The following is a draft of chapter one of our book, Home is Where Lorelle Is about what started as a one year life on the road experience that turned into almost 16 years living on the road traveling across the planet.
“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do — especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways
Journal: Friday the 13th
Junction City, Oregon
December 18, 1996
He thought we were coming back. From the tightening in his eyes, his face growing pale in the truck’s side view mirror, I could tell he now knew the truth. We weren’t coming back. We were gone.
After 18 months of hard work and preparation, we were not coming back. Not for a long time. As I crept further down the street, feeling the weight of the trailer pulling backwards on the truck towards the lone man standing in the road, I tried to resist a last glance behind.
I could see the realization hit him hard. He was starting to shake, his hand still out stretched where I had grasped it through the open window as the the truck has rolled past him. Not only was he growing small in perspective, he seemed to shrink even smaller, tears running down his face. I wanted to stop and run back to assure him. Really, you’ll be okay without me. The stronger side of me screamed, “Get the fuck out of here!” So, I kept moving, leaning forward with the effort to drag the trailer forward, down the road before me, leaving my father behind me.
I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel. Every moment leading up to this one had been a struggle. Nothing came easy. Even today, everything was just too complicated, too many obstacles thrown in the path of our life on the road. Vowing to leave well before noon, here I was, crawling through the heavy late afternoon rush hour traffic of Snohomish County towards Seattle along Interstate 5, caught up with everyone moving in and out of Everett, to and from Seattle, and the bedroom communities in between. One giant truck and trailer heading out of town among commuters heading home.
December 13, 1996. Friday the thirteenth.
Was this an omen? If I were a superstitious person, what impact would leaving everything I’d ever known behind on such a traditionally ominous day mean? A sign from the gods that we must be crazy? Or a prophecy predicting that if we could survive hitting the road on a Friday the thirteenth, the rest of the trip would be a breeze? Little did I realize that the former was our destiny.
The winter evening’s freezing temperatures turned to ice as I suffered the honks of cars trying to move around the lumbering trailer through my childhood city home of Everett towards Bothell and waiting husband and friends. Eagles and hawks sat on the tops of many of the fence posts along I-5 as it crossed the Slough, the strange mix of salt and mountain fresh water where the Snohomish river system and Port Gardner Bay and the Puget Sound mixed together. Normally, the beautiful twists and turns and mudflats of the slough along and under the interstate would relax me, but the tension was so great, I let the physical and mental strain of driving such a big rig fill my head. Don’t think about anything but what you’re doing. Concentrate on the traffic. Think ahead down the road. Be prepared for the lane to end up ahead. Find a wide break in the lane next to you. Watch out for the idiot cutting in front. Doesn’t he know that the weight of the trailer behind this truck increases the time to come to a stop by – Brent’s not here to do the numbers for me so I just comfort myself with curses under my breath and ease off the gas to let the driver think he’s safe from me. For the moment.
Brent and I said our goodbyes over the past year to friends and family. We were ready to leave. Well, at least I was. Brent was still mentally chained to his 8-5 job with Boeing. For four years we’d planned this down to the finest detail, revised the plan, changed details, then changed them some more as we realized we needed more flexibility in our schedule to give us a chance to enjoy the process and not race from place to place across North America for the next year. Our goal was to be in the perfect nature place at the perfect time to photograph the perfect nature, and seasons and nature do not pay attention to maps nor convenience to two 30-somethings traveling around in a 30 foot fifth wheel trailer.
No matter how much we’d messed with the schedules, life had other plans. They’d sent the wrong generator to keep us going when electricity was lacking and we had to replace it, taking an extra four weeks. Boeing decided not to agree to the year long sabbatical, so Brent worked up to the last minute to earn extra money, adding more time to the delay. Wiring needed to be done then redone on the generator once it arrived. The truck needed new headers and work on the engine that we hadn’t anticipated. The list of delays went on and on. We were now three months late leaving, heading into deep winter along the West Coast of the United States, definitely not in our original plans or even the revised plans.
Today was our first day on the road full-time, and already we were six hours behind.
In the oncoming dusk, I could see Mt. Pilchuck on my left, its freshly dusted point a ghostly glimmer beyond Cavaleros Hill, an vertical mountain foothill soaring up like a giant wave above the wetlands and flood area of the Snohomish River and Slough. In my mind I follow the raised trestle crossing straight across the green flats where cattle and horses grazed and flood waters filled during most wet winters, slicing straight up to the top of the hill where the first home of my memory still stood, remodeled a dozen times across the decades, a compact three bedroom home built in the 1950s in the boxy shape found in homes of that time period around the county. I swoop beyond it towards Lake Stevens and Lake Cassidy, visualizing the next home of my childhood out in the wilderness of the first grown of forests right after the loggers had cleared away most of the Snohomish County foothills of the Cascade Mountains. I can clearly see the forests I hiked through and camped in, a real life wilderness adventure with bears, wolves, coyotes, elk, and deer as my playmates. All of this is now mostly gone, buried under subdivisions and second, third, and even fourth generation clear cuts, but it thrives in my memories.
I’ve long known that where I grew up is considered exotic and adventurous by many. The Snohomish Valley is flanked on one side by the majestic Cascade Mountains, and to the west, the dramatic and externally white glacier coated mountains of the Olympics on the Washington state Peninsula across Port Gardener Bay and Puget Sound. To the north is Mt. Baker close to the Canada border, a sleeping bear coated in snow year around. To the south, my favorite mountain in the world, Rainier, is the ice cream cone that towers over downtown Seattle. Past the well-lit port city of Everett, I could just make out the lights of a huge car ferry crossing Port Garden Bay towards Clinton on Whidbey Island. It was leaving Mukilteo, the Indian word for “happy camping ground”, where I spent my teenage years living on and in the salt waters of Puget Sound.
A childhood in the mountains, my teen years on the sea, thirty minutes apart, and the balance of my life somewhere in between and everywhere. Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Altitude and attitude. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, ear-popping excursions are a part of everyday life, passing from sea level to eternally glacier covered mountains within a couple of hours. It seemed like my life had been ruled by snow reports on the mountains’ conditions (passable – not passable) and the rise and fall of the sea’s tides. Rain was just a part of our daily forecast, so it rarely impacted my life. It was expected.
I was leaving more than my life behind, a part of me, I was also leaving my history.
My great grandfather had come to these mountains to work in the logging camps of Washington and Oregon. He was buried in the cemetery I would pass in a few minutes, Evergreen, an appropriate name for the lovely green graveyard on a hillside, filled with flowering trees, barren in the December freeze, but glorious in Spring. Towards the east in the foothills beyond Cavaleros Hill out towards the old town of Monroe, my mother’s mother and father, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many other relatives from her side of the family rested in the old cemetery, most born in Wisconsin, trading the misery of the Great Depression for hope in the logging, fishing and shipbuilding industries in the Seattle area. Just there, to my right, passed the bulky silhouette of General Hospital just off the Interstate, the place of my father’s birth and many of my childhood ills and traumas, as well as regular dramas with my father. Up the hill to the right, my mother’s house stood, a peach colored tribute to modern architecture, featured in local magazines and newspapers for innovative interior design and architecture. How far she had come from a one room shack in the foothills below Mt. Pilchuck in the small town of Sunnyside, now incorporated into Marysville and not even a ghost town today. In the small valley beside the highway rested the stadium, home of Fourth of July fireworks, festivals, high school games, and recently the base for a semi-pro baseball team. I sang the national anthem there a few times in my youth.
The fog of memories dropped down on me faster than the cold night. I pushed through them and the dusk as the dense traffic eased as I passed the exit for the Boeing Highway, the route my husband took daily to work – no more a part of his life. My husband was my next destination, waiting for me with friends in Bothell, having driven my antique jeep there a few hours before. We were going to leave it with our friends to sell or repair, the last thing to deal with from our former life.
As the truck lugged the trailer up the hill towards their home, engine straining, Toshi snuggled up even closer to my side, burrowing in for warmth. The heater was on full but I needed his furry security as much as his heat as I debated the wisdom of making this steep incline. I know we were overloaded, carrying a few bits of our furniture for family to store in Oklahoma, but it just had to make it. I was eager to get on the road. Sail on the highway of life. Cruise the scenic byways of North America. This one last thing and the road was ours.
We had planned to leave in August, when weather conditions for crossing the mountain ranges were more favorable, but our fears and problems got in our way, constantly delaying the inevitable. I decided that now was the time. Sure, we could have waited another few months for Spring and clearer roads and better weather conditions. But we were expected for Christmas with Brent’s family in Tulsa. We had to leave, I’d decided. A decision had to be made and I was the decider. I needed to get away from everything we’d said goodbye to repeatedly. I was tired of the goodbyes. I wanted the hellos of the new life and new adventures before us.
As I turned into the dark street towards my friend’s home, I continued to doubt my decision, reconsidering as the creaks and groans of the trailer strained the truck’s engines. The black ice I knew was out there was threatening to stop our trip before we even got started. Do. Not do. Go. Not go. High. Low. Up. Down. Always forced to choose between extremes.
The lights were on in the front of the house, a beacon of welcome. When I finally eased to a stop, leaving the trailer blocking a few driveways, Brent and our friends, Jo and Al, raced out to greet me.
“You made it!” Brent wrapped his arms around me, joyously whispering into my hair, “I’m so glad you are here.” I leaned into him with relief, the first moment of comfort all day. I wanted to crawl inside of his skin and have him wrap me in a blanket of security.
We said our goodbyes to Jo and Al, tears now in our eyes. The moment had come. We were really leaving.
The Boyetts had been a part of the dream since its inception, as best friends and long time RVers. The trailer hooked up behind our truck came as a result of Jo kicking my proverbial butt to quit talking and finally start shopping. The two of them pitched in through garage sales, moving and packing, more garage sales, setting up the trailer, rebuilding the trailer, and all the details that brought us to this moment. Leaving them was almost harder than leaving family – they were family! Night was upon us and the road beckoned.
Our plan was simple. Or so we thought. Leaving my father’s driveway, our residence for the past year, with a quick stop at Jo and Al’s, we were headed south down Interstate 5 to Camping World, a huge Recreational Vehicle store in Fife, near Tacoma. We would spend the night in the large parking lot, provided for such use, wake up early and pick up some much needed items for our trip, then back onto the interstate towards California. From there we planned to cross over to Oklahoma, arriving a few days before my mother was to fly in from Seattle to spend Christmas with us and Brent’s family in Tulsa. After the holidays, our plans took us to southern Texas for a nature photography conference in January, then onto Florida for the spring bird migration. From there it was a little fuzzy, but the plan is to spend the last part of the spring in Arizona then head back through Oklahoma to prepare for spending the summer traveling north to Alaska. Fall would bring us back down as the north froze to spend another Christmas with family in Oklahoma, and then…well, that would bring to an end a year on the road. We’d only planned that far. Late into the many nights sleeping in our trailer parked outside my dad’s home we’d talked about seeing if the budget would take us east along the eastern seaboard and north into a part of Canada we’d never explored, maybe even up to Hudson Bay, or even further north? If money held, we could go anywhere and stay as long as we wanted. Right now, Camping World was good enough.
New to dragging a trailer behind us, the going through the night in Seattle was slow. Not only were we trying not to think about what we had left behind, family, friends, jobs, home, commitments, responsibilities, and easy access to medical and general life facilities, but we were suddenly triple thinking every move we were making with this one ton crew cab dually wheeled truck and over 12,000 pounds of 30 foot fifth wheel trailer behind us. Every change of lanes brought anxiety. Was the lane next to us really free of traffic? Did we have enough room to move over? Were we too close to the car in front of us? Did we have enough room to stop in time? Many drivers were frustrated with our lack of get up and go so they would dart in front of us, racing across our path, probably thinking they were getting out of our way but causing us no end of adrenaline rush for fear they wouldn’t make it out of our way in time or that they would slow down or stop without giving us time to do the same. Those caught in traffic with us often blamed us for the traffic, honking and waving their hands with rude gestures. By the time we arrived in Tacoma, our shoulders were up around our ears and Toshi was nervously pacing the stacks of stuff in the back seat.
Arriving at Camping World, we pulled into the long slots provided for RVs and slid out of the truck with relief. A place to call home for the night. We carried the wired black fuzz ball to the trailer, climbed in after him and fell into bed completely exhausted. I don’t even think we remembered to brush our teeth, we were so weary. We’d only traveled two hours from Marysville. If this was what life on the road was going to be like, it was going to be a long road.
We awoke early the next morning, long before the store opened. With quick showers in the trailer, we were refreshed and ready to start our life on the road.
I loved the thought of carrying your bathroom with you when you go. We were still “home.” I slept in “my” bed with husband and cat, got clothes from “my” closet, sat on “my” toilet, showered in “my” shower, and ate from “my” refrigerator. It wasn’t until we opened the door that we reality hit. While we were in our home, our home wasn’t “at home.” It’s a little bit of Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz landing in Oz. It’s your house but the outside has changed.
We decided to unhook the truck from the trailer and drive to find breakfast to celebrate our first day away from home. I put the locks on the trailer tires while Brent prepared the trailer to disconnect from the truck via the fifth wheel hitch in the back of the truck bed. He walked over to the electric switch under the bedroom section of the fifth wheel, and gave it a flick waiting for the trailer’s front legs to slowly descend. One did. The other didn’t. This was a bit of a problem as the trailer couldn’t stand on three legs very long.
“Just a small glitch,” Brent assured me, though I think he was really talking to himself. He bent down and wedged himself between the truck and trailer to start investigating, his body contorting in the narrow space.
A fifth wheel trailer is shaped like an “L” tipped over ninety degrees, with a thick bottom and narrow length. Wheels support the short thick bottom, with legs that descent at the front edge to keep it level. The narrow length represents our bedroom, the part of the trailer that extends over the back of the truck when hitched. With about 18 inches distance between the back of the truck and the trailer’s lower front side, he managed to open the storage compartment there where the generator is installed and examine the trailer leg motor, leaning in backwards and twisted.
Nothing. He checked the batteries, the wires, everything, but couldn’t tell what it was. After an hour of poking and prodding, his body a pretzel as he wrestled himself up and inside the storage compartment, he decided the problem was the switch. Camping World was just opening so we went inside to get a new switch and to pick up the odds and ends we needed for the trip.
An hour later, the new switch made no difference. The truck was still attached and the trailer was still standing on three legs.
As Brent fought with the mechanics of the problem, the engineer in him coming to the fore, tracing every line and part, I realized that in the rush to get away yesterday, I’d forgotten to leave a large plastic cargo box sitting on the roof of our truck with Jo and Al. They wanted it and we didn’t really need it. It’d been overlooked in the fuss of the night before. Oh, well, I sighed to Brent, maybe we got stuck here for a reason.
I called Al from a payphone and he laughed at us, assuming we were in Oregon by now. “No, we are only an hour and a half away from home.” Since Brent now had most of the gears disassembled in the leg housing, it looked like we were going to be here a while longer. Al agreed to come down that afternoon and pick up the box.
By lunch, I had exhausted myself wandering the aisles of Camping World, once a magical haven for RVers and campers to explore, playing with all the gadgets and gizmos available today to help us survive in the wilderness with ease, now, it was boring. I’d see it all in the first two hours.
Brent was still pretzeling himself in the generator compartment with no success. I urged him out with bribes of lunch. We unhooked our new bicycles off the back of the trailer and rode to a nearby fast food joint for some much needed food. Conversation was stilted but we tried to sound positive, as if we could reassure each other with our fake enthusiasm. It was day two of our exciting adventure of live on the road full-time, and here we were stuck in the parking lot at Camping World.
After more time spent trying to figure out what was going on, Brent decided to just replace the leg motor, an expensive alternative, but we didn’t know what else to do. By the time he changed the motor and got the trailer legs working, evening was upon us and Al showed up. It was wonderful to see him and he laughed with us about our problems, understanding completely. He’d been through this plenty of times. We loaded up the box into his vehicle and said our goodbyes one more time.
So ended our second night on the road, camping in the parking lot of Camping World. Tomorrow, we would hit the road and finally be about our adventure of living on the road.