I just arrived home from taking my oldest daughter Jessie to Baypath College in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. This trip required 5,150 miles of driving and covered three Canadian Provinces and eleven states. We drove through smoke from the forest fires here in Alaska and a whole lot of rain in the lower 48. We saw a moose that got hit by a truck in Tok but other than that we never saw an accident of any kind.
The Alcan Highway is fantastic to say the least, a tremendous improvement in that road system since I first drove on it nine years ago. Alberta has the best roads of any we drove on in the entire trip and I might add this Province has it all. Beautiful roads, a lot of oil activity, excellent crops, excellent hunting and fishing opportunities. The road systems in Alberta are clearly marked and as smooth as glass.
I drove over to Lewis and Lila Hanson's place on the east side of Williston, North Dakota and noticed a wheelchair ramp leading up to the front door. This couple has always been such good friends to my family and I always made it a point to stop by and give them some fresh fish whenever I go through Williston. Lewis hollered come on in and stood there with the same old smile he always had on his face. He told me he had a lot of visitors stopping by but this one is really special, getting company from Alaska.
I asked Lewis where his wife Lila was at and he replied she has not been here for the past 1 1/2 years. I asked him where she was at and he replied she is down at the nursing home. He went on to explain that Lila had a bad stroke and fell off her chair while eating dinner one day and has never been here since. He went on to say that then he had a heart attack in his yard and now his legs are shot. "I can't even mow my own yard any more."
I told Lewi this can't be a whole lot of fun living alone like this, he replied "This is no life John, I can't get around, and my wife is down at the home." I commented to Lewi that despite the many setbacks he has endured since I last visited him about four years ago he still had the same smile on his face that was there the first time I met him nearly twenty years ago. He replied " And the smile is staying there, you can take my legs away, my wife is gone from here but you aren't never going to take my smile away." I left the Hanson home feeling very humble and despite not being prepared to see what was all going on there, I felt very blessed to have known Lewi and Lila Hanson. I drove over to the nursing home and attempted to visit with Lila who was sitting in a wheelchair. I held her hand and talked to her reminding her who I was, her only response was a faint whisper that I was unable to hear.
A short time later I left Williston and thought how happy this couple was together in all the times I was at their home when I lived in North Dakota. I also thought just how unfair life seems to be at times and how hard it must be for Lewi to be living like this. I offered Lewi a FREE plane ticket to Alaska and a place to stay to experience a world he has only seen pictures off. He thanked us for the offer but was unsure if he could do that because he goes to the nursing home every day or every other day to see his wife. He went on to say "Sometimes I even take her flowers!" Talk about a dedicated husband who has to go in a wheelchair to visit his non-responsive wife, Lewi is a classic at 86 years of age!
My next stop was in Coates, Minnesota arriving in the middle of the night at my brother Jim's repair shop. We again had the car checked over, some new plugs put in, new brake pads and the oil changed before once again hitting the road. Jim did some excellent work for us and saved us a ton of money down the road by finding a badly worn brake pad on the left front!
That evening we were in Augusta, Wisconsin where I quickly arranged a couple fishing trips with one of the best outdoorsmen I know, Todd Tomkins. Todd and I went Musky fishing on the Eau Claire River but due to really low water conditions and almost stagnant looking green water we did not do well. Todd did have one Musky almost jerk the pole out of his hand but the determined fish ended up getting away.
The following day we were fishing on the Flambeau Flowage in Ladysmith where the water looked a whole lot cleaner and the fish were more active. We did catch several nice small mouth and I had a huge one almost beside the boat that would have went on my wall if he had not thrown the Hog Wobbeler Musky bait back out at me. We also caught a couple northern pike and a small Musky.
The following day I spent fishing with my parents at Otter Lake which has always been one of the top producing panfish lakes in the Wisconsin Midwest. For some reason there are not any yellow-bellied bullheads in this lake, a fish we used to catch by the bucket full years ago and a very good fish on the table. We drifted for panfish and caught around 30 that day. I was dreaming about going to deep water and try some walleye fishing or even small mouth bass fishing but my parents seemed pretty content to be fishing for small panfish in about ten feet of water. So I never said anything despite knowing that our chances were pretty slim to hook into a trophy fish when it was really warm and the middle of the lake offered very little shelter from the blazing sun. As we drifted along I rigged up a small spoon tipped with a very lively night crawler on my fishing pole and settled in to do this panfish drift.
I felt a sharp tug on my pole and I set the hook but wow this was no panfish and the hook set felt great! The fish started taking out line so I knew my brake was set right and it felt like a really nice fish (probably a huge walleye). Wow, and the other good part of having this nice fish on is that I was using my King Salmon pole and my 9 foot rod, big game 25 LB test line! This fish should be mine I was thinking as he stayed on the bottom and peeled out about 30 yards of line! My heart started to beat faster as dad put his pole down and reached for the net! And then it happened......my line went slack as the fish was gone! I was really disheartened over losing that fish and thought I did everything right and he still got away!
After saying good-bye we headed for southern Wisconsin to look up more old friends. Mom gave Jessie a bag of all the things any college student would need. We even got some homemade soup and great Wis. sweet corn.
We spent that evening with Mike Potts and also visited with his brother Toby. I grew up with these guys but have not seen either for about ten years. Mike has battled back from a severe motorcycle accident where he was initially told he would never walk again to be an avid outdoorsman who has hunted and fished all over the U.S and Canada. He was now recovering from back surgery again but that did not stop him from cooking us a nice meal that evening. Toby and his wife Penny bought us breakfast the next morning and we were on the road again.
We spent the day driving and found ourselves in New York that evening. We went to Niagara Falls the following day but I felt Alaska had a whole lot more beautiful sights then the falls surrounded by tons and tons of concrete parking lots and buildings.
That evening August 30th we were at Baypath College where we were met by a very friendly staff who seemed overly excited because Jessie was their first ever Alaskan student. A very beautiful campus with lots of very nice trees and a pretty conservative community were what led me to think Jessie chose a really nice place to go to college at.
The following day Jessie dropped me off at the airport and I felt a little relieved that we were able to complete our long trip safely and also I was ready to go home. Jessie starts her college life 5000 miles from us here in Alaska but not before dad bought her a refrigerator for her room, a lamp with a glass shelf in the middle with a wooden mallard duck to put on the shelf. Why the duck you ask? I'm not sure, maybe because they don't have any moose to buy in Massachusetts. Maybe it is also a reminder to Jessie of the mallard duck lamp that sits by our bed and that help is just a phone call away.
I just called Lewi Hanson up in North Dakota and again invited him to come visit us in Alaska but he replied " No I can't go as long as Lila is still alive." I asked "You couldn't even take a short vacation?' He replied, "No Lila would have never left without me so I couldn't leave without her either, that love is a funny thing!"
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