On the road again

View of I-70 as it turns North at Copper Mount...

Icy I-70

I miss the road. Mythic in the American psyche, the open road calls to us, beckons us to the next chapter, the next adventure, the grocery store. Ok, the last one wasn’t so romantic. But most of my life, that’s where my road has taken me.

Oh, I’ve had some amazing journeys. I remember moving cross country with three-week old Alex, driving toward a new house that I had never seen, twelve hundred miles from family and the world I had known. Turned out to be a great move, and the launch of our family. Forced us to be independent, to be us.

Then five years later, we drove to another new home, this one in Midland, Michigan, and driving across Colorado in February, we crossed Vail Pass, and my car went skidding on an icy patch of interstate. We were caravaning, Rob and I, he with our dog and one child, me with the other. I did a complete 180 on the interstate and came to a stop facing oncoming traffic. I still don’t know how I turned myself around and got out of there before I was hit. But I did it, passing Rob like the wind in a panic. Somehow we made it down to Denver, and I think we had stopped for dinner at a restaurant before I stopped shaking.

Over the years we did a number of cross country trips back to see family. Stephanie was in her permit driving phase on one of those trips, and I had taken the kids back to see family. I sat in the front seat next to her, carefully monitoring her driving skills as we headed west on I-70. The thing about I-70 is that so much of it is the same. After a while I got sleepy and nodded off. When I woke up we were headed east. She had come through some exit options and had somehow managed to turn us in the opposite direction. Fortunately it was a short nap.

One of our epic journeys occurred only a couple of years ago when we drove a 30-foot class C RV down from Anchorage, crossing Alaska, Canada, and 17 states, on a drive that began in September and ended in December. We had never driven an RV before. Rob practiced turns in a parking lot with the RV salesman before we left. We had the dogs with us, and we were novices at everything we were doing. But we did it. And I’m pleased to announce I drove that vehicle. Those ten miles of Texas interstate were the longest of my life. But I drove them, and no one can take that away from me!

I have a short commute, living on a small island. I live in town, and although the paved road goes from the north to south and stretches about 20 something miles in all, my trip to work from my neighborhood is only about a mile. I can hardly get through a song on the radio. And I don’t get much talk time in. In the past, time alone in my car has been an opportunity to talk things out, to plan my day, to hear myself think. But I must have larger issues than a mile’s worth. Can’t get through much in that morning drive.

There are some advantages. I only fill my car about once a month. When I’m asked about the price of gas, I don’t even know what it is. I fill my tank so rarely that when I need to do it, I just put gas in the tank. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. The price of gas for an airline ticket is just a wee bit more expensive. Tickets from Ketchikan to Phoenix are running about $1,000 right now.

This week is a reminder of what I like about the road. Anticipating a return to life more connected with driving, I realize I’m ready. And if you should pass me having an animated conversation with myself, just know I’m working something out. Just me and the road.

Alaska: big state, or small?

Alaska is famously large. There are a lot of statistics that emphasize the bigness of the state, the awesome natural features of mountains, glaciers, Arctic tundra, frozen seas. But there is a curious smallness to the state as well, something that isn’t understood until you live here. There are very few people in Alaska. This is the only place I’ve ever lived where I regularly cross paths with people I’ve met in other parts of the state.

When we first moved to Alaska, I was shocked at how often I saw people I knew in the Anchorage airport. You pass through Anchorage to get to Kotzebue, (you have to fly to Kotzebue, there are no roads to take you there) and there was always someone at the airport gate that we knew, either by name or face. We moved to Ketchikan and already knew people in this region that we had known in Kotzebue, who moved here before we did. Now we know people in Sitka, Anchorage, Kodiak, Metlakatla, Craig, and of course, we still have friends in Kotzebue. People move about a lot in this state. Paths cross frequently.

We’re in Craig for two weeks, and just learned that friends moved here two weeks ago, so we’re having dinner with them before we leave. That’s how Alaska is. People you knew in one community pop up somewhere else. And of course, people do leave the state. But it is surprising to me how often there is re-circulation of the population. Any hearty readers out there who want to give it a try? Alaska will give you stories for a lifetime…that’s my personal tag-line for the state. And if you’re interested in rainforest country, I have a house to sell…great view of the water, and in the historic district. Come on up, give it a try. I promise it will change you forever! But it will be good, and eye-opening, and for anyone interested in living in a foreign country where English is spoken and the dollar is the currency, Alaska is your opportunity. It is often called the last frontier. But don’t let the size fool you. It’s a small town place at heart.