By Julie Pendray
One evening, years ago, my young husband proposed a grand adventure. We would rent out our home, put a friend in charge of the business, buy a small RV and go on a trip around the United States and Canada!
We were in our early 30s.
I’d been in the United States about eight years from my native New Zealand and was still wet behind the ears as far as this huge continent was concerned. I knew more about sheep than the Rockies or New York subways.
That was in 1989. I’d just finished my University of Auckland degree through the University of California, San Diego. I had a window of time before I had to commit to a new job. My husband decided it was a perfect time to set off on this trip-of-a-lifetime that he’d secretly wanted.
“I want to do it now while I can still hike and ski and rock climb,” he said. “I don’t want to wait ’til I’m in my 60s like other people do. You never know what life could bring.”
His family did a lot of cross-country summer road trips when he was a child. We were about to relive some of the experiences.
So while my spouse generated a list of destinations, I gathered maps and guide books at the Auto Club of Southern California. At night, we’d spread these on the floor and he’d outline a route joining the dots to his favorite national parks. As he came up with the physical adventures in out-of-way places, I decided on some more metropolitan and literary ones. I wanted to see Key West where Ernest Hemingway had lived. And what Kiwi would turn down a chance to see The Big Apple?
We decided to set off in spring to get across the South before the worst heat. Then we’d go up the East Coast in early summer, into Canada and across that vast country before snow season really hit. We’d have plenty of time to get back to San Diego by the end of September.
Within weeks, we’d bought a used Toyota New Horizon mini motor home. We packed and unpacked its 21 feet of space, trying every nook and cranny and discussing what we could take and what had to stay behind. We agreed we could rent snow skis anywhere, for example, but we took one slalom water ski.
Inside our cozy little home on wheels there was a bed that made up from a sofa, a dining table, a fridge, counter space, cupboards, an oven and a shower and toilet with a skylight. The living space was easily accessible from the front seats. The RV was small enough to maneuver in tight areas and I didn’t feel intimidated taking the wheel.
Now we were ready!
Yet, the call to the open road involved temporarily letting go significant attachments. It was a bit daunting. I had been stunned at the idea of the trip and had to put my biological clock on hold — not without disappointment — but I agreed to delay starting a family until our return. Now, we are no longer a couple but we are both very happy to have the blessings of both of life’s great adventures — travel and parenting!
As for friends and family, some were worried about us being out of touch for so long. I think some were concerned we’d never come back. Others cautioned us about potentially dangerous scenarios with strangers in foreign parts and other “what ifs?”
But we had only a positive outlook. We dreamed of fresh air, time to ourselves and the excitement of turning a new bend in the highway every day.
People who knew us well, and themselves even better, wondered how we’d get along in a small space for 6 months. They said they’d never be able to do it with their spouses. Yet, we took it in stride. We’d had as many ups and downs as anyone else. But, after all, we’d met in the South Island of New Zealand on vacation in a lakeside town. We both loved photography, wildlife and the great outdoors. This was right up our alley way.
And … I knew I had books tucked into tiny cubby holes in the motor home. I’d be fine.
Our next-door neighbor responded with a bag of paperbacks. Among them was “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain, which remains one of my favorites of all time.
The big day of departure from San Diego became an almost tearful farewell from young nieces and nephews who knew we’d miss birthdays. We hugged, waved goodbye and headed toward our first stop, Las Vegas, before heading to Zion National Park.
Over the summer, our big adventure also took us to Lake Powell, the Rockies, Smoky Mountains, Dinosaur National Monument, the bayous and swamps, Bourbon Street and antebellum mansions of Louisiana, as well as the Space Centers, Epcot Center, Key West, Washington D.C., New York city, Niagara Falls, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Maine, Quebec, Banff, Vancouver, Victoria Island, Whistler ski resort, Mt. St. Helens, Olympic Peninsula, the Oregon coastline and back to our home in San Diego.
By the time we returned happy, suntanned, unshaven and relaxed, we’d put 26,000 miles on that motor home. It was with lifelong memories in our hearts that we let it go to the next adventurers.
Being on the road that long isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but an extended road trip is refreshing for many relationships — it was for ours. We didn’t want to come home!
Along the way, I kept a journal, which I still have. It includes wildflowers I gathered along the road sides, identified and pressed. It holds the entry passes to various parks, along with a few of my quick sketches and descriptions of stunning scenery, wildlife encounters, discussions with interesting people, history lessons and exotic experiences for this Kiwi.
Please join me in upcoming weeks, as I retell this tale from those writings on the road 26 years ago, seeing North America through the wide eyes of a young New Zealand-American.
This account is offered with gratitude to the people of the United States and Canada for their warmth and friendship and to one American in particular who took me places I never dreamed I’d go.
With heartfelt thanks.
Copyright Julie Pendray. No permission is granted for reprinting.