The last few months

Its been two and half months since we left Suzie in Costa Rica.  Two and half months that have flown by, yet the seven months we spent in Central America seem a distant memory.  It is incredible how quickly experiences and moments fade, but the lessons we learned on the road continue to stick with us.  When we decided to return for the summer, we knew it was likely that we would be working in different areas of the country.  After spending seven months in a space the size of an average U.S. bathroom, we have spent the last two and half months over 2,000 miles apart.  Ken is in Alaska captaining a whale watching boat for Juneau Tours and Whale Watching, and I am in Montana working at a local hospital in the beautiful Flathead Valley.  After two more months of lining our pockets with cash, we’ll return to Costa Rica and hit the road south again.  Here are a few pictures of what we’ve both been up to the last few months.

From Costa Rica heat to Montana snow!

From Costa Rica heat to Montana snow!

Just a bit of muddy mountain biking

Just a bit of muddy mountain biking

Montana guard cattle/cattle guard?

Montana guard cattle/cattle guard?

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Breaching orca, Juneau AK

Breaching orca, Juneau AK

 

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Breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, AK

Breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, AK

 

Captain Ken on the right doing what he does

Captain Ken on the right doing what he does

As much as we are enjoying our time back home, we cannot wait to get back to Suzie and discover what South America has in store for us!

 

 

 

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A First World Whirlwind

Beautiful Baja beaches

Beautiful Baja beaches

We left Suzie three and half weeks ago, it feels like two and half months. Being back in the land of overplenty has been overwhelming.  Although life on the road isn’t always easy, its always simple.  Wake up, make breakfast, eat breakfast, pack up and hit the road, drive for a couple of hours, park, set up, laze on the beach, walk up a volcano, hit the local market,  eat dinner, watch an episode of Dexter/Weeds/The Wire, sleep, then repeat.  After over 10,000 miles and 210 days, on the road we have the routine pretty down pat. Within this simplicity lies great complexity.  As amazing at it is to wake up every morning in a new place, finding that new place the night before is often not a walk in the park.  After hours of stressful driving with Ken swerving potholes, dogs, ox-carts, horses, people, and me in the passenger seat occasionally putting in my two cents worth (usually at the most inopportune times) then utilizing my limited spanish to try to explain to a confused  hostel owner why we want to park and sleep in our vehicle and instead of one of their rooms. Does this place have a bathroom, a shower, a kitchen, running water, electricity, and internet are all questions that need to be considered.  One beautiful thing about being back in familiar places (Montana, Alaska) is the ease of decision making.  We have at toilet with a seat that we can throw toilet paper in, a hot water shower that lasts longer then five minutes, and a full kitchen, complete luxury.  I miss the road though.  I miss Suzie and the lessons we learned every day.  I miss Ken and the partnership that we have forged together.  We relish the freedom of our individuality, the ease of making my our decisions in a familiar environment, but we cannot wait to return to that elusive road.

From lazing on a beach to freezing our faces off on the local ski mountain's pond skimming competition

From lazing on a beach to freezing our faces off on the local ski mountain’s pond skimming competition

So happy to see these faces!

So happy to see these faces!

On the Road Again

His body perfectly positioned in front of the door, with unblinking bright blue eyes he followed my every move.  ‘I know exactly what you are up to, and you will not get away with it,’ those unescapable eyes seemed to say to me.  And so I lured him outside, with promises of frisbees and chuck-its, quickly closed the door and hurried away to Suzie Skamper and Ken with tears stinging my eyes, miles of road in front of us and one very disappointed and pissed off Rio behind us.  I have outed myself, I am one of those people who are hopelessly enamored with their dog, giving them human attributes, thoughts and feelings (I swear Rio’s ‘human’ voice sounds exactly like Stewie’s on The Family Guy).  Leaving him that day in Spokane was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do so far on this trip.  Luckily, that brutal morning has led to almost two weeks of bliss.  Seeing old friends, reconnecting with the Pacific Ocean, and remembering the routine that is Suzie Skampering has reminded us every second of every day why we are doing this trip.

Columbia River Gorge

We left Spokane and clocked an easy day heading to Sammamish, WA to reunite with Kelda, a friend from my Missoula, MT days .  We toured her and her husband’s new home, and drank PBR in the hot tub.  Just like the good old days minus the hot tub, husband, and new home.  From Sammamish onward to Seattle and two wonderful days hanging out with my brother Seth, his wife, and our friends Nick and Shannon.  We continued on the couch surfing theme and after a day in picturesque Astoria (we unfortunately did not spot any Goonies shaped rocks) we headed to Portland and spent an evening with our newly married friend’s Kathryn and Adam.  Thank you to everyone for the wonderful hospitality, its always good to reconnect and especially fulfilling to begin our journey southward again with such amazing people.

Astoria, Oregon

As great as it was to visit everyone, we were headed towards one of the highlights of our North American portion of the trip, for me at least.  The Tillamook Cheese Factory.  For anyone who knows me well, they know I can subsist very easily on a very few things as long as those things include wine, crackers, and cheese.  Any combination of the above will keep me going for days.

We came, we saw, we ate a lot of cheese.

So it was with the highest of expectations that we pulled into the enormous complex that was The Tillamook Cheese Factory.  The hordes of RV’s, whining children, and pale legged tourists should have clued us into the tourist sinkhole that is The Tillamook Cheese Factory, but I will never speak ill of cheese. We whizzed through the self guided tour, Ken marveling at the complicated machinery and I at the drudgery involved in operating the cheese making machinery, until we found ourselves at the sample line.  After sating our appetites on trays upon trays of squeaky cheese curds, sharp cheddar, smoked, cheddar, and our favorite red pepper/jalapeno cheddar we were happy.  We could leave The Tillamook Cheese Factory knowing full well we had been taken for a tourist ride, but with some small measure of satisfaction that we had shown them….we had eaten our weight in cheese.  Unfortunately that night The Tillamook Cheese Factory struck again, Ken’s increasingly worsening lactose intolerance rendered Suzie practically uninhabitable and we decided that for the good of all his cheese intake would be limited from this day forth.

Numero uno beach sunset of the trip.

The next morning we headed to Newport.  Ken got his ocean and boat fix and we walked the docks and the historic downtown remarking at the similarities and differences between this port town and our hometown of Seward, AK.  As we were looking for the Newport Marine Science Center we stumbled upon something oh so much better, the Rogue Brewery.  I am going to have to amend my above statement and add really good craft brewed IPA to the list of things I cannot live without.  Although we have been doing our best to cook only in the camper and limit our eating out to attempt to stay within budget, we could not resist.  The Rogue Nation did not disappoint.  Not only did we nosh on some incredible beer cheese soup, a kobe beef brat and sauerkraut, we also sampled delicious beer.  We strolled back to the truck fat and happy, right past the Rogue ‘garage’ sale.  Here were cases of 22’s for a mere 20-30 bucks!  After much agonizing deliberation, we decided that Suzie simply did not have room for a case of 22’s despite the killer price.  Thirty miles down the road we were already kicking ourselves and chalking this up to one of the worst decisions we might make on the trip.

Suzie dwarfed yet again.

The next day lead to more spectacular coastal driving down Oregon’s Highway 101, into California and through the Redwoods.  Neither of us had ever been here and were completely speechless and awed by the silent, older than time, majestic behemoths that are these trees.  Wandering through them felt like wandering among wise old men and women who looked down on us, silently and sagely giving their approval.  That day was also truck maintenance day.  Time for an oil change and a transmission flush, something we had been holding off on even though we knew it needed to be done.  For at least two years Ken’s 2000 Ford Ranger has made horrible grinding noises everytime it has downshifted, grrrnnnkkkkkdddd (or something along those lines).  We’ve decided that ignorance is bliss and had not investigated.  During the oil change the mechanic tested all the fluids and presented Ken with a  white sheet of paper marred with different streaks of oily/greasy substances.  Ken took one look, said ‘is your finger dirty?’ and turned back to me in disbelief.  Another piece of mechanical/car engine knowledge has been added to my tiny repertoire.  Transmission fluid is supposed to be of a clear, red, thinnish consistency, our transmission fluid was thick, black, and dirty.  Good thing Oilcan Henry’s was having a $40 off sale on transmission fluid flushes!  Amazingly after that, the truck ran like a dream.  No more horrifying grinding noises on downshift, only smooth shifts and accelerations for Suzie from now on!

That evening we rolled into Clam Beach State Park in Humboldt County, CA looking forward to some nice beach camping.  We should have know from the parking lot bordered by twelve sandy campsites and the overabundance of tie dye in sight that we were not in for a peaceful night on the beach.  It turns out Clam Beach is somewhat well known among Humboldt Countians, travelers, and everyone in-between as a sweet place to score free camping, some “nugs”, and an overall good time.  A caveat, we are not adverse to any of the above, in fact we welcome the opportunity for any of them (except for the “nugs” Mom, I promise!).  We might have been the only suckers dumb enough to actually pay the $15 dollars to park next to a sandy spot with a picnic table and a fire pit and host a bevy of itinerant backpackers, road bikers and a creepy dude in a BMW all on 30forthirty’s dime!  We were able to enjoy a fire with a couple we met from Seattle who had a really amazing homemade wooden truck camper/topper, I unfortunately dropped the ball and didn’t snap a photo before dark.  The next morning we were rudely awoken at 07:40 by some good Samaritan who was walking through the parking lot announcing, ‘It’s 7:40, time to get the train rolling.’  Groggily we looked at each other wondering what the hell he meant, and tried to roll over for a few more zzz’s.  Did not happen and we ate some breakfast and were pulling out of the lot by 8:45, just as the park ranger was pulling in.  Now the almost empty campground made sense, despite the music playing till 3 am that morning,  everyone was way more savvy then we were in avoiding ‘the man.’

Highway 1 Northern California

We are now picking our way along the incredibly windy, narrow, cliffy drop off that is Highway 1.  We thought we had experienced some beautiful coastline living in Alaska, but this highway has blown it out of the water.  On to San Francisco and LA and a few more friends, and we should be across the border into Baja in under a week!  We are really looking forward to a few days of no driving, beach time, cheap gas (almost $5/gallon in California), free camping, and dollar tacos!

Interlude Impossible

“Hey Sam, how’s it going?”  My standard greeting to my best friend Sam was not returned with the usual, “I’m good, what are doing?” response, I instead heard, “I’m volunteering at The Rising Sun Bistro (a local restaurant) as a bartender while they are filming ‘Restaurant Impossible,’ want to be my barback and make some money?”  My first response was, ‘What under the sun is Restaurant Impossible,’ quickly followed by, ‘Money?  Did you say money? Yes!’  That is how I happened to be spending a Friday evening pouring drinks, avoiding video cameras and a yelling TV personality instead of preparing for our trip (tune in December 19th on the Food Network to see if I am going to be that extra that gets catapulted to fame based on her excellent beer pouring skills).

This Restaurant Impossible experience is only one of the many things we’ve managed to cram into the three weeks since we have left Alaska, not to mention trying to cross everything off the many pre departure lists we have somehow created.

After an amazing day on Flathead Lake, filled with boating, lots of good wine, puppy snuggling, and good friends (thanks Jamie and Ryan!)…

Ken and Louis

Flathead Lake sunset

…we stopped and relaxed for a few days at my family’s cabin on the Smith River in Montana for some sun and fishing.

Papa Fraser and Izzie trying to prove something 

A side note about the Smith River, one of if not the all time favorite place in the world for me.  Being there always brings me a sense of peace and a reminder to slow down and enjoy ever little incredible second that life has to offer us, something that I definitely needed as the stress of getting ready was starting to get to me.

And I guess he proved it with an 18 inch rainbow.

We then booked it to Aspen, CO to attend Kathryn and Adam’s beautiful outdoor mountain wedding.  We were wined, dined, and generally pampered and thoroughly enjoyed ever second of it especially with months of Skamper travel ahead of us.

For the past week and half we have been back in Kalispell at my parent’s.  Ken has been killing it on a very long list of upgrades and alterations to the truck and camper (post to come soon) while I’ve been busy taking two recertification classes and getting together all the last minute paperwork and random details.  We are planning on hitting the road in a few days, by October 3rd at the latest, to head to Seattle for a few days then down the coast.  We are more then ready!

 

2,372 miles later

September 1st, scheduled departure date down the Alcan, the official start of our journey south, and somehow miraculously we were leaving on time.  Granted with a bit of a hangover, but on time nonetheless.  We pulled out of the driveway in two separate vehicles.  Ken and Pika in the Skamper, myself and Rio in my Subaru.  It was a surreal feeling to follow the Skamper along the Seward highway realizing that this will be our home for the next year.

Skampin along the Seward Highway

After months of dreaming and planning, we were really doing it.  Selling my car in Anchorage, sitting in the passenger seat and watching the Subaru drive away made it 100% real.  Here we go on one of the trips of our lifetime.

Somehow, the truck’s odometer rolled over to 91,000 miles as we were leaving Seward.  By the time we were in Tierra del Fuego roughly 30,000 kilometers later it should read 101,000.  We drove about 200 miles that first day and camped in Glenallen, AK.  Remarkably everything fit in the camper relatively well, although it was a tight squeeze with two dogs sleeping on the floor every night.

First night in the Skamper.

The next day we remembered why the Alcan was so brutal, frost heaves galore, and had to keep reminding ourselves that it would only get worse.  Crossing the Canadian border was simple, probably the easiest border between here and….well until we are back probably.  The second night we experienced the joy and freedom of our first “pirate” camping site.  “Look at the dirt road, that looks promising!”  Were Ken’s exact words.  Ever the voice of reason I made him stop the truck before barreling down the ‘road,’ merely two tire tracks with thick alders on either side and growing in the middle.  It did turn out to be a promising road and we ate dinner besides a beautiful braided river with snow and glacier covered mountains watching over us.

Pirate camping in style, Yukon Territory

Unfortunately that night the wind picked up, and we realized the drawbacks of sleeping on the roof of a vehicle in a tent.  The truck was rocking and not in a fun way.  We put top down and drove a few miles further and found a more sheltered pirate site and settled in for the night with some wine, some reading, and some sleeping.

The Alcan

After another day of endless scenery and our second sweet pirate spot, we turned onto the Cassiar Highway, the more remote, not quite as well known little side route sister of the the Alcan.This would be the first road we would be on that neither of us had ever driven on.

The Cassiar

From all accounts the Cassiar was more remote, less maintained, and more gorgeous than the particular section of the Alcan that we skipped.  All accounts were right.  The narrow, two laned highway dipped and weaved between soaring mountain ranges, through thick forests and along many streams and lakes.  Rarely did we encounter a vehicle.

From the Cassiar Highway onto the Yellowhead Highway and more population then we had seen in a few days.  Luckily we were headed towards Jasper National Park, and knew we would be back in the mountains shortly.

Yay! Ken let me drive, only 2000 miles into the trip!

Jasper did not disappoint, except for the fact that we were driving through the Park on September 6th and a majority of campgrounds closed for some inexplicable reason on September 3rd.

We ended up camping in our first parking lot site.  There wasn’t much to complain about considering we were directly beneath the Athabascan Glacier, surrounded by jagged mountains.  We also took some pride in the fact that we were by far the smallest RV in the parking lot.

Tiny in so many different ways.

At around 6,000 ft the parking lot was the highest elevation we had camped at so far and the coldest.  The only significant, recurring issue that we had been having with the Skamper was the pilot light on the heater occasionally going out.  That night the pilot light refused to stay lit, Ken mumbled something about a bad thermocoupler as he relit it for the 10th time.

Jasper National Park

Being Alaskans for the past 4 years, we decided we could tough out temperatures hovering at freezing without getting our extra sleeping bags out of the roof box, just add a few layers of long underwear and require Ken to actually cuddle and we survived the night.

The Icefields Parkway Highway offered up some of the most beautiful scenery so far. 

We were close enough to Montana that we pushed through the next day with brief stops at Lake Louise and Radium Hot Springs to soak our road weary bones, arriving in Kalispell September 7, 2372 miles into our 30,000 mile journey.  We are going to take an interlude and head to Colorado (which seemed so much closer in our heads while we were in Alaska) to celebrate a wedding and then spend some time in Montana with the parents and buttoning up the truck, camper, and the lists that are begetting lists that are begetting lists as I type this.

Lake Louise, Canada.

In the Beginnings

What would possess someone to think that purging their lives of a majority of possessions, packing said possessions in a storage unit, leaving friends, family and dogs behind and spend a year driving 30,000 miles in the small cab of a Ford Ranger with another someone who is also insane enough to think all of the above is a most excellent idea?  Well, we turned 30 this year and 30 kind of goes with 30,000 miles and we already live in Alaska so why not drive as far south as we can go?  Sounds like a good idea to me!

That was the gist of the conversation we had almost 7 months ago.  In that moment, possibly aided by unknown quantities of beer, whiskey, and/or wine, we decided to embark on that journey and drive the Pan American Highway all the way from Seward, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina.

After months and countless hours spent on the internet researching the various facets of an in depth road trip, here we are almost a month away from our scheduled departure date of September 1st.  One month away from starting the trip of a life time, a journey that will take us places we’ve never dreamed of being, and change us in ways we never thought possible.  One month away from a journey with the only limitations being the ones we place on ourselves.

“When I let go of what I am, I can become what I might be.” Lao Tzu