Saturday, June 30, 2007

 

Home


A five-day, 3000 mile trek brought us home late Friday. Whew. That last 200 miles of the Alcan Highway through Canada has gotten worse since we last crossed it in late May - the best I could do was about 30 mph; unbelievable. Anyway, that's all behind us now. A ton of mail and a ton of mosquitoes were waiting for us. The house was intact and the cars all started without trouble. I'm so tired of driving I don't want to think/blog about the trip for a while... maybe later.

The cat entertained us.

But the best thing about getting home was pulling out my acoustic cello from its 5-week rest and finding it so full of music. It appears to have survived the long silent dry spell without any apparent damage. After such a long stretch hearing my electric cello only through the headphones it was quite a pleasure to hear the full, rich, deep ringing tones from all the strings. The wolf is hiding in its lair, for now at least. I played today hard, loud, boldly. I felt such energy coming through the bow. I actually felt like a real cellist... at least for a while. Until my rusty joints began to remind me that I'd not practiced very much for a long while. Nevertheless, I played through my Suzuki repertoire and even took extra time to work on the newest piece - still just rhythm and pizzicato.

Hopefully I'll resume my lessons in a few weeks; next week I rejoin our orchestra in preparation for our library concert at the end of the month.

One of the high points of the trip was getting a chance to meet Pink Fluffy Slippers and play some duets. While the internet has allowed a lot of us to get to know one another, albeit obliquely, there are so few chances for us to actually meet. For sure I never would have showed up at just anybody's door with my cello and amp, expecting to sit down and play for several hours. That's not me. But, having communicated with Pink Fluffy Slippers for more than a year now, I felt as if I knew her -- well enough at least to feel comfortable with those first few moments upon meeting.

I have never been comfortable meeting new people, socially. Work situations were somehow different. I could quite easily sit down at a table full of strangers and have no problem doing work-related things, and finding the necessary small-talk that goes along with it. But put me with that same group in a social situation and I'd literally freeze up and awkwardly hunt for the nearest exit hoping to be able to slip away unnoticed. I've been that way since high school, and frankly, one of the best parts of retirement has been the freedom not to have to do any more of those. But, playing the cello seems to be one way to get past all that. Although it wasn't very easy to go to my orchestra rehearsals, it has gotten better over time. I am quite content to sit there with my cello, quietly plucking a few scales, making small-talk, while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.

It's unfortunate that we all live so far apart and these opportunities are few and far between. It appears that Cellodonna and Maricello might be able to set up a meeting at a festival later this summer. Great! I hope they manage to do so.

Comments:
Welcome home, Guanaco! Wow, that was quite the trek. Home is always so comforting after a long trip, especially when there is a cello waiting. :)

Cello(or making music) is a good way to "break the ice" so to speak, in meeting people. Much easier than ordinary social conditions. That common bond makes conversation flow and brings a much welcomed feeling of connection. I've been so happy with all my new "orchestra friends" even though I just see them once a week at rehearsal.

I'm in the process now of trying to figure out if my husband and I can make it to that music festival on one of the days to meet Maricello later in July. It would certainly be exciting if we can.
 
Welcome home. What a drive!

I had the pleasure of meeting the Russian mosquitoes in St. Petersburg. Managed to miss them during my brief stay in Alaska.

During White nights, Sunset was 11 pm and Sunrise was 4 am. Something like your neck of the woods, I suppose. It gets dark around 8:30 pm in Miami but it doesn't light up until 7 am.

It is great getting to know people through the internet. I had the pleasure of actually visiting folks I've met online.

I've never learned the art of small talk. E-communication generally begins with a interest in common to discuss. This makes it special. One could talk to someone at a party about the weather and food, and never know that they played the cello.

The web allows us to meet people all over the world. Unfortunately, most of them live a distance away.

I used to sysop a local bulletin board (BBS) back in the old days and there were opportunities to actually see the people that one met via this medium. I still have several friends that I met at BBS GTs (Get Togethers) whom I probably would have never hooked up with in a traditional setting.
 
Welcome home, Guanaco! Your travels have inspired me--though I haven't actually gone anywhere yet, except by kayak. Glad you are safely back home with your cello.

Donna, I hope you can make the bluegrass festival. There will be only a handful of cellists, but lots of music (most of the attendees play). I'll write more soon.

Marisa, welcome back from your trip too!
 
Your marathon drive beats the experience of someone overheard on a bus who, when asked where Lanzarote was, said, "I dunno. You get to it on a 'plane"!!
 
Isn't it a great feeling to come back after a very long absence, and play cello? I went to Europe for a month, and when I took out my cello for the first time after I got back it was slightly overwhelming!
So welcome back!
 
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Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

Fires at Home


Leaving Pahrump on Friday, we followed a crooked path on the blue highways up through the center of Nevada. The roads are mostly long straight runs across the deserts. Every hundred miles or so, the road would climb up a pass to small high mountain towns like Tonopa, Austin, or Eureka, and then drop back down into another desert valley for another hundred miles. Very little traffic, and except for the passes, very few turns. I really like driving these routes. The deserts varies from the rocky, sandy mountains in the southwest part of the state to the sparse, piney hills in the northern part.

From Elko we drove north on another largely unused road to Mountain Home, Idaho and then made a brief final run on another interstate highway that took us to a fantastic drive from Boise up through McCall (what a nice little town!). I've been a fan of river canyons since first driving the Wind River canyon in central Wyoming more than 25 years ago. Yesterday's drive from Elko, NV to Clarkston, WA took us through four different river canyons. Today, we're staying at a nice campground overlooking the Snake River in Clarkston. It is so nice here we decided to stay over one more day before starting the 2,500 mile trek home.

Today, we're reading about a major forest fire about 25 miles south of where we live on the Kenai Peninsula. Seems the fire started with sparks from someone grinding a shovel blade (?)... Hard to believe that could spread to 50,000 acres in just a few days. Still the spruce bark beetles have killed off millions of acres leaving forests of gray sticks in their wake. Good tinder.

Y always gets so anxious about fires anywhere near us. All she can think about is her sewing machines and fabric collections that she'd take to safety - not the photo albums, documents, or heirlooms - just her sewing machines and boxes of fabric. I guess, saving the rest would be my job - but only after her stuff is loaded. I'm much more fatalistic. There's not much point in fretting about it. I've cleared brush and trees from around the house, but it does have a large wooden deck surrounding three sides, so if it burns, I guess it will burn. If a fire does come our way, I'll deal with it then.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Paris gets out of jail in just a few more days! What could top that?

Comments:
Never thought I'd see anything about Paris Hilton on Cellomania. She's truly *everywhere* now.
 
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Thursday, June 21, 2007

 

Things that go Pahrump in the night - OR - Where has all the clamor gone?


What happened to Las Vegas? Since the mid-90s we’ve visited Las Vegas several times – a wedding, a reunion, even a business conference, and more recently several vacation stop-overs as we drove to Phoenix.

It used to be that when you walked onto the floor of any casino on “The Strip”, you were engulfed in the clanging chimes and the clamor of quarters falling into the payout trays on all the slot machines; there was a palpable sense that there was money to be won, along with the feeling of carrying your plastic cups filled with all your winnings. That was the sound of Las Vegas.

Now it’s all gone, the casinos are almost deathly quiet, now a sense of desolation. The coin deposits for the slots are all gone - sealed shut. Now, you can only feed these one-armed bandits with paper bills, preprinted “tickets”, or the casino credit cards. If you win and want to cash out, the machine prints out a paper ticket that you can cash out at one of the few “change machines” hidden somewhere on the floor, after waiting in long lines – or you can feed the ticket into any other machine. No more cups of quarters. Some of the machines have a fake “quarter payout sound” that would ding while it was printing the ticket, but come on, it wasn’t even close to the real thing. [We finally did find four slots in the back corner of one casino that still used actual quarters – but they were all in use with several people gathered around waiting their turn.]

Now I’m sure that the consultants have convinced the corporate megalopcracies that the quarters were too much a nuisance, that people would get used to the paper, and would soon forget the “old ways”. Besides, since you really weren’t as likely to cash out for a printed ticket for every small win, you would more likely play out all your winnings too. Sure, consultants are always right… As for us, we were pretty darned disappointed, so we ended up not losing near as much money as we had in past years. That “feeling” was gone.

It was 107 degrees yesterday! Fortunately, reasonably warm weather from Seattle to San Diego over the past three weeks allowed us to acclimate sufficiently that the heat wasn’t as oppressive as if we had just stepped off the airplane from Alaska. Still, who in their right mind would come here in the summer? Now, with the “new and improved” slot machines, we probably won’t be coming back anytime.

While almost all RVs are equipped with air conditioners, a careful reading of the manual shows that the design criteria is approximately 20 degrees of cooling over outside temperatures. So at 107 degrees outside, the a/c is only going to reduce interior temps to 87 degrees. Several years ago, when we first went to Phoenix we bought several rolls of foil-faced bubble wrap at Home Depot and cutout fitted inserts for all our windows. Surprisingly that gives us almost 5 degrees more cooling. So, now, as I write this, it is 105 outside and about 80 inside. Although we come from a much colder world, we are tolerating it reasonably well.

The RV park we’re staying at is located on a man-made lake surrounded by grass and trees – in the middle of the desert – a real oasis! The water evaporating from the lake quickly cools the hot dry breezes blowing in from the desert and we have found it quite comfortable to sit outside in the shade after 5 pm and enjoy the warm evenings.

We did enjoy an excellent buffet dinner at the Paris Hotel/Casino. Not the usual chow-line that slops as much hastily prepared food as possible to the customers, like we usually find at most buffets. The food here was unique, tasty, well-prepared and well-presented. The seafood selections (for this vegetarian-except-for-bacon) were most unusual. The desserts were interesting. If we were going to stay any longer, I’d consider going back for another round. For once, it was well-worth the money.

Tomorrow we head north – to Idaho and maybe eastern Washington. We’ll probably stop briefly somewhere in that area, and then start the long trek home.


Comments:
Maybe you should try Altantic City? (Just joking.) I felt like a fish out of water the night we had dinner at one of the Casino's there.

BTW, I love your description of yourself as "vegetarian-except-for-bacon."
 
What no more quarters and silver dollars? That's an incredibly bad idea. Surely there will be a backlash against that.
 
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RV Rant


OK, for those who don’t want to read a rant about RV parks and their clientele, now would be a good time to click out:

* What makes people think that their Fifi is not covered by the detailed pet rules posted all over the campground? We were parked for most of the week across the road from a small grassy area, with fairly large signs posted telling people to keep their dogs off the grass. Yet, every day, more than half a dozen campers would casually stroll by with their Fifi on a leash (at least) and stand there as Fifi walked onto the grass and did his/her business. Right in front of the very visible signs! Fewer than half of those owners bothered to use a bag and cleanup the mess. If I’d had a video camera I would have had something to send to the campground owners.

This problem is universal to all campgrounds. For some reason many RV owners, who become so quickly riled up whenever the issue of pets and pet management come up in the RV forums, somehow believe that it’s OK if their Fifi just does it “just this one time”, because it is too far to have to walk all the way to the designated pet areas. Sure, there are many legitimate pet owners who do follow the rules (we always do), but they have to put up with all those who so blatantly disregard them. They don’t seem to care that many other users of this same park and grassy areas are kids on bikes and scooters. What they don’t realize is that if only even four people a day let their dogs do it in that small area, that means that almost 1,500 dogs urinate and/or crap in that same small area in the course of one year. Yech.

* What makes people think that it’s OK for them to drive 35 mph through a campground with dozens of clearly marked signs warning that the speed limit is 5 mph? With all those little kids on bikes, skates, and scooters? Or that their big-wheeled unmufflered quads are also not allowed, nor appropriate?

* On the other hand, why do campgrounds not police their own rules? Tell people when they check in that if they let Fifi crap or pee anywhere but the designated pet areas, they’ll have one hour to pack up and get out. That if they drive faster than 5 mph they’re also out. Maybe their theory is that it’s acceptable if at least 75% of us follow the rules; thus offsetting the negativity caused by those other 25%.

* Why do some people who own RVs feel entitled to play their outside radios (so conveniently installed by uncaring manufacturers in most motorhomes) loud enough to bother everyone who is unfortunate enough to be assigned neighboring spots? The case at hand involved a couple with two Fifis (yes they peed on the grass beside the sign two days in a row) who chose to play their country music radio station at elevated volume all afternoon; even while they took off on a walk for what turned out to be an hour. I was threatening to stroll over and turn it down while they were gone, but Y was mortified that I would consider it. So I endured.

* Why do people who come into campgrounds with sites usually less than 30 feet wide feel it is OK to leave their “porch” light on all night long - glaring into their neighbor’s windows? While it makes sense to have an outdoor light for use in the evening, there’s just no excuse to leave it on all night long. I was threatening to go buy a BB pistol and shoot it out if they did it again (but they left the next morning.) Hey, I could have used that same BB pistol to shoot out that offending radio.

The fabled allure of communal “camping” is too often ruined by one or two obnoxious trolls who feel they have a right to impose their entertainment or their toys on everyone else. I’m thinking it’s time to head home.


Comments:
Well... RV motorhomes travel can sometimes materialize into something awful!
 
I laughed out loud at this post! I am sensitive to the same things. At least you can move your RV onto hopefully more considerate pastures the next night. I, however, live in what I call "Little Tijuana" and am treated daily to the mired dulcet tones of banda music while I try to record my podcast. Hope cello is going well for you this summer. :)

oom pa pa, oom pa pa....
(banda euphonium sounds)
 
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San Diego


A week in southern California sadly had to end and we headed for Las Vegas. Most of our time was spent in San Diego, with its wonderful weather and fantastic beaches. I think I could live there - only if it was near the beach. Y wasn’t so impressed – but she doesn’t like beaches as much as I do. Z could care less – as long as there is WiFi, he seems content.

So, like all tourists to San Diego do, we spent a day at the zoo, a day at Sea World, an afternoon in La Jolla (wow!), another afternoon in the Coronado and Gas Lamp areas, and even a few hours wasted in Tijuana. [What is the attraction of Tijuana, anyway? None of the locals in San Diego that I talked to ever go across the border. They couldn’t understand the attraction to us tourists. After those two hours, neither can I. Ugh.]

The zoo is nice, but since our last visit, the zoo has been overrun by double-decker buses. The walkways have become freeways with dozens of buses, work-trucks, and golf-carts buzzing back and forth all the time. For example, a few peaceful moments talking to the elephants and then the guanacos(!) across the street were ruined when two buses pulled up with drivers blaring out their lame descriptions through loudspeakers. The guanacos, curious to see the three former compañeros who had taken so much interest in them, quickly moved away from the road. Z was also enchanted with the hippos and the large capybaras (which look so much like Floyd).

Sea World, as always, was good. Except for their Shamu show (all the killer whales are now called Shamu), which was too Disney-esque with high-tech glitzy features and unendurably loud Disney-like music blaring out of the gigantic speakers surrounding the pool (poor whales). We kept expecting one of their more recent cartoon characters to make an appearance. What’s that about? At least the dolphins and the sea lion shows were still fun. A brief Cirque du Soleil water-themed show was also good. Although the admit price is now $58 per person!!!, plus $10 to park!!!, it wasn’t a bad day. Been there, and done that, though.

We spent most of our time, though, relaxing and doing nothing. We took a lot of walks along the harbor behind the RV park. I played my cello almost every morning while Z slept in. I don’t feel as if I’m making progress, but I’m probably not losing much ground. I am carefully fingering (pizzicato) my way through the Lully Gavotte.


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Sunday, June 17, 2007

 

CelloBloggers Meet


I wonder why I've never taken a photo of my own acoustic and electric together. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever had them out of their cases at the same time. [Maybe I don't want my acoustic to know..?] Anyway here's Pink Fluffy Slippers' cello beside my Yamaha.
*Pay no attention to that sunburned arm.*

For a while, PFS played the Yamaha while I got to try out her acoustic cello. It has such a nice, warm sound, with lots of strength in the lower register. I think she liked the distortion options with the electric - for a just moment I even heard the ghost of Jimi... Then we played several duets. It took me several run-throughs on most of them to get my part sorted out - she was very patient. But then, when I finally got it right, our duets sounded so good. It is new for me to play one part while listening to another, especially another cello, close-up.

The Rameau/LeClerc duet came out pretty good. We played it several times, alternating turns with the melody. I found that it worked better if I didn't try so hard and just let go and trust my "memory" to play it right. I still am not comfortable enough yet to record it, but we did agree to do that later this year - hopefully in time for Halloween.

Finally, I asked her if she minded playing the Bach Cello Suite part that she's been working on. I only hope I can get there one day.

How nice it was to actually meet another celloblogger!

Comments:
How wonderful that you and PFS had a chance to meet and play together. Love the photo, too. Tantalizing.
 
Hey, you cropped the garden gnome out of the picture. :)

And both of us forgot to mention the fascinating fact that the electric cello caused the acoustic cello to vibrate. But maybe that's old news to you.
 
Sorry about the gnome. I was trying to crop out that larger sunburned gnome holding the cello.
 
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Monday, June 11, 2007

 

Santa Barbara


As we inch our way down the coast, we find ourselves this afternoon relaxing in the sun on a bluff above the ocean just outside Santa Barbara.

The drive from Santa Cruz on 101 was really nice. (I would like to have driven through Big Sur on California Highway 1 - I drove that route more than 20 years ago - but it really isn't very motorhome-friendly). Anyway, traffic on 101 was pretty light, but a coastal fog shrouded many of the surrounding hills along the way. Nevertheless, the terrain from Paso Robles through Pismo Beach is so fine! I wonder why more people aren't living in this area? Hmm, I wonder what a modestly sized house on a couple acres on a remote hilltop would cost?

We continue south again tomorrow.

Comments:
I was reading quickly, and thought you said in the buff. Shocking. But no, that's in the sun on a *bluff*. Better get my coffee, and maybe my glasses. Happy motoring!
 
Santa Cruz, Big Sur, etc, yeah, in some places it could be in the buff.

So Guanaco, how far south are you going? (I haven't been following as closely as I should'a.)
 
Way too many decades have passed since I would have even dared consider the buff version...

We'll drive as far as San Diego, and then take a bus to Tijuana.
 
I noticed that you said that you are studying suzuki method. We will be moving to the Anchorage area in about a year. I am looking for a suzuki cello teacher. If you have a name that you could share I would appreciate it. My email is reicherts6@yahoo.com
 
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Saturday, June 09, 2007

 

Santa Cruz


It appears we have avoided another lousy summer in Alaska - the weather reports have shown clouds, rain and cool temps ever since we left. Whew! For our last few trips "outside" we'd had the opposite luck, leaving during some of the best summers they've ever had. As for us, our week in Seattle was great, with lots of sun and warm temperatures. We encountered a little rain during our two-day drive down to the Bay Area, but it has been sunny and warm here since we arrived.

Yesterday, in our second "How It's Made" tour, we took an insider's tour of Google Headquarters, where they make... um... well, lots of money. We ate lunch at one of their free cafeterias - an amazing variety of choices. The skeptic in me wonders how long before some management consultant advises Google that it would save $30 million a year if they cut out the free food. Still, as a committed Googler, I was duly impressed by it all - every desk has two large Dell flat-screen monitors, or in some cases one giant flat screen - enough to line up four full-sized pages side-by-side. We also drove by the Apple headquarters, but since Z's iPod was recently stolen, he didn't want to even look in that direction - "it's just too painful".
We also spent a day touring the city, riding the cable cars, walking along the wharf, etc. I wouldn't have minded spending a few more hours walking around various parts of the city, but bringing along a 4-year old limited our options.


We've parked the motorhome in Santa Cruz, which is an hour's drive from where B and his family live. There's nothing closer; with the high real estate prices, it is difficult to justify using land for an RV park where you could be building a bunch of million-dollar condos instead. The drive from here over to the Mountain View area is interesting, to say the least. Highway 17 is a winding 4-lane road over the Santa Cruz mountains. Of course the locals know the road quite well and seem to be quite comfortable driving at 70+ up and down the hills and around the tight corners. We've driven back and forth four times already; and I'm just becoming accustomed to it. Next time, I think we'll stay in Pacifica. Today we decided to stay put and do some minor maintenance and housekeeping on the motorhome - and enjoy the sun. I think they'll come visit us here in the afternoon.

Monday we'll head south.

It has been so nice seeing our grandchildren, especially that happy 6-month old boy who never stops smiling. I wish we lived closer, but that's probably not going to happen.

After taking a week-long break from my cello, I picked it up again several days ago. I have to roust Z out of bed early and send him to the back of the motorhome for a few more hours sleep, while I practice up front. I was surprised at how rusty I had become in such a short time; also at how quickly I got tired. But after a few days, I had pretty much caught up. Playing the electric cello with headphones hasn't been as difficult as I'd expected. Either the electronics are programmed to produce nice ringing tones when intonated properly, or my ability to discern the clean notes is improving. I'm still slogging away at all the pieces in the first two books (odd-numbered pieces on odd-numbered days, etc.) and I'm slowly tackling the two new pieces in Suzuki 3. I've started bowing the first one and am playing the first half of the second one pizzicato. My warmup drills now include F and G major scales into third and fourth position, and several intervals.

Comments:
What lovely grandchildren! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

I love the idea of a Google tour. What is it about free lunch?! You must be in your glory with all that glorious weather.

Glad to hear that you've found some cello time. I'm contemplating taking mine along when we vacation at Lake George this year.
 
Ok Sarah and I must know... What does free Google food taste like?
 
Google has apparently calculated that if it feeds its employees "on campus" the employees will take much shorter lunch breaks than if they had to hike to their cars and drive several miles to find available restaurants. There are apparently more than 5,000 employees at their Mountain View headquarters, so it would take an awful lot of restaurants in the area to feed them all lunch at roughly the same time.

They also have laundromats, and so on, available for their employees.

The food was plentiful, varied, and excellent. BTW, breakfast and dinner are also available for those who choose to work odd hours. The fact that it is free is apparently a perk that keeps everyone on campus and at work. These perks will last only as long as all that advertising revenue keeps pouring in.
 
I've been enjoying your travel writings. Makes me want to get on the road myself.

I am so impressed that you are continuing to play Suzuki books 1 and 2, even while on the road. I tried for a while, but it is down to once every blue moon. Still it is a useful way to go back and take the old pieces to a higher level, adding vibrato, more expression, improved fingerings, etc.

It is easy to tire of them, especially if you linger on them for months the way I do. My flute choir is playing Gossec's Gavotte now, and I am finally far enough away from book 2 to think, "yes, indeed, this is a great little piece!"
 
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Saturday, June 02, 2007

 

The DreamLiner


Long a fan of shows on the Discovery Channels, such as "How It's Made", and John Ratzenberger's show "Made in America" on the Travel Channel, we always try to fit in a few plant tours on our trips. Today, we toured Boeing's Aircraft Assembly plant in Everett, Washington. The tour started with mini-video showing the assembly of a 747. Then we boarded a bus and crossed over to the massive aircraft assembly building (the largest such building in the world - eleven stories high and covering 98 acres). The tour took us to an upper viewing level between the 777 assembly "room" and the new addition where the new 787 Dreamliner is being built. The first 787 was about halfway through the assembly line, with the final wing about to be installed.

What a massive undertaking! It makes one appreciate both the ingenuity in design and and the intensity of the scale of effort involved in building these massive planes. The 777 room had 6 planes in the assembly line from two halves just being outfitted, to the final assembled product about to be taken out for testing. Sitting out in the line was one of Boeing's "DreamLifters", which was designed to carry fully assembled sections for the new Dreamliner from various assembly plants around the world. They sliced off the upper 2/3 from a 747 and grafted on a new, taller, wider upper body. Strange; it looks as if they overinflated a 747.

I still hate flying in the dang things, though, but that really isn't Boeing's fault. They build to customer specs, so things like seat pitch and numbers of seat per row are specified by the customers. We did get to take part in a little survey where we were asked to sit in two different "cabins" and rate the experience. Of course it was clear that a widebody cabin would be preferred by most travellers, since it doesn't feel so claustrophobic. Then Boeing can show these customer satisfaction "surveys" to their customers in an attempt to persuade them to upgrade from the 737s to the new 787s, and so on. Whatever, we got free Boeing pens for our trouble.

We are enjoying a balmy week so far; just warm enough to appreciate short sleeve shirts, but not so hot that we are wilting. The weather reports warn of a change Monday, as we pack up and head further south.

Comments:
I. Love. How. It's. Made. I really like watching how crayons are made though it is totally obvious, it just fascinates me. I guess I just like colorful stuff. I don't like watching all of the things like blenders and such though. That's not as fun.

Anyway, I hope you are enjoying your vacation... I wish I could go on vacation somewhere other than this stupid little ghost town in the middle of nowhere.
 
Yay Boeing! (that's where my dad works, although not at the Everett plant.) Did you know the factory is the largest building in the world by volume? (According to Wikipedia, that ever-reliable source ;-), it's 472 million cubic feet. Wow.)
Glad to hear you're enjoying the Pacific Northwest. We were having some pretty good weather (for WA) this week, but it's started to rain again. Bummer.
Enjoy your stint in Washington!
 
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Scenic British Columbia


If you love scenic places and haven't been to British Columbia, you are missing out. Highway 97 runs from Chetwynd through Prince George and on down to Cache Creek. The first half of that trip took us back across the Rocky Mountains again - offering sightings of a few bears, moose and elk. Traffic, though, started to increase, with more double-length logging and lumber trucks slowly crawling up the steeper grades. Prince George is a busy, growing logging town, lush and green in the early spring. The roads are lined with the first hint of the miles of duplicate franchise-restaurants-box-stores-strip-malls that constitute the roadside economies of every major city across the continent.

By now we have become "one with the flow" of hundreds of trucks running north and south all day long.

A few hundred miles south of Prince George is Cache Creek where we pick up Highway 1, which runs along the Frasier River Canyon for the next 150 miles or so to Hope. At the northern end the mountains lining both sides of the river are covered with cacti, with only a few scattered pine trees. South from Spence's Bridge, where we stopped for the night, the terrain gradually returns to pine forests, and by the time we reach Hope it has become dense rain-forest.

Train tracks line both sides of the river, with the north-bound trains running up the eastern side and south-bound trains returning down the western side. Long trains, often carrying up to 100 cars of double-decked containers, one every 15 to 30 minutes all day and all night. I was amazed at the size, length and frequency of trains running up and down this valley. That is a lot of stuff being shipped... must be extremely busy at the rail-yards at either end.

At Spence's Bridge, we stopped at a place called Acacia Grove RV park, which is a small oasis in the desert just beside the river (and train tracks). The campsites are scattered beneath the acacias and occasional pines. Such a peaceful setting, but sadly for the owners, not very well known. With spaces for about 40 campers, there were only 5 or 6 the night we stopped. Not surprisingly, a For Sale sign hangs at the front gate.


We stopped early for a relaxing afternoon and evening. With a site facing the river and no neighbors nearby, I decided to bring my cello outside. I setup in the grass beneath the acacias and spent an hour and a half playing without headphones. While the headphones are necessary to get a "cello sound", without headphones you can still hear the stings - somewhat faintly. It actually helps my intonation to have to concentrate a bit to hear the sounds.



Floyd likes the outdoors.



"I don't like tunnels."
The next morning we finished that incredible canyon drive to Hope, and continued west on the freeway toward Vancouver. At Abbotsford, there is a cutoff to the US border, where we crossed with little delay into Sumas, Washington. A few more hours brought us to Seattle after 5 days and 2,500 miles. We're staying here for four or five days visiting our oldest son, A, who lives in the Capitol Hill area with his girlfriend. We've spent a lot of time in Seattle over the years, so we really don't do much "touristy" things anymore, although we will take the Boeing Plant Tour. Z wants to see Pirates 3 at a "real movie theater".

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I've never seen a guinea pig on a leash before. Too cute.
 
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Friday, June 01, 2007

 

Day 4


Day 4? ( I think). I quickly lose track of time driving all day, every day…

We ended up last night at Liard Hot Springs, about 450 miles from Dawson Creek, which is officially the beginning of the AlCan highway. *officially? who decides these things anyway, and why do we buy into it?*

Notorious for a black bear attack that killed four or five people soaking at the open air pond deep in the woods several years ago, Liard Hot Springs is better known to Alaskan travelers as welcome break from the rigors of a long and grueling drive. The pond is about 100 feet long, 20 feet wide, and three feet deep; primarily fed from a small mountain stream and a thermal spring. The hot spring overflows into the pool, which cools its 53C water to tolerable levels for the dozen or so users. You can control the temperature by how close you wade towards the hot spring itself.

We did consider the risk of another bear attack at the pool, but none have been sighted in the area in years. You can’t live by hiding from life, I guess. We talked about bringing along the cat, so we could throw it at any marauding bear as a diversionary snack, but Y put a stop to that suggestion.

An hour or so of this takes all the tension out of my muscles, it was hard to restart my muscles enough to even walk the quarter mile back out to the campground. No cello that night.

Tonight (Tuesday) we are in Chetwynd, BC, about 75 miles beyond Dawson Creek. There is WiFi, but it is spotty and seems to fade out just when you need it. A long, tiring day. No energy for the cello, again.

We stopped mid-morning for fuel in Fort Nelson and discovered that one of the tires on the tow-car was shredded. All that was left was the rim. Sitting behind the wheel of a massive motorhome pulling a light Saturn way back there behind me, I didn’t feel anything at all. It had to have blown somewhere along the first 200 miles this morning. The rim appears to be salvageable, but I’m going to wait to replace it until we reach Seattle, and just hope the spare holds out.



Yesterday we saw six or seven black bears. Z took this photo from the side window. Today we saw a few more bears, lots of moose, caribou, buffalo, mountain sheep, a marmot, a fox, and most unusual - a wolf. The wolf was casually trotting along the narrow road as if it owned it, completely ignoring us stopped some distance back, mouths agape. It finally sauntered off to the side and disappeared in the brush. Notoriously secretive, in 32 years living in Alaska, I’ve only seen a few wolves, and all were deep inside Denali Park where they are protected.

This highway is long, but it is reasonably well-maintained (once we got past those dang frost heaves), with only light traffic this early in the season. It’s been a few years since we’ve driven this route, but I can tell how much the region has grown. More and more land has been cleared of the aspens, spruce and lodgepole pines, replaced by fenced-in pastures with livestock. Power lines now border much of the roadway. Sadly, hundreds of miles of lodgepole pine forests along the road are dead, attacked by some infestation.

Our first trip on the AlCan was in 1975, during the height of the pipeline construction in Alaska. The 1,500 miles of unpaved road were a mess. It was either a sea of mud or a world of dust, and flying rocks. The heavy flatbed trucks carrying their pipeline construction equipment flew along at top speeds caring little for us poor adventurers in our small cars dragging our overloaded trailers in their wake. Progress was slow and painful. That was the longest week in my life. A second trip in the mid 80s found a lot of the road had been paved, but it still retained all the tight corners and steep grades. Our next trip in 1996 found major upgrades underway. The construction zones were terrible but each time we’d remember the old days and realize it might actually be worth it. Now, the road is mostly paved, straight, wide lanes, and so on, with passing lanes(!) on some of the steeper grades.


More later...

Comments:
Beautiful post! I love hearing about bears and wolves, etc.
Have fun!
 
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First Day


Day 1 (Sunday, May 27)

Well, actually it’s “Day 1 ½”; we left half a day early. We were all packed and ready, so why sit around? That’s a trait we apparently inherited from Y’s father.

That first night on the road we spent in the high alpine meadows, at a roadside pullout about 100 miles north of Anchorage. It was foggy and drizzling all night, and we woke to light snow falling. Within a few miles it was back to drizzle again.

Well, the roads so far have been a challenge. The world’s best and brightest road engineers have not been able to solve the problem of building a road on top of permafrost. In central and northern Alaska and northern Canada the ground freezes, well, permanently. Even in the height of summer, where temperatures in Fairbanks, for example, reach the mid 90s during in July and part of August, it is not enough to thaw winter’s freeze more than a few feet down. Enough, maybe, to grow gardens and stuff, but not enough to be able to install decent foundations for buildings and roads.

So when they do try to build roads, they start by excavating the all the topsoils above the frost level and then backfill with tons of rocks, gravel and sand. Then they do their normal roadbuilding stuff on top of that before paving with asphalt. These nice smooth roads only last one or two winters before the inevitable frost heaves begin. Why do frost heaves happen? Water in the soil freezes on contact with the permafrost (and from above in the winter months). As the water freezes it expands, pushing up the soil above it with a force strong enough to push up the asphalt three to 12 inches. Anywhere there is permafrost, there will be frost heaves. Even when there is no permafrost, like where we live in southcentral Alaska, we still get minor frost heaves in the winter, which usually subside as the frozen ground thaws. I’ve driven on these interior Alaskan roads for more than 30 years and have seen all sorts of test patches and experimental designs installed. Nothing has worked.

Imagine driving along at 65 mph or so, and then coming around a bend to see a little red flag planted on the side of the road. Better hit the brakes fast, because those flags mean there’s either a dip or a heave RIGHT NOW! Dang, too late, BANG! BANG! BANG! The spring/shock absorber suspensions systems on most small to midsize cars will handle these heaves with a noticeable but tolerable bump. But the larger rigs, with their longer wheelbases and greater weights, do not do so well on these things. Often the recoil from the front wheels hitting comes just as the back wheels hit the bump, causing the whole rig to slam against its stops, jarring everyone and everything inside. Today, all our drawers were open and contents tossed by the time we arrived at our campground.

Alaska’s interior roads are bad enough, but the first 150 miles inside Canada’s border heading south are the worst I’ve ever seen. What’s sad is that they just rebuilt much of this three or four years ago. It took us nearly 5 hours to drive 150 miles. We’d inch our way through a few miles of these heaves and ruts, and then the road would clear up, enticing us to pick up speed again. Then another corner, and another field of those dreaded red flags. Ah well, the worst, they say, should be behind us now.

Just a short while ago I was sitting on one corner of the bed in the back of our motorhome, the endpin of my electric cello on the floor against the wall, with just enough elbow room to use the bow without hitting any walls. Looking out the window as I played: the sun is out, the trees are pale green as they begin to bud, and the craggy mountain peaks just a few hundred yards across the highway are almost clear of snow. We are camped at one of my favorite places along the entire 1,300 mile long Alcan highway, Cottonwood RV Park, near the southeast corner of Kluane Lake, Yukon Territories. This lake is quite large and long, sitting between two mountain ranges. This year it is still frozen and the trees around us are just budding. In another week summer will be in full bloom, though. The campground owner warned of some bears in the vicinity, and not to leave the dog leashed outside. They only opened the place two days ago and no one else is here, yet.

No room for the music stand, so I just spent an hour running through my new scales into fourth position, and then through all the memorized pieces in the first two Suzuki books. After a long day’s driving - those @$%^&#* frost heaves - I found it quite relaxing and calming.



Overnighting along the road north of Anchorage.


Switching over to metric is always a bit intimidating.



The highway near Haines Junction, Yukon Territory.

The cat doesn’t seem to mind traveling.


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