|An RV Odyssey
Marjorie W. Moore
© Copyright 2002 by Marjorie W. Moore
My husband and I have always been close to our siblings, my one brother and one sister, and his two sisters and nine brothers. We have enjoyed being together through the years and, in retirement years, some of us have been able to do some traveling together. This story is an account of one of our trips.
Little did we know when we first introduced our relatives to RV-ing what craziness would result. We had bought a twenty-foot used minihome with an eye toward retirement in two or three years. In the meantime we invited a sister Pris and her husband Dale on a two-week trip. RV-ing caught on and eventually, two motorhomes later (owned jointly by the two couples), we had the adventure of a lifetime. Seven retired people: three brothers, one sister, and three spouses proved their endurance, tolerance, and ability to enjoy themselves.
How do you get seven people into a twenty-six-foot RV? Resourceful Dale made a movable extension to the dinette bed for himself and Pris, replaced the captain’s chairs with a daybed for Les; Ed and Gwen slept on the sofa bed, Ray and Marj on the bed over the cab.
No RV dinette will hold seven people, so Dale also made a long folding table which fit between the sofa and daybed, allowing us to sit along either side; to eat, to write in journals, or to play cards; when not in use, the table stored behind the daybed. The dinette table was work space for the cook on duty.
The next consideration was the gear for seven people: clothes, cameras, binoculars, etc. We purchased stacking bins to place in the bathtub, planning to use public showers in campgrounds. Of course extra towel racks and an extra clothes pole were added. We all pared our wardrobes to a minimum, concentrating on multi-purpose, mix-and-match garments which could be layered.
After get-togethers to study maps, plan our food supply, and make a few reservations, we were off from Iowa for six weeks—North to Alaska.
With one to drive and one to “ride shotgun,” as Ray always called it, five people were left to be “back-seat drivers”. Understandably, the drivers alternated often. So many different suggestions: “You should have turned back there.” “We just passed a station that has the best price for gasoline.” “Drive a little slower; this is so rough.” As time passed we tried harder not to offer suggestions, to keep our mouths shut.
We drove long distances at first to “get there”. By the time we reached Banff National Park in Canada, we were ready for the refreshing mountains. Frequent stops to observe waterfalls and to absorb the mountain air presumably prepared us for Alaska’s mountains, but we later found that nothing prepared us for Alaska’s mountains.
Neither had anything prepared us for the Alaska Highway. We had asked about the condition of the road and started out prepared to traverse some graveled portions. The first miles from Dawson Creek were smooth and newly surfaced; we smiled and settled back for a pleasant drive. The second day out we discovered that not all had been resurfaced. But the rock was not as much a problem as the constantly undulating road built over permafrost—a surface that perhaps would not be such a problem with a car, but which forced the RV occupants to be bracing themselves constantly. At this point we had to remind ourselves, and each other: the condition of the road should not be held against the driver of the moment. Everyone had his share of the good and the bad. However, spectacular scenery helped to assuage our discomfort, and we had no real road problems. The only change we would make would be to allow another day and travel a shorter time each day. As it was, part of the group had plans to fly from Fairbanks to Barrow, so we pushed on. Our trip was highlighted by sightings of Dall sheep, moose, bear, and buffalo. For people who have always loved the Colorado and Wyoming Rockies, the entire trip was a delight. But even Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada hadn’t prepared us for the extensive snow-covered ranges to be seen later.
“Can we stop for pictures?” “Hand me the other lens.” “I’m out of film.” Hand me the video camera.” “Where are the binoculars?” “Everywhere we look, there is a picture.” “Will you change seats with me so I can snap pictures?” Our days were punctuated with comments like these. Six cameras and four pair of binoculars helped us enjoy the scenery. We even had a couple window-washing sessions by our conscientious housekeeper, Pris. The scenery was lovely, even in the rain, though rain sometimes hampered us getting some of our photographs.
Our entire trip brought comments about the size of our group. One evening in Seward, visiting with our waitress, the brothers explained that we were all related. She asked, “Are you traveling in motorhomes?” “In one motorhome.” “All in one and you are still speaking?” Another day at a photo stop, a tourist said, “You must have brought the whole city.” One evening in Tok, a couple from Iowa came to visit us as fellow citizens. As they left, she said, “If we see a motorhome with the sides bulging, we’ll know it’s you.” We also manufactured some fun. In Juneau we visited relatives and one evening loaded fourteen people into the RV to go out to dinner. When we arrived at the restaurant, Ed, with his video camera, got out first and filmed the rest of us getting out the back door, one a time. The shot which he missed was of a couple watching from the restaurant, mouths agape.
Always the ever-present question: “Are you still speaking to one another?” It helped that we were friends before we went and enjoy getting together throughout the year. Of course, we had never spent six weeks together before. Our interests are different. Some of us love to take long walks. Some require more rest. Some like to shop We did not all see the same things. Gwen was always prepared. She gave us suggestions of interesting sites in each place, information gleaned from her reading. We chose what we wanted to do, parking the RV in a lot and setting a time to meet back there (often at lunch time or coffee time), and off we would go. One of the joys was that most of the Alaska towns are small enough that we could make our way on foot. There were some experiences which we appreciated together such as the trip by small plane and then by catamaran into magical Glacier Bay to sit in the sunshine and watch the calving of glaciers and the seals sunning themselves on the ice.
Some friends in Willow, Alaska, have nine-year-old twin boys and a girl, seven. The children were intrigued by the RV and had to know everything about it. One of their questions was “Who owns it and who asked who to come along?” An interesting question from a nine-year-old. But a great deal of fascination was with how seven people could sleep in there. After that was demonstrated, their big question came, “How do you respect each other’s privacy?” A most perceptive question, and one about which we chuckled frequently. We put forth every effort to respect each one’s privacy, drawing curtains between sections of the vehicle and being patient for a turn in the bath-dressing room when public showers were not available.
We ate most of our meals in the RV, though we had some pleasant picnics when a convenient site appeared at the correct time. Each couple had responsibility for meals and clean-up every third day. One variation was that Les, who had no spouse, helped his sister Pris in the kitchen while Pris’ husband Dale took care of the vehicle, i.e., changing air filter, checking oil, water, and propane, and washing the windshield. The most difficult part of our meal arrangement was shopping for food. Three women in a grocery store shopping together is confusion, especially in a strange store with its own unique arrangement of food. We started out with a larder of basics, and kept an on-going grocery list to prevent running out of staples. When we knew our day was coming up, we did a survey of what was on hand and found out if someone had used what we had been planning to fix. We had interesting and varied meals—a light breakfast, sandwiches, salad or soup for lunch, and a relatively simple evening meal—stew and dumplings, spaghetti and salad, or something equally quick. We used fresh fruits and vegetables when possible and had various treats such as ice cream or fruit cobbler. We ate out occasionally to try something special. A couple salmon bakes were treats, especially with barbecued ribs for Pris, our non-fish-eater. We had to eat our own cooking only every third day; the other two days we could compliment the cook.
The most stressful time of the day was late afternoon, time to find an RV Park. Despite advertisements and camping guide listings, it was impossible to predetermine campground facilities. We found a vast difference. One had rest rooms and showers that were locked up from 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M.; at one campground the electricity was turned off overnight. Imagine our dismay in the morning when our electric clock was off and the coffee didn’t perk. And that was the morning we decided for sure which gas tank fueled the generator—the empty one. This had been a subject for discussion, since some of us had been on another trip and didn’t have generator power. Now we learned. Fortunately the propane tank provided cooking power for instant coffee. At least we learned that when we stopped for the night we must be sure the rear gasoline tank was full. We still laugh when we look at the instruction card which says: Generator runs off rear tank. front rear indicating a regular change of minds on the issue.
We rarely used the generator; we preferred camps with electricity and showers. Some showers were nice, some were adequate and occasionally we decided we were already clean enough. Some were pay showers; some were free. One night the shower was free, the only shower for the seven of us and whoever was in the other three vehicles in the park. Jokes about sharing the shower were made—Ray came back teasing about taking his shower with Betty. Betty became a by-word. Whatever the facilities, we reminded ourselves not to blame the person who chose the campground. We would survive.
Laundry for seven people is a task at home; in RV parks it is a challenge. Some laundry rooms have adequate washers and dryers; others are crowded and rushed. For towels, sheets, and clothing, we invested a sizable sum, a necessary sum with seven people in such close proximity! When a bank teller handed Ray two rolls of quarter, she just said, “Laundry or telephone?”
Many a comment had been made during planning sessions about not being able to sleep in the daylight and, if we waited for dark during an Alaska summer, our nights would have been short. But even Dale found that he could sleep despite the sunshine outside. He could even sleep before we were all quiet for the night. In Fairbanks, the sun set at 12:37 A.M. and rose at 3:11 A.M. It was never completely dark. “Night Owl” Les could read and write until midnight without lights. The ones who flew to Barrow for overnight had the experience of seeing the sun move across the northern horizon and never set. Alaskans seem to adjust by staying up late and sleeping late the next morning. On July 6, when we spent the night in the yard of our friends at Willow, Jim came knocking on the RV door at 11:30 P.M., telling us that if we would get up, he would take us to a place to see Mt. Denali. He knew we had not been able to see it while in the Park and he had just driven home and seen the lovely view. So we pulled on jeans over our pajamas and piled into his station wagon along with his three children, who were still far from sleep. What a thrill to see that lovely peak reach far above all others and to see the sun setting behind it. Our feeling was repeated the next morning; we left shortly after seven and saw the morning sun reflecting off the snowy peak.
During our planning sessions, we knew that, besides driving many mountain roads, we wanted to experience traveling the Inside Passage by ferry; we opted to use it on the way home, thinking that, by that time, we might need a rest from close quarters and precise routine. We rode three different ferries, from Haines to Sitka, from Sitka to Juneau, and from Juneau to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The ride was smoother than some of the roads we had traversed and offered freedom for reading writing, visiting, and resting. We all felt this was a special way to leave Alaska.
Before we left home, I often said, “I can’t believe we’re doing this. I’ve never been away from home for six weeks at a time.” It was an adventure. It was a dream-come-true. We drove over 10,000 miles plus the distance we traveled by ferry. Seven people worked hard to make it happen and were still friends at the end. Now I say, “I can’t believe we did it.”
Marjorie is a retired English Instructor, who, with her husband, enjoys traveling when she can work it in between volunteer work in church and community, doing things with the grandchildren, and other hobbies including genealogy, gardening, reading, writing, and knitting. They live in south-central Iowa in their own home complete with fireplace, teapot, and cat. She has edited and self-published a book of her mother’s memoirs to share with friends and relatives.
Marjorie is a retired
English Instructor, who, with her husband,enjoys traveling when she can
work it in between volunteer work in church and community, doing things
with the grandchildren, and other hobbies including genealogy, gardening,
reading, writing, and knitting. They live in south-central Iowa in
their own home complete with fireplace, teapot,
and cat. She has edited and self-published a book of her mother’s memoirs to share with friends and relatives.
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Another story by Marjorie--A Trip Of Nostalgia