North to, and all-around, Alaska

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

Henry Martin with Ruth, Neil and Kevin Snarr in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Courtesy photos

The Snarr van, which took the family on the 10,000-mile trek.

Courtesy photos

Randy Riley’s very interesting and well-written recent article describing he and his wife’s long drive to Alaska evoked too many memories for me to just set it aside.

My wife and our two sons made a similar trip back in 1979, but it was also different in many ways. Our trip was evoked by the 16th birthday of our eldest son whom we were certain would soon be leaving Wilmington never to return (it never happened).

Rather than driving and visiting locations in the U.S., however, we spent most of our trip in Canada as my wife was a Canadian citizen at that time.

We started by leaving our dog with my in-laws in Toronto. From there we traveled above the Great Lakes to Sault St. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and finally Vancouver on the Pacific Coast.

The Canadian Rockies and especially Lake Louise and Banff are very special. On the way I had the thought that we might as well take a trip to Alaska and I purchased our four tickets – at a special price since it was very late and the tickets were reduced.

After visiting a relative in Vancouver and before boarding we stopped on Vancouver Island to visit some Quaker Friends who had recently moved to the island from Costa Rica (after moving from Alabama in 1951 due to the growing militarization in the US). Vancouver Island is a very special place.

On the ship Vera Cruz our first stop was Ketchikan (remember the controversy about the “bridge to nowhere?”)

As we walked by the logs presumably to be shipped to the coterminous U.S. someone approached us from several yards behind and without seeing our faces blurted, “My goodness, it’s the Snarr family.”

Who was this and how could he identify us without seeing our faces? It was Henry Martin — remember the Martin Hotel at the corner of Main and Sugartree? — who had operated the bus station at the corner of Mulberry and Sugartree streets.

He knew us quite well since my wife would purchase tickets and board the bus there to Detroit and then Toronto to visit her family. He had decided to go to baker’s school and for some reason settled in Ketchikan.

Well, the scenery along the inland waterway to Juneau is absolutely breathtaking. I personally found native people and their cultures particularly interesting.

The most northern point was Glacier Bay with its ice formations and whales. The ship was not notable in any way, but it provided some interesting options. My wife won some money at bingo and I entered a ping-pong tournament which I won.

The most memorable part of that was a contest with a fellow who brought his paddles in a leather case; I borrowed mine from the ship. He was not very good – I won and received an alcoholic drink of some sort as prize (since I don’t drink, they let me trade it in on a Coke).

That reminded me of winning the physical fitness contest for our Company in the Army in Germany – that time I traded the bottle of whiskey for a shirt!

Back in Vancouver we decided we were not finished with the final trip with our son of 16 who was soon to abandon Wilmington forever. So, we headed down coastal highway number one to Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco (where our van was broken into), Sacramento to visit more friends, and then to visit Clairmont where I attended summer school 20 years earlier.

Finally, we visited a cousin in San Diego and the boys attended a Chargers football game. From there we, of course, went across the border to Tijuana. Then we started home – via the Grand Canyon, Chaco National Park, Denver, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and a rodeo in Nebraska.

In all we drove 10,000 miles, which took six weeks, spent our nights in three locations – one-third in our van, one-third with friends and one-third in motels.

In our van our younger son slept on a redwood coffee table we purchased in the redwood forest. On one occasion we parked our van in a motel parking lot and borrowed their facilities.

By all measures it was an absolutely wonderful trip, but as Randy said, “There is no place like home!”

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Henry Martin with Ruth, Neil and Kevin Snarr in Ketchikan, Alaska. Martin with Ruth, Neil and Kevin Snarr in Ketchikan, Alaska. Courtesy photos

The Snarr van, which took the family on the 10,000-mile trek. Snarr van, which took the family on the 10,000-mile trek. Courtesy photos

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist