NOW OR NEVER

Words & photos by Alice Grasby

A family of four pursues vast and vivid collective memories on a 10-month road trip.

 


 

Last summer my family and I embarked on an epic journey. 10 months, 10 provinces, 25 US states, 17 Mexican states, 12 ferries, and 32,000 km, with our teenage daughters in a motorhome named “Margie Odessa”. 
 
That plan didn’t begin as a “trip of a lifetime” adventure. Originally, my husband Jeremy and I had a bucket list trip of three months travelling across Canada with our truck, tenting gear, bikes, and canoe, exploring with our two daughters Ella, 14, and Chloe, 11. I’ve lived on Vancouver Island for the past 30 years and we hadn’t had the opportunity to see much of Canada. We usually embark on local adventures. I knew that our daughters appreciated where we live and how lucky we are, but there’s a big difference between knowing something and seeing it for yourself.

 The flavour of the trip transformed as we started to realize all that was possible. What if we took a whole year? What if we made it all the way to Newfoundland before heading south, possibly as far as Costa Rica?
 
It’s easy to get caught up in the habitual busyness of daily life. I’ve always admired people who take big risks and step out of a regular routine. We were excited by the idea of being able to spend such a huge chunk of time together as a family. Our girls are in their teenage years and it truly felt like it was now or never.
 
We bought a motorhome, rented out our house, packed only what we had space for, and hit the road. We started by volunteering with BC Bike, and then headed north from there: we hiked through the Stein Valley Heritage Park and explored mountain bike hot spots such as Williams Lake, Burns Lake, Smithers, and Terrace. We spent two days in Barkerville, learning about the incredible history of BC’s gold rush in the mid 1800s, all within a preserved heritage town with costumed period actors. From Terrace we headed east exploring the Rockies, Drumheller, and Riding Mountain National Park.
 
Starting our journey in July, it was necessary to have a firm itinerary throughout the summer months. However, we never booked a stay anywhere for less than two nights, and only planned around 300 km of driving for each travel day. We spent five-and-a-half months touring across Canada. We mountain biked, hiked, and swam, and even went on a seven-day canoe trip in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park (a major highlight of our Canadian leg). We did a walking tour of old Quebec City, drove the Gaspe Peninsula immersed in mind-blowing fall colours, and walked the red sand beaches of P.E.I. We walked the Bay Of Fundy at low tide, drove around Cape Breton Island, took the overnight ferry to Newfoundland, and camped in Gros Morne National Park in an October storm. In each province we found hidden gems and enjoyed the sights and flavours of our massive and diverse country.

In a mid-November snowstorm, we decided it was time to head south to warmer weather. After visiting the beautiful city of Halifax, we crossed the border into Maine and headed down the Eastern Seaboard. This portion was brief, as we left Maine in -13 degree Celsius weather and arrived in North Carolina at a balmy 10 degrees. The small town of Brevard reminded us of our Cumberland home, with amazing mountain bike trails, a small town with unique businesses, and an excellent brewery. We ended up staying for over a week, pushed further south by an incoming snowstorm. We drove down to Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico to Texas and crossed the Mexican border.  
 
We travelled through the interior as far as Oaxaca, avoiding the big cities in favour of the smaller villages. Planning this leg was difficult. There is a fine line between being overly researched and paranoid, and under-prepared and unsafe. I learned to have a critical eye for how the media portrays Mexico. Even with a ton of research, it still took a bit of faith in humankind and a push out of my comfort zone to travel through 17 Mexican states with my family. I am so grateful we did. We had nothing but positive experiences and met the kindest people. We explored markets for hours, ate in tiny, family-run restaurants with tarp roofs, dirt floors, and the best food you will ever taste. We surfed, explored beaches, experienced local festivals, rode horses to mountain hot springs, and caught sailfish and tuna on a deep sea fishing expedition. 
 
We made it as far as Puerto Escondido, journeying down narrow mountainside roads. During that particular section, I mentally willed the motor home to stay on the road while Jeremy casually drove, enjoying the breathtaking views as we plummeted down to sea level from over 10,000ft elevation. We spent six weeks in Puerto Escondido before realizing it was time to start heading home. 
 
We drove up the Pacific Coast, exploring all the surfing destinations and took the overnight ferry to the Baja. In southern Baja we found great mountain bike destinations, dodging cacti and rattlesnakes, as well as phenomenal snorkeling and kayaking, before heading north and crossing into the States. We enjoyed mountain biking in Arizona, Utah, and Oregon, and drove through Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. We left our home on July 7, 2018, and on May 17, 2019 we returned home. 
 
During this trip we grew stronger as a family. We quickly learned the puzzle of how we all fit together in a small space. We have always enjoyed adventurous family time, so I had an inkling we would all survive. What I didn’t foresee was how well we’d learn to communicate and problem solve. Our cozy days playing boardgames while weathering a November storm in Newfoundland were just as rewarding as the tropical days surfing in warm waters and navigating a foreign language in Mexico. A trip like this was not only an investment in memories and adventure, but in our values as a family and the education of our children. 
 
During the first night back in our house, we found ourselves all cuddled on the couch, and you’ll often still find us within arm’s reach of each other. Since our return home we have had many friends share stories of similar family trips, or dreams about trips in their future. My only piece of advice is to do it. There will never be a time where everything is perfectly in place. You just have to take the leap and see where the journey takes you.




Category: Volume 20