Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 14: My Mother’s Red Housecoat

As I emptied my Mother’s closet after her death five years ago, in the back I discovered a thick and hearty maroon housecoat that I had never seen before. It was big, beautiful and new. The tag on the back said L.L. BEAN.

The only reason I can think of it being in the back of the closet and unused was that she was more often hot than cold in the four years that she lived in her little apartment after her beloved Jim’s death.

Indeed, I remember many conversations with her as she described the attempts by the apartment buildings’s management insisting that she remove the air conditioner from her apartment window during the winter months or she would be subject to heavy fines and penalties.

I had visited her during winter and cold spring months in Vermont and found her apartment to be always toasty and warm even without the heat being turned on.

She never had the heat turned on.

To this day, I still cannot figure out why her second story apartment never got cold.

I never saw her wearing the red housecoat.

And so, fast forward five years to this past May when it came time for us to leave on our Alaskan adventure.

When it came to deciding what clothing I would take along with me on the trip, Mother’s red housecoat was an obvious choice.

The only downside was the housecoat’s bulk.

It would easily take up a quarter of the camper’s bedroom storage closet unless tightly rolled up. Secondly, I knew for a fact that it would take up half of any industrial sized washing machine. There was no chance of it fitting into my small portable washing machine which I had purchased on Amazon for $150.00 and fit snugly into the camper’s shower stall for storage.

In spite of all that, I am so glad that I brought it with me.

I found a place for it on a hook in the bathroom next to the door.

During our trip, there were many chilly days when I never took the housecoat off even during midday when I was fully dressed.

Even my husband gladly wore it it while having his 6:00 a.m. coffee outside amid the glaciers and 50 degree temperatures while I continued sleeping snugly in my warm bed as the furnace ran without end.

The photo you see posted above is me wearing the housecoat in Seward, Alaska as I sat at the foot of glaciers drinking my morning coffee and watercolour painting.

It was warmer than any coat or sweater I had brought along.

Bobby-Dog fit easily the coat when cold winds started coming in, or during a sudden or unexpected drop in temperature.

It was also very useful during evening campfires along the way because not only was it warm, it was an excellent armour against mosquitoes who tormented me to no end.

Now, three months later during the last days of the trip the housecoat looks tired and could certainly use a wash. Even so, it still easily passes the “sniff test’ and will be used until the last day.

It has suffered no holes, broken seams, not even a single fray, and the zipper works like the first day I tried it on.

So this is the part where I give credit where credit is due.

Kudos to L.L. Bean for making such an excellent housecoat.

Also, thank you Mother for purchasing it in the first place, even though you never used it once.

It’s almost like she knew along that I would need it some day.

It’s a gift to know that she can still bring me joy.


Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 13: “Maruk”

It was love at first sight on July 2 at the Fox Run campground when I saw him slowly walking up the hill from the lake. He had a tired swagger that lent itself unto the heat of the day.

We were currently camping for six nights in Palmer Alaska.

Here, we were hunkered down for the American July 4 holiday in an effort to avoid the heavy traffic and packed scenic sites. We considered ourselves lucky to have found a vacancy where everywhere else had been thoroughly booked for months in advance.

Normal temperatures here reach the low 70’s, and we were in the throes of a 90 degree heatwave.

I’m told that because of the year round cool weather houses do not come with air conditioning as it never gets hot. The sad news of the day around the camp was that all of the local Walmart’s fans had been sold out. 

I had been sitting outside our camper practising my watercolour painting under the shade of our awning when I saw him out of the corner of my truck ye.

The more I watched him, the more enamoured I became. There was something different about him. Maybe it was the goggles. You just didn’t see dogs wearing bright yellow goggles every day.

“Nice dog,” I called out to the dog’s owner walking beside him.

Getting up from the table we began to approach each other.

When I patted the dog’s neck I found his fur soft and well cared for. The moment I began to scratch behind his ear he laid himself down on the cool grass.

“This is Maruk, the owner told me, “and he loves the ladies.”

(Pronounced Ma-Rook as in “spook”)

After introducing myself, the owner told me that his name was Al and that both he and Maruk were from Colorado. He considered himself a full time traveller, and I had no doubt that both he and Maruk were wise in the ways of making themselves at home anywhere they chose.

Maruk, Al told me, was born somewhere in the mountains of their home state where the high altitude and thin air led to Maruk’s genetic disorder. Exposure to sunlight caused irreparable damage to the eyes.

Maruk was a feral young pup when Al found him. Al told me that he knew this because no young domesticated pup would be able to hunt and scavenge for food the way Maruk could.

Al went on to explain that they had become friends ten years ago when he first found him running wild in the Colorado mountains. That was when Al decided to take him under his permanent care. A series of veterinarian visits led to the diagnosis of Maruk’s eye condition, a type of autoimmune disorder. Maruk has been wearing his googles every time they go outside since.

“Maruk loves everybody,” Al said with a smile, “and that includes other dogs.”

“If a dog snaps at Maruk, he’ll just lie down where he is and patiently wait until the other dog gives up.”

That was exactly what happened when we brought our own Bobby-Dog, a shitzu, over to meet him. The moment Bobby got his fur up, Maruk layed himself down in the grass again with what seemed to be a heavy sigh.

Unfortunately, not long afterward, Maruk and I had to part ways when Al explained that Maruk would not be able to withstand the heat for much longer, again basically because his constitution was more designed for much cooler temperatures at a higher and less pressurized atmosphere.

I watched Al and Maruk recede into the forest behind us as they returned to their campsite. A feeling of sadness came over me knowing that I probably would never see them again.

On the morning that we left the campground we drove past Al and Maruk’s trailer.

It was easy for me to imagine Maruk laying comfortably within the cool darkness of their rig. 

This parting thought left me happy for Maruk.

Silently, I wished them both a long and happy life.


Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 12: I’ve Got The Apple IPhone “SAY CHEESE” Blues

On the day we began our drive up the Dempster highway we were up at a leisurely 8:00 a.m.

“What’s the rush?” I asked myself.

Then I thought about it…

In the middle of town lies the famous MILE 0 signpost where all tourist head for the obligatory photo op.

Would it be busy? I wondered.

Both of us were anxious to hit the Dempster and in no mood to wait in a crowded parking lot for our turn to take pictures.

I didn’t want an elaborate celebratory portrait, just a quick…

1… 2… 3…


… OK, we’re done, now let’s get out of here photo basically just to document the moment.

And that’s exactly what we got.

Looking back at the photos now, the framing was off and not properly centred but… what the heck, we don’t mind being the photography novices that we are.

Nevertheless… we took lots and lots of pictures on the Dempster Highway…

…and sadly most of them are not quite the intended shots.

You see… I was the sort of person who thought that my iPhone camera was more than enough for my photography needs.

Frank had procured a GOPRO for me last year, but I became frustrated when it became clear that the camera didn’t like me. I was continually fumbling with it’s buttons and attachments. It always took several tries to turn it on, work my way through all the settings then several more tries to turn it off. By that time, I had significantly worn down the battery so quickly that it was useless to me and out of frustration I returned to my trusty iPhone.

However, like friendships, family and marriage, there are always quirks that make themselves known to you later on in the relationship and you realize you just have to accept them.

Case in point:

While watching the scenery go by me, something will catch my eye. After a moment’s thought I realize this would make a good shot.

This is when the following happens…

1. Reach for the camera

2. Turn it on

3. Phone acknowledges being turned on by asking for FACE ID

4. Lift up phone to head level to enable face recognition

5. Phone screen shakes out a NO to convey that my face has not been recognized due to poor positioning or shaking car


7. Enter in four digit pass code

8. Phone conveys wrong code entered because I was rushing

9. Re-enter four digit password

10. Re-enter four digit code because the car is shaking

11. Phone acknowledges correct passcode

12. Swipe up to discard update information

13. Swipe up to discard low battery level

14. Swipe up to discard messenger notifications

15. Swipe left to access photo app

16. Swipe left again

17. And again

18. Click on app

19. Choose photo preferences

20. Find target on camera screen and position accordingly

By this time, I had missed the intended shot which was now half a kilometre behind me.

This happened not once, or twice but every single time I wanted to take a picture.

And it gets even sillier…

Many times I would reach for my phone to find it wasn’t even there. Being so small and sleek it easily slipped under the seat, between the cushions, even through my fingers.

So, you may be asking how this all worked out.

Well… I don’t know, and we’re only halfway through the trip.

I’m working on it.

But remember what I wrote earlier about family, friends, marriages and all the quirks you end up having to live with?

I’m guessing that it’s going to end up kind of like that.

Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 11: Discovering The Dempster

And so we worked our way slowly west through the Rockies. From Bow River to Canmore, from Banff to Jasper, we made our way to British Columbia.

On June 3, our 42nd wedding anniversary, and after a great deal of discussion and contemplation, we embarked on a last minute destination that promised adventure, incredible scenery, danger, mosquitoes, dirt and mud like we had never encountered before.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen…

I am of course talking about the Dempster highway. A return trip from Dawson Creek meant an over 1,800 kilometres voyage on treacherous gravel highway.

We learned about the Dempster Highway from intrepid You-Tubers like THE MOTORHOME EXPERIMENT and LESS JUNK MORE JOURNEY.

To my pleasant surprise, not long before our journey, I learned of friends who were also planning a trip out west and were also planning to tackle this challenge.

I was tickled by both their bravery and their news.


You see, according to WIKIVOYAGE …

The Dempster Highway (known as Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8 in those territories respectively) is a highway through the sub-Arctic wilderness of northern Yukon Territory and extreme northwestern Northwest Territories (NWT) in Canada. The highway runs 671 km (417 mi) from the Klondike Highway near Dawson City to the Aboriginal settlement of Inuvik. A 137-km (85-mi), all-season extension to Tuktoyaktuk opened in November 2017, although the extension does not seem to be considered part of the Dempster Highway, instead being referred to as the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

Frank and I had toyed with the idea of driving the Dempster highway while planning the trip, but knowing the havoc it would wreak on the camper, we passed it over as a potential destination.

It was only while we were in Watson Lake that Frank met a woman travelling to Dempster in her van who encouraged him to take up the challenge.

I will forever be grateful to her for this.

You see… to me, the myriad of colourful land and water formations that we encountered during our eight day adventure to Tuktoyaktuk and back was nothing less than life altering.

Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 10: Alberta Bound

And so it came to pass that on the morning of May 24, which was day fifteen of our journey, I received a message from Koodo, my cell service provider that I had used fifty percent of my allotted data for the month. I had only 3072 MB left until the end of my billing cycle which would end June 11.

That was nineteen days away.

What to do?

First thing I did was delete apps which continually and automatically download news, notifications, photos, etc.

Next, I tried to take advantage of any available wifi, which was practically nothing. Some campgrounds only offer one or two free hours of wifi a day, and even that was sketchy because the signal weakened the further away you were camping from the campground office.

Then, I had to prioritize what I wanted to spend my precious cellular data on.

That would be posting to my blog.

Frank was finally able to resolve my dilemma by signing both of us up for another two gigs of data each for only five dollars a month. This brought me up to eight gigs a month. Now, I had at least four gigs instead of two until the end of my billing cycle.

Please insert happy dance here…

I was sad to say goodbye to Eagle Valley Park in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan with all of it’s colourful and continually fluttering birds and of course the resident doll house, but there was no doubt much more to see in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Our next stop was the Alberta border where of course we stopped for the obligatory selfie, then it was onward through Medicine Hat and Calgary.

By 11:45 a.m. we were ninety-one kilometres from Calgary and to my surprise, the terrain was still surprisingly flat. There was no sign of a hill let alone the Rocky Mountains.

Well, they can’t hide forever.

When we did finally hit Calgary, we were in the midst of thunderstorms and a very dim sky.

If anything surprised me about the city of Calgary it was the vastness of what looked like very expensive housing. This was obviously one very rich city. This reminded me of the Eagles song THE LAST RESORT written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey which can be found on their album HOTEL CALIFORNIA. This song is about how we destroy the places we find beautiful.

Row after row, kilometre after kilometre, all you could see was high end housing.

Still… no Rockies.

But little did I know what was waiting for me around the next bend of highway…

Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 9: A Touch Of The Caribbean In The Prairies

Travel day fourteen brought us oil rigs, more salt flats, long trains, buffalo and even some dust devils skipping their way across the prairie fields.

After a long day’s drive just before 3:00 p.m. we pulled off the highway and made our way to the Eagle Valley Park in Maple Park, Saskatchewan.

We were told by the front desk to drive around the park until we found an acceptable sight.

Our drive through and around the camp was delightful.

The grounds struck me more to be an orchard rather than a campground. The trees were of medium height and plentiful. They struck me as about to come into full bloom.

Maybe it was just wishful thinking.

If I had to describe what came to mind as I looked around was Ann of Green Gables “white way of delight.”

We found something towards the front of the campground not far from the entrance, but a good distance from the campground office.

The regular campers were already well entrenched into their own little corners. They had gone through a lot of work and thought into decorating their decks and providing lots of play equipment to keep the kids happy. I was particularly impressed that there was even a doll house provided for anyone who would like to partake in mud pies and imaginary cups of tea.

I would join them in a heartbeat.

With our tour of the campground complete, we returned to the office to pay for our spot.

While Frank was inside the office I enjoyed looking at the Caribbean motifs dappled across the entrance to the office. There was a makeshift hut made from aluminum siding with a finely crafted mock straw thatched roof. This most likely housed their indoor pool which was available to guests for five dollars a person.


My favourites decorations were the plastic palm trees. Don’t ask me why, they just seemed to fill this silly void in me where I question…

“Why has no one ever thought before to bring the Caribbean to the prairies?”

Something tells me that you’ve often wondered that yourself too.

For the rest of the evening Frank and I watched the red-breasted nuthatches play tag in the trees. He asked me at one point if I wanted to walk up to the office and see their cool Caribbean restaurant and bar complete with wifi.

That’s when I couldn’t help but take a glance over to the dollhouse. It seemed painfully lonely and empty. That’s where I really wanted to be. I wondered if there were any kids who could help me make up a batch of mud pies and some imaginary tea.

You see…

… I just happen to have this really great recipe.

Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 8: “Mac The Moose.”

By the time I awoke in Moose Jaw at 8:00 the next morning, Frank was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t take long to figure out where he had wandered off to. Besides, what harm could he do?


On the brighter side, the coffee was hot, and thankfully enough, the camper still had a morning coolness about it. All was well except for the explosion of coffee grinds from my pretty new blue enamel percolator all over the sink and counter top.

I really hate it when that happens.

After cleaning that up it was approaching 9:00 a.m. I was on my second cup of coffee when I could hear the rattle of a full shopping cart approaching.

Sure enough, it was Frank and he had the look of “Mission Accomplished” all over his face.”

I looked into the bags as he lifted them into the camper:

Bottled water

Bathroom tissue

Melitta coffee maker

Paper towels

Car battery

Okay, so we’re installing another battery, which is a good thing and hopefully it will solve the problem of the power loss.

“What happened to the coffee pot?” I asked.

“Grinds were too fine.”

“Buy courser grounds…”

“Not possible unless you go to Starbucks.”

Oh well… I was looking forward to seeing my blue speckled enamel coffee pot every morning but I guess sacrifices have to be made when you’re roughing it like we are.

After Frank did a quick battery installation, we had a bowl of cereal then started packing up our gear.

Once everything was stowed we exited Camp Walmart and I didn’t look back. I don’t think I’ll ever get to enjoy boon-docking in parking lots. Yes, it’s free and convenient but I just don’t like the idea of hanging out amidst asphalt and fumes.

Call me silly.

Of course, we could not leave Moose Jaw without paying homage to “Mac The Moose” the world’s second largest moose statue. He is the most photographed roadside attraction in Canada.

Yay Wally!

As for me I find myself looking forward to our next camping spot.

It’s called the Eagle Valley Park Campground near Maple Creek Saskatchewan.

Trip advisor cites it as…

“A touch of the Caribbean in the prairies.”

I cannot wait to see this.

Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 7: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

On our last morning in Winnipeg, Frank and I were out of bed by 6:00 a.m. and on the road by 8:00 a.m.

We filled the tanks for $1.23 a litre.

By10:00 a.m. we were 161 km. from the Saskatchewan border. The terrain is all flat and farmland. To my surprise I see lots of birch trees, far more than in Ontario.

We passed by many road signs with big letters stating…

“Turn In Poachers @1-800-….

At long last, we were finally in Saskatchewan and a new time zone which was two hours behind home time.

We stopped for gas and in the time it takes took for the friendly gas station attendant to clean our windshield we had heard from him three different recounts of bear attacks on his family and friends in the past two days.

Just imagine how much you can learn from him over a cup of coffee.

All of my life, I’ve been told stories of how flat the prairies are.

From my far left to my far right there are only fields. No trees, no brush, just wheat covered fields.

Even though the flat land gives a wide berth for the eye to see, at no time can I ever see more than a dozen cars and trucks travelling up and down the length of the highway.

At 12:30 we took the turnoff which would take us to Moose Jaw.

It was at about here where I could not help but notice how unusual this terrain was for me. There was nothing at all familiar about this ground which proved to me that there is always more that we are unfamiliar with than there is more that we are familiar with. For someone with a negative sense of direction like me this can be disconcerting to the senses.

Then, there are the abundance of salt swamps along the highway which makes me wonder if maybe we hadn’t been somehow invaded by salt dependant alien life forms who currently live among us, not unlike Natasha Yar’s demise in STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION episode SKIN OF EVIL.


My primary school teachers always did write in my report card that I had a very vivid imagination.

Add to this mixture the fact the Frank has told me that tonight we would be boon-docking at Walmart’s. This is because enlightened campers everywhere know how Walmart welcomes campers to stay for free in their parking lots.

This was something that I always knew was possible, yet thought would never happen to me.

By two in the afternoon we were somewhat comfortably situated among the other campers in front of Moose Jaw’s Walmart.

When Frank checked the tanks he found out we had only one third of a tankful of water and electricity was down by a third as well. We were suspecting that the water was somehow able to slosh out on the rougher roads. As for the electricity, that turns out to be more of a continual problem.

Frank had suspected that the battery had always been somehow deficient. He discovered this during his monthly treks to the camper during the winter months. Yes, it was under warranty however it was able to hold enough of a charge that fell within owner’s manual limits.

We did invest in another battery before leaving home. However, Frank thinks he may have mistakingly left the furnace on after our practice shakedown at a nearby campground a week before our departure.

Now, this is the part where I learned that I could only look at a parking lot in the glaring sun for only so long. It was only 3:00 p.m.

Sunset was scheduled for 9:30.

After a warm afternoon nap we decided to keep things easy and opted for McDonald’s for dinner.

Frank and I found ourselves quietly sitting at the kitchen table watching the daylight slowly dim around us.

At 10:00 p.m. both the sun and Walmart’s indoor lights went out despite the steady stream of customers still entering the store in search of Walmart booty.

Let them shop, I told myself as I called it a night…

It had been a long day and I was more than ready for bed.

Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Part 6: Four Days In Winnipeg

Our arrival in Winnipeg was a happy one. Plus there were many introductions to go around. My youngest daughter Aria and her husband had never met Ginny, their new niece.

Since we visited them last summer they had adopted a beautiful dog and called her Nymera. There was a whole lot of lip smacking and tail wagging and everyone was happy.

Our camper fit easily into their backyard and we were able to hook into their water and electricity which effectively turned us into… “moochdockers.”

The weather was accommodating, welcoming and unseasonably warm.

Aria had prepared a spare bedroom for Jen and Ginny.

Now that Jennifer and Ginny were no longer staying in the camper that freed up a significant amount of space, which we filled right back up again after we had restocked. We had also booked an appointment to have the camper’s oil changed.

In the meantime Aria and Steve kept bringing on the meals and treats and continued to spoil us with good cooking and happy times.

It was lovely staying with them.


Black Cloud Chronicles ~ Day 5: Heading to Thunder Bay

One of the perks of traveling within the confines of a camper as opposed to staying in a hotel/motel is that all your stuff generally follows you wherever you go. The chances of leaving something behind is smaller. So, when you have someone like me who has tendencies to panic over missing items whether it be prescription pills, lipstick, cellphone or wallet, one finds solace in the fact that whatever you can’t immediately find, chances are strong that the missing item is still located within the safety of the camper walls.

Case in point: I happen to have misplaced each of the above items within the five days since we left home, and I am happy to report all were eventually found… within the camper.

Insert happy face here.

In my defence, there is a little more thought that goes into the organization of a motorhome than you might think. You see, when you’re driving down the road in a R.V., a cacophony of clanks, squeaks and squawks always seem to resonate behind you.

It can drive you mad.

I learned very early on in my early camper adventures that there’s nothing that can drive me faster to madness than a case of 23 water bottles. The reason I say 23 is that one has been removed from it’s tight quarters to leave the other bottles nice and loose and free to rub up and down against each other.

(Warning: please do not try to attempt this at home.)

You do not want your dishes clattering together with every pothole either. Neither do you want your knives and forks clang-clang-clanging or your bottles breaking against each other every time you go over some railroad tracks.

In these cases tea-towels, paper-towels and washcloths have been my best friends. Take for example my Insta-pot on the kitchen counter: If I place one tea towel into the aluminum pot as a noise proofing liner, it suddenly becomes sound resistant to whatever I nest and stow inside that pot. Now, I can safely store my teapot inside the insta-pot and silence will prevail. Everything glass or metallic must me soundproofed against each other or the ensuing clatter will quickly sour the nicest of travel days.

Every time we pull up stakes and move on I try to improve on how I store our noisy gear. Hence, from time to time I experiment and stow things in different places. The next thing I know, something isn’t where it use to be and the searching begins.

On Tuesday, May 14th at 8:00 a.m. we pulled out of the KOA Sault St. Marie.

Before hitting the highway, Frank filled the gas tank for $1.48 a litre which came to $160.00.

Although it is mainly pine trees that line the Trans-Canada highway I was pleased to occasionally see clumps of birch trees trying to break through. Their branches still appear bare with no sign of imminent budding.

Batchawana Bay was the first scenic town we encountered that day which was full of many such encounters.

Terrace Bay, Schreiber and Pays Platt are among the last we passed before reaching Thunder Bay.

Having sorted mail for almost thirty years these names are familiar to me and I am always grateful when I can finally see these places for myself.

Just as we are nearing Thunder Bay the rain begins.

Before checking into the KOA Thunder Bay we made our obligatory stop at the grocery store, this time mainly to get the distilled water needed for Ginny’s bottles.

Our last stay at this campground in Thunder Bay August 2018 was not a particularly happy one as I felt we had been sorely gouged with an $85.00 a night spot with only electricity and water, no sewer. They explained it was their last spot. It was also one of their fancier ones. It came with a barbecue, wooden swing chair and a fire pit complete with wooden lawn furniture. It was a real busy spot too, right between the swimming pool and mini golf.

Yup, we met a lot of people during our three day stay there.

This time, we were placed more on the outskirts, with a shower right across the road.

There we caught some sun and had a campfire each night we were there.

We had a good rest stop before hitting the highway again. Three days later we would be leaving here for Jen and Ginny’s final stop in Winnipeg.

#ThunderBay #Camping #Family #Travel #Alaska2019 #Epiphabets