We drove south from Alaska near the end of May this year on a whim. Maybe I’m just tired of the winters. The darkness gets to me. Or maybe it’s just a classic mid-life crisis and the husband and I have sunk at the same time. Because in April when I said, “Let’s go south,” he grabbed his suitcase and headed for the door.
“You are leaving Alaska in the summertime?” said everyone we passed going the opposite direction on the Alaska/Canada highway. Even the Alaska border patrol said we were headed the wrong direction but we just smiled, nodded, and pointed south.
“Where is the six-door?” others would say, knowing we normally drive a rather unusually long rig. She is having a new motor installed, and was sadly replaced with an old 15 passenger van. I know humility is healthy, but it’s humbling to drive an ugly van after being ultra cool in the six door all these years. Perhaps our vanity needed to be taken down a notch. The van certainly did that.
It’s somewhere around 2300 miles from Anchorage to Seattle, our first destination being another 600 miles past that in Redding, California. Every time we drive the Alcan highway we swear the next we will take more time and see the sites. But this, my 17th time, was no different than the rest in that we hit the pedal to the medal and didn’t stop until we saw the tip of the space needle.
We did stop to photograph the first of eighteen black bears we saw along the drive, but after that the husband would slow down and I’d hang my head out the window snapping pictures, yelling, ‘go, go, go!’ as one pissed off cinnamon black came charging towards the truck as I clicked. They say black bears aren’t aggressive, but even they don’t like paparazzi shoving a camera in their faces.
Bears, bison, caribou, elk and moose are a common site alongside the road. Or even in the road as was the case with the bison, which don’t move fast for anyone and make a mighty big dent in the bumper if you try to nudge them aside. So we did slow to a stop for them, but other than that we flew through Canada pretty fast. Someday…some day we will stop at the hot springs and wander the streets of Dawson City like we always promise. Or maybe not.
If you didn’t follow us in the winter of 2013-2014, we did a similar trip and spent six months travelling from Alaska clear down to the gulf of Mexico on the Padre Islands of the Texas coast. We spent a month there, headed up to Utah for a month, and spent the rest of our time relative hopping and camping across the western United States. We returned to Alaska in May, 2014, spent one year at home (half of which was laid up after an injury involving a bear, two boys, and my superhuman-porch-leaping skills) and now we are off again. This time for a full year.
We stopped off in Portland, Oregon and had a day with our adult kids, Heather, Destini and Billy as well as Heathers fiancé, Andrew. We had a phenomenal day in the sun with the kids, and then headed south to the mom-in-laws in Redding just in time to put the husband on a plane to go back to work. Poor guy.
Here was the initial plan: The husband inherited an acre of land an hour east of Redding, deep in the logging roads behind Shingletown, California. It was, long story short, his childhood playground and the place where his family escaped the city life of southern Cal, his entire life. His father’s ashes are there, in a memorial rock, and a few years ago the whole place burned in a forest fire, leaving behind a few trees and nothing much else. The ‘property’, as it’s known to the family, went from a shaded oasis of redwoods and pines to a desert of deep red dirt and ash.
And we came south to revive it. We bought tents, cots, lawn chairs, shovels, rakes and camping equipment and planned to spend the summer rebuilding the past, so the children of the future could love it as he did. We started with an outhouse. But here is what we discovered..
Redding, California and the surrounding area, is like LIVING IN A TOASTER OVEN.
And sleeping in a tent, in a toaster oven, gets unbearable by six a.m. So each day the kids, the pets and I loaded up our picnic and headed for higher ground. The property is at 4000 ft elevation, so the only higher ground around was Lassen Volcanic National Park, not far up the road, and beyond that Hat Creek and Burney Falls recreation areas where we spent the next week. We lazed in the lake by day, then headed back to the property around seven p.m., just in time for the air to become almost tolerable to these poor Alaskan kids who thought California was trying to kill them.
Clearly, camping out on the property and rebuilding was not going to work this time of year. So when my cousin, Tina, told me one night, “Go to Roseburg, my cabin is empty,” we were packed and out of there in ten minutes flat. Off to Oregon we went.
(Backstory: I didn’t grow up around my family. Born in Roseburg, Oregon, as were my parents, my grandparents and my great-grand parents, we moved to Alaska when I was eight. I have a giant extended family in the Roseburg, Glide, Cottage Grove, Oregon area and I know about six of them.)
We spent five days in Roseburg at my cousins place which sits behind her folks house, overlooking the city. They have a pool, so it’s a wonder we ever left. We went to our first ever baseball game, met some cousins, swam in the pool and soaked up the hospitality. The husband flew in from work and we headed over to Pacific City on the coast where we were again spoiled by some old neighbors of ours who have retired at their beach cabin a couple blocks from the beach. It pays to have friends and relatives in ‘high’ places, or at least with swimming pools and beach cabins.
While on the coast, pondering our next move and wondering how long we could live in tents on friends and relatives good nature, we went down to a camp trailer dealer and impulsively bought a 30ft motorhome. A 1996 with only 27,000 miles on it, we got it super cheap and felt good about the decision. Homeless no more, we headed south back to Redding to spend July 4th with the husband family where all four of his sisters had gathered at his moms.
Back into the firepits of Redding we went, though this time armed with air conditioning. We felt like we were on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, rolling down the road in style rather than our 91’ E350 van with the rusted roof and nonexistent air conditioning. Yes, Mother, I know there are starving children in Africa, but I’m Alaskan and I need my coolant.
After the 4th we dropped the husband down at the Sacramento airport and a couple days later we headed back up here to Roseburg so we could again lounge in my aunts pool. I’m not sure how long she will put up with us, but I have Steven mowing her lawn now and Mya cleaned her living room. With three kids left to do chores, I figure we will last through the weekend.
Our next stop is Portland again, then over to Tillamook where my DAUGHTER, HEATHER, IS GETTING MARRIED on July 25th! And then who knows.
After two months of answering Craigslist ads, we have discovered something definitive. NOBODY wants to rent to a family with 5 teenagers, 3 dogs and 3 cats. Hence the motorhome purchase. We like the looks of a Lake Havasu, Arizona snowbird rental where we can get a house with a pool and experience city life for a while. Though we don’t actually like to spend any money…so…
But what we have really figured out…is that maybe we don’t want to settle in somewhere. Maybe the open road, an open atlas, and an open mind is the best option for now.