With a packed motorhome, a North American map, and a sense of humor, I was on my way. My life became a marvelous mixture of meeting people, experiencing history, and living adventures beyond my wildest dreams.
Happy chance took me 633 miles below our border into southern Baja, Mexico, for a six-month sojourn. As I wrote in my book In Pursuit of a Dream:
“With the gentle lapping of water, a mesmerizing fire, new friends, and a full moon, I thought I had found heaven on earth. I was afraid to go to sleep for fear I would wake up to find I had been dreaming.”
Morning after morning I walked that incredible white sand beach. I learned to wind- surf and water-ski. My heart healed, and I dated for the first time. Who would have thought this housewife would experience moonlit nights and romance on a beach 5,000 miles from my native Michigan.
“I awakened with two Federales in full uniform and accompanying rifles, standing within two feet of my hammock. ‘Buenos tardes, senora.’ My neighbors watched the scene with amusement. The young marines were discussing in sign language whether to awaken me, and how. Fortunately, they were only taking a census of the beach for Easter week.”
North to Alaska
Serendipity took me to Alaska in the confines of the cab of a pickup truck. It wasn’t the most comfortable digs for six weeks, but the wayward wind of my mind didn’t care. A magnificent adventure flew me to Barrow, North America’s northernmost point, to eat muktuk with the Eskimos. It thrilled my adventurous soul so deeply that the Far North drew me to three major solo trips.
In 1996, a sign in tiny Eagle, Alaska, made my soul sing: “Raft through untouched Alaskan wilderness.” Happy chance found a guide willing to take this slightly experienced canoeist and totally greenhorn wilderness camper on a 500-mile Yukon River trip. For that moment in time, God put two amazingly compatible strangers in a 17-foot canoe in North America’s fifth largest river.
There is nothing quite like howling wolves to make you realize you are in the deep wilderness. If dumped in that swift icy river or if either of us became seriously incapacitated, we were so isolated it was unlikely we would have survived. We crossed and recrossed the Arctic Circle, arriving at the Yukon River Bridge on the Dalton Highway two weeks later.
In 2001, serendipity accompanied my crossing that same bridge on the way to Prudhoe Bay. Rain turned the 1,000-mile round trip from Fairbanks into a chuckhole disaster. I white-knuckled my way through dense fog, crossing the Brooks Range to sunshine and magnificent autumn tundra. Arctic winds bearing snowflakes urged my returning early.
Boondocking next to the Jim River Bridge, my greatest excitement ever was having a black bear stand on his hind feet and paw his way around the Sprinter’s upper reaches. I jumped into the driver’s seat where my keys are always in the ignition. It failed to start, but desperate prayer works, and on a second try, the engine started and the bear got down.
Mushing sled dogs on Seward’s Godwin Glacier and watching grizzlies surround our group on a Katmai National Park gravel spit were happy chances that bounded into my life. Seeing Mount McKinley come out to play, and experiencing the awe of an Aurora Borealis dance still brings goosebumps.
Serendipity and a late ferryboat took me to live in San Carlos, Mexico, for three months. In-the-know American acquaintances said, “Don’t ride a Mexican bus, don’t sit in the back, don’t sit with a Mexican man.” My only transportation was a bus. It was full. I sat in the back. I had no choice. I sat next to a Mexican man. He had no choice. He had grandchildren. I had just received a letter announcing my impending grandmotherhood. We exchanged stories in “wounded Spanglish.”
Traveling from the Texas border to south of Mexico City, west to Acapulco and north to the border was fascinating, too. I rode local buses, walked, and mingled with beautiful people. Getting lost and serendipity led me to Xochimilco, the place of floating gardens, and took me through Copper Canyon, where people were still living in caves 400 miles below our border.
Sayulita was a sleepy fishing village north of Puerto Vallarta. It was framed by mountains, colored by blooming jungle plants, and caressed by the ocean. I recall a very romantic evening walking to the village, eating popsicles, and sitting on the beach talking for hours with a handsome tanned stranger. Some serendipity is even nicer than others.
Hand in hand with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans movies in childhood and serendipity, I lived and worked on a 2,500-acre dude ranch for six months. I parked my 454 Chevy horses next to a mountain stream in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, swam in the 85-degree hot springs pool, and did my bit to preserve history by caulking and painting my way around the ranch. The ranch house was a 125-year-old stagecoach stop with original bullet holes in the walls from wayward cowpokes.
The greatest compliment I ever received was from the owner’s mother. She said, “In all my 50 years of working with employees, you are the only one who really seemed to belong here.”
Ferrying through an iceberg corridor from Newfoundland to Labrador, then driving the Trans-Labrador Highway to Quebec and on across to Minnesota was a great adventure. Happy chance flew with me to Churchill, Manitoba, to visit with the polar bears.
And yes, from the Blue Ridge to the Cascades, I’ve crisscrossed the Lower 48 more times than I can count, never saying no to any perfectly good adventure. Serendipity took me RV rafting on the Mississippi River, paragliding off a Colorado mountain, and mule-riding to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. My motorhome took me to a bush-plane flight over Maine’s Moosehead Lake and across Cajun Country’s great ghostly bridges that stalk their way through the foggy bayous.
Enough! Those of you who have been full-timing for a while know of which I speak. People often ask how I plan a trip. Plan? I usually know I am going east, west, north, or south, but serendipity handles the rest.
God Bless, Happy Thanksgiving, and may your travels take you beyond where this Silver Gypsy has gone before.
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Autographed copies of Revised RVing Alaska and Canada ($16.95); Adventures with the Silver Gypsy ($14.95); Full-Time RVing: How to Make it Happen $14.95); In Pursuit of a Dream ($8), and Freedom Unlimited, The Fun and Facts of Full-timing ($9) are available through author Sharlene Minshall, Box 1040, Congress, AZ 85332-1040, www.full-time-rver.com or Amazon.com. Postage and handling are $4 for one book and $1 for each additional book.