Click your heels together three times

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

We sat in one of the most out-ot-the-way places along the Alaska Highway. It’s a combination gas station/café/motel/lodge/bar/scenic overlook that sits at the north end of the Teslin Bridge. Johnson’s Crossing Lodge, in the Canadian Yukon, is over 3,000 miles from home.

Sitting on the deck of our room, the grandeur of Teslin Lake is only slightly blocked by a forest of pine and birch trees. Still, after driving for hours on the Alaska Highway, sitting on that deck and drinking a beer that was brewed in the northlands of Canada, was a small slice of heaven in the Canadian Rockies.

The odyssey that led us to this small, secluded spot started many months ago. Debbie and I agreed that we needed to take a mega-vacation, a real adventurous trip before we got too old to really enjoy one. Planning started, and our active imaginations went into overdrive.

We envisioned ourselves driving across country to the west coast, cruising across the Golden Gate Bridge, making our way to Alaska and then driving the entire length of the Alaska highway from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek. From there, we would drop down into the good ol’ USA and visit Yellowstone, the Custer battlefield, the Black Hills, Deadwood and (of course) Wall Drugs on the way back to Ohio.

At one point in our planning, we discussed how to get to Alaska. We definitely wanted to drive the Alaska Highway, but not necessarily both ways. Then we discovered the Alaska Marine Highway System. It’s a system of ferry boats that travel the entire coast of Alaska. Some of the boats also transport vehicles.

That became our plan and that is what we did. We drove our brave, little Buick onto the M/V Kennicott at the ferry terminal in Bellingham, Wash. and five days later we drove off the boat in Whittier, Alaska. The views were spectacular. The rooms were tiny. The food… edible.

I’m glad we did it, but it wasn’t the greatest way to travel. We shared the Kennicott with several hundred fellow travelers. Near the end of our voyage, I was on the forward observation deck watching the endless view of green, rocky islands go by. A young mother was trying to keep her young daughter entertained (there was very little to do on the Kennicott) by pointing out details of the scenery.

With a tone of great exasperation, the little girl turned to face her Mom and said, “I just don’t want to look at anything more!”

The scenery had finally sent the little one over the edge. She was done.

Just eyeballing the route we had agreed on, it looked like a six- to seven-week trek. Whew. That is a mega-vacation, and in the early spring of this year we committed ourselves to getting it done. We started plotting and planning, scheming and dreaming. Over the months, our mega-vacation took shape, form and body. We even set a starting date; the day after the Clinton County Fair ended – July 16.

What were we thinking? Were we nuts? The trip we planned would take well over a month. In fact, it would probably take at least seven weeks. We prepared for the long absence. We braced ourselves for being away from the kids and grandkids for over a month. We even practiced Skype and Facetime.

We were ready. Bright and early on Monday, July 16 we headed west. Here’s a quick rundown of the places we visited and things we saw: The Gateway Arch, Wichita and Dodge City (including gunfights), Pike’s Peak, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs, Salt Lake City and the great salt flats that stretched for miles in all directions, the deserts of northern Nevada, Reno and Lake Tahoe, the mountains of western California, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma and Napa Valleys, the Giant redwood forests of northern California, the coast of Oregon, Mount Saint Helens, Seattle, the panhandle of Alaska, glaciers and mountain ranges of Alaska, the North Pole (just outside of Fairbanks) and onto the amazing Alaska Highway that took us through areas of the Yukon and northern British Columbia.

Finally, as we sat in the lodge at Johnson’s Crossing, I talked about ending the Alaska Highway portion of our trip and heading due south into Montana, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, the Black Hills of South Dakota, making our way east and finally, after nearly seven weeks of travel, Wilmington.

Debbie sat there sipping her wine. She looked at me with some exasperation and home-sickness in her eyes and, using the same words as the little girl on the Kennicott, she said, “I just don’t want to look at anything more!”

The scenery had finally sent Debbie over the edge. She was done. We both laughed and I agreed with Debbie.

Following several days of long, long drives, much of it through the smoke of numerous western wildfires, we pulled into our driveway around midnight, nearly five weeks after the adventure began.

In hindsight, it would have been a lot easier if I had invested in a pair of Dorothy’s magical ruby-red slippers. Debbie could then have stood in that isolated lodge in the Yukon and, while clicking her heels together, said, “There is no place like home. There is no place like home. There is no place like home.”

With spinning, special effects smoke, swirling and magic we could have been immediately transported home.

But then, we would have missed the last several days of shared laughter and joy as we drove along the highways, finally, arriving home together.

Whew… There is no place like home.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist