Retirement 2.0

Almost four years ago I wrote the last entry on this blog chronicling our adventure to Alaska.  Have the adventures stopped?  Not at all!  Thinking back, there was not a big reason to stop writing after our incredible trip, except that real life needed some attention first. Returning home after three months away meant getting out of our RV home and all of its temporary holdings, resettling into our home that had been used by another family, reconnecting with family and friends, and resuming the “regular” life we have here at home. It meant catching up with our loved ones and learning of their struggles and hurts.  It meant hearing more details about the arrival of triplet grandbabies for my sister.  It was so many little things – things that just needed our full attention.

When people ask me how retirement is, I have difficulty summing it up.  For us, retirement is an ever-changing way of life that includes some amazing travels and opportunities, but also the at-home, day-t0-day life that includes birthdays, church services and Bible studies, home repairs, illness and death, relocated adult daughters, walks at the dog park and occasionally, doing nothing. All of our adventures in retirement have not been excellent in the typical sense.  But isn’t that the way life is?  Good, bad and sometimes ugly!

Most recently an adventure that began 18 months ago came to an end.  It wasn’t one we planned for with anticipation or that had previously been placed on our bucket list.  It came like a storm in the night, stirring up everything that was firmly, safely planted, tossing it into the air, leaving us to wait for it all to land.  When it did, the words “brain cancer” moved into our daily thoughts and vocabulary.  Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy became a part of everyday conversations.  Everything that was previously on the agenda was pushed aside and each day’s focus was about the treatment that we prayed would bring healing.

Who was the patient?  My  older brother, Ray.  Ray, the quiet but solid man who graciously led my two sisters,  younger brother and me through our parents’ deaths.  Ray, who was wise and hardworking. Ray, who was opinionated but kindhearted.  Ray, who had recently remarried after the death of his first wife, and was enjoying a new chapter in his life.  Ray, who loved spending time with his daughter and young grandson.  Ray, my big brother.

I have to admit, Anaplastic Astrocytoma, Stage 3 brain cancer, sent me to my knees in a way almost nothing had before. As a young girl, I gave my heart to the Savior, and, for  reasons I can’t explain, my life has had few challenges or disruptions that compare to those that many others have.  This crisis challenged me to explore who God is, how great and powerful He is, and how much more love He has for me (and Ray) than I realized. Prayer partners around the country joined us in prayer that either the treatment or a miracle would heal Ray.  But it didn’t turn out that way.  Ray’s healing came when he passed into eternity, not here on earth.  My head knows that God’s plan for Ray was perfect but my heart hurts.  Each of our family members and friends mourns Ray’s passing and is forced to wrestle with the fact that it didn’t go the way we wanted it to.  Scripture tells me that I will understand when I reach eternity and if it doesn’t happen instantaneously,  Jesus will be available for my questions.  In the meantime, we are sad and we sometimes cry because we miss Ray. But God is still on the throne, still in control and still the Savior of my heart. God will accompany me on this crisis of faith and bring me to a place of peace and trust.  That’s how this faith journey goes.

So, as you can see, our recent adventure was completely different from the exciting, excellent ways we have been spending our retirement, but I can assure you of this. These last months brought our close family even closer. We rallied together to offer support and assistance, however it was needed.  We made sure Ray knew how important he was and how much we loved him.   We celebrated holidays and birthdays with a new appreciation for each other. We hugged and said “I love you” more than we had in a long time. And in my thinking, that is quite excellent.

 

12-25-09 (80 Ray & Caleb)

 

 

 

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The Journey Ends

From Seattle we headed south, confident that we could easily find an RV park along the Oregon coast.  Not so!  Our first night was in Garibaldi, and then we continued down the coast ending up near Beaver.  What a lovely spot we had!

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In the meantime, we had been able to get reservations at Jessie Honeyman State Park in Florence, OR.  We arrived on August 12 for our last real camping of the trip.  Honeyman is a nicely wooded area near the sand dunes, so it is beautiful and popular. Here’s our site.

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We explored the area the next day and found cool, sandy beaches and warm sunny lakes, including sand boarders.

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That evening we had our last campfire and talked about our amazing trip.  It was exciting to think about going home, but sad to realize our Alaskan Adventure was over.

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The next morning we left Florence in 53 degree weather and made our way to Ukiah, CA, where we saw 103 degrees as we passed through Willits.  Now that’s a difference in temperature!  On Wednesday, August 15, we drove the final miles home, arriving in the midst of a heat wave.  It made us realize how we had acclimated to Alaskan/Canadian weather and that it might take a little while to readjust to the desert.  But it was still great to be home.  As you know, there’s no place like it!

Wrapping It Up

Here are a few stats and thoughts about our trip:

* Our Alaskan Adventure lasted 93 days.

* We towed our 5th wheel a total of 8,800 miles, and drove the truck 10,500 miles.

*The lowest price for diesel fuel was $4.00 in Florence, OR and the highest was $5.70 in Fort Nelson, BC.  In Canada, fuel is sold in liters.  Multiply liter by 3.78 to convert to gallons.

* Except for 98 miles between Haines Junction  and Whitehorse, we traveled the rest of the    1422 miles of the Alaska Highway.

* The mosquitoes were not a big an issue as we anticipated, although we were glad to have our deet products.  (There was one night around the campfire when I was bitten on the eyelid; by morning it was almost  swollen shut.)  I was saving this picture for the post with the worst mosquito story.  It’s too good to not share.

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* In Canada, distance is measured in kilometers – multiply times .6 to convert to miles.

* Canada uses the Celsius measurement  for temperatures.  For a rough conversion,  double the Celsius temp and add 30 to get Fahrenheit.

* The weather in Alaska (and some of Canada) is ever-changing and unpredictable.  Be ready for anything!  Definitely bring rain gear.

* Visitor’s Centers in Canada are excellent!  The US does a pretty good job too.  They are definitely worth the stop.

* The Alaska Value Coupon Book was well worth the $100 investment as it saved us almost $500 on two-for-one tours and activities.  They are sold at Safeway.

* Don’t even think about making this trip without the current Milepost Book.  It is invaluable.

* The farthest northern latitude we visited was 70.  Our farthest western longitude was 151.

* XM Satellite Radio stops working north of 60 latitude and west of 143 longitude.

* Alaska (and the Yukon) truly are the land(s) of the Midnight Sun.  The black felt we used to cover our windows made it possible to sleep in broad nightlight.

* Be sure you keep your camera ready.  At a moment’s notice, there will be something worth photographing.  Expect to take LOTS of photos!

* Be prepared for the most incredible scenery you have ever seen.  There are truly not enough adjectives to describe it.

An unknown author once said, “Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms.”  His words describe our feelings about the beauty we saw on this journey. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Alaska and to relish its raw beauty.  Thanks for sharing this amazing adventure with us.

Crossing Over

On Thursday, August 9, we packed up our RVs and headed down the scenic highway to Vancouver.  The highway took us over the bridge and through Stanley Park, then into downtown and finally closer and closer to the Canada/US border.  The line was fairly long, but the day was beautiful as we inched our way to the crossing.

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We were passed through without a hitch, but Rick and Mary were invited into the “secondary search” area so officials could confiscate their evil sweet potatoes and lemons!  Once they were cleared, we joined up with them on the other side to get our final photo together.  Although Rick and Bill worked together in the fire department, Mary and I were new to the mix.  Over our almost 3 months of traveling together, we shared some very special experiences and became close friends.  I must confess, there were a few tears as we said our goodbyes.

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From there, Rick and Mary headed to Bellingham and we went to the Seattle area.  The camping spot that night was at Lake Pleasant in Bothell, WA.  Our plan for the evening was to meet up with our former Lancaster neighbors, Yvonne and Albert, who are currently living in downtown Seattle.  Their new home in a high rise condominium is a huge change from our quiet street in Lancaster.  The view from their living room and the roof top was beautiful!  It didn’t hurt that it was a clear, sunny day.

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We walked through the Pike Place Market, along the waterfront and enjoyed dinner at Ivar’s Restaurant, known for the delicious clam chowder.  After a lovely dinner and some catching up, we walked back down the street to the new, 175-foot high ferris wheel that open at the end of June.  The city lights were beautiful as we enjoyed the ride.

It was nice to see our friends and enjoy a lovely evening in Seattle.

Whistler, Part II

The next day, August 9, we drove out to see some of the other  areas where Olympic events took place.  The first stop was at the ski jump, which is now used for training and local competitions.

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Not too far up the road is the cross country ski area/shooting range for the Biathalon Event.

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Rick gave the shooting a try, and hit 5 for 5.  Naturally, he received the gold metal.

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One more giant inukshuk

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From there we drove to a very deep gorge where Whistler Bungee Jumping is offered.  There was quite a line of people volunteering to go.

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Back in the village, we decided to try the zipline activity offered across the Fitzsimmons Gorge and River.  We all were suited up with harnesses and helmets, did a practice run close to the ground, and then they drove us up to the real jumping off point!

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After the practice run, we had four more zips across the gorge.  The longest one was 1100 feet. Here I am on one of the rides.

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Here are Rick and Mary.  You can see how beautiful the scenery was.

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The last ride was freestyle – here’s Bill flipping upside down.

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On the bus ride up and down from the platforms, we drove by the bobsled run, which is also used in the winter.  It has one of the sharpest turns in any of the existing tracks.

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After ziplining, we finished the evening with dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the village.  We were starving from our very busy day (and no lunch), which made the food taste even better.  Sadly, it was our “last supper” with Rick and Mary, as we were parting ways the next day.  All in all, we had a great time in Whistler.

Whistler, Part I

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Whistler is about an hour away from Vancouver, up in the mountains.  We arrived at our campground just as a thunderstorm let loose – always fun to set up the RV in the rain!  The next day was clear and sunny, which made us happy, and we headed into the village to explore.  Since we were there in 2005, the Olympics were held there and in Vancouver in 2010, so there were new venues and housing we hadn’t seen before.  The chair lift used for skiing in the winter has been taken over by mountain bike riders who make their way up the mountain on the lift so they can race back down.  It’s actually a little dangerous at the bottom!.  We went by the Olympic Park where large screen projected ongoing Olympic events in London. then strolled around the shops.

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Then we climbed into a gondola and rode up the mountain.  It was a nice ride and the view was spectacular.

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Once off the gondola, we hopped on the chairlift, which took us to the very top of the ski area.  There were remnants of the Olympics there too.  This inukshuk was the symbol of the Vancouver Olympics. Historically, the stacked rocks in human form provide a guidepost to make your way across the North.  Today it symbolizes hope, friendship and hospitality.

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We hiked some of the trails in the area and enjoyed the beauty around us.

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Back at the gondola level, we ate lunch, then took another ride across to the adjacent mountain – that ride was called Peak 2 Peak.   More beautiful sights.  On the way back, we rode in the one Gondola that has glass in the floor so you can see what’s right below.

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Then we rode back down the mountain.

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Then back to the RV park for dinner.  We were in this site that was quite nice.  More rain fell that evening, but we visited with Rick and Mary under the awning. 

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Whistler, Here We Come!

After our amazing day at Fort St. James, we headed toward Prince George for a quick stop at Costco, then took the 97 South.  This highway took us passed more lovely scenery and we enjoyed the still warm temperatures.  Our stop that night (August 7) was at a Provincial Park called Lac La Hache.  It didn’t have hookups, but the scenery more than made up for it!  Here was our site.

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Rick and Mary were right up the road.

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The next day we continued our trek to Whistler, taking highway 99.  The landscape changed a lot throughout the day.  Here are some of the sights.

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This is Rick and Mary making their way up the grade.

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More beautiful mountains, lakes and streams…

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We heard about the 11% and 13% grades on this highway, but this one was a surprise!

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There were lots of runaway truck ramps in case brakes failed.   We had to pull over for a while to let our transmission cool down.  Bill did the math and figured out we dropped 2400 feet in elevation in 3 miles.       Now that was an adventure!

Fort St James, BC

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From Burns Lake we drove on to Vanderhoof so we could visit Fort St. James Historical Site.  This Hudson Bay Company  fur trading post off of Stuart Lake was an important location for trade with local natives in the 1800’s and continued to be a key location for storing supplies for other area trading posts well into the 1900’s.  This site has the most original buildings of any historical site in BC.  We enjoyed learning from the very informed staff who were in period costumes.

We started with chicken races.  Our choice was Sonic Susie in lane four, but she was beat out by Rapid Rick.

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In the house, a young woman was using this woodburning stove to make fresh cookies, in spite of temps over 80 degrees inside and out.

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This is the “Men’s House” that was housing for workers and travelers, as well as a schoolhouse.

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Bill is in an original recliner from back in the day.

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This meat cache stored drying salmon and pork products.  They told us that dried salmon was so tough it would wear down their teeth.  It was a necessary evil to survive the cold winter when there was little to eat.

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The warehouse was key to the ongoing need for provisions for the many travelers who stopped at Fort St. James.

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A fur trapper was doing a demonstration of the process of skinning a beaver and preserving the fur.  Now that was interesting!

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We had the opportunity to try out this atlatis, the tool  that held a long arrow used to hunt.

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Here are some scenes from around the site.

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All in all, we had a nice day at the fort.  We learned a lot, and soaked up some warm sun.