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Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 13-14

SNOWMOBILING — "I'm too tired to even look at pictures," snowmobiler Bob Jones said in an email from the tiny village of Golovin on the Iditarod Trail. (Additional photos will come later and be posted here.)   He'd just put in an 11-hour  day that extended well into the night to reach a place where he and Josh Rindal could get out of the cold for a few hours of sleep before continuing their 1,000-mile journey to Nome following the Iditarod Trail.

Despite a fierce cold and a major breakdown that forced them to find a snowmobile to borrow, Jones, from Kettle Falls, and Rindal, from Spokane, have an outside chance of making the Mushers Banquet in Nome tonight (March 18) — if they can make the last 90 brutal miles in one day.

"It will be a cold ride, just like today's was," Jones reported. "It's -9º and breeze outside as I write this from the library at the Golovin school.  It's about +70º in here and my sleeping bag is only about 5 feet away on a pad on the floor."

Then he crashed and slept like a bear in winter… until early the next morning when he filed his diary for two days (click continued reading below) and offered these additional updates:

Mileage: Nearly 1,000 miles so far out of a total trip that will reach about 1,300 miles if they return to Unalakleet as planned.

He had one final thought about his cozy quarters on the library floor before heading out in the bitter cold for another long day: "This is a beautiful school. Probably costs more on a cost-of-heat-per-kid basis than anywhere in the Lower 48!"

I replied to Jones noting that he was an ironman model for people older than 70. "I wonder what all the other septuagenarians in Kettle Falls are doing today?" I poked.

"Being more intelligent!" he replied.

Click "continue reading" to see Jone's Iditarod diary and photos.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 11-12

SNOWMOBILING — Chilled but not chilled out, Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane contginued their snowmobile trek along the Iditarod Trail even though the Iditarod sled dog race is is over and the winners have packed up for home.

"Zero degrees here last night with nary a cloud in the sky.  The most perfect day for traveling imaginable," Jones said, indicating he was happy to still be on the trail.

"The sun is getting some power and sometimes we can feel the heat through our thick clothing.

"Machines are running fine and things are going great!"

On days 11 and 12  they continued to enjoy hospitality from natives with only a few stressful encounters with deep snow in the arctic cold.

Read on for more of Jones's diary and photos.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 7-10

SNOWMOBILING — As fate would have it, the real adventure began 70 miles from any assistance behind the racers in the Iditarod sled dog race. As the temperature plunged to minus 32 degrees — nearly 60 degrees colder than the day they started out following the Iditarod Trail — snowmobilers Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane faced some arctic cruelness:

  • The starter on Bob's snowmobile was falling apart.
  • A clunking noise was developing in Josh's snowmobile.
  • A friend died in McGrath and the town had to unite to dig a grave in the frozen ground.
  • Fuel was $7.15 a gallon in McGrath.
  • Bob and Josh had to drive over a dead moose in the trail.
  • And then Josh's snowmobile developed problems that threatened to end the 1,000-mile expedition.

Click "continue reading" to see how the two ingenious adventurers saved their butts by hooking on to something a fisherman left behind in a remote BLM cabin.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 1-6, plus links for entire trip

SNOWMOBILING — Snowmobiler Bob Jones, 72, of Kettle Falls was in Alaska this winter, once again following the annual Iditarod sled dog race with his son-in-law, Josh Rindal, who works at Fairchild Air Force Base.

We followed Jones's diary of ups and downs from the arduous trip on the Iditarod Trail as he reached several personal milestones:

  • — His 100th Alaska visit.
  • — A total of more than 20,000 miles following the 950- to 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.

Here's a wrapup story about Jones and his love-hate relationship with snowmobiles, but read on to follow his journey day by day.

Jones, a colorful guy with a gift for gab, is a familiar face in the remote villages along the race’s two routes since he began following the event by snowmobile in 1995.

“The first year, eight snowmobiles followed the route, and my Washington group had four,” he said. “One year, I was the only one doing the whole thing.”

He tows a trailer with gear for camping in bitter cold. Sometimes he stays in roadhouses.

“The villagers all know me and like me because I only stay a day, have a good time and leave,” he said.

Live the arctic life with with Jones by clicking "continue reading" for the first six days of diary posts from the Iditarod Trail, followed by links for Bob's take on the rest of the trip.

Also, click here to see a photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

This find means the world to me

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  


   I’m in good company, I know, but I have this tendency to put my head on my pillow, completely exhausted by the events of the day, and then find myself wide awake, unable to sleep. The words I couldn’t come up with earlier suddenly pop into my head without warning, or one of my children crosses my mind or I am so excited about a trip or a project my brain is buzzing with ideas. I’ve learned over the years to not fight it. Instead I get up, make a cup of Chamomile tea and sit down in the dark living room, relishing the quiet.

   More often than not, if I am wandering through dark rooms when I should be in bed, I am guided by a small lighted globe that sits on my desk. A thrift store find, it is used as a night light as much as a travel reference.  

   Tonight, as I walked by, I looked down at the globe and noticed the story that could be told with the other items around it.

   The globe is surrounded by a souvenir model of the Eiffel Tower  I brought home from Paris, a clay dish made by one of my children which holds a handful of Euro coins, and a purse-sized pocket atlas, a gift from my daughter last Christmas.

   When I look at the globe at night, shining in a dark corner of the room, I remember the maps and globes of my geography class when I was a girl, the way they intrigued me and opened a world  of possibility, inviting me to explore and dream and go.

   Sleepy at last, the tea finished and the cup rinsed, I headed back to bed. On an impulse, I grabbed the camera that is always sitting on the desk and took a photo. I think I'll put it on my computer to light my hotel room when I travel.

   It’s funny. I’ve brought home so many things over the years. But this little globe means the world to me.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Craters of the Moon National Monument

  (Craters of the Moon National Monument photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)



   We follow the path that allowed a smooth, safe, place to walk over the rough, broken, lava field covering the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho, out to the open pits and domed entrances to the caves.

   We’ve driven to Craters of the Moon National Monument to see what is here and what we’ve found, as have so many others before us, is a dormant but not extinct volcanic area.  Blackened and inhospitable, scoured by a constant wind and temperatures that reach the extremes of each season, this great volcanic rift zone is covered only by brush and gnarled trees, with tall cinder cones and sharp, twisted, formations.
It is, to even the most jaded traveler, a strange and compelling place.

  Choosing the trail to the right we make our way to the top of the set of steep steps that drops down to the entrance of the Indian Tunnel cave, a vast lava tube created when a hard crust formed over molten rock that flowed and then retreated as the surface cooled. Inside the tube, lit by skylight openings above, the rustling and cooing of doves belied stony harshness around us. We know there are also bats, hanging silently in the shadows, waiting for dark and their time to fly.

   We pick our way carefully over the basaltic lava floor of the cave, navigating around boulders and the fractured lines of every surface, caught in the ancient drama that formed the underground room around us.

   At Craters of the Moon, it is impossible not to be reminded that the worst we can do to one another, even our terrible carelessness when we damage the fragile systems that support us, is nothing when compared to the power of the natural world to change itself.

   We bicker and fight, build up and tear down, and move on to lick our wounds or gloat over petty victories. But the earth throws terrible punches, crushes mountains with powerful blows, sends rivers over their banks and blows away our sticks-and-stones lives with without a care. The earth erupts, boils over, buckles and heaves, shrugs and upends stone, breaks open its own crust and then, as though gathering strength for another bout, sleeps. Waiting.

   Craters of the Moon is, in geologic time, still young. The last flows occurred only 2,000 years ago. And, even today, we can only stand and shiver in the scarred strangeness of the aftermath, surrounded by a violent beauty, listening, in a hollow space that, until another act of nature exposed the buried chambers, was a secret, silent place known first to the Shoshone and then, in the 1800’s, the pioneers and fortune seekers and now to tourists like us.

   We take our photographs, turn back for one more look, and then climb back to the surface. We are exhilarated. Changed. Reminded of the power of nature to create and recreate the world around us.


You can see more Craters of the Moon photos at my CAMera: Travel and Photography blog


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com


To See the World Through a Child’s Eyes

(Photo by Jenna Millsap)



   My first grandchild arrived late last Sunday afternoon. As I sat by the phone, waiting for the call that she was here, safe and sound, I thought about what life will be like with this new little girl in our lives. I recalled late-night feedings, first words, bicycles with training wheels and first days of school, thinking it wasn't that long ago that I was experiencing all those things with my own firstborn. And now she's a mother.

   Looking ahead, looking for one special thing I can be to her, I imagined the places I can take this new granddaughter of mine, the parts of the world I'd like to show her.

   There is nothing like traveling with a child to open your eyes and ears. Our youngest daughter has traveled with me quite a bit and always, upon our return, I am startled by the things she teaches me. As only the young can, she notices things that escape me.

   Three years ago we sat in a garden in China, resting from the breakneck pace of the trip, and she pulled out the camera and set it to video. I asked what she was recording, looking around to see what had gotten her attention.

   "Nothing," she said. "Just the sound of the birds."

   I'd been so focused on my aching back and taking in the details of the exotic design of the garden and temple we'd been exploring, I hadn't even noticed the air was full of birdsong. Every treetop trembled with birds calling out and trilling to one another and we sat silently, listening, capturing that moment forever.

   The new baby is home now and everyone is adjusting to their new roles. I'm adjusting to being an advisor, not the CEO, and my daughter is learning to trust her own wisdom. But I look at those tiny feet and I am filled with secret plans to take them to the most wonderful places. To see the world anew through the eyes of this beautiful child.

Read more here.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. She blogs about travel and photography at CAMera and antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Taking the Bay View

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


A bridge is more than a way to physically cross from one side to another. Many are works of art, sculptures of steel and wire. And the image of a bridge is a good metaphor for change, for leaving one state and entering another.

As someone crossing into new territory, bridges have been on my mind a lot lately especially as I sit down to write my next Home Planet column. So when I was looking at photos to post on my CAMera travel blog, I came across this image of the Oakland Bay Bridge. It was taken at the end of a June weekend spent exploring San Francisco, on the evening before I was to fly back home.

Like most everyone who flirts with the City by the Bay, I'd fallen under it's spell.

Although I love to travel, I'm willingly grounded for the next few months. My suitcase is in the closet and my passport is put away until spring or even summer. My next big adventure is closer to home, but that doesn't stop me from daydreaming. But I'll write more about that later.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane. Follow her on Twitter at @CAMillsap

The Keeper of the House

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)




Caught up in the New Year ritual of house cleaning, I swept through the house dusting, rearranging and organizing.

As I moved from room to room I let my mind wander as my hands worked. I began to notice that with every item I touched, there was an association. A memory. A link to a day recalled or an event to remember.

In the living room, on the table behind the sofa, I keep a large antique wood dough bowl my grandparents purchased decades ago. It is filled with agates I have picked up over the years on family trips - or the occasional solo escape - to the Oregon coast.  Antlers my son found on our property and brought home to me rest on top of the stones, surrounding a single candle.

There is nothing rare or precious about the objects. But to me the arrangement is a shrine of sorts. Sometimes at the end of the day, as I move through the house turning off lights and locking doors, I stop to scoop up a handful of agates, letting them fall back into the bowl as I recall days spent in a little town on the coast, my daughters beside me as we walked along the shore taking the polished stones washed up by the tide. I run my fingers along the smooth surface of the antlers, remembering the boy who ran to me with the treasures he’d found, smiling as he presented his gifts.

I lit the candle and left it burning as I went about my chores, celebrating the comfort and satisfaction of keeping house; recognizing the blessing of shelter and a life filled with priceless and simple things.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Thailand shows inventive climate solutions

I'm back from Thailand now, still shaking an illness that made it hard to speak, let alone write. I somehow have developed the worse case of smoker's cough without smoking. Meh. It was worth it. I wouldn't trade any of it for the amazing experience of Thailand. As I recalibrate and get back to the business of blogging, I wanted my first post to focus on a topic I kept thinking about while I was there: Climate change.

Prior to the trip, I was worried about the flooding but the waters started to recede in early December. In the outskirts of Bangkok, it was still easy to spot the high water mark. In the original capitol city, Ayutthaya, full of ruins, some water remained. Only three months ago, this is what the stone buddha in Ayutthaya looked like:

After some digging, I was surprised by some of the actions Thailand had taken on climate change when flooding was at its peak - but when I thought back to my time there, it made sense.  Climate adaption plans usually invoke big ideas, like sea walls and drought-resistant crops. Their response showed how inventive you can be. There are swimming vests for cats and dogs that depend on water bottles to float, flood bicycles that ride above the water, and boats made entirely of water bottles.

Hoping for an Accessory Afterlife

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   If you were to ask me if I believe in heaven as a place where I’ll join all the people I’ve known and lost, and with whom I can spend eternity laughing and eating potato salad at one idyllic family reunion, I’d stall for time and finally fall back on that old relationship standard, “It’s complicated.”
But if you were to ask me to believe heaven is a place where I can be reunited with all the little things I’ve lost here on earth, especially the gold and silver that has slipped through my fingers, I’d have myself sent away like King Tut, laid out in style and surrounded by approximately half the jewelry I’ve ever owned. The hope would be I could finally find the missing half.

   My personal history is full of stories of the ones that got away. Starting with my school ring which I slipped off my finger and dropped into my purse. This would have been fine if I hadn’t put my purse on the top of my car and driven off. The purse, and the ring, were never seen again.

   Then there was that pair of tiny diamond earrings I lost in college. I remember taking them out before I went to sleep and pinning them to a piece of college rule (naturally)  notepaper. I also remember thinking I should get up and put them in my jewelry box. Unfortunately, the next time I went to put them on, I couldn’t remember where exactly I put that particular piece of paper. My roommate probably wadded it around her gum and tossed it. Or, it might have been me…

   As I grew up and began to travel, the trail of lost jewelry just got longer. There was that little gold chain that broke and slipped off somewhere on Broadway in New York City. And the bracelet I left behind in Memphis. And the silver hoop that went missing in Budapest. And the pearl earring that disappeared in Tuscany. And while it wasn’t a piece of jewelry, I’m still grieving for the cashmere scarf - five feet of comfort and warmth that cost more than I’d made that week-  the wind picked up and carried away while I was waiting for a bus in Reykjavik, Iceland. Really. The wind is fierce in Reykjavik, Iceland.

   I’m a sceptic when it comes to pearly gates and streets of gold, but I would become a willing believer in the idea of an accessory afterlife. Until, of course, I misplaced my halo. It would be all downhill from there.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Sa wat di pi mai (Happy New Year!)

Sorry for the delayed correspondence - this post will be short and the grand debrief will have to wait until I return and the internet isn't so shoddy. 

"Gobsmacked" is the best description for the trip. The flight was brutal but the layover in Tokyo was worth with it and I caught a view of the sun setting behind Mt. Fuji. On the connect to Bangkok, another eight hours filled with noisy Brits and Deutsch ready to party, the descent to Bangkok reminded me of San Francisco as you feel like you're going to land in the bay - except I thought we we're going to land in a sea of rice patties. We exited on the tarmac and it felt like I entered a sauna. It was 87 degrees, very humid even though it's the dry season, and the air smelled like ginger.  

I've been staying at the Hotel Du Moc, surrounded by the canal system in central Bangkok. I've never been to Venice but Bangkok is known as the "Venice Of The East." Kind of cheap but it's true except I doubt Venice has floating markets. There are countless vendors on boats, offering an assortment of delicious meats and fruits - papaya, mango, bananas.
I took the water taxi to dinner the other night across the Chao Phraya, the main river, and it's an overwhelmingly beautiful sight with luminously lit golden temples along the shore. The life of Bangkok is in its waters and Buddhism is everywhere. It is illegal to insult any religion here so it isn't inaccessible to non-Buddhists. (The city is filled with Muslim prayer rooms, Hindu shrines, and I've spotted one out of place Catholic church.) That said, almost every male spends time as a monk and in the chaos of the crowded streets you will see many men donning the saffron robe, walking slowly, with people offering them food.

The Boy Who Believed

My son, who has been working in Japan, is on his way home. We haven't seen him in several months and I'm hungry for some time with him. My son has grown up to be a wonderful man; an adventurer, a tinkerer and a master of creating complex machines from bits of metal.

He'll be home for Christmas Eve and wrapping his gifts and putting them under the tree, thought about the boy who loved contraptions and I was reminded of something he taught me one Christmas years ago.

(I had to do some digging to find a copy of this early column.)



For some, Santa's magic a guarantee

The Spokesman Review The Spokesman Review
December 25, 2003 | Cheryl-Anne Millsap The Valley Voice

Early each Christmas morning, as I turn out the lights and make my way to my bed, knowing I will be pulled out of it again when the sun rises, I stop for a moment, overwhelmed by memories and the knowledge that time is flying past me.

The children, who have been the reason I wake each morning and fall into an exhausted sleep each night, are growing up so quickly. Already one has left the nest, and another is perched on the edge. Their Christmas lists are more sophisticated now, with high-tech gadgets replacing Easy-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe.

When my son was six, he fell under the spell of a miniature arcade game, the kind where you manipulate a giant claw to pick up prizes and stuffed animals and drop them down a chute. He wanted the game more than anything and put it at the top of his Christmas list.

He was thrilled when he found the game under the tree and played with it constantly. But it was a complicated toy that was never meant to go the distance. When it stopped working, he was disappointed and put it away in his closet.

I didn't think about it again until the next year on Christmas Eve when I was getting everyone ready for bed and another visit from Santa. He walked in and placed the broken game under the Christmas tree with a note asking Santa to please repair it.

I could only gape at him, speechless. It was already midnight and to paraphrase the poet, there were miles to go before we could sleep.

My little boy had no idea that his mother was staggering under the weight of postpartum depression or that his father, who was in graduate school and wearied by final exams, was scheduled to work a 24-hour shift on Christmas Day.

My son wasn't jumpy and distracted from listening for the cries of the colicky baby sister or thinking about the 2 a.m. feeding that would cut into the few productive hours of the night.

The way he saw it, Santa brought that game to him and he would want to know there was a problem. And since the big guy was going to be in the neighborhood, it wouldn't hurt to have him take a look at a broken toy. So he left it with a note asking that Santa "make it work again."

Somehow, the two elves-in-residence, Sleepy and Weepy, did everything that needed to be done. The baby got her 2 a.m. feeding and Santa placed the surprises, including the refurbished toy, under the tree before the children woke with the dawn.

I was watching my son the next morning when he found the game. He was pleased but he wasn't surprised. It was just where he expected it to be. His face shining with pleasure, he took it to the kitchen table, turned it this way and that to admire Santa's handiwork, and began to play contentedly while new presents waited under the tree.

Whenever I am confronted with the reality that life doesn't come with guarantees, I think about that Christmas morning. And when I think about it, I wish I could be seven years old again, with that much trust in everyone around me to do the right thing. I wish I hadn't learned that sometimes things break so completely that no one can fix them, not even Santa. Not even for a day.

Now, years have passed. Dad got through graduate school, Mom got over the blues, and the new baby stopped crying. The toy, which wasn't built to last, stopped working again and found its way back to the closet, to be eventually taken apart and its parts scavenged for a little boy's inventions.

For my son it was proof that Santa cared enough about him to take the time to try to make something work again. For the elves, it was an exercise in patience. For all of us it was a sweet reminder that love has responsibility.

Maybe this year under the tree I'll leave my heart, just to see what Santa can do.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

A December Monday at the Boise airport…

Things are looking pretty festive today at the Boise Airport, where I'm heading up to North Idaho for a week-long road show of open government seminars sponsored by IDOG, Idahoans for Openness in Government; I'll be in Sandpoint tonight, Coeur d'Alene tomorrow, Moscow Wednesday and Lewiston on Thursday.

Despite plenty of travelers, Boise's airport somehow lacks the sense of hustle and bustle of most airports; it's downright quiet, but for the corny Christmas music playing in the background. One reason: The big-screen TVs that used to play in the waiting areas are gone; an airport staffer said they were pulled out a couple of years ago. Instead, now there are screens here and there in the walkways that just silently show ads.

One thing very popular with travelers here: The free Wi-Fi, which works great.

Celebrating Another Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)




    I turned the corner, down an unfamiliar street, my mind so oblivious to where I was going I might just as well have been a dog with its head out the window, lost in the delicious rush of mysterious and fragrant air, just happy to be out and about with no thought of what might be ahead.

    Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, swept down by the wind and an early snowfall, and the sidewalks and street were littered with the russet and copper remnants of a spectacular autumn. But at the end of the block a scarlet tree still blazed, a burning bush, bright and vibrant against the faded landscape. Even the sun could not ignore it and sunlight danced in the tree, painting the leaves with subtle shades and shadows.

    It was impossible to look away and I didn’t try. I gazed at it as I drove by and even looked back at it in the rearview mirror. 

    Thursday my family will sit down to our Thanksgiving meal and for the first time one of our small group will be absent. My son is away, working in Japan, and we will miss him even as we celebrate his success.

    We are so fortunate to have made it this far without an empty seat at the table. Even in difficult times—and I have never pretended there weren’t some truly difficult days—we gathered, held hands, and spoke aloud the things for which we were most grateful.

    Each year I compose a mental list but when it is my turn to speak, the words fly out of my head. I tear up and can say only that I am grateful for the love of those around me. But what I can never seem to get out is that I am filled with gratitude for the gift of a million small moments.

    There were quiet Sundays spent reading, curled in the big chair beside the fire, my husband stretched out on the sofa. There were Saturday morning feasts that lured home grown children who filled the house with the sound of laughter and the smell of bacon and coffee.

  There were quiet walks through the park with my dogs and the rapturous look on my daughter’s face as we stood in Notre Dame Cathedral on a rainy January day in Paris. There was the afternoon my son turned to me and recited a poem I’d read to him when he was a boy, and my firstborn’s secret smile when she told us her news.

   There were shooting stars glimpsed from my back door and my youngest daughter’s shining face as she sat in the saddle, flying on horseback. There was, just this week, the chance encounter with a beautiful brilliant tree in a landscape that had already surrendered to winter.

 On Thanksgiving Day I will blink back tears and fumble the opportunity to say what I feel. But in my heart I will celebrate the quiet gift of time and the chance to have lived one more extraordinary year of ordinary days.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Online vote names NEW seven wonders of the world

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — A world-wide online pole has named a new list of seven wonders of the world.  Check it out and see if you agree. 

I'm thinking the people who voted on this have not been to the Grand Canyon.

Winter is Waiting

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)



I had a few October days to myself so I spent them in the little town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. While there, it was impossible not to catch the energy of autumn, flagged by the flashing gold of the aspen leaves as they trembled in the breeze and the way the grasses and shrubs closer to the ground spread out in a fan of color, a wave of crimson and soft gold climbing up toward the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The sky was a dome of brilliant blue and the sun warmed me. It was the kind of perfect fall weather we cling to because we know, especially those of us who live in the Northwest, winter is only waiting for a chance to slip in.

I strolled through the town. I rode the gondola up and walked along the top of one of those mountains, looking down on the fairytale town below; a picturesque valley complete with a winding river and a castle—the historic Banff Springs Hotel—whose towers and steep sloping roof dominate the landscape. I walked along the Bow River and watched the water tumble over the falls. I bought a cup of hot chocolate and wrapped my fingers around it, letting the steam rise onto my face as I took each sip. I marked the end of summer and the short, sweet, season that brings us the prettiest weeks of the year.

But the day I was to fly back home, I awoke to a world that was painted in shades of gray, wrapped in thick white clouds that hung low and heavy obscuring the mountains and settling down onto the valley. A soft-focus, black-and-white view of the places I’d been a few just a few hours before.

Riding down the highway toward the airport in Calgary, I sat with my chin in my hand, gazing out the window. As the world slipped by something in the air shifted and, as if in salute, the layer of clouds parted, the way a curtain is pulled back on a stage and the change of scenery is introduced. I could see the first snowfall of the season had dusted the tops of the mountains.

After a few moments, the sky closed around the mountains again and the wreath of clouds settled again. But, having seen the sign, I pulled my sweater tighter around me and sat back in my seat.

It won't be long now. Autumn is fading fast and winter is already waiting impatiently for its turn.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing the editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Vintage Belgium

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


We all have our own way of traveling. Some want to hop on a bus and then hop off at the next big attraction. Others like to explore on their own. Some prefer to watch the world at every new place from the comfort of a sidewalk cafe, cappuccino on the table in front of them.

I go for all of the above. But one way I visit any new place is to try to keep one eye open for a secondhand store. A place the locals go for odds and ends. And it always surprises me how often those quirky little places are right in the middle of things.

I was just in Belgium, spending a few days in Brussels, and one afternoon as I was making my way back to the hotel after having walked through the Gallery and across the Grand-Place, I noticed a little shop at the end of one of the narrow streets. It was full of students and young adults.

I walked in and discovered it was a vintage clothing store. There were the usual racks of 70s sweaters and glittery evening gowns but I spotted several wool jackets hanging near the front door. They were vintage military jackets made of heavy wool and they were beautifully tailored, nipped in at the waist and subtly ornamented with red-trimmed epaulets, looking more like a designer piece than surplus. I tried one on and it fit as though it had been made for me. Sold.

 At the back of the store there was a big pile of luggage, duffles and carry-on bags. Just what a student would need to get home after a long semester. Most were vinyl or fabric, but tucked under a big plaid bag I could see the edge of what turned out to be a buttery leather satchel. I pulled it out and took a closer look. It had obviously been used but it was in good condition. There were a few marks but no scratches or tears. There was a luggage tag and in it was the name and address of the physician who’d carried it. Sold again.

Treasure hunters know that there is a vibe that goes out when you find something really good. Suddenly, people were coming over to look over my shoulder, admiring the bag. A few followed me, waiting to see if I would put it down, ready to grab it if I did.

My last find was a beautiful silk scarf, my favorite travel souvenir. I have dozens of them and wear one every day.

I paid for my finds, 60 euros for a vintage wool jacket, gorgeous leather satchel and beautiful silk scarf, and walked back to the hotel.

I filled the satchel with all the Belgian chocolate I was bringing home to my family and carried it aboard each plane. It was heavier and not as easy to maneuver as my usual Swiss Gear rolling bag, but it had a certain style. And every time I look at it I’ll be reminded of one happy hour in a funky little shop in a grand old European city.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Disney Tricked Me With a Treat

    Not that there’s ever been any shortage of evidence, but my three older children now have solid proof that we love the youngest more. By their standards, of course.

   When I was raising my three older children, three little stairsteps born in just under six years, I was firm about one thing. We would not, I insisted, be a Disney family. I didn’t see the appeal of packing up and driving or flying to an oversized amusement park. I had all sorts of arguments: long lines, sunburn, expense, crowds, and nothing but whirling rides to entertain us. When they got old enough to take themselves to the happiest place on earth, I told them, they could go.


    I got my way. They grew up as Disney theme-park virgins.  My son was the only one who ever got there and he, just as I’d insisted, drove himself and his girlfriend the summer they graduated from high school.   But something changed last year. I had an assignment in Orlando and we decided to make a family vacation out of it. The others were already out of the house, away at school or living on their own, so it was just the three of us: me, my husband and the 15-year-old “baby.”


   I got my work done and we spent a few days playing at Walt Disney World. As luck would have it, we were there in October and each night the park was transformed into Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

   So much for sticking to a position. I took one step inside the gate and went completely over to the mouse’s side. I elbowed my way to the front of the line to watch the parade both times it threaded through the park that night. As we “trick-or-treated” (naturally there was trick-or-treating)  I was scolded by my daughter for (accidentally, I swear!) going through one line twice. I stood in queue for the rides without complaining. I traded pins with the pre-schooler waiting behind me and then worried he might have gotten the better deal.


   While my daughter watched bemused, I acted like, well, a kid.

   Of course. Exactly as Walt Disney and his army of imagineers planned. I didn’t throw myself down on the ground and pitch a tantrum when it was time to leave, but I dragged my feet all the way to the airport.

   When we were all together at Thanksgiving there was a lot of teasing and good-natured grumbling about how the baby was the favorite and the trip to Orlando was just one more example of getting the best of everything. And there were more than a few comments about my fall from my high horse.

   Now, here it is October again. And I keep thinking about that skeleton band in the parade. And the way the lights illuminating the castle changed colors every few minutes. And just how much fun it was to spend a few days in a magic kingdom away from deadlines and the aggravation of the real world.

    You win, Disney. I want to go back. Just do me a favor, please. Don't tell my kids.

   Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Seeking a Sense of the Right Place

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


Like someone who had looked straight into the baking sun, the hot New Mexico desert, a landscape of painted sand and strange towering rock formations, was burned into my mind’s eye. Even as I settled into the window seat of the airplane to fly back to my own home in the Northwest, the people and places I’d encountered filled my mind.

The effect of the light and climate and otherworldly terrain of New Mexico on visitors is the stuff of legend. And it isn’t just the rich and famous who feel it. Or the artists and intellectuals who crave space and freedom to create and find it in the vast empty state. There is something in the place that strikes a chord with people of all walks. Everywhere I went along the road from Santa Fe to Taos, I met people who had left the crush of big cities in the east or the lush green overgrown vegetation of the south or the frenetic pace of southern California. People who, after spending a few days in the desert, pulled up stakes and moved there for good.

Traveling teaches you a lot about yourself. One of the most important revelations is that each of us has deep, deep, inside a kind of internal temple bell that can only chime when struck by a certain place. For some it is the sea, the churning surf and the taste of salt in the air. For others it is the dark forested mountains or wide views from soaring peaks. Many can’t focus or think clearly without the pounding pulse of a city built of skyscrapers and asphalt grids.

Most of us never know what kind of bell we carry until we step into the landscape that resonates within us.  The lucky ones who hear the tone, feel the vibration and realize they are living their lives in the wrong place, can act. They have the means or sometimes just the determination to make the move and settle where they feel most at home. Others find a happy place in the middle, spending most of the year where they have to be and a week or a couple of weeks in the place that fills them with happiness. Saddest of all, some either cannot or will not ever find the place that makes them sing. They flop on the surface like a fish in a shallow pool and never know exactly why they are not happy, just that they can’t find peace. Because of circumstances beyond their control they never get the chance to discover where it is they feel most at home. Or, worse, they are deaf to the ring and never know the source of their restlessness.

We are each born with a kind of spiritual divining stick that sends us out to see the world, or, at the very least, new corners of our familiar world. We have what we need to find the spring that sends a shiver through us, that pulls us down to the right patch of earth. It’s up to us to dig the well.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The Green Grass of Home

    When I was in my mid-20s, I spent a summer in New York City working and studying. I immediately fell in love with the city and found my pulse danced to the constant rhythm of traffic and people; to a compact space filled with people that was alive and moving at any hour of the day.

    It was a world away from the relatively quiet way I’d lived up until then and I couldn’t get enough.
    I was staying in an apartment on the campus of Columbia University and working at New York University, at the opposite end of the island and I spent most of my days traveling up and down Manhattan by subway or taxi, sometimes by bus.

    One day I was lost in thought as I walked several blocks from the subway stop to  my apartment, already accustomed to the noise and crowded sidewalks and the heat, when, suddenly, something arrested me. I stopped, confused. I didn’t know why, but I was instantly and deeply, homesick. I missed my husband. I wanted my grandmother, my cats. I could think of nothing but the important people and places in my life, a life that was a thousand miles away.

    I noticed the man pushing a lawnmower across Columbia’s wide quadrangle, a place always populated by students and others moving quickly from one place to another, or lounging, relaxing, socializing and realized it was the scent of freshly mowed grass that had hit me. It was the familiar fragrance so closely associated with summer where I was from that had overpowered the smell of asphalt baking in the sun and garbage in the dumpsters and food from the tiny bars and delis lining the street.

    It had found me and wound around me, capturing me the way such things do in cartoons.
    I’ve never forgotten the way I felt that day and I was reminded of it again last night when I stepped out my back door to enjoy the last light of the day. My husband had just mowed our tiny back yard and the air was heavy and sweet with the smell of green summer grass.

    And, in the peculiar way life has of taking the years and turning them over and inside out, and then at the most unexpected  moments handing them back to us to examine, I was assailed by the memory of being young and brave and foolish. Of being so hungry for adventure and experience I would jump at almost any opportunity to go and do and see.

    I am now, I realized, a product of the joys and heartaches; the babies, the jobs, the moves and the experiences that have shaped me since that hot August day in New York. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve seen a few things along the way. But long ago I surrendered to the knowledge that wherever I go I am always, inextricably, drawn back to the green grass of home.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons.”
She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Friday Night Around the World

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)   



   On my last day in Switzerland, I walked around Zurich, visiting museums, wandering up and down cobblestoned streets window-shopping and trying to lock it all in my memory.  I strolled along the river and over bridges, people-watching, stopping to look at the sailboats on the lake. I was leaving in the morning, catching a Saturday flight and I was tired, ready to get back home and to see my family. But I didn’t want to miss a moment while I was in such a beautiful place, because Zurich is very beautiful.

    Finally, after an early dinner, I made my way back to the hotel. Back to one of those spaces Americans just don’t appreciate. We’re too used to modern boxes with uniform spaces. My room was the last room on the hallway on the seventh floor, the top floor of the building. The elevator stopped at the sixth floor and I had to carry my suitcase up one more flight. I thought how my friends would fuss and grumble about that little inconvenience, but, perversely, I liked the idea of being tucked away.

    Inside the room a double bed was tucked against the wall under a sloping ceiling and a single, tall, narrow, arched window opened up to a splendid view of the city.  It was a storybook place, like something from a movie or one of the romantic novels I’d read as a girl. I propped my suitcase in the corner and crossed over to open the window, grateful for the cool breeze that filled the room, making the curtains dance.

    I could see the tower on the Uetilberg - I’d been there the day before - and all the buildings of the city spread out below me. The train station and landmark hotels were easy to identify. The lake was just out of sight. On one side was the tall spire of the cathedral. On the other a row of old attached houses curved along the street in the University district. As they do in so many European cities, many of the houses had small patios or terraces built on the narrow, flat rooftops and the owners had decorated these private spaces with potted trees and hanging plants. Where there was room, some owners had added a small table and chairs. 

    The view was so different from what I see when I am at home, I stood there a long time, soaking it all in before turning back into my room to pack.

    Just a few minutes later laughter drew me back to the window, and the sound of knives and forks on crockery and corks being pulled from wine bottles.

    When I looked this time, I noticed that all around me the skyline had come alive with movement. Men and women, college students and young couples had moved up to the roof and were silhouetted against the sunset. The day was dying but the air was  suddenly filled with the musical sound of people at ease and happy; celebrating the end of the week; just as they do in my neighborhood when people sit on the patio and fire up the grill, laughing, calling out to one another or children as they play in the back yard.

    As I watched, one by one, lights came on in the houses around me and windows glowed like golden gems in the deepening twilight. It was nothing special but it was, at that moment, extraordinarily beautiful.

    That’s the thing about travel. You can cross oceans and continents, time zones and cultural divides, but ultimately, in the most ordinary, unexpected ways, like the universal sounds of people relaxing on a Friday night, you discover not just the ways we are different, but the simple and striking ways we are all alike.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

All aboard

"Spokane Intermodal Facility" might be one of the more blah names you'll ever encounter.

But inside, there's a sign that has to be among the most evocative: "To Trains."

Wanderlust and Motherhood

    Without turning on the light I tiptoed into her room, careful to step over the gaping backpack spilling its cargo of papers, gym clothes and books; over DVDs and laundry and other indistinguishable shapes strewn across the floor. When I got to the bed I felt my way across the comforter, past the dog who was trying to be invisible so as not to be scolded and sent away, past the mountain of pillows she swears she needs to sleep, until my hands found what I was looking for. I leaned over and kissed my daughter’s cheek.

    Taking advantage of the fact that she was only half awake and couldn’t rally the usual adolescent rebuff, I buried my face in her hair and kissed her again.

    “I’m off to the airport,” I whispered, breathing in the scent of a sleeping child. “I’ll miss you so much.”

    “Well,” she replied in a reasonable tone, her voice muffled by the pillow, “Why do you go then?”

    I laughed softly.  “That’s a very good question.” I kissed her one more time, two more times, and tiptoed out.

    Even as I checked my baggage, boarded my flight and and texted one last goodbye before I thumbed through the in-flight magazine, her question rolled around the corners of my mind.

    Why indeed?

    When school schedules, work commitments and the budget allows, we travel as a family. Occasionally, I’ll take a trip with a girlfriend. But other times, usually lured by a low fare, irresistible hotel bargain or simply the desire to see a place I’ve never seen before, I set out on my own.

    I don’t have to travel. I could do the bulk of my work without ever leaving town. But travel feeds my mind. And my mind feeds my work. But the most honest answer to my daughter’s question is that I go because I can.  I go because it would be a shame not to.

    I go because we live in an amazing time.  For all our gripes about fare increases, security, occasional delays and crowded flights, right now, like no other time in our history, the world is open to anyone, even a middle-aged mother of four who sometimes likes to pick a place on a map and just fly away.

    It’s not like I’m leaving infants to fend for themselves. Three of my children are off on their own. Only the sleepyhead - the teenage “baby” - is left behind with Dad for a few days. And, like I said, we all travel together whenever we can.

    I suppose, in a way, this penchant of mine to catch the occasional plane - solo - helps us both be more independent. I sample tiny bites of life with an empty nest. She makes do without the mother who will drop everything to deliver a forgotten lunch or can be talked into a banana-split as an after-school snack.

     I tell myself I want to set an example, to leave my children with a sense of adventure and the sure and certain knowledge that it’s OK to wander as long as you always come back home. But really, who’s kidding who? There is another reason I go. Teenagers are hard to catch and harder to hold. If I have to get up before the sun now and then to show a little love, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

REI Adventures offers big trips or local weekenders

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — REI Adventures has a good reputation for leading outdoor vacations to exceptional outdoor destinations in many countries.

But the Seattle-based group also offers a long list of Weekend Getaways, shorter adventures within an easy drive of Spokane. For example:

  • North Cascades Climbing (3 days) - Known for its dramatic jagged peaks, towering waterfalls and deep river valleys, North Cascades National Park is adorned by more glaciers than any other park outside of Alaska.  Climbing adventurers will learn and practice basic climbing techniques before attempting the group’s remote summit ascent. 
  • Whistler Backpacking (4 days) – Whistler Mountain in western British Columbia offers a scenic venue for adventure trekking along the alpine trails that overlook the valley below.  Backpackers will cross the rolling Musical Bumps and alpine ridgelines en route to Russet Lake where they will be immersed in the area’s cultural history and learn about the natural forces that shaped the landscape.      

REI Weekend Getaways allow travelers to experience the great outdoors, polish their skills (or learn some new ones) and meet other fun outdoor enthusiasts — all without taking a lot of time off or breaking the bank account.  visit:

Motorcyclists vote Beartooth their favorite highway

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — It struck a personal chord this morning to read the news that members of the American Motorcyclist Association have voted the Beartooth Highway as their favorite stretch of road in the U.S.

The winding, mountain highway climbs nearly 6,000 feet between Red Lodge, Mont., and Cooke City, Mont. Part of the route dips into Wyoming just east of Yellowstone National Park.

Riders who wrote to the association magazine said they enjoyed the route’s curves and mountain scenery.

The Powell Tribune reports that members voted for their favorite roads through the association’s website. The Beartooth beat out nearly 100 other roadways.

The personal note is that my father, born in Bear Creek, Mont., near Red Lodge in 1910, worked on the Beartooth Highway construction crews.  On his days off, he would hike into the Beartooth lakes and catch trout.

Also, I've pedaled the Beartooth on my bicycle.  It's easier on your lungs going down.

Art Wolfe to present slideshow at Whitworth

NATURE/TRAVEL — Wildlife photographer and Public TV “Travels to the Edge” host Art Wolfe will give a lecture and slide show Tuesday, 7 p.m., at Whitworth University’s Weyerhaeuser Hall Robinson Teaching Theatre.

Wolfe, 59, is one of the best globetrotting nature imagers in the world. Don’t miss this opportunity.

It’s bargain time for Baja sea kayakers

SEA KAYAKING — It's time to quit thinking about a sea-kayaking adventure in the Sea of Cortez and Mexico's Baja California.  It's bargain time to the safe part of Mexico.

I'm just back from a nine-day trip of paddling and camping — The gray whales were parading their newborn calves for us. 

But here's why I'm mentioning this before I run my feature story in the paper:  Air fares have just been slashed.

Alaska Airlines is running a web special that will get you from Spokane to Loreto for about $350 round trip through April 30!

Check out the outfitted trip offerings from Sea Kayak Adventures based in Coeur d'Alene. 

Taking in the Great Outdoors

    Usually, dawn is just touching the sky when I open my eyes. Still blinking, half-lost in a fading dream, I reach over to the table beside my bed for my glasses and my camera. I stumble across the dark room and make my way to the window or step out onto the balcony if there is one. I press the shutter.

    “Good morning,” I say to myself wherever I am.  “Good morning, world.”

    This mid-winter morning, I am far north, in the Canadian province of Alberta. Frozen, scenic, Lake Louise shines blue-white in the weak early light. My room in the historic Chateau Lake Louise looks out toward the lake and I watch as the mountains ringing the lake come into focus as a new day steals across the sky.

    These are private, personal, moments when I travel; watching the day begin and end from my window.

    This is not to say I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I do. I spend long hours exploring the landscape wherever I go. In winter at Lake Louise, the cold air bites, the wind tangles and teases. A few steps from the Chateau I am part of a wilder world. I can taste the Canadian wilderness and hear the sounds and soak in the silence of a truly wild place. I listen to the crunch of my snowshoes on the snow in the forest. I hear the distant sounds of others; the squeals and laughter of children skating, the jingle of the harnesses of horses pulling sleighs down the trail to Victoria Falls.  Outdoors, I am exhilarated, thrilling at the pull of muscles and the pounding of my heart. But there is something so satisfying about coming in from the cold. Walking into a room spiced with the fragrance of hot coffee and chocolate, laced with conversation and laughter. Hands cradling a cup, lulled by the warmth, it is a selfish pleasure to stand and look out at  where I have been.

     From the window-seat in my room, I watch birds circle the frozen lake and solitude-seekers skiing the perimeter of the lake in the morning. In the late afternoon I gaze down at families, toddlers on sleds in tow, skates laced together and tossed over a shoulder. A single-file line of children scale the high bank from the lake to the Chateau like Gold Rush hopefuls trudging up Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail.

     At night, I gaze, once more before turning out the lights, spellbound, as the stars spread across the sky over me.

    When it is time to leave, I buy a souvenir; a postcard reproduction of a 1930 Canadian Pacific Railroad poster advertising the Chateau. The grand hotel - now a Fairmont property - was built more than 100 years ago by the railroad as a way to lure travelers to the remote and singularly beautiful place. On the card, an elegant woman with bobbed hair and wearing jodhpurs, stands gazing out toward Lake Louise through one of the Cathedral windows of the Chateau. Tall, snowcapped peaks reach above it and the Victoria glacier can be seen in the distance. The view is framed perfectly by the arch of the window.

    In my imagination - oh, the occasional freedom of my imagination - the tall, slim, beautiful blond woman (my opposite in every way) is me.

    We are both captivated by a window on the world. We are captured by an unforgettable view.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com