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"One of the recurrent phrases on almost every lip during America's periods of western expansion was 'seeing the elephant.' The phrase had various shades of meaning -- to see the sights, to gain experience of life -- but in the main, seeing the elephant meant going west with one's eyes open, expecting to find marvels and wondrous fortunes, only to be monstrously defrauded in the end. It meant hard travel, exotic adventure along the way, discomfort from the elements, chicanery from traders, trickery by the Indians."

Dee Brown, The Gentle Tamers, (New York, 1958)

It didn't start out to be a 25,000 mile drive.

Summer was looming ahead of me, and my daughter was going to spend the break up north with her dad. She wanted the dog and the cat with her, so suddenly my schedule was totally clear for 6 months. What a concept. One of my best friends had moved from Tampa to Seattle, and I wanted to visit her. Seemed like a good time to do that.

I had never traveled west of Utah, had never seen '97 EVCAlberta or British Columbia, so the plan was to drive to Ohio, drop off the pets, then swing up to Alberta to see the Canadian Rockies on my way to Washington State. I used to live in Vail, but everyone said that the Rockies, north of the border, were even more beautiful. I wanted to see. I particularly wanted to see Banff and Lake Louise.

During a pre-trip research foray online, I came across an ad for a little rental house in New Mexico. It was delightful, relatively inexpensive, and located in between Taos and Santa Fe, two of my favorite areas. And it was available. I called a couple of friends and asked if they would care to join me for a week in New Mexico. Yep. Great. I'd pick them up in St. Louis, spend some time with them, and then drop them off at the airport in Denver. And then I'd start my real trip from there.

Everything went according to plan until I hit Canada. Then I found out that my girlfriend had gotten transferred to Denver and wasn't even going to be in Seattle by the time that I got there. I was uncommitted for 6 weeks. What to do?

I headed North, and I made it all the way to Hyder, Alaska before I had to turn back toward the States.

My family freaked. My friends freaked. Everyone worried about me. No one could believe that I wouldn't get lonely or scared. I was prepared for either, but neither materialized. Lonely? I talked to more people than I do at home. Frightened? Only twice, and both times were due to road map reading error on my part. Contrary to popular belief, there are not psychopaths lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce on women who are traveling alone.

All in all, an incredible journey.

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