Hamilton, Montana

One of my oldest cousins, (and my Godfather!) Dave Exner moved here to Hamilton, just south of Missoula more then 20 years ago, and we figured we haven’t seen each other since! We found one of our favorite campsites to date at the Bitterroot National Forest that was close by their house and set up camp near a raging creek. It wasn’t big, but it was mighty! This area is called the Yosemite of Montana partly because of the huge rock wall that we were situated up next to and for the beauty of the valley we were in.

We had Dave and his wife Jana over for a couple hours in the evening to catch up and it was the perfect night. They even brought their St. Bernard named Roscoe – man he makes Gunner look small! Dave showed the boys how to use a real metal detector(not like the toy one we bought Woody years ago) and they were able to find a couple of old nails and bottle caps. No diamond rings this time around! Both Dave and Jana’s kids have graduated and moved out, with one in Chicago and the other in Bozeman. It was fun to see Dave and Jana again and hear their voices and their stories and tell a couple of our own. (MT)

North Cascades National Park

We have made the decision to travel back to the MN lakes for the summer. Originally, we thought we’d go up through Vancouver, to Whistler and then to Banff, but when we started looking at timing and a couple of National Parks we still had to visit out west, we decided to come back through the US. Our first stop leaving Kristi and Bruce’s in Poulsbo was to get on a ferry – trailer and all! Doing this meant we would have to pay a little bit of money but we passed up on all the traffic in Seattle and Tacoma which was fine and dandy with us!

The North Cascades National Park is on the northern border of Washington. It is a huge mountain range with lots of lakes and dams that supply energy to much of Seattle. The colors were so pretty of the water and trees. We walked across a bridge with Gunner that had metal grates that you could see through, and it was very funny watching Gunner carefully cross. Not sure if it was the feeling of the metal or the fact that he could see directly down that he didn’t like!

I know we’ve said this before, but National Parks are not very dog friendly. What was unique about North Cascades, is that in the main Cascade Highway that intersects the park, the area around it is actually a National Recreation Area, not the National Park. So, a lot of the trails along the road are dog friendly! We took a big 3-mile hike up to a viewing area of Diablo Lake, and it was nice to see other pups using the trail responsibly as well!

This park must have amazing camping as well, because we’ve never seen so many campers leaving the park as they were today (it was Monday of Memorial Day)! We were amazed that they just kept coming and coming!

We kept driving east out of the park, enroute to Spokane/Coeur d’Alene. We passed many small towns, and even stopped at a cidery for supper (thanks Jesse!). At one point, we started going though Washington Apple Land! There were not only a ton of orchards, but a literal ton of apple boxes/bins. It was very pretty land, we followed rolling hills and the Columbia river for a while. It would be fun to go back in the fall and pick some ourselves!

Our eventual stop was earlier then we’d like it after we discovered a busted fuse that led to the trailer’s running lights not working. But we found a rest stop that worked perfect for us and was right in line with our challenge to not pay for any overnight stays on the way home. BLM land, rest stops, and friends and family’s houses are our goal! Onward Tischers! (MT)

Another Family Win in the PNW!

Those of you who have been following our adventures know already some of the main themes of our last 5 months educating the boys on the road. National Parks (and NPS properties), presidential libraries, air museums and lots of visits with family! Our path has led us to spend some great times with family members we haven’t seen in a long time, to spend quality and extended times with those who live a long way from us.

As Maureen mentioned in a previous post, we made a decision while in Utah. We had to decide, head NW or turn the rig east and head to MN. We chose NW! Oregon and Washington were states we wanted the boys to experience and they were rich with family!

After throughly enjoying Oregon, we made our final Oregon stop in rural Astoria to see my Grandpa Tischer’s younger brother Mark Tischer. We were able to spend a couple of hour chatting with him and my boys were able to meet one of the last from that generation!

From Mark’s, we made our way to Cathlamet/Skamokawa and stayed at an absolutely great RV Park/Port #2 Park right on the Columbia River. The reason for our stop here was to see my dad’s cousin Lee Tischer. Lee and Diane live on Puget Island and are very active in the community. Lee is a Port Commissioner and got us into a great spot where we could see huge ocean going ships only 100 yards from our camper. It was also neat to have people recognize the Tischer last name! While getting to know Lee and Diane, we had a great dinner and learned more about their family. Lee (also known as Woody Tischer) also took us on a tour of the area, including a ferry ride in our truck to go get breakfast on the other side of the Columbia! Once again, our visit reaffirmed the value of knowing family and checking in every once in awhile!

Our path to the Seattle area was a quick one. My mom, Marilee, had decided to make a trip out to the area to meet up with us again (and of course see her brother, sister and families)! During our adventure, I am pretty certain we have seen my folks with more regularity than when we lived in Harrisburg (it’s a good thing). The Seattle area is where my mom’s brother Rollie and sister Kristi live with their families. Base for us was going to be Kristi and Bruce’s in Poulsbo.

Just as we started backing the camper into Kristi’s driveway, my uncle Rollie, aunt Ginger and mom pull into the culdesac. Nothing like backing in and getting set up with an audience! We didn’t realize it at the time, but that spot would be our trailer’s home for the next three weeks! Our time with the Seattle area crew was filled with tons of fun and tons of just plain old “hanging out”!

Some of the highlights of our time in the PNW include (in no order):

  • Time with Kristi and Bruce, Gabe and Josh, and Rollie and Ginger
  • Time with Bruce and Liz (Ginger’s sister)-the boys loved Bruce’s bush pilot stories
  • Maureen being able to see her great aunt Percy and multiple cousins (total of 6)
  • Finally being able to go and get Bruce and Kristi’s boat, get it water ready and enjoy several rides with dolphins seen
  • A great day downtown in Seattle
  • The boys going to the Museum of Flight with Uncle Rollie and learning little about his aviation based career
  • Whidbey Island and the PBY museum (Papa Mick’s uncle trained to fly the PBY here and flew them in the Aleutian Islands during WW2)
  • Watching Gunner and Roscoe play and bark at anything that moved
  • Being able to leave the camper at Bruce and Kristi’s so that we could take our “Alaskan Adventure”
  • The Underwater Warfare Museum with Gabe and the boys
  • A traditional Norwegian lunch at the Poulsbo Sons of Norway with Kristi
  • The Olympic National Park with my mom and Kristi
  • Some great conversations had with all

We finally had to hook on and say goodbye to everyone. While it would have been great to stay even longer, we have a few more places to stop on our way to the lake cabin for the summer! We plan to go across the northern part of the US. Hopefully another family member or two and a stop in Rapid City to see my old boss (nearly family)!

I’ve said it several times-the circumstances of us being able to take this time together weren’t a highlight of my career. Having your job eliminated just plain old sucks. Having the adventure of a lifetime has been absolutely worth it though!!

Ahoy Maties

What does 2077 nautical miles plus 200 square feet equal? Pure fun and additional adventure on our “lifestyle”, that’s what!

On a whim, Maureen and I decided to take a small trip away from our land yacht and cruise to Alaska. Alaska has been on our bucket list (a cruise was never part of that bucket list). Now mind you, we have ticking items/places off our bucket list that we had intended for the end of our career! The stars all aligned for this trip. We were able to leave our truck and camper at my aunt and uncle’s house and they even watched Gunner! The ferry from their island was close to the cruise ship terminal. ANNDDD, Maureen was a bargain shopper and was able to get us a good deal. Again, remember that rooms with space are foreign to us after living in our camper, so a cruise ship small stateroom was fine for us!

Once we made it on the ship, we were all amazed at the sheer size and plethora of amenities available! While still in port in Seattle, Woody got his shorts on and hit the FlowRider (surf machine). We had fun watching the process of getting us underway as well as watching all the activity as we made our way out to sea.

During our cruise, we hit up some great locations. Maureen shared detail about our visits to Juneau, Skagway, Victoria and the fjords. My favorites include the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad ride and taking the cruise ship right up close to Dawe’s Glacier. The glacier was great to see from the private vantage point with 5,000 of my closest friends! Once we started heading back out to see, we were treated to more great sights-Orcas and humpback whales!

Our adventure has chronicled how we have been able to spend time with family and friends and renew relationships that have suffered from the neglect of distance and time. One of the most unusual relationships renewed is one that was nearly 25 years old. The morning before our last day, we were eating breakfast in the dining room when a lady came up to our table. I didn’t really think much of it or pay too much attention. She started talking about how she recognized the NDSU Bison year our boys were wearing because she was from Fargo. I recognized the voice and looked up. The voice and the face immediately clicked and I said “Char Skaff”!!! Char was my EMT instructor when I was a junior in Breck. I’d drive to Fargo twice a week to get my certification. We were able to catch up some and chat about the cruise. How amazing is it that I was able to reconnect with someone so distant in my past!

Our adventure have been great. We seen some great places and had some great times. The best of times have been enjoying friends and family!

Alaska Cruise

Super fun week on our last minute Alaskan cruise! A couple of takeaways: Alaska is huge and beautiful and total wilderness. But that’s what makes it so amazing! Thinking about those following the gold rush in the cold desolate areas for 100’s of miles is crazy. Thinking about those who made the railroads up there is crazy. Seeing glaciers and then watching a huge iceberg chunk fall off is truly amazing. Watching whales swimming by your ship was unreal. And visiting Victoria, BC on a sunny spring day with float planes coming in and out of the bay, water taxis driving from stop to stop and seeing Andy in a glorious mood in V’s Chinatown was top.

Jesse and I have always been a bit leery to go on a cruise. A couple days (1 1/2) of big waves made me extremely nervous that I’d be sick the whole time, but being prepared helped(I have a great nausea/shocker bracelet!) and calm seas helped too. Customer service on the ship was top notch. Seems like these employees work for 7 month cycles with no days off, only a couple hours off at ports. The boys were in awe that our waiters and stateroom attendant knew our names and figured out what we needed before we knew we needed it.

5 months and counting on this roadtrip, and there were lots of firsts this week. First time I wore makeup in like forever and I wore it 7 nights in a row! The boys dressed up every night (read:no t-shirts or shorts or athletic shorts! They looked so different with collared shirts and khakis on!) and we all enjoyed the 4-course suppers every night without any technology. Lots of good conversation and discovery of new and über fancy foods! Andy’s only gripe was that we finish our suppers with enough time for him to race upstairs to the buffet for a 2nd supper. This teenager totally got his money worth! Among other things, we played trivia a ton this week and even won once, and Woody won a wii bowling tournament. The boys used the “flowrider” and all the pools and hot tubs this week, a couple times watching a whole movie in the hot tub! Jesse and I hopped in a couple times too, the heated water felt quite nice! We can all say we ice skated on the Pacific too!

There are so many ways to spend $ on a cruise ship. They really pushed(like hard push) for you to buy jewelry both on and off the ship, there were like 3 art auctions, paying more for different dining experiences-we had amazing food in the main dining room so why would we?! And buying excursions through them was so overpriced versus right off the dock. We’re very happy we didn’t get any drink packages. We’d be hanging our head by the toilet for the week if we did, I already felt loopy with the wave action!

Our room was small but the bathroom was actually bigger then our campers so jackpot!🎰 The boys’ bunks were bigger and more spacious then theirs in the camper too so that made them happy. We had an interior room which I always wondered why people would get, but now I know they get it bc it’s cheaper-haha, but no worries you really are not in it very long. Plus a pitch dark room helps everyone get a good night’s sleep.

Speaking of jackpot, there was a casino with tons of gambling going on, plus lots of smoking so with our bad luck and aversion to smoke we tried to steer clear of there. But we did overhear someone say he earns about 2 free cruises a year just by gambling thousands and thousands of dollars on slots(!) on cruise ships and that scares the crap out of us.

All in all it was a very exciting week with practically no down time. I didn’t open a book once but didn’t feel overworked either. A perfect break from our on the road lifestyle! (MT)

Whidbey Island

Our family took a quick day trip to dreamlike Whidbey Island which was just north of where we were staying. We took a ferry there (truck and all) and loved checking out the island and the Ebby Landing National Historic Preserve that was there. It truly was a cool spot for both Native Americans and early settlers as the views are fantastic and the weather was very mild. They could farm crops, fish for fish and hunt right here on this island.

We stopped at a PBY airplane museum in Oak Harbor, near the Whidbey Naval Air Station. The boys, as always, enjoy a good air museum. This one was not very big but was very interesting. They even had a PBY for us to look at. My dad had an uncle that learned how to fly a PBY here, and flew in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as well.

We also drove to Deception Pass, which were 2 bridges that linked 3 islands together. The CCC had made these amazing structures that were super tall. We walked end to end and saw a couple boats go under us and some seals playing in the water. We never get sick of seeing seals!

We took the ferry back to Port Townsend where we could drive back to our home base, but before we left we were instructed to check out Fort Worden in Port Townsend. It was not being used by the military but looked as if it was being used as apartments, art museums, classrooms, theaters, campgrounds and even a brewery. It was pretty cool to see it’s 2nd life! We also checked out it’s lighthouse which always reminds us of my mom. Another plus of checking out the town, was that they were having their annual Rhodie Festival that weekend, so the rhododendrons were all in full bloom all around town! (MT)

Snoqualmie Falls

Mother’s Day this year was spent with Jesse’s Aunt and Uncle Rollie and Ginger Grant at their house in Kent, WA, just outside Seattle. Rollie took the boys to the Boeing Air Museum, and Ginger and I went shopping to treat ourselves. The best part about visiting this time of year is all the color in the trees and bushes and flowers. Tulips have passed by now, but huge Rhododendron bushes are full of huge flowers! Ginger liked to call them “rhodies” and we all picked up saying that too! Ginger had a ton of rhodies in her yard, as did Kristi back in Poulsbo. We even went through a small town with a Rhodie Festival. Perfect timing for that one!

The day after Mother’s Day, Rollie and Ginger took us to Snoqualmie Falls which was near their house. It was a huge waterfall in a beautiful area. Parts of that area were filmed in the TV show Twin Peaks too so that was interesting. It was a hot day too, you know we never got rainy weather the whole time we were in the Seattle area?! I remember visiting the falls on our last visit here, 15 years ago, and I hope to be back to visit them again sooner than later.

Nearby, Jesse’s cousin Josh works on an organic educational farm. We stopped by for a quick visit to check it all out! They do a ton of school field trips and sell their crops to fancy restaurants in the city. They do more then that, but that’s a quick overview! Josh is an awesome farmer and loved showing us around. The boys loved the snakes that kept popping up but I could take a hard pass on that. (MT)

Boeing Museum of Flight

Today Woody and I got to go to the Boeing Museum of Flight at Boeing Field with my Great Uncle Rollie. The first thing that we saw when we were driving in was the brand new KC-10 refueled that looked like they were ready to be shipped out. When we went inside we saw tons of planes in the main area. My favorite ones were the Beech 45, the Aerocar, and the F-4 Phantom. Next, we walked into the WW2 exhibit where we saw about 10 more planes. I learned about the American Volunteer Group that helped defend the Chinese from the Japanese during World War Two. There was also a case full of almost every airplane from World War Two. My favorite places from in there were the Heinkel He 111 Z-1 Zwilling, the off centered Blohm & Voss Bv-141, and the North America F-82 Twin Mustang which looked like two P-51 Mustangs attached.

Next, we went to the World War One exhibit where we learned about fighters during World War One and some of the things they did. For example, if a pilot shot down another plane they would try to land and get to the crash site quickly so they could take any memorabilia they could. After that, we went to the aircraft pavilion where we saw most of the bigger planes including the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-29 Super Fortress, the 787 Dreamliner, the 747, the F/A-18 Superhornet, the F-14 Tomcat, Air Force One, and the Concorde.

My Great Uncle Rollie retired from Boeing a couple years ago, so it was fun talking with him about airplanes and stuff.

Seattle (Amazon!)

Today was the day we wanted to spend the day in downtown Seattle, and my Nana Marilee was joining us! We are staying at my Dad’s Aunt Kristi’s house in Pouslbo, Washington, and it is across the Puget Sound from Seattle. We started out the day taking a ferry from near Poulsbo right into downtown. It was a super great view of the tall buildings, space needle, the Seahawk’s stadium and many other ships. The ferry was very smooth, and it could fit over 200 cars on it.

Our first stop was the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park near Pioneer Square. My mom said grunge bands like Nirvana got their start near here. I learned a lot about the Gold Rush, and how most people got their start to Alaska here in Seattle. I also became a Junior Ranger – of course!

Our next stop was Pikes Place Market with their flying fish, fresh fruit and tons of tulips. We saw the nasty gum alley, and I got a hot chocolate at the original Starbucks.

When we left Pikes Place Market we wanted to go to the Space Needle. I really wanted to go to the “Amazon Go” store and it was only a few blocks off the path. When we got there we saw the spheres and we wanted to see if we could go in. When we started walking towards the door a random employee (Hi Tiffany!) came out and said, “You can’t go in without an employee, but lucky for you my meeting just got cancelled so I can give you a private tour.” So we got to go in the Spheres and it was awesome. There were so many plants and greenery. There was a wall called the living wall and it was a wall covered with live plants. There was also an awesome “Birdsnest” and it was a place for people to concentrate, and a conference room that looked like an eagle exhibit at a zoo. On the top floor there was a sun bathing place to work too.

Then we went to Day One, a massive Amazon office building. We went up to the 19th floor and the way the elevators worked was you pressed what floor you we going to and how many people were with you before even entering the elevator. That way you can tell if the elevator fits everyone. The view from the 19th floor was phenomenal. You could see all of downtown, the water, and the space needle, parts of the Queen Anne neighborhood and Lake Washington.

Then the worker had a meeting so we parted ways and went to the Amazon Go store. The way the go store works is you scan your phone and cameras track you while you are in the store. You can take things from the shelves and walk out and it charges your amazon account. We each grabbed something to drink, and the receipt came up on my dad’s phone about 5 minutes later! Today we got a once in a lifetime experience to see the Amazon campus and it was awesome.

Other things we did to finish the day out was walk to the Space Needle, take the monorail, walk along the waterfront and eat fish and chips at the famous Ivar’s on the bay. (WT & MT)

Olympic National Park

Today we went to Olympic National Park in Northwestern Washington. My Nana Marilee and Great Aunt Kristi went with us, Kristi and her family lives in the nearby city of Poulsbo. We drove up to Hurricane Ridge where we saw a ton of peaks that make up the National Park. I thought it was cool seeing McCartney Peak! My brother and I also had a snowball fight with the few feet of snow that was still there.

Later on we went to the Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge. After a short walk to the shore we came to a lookout where we saw the lighthouse almost 6 miles out on the spot. A spit is a long narrow peninsula made up of primarily sand. When we walked out onto the spit we could smell the saltwater and we saw some seals swimming not too far from the shore. There was a ton of driftwood also lining the shore so we played on that also. On our way back to the parking lot we came upon a deer that was standing in the middle of the trail. The deer stared at us for about a minute before it decided to run away. I really liked going to the wildlife refuge and I found out that North Dakota has by far the most national wildlife refuges. (AT)