Roadhouses: A Dying Breed… North to Alaska

One fun thing about roadhouses is that they have different personalities. This mountain goat with sunglasses greeted us a King Mountain Lodge on the Glenallen Highway in Alaska.

A fun thing about roadhouses is that they have different personalities. This mountain goat with sunglasses greeted us a King Mountain Lodge on the Glenallen Highway in Alaska.

Peggy and I are off in Alaska as you read this blog. Since I won’t have time for blogging or reading blogs, I decided to repost a few blogs from the trip we made to Alaska three years ago. If you have been following me for a while, you will have read these blogs previously. I will try to respond to comments. –Curt

There was a time when roadhouses meant survival on the lonely highway to Alaska. You would find one every several miles. The amenities were simple but many: basic food, a place to sleep, enough auto repair to get you down the road, a place to hang out in a storm, advice on the next section of highway, and a friendly face. Beyond the basics, however, each roadhouse was slightly different. It reflected the personality of the owner. And people who chose to live and survive in the far north, tended to have strong personalities. There was no McDonalds’ mentality.

This dining set at the King Mountain Lodge was definitely reminiscent of those found in 50's diners, but what was with the Harley parked in the dining room?

This dining set at the King Mountain Lodge was definitely reminiscent of those found in 50’s diners, but what was with the Harley parked in the dining room?

The Milepost has served as the Bible for those traveling the Alaska Highway since 1949. I used it religiously on my five trips over the highway. You could always depend on it to list the next roadhouse and the services provided. Sadly, even though the legendary travel guide is revised annually, it can no longer keep up with the number of roadhouses being closed. Roadhouses, like family diners, have become a victim of the times. Modern, paved highways and fast travelling vehicles mean that travellers can easily get from one major community to the next, from one fast food joint to the next, and from one motel chain to the next. No longer do dirt roads in poor repair with car-eating potholes and hubcap deep mud force travellers to make frequent stops at roadhouses. We made an effort to patronize roadhouses on this trip, when we could find them. One in particular stood out as a representative of the dying breed, the King Mountain Lodge on the Glenallen Highway between Tok and Anchorage.

A hand printed sign at the King Mountain Lodge announced that food was available and we were hungry. In this photo, Darlene, the cook and owner's wife heads back inside after waving goodbye to us.

A hand printed sign at the King Mountain Lodge announced that food was available and we were hungry. In this photo, Darlene, the cook and owner’s wife, heads back inside after waving goodbye to us.

The breakfast menu at the lodge.

The breakfast menu at the lodge. The owner, his wife, and a friend immediately entered into a lively conversation with us on what we wanted for lunch. The owner, Mike, and his wife then disappeared into the kitchen while the friend Claire gave us a tour.

Darlene and Claire share a laugh with us over Claire's T-Shirt.

Darlene and Claire share a laugh with us over Claire’s T-Shirt.

Our tour included the bar. Check out the bar stools. Each is hand made and different. A number of signs were found over the bar and throughout the room.

Our tour included the bar. Check out the bar stools. Each is hand-made and different. A number of signs were found over the bar and throughout the room.

This sign was typical.

This sign was typical.

There was even a location for people who wanted to snivel.

There was even a location for people who wanted to snivel.

This photo caught my attention. In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod, Alaska's famous sled dog race. Shortly afterwards she did a photo shoot for Vogue Magazine. I picked her up at the Anchorage airport on her return to Alaska and escorted her around town for a couple of days. She had volunteered to do publicity for the non-profit where I served as Executive Director.

This photo on the wall caught my attention. In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod, Alaska’s famous sled dog race. Shortly afterwards she did a photo shoot for Vogue Magazine, which is where this photo was taken. I picked her up at the Anchorage airport on her return to Alaska and escorted her around town to various media outlets for a couple of days. I had called Libby shortly after she won the race and talked her into doing publicity for the non-profit where I served as Executive Director.

The bar also had a glass case that included this M&M collector's piece. Turns out that the Brays, who were traveling with us, have a thing for M&M s. Linda talked the owner into selling her the M&M baseball player for five dollars.

The bar also had a glass case that included this M&M collector’s piece. Turns out that the Bob and Linda Bray, who were traveling with us, have a serious collection of M&M dispensers. Linda talked the owner into selling her the M&M baseball player for five dollars.

Meanwhile, Peggy had decided she had to try the Harley out for size.

Meanwhile, Peggy had decided she had to try the Harley out for size.

Mike the owner of King Mountain Lodge, and the motorcycle, immediately showed up and insisted that if Peggy was going to sit on the Harley, she had to go for a ride. Out they went for a quick spin around the parking lot and the highway.

Mike the owner of King Mountain Lodge, and the motorcycle, immediately showed up and insisted that if Peggy was going to sit on the Harley, she had to go for a ride. Out they went for a quick spin around the parking lot and the highway.

Needless to say, we all had a great time at the roadhouse. BTW, the food was quite good. Doreen and Claire came out to rescue Peggy from the motorcycle and send us on our way.

 

The Delicate Art of Chainsaw Wood Carving: Part 2… North to Alaska

Peggy, who had just been kayaking on Dragon Lake in Quesnel, BC was immediately attracted to this dragon wood carving in Chetwynd.

Peggy, who had just been kayaking on Dragon Lake in Quesnel, BC, was immediately attracted to this dragon wood carving in Chetwynd. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson)

On Monday I provided an introduction to the art of wood carving with a chainsaw in Hope, British Columbia. Today we will see what Chetwynd, BC has to offer. As I mentioned earlier, Chetwynd holds an annual contest in June that attracts wood carvers from around the world. We quickly found that the number and variety of carvings was even greater than we had found in Hope. I was amazed at what could be accomplished in 36 hours. it made me think about the months and even years, sculptures spend working on a block of marble.

Chainsaw wood carving at Chetwynd, BC

I was more entranced by this scary pumpkin scarecrow.

Chainsaw wood carving at Chetwynd, BC

A close up of the head. How would you like to meet up with this guy on a dark night?

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

The complete sculpture. Like Scarecrow in Oz, he had straw stuffing trying to escape.

A close up of the head on Peggy's dragon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A close up of the head on Peggy’s dragon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Chainsaw woodcarving at Chetwynd, BC

Was this crusty gold miner saying “Don’t take my photo”?

Chainswa wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A close up of the miner’s face in Chetwynd, BC.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

I found the perspective on this bear totem pole interesting.

Chainsaw carving in Chetwynd, BC

Deer totem pole.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

An eagle lands to feed its chick. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson)

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A bear tries to raid an eagle’s nest. The eagle objects.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

The Thinker? (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson)

Chainsaw woodcarving in Chetwynd, BC

Another perspective. This ram had quite a set of horns.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A Samurai warrior.

Chainsaw wood carving in Chetwynd, BC

A carved relief on the side of the Chetwynd, BC Visitor Center of St. George slaying the dragon.

It seems appropriate to end this blog on Chetwynd, BC chainsaw wood carving with a moose.

It seems appropriate to end this blog on Chetwynd, BC chainsaw wood carving with a moose.

Chainsaw carving in Chetwynd, BC

Another photo of the moose.

Next Blog: The busy beavers of the Toad River.

When Your Campground Goes to the Dogs… North to Alaska

Peggy decided to go kayaking on beautiful Dragon Lake near Quesnel BC for her birthday.

Peggy decided to go kayaking on beautiful Dragon Lake near Quesnel BC to celebrate her birthday.

It was Peggy’s birthday. We picked out a nice campground near Quesnel, BC and declared a layover day. I am expected to celebrate the day appropriately. When we first got married Peggy told me that forgetting her birthday was grounds for divorce. Apparently her first husband missed one…

I’d been careful when leaving home to pack candles, animals, and a hanging birthday sign. “What’s with the animals?” you ask. Peggy’s family has a tradition. Over the years they have gathered dozens of miniature plastic and metal animals. Several of them are placed on the birthday cake. The person having the birthday is then expected to make the sound each animal makes. Like what sound does a hippopotamus make? I’ve been known to leave town on my birthday.

I gathered cards, gifts and a birthday pie along the way. Our friends Bob and Linda joined us and I explained the animals. Peggy then made the necessary growls, grunts, coughs, chest pounds, etc. and had a good time. It appears I am married for another year.

What we didn’t realize was that our campground was about to go to the dogs. Robert’s Roost Campground was hosting dog agility trials. Our campground filled up with dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes. We went over to watch the action. The dogs are expected to run through tunnels, climb over bridges, weave in and out of a line of sticks, and leap over hurdles in a timed performance. Their owners run along beside shouting instructions. I think the owners work harder than the dogs.

Dog agility trial

A number of hurdles had been set up for the dogs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Dog agility trials at Quesnel BC

Hurdles are set at different heights to accommodate dog size.

Dog agility trials at Quesnel BC.

This guy seemed to float over his hurdle. “Jump!” his owner urged. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Dog agility trials at Quesnel, BC

An even smaller dog weaves his way through the poles. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy captured the passion this dog was showing.

Peggy captured the passion this dog was showing. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Dog agility trials at Quesnel, BC

Another shot that captures the intensity of the dogs participating in the agility trials. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Dog agility trials at Quesnel, BC

Stepping out on the bridge at the dog agility trials.

Another dog challenges the bridge. This time from the opposite direction.

Another dog challenges the bridge. This time from the opposite direction.

Dog agility trials at Quesnel, BC.

Tunnel exit at dog agility trials. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Bob and Linda's dog, Sister, stands in our shadows and watches the action. Sister decided that much more than "Good dog," would be required for her to leap over hurdles.

Bob and Linda’s dog, Sister, stands in our shadows and watches the action. She decided that much more than “Good dog,” would be required for her to leap over hurdles.

Next Blog: Busy as a beaver on Toad River

Innocent Until Proven Guilty… North to Alaska

First Grade class at Diamond Springs Grade School in 1949.

Our first grade class at Diamond Springs Elementary School in California. Bob is second from the left in the bottom row. I am fourth from left in the upper row. Our tough looking teacher, Mrs. Young was charged with civilizing us.

Our friends Bob and Linda Bray, along with their ever-present dog, Sister, arrived around three bearing wine. They had parked their RV on our lower property and trudged up the steep hill to our home in 100 degree plus weather. I was still waxing Quivera the Van in preparation for the trip to Alaska.

I wiped the stinging sweat from my eyes and greeted them. The Brays were joining us on our adventure.

Bob and I have been hanging around together since first grade, which was a while ago. In the beginning, our friendship faced a serious obstacle. Bob’s mother had a rule: he was not to play with the Mekemson boys. We were Trouble spelled with a capital T.

Rightfully, or wrongfully, Marshall and I were blamed for most of  the bad things that went on around Diamond Springs. Who shot Tony Pavy’s pig, broke into Jimmy Pagoni’s wine cellar, went joyriding on Caldor’s rail car? It was the Mekemson boys, of course.

Most of the mischief I got into involved tagging along with my older brother. When he graduated to girls, my reputation made a miraculous recovery. I was, however, able to pull off one last coup and live up to Bertha Bray’s expectations. For some unfathomable reason, Bob’s parents bought him a Wham-o Slingshot.

I mean, how do you expect your son to resist temptation when you buy him a slingshot? The fact that I owned a Wham-o as well almost guaranteed trouble.

Bob and I agreed to meet for a clandestine hunting expedition. It had to be clandestine because I was still on Mrs. Bray’s ‘don’t invite’ list. Our only rule for the adventure was that anything that moved or didn’t move was a valid target.

Things were going great until we came upon the old abandoned bum’s shack that was just off the Southern Pacific railroad track about a quarter of a mile away from Bob’s home. Typical of such structures, it had been created out of anything that was available for free: old aluminum roofing, miscellaneous boards, an occasional nail, a thrown away mattress, etc. It had one crowning glory, a window.

Bob and I looked at each other and had a simultaneous thought. Out came our ammunition, a shiny new marble for Bob and several bee bees for me. We took careful aim, counted down, and let fly.

To this day, Bob claims he saw his marble harmlessly strike the windowsill while my bee bees were smashing the glass to smithereens. I of course saw Bob’s marble hit the window dead on while my bee bees formed a neat pattern around the edges. There was no doubt about it; we were both innocent.

The current occupant of the not abandoned home, who was washing dishes behind a willow bush in a small stream, saw something entirely different– two little boys smashing his pride and joy.

He let out a bellow of rage and came charging up the trail. Once again the Mekemson Gang, along with its newest recruit, was on the run. The good news is that we escaped. The bad news was that the bum/hobo/homeless person with a home recognized Bob and went straight to his house. Mrs. Bray’s worst fears had been realized.

The story didn’t end there. On the 50th anniversary of our starting the first grade together, Bob sent me a present for Christmas, a slingshot. Somewhere, I suspect Bertha Bray rolled over in her grave, or maybe she chuckled.

Bob and I today on the road north in Salem, Oregon.

Bob and I today on the road to Alaska.

Linda with the family dog, Sister.

Linda with the family dog, Sister.

Sister provides a head shot.

Heads or…

Sister provides a tail shot.

…tails.

Next Blog: The wonderful totem poles of the First Nation People.

A Tall Trees Tale: Shake Down Cruise to the Redwoods… North to Alaska

Moss covered tree in Redwoods National Park.

When we think of the Redwoods, it is usually about the giant Redwoods. But the Redwoods also have an incredible greenness that is long remembered.

A long trip, especially a long trip where services are few and far between, means you prefer not to have breakdowns along the way. I dutifully took Quivera in to the Ford Dealer and spent the usual obscene amount of money to increase my chances she would behave herself on the way to Alaska. The drive to Alaska isn’t as challenging as it once was (I made my first trip in 1986 over frozen dirt), but it is still challenging.

To further increase our chances of a worry-free trip, Peggy and I– along with our daughter and two grandkids, took Quivera on a shake down cruise to the Redwoods National Park in Northern California, about three hours away. We had introduced our son Tony’s kids to the Big Trees last summer and were eager to have Tasha’s children share the experience.

We dutifully took the kids to see the Big Tree. It is 304 feet tall (92.6 mtrs), 21.6 feet in diameter (6.6 mtrs) and 68 feet (20.7 mtrs) in circumference. The estimated age of the tree is 1500 years. Afterwards, Ethan and Cody along with our next-door neighbor’s son, William, went charging off to look for Ewoks and banana slugs. Star Wars was filmed nearby.

Big Tree in Redwoods National Park.

The eight year old Ethan on the left, our nine-year old next door neighbor William, and the five-year old Cody pose in front of the Big Tree in Redwoods National Park.

Big Tree at Redwoods National Park.

Looking up at the Big Tree. It is impossible not to feel awe.

A pair of giant trees in Redwoods National Park.

Of course Big Tree is just one out of hundreds of the giants found in Redwoods National Park.

Firn with rain drops in Redwoods National Park.

It had rained just before we started our visit and this fern was still holding rain drops.

Banana Slug at Redwoods National Park.

A bright yellow Banana Slug makes its way along the forest floor. The Banana Slug, BTW, is the school mascot for the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Redwoods National Park

Another view of how green it is at Redwoods National Park. I told the boys to look out for Ewoks. The boys are avid Star Wars fans. “You know Ewoks are make believe,” the five-year old Cody primly informed me. Darn. I thought they were real.

Redwoods National Park

The light grey clouds against the dark tees provided an interesting view looking up.

Leaves at Redwoods National Park.

I also liked this shot looking up at leaves.

Pacific Ocean

We also camped out on the Pacific Ocean. This is our daughter Natasha. The tracks you see were made by the boys, running back and forth between the ocean and their driftwood forts.

Harris State Beach Park

We spent our last night at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon

Fog rolls in at Harris State Beach  near Brookings, Oregon.

The fog was rolling in when we packed up to leave. Quivera was ready to head north to Alaska.

NEXT BLOG: You’ll meet our traveling companions, Bob and Linda Bray. Bob and I have been hanging out together and causing mischief since the First Grade… a long time ago on a far and distant planet.

Living in 120 Square Feet… North to Alaska in Quivera the Van

Quivera at Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

Quivera, and her older sister, Xanadu, have travelled two hundred thousand miles exploring North America. This photo was taken  at Great Basin National Park.

As I write this blog, Peggy and I are preparing for a trip to Alaska. (Actually, when you read this we will be on our way.) Our itinerary includes driving north through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to Anchorage and back, a road trip of some 7600 miles that includes the Alaska Highway and travels through some of the world’s more remote and beautiful wilderness settings.

A key part of our preparation is making sure our van, Quivera, is ready to hit the road. She has already been to the doctor and had her check up followed by on a shake down cruise to the Redwoods. (When you return from a trip to the hospital, it’s important to make sure all of your organs are still working.) Next up she gets stuffed– oh, I mean packed. We have lists. Peggy handles the majority of this task. Each and everything has its place and she likes to know where each and everything is. Being the ever forgetful husband, I like her to know where each and everything is.

Our van, Quivera, has her own pad on the upper part of our property in Oregon.

At home in Oregon, Quivera has her own pad on the upper portion of our five acres. The ‘porch’ provides a great place to write. (The yellow lift helps level the van.)

White oaks in southern Oregon.

The view from the porch looking down toward our home through the white oaks. I often see the neighborhood fox that lives on our property working the hillside for gophers and other rodents. 

Black Tail buck in Southern Oregon just starting to regrow his antlers.

There are other distractions. Black Tail deer stop by frequently to make sure I am working. The buck in front was just starting to regrow his antlers when I took this photo in April.

Peggy loves the van– and that’s a good thing. Having a happy Peggy is very important, especially when you live in a 120 square foot house. I can stand in my office and do dishes. The bathroom and stove are two steps away. The living room, dining room, and bedroom are a distant four steps. (Speaking of Peggy, today, July 5th is her birthday. A proper celebration is required. She is required to make animal noises, which happens to be a family tradition from her side of the family. But more on that later…)

The view from my office toward Peggy's domain, four steps away.

The view from my office toward Peggy’s domain, four steps away. There is plenty of room to work on projects or lie back and read. The area also serves as our dining room and, at night, morphs into a king size bed. The kitchen is on the left, the bathroom on the right.

Looking toward my office from Peggy's perspective.

Looking toward my office from Peggy’s perspective. The passenger chair swivels around and is quite comfortable. Our TV/entertainment center is on the far right.

The kitchen: a two burner stove, the sink, and a refrigerator. What more do you need?  (grin)

The kitchen: a two burner stove, the sink, and a refrigerator. What more do you need? (grin)

Our grandsons call our home on wheels a Transformer. They are experts on the subject. For proof, they point out the button that turns the couch into a bed. It’s an innovation Peggy insisted on having and the kids insist on using. Up and down, up and down, up and down. Grandma has placed limits.

Pleasure Way, out of Saskatoon Canada, is the manufacturer of our 22 foot long RV. Twelve years ago we visited the plant and were given a tour by Mrs. Pleasure Way. She also gave us a jar of her homemade jam. The folks in Saskatoon are friendly; they also create a quality product. This is the second RV we have bought from the company.

We called the first van Xanadu and the second one Quivera. Both names reflect our wandering ways. Between the two RVs, we have explored 200,000 miles of North America’s highways and byways. Our total road time includes four years of dedicated travel and nine years of shorter trips.

“How do you live in such small space?” people often ask in wonder.

“You have to like each other, a lot,” I respond with a grin. And it’s true.

But there is much more. For one, wandering around North America is a grand adventure… a glorious road trip that most people only dream about. Our travels have taken us from Fairbanks,Alaska to Key West, Florida and almost everywhere in between. The journey has also enabled us to visit our far-flung kids and grandkids on a regular basis. For a while, before the Coast Guard transferred our son Tony from San Diego to Alaska, we had developed a 2000-mile commute route between southern California and Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Quivera and Eeyore  share a moment at Yosemite National Park.

Quivera and Eeyore  share a moment at Yosemite National Park.

Camping at Burning Man

Quivera and  horses hang out at Burning Man in the Nevada desert. The challenge at Burning Man is that white Playa dust gets in everything. Months later we are still cleaning it out of the van. Note: The horses have a hitching post. They also share the look that most of us have after seven days..

If things get too tight inside, we have the outdoors. Warm days mean we can spend as much time outside as we do in the van. Even on stormy days, we can amuse ourselves on the porch. Plus there are always bookstores, museums and restaurants to visit.

And it isn’t like we suffer. Quivera comes equipped with a microwave/confection oven, two burner stove, heater, air conditioner, TV and DVD, refrigerator, bathroom, two sinks, two tables, nine storage cabinets, a closet, five drawers, couch, recliner chair and a king size bed. There is even a shower if you are willing to sit on the toilet while you bathe. Peggy and I opt out for campground showers. The van operates off of electricity, battery, generator and propane. Two laptops, a Verizon phone and an Internet connection keep us in touch with the world.

Not all is rosy. Space is at a premium. Stopping to camp means shifting boxes from the back to the front. And there simply isn’t room for everything we want to take. Sacrifices have to be made. Some toys have to be left behind. At least with the advent of Kindles, we no longer have to carry a 100-book library.

NEXT BLOG: A tall tale where we do a shake down cruise to the beautiful Redwood National Forest of Northern California.