Sunday, July 11, 2010

An Adventure -- commentary

My last column, I applauded Abby Sunderland for launching her around the world sailing adventure and ended by saying it is better to reach old age with memories than regrets. To affirm that I live by my own philosophy, let me share one of my own adventures.

It was 1976. I was 34-years-old, married to Pearl, with a son, Greg, in the second grade. One afternoon, I asked Pearl if she would like to take sixth months off and tour Europe and the U.S. “We can’t afford to do that,” she objected.

“You apparently misunderstood my question,” I replied. “All I asked was how would you like to?”

“Well sure, I’d like to,” she responded.

“Good,” I said. “Now, let’s figure out how to make it happen.”

I was making about $10,000 a year plus housing; Pearl had not worked outside the home since Greg was born. The morning paper had an ad for a mortgage loan closer, Pearl’s previous occupation. My work allowed me to be home when Greg left for school and when he came home, so I told Pearl to apply for the job, which she got. And , I got a part time job for a custodial firm specializing in cleaning restaurant hoods. We banked all the income from these jobs for a year, except for money used to purchase a used Volkswagen micro bus, camper conversion.

This was the old timey kind of VW bus the hippies liked so much with the boxer, air cooled engine and manifold heater. With the vehicle paid for and $10,000 in the bank, we set out from Anchorage, Alaska, to drive to New York on January 2, 1977. We drove around the clock; Pearl drove days and I drove nights. As we travelled through the Yukon Territory, temperatures were a minus 50 to 55 degrees. There was so little heat in the camper that our water jug froze while setting on the floor in the middle of the bus.

A memory imprinted on my mind as I drove through the Yukon Territory is the most spectacular display of Northern Lights I have ever seen. The Northern Lights at their finest are truly one of the most outstanding displays of nature. Unfortunately, they seem to be at their finest when it is the coldest; most tourists go to Alaska in the summer and never see them.

Even though we took a motel two nights, we still made it to New York, in six days. We got tickets for London on the Freddy Laker flight and left our bus with a friend in Connecticut. Freddy Laker was a British aviation entrepreneur who tried to compete with the government owned British Airways. It was dubbed the hippy flight because it was a bare bones, cut rate, bring you own lunch airlines.

This was a time when hundreds of young Americans were traipsing around Europe, living out of backpacks and traveling on Eurail passes. They stayed in hostels, pensions, or just rode the train for a place to sleep, not caring where it went. We joined them with our own backpacks. The only thing that distinguished us from the hippies was that we did not have rich parents at home to bail us out if we ran out of money or got into trouble.

We went from London to Switzerland where I attended a study center in the Alps for a few weeks. Then we went on to Spain where we shared an apartment on the Mediterranean with Tony Cox, the ex-husband of Yoko Ono and their daughter, Kyoko. This is a story all in itself, but among other things, it involved me making a clandestine trip to Majorca with Tony, whose motto might have been “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

We went on to France and finally back to Connecticut to pick up our VW bus. Then it was off to Florida. Greg had endured the sights of London, Paris, the Alps, the Louvre, the Cathedrals, the museums, the ferry ride across the English Channel, the Eiffel Tower and other incidentals as something he had to do to get to Disney World. Once we got back to the U.S., we still had three months before I had to be back to work, so we had our fun at Disney World and then begin wending our way north and west to Kentucky, then Minnesota, where Pearl grew up, and out to Washington State, where I grew up.

While in Washington, I traded the VW in on a brand new Dodge Aspen wagon, paid for in cash, and headed back to Alaska. We arrived back in Anchorage with a grand collection of memories, a new car, and still had $1,000 in the bank. Lots of memories; no regrets.

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