Happy Birthday, Big Red!

 big red birthday

One of the things I missed the most when I was living in China was driving. So the first thing I did when I moved back to the States a year ago was to buy a car. In fact,  one year ago today I bought this car, and promptly christened her “Big Red.”

She’s had a busy year — 2 trips to central Indiana, and one trip to Southeast Alaska and back, not to mention numerous afternoon drives around eastern Minnesota / western Wisconsin. Everyone of the 20,000 miles has been fun!

In honor of her birthday, here are some pics of her travels to/from Alaska!


At the start of the Alaska Highway, in Dawson Creek, BC.

A Yukon picnic

A Yukon picnic


Her first ride on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry - from Skagway to Juneau

Her first ride on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry – from Skagway to Juneau

Waiting to board the ferry in Juneau for the 5-day trip home.

Waiting to board the ferry in Juneau for the 5-day trip home.


Alaska Wildlife

One of the joys of spending time in Alaska is getting up close and personal with lots of wildlife. Not wanting to hit anything that might wander across the highway, we always had our eyes peeled looking for animals.

These were all spotted along the highway.







These were spotted in Tracy Arm Fjord.




My nephew-in-law is a civilian contractor for the US Coast Guard, so has access to one of the USCG fishing boats in Auke Bay (just outside Juneau). On our last night in town, we took a boat out to see if we could spot any whales. We were not disappointed. In our 2 hours on the water, we spotted 3 pods of Orcas, including one with a baby. Oh, and a group of sea lions enjoying the late evening sunshine.







The Photographer and Her Driver

I’m a bit slow, so it took me halfway through the drive home from Alaska to figure out that my primary role on the trip was to be the driver’s photographer.

My sister and I both enjoy photography, but she’s much more of a shutterbug than I am. Where I enjoy taking pictures, she is passionate about it. Her specialty is taking phenomenal pictures of flowers, but she’s got a great eye, so everything she takes is spot on!

We obviously took turns doing the driving on our 5700 mile journey, but it seemed like I ended up doing a bit more than she did. After a short time with her behind the wheel would notice that her head was swiveling about as she was scanning the horizon for mountain shots or the road beds for wild flowers and animals.

“You would like to be taking pictures, wouldn’t you?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said, grinning sheepishly at me.

So we’d pull over and trade places again, and be on our way. I would continue driving and she would spend the next few minutes (or hours) hanging out the window or contorting herself to get a good shot out of the windshield that didn’t include the  bugs that were splattered all over it.

Here are some of the shots she took along the Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Dawson Creek on Sunday while I was acting as her driver:







As you can see the Alaska Highway really is a gorgeous road.

Our trip came to an end at 6 pm on Wednesday, when we pulled into my mom’s driveway and were met by a welcoming committee of my mom (she had flown home last week), brother-in-law, and friends and neighbors. Of course my mom’s first words were “when can we go again?”

And here’s the photo of the happy photographer and her driver beside Big Red. Notice the thousands of dead Canadian bugs!



Alaska Cruising

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of people in Juneau. Those who love the cruise ships and those who hate them. Every day during the cruising season (May to September), anywhere from 2 to 5 giant cruise ships dock in downtown Juneau disgorging thousands of waddling tourists, all wearing sweatshirts and fanny packs. I say waddling because I’ve been on one of those ships and know how much food is consumed.

My niece told me of riding the bus to work on the final day of cruising season last year and when the bus driver announced “there goes the last cruise ship of the season, half the people on the bus cheered and the other half sat in stony silence. Those cheering were thrilled that they could now have their city back without the hoards, while the glum ones felt like their last link to the outside world was being severed.

As for me, I enjoyed watching the ships come and go from my niece’s place across the channel from the docks and on our various excursions.


Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord



Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord


At the dock in Juneau


A busy evening in Juneau harbor

If you have the time and resources to take an Alaska cruise, I highly recommend it. And if you’re not the cruising type, then consider a trip on the Alaska Marine Highway. The price is of course lower, but the views are the same! We took 4 ferry trips, and I’m ready to spend the rest of the summer on board one of those ferries.

Quick update: We are on our way back to Minnesota. Gracie (mom) flew back on Wednesday, so it’s just my sister and me. Hoping to be back by The Fourth!

Land of the Midnight Sun

We are not far enough north to actually see the sun at midnight, but spending the past week in northern British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and Southeast Alaska in late June means that we have not actually witnessed any nighttime since early last week. The sun does go down, but we have gone to bed before it gets dark (or semi-dark) and gotten up long after the sun has come up.

Here are a few pictures of what late night in The Yukon Territory and Alaska looks like:

Whitehorse, YT round about midnight

Whitehorse, YT round about midnight


930pm on the ferry

930pm on the ferry


1130pm in Juneau

1130pm in Juneau


Midnight in Juneau

Midnight in Juneau

We have had fantastic weather as well, since we timed our arrival to coincide with a heat wave that is “baking” Alaska.

A Ribbon of Highway

The drive from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson goes through 300 miles of forest. We have a new appreciation for the term “ribbon of highway.”


Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson

Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson

Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson

Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson

At one point along that ribbon of highway, we hit the 2000 mile mark! We ate chocolate to celebrate.


2000 Miles!

I also found out that the monument marking “Mile Zero” that stands in the center of town is not actually the start of the highway; that’s a block away, under this sign. Go figure.


And away we go!


Road Trip: St. Paul to Skagway, AK

On Friday, my mom, sister and I will set off on a long road trip: St. Paul to Skagway, Alaska (then to Juneau by ferry). According to our friends at Google, it is 2760 miles. Why, you may be asking are we doing this? Well, we all love road trips and my niece and her husband live in Juneau so we’re going to visit them.

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As I was getting ready this afternoon, I got to thinking about some of the many road trips I’ve taken over the years. Here are ten of the best:

1. Karachi – Islamabad – Karachi (Pakistan). We used to do this one very summer (in the 1969’s), following the Grand Trunk Road. In the early years, we drove a Land Rover; later on it was our trusty green and white VW Microbus (the favorite of hippies).

Exactly like ours -- now in a museum!

Exactly like ours — now in a museum!

2. Karachi, Pakistan – Kandahar and Kabul, Afghanistan – Islamabad, Pakistan – Karachi. My family did this in the summer of 1968, when Afghanistan was relatively peaceful and still ruled by a king. The highlight was going through the famous Khyber Pass.

3. One month road trip around Western Europe in the summer of 1970. We flew from Pakistan to Munich, and went straight to the VW factory to pick up the station wagon my dad had ordered. We drove it through Europe for a month, then dropped it off in Hamburg where it was put on a ship and sent to Los Angeles. A month later, we picked it up there. We then drove it all over the US for a year, before returning to Pakistan. (Us, not the car)

4. Numerous road trips between Minnesota and California over the years. It seems that during the times we were in the US, we were either living in California and driving to Minnesota to visit relatives, or the other way around.

5. My last year of college I was in a musical ensemble that toured the US. We gave 60+ concerts in 32 states in 6 weeks — from Minnesota to Colorado to Maine to Florida, then back to Minnesota.

6. In 1990, I took my then ten-year old niece on a road trip to Washington, DC. Suffice to say, I did all the driving.

7. In 2003, I took my mom on a road trip around Lake Superior. Duluth to Duluth. I highly recommend it. In fact, I’d love to drive around all of the Great Lakes.

8. St. Paul to Santa Barbara by back roads. I did this with my mom and sister in 2007. Since we had done the drive so many times, we just wanted to do something different. It’s a gorgeous drive across Nebraska if  you get off  I-80 and take Scenic Highway 2 across the northern part of the state, through the Sand Hills.

The last two are road trips I took in China.

9. Beijing – Pingyao (Shanxi) – Pingyao. An American friend had a red jeep, and off we went.

10. Beijing – Xanadu – Beijing. “Xanadu” is the western name for the ancient summer capital of Kublai Khan. The remains of the city are 8 hours north of Beijing, in the grasslands. We hired a car and driver to take us (again, a red jeep).

What fun or epic road trips have you taken? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Map source: Google

Image source: Wikimedia

Please Collapse on a Table

cartoonIn preparation for our drive to Alaska later this month, my sister and I took a CPR/First Aid course yesterday. Since our 86 year old mom is going along for the ride as well and my sister and I don’t have any medical knowledge beyond how to affix a band-aid, we thought it would be a good idea to know some basic stuff, especially since we’ll be driving through some pretty remote areas.

When we walked into the classroom and I saw 8 ‘dummies’ laid out on the floor, I thought, “Oh No!”  Thanks to three screws holding my right kneecap in place and shredded cartilage in my left knee, kneeling on the floor is a common physical activity that I pretty much CANNOT do.

After the instructor walked through the basics of CPR with the class participants it was time for us to practice on the dummies. Fortunately she asked if any of us had knee or back problems; I sheepishly raised my hand. “No problem,” she said, “we’ll put the dummy on the table for you.”

So while everyone else was down on their hands and knees pounding away on the dummies, I was working on the one on the table.

“Great,” I thought, “soon I will be CPR certified, but it will only apply to folks who have the foresight to collapse on a table.” Meanwhile, my sister looks up at me, rolls her eyes, and mutters “I’m doomed!”

So, if you are with me, and think you may have a medical emergency requiring CPR, please be kind enough to take note of where the tables are and collapse on them instead of the floor.


Note: if you’re looking for CPR/First Aid instruction for yourself or company/organization, I would whole-heartedly (no pun intended) recommend Chance for Life CPR Training, based in Eagan, MN.

And stay tuned to this blog for tales of our Alaska adventure, beginning next Friday! This weekend we’ll get a refresher course on how to change a flat tire.


(Postscript: I was able to get down and kneel on my left knee for one round of dummy-pounding.)

Image source: cpred.com