Monthly Archives: July 2017

Trap and Sporting Clays


Drake Landing

By Brian K. Brecht


As outdoorsmen, we’ve often enjoyed activities surrounding shooting and hunting. In recent years, we’ve found ourselves digging heavily into wing hunts and clay shooting. For some time, Tom has been a part of a Northern California shooting range, and since moving to North Carolina; I’ve found a great range we’ll talk about later in this post.

Shooting birds has it’s own challenges like any other hunting sport, and sharpening those skills takes time and plenty of hours at the local range.

For those new to clay pigeon shooting, there are a number of variations to the sport. The basic idea, coming from is:

“…a collection of sports that simulate many common bird hunting situations”.

You might here it described as “Skeet”, ”Trap”, or “5 Stand”, all of which present different challenges. For this trip however we focused on yet another variation to the sport known as Sporting Clays.

A couple quick descriptions and helpful graphics we found (again) on are as follows:

“Trap shooting is considered to be the easiest of the three disciplines because of the number of clays used (typically one, although in some forms two are used), and because the clays are released in only one direction (although the trajectory and speed can be variable).”

In Trap, each shooter will rotate through the five stations, giving each person the chance to shoot from a different location.

Next, Skeet shooting adds an additional level of complexity with an additional trap house and extra stations.

“…more complex than trap shooting in both the number of clays released, the trajectory of the clays, and the position of the shooters. A skeet shooting range (see diagram below) consists of two trap houses, each set off to one side of the range. The shooter positions form a semi-circle from one trap house to the other, with an eighth position in the center of the field.”

Again, the shooters rotate through each station after each round.


Five Stand, our third variant, the direction the clays fly from alters with each round, instead of moving the shooters. There are five stations or stands, and six to eighteen strategically placed clay target throwers (traps). Shooters fire in turn at various combinations of clay birds such as, 6 & 10, or 1 & 3, or 13 & 8. At each throw, the shooter is presented with different combination of targets, each coming from a different location, with differences in speed and elevation. Obviously there are technics and subtleties for each style.

For Tom and I, it was a beautiful fall morning when we journeyed to Drake Landing just outside of Raleigh North Carolina. For this specific practice session, we’d practice our technique on yet a fourth variant to the sport, that of Sporting Clays.

Sporting Clays, changes up the environment and presentation of targets, this time offering two different throws (like 5 stand) but each at a different shooting environment as you move through the course.

Sporting Clays “…most closely resembling true hunting in that shooters move through a course and can expect to see clays from any angle just as if they were flushing game out of the brush.”

That being the formal description, I found the Wikipedia definition to be quite enjoyable:

Sporting clays is a form of clay pigeon shooting, often described as “golf with a shotgun” because a typical course includes from 10 to 15 different shooting stations laid out over natural terrain. “

Tom and I looked at it as more, a predetermined hike, where we got to shoot things. But sure, “golf with a gun”, that works too.

According to the Wikipedia article, Bob Brister introduced Sporting Clays to American shooters in his feature article in the July 1980 Field & Stream magazine issue.  At our facility, we walked a mile and a half course that encompassed 13 stations. At each station the clays were launched from varying positions, each simulating possible scenarios of wild game.

Clays were launched from the left, from the right, launched high, and low, and even over water, or rolling along the ground.

Trap is very enjoyable but you’re limited to shooting in one of five standing positions, shooting in a very regimented order. In sporting clays, you’re still shooting one at a time, each shooter getting their chance at the flight, but you feel more in tune with what a real hunt might be like given the diversity of each station.

Drake’s Landing is a beautiful facility, with a focus on not only hunting and the outdoors, but also a love of the land and the importance of passing it on. A fifth generation working farm, that through the years has cultivated food, fiber, tobacco, forestry products, and fun for the owning Andrews family and their neighbors.

We checked in easily at the office, were able to rent not only the time and shells and had we needed them, the shotguns as well. We were instructed to take the leisurely path to “Course #1” and we’d find an attendant at the first station, all of which went exactly as described.

Our attendant at station “1” was a rough, grizzled, but approachable older gentleman who took the time to explain how each station would work and how to use the automated controller we were given.

Within a few short minutes we were up and running, taking our first shots at station one. Overall it took about an hour and a half to walk the entire 13-station course, taking a leisurely approach at each. The groups are paced at the start so though we did run into a few other groups, we didn’t fee rushed. And everyone we encountered was happy to just be out in the woods. We all laughed and joked, and allowed each other to shoot at our own pace.

The course at Drake Lading was surprisingly diverse, with simple wooded stations, followed by up-hill ranges, over water shots or downhill targets. Each station presented a specific challenge and we found them all to be very enjoyable. For Tom and I, it was a perfect precursor to our hunting trip we had planned at the George Hi plantation. That will be our next post, coming in a week or so.

Since that first trip we’ve returned to Drake Landing and shot the other courses on site. Both are well thought out, easily managed and a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

Drake Landing also offers hunting packages on the facilities, which we’ll be looking into and can report on that as the Upland season begins this October.









Corvallis flying and Col. James McPherson


Corvallis flying and Col. James McPherson

by T. Dietz



Colonel James (Jim) McPherson (USAF, Ret.)

1992 and with a year remaining of my National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I uprooted once again and headed to Oregon State University in Corvallis. I was to continue working with the eminent biochemical adaptation expert, Dr. George Somero who was taking an endowed Chair in the Department of Zoology.

Not wanting to miss any flying time, I discovered the OSU flying club headquartered out of the Corvallis Municipal airport (KCVO). Immediately, I hooked myself up with a check out in the club’s high (Cessna 172), and low wing (Mooney M20C) planes.

From that day I distinctly remember meeting Colonel McPherson who, at the time, I did not know was a Colonel (Ret.). Jim stands about 5’5” and is one of those men who instantly commands respect. He was genuinely friendly but with an incredible air of authority. My memories of that day however are co-mingled with the many flights we spent side by side, learning lessons of flying, hard work, respect, integrity, courage, and much more. I spent enough time with Jim that when I left Oregon for the Bay Area, I knew I had a friend and mentor for life. We stayed in close contact over the years, through letters, emails and the occasional visit in California or Oregon. He followed my career with great interest and a highlight was Jim writing an incredible recommendation for me to the astronaut selection program. It cannot be said enough, I respected the hell out this man.

It had been some time since I had seen Jim, so with all those great memories in mind, a trip was planned.

Sunday night: Flight planning for the trip to Corvallis in our Cessna T206. I had two routes mapped out, one at 388nm and another at 400nm depending on weather in the mountains. I planned for 10,500 feet, about 3 hours of flying, 50 gallons of fuel, and activated the engine pre heat system for the night.

Monday: After another weather briefing we (Leslie and I) were “wheels up” at 8:30amPDT and headed for Corvallis, the most Western U.S. City in the lower 48. With clear skies and visibility unlimited, we opted for the quicker route heading directly up to Fort Jones, Oregon, then over Medford and Eugene, arriving with almost a straight line into Corvallis. We climbed quickly to 10,500’ with air traffic control flight following for the journey.

Considering the weather had been in a warming trend, we were a little surprised to see snow on the lower elevation peaks in the Snow Mountain Wilderness area (7,000’), the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness area (8,100’) and the Trinity National Forest (7,700’). Alternatively, we fully expected to see Mt. Shasta (14,170’) in full winter wear and were not disappointed. The entire Cascade range was in its full spectacular glory, a sight that you can not appreciate until you’re just a few miles away at eye level with the “White Mountain”.

As you fly in it’s vicinity, you remember, Shasta has the potential to be active, being about 200 years into a 6-800 year active cycle. It’s comprised of 4 overlapping volcanic cones and one of its seven named glaciers, Whitney, was the first glacier discovered and named in the U.S.

The weather and sun also highlighted the other prominent peaks in the Cascades. Above Mt. Shasta and starting in Oregon – Mt. McLoughlin (9,495’), followed by “The Three Sisters” (10,370’), Mt. Hood (11,249’), Mt. St. Helens (8,365’) and Mt. Adams (12,281’). We tried to convince ourselves we also saw Mt. Ranier (14,410’).

We touched down in very uncrowded space at KCVO, with only one Japanese student helicopter pilot gearing up for a training flight. Post landing we refueled, put the bird undercover for the duration and caught a taxi to the inexpensive, but centrally located, University Inn. By this time I too needed refueling, so we caught some lunch and tried to craft a plan to visit some of the local Wilamette Valley vineyards. Unfortunately all closed on account of it being Monday. Oh well. We next set out on foot to visit my old haunting grounds of Oregon State University. Although I’d been up to Corvallis in the interim, I hadn’t been on campus for over 20 years.


After our bucolic walk to campus, through the turn of the century Victorian homes, we were astonished by the growth. In fact, the student population has grown from around 13,000 when I was there to over 30,000. The campus infrastructure had grown to match, so my curiosity got the better of me and we mapped our way to the old Department of Zoology (now Integrative Biology) in Cordley Hall. Surprisingly, not much has changed in this old building. Pushing a door off the lobby we were confronted with magical cabinets filled with old bird taxidermy on display. Not great lighting but I had to take some photos.

As we approached the picture board of faculty, I was drawn to two faces, Dr. Barb Taylor and Dr. Art Boucot.

With little trepidation, we headed to Barb Taylor’s office and pleasantly surprised her. She recognized me right away, and that started a fantastic 3-hour visit where we got caught up on personal lives, science, politics and travel. The other faculty member I hankered to see was the eminent Dr. Art Boucot. I soon found out he passed away this past April. Art was/is a legend in the world of paleontology, a prolific scientist and author elucidating for the world the rules and patterns of evolution and extinction. Art’s office was across from mine at OSU and I was fascinated by him. Despite his general grumpiness, I was allowed to roam through his extensive fossil collections, giving us significant time discussing old school versus new school science and the history of life on the planet. I was also privy to several of his ongoing combative correspondence with the famous paleontologist, Stephen J. Gould. Art knew of my passion for flying and revealed that he’d been a navigator on B-24 liberators earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal and other commendations. The Boucot Plateau of the Geologist Range in Antarctica is named for him.

Walking from campus, we headed to the River for cocktails and dinner. Les indulged in an original Hemingway daiquiri while I worked my way through 3 single malts (Macallan 12, Bowmore 12, and a Highland Park 12). After a great meal of tapas we headed back to the University Inn.

Tuesday: Up and at ‘em, we met Bill Dougherty for breakfast. Jim had introduced me to Bill soon after joining the flying club. Bill was already a tenured faculty member and one of the youngest, not to mention a brilliant scientist with a hankering for adventure. Our introduction came about with Jim thinking it would be great for Bill to have me ride in the right seat, learning tips and sharing expenses. Of course Jim was right, Bill and I would become good friends, spending countless hours in the cockpit flying all over Oregon night and day. A free spirit, Bill gave up the “comfy” academic life and became a hugely successful car parts maven back in North Carolina. Bill had flown in for his annual Northwestern fishing trip and it was Bill who organized our joint visit with Jim.

As we approached Jim and his wife Patsy’s front door, I had mixed feelings about seeing him on the very far side of life. But the instant he opened the door and saw Bill and then looked past to me, with instant recognition and a broad smile, only good emotions flowed. Jim knew Bill was coming but we hadn’t told him I’d be along as weather could have gotten in the way of the flight, and we didn’t want to disappoint. He said he had a feeling I’d be along and he was thrilled Leslie came as well.


Col. James K. McPherson (USAF, Ret.) was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, 1955. He was the commander of the 559 Flying Training Squadron from June 1972 to June 1974. Taking over the Squadron with its conversion from a combat and training unit, to an instructor training squadron for both U.S. and friendly nation instructor crews, it has a proud history dating back to 1941. Prior to this assignment, Jim was a fighter pilot in numerous jet fighters, and after being shot down in combat, wrote a manual on how to bring a damaged jet to ground.

We spent a couple of hours catching up with Jim, who was a very active participant. Unfortunately, Patsy was not able to really converse with us. Jim offered Bill and I some books and one on the Rheinbeck aerodrome hit home as it was where I had my first exposure to small planes. Although I really wanted the book I felt that his son Jimmy should have the collection and said as much stepping away and worried I’d hurt his feelings.

We then spent another couple of hours at lunch where Jim recounted a few good flying stories and a few military administrative nightmares, all good stuff. I was clear we wouldn’t have a lot or even one more gathering all together. We then had the difficult task of saying goodbye but we still grabbed a picture for the album. Not even the Colonel could keep his emotions completely in check which made it even more difficult a parting. Jim looks great in this photo but it didn’t capture (happily) his frailty. Oh, and he did not like my beard – not one bit at all.

Back to Corvalis Muni for a preflight briefing, inspection and oil top off. We planned for 11,500’ and 3:45 minutes (a 14kt headwind was neither desirable nor helpful) on a straight line back to the Bay Area. I’d have a lot of time to think about the visit, Jim and Patsy, and how fleeting our time is here. We launched at around 3pm and as we got to Medford and the mountains, we encountered building cumulous and light/moderate turbulence. To save fuel and time I had my climb as fairly shallow at 300 ft/min. But by the time we got to 9,500’ I would have gone up to 13,500’ to clear the clouds. With that we opted to stay at 9,500’ and head toward Shasta/ Redding to get better weather and lots of “outs’ for the remainder of the flight. Although a little longer, we picked up a tail wind west of Redding and managed to wheels down in 3:20 despite an extra 20nm of flying. I also lost my digital turbine induction temperature probe about an hour or so into the flight (despite being new) but had a back up in the ship’s original gauge.

I’ve since had a touching email exchange with Jim re the visit and we both thanked each other for our time together.

I’ll say it again; I respect the hell out of that man.




The Alaska Papers – Part 4

North to Alaska

The Alcan Highway – Part 4

By Rick Cleveringa

(*You can revisit our previous posts to this journal here: Part-1,  Part-2, & Part-3)

***PART FOUR: The Alaskan Papers**

Day 8

Spice girls

The Jeep was in need of an oil change. I looked around online for a place, but up here oil changes were up to $80. No way! I find a Sears that changes oil for $40 so I drive over first thing in the morning. In the waiting room are four other people, all locals waiting on their cars. A younger woman runs in from outside, she is frantic and says, “They took all my money and left me here, those god damn bastards! I need to use your phone!” She is screaming this to the Sears employee dressed in his gray and red shirt at the counter. All of us are looking at the show. She picks up the phone, says a few expletives and cries; she slammed the phone down hard and says “I have no money!” She runs out, and the guy opposite of me is watching this close. I say “here is your chance to be a hero and help her”. He was a kind faced man with curly brown hair about 35. He said “She talked on the phone without dialing a number”. “Really?” I said. “Yea, I don’t know what it is about this corner but it is filled with scammers. You will see them all over here”, Jon said.

Jon is a nurse and tells me about the drug problem up there. The homeless issues in the city, and a drug named Spice. He was not even sure what it was yet. It can wreck a pretty face and a person in a few months of use. Jon was self proclaimed part Eskimo he told me, saying “I was proud of it as a kid, but I see a real problem with the people who get kicked out of their villages up North because of alcohol and end up here in the city on the street”. I agreed having seen a lot of them here. A sad state of being when walking in the two worlds. Jon and I both are of the two worlds but walk in one tread or the other. We spoke till my Jeep was ready. I have found over the years of road travel, if you want to meet the people who really live in a place, do common things.

I left the shop and on the first corner was a young native guy in his 20’s still fucked up from last night’s revelries. He is in bad shape, cardboard sign in his shaking hands. I roll down the window and ask if he was hungry? “Yea” He said and I handed him the last of my beef jerky. He said thanks and went off the street to the grass. He sat down and opened the bag and reached in. The light turned green and I drove off. none of that made me feel better. The number of natives that you see as just human wrecks is astonishing. Later that day I walked into a food line on the street, for a moment I did not understand why they were handing out food. Ah street food I thought, hey this is a cool city. I got in line. When I saw no money exchanged and the shape of the people in the line I kept walking hoping no one noticed me. I could see the woman passing out the food eye me up. Hey I really don’t look much different, hell I may not be that different.

Anchorage is a city of extremes, even the architecture. Next to a 10-story building there can be a tiny one-room log cabin. It’s a city with a love hate relationship, mostly I was still loving it.

For some reason I had to see Earthquake park, it must have been the name? It was a fine park on the coast I guessed, within 2 minutes of stopping the Jeep I decided I did not need or want to be there. I drove back to town and head down the Seward highway for a ride. I had no idea where I was going, now this was more like it. The drive along the coast was priceless; eagles are flying overhead along the cliffs. In the ocean I see some behemoth rise from the water, blow off and one more leviathan break the water behind the first. What the hell was that? If I had a guess I just saw a whale? A pair of whales in fact! Jesus how cool! I pull over to a lookout spot. Two women with field glasses are looking out into the ocean. I ask what they are looking for. “Oh we just saw a Beluga whale”. “Hey I saw that! Actually there were two!” My heart just sores. The animals I have seen in the wild this trip has just blown me away. This drive has been best zoological trip in my life, now I have the feeling of being full. The feeling of this coming to a close is seeping in on me. I start to ponder the drive back, the miles, the car food, the hours, and the bugs on the windshield, shit I have to do it all over. Its getting time to go, Lets do one last thing before I leave.

“My heart where’s that medicine?” HST

 The travel brochure from the motel said Flattop Mountain is a nice 3-hour hike. By the time I get back to Anchorage it is late in the afternoon. There will be daylight for hours so I may have time to do a quick hike. The drive to the mountain is tricky and you find yourself in a neighborhood, the grand houses here all built on the hillside. They are all new and shiny with spectacular views out to the Cook Inlet. After a few creative turns I find the parking lot, pay the fee to park and see the trailhead to Flattop. This trail is paved and on a slight incline, shit I flag quickly. My heart is pounding like a rabbit in a death grip. The trail comes out of the pines and I see a hill up the way. Is that it? That’s not that bad, but I am breathing like a marathon runner. OK I can make this grassy hill, forcing myself up and onward. It is apparent that this hill is not Flattop. Beyond this first crest I see the next challenge and behind that a real ass mountain. “That cannot possible be it? I say. There are kids, dogs and families returning. Hey I am a flat lander and that is a serious mountain. There is snow on the peak; I’ll never make that. Get it together, let just keep working our way up to the next hill.

The brochure said it was 1.7 miles and 1300 feet of elevation in a moderate to difficult skill level. I pressed on and got a second wind. All those days, months and years of sitting at my desk, all that inactivity is fucking me now. All that brain rot for a soulless company had taken a toll on my body. At work I daydreamed of such adventure, here I was and completely unprepared. Push on, just go to that fence up there and turn around, keep going, just make it to the big rock and turn around. Once at the fence I pushed to the big rock. From the rock I made the next landmark, taking much time and resting when my lungs ached. An hour later somehow I was up into the snowy part, the last few hundred feet was straight up. The path became unclear and hikers made their own trails through the rocks. The path is over large boulders and loose stones and patches of snow, it is the most difficult part by far. It was hands and knees climbing. I struggled, I rested, and I fucking made it. I really made it. This 1.7 mile was far harder then the Half dome hike, or I had deteriorated even father in that year? No matter, I was there, standing next to the American flag, the flag was popping as it waved in the strong wind.

The top of Flattop

At the summit I have some lanky students take my photo, proof was necessary, even if it was just for myself. The view was spectacular, you could look 360 degrees down to Cook Inlet, to the city, to the higher range and trail cut in the snow behind. Feeling pretty damn good about it, the idea of hiking on into the mountain range floats around in my mind. This is when you need your pals to egg each other on, or, talk some sense into each other. Though its sunny right now, it is cold and windy. I have a tiny bit of water left in my pack, no food and there is no help beyond this point. Ok settle down. I spend some time in the wind exploring the great flat area the mountain that it is named from. There are a few rock shelters dry stacked and an Inukshuk or two around. Just stand there with me for a moment, hear the wind, feel the sun on my face, feel your legs burning; the straps from the pack have dug sore strips into your shoulders. From the edge you can see for miles, it feels like you can take flight from this spot. Shape shifting into an eagle is a real possibility right now. The view warps your perception until you see the parking lot and can you make out the car. That is really far away now. I guess I better go. I exhaled and started back down the mountain.

Going up was difficult, I had burned up the better part of my energy. My leg muscles are strained and worn out. So getting off the mountain was even harder. My legs had very little to give me in the way of support or mobility. The way down took twice as long as it did to get up. From the top of the mountain a young dude who ran up the trail, was over at the steepest part of the edge, the snow filled this valley and ran for a 3/4 of a mile. He got down in a sitting position and glissaded down the mountain. This seemed completely nuts to me, dangerous as hell. He slid with great speed and made it down the mountain in seconds. It took me an hour to get to where he was and he was half way back to the lot. Jesus that crazy fuck! Stopping and resting is the next hour for me, my feet are sore, and my legs gave up on me hours ago. Slow and sure I make it to the paved path to the lot. Never had I been happier to see my little green Jeep. Unbelievable I made it. I did it. To me I felt as If I had made Everest. Time to celebrate.

The Best Hot Dog in the World

Back in Anchorage I went to a corner I had been eyeing up for days. The guy asked what do you want? “I don’t know what the special?” I say. The Bogogi dog is the popular, a young girl says “I loves those get that”. “Ok sure I’ll have the Bogogi dog. that is just what I want” I say. The hot dog stand owner is from Hawaii and works just a few months a year up here is Alaska. We talk as he grills my reindeer hot dog. He tells me about being a young man in Hawaii, taking wave runners from one island to the next. “It was not a good idea once we got out there in the middle. We were blinded by the sunlight off the water and all the salt spray”. “Yea sounds crazy” I say. He is friendly and thinks I am a local. I ask what is the Bogogi? “It’s a BBQ Hawaiian pork. Say do you want the best hot dog you ever had in your life”? “Yea” I say !” He said “I am going to put cream cheese on it. I usually charge an extra dollar for it but for you my friend it’s free. Once the cheese melts it mixes with the pork man its good. I have a guy who shows up every day at 3:00 for two of them”. The dog is handed to me like a trophy. Hey, I deserved this hot dog, it was10:30 at night. Still sunny and bright as 5 PM, my legs are rubber as I sat down on the bench eating the best hot dog in the world, a fantastic day.

Day 9

The next morning I pack up my bag and load it in the Jeep, drive down 6th street to the Highway, now heading back home. I found myself retracing my steps to Illinois, stopping at the same gas stations in Alaska, now I need to break this up. Intentionally I fill up in a strange town so I will be out of gas at a different point than the way up. I loved driving the Yukon up and down it is beautiful beyond description. In the late afternoon a driving rain came in and the road became wet and could be icy, soon it would be time to find a safe place to rest. Towards evening I crossed a long iron bridge, there was a gravel lot down the hill next to the river there. This is a place I can sleep a few hours in the sound of the rain. The first night in my room in Anchorage I was missing sleeping in the Jeep, now I feel unsettled lying down in the back. I feel exposed it takes some time to settle into sleep. The sound of the rain and the river take me to Nod.

The next day was more snowy mountains, bears and vistas and I started to think about Saskatchewan. Shit I cannot take that ride again. I stop for gas in a muddy lot with a single pump; my boots get caked as I went in for coffee. I parked out of the way of the truckers in the lot and I pull out the map and seek a different route home. In Grande Prairie I can take route 40 through Jasper Nation Park, I have loved the mountain driving so far, so why not? It adds hours and miles to my way home but that’s OK because I will never drive through Saskatchewan ever again. This was to be a brilliant decision.

The highway cuts right trough the park and to my surprise, there is a gate on the highway where you have to pay to enter the park or use the highway. It was all very beautiful but I noticed that the traffic here has some cash. I stopped at a very nice tourist restaurant; it has a large gift shop and big dinning area. This is no rundown café, the diners are all well dressed and I hear German accents. The guy who works in the gift shop strikes up a conversation with me and he tells me about Jasper and who is coming up here, how the parks will be free next year for the 150 year anniversary of Canada. I get a cup of coffee and head out. The drive is amazing. That night I pull over in a tiny spot next to a stream, the water is running so fast. As I lie down and try to sleep I think, “what if floods”? Before I realize what has happened, I’ll be sucked into the water and pulled into the tunnel that goes under the road. Sleep in the Jeep has changed. Some dark thoughts accompany me as I roll up in the wool blanket. Did I just get out of the habit or did something else change? When you have hours alone to drive you can think about this until it does no good.

This drive takes me through Dead Mans Flats and on to Calgary, this is the largest city I have seen in days. I cannot remember why I know its name? I see some silly colorful architecture with the Olympic rings on the side. Yea that is it; back in 1988 they hosted the games, now the city is stuck with these buildings that look like it they boast of having the worlds larger day care center or some such nonsense. I can roll down the window as I drive in the city the weather is warm and I look for one thing that might be an interesting stop. No luck, and I am on a flat road heading south. Nanton, and I take my last 10 Canadian dollars and spend it on a uninteresting burger and fries. The place is called the Zephyr Drive in and a young girl is outside struggling with a table umbrella in the wind. She is the only one here and I have to wait for her. After 13 minutes of fighting she gets pissed and chucks the umbrella next to the shack. After another 5 minutes she shows up at the little window, she slides it open and through the screen I order. The food and drink cost $9.95, and sitting at the table writing, eating the burger and greasy fries, I am ready to leave Canada.

Its a flat easy run to the line. Back at the US boarder I slow down for the boarder station. There is an native looking guy with police type hat on sitting in this tiny shed with a gate. He sees me and gives me the secrete head nod, I never even have to make a full stop, no questions, nothing. I rolled back into the US and into Montana, from Sweetgrass, Sunburst to Shelby and the famous Route 2. In Shelby I find a room for the night. That evening I want some diner but opt out and walk to a gas station and get a bad sandwich, chips and a pop. Sit in my room I make contact with home. It does feel good to be closer to home.


The Montana morning was bright and sunny and I throw my backpack into the Jeep. I pull on route 2 and think of those books I have read, books that are written about this highway. The road skirts the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and in a shitty looking gas station I notice I am one of ten guys with long dark ponytails. Somehow I do not feel like I am home, Rez life is a different world. One hidden from most, and the rest would not believe it. They want $4 for an egg salad sandwich here, I’ll move on. Through this trip I had no real focus on food or the search for really tasty cafes, hidden gems and house specialties in 4 calendar cafes. Perhaps this was not that kind of travel? It was great miles to made and food was an after thought. Perhaps it was I had no one to share meals with? No road pals for succulent steak sandwiches or Scrapple. No “E” to share plates of fresh seafood, the only other notable meal was on the way home. I stopped in Dawson Creek at dinnertime, asking in a coffee shop where I can find Poutine? Some nice ladies told me to go to Le’s family restaurant. With some local directions I found Le’s on route 2, it was an old motel with a café, white wood siding building that looked as neat as it did in the 1940’s when it was built. The Le’s have owned it since 1988. It was a comfortable little dinning room, movie perfect. I order poutine and a coke. Well I can tell you that was the best damn poutine I have ever had. All I could do is ask myself “Why do we not have this in the states”? Damn it was good. Other then a crepe, hot-dog, and some fries smothered in gravy and cheese my meals were only sustenance so I could drive. Eating in the car hides some of the road loneliness of an empty table in a rosy cafe. I was not on the hunt for that magic Po’ Boy, or a BBQ joint called Bubba’s, food that leaves you searching the rest of you life for a decent comparison. Once with “E” in some forgotten town along the Dixie highway in Florida, we had fish tacos that were so unforgettable, to this day I always order fish tacos in every Mexican joint I eat at. Even when they are good and most are not, none have come close to the ones on that lost coast road. Search on that is all I can do.

Meanwhile back on route 2 in Montana, a food trailer run by an Indian couple is parked in front of a dilapidated motel. To say this town was rundown would be a compliment. It was a shithole. What was not closed, like the Indian Museum, was run down. It’s shocking to see a people in this condition. I would have really enjoyed seeing the little museum too. I turn back to the gravel lot and park. This is the spot. How could it miss? It is the only thing here. The woman in the trailer is not very friendly to me. I order a burger, now I do not want another hamburger but it’s the best strategy in a questionable place. As I waited I walked around the motel to have a look. Shit! It’s half collapsed and rooms are boarded up, there is a late 80’s Cadillac parked out back. It came here on its own motion, which means someone is here. That means someone, who is not looking forward to company, is in one of these rooms. I duck back around to the front and sit by the Jeep. The burger deserves to be in this town and I only felt bad for eating it. I drive on and Route 2 runs back into 52 and North Dakota, soon I was back in Harvey, back in the Cobblestone motel.

Day 13

Red Haired Tornado

This was it; I could be home later today. The ride now had a little familiar feel as I run down 52. The only stop of mention would be in the hometown of Red Lewis, Sauk Center Minnesota is my last stop before home and sleep in my bed. The town is picturesque and was strangely perfect looking. I drove down to the birthplace house of Sinclair and unfortunately it was closed. I walked down the street, it was sunny and pretty, there are two people with power tools working on a picnic table. A couple in there late 50’s so I say Hello, can you tell me where to find Sinclair Lewis house? I have used this technique in the past. Find the place you wish to see, then find a local and ask them where it is. “Oh you are close it right down the street”. The woman says to me. They walk down the concrete drive to size me up, they are both friendly as can be. The next half an hour they tell me all about Sauk Center. Bill and Claire inform me that the Sinclair Lewis Center near the highway is closed, “I think it has been a coupla years now”. Bill said. There was a gentle breeze and Bill’s soft white hair blows like smoke back and forth. It was like he was under a smoldering grass fire. They sold their house in the Twin cities for $380.000.00 and bought this beautiful two story for $84K. The taxes are less than $800 a year. Everybody works here, everybody knows everyone Claire tells me. Her hair is quaff and perfect, it is a monument to hairspray and 30 minutes craft each morning. In the stiffest wind today it never moves. They seem to like me very much and I liked them. They tell me I can move next door, jobs pay between $14-18 dollars up here. “It so much better then the Twins” they say. “We love it here” they tell me. Lots of rich people here in the summer Bill says. “They don’t bother anyone, just come and go”. Had it been closer to lunchtime I am positive they would invite me in for Tuna salad sandwiches, shoestring potatoes, lemon aid and homemade oatmeal cookies and I would have gladly accepted. In all my life of meeting people, or strangers in travels, they were the sweetest of all.

When Sinclair Lewis left this town and wrote Main Street in 1920 he pissed off most the population of his hometown. Ten years later he was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. The town forgot or forgave him and liked the tourist dollars; now the native son has been recognized by the world and should be honored. The city fathers put a sign in the front yard of his house and charge admission. To further the literary tour the town built the Sinclair Lewis Center near the highway. I took a drive over just to have a look, it was true, it was closed. I peered through the windows saw some garbage on the floor and display cases now abandoned. I wanted to sneak in, but it was shut tight and broad daylight. I guessed the town was mad at him once more. Or Mr. Lewis has been forgotten. Anyway you sliced that, it was sad. I drove on.

Now it was all interstates highways and a $2 gas station sandwich to home. The trip is all behind me, all the bears and birds, the long miles and the mountain views. Even when it was only through a windshield a mountain is a majestic body to see. To visit, to be on, to run down and to sleep on, dreaming about a place for 40 years is dangerous way to approach it. It can lead to disillusionment in a hard way. All the years of having the Alaskan highway come to my mind, telling yourself “Yea one day I’ll drive that, If I only had the time, It would be a great adventure, That would be the trip of a life time”. The actual trip was beyond my feeble thoughts, years of dreaming about it, days at shitty jobs when you think if I just could quit I drive to Alaska right now. I fucking would. Finally the courage the support and timing were right. The road was still there, gas was cheap this year and I let go….

… and I did it.