Friday, June 28, 2013

Final Leg

"I'm going to let you through, even though both of your passports are invalid."  

That's what the U.S. customs agent said to us when we were at the border crossing back into the U.S. from Canada.  Why in the world would our passports be invalid, I'm sure you're wondering. (as I was at that moment)  Well, that's what happens when you don't actually SIGN the passport once you get it.  We'll chalk that one up to a little detail sliding amongst all the chaos of packing, traveling, and moving. - But we did kind of feel like dumb-asses!  The agent said that we were the 9th Coast Guard family that had crossed the border that day.  All PCS-ing.  Tis the season!  (But, I bet they all had valid passports)

This is the final leg of this massive road trip we've been on for what feels like a long time.  It's been an unbelievable experience, but really, Key West feels like it was a looong time ago.  Our final leg looks like this:

After we left Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, we crossed the border with our invalid passports and trekked on over to a small town in Alaska called Tok.  It was another truly beautiful drive, especially in the Yukon near Kluane Lake.  The reflection of the mountains and sky in the lake was so clear and glassy, it was incredible.  But, side bar - I'm sure that water was freezing-ass cold!

Stunning Kluane Lake in the Yukon

There was a fun little stop right after crossing the border with a Welcome to Alaska sign, and the official International Boundary marker between Canada and the U.S.  Of course, we had to stop and have some fun being in two places at once.  Cheety, too.  :)

Two paws in Canada and two paws in the U.S.

I think I like the Welcome to Alaska sign almost as much as the Minnesota Welcomes You sign.  I like when they have some oomph to them, not just a rinky dink little metal sign that you can easily overlook.  Now, this is a welcome sign:    (North Dakota should take a note!)

Our new home state!

We've got wood work, we've got carved moose and bison...craftmanship, I'm sayin'!  My point being, I liked the sign.  Moving on.

On our drive that day, we had our first Grizzly sighting.  It was so exciting. - They were completely unfazed by the drivers that were pulling over to check them out.  They just went about their business, eating dandelions and ambling around. Not even Cheety barking out the window bothered them!  I guess you can be nonchalant when you have no natural predators.  We saw moose the day after the bears, too.  Also a momma and baby, and then later a male by himself.  Enormous & very cool to see.

Momma and her cub

Our next stop was in Anchorage, where we spent a few nights for another road breather.  It was pretty cool to see the mountains right there while still being in a city environment.  We mostly walked around downtown and along some of the hiking trails with the Pugbull and checked out the REI store. 

The view from our room in downtown Anchorage

We hit the road again on our way to Homer, where we stayed for a few days before the ferry ride to Kodiak. The drive to Homer was nice and short, only 4 hours compared to some of our marathon 9 hour treks.  It was another beautiful one.  I keep repeating myself, but so many of the drives have been spectacular.  Maybe it's because I've lived in flat, flat Florida for so long, but those  Just gorgeous.

The lobby of The Hilton in Anchorage. - Frighteningly HUGE!!

Our hotel in Homer was really fun.  Our room was "ship's quarters" style, so it was super cute and cozy.  It felt like you were sleeping in a sail boat.  Hubby was in heaven.  It was definitely a tiny space, but it was unique and kind of fun compared to the standard hotel rooms we'd been staying in for most of the time.  (except that little shack in Iskut!)
Nautical, no?

It was right by the water and the town of Homer had a good vibe.  Like a little fishing community with a hippie/artsy undertone.  We only had one day to explore before leaving for Kodiak, and we desperately had to do some laundry, so part of Friday was fun with laundry day.  

The Driftwood Inn - Homer, Alaska

We're both kind of tired at this point, so we've been holed up in our little ship's quarters cabin relaxing for most of today.  Plus, it's kind of chilly out there & I have a  Pugbull heating pad keeping my feet warm.  We'll leave for the ferry at about 11:30PM tonight.  And the sun will just be setting.  Which I don't think I'll ever get used to!  Looking forward to my first glimpse of our new island home.  More to come after we dock in Kodiak... 

The beach in front of our hotel

It's hard to be Cheety.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Beware, Burrowing Rodents. Beware.

Sorry, prairie dog  :(
We crossed the border into Canada, and I immediately ran over a prairie dog.  I'd feel a lot worse if it was an American prairie dog.  Canadian prairie dog?  Eh, just not as important.  Obviously, I'm kidding.  

How else can I come to terms with my prairie dog murdering status besides making cringe worthy jokes about it?  It felt pretty crappy, but hey - we made it to Canada!  Now take that, Canadian prairie dog.  

Once we got settled at our first stop and Cheety discovered that prairie dogs were everywhere AND that they chirp at you to announce themselves, he wanted nothing more than to chase them and do possibly violent things if he caught one.  So, between me and the dog, Canadian prairie dogs better watch their backs.  

I'll stop now.  (but it really was terrible and I felt horrible about accidentally killing it)  Aside from the prairie dog debacle, the third leg of our trip has shaped up to look something like this:

That's kilometers per hour, people - not miles!
Canada was funny. It was sort of like the U.S....but just a little off.  It looked mostly the same as here, but you just couldn't put your finger on what wasn't quite right.  Like America in bizarro world.  

Just little differences. - Like the highway signs, weird chain stores, and that underlying something I just couldn't identify.  I've been to Canada before, but it was Montreal, which didn't have the same feel as where I was this time around.  

One thing that took getting used to was the whole "we use the metric system" nonsense.  Once I realized that if I take half of the kilometers per hour amount on all the speed limit signs and add ten, I'd have the miles per hour that I'm used to dealing with, it was much easier to get my bearings.  (I know, blah, blah, math, blah, blah)  I won't let on how long I had to do math in my head before that light bulb went off.  Came in handy. 
Invigorating 8 mile hike on Goat Creek Trail in Canmore
Policeman's Creek Trail in Canmore

Our first stop in Canada was in Canmore, Alberta and it was unbelievably picturesque in the whole area.  Canmore was a cool little ski town. - It was a great place to take a breather from the road for two days.  We strolled around downtown, explored the neighboring town of Banff, and went on a hike with Cheety in the Canadian Rockies.  Truly gorgeous scenery.

Our hairy driving day
The day we left Canmore to drive to our next destination in British Columbia was rainy and overcast.  Before too long, it turned in to what I can only say was an extremely HAIRY day of driving.  Honestly, I don't think we could have added any other hazardous road conditions into the mix.  

All at one time and for several hours I drove through driving rain on slick highways, winding, narrow, mountainous roads with ridiculously steep inclines and declines, fog - and sometimes driving through clouds due to the high altitude - roaring semis coming at me, & falling rock zones.  Oh, and potential large wild animal crossings.  Add in driving in unfamiliar territory and it was just peachy.  Let's just say we were both relieved to get to our destination.  Other than that day and one other rainy day early on in the trip, the weather hasn't interfered with our progress at all so far.  Let's hope we continue the trend.

Unbelievable scenery in Stewart, BC
Saw my first glacier.  Breath-taking!

We ended up having to change most of our itinerary through Canada because we couldn't get reservations in some of the places we had planned on staying originally.  There wasn't a single available dog-friendly hotel room in both Fort Nelson and Watson Lake for the days we would be there, so we had to figure out a new plan.  The original route took us on the Alaska-Canadian Highway for most of the trip, but when we had to revamp our plans, we ended up on a more secondary route.  
Dash Bistro in Stewart, BC

And man, was it a good change!  We spent one night in a town in British Columbia called One Hundred Mile House, and another night in Smithers. - But, we got to see some of the most memorable and spectacular scenery along the way that we never would have seen if we went the way we initially planned.  

On the way to Smithers, we took a side trip to Stewart, British Columbia for lunch & gas, and stumbled upon this gourmet food truck called Dash Bistro. It had absolutely phenomenal food.  I got a simple BLT, but the chef baked his own bread and had this tasty little sauce he put on the sandwich instead of just the standard mayo.  Not only was the food fantastic, you really couldn't beat the scenery.  Think of every positive adjective you can:  spectacular, magnificent, jaw-dropping, breath-taking.  Just pick one.  It describes those mountains!  What a memorable stop.

Well worth the side trip!

Iskut, British Columbia is another stop we won't soon forget.  It was certainly beautiful, but I think we'll remember the...ahem, rustic conditions of where we stayed more than the scenery.  Since we adjusted our schedule on the fly, we didn't have a whole lot of time to investigate the new places we'd be booking.  I'll put it this way, Tatogga Lake Resort was less resort and more campground.  Glad we were only there for one night, but it was fun in an off-the-grid, back-woodsy kind of way. 
"Resort" was kind of a bold statement

The lodge where we ate was decorated exactly as you might expect. - Lots of animal heads hanging on the walls and taxidermy galore.  They weren't kidding on their sign about the life-sized moose.  It really was enormous, and I think if I finally do get to see a live one in the wild, it'll be unforgettable to say the least.  I've had my eyes peeled for moose along the way, but nothing so far!
Beaver Lodge #1!  Our little cabin (shack?) in Iskut for the night

At the moment, we're taking another breather from the road in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  I'm a little disappointed we haven't seen Yukon Cornelius yet.  (GOLD!...Nuthin')  We did the usual today. - Took the Cheets on a nice long walk and checked out the town.  It was an energizing walk on the Trans Canada Trail along the Yukon River.  It's funny, the Yukon River seems like one of those things you read about in a novel, not actually stroll alongside.  The Call of the Wild, anyone?  It was beautiful out. - Like winter weather in Key West.  Only it's June.  This is our last stop in Canada, so we HAD to try what some call the national dish of Canada:  poutine.  (pronounced "poo-teen")  It's a terrible word.  

It doesn't look like much, but it's deelish
But, I have to give it to them, it's pretty tasty.  It's basically french fries with gravy topped with cheese curds.  Not too far off from the french fries with mozzarella cheese and gravy I used to get in high school at the Massapequa Diner on Long Island.  I have to admit, I did have a little poutine regret a few hours later.  Wouldn't it be great if we could counteract questionable food choices with salad?  If only.

The Trans Canada Trail in Whitehorse - It's the longest network of recreational trails in the world

Tomorrow, we drive from Whitehorse to Tok, Alaska.  Back into the U.S. again.  It's actually pronounced "Toke."  Wonder if there's a lot of head shops there.  Looks like it'll be another scenic drive.  So far, we've seen a black bear, antelope, a beaver, bison, deer, and lots of bunnies.  And of course, the unfortunate prairie dog.  I'll try not to kill anything else on the trip.  Ta-ta for now.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Carpe Diem, Smith Plant!

Confession time.  I'm a completely negligent plant owner.  I tend to get a little attached to my houseplants, and it's always hard for me to give them away when it's time to move.  It was no different this time around. - I gave away two, but I just couldn't bring myself to part with the third.  It was given to us by a friend about 8 years ago as a housewarming gift, and I've carted it around in the back of the Jeep since we left Key West two weeks ago.  Until the other day.  

I didn't want to leave it in the car overnight, so I was constantly bringing it in to friends/families houses and/or hotels the whole time we've been traveling.  I realized yesterday that "Smith Plant," as he's been named, was nowhere to be found.  Nowhere to be found because I abandoned him in a Best Western hotel room in Manistique, Michigan.  I can only hope that the house keeper noticed, and maybe took him to the front desk.  I sort of had a feeling he wasn't going to make it to Kodiak for one reason or another, so I like to imagine him front and center at the Best Western front desk, with a new job greeting the Upper Peninsula tourists.  Moment of silence for Smith Plant.  And let's hope that's the only thing I lose along the way!

Hitting the road again (in the rain) from Albany, NY

Aside from my plant negligence, the second leg of our road trip is humming along smoothly.  We left family in Albany, NY and basically did this:

Pasties by the welcome center in Wakefield
I think my favorite part so far was driving through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  There were so many cute little towns, and I was endlessly entertained by the UP accent...aye.  

We stopped in Wakefield, MI to get some lunch, and ended up giving the local cuisine a shot.  I'd never heard of pasties (pronounced "pass-tees") before, and they were everywhere up there.  It was good. - Sort of like pot roast dinner wrapped in a pastry.  We popped in to the welcome center and met this jolly old guy named Don manning the post.  He was very nice (probably the perfect person to be welcoming tourists) and gave us a pasty recipe on a postcard after we chit-chatted about our epic road trip and our "first time eating a pasty" status.  (And you bet your ass hubby will be experimenting with that recipe.)  Don had a big Santa Claus belly, and rubbed it in a circle saying, "This right here is from pasties!"  (And in my mind he ended it with, "aye?")  It was also my first time seeing Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Huron in person.  They didn't disappoint - very pretty.

After the Upper Peninsula, we had a days drive to our first time zone change & Duluth, Minnesota.  Which has probably been my least favorite part of the trip.  The area of town we stayed in was on the shady side.  Oh, who am I kidding, it was totally in the hood.  The best was watching the news in the hotel that night, and the story was all about how there's been an increase in crime in the downtown area. - And the reporter was about a block away from our location.  So Duluth was...a little ghetto where we were.  I'm sure it has a good vibe elsewhere in the city, but the vibe where we were was, ummm, we'll call it economically and socially depressed.  With a side of drug addiction and wayward teens.  

Built in 1892 - Historic Central HS
On the lighter side, they (apparently they means all people in Minnesota?!) don't know how to cut pizza.  Yes, I know - who in their right mind would order pizza in Minnesota?  Hey, it was easy, and I totally acknowledge my pizza snobbery right now.  I'm sure Minnesota is known for some notable food specialty, but I have no idea what it is & it certainly isn't pizza.  Anyway, we ordered a standard, round pie and it was inexplicably cut into squares.  Squares!  The New Yorker in me was incredulous.  Not to mention it was ridiculous to try and eat.  The highlight of the Duluth portion of the program was the very impressive Historic Central High School that we stumbled upon while walking Cheety.  It was enormous and towered over the street, screaming old world architecture and history.  That and their sweet Minnesota Welcomes You sign:
My favorite "Welcome to fill in the blank" sign yet

The drive through North Dakota was mostly open, grassy prairies and oil drilling fields, and Montana was sweeping, hilly grassland & unbelievably big sky.  You almost couldn't fathom the depth of the clouds and sky.  That part of the country is aptly named, to say the least.  We've driven through 16 states and I can definitively say we live in a big-ass country.  Next, we cross the border into Canada.  You know, America's hat.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

First Leg

First things first.  Preferred (and sometimes non-negotiable) road trip snacks: Goldfish and Fig Newtons.  Hubby's are Cheddar Combos and Gummy Bears.  These aren't minor details, mind you.  Proper road snacks are totally necessary. - Right up there with getting the oil changed and the tire pressure checked.  Important stuff!

With our essential and less than healthy road snacks packed and ready, we managed to get our act together and get ourselves out of the house by about 7:30AM on the morning we were scheduled to hit the road. - Which I consider a major success, since getting out of the house at the time I hope to usually happens about 50% of the time.  I try.  It just doesn't usually work out the way I plan.  It might have something to do with the fact that I loathe waking up to an alarm.  Oh, and I'm lazy.  There's also that.  Especially when the alarm goes off before the sun even rises.  Needless to say, we grumpily hauled ourselves out of bed to finish packing the car and take care of all those last minute things that needed to be done in the house.  Did I mention it was still dark out?    

The first leg of the trip (which I've arbitrarily decided is about the first week on the road) took us on a less than efficient zig-zag up and across the east coast.  We're basically doing a little farewell tour and visiting friends and family along the way before we head up to the great white north.  We wish we could see everyone before we go, but it's just not possible, so we tried to squeeze as many visits as we could into this first part of the trip.  So far it looks something like this:

First we zigged, then we zagged...then we did it again.  And again.

Not exactly direct, right?  Our first stop after we left Key West was Tampa, where one of my sisters and lots of our friends live.  Hubby made a big pot of gumbo - which was phenomenal - he really outdid himself.  He's a terrific cook, and the gumbo was no exception.  We had a fun get together with some of my favorite people, who came by to see us off.  

Gumbo magic in progress
After Tampa, the next week was a whole mess of stops, including Deland, FL (to sell our truck to our friend's dad), Colquitt, GA, Hilton Head, SC, Indian Trail, NC, Salisbury, MD, Montclair, NJ, and Albany, NY.  Highlights from our visits definitely include the late night wine-fueled evening in North Carolina, when I brushed up on my gin playing skills with the siblings, and the delicious afternoon clam steam with the in-laws in upstate New York.  Nobody I know was boo-hooing like a baby before climbing back into the car to hit the road after saying goodbye to the family on our visit in North Carolina.  

It's going to be a hard adjustment getting used to not seeing my brother and sisters as often as I've been used to seeing them.  Which was usually twice a year, sometimes more.  I've been lobbying for visitors to Kodiak, but we'll see who ends up taking the trek.  It's not exactly close, easy, or affordable to get there.  I see lots of Skype time in my future!

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  We'll call Cheety less than impressed.

The road trip so far has been kind of quick.  Each stop seems to go by really fast, and then we're on the road again before we know it.  After we leave Albany, we'll head west...and the REAL road trip begins.  Onward. 

Cheety was snoozing in his giant doggie nest almost
 the whole way. - He pretty much has the entire back seat.  Spoiled.