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December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

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Finally (!) Leaving Bismarck

After spending 7 weeks in Bismarck, North Dakota doing family research, I left on the cool, sunny afternoon of Friday, October 19.  As I got on Interstate 94 heading west, I wasn't sure if I was going to drive straight back to Bellingham or dip south and spend a week or two traveling through Colorado, Utah and northern California before heading back to the Northwest.  


On the one hand, I really loved the Southwest and hadn't been to Colorado, where I worked for many years as a ranger in the 1980s, for over six years.  On the other hand, late fall is my least favorite time to travel and, from my ranger experience, I knew how cold and snowy it could get in southern Colorado during late October.  Also, after the September 11th incident, I was looking forward to seeing my Dad and my sister Doti again in Bellingham.  As I drove down the Interstate chasing the sun heading west, I weighed my options.


Where My Mom Met My Dad

Late that afternoon, I stopped in Dickinson, North Dakota, the largest city in western North Dakota.  Back in the early 1900s, a Normal School (i.e., teacher's college) was built in Dickinson and during World War II, the college was converted into a Naval Officer Training School, something like in the movie, "An Officer and a Gentleman." 


My Dad, who was 19 years old and attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington in 1943, joined the Navy and was sent to Dickinson to attend the Naval Officer Training school there.  Dickinson's first Naval Officer candidates, including my Dad, arrived in town by train on Wednesday, June 30, 1943.  Three days later, on Saturday, July 3, the community was going to hold a dance in honor of the cadets.


Here's a song that my parents probably danced to on their first date in 1943.  This is Glenn Miller's In The Mood.

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During that same week in 1943, my Mom, who was 18 and who had just graduated from Bismarck High School, took a bus out to Dickinson to visit a girlfriend of hers, Evelyn Tobin.  Evelyn's mother, as it turned out, was on the dance committee but was terribly worried that there weren't going to be enough girls at the dance, since it was the 4th of July weekend and a lot of families were out of town.  Mrs. Tobin pleaded with her daughter and my Mom to go to the dance.  At first, my Mom refused to go because she didn't like the Navy, thinking that all sailors were sleazy scalawags.  In deference to Mrs. Tobin, though, she finally relented and went to the dance. 


Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago while I was in Bismarck, I read a front-page article in the Dickinson newspaper dated Saturday, July 3, the day of the dance.  According to the article, "Girls at the dance will not be permitted to tell the cadets their last names, supply telephone numbers nor make dates.  The cadets will not be allowed to take the girls home after the dance."  This was just as my Mom had told me many years later.


As you probably guessed, my Dad met my Mom that night at the dance.  Naval regulations notwithstanding, my Dad asked if he could walk her home and they decided to meet outside, across the street, after the dance was over.  He walked her home that night and she asked him if he'd like to go horseback riding the next day.  My Dad, who had never ridden a horse in his life but didn't admit it, cheerfully said yes.  After bouncing up and down in a saddle for six hours the next day, my Dad hobbled home.  My Mom probably wasn't too impressed with my Dad's equestrian skills, but he must have made a good impression regardless because a year later they got married in Florida, where my Dad was training for the Navy's Scouts and Raiders (later SEALs).


I had spent much of the past four months researching my family history, so I thought I should see the place where my Mom met my Dad.  I told this story to a nice woman at the Chamber of Commerce, but she said that the Community Building, where the dance had been held, had been torn down the previous year.  She gave me directions to the empty lot where it had once stood, though, so I drove out to the lot.  As I stood there, I tried to imagine what that night in 1943 must have been like.  I could almost hear the music.



Above left:  Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota.  During World War II, my Dad, from the small town of Skykomish, Washington, attended Naval Officer Training School in this building, May Hall.

Above center:  A few days after arriving in Dickinson in 1943, my Dad went to a dance at the Community Building.  That night at the dance, he met my Mom, who was in Dickinson visiting a friend.  The Community Building was torn down last year and all that's left is this empty lot.  After the dance, my Dad met my Mom across the street, they walked home together... and the rest is history. 

Above right:  My Mom and Dad ice-skating near Dickinson in 1943.  They got married six months later, before my Dad was sent to China to fight in World War II.  He still has that Western Washington University sweater.


Close Encounters at Devils Tower

I stopped at a Burger King in Dickinson late that afternoon to eat a Whopper and fries for dinner, then drove south on a two-lane highway for a few hours and pulled into the small town of Bowman, North Dakota.  This being hunting season, the motels in Bowman were pretty jammed and the only room available was cloaked in a heavy fog of cigarette smoke.  Not wanting to smell like a pack of Marlboros for the next three days, I slept in my pickup truck next door in a church parking lot. 


Always having a place to sleep like that is one reason why I like pickup trucks.  I used to sleep in parking lots quite a bit during my younger and poorer traveling days, but this was the first (and last) time that I'd have to resort to that on this trip.  No shower in the morning but hey, it's a cheap way to travel.


Early the next morning, I headed down into South Dakota and Wyoming, drove by the geographic center of the United States just off Highway 83, and reached one of my favorite places in America, Devil's Tower National Monument.  Even if you haven't been to Devils Tower, you'd probably recognize it if you've seen the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," since it was the source of Richard Dreyfuss' obsession in that film.


I'd been to Devils Tower twice before, both times during the late spring, and although I never saw any little green men or flying saucers there, I always had a great time.  Indeed, it's one of my very favorite National Parks in the U.S.  This time was different, though:  the skies were gray, the air was crisp, the campground was closed, the leaves had fallen, and the park was nearly deserted.  As I hiked around the base of Devils Tower, I changed my mind and decided to just head straight back to Bellingham instead of going to Colorado.  I missed the Northwest too much and I wanted to get home.



Above left:  On U.S. 83 in South Dakota.

Above center:  The geographic center of the United States is a few miles north of this town, Belle Fourche (pronounced "Bell Foosh"), South Dakota.

Above right:  Back in the late 1800s, Harry Longabaugh spent several months in the Sundance, Wyoming jail (for rustling cattle, I believe).  Of course, that's how he got his nickname, "The Sundance Kid." 



Above left:  Entering Devils Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming.  It was cold, gray, and rather dreary when I was there, not like my other visits to this park.

Above center:  According to Indian legend, the sides of Devils Tower were scraped by a giant grizzly bear who was trying to climb it.

Above right:  Each year, hundreds of mountain climbers also try to climb Devils Tower.  You probably can't see them, but the tiny specks in the lower left and upper right corners are climbers making their way to the top. 



Left:  In 1800, over 2 billion prairie dogs lived on the Great Plains.  The habitat has since shrunk to a few pockets, like here at Devils Tower.  Cute critters, huh?


Across The Plains of Montana

After leaving Devils Tower around noon, I hopped onto Interstate 90 near Gillette, Wyoming and drove west, spending the night at an EconoLodge in the very Western town of Livingston, Montana. 


Here's Jimmy Buffett singing A Livingston Saturday Night.

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For some reason, Jimmy Buffett once wrote a song about this town called "A Livingston Saturday Night," although I don't know what that Caribbean Crooner was ever doing in central Montana. 


Contrary to his lively description, though, the town seemed pretty dead... at least, on this Saturday night in October.  Nevertheless, Livingston seemed pretty interesting, with lots of charismatic brick buildings, many dating back to the 1800s, giving it an authentic Western feel.  As I strolled around town, I felt like I'd stepped back a hundred years and was expecting to see a fight break out in one of the bars and some dude crash through a window.  No such luck, though, so I moseyed on back to the EconoLodge and turned on CNN.



Above left:  After stopping in Gillette, Wyoming to refill my gas tank and to get a Whopper, I got back on Interstate 90.  Gillette, a large yet desolate city on the high plains of Wyoming, has more house trailers per capita than any town I know.

Above center:  A Sunday morning in Livingston, Montana.

Above right:  Livingston is a quintessential Western town



Above left:  End-of-the-season sign in Livingston.

Above center:  I found this photo of my great-grandmother, Anna Swang, a few years ago.  On the back, Anna had written "This is in Washoe Park in Anaconda.  Just fished my hat out of the stream. 1916."  The only Anaconda I knew was in Montana, so I stopped to see if there was a Washoe Park there. 

Above right:  Sure enough, there is.  This is probably where the photo was taken.  I don't know what Anna, who lived in Fessenden, North Dakota, was doing in Anaconda or who she was with.  I never knew Anna, who died in 1933, but from what I learned in North Dakota, she was a remarkable woman.


Finally Back To Bellingham

It was pretty chilly the next morning as I left Livingston and after visiting Bozeman, Butte, and Anaconda that day, I got a motel room in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and enjoyed watching the Seattle Mariners beat up on the New York Yankees in the playoffs.  I don't care who wins, but it's always fun to watch the Yankees lose in the playoffs.  I left Coeur d'Alene the next morning and drove west on Interstate 90 across Washington, a rather bland drive, especially on a chilly gray day in late October. 


Before I returned to Bellingham, I wanted to make one last stop on my U.S. trip, and that was in the small town of Skykomish, Washington, located on the west flank of the Cascade Mountains.  My Dad grew up in Skykomish during the Great Depression and has told me many stories of his father, George, who owned a small grocery store there called "Leu's Market" and who worked hard to eke out a living for his family.  Meanwhile, his mother Minnie May raised him and his five siblings.  They had a tough go of it during the Depression; such times I can hardly imagine.


The United States is an amazing country.  To cap off my four-month tour of America, here's Ray Charles singing America The Beautiful.

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As I crossed over Stevens Pass, the drizzle turn to snowflakes and then back to drizzle as I pulled into Skykomish.  I didn't spend too much time there, but I did stop to visit the graves of my grandparents, George and Minnie May.  According to a family legend, my grandfather George Leu briefly played baseball for the Cleveland Indians in the early 1900s -- until he got beaned with a fastball.  Of my four grandparents, George was the only one I even vaguely remember, and he died when I was five.  People tell me that my grandmother, Minnie May, was a lively person who enjoyed traveling, and earlier in this trip, I had visited Minnie's birthplace in Mayville, Michigan (see News: August 10, 2001).   


After giving my regards to George and Minnie, I reached Interstate 5 and headed north to Bellingham, pulling into my Dad's driveway late that afternoon during a blustery storm.  After being gone for over four months, I was home again.



Above left:  Some roadshots during the last day of my 4-1/2 month U.S. trip.  This is on Interstate 90 near Spokane, Washington.  For those of you back east, it's pronounced "Spo-CAN."

Above center:  Driving across the bleak wheat fields of central Washington. 

Above right:  And up over Washington's Cascade Mountains on Highway 2.  



Above left:  I encountered the first snowfall of my entire trip here at 4,000' Stevens Pass.  With winter on the way, I figured this was a good time to head home... and then to the southern hemisphere.

Above center:  My Dad grew up in the tiny town of Skykomish, Washington (pop. 365).  This is the high school that he attended in the 1930s.

Above right:  I promise that this is the last cemetery visit of my trip!  This is the gravesite of my Dad's parents, George and Minnie May Leu, in Monroe, Washington.  For more about his family history, see My Dad's Ancestors:  Map and Photo Essay.



Above left:  Home sweet (well, sort of) home.  I returned to Bellingham on October 22, after 4-1/2 months on the road.  It was good to be back again, and to see my Dad and sister.

Above center:  My Dad (far right) on the Bellingham School Board.  He's 78 years old and is darn-right irrepressible.  After a 50-year career in education, he's done just about everything education-wise:  school teacher, principal, Professor, Dean of Education, Assistant Superintendent of Education for the State of Michigan, international education consultant, and now a school board member.

Above right:  A terrific birthday dinner that my sister Doti made for me last week in Bellingham.  That's my Dad on the right.  After my Mom passed away a few years ago, Doti moved up here from Oregon.  She's doing a wonderful job around the house.


Getting Ready for Part 2

I've been in Bellingham for the past month getting ready for my around-the-world trip and have been pretty busy here.  That sounds like a long time to get ready, but it seems like there are a million things to do, especially since I'll be gone overseas for 8 months.  I'm trying to take care of everything before I go and to plan for contingencies, which is a lot of work.


The fact that I'll be traveling to several different countries and doing different things in each place also makes it complicated.  Plus, it's been a learning process for me since this is my first trip overseas.  Bringing along the laptop computer also complicates things because just about every country uses a different type of AC outlet and a different type of telephone plug, so I've had to purchase AC adapters and modem adapters for each country I'll be visiting.  


I've also been spending a lot of time on the Internet making reservations.  During the past month, I've made 7 plane reservations, 4 car reservations, and 4 lodging reservations, and I've had to change some of those a few times as my plans have shifted.  And I won't even get into the whole issue of finances (setting up wire-transfers, online access, traveler's checks, extra credit cards, etc., etc.).  I'm starting to wonder if all this preparation is really worth it!  It would certainly be a lot easier to go for just a couple of weeks -- but then, that wouldn't be much of a journey now, would it?


In between all this planning, though, Dad, Doti and I spent a nice Thanksgiving at my cousin Bob's house in the Cascade Mountains near Skykomish.



Above left:  Thanksgiving at my cousin Bob's house.  The fellow opening the wine is my Uncle Bill, who was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked.  The following year, Bill's ship, the U.S.S. Neosho, was sunk in the South Pacific and he floated around on a raft for several days until he was rescued by a U.S. destroyer.  My Aunt Dorothy and my Dad are in the background.

Above center:  Thanksgiving dinner.  From L to R:  my cousin Bob, my sister Doti, Uncle Bill, Aunt Dorothy, my Dad, Aunt Lois.  During dinner, I described how to cook "Turducken" by stuffing a duck inside a chicken and turkey.  And speaking of duck, I mentioned how a guy in Florida was killed by a duck recently.  He was zipping around on a Jet Ski and ran into a flying duck (seriously).  

Above right:  Ready to hit the south Pacific.


My Itinerary 

I'll be leaving Bellingham on Friday, December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day, though I'm hoping my trip won't be a bomb) and will fly down to southern California and spend a day with my brother Dave and his wife.  Saturday evening, I'll board an Air New Zealand flight bound for the island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific, arriving there bleary-eyed at 5:30 the next morning.  Rarotonga is supposed to be a beautiful island with lots of white, sandy beaches and palm trees, and it's not nearly as touristy as Hawaii or Tahiti.  And, best of all, it's cheap.


After spending a few days in a beach-front studio on Rarotonga (and for only $30 a night), I'll fly on a tiny plane to the even smaller island of Aitutaki, about 150 miles away, which I read about in a travel book and which is supposed to be even more spectacular than Rarotonga.  I'll spend a couple nights on Aitutaki in another beach-front studio that's a cut above a thatched-roof hut (but for only $14 a night), then fly back to Rarotonga and spend another day there.  After that, I'll fly to Auckland, New Zealand.


I've made reservations at a B&B north of Auckland, where I'll spend a few days getting ready for my 2-month drive around New Zealand.  I'll probably rent a Toyota Corolla in Auckland, which will cost about $15 per day, but I may instead buy a pickup truck if I find something decent in the first few days that I'm in New Zealand.  The way it looks now, though, I'll be doing a lot of tenting around New Zealand instead of sleeping in my pickup on a comfy foam pad.  I'm not sure if my back will forgive me for that decision!


By the way, some people have asked if I'm afraid to travel because of the recent problems with terrorism.  Not to sound macho, but I'm really not concerned about it because I figure flight security is much higher now than it ever has been (though I'm not planning to stop in any Muslim countries on this trip).  Actually, I'm more concerned about mundane things, like trying to remember to KEEP LEFT when I drive around New Zealand, and getting used to shift with my left hand instead of my right.


That's about it, folks.  I hope you'll enjoy reading my updates from New Zealand and Australia, and keep in touch!



Next News

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)



Previous News

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)


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