Note: OFM editor Erin Kirkland and her family are traversing the western United States and Canada on a 3-week road trip from Iowa to Alaska. So far they have driven the flatlands and fields of the Midwest, climbed toward the upper reaches of Montana’s section of the Continental Divide, and now are in Alberta, Canada, making their move toward Banff and Jasper.
by Erin Kirkland
Every morning I take note at how the pile of shoes stacked near the doorway of our rented RV changes. When we first climbed aboard in Forest City, Iowa, it was all KEEN and Chaco, so warm temperatures were. It was easy to slip bare feet into these sandals and take off for a local nature trail or take up a game of mini-golf at one of the many Kampgrounds of America we’ve been inhabiting. Even when thunderstorms rumbled across the plains, the warmth of late spring didn’t change our footwear. It just made it muddier than usual.
We’re an Alaskan family, and things like this seem important, especially since we’re not used to sandal-and-barefoot weather before June 1. It’s one of the reasons my husband and I decided to do this drive of nearly 4,000 miles.
Driving the West was a part of my own childhood. My grandparents were homesteaders’ children who settled in the far reaches of eastern Montana sometime around 1903. Driving past tumble-down homes and barns, and stopping to inspect threshing machines reminded me that the fabric of who I am is partially woven by the sweat equity of my relatives. I wanted my son to know it, too.
So far, my 11-year-old and his best friend have watched a cattle drive, felt dusty earth from disc harrows filter into their eyes and noses, and heard the rumble of an enormous thundercloud overhead. We’re not in Alaska, anymore.
We spent Kids to Parks Day on the St. Mary side of Glacier National Park, hiking in a rainstorm and shouting “Hey Bear!” every few minutes. This was, ironically, comfortable for the boys; it’s part of their daily lives back home. Funny, isn’t it? What seems so frightening to others is actually the thing they could relate to, most?
Learning has come naturally during this adventure, and I see now why the concept of roadschooling is, in a sense, taking America by storm. What could be better than standing on the actual trail of Lewis and Clark instead of just reading about it? Or, in the case of Teddy Roosevelt National Park, stepping in a freshly-laid buffalo chip? It’s the real things that matter.
Right now we’re working our way toward Banff and Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, a stunning reminder that we are indeed getting closer to the rugged wilderness we know so well. Remote roadway awaits us, and a plethora of life lessons, as well. Oh, and those shoes by the door? We’ve replace them with sneakers and hiking boots.
Erin Kirkland is managing editor of Outdoor Families Magazine and publisher of AKontheGO.com, Alaska’s only family travel resource. She and her family expect to reach their home in Anchorage somewhere around June 3.