at, but otherwise left alone to pile into a booth and order our food.

The waitress comes by and asks us if we’d like coffee. We all say “yes!” so emphatically that she asks us if we’d like a pitcher.

A pitcher of coffee!?

Yes, please!

 

Sarah holds the magical coffee karaf

 

We drink our coffee, marvel at the showers and our night under the stars, and order our food. I’m itching to try Idaho potatoes, so I order a basic breakfast with eggs, potatoes, bacon and toast. The intermittent Wifi signal brings me a notification “written” by our cat, Annie (translated by our friend Keith), stating that she’s mourned our departure and thinks we’ll NEVER come back, but is glad for all the space on the bed and the new guy who seems to come regularly for kitty scritches. I chuckle and share it with Ben.

Just before our food arrives, Ben goes upstairs with a bunch of quarters to move all of our clothes from the washers to the dryer.

Our food arrives, and we tuck in. In my opinion, the food isn’t quite as good as the coffee. It’s greasy and heavy and hits the spot, but my potatoes are all clumped together and my bacon is only warm, not hot, and definitely flabby rather than the crispy bacon I prefer.

We finish our breakfast, and Ben and I pay the bill, leaving a generous tip. It’s now time to souvenir shop!

Jenny’s struggling with this building for some reason. Either she’s discombobulated by the open space that gives way to sudden tiny pathways or she’s mad at me for last night’s “abandonment” in the car. She keeps taking me to exit doors and is seemingly disinterested in guiding, though she’s calm and collected, so I work with what I have.

There are key chains in the gift shop. I’m thrilled to find a big heavy one with a spinning centre piece showing the Idaho state flag. There are no badges for jenny’s travel blanket, so I make a mental note to order one online. Ben and Sarah try on trucker hats, laughing uproariously before each choosing one.

We climb the stairs to the laundry room, where our clothes continue to tumble around in the dryer. After a few minutes, I go downstairs to use a washroom and get Jenny some water. I’m just about to pick up her water bowl and empty out the excess water when a woman pushes open the door, sees Jenny, and lets out a shriek. I say nothing, dump the bowl into the sink, wipe it dry, and put it in my purse. The woman apologizes for her reaction. I still say nothing and leave.

Jenny’s still not taking me to the base of the stairs. There’s something blocking easy access to them, and they’re incredibly narrow and steep to begin with. We ultimately make it upstairs, where I join the others lounging on the comfy couches. We all tease each other some, wrestle a bit, then sprawl out on the couches again and tune each other and the world out for a few blessed minutes.

The dryers are done and we pry them open…

And our clothes are still soaked!

We have a brief team meeting. Our options are limited. We can either run the dryer again and hope this dries our clothes or suck it up and hope we find a dryer on the road.

It’s a quick decision. It’s pushing close to 10:00 and we really want to get to Old Faithful sooner rather than later. We load our damp clothes into the mattress bags and stuff them in the trunk, fill the car with gas, and change our riding configuration for the trip to Wyoming.

 

KJ’s Travel Center (Idaho Falls, ID) – Old Faithful

Distance: 136 Miles (219 km)

Travel Time: 2.5 Hours

 

For the first ride of any distance, I’m in the front seat. Ben is driving, while Sarah has taken up a position with Jenny and Dwight in the back. Once we’re ready to go, it’s easy to marvel at the landscape we’re leaving behind. We see more wildlife as we cross through Idaho, which continues for at least another hour from Idaho Falls. There are more Mormon temples seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and a Holy Rosary (church?) likewise situated. Once we cross from Idaho into Montana, the speed limit increases from a quick 70 miles an hour to a blistering 80 on the Interstates. We call our hosts for tonight at Grandview Campground and play phone tag due to the spotty reception Ben’s getting. We finally connect with them and let them know we’re planning a late evening checkin, and are asked to call back when we have a more solid ETA.

The scenery is gorgeous as we travel through a small corner of Montana and into Wyoming. Sarah passes out GoPicnic lunches, but we snack on them sparingly; we’re still full from breakfast. We pay the entry fee to Yellowstone National Park on the Montana side of the park, and it doesn’t take long before we’re suddenly into Wyoming. In less than 90 minutes, we’ve crossed three state lines. We see tons of wildlife. A bison stands in the middle of a field close to the highway, just hanging out and minding its business, and Ben adds that to his tally of animals seen on our trip. There’s more beautiful senery, including other geisers, that Ben and Sarah definitely want to photograph on the way back down. No complaints from me; they’ve earned these pictures!

We reach Old Faithful just after 1:30. I expect us to have to take a small hike to get out there, but instead we pull into a parking lot and travel along sidewalks to small cafes, shops, and the visitors center. We stop in a souvenir shop where I find two awesome tactile keychains (one for me and one for a friend back home) and a badge for Jenn’s blanket. I’m paying for my purchases when Sarah tells us she’s heard that Old Faithful might erupt in a few minutes! I’m afraid we’ll miss it, because (again) I’m expecting a hike and a trail, but it’s only a brief paved walk to a wodden outlook.

I’ve imagined Old Faithful for months. I’m expecting some great rushing force of water, like a reverse waterfall. But instead, I hear nothing but fellow tourists as I stand on the boardwalk.

It’s 2:16. Time for the expected eruption.

And nothing happens.

A hush falls over the crowd as a faint smell of sulphur fills the air and Old Faithful bubbles slightly.

More time passes.

Another brief scent of sulphur, another slight eruption, more silence.

As time passes, people inch away and go back to the shops and their cars. Murmurings of Old Faithful being a tease and a let-down can be heard behind me. I inch closer to the edge of the overlook just as Old Faithful, in a final show of strength, erupts.

After a 20-minute tease, Old Faithful erupts!

It’s not at all what I expect. The faint scent of sulphur is not present here. The strong powerful sounds of gushing water I expected are definitely absent as well; instead, it sounds like faint ocean waves.

After a couple of minutes, Old Faithful settles down, and many people clap and start to move away. It’s kind of weird to think about, Sarah says. It’s like everyone is congratulating earth on being earth… “YAY! Earth!” But I just HAD to get a picture with Old Faithful in the background.

Me and Jenny crouched down with a calm Old Faithful in the background

We zip inside another store for road snacks. Dwight buys a bag of grapes for $8 and Ben buys more road cheesies. I get a Gatorade and Sarah buys her snacks – we all spend a small fortune on road food.

We take our last bathroom break before piling into the car. Jenny – as she’s done all the way through this trip – finds the accessible stall without my asking her to do so. Sarah keeps telling me how impressed she’s been with Jenny on this trip, and while I can dwell on Jenn’s mistakes and missteps, I have to agree with Sarah. Jenn laps up the water I set down for her by the sink, and we’re all ready to hit the road.

Old Faithful – Grandview CampGround

Distance: 308 miles (496 km)

Travel Time: 6 hours (including stops)

 

We keep our travel configurations from this morning as we pile into the car. Ben’s got a Google map on his phone and is hopeful that he can still navigate in these areas with no cell service. Just twenty minutes out of Old Faithful, Sarah spots the geisers they wanted for pictures, and Ben pulls in.

Dwight and I stay in the car, talking. We haven’t really had an opportunity to do so on this trip, and I confess my feelings of uselessness. I’m not a seasoned camper, and Ben and Sarah seem to frequently have everything under control. Sure, I’ve rolled a sleeping bag or two, or helped set up the tent, but to me it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. Dwight offers some perspective that I desperately need – that I have been contributing, but that I need to temper my need to be needed with the practicalities that come alongside camping with experienced campers. My blindness has nothing to do with it. I’m not sure I feel any better, but I feel better for having talked about it.

Sarah and Ben come back to the car, thrilled with the pictures they’ve taken of this area. It’s called the Painted Pots. There are signs that state that you must stay out of the water; it’s so clear and so hot that you would never come out.

The Painted Pots

We’re ready to go again. Sarah and Dwight chat in the back while Ben follows the route he sees on Google maps. There’s a motorist in front of us who keeps speeding up and slowing down and speeding up and slowing down. Ben finally gets so annoyed that he takes the first available turnoff and hopes it’s the right one.

The highways are well-paved and well-maintained. We’ve driven for about half an hour before Ben thinks he made a mistake – turning left instead of right. His google map is useless up here, and he asks me for directions. I pull up Nearby Explorer, put in the address of Grandview Campground, and start giving directions (basically, keep going straight and take one turn or another).

As we travel, Dwight and Sarah nap while Ben and I chat. I talk to Ben about my feelings of inadequacy, and he’s quick to reassure me that I have pulled my weight – heck, I’m the one navigating on this leg of the journey!

The signs for Bozeman appear, and we are all tired. It’s 20 minutes to Bozeman now, and someone points this out. Dwight says that’s a perfect name for a band, and we all laugh and agree.

In Bozeman, we stop for gas. We’re getting hungry and find a burger place with a drive-through. We order massive burgers and fries, and we’re all impressed as we munch. Only Ben seems disappointed by his waffle fries (I try one and agree that my traditional fries are better). Sarah has cell reception, so she calls Grandview and tells them our ETA appears to be about 9:30. They thank her for her call and tell her they’ll see us when we get there.

As we drive through Bozeman, Ben and Sarah express a strong liking for the city. The architecture looks cool, and now I think we’re all sorry we won’t get a chance to explore it further.

Nearby Explorer continues to map our route – go straight. we pass small towns and lovely scenery as the sun sets. Even I can see the sunset filtered through the trees, with mountains in the background on either side. I’m blown away by the majestic beauty of this sunset as I munch my fries and tell Ben to continue to go straight, through county after county, past unpopulated areas or tiny hamlets.

We reach Billings. It’s a big city, too, and we all agree that tomorrow, we will go into Billings, split up for a couple hours, and do our own thing. As we leave the city limits, I start to worry about directions to Grandview. The email says GPS can sometimes be wrong, and we have no cell service to contact them if we get lost.

I worry for nothing. As we pull into Hardin, pass the gas station indicated on the email, the sign is clearly marked. We pull in to the drive at 9:00, and Ben and I get out of the car. Lori arrives just a couple minutes later and opens the office/gift shop. She’s warm and welcoming and she’s thrilled we got in earlier than we’d estimated and gives us a rundown of the campsite information. We’re given directions to the showers and our campsite, change for the laundry facilities (open 24 hours), a Wifi password, and kitty cuddles from the resident cat. We can dry our clothes! AND see kitties? With showers and wifi, we’ve hit the camping jackpot!

We get back to the car and tell Sarah and Dwight about our good fortune. We pull up to our assigned space, and the guys get to work on pitching the tent. Sarah and I haul the mattress bags full of wet clothes to the dryers. The first dryer eats Sarah’s quarter, so we have to go back to the car and get more. We move the wet clothes from one dryer to another, and I constantly drop them. Sarah and I laugh giddily as she loads the second= – hopefully functional – dryer with our clothes. They fit in one load, and the dryer takes our quarters with no fuss.

We get back to the tent, which has been completely set up. Our air mattresses are inflated and sleeping bags unrolled. Jenny is bounding around the camp site like she’s never seen such a beautiful grassy area, and I’m struck by the sound of crickets I hear. If you’ve ever seen a movie that has a night-time scene with crickets in the background, these crickets sound like that. It feels like I’m in a movie, and I’m so happy I could burst.

We check on the clothes in the dryer, and they are – miracle of miracles – all dry. We stuff them into the mattress bags again and put them in the car; we’ll take care of them in the morning.

It’s 10:00 PM, and I’m ready for sleep. I crawl into the tent and bury my face in my pillow. Jenny will not leave my side, squishing my legs under the weight of her Labrador frame. The movie-crickets sing me to a restful, contented sleep.

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The Epic Road Trip of Awesome day 5: bad Wardrobe Choices

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I wake up well-rested, thrilled that we can all squish in the tent. For an air mat that’s barely an inch thick, my body has felt remarkably supported. Why didn’t we buy these mats sooner?

Jenny has decided that sleeping with me is over-rated. She’s moved her way over to where Sarah is sleeping, squishing Dwight halfway off his air mattress. I’m more amused than offended.

The smoke that has been hovering in the air the past few days has finally started to decrease. For the first time in days, the sunrise is not singed with orange. This, coupled with yesterday‘s run and jiu jitsu, have put me and Sarah respectively in a better mood. We both express our extreme gratitude to the guys for their patience with us yesterday, grateful to feel so relaxed. I know that Ben, in particular, needs some solo time; being in close proximity for five days now – with almost no pictures to show for it and no other outlet – has frustrated him greatly. The plan is to stop in Boise this afternoon, go our separate ways for a couple hours, and come back together as a well-rested, rejuvenated team+.

But Tami and Wayne have other plans. While I am in the tent, getting dressed, and Ben and the others are out by the picnic table, Wayne approaches Ben and asks if he and Tami can treat us for breakfast. Absolutely! Schedule be damned; today’s gonna be a long haul, and the more time we can spend with these new friends, the more fun we will have, and the more prepared we will be to slog through what promises to be one of the longest single-day drives on this trip.

I exit the tent and immediately regret my choice of clothing. Because today’s drive through Oregon and Idaho will be long and hot, I figured I would be best served by wearing a comfortable cotton skirt and lightweight top. I hadn’t considered… the wind. I spend more time messing with my skirt, wrestling it into some sense of order, than just about anything else. But I’m short on comfortable clean clothes (our hope is to do laundry in Boise), so my choices are nonexistent. I just hold my skirt firmly, put Jenny in the back seat of the car, and start getting ready to go. We roll up our mats and sleeping bags, stuff our backpacks, and load up the roof bag.

Loading up the Roof Bag

 

We follow Tami and Wayne the 17 miles to the closest Denny’s, in the Dalles. Dwight really wants to get “honned” at some point on this trip, and he’s pretty sure the server will oblige him by calling him “hon”. The six of us – and two dogs, pointedly ignoring each other because, PROFESSIONAL – pile around the table and order coffee. Sarah and I are both thrilled that we can order fruit with our breakfast. No one calls Dwight “hon.” We eat and laugh and drink coffee and chat some more and drink more coffee. By the time someone notices the time, it’s 10:00, and we need to hit the road.

It takes us fifteen minutes to say our farewells, give hugs and well-wishes, and pile all humans and dogs into their respective vehicles. We’re well-fed, well-rested, and ready for the long haul.

 

The Dalles, Oregon – (campsite name redacted), Idaho

Distance: 643 (plus ???) miles (1035 plus ??? km)

Travel time: 11 hours (including stops and detour)

 

It feels good to be on the road. Sarah takes the wheel, while Ben takes the passenger seat. Dwight and I are at the mercy of Jenny, who alternates between scrunching up into a tiny ball and using our bodies to resituate herself. The mental map I have in my head tells me that Idaho is close by. We can have our “me-time” in Boise, maybe do laundry, and still make it to our campsite on time.

Not long after leaving Tami and Wayne, we stop at a service station near Rufus, Oregon, where we buy snacks (including a replacement for the “road Cheesies” that have gone stale from sitting open in the car for days) and an adapter to charge Sarah’s cell phone. Going to and from the station, I’m holding my skirt, because the wind keeps blowing it around, and I crack a joke about wearing totally the wrong underwear today.

Ben doesn’t have to fill the tank with gas; the station is full-serve! We haven’t seen this in Alberta in ages, and it feels quaint and charming. With a full tank of gas and snacks in hand, we pile back into the car and get ready to meet Idaho.

A sudden “pop!” startles me just a few miles after we get going. A trailer in front of us has lost a tire, and it clearly needs to be replaced. When Sarah sees the occupants of the truck hauling the trailer are an elderly man and his wife, she pulls over to the side of the road. Ben gets out and helps the man change the tire in the blistering heat. When Ben gets back into the car, he says he’s glad to have helped someone out, and was amused by how the man introduced himself by name and home state. Sarah and Ben are both impressed by the manners of the motorists on the highway. No one stops and stares, they merge into other lanes so that no one is in danger of getting hit, and they keep on going. once we see that the truck and trailer are safely back on the road, we start up the car again and continue our journey.

Oregon lasts forever. Once our breakfast has worn off, we open more GoPicnic lunches, swapping for our preferred foods, and snacking on the way. I’m thrilled that, at the next stop, the 1-foot-square box that’s taken up a ton of space by my feet will be halved. LEG ROOM!

We drive east on I-84, away from the smoke that’s infiltrated our vision and/or our lungs for days. Because of this joyous fact, Ben is finally able to get some good pictures. At seemingly random moments, he rolls down the passenger window and snaps multiple frames in quick succession.

 

A stone House

 

We drive from the green (if hazy) scenery of the Dalles, past mountains, and into high desert. We pass the turnoff to where Tami and Wayne live just as it starts to get cloudy, and we wave fondly at the turnoff. A few miles later, seemingly from nowhere, we find ourselves under a cloudburst which pummels the car with rain, then quarter-sized hail. We worry about the potential condition of the car, and wonder how the roof bag is taking this first barrage of bad weather we’ve seen. It doesn’t last long, though, but it’s at this point that I realize that the chocolate bars we bought before the trip – that have stayed out of the sun in the air-conditioned car – have all melted into soupy, unrecognizable puddles inside their wrappers. It’s been an hour since the hail stopped, and we stop at a rest stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Exiting the car, we encounter a blazing sun and fierce desert winds. My comfortable flowing skirt is blowing in the wind, and Sarah and I each hold one side of it down while running for the closest washroom.

Hurrah! We’ve thrown out the big box! I have leg room now, and we still have snacks. Ben has checked the car and the roof bag, which have both held up nicely against the hail and rain that now – an hour after driving through it – seems like a distant memory.

We point the car eastward again, finding more varied terrain from deserts to mountains and valleys to rivers, through baking sun and further cloudbursts.

Oregon has Mountains!

 

Exhausted, we make it to Ontario, Oregon, where the time jumps from 4:30 to 5:30. Just like that, we’ve lost an hour, and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll make it to our campsite on time for check-in. It’s becoming abundantly clear that our “me time” and laundry stop in Boise is not going to happen, but it’s supper time and the car needs fuel. We stop at another full-serve gas station and buy dinner at Chester’s Chicken. Our chicken is so hot that the steam makes the paper sacks rip. We walk from the restaurant, holding our sacks awkwardly to keep from spilling chicken on the sidewalk. The air is electric around us; it feels like it’s going to storm.

From the car, Ben calls the campground we’ve booked for tonight, telling them we’ll likely be slightly late for check-in. They tell us that’s no problem; if we can’t get in the main gate, we can still access the facilities from another entrance.

We cross the state line into Idaho. Almost immediately, drivers stop to look at pulled-over vehicles. At about the same time we realize the seemingly instantaneous loss of driving skills, we notice wildlife everywhere, and it’s brave wildlife. Coyotes dash across the highway, a turtle (tortoise?) risks its life in the middle of one of the traffic lanes, and more than one bird attempts to make contact with our windshield. It’s starting to get dark in Idaho as we drive past Boise, noticing a massive wind farm that we think might provide power to the city. This stretch of highway is buffeted by wind, and it feels like the car is fighting the gusts as we fight the clock, driving mile after mile through Idaho.

 

Idaho Scenery

 

We stop for gas again in Carey, and while Ben fills up the car – no full-serve here! – Sarah spots an owl sitting on a telephone pole. Leaving the town, we notice a large Mormon church, which we find surprising for a town this size (apparently, population 604).

We drive.

And we drive.

And we drive.

Every time it looks like we might just make it in time for our campsite closing, we have to fight some weather or traffic or otherwise annoying quirk of the road. The sun has set now, and Sarah is driving on a highway with no street lights. Music is a means to an end, providing a much-needed break to conversation (something that’s lacking at this moment). We’re all so tired that we sing “I would Walk 500 Miles” in bad Scottish accents, converting the 500 miles into their metric equivalent. A few songs later, I’m belting out “Crocodile Rock” at the top of my lungs, which prove to be rather reedy. Then I just become sad when I really listen to the lyrics of David Bowie’s “A Space Odyssey”; I’d nevver heard the words before and they make me really sad.

This drive will never end.

Sarah pulls into our pre-booked camping area thirty minutes after the posted check-in time. The gate is closed. We pull over to the side of the highway and put our heads together. As we see it, we have three options: find another camp site, walk in through the pedestrian gate, or drive in through the exit. We are so exhausted after the long drive that options 2 and 3 seem the most desirable. Ben checks the exit gate and sees that it’s clear – no spike belt to prevent us from entering. We agree to drive in through the exit, circle the tenting sites several times and cannot find our name on any of the “reserved” posts. When Sarah locates an unoccupied tenting spot, we pull over and bring down the roof bag.

I can think of few things I would want to do less than set up the tent. It’s late, I’m tired, and I just want to close my eyes. It’s a beautiful night, so I propose sleeping under the stars – for practical reasons more than a true desire to do so. The others agree readily, and we blow up our mats and unroll our sleeping bags, using the car as a buffer to protect from some of the highway noise and lights. Because we’re so close to the highway, we leave Jenny in the car for the night – much to her displeasure. I drift off to sleep almost instantly under an open Idaho sky.

The Epic Road Trip of Awesome Day 4: Entertaining Angels

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017
I know I didn’t sleep well last night. My deflated air mattress had JUST enough air in it to feel like a slightly deflated water bed, and neither Ben nor I could move comfortably without disturbing each other. I know now that I will never ever ever get a water bed like the ones that so fascinated me as a child.
Jenny is not on her bed by my feet, or snuggling with me; she’s waking up Dwight and Sarah with kisses and tail beatings. It’s 5:30 AM or so, and we’re all wide awake.
Last night at the grocery store, we bought bacon and eggs for breakfast. Ben gets up, cleans the plates from last night’s burgers as best he can without dish soap, and starts making breakfast on the camp stove. I start folding up sleeping bags. I’m in the process of moving one sleeping bag from tent to roof bag when I see a flash of orange from the corner of my eye. I know without thinking about what I’m seeing that it’s orange. I turn to look more closely with my limited vision, and the sun is starting to rise, blanketed by a smoky haze that – until now – I haven’t been truly able to detect visually. It looks incredible to me, like a sunrise but not, and I stand for a moment in awe of it.
We sit around the picnic table eating eggs with chopped up bacon. Ben and I discuss needing to get a new, more compact, air mattress, and dish soap and something to wash dishes in. I count out bills and hand them to Ben, since I’ve got plans in Portland today and he’s got time to buy these things.
We’re fed, as well-rested as can be expected, but severely under-caffeinated (we forgot to pack coffee supplies). The tent is disassembled, the roof bag packed and loaded onto Hoshi, and we hit the road.

Cascade Peaks Campground – Portland, Oregon
Distance: 140 miles (225 km)
Travel Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

We don’t have room for the big air mattress – in the tent or in the car – especially if we’re going to buy a new one. We check out of our campsite and leave the air mattress at the main office building with a note that says it should go to anyone who may need it.
My phone briefly connects to the WiFi signal, and I’m thrilled that a book I’ve had my eye on for months is on sale on Audible today. Unfortunately, no matter what I do, I can’t seem to purchase it on my phone – due to the ancient nature of my “semi-intelligent brick” or the weak Wifi signal here.
We turn on to the highway and are thrilled that Dad’s strategy of tying up the loose ends of the roof bag’s straps has eliminated the humming noise we heard the first day of our trip. Right on the highway, we locate a coffee shop with a drive-through window. We buy our drinks and get ready for the drive to Portland. Sarah’s thrilled she can get a breva, and she offers Ben a sip of hers. He likes it, and drives on.
We put on the music as we travel I5, and I realize that we didn’t have the music yesterday. Maybe that’s why our short trips felt so long. By 9:30, I open up the GoPicnic box and start passing packs to anyone who wants one. Sarah and I are doing workouts today, so we need the quick bursts of energy the food gives us. I trade Sarah my applesauce for her edamame seed blend, and eat something every 10-15 minutes – the seed blend, crackers and turkey slices, fruit and nut mix – until we pull in to the parking lot at 10th Planet at 10:30.

We all enter the gym, and Sarah introduces herself. She’s been in touch with them, asking if she can join 1-2 Jiu Jitsu classes while she’s in town, and they welcome her instantly. She fills out forms and pays for her classes, we all take turns using the public washroom, and her class begins almost immediately.

Ben asks about places to go to take pictures, and the man behind the desk (I think he said his name is Bam) gives some great directions. After a few minutes, Ben and Dwight go back to the car, and I’m Just about ready to settle in to a chair and wait for my guide runner, when I realize I forgot something.

I take Jenny and fly over to the car, thankful that they haven’t left yet. I’m wearing my sandals, not my runners, and my running shoes are still in the car. I quickly change footwear, wish the guys luck, and tell them I’ll see them in a couple hours.

Before taking off for this trip, I put out feelers for a guide runner at any of the stops we would make. A friend mentioned United in Stride, a tool to pair visually impaired runners with sighted guides. I got in touch with Mark, who agreed to run with me, and was so accommodating of my shifting plans and changing meet-up locations and schedules. We’ve agreed to meet at 11:00 at 10th Planet, and it’s just past that. I try and pull up the email he sent me with his phone number to touch base, but the wifi doesn’t work and the email, for some reason, isn’t stored on my phone.

Jenny and I wait outside in the growing heat of the day, and Bam comes out a couple minutes later to wait with me. Mark pulls up and Bam introduces himself, then me, and Mark and I laugh about our seeming inability to keep track of each other’s phone numbers. Since my phone isn’t REALLY a phone anymore, he couldn’t have reached me, even if he had tried to call.

Jenny hops up into the back of Mark’s vehicle. She’s thrilled that she has easy access to a window to look out of – something that’s been in short supply in our little Nissan. I apologize to Mark for any nose prints, and he laughs and says he has kids- nose prints are nothing.

The traffic is heavy today, and we make it to Leif Erickson Trail a full twenty minutes later than planned. But the conversation on the way is easy and fluid, and I’m completely comfortable with Mark acting as my guide.

Before we hit the trail, Mark grabs the T-shirt I had agreed to purchase from his online store. I make sure it fits by putting it over my current running shirt; it’s slightly big, but not baggy. I put the T-shirt in the car and make sure my shoes are laced up.

Mark asks if he can get a picture of the three of us – me, Jenny, and Mark – before we get all gross and hot from running. I quickly agree, and we sit on Mark’s tailgate, my calf coming in contact with a tail pipe. Before it burns, Mark quickly grabs a cold water bottle, holding it against my calf for a full minute, apologizing the whole time. I tell him there’s nothing to apologize for, and my calf feels fine. We snap the picture; I think Jenny likes Mark.

Jenny is giving Mark a kiss as we take this picture

 

We hit the trail running. I tell Mark that I think Jenn’s going to kick my butt for the first mile at least, and I’m not wrong. My training plan has me doing an easy mile, three hard miles, then another easy mile, but Jenny has made other plans. She’s been cooped up in a car for three days, and by God she wants to RUN! I have two choices: fight, or adapt. I choose to adapt, but that first mile is grueling, run in less than 9 minutes (faster than my usual pace). Mark advises of changes in terrain, is confused by Jenny’s placement toward the edge of the trail, and we need to fine-tune our placement (Mark moves a couple steps behind me and Jenny is much happier). At every quarter mile, Mark announces the distance on posts along the trail. Parts are shady, others are baked by the sun. I’m thrilled by my first trail run in a year, even in the heat. I alternate the miles – hard-slow-hard-slow-hard – as best I can, given the terrain, the heat and distractions – mostly off-leash dogs – on the trail. Mark holds a water bottle for me and hands it to me when I ask. Jenny takes any opportunity to drink, something she almost never does when running at home. We push through the last mile and make it back to the vehicle. I feel proud, even though my speed isn’t quite what I expected, and Mark and I chat on the way back to 10th Planet about marathons and future running plans (his first guiding experience was at Boston).

I try and call the gym to leave a message for Ben  that we’re running late – traffic, again, is surprisingly slow – vbut Mark and Siri aren’t getting along. He hands me the phone and, for some reason, I’m able to get Siri to play nice. Mark laughs and calls me a show-off.

We make it back about twenty minutes later than planned. I thank mark profusely and introduce him to Ben, Dwight and Sarah before he drives away. I load Jenny into the car and go into the gym to freshen up as best I can, changing in to my new T-shirt and heading back to the car to get back on the road.

Portland, Oregon – Memaloose State park

Distance: 77 miles (124 km)

Travel Time: 2.5 hours (including stops)

 

I ask the guys about their shopping trip, and hope Ben has gotten some of the pictures he’s been wanting to take for days. The shopping trip was a success – if an expensive one – and we now have two camping mats similar to Sarah’s and a folding basket to wash dishes in. It took all the money I had handed to Ben (and then some) to purchase these items, but they were able to swing by a food truck for burgers and stop at Voodoo Donut (as recommended by a friend). The pictures, however, are much less successful because of the smoke that hangs in the air.

 

Looks pretty smoky

Donuts are probably not the best post-run food ever, but I need the sugar. Sarah is thrilled with her experience at 10th Planet, and we’re both so much more relaxed. I don’t think I knew how much I needed a run until after I’d had one, and I’m thrilled to have gotten a chance to fly.

Sarah and Dwight are both fans of Elliott Smith, so we put on some of his songs on this portion of the trip. I’m struggling to get into this music, because – while I don’t think anyone can deny his talent – the dark and brooding nature of these songs aren’t compatible with my current headspace. I stay silent on the subject, though, because to me it’s not a huge deal; this portion of the trip is short, and I’ve gotten to do something I really wanted to do, the least I can do is allow others to enjoy the music.

We stop in a small town for a bite to eat; Sarah and I haven’t had lunch. We find a grab-and-go barbecue place, but are glad to be able to sit inside an air-conditioned building while we eat. We both enjoy our food, then Ben and Sarah swing over to a Walmart for a few supplies. Having purchased everything they need, we get back on the highway and head for Memaloose State Park.

The first thing we notice upon pulling in to our camp site is a barking dog. I smile, as this means that my friend Tami and her husband (our suppoer hosts) are here! It’s only 4:30 or so, and we mentioned we might be there by 6:00, so I am in a way surprised to see them already.

The barking dog is Loki, a 3-year-old standard poodle that Tami has owner-trained as a guide dog. I wait to bring Jenny from the car (thankfully it’s cool enough to leave her there for a few minutes) so I can greet Tami. We’ve known each other online for the past few years, and it turned out to work extraordinarily well that we’re in this area at this time. Tami and her husband Wayne live in eastern Oregon, but made plans in Portland this week, so a great camping spot to make friends and feed people (as Tami says Wayne likes to do) about halfway between their place and Portland was perfect.

I bring Jenny over to cautiously greet Loki. He’s still barking as we approach. I put Jenny in her Newtrix, just so I can have more tactile feedback on her head movements. Tami backs up with Loki, praising him for a quiet approach. But Loki gets within about five feet of Jenny and starts barking again. Jenny, annoyed that this poodle is barking in her face, lets this go on for about ten seconds before she moves forward and barks twice right back.

We separate the dogs (Loki goes in the truck, Jenny goes back in the car), and we set up the tent. The wind is blowing a beautiful cool breeze, but we have no tent pegs to anchor the tent. Once the tent is set up, the sides start blowing with the wind, and we place our backpacks and other items in the corners and sides of the hexigonal tent to keep it from blowing away.

Wayne and Ben get dinner started. Wayne’s got the steaks going while Ben uses the camp stove to make corn on the cob. We’ve tested out the new wash basin to clean our camping dishes, and – after a momentary fear that the plastic will melt or be damaged by hot water – our dishes are clean! While food is cooking, we set up the sleeping mats and air mattresses, and – miracle of miracles – they all fit snuggly in the tent.

Tami and I mutually decide that the dogs might never be best friends, so while Jenny is now out on the camp site with me, Loki is still in his space. Tami uses her white cane to walk over to where I’m sitting at our site’s picnic table. She’s embarrassed by Loki’s reaction and I’m quick to reassure her that she’s doing the right things by reworking a situation as far as it will go. I’m also thrilled that she respects her dog and mine enough to allow that extra space and the realization that they may not become the buddies we’d hoped they’d be. We talk about dogs, about books, about travel and camping, about our mattresses not fitting in the tent and the need to buy new ones. When I tell her the tent was supposed to fit seven people, she pauses a few seconds and asks, “What, are they all five-year-olds?”

When dinner is ready, we all crowd around Tami and Wayne’s picnic table. Jenny and Loki are as far apart as they can get, and they very pointedly ignore each other as the six of us eat and laugh and chat, throwing away our paper plates in the covered cans provided by the camp site. We’ve set up our camping chairs near the picnic table and open the leftover drinks from the cooler as we chat – sometimes as a big group, sometimes in smaller 2-person pockets. Sarah uses her phone to log on to my Audible account for me so that I can purchase that on-sale book (you can’t beat a book for $2.95), and I smile and thank her. The sun sets, the air continues to cool, and the crickets (sounding different from last night’s chorus) come out of hiding. Jenny and Loki continue to ignore each other, until Tami gives Loki a treat that Jenny shows too much interest in for Loki’s liking. It takes Jenny a little too long to lay down and turn her back to Loki again, but in the end they are content to coexist and ignore each other’s proximity entirely.

The showers close at 10:00, so at about 9:30 I grab my toiletry bag and walk with Sarah over to the showering room. Sarah describes it as almost jail-like, and while it’s not exactly super well-lit, the water is hot and the water pressure strong. I’m so thrilled to be cleaned up after the heat of the day. When we return to the camp site, Tami and Wayne are back in their space with Loki, and Jenny is curled up in the tent with Ben and Dwight. The crickets sing me to sleep as I think about all the amazing people who’ve opened their spaces, their hearts and their lives to me – even for a moment – today.

The Epic Road trip of Awesome Day 3: “I visited the Cascades! I Almost Died… but It was Fun!”

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Monday, August 28, 2017
Once again, Jenny has decided that it’s her job to wake up EVERYONE in the tent.
At 5:30 in the morning.
She’s happily wriggling and tail-wagging and making a general nuisance of herself, and finally Sarah opens the zipper on the tent and lets Jenny kill some grass. She’s now happy to snuggle with me a few minutes, until she can’t possibly wait for food for one more millisecond.
I crawl out of the tent and walk with Jenny to the car. Dwight is awake after having slept in the car last night. He says it “wasn’t that bad”, but I’m not sure I believe him.
Jenny’s much less beetleheaded now that she’s been fed. Ben, Sarah, Dwight and I deflate air mattresses and roll up sleeping bags and otherwise get ready to face the day and the road ahead.
max REALLY wants to play with Jenny, but Jenny’s disinterested in him; she’s got her eye on the beehives. Mom and I call her back to us and she listens reluctantly, deciding to sniff all the grass she possibly can.
We load Jenny into the car and start packing the roof bag. Mom has some great suggestions on packing it so that more fits in the bag and we take up less room in the trunk and the back seat. Yesterday we asked Dad about our vibrating roof bag, and he suggested knotting the straps so they don’t flap loosely in the wind. We’ve taken his suggestion to heart and are hopeful for a more quiet ride into Washington.
We all pile into the car and follow Mom to a McDonald’s near the border. Mom’s not a coffee drinker, so if we want some as soon as possible, you can’t beat a Canadian McDonald’s for good road coffee.
I’m annoyed by an email that I’m trying to respond to, but my phone won’t take my password. I spend far too much time fiddling with it, drinking my coffee and wanting to curse Google for being annoying.
It’s 8:00, and the Aldergrove border crossing is open. We say goodbye to Mom, thank her for her hospitality, and pile into our car.

Aldergrove, BC – Seattle, Washington
Distance: 186 km
Travel Time: 2.5 hours (including stops)

 

We pull up to the border crossing at Aldergrove and hand over our passports. because Dwight is not a Canadian citizen, he has to get further processed through customs, so we have to pull over and walk into the building to talk to customs officers. It’s been years – maybe decades – since I’ve had to stop when driving across the border. The customs officer is friendly and chatty while Dwight’s paperwork is processed. He asks where we’re spending tonight, and when we tell him we’re staying at Cascade Peaks Campground, his enthusiasm is obvious. “Oh! I went through the Cascades once!” he says cheerily. “I almost died… but it was fun!”

After a brief pause, we all clamber for the story. He tells us about when he was moving to take his current job, and he had to move a bunch of his stuff. He didn’t realize his truck wasn’t in the right gear for the curvy mountainous terrain, and he white-knuckled it most of the way through until he realized he could fix the problem. He cracks a joke about his life flashing before his eyes, but at least the outside scenery was great.

We all laugh, collect our passports, and head back to the car.

Since gasoline is much cheaper in the States than in Canada, we fill up the car. While Ben’s filling the gas tank, I take out my phone and swap my Canadian Sim card for a USA one… that’s too small! By the time I realize my mistake, the American sim card has lodged itself into the sim card reader on my phone, and I can’t get it out!

Sarah tries to see if she can put one in her phone, but her phone is locked to her carrier. Ben tries to get the card out of my phone, but it’s lodged in there good. Of the three sim cards we purchased, only one (Ben’s), it seems, will be used in the very near future.

The first thing we notice after crossing the border is the amount of traffic circles (roundabouts). Every mile for five miles has another roundabout, and (unlike back home) everyone seems to know how to drive on them.

The second thing?

“Cheap weed!” Ben cries from the driver’s seat. We all laugh, wondering if you have to be a resident to get some. We keep driving. There’s another pot shop… and another down the way. We pass a Walmart and Ben regrets not stopping. Someone cracks a joke about him driving past the only existing Walmart in the USA. Ben laughs and drives on.

Sarah spots a creepy-looking handmade sign for Giggles the Clown Fun Park, and we somehow find it hilarious. As we drive down the highway, we read out signs of businesses and cities and schools, wrapping our tongues around many words with Ws and Tcs and Ms.

We pull in to one of the parking areas at Pike Place Market and are glad to stretch our legs. Ben grabs his camera, and I strap a GoPro to Jenny’s back. We haven’t made it twenty feet before the camera – which in any previous testing attempts has tilted slightly to the right – has tilted to the left so far that it’s literally resting against Jenny’s side. I tighten and reconfigure the straps and keep on going.

We stop at a coffee shop for coffee and water, then walk down the narrow, crowded streets. We step into meat markets, produce shops, and Jenny tries to take me into three cafes. A friend told me to find a spot with the giant cookies, and I’m thrilled to find one so easily. I buy two cookies (that are the size of my face and are immediately dubbed “face cookies”), get frustrated with the GoPro again, and put it and the cookies in Ben’s camera bag.

Pike Place Sign

 

We make it to the fish market, where we stand just outside and listen to a busker with an acoustic guitar. he’s singing a Foo Fighters song but his voice sounds more like Green Day. I like it.

The market is bustling, with fishmongers throwing fish to the customers who order them. The atmosphere is chaotic, and we move away after a few minutes.

We stop at a Target store to see if my sim card can be removed by a phone technician. The clerk is hesitant to do anything, stating unconvincingly that he doesn’t want to ruin my phone. The fact that I told him that the phone is basically a tablet now doesn’t change his mind. So we pick up eyebrow tweezers and a few other items we need for the road.

Sarah likes the look of this pub down the street. We walk down and enter Elysian Bar, an amazingly open space with wooden floors and tables and high ceilings. Ben asks if he can take pictures, and he is told he can. While we wait for our lunch, Ben teases the sim card out of the card reader with the eyebrow tweezers and I attempt to re-insert it (with an adapter this time), no joy. I try my Canadian sim card, and no success there, either. My phone is effectively not a phone anymore, and I wonder how useful it will be. But I need to let it go; nothing I can do about it now. We order our food – smaller portions that are still massive – and enjoy the atmosphere.

Elysian Brewery has great Atmosphere

 

It’s 2:00 now, time to hit the road; we want to beat rush hour out of Seattle.

 

Seattle, Washington – Mount St. helen’s Visitor’s Center

Distance: 122 miles (196 km)

Travel Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

We eat the “face cookies” on the way to the Mount St. Helen’s visitors center. We enjoyed our time at Pike Place, but definitely found it crowded and congested in very small space. Glad to be back on the road, we settle in and hope for some views of the mountains. Unfortunately, wildfires from BC (and other areas as well) have given the air a hazy tint, making the view of the mountains much less majestic.

We pull in to the visitors centre just after 4:30. A wall of heat greets us as we exit the car. It’s a short walk from the car to the building, but even so it feels like we’re breathing fire.

The centre closes at 5:00. We are told that we can pay the $5/person entry fee and see the end of the film that is playing, or we can browse the souvenir shop for a couple minutes and then see the exhibits for free before closing. We take the second option, and I’m thrilled to find a Mount St. helens key chain and a badge for Jenny’s travel blanket. The film has concluded, so we walk down and view the exhibits, seeing the progression of the eruption. It is sobering, and the building around me has a hushed sense of reverence to it.

We hear an announcement that the doors are closing, so we head outside into the heat and get ready to head to our campsite for the night.

 

Mount St. Helen’s Visitors Center – Cascade Peaks Campground

Distance: 80 miles (130 km)

Travel time: 2 hours (including stops)

 

Ben’s phone doesn’t have good GPS service right now so he asks me to locate a grocery store. We need food for tonight and propane for the camp stove. I load up Nearby Explorer on my “semi-intelligent brick” (as we’ve affectionately dubbed my phone), and give directions to the nearest grocery store. We walk in and notice a lot of snack items, but no propane and nothing we can use for supper. We ask for recommendations and are given slightly complicated directions to a larger grocery store only a mile away. We find everything we need – propane for the stove, everything to make burgers for supper, adult beverages to go with those burgers, bacon and eggs for breakfast tomorrow – and take it all to the cashier. We know we’re in a small town, where you stop and chat with your friends and neighbors. A couple of people beside us say hello to each other and carry on a conversation as though they are in a meeting hall or a county fair. It’s quaint and charming, and I am enchanted.

We load up the cooler with our newly-purchased food and head to our camp site. at the main building there’s a weak wifi signal, so I shoot a couple of messages to a couple of people I had planned to meet along the way. We are given directions to a site that’s close to the washrooms and showers and we drive over to it.

The burgers are made as the crickets start to sing their evening song. The mountain air feels cool and clear to me, though there’s still a visible smoky haze. We each take a few minutes to just be alone before we come back together as a group to enjoy our burgers with macaroni salad and beer.

It’s time to set up the tent. We borrowed this one from a friend, and we’re thrilled that it seems to sleep six people (four people and one dog take up a lot of space). Sarah and I start to put it up, clipping the poles to the tent and the fly to the poles. The tent looks huge, and Sarah and I are pretty convinced that there’s plenty of space. We bring out the air mattresses…

And they all still don’t fit.

I am frustrated.

The obvious solution is to get rid of our double air mattress in favor of something smaller, but that doesn’t solve our immediate problem. It’s 9:00 at night and nothing in the immediate viscinity would be open. It isn’t fair to have someone sleep in the car again, so we decide to deflate the bigger air mattresses as much as possible, and we cram them all in. The double mattress has enough air in it to feel like a water bed any time someone moves. I take a deep breath of clear mountain air and hope for a restful sleep as the crickets sing their lullaby.

The Epic Road trip of Awesome Day 2: “Is that a Watermelon, or a Tomato?”

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Sunday, August 27, 2017
Jenny shuffles around on the floor and lets out a whimper. I bury myself under the blankets, nice and warm, eager for another hour (or three) of sleep.
But Jenny will not be silenced. I check the time on my phone. It’s 5:30 in Richmond, BC, which means it’s 6:30 in Edmonton. My dog… the Labrador alarm clock.
I quickly throw on yesterday’s clothes, swipe a baggie from the roll by the front door, and take Jenny outside to answer nature’s call.
Happy now, Jenny permits me to curl up under those blankets beside my husband, but sleep eludes me. I listen to my audiobook for an hour or so, then hear movement in the kitchen.
My dad is awake, getting breakfast started. He’s amused by Ayce, who has curled up with Dwight on the sofa bed. Both seem pleased as punch, so we try and stay as quiet as possible to let them sleep.
One by one, we all wake up and help with breakfast. Whether it’s grabbing food items from the fridge or freezer, cubing cheese, prepping coffee, or using the stove, most hands are on deck. While breakfast is cooking, Ben, Sarah, Dwight and I sit on Dad’s back porch, watching Jenny demolish two sticks in the span of fifteen minutes and then decide that one of Dad’s bushes needs “pruning.”
We gather around the dining table, realize there’s not enough coffee, then someone goes to make more. We eat our fill of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink breakfast and make plans for the day.
Dad and Karen head off to church, and the four of us have the house to ourselves. It’s nice to have some unstructured time. We read some, chat some, and head down to Steveston for a walk along the boardwalk, some shopping and some coffee.

We pull up to a parking meter that won’t take our cash. Sarah buys three hours worth of parking, and Dwight and I stand by the car, our faces toward the sun. One of us makes a comment that, unlike up north in Edmonton, we can look toward the sun without it hurting our eyes, allowing us to leave our sunglasses behind.

We stop in a souvenir store where Ben buys a magnet that has a joke about financial responsibility being unimaginative. There’s a consignment clothing store down the block, so Sarah and I step inside, generally dragging the guys along for the ride. A unique dress catches my fancy, and I end up spending far too much time (according to Ben… okay, me, too) trying on clothes. Unfortunately, nothing fits quite right, so I leave empty-handed.

We’re all a little hungry, so we make our way to Blenz, a coffee shop my dad visits frequently. After purchasing our drinks, Dad and Karen meet us and we sit outside where we chat and enjoy the beautiful day.

Our stomachs are rumbling, so we walk down to the Buck & Ear. It’s a sports bar that doesn’t feel like a sports bar. We crowd around a table and devour our sandwiches, salads and (in my case) fish tacos. Dad and Karen generously treat us, and we head back to our cars.

When we pull in to Dad and Karen’s carport, Sarah exclaims, “Is that a watermelon… or a tomato?” Karen’s been growing tomatoes this year, and this one is massive!

Jenny and I make our way inside, where Jenny promptly empties Ayce’s toybox of all the toys we’ve put away and settles on the loudest toy in there – the squeaker ball. Ayce decides that barking at her doesn’t phase her, so he toodles out the doggie door and ignores her instead.

Dad and Karen have recently returned from a trip to England and Sweden. They have brought souvenirs home with them (like tea from a teashop, Swedish dark chocolate, prints of trains for Ben). In addition to my no-tattoo-allowed generous birthday gift from Dad and Karen, I open a wooden box to store my newly-acquired tea, and a bracelet my father made that jangles every time I move my arm. For reasons both spacial and practical, we leave the tea and the box behind because we’re not sure about space in the car, and we’re equally not sure if we can take them (the tea in particular) across the border. We thank them profusely, then settle in for a post-lunch nap.

It’s hard to describe how things go south. Ben and Sarah had made plans to meet their family friend – their “uncle” – in the afternoon, and my mom was going to host us for dinner in Abbotsford at 5:30. I start to get anxious when Ben and Sarah haven’t left and it’s 3:30; I hope they have a great visit with their uncle, and there’s someone coming to dinner at Mom’s that I haven’t seen in years. There’s no reason we couldn’t do both, right? They take off, and I load up the roof bag for a quick load-and-go.

I don’t handle this well. I send texts, I pace, I get angry. I make watermelons out of tomatoes. Dad offers to drive me over to Mom’s and I tell him that’s not his responsibility. When Ben and Sarah arrive back at 5:45, I am fuming, and so is Ben. Ben, Sarah and I meet on the back patio. We make our feelings and expectations clear, and nothing really gets resolved. We load the roof bag on to Hoshi, put Jenny in the back seat, and hug Dad and Karen goodbye.

 

Richmond, BC – Abbotsford, BC

Distance: 67 km

Travel Time: 1 hour

 

For me, it’s a tense drive to Mom’s place. We make it there by 7:00 PM, and we climb out of the car. Mom greets us, smiling. It’s quiet and peaceful here; you’d never know that you’re not too far off of a major roadway.

I expect Jenny and Max – mom’s Bouvier – to pick up their intense doggie love affair where it left off last year. Jenny has other ideas; there’s SO much to explore!

We get a tour of the property, Jenny and Max generally leading the way. Jenny is fascinated by the chickens, though she makes no move to do anything about them. When we walk past the barn, Jenny discovers the blackberry bushes, eating only the ripe berries and wagging her tail merrily. Mom tells us they’ve had coyotes in the area, so after dark I plan on keeping Jenny close.

The makings for pulled pork sandwiches and potato salad sit on a folding table behind the house. A cooler is well-stocked with beverages both alcoholic and carbonated, and we sit outside and eat and drink and chat with Mom and her partner (who, among many other things, was a chef in a past life).

Mom has a tent that she offers to set up for us so we don’t have to set up the one we’re borrowing. we take the roof bag off of Hoshi to get our backpacks and sleeping bags and start blowing up air mattresses…

And they won’t all fit in the tent.

Ben and I have a double air mattress, we bought Dwight a single, and Sarah has a mat. They will not all fit in the tent, no matter what we try.

A team meeting is called. The only viable option is for one of us to sleep in the car. With Ben and Sarah driving, we all agree that they need the flat horizontal surface in the tent. It’s down to Dwight and me. Dwight says this is a great adventure, and besides, he can sleep anywhere. I feel a pang of guilt, ask him if he’s sure.

I toss him a pillow.

While the guys are getting ready for bed, I get a chance to take Sarah aside. We rationally air out our feelings from earlier and bury the hatchet. The awkwardness for me is gone, and I’m glad of it; I can sleep better tonight.

I crawl into the tent with Jenny, Ben and Sarah. We can hear distant calls of coyotes and far-off road traffic. I hope Dwight is sleeping well in the car as I drift off to my own peaceful sleep.

The Epic Road Trip of Awesome Day 1: Hitting the Road

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

I wake up at 5:30 this morning with a strange combination of intense anticipation and a splitting headache. Anticipation for the road trip that seems to have snuck up on me all of a sudden despite months of preparation; the headache from a little too much alcohol at last night’s party.

My backpack has been packed for two days and is ready to go – along with those of my fellow travelers, a tent, sleeping bags, and air mattresses – into the roof bag that will clip to the top of our car. Ben arranged camping chairs, a cooler, a flat of water, and other necessities into the trunk three days ago. Dwight and Sarah are bringing down backpacks, sleeping bags and pillows. We’re almost ready to hit the road.

I’m emptying out the dishwasher when my cell phone chimes with a text message. Our friends – who are returning from a road trip of their own with a box of food for us – were waylaid near Medicine hat last night. They’re on their way to us with a box of pre-packaged lunches from GoPicnic, and we have their emergency house keys.

ben reloads the now-empty dishwasher and runs it so we have clean dishes when we get back. Sarah ties up the kitchen garbage bag and puts it out for collection next week. Then Ben and Sarah fill the roof bag, rearrange it, zip it up and situate it on the roof of the car. Ben is frustrated because some of the trim has come loose from the car, and his efforts at gluing it back have not been a resounding success. The roof bag is up, its straps as tight as they can be. Jenny is sitting perfectly at my side, waiting for her next instructions.

We’d planned to leave between 6:00 and 6:30, but the clock is inching past 7:00 and our friends are almost here. They arrive with a 1-foot-square box of food for us, greet Jenny, wish us well, and head home to sleep themselves.

It’s 7:30… and we’re off!

 

Edmonton, Alberta – Richmond, BC

Distance: 1200 )plus ????) km

Travel Time: 13.5 hours (including stops and Detours)

 

Ben is driving this leg, with Sarah in the passenger seat (with Ben’s camera bag by her feet). Jenny permits Dwight and I to take over the back seat while she takes the middle. The box of food fits nicely by my feet, a backpack containing a picnic set and miscellaneous food sits on the flor (where Jenny’s feet would be if she were human), and Dwight has taken custody of the “communal jacket” (a leather jacket that Dwight got second-hand, left at my house two years ago so I borrowed it and gave it back to him, and now it seemingly belongs to all of us).

We barely make it to the highway when we hear a very loud hum coming from the roof bag. A subsequent check at a Canadian Tire store (where Ben buys adhesive for the trim), reveals the bag is holding its position nicely, but the ends of the straps are flowing in the wind, causing very loud vibrations.

We all laugh giddily, sing along with songs from Ben’s MP3 player (drowned out by the roof bag’s hum), and take our first selfie in the car near Edson. Snacks are procured in Edson, we stop for fuel in Jasper, then settle in for the long haul to Kamloops. Dwight, Sarah and I catch naps, and I can’t decide whether or not that makes the ride shorter or longer, because I’ve taken that trip before and it’s never ever felt this long.

In Kamloops, we fuel up again and take a break to stretch our legs. It’s hot today and there’s some smoke (though not much) from wildfires burning across the province, so our exposure to outside is minimal. We stop in to a McDonald’s for food, where a woman loudly proclaims that NOW she understands that my dog is a “SERVICE DOG” and then “sssssshhhhhhhhh”es anyone (no one?) who dares to call further attention to us.

Sarah takes over the driving from Kamloops. We’ve been planning to take the Fraser Canyon, since we’ve never taken that route, but due to timing we decide to take the Coquihalla instead (it’s shorter).

Just outside of Hope, Ben looks at Google maps and notices there’s a collision blocking Highway 1 between Chilliwack and Abbotsford. It will delay our trip almost 45 minutes. We make a collective decision to detour around it, driving from Hope to Mission and taking the Mission-Abbotsford Bridge to the highway.

We arrive (exhausted) at my Dad and Stepmother Karen’s house. Their dog, Ayce, greets us noisily, while Jenny runs outside to run and sniff and steal all of Ayce’s toys and taunt him with this fact. Ayce doesn’t care that she has his toys; he DOES care that she’s showing off.

Dad and Karen have set up a Chinese hot pot for us. The food has just started to cook, but it doesn’t take long for six hungry people to crowd around the table, filling their bowls with spicy or savory meat or vegetables or noodles. As soon as the hot pot is empty and we are all eating and laughing, more food is added to the pot. This goes on for over an hour, the tension of the long travel day retreating into the background. We are almost stuffed to bursting, but we can’t say no to little cups of chocolate mousse for dessert.

Ben and Sarah had planned to visit a family friend tonight, but they are all so exhausted that making their way there at 10:00 at night sounds like an unwise decision. They’ve made arrangements to get together with him tomorrow, which is probably better for everyone.

The roof bag is removed from the top of the car and our backpacks are dispersed. We shower, set up beds, and fall into an exhausted happy sleep.

The Epic Road Trip of Awesome: Preparation

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I can’t remember who thought up the idea of traveling the northwestern part of North America, encompassing Alberta, BC, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and a teeny bit of Wyoming. I think it started innocently enough, much like the conversation that brought our New York vacation into existence.
We started talking about it in the early spring, about the time I started a new job. It was like a reward, for toughing out the hardest year of our lives. How the itinerary took shape? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s like we theorized that it would be cool to take a whirlwind trip to see my parents, threw metaphorical darts at some cool places we’d always wanted to visit which were sorta kinda close by (only hundreds of kilometers away) and compressed them into one epic road trip… that would be awesome.
It’s amazing all the things you need to think about when it’s you, your family or friends, your car, and the open highway. We started booking our hotel and campsites in April, asked the other two members of our intrepid crew to join us in May, got a lead on a tent in June, and bought a roof bag in July so that we could carry more stuff. We got maps from our local registry office, drew cool pencil lines on those maps, read more campsite reviews online, gave the car a tune-up…
And then August 26 just suddenly… appeared! Like magic, like a day you never thought would come but finally did.
We threw a party before we left. A bon voyage party, if you will. No fewer than 15 of our newest and oldest friends and family came and went, enjoyed terrific food (prepared by Ben and/or brought by guests), tossed back a drink with some laughs and occasional candid conversation on our patio.
We kicked everyone out by 9:30 so we could get up early and hit the road as early as possible; we had a lot of ground to cover.

 

Proposed trip

(Time is for driving only, not including stops)
Saturday, Aug 26: Edmonton, AB to Richmond, BC ( 1,164 km; 11 hours, 45 minutes)
Sunday, Aug 27: Richmond, BC to Abbotsford, BC (approx. 80 km, 1 hour)
Monday, Aug 28: Abbotsford, BC to Cascade Peaks Campground – with stops at Pike Place Market and Mt. St. Helen (approx. 600 km, 7 hours)
Tuesday, August 29: Cascade Peaks Campground to Memmaloose State Park – with stop in Portland (358 km, 4 hours)
Wednesday, August 30: Memmalloose State Park to Rigby, Idaho (1018 km, 9 hours, 35 minutes)
Thursday, August 31: Rigby, Idaho to Grandview Campground – with stop at Old Faithful (700 km, 7 hours, 35 minutes)
Friday, September 1: Grandview Campground to Garnet, Montana – with stops at Little Bighorn National Monument, and Billings (600 km, 6 hours)
Saturday, September 2: Garnet, Montana to Izaak Walton Inn (280 km, 3 hours 15 minutes)
Sunday, September 3: Izaak Walton Inn to Edmonton, AB – with stop at Radium Hot Springs, BC (960 km, 10 hours)
Total: approx. 5750 km, 60 hours

Hoshi, Our 2006 Nissan Altima, was as tuned up and ready as “she” would ever be. Jenny, my guide dog, had her up-to-date Rabies vaccination and would put her “curling-up” skills to the test. Ben and his sister Sarah would split driving duties. I would handle food, snacks, and other random things that require both hands. Our friend Dwight would provide deep thoughts, lots of laughs, and the only British accent in that Nissan.
No one said we had bit off more than we could chew.
No one knew what magic would take place on that trip.
We knew it would be a road trip of epic proportion.
We were just waiting for the Awesome.

Life on the Open Road: The Epic Road trip of Awesome

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Two hours ago, five weary travelers (four human and one canine) entered the city limits of Edmonton, Alberta, after a nine-day road trip. Nine days of laughter, of music, of occasional friction, of teamwork… of lots and lots of driving.

After nine days – over 5,000 kilometers and 60 hours – of travel through two provinces and five states, dispersed amongst sight-seeing and shopping and eating and picture-taking, I can honestly say that relationships were formed and strengthened over this trip. Dreams were born, there were some disappointments, but overall we all still wanted to be in each other’s company when it was all over.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and if I could I might have changed some things. And yet, it’s in those moments that I realize that any changes would’ve made it a diferent trip entirely – with different frictions, problems and priorities. I loved this trip the way it was; it provided me a much-needed perspective I doubt I could’ve had any other way.

So many people made this trip possible. A friend lent us a tent for the journey, others watched our home while we were away. Friends and family offered traveling tips and advice (none of whom said the words “Are you NUTS!?” – for which I am grateful), while others gave me practical birthday gifts that I could use on the road (even down to marking shampoo bottles). Employers provided time off of work, friends and strangers on the road opened their facilities, their guidance, and their hospitality to us.

And I can’t say enough about my traveling companions. I couldn’t have done this trip without you. and – as Ben said earlier tonight – I can’t imagine doing this trip with anyone but you.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting my own experiences on this Epic Road Trip of Awesome. Come along with me; it’s gonna be a wild ride.

Book Review: No barriers

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Several months ago I reviewed Erik Weihenmayer’s first book, “Touch the Top of the World.” When I learned his second book (and continuation of his autobiography), “No Barriers“, was coming out earlier this year, I snapped it up quickly, and read it just as fast.

No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon
By: Erik Weihenmayer

Erik Weihenmayer is the first and only blind person to summit Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Descending carefully, he and his team picked their way across deep crevasses and through the deadly Khumbu Icefall; when the mountain was finally behind him, Erik knew he was going to live. His expedition leader slapped him on the back and said something that would affect the course of Erik’s life: “Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.”
No Barriers is Erik’s response to that challenge. It is the moving story of his journey since descending Mount Everest – from leading expeditions around the world with blind Tibetan teenagers to helping injured soldiers climb their way home from war, from adopting a son from Nepal to facing the most terrifying reach of his life: to solo kayak the thunderous whitewater of the Grand Canyon.
Along the course of Erik’s journey, he meets other trailblazers – adventurers, scientists, artists, and activists – who, despite trauma, hardship, and loss, have broken through barriers of their own. These pioneers show Erik surprising ways forward that surpass logic and defy traditional thinking.
Like the rapids of the Grand Canyon, created by inexorable forces far beneath the surface, No Barriers is a dive into the heart and mind at the core of the turbulent human experience. It is an exploration of the light that burns in all of us, the obstacles that threaten to extinguish that light, and the treacherous ascent toward growth and rebirth.

Continuing the Journey, with New Friends along the Trail

This book re-introduces us to key people in Erik’s life – his father, his siblings, his wife and daughter. We get to know and see some of their dynamics play out, discover their demons some kept at bay (and later taking over), grow and change with everyone. One thing that the author has done well – in both books – is balance interpersonal dynamics without verging far into sappy emotional supposition or stale dialogue re-creation.
In addition to getting re-acquainted with Erik’s family, we meet new key people in his life. We meet his son, who is sweet and precocious and is too young to express his grief at being taken far away from the only life, country and culture he’s ever known. The challenges of culture shock when adopting a child from a foreign country (and the bureaucracy that goes with it can almost be felt by the reader; I can only imagine what it felt like going through it at the time. And so many people were instrumental in building this relationship – on both sides of the world.
We also meet other disabled people – from sheltered blind children who learn they were capable of doing more than they thought possible, to veterans who struggled through their own mental and physical barriers to climb mountains, to doctors and adventurers and entrepreneurs and bureaucrats and kayaking guides… Erik’s books are always about people; I never once came away with the idea that Erik was this big hot shot who’s done all these cool things, but he had others with him every step of the way.

A Few Too Many Rabbit Trails

Unlike “Touch the Top of the World”, “No barriers” is a long book with many components to it. We travel up a Tibetan mountain with blind teenagers, learn about the BrainPort (a nifty piece of technology that produces visual information on the wearer’s tongue, laugh and cry at the journey of creating a new family, experience the merger between two nonprofits and the pitfalls along the way… it’s all useful and important, but at times I just wanted to get back to Erik’s journeys as an adventurer – climbing mountains, kayaking rivers – or reading more about his family. “Touch the Top” was a much tighter and more cohesive read, but I do understand why all these components were included, to describe a journey of peaks and valleys, of falling down and getting back up again.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

One of the most profound experiences in the book is not when Erik kayaks the Grand Canyon (though that experience is well-described and riveting), but when he trains and takes a small group of blind Tibetan teenagers and their guides to Tibet’s tallest mountain. Erik is put in touch with Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German social worker who founded Braille Without Borders, a school and training center for the blind of Tibet. Eventually they decide that, both as an educational experience for the teenagers and as a way to break down barriers placed on them by Tibetan society, a mountain climbing trip is in order. Erik is a goal setter – he has a plan, and he is going to achieve it, making adjustments along the route but with the understanding that achieving the goal (in this case, climbing the mountain) is the most desirable end result. But when threatening weather adds further danger to this trek, Erik and Sabriye have vastly different opinions on whether or not to proceed.

Sabriye, affter thoughtful consideration, tells Erik that she has taken what he’s told her to heart, that she needs to respect the mountains and their beauty. She tells him bluntly but kindly that she’s noticed the sound of the wind in the trees, the feel of the glaciers, the stillness of the air. She has done what he’s asked, to appreciate the mountains for all that they offer, but it’s his turn to do what she’s asked and respect their people enough to acknowledge that they’ve already done more than they could’ve ever imagined, and now it’s time to keep them safe.

I read this book months ago, and Sabriye’s idea (though paraphrased here) has never left me. Goals are important, but sometimes we focus so much on the end result that we miss the little things along the way.

Conclusion

This book is well worth your time – at a sprawling 480 print pages and more than 19 recorded hours, it will take a lot of it. It’s profound and moving in ways I didn’t expect. That being said, some passages could have been shortened for a more cohesive read.

4/5 stars.

In the Shadows of Gaslights

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A package was being prepared for shipping. Payment arrangements had been made. By all accounts, an ordinary transaction. But my head pounded, my hands shook, and I just knew I was going to be sick. Before I knew it, I was trying not to vomit into a garbage can. I had to get out, and get out immediately. It wasn’t only the cold I’d been nursing for nearly a week that caused these symptoms; it was the residual affects of gaslighting that reard their ugly heads.

What IS Gaslighting?

Gaslighting can best be described as a manipulative and emotionally abusive tactic that erodes your ability to be confident in your decisions and perception of reality. In an accessible and readable article, LonerWof outlines how gaslighting can be spotted in family, marital or professional dynamics. My own experience, it sadly appears, is far from unique. Because of the personal nature of the stories below, names have been changed.

 

All in the Family

 

We learn many behaviors from our family of origin. When Kendra described to me her extended family dynamic, it sounded like a psychological thriller. One family member was accused of abusing women and children, denied it, and then, to hurt his partner, confessed to the behaviors he’d spent years denying. Children witnessed gaslighting behavior by a parent or grandparent, where some children were favored and others were “unspeakably abused” and made to believe they were imagining it. To protect his family from the toxic family dynamic – and with scars and a possibly undiagnosed mental illness of his own, Kendra’s father refused to permit family members to disclose to others where he and his immediate family (Kendra and her siblings) lived. Kendra believes that, because of what she saw growing up, she was able at a young age to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship before it “damaged her in the long-term.” After the breakup, before the age of social media, her boyfriend wrote her a letter that she describes as a textbook check list for manipulative gaslighting.”

But gaslighting is not always intentional. Sometimes, denial can lead to gaslighting behaviour. Rachel lives with a complicated visual impairment which went undiagnosed for years. Her family tends to dismiss her inability to see things, telling her to try harder, that – because an ophthalmologist didn’t diagnose her visual impairment – it doesn’t exist. Rachel finds herself in a complicated place, because relatives and in-laws don’t think she’s “that” blind, and yet she is the only one who sees through her eyes and processes her visual world, and she knows what she can and cannot see.

 

I love You… but You’re Wrong!

 

All relationships have conflict, miscommunication, and differing viewpoints. But when clearly-stated boundaries are ignored or deflected in ways to make one party feel unstable or irrational, that is gaslighting.

Sarah described to me a relationship she was in several years ago, where her concerns were glossed over or turned back on her. Boundaries she wanted to set were “evidence” of her mental instability, and she was a “psycho who needed to be hospitalized.” Any behaviors he did that hurt her, he denied doing them at all. When she wanted a short break from him to work things out, he tried to take her guns (used for target shooting) away “for her protection.” She began to doubt herself all the time, wondering if her feelings and concerns and personal boundaries were valid, or if her partner was right, that she was unstable and “psycho” as he claimed.

 

“You should Be Glad You have a Job Here!”

My recent experience above stemmed from a job I held years ago. I was belittled and bullied, and whenever I tried to raise legitimate concerns, I was told I needed to accept my colleagues as they were, and besides I had things I needed to work on. When I wasn’t being as productive as I knew I could be and was using substandard technology, my concerns were swept under the rug – until one of my colleagues couldn’t take my “unreadable paperwork” anymore – because replacing any equipment would’ve been giving me “special treatment.” Any time I mentioned anything about the work environment, I was told that I should be glad I had a job at all. The last straw was when the braille display unit I used for work needed repairs, and because it was purchased for me years ago (for work purposes) my employer didn’t believe it was their job to pay for the manufacturer to fix it. I ended up having to rely on a braille display from a wonderful generous friend while mine was out for repairs, but the bullying and gaslighting never stopped. I questioned my own perceptions – was I asking too much? Was I being a special snowflake? Was my colleagues’ and managers’ treatment of me in response to something I was doing, or not doing? Were they right, that I should be grateful I had a job at all in a down economy? Only one person at that workplace told me, in an unguarded moment, that they saw what I was going through, that they recognized it, that yes, it was, in fact, as bad as I thought.

Recently, that same braille display quit working. My work environment has changed drastically and is so supportive I can’t even begin to describe it. But so many circumstances were the same. I was borrowing that same display from that same wonderful generous friend, the box with my broken display was being prepped for shipping, and I was making phone calls to figure out how to get the repairs compensated. While support came from all sides – from the idea that I shouldn’t be the one to jump through hoops to simply be able to do my job, to modification of job duties if needed – I couldn’t escape the flashback. I felt like I was back in that office years ago, at the same desk, with the same people stabbing me in the back. Those who actually currently surrounded me were lifting me up and holding me together, and yet all I could hear and feel and see was my experience of years ago, being crushed underfoot, smothered by unreasonably unmet expectations.

In a room full of people, I was alone.

I was staring into the flames of the gaslights.

 

What if YOU See the Gaslights?

 

Gaslighting is real. It is not a figment of your imagination. Many who have shared their stories with me have told me that if they had known of its existance, they may have been able to put their fears and concerns into words, and may have removed themselves from the situation sooner.

Sarah has found that spending time with people who take her concerns seriously really helps heal the wounds that her gaslighting experience left on her. She thinks it’s essential to surround yourself with solid reliable people, and to remember that your alleged faulty memory or irrationality would be pointed out by more than just one person (or group of interconnected people), and never consistently in a way to manipulate a situation in someone else’s favor.

Rachel finds, for her, that it’s important to love her family, but to also recognize and embrace her own voice. She describes her family as “voices that I love,” but they do not live her life, and they are not always right, and she thinks that’s okay.

As for me, I don’t think it’s enough to keep my head down and just keep on plugging along. My plan is to seek out both social and professional connections to help make sense of all of this. When one questions their own reality, it’s hard to put it into concrete words. But I will try. I will hold my head high, surround myself with people who support me (singed gaslit eyebrows and all) and truly learn to trust myself again.

If you are reading this and have experienced gaslighting, please know that you are not alone. There is truth in what you are going through, and it is not inescapable. You are not alone. You are not wrong. How you experience the world matters, and no one has the right to take that away from you.