Road Trip – Chapter 8

It’s a beautiful sunny day. Felicity finds a place four miles from here, on the coast of course, where she wants to paint. I’m still feeling a bit tired so I’ll be happy to rest. 

The GPS takes us to the place, up extremely steep hills with extremely tight turns until we reach a single lane dirt track that goes down hill. It ends with a Private No Entry sign. 

I back laboriously to a place where I can, with considerable difficulty, turn and Felicity says she’s given up on painting today. “Let’s go to the Creamery Museum”.  On the way I stop at a tiny turnoff overlooking the spectacular bay. Felicity gets out to take pictures and I follow. We both take many pictures. 

“It’s too bright and hazy. I can’t paint that today”.  So we set off again. I see a turning to a boat launch and take it. Felicity says she just doesn’t have it in her to paint today. “I’ll just get out and look, though”.

She’s gone quite a while. I see her sitting on a bench looking out at the ocean and I get out to take more pictures. An old guy in a boat has just come in. He’s sitting waiting for the boat owner to bring his truck and trailer to haul the boat out. It’s most picturesque. 

Felicity returns. “I’m just going to have to do it, aren’t I?” I confirm that destiny is calling, she collects her backpack and bravely sets off, then I get out my lunch stuff. There’s no longer any pleasure in eating but it keeps me alive and I do like that. 

I read more of Barry Maitland’s “The Chalon Heads”. It’s the first of his books I’ve read, an excellent mystery. 

Felicity returns feeling rejuvenated. She’s pleased with her painting and she should be. “Let’s go to the Creamery now” she says and off we go. She’ll have lunch there while I get gas and beer and check out the nearby Goodwill store for more books. 

It turns out liquor stores don’t sell beer in Oregon. You go to the supermarket for that. I guess the logic is it’s a staple of existence. A man with no legs is sitting across from the supermarket. I give him a few dollars, something I never used to do. 

At Goodwill I find two hardcover novels at $6.99 each and realize I’m spending more on them than I gave the man with no legs. I need to do a lot more work on miserliness. 

We return to the campsite. Felicity goes to paint another picture. I listen to more of Zen And. I’m hooked now. 

Next day – Felicity finds a place on the coast about an hour south where she wants to paint. The GPS takes us along the coast then inland through the hills where a few small scale beef cattle ranches have been carved out of the pine forest. 

Every so often there’s an area of clear cutting. One, surprisingly high, is now a giant sand dune. 

Our destination turns out to be a resort. Painting isn’t really practical here so we go for a walk on the beach where we’re joined by a group on horses, then we sit in the sun. I’m coughing today. It’s quite windy on the beach so maybe something in the air is making it worse. 

Felicity is still recovering from her cold. She doesn’t feel up to painting now. We’ll head inland and explore. There’s a woolen mill museum that looks worth visiting. 

East of the mountains the land is first rolling then flat. We’re back in arable farming country. As we bowl along the highway I realize I can start using cruise control again. But it doesn’t work. That will help to diagnose the remaining problem. Neither the speedometer, odometer nor cruise control work. Everything else is okay although the transmission still hesitates briefly before engaging gear and it tends to slam into gear. 

There’s an orientation film at the museum that tells the area’s history. Methodist missionaries came shortly before the Oregon Trail was established. Their mission was to “educate the Indians and teach them agriculture” while bringing them to Christ. 

The native Americans were in poor shape to stand up for themselves because an estimated 90% of them had already succumbed to diseases brought by fur trappers. 

We tour the woolen mill, which is similar in many ways to the cotton mill where my great grandfather, John Henry, worked in England but my enjoyment is increasingly hampered by coughing. There’s a wonderful smell of sheep. I have such happy memories of ours. The coughing grows almost continuous so at last I sit and rest while Felicity continues to study the exhibits. 

We drive on to a campsite near Corvallis where the previous owners of our Newtown CT sheep farm, in their case a horse farm, moved. I Bullfrog myself. It’s hard to believe it’s beneficial not the reverse.  

Next day – I’m emailed by a woman who, while researching her family history, found my website where I posted the Sidwell History I wrote a few years ago. Her grandmother was the sister of the mother of my dad’s cousin Richard who felt like a brother to him. Her aunt has happy memories of Richard and Gill. We chat and she sends photos. I’ll put her in touch with Richard and Gill’s daughter, Amanda.

I Bullfrog myself again then we start driving to Bend to visit Elaine who I worked with at DunsGate. The road is at first flat and leads through mostly arable country with a few cattle farms and a couple of sheep farms. Then we reach the mountains. 

Up, up we go through mixed pine and deciduous forest beside what must at times be a raging torrent but is now almost dry. There’s been a drought here for the last four years. Trees beside the river bed are still thickly encrusted with moss. 

As we continue up, up I recall a trek where we made a very long climb. I asked Dhiren, our guide, from time to time if we were near the top. He smiled each time and said yes. At last I concluded “the top” is a metaphysical concept with no parallel in nature, not in the Himalayas at any rate.

The mountain sides further up are covered with dead trees. There was evidently a big fire here. We stop where there’s a description and learn it was in fact a gigantic fire that spread over 90,000 acres. There’s a short description of why such a fire could happen. 

These forests had a crown when only native Americans lived here that shaded the ground. That meant the forest was relatively open, growing grass not shrubs and saplings. Then the settlers came with tools to “manage” the forest. The pines were grown closer and closer together. Lightning strikes that used to cause small fires had so much more to combust, generating more and hotter flames whose roaring updraft accelerated and spread the wildfire. 

Our predecessors were such arrogant people. Their sense of entitlement and contempt for others continue to be a deep stain on our culture. But we have learned some things and we can keep working to grow more aware.  

Next Day – We’re going to visit Elaine in Bend today and we’ll probably stay the night. 

Doma’s mom and her community evaluate a person’s heart as well as their brain. Both must be strong if you’re to depend on someone, if they are to be your true friend. 

Elaine and I depended on each other when we worked together in New York but Felicity is apprehensive that we will quickly run out of topics for conversation because she only met Elaine once, it’s almost twenty years since Elaine and I last met, and I can now only communicate by writing. 

We arrive and start talking and although there’s a lot to catch up on, it feels like only a few months since the last time. We talk about our families, how Elaine’s co-housing community works, Colorado and, along the way, what we value. No need to reminisce about when we worked together and no need to avoid it either. Felicity and Elaine enjoy each other very much. It’s a lovely time. 

Next day – Elaine suggests we visit Crater Lake. We drive south through forests that have been thinned to become as they were before logging began. I couldn’t live here for fear of forest fires. But now I say that I realize I’d have said the same about living on a sand bank at the ocean’s edge. 

It’s mostly single lane but it’s a straight and flat highway. Henry would thank me if he could. Or maybe not because he’d know it couldn’t last. As indeed it doesn’t. We turn west and start to climb. I love the hot, bright sun and the sharp contrasts in this light. 

There’s a pull-off when we’re in the Crater Lake park. We walk up a sandy bank and with no warning, suddenly there below us is a great body of brilliantly blue water. We’re on a volcano’s rim. It’s so beautiful! Breath talking. 

Literally breath taking for me, in fact.  The oxygen content is lower at 7,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level and, because my diaphragm now pulls in less air, I feel the way I did at 13,000 feet on my first Himalayan trek fifteen years ago. 

I was a bit worried then but with that experience I know now to adjust the demand I place on my muscles to a level at which my lungs can supply enough oxygen. I was fine on subsequent treks at 19,000 feet and it’s possible to summit Everest without supplementary oxygen ten thousand feet higher. You do have to have intact lungs, though. Ed Hillary couldn’t go higher than 10,000 feet on his last visit to Nepal. 

“Shall we do the 30 mile rim drive?  What do you think?” asks Felicity. I do think for a moment but of course I give her the thumbs up. It can take quite a while to drive 30 miles if you keep stopping to marvel at the view and take photographs. We’re lucky to be here at this time of year because school holidays are over. There must be huge crowds in summer. 

Half way round we stop stopping at every view point. We’re both getting tired and we’ll have to find a campsite. Felicity studies the map while I nurse Henry up and down the very steep road. “We shouldn’t go the way I originally wanted” she says “because now I’ve looked at the contour map I see the road is very steep and winding. We should go back the way we came in, then south or west. South is easier but west gets us closer to the coast.”

I’m feeling very happy and sign that we should go west. The very dry air is making me cough but that will pass. My BiPap slightly moistens the air so I’ll be better in the morning. 

Next day – After going to bed very early and sleeping long I feel much better. When my nose finishes draining and the coffee I added to my formula has taken effect I feel great. 

Felicity wants to see waterfalls near this campsite in Prospect. The signs at what seem to be viewing spots are either non-existent or confusing. We start down a steep footpath with the sound of falling water in the distance. 

“Are you really up for this?” Felicity asks. “It will be a hard climb back.” I’m doing okay so far. “I’m up for it if you are” I write. Long pause.  “I’m not sure I am, and I really think it’s too much for you.” “Okay”, I gesture, pointing back uphill and start walking. 

I have to stop for breath quite soon. Then I have to stop again and breathe for a long time before starting again. I have to stop several more times on the short ascent.  My legs are okay, I just can’t get enough breath. 

That’s when I remember the other thing that happens at high altitude. Your judgment turns to shit. 

The first part of the drive is through hay fields and pastures liberally sprinkled with deciduous trees whose leaves are every shade of yellow and gold, with just the occasional burst of red and even more rare, a tree whose leaves are still deep green. Everything is vibrant in the strong sun. So much energy here, so beautiful and invigorating.  

The steep hillsides enclosing the valley are forested with a mix of pine and deciduous trees. 

Up we go into the mountainous hills then down, down until we follow the Smith River along an exceptionally winding road cut into the rock beside the river. All I can see is the road just ahead. 

Then we’re in a forest of truly gigantic trees, old growth redwoods. They are so tall and of such huge diameter. They block that strong sun so it’s actually dark in here. I feel humbled by their presence. 

Our campsite also has redwoods and is quite close to the ocean. A mournful lighthouse fog horn is almost the only sound. 

Road Trip – Chapter 7

It’s raining gently when I wake. I take off the BIPAP and go to the bathroom. When I get back in bed it’s no longer raining but it soon resumes. This is no climate for the clinically depressed. 

My Sidwell grandfather who suffered from depression said his ideal job was a golf caddy. The tournaments are scheduled where rain is unlikely and you keep moving from one to the next so you always have good weather. 

We, the weather and everything else appear from the ever changing energy field that is the universe. I don’t understand what enables us to make choices but whatever it is, it’s a great blessing. Among other things it enables me to not live in a rain forest. 

Driving south on the highway through this swirling blend of air and water that forms rain and cloud I realize how lucky I am that I’ve never been entirely certain about anything. My mind is open to the implications of experience, information and hypotheses. Relatively, at any rate. 

I wasn’t always happy about change.  Depression makes you fear that change will make your situation even worse, which would not be the best frame of mind on a long road trip. 

We head west on highway 30 aiming for Seaside as Alison recommended. I hope to see ads for lutefisk when we go through Svenson but it turns out to be off the highway.  Many folks came here from the Nordic lands for the fishing. 

Lutefisk is by far the worst tasting food I ever had. It was on the menu in Oslo so I had to try it and, having been raised in immediately post-war England, I then had to finish it which was possible only by washing every bite down with schnapps. By the end of the meal my lips were completely numb. 

We stop off at the Columbia River Maritime Center. The river brings huge amounts of sediment down to where it meets the Pacific and the sediment is deposited as fast changing sand banks, which makes entry to the river very dangerous. Many, many boats have foundered here. 

Since it wasn’t possible to build a lighthouse on the Bar they moored a lightship there and provisioned it with enough food and other supplies so the crew could survive long spells when the waves and winds made reprovisioning impossible.  

The ship would bob up and down as much as 40 feet and roll from side to side. Everyone aboard was likely to get seasick. Felicity asks why anyone would choose to live that way. The guide says: “In the military you don’t get a choice”

We arrive at a campsite and find we’d have to make a booking by telephone and the site is very expensive so we set off for another one close by. The speedometer starts to flog up and down, the odometer flickers and the RV can’t stay in gear. 

It’s a bit better when I put it in 2nd instead of Drive. An electrical problem caused by the rain?  It’s Sunday so not much we can do today. We’ll see if it’s any better in the morning and call for help. 

Later, after researching possible causes online, I text my son Steve the symptoms. Low transmission fluid, he replies, and if it’s not low the transmission died. I remember how it’s been feeling for the last few days, definitely not right. 

Next day – Felicity begins calling around. The place nearby that Google points to and whose customers rave about it doesn’t deal with transmissions. A place further away couldn’t fix the rv today but they could take a look.  If we can get there. 

Felicity calls our rv travel insurance. She’s told the insurance the rv dealer sold us only covers cars. Felicity is very nice and at last Taisha the representative says maybe they can help us anyway. Eventually she says they will arrange a tow for us. 

The tow truck arrives late in the afternoon. It takes a long time to get Henry hooked up but we do get to the AAMCO hospital before they close. The owner, Scott, is an ex-cop who bought the business five months ago. He says the previous owner stole a lot of money from many customers but he is building a business to benefit his community. He seems honest and competent. For sure he has a high opinion of himself. 

Scott says the transmission fluid smells fine and when he takes Henry for a drive all seems well!  The speedometer is what tells the transmission when to shift, he says, so that could account for most of the problem.  They’ll investigate in the morning.  We can stay here in Henry tonight.

We’re up earlier than usual and leave Henry to be made well again. We go for a walk along the harbor front to where seals and sea lions are basking in the mist, barking like a pack of big dogs.  

Felicity feels the need for exercise so we walk along the harbor wall. I walk slowly so I won’t run out of breath. She alternates between a normal pace and stopping to take pictures. She says we are the tortoise and the hare. 

We go to a coffee house then the cannery museum. There is no staff here, just photographs and canning objects, especially cans, and a couple of small screen videos. One is a collection of oral history recordings, the other a respectful TV documentary from the ’50s about Bumblebee Tuna and Salmon. 

Many young men came here in the late 1800s, especially from the Nordic region, to work in the fishing industry and the Columbia River became one of the great fish canning centers. Cannery owners at first had complete control and life was very precarious for the fishermen. They unionized and got better conditions and prices for a while, then the industry relocated to Alaska. 

We amble back to AAMCO. Scott very much does not want us to bother him. He will call when he has something to say. We should let him work. And so on. Felicity goes for lunch. I sit in the waiting area. 

A couple of hours later I take a casual walk to the other side of the shop. It looks like they’re working on Henry. 

The sun comes out!  I go to join Felicity in the Rogue Bar where she had fish and chips which, since the local fish is salmon, was fried salmon and chips. She says it was delicious, the batter having the same taste and texture as English batter. Then she apologizes because I can’t have any. But I really don’t mind. I’m happy she enjoyed the meal.

Late in the afternoon Scott explains what they’ve been doing.  Henry’s computer gave them three codes about problems. Two were obviously spurious. The other indicated that he needed a new VSS sensor. When that was replaced Scott went for a test drive. The transmission worked fine but the speedometer needle didn’t move and the odometer was dead. 

They then walked the diagnostic decision tree, took off the dashboard, and found none of the potential problems was present. Either the dashboard console or the computer is defective. We’ll have to go to a Ford dealer. 

Scott calls his buddy at the local Ford dealer. Too late to go today. We should go first thing in the morning. 

Scott feels bad that he can’t entirely fix the problems so he charges us only for the sensor and one hour’s labor. All the other hours are on him. We thank him effusively for his help and generosity. Later, I post very positive reviews on his website and Yelp. 

Scott is what Christine, my extremely smart last boss, referred to as a “look at me” guy. He wears two diamonds in his ear, a big gold bracelet, a Rolex, and a massive ring with sapphires.  He’s an ex-cop and he carries a pistol at all times. His car is bright red. He comes across initially as a hardass but he is very friendly once respect has been sufficiently demonstrated. 

Felicity made a great effort to win his approval. She learned the techniques while dealing with frightened patients when she worked as a dental assistant. When we check out she comments on the huge bullets standing on the counter. “50mm” Scott says, “The largest you can legally own”. He goes into his office and returns with his enormous 50mm caliber revolver. 

“I built a handgun shooting range at my house” he tells us. “I practice a lot. If I do ever have to use my weapon I want to be sure nobody else gets hurt”

We spend the night at a very good campsite. It’s still not raining so Felicity celebrates with a campfire. 

Next day – we’re at the Ford dealer just after 8. Scott’s contact didn’t book us in but they have an open slot at 10. We settle in the waiting room. 

Just before 11 we’re told the console containing the speedometer and other instruments needs to be rebuilt. They don’t make new ones for this 23 year old truck any more. It will probably take a month all told. 

I ask if it’s okay to drive. It is. We just won’t know how fast we’re going and the odometer won’t track our mileage. We can’t wait here for a month so we’ll drive on.  I could get a GPS speedometer but I drive slower than everyone else so it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Henry won’t pass inspection unless the odometer is working so we’ll try to get it fixed when we get home. 

I’m a little skeptical about the diagnosis and I’d like to be more confident that the new sensor completely fixed the transmission.  If I could I’d avoid steep hills and minor roads where a breakdown would be a problem but that’s impossible round here. 

So we rejoin Rte 101 and start down the spectacular coast. Felicity is very excited. Then the GPS takes us on a short cut through narrow valleys among the hills. The grass is astonishingly green. Beef cattle grazing on these small fields look very happy. How could anyone not be happy in this beautiful, verdant place?

Henry does fine but we’re tired so we camp earlier than usual. One benefit of that is I can sit in the sun (that’s right, sun) with a beer.  It would be better still if I could join Felicity with the pita chips, but a Guinness is very welcome even on its own.

Anticipating the arrival of my Guinness

Road Trip – Chapter 6

The thing about a wasting disease like ALS is you never know if today is the new normal or an aberration. We’re accustomed, if we’re lucky enough to have a healthy body, to thinking that if we feel a little low today we’ll feel better again tomorrow. The long term ALS trend is you’ll keep feeling worse but on any given day you really might feel better than the day before. 

I was very tired yesterday. Could the slightly lower oxygen level in the air a mile above sea level be affecting me? Who knows? This morning I’m happy to find I have what is my currently normal level of fatigue.  

Felicity didn’t feel good and slept poorly last night so we set off late. The road to Jasper is spectacular and we keep stopping to take photos.  These mountains were pushed up between 70 to 80 and 35 to 55 million years ago when tectonic plates piled in from the west under the plate that was already here. I imagine an aging Tyrannosaurus gazing where the horizon used to be and saying “Eee, when I were a lad...”

There’s a toilet at one of the places we stop with a man about my age waiting.  His back is a little bent. His arms are shaking spasmodically and hard, his hands flailing back and forth. He looks painfully cold and perhaps he does feel cold but it’s Parkinsons Disease. I want to give him a hug but would he understand?  Since I can’t talk I couldn’t explain if he didn’t understand my gesture.  

I wondered if I’d have the urge to climb the mountains or hike among them and if I’d feel disappointed that I can’t. I didn’t. I think I didn’t have the urge because we were driving not walking and also because they’re of a size where there’s no doubt they could be climbed. The Himalayas are quite different, vast, not on a human scale. 

Further on, though, the valley is narrower and its entire bed is a jumble of small rounded rocks. The surge of water through here when the snow melts must be amazing. It reminds me of trekking up the Kali Gandaki river bed toward Upper Mustang in Nepal. All of a sudden I do have the urge to do that again and I’m happy to find I’m not disappointed that it won’t be possible. 

Further on still I’m excited to see a glacier with a perfectly shaped moraine. Felicity is excited by a waterfall. 

We’ve driven slowly and stopped often so it takes far longer than scheduled to reach Jasper. Felicity finds a great campsite at Whistler just short of town. The woman who checks us in tells us where we can go in the morning to have a good chance of seeing bear, elk and moose. 

Next day – Gentle rain all night. We’re both off to a slow start. I’m not motivated by the prospect of my breakfast rigmarole and make some coffee. Excellent. Now I can tackle breakfast with equanimity. 

After booking a second night here we drive into Jasper for milk and drinking water. It feels like a village and is much more appealing than Banff. There are many people even though it’s the end of the season. I imagine this would be a fine place to live if I was still strong. 

We head out on the road we were advised to take, the road to Lake Maligne, and soon see an elk pottering about in the middle of the road. They sure are big. It continues to look around, bends to lick the road surface, then takes another look at the lines of cars building in both directions. Eventually it ambles nonchalantly up the bank and looks back as the cars move on. 

We see no more animals on the way to the lake where Felicity goes for a short walk. After enjoying watching a group of Japanese joyfully raising their hands for birds to perch on I plod back to the RV for a rest remembering my grandfather’s visit when I was seven. It’s my only memory of him and it’s no more than a two second video. We had gone for a walk and I was amazed that anyone could walk so slowly. He died a few months later. 

The only animal we see on our way back to Jasper is a red squirrel but on the outskirts a female elk is grazing. I cross the road to take pictures. 

We go on a little and there’s a buck lying in the middle of a meadow digesting his evening meal and observing all the people taking his picture. 

A little further on another buck is still grazing. Another is a hundred yards away. The bucks keep themselves to themselves but females are grazing together several hundred yards away. 

The elk seem entirely comfortable with cars and people nearby. Bears are not so we don’t see any. 

Next day – We set the GPS for Clearwater on the way to Kamloops then drive in to Jasper for propane and gas. That takes us off the route so the GPS tells me to make a U-turn and when I don’t do that to go left, and so on and so on.  

Felicity says she could never live here: “The mountains are beautiful but there’s no horizon and there are so many people. So many people!”

It’s a magnificent day. The colors are spectacular. Road signs tell us we must have winter tires and have snow chains after October 1st. It’s September 28th today. 

We cross the Continental Divide, drop into the sandy valley and after a while head south down the valley. There are big signs for a river safari to see moose and bear. I point to one as we pass and look questioningly at Felicity. “I thought about it but I don’t think so”.  

Later she says: “I do want to see a bear but it’s not Spring so they won’t be coming to the river for fish”.  A while later she says: “I do want to but it’s probably closed”.

So I pull into the dirt track when we get there. I’d like to see a bear in the wild but I’m not feeling up to a river trip. Felicity books herself a ticket then gets food while she waits for the ride to start. 

Felicity texts that a bear emerged from the trees opposite the restaurant, looked around, inspected the river, then went back into the trees. 

I potter about then remember my friend Harold gave me an audiobook of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.  He wondered if I would write something similar about this trip. I enjoy the first chapter but it seems quite different from anything I might think or write.  He seems to feel superior to his friends who don’t want to tune their own machines. 

Felicity’s father liked the book and he thought everyone was his inferior.  He could be very condescending. Our attempts at conversation were not very satisfactory. I’m eager to see how the book develops. 

The safari is a huge success. Felicity sees a bear, learns much about them and their lives, and also sees a waterfall. I’m delighted it worked out so well. 

Next Day – It’s windy and cold outside this morning. The RV’S central heating is a blessing. 

We take a scenic and circuitous route to one of the areas of — I was going to say dry land but there seems to be none around here, so better to say land higher than the ocean. We will meet cousin Alison there. 

We’ll arrange that for tomorrow because we’re long overdue for a shower. There are showers at most campsites but the weather has made getting to them unappealing. A motel sounds better for tonight. 

Nothing to report about today’s drive. I couldn’t look around because there was too much traffic on the highway and the minor road was too windy. Henry enjoyed the highway. He tries too hard on hills to stay in high gear. 

Felicity finds a B&B. She’s excited by the advertised spa bath but it turns out to be the same shape and size as a regular bathtub. I suspect she was imagining a hot tub. 

The floor seems to move as I sit here in our room. Living in the RV has the same effect as living on a small boat for a few days. 

Next day – I greatly enjoyed the spa bath and I’m enjoying feeling clean. There was something about the bed though. I felt twice as heavy as usual and my monstrous body weight caused painful pressure on my hips. I had to keep moving, which was hard, in order to avert bed sores.

Felicity is told at breakfast that we should have booked the ferry. One of the two boats ran aground yesterday so only one is running today. The earliest slot available is 7:30 tonight. She books it but we hope there’ll be a no-show for an earlier one. We arrive shortly after the boat leaves and are booked onto the next one. 

Felicity walks around enjoying the ocean view. I listen to more of Zen and etc. I’m starting to get the idea now. 

Port Townsend where the ferry lands is an appealing town. It’s quite small but it has at least three large bookshops, one of which I explore while Felicity visits the museum. She learns that many hippies moved here as tech wealth made San Francisco increasingly gentrified and expensive. That explains all the VW beetles. 

We haven’t heard from Alison but there’s no hurry. I come back to the RV for my formula. Felicity goes to a Fifties Diner overlooking the water. As she walks back she meets Alison. 

Alison is the daughter of my dad’s sister, his only sibling and one of the only two of his relatives we saw most years. Happy memories. She grew up to be among the most universally capable, kind and fun people I’ve ever known. It’s so good to see her again. 

As we set off to camp for the night I notice a Jiffy Lube that is still open. I’ve been hoping to find one. We have to wait quite a while because only the manager and one tech are still working and the van they’re working on needs a lot done. 

When my turn comes I type “It’s been a long day for you guys. Thank you for staying for me.” The manager says I made his day. I’m glad it occurred to me to express my thanks. How much happier we’d all be if we thought of thanking each other more often. 

Next day – Yesterday was sunny, a beautiful day. It’s raining again this morning. We drive south to see Mount St. Helens tomorrow. 

It rains the entire way, sometimes intensely. The wind is strong and gusty and much of the route is a narrow winding road. I have to pay close attention the whole time so I can’t say much about the scenery.  The leaves have turned on a few trees. The dead ones are covered with Spanish moss. 

I’m preoccupied by the Kavanaugh nomination. Republican leaders will force him onto the Supreme Court despite that he lied under oath and he is judged unsuitable by retired Republican Supreme Court Justice Stevens, 12,000 law professors and so many more. 

The Republican leaders don’t care about the character of the man, only the positions he will take, positions he refuses to acknowledge but which his record makes clear. This is not the America I thought I was joining. 

Next day – it’s damp but not raining. I slept well but with long wakefull spells fretting about the damage being done by our corrupt and bigoted politicians. I download my absentee ballot. 

The Jiffy Lube manager’s granpappy lost the ability to speak or eat but he’d already lost the use of his legs by then. Maybe it was just the tone of his voice as he told us but granpappy felt such a sweet name. As I’m about to sign a birthday card for Eleanor I almost rename myself. I’ll sit with it longer before deciding. 

Adding coffee to my breakfast formula was an inspiration. Because the formula is less viscous, it drains into my stomach faster, and there’s that wonderful fragrance. My entire body is already infused with sausage spice so I lost nothing by replacing it with coffee for once. 

We head for Mount St Helens where I learn that it has erupted massively many times and recently enough to give rise to native American legends. One is that Coyote first made a snow mountain he named Tahoma, which we call Mount Rainier, then went south and when Tahoma was no longer visible made a mountain that he named La-We-Lat-Klah meaning “smoker”. It was renamed in 1792 by the British explorer George Vancouver to honor his friend Lord St Helens. 

The mountain is quite young, formed less than 40,000 years ago. In 1480 it erupted much more massively than recently and again two years later with about the same force as in 1980. Another spell of activity began in 1800 with an eruption similar to the latest one which cut it from 9,677 feet to 8,363 feet and left a 1 mile wide horseshoe shaped crater. 

You can just see that the peak is missing

All this activity results from the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate driving east under the American plate while the Pacific plate drifts west away from the Juan de Fuca. We must expect more eruptions here along with earthquakes further south. 

Road Trip – Chapter 5

Such a beautiful day!  Felicity is enthralled by the beauty of a shrub beside our campsite. Its leaves have turned golden yellow highlighting its bright red berries. She can see them, a bear would see them but I can’t because I’m red green colorblind. I can relish the leaves nonetheless. Yellow is exceptionally vibrant to my eyes.  

I set the GPS for Lone Butte so we will leave Route 5 and head over the mountains on Route 24. It’s the kind of back road favored by the Zen & Motorcycle Maintenance man, an area where you can be with trees, grass, wildlife, lakes, the sun’s rays and the play of the wind. 

It’s so beautiful up here. But where isn’t beautiful?  Beauty is an idea my mind attaches to what it happens to like. And why does it like this?

Because it’s wild?  Because there are such strong contrasts, such surprises? 

The Zen & Motorcycle Maintenance man writes that it’s a different experience on a cycle from being in a car. Yes, a car is an hermetically sealed container to get you from point A to point B. I enjoyed my convertible so much because it did dependably get me from A to B, until it caught fire, that is, but it didn’t separate me from the world. I felt the sun on my body, the energy in the air, I heard bird song. 

Traveling in the RV is different. It is a conveyance but it is also now my home. I could pull off the road and be home here in the mountains. 

We join Route 97 heading south. Now we’re in a very wide valley, a plain with mountains blue on the horizon. Dark green Lodgepole Pines interspersed by yellow Aspen stretch as far as the eye can see. 

What’s growing here are rocket ships about to blast off into the heavens, frozen in that moment and recolored green. Tall, narrow, broadening only slightly from nose to base because they will travel so fast. 

It’s a self arranged mass of rockets that after just a few moments would burst into brightly colored light as their matter is liberated into energy. Already they are highlighted by the brilliant yellow display of other fireworks, the aspens. 

We continue on. These steep climbs are tough on Henry — he began life as a Ford but Felicity thinks of him as Dorothy. He keeps trying to stay in too high a gear so I keep pounding the accelerator pedal to force a downshift. 

Further on, the valley narrows. This is dry land, the steep hill sides only dotted with small pines and sprinkled lightly with dry grass. There are a few small farms with irrigated hay fields. 

The hay is being bailed very green. It has to be harvested now because snow will come soon. I wonder how they store it?  If you stacked it in a barn it would heat up and, when dry enough, catch fire. I used to worry about that each time we got a new load of hay for our sheep. 

The valley opens up a little. Here the river has cut a deep narrow channel through the alluvial deposit. Strips on either side are being dry land farmed. The colors are less dramatic but it reminds me of Upper Mustang near Nepal’s border with Tibet. 

We arrive at a lake at whose exit is a great logjam and stop to take pictures. A young First Nations Canadian also stops. He walks out on the logs to the center, stops still for a time, then returns. He grins at us and says: “I couldn’t help myself”.

The sun is low now and the light is starting to go as we reach Pemberton, which my Buddhist friend Robert told me is his favorite alpine village. It would be a very fun place if we could still enjoy restaurants and bars but they’re not practical with my feeding tube. 

No campsite is still open here. We consider spending the night in a motel but decide to drive on to Whistler. The winter Olympics were held there. 

It’s been a long day and it’s almost dark when we reach the campsite.  We’ve been so lucky to have such perfect weather today. 

Next Day – we were indeed lucky. It’s raining steadily and forecast to continue all day. We’ll stay here and rest until tomorrow. 

I’m still very much enjoying driving. It’s both that I enjoy it in itself and while doing it I feel the way I always did. I start coughing by the end of the day and my body is weaker but it doesn’t feel that way. I’m not upset when I get short of breath walking either. It helps me recognize how blessed I’ve been and still am to have this human body. 

Next Day – Running fast across the snow, building speed to leap over the boulders, I slipped and flung myself off my bed down onto the RV floor. Not the best way to wake up.

It was a disturbed night. My nostrils were so blocked I had to remove the BIPAP. I don’t know if saliva is a separate problem. I still have to take some meds to avert drooling but not too much or my mouth gets parched. I think one tablet per day instead of three is right but it’s not clear what time of day is best. I took it with my evening meal yesterday. 

It’s still raining this morning. We left Jasper just in time because it’s snowing hard there. The rain stops just before mid-day. We were going to stay here but we decide to go on.  I forgot to mention the elk we saw in Jasper National Park.

The GPS shows me a good bookshop in Whistler. I brought dharma books with me but I haven’t felt able to read them. I get a couple of Philip Kerr’s new Bernie Gunther books.  

I’m feeling tired. Probably because I didn’t sleep well. Maybe also because we’re now in an environment I like less, a temperate rain forest. And no doubt partly because I’m anxious about Henry. There’s a powerful vibration now when the engine is revving low. 

Felicity finds a spectacular waterfall. Next she suggests a mine museum with an underground train ride. I’m not enthusiastic, still feeling tired, but I sign that I’d like to go because Felicity wants to. 

It turns out to be the last guided tour of the day and we’re the only guests. Our guide who grew up in England is theatrical, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about everything to do with the mine and it’s history. 

This mine was primarily for copper, which doesn’t come in chunks like coal but has to be extracted by crushing the rock and sluicing out the copper in a giant bubble bath.  The mine operated from 1904 to 1974. They dug 150 miles of tunnels and extracted an enormous amount of copper in that time. 

I feel less tired by the end of the tour. Tiredness is a physical phenomenon but it’s also an emotion, a habit that’s triggered by a concept. 

Our guide recommends that we camp at Portreau Cove. There’s no site available but we can spend tonight in the parking lot and move to a waterside space tomorrow.  

Next day – I slept well for over ten hours. Terry, the President of Dun and Bradstreet to whom I reported directly for a while, came to visit. My strategy report was fine, he said, but the cover letter’s tone was a bit insulting. 

I read what he pointed to and agreed with him. I was surprised because it was not something I’d written. How had it happened? My family tried to help solve the mystery. Mark was especially creative and diligent, making many intriguing suggestions despite that he was only six. 

One of the kids eventually found a hand written draft of the cover letter and I recognized the writing. It was my trekking friend, John,.  He had come on a visit and must have tried to be helpful. 

While I was investigating the mystery, Terry noticed that our stair wall plastering was not done well. He got tools from his trunk and began a masterly job of re-plastering. He was very pleased when the mystery was solved. He just wanted to be helpful. I was intrigued by how differently he was behaving from when he was in his office. 

Coffee with breakfast this morning is delightfully fragrant. I usually just have formula flavored with Felicity’s sausage spice mixture but today feels special for no particular reason. Every day is special really but we usually don’t notice. 

The reason I haven’t been able to read dharma books and have only done a couple of practice sessions is that I can only do them when I’m alone or with others doing the same thing. That wouldn’t be so if I’d already done more practice. I can reflect, though, and that’s even easier now I can’t talk. 

One thing I’ve been reflecting on is the controversy over the nominee to the Supreme Court. He used bluster in response to allegations about sexual abuse when he was a student. He looked angry and sometimes tearful, and was belligerent while not answering questions directly. His supporters say he was right to be angry because his character was being attacked. 

But Buddha taught us that anger, along with desire and indifference, poison our mind. Those emotions, which arise from preconceived ideas, prevent us from seeing clearly. We notice something and instead of looking carefully and perceiving what it really is, we react as we always do to our idea of what it is. Anger is never a good thing. Nor is greed and neither is indifference. 

And now I sit comfortably in the RV watching waves crash on the shore a few feet away while Felicity looks through the window and paints. 

It’s still a temperate rain forest but I’m happy. Felicity says it’s ridiculous that it keeps raining. How can she paint outside in this weather? But she’s happy, too. 

The rain stops. It’s still cold but we go for a walk. There are a few ducks and  sea gulls but no seals are visible. Now back in the RV I sit happily in the warmth, sometimes reading, sometimes resting while Felicity goes out with her paints. 

When she grows too cold to go on painting Felicity lounges by the sea in a comfortable chair. She gets our Japanese neighbor to take her picture with her phone. Eventually the cold is too much and she comes inside and posts pictures on Facebook.

Road Trip – Chapter 4


Yesterday was a day of rest for me. Felicity painted two pictures. I went for a five minute walk after lunch then slept through the afternoon. 

Snow is forecast for Banff so, since we don’t know how the RV will handle that and we wouldn’t be able to see the Rockies, anyway, we’ll go to Drumheller, which Cousin Alison recommended. It features a gigantic dinosaur replica whose head you can climb into, a coal mine tour and other tourist attractions. It’s unlikely there will be many tourists there now. It looks like everything shuts down at the end of this month. 

Henry overshadowed by the dinosaur.

I woke this morning from a dream where bells were ringing all around. The people I was with didn’t know why. It was the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 when my body was minus-26 years old. 

My thought as I got up was “oh no, not breakfast again”. That’s the downside of no longer feeling hungry. Meals become a chore instead of a pleasure. I felt ok about it almost immediately, though. It’s a blessing to be alive, just a concept that some activities are chores. 

We drive to Drumheller, stopping at a wool shop on a farm that has been in the family for four generations. I’ve been thinking it must be very lonely out here where the houses are far apart, one per giant farm, and there appear to be no gathering places. The lady who spins and knits and operates the store says her kids and the in-laws often stop by. The winters are long but it’s okay. 

First stop in Drumheller is the doctors office because I will soon need more ALS medicine. We have to get a prescription because the one from my neurologist won’t work in Canada. 

Everyone is so friendly, helpful and cheerful. The Indian doctor carries the baby of the patient ahead of us so the mom can rest and he tells her older daughter that despite his appearance he is actually Harry Potter and can prove it. Would she like him to do that?  She would. I wish I could see what he does. She sounds convinced. 

The pharmacist we go to calls all the other pharmacists in town to see if they have my meds in stock so he can send us to them if they do. They don’t and he can’t get them until Monday so we’ll be here for three nights. 

The campsite Felicity likes the look of turns out to be closed for the season but others are still open. We don’t want to go to the Rockies yet, anyway. 

Next day – An inch or two of snow fell overnight. We turned on the propane central heating and hope it will also keep the plumbing from freezing. The electricity was off for a while but it’s back by breakfast time. 

A small child of indeterminate gender under big warm clothes is making a snowman on the picnic table across the road. This will be another day of rest for us. 

Felicity knits a tea cosy with wool from the wool shop. I read. Felicity got lovely knitted slippers at the wool shop. I considered getting slippers at the supermarket yesterday but decided I didn’t really need them. The RV floor is cold, though. Felicity tells me learning to be kind to others is not enough: I should also learn to be kind to myself. I’m not entirely persuaded but since we’re almost out of beer, anyway, we go out and I get some. 

Perhaps the smoked fish I had for lunch motivated me. Undoubtedly the coffee provided energy. And now that I have beer, why not have one?  Which brings me to a confession. I saw locally made beef sausages in the mini market we went to the other day and despite my sadness for the buffalo, I got some. I finished them for my evening meal today. 

Next day – We go to the dinosaur museum. Will the species that replaces us painstakingly assemble hominid museums?

The museum is excellent. There are lifelike recreations of dinosaurs in the habitat that was here then and there are real fossils, not plaster casts of them, The fossils are displayed with concise and clear explanations of how we know what came when and the scientific method.

Felicity goes on a guided walk to observe the different levels of ground. I climb to the overlook from which everything looks just as it does from below then come back to the RV to eat and rest. 

The sun may come out tomorrow. If my meds are at the pharmacy we’ll go on to Banff and then Jasper. 

Next Day – Today is brighter at times. We go to the Atlas Coal Museum. There are several guided tours but only one we have time for before heading for Banff, a train ride.

The locomotive is battery powered, less than three feet high and it has half a dozen low steel wagons that were used to haul coal from the coal face to the sorting and storage place above ground. We’re the only ones on this trip so we sit right at the front. It’s quite a short trip whose point is really the guide’s explanations and stories.  He does a great job as you can see from Felicity’s expression.

The seam here was an average of five feet four inches high, the same as the average man when it was established a century ago. Other seams were as low as 32 inches. Miners had to lie on their side at the coal face in those and chip with one hand. 

Working at the coal face was the premier job. It paid by the ton while other jobs were paid by the hour. Miners at the coal face worked in pairs. They had to be trustworthy so new hires were first put to work above ground where they could be observed. 

The trains that carried coal from the coal face to the sorting and storage area had a driver and a helper on the last wagon whose job was to open the doors placed where tunnels divided to direct air to wherever the men were working that day. 

In some other mines the helper did not ride on the train but was stationed at a door. He would be there for a ten hour shift with no light. Why would he need light?  He might wander off, though, so he would be tethered to a post. This job was done by boys as young as six. They’d be paid well, the same as an adult working on a farm. 

The tradition then was for the oldest son to inherit the family farm. Many younger sons who wanted to farm would work as miners to save enough to buy a farm. 

An enormous amount of coal was mined around here and miners came from all over to work. Twenty five different languages were spoken in this mine. 

Next we stop off to see hoo doos. I kept seeing guys wearing caps that said HOODOO when we first got to this area. What could it mean?  Was it an acronym like MAGA?  Turns out they are eroded rocks. A plate of hard rock sits on top of a column of softer rock that is narrower. 

Erosion is a big deal here. It’s why so many dinosaur bones are discovered. The soft rock around them erodes leaving many of them intact. The valley with its hillocks that look like slag heaps was formed by a sudden tremendous flood when the ice field to the north melted at the end of the last ice age around 14,000 years ago. 

Now Felicity calls the pharmacy. Did my meds come?  They did!  We go to pick them up then start for Banff. 

The land almost all the way to the outskirts of Calgary is giant crop fields. The average price per acre last year was $2,500 and the average farm size was over 1,000 acres so the days when a coal miner could save enough to buy a farm are long gone. Mining here ended a bit over half a century ago. 

On the outskirts of Calgary densely packed agglomerations of identical houses are surrounded by as yet undeveloped land. It looks as though developers buy farms and cram onto them as many houses as possible. 

As we drive north the land changes to pine forests that are overtaking grassland. White birches at their edges whose leaves are now bright yellow make a beautiful contrast. 

And now we’re among the mountains. So beautiful and so different from the ones I’m used to in the Himalayas. Civilized in a way because they rise out of the pines, white birches and meadows. In the few places where the mountain sides make it possible pines climb toward the summits. 

I slow down to 45 mph as we climb the gently sloping valley to make it easier for Felicity to take pictures and me to look around. And now we arrive at the idyllic campsite. 

Next day – I wake before dawn with both nostrils totally blocked and unable to breathe through my mouth because of the mask. I throw off the mask and pant helplessly for a while. My nostrils finally clear after breakfast hours later. My oxygen level is 85% to 89% depending on which finger I test. 

Felicity asks if I want to read the guide book and see where we could go. I was never one for guidebooks preferring to stumble upon things and unconcerned that I’d miss other things. Now I don’t want to read them. I don’t have the energy any more to do what I used to love doing. I sure can’t hike in these mountains. 

But I do enjoy seeing things, and I very much enjoy Felicity’s delight. She thinks the weather is going to be better than the earlier forecasts so we’ll stay longer in the mountains, not rush to get over them to avoid snow.  On our way to Lake Louise we pass through Tunnel Mountain Village.  We will definitely stick around to see more like this!

Even though it’s almost the end of September, all the parking lots at Lake Louise are full. Luckily, the campground is not. It’s among the pines so the mountains are not visible.  It’s also next to a railroad we discover as a very long freight train rumbles by. 

We’re both surprisingly tired. Felicity sets up her bed after lunch. I’m distressed that it’s so blissful when I relax on my own bed. My oxygen level is now 89% on each finger I test.

Felicity feels revived by a long nap. I still feel about the same, good enough to drive to Lake Louise but probably not to do much walking. 

It’s thronged with people from many countries. They’re a great mixture. Some are staying in the chateau at the lakeside. It must be fiercely expensive. Many came in rented RVs. The glaciers at the top end of the lake are cloud covered but many, many pictures are being taken anyway. 

Felicity goes for a walk round the lake. I sit and watch the mountains and the people. I enjoy watching people now. I’m pretty sure I used not to. Felicity wishes they weren’t here. 

Note:  My friend, David, replied to this email: “Toward the end you wrote “I enjoy watching people now. I’m pretty sure I used not to.” This struck me as odd because it brought back a memory from our trekking together. It may have been our trip to Dhiren’s village, or perhaps Mustang. Anyway, you and I were in the same places at the same time and both of us took many pictures. Some time later I looked through many of your images and I was struck by the fact that most of yours centered on people, while many of mine didn’t even contain people. I remember thinking with some embarrassment that you must have been interested in the people and I in landscapes.”

Back at the campsite we dither about what to do next. Continuing up towards Jasper still feels best. 

Some good health news before I close. I haven’t had a coughing fit for several days. The trick is to keep my mouth closed as late in the day as possible. Felicity lent me an elastic head band which makes it much easier than using my hand. 

Road Trip – Chapter 3


Felicity met a man who told her Devil’s Lake has no inlets or outlets. Its level rises or falls depending on the amount of rain and snow. It was six feet higher a few years ago and in earlier times much of what is now lake was farmland.

The land up here is so flat that there’s little opportunity for drainage. The trees we passed that I thought had drowned did so, but not because of a change in the land, just because there was more snow than usual. 

We stop in Rugby, geographic center of North America, to visit the Prairie Village Museum. Felicity first goes to the restaurant next door to sample home made pie and chat with locals. I ingest my formula. 

An aside: I’m now a fan of the BiPap machine. Felicity says I sleep much more soundly. My airways feel better for the slightly moistened air and I assume my diaphragm enjoys the assistance. 

The museum was great though it’s odd to find so many things that were part of my childhood and in some cases my younger adult life, too. The laundry equipment my mom used was so familiar and as for the tools in the blacksmith shop, well, I’m still using many of them.  Never, even at my best, would I have needed a sausage maker quite so big as this one, though.

The school room was similar to the one in my village but mine had no blackboard and we used slates to write on because paper cost too much. 

We were given a third of a pint of milk every day and lactose intolerance had not yet been recognized so I had to drink the milk, anyway. It was better in winter because I could put it up against the stove for a while to cook it.  The pot-bellied stove here is surrounded by a protective barrier. The one in my school offered no such protection. 

I enjoyed the farm machinery especially, of course. They have a traction engine belted up to a threshing machine. When I was a kid, pairs of them would go from farm to farm with a giant plow. They moved down either side of the field and hauled the plow back and forth between them. Very exciting. You can see part of the one here behind the magnificent yellow hay baler, most of which is made of wood.

The soil in this part of the world is sufficiently friable and the fields are so huge that it was practical to pull plows behind the traction engines. Some of them were gigantic. 

This area was settled to a large extent by Germans who had originally been given land in Russia by Catherine the Great. They were attracted here by the Homestead Acts of 1862 and later under which almost 10% of the total area of the US was given to 1.6 million homesteaders. The sandy loam here reminded the Germans of the Russian steppes. By 1960 they owned 45% of the land in this county. 

The man on the desk tells us what Felicity had also been told earlier, that we should go next to the International Peace Garden. It’s only forty or fifty miles north of here, on the border between the US and Canada. 

It was established in 1932 as a symbol of the peaceful relations between the two nations. That was the year FDR was elected President to lead us out of the Great Depression. It was a time when activists for peace and economic justice had powerful appeal. 

So, here we are now at the campsite, nestled in a dense forest of white birches whose leaves are already yellow. There has been no frost here yet but it will come soon. It’s restful after a day of buffeting by wind. 

Felicity asked if it’s always windy in N Dakota. “It is or it isn’t”.  Sometimes the air is still, other times there’s a strong wind. It’s windy often enough that it’s been worthwhile to deploy many huge windmills. 

We’ll investigate the garden in the morning then cross the border into Canada for the next stage of our journey west. 

Next day – It’s pretty cold this morning. There are a couple of huge greenhouses filled with a great diversity of cacti at the Peace Garden. It seems bizarre in this location but their warm environment is appealing. The garden proper is excellent but we retreat quite quickly from the cold to the RV. 

We head north to Brandon then west on the Trans-Canada Highway. We were advised it would be boring but we wanted to see it for ourselves. 

This southern part of Manitoba and Saskatchewan looks a lot like North Dakota. Of course it does. The border is only man’s idea. As Felicity pointed out, everything we see here is this way because men made it so. There are signs in so many places telling us to be careful to preserve the habitat by not introducing invasive species. But all these crops are invaders. Humankind is the ultimate invasive species. 

The high point on our drive to tonight’s campsite just east of Regina was a field of grazing bison.   Why didn’t I take a picture!

This campsite next to the highway is almost full despite it being the end of tourist season. Most of the people here are working on the pipeline. It’s like drawing up in our covered wagon to a temporary settlement of railroad pioneers long ago. 

A random observation: we saw some overweight people in Minnesota and North Dakota but none of the grossly overweight ones that are so common back east. I wonder why?

Health update: I’m learning to manage my drooling/dryness and my coughing. I was still taking saliva reduction meds while the botox injection took effect and my excessive dryness was because I kept doing that too long. I stopped the meds altogether yesterday. There was a bit too much saliva but I was less prone to coughing. I struck a better balance today but I need to experiment about the time of day to take or not take the meds. It’s also very effective to keep a thick tissue over my mouth to avert coughing. It looks funny but from my point of view at any rate it’s very much worthwhile. 

Snow is forecast for Jasper by the time we get there later this week. We’ll go, anyway. 

We drive into Regina to visit the Governor’s museum where we’re guided by a charming and vivacious docent from Quebec. She and Felicity exchange information, Felicity explaining the science and usage of the English toast rack. 

We read of treaties where the First Nation traded their land for health, education and other services in perpetuity from the fledgling Canadian government. Our docent says the reality is rather more complicated. Nonetheless, the people of the First Nation do seem to have been better treated by the Canadian government which feared uprisings by them than Native Americans were by the US government. They could hardly have been treated worse. 

Then we continued west. After around a hundred kilometers the gigantic, flat harvested fields begin to be interspersed with low, rolling grass covered hills. 

After maybe another hundred kilometers we see brilliant white rows and heaps that look like old snow. It appears to have washed or been pushed downhill from an area of digging. It is potash mixed with salt. 

Potash mining is a major industry here. Almost all of it is used to make fertilizer which I guess is very important because this soil is sandy and it does not look very fertile. 

Another hundred kilometers on there are many fewer cropped fields and much more grassland. Some of it is hayed but the big round bales that are left in the fields are quite few and far between. 

As we drive on, the grassland grows steadily poorer. Many fields have been taken over by what looks like tumbleweed. Beef cattle spread out looking for anything worth eating. 

There are quite a few ponds and some lakes, all very shallow looking. Cattle are gathered in a dried up one too far from the road for us to sure but it seems they are licking salt off the pond bed. 

We pass so many trains. Pairs of locomotives with sometimes a third one in the middle of dozens upon dozens, maybe hundreds of freight cars. 

We also see one relatively spiffy locomotive pulling two passenger cars and I remember spending many hours as a kid with a book about the Canadian Pacific Railway, enchanted by pictures of the train barreling through the Rockies. 

The Railroad’s headquarters is a bit further west from here in Calgary. The railroad was how immigrants came to the Prairie lands. Set up in the early 1880s, it was how Canada’s western territory was opened up. 

We camp just outside Medicine Hat, Alberta and are glad Felicity packed a small electric heater with a fan. 

Next day – In the morning Cousin Alison asks if we’re going to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Having never heard of it we weren’t, but now we are.  It’s around 3 hours west of here at our 55 mph pace. 

The land flattens again west of Medicine Hat. Many of the fields are irrigated by the gigantic wheeled sprinklers that rotate round a water supply making those huge round fields you see from the air. 

Every so often yesterday and today we pass an oil pump, usually in the middle of a field. A few continue pumping slowly as if they’ve been doing it way too long. 

We pass a couple of fields of corn. I’ve heard it grows as high as an elephant’s eye in Oklahoma. For that to be true up here, the elephant would need to be lying down.  

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is where buffalo were “harvested” by stampeding them over a cliff. A too-eager participant is said to have had his head smashed in by going too close to where the buffalo fell.   

Buffalo grazed on these vast prairies and some would wander within range of the invisible drop. They have an excellent sense of smell but poor eyesight. Men would dress in wolf skins and, much like sheepdogs, herd them toward the cliff. 

Buffalo are led by females whose top priority is safety of the calves so, to complement the threat from pretend wolves, a man in a buffalo hide would pretend to be a calf wandering away in the direction of the cliff. The herd would follow to bring it back among them. 

When they were close enough to the cliff, many other men, hidden and dressed in buffalo hides to mask their smell, would leap up and yell to panic the herd. Unable to stop because of the pressure of those behind them, the panic-stricken beasts would tumble to their death. The waiting butchers and cooks would then begin work.  They dried the meat, got the marrow out of the bones, stored the fat in bladders, cured the hides and used the bone for needles.  There was also, of course, a great feast.  The stuffed ones on display might not have fallen for the trap because they can see the cliff edge.

We felt sad for the buffaloes.  The interpretation film recreating the massacre has the protagonists say the bounty demonstrates that they are loved and cared for by the higher powers. Perhaps all hominids have justified their acts in this way. Or maybe this is how white men think and we assume everyone else does, too. 

The Blackfoot hunters were doing this long before they had guns.  I don’t know when they stopped. Native Americans in the US switched to hunting on horses in the 17th century, I think.  It’s estimated there were 30 million bison on the Great Plains in the early 1800s but they had almost all been wiped out by mid-century, primarily by government sponsored slaughtering to drive out the Native Americans who depended on them for food.  The Blackfoot practice left the herds intact.

We’re too tired to take the trail to where the buffalo bones were found. Felicity looks for a nearby campsite and there’s one beside a lake so of course she proposes that one. We have no trouble getting a site on the lake shore because there’s nobody else here. It’s getting cold. 

We’ve come almost 3,000 miles so far, driving every day, so it feels time for a day of rest tomorrow.

Road Trip – Chapter 2


We’re close to the shore of Lake Superior again tonight but we’re now in Wisconsin. 

The sand that grows scrubby pines close to the bridge where lakes Michigan and Huron meet and one crosses the bridge to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula soon turned more like Maine, forested hills and swamp. 

We decided against the boat ride yesterday and went to the beach instead. The lake water is so clear and the only waves are wash from the sightseeing boats. So peaceful. The lake shore is limestone worn into strange shapes by the storms. 

On our way today after going straight when we should have taken a right, we stumbled on the Michigan Iron Mining Museum. Fascinating. 

We learned about the man who came looking for copper and was shown a mountain of iron by a native American who considered the Mountain’s spirit so powerful that he would not go too close. The prospector was thrilled by the sight. 

Getting iron ore from there to factories further south was difficult but pretty soon the mountain was gone and they were blasting tunnels below ground. It was very high quality ore. 

Surveying the Upper Peninsula was also a challenge since it was entirely covered by dense forest and swamp. Making it more difficult, the iron ore deposits played havoc with compass readings. 

Mining here is now on a giant scale and nobody is living as the native Americans did. Few if any would want to. Native Americans are operating casinos, the tourism market is strong and the mining company must renovate the land they despoil. 

Another thing we learned at the museum is why pasties are a feature in this part of the world. It was impossible to get enough Americans to work in the mines so waves of immigrant laborers were brought in. First to come were miners from Cornwall, England where the tin mines had recently been exhausted. Cornish pasties that were their staple diet proved to be a big hit with everyone. 

Based on the past 24 hours my advice for others with a feeding tube is to puree favorite foods as an occasional treat. The 3 oz of smoked fish I ate last night were still giving me pleasure this morning so we bought 3 lbs more. 

In other news my dribbling is definitely growing less.  It occurred to me to wonder if that makes it less likely that my next incarnation will be as a dog? Felicity said she will bring it to my attention if I start sniffing posts. 

Next Day – We drove up the west coast of Lake Superior, stopped at Meyers Beach, continued on to Duluth, MN then drove west to Bemidji. 

It was a splendid sunny day, around 80 degrees. Felicity painted two fine watercolors at Meyers Beach while I did a rugged two mile walk through white birches, maples, poppels and pines to view sea caves and a rock bridge. 

It seemed quite a long way to the overlook but I was pleased to find I was not short of breath. My breathing was normal on the two mile walk back, too, but my legs felt tired. 

I remembered my first trek in Iceland while I was still piloting a desk. By the end, my thighs had given out entirely. My hamstrings were not completely exhausted though so I was able to shuffle backwards up the steep inclines. 

On the outward walk I heard only the tree tops moving in the breeze. Coming back I heard what sounded like the growl of a bear. I was so hoping to see one but I didn’t. 

There’s little but trees and occasional small cattle farms to be seen from the coastal road to Duluth. It must be a long way to school and that’s likely the only place kids would see friends. It must be even more isolated in winter and they are long up here. 

The road west to Bemidji is also mostly through forest and it’s mostly very flat. At one point small dead pine trees stretched far to the south. I think they drowned. A couple of small rivers showed the water table to be very close to the surface and the ground was densely covered with rushes. I imagine drainage was never good and something changed to slow it even more. 

Today I understood what triggers my coughing and I made a start on a solution. My nostrils grow more restricted over the course of the day because I can’t blow my nose. By afternoon my mouth drops open to get more air and that triggers coughing. 

Pressing a thick tissue against my lips forced me to keep breathing through my nose for a couple of hours but so much catarrh built up on the back of my throat that in the end I began coughing continuously.  Using the Bullfrog machine (it blows air hard into my lungs then sucks it back out making me look like a bullfrog) when we got to the campsite pretty much cleared that problem. 

Tomorrow I’ll try spritzing my nostrils with water to clear them at least partially at lunch time then I’ll try to keep my mouth closed all day and bullfrog when we stop for the day. 

Next day – We liked Bemidji but this is when I discovered that my energy reserves are now very low. 

We drove south to see the head waters of the Mississippi, which drains out of Lake Itasca.  The Mississippi starts on the right of the rocks below.

Felicity had bought tickets to see a performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire”.  I felt exhausted and the botox injection to my mouth has now completely dried up my saliva. We returned to the campsite so I could rest, stopping only to buy anti dry mouth remedies. I tried the spray too enthusiastically then slept all afternoon. 

I had enough strength to drive to the theater but then it seemed wiser to stay in the RV so I wouldn’t make noises or have coughing fits in the theater. It was a good call. I slept through the entire performance, which Felicity says was excellent. 

Then I slept soundly all last night.

Next day – I feel good again. We set off for North Dakota. The view from the road is of trees interspersed with beef cattle farms. The land is flat with many small lakes. It reminds me of Sweden where I spent as much time as I could working. It was never enough. I see why folks from there, Denmark and Finland liked it here. 

As we proceed west the land grows even flatter and much more of it is farmed, chiefly grains and hay at first, then more diverse arable crops. Sugar beet is popular. We also pass an asparagus farm and one that raises “exotic meat” including ostrich. 

We stop for gas and coffee, then at a hardware store. Everyone is so friendly, so different from New England where we lived so long. 

Now almost all the land is farmed. Only the areas of standing water surrounded by bullrushes are not farmed. It looks rather like Essex on England’s southeast coast which is also flat and in places waterlogged. 

Further on still the fields are gigantic, stretching all the way to the horizon.   The most common crop is soybeans. The soil does not look very fertile. Again there are plentiful areas of standing water near the road. 

We stop for the night at Devil’s Lake. The approach to the state campsite is a road across the water making me think lake is a more dignified name than is warranted. At the campsite, though, guys are preparing to haul their fishing boats away so the water is evidently deeper here. 

And now it’s time for smoked fish and a fragrant beer  🙂 There’s a strong and gusty wind but we’re well protected by trees. 

Road Trip Chapter 1


September 6, 2018 — We drove west from Gettysburg through fine farm country and beautiful mountain forests, passed the sign for California and stopped in Washington. All in Pennsylvania. Tomorrow we’ll do some exploration in Pittsburgh which is just down the road. 

September 7 and 8, 2018 – I hadn’t yet started writing daily notes or taking pictures so these two days are lost 🙁

September 9, 2018 — On our way to Toledo, Ohio we stopped off by chance at the village of Zoar, a German village. 

The Lutheran Church treated dissenters harshly in early 1800s Germany and those in the south suffered greatly also in the Napoleonic wars.  When in 1816 the king allowed emigration, 300 villagers from there who practiced a semi-mystical form of Christianity with a great emphasis on individual piety left for America. 

Helped by a loan from Quakers they bought 5,500 acres in Ohio but their first winter was devastating so, unable to survive independently, they formed a community where all worked for the common good and there was no private property. 

Three years later they forbade married couples from living together. Their religion required celibacy but the practical issue was they needed the women as well as the men for work in the fields. Pregnancy and children were unaffordable. Marriages were allowed a few years later but the children were raised in nurseries and saw their parents only in church.  They were schooled in German. 

The community established a flour mill, iron furnace, tin shop, wagon factory and other businesses and developed steadily until its elected leader died in 1853. Although nobody  with the same charisma and administrative abilities emerged to replace him, they kept going for another 45 years. 

By then the third generation had seen how others were living and they wanted freedom and their own things. So the community’s assets were divided up and distributed to all and Zoar became a village surrounded by farms just like any other. 

I was struck by how German it all was. The quality of the buildings and cabinetry is very fine, simple designs executed with precision. The children were taught in German. 

The Civil War was a great challenge for the community because they were pacifists. With no better choice, they paid other young men to fight for the North instead of their own. 

I thought about WW1. Schooled in England and knowing my dad lived in Ohio until he graduated from High School, that America had gained independence from British rule and Americans speak English, it seemed odd that it took so long for them to join the battle against Germany. How ignorant we are if we don’t travel.

September 10, 2018 — Tonight we’re in Munising on Michigan’s upper peninsula on the south shore of Lake Superior.  

Driving just over 1,000 miles so far has turned out to be quite relaxing. I feel the same as I used to before ALS, not conscious of my weakness. If anything I feel better, apart from the dribbling and coughing, because I set the cruise control to 55. The engine and drive train are 23 years old and they have a heavy load to propel so it’s good to be gentle and I can relax along with them.  Here’s our home for the next couple of months:

Upper Michigan feels like Cape Cod recast on a giant scale and before people came. There are some settlements, of course, along with abandoned properties along the way. A big hand lettered sign just off the highway read: “WIFE COME HOME. WILL SELL HOUSE”. Beside it was another sign: “OBEY WIFE OR ELSE”. 

Why do I say it’s like Cape Cod?  Because we always try to fit our new experiences into existing concepts. 

I’d never thought much about ice breakers. We toured one today, the biggest ever, built in 1943 to keep Detroit’s and other factories supplied most of the year. It had a crew of 75. 

It has six giant 10 cylinder diesel engines that drive electric motors which drive the propellers. The ice on the Great Lakes tends to be a couple of feet thick and it can easily be many times thicker after storms break it up and pile it in layers. Decoupling the diesels from the drive train lets them stay at the same high rpm despite varying pressure at the bow, the same idea as railroad engines. 

It’s obvious but I also hadn’t thought about what ice breakers actually do, open lanes just wide enough for merchant ships and keep running back and forth to keep them open. This ice breaker was built too wide for the canals between here and the ocean so it could not be captured during the war. 

I notice I get pleasure from roadside billboards advertising meatloaf dinners, egg, bacon and home fry breakfasts, footlong spicy Italian subs for lunch, and so on. It doesn’t matter that I can never eat any of them again. 

Up here pasties are popular. I love pasties, but…  Smoked fish is also available all along the shore. I do hope to puree some of that. The fragrance of smoked fish will surely rise up my throat. 

We’ll stay here tomorrow and go on a boat ride to view rock formations and waterfalls. 

I’ve been able to sleep all night with the BIPAP breathing machine the last couple of nights. The mask compresses my mouth so it’s hard to avoid biting the inside but I do breathe better. 

I think the botox injection I had shortly before we started this trip is beginning to cut the amount of saliva I produce. 

So all’s well. We’re having a good time 🙂

My ALS Adventure – September, October and November 2018


We decided to go on a long road trip while I can still walk.  My neurologist who had me hop on each leg thought I’d be OK for at least a couple more months, and the ALS clinic folks told us where we could get a folding walker and even a wheelchair if he turned out to be wrong.  

It would have been costly to rent an RV for a couple of months or more so it seemed better to buy one but it’s unlikely i’ll be able to use it next year so it wasn’t worth buying a new one.  A lot of online research followed by a day of driving around to inspect candidates led us to a 23 foot 1995 one whose layout we liked, that was in good shape cosmetically, seemed mechanically sound and was in our price range.

I built shelves in one of the coat closets, made a low fence for the sleeping loft over the driving cabin so we could store stuff there and not have it fall on us, installed a backup camera, fixed the loose supports on the roof ladder and assembled a box of tools.  We packed an assortment of clothes because we’d be in hot, cold, wet and dry areas.  Felicity got a big collection of maps and guide books from AAA.  And then there was all the other stuff that we would or might need.

After a few days delay waiting for additional supplies of my medicines we set off on September 6.  First stop was Pittsburgh because Felicity wanted to visit an art museum there.  We decided each next step pretty much day to day.  Friends had already suggested several places we should visit and we hoped for more suggestions along the way.

Our only firm plans were to stop on the West Coast to visit Doma and our friends who are hosting her, see my cousin from England and three or more friends there, and visit my cousin and his family near Atlanta who I’d never met.  The only schedule was to be on the West Coast in the first half of October when my English cousin would be there.

I decided to email my family every few days so they wouldn’t worry about us.  That turned out to be like writing a travel journal but more enjoyable because I was thinking about what they might find interesting.  I’ll now assemble them into lightly edited posts to give a sense of what intrigued me about the very different environments we visited, and continue my effort to share the experience of my ALS progressing 

I lost strength during what turned out to be a 10,000 mile, three and a half month journey but I didn’t need a walker.  Felicity persuaded me to start using a hiking pole for balance toward the end although i’m not quite at the point where it’s really necessary.  I do need a neck brace, though, because my neck muscles are too weak to hold my head upright by the end of the day. 

Felicity kindly let me drive the whole way because that was the one physical activity where I still feel the same as I always did.  I’m not having trouble accepting my slow weakening but doing anything I’ve always enjoyed still is enjoyable.

I hope you’ll enjoy Road Trip Chapters 1 – N and I hope they’ll be helpful if you have ALS  or if you know someone who is living with something similar