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The International Writers Magazine: Road Trip: Part Two - From Our Archives

North to Alaska
Sam Black

I was the only person who brought an alarm clock. It rang in my ear so I reached over and shut it off and ten seconds later I turned the heater switch on which was right beside my bed. Middle Michigan in mid May is still chilly at 0500. The furnace doesn’t make much noise so before I threw my covers back I said in a raspy voice, “Rise and shine.”

I gathered my clothes from yesterday and managed to get into them while the other two gentlemen were still sawing logs. Jim had his sleeping bag up over his head to block out the snoring from the upper deck. I repeated my “rise and shine” and finally after several minutes some slow movement from my traveling companions took place.
After having a banana, and cereal and chasing it down with coffee for the two sleepy heads and orange juice for the driver we pulled out of Big Rapids at 0600.  

            I was driving and we were on Highway 131 heading toward Cadillac, Michigan and then onto Petoskey, Michigan. Petoskey sits on Lake Michigan and if you haven’t been there I suggest you visit it someday. The city’s population is approximately 6100. The sunsets off the lake are magnificent and the people that live there are great. No we didn’t stop. I have been there several times before and the other two suggested we move on. We headed on up highway 31 till we intersected with interstate 75 taking us across the Mackinac Bridge. A spectacular suspension bridge that runs five miles with a cost over 98 million dollars in 1957 or 732 million if built today. Inflation as we have seen it. It is a toll bridge costing $3.00 per car. It takes seven years to paint the bridge and when they are finished they have to start over. It spans between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and connects the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula of Michigan. A must see.

            After crossing the bridge we took Highway 2 west till we came to Highway 77. We headed north and were suppose to turn left on Highway 28, but the former pilot and our navigator missed the turn. After driving several miles out of our way the former pilot decided we should turn around.

            We located our road and headed for Marquette, Michigan where we were going to spend the night. That was on the itinerary.  We drove into Marquette and nothing looked very good to any of us and the time was mid afternoon so I kept my foot on the gas. We had extremely high cross winds driving across the Upper Peninsula causing slower speeds and me fighting the wheel the entire way. If we had the twenty seven foot RV we probably wouldn’t be driving. My top speed reached forty-five miles per hour.

            We left Marquette, Michigan jumping on Highway 41toward Ironwood, Michigan. The scenery from the Mackinac Bridge to Ironwood was mostly the same. Tall pines with the tops bending from the strong winds and we saw several deer a few varieties of birds and miles and miles of asphalt. 

            We spotted a campground sign along Lake Superior in Ashland, Wisconsin. My shoulders were tired from fighting the wheel and my two companions were tired of riding. The clouds were black as coal and they were moving quickly in from the Southwest. We paid our fee to the park attendant to park our RV and backed it into a designated spot so we could see the lake out the front windshield.

            We hooked up our water, electric and sewer and poured ourselves three glasses of chardonnay and the storm hit. The hail came first and it was half the size of golf balls. Jim said, “There goes our security deposit.” The wind came next and we thought our RV was going to end up in Lake Superior. We poured ourselves another glass of wine and before we took two sips the rains and the thunder and lightning came. We couldn’t see past the hood of the RV. The wind gust rocked the RV enough that we had to hang onto our glasses of wine to keep them from spilling.  It all ended about forty minutes later and the RV stood in six inches of water. The temperature dropped twenty degrees since we arrived and hour later the sun was shining. The first time we saw the sun today. The RV didn’t show any signs of hail damage, but we didn’t look on top of the roof.

            We traveled four-hundred-eighty-six miles today in thunderstorms, lightening, heavy rain, and more wind than I want to write any more about. The Upper Peninsula is very scenic and has many varieties of animals, but today with the cool wind and dark clouds the trip became somewhat of a bore. I cooked dinner if you call having bratwurst, baked beans, and Campbell’s vegetable soup cooking. It tasted good and we chased it down with another glass of Yellow Tail, an Australian chardonnay wine.

            I learned one thing so far on this trip. Between Jim and Mike and me we will never run out of stories in the next three weeks. With three guys cooped up in a RV for several hours the BS sometimes gets a little deep. Laughing is good and we all laughed no matter who told the story. Wine increases the laughter. Try it sometime if you haven’t. Just remember to park the RV before you partake with the wine.

            A little tidbit, I graduated from high school in Chetek, Wisconsin approximately hundred miles south of Superior, Wisconsin on Highway 53 or one hundred-sixteen miles from Ashland. Great fishing for those interested.             
The sun shined brightly as we pulled away from the RV Park by Lake Superior. The time was 0600. Mike was driving and I was riding shotgun. I asked my two traveling buddies if they ever ate smelt. The answer of course was NO. “What the heck is smelt?” I explained to them that it was small fish not much bigger than a minnow and you net them around the first of May in Lake Superior. It is the only time you will find them. You deep fry them in oil until crispy after you clean them. If fixed right they are really tasty with French Fries and a cold beer.

            After convincing them that they should try eating smelt we stopped in Superior, Wisconsin at a small grocery and I ran in a grabbed the last two pound package they had available. They were cleaned and frozen so I put the smelt in our freezer. (Smelt fry later.)

            We are now heading north on Highway 53 toward International Falls, Minnesota. We will go through Virginia, Minnesota on the way. A very nice city on the edge of the countries largest taconite mines.  International Falls sits right on the Canadian border and is known as one of the countries coldest spots in the winter. We bought fuel here and took Highway 11 west toward North Dakota. Our fuel mileage is averaging ten miles per gallon.

            Jim is driving along Highway 11 a very narrow road with no shoulder and deep ditches to push the abundance of snow off the roads. I’m still riding shotgun when out of the corner of my eye sprang this black or dark brown creature and slammed right into the side of our RV. THUD! It was bigger than a small dog. Jim never slowed down because he never heard the thud. A little death you might say.  I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw nothing but a blur of dead grass that covered the ditch.

We stopped in Baudette, Minnesota and had lunch with Bill Mosher and his wife. Sergeant Mosher was one of our favorite sergeants while stationed in Germany back in the early sixties and a great pinochle player I might add. I used to baby sit their children back then. We located Bill four years ago for our Air Force Reunion, but he never showed.  We hadn’t seen Sarg since 1964. He hadn’t changed a bit except a little extra weight and his wife looked great as well. The cold weather may have something to do with it. They lived in Baudette for the last thirty years. Baudette sits a few miles from Lake of the Woods on the Canadian border.

We asked Bill an experienced hunter and fisherman to look at the hair and blood that was still stuck on the right rear of the RV. He picked away at it and he was convinced the animal was a wolverine that made contact with us some forty miles outside of Baudette.

We continued west on Highway 11 till we came to North Dakota and then headed south on Interstate 29 toward Grand Forks, North Dakota. We crossed the Red River to East Grand Forks, Minnesota and fueled and then crossed back again to Grand Forks, North Dakota where the University of North Dakota is located. Mike graduated from here many many years ago. I drove the RV around and up and down several streets while Mike pointed out where he slept, ate, drank and sometimes went to class. We stayed at Turtle River State Park west of the city and just north of Highway 2. The park was extremely clean, lots of trees and a full line of amenities.

We traveled 475 miles today with very little sun, too much wind and temperatures in the low fifties. I chopped up peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms to prepare my spaghetti sauce while my two buddies, both wearing jackets are sitting at wooden picnic table under a shade tree sipping on Yellow Tail and shooting the bull.  My sauce needs to simmer for several hours before the flavor is just right. We will have spaghetti tomorrow night.

© sam black Jan 2009

Planning the Trip
Sam Black in Alaska
I believe in having goals. I’ve been that way since my early twenties I guess.

North To Alaska - Part 3
Sam Black
We headed out at 0600 on Highway 2 westbound. Our goal is to drive as far as we can. The state of North Dakota is rather boring until you get to Devils Lake

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