Wandering Across the West

“Wandering: the act of unplanned, aimless walking/exploring/ambling with a complete openness to the unknown.”

In July we flew to Wisconsin for a month of hiking, exploration, friendship, camping, and relaxation. Together we shared experiences big and small with friends, extended family, and each other. Stories were added to family lore, we gained a better understanding of each other, and got better at family squabbles (when you’re stuck in a car or a tent together, you have to figure it out). Along the way I kept a travel journal, noting observations, stories, and quotes that seemed to capture our experiences.


A month before we left I was laid off from my teaching position due to budget cuts. Eventually, things were worked out and the district started rehiring teachers back. Except me. Three days before I boarded the plane with my kids I learned all the high school science teachers were rehired except for me. They didn’t have a spot for me. Which, in my mind, made taking off on an adventure even more valuable, as it provided an opportunity for me to contemplate what was next for me. Traveling gave me a chance to leave behind all the complications of everyday life in order see what lessons and truths would spring up along my journey.

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” -G.K. Chesterton


At my parents’ cabin. “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” -Herman Melville

Our trip began at my parents’ cabin in northern Wisconsin. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. It’s a quiet lake perfect for canoeing and kayaking, and there are many fish to be caught right off my dad’s pier. As the cabin is small, Zoe and I tented it for the week, drifting off to sleep to the water lapping along the shoreline.

During an afternoon stroll along main street at the nearby town I picked up a lovely magazine on a whim. Within I found a bit of wisdom that would stick with me for the rest of the trip:

“We realize there is actually a kind of beauty to these shakey times, because these are the periods in which we learn the most about life. We focus on who we are and why we are the way we are. We really get in touch with our feelings, delving into hidden recesses to find out what we’re truly looking for or want–and what we expect or where we’re going.” -Irene & Astrid (Flow Magazine Editors)

All too quickly our time at the cabin came to an end and we traveled south to the Milwaukee area for a week of friendship and family. We got to spend time with the people we missed dearly when we moved back to Anchorage. Together we went on walks, drank coffee, shared conversation, watched as our kids played in a local creek together, and did some porch sitting. It was glorious and I took a little bit of all of them with me until we’re able to meet again.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” -Brene Brown.

My husband, who had been working back in Anchorage this whole time, flew down to join us. Together we celebrated his parents’ 50th anniversary, then packed up for our journey west.

The West

When we departed for our journey west we had 2 weeks to get from Milwaukee to Seattle for our return flight home. Along the way we had campsites reserved, as well as an occasional cabin or hotel reservation so we could shower and do laundry.

One of our first stops was Palisades State Park in South Dakota. My grandparents would stop there with my mom when she was a kid, as it’s a good halfway point on the way to the Black Hills (a favorite family destination). As I was watching the kids playing on the rocks I thought about how quickly children grow and how thankful I am to have this time with them.


Kids playing at Palisades SP


My mom (far left) with her siblings and my grandfather at Palisades

We continued onward, stopping at the Chamberlain rest area where I-90 crosses the Missouri River. After taking in the new statue, titled Dignity, we continued to Wall Drug and the Badlands. In Wall Drug we took the obligatory photos on the giant jackalope (I have a picture of my 10 year old self on that very jackalope) and drank the ice water. As it was over 100 degrees, we stretched our time there. These Alaskans aren’t used to the high temperatures and we knew our planned hike was going to have to wait until evening when the sun wasn’t so hot in the sky.

“My intent for this is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that we are in a sacred place and that we are all sacred.” -Dale Lamphere, Dignity sculpture designer/artist

Next stop, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We hiked, rafted, picnicked, and experienced our first mountain coaster. During a hike in the Tetons we got caught in a hailstorm, taking cover under trees until the hail stopped. The wind blew the rain sideways as we eventually made a run for it, with Bryce screaming “This is awesome!” Nothing like a good storm to add some excitement to a hike.

“Never trust any thought you have while sitting down.” -Nietzsche

Each evening, after setting up camp for the night, we would pull out a map and highlight where we had been and determine the route for the next day. To ensure that the kids were absorbing the local scenery we listed to audio books as we drove westward (not only did the audio books keep everyone looking out the window, but it kept the kids from bickering in the back seat).


After the Tetons we drove across Idaho, stopping at Craters of the Moon National Monument. We hiked across 2000 year old lava flows and looked down into spatter cones. One of the kids’ favorite hikes of the entire trip was the guided hike we took into a lava tube cave called Indian Tunnel. Inside the protected coolness of the cave you can climb around and marvel at lava-cicles.

“We save the world by being alive ourselves.” -Joseph Cambell

The lava flows continued along the side of the highway long after we left Craters of the Moon National Monument and kept our minds occupied about volcanism as we journeyed toward our next destination: Crater Lake National Park. 

Crater lake was amazing. Beautiful, impressive, geologically wondrous. We drove the loop, stood open mouthed in awe at the viewpoints, hiked trails along the rim, took a bunch of pictures trying to capture its essence (which is impossible). On a warm, sunny afternoon we hiked down the rim of the caldera and jumped into the cold, blue lake. We can now claim we have swam in a volcano.

“Passing, glimpsing, everything seems accidentally but miraculously sprinkled with beauty.” -Virginia Woolf

After saying goodbye to Crater Lake we drove onward to the California coast and the Redwoods. By the time we arrived on the Pacific Ocean beach outside the Redwoods National/State Park we had traveled 3000 miles through widely varying terrain and biomes.


Travel is the best teacher

The Redwoods are amazing, beautiful, and mysterious. The kids declared them the “jungle gym of their dreams!” They have a restorative, calming effect–we all felt better as we wandered the trails among the wise, old trees. The kids, who had been bickering more and more often, became best friends each time we took off on a trail in the forest. They played games (ents and ewoks) and helped each other out as they climbed around. We could all sense the magic within the Redwoods.

“Nobody can discover the world for someone else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” -Wendell Berry

After leaving the Redwoods we drove north on Hwy 101 along the coastline. Along the way we explored tide pools, hiked along shorelines, and played on beaches. It was good to see them working together to build castles and dig deep holes in the sand–deepening the bonds between them as siblings.

My hope is that they’ll have stories and family lore from the trip they can share well into adulthood and with their own families someday. Family travel isn’t just about relaxation and recreation, but also about forging bonds that will strengthen families and create a tighter weave that won’t fray and break through the adolescent years and beyond.

“Curiosity only does one thing, and that is to give. And what it gives you are clues on the incredible scavenger hunt of your life.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

Two weeks after we got home I was rehired for a 60% science teaching position at a local middle school. A quarter of the way into the school year there’s already talk of further cuts and there’s a chance that I’ll find myself being laid off again next spring. But it’s ok. Along the way we met kind, interesting, and inspiring people who sparked ideas for alternative futures for myself. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of who I am and what is important to me, so I have no doubt it will all work out in the end.

“I think a successful life is a truly motivated life, one in which you have figured out what is really important to you and that you hold on to with a certain tenacity…

The good life is not an individual journey, but a gesamtkunstwerk (universal artwork).” _Joep Dohmen



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