MONDAY July 15, 2013 ~ THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. UM, WAIT. HOLD THAT THOUGHT.
3:00 a.m. Finished loading the U-Haul, admired a rare, summertime Aurora Borealis display (felt like a gift directly from God on our last morning in Alaska), crawled into sleeping bags on the floor of our empty house, and posted a Facebook Status: “And the adventure begins.” I had no idea . . .
8:00 a.m. (Paul was up around 6.) Crawled—surprisingly painlessly—out of sleeping bags; packed up last minute bedding, pets, overnight bags, sundry “oops!-almost-forgot-this” items; ate breakfast; picked up Papa (my Dad, our primary U-Haul driver); gassed up vehicles; and took a final walk around the property as a family, ringing the Chapel bell to commemorate our departure. Our neighbor, an older lady who tells me she loves me when we chat on the phone, walked over to hug us goodbye and tell us how much she was going to miss the “best neighbors she’s ever had.” Yes, I was bawling.
12:00 p.m. Ignition started, seat belts clicked, gear engaged, and Paul said, “Show me the folder with the passports and animal tags.” I hauled the bag of Important Papers onto my lap and pulled out the “Passports” folder. As expected, I saw 5 passport books and 2 cards. (Backstory #1: Driving through Canada requires passports; we got the oldest 3 kids passport books, and the younger 2 passport cards. Paul & I already had ours. That’s a total of 5 current passport books and 2 passport cards. Backstory #2: Between the 2 of us, Paul and I have 5 passport books. Two are current; three are old.) Just to be safe, I opened the 1st passport. Wow, Paul looked young. My heart started to pound. I opened the 2nd passport. Paul looked even younger! My lungs began to clench. Rather than 5 passport books & 2 passport cards, I was staring at 3 old passports, 2 new ones (Paul’s & mine), and sundry loose papers, border crossing info pamphlets, and “if you lose your passport” instruction cards. Full blown panic set in. I began digging frantically through the sack of Important Papers. Paul put the van in park and said quietly, too quietly, “The filing cabinet is in the very front of the U-Haul.” I ran back into the house, and looked desperately in every remaining drawer, cabinet, toilet tank, and appliance and on every shelf and countertop. No passports. Oh. My. Word. I did not do this! But I did. We drove to my parents’ house to begin unloading the U-Haul. I sobbed the entire way. The sweet, beautiful, lovely thing is when we arrived at my folks’ house, every single one of my kids and my husband hugged me and told me it was okay. They still loved me. I bawled even harder.
2:30 p.m. Found the passports. In the filing cabinet. In the front of the U-Haul. My poor husband, sons, and Dad had to unload 2/3 of the truck to get to them, but we had them. Then they had to repack it—always the harder task.
9:00 p.m. Finished reloading the U-Haul. (They took a 2-hour break for a power nap & supper, but worked steadily besides that.) The menfolk took showers, Mom & I washed their dirty, sweaty clothes, and I enjoyed one last short visit with my Mom & Dad.
11:00 p.m. Fell into bed—an actual bed—at my folks’ house. Listened to our dog whine and whimper all night.
TUESDAY July 16, 2013 ~ THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, TAKE 2.
5:00 a.m. Woke up to a pancake breakfast cooked by my Dad (a.k.a. Papa). Very nice.
6:00 a.m. Wheels rolling. The good news is I was all cried out. Blinked away a little moisture, but no more bawling. Whew! There were some pretty impressive frost heaves between Glennallen and Haines. (Frost heaves are nature’s speed bumps, caused by permafrost heaving the ground—and road-bed—up.) Thought the pick-up truck (on a trailer behind the U-Haul) was gonna bounce clear over the front of the U-Haul a couple of times. And poor Bailey! Our dog was in the BED of the pick-up!! (Under the truck cap, with her dog house, no less.) Ended up going 35–40 m.p.h. for a ways. We got tickled when the stuff in the cab of the pick-up shifted forward and turned on the flashers. Got even more tickled when the horn started beeping every time the trailer bounced. Stress relief, maybe? I dunno, but we found it hilarious.
12:00 p.m. Extremely smooth border crossing into Canada at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory. Tristan was amused when the border agent locked himself out of his booth. He’d come out and around to look in the back of the van to confirm kids’ identities. T said he couldn’t hear him, but saw him mouth a bad word when he pulled on the handle and realized the door was locked. I asked him if it was “French.” He grinned and said, “It was!” We crack ourselves up.
1:00 p.m. Got slapped with sticker shock over the price of gas in Canada. We’d been warned, but ouch! Oh, and our credit card was declined. Because we were in Canada. Have never had to share our travel plans with Visa before, but that’s apparently how things are done now. Thankfully, we had enough cash between us to not have to leave a child behind in payment. Papa, driving the U-Haul, pulled out of the gas station—with the back of the U-Haul wide open. We had visions of our freezer full of fish & meat (which was right at the back so we could plug it into a generator) catapulting out, and the monstrous pile of antlers, stacked over and behind it, shattering onto the pavement. Thankfully, Papa (finally—it seemed like an eternity) saw our flashing lights, blaring horn, and wildly erratic driving and pulled over before the freezer worked its way more than a couple of inches out the door. Whew! I think we got our aerobic workout for the day in approximately 20 seconds.
11:00 p.m. Found a pull-out stacked with RV’s and started setting up a tent, arranging kids, and kenneling pets. (Who are traveling remarkably well, btw.) The mosquitoes were demonic.
12:00 a.m. Crawled into the tent with Tristan, Teagan & Paul; Papa slept in the U-Haul; Aidan in the front seat of the van; Ashelyn & Therron on the van’s two back seats.
WEDNESDAY July 17, 2013 ~ DAY TWO
5:30 a.m. Paul woke up and roused the rest of us. Loaded up camp.
6:00 a.m. Drove a short ways down the road to an empty pull-out with permanent outhouses. Used the facilities, dug out Pop Tarts, longed desperately for coffee, ran the dog, fed the critters.
6:30 a.m. Headed down the road, hoping for a less “adventurous” day.
10:30 a.m. So far, so good. Saw porcupines, rabbits, black bears (three separate ones!) & bison so far. Quite a few bison. Man, those suckers are BIG. Landscape was much gentler. Still mountainous, but smaller and tree covered. Reminded me of the Smokies.
11:00 p.m. Alaska Time / 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time (Figured it’s probably time to start moving our watches forward.) Arrived in Fort St. John, British Columbia. Found a hotel, but they were full—except for the $500-a-night suite on the top floor. Yeah, we weren’t doing that. They sent us around the corner to another hotel that might have rooms. Paul told Papa to stay put in the U-Haul at the first hotel (with 2 sleeping kiddos) while we drove the back roads to the other and made sure they had room for us. We found the other hotel, and Paul went in to see about rooms while Tristan, Aidan & Teagan (who was also sound asleep) stayed in the van with me, parked on a side street alongside the hotel. It took him a few minutes, but he came out with room keys. T, A & I hauled Teagan and a few overnight bags into the hotel while Paul drove back to get Papa. Got Teagan settled and left Aidan with her, while Tristan & I went out to meet Papa & Paul. Papa was just pulling in as we came out the door, and I noticed this man walk up to his window. I didn’t pay much attention because Paul drove up then, as well, and as he got out of the van, he asked, “So . . . none of you noticed someone stealing gas cans off the back of the van while I was in the hotel getting us rooms??” (We had five 5-gallon gas cans with us; they were strapped onto a hitch rack on the back of the gold van, some of which we were using to run a generator to keep our freezer of meat frozen. At that point, we had four full cans and one almost-empty one.) I looked over at the back of the van, and sure enough, four gas cans were missing—the four full ones. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us at the time, the culprit was borrowing Papa’s cell phone, trying to find someone to come pick him (and presumably the gas cans) up. He called one “friend” who didn’t answer. He called another, and started giving him directions. I overheard part of that as I woke Therron & Ashelyn up and got them out of the cab of the U-Haul to take them inside. I didn’t really pay much attention, other than to notice that the guy was clearly plastered, and to think how nice it was of my Dad to let him use his phone. Turns out, after I walked away with my stumbling, bleary-eyed young-uns, the guy concluded his phone call, and asked my Dad how far we were traveling, and did that U-Haul chug a lot of gas?, and hey! he just happened to have 20 gallons of gas he’d be willing to sell him. Now, Papa knew our gas had been stolen. He’s the one who’d noticed the missing cans and the dragging straps when Paul came to get him. Papa called Paul over to talk with the guy, and the minute Sneaky Thief saw Paul, he started back-pedaling, verbally and physically. The van was out of his line of sight, so he didn’t know who Paul was—but Paul was big, irritated (at having to deal with a drunk), furious (at having had his gas stolen), and tired. And he wasn’t about to be snookered. All of that was apparently . . . apparent, because the dude wanted out of there! Suddenly, he didn’t have quite that much gas, and well, it wasn’t right there, and blankety-blank, he wasn’t gonna mess around with them! He threw out some tough guy talk (because anybody who can fling the f-bomb must be super tough) and walked away. Fast. Paul & Papa hurried inside and told the hotel desk clerk what was going on. Desk Clerk called the police. Papa pulled up the two numbers Sneaky Thief had called from his phone, and the desk clerk relayed those to the police, as well. (Interestingly, the first guy actually called Papa back afterwards. But, when Papa—not Sneaky Thief—answered, he didn’t speak. Hmmm.) Not too much later, Paul got a call from the police that they’d found his gas cans. Still full! They were tucked in some bushes not far from where they’d been taken. We’d figured they had to be nearby. That’s like 140 pounds of gas! No way Sneaky Thief was gonna carry them far on foot. But it was dark, and there were lots of back alleys. Not places we really wanted to search for ourselves at 1:00 in the morning. Thankfully, they were recovered, and—after locking them securely in the back of the U-Haul—we finally collapsed into bed around 2:00 a.m. Why, oh, why did I ever use that word “adventure”?
THURSDAY July 18, 2013 ~ DAY THREE
2:00 a.m. “Collapsed into bed.” (See Day Two)
9:00 a.m. Woke to eat breakfast at the hotel.
10:00 a.m. Went back to rooms to bathe younger kids (they were too far zonked to do so the night before, but they were in desperate need!) and to pack up while Paul and Papa tried to get a couple more hours of sleep. They were the primary drivers, and they’d had less sleep, by far, than the rest of us. Papa didn’t end up sleeping, but Paul got a good hour in before we started loading up to hit the road again.
12:00 p.m. Checked out of hotel. Walked dog. Fed & watered critters. Cleaned out guinea pig carrier. Argued over seating arrangements. And finally pulled out close to 1:00 p.m.
12:00 a.m. Technically, we had an uneventful day, but . . . we were still driving at 12:00 a.m. And the night was not over. (Funny comment of the day: Teagan, as we passed Papa to take the lead on a freeway, “Dad? Why is Papa backing up?!”)
FRIDAY July 19, 2013 ~ DAY FOUR
1:00 a.m. Continued driving. Paul was driving the U-Haul; I was following in the van. He had Tristan riding shotgun; I had Papa & the rest of the gang. The goal was to get through Calgary at night, so as to avoid daytime traffic. Fabulous. Until . . .
2:00 a.m. I saw sparks shoot out from under the trailer behind the U-Haul. Then I saw more sparks. Almost continuous sparks. Called Paul & told him was sparkling. He’d just started to feel something “off,” and was trying to figure out what it was. He pulled over onto a wide shoulder, just past an off ramp. The trailer was one of those with two wheels, centered (one in front of the other) on each side. The front right one was absolutely shredded—as in hanging from the rim in ribbons. And there was no spare. Oh boy. We could see a Comfort Inn just down the off ramp, the start of which was behind us about 100 yards. If they could just get it off the freeway, and down to the hotel. Paul, Papa, Tristan, and Aidan grabbed headlamps, wood blocks, and some straps and went to work. They had to use the jack from our van, and, as is prone to happen in a situation like this, it wouldn’t work. At all. (Incidentally, we have had to have this jack replaced before by Chevy. We love Chevy. But that’s another story.) As they strapped and shimmed and finagled, trying to get the axle high enough to not damage the rim for the drive down to the hotel, a police cruiser pulled in behind us. The officer was very friendly and as helpful as possible.
2:20 a.m. I called U-Haul’s roadside assistance number, and the officer helped me communicate our location to a somewhat-taciturn U-Haul associate. I figured she probably expected me to be grumpy, so I made an extra attempt to be sweet, to communicate clearly, and to even joke a bit with her. She had no sense of humor. Whatsoever. Granted, I may not have been as funny as I thought I was, but come on. When you’re dealing with a broken-down customer, at 2:30 in the morning, 1500 miles into a 3200 mile road trip, be a tad friendly. It helps. I may have been a tad slap happy, but at least I wasn’t cussing her out. Anyway . . . the Unfriendly U-Haul Lady told me she had pinpointed my location on a map, and she’d call me back within 30 minutes to tell me when to expect a repair technician. Wonderful. The menfolk kept tinkering, the officer bid us adieu, and we waited. And waited. And waited.
3:30 a.m. Finally, we decided to just lock everything up and head down to the hotel. Put the dog in the van with all eight humans, both cats, and the guinea pig and backed up to the head of the off ramp. We’d barely made it to the bottom of the ramp when we saw someone pull in behind the U-Haul. Didn’t look like a repair truck, but someone got out with a flashlight and started walking all around the rig. Visions of our gas can fiasco flashed in our heads. Oh joy. Paul threw the van into park, jumped out, hollered for me to drive to the hotel and get rooms, and he and Papa started hollering, waving, and jogging up the side of the hill toward the U-Haul. Don’t know if the guy heard them or not (there was a lot of traffic, much of which was semis, so it was loud). By the time they got to the top of the hill, he’d pulled away. We really think he was just a concerned motorist, stopping to see if we needed help—we’d left the flashers on, and he wouldn’t have been able to tell from behind whether or not someone was in the cab of the U-Haul without getting out and walking up to it. That’s basically all he did, but by now we were more-than-a-tad gun shy. Paul left Papa in the U-Haul while he hiked down to the hotel to meet up with me, the kids, and the critters. Meanwhile, right as Paul and Papa charged up the hill, the Unfriendly (but, thankfully, helpful) U-Haul Lady called back to let us know a repair tech would be there in about 45 minutes. I pulled up to the hotel, kicked Aidan out to walk the dog a bit, and went in to inquire about rooms. They were booked. Groan! The clerk was very sympathetic, and showed me on a little map where to find a couple of other hotels, just up the freeway an exit. Paul walked into the lobby just as he finished explaining the directions to me. He repeated them for Paul’s benefit, and we called Papa from the van to tell him what we were doing and headed back up Hwy 2 to the previous exit. There were 3 hotels off that exit. Paul had just exited the first with a “they’re full, too” report when Tristan pipes up from the back seat, “You know we left Aidan at the first hotel?” Ahh! We did!! With the dog. Back down the freeway we go. Of course, Aidan’s phone was in the seat beside Tristan (dead, we later learned). Thankfully, it wasn’t far, and Aidan was right there when we pulled back in. Not too traumatized, either. (We did, however, have a little chat about staying put if you’re left behind. He’d just begun walking up the street toward the off ramp and Papa.) Okay. Back up the highway to check the other 2 hotels. Both were booked. Turned out, there was a gymnastics tournament—do they call them “tournaments” in gymnastics? I have no clue—going on in town. No rooms to be had. The next town was 10 minutes past where we’d left Papa and the U-Haul. We headed back that way and stopped to tell him what was going on. By that time, the Even Less Friendly U-Haul Technician had arrived and was assessing what needed to be done to get the trailer fixed. I’m sure it stinks to get a repair call at 3:00 in the morning. It does. But, really, dude. We’re not exactly having a party here, either. And we’ve had less sleep than you have.
4:45 a.m.—ish (I’d stopped really watching the time by this point.) We headed down the road and turned off at the first exit we came to that looked like it might have hotels. Nope. Lots of shopping and dining, but no hotels. None. We pulled over, Paul pulled out his iPhone, and did a “hotel” search using Google Maps. That showed us a Best Western just a couple exits further down. He called the hotel, confirmed that they had rooms available, and we followed the wonderful little Google Maps flashing blue ball right to the front door. Sometimes technology is marvelous. Paul went inside, and I called Papa to give him directions to find us. He said the U-Haul guy had just finished, and he’d call me right back. Paul came back to the car. Empty handed. Oops, they didn’t have rooms after all. I mean, they did, because the people had checked out, but the rooms hadn’t been cleaned yet. So the computer showed them as available for that day, but they weren’t. Yet. Until the maid service came later that morning. The clerk felt really bad and sent us just down the road to yet another hotel. It was called Acclaim. Never heard of it, but they it’s now our favorite hotel. If there’s a chain of them, they have won customers for life.
5:30 a.m. Paul went inside just as Papa called for directions. Paul finished checking us in, and Papa pulled up just as we were hauling kids and bags and a dog out of the van. Not only did Acclaim have side-by-side rooms for us, they gave us a “day rate” of almost half price. We had the rooms until 3:00 p.m. And they were really nice rooms. Jets-in-the-shower nice.
6:00 a.m. All kids in beds or on sofa cushions. Pets safely tucked in the van with fresh food and water. Ahhhh. Not sure I’ve ever crawled into a bed that felt better than that one.
12:30 p.m. Paul woke up and went to check on the pets. Good thing. The van was in direct sunlight, and even with the windows cracked, the poor animals were about to expire. He moved the van to the shade, cranked up the AC for a bit, and gave them all fresh water.
1:00 p.m. Woke to the sound of Paul re-entering the room. Figured we should get up and get showers and try to navigate through Calgary between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. if we wanted to beat rush hour traffic. Most of us took a turn enjoying the jetted showers, and Teagan took a dunk in the deepest tub she’d ever beheld. You shoulda seen the wonder on her face. After she got out, she said, “Can we just stay here instead of moving to Colorado?”
2:00 p.m. Loaded up and headed south.
6:30 p.m. So far, so good. I thought the previous night’s adventure should be enough to take us through the rest of the trip.
10:00 p.m. Pulled off for gas in Great Falls, MT. Looked over and saw an awfully welcoming Best Western sign. Decided to call it a night.
11:00 p.m. Lights out. And everyone got a bed!
SATURDAY July 20 ~ DAY FIVE
8:00 a.m. Sometimes getting a solid 9 hours of sleep . . . only makes you realize how much sleep you’ve missed. Saturday morning was like that, but we got up anyway. Took showers, ate a yummy, sit-down breakfast, and hit the road. Montana is quite pretty. We took back roads through lots of farm country, both cattle and crop. Gently rolling hills, wide fields, Ponderosa Pines, and the Rocky Mountains silhouetted against the horizon. Saw lots of deer and antelope. And cows. Interesting note: Teagan’s Alaska heritage shows up in her use (or non-use) of plurals when referring to horses and cows. “Look! I see some cow!” We realized that, with the exception of bears, every critter we ever hunted, saw, or ate in AK was referred to the same, whether singular or plural: moose, caribou, bison, sheep, salmon, halibut.
1:30 p.m. Pulled over in a turn-out to let kids & the dog stretch their legs, and to plug the freezer into the generator. The generator wouldn’t start. Papa—whose generator it had been before we traded him fishing gear for it—concluded that it needed oil.
2:00 p.m. Pulled over into a rural gas station to buy some oil for the generator. Put the oil in, and Paul yanked on the cord of the generator. (Think lawn mower.) The crank cord broke off in his hand. Without starting. Good grief. The menfolk took it apart, and turned out, it was shot—even if we could’ve gotten another pull cord for it. We were about a hundred miles from Billings, so we decided to head on down the road, and maybe buy a generator there.
4:00 p.m. Stopped in Billings, but the temp on the freezer was low enough that if we could just find a place to plug it in for a few hours, we could avoid buying a generator. Making Colorado Springs sometime Sunday morning was looking like a good possibility, so a few hours was all that was needed to ensure the meat stayed frozen until we arrived at our new home. We decided to continue on until time to eat, and then look for a place to plug in.
6:00 p.m. Found a nice rest area to cook Mountain Houses (freeze-dried camp food), eat, throw a frisbee, and run the dog. Had a place to plug the freezer in, too, so we spent an hour or more there. Decided to try and make it to Cheyenne, WY if possible. Papa started out driving the U-Haul, with Teagan for company. The rest of us piled into the van with Paul driving it.
10:30 p.m. Switched drivers. Paul took the U-Haul, and I took over the van.
SUNDAY July 21, 2013 ~ DAY SIX
12:00 a.m. A semi pulled in between Paul and me. I let it ride there for a while, but finally decided I should probably go around him. Unbeknownst to me, he’d passed Paul too, and when I went to pass “the semi,” Aidan said, “Mom’s gonna pass Dad!” Oops. I dropped back, but Paul thought I was signaling that I needed to pull over, and he took the next rest area exit. Was probably good, cause I was starting to see cross-eyed. (The U-Haul really does look like a semi from the back at night, though!) Tried to find a plug-in for the freezer but couldn’t. There were signs forbidding camping, but there were RV’s and semis everywhere, so we found a corner, put the two oldest boys in sleeping bags, on air mattresses, on the ground behind the van; the 3 younger kids on the bench seats & floor of the van: Papa in the U-Haul; and Paul & me in the front seats of the van.
1:00 a.m. Attempted to sleep. Scotch (one of our cats) began to meow. The seats began to get hard. Scotch meowed more. Paul threatened to throttle a cat. We rolled our windows mostly up, and I let the cat out of the kennel. The cat crawled on my lap, purring. Loudly. I scratched his chin and rubbed his back. The cat crawled on Paul’s lap, purring. Paul smacked him with his hat. The cat hopped back on my lap, and commenced to purring obnoxiously loudly again. Paul grabbed the cat and deposited him in the cab of the pick-up truck.
4:00 a.m. Paul, having slept barely any, kicked Aidan out of his “bed” and took his place. Aidan climbed in the driver seat of the van, “slightly” disgruntled.
5:00 a.m. Paul gave up trying to sleep. Woke up the older boys. Deflated air mattresses & stuffed sleeping bags. Dumped cat litter. Returned yowly-cat to kennel. Fed guinea pig. Crammed 2 big boys in the U-Haul cab with Papa. Left 3 little kids zonked where they were.
5:30 a.m. Hit the road. Only 3 hours to Colorado Springs!! (That’s less than a drive from our house in Copper Center to Anchorage!)
6:30 a.m. Stopped just shy of the CO border to get gas and breakfast at McD’s. Woke 3 sleepers in the van, and took them inside to use the restroom and order food.
7:00 a.m. Back on the road. Enjoyed oohing and ahhing over our new home state’s vegetation, critters, landscape, traffic, and flag (which, in our humble opinion doesn’t hold a candle to either the SC flag or the AK flag)—and the Denver skyline, as well: pretty impressive for a bunch of hillbilly Alaskan kids! The closer we got, the greater the excitement built.
9:00 a.m. Arrived safely at our new home, and 6 days of bottled-up energy exploded from the van. Picture Mentos dropped in Coke-a-Cola. Fun stuff. Thank you, Lord, for traveling mercies! We love our new home. And . . . something tells me the adventure is far from over.