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2 women share trip of a lifetime, continue to plan for future excursions

Cell phones turned off and worries behind them, two friends just spent the time of their lives driving the remarkable Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon to Mexico, with no secured lodging or schedule in mind. They have been called the modern-day Thelma and Louise.

 Carol Skavlem and Bunny Knopke are a pair of friends who aren’t about to watch their lives pass by. At 70 years old, the women have supported one another through the ups and downs of life and plan to continue enjoying the later years fully by soaking up all the experiences they can now that their children are grown.


 “After you’ve raised your kids and been responsible, it’s time to let loose,” Knopke says. “Life should bea party.”


 Though it wasn’t the first time the friends had traveled the nation together, the trip down the West Coast in September was certainly the most prominent the two had undertaken. “We figured it was the best time to go, since all the kids were back in school, the weather wasn’t too hot or too cold,” Skavlem says.


The adventure begins


 Taking a train from Grand Forks to Portland, the women were not prepared for the comfort of the sleeping carriage for the long travel hours. Instead, the two met with fellow passengers in the observation car and ate bags of snacks they had collected before their journey.


 “The land was beautiful,” Knopke says, as Skavlem nods in agreement. “And the oil fields up by Williston were really something to see, really not as bad as I thought they would be.”


 After arriving in Portland, Skavlem and Knopke picked up their rental car — a comfortable Dodge Avenger— and toured the local Oregon towns, coming upon a sign for the annual Cranberry Festival in Bandon, Ore., which they both agree was one of the highlights of the trip.


 “They had absolutely everything,” Skavlem says.


 “There was cranberry bread you could try, cranberry jam, cranberry cookies, cranberry candles — just everything you could think of,” Knopke says.


 With cranberry treats and knick-knack mementos purchased, the two were on the road again, talking and soaking up the scenery as they drove farther south to one of few destinations they had planned to visit — San Francisco.


 “We don’t use the radio,” Knopke says. “We don’t need that computer-y stuff, because we have each other to keep company. And even if we don’t actually speak, we’re so busy looking out the window at things.”


 A quick stop at Redwood National Park was an eye-opening experience in the quiet, lush outdoors, especially in comparison to what awaited them in San Francisco. The two stood against the monstrous trunks of the trees and were within arm’s reach of a herd of elk. “We wanted to go ziplining,” Skavlem says. “But it was closed because it was too windy.”


 Upon arriving in San Francisco, the ladies found an inexpensive tour bus that took them through the city, including Chinatown, a place Knopke really wanted to see. But it wasn’t the dream she thought it would be.


 “I didn’t like that city,” she says. “I’ve lived in big cities, been to many big cities, but that just wasn’t for me. Too much going on.” Still, she enjoyed visiting the pier and taking pictures witha giant kitschy crab.


 Onward to Pebble Beach, Skavlem and Knopke walked through the legendary golf courses, keeping one eye open for the frequent player Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, they were met with disappointment, as he was nowhere in sight. But they were instead awestruck at the beauty and tranquility of the area.


 The upscale neighborhoods and posh lifestyles of Pebble Beach and their favorite stop, Hearst Castle, gave them an idea: “We were going to hit it big in California,” Knopke says. “So we bought a lottery ticket, but it didn’t really work out for us.”


 Witha quick stop to see some family, the two were back on track, heading toward Mexico witha stop in Malibu, Calif., fora bit of rest and relaxation. The pair stopped at the first hotel they could find, which happened to bea bit more expensive than the other hotels they had stayed in along the way.


 “We didn’t need anything fancy,” Skavlem says. “But if it didn’t have a continental breakfast, we moved on to the next one.”


 The Malibu hotel had it all, because the pair was given the only remaining room: a suite. A far cry from where the women would be staying at the Mexican border, but well worth the money. After a bit of bargaining on Knopke’s part, the two got a deal and stayed in Malibu for an additional day, which gave them more time to scour the ritzy city and beaches.


 For the remainder of the trip, they continued to meet strangers who gave them insight on what to do and see in the areas, made some quick friends and visited some important landmarks like the San Diego Zoo.


 “I traveled down about 300 feet in an elevator into this cave,” Knopke says. “You couldn’t see anything but the sides of the elevator, and at the bottom were a bunch of sea lions. They were really neat.”


 When asked why she didn’t accompany her friend, Skavlem says, “It was a cave — you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”


 Traveling about 250 to 350 miles per day, the duo says they had not one disagreement the entire two weeks. “We respect each other’s space,” Knopke says. “We have a great time no matter what.”


To be continued


 The women have a busy schedule ahead of them this spring, including a trip to Wisconsin to watch car racing on frozen water. But they have already started considering their next undertaking in travel, which involves more driving and little planning. Knopke and Skavlem will be flying to Florida to travel the coast in acomfortable rental car.


 “I just really want to explore the Everglades and eat real Cuban food,” Knopke says. “Maybe watch how they make Cuban cigars and try one.”


 In the even more distant future, the team would like to discover the Deep South, traveling through the swamps of the Bayou.


 As for now, the adventurous duo finds it is easy to keep a full schedule around home with family and friends, children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. Hockey games, fitness classes numerous times a week, Red Hat Society meetings and bingo at Southgate account for only a portion of their busy schedule.


 In the summer, Skavlem brings her Harley out to ride around town, and has even made it to Sturgis witha granddaughter. And while Knopke hasn’t ridden a Harley in years, the women recall a recent trip to Cottonwood, Ariz., which brought back many memories, as Skavlem’s sister introduced them to the Desert Rider’s Association, a Palm Springs, Calif., motorcycle club.


 “Oh, boy, did we have a party,” Skavlem says.


 These women share more than their experiences of getting tattoos together, traveling to Las Vegas for birthday celebrations, attending concerts, and riding in tandem through the desert — they share a kindred spirit. The pair will forever remember the trip last fall and will use it to fuel future trips together.


 “How fun to see a couple of old ladies drivin’ around with windows down and arms out,” Knopke says. “My mother told me, ‘Variety is the spice of life,’ and by god, I took her at her word.”