A year-long world trip with our family has been a dream of Mark and mine for many years. Ever since we took a year and traveled as a young married couple in 1992-1993 we thought we may one day repeat our experience with our family in tow. Travelling is an activity that we both enjoy and our adventurous spirits are always excited by another chance to see new places and meet new people. What an amazing way to kick off my 50th year and celebrate 25+ years of marriage. We are very grateful for the opportunity to do this trip and have many people who have come along side us and encouraged us to make it possible. Both Mark and I have awesome people who work with us who are very capable of carrying on without us for a year. Our businesses are thriving and we are grateful for all of our employees’ hard work. We also have an amazing house sitter who is enjoying our place just as much as we are enjoying our journey. It is only because of our trust and confidence in them that we are able to relax and cherish this time with our family. Our community and families were very supportive of our decision to travel. We had many people encouraging us before we left town saying they were surprised that four teenagers wanted to spend a year with their parents. Most days we think this was a great idea, but we do have our moments when we wonder what the heck we were thinking!
Although this is an incredible opportunity, nothing is gained without sacrifice. Luke sacrificed going into a co-op program at U of A and also graduating with his peers in the mechanical engineering program. Jacob forfeited moving on to university with his peers. Naomi sacrificed attending school for Grade 11, an important academic year. Hannah gave up transitioning to high school with her peers. Mark recently opened a brand new vet facility in Invermere and gave up working in this beautiful building during its first year of operation. And I reluctantly sacrificed a year of cooking, laundry, and housework….We are grateful that each family member chose family time and adventures together, as we travel the world and make lifetime memories. This year is about slowing down, being grateful, and enjoying each other and the fruits of our labour.
The first leg of our journey was in a motor home which we nicknamed the Zehnderprise or the Moho. A man named Doug (he reminded me of my Dad) renovated the Moho for us. This was the first confirmation that our trip was meant to be. We had approached many people about taking on the task of renovating the Moho, but nobody wanted to tackle the job. Doug literally showed up on our doorstep in May during a Wings Over The Rockies bird tour on our farm. He had recently moved to the Columbia Valley and was a retired RV repair man. We quickly got his number and he began getting our 30 foot 1999 Fleetwood RV ready for departure. He installed a queen bunk in the back, checked all the appliances and gave us the RV 101 condensed version of how to run and operate an RV. (Being avid backpackers, we just had a couple of tents and a 1970’s 16ft. Bolar to camp in for soccer trips.) We could not have fit six adults in this machine without the expertise Doug provided.
By mid-July we were finally ready to launch the Zehnderprise to explore the Yukon, a wee bit of Alaska, the B.C. West Coast, and the USA West Coast. I have realized that what interests me most as we travel are stories of the people that live in each place, as well as enjoying the beauty and diversity in the nature unique to each area. Our first leg of the journey was through Northern B.C. and the Yukon. Several long days of driving took us up to the far North to take in beautiful vistas of alpine landscapes and rugged mountain ranges. My favorite drive was from Haynes Junction, B.C. to Haynes, Alaska with glimpses of Kluane National Park along the way. I also loved Whitehorse where we spent many days seeing the sites and took in a great fiddling concert at the McBride Museum. Whitehorse is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with lots of hiking, biking, and fishing.
We were fortunate to spend a few days in Dawson Creek with my cousin and her family who have lived and worked with indigenous people in Fort McPherson for the past 25 years. The indigenous’ story is a painful one as the cultural landscape changed from a proud, self sufficient, culturally complex people group to one of residential schools and rampant diseases post contact with Europeans. Evidence of this broken past is still apparent today with alcoholism and high suicide rates. We stopped at many cultural centres along the way that were celebrating the art and culture of the past and trying to build pride in the next generation as they celebrate their heritage and a way of life that respects the natural world. Beautiful art is emerging as younger generations are being trained in carving, hide tanning, beading, and story-telling.
Another common thread throughout many of the places we have visited in the north is improving food sources and sustainability with growing food locally. The cultural center in Dawson City has just started a community garden for native youth to learn how to grow and market vegetables to improve the diet of many locals. For too long cheep junk food has been consumed instead of expensive fresh produce that is trucked up from the interior of B.C.
I enjoyed learning all about the history of the Klondike Gold Rush from 1896-1899 which was a crazy time period for the Yukon. Men embarked on harrowing voyages in search of striking it rich with hopes of ending their search for wealth and power. What is left is a legacy of bravery, adventure, and broken dreams. Overnight the North was populated with thousands of men looking for a quick way to strike it rich. By the time most of them made the trek climbing mountains and forging rivers, all of the claims had been staked and their only choice was to go home or to work for those who had bought the claims. With all of those men, came similar issues to the oil rigs in northern Alberta, too many men, with too much money, and too much idle time. Gambling and fast living were a big part of that history. We visited Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall, Canada’s first casino, to watch the Can Can show. Because of the gold rush, many families eventually relocated to the North bringing with them women and children. Writers such as Pierre Burton, Robert Service and Jack London got their start in Dawson City. A thriving music and art scene is still evident in Dawson city today. We enjoyed an art walk through the town highlighting many local artists as well as a local music festival showcasing many budding musicians.
The next part of our journey took us to Atlin, B.C. which was a beautiful small town (population 300 ) on a huge, deep lake surrounded by glaciers and mountains. We thought Invermere was small, but Atlin had no bank, just three ATMs that had a withdrawal cap of $20.00, and only one out of the three ATMs worked. Naomi and Mark both got lucky and caught a couple of huge lake trout (35lbs. and 28lbs.), which we ate over the course of a few months. We chuckled as the lady at the information center “welcoming visitors” left two families waiting on the doorstep so that she could go for lunch. It seemed silly in such a small town with tourism as its main industry. Apparently they take their lunch hour very seriously in this small tourist town. Jane Wilder, a former Invermerite, gave us a lovely tour of her house and garden and a brief overview of the area. She was considering house sitting for us in Invermere while we were away, so it was a coincidence to end up in her back yard. We also ran into a colleague of Nancy Newhouse and Trevor Kinley’s who was a biologist from Nelson. He joined us on a hike up Monarch Mountain overlooking Atlin Lake and the surrounding glaciers.
On our journey back south, just north of Dease Lake, we had a little accident with the Zehnderprise. Mark had a run in with a tree and ended up pulling the back bumper off. I was so proud of team Zehnder as our three men quickly repaired the hind end of the motor home. It was very impressive how well Mark had planned ahead and equipped our house on wheels with all the necessary tools. He pulled out a cordless drill, rivets, screw drivers, glue, duct tape… Only Mark and his capable crew could make a repair of this magnitude out in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service and no electricity. It would have been a long drive back to Watson Lake to find a tow vehicle to carry the Zehnderprise out of the woods.
From Prince Rupert we took the ferry over to Haida Gwaii. As we travelled across I met two physios who gave us lots of information about the island and suggested I read “The Golden Spruce” by John Valliant. I was immersed into the world of Grant Hadwin, a logger who became infamous by cutting down the sacred 300 year old golden spruce in an effort to raise awareness of the massive clear cutting that was going on in the old growth forests on the coast in the 80s and 90s. I learned about the Haida people and how sacred this rare, unique tree was to them. Coming from Saskatchewan the whole concept of logging is foreign to me. My parents planted and cared for every single tree that surrounds our homestead in Saskatchewan and they would never have dreamed of cutting down a tree unless it was old or sick. The author discussed the history of logging and how our need to bring order and light to spaces as well as the desire to build has driven this whole industry. This is a story of greed, betrayal, myth, and perhaps some mental illness in Hadwin’s case. As we visited many of the places described in Valliant’s book, the story came alive for me and I relived the complex issues surrounding the story of the Golden Spruce.
We were expecting to see a very healthy native community in Haida Gwaii, but some of the stories we heard once we arrived were different. Alcohol is still a huge problem among the native communities and one local told us that some of the carvers have been known to sell their tools in front of the liquor store to get money for alcohol and later buy their tools back with an agreement to give a percentage of their earnings to the person who bought the tools. So sad to think of how alcohol has a hold on their lives and livelihood. Now that the fishing and forestry industries have receded, unemployment is a big problem. Tourism has become the main source of income for many locals.
A very special privilege was to see a reconciliation pole being carved for UBC with five carvers taking two years (ten man years) to complete. The project was overseen by master carver Jim Hart. It was scheduled to be erected October 15th on the UBC campus as a symbol in memory of over 150,000 indigenous children who were sent to residential schools between 1883-1996. Many young carvers were working alongside the master carver on the pole. Jim Hart’s son was among these young men and he commented on what a privilege it was to be working on such a huge, beautiful tree. His humility and reverence for the tree he was carving made an impression on us all.
A new generation is emerging on Haida Gwaii as young Watchmen in the Gwaii Hanaas Park teach visitors about the ancient ways of the Haida culture. A young Haida man toured us through the UNESCO Heritage Site at SGaang Gwaay describing how the Raven and Eagle clans operated and how stories and dances were passed down as currency along a matriarchal lineage. Beautiful mortuary poles from the late 18th and early 19th centuries were still standing at many of the sites.
We were fortunate to travel through the park on a 40ft. restored wooden sail boat called the Piraeus. What a privilege to share the journey with two archaeologists, Ann and Tom, who were both very knowledgeable about the Haida culture and sites. When I first met Ann I jokingly said “ Hi, we are the huge family with four teenagers that is here to spoil your trip!” They would have had the Piraeus all to themselves if we had not booked at the last minute. Ann just looked at me and said “Yup” and walked away. I thought maybe she hadn’t heard what I said, but we later laughed about it as she told us that she had heard me and that Tom was mortified of her response. In the end, I think they were happy to have us along.
Ann had been a professor of archaeology at the University in New Mexico for many years and we were all excited when she found a Haida artefact at one of the sites. Captain Bill planned on handing the tool over to the museum in Skidegate when we returned. We also had the most amazing cook with us, Daphne, a Mexican woman who studied culinary arts at Concordia and once had her own restaurant in Montreal. I appreciated all of the great food and amazing smells that wafted up from the galley. She cooked up her famous kelp lasagne that is still on the menu at the Canoe restaurant in Toronto. We also stopped for a bag of her favourite coffee on our way to the boat and guess what she picked up…. Kicking Horse Z-Wrangler!! Although we enjoyed the park, the weather did not cooperate for us to be able to raise the sails, which was very disappointing for me. However, the beauty of the islands, the diversity of the aquatic and bird life, and the interesting Haida culture made these islands a magical place to visit.
Our paths diverged for a few weeks as the girls and I headed to Vancouver Island and the boys stayed on Haida Gwaii. The Zehnderprise was stuck on the island for ten days due to a change in the fall B.C. Ferry schedule that we hadn’t anticipated. We enjoyed the inside passage from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on an overnight B.C. ferry. Our accommodation was very modest as we rolled our sleeping bags and mats out on the carpeted floor. Once we landed at Port Hardy, Naomi took the wheel and drove part of the way to Victoria until we hit the four- lane, 120kmh highway outside of Nanaimo. Considering it was her first highway driving with her new “L” she managed extremely well.
Our time on Vancouver Island was spent doing school work as well as visiting the Restons and my Cousin Arlene’s families. We enjoyed two beautiful hikes with the Overmans and a peaceful stay in Driftwood Cabin overlooking Reston’s garden. A highlight was being present for the official welcome of the Royal couple to Canada. It was interesting to hear that they had an itinerary that included many of the same areas we had just visited on our summer tour: Vancouver, Whitehorse, Carcross, Bella Bella, Kelowna, Haida Gwaii, and a day in Victoria on a SALT’s boat (three of our kids have sailed many times with this group). They could have asked us to plan their itinerary for them! We were particularly honoured to have a wave from Kate and William as they walked past us on the red carpet at the legislative building in Victoria.
We were reunited with the fellows in Langley at the end of September. They had made a quick trip to Kelowna to stay with Mark’s Dad for a few days while he got a pacemaker implanted. It was definitely God’s timing as they were on their way to Langley when they got the call that Fritz was being flown to Kelowna for an emergency surgery. It was easy to reroute to Kelowna on the way down from Prince George and spend a few days with Grandpa while he had his surgery.
My gracious cousin, Joanne, and her husband Mick, hosted us in Langley for over two weeks as we sorted out the last few homeschooling, insurance, banking, car and Moho repair, and health issues before we left the country. Mark had been having a lot of roaming arthritic pain and a nerve root irritation radiating into his right arm. We were grateful for a quick referral to a rheumatologist in Vancouver from a young doctor on Haida Gwaii. We were concerned about rheumatoid arthritis, but all of his tests were negative and the specialist felt it was more of a poly-myalgic rheumatica. Thankfully he has been able to manage his symptoms with over the counter anti-inflammatories.
It was awesome to have a break from the motor home before heading south down the west coast. We all appreciated having our own bedrooms and lots of space in the backyard and house after sharing the 30 ft. motor home space for two months. We were treated to lattes and yummy treats, a giant hot tub, a tennis court, and a weekend at the beach house on Whitby Island. My Mom flew down for a weekend to visit with us and we walked/biked the sea wall at Stanley Park together.
There were many family meals with my Aunt Ella and cousins as well as a “Fly over Canada” night that my Aunt insisted on taking us to. This meant we could take the “drive across Canada” off of our itinerary 😉 I am so thankful for this time we had together as my 84 year old Auntie had a massive stroke and passed away on January 31, 2017. I often walked across the pasture to visit her as a child in Saskatchewan and she drove me all over Vancouver looking for a wedding dress 26 years ago. She was larger than life, generous beyond measure, hard working and adventurous. Her legacy of how to age with grace, beauty and resilience has been an incredible example to me.
Our drive around the Olympic Peninsula and down the Washington-Oregon coast was rather wet. Originally we had planned to be heading south in mid September, but because of several issues our departure was delayed until mid October. Highlights were the Redwoods, Canon Beach, Scenic Capes, Tillimook Cheese Factory, the Columbia Gorge, and an NBA game in Portland. The rugged, wild pacific coast did not disappoint us in all of its glory. Narrowly escaping two tornadoes that touched down a few km from where we were travelling made us very grateful for safety on our journey and kept the trip exciting.
Near the end of October we crossed the border to California where the classic California scenes soon became apparent. The sun came out and we started passing VW vans driven by long haired surf dudes with surfboards attached to the roofs. I’m not sure if it was my imagination or not, but I’m pretty sure I heard the Beach Boys blaring from their boom boxes. We camped at many beautiful State Parks on beaches along the coast. Getting through San Francisco and Los Angeles safely was one of our main concerns as we made our way down the number one. Mark spent many hours researching what the best route and time of day was to pass through these two large cities in a 30ft. motor home towing a 16ft. car. We decided to unhook the car and drive through separately. Mark and Luke bravely navigated through both cities without an incident.
After a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (we saw Dori’s kelp forest home from “Finding Dori”) ,an amazing place to visit, we headed on to San Diego. We were content to stay put for several weeks in Encinitas, a small surf town outside of San Diego. The kids rented wet suits and surf boards to try surf lessons with a local legend, Matt. He got the kids standing up on their boards on their first lesson. They swallowed a lot of salt water, but were proud of their progress over a few days. Like skiing, there are many levels of competency with surfing as well as a whole bunch of etiquette to learn. The kids learned a lot trying to read the waves and figure out the timing. The waves were always changing and each beach could be very different at any given time on any given day. We relied on the local 7-10 year olds to show us the safest places to catch the waves.
Everyone was happy to see some familiar faces from home when we met up with the Pitaoulis crew. We spent one weekend at a campground with Kirk and Kerilyn Pitaoulis and their kids. Our gang had a blast surfing and playing ping pong with them. Later in the week the Van de Kemps arrived and we all gathered for a few meals together. The Van de Kemps were given the low down on the Zehnderprise and we passed the torch (keys) to them to start the return voyage home. It was a sad farewell to the Zehnderprise, which had been our home for so many months, but we knew it was in good hands. Aaron’s Dad drove us to the airport with our pared-down gear (carry on backpacks) and we waved good-bye to begin the next part of our adventure.