Monday 24 April 2017

Sometimes Weird Shit Just Happens

    I insist that road trips not be over-organized because it’s the spontaneity and the sense of the unknown that make them so irresistible as a vacation format. We usually have a general idea of where we want to go and approximately when we’ll be arriving but we rarely book ahead because that adds a militaristic degree of conformance that doesn’t sit well with the way we roll. My secret for success is to be informed, be careful, be prepared to expect the unexpected and to enjoy wherever the road takes you. Okay, look around you, now just remember to smile because you are somewhere that you’ll never forget.

      Having said all that, if the truth be known, I consistently find myself in situations that just beg to ask, “What the hell was that?!”

      Leaving Coeur d’Alene, Idaho we took a quick detour into Washington State just so we could say we’d been there then crossed the border into northeastern Oregon. I was flabbergasted to find that in less than 20 miles we had seemingly changed planets and were now in a very arid, very open desert! What happened to the breathtaking seascapes and regal forests that were my ill-informed concept of what Oregon was all about?

      I was surrounded by dry, parched earth and a dusty scene that seemed more from a classic western than anything else. The sun shone brightly and the sky was a brilliant crystal blue, contributing more ambiance to an already movie-like setting. As we stood in this desolate scene there was not a sound to be heard because even the wind had subsided and the roads were vacant. We were enjoying the solitude (at least Karen and I were) when suddenly we heard a distant rumbling. The sound increased rapidly building in intensity to a nearly deafening roar like a plane flying low overhead. We stood there, almost in shock, looked up into the clear, blue sky and saw absolutely NOTHING!

      To this day I don’t know quite what to make of that experience. Was it a UFO, a stealth bomber, some sort of freaky storm, what was so audible and yet invisible to us? It wouldn’t be the first time we ended up sight-seeing on the fringe of a military base or probable missile silo but in those instances someone usually approaches us and asks us to leave explaining that we were about to illegally enter a “weather station”. We never did find out what the rumbling sound was but it was one of those things that only comes up in conversations about aliens and paranormal activities.


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Monday 17 April 2017

America's Pride: New York City

    In the fall of 1993 Gavin would start high school and unfortunately the workload would increase – gone were the carefree days in a rural public school. That meant we would be unable to just pull him out of school for a couple or three weeks, there was now too much at stake to allow that to happen. Frighteningly, a summer holiday was now required; frightening because that meant crowds and congestion to me, something we had happily avoided for the last six years.

      I was still not independently wealthy and my “Freedom 55” plan seemed to have a few clouds developing on the horizon. Therefore, this year we would choose to vacation a little closer to home and for a shorter period of time. New York City looked like it would be a great trip. This one was not so much poorly planned as not planned at all so adventure ruled once again as we drove off into the unknown.

      As we got to the George Washington Bridge to get onto Manhattan Island I was perplexed by the numerous exits off the bridge. None of them appeared to be particularly well marked so at that point I made the decision to take the one that was least cluttered with garbage.

      As we coasted to a stop at the bottom of the ramp we were immediately swarmed by a large contingent of local youths. I wasn’t sure if it was a gang attempting to hold us up in broad daylight or what but they were heavily armed with buckets and squeegees. We were in Harlem - “Welcome to New York boys”.            At one point I was reminded of the National Lampoon movie “Vacation” and I reacted pretty much the same way that Chevy Chase had in the film. We heard gunshots off to one side and I shouted to Karen and the boys, “Roll 'em up and lock the doors!” I was relatively sure we were safe as the shots were from some distance away but nevertheless it was nice to see Harlem disappear as we approached uptown Manhattan.

      As the Clampetts, or in this case the Whiteheads, arrived in New York City with their matching grocery bags as luggage their unfamiliarity and lack of understanding of the ways of this world shone through with amazing clarity.        The charging cabs, the constant horn honking and the swarms of people would normally be a major source of irritation to me but here it seemed totally normal and even necessary – after all this was New York City, the Big Apple – and we were there to willingly take our bite of the madness.

      The New York Yankees are the pride of the city and after a brief rest in our room we embarked on our greatest baseball connection to date. (The original) Yankee Stadium was built in 1923 and had always been the ultimate in major league stadiums so our love of baseball made this visit almost spiritual. The game itself was nothing out of the ordinary but the fact that we were in Yankee Stadium made it extraordinary indeed. Their opponents were our own Toronto Blue Jays so ball park hot dogs and a coke put the icing on the cake for us all. As we left the stadium I looked back at “the bat”, the facility’s exhaust pipe that had been built to resemble a Louisville Slugger, and thought how fortunate I was to have been able to share this moment with my wife and sons.

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Monday 10 April 2017

How to Break Out of Boring Vacations

    I’d like to preface this by saying, “Don’t do this!” It was irresponsible and wrong but it was pre-911 so we survived to tell the tale. Chicago is all sirens and architecture but that did not diminish our desire to take the boys, Gavin and Adam, there – and I guess we better not forget that Al Capone thing.

      They say that getting there is half the fun but on a drive as boring as Toronto to Chicago via Detroit I found a way to make it more than just half the fun. It’s not that it was particularly orchestrated by me but sometimes you have to just sit back and let the chips fall where they may. Interstate 94 is the fastest and most direct route from Detroit to Chicago so I was hard set that that was the only road I was going to take. We crossed the Ambassador Bridge and cleared customs into the U.S. quickly then it was an easy task following the well signed route to I94. As I approached the ramp the barriers were down blocking my progress and it was very evident that the highway was closed. Shit! This was going to be a pain in the ass and I had to use this road – it was the only way I knew and there was no indication where the detour might go. It was Sunday morning and it didn’t even look like there was anyone working so I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen? I’m going to give it a try!”

      Looking around to make sure there were no police or any other prying eyes I ascertained “the coast was clear” and drove cautiously around the barrier onto the ramp. I was prepared to play the dumb ass tourist card if we were stopped and we entered the freeway easily as there was no traffic at all. Have you ever driven on a totally empty Interstate? Well I must say we were making awesome time and the first 10 miles just flew by. Of course there was absolutely no one else on the road, no work crews, not a damn thing. However, ultimately there were several people actually working and they looked on in utter amazement as we went flying by. With angry shouts and shaking of fists they made their displeasure obvious. We, on the other hand, truly did have very mixed emotions. The sheer terror created as we worried what would happen if we were caught and stopped was only slightly overshadowed by the lunacy of doing something so outlandishly reckless. I turned to Karen and jokingly said, “Stop laughing! We want them to think this happened by accident!”

      A few more miles and we were home free as the closed section met the open section and we were legal again. No long line of police cars with lights flashing and sirens wailing, no angry highway construction workers chasing us – and no gunfire. We made it – probably the most irresponsible, idiotic thing I have ever done but it sure saved us an enormous amount of time and now, yes, getting there was half the fun!



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Monday 3 April 2017

What's So Scary About Idaho?

    I love ghost towns but not the commercialized ones that attract thousands of people and carry an entrance fee. Silver City, Idaho is a ghost town I had read about but it was so remote it was not on any map. “At an elevation of 6,179 feet it is located 25 miles southwest of Murphy via a dirt road” – those were the only directions I had. CAA had to draw it in on the map they had given me and we had to stop in a village where we thought the dirt access road might be to ask for directions.

      In its heyday in the 1880’s Silver City was a gold and silver mining town with a population of about 2,500 and approximately 75 businesses. There are many buildings still standing in the ghost town today (1994), all of which are privately owned by third and fourth generation descendants of the original miners.

      Once we found the “road” in it was not difficult to find the town but it was certainly an adventure getting there. It started out not too badly but quickly deteriorated to a pair of ruts in the dirt surrounded by rocks and boulders and more potholes than I have ever seen on one road. As we crept along at what seemed like 20 yards a minute I thought, “We have absolutely no idea how far this road goes or how long it will take us to get there.”

      However, that was the least of our worries. Up the hills on both sides of the road, surrounded by scrub grass and dried bushes, were several deteriorating wooden shacks at varying intervals. These shacks all had porches out front and were occupied by primarily old men, many with shotguns, sitting there staring blankly down at us. With “Dueling Banjos” resonating in my mind the only thing I could think of was that these old derelicts were all crazed Vietnam vets, ready to snap at any second and open fire on their hallucinatory enemy below. It was a very nervous journey of more than an hour but fortunately we arrived, relieved and safe in Silver City.

      Reminding me of St. Elmo in Colorado it was truly a ghost town and would remain that way if the road in was not improved. Silver City was comprised of an old general store, a school house and a church with an 1882 sign on it and in seemingly original condition. There were two or three houses as well and a silence broken only by a stray dog barking.

      Of course, it would not have been complete without a wonderful old cemetery marked with brilliant, white stones contrasted against the stark, deep blue of a perfect sky. It was a bit of an effort to find Silver City and to get there but the history lesson received by being there was an unparalleled experience – especially for our sons Gavin and Adam.

      Reminiscent of the route down Pikes Peak in Colorado, the road out of Silver City was a much more relaxing drive than our journey in. A winding dirt road yielded beautiful mountain views at every curve. As we progressed, the sandy hills and similar coloured road provided a fabulous picture against the perfect western sky.

      Never fearful on the drive out, the only people we passed were a couple on a three wheeled motorcycle – Easy Rider in comfort. We naturally assumed that this, the only road out of Silver City, would lead us to civilization, which it did. Not only did it take us to civilization but to a highway that I could find on the map, a highway that would take us to our next destination.

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