That Annoying Little Sister

One of the burdens I was forced to endure in my childhood was a pesky little sister. She was insufferable and, at four years my junior, way too young to be any fun. My mother always forced my brother and me to include her in our activities. It was like having an extra shadow. It was traumatic to say the least.

As we all grew older and eventually up, we managed to transform into young adults. The burden became less, and eventually the accidental friendship that occurs amongst siblings took place.

Life happened and we are no longer young. We are also no longer geographically close.

According to Google Maps, we live 1517 miles apart. We don't have coffee together nearly often enough. When we do, it's a delightful time. It is funny how that annoying little shadow metamorphosed into a refreshing visitor.

My sister Leah and her husband are visiting us this week. They are from very northern Minnesota. Their trip to North Carolina fast forwarded their spring to summer.

Today we visited the village of Oriental, North Carolina. It is always a fun place to visit. Today it was even more fun.

There is really no moral to this story. Enjoy your family.

Adventures at 35 mph!

The old proverb goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That is very true, but there are still a thousand miles to travel. Unless, of course, the trip is longer, which was our case. Actually, in all, our trip was about 7500 miles. Thankfully, only about the first thousand miles of that journey involved continuously brutal travel conditions.

We were moving out of Alaska, and everything we owned was packed into the back of our 1975 Dodge pickup and our boat, which was pulled behind it. I called that truck The Warthog, because it was so rusty, so ugly, and so tough. It was the only appropriate name. For our trip, The Warthog was grossly overloaded.

That first step was March, 3, 1993, at four in the morning. The sky was clear and it was a brisk twenty degrees below zero as we rolled out. It was an emotional event as we intentionally said goodbye to our chosen homeland and began our journey back to the States.

We had not gone far when the trouble began. Actually, we were probably still in the driveway when I noticed it. Frost heaves! Frost heaves were, and continue to be, part of northern living. The roadbed freezes and buckles upwards creating a speed bump effect. It's annoying for sure, but after so many years of driving on roads like that, I had become complacent. What made those frost heaves special was the fact that The Warthog was so loaded down, and there was so much weight on the trailer tongue, that driving over 35 mph was impossible.

We heaved, bounced, bucked, and jostled our way down the highway. It was like crossing a railroad switch yard for over a thousand miles. And that is how we spent the first thirty-odd driving hours of that trip. It did rock the kids to sleep nicely, I'll say that much for it. I had a less relaxing experience.

Our first stop was Beaver Creek, Yukon Territories. We pulled in at about two in the morning. After a few short hours of sleep, we got on the road again. That's where the lodge owner's oversized dog bit me on the shoulder as I was checking the tires in the morning. There were a few tense moments of standoff between me with an ax that magically came into my hands and the dog that evidently had never been threatened with extinction before then. The anti-social dog got a stay of execution due to an owner who hastily locked it up while I was deciding if it was worth the trouble in a foreign country. I had avoided injury due to a thick Carhartt coat. The owner never apologized or even made eye contact with me as we checked out. I was less than impressed.

The next night's stop was Watson Lake, Yukon Territories. I don't remember how late it was when we arrived there. I do recall that the motel was attached to some kind of night club, and seemed to be of questionable character. It was ridiculously noisy. It didn't matter, there were no other options for hundreds of miles, and I was too exhausted to drive any further.

Watson Lake was actually about 1100 miles into our journey, and the road conditions improved after that. Our travel speed average went up to 45 mph. Doesn't sound like much, but it improved morale.

By the third day, we were hopelessly behind schedule with no possibility of making the next planned destination. Fortunately, as we entered British Columbia, there were more frequent towns with amenities. We rescheduled our next stop to be realistic and pressed on. That day we stopped at Liard Hot Springs and took a fifteen minute dip.

All the emotions of leaving my life-long dream of living in Alaska, all the tension of the difficult driving through the icy mountains, all the stress of the horrible roads, all the pain in my lower back, washed away in that 105 degree spring. So did all my ambition and all my ability to stay awake. I felt like a rag doll after that stop. Somehow I managed to drive to our next destination. It has been twenty-two years now, and I still think about that hot spring.

There were yet thousands of miles to travel on that trip. It took a long time. But, in the end, we had a great, wonderful, horrible, delightful, frustrating journey in the books. We had encountered deadly cold, blizzards, treacherous travel conditions, wonders of nature, hostile animals, near brushes with death, mean people, wonderful people, breath-taking scenery, pleasure, pain, unexpected adversity, and unbidden assistance.

In all, it turned out to be a great adventure, and we had not even been looking for one.

Soup with chopsticks! Where's the hidden camera?

Ahh, yes! That … was part of our Christmas in Japan.

The memory gate is opened and my emotions are suddenly flooded. They come like waves, one after the other, crashing into my mind and overwhelming my senses. We were in Japan: Okinawa, Japan, to be precise. And the trip was everything and more than we had ever expected. It was two years ago, and we were in Okinawa for eighteen days of adventure with the family!

As Hodge adventures rank, it was fairly low key, in that we did not intentionally plan anything that would put us at imminent risk of life or limb. As our travel experiences go, it was nothing short of amazing.

In our time there, we tried all manner of unfamiliar foods, eating at local establishments where English was not spoken and the menu was semi-mysterious. Then came the Udon Noodle Soup place.

Chopsticks for eating soup looked like a great way to prank Americans. Seriously, the operation looked impossible. But a quick look around the room revealed many locals happily eating their soup with chopsticks. It's no wonder they don't have a problem with their weight there.

My wife wisely ceded defeat and grabbed a spoon. I, on the other hand, stubbornly used the chopsticks. It was war from the beginning. Chopsticks make perfect soup stir sticks. I pretended to be getting the upper hand while chasing the little bits around the bowl. Microscopic quantities made it to my mouth. It smelled wonderful … maddeningly wonderful. I suddenly realized what the great krill-eating whales must feel like. Satisfaction seemed impossible.

My kids, between jokes about my skill level, offered that it would be okay to use a spoon. I must have looked pathetic. I don't normally growl at my food, but that seemed like an appropriate response. I think that part did not happen out loud, otherwise the normally very polite Japanese people may have responded with alarm.

With each frustrating technique attempt, the bowl crept closer to my face. Then at last I had a breakthrough. The victory was mine! With each sortie of those thin bamboo sticks I got flavor, texture, and volume! That soup tasted every bit as wonderful as it smelled. I mentally rode in the victory parade and with each successful scoop came another metaphorical shower of ticker tape confetti! That lasted about five bites.

Then, daughter Rochelle, who lived in Okinawa at the time, indicated a table near ours. She glibly pointed out that I was doing it just like one of the locals. My pleasure was checked only barely by the laughter of the kids. I was indeed using the same technique as the girl at that table. She was about four. I happily pointed out that she had a four year head start on me and I had already caught up!

Our Okinawa Christmas was indeed a wonderful experience. It flew by too fast as all pleasures tend to do, but each experience left us with great memories.

I pity people who have carbon copy Christmas experiences. We do have a few traditions that we repeat, but sharing the joy of different and sometimes surprising experiences really creates awesome memories for our family.

This year, who knows what surprise adventure may be lurking under the tree …