ROAD TRIP !--by Nancy Hain
It was June 1968, and we were newly married. Bill had just graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The graduation ceremony was followed by our wedding at the academy chapel. Since my brother was an academy classmate of Bill’s, several of my family members had flown out from my home state of California to attend both the graduation and the wedding. Bill’s family was from Pennsylvania and many of his family and friends joined all the celebrations.
After the wedding and the reception, we left on our honeymoon. We drove from New London, Connecticut to West Dennis on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in Bill’s “new”, bright red 1965 Mercury Comet Cyclone. It was a sporty little car with clean, white leather seats and he was quite proud of it – he even tolerated my yellow daisy decals on the back.
Following our honeymoon trip, we drove to Pottstown, PA, where Bill’s family lived, and where his younger brother was getting married. It was a short visit, however, because we had a road trip ahead of us. The destination was a long way away – Kodiak, Alaska. And we needed to be there by early July. This was Bill’s first duty assignment as a new ensign in the Coast Guard and the choice of Kodiak had been a mutual decision. We had no idea what lay ahead but were looking forward to some adventure.
Remember that this was a time long before computers, GPS, and cell phones. We had gone to a AAA travel office and acquired many maps, travel books and a set of “Triptiks”. These had a route planned out for us, taking us across the country, first to my family’s home in San Mateo, CA, and then on to Alaska.
We departed from Pottstown, PA on June 17, 1968. The car was fully loaded with all our camping equipment – tent, sleeping bags, ice chest, Coleman cookstove, cooking pots, pans, utensils, dishes and our clothing.
I honestly can’t say that I remember too much about the places we stayed or the route we traveled (although we primarily drove across I-80 most of the way). Fortunately, we did keep a few postcards, brochures, and photographs which I put in a photo album. This was helpful in recounting the trip.
As mentioned earlier, while we traveled, we could not call ahead to campgrounds because we did not have the technology that is available today. We were dependent upon the use of the AAA travel books with listings of campgrounds and lodging. We would travel until the dinner hour was approaching, then try one of the campgrounds near to where we happened to be. I do not recall that we ever had any difficulty locating a campsite.
From what I can determine by the bits of brochures and postcards in the photo album, our travels took us first to Gettysburg, PA and then to New Stanton, PA. Our next stop was LaPorte, Indiana, just east of Chicago and just after we had crossed from the Eastern Time Zone to Central Time. Being unaware of that time change, we pulled into the campsite, set up our tent and then began to prepare our dinner, as it was approaching that time. Soon we noticed that not only were none of the nearby campers beginning to prepare their dinners, we were also getting some odd looks from those who passed us as we sat down to eat. An hour or so later, other folks started to bustle about, getting camp stoves or grills started and preparing food for their dinners. When we pulled out some maps to consider our route for the next day’s journey, we suddenly became aware of the fact that we had crossed into a new time zone and had been eating at the Eastern Time for dinner rather than Central Time!
From this point, our travels pretty much followed along Interstate 80 across the country to California. The photo album contains postcards from North Platte, Nebraska and then Salt Lake City. I have no indication of where else we may have stayed until after Salt Lake City. Bill and I both remember stopping at an intersection as we approached a town in Nevada, where a man was handing out rolls of nickels and an invitation to visit a new casino in the town. We decided to stop at that casino, went in, used the coins in some slot machines, won nothing (surprise, surprise), had lunch, and went on our way.
One item that is in the photo album is a “Certificate of Inspection” from the “Bureau of Plant Quarantine, California Department of Agriculture”. When crossing into California in those days, you were required to stop at checkpoints, where your car would be inspected for any “foreign” plant materials. The date on the certificate is June 23, 1968. Thus, having departed from Pottstown, Pennsylvania on June 17, we had been traveling for seven days when we crossed into California.
Our next stop, it seems, was Yosemite National Park. I cannot actually remember camping there, but I assume we did. From there we headed to San Mateo, CA for a visit with my family. I am sure we were grateful to sleep in regular beds, take showers and eat meals that were not cooked on a camp stove.
From California, we headed north. We made a brief stop in Eugene, Oregon where we visited with my college roommate, Carolyn, and her husband, Gary. Then on to Olympia, Washington, where we stayed one night with the family of Bob Bower, an academy classmate of Bill’s. Bob and his family owned an oyster farm, so we were given a tour of that and an oyster dinner (not our favorite fare but we politely ate the meal). They had a new litter of kittens and offered one to us, which we accepted. Unfortunately, the kitten had an accident on the way up the Alaska Highway and died. Very sad.
Bill and I both remember that the drive to our next destination in British Columbia was beautiful. We passed through the Frasier River canyon area with spectacular, scenic mountain views.
I have nothing that indicates the date on which we arrived in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. This town is the starting point, or Mile 0, of the Alaska Highway. In 1968 the Alaska Highway was described as “improved gravel” and we were advised to prepare our car for the road conditions in several ways. Number One was to be sure we had four good tires, as well as a good spare tire. Number Two, purchase and have some “plastic bubble” headlight covers installed. And Number Three, purchase and have a gravel deflector screen installed on the front grill of our car to, hopefully, protect the front windshield against stones flying off the roadway from passing vehicles (primarily logging and freight trucks). And, finally, Number Four, have heavy-duty shock absorbers installed, which meant that we had to empty the trunk and then restow everything.
The entire length of the Alaska Highway, from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK, is 1,387 miles and we had a book called The Milepost which was considered essential when traveling on the highway. The Milepost had all sorts of information about facilities available to travelers (lodging, campgrounds, gas stations, grocery stores and points of interest) noted by mileposts along the way, which gave us some idea of distances and time involved. Our route on the Alaska Highway would take us through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory, eventually crossing the Alaska border at a town called Port Alcan. We would then continue to the town of Tok, where we would head away from the Alaska Highway, southwest toward the Kenai Peninsula. Our final destination there was to the town of Homer, where we would catch a ferry to Kodiak.
If you view The Milepost on the internet today, you will see that there are many milepost listings and many opportunities for shopping, eating, gas stations, lodging and camping, and sightseeing. You will also note that there are some mileposts designated as “Historical Mileposts”, which is an indication of how many fewer mileposts and facilities existed back in 1968.
Quite honestly, I do not have a clear memory of places we stopped or places we camped along the highway. I do remember that camping was primitive, and we were always sure to fill water containers and the gas tank whenever we had the opportunity. We do have photos taken along the highway, looking out the front windshield, with the gravel deflector screen clearly visible above the hood of the car. Some photos show the dirt highway stretching up and over hills ahead of us, with snow covered mountains in the distance. We experienced one flat tire along this “improved gravel” highway and were glad to finally cross the border into Alaska, where the road was paved.
We must have picked up a schedule of the Alaska Marine Highway System (i.e. the state ferry system) at that point, and it was then we discovered that the ferry from Homer to Kodiak made trips only once a week. If we were to arrive in Kodiak when Bill’s assignment was to begin, we had only one opportunity to do that on time, according to the ferry schedule, and that required a long drive from where we were. We still had a distance of just over 600 miles to travel to get to Homer.
We left Port Alcan very early the next day and drove all day and through the night, which at that time of year in Alaska never really gets very dark. We arrived in Homer sometime early the following afternoon. After locating the ferry terminal, at Land’s End on the end of the Homer Spit, purchasing tickets for the overnight ferry trip and getting the car in the line for boarding, we spent most of the remainder of the afternoon finding something to eat and catching up on our sleep. Once we boarded the ferry that evening, we located our stateroom, showered, explored the ferry a bit and then slept through the night as the ferry traveled to Kodiak. The ferry docked early in the morning of July 4th, eighteen days from when we had departed Pennsylvania and twenty-nine days since our wedding day.
It had been quite an adventure and that was just the first of many during the 52 years of our marriage. And over all the years of Bill’s career in the Coast Guard, we experienced several other cross-country trips - one, in 1971, from Juneau, Alaska to Washington, D.C. with our two year old daughter and two dogs; another trip in 1975, from Cleveland, Ohio to Juneau, Alaska with our now 5 1/2 year old daughter, 2 1/2 year old son and two dogs; and another camping trip in 1980, from Port Angeles, Washington, across Canada to New London, Connecticut, with our almost eleven year old daughter, almost eight year old son and three dogs in a Volkswagen van, towing a tent trailer with a canoe on top. Our most recent trip across this beautiful country to visit some of the western national parks was in 2017, driving from Maine and back with our two dogs and towing our travel trailer. That last trip was the only time we had GPS, internet and cell phones.
I am thinking that it must be time for another road trip!
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