The flight to visit Alaska is booked for August. Hard to believe it’s 20 years since we left the state to move “Outside.” Our kids have nearly snuck up to the ages we were back then.
The saga began when my husband spent an idyllic summer as a 13-year-old visiting his uncle in Big Lake. Alaska wriggled its way into his psyche like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. He finally made his move 20 years later.
We piled our four children, first-through-fifth grade, in an old station wagon along with the family dog and drove off. Twenty-six hundred miles from Spokane — as much as crossing the entire United States. Terry had a job in Anchorage — an hour commute from Big Lake. And we had a home in the woods. An older trailer — the mobile home variety — owned by Terry’s cousin to whom we paid rent.
There was such a muddy section of road along the Alcan I dubbed our car a “hot fudge sundae on wheels.” We opened the door handles with a paper towel. It stormed when we arrived in the state — to my rebelling mind a sign the place didn’t want us.
I did not want to be there. Alaska was remote and vast — intimidating. I didn’t know anyone. And I’d never lived in a trailer. All this I kept to myself. This was Terry’s dream. His open door. And nothing slams the door faster than somebody refusing to give it a chance.
We could always come back if it didn’t work out. But it did. For 14 years. After four years in the mobile home — thawing frozen pipes and constantly feeding the woodstove in winter, and a bear nose first in our trash can in summer — we found an unassuming house with a little more space — and kitchen drawers that didn’t fall out when you opened them too far.
That house befriended us for 10 years, barely escaping destruction in the big Miller’s Reach fire. Besides our family it sheltered foreign exchange students, and other teens who needed a home. One spring we had a German, a Jew, and a Japanese. Our son’s friend joked we had World War II under our roof.
I couldn’t have known how it would turn out the summer of 1984 when we headed north. We aren’t allowed as humans to look into the future. For good reason. We might not get out the door. There were rough times rolled into our adventure. But looking back, which we are allowed, we’re supremely glad we did it.
Dreams come to us at all ages. In all shapes and sizes. The one thing they lack is mobility. They just sit there — until we turn them into that “hot fudge sundae on wheels.”