39 years and three months ago, when I was fourteen, my parents and I drove from Los Angeles to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back. The trip took six weeks, up the Alaska Highway, which at that time was 1200 miles of gravel through Canada and 300 miles of frost-heaved pavement once we reached Alaska, past what was then called Mt. McKinley, visiting relatives in Anchorage (my uncle was stationed at Elmendorf AFB at the time), around the Kenai Peninsula, and back down part of the highway then down Alaska’s Inside Passage via ferry. I still have the diary I kept on that trip, despite eighteen moves and two husbands. Even better, I was still able to put my hands on it today, without even having to look very hard for it. I’m not sure what that says about me.
In honor of the release of my second novel, which is set in Alaska and Yukon Territory, and is probably the indirect result of that trip so many years ago, I thought I might see what my diary had to say about each day we were on the road, and tell you about it.
Friday, June 15, 1973
We apparently didn’t leave home, which was in the Orange County city of Fullerton, California, south of Los Angeles, until 2:30 in the afternoon. My junior high school graduation ceremony was that morning as I remember, and my dad also spent a fair amount of time working on the trailer before we left. We made the trip in an avocado green 1970 Chrysler Newport, which I called the land barge two years later after I learned to drive. The trailer was 20 feet long, and was called the Prowler (its brand name). It, too, was avocado green on the inside, and white with a gold stripe on the outside. It was one year old at the time, and its shakedown cruise had been to Louisiana to visit relatives the year before.
It takes several hours to get from Fullerton to the northern edge of Los Angeles now, and it didn’t take much less time back then. We drove over Tejon Pass, with me apparently counting car license plates from as many different states as I could, past Gorman and Camp Frazier, which I noted as being the closest towns to my junior high church snow camp. I was apparently quite impressed with the number of large trucks, which I say were on Interstate 5, except, of course, that I-5 was not complete through California’s Central Valley in 1973. The little town of Delano, California, where we spent our first night, is actually along U.S. Highway 99, the main north-south inland highway through California back then. 167 miles that first day. Not too bad considering our late start, but then as my mother says, my dad’s idea of a perfect vacation was driving as far as he possibly could before he absolutely had to turn around to get back in time to go back to work. This trip was probably the most dramatic example of his idea of a good time.
I should tell you, too, that while my father and I (he had a 35mm and I had an Instamatic) took literally hundreds of photographs on this trip, they are all in slide format, and all of them are in my mother’s attic in Texas, while I am here near Seattle. I would give my eyeteeth to have copies in a format I could add to my blog, but I don’t at this point. Maybe someday…