My first “Silver, Single, and Solo” column appeared in RV Life on January 1, 1991, twenty-five years ago next month.
Four years after my husband’s death at age 47, I sold ye olde Michigan homestead and started my “second” life. Saying goodbye to two grown daughters in September 1986, I hit the road, female, not quite fifty, fit, free, and full time. In that first five years before RV Life, I had already crossed 80,000+ miles of incredibly varied North American geography plus many air and train miles. Full-time RVing was addicting.
I boondocked on Baja beaches for six months, then drove throughout nineteen States of old Mexico over several winters. I used Spanish as I learned it but it took a while to stop ordering scrambled Thursdays for breakfast!
I stayed overnight in the mountain town of Cuiteco on my way to Copper Canyon by train. I was the only guest. Dark arrives early in the high country. It was an evening right out of Walton’s Mountain with a goodnight operetta. The geese honked, the turkeys gobbled, the frogs croaked, the dogs barked, the goats bleated, the donkeys brayed, but then, dead silence set in. It was too dark to see the scorpions I imagined swinging from beam to beam above my head. In self-defense, I fell asleep. Hours later, I awakened and realized I wasn’t alone. God was in His Heaven quietly dangling millions of stars to silhouette the mountains surrounding Cuiteco. Goosebumps came with this view of heaven in the stillness of a backcountry Mexican night.
During those same years, I shared a whale-kill celebration with Inupiat Eskimos in Barrow, AK. In Kotzebue, 200 miles from Russia, I watched tiny tykes playing on Bering Sea ice chunks. My young guide attended Indiana’s St. Mary’s University, 17 miles from where I raised my Michigan family. The world grew smaller as my love for Alaska grew larger and I drove up four trips on my own. This brought the adventures of a 500-mile canoe trip on the Yukon River, which except for the birthing of two daughters; nothing has ever awed me more. Driving the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay was a revelation as was driving a dog sled across Godwin Glacier above the Kenai Peninsula. Many times I saw Mt. McKinley (now Denali) rise above all others in North America in its unparalleled magnificence.
While driving to Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories, a border guard challenged my traveling map where I had filled in all of Canada’s Provinces and Territories. He smiled and said, “You can’t drive to Nunavut Territory.” I smiled and said, “But I did all that before Nunavut divided from the Northwest Territories in 1999.” I won but we both smiled.
Boondocking on a gravel pullout along Top of the World Highway in Canada’s Yukon Territory, I awakened to watch the awesome, Aurora Borealis shimmering across the autumn sky. Driving the gravel 679-mile Trans-Labrador Highway from Goose Bay, Labrador to Baie-Comeau, Quebec was another goose-bump experience. Those cute little red “cups” that were next to the road were dynamite…literally. I was once again grateful for the Great Navigator’s presence in my co-pilot seat. Flying to visit Manitoba’s Hudson Bay polar bears was also primo.
I learned that blisters form from the bottom up while riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The naked skeletons of Mt. St. Helens brought tears to my eyes until subsequent years when I saw an amazing regrowth. Canoeing Florida’s Suwannee River was moving; but solo canoeing in their alligator swamps turned my hair white. In wandering its snake-inspired roads many times, the Blue Ridge Parkway has my tire tracks stuck in its ridges. Parking on a custom-built barge and cruising 450 miles on a Mark Twain Mississippi River adventure was unique. It was my privilege to visit most of our national parks.
Being in my own church was a continuity I missed, but it was interesting attending a new church each Sunday and sometimes a different denomination. I signed a guest register in CA, giving my daughter’s address in VA, listing my home church in Michigan. When I was introduced, the minister remarked, “You have rather a long commute.”
In my progress from “Sea to Shining Sea,” I experienced an air balloon ride over Napa Valley, California; an Ultralite flight over Quartzsite, Arizona; a helicopter adventure over Arizona’s Grand and Hawaii’s Waimae Canyons; a bush plane flight over Alaskan glaciers; and controlling a Piper Cadet over North Dakota. Nothing quite topped paragliding off a 10,000’ mountain in Aspen, Colorado.
American history took on new meaning as I followed the St. Lawrence Seaway to Appomattox to the Alamo to the end of the Lewis and ClarkTrail. I learned that a Walla Walla Sweet is an onion, and that there are rivers in the east and rivers in the southwest. The difference is that in the east, there is water in them.
Comments were legion. A fellow of whom I asked directions in PA said, “What’s a pretty lady like you doing traveling all by herself?”
“I haven’t found anyone who wants to go with me.”
“I’ll go with you,” he said excitedly, then paused no more than seconds and continued, “Wait a minute, I’ll go ask my wife.”
What Michigander wouldn’t love spending six months on a dude ranch in northeast Oregon’s Blue Mountains washing dishes, making beds, cleaning cabins, and puttying old windows. The perks were sixty horses, delicious food, unparalleled hiking, and a hot springs pool, not to mention the cowboys!
With my mechanical ability ending at checking my lipstick, I “listened” to my vehicle to identify problems in their infancy, then took it for repairs. However, I’m human…when the mechanic said, “You have a well rounded camshaft,” I beamed. By the time I realized he wasn’t assessing my personal attributes, he added, “It sounds like you have a bad valve.”
Three hundred thousand RVing miles, countless articles and columns in various magazines, Life-on-Wheels seminars, six RVing books plus one novel later, I sold my AZ property and last June, moved to the Great NW. I am diving head first into my third life and a whole new adventure. It is with great appreciation that I have always felt my daughters and their families had my back. They didn’t always know where I was but they didn’t obsess about it. We threw a dart at the map and met for family reunions every two years during that time.
Thank you for allowing me to relive my adventures one last time. Hopefully, my column and my blog will continue to be part of RVLife.com. Thanks to Mike Ward, a superior editor, for his kindnesses and encouragement through the years. I wish for Toni Knudson, the publisher and owner, and her husband, Diesel, a truly amazing retirement. God Bless always, Charlie.
Winter in the Wilderness, Minshall’s first novel (e-book & hard cover), and the fourth edition of RVing Alaska and Canada are available through Amazon.com.