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By: joealaska , 6:02 AM GMT on September 18, 2012

I took a ride over the switchbacks last night. By myself, as GNU was delivering. The FALL COLORS were there. No trees turning colors, but the tundra was. Splashes of bright red against the green. Pretty cool. Very photogenic.

Today it was obvious the CHANGE was coming. Seasonal change. It hit a number of us all at once. Summer is history. We plunge toward winter. The color of the sky. Shorter days. Light around 8 AM, dark around 9:45.

The return of the wind. Saturday night 50 mph with rain beating the window by my head. I slept like a baby...crying all night and pooped my pants.


My ride last night was insightful. The salmon berries are ripe, but not so plentiful. A disappointing crop. I hear the blueberries are ripe, unable to verify yet. On the way back I saw the creek choked with spawning salmon. Check out the video on youtube.

I have not been over the switchbacks for weeks. Same with the summit of Ballyhoo. Now the days are numbered. Last year it went into December, then all hell broke loose. But it can start early, too.

And that Saturday night storm brought more than wind and horizontal rain. Someone I know called it TERMINATION DUST. The far off mountains, the highest mountains, were dusted with fresh snow. It all starts again. The melt stops, the new cover begins. It mostly melted the same day. But it is trying to form a base coat. And when that inevitably happens, it becomes easier to deepen the base. And it snowballs. Literally. The TERMINATION of Summer.

Just a couple weeks ago, or less, we were busy as hell and commenting that the weather was awesome. It could have been worse. Now it may be.

We seem to be over the hump in business, but we just got a round of new orders from most of the Shell boats up north. One boat takes many orders. Of course, it leaves on the weekend when EVERYTHING is happening.

Our ground squirrels seem to be back hibernating.

It seems colder.

Come on vacation!

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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16. Ylee
10:05 PM GMT on September 25, 2012
uk, I can understand traveling in the spirit of Joe, but he does have a Tahoe! :) Well, at least you and Betti made it through unscathed!

Hope you're not going to Footdee!
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15. insideuk
11:51 AM GMT on September 25, 2012
Thanks for the comments on the photos so far. No new photos to post today but the forecast for Wednesday onwards is improving so I have plans to head up the east coast tomorrow. So far I haven't had the rain deluge that flooded England yesterday but the wind hasn't let up all night. In brighter spells I can see the distant wind farm turbines going round like the clappers, when I first arrived here the wind was only about 10 -15mph and you had to watch closely to see them spinning at all. I'd say it's gusting steadily to 60 – 70mph where I am, which is at roughly the same height as the turbines. At what wind speed do they burst into flames I wonder?

So, yesterday. I decided to stay fairly local and give some towns and villages the once over. I headed first to Dornoch, home of the famous golf club. It is a very attractive small town, with a wealthy feel, right on the coast with a long sandy beach that in any other weather would have made a very nice walk. I did park up and get out for some photos but the wind was howling, the rain was starting up and it was bloody freezing! Still, there were a few hardy souls walking on the beach – mostly bent double into the wind...

I doubled back and attempted to get a few photos of the golfly type bits for Joseph. For some reason unknown they had closed the public road which passes straight through the main part of the course so I had to furtively skirt around the sides and found the practice driving (rain) range area to the south. There were three men bravely hitting their balls against the mighty easterly side winds. I noticed their golf bags had blown over and were gradually drifting back towards the car park without their owners noticing they were going AWOL.

Sadly by now it was too wet to even attempt to get any photos of Dornoch – maybe I'll get a chance later in the week. There seemed brighter skies to the south so I allowed the weather to navigate my route and headed for the town of Tain and straight out the other side towards Tarbat Ness and the pretty little harbour at Portmahomack. Back into blue skies again, I attempted to spot a few dolphins off this coast as they can often be seen close to shore. Apparently. Maybe I'm just not patient enough...

By now the weather much much kinder and I headed back inland alongside the Dornoch Firth, through Bonar Bridge (they missed an opportunity to build an attractive new bridge here – the one they have is a bit utilitarian) then hooked round through Lairg (a big sheep auction house being the main feature of the town). Since the weather was holding dry and the winds were only just starting to build I decided to take that little route that Joealaska had mentioned to me. He had obviously spotted the winding and secluded little route that passes by Loch Brora and follows the river right back near to where I'm staying. I decided now was a good time to try it out, though I decided on a whim to attempt it in reverse, starting from a place called Doll, on the east coast.

Doll has several entrances off the main road, in fact it has more than are featured on my very detailed local map. I missed the chance for the first left turn, and then the second – since they were close together and badly signed. But I had slowed enough to spot the third Doll turn, which was blocked by a vehicle. So I continued and discovered a fourth turning for Doll just a few hundred feet further down the main road. Finally, I was headed westwards!

Doll has many small homes spread out along a maze of tiny narrow lanes, but I knew which direction I needed to be going to head towards Loch Brora and Betti has a handy compass on the dash. No worries, just turn right whenever able...

I turned right, the road narrowed some more. The houses ran out and the hedgerows closed in. The lane was hard paved but with increasing amounts of avocado moss carpet creeping along the centre. That in itself is not unusual, but it does normally mean you are heading up to a dead end – even if that dead end is miles away. I knew I wasn't on the Loch Brora road, but this had been the only route available in the right direction. I was, as it turned out, on the wrong side of the River Brora.

I turned a very sharp right and discovered with all certainty that I was the wrong side of the river when I came face to face with the river crossing. There was a bridge, a narrow wooden structure designed for pedestrians only. Betti and I were going to have to decide if we could cross the river at this ford just ahead of us.

Now if I'd still got my old car it would have been a complete non starter. The water was clearly deep on the far side of the river, and the cobbled surface was altogether in very poor condition. Betti is not 4WD, she is 2WD, but she does have good ground clearance and big fat tyres.

I sat and watched the water for a minute, pondering my risk factors.

That water was maybe 10 – 12 inches deep for the most part, but that far side was clearly the deep end. The water was darker and very fast moving – it had a serious current about it. This river is the overflow from the loch, the loch is fed by mountain run off, but it hadn't rained much in the last few days. It probably gets much worse than it was, but I really was still in two minds whether it was too risky a crossing.

I have to say at this point, and you can take this as a measure of how preoccupied I was with this tricky decision, that I neglected to take any photos. You can find it on Google Earth if you wish, though the river was much narrower when their camera car had visited. Where they filmed the cobbled area stretched out on the approaches, I had running water covering virtually all the cobbled bits. You will notice the big boulders marking the crossing route to the right. They didn't look that big to me, since they were largely submerged...

I thought we could make it. I travel through fords regularly in Derbyshire, I know the technique, stay in first gear, power on firm but steady, don't allow yourself to slow down enough to get stuck in a rut. Don't rush through. Whatever you do, don't stall the engine.

And don't let any locals watch you muck it all up and have to wade back to shore for help. They enjoy it far too much.

It's just that water was moving so fast on the far side, and its depth at that point was unfathomable from my vantage point. Heart in mouth, my decision was made. I went for it. It was REALLY BUMPY. This ford had not had any maintenance for many, many years. I had to slow down for fear of suspension damage but not go slow enough to get caught in a rut.

More ravine than rut.

I was halfway across and now I could see the water was much deeper, the car plunged slightly and lurched sideways toward the boulders which by now had a wall of water leaping right over them in a giant wave. Power on Betti, power! I was talking to her, physically willing her to not stall or sink or get washed away into the North Sea. I fought to hold her straight, the steering was all over the place and the tyres turned on whichever slippery rock surface they hit. Just at the point I was considering closing my eyes on the unfolding disaster we popped up on a steeply ramped but smooth exit and I knew I was safe.

I drove a few hundred yards along avocado carpet and came to a T junction to turn left onto the ACTUAL (well made) Loch Brora road. I parked up roadside and tried to steady my heartbeat. It had scared the living daylights out of me. I stepped out of the car on wobbly legs and concentrated on breathing a bit, then reached for my emergency chocolate ration for a dose of comfort.

The rest of the route was lovely, the loch spreads out below a steeply sided mountain on one side and a lower tree lined hill on the other. Then the road follows the valley floor alongside the river on the western end of the loch. There are a couple of houses, a farm and a hunting lodge hidden in the trees. I saw nobody. Not one single soul. Just sheep and cows.

Then the road climbs steeply, with side roads leading to tiny hamlets that are so remote they must be trapped here for 4 months each winter. Too remote for me to consider living there, I'd want a phone signal, reliable power supply and broadband as a basic standard of living. The hairy cows are cute and probably quite warm to snuggle up to when all else fails but their conversation skills are a bit limited.

I told a large herd of hairy beasties that Joealaska himself had suggested I pass by this way.

They stared back at me with blank looks. No broadband, obviously...

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
14. Dodabear
10:28 AM GMT on September 25, 2012
UK,you are AMAZING!!
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13. insideuk
7:25 PM GMT on September 24, 2012
I have some time on my hands...

I am now sitting out a heavy storm in my hilltop perch. I am safe and warm, just a bit miffed about having to skip a day out on the roads tomorrow. It is the only safe thing to do right now, with flooding, falling trees, landslips and closed bridges happening out there, I have to be sensible (and prevent my Mother and Grandma ageing any more than they already do when I head up here alone!).

I had a terrific first couple of days under sunny skies that stretched 500 miles right up the country. I have NEVER before driven all the way up here without getting rained on – probably never will again. Betti (the car) and I enjoyed the roads, and with the Sat Nav set up with door to door instructions we belted up here in 9 hours flat.

Well, almost door to door.

Over here we have 'postcodes', which are like your zipcodes but which can generally pinpoint a stretch of road down to a few metres. The last number and 2 letters in any postcode are unique to only a handful of closely situated buildings. That is the general rule anyway, and we use postcodes in electronic navigation more than road names – they are very useful.


Except here. The postcode applied ONLY to a farmhouse at the bottom of the hill – on first arrival I drove straight into the farmyard and was greeted by a demented spaniel, then a puzzled farmer, then all his puzzled family. They obviously weren't expecting me so I busied myself doing a quick about turn and headed in up the hill.

I had written instructions on how to find my holiday home, which I had helpfully dropped into the drivers footwell and which was now out of reach, so I headed UPHILL, that being the only option available other than backtracking. The lane was narrow, with high hedges on one side and a steep drop to my right.

I was sure this couldn't be the right place, nothing I'd read had mentioned it being this far off the main road. I stopped, got out the car, retrieved instructions from under my feet, got back in, and read them again.


This wasn't the right road. Couldn't be. I did another about turn in a space about 3 foot wider than my car is long. An eighteen point turn if you will. Then I headed back to the main road, noticing for the first time the small direction sign for my lodgings nailed to a post. It WAS back up that hill after all. Another U TURN please Betti.

All the way up to the top of the hill then hang a very sharp left and go back on yourself all along the high ridge, wait for sheep to shuffle out the way, keep going, and going, and going. I thought I'd never get here! I was so pleased when I finally found it I tumbled out of the car to be greeted by the owners and was given the grand tour of the small place I've rented for the week.

I have these 2 huge sliding glass doors, each about 5 feet wide and 6 feet high, that open out onto a wooden balcony with a gobsmackingly beautiful view across the valley below and over the mountains beyond. The drop under the balcony is steep, ALMOST A SHEER DROP, and the decking has wide gaps. I noticed the gaps right away, they seemed unnecessarily HUGE gaps that could swallow a leg at least.

The owner was stepping out on the deck and beckoning me to follow him.

Don't make an idiot of yourself, just DO IT, I thought.

I was just about managing to keep breathing and not have a panic attack (I have no head for heights) when he turned around and announced he was just going to put up the bird feeder, now that I'd arrived, as it would attract all sorts of wildlife to my picture window for me to enjoy.

He was obviously a keen 'twitcher' ('birder' as I think you call them), he listed off all the birds that will visit me at close quarters.

Don't make an idiot of yourself, just NOD.

I have a fear of birds.

I'd driven 9 hours for this.

All is good now, I have summoned up courage to step out a few more inches onto my balcony to take photos. One hand on the door frame at all times. I even managed to reach out far enough to retrieve the bird feeder and bring it indoors so that I wouldn't have to deal with fluttery birdies flapping around my ears. I sure as hell didn't want one flying into the house whilst the doors were open, and they had to be open to give me something to hold onto...

I let the birds eat again whenever I leave the house for the day, it's the deal we've made. It's working, just don't tell the owners.

On Sunday I wanted to make the best of what looked like it would be the nicest weather of the whole week ahead. I did a 140 mile round trip from Lairg, headed north on the A836 to Tongue then west on the A838 through Durness and south east again back to my starting point. The terrain went from pine forest out onto open moorland into a vast barren landscape with small, perfectly still pools of water. Heading north the mountains rear up ahead as huge great lumbering black lumps of granite that fall away sharply into inky black lochs. Loch Loyal was stunningly beautiful, imagine a vast pool of shining squid ink tipped with tiny white crests on waves that twinkle in the sun. Photos can't do justice to water like that, it was alive. I had it almost to myself, even on a warm and sunny Sunday there were very few other vehicles around.

That is how Scotland is, it amazes and delights me. After spending all year driving in traffic back home it is absolute bliss to have such SPACE.

The north west coast has stunning white sand beaches with crystal clear pale blue water that would kill you in minutes mid summer. It is a very popular place for hardy surfer dude types wearing inch think wetsuits. The white sand is typical of north west, nowhere in England do they have beaches like the ones they have in abundance here. Only the remoteness and the colder temperatures here mean they remain COMPLETELY unspoilt by man.

Speaking of cold I passed through a place called Altnaharra. It is a tiny little hamlet that gets a mention every now and again in British weather news stories as being the coldest place in the country. Also the wettest, windiest, snowiest and on some odd occasion in March 2009 – the WARMEST place in the UK. It gets PROPER weather, all the superlatives in one tidy little location far from anywhere. The attractive hotel there closes soon for the winter season.

The west coast road is straddled by low pale grey coloured granite hills, the single track main road weaves between the lochs and sea inlets. There are few trees here, but in sheltered spots you will find groupings of Rowan trees laden with bright red berries right now. That little vibrant splash of colour really stands out, along with the ferns that are now dying off and turning a deep shade of rust.

Betti was giving me a very healthy 46mpg on these roads, and that meant I didn't need to stop to refuel again yet. Her tank isn't huge (55 litres/ 12 gallons) so I do have to keep an eye on where I'm able to fill up. That is especially true in this area, where some fuel stops are hardly recognisable as such. If you can remember what fuel pumps looked like circa 1950 then that is largely what you will discover in remote parts of Scotland. I have NO IDEA how those things work. Most are attached to workshops where they fix tractors etc, the fuel is a minor sideline to provide a service to the local community. On Sundays they are mostly closed. Possibly. It is hard to tell by just looking at them since nothing is LIT UP. I want to avoid those pumps if at all possible. I filled up today at what looked like a more doable 1970's style garage. More my era, at least I was born by then.

The sign on the pump said 'We serve you'. I waited for the lady in the office to finish a phone call, but she was taking a while with it – I could see her through a window and she could see me. Then another car pulled up and the local guy jumped out and started helping himself. So I did the same, having had a good look at the pre-electronic workings, I got it working and pumping my unleaded. The lady came out once her call was done and apologised, the call was to organise a recovery truck for a stranded motorist – her other business, car repairs was also open alongside. For every fuel sale she has to come outside to read directly off the pump how much has been drawn – there is no automated connection to the office! How quaint! Then I went inside to pay, the local chap had handed over cash and was off back to work. I was paying by card. She had to write down every detail of transactions done by card, anti fraud measures. The modern world meets the old one head on.

Tomorrow whilst I am stranded by the weather (its building out there, I can hear the trees bending) I shall write further about my travels today. I went along a route suggested to me this morning by my good pal Joealaska. He has detailed maps of this area, just not quite EVERY detail. It was an adventure that I shan't repeat to my mother, but assuming the internet stays on I shall share with you all. My heartbeat has just about calmed down now...

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
12. Rotty3
6:24 PM GMT on September 24, 2012
wow, fall never came this early to this region in Florida. Maple leaves are turning, the air--while still being a toasty 28C / 82F--is feeling crip again after several days of dry and the sun is lower in the sky, making the light almost magic.

My international company has parted and I am trying to catch up w/ myself. Otherwise, all is well. Nothing of the busy days that Joe experiences, but a bit busier than most folks probably.

I hope you will enjoy your vacation as much as I did mine, Joe.

Back to work after 3 weeks.. hard to believe I've been gone that long lol.
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11. osdianna
5:38 PM GMT on September 23, 2012
Well at least you got SOME blue skies; it looks beautiful, and a bit lonely...but I like it. I hope you and Betty make it through the inclement weather in fine shape.
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10. insideuk
4:33 PM GMT on September 23, 2012
Just posted some photos from Scotland. I have only sporadic internet service where I'm staying, and with a big storm due to lash this area on Monday night/ Tuesday I think my attendance this week may be bitty. But fingers crossed...
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9. cholla
1:43 AM GMT on September 23, 2012
You'd never know it was the first day of fall here in the Sonoran desert. The 106F that we had here today just north of Tucson is the hottest day since early August. Maybe Joe can bring down some of that cool Aleutian rain when he visits in less than a month.
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8. DHaupt
8:27 AM GMT on September 22, 2012
We won't see any Fall color here in Livermore for another six weeks at least. What Fall color we get is usually just pale brown. People and especially CalTrans do plant various small trees and shrubs that give some lovely purples and reds, but the typical neighborhood trees are very blah. We've had no serious rain since April and hardly a drop for the past three months. But, what we lack in beauty, we get back in just nice weather. The thermometer has hovered in the mid-80s give or take 5 degrees.

I have finally had good news about my ear tumor. It turns out to be a Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma which, if you have to have any kind of lymphoma, is the best kind to have. It is not life threatening, requires no radiation or chemo, and if it ever comes back at all, we will just whittle that one off as well.

Now, I have had many medical hands laid upon my deteriorating body over the past month and they did find another blight. I had a very red, rashy thingy on my left forearm which has turned out to be a Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Situ. The biopsy got most of it, but I will be treating it with a chemotherapy cream (Efudex) for about six weeks. I've used the stuff before to remove solar damage (which this actually is as well) and know what to expect. It is harmless to healthy skin, you could put it on a baby's butt; but it attacks any cells that are reproducing abnormally fast.

So, all in all, I've dodged another bullet! Maybe two.

I'm looking forward to Joe's vacation, not too far off now.
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7. iaotter
3:09 AM GMT on September 20, 2012
Fall is coming in Iowa too. Lots of combines in the fields and everything is turning golden and brown.
A few trees are going gold, but not much color yet. Some weather commentator said it would be a drab fall because it was so dry. Don't know if the last few rains will help that or not. Supposed to rain again tomorrow night or Friday. Now that everyone is trying to get crops in we get rain. Even it it is a pain now, it will be appreciated as it builds up the ground water for spring.
Rivers are still really low.
62 right now and headed toward 45 by morning.
Rumor has it that this is going to be a rip roaring winter with lots of snow and cold windy weather.
Haven't even seen a wooly bear catapillar to check his stipes and see what's coming. Can never remember if a wide brown stipe means a soft winter or if all black means nicer weather. Maybe I will check the squirrel tails instead. If they are really bushy it is supposed to be a hard winter. I have one in the back yard that teases the dog on a regular basis. His tail looks pretty bushy. Little twerp hangs upside down, just out of range and scolds and scolds. Dog goes nuts on the deck. She would catch him if he ever got out of the tree. Then she would bring it to me to clean and cook for her. Doesn't like raw meat.

Joe, thank you for the pictures and video of the salmon. The color on the hills is beautiful. The salmon are amazing. Now if you could just get one to jump on your grill!
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6. hanfyh
11:22 PM GMT on September 19, 2012
Hi all,

Thanks for sharing the video of the salmon Joe.

We dont get spring and fall here. We just go from winter to summer. No fall colours either. We are on the end of our winter early summer and its 80°f now at 9 am.

A few years ago we drove from Wisconsin to Virginia at this time of the year. The mountain ranges in West Virginia were really pretty. I now know what inspired John Denver to write Country Roads. The fall colours were amazing.

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5. Arbie
5:21 PM GMT on September 19, 2012
Yes, winter is coming. Down here it means nice. Morning temps in the low 70sF feel wonderful after the long, hot summer.

I had also heard, through local news, that Shell decided to put off drilling until next year. The reason given was that a piece of safety equipment (a containment dome) had damage that will take too long to repair to make further drilling this year feasible. They are continuing to drill the top holes they can use to attach equipment, etc. That is why Joe has not seen them back.

The tundra colors are wonderful. Rivals New England, I would say. :)
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4. dotmom
1:29 PM GMT on September 19, 2012
Turned the furnace on here in KY - some of us old folks can't tolerate 46 degrees! Thank God for our new furnace. It is pretty out - but chilly. Going to warm up to 72 degrees. I know JoeA is really looking forward to a break.
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3. osdianna
2:37 AM GMT on September 19, 2012
And on today's note from the Sierra Club:

Polar Bears Trump Big Oil

Royal Dutch Shell announced yesterday that it will not move forward with plans to drill for oil in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas -- this year. Shell put off drilling after spill containment equipment failed during a test under calm, predictable conditions.

Known as the Polar Bear Seas, the waters where Shell still wants to drill are home to the entire U.S. population of polar bears and serve as a vital migration route for bowhead and beluga whales. More than a million people have spoken out against Shell's drilling plans over the past few months.

Here on the west side of Washington state, we are seeing leaves turning colors, and today's temps were 53 on the coast and 82 degrees 25 miles inland thanks to a stubborn layer of fog. Luckily I left my home and traveled east, so got to bask in the heat a bit. The older I get the more I enjoy the (moderate) heat.

UK...there is nothing you can do to improve your situation except follow your list. Sorry, that's just the way it goes. You only get ONE week off a year? That's just not right.
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2. cybersuze
8:02 PM GMT on September 18, 2012
Wow Joe! Great pics and video! Hate to see the days shorten but welcome the cooler temps. At some point we wll have some rain! Been emptying a few flower pots and have found multiple nuts in there hidden by our squirrel friends!

Can't believe those salmon. Looks pretty shallow, probably too shallow for us to swim (if it weren't so cold), adn that's probably a good thing -- not much room!

Think that va-ca-shun is coming up soon, good for you, have a good time!
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1. insideuk
9:51 AM GMT on September 18, 2012
If, like me this morning, you read that first bit of the blog very quickly and without much care to notice the punctuation, you could have ended up with the faintly ridiculous idea that GNU guy was busy delivering the fall colours...

He has time to take up floristry? Does not the jam making keep him occupied in his underemployed moments?

But I read further and learned that the salmon berries are not so plentiful this year, AHA, I THOUGHT, that explains it...

OK so my head is brim full with stuff to remember TO GET DONE before I leave for Scotland – it doesn't leave much brain capacity to get things understood in the NORMAL fashion.

Which brings me to this 'TERMINATION DUST' tag. In my head that term has always formed the picture of a vacuum cleaner in a funeral home. Then I get this mental image of people dressed in black, scaling mountains to empty out their Dyson canisters.

Yes, I know – my head is all over the place the vast majority of the time. It gets much worse the nearer I get to having to pack. For 5 nights now I have been having the pre-trip bad dreams, the ones where I, by turn, can't think what to pack, can't pack it fast enough, can't fit everything I want to pack in my case, then arrive at destination to find I have left something absolutely vital behind that cannot possibly be bought locally...

Does this stuff happen to other people? By daytime I'm coping with it all, trying to squeeze in next weeks work into this weeks, making sure I've crossed things off my many lists, making sure other people have lists of how to do the stuff they usually leave me to sort out...

But by night my subliminal mind is digging out every worst case scenario that involves NOT BEING READY AND ORGANISED and is having me toss and turn before waking with a sense of panic and foreboding that is distinctly uncharacteristic of DAYTIME ME.

Thank God I only get one week off per year.

I am so pleased I am going again in September, last year I went in June and I did miss seeing the shades of AUTUMN all around. The weather people say that this year the colours should be amazing because of all the rain we had. There has to be some payback.




Those ground squirrels don't know what they are missing. I'd hate to be a creature that has to hibernate through winter.

How the hell do they cope with the stress of all that packing?
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About joealaska

I have just taken a new job in Great Falls, Montana. A new state and new areas to explore.

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