BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for the 'Travel' Category

« Home

My Christmas Letter

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Okay, some of you requested that I post my Christmas letter on this web site since I was too cheap to direct mail it to you, but you found out somehow anyways.  Enjoy.

Holiday Winter Season December 2007


Dear _________________


Well hello!  It’s been a long time (possibly) since we last kept in touch.  And because of this overlooked fact, this year I have decided to provide you, my very good friend, with one of these annual letters that seem to be all the rage these days.  To assist you with understanding why this is such a brilliant idea, my customer service team has put together this helpful FAQ:


– Why the Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/New Year’s letter?

            The simple answer is because this is much more personal!  I mean, why go to a Hallmark store and spend $ on some cheap generic card with a picture of a snowman and a bunch of spoiled rotten kids playing in some white blanket snow meadow that we know doesn’t exist because of the plight of our earth’s core due to uncontrolled logging, emissions, lead-toy garment sweatshops in Canada and Flavor Flav reality TV!  I mean, come on!  This letter shows my true compassion to letting you, _____________, a truer glimpse into my real life over the past (day, year, decade, lifetime) and sharing the joys and successes of such a wonderful life (that doesn’t involve inhaling scented highlighters).


– What’s up with all the fill-in-the-blanks?
Easy!  It would not be very personal would it if this entire letter were printed off on my 10-year old ink-jet printer (with $50 rip-off black cartridge refills) without an afterthought to personalizing it.  So, again to prove how thoughtful I am _____________, I provide the blanks to communicate to you __________ directly. 


– But what about the cute jingle-slogan-special card greetings in italics?

            Excellent question, my you do have a bunch of them.  Fortunately for you, off the top of my head I have come up with this one:

            “At this season and throughout the new year, may every happiness be yours.  Celebrate the season!  May the joy of this holiday season fill your home with happiness!  Let your light shine brightly, carrying happiness and good cheer with bold red hues in a unique holiday design.  Cover: Be a torch. Be a spark. Be a candle in the dark.  Inside: Make the season bright.  18 cards, 19 envelopes.”

            As you can see, the message I bring to you is longer than a short sentence that most of those generic cards contain. 


– What about frogs?

            I like frogs.


– Is Michael Jackson creepy weird, or what?

            Michael is my friend and friends don’t tell other friends that their friend is being questioned by the friend that is I.  At any rate, he tells me that his kids are doing super fine and they are healthy because they wear surgical masks in public and everybody should do that because is hypoallergenetic clean.


Please, please no more questions my friends and countrymen and (to steal a line from another friend), my constituents.  As you can see, I’ve already brightened your life and wasted 4 minutes of your valuable time with my ramblings that have suddenly taken up most of this page!  No more wasting time, let’s move on shall we, and rediscover just exactly what Edwin has been up to!


I was born back in the 70’s, a product of FDR’s Great Deal and a member of the Atari generation.  I never received any money from the tooth fairy,  I always seemed to get only socks and underwear from Santa Claus, and I was probably the best freakin’ dodge ball and 3-step player back in the 5th grade.  Ah, the good times!  (does anyone else remember the Kodak disc camera?)  In the late 80’s I entered high school and because quite the adept unlucky loser of betting on greyhounds at the Multnomah Kennel Club, in which today it is a Lowe’s and Fred Meyer.  The 90’s saw me take off to Europe to rebuild the Wall that came crumbling down, but the Germans didn’t want to have some Asian-American doing that, so I ended up bussing tables at a small restaurant in Dublin, Ireland called ‘Boss Crockers.’  I don’t know if that’s how you spell it, but that’s how it sounds like.  I lasted 3 shifts before I quit.  On to AmeriCorps, then college, then marriage and 2 kids.  Wait, scratch the kids.  No kids.  Not then, and not today.  And for those of you lucky enough to receive my Christmas card from last year, yes, that newborn infant in the picture is just a doll.  So no kid, or kids, more me. 


Fast forward to 2007.  Here’s where it gets really good and you should now snap out of those sleepy eyes and look of boredom on your face!  Let’s start with January, and my 33rd birthday!  I didn’t go to that all-u-can eat Chinese/Japanese/Sushi buffet where you get a free dinner on your birthday (as long as you bring 13 other people and then you get a voucher good for a free dinner on a future visit on an August Tuesday only), and I did not get my free rental from Hollywood video.  Instead, I saw the flick “Children of Men” (10 thumbs up!  Go rent it now.  Or buy it and support those producers, but not the writers because they don’t get a cut because they are not important.  Writing is soo overrated and should only be taught for, like, 2 grades or something).  I also registered my team for an adult basketball league, where we only lost one game by 98 points.  That’s right!  Try beating us by 100 points, you can’t do it! (in 2 quarters).


In March I bought my first horse.  His name is Gus.  I had a dream that I owned a horse named Gus and he won the Triple Crown.  I then retired to the Bahamas, bought a private island, then 2 months later a hurricane destroyed it and it now lies under a sea.  I liked that dream, except the last part.  So that’s why I bought a horse.  Saw an ad on Craigslist.  Montana.  Drove to Montana with my girlfriend Lisa.  Bought the horse, but didn’t have room in her Civic.  So we tied it to the back and drove really really slowly (no animal cruelty here!).  Unfortunately, it gets super hot in Montana the first few weeks of March.  It was like 120 degrees.  The horse melted outside in the non-air conditioning.  I tried to get a refund.  But the owner skipped town.  Fortunately, his ranch hand was around and helped me get another horse.  I named him Gus.  Not Gus like the first one, as in ‘bus.’  No, this Gus is pronounced ‘Gus,’ like “goose.”  It’s French.  Long story short, we went to FedEx and had him delivered.  Longer story shorter, and many of you already know this, but I got ripped off.  This second horse I bought was not a horse at all.  It was a donkey.  Donkeys can’t win the Kentucky Derby.  So I reposted on Craigslist Portland, and found a lady who was looking for an animal that produced wool so she could make a quilt for her granddaughter.  Thus, end of story.


I work for the school district now, as a teacher’s aide for special education students.  I make just about $1000 a month, not really enough to keep up with my jet setting lifestyle, so I’ve turned to credit cards and lottery tickets.  The lottery tickets are a good thing because I am contributing back to Oregon’s education and prison system.  The credit cards?  At least I’m racking up airline miles.  The nice thing about my job is that I get the summer off.  So this past summer, Lisa and I drove up to Alaska to experience the very famous Alaska Highway and the state bird, the mosquito.  I bought a car for $600, drove up to Anchorage, and sold it for $900.  We took a cruise back to the lower 48, where I promptly gained 14 pounds in one week.  As you all know me, food is my vice, my weakness, my gluttony of choice.  One month roadtripping on P&J, Vienna sausages, canned tuna and Velveeta pasta shells can do that to a person.  It wasn’t very hard.


Back to school in September, and all I’ve done is work work work work work and create my Ultima online character “Luna” in Second Life.  It’s my avatar!  Cool word, huh?  Avatar!  It’s like ‘Minotaur’ or some character from He-Man.  Well, that’s about it for my exciting life.  You can always read more on my internet blog Most of this I’ve told you is true, especially the part about the donkey.  I’ve recently applied to law school at Columbia State College University, based in the Philippines.  It’s a correspondence course and I’ll be specializing in International Organic Dairy Law.  If that doesn’t pan out, I’ve decided to open up a museum dedicated to me.  2nd grade art work.  Pop Warner football trading cards.  A replica of my broken Tyco Turbo Hopper R/C car.  Cool stuff like that. 


So that’s it for now, until next year.  I hope you can appreciate all the time I’ve put into communicating to you, my dear friend ______________ in this letter.  Instead of enclosing some old scratch off lottery tickets, World Championship Wrestling trading cards, or a Wrigley’s gum wrapper, I am providing you with a holiday gift that goes beyond all of those trivial, materialist things put together.  You see, this year, on my limited income of $1000 a month, I have decided to make a donation.  In your name.  (_______________)

I have contributed a $75 donation in your name (_______________) to the Human Fund.  That, along with some more contributions to the state of Oregon’s very many important government systems.  I wish you a very happy holiday season, a fantastic and healthy New Year 2008, and encourage you to bring your own bags to the grocery stores to haul your food items and just say no to plastic and paper bags because they are harmful to seagulls, mooses and luck dragons.  Peace!

From Edwin

December 2007 update

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

I’m back with the school district, now on my 2-week winter break, contemplating my travel adventure plans for 2008.  Suggestions?….

Finally, an Update (and a teaser for what’s next!)

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

I’m currently in New York for a family reunion–dad’s side, over 50 relatives I either do not know at all or have had very little contact with…we’re all here learning about the history of our clan and trying to forge those connections to develop relationships with the younger generation and the older and all those in between (like me). At any rate, it’s been 5 days of eating, hanging out, swimming, eating, hanging out, singing karaoke, playing pool and Guitar Hero 2, eating, hanging out, watching TV, eating and more eating. If there was any weight I lost on the Alaska trip, I surely gained it back on the cruise back home and during this family reunion.

Good news about the Alaska trip is that YES I was able to sell the car. Pretty stressful days leading up to it though. No takers. Finally, one guy showed up at the hostel. He’s a guy that buys cars cheap (from desperate sellers like me) and then resells them at a higher price and pockets the profit. He liked my car. Very interested. I even washed it (haven’t washed my own car in years). Then, he gets into the front seat, turns on the ignition, and then….IT EXPLODES!! Like in the movie ‘Casino’ when Robert Dinero dies at the end!!! Erupts in flames and levels the entire city block. So the deal was dead. Yeah, so it didn’t explode. It started up without a hitch. Sounded great, just like it did the entire way up. What killed the deal though was the Check Engine Light. Once he saw that glowing bright orange on the dashboard, he bolted out of the seat and into his car like it did explode. Basically said that the Alaska Environmental Quality Vehicle Testing something something will not allow any car with a Check Engine Light to pass, and therefore, no registration to get a plate. So I was a dead duck. Or lame duck. Or duck duck goose whatever.

Long story short, I reduced my Craigslist ad from $1450 to $1150 and said I was desperate. And got 2 calls the next day. One from a Native Alaskan lady that had no license. And the other an Air Force Jet mechanic who took the car for a 45-minute test drive with his girlfriend. After 30 minutes, I didn’t think they were ever coming back. But they did. And he opened up the hood and pointed out the cracked radiator and coolant fluid leaking out. He said that on the test drive he took it to a Napa Auto Parts and they said it would cost about $250 to get that fixed. So he basically took that amount from my asking price of $1150 and offered me $900. Sold.

The car was sold, and that’s all that matters. Lisa and I were able to get an overpriced shuttle bus down to Seward for the next day and then on Sunday, July 29th, boarded the Holland America Ryndam cruise ship for 7 days of feasting, lounging and sightseeing on our way back down south. We spent a couple days in Vancouver, BC before returning home and waiting 2 hours to cross the border. But we made it. And upon arriving at home, I did some laundry and promptly repacked my bags for my trip out east.

And that’s about it. Fairbanks was a cool little town. Our arrival coincided with the ‘Golden Days’ Festival where they had a street fair and a costumed inflatable boat regalia on the river. During our 3 days at Denali National Park we only saw Mt. McKinley once. The rest of the time it was obscured by the clouds. But at least it didn’t rain on us. And at least the car made it all the way from Portland, OR to Anchorage AK with only a cracked windshield and cracked radiator. And sold.

My summer vacation is almost at an end, just 2 weeks left before it is time to go back to work with the school. I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this had I been selected for that other job with the Art Institute. Ironically, they called 2 weeks ago saying that they had another opening and wanted to know if I’d consider. Sure I did. But with their offer of only 2 weeks of annual vacation, how could I say ‘Yes’? I’ve come to realize that I like not working. How could I accept a future position with a company if I can only expect to get 2 or 3 weeks during the year? How did I do this for the last 7 years I’ve worked??? Working with the school is ideal. Sure, if you take my paycheck for the year, I end up averaging $7 per hour. But I don’t have many expenses (aside from traveling) and I love the time off. So I’m sticking with this school gig for at least one more year, until my next adventure, which a few of you know of. Because on my trip to Alaska, and specifically to a museum in Fairbanks, I found inspiration. Inspiration for my next adventure. Look for it in Summer of 2008, to coincide with the Summer Olympic Games. This is gonna be coooooooool.

Trip Report: Alaska Highway

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

So here’s your quick history lesson/introduction for the Alaska Highway.

Pearl Harbor, December 1941. The threat of the Japanese. Suddenly, the 49th state of the union was a major concern of national security. Japan sits only 600 miles from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. As a matter of fact, Japan attacked and actually landed troops on US soil in June 1942 before retreating after a brief battle with US troops. The only way to get supplies to Alaska was via ship or plane. There was no road from the continental US into Canada and into Alaska. Thus, it was decided that we needed to build a road to Alaska. We received Canada’s permission–well after we actually started making the road. But make the road we did. It was a military road, not open to the public. 1,422 miles from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska. Crews started at both ends and met in the middle at Contact Creek. All in 8 months and 2 weeks. Winter months, mind you. In the freaking wilderness. The numbers (courtesy of an Alaska Highway guidebook):

– US troops used in construction: 11,000
– Civilian workers: 16,000
– Pieces of heavy equipment: 7,000
– Bridges constructed: 133
– Culverts installed: 8,000+
– Cost: $140 million
– Began: March 1942
– Completed: October 1942
– Opened to the public: 1948

So there you have it. 1,422 miles of rough road completed in 8 months. It was a crappy road; after all, it was built crudely by military personnel who didn’t really have the experience with these kinds of things. Which is why the Public Roads Administration came in a few months afterwards to do the paving and improving of the highway using private contractors. Still, the road is considered an engineering marvel. And to drive this stretch of road and to imagine what all the workers went through just blows me away.

Day 1: Edmonton to Dawson Creek

It was a long drive, especially when I was low in gas and exited the freeway when I saw a gas pump sign.  Little did I know that I’d have to drive in for 6 miles to get to the station!  Then, when leaving, I got stuck in Suburbia Hell.  Driving in these little communities with dead ends and no where to exit back to the main road.  Construction of these houses were everywhere.  The name of the town is Spruce Grove.  Suburbia Hell.  One hour after exiting the freeway, I found my way back. 

We continued on through Whitecourt and to Grande Prairie, Alberta (not Texas), where we checked out a sad version of a Farmer’s Market and even more sad, the Costo didn’t have those awesome hand-dipped Ice Cream Nut bars like they do in Portland.

We ended the day sitting in construction traffic with the hot sun blinding and cooking us while we sat, waiting as patient as we could, for our column of cars to make it through.  We were definitely ready to call it a day after 400 miles.

Day 2: Dawson Creek (mile ‘0’) to Fort Nelson

Here’s where it all began.  Mile ‘0.’  And of course we had our obligatory photo taken at the start of the Alaska Highway.  Tooled around town reading about the history and waving on the bicyclists, motorcycles, RVer’s and other road trippers beginning the journey. 

Day 3: Fort Nelson to Coal River

We started the morning at the Fort Nelson History Museum, and proceeded on to check out Liard Hot Springs, our planned camping spot for the evening.  But being attacked by those blood sucking mosquitoes changed our minds.  I figured that we could outrun them by driving further on.  Boy, was I wrong.

We settled for camping at an RV park at Coal River.  Big mistake.  Those suckers were relentless.  We were in our tent by 7pm, held hostage by the buzzers outside.  The sun was out, it wasn’t too hot and I had magazines I could pass the evening time away.  Well, the sun was out.  But Lisa, being the Science teacher and purveyor of weather related facts, kept pointing out the oncoming clouds.  The storm clouds.  I chose to not believe that we would get wet, and thus left the rainfly off the tent.  However, at the first drop of rain, I leapt into action.  Too late.

The downpour was sudden, and like those mosquitoes, didn’t let up.  I sprang out to attach the necessary connections, and in the process, was left bare and exposed to the heavy pounding of the wetness, plus unable to defend myself against the onslaught of the gnats (British term for mosquitoes).  Ankle slap, leg swipe, face brush, arm wave of despair.  Man, they got me good.

Back inside the tent, I dried out to the best I could.  Then the lightening.  And the rumble of thunder.  Distant, then growing ever closer.  Minutes later, it was as if we were in a THX surround sound theater.  It was that loud, that close, that scary.  For an hour we endured.  Hoped that Lisa’s little $20 GI Joes (oh, sorry, now it’s just Joes) would hold on.  And it did.  All night.  It rained all night.  The lightening and thunder show was only over an hour, but the driving rain continued well into the morning.  Around 8am, at our first break of no rain, we quickly disbanded camp and promised that our next night of sleep would be in a real bed.

Day 4: Coal River to Watson Lake to Whitehorse

Nice, easy 100 mile drive into Watson Lake for breakfast and to check out the famous Signpost Forest.  Back in 1942, a US Army soldier working on the construction of the Alaska Highway put up a signpost announcing the distance of his hometown.  Since then, Over 60,000 signs have popped up, including signs for Newberg, Wilsonville, Corvallis and other Oregon locales.  People have made their own signs to hang up.  The most inventive was a pair of flipflops signed and nailed to a post.

From Watson Lake, it was another 275 miles into Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon, where we did find a hotel to check into complete with laundy facilities, a real shower (not some coin-operated metered 7-minute only shower from the campground, with icky floors that deemed flipflops a necessity) and cable.

Day 5: Whitehorse to Takini Hotsprings

We spent most of the day exploring the history of Whitehorse and the impact of the railroad and goldrush.  In the afternoon, we drove the short distance to Takini Hotsprings for a great long soak at the odorless hotsprings, and then a very restful night of camping at the campground.


Day 6:  Takini Hotsprings to Dawson City, Yukon

This day was supposed to take us from Whitehorse to the Alaska/Yukon border, a total of 303 miles. Instead, we made the decision to drive up the Klondike Highway northbound to Dawson City, heart of the Klondike and home of the Klondike Goldrush. That was when prospectors discovered gold on Bonanza Creek on August 17th, 1896. Next thing you know, 30,000 would-be gold-seekers began their trek to Dawson City, over the difficult Chilkoot Trail from Skagway and then on northward hundreds of miles to Dawson City.

Driving the highway was one of isolation. Only a few towns between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Less than 50 cars driving the opposite direction.  Just nothing on all sides; I don’t mean nothing.  Just forest and trees and mountains surrounding us.  Quite spectacular, really.


Day 7: Dawson City

We spent a full day touring the town and taking in all the historical attractions and museums. 


Day 8: Dawson City to Delta Junction, via the Top of the World Highway, aka the 60 Mile

Note from our highway travel guide:  “CAUTION:  Allow plenty of time for this drive; average speed for this road is 25 to 50mph.  DRIVE WITH YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON!  The Canadian portion of Highway 9 was seal coated a few years ago, but there were numerous gravel breaks in fall 2004.  On the Alaska side, the highway is gravel from the border to Chicken.  Top of the World Highway is a narrow, winding road.  There are no guardrails.  Some streep grades.  Watch for soft shoulders and washboard.  Great views!”

What a beautiful drive.  It really wasn’t as bad as we thought.  And we did allow for plenty of time.  It took almost 6 hours to drive the 180 miles to Tok, where we stopped for an early dinner and drove to a nice state campground near Delta Junction.

Day 9: Delta Junction to Fairbanks

Delta Junction is the end of the Alaska Highway, though most folks driving the highway consider the end to be Fairbanks.  Nonetheless, we took our photo at the “End of Alaska Highway” post near the Delta Junction visitor center, then proceeded the other other ‘end’ towards Fairbanks.  En route, we stopped at Rika’s Roadhouse and Landing at Big Delta State Park for more history, and also learned about the trans-Alaska pipeline.  After a brief touristy stop at the North Pole (Santa and Mrs. Claus were there!), we made it into Fairbanks just in time for the Golden Days Celebration (their version of our Portland Rose Festival).

My internet time is running out, so that’s it for now.  It is Thursday, July 26th, and so far I’ve had no bites regarding the sale of the car.  I’ve taken it to a used car lot, and they won’t touch it because of the Check Engine light and because of the mileage (164,000 and counting).  I fear that this will turn into another Honda Accord donation headache.  I still have Friday to unload it, but time is closing in.  If I can find Internet in Seward this weekend I’ll write up our report for Denali National Park and for Anchorage.  But for now, it’s time to run.  I really need to invest in a laptop cause it seems that wireless is readily available in many of the places we’ve visited….

More things Canadian, Latest Stats, and Where to from here…

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Things to remember when traveling in Canada.

– When turning at an intersection and you have a turn signal, the flashing arrow indicates it is your turn to turn!  A solid arrow means you must wait and yield to oncoming traffic.  This was pretty hard to get used to.

– It’s kilometers, not miles per hour.

– In the Yukon, headlights must be turned on every time you drive.

– Things are expensive up here.  Way expensive.

– Gas stations:  Tesoro, Husky, Petro Canada, FasGas, Tempo.  Absent:  Chevron, Texaco, Arco, 76.

– Do not ask for a restroom or a bathroom. Everywhere here they are called washrooms.

Latest numbers, as of Monday, July 23rd, 2007, 10:00am

Total miles: 3,975
Total cost of fuel: $402
Most expensive gas: $5.25 per gallon, Dawson City, Yukon Canada
Least expensive: $2.88 per gallon, North Pole, Alaska
Best gas mileage on a fill-up, ideal highway driving conditions: 37mpg
Worst gas mileage, worst conditions: 21mpg
Time Zones: Mountain, Pacific, now Alaskan
Total mosquito bites on me: 58
Total in one 15 minute spurt: 15 (Coal River, Yukon. 2nd place: 13 on a short hike near Chicken, Alaska)
Number of dead dragonflies, butterflies, mosquitoes and various other flying insects smashed against the front of the car: hundreds upon hundreds

Animal sightings from the road: coyote, caribou, buffalo, stone mountain sheep, moose

Number of books on tape finished:  3  (The Hobbit, Tom Bodett’s “John Tuttle and the Last Frontier” and the first book of the Bartemeous trilogy).

Total days of rain:  2

Number of days wearing shorts and short-sleeve shirts (except today):  all of the days

We have been very lucky with the weather, although today (Monday) is just raining cats and dogs and we are on our way to Denali National Park.  It has actually been a very hot drive up from the States, each place we’ve gone to it seems like they set their new high temperatures.  It was extreme in Montana.  And the further north we got, I thought it would be cooler.  Wrong. 

The sun has been out for up to 20 hours each day.  Only recently has it dipped down below 20 hours of day light.  We are losing 6 minutes of daylight every day.  But it is incredibly weird to try and sleep at 11pm in the evening and it is so full of bright daylight outside.  Very tough when camping in the tent, I’ve had many nights where I have my bandana folded and wrapped around my head.

Alaska’s unofficial state bird is the Alasquito.  They have been relentless ever since Dawson Creek, BC, or since 1700 miles ago.  I HATE mosquitoes.  For the longest time I had the perception that they had no useful benefit on our planet.  Until last night, when I read that they help to pollinate some sorts of plants up here.  Well that’s just great.  That doesn’t change my mind about them.  They are just relentless.  I think we’ve purchased every type of spray available, including those coils and anti itch cream.  The only thing we haven’t tried are those electronic devices. 

The car has held up really well.  I was really freaked out about going over the Top of the World highway.  The day before we took the car up to Top Dome above Dawson City, only 4 miles one way.  It was a steep climb, and on the way down, my brakes were smokin’ and stinkin up the place.  My confidence was shaken.  Before leaving Portland earlier this month, the Pontiac dealership showed that the car’s brakes were all fine.  So I just hoped that Top Dome was just a abberation.  Having 3rd, 2nd and 1st gear helped for sure.  Other than the brakes, the car has been beautiful.  Great gas mileage, plenty of room for our gear.  The little radio transmitter device I bought for $10 at Shuck’s has been a great investment, allowing us to play my MP3 player and the books on tape. 

Now the problem is trying to sell it.  I posted on Craigslist in Anchorage, but for some reason my listings were not showing up.  Therefore, no one knew that I was coming and that it was for sale.  I just found out a few days ago that the reason why my ads were not posting was because I had been using computers in Canada–and somehow, the Craiglist system detected my ‘international’ IP address and thus blocked the ad.  Too many Nigerian scammers out there, I suppose.  So only recently, now that we are back on US soil, have I been able to post the ad.  But I need to sell it by this Friday, and hope that I get a buyer.  I don’t want the same end-of-the-road Honda incident to happen to this Pontiac. 

As I said, we are now off to Denali National Park.  Mount McKinley is the highest peak in North America, at about 4 miles.  Unfortunately, it is said that the mountain creates its own weather system, and people who visit in the summer only have a 20% chance of seeing the peak, since it is always cloudy and stormy.  The forecast for the next 2 days are not in our favor.  But at least our tent has been worthy and proven, especially after our mosquitoes and thunderstorms in Coal River.  I’ll save that one for Thursday.  So check back then for my trip report on the Alaska Highway, and hopefully at that time I’ll find a USB port to load up some pictures.


Oh, Canada! Part 2

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Time for your daily math lesson. Here we go.

1 liter of gas in Canada averages about $1.13

(Update 07/19/07: The gas up here in Dawson City is $1.39 per litre!)

1 liter = .26 gallons

1 gallon = 3.79 liters

You with me so far? Okay, now for some money conversions.

I remember the days when 1 Canadian dollar would equal $.65 U.S. You could travel relatively cheaply back in those days. Today, 1 Canadian dollar equals $.95, if you’re lucky. Because when I went to the currency exchange and traded $100 US, I received $103 Canadian. That’s just $3. If you go to any store or business, the exchange is at par. Thus, $1 Canadian = $1 U.S. And that really hurts. Especially considering the fact that prices are higher here in Canada than in the U.S.

Like fast food. And clothes. And accommodation rates. And groceries. And especially gas.

Are you ready for the math? Here we go then.

1 liter of gas just about 4 gallons. So 4 gallons x $1.13 = $4.52.

$4.52 Canadian x $.95 US = $4.30.

Therefore, I am paying the equivalent of $4.30 per gallon of gas up here in Alberta. And to think, I passed up filling my tank for an outrageous $3.51 just before crossing the border. I thought that was too much to pay for gas. I was foolish to think that the gas would be cheaper up here. Especially when we were in Edmonton, which is considered oil country. They even named the NHL Hockey team the Oilers. Go figure.

The Pontiac is doing relatively well. I’m driving the speed limit to save on gas consumption. The check engine light is on and bright as ever. It only rained one day so far, so I haven’t had to deal with the flooded carpet. It would have been nice to have air conditioning, cause the heat wave of the Northwest US had found its way all the way up to Northern Alberta.


More flat, straight driving into Canada’s northernmost largest city. Of course we had to check out the West Edmonton Mall, one of the world’s largest. Were we impressed? Would you be if you came across this monster?

– Over 800 stores/services

– 21 screens of movie theaters (including an IMAX, where we saw Harry Potter in 3-D)
– Miniature golf course

– A glow in the dark miniature golf course

– Bowling alley

– Indoor waterpark

– Indoor amusement park with 2 rollercoasters

– Mystery dinner theater

– Over 100 restaurants/eateries

– Ice skating rink

– Over 20,000 parking spaces

– Gun shooting range

– Santa Maria replica ship in middle of the mall (well, one of the middles)

So yeah, it was quite overwhelming walking through this beheamoth. Aside from the mall, we also checked out Fort Edmonton Historical Park, the old Strathemore district, and had a fun evening in the city center at the Internationl Street Performers Festival (no, I was not allowed to busk because I left my Casio keyboard at home, otherwise I would have been rolling in the dough). We stayed with some fellow members of the Bootsnall community, Neil and Kathy, who we requested accomodations via Couchsurfers. Which will be an entirely different blog entry in itself. But that’s all I have for now, so when I find more internet, I’ll write up another post.


Inside the mall, one of the many non-shopping or eating attractions.


I didn’t get inside the waterpark’s rides, so I had to settle for this shot.


At the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival.  Good stuff!  I’m thinking Portland should have their own festival showcase, this was definitely alot of fun because the central square had 5-6 different performers going on at one time and you could just rove around–if one act sucked, a few feet away was another act and for just a donation, this entertainment was top notch.

Oh, Canada!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Calgary, Alberta thoughts:

Man, it sure is flat up here!  The roads are all very very straight, and it is just flat as a pancake.  I could see for miles upon miles far and away as we drove up from the Canadian border.  Which, incidentally, we didn’t pass inspection so easily.  As a matter of fact, we were sequestered into an interrogation room (not really, but it sounds better) where the border agent asked Lisa and I spit-fire questions like we were on a speed round of some gameshow and she wanted to see how easy and ready we were with our answers.  Our extra time at the border station was because I answered “Yes” when the gate guard asked me if I had any firewood.  So, if there is a lesson in all of this, YOU CANNOT BRING FIREWOOD INTO CANADA FROM THE US!  Why?  Cause of Dutch Elm disease.

We made stops at Ft. McCleod, the first western outpost of the Royal Canadian Mountain Police, and also stopped at Lethbridge and Vulcan.  Guess which pictures below are from Vulcan?




Posing with my possee from Vulcan.



This pic is dedicated to you, Ezra and Dan and Tim!



A scale replica of the Starship Enterprise.



Heritage Park’s Hudson’s Bay Company Fort replica.  We spent an entire day at Heritage Park Historical Village, and what a great time we had!  Set on 66 acres, there are more than 150 buildings and 45,000 exhibits that recreate pre-1914 Western Canada.  It is a living history park, where employees are dressed in period clothes and they describe and explain historical aspects of each exhibit or what life was like 100 years ago.  The Calgary weather was very strange during our visit–wet, cold and windy in the morning, then hot, dry and summerlike in the afternoon.


Our stop through town just happened to coincide with the big event that Calgary is known the world for:  The Calgary Stampede, the greatest outdoor show on earth.  This is a 10-day freakin’ HUGE party that happens all around town, but is mostly concentrated at Stampede Park where most of the attractions, midway, agricultural exhibits and, of course, the rodeo is based.  One of the cool things about the city-wide party is that this is the time that corporations give back, in the effect of free breakfasts all around town.  The speciality is the pancake with a piece of bacon in middle…


The Calgary Stampede breakfast of champions!



If goin’ to the Stampede, you gotta getch yur cowboy hat and boots to really get in the spirt of thangs.

How big is the Stampede?  Consider this:  The Texas State Fair attracts about 78,000 daily visitors, while the Stampede has an average of 125,000 people per day.  The day we went had perfect weather and we had our first experience of watching Chuckwagon races and then a spectacular night show, complete with fireworks, laser lights, music, dancing, acrobatics and motorcylce stunts, all on a huge stage that is the most expensive in the world–$6 million.



9 heats of Chuckwagon races–we had no ideas about the rules and the penalty point system, but it was definitely exciting and we’d love to watch it again (tip:  if going to the Stampede, this is a Must-Do!).



The midway–packed with all the standard thrill rides, plus all the fried foods like corn dogs, mini donuts, funnel cakes and more.


Next Stop:  Edmonton (to be continued)

AND:  Happy 30-something birthday to Captain Fury, Mike CanDoIt Rohrig!  He can shoot the 3, but he’ll travel if you let him dribble.  Check out for the greatest basketball team never to win a game!


Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Montana thoughts

Often, when driving around Portland, I’ll see license plates from Montana that say “Big Sky Country.”  Well, no foolin’.  This place definitely IS Big Sky Country, where the posted Interstate speed limit is 75 and the sky draws the eyes because, well, it’s so dang big. 

Traffic in Montana?  Yep, at 1:00pm no less.  Try to stay off Reserve Road south of the Interstate.  It sucked to be ‘stuck’ in traffic when the car’s air conditioner is nonexistant and the mercury is over 100.  Other than Reserve Road, traffic was what I expected, which wasn’t much.

What was up with that Heat Wave?  Apparently the whole Northwest was affected in higher than normal temps.  The big news story of the day in Missoula was the weather, with the typical tips and warning signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Missoula has Arctic Circle!  That was my favorite fast-food burger joint when I was a kid.  They were known for their fry sauce, Ranch Burger, Lime Rickey and for putting lettuce on even their lowly hamburgers.  There used to be a spot around 35th and Hawthorne, as well as downtown and Sandy Blvd.  Today, they are all gone from the Portland area.  I know there’s still one in Salem, Woodburn and Newport.  Now, add Missoula to the list!  Yay for Arctic Circle!



Here’s a photo especially for Amy and Sarah R (hint, it’s the home of the Grizzlies)



We stopped into Arlee, MT for the annual 4th of July weekend Pow-Wow.  Here are festivities as part of the Grand Entrance.



We also stopped at the Mission de St. Ignatius, built in 1854 and the second Catholic mission in Montana.  The adjoining church, the interior shown here, was built in 1891.



I took this picture of a painting that was for sale at one of the numerous art galleries in Big Fork, MT.  We almost made it to the Art Festival in Whitefish, but were only a few minutes too late before all the vendors closed up shop for the night.


Glacier National Park is considered the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the continent, and with good reason.  The park is famous for the 50-mile ‘Going-to-Sun’ road, as well as the lodges, hiking and backcountry opportunities, and for bears (we only saw mountain goats, deer and a snake during our visit).  We camped for two nights and got in three hikes, four if you count the short jaunt to Lake McDonald from our nearby campsite.



Lake McDonald, one the western edge of the park.



McDonald Creek.



Driving up the Going-to-Sun road. View from the car.



One of our hikes originated from Logan Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide at 6,646 feet.  Hiking through the snow in sandals is not a good idea!



But ah, the view to the Hidden Lake overlook was well worth it…



Our second hike took us to Avalanche Lake.



Another shot from the car; you can trace the Going-to-Sun road in the photo.



The heart of the park is at Many Glacier, on the northeastern end.  This is a shot of Lake Sherburne.



View from the top of Many Glacier Hotel, where rates start at $160 a night.   The popular 6-mile hike to Grinnel Glacier begins just past the hotel.


That’s all I have time for now.  I should be able to update in a few days with my thoughts about Calgary and Canada, our next stop as we journey north to Alaska.  One more thing too–Happy Birthday a few days late to my tag team partner, The Bomb from Vietnam, aka John Le!


Roadtrippin’ North: Days 1-3

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Internet time is at a premium, so I apologize in advance for typos and run on words and sentences that don’t make much sense.  Lisa and I are now one week into our road trip up to Alaska, and this blog will serve more as a forum as a photo journal versus the written word, but I’ll put as much as I can for those who like to read more than just look at pictures.  On we go….


Day 1

Starting mileage:  160167

Transport means:  1996 Pontiac Grand Am.  White exterior.  Pretty clean interior.  No bumps, bruises, scratches or broken windshields.  Not much to complain about for under a $1000, purchased a few months ago specifically for this trip.  Automatic.  With cruise control.  That was a requirement.  V6 engine.  Air conditioning, but it doesn’t work.  Tilt wheel.  AM/FM Stereo cassette.  The cassette doesn’t work–actually, put a tape inside and it will jam up.  4 door sedan.  Power door locks and windows.  Rear defrost.  Spacious trunk, but the back seats do not fold down.  It’s a pretty good value for what I paid.  Much more reliable than my Honda Accord (see one of my very first entries for this blog for more info).  Here’s the bad:  #1.  When it rains, the water seeps through the chasis and creates a very wet puddle on the driver’s side floor.  So much that when I go over small bumps, I hear the car squeaking as it rocks on its suspension.  I have a suspiscion that the entire bottom of the car is rusted.  But as long as it makes it to Alaska, that is fine by me.  #2.  The check engine light is on.  I took it to the tune up place, they replaced a sparkplug and cleared out the code for the check engine light.  A week later, it turns back on.  And thus we drive with the bright hue of the orange “Check Engine” glowing at me.  This little issue will mean that it will be harder to sell the car once we reach our final destination.  I mean, come on, who would buy a used car with the Check Engine light constantly on?  Oh, I guess I would.  I failed to mention that the previous owner told me about that problem.  It’s still a great car, IMHO.  One more thing:  the high mileage for this car is primarly due to its first life.  My friend ran a carfax report and found that the Pontiac started its life as a rental car in Los Angeles…


After a quick stop to my parents home in Vancouver for lunch, we set off at about noon.  It was a straight drive to Spokane, save for an ice cream stop at Dairy Queen (gotta have my ice cream bars!) in the Tri-Cities area.

Total miles:  202



The Grand Car, just before leaving Vancouver.


Day 2

4th of July.  We got up early for an 8K fun run put on by the local runners’ club.  Later on in the day, we spent some time at the Riverfront Park ‘Good Neighbor Day’ and had our obligatory 4th of July hot dog and ice cream.  In the evening, we joined Lisa’s dad and his wife for a BBQ potluck with their friends at a home way up in the hills that provided a great vantage point for watching 2 fireworks displays.



The run probably attracted less than 125 participants, but the scenery along this quiet rural road made for a beautiful course.



A shot of the big picture window inside the home on the hill, just before the start of the city’s fireworks display off yonder.  The outdoor deck afforded the best viewing.


Day 3

Mileage:  Spokane -> Missoula, 348

Left Spokane at 7am and had a great All American breakfast at the local IHOP!  Stopped at the Costco for cheaper gas ($2.92 per gallon), and 25 miles later when we crossed into Coeur d’Alene, ID, we found gas to be as low as $2.84.  We strolled the downtown area and walked the World’s Longest Floating Boardwalk!  For real.  Then it was on to Wallace, ID the ‘Silver Capital of the World!’  For real.  It’s also the Center of the Universe!  For real.  I don’t make these things up.



Lake Coeur d’Alene, the marina with the world’s longest floating boardwalk and their fancy shmancy hotel.



See, the Center of the Universe, right here in the heart of Wallace, ID.



It’s the great tourist attraction that is called “10,000 Silver Dollar”, somewhere along I-90 in Montana.  Now the kitsche junk mega giftstore houses a collection that is more like 40,000!



Costume playing at the Fort Missoula Park and Museum (not my regular look).


We made it into Missoula, MT for lunch and a tour of Ft. Missoula Historical Park and Musuem.  Then, because the region was experiencing one of the hottest days on record (105F), we ducked into an air-conditioned mall.  We also scrapped camping in favor of an air-conditioned motel room.  Our evening ended with a stroll through downtown Missoula and catching some tunes at a free concert.



Fort Missoula was also used as an internment camp during World War II, and the Barracks building housed an exhibit which showed how some people felt about the Japanese during this time.



Missoula’s downtown waterfront has a cool jogging/biking path, and below this overlook is a popular swimming hole.  Just across the river is the campus for the University of Montana.


That’s all I have time for now, check back in 2 more days for my next update!

Summer Kick Off

Monday, June 25th, 2007

June 15th, 2007. My last day of work. Because I am a teacher’s assistant, I have summer vacation, just like the kids. No work until September. That’s almost 2 1/2 months off for play time!

But I had a quandary: because my position was a temporary contract with no guarantee of renewal, I applied for another position. After giving one presentation and having 4 phone interviews, I thought I was a lock to get the job. Which would have started on July 2nd. Which would have put my road trip to Alaska on definite hiatus.

So, I had to decide….summer play the whole summer, or just summer play for 2 weeks and then get back to work? Pros and cons, the good and bad, I had a very tough decision to make. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make it. They did. They wanted the other guy. Yippeeee! A huge weight lifted from my shoulders. My summer adventure was back on track!

June 15th, 2007. My last day of work. And exactly my first day of summer vacation. And what better way to celebrate one’s last day of work than with a trip down to Vegas with friends?!!! Oh yeah. Oh yeah.


John, Jonas, Scott and Mike after our $21 Champagne buffet


Air Hockey supremacy goes to Mike and yours truly, though Jonas and Rene put up a good fight.


Fremont Street Experience

All in all I lost all my gambling money, which was only about $150. I did play one poker tournament, lost more at the stupid slot machines, lost $65 on one hand of no limit cash poker, and some more on Craps. I still had a great time. The following Monday Jonas, Scott, Mike and Rene headed back home to Portland. John and I stayed an extra day and watched the Beavers baseball win that took them to the World Series (and eventually back to back champs!). John and I stayed at the Stratosphere, which allowed us free admission up the observation deck to view the city below us and to see the extreme ride X-Scream, as shown in the photo below.


Tuesday I flew into Oakland to stay with Ezra for a few nights and to attend Tim’s wedding…

I borrowed Ezra’s bicycle and spent Wednesday bicycling the Alameda Creek Regional Trail…


Which took me to the very windy and very bumpy Bay Trail. By the time I arrived to Ezra’s apartment, I was completely spent and had nothing left. Those headwinds were just killers.

IMG_5924.JPG IMG_5925.JPG
Thursday was fun park day. I rode the BART and bus to Great America and rode 16 rides in 2 hours, got really really sick, and then spent the afternoon at the water park on the lazy river ride and the giant wave pool. Incidentally, I rode the Drop Zone Tower 3 times in a row; that same day, the exact same ride in Cedar Park malfunctioned and a poor girl’s ankles were cut off. (story)


Friday night was my friend’s wedding reception. I dressed as “Burindi” and played my Irish tin whistle (which I have no idea how to play) while wearing my Moroccan robe, Fez and oversized sunglasses. Tim’s idea, of course!


Kickin it up on the dance floor–Seana grooves while Alex continues his superb Robot.


The clan, post-dance party: Tim (congrats groom!), Caren, Scott, Chloe, me, Matt, Ezra and Dan. Not pictured are Kat, Alex and Seana.

Sunday I tried to hitchhike back up to Portland. I lasted nary 90 minutes before the heat and the lack of any car showing any interest of picking me up resulted in my totally giving up. The picture below is only a re-enactment of my hitchhiking skills. I started out near a gas station, then moved to an off ramp, and finally moved direct to the freeway where I thought I would #1 get run over or #2 get cited by a cop.


Late Sunday night however, I did manage to hook up a ride up to Portland via the Craigslist Rideshare category. And thus from 9:30pm-8pm I rode in the car with this total free spirit, self described hippie and gypsy. The experience was mind blowing, as I was exposed to a totally alternate reality that I just had to remember some highlights:

1. Her passion was gamelan javanese shadow puppeterring, and apparently the Bali government offers scholarships, room and board for Westerners who are interested in living there for one year to learn this art form.

2. She saw herself as a ‘pirate’ versus a ‘ninja.’

3. She is an ‘opportunivore.’ (look it up, for real). The passenger we picked up near Chico considers herself a ‘freegan.’

4. She described her tribe, as well as attending dream clubs and about the power to control one’s own dreams by taking time each day to ask “Am I dreaming?” and to observe oneself.

5. I also learned about ‘breathatarians,’ and to look for dead owls on the road so that she could use their feet as THE final touch for her art piece.

All I can say is, “Wow.” I slept no more than 20 minutes the entire trip up from Oakland to Portland. And still haven’t slept. So this is a good time to end here. I have less than a week to get my things in gear for part 2 of my summer of adventure: road tripping up to Alaska with Lisa in our $600 Pontiac Grand Am. More to follow!