Friday, August 30, 2013

The Home Stretch

It turns out Whitehorse, Yukon Territory was perhaps one step above Dease Lake. Which is saying very little. Don't get me wrong. The scenery surrounding these areas was unbelievably gorgeous--even in the cold and dreary rain. It's just that the towns in between were a strange brew of frontier meets ghetto.

Let's take Whitehorse, for example. Our hotel was right next to the "real" Canadian superstore. Which is apparently not Walmart? Because Walmart is the fake American one? I don't know. Whatever. We purchased chocolate drumsticks there, and I can vouch for the fact that they were both real and super. So I'm giving the real Canadian Superstore some points for that.

Anyway, I woke up the next morning to walk the dog and hunt for really strong coffee. Which, without the coffee, might result in me walking the coffee and hunting for a really strong dog. Anyway, when I got back to the hotel parking lot, I caught a glimpse of L's truck and did a doubletake.

The kids' bikes were missing from the bike rack! I'd just assured my restless little ones the day before that as soon as we arrived in our new neighborhood, we'd ride our bikes around the clock until we knew every last cul de sac by heart. And now this?! Stolen bikes! 

I stormed into the hotel, breathless and two seconds away from a total meltdown, and asked the front desk attendant for the phone number to call the police. Did you know that they call police officers "Constable" in Canada? I would've found this amusing if I hadn't been so worked up about how these heartless criminals had just swiped the one form of entertainment that we'd brought with us for the kids.

Lucky for us, my husband has a somewhat disconcerting ability to think like a criminal. After we broke the bad news to the kids, shed a few tears and discussed the problem of evil in its entirety, L decided to make one last check of the property. Turns out the perps had stashed both bikes in some shrubs near the hotel, perhaps hoping we'd drive away after which they could claim to have "found" them.

Once the bikes were safely back on the rack, we gassed up the cars and got the heck out of Dodge.

The further we got from Whitehorse, the closer we got to this....

The day's drive was as spectacularly beautiful. It helped too, knowing we had just one more night on the road before we could sleep under our own roof.

Getting ready to leave our cabin and head HOME!
We crossed into Alaska that afternoon. Three hours later we were gulping down delicious Thai food on a table in our very own cabin while the kids ran around like monkeys who'd eaten through the inventory in a Fruity Pebbles factory. Then we chatted with some fellow travelers in the cabin next door who had also braved Whitehorse and lived to complain about it. (By now, our kids were old friends and had played about three dozen rounds of tag.)

The next morning, we got up, walked the dog, packed the car, grabbed some strong coffee, and then we drove home.

The most beautiful part of our 4600 mile journey was through the state we now call our own. It was worth a thousand Dease Lake moments (and it took at least as many!) to get here. 

It's so very good to be home.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Then we drove and we drove and we drove

Have you ever wondered what lies between the towns of Smithers, BC and Whitehorse, YT? No? Well, I'll tell you anyway.

That little red dot in the middle of nowhere = Dease Lake
Nothing but fireweed, my friends. And a random Jade store that also sells fuel. Oh, and also, a little horror movie setting of a town called Dease Lake, heretofore referred to as the place in which we will not stay, like ever again.

We repeatedly reminded the kids that this 4600 mile journey to the last frontier was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Because, yeaaah, after Dease Lake and Whitehorse, once seems like it's going to be enough.
This Jade store was perhaps the only sign of civilization for hours.
Aside from camping under the stars, there's one place to stay for roughly 800 miles, one little town that boasts no more than a motor inn, a saloon and a "restaurant". (More on those quotations later.) The day we drove to the aforementioned town of Dease Lake, it rained all day and continued to rain after we arrived. The motel itself was....(if-you-can't-say-something-nice-don't-say-anything-at-all)....dry.

We were all quite hungry after the long drive and our paltry granola bar lunch. So we went across the street to the only food joint in town. It wasn't crowded. Friends, when it's the only food joint in town and there's still plenty of seating, this will serve as your first clue. 

We ordered a pepperoni pizza. I mean, really, you can't mess up pizza, right? Right?!


I don't know what they put on it, but it wasn't pepperoni. Thinly sliced spam, maybe? Bologna? Slimy unclassified deli meat? Oh lord, where was Papa John when we needed him?

We got back to the motel and tried to settle the kids into bed. At this point, it's safe to say L and I were not our "best selves". I sulked as I sorted through the back-up suitcases in search of warmer clothes (did I mention it was 51 degrees out?). I felt at odds with my husband and annoyed with my children. And I swear my face was already breaking out from that damn pizza. 

Both L and I would later look back on that evening as the colossal low point of our journey, even coining a new phrase from the experience: "having a Dease Lake moment." Which translated into the vernacular means: No bueno / Me no like this / I freakin' hate my life right now.

The next morning we got up, took the dog to do her business, commandeered the lobby coffee pot to make our own respectably-strong brew (oh yes we did), shared said brew with a few other guests in exchange for their silence, and then hit the road for Whitehorse.

Then we drove and we drove and we drove. You might not guess it, but the Yukon Territory is kind of expansive. Forget the moon, kids. I love you to the Yukon and back. Now that's love.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In which the journey takes a turn for the remote

It appears I left us stranded in Jasper for the last two weeks. Seriously, two weeks. If I keep this up, I'll have us rolling into Alaska on Christmas day.

So yes. Jasper. After a dreary day of rain, the sun came edging out of the clouds just as we drove into town. We soaked in the vitamin D as we walked to dinner in the picturesque village. The children stopped along the way to climb and pose on bear and moose statues and beg for stupid gimmicky pink tourist crap. Yeah, um, no. We're giving you freakin' experiences of a lifetime, kids. You're just going to have to find a way to keep on living without the basket of miniature pink bear cubs. (Sheesh--you could dye a cockroach pink and my daughter would want to buy it.)

I took the kids to the hotel pool for a bit, then shuffled their dripping wet, dog tired bodies back to the room so L could settle them into bed. Then I donned one of the dry-wick tees collecting dust in my suitcase and headed out for a twilight run faster than Bogs fly off the shelves at an Anchorage Costco.  It was exactly what I needed to keep from going cattywampus. (We've covered this before, I believe.)
My turn-around point on the out-and-back run through Jasper
After Jasper, things got a bit more, howshallwesay, remote. We drove to Smithers, BC the following day. This was the part of the show when you fill up at every gas station you pass and begin to subsist on trail mix and random pantry items the packers left but you didn't want to throw away. (I may or may not have polished off a bag of croutons and called it lunch.)

And you learn something every day. When a sign says, "Watch for Livestock", this is what it means:
If I'm going to have to slow down, it might as well be for these beauties. They sure beat the heck out of Chicago traffic.

When we checked into the motel in Smithers, my husband gave me the "you seriously couldn't find anything better?!" look while my children hoped against hope (despite my repeated assertions to the contrary) that there might be a pool. I smiled at the clerk, took the keys, and then shot back my best "Don't. Just. Don't." look to everyone who dared make eye contact.

Later that evening, in this discomfort of our own space, I warned my husband. It's going to get worse before it gets better. You think tonight's bad? Just wait until tomorrow....

Dun dun duuuunnnn....

What? Don't you like my suspenseful ending? Aren't you hooked? Well then, come back tomorrow to hear the rest! Or maybe make that two weeks from tomorrow, or sometime before Halloween, or by the turn of the century...

Monday, August 12, 2013

In which I offer 10 not very practical tips for surviving a move (Just Write)

From a twilight run in Jasper, where I found my happy place / pace.
I know I said I'd be back with the rest of the story from Jasper onward, but that was before All The Things came, before my tail spin into a bottomless dish pack.

And just to be clear, dear Pedro--weakest link on the packing team--the box labeled "boys bedding" was actually a bunch of pictures and frames and old towels. That made me super mad, and I wanted to hit you on the head with the frying pan I couldn't find for two days. But don't take it personally. I've wanted to hit a lot of things with a frying pan lately.

On the bright side, I do have a chair now. Time to sit, however, not so much...


Yesterday, C had a melt down about not wanting to play the piano and about how no one loves him anymore, apparently because we were making him play the piano. This is quite atypical for my normally even-keeled boy. (The dramatics are his sister's bailey wick.)

So I told him to put on his shoes and follow me. As we ran around the block in the rain, I relayed the story about how earlier this week, I got so angry and frustrated and discouraged that I hid in the closet and cried and thought bad words and wanted to stomp holes through the floor.

"You did?" He looked up at me with surprise, like it was a relief not to be the only crazy one in the family.

"Yeah, I was a mess, Buddy. Daddy heard me and told me to forget about the boxes all over the floor and just go for a run. He was right about the run. It helped a lot. I cleared my head and prayed and thought about the good and beautiful things, like the cool weather and the fireweed and the mountains in our new backyard."

I squeezed his shoulder as we walked up the driveway. "So, did the run help a little bit?"

'Yeah, a little bit, I guess," he shrugged.

I rumbled his hair and moved his face toward me by the top of his rain-soaked little head. "Everything is harder right now, even the things that used to feel simple--like playing your easiest book on the piano. But it'll get easier, I promise."

"And Buddy?
You know I love you, right?"

He kicked off his shoes and cast me a sideways glance. "Yeah. I know."


You'll never see a post here touting 10 easy tips for surviving a military move. I seriously have no helpful advice on how to keep Pedro from mislabeling the bedding boxes. But if I had to give some tips, like if for instance someone held a packing tape dispenser to my head and said "MOVING TIPS! NOW! GO! That is, if you don't want this tape pulling every last red hair on your head...."

Then these would be my tips:
1) Blow off piano practice or unpacking or whatever it is that's making you crazy.
2) Then go for a run.
3) Find someone you love and
4) Give them a big sweaty hug.
5) Do the ugly cry together.
6) Say out loud just how discouraged you feel.
7) Then give voice to how blessed you are. (Reminder. Not being able to find your frying pan because you have too many boxes = first world problem.)
8) Write until you feel human again.
9) Go for another run. Give another big sweaty hug. Maybe take a shower too, if you can find the towels.
10) And when you finally find the frying pan, just put it away. Just put it away, and nobody gets hurt.

If these tips seem lame, keep in mind, I was under hypothetical duress when I came up with them. Also? I was just writing. I feel a million times better when I do that.

Monday, August 5, 2013

On taking the plunge

When you decide you are to have an adventure, when you're tired of feeling boxed in by the same old grow-up-and-stay-put life, this is what you do. You find a place on the cliff where the water below is deep, deep, deep. (Maybe nudge a friend to go first.) Then you fix your eyes on the far out spot in the sky, perhaps on the cloud that looks like Mary Poppins' umbrella. Then you back up, give yourself room for a running start. Then you run, leap, jump feet first, plug your nose, point your toes, scream to high heaven.

You can do it any number of ways. The key is to stop deliberating on the edge. The key is to jump.

We jumped, and I'm not a bit sorry. But there are still spots where I'm raw, where it stings to the touch. There are times, like on a Sunday afternoon, when I sit without a chair, trying to figure out how to undo the Amazon order that shipped 4000 miles in the wrong direction, times when I want for everything not to feel like such an effort, when I'd like to trade all this adventure crap for a nice long nap on a real mattress.

We've hit some snags and hurdles. It will all be okay, and there will come a time when I don't feel overwhelmed and alone. But it's going to take a good deal of swimming toward the shore and a healthy dose of metaphoric aloe vera.


There's a reason they call it Big Sky Country. Can you guess?
As for the actual journey to Alaska (the part of the jump where we flail our arms and make the crazy flared-nostrils face), I believe I left off somewhere around Yellowstone, yes?

Well, the following day we drove parallel to the ever gorgeous Glacier National Park before crossing into Canada. Thankfully my son waited to sing his improvised lyrics to Oh Canada until after the border agent let us pass.

We stopped in Calgary that night, staying at the hotel with the much anticipated "spinny slide" and pool.  Here's the honest truth. When you're a kid, hotel pools are the most awesome thing ever of all time in the history of the universe. And then here's the other honest truth--that when you're a grown-up, you just freakin' want to go to sleep. Of course, when you're a grown up, you tend to concern yourself more with putting smiles on your children's face than with your own need for slumber. So we swam until way past bedtime.

Pictured above: My favorite part of the leg from Montana to Calgary. Not pictured: The kids favorite part, aka the pool
We left Calgary the next morning with high hopes for another low mileage day, planning to take our time driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, a 280 kilometer trip touted as one of the world's most scenic drives.

I had already prepped the kids that there would be no screen time allowed on this particular leg of the journey, only gawking at glaciers and oohing/ahhing at the mountain views. But then it rained, poured really, almost the whole way to Jasper. The mountains and glaciers hid behind the fog and clouds, and every which way you looked? That's right, gray.

There was quite a bit more whining and ingratitude than I'm going to admit to on the interwebs (and the kids were a little ungrateful as well), but I stuck to my guns on the no-screen time decree. Instead, we began listening to the Anne of Green Gables audiobook while I craned my neck trying to catch a glimpse of something beautiful.

I had almost resigned myself to the "depths of despair" and declared our day "a perfect graveyard of buried hopes" when the rain finally began to subside. Then the sun threw a few darts into the clouds, and bam, bullseye. We had our view.
Oh, Marilla, I couldn't even imagine a place so glorious, could you?

Stopped for construction, the rearview mirror view, leaving the rain behind.
I've rambled well beyond what a reasonable person would want to read, so I'll save our stories and pictures of Jasper for the next post. 

But can we go back to the jumping just for a minute? When I started to write this (about 500 hours ago), I was weary and melancholy and dreading the unpacking of All The Things, not feeling nearly strong enough to navigate the 4000 mile leap we just made. But writing here, the words become strokes that get me back to shore. They take me back to the solid ground where I can look up at the cliff, now bending small against the sky, and to be ever so glad that I took the plunge.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Moats and boats and waterfalls (and geysers)

My dog still hasn't forgiven me for not letting her loose to frolic in Yellowstone Lake. She's not usually a puller, but man, had it not been for the massive amount of arm strength I've built up by stress-shoveling chocolate peanut butter ice cream into my pie hole, we might've both ended up going for a swim.

So yes, we made it to Yellowstone. We weren't able to find lodging nearby, so we just made it a short driving day and detoured our way through the beautiful national park. Our one and only must see stop was of course, Old Faithful. It was horribly crowded when we arrived, not a parking spot in sight. So we drove around the lot for another 20 minutes, doing wonders for both our bladders and blood pressure. After finally scoring a spot (ok, I confess, we created a spot), we rushed to the restrooms and then off toward the geyser to find out when this show of natural wonder would start.

Oh, it erupted five minutes ago, you say? While we were in the bathroom? Ok, no problem, so when's the next one? An hour and a half to two hours?? Gaaaah!

So we did the next best thing. We took a picture by the sign.
Watching the geyser not going off. Anti-climatic much?
When we finally made it to our hotel that evening, we were tired and crazy hungry. I found a restaurant on TripAdvisor that had great reviews and touted a kid-friendly menu. But upon arriving, we discovered that the restaurant was decidedly more "fancy" than we'd anticipated, not a crayon or kids' menu in sight.
L and I were craving a decent meal with recognizable vegetables and fish or beef that didn't make you wish you were a vegetarian. So we took the plunge and prayed the other patrons would be long suffering should our children choose to act their age.

I know it sounds lame, but this random meal in Butte, Montana turned out to be one of my most favorite memories from the trip. The kids ordered "fancy meals" from the grown up menu (chicken with artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes, salads, linguine, etc), drank lemonade from delicate glasses, and made delightful conversation. They rose to the occasion. That is, until I made them pose for a picture to prove how refined they were. Then they were all quick, pick up your spoon and start goofing off!


As I try to recall the details of the trip, so many of the moments I remember are the small ones. Like when I looked in the rear view mirror and C was wearing his bike helmet and creating facial hair out of post-it notes. Or the time I camped out in the laundry room at the Best Western until midnight to ensure we would all have 2,500 more miles worth of clean underwear.

There is little glamor to be found in driving two cars across two expansive countries with two young children and an old dog. I still cringe when I recall the packing and unpacking of suitcases each night, the loading and unloading the cars each day, the often fruitless pursuit of decent coffee each morning. But still I smile when I recall the way the horizon rose and fell on the back roads of Montana, when I remember the sound of D's voice as she tried to sing every word to our traveling song, the one we played every morning to begin our drive. 
Moats and boats and waterfalls, alley ways and pay phone calls,
I've been everywhere with you (that's true.)...
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I'm with you.
Even now, when we get in the car, they say, almost out of habit, "Hey mom, can you please tell Siri to play Home by Edward Sharpe?" And now, even when the music is off, I hear Siri's robo-voice saying, "Looking for Home....Ok, Jo, here's Home."