6 WAYS TRAVEL HELPS MAKE YOU A HEALTHIER, HAPPIER TEACHER: OUT OF THE DUST AND INTO THE WILD PART III

 
 

What happened next, you are asking, or perhaps you are just joining me on this epic journey and need me to get you caught up?  Ok, here’s the story: on Monday, June 4, 2018, Marc (my then-fiance’, now-husband), myself, and our dog Bella made an epic trek from Natchitoches, Louisiana to Anchorage, Alaska by car!  

Here are a few things we learned along those five-thousand-eight-hundred-fifty-nine miles:

  • We still like each other.

  • Taking a family road trip during peak Great Pyrenees shedding season is NOT a good idea!

  • Be prepared for anything (extra tires, cans of gas, lots of snacks and water, and all manner of clothing from swimsuits to sweatshirts are a good idea, especially when driving the AlCan Highway).

  • Fish tacos are better in the South, Southwest, and any part of California.  Anything north of California, and you better start ordering the beer-battered halibut.  

  • Here’s the big one: We only get an average of 80 summers, so we better make the most of each one!

In Part I of this series, I wrote about authentic classroom resources, specifically Karen Hesse’s novel, Out of the Dust and included a cross-curricular research menu to enhance your students’ learning about the Great Depression in the Oklahoma Panhandle.  In Part II you read about how travel can inspire your teaching as we drove across Arizona, the Mojave Desert, and California and I referenced books such as The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan as inspiration for classroom reading and enrichment activities.  In this final installment, I want to share with you our trip through Canada and into Alaska (as we truly drove right out of the dust and into some very wild country) and 6 specific ways this trip made me a healthier, happier teacher and more importantly, how travel can help make YOU a healthier, happier teacher.

  1. See First-Hand What Inspired Your Favorite Authors

Do you love to read and sometimes geek-out on planning your own trip down the Mississippi River via riverboat like Mark Twain, long to experience your own Eat, Pray, Love itinerary, or just want to take a ride on a New Orleans streetcar immortalized by playwright, Tennessee Williams? Literary travel is a real thing, and on this journey it was Jack London, Gary Paulsen, and Robert Service who shepherded me through the rolling, rural pastureland, raging, icy rivers, and craggy Canadian Rockies — home to the friendly Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep that proliferate the roadsides.  On our first cool morning after waking up and getting on the road in British Columbia, I mused the delightful thought that Jack London and all the other gold rushers of the 1890s may not have traveled as quickly or with such comforts as heated seats and continental breakfasts, but we were certainly seeing the same enduring scenery and traveling with our ever-protective and curious mountain dog much the same as these adventurers of yore.

 
 

2. Gain Authentic Experiences to Share with Your Students

No trip would be complete without a historical marker or two.  Oh, my father would be proud, as we stopped at many a historical marker. In Quesnel, just before Prince George, B.C., we stopped to take a picture under the famed Highway 97 sign, which turns into Highway 1 and what is known as the Alaska-Canadian Highway (or just the AlCan to those who frequent this wilderness trail between Alaska and the Lower 48). We snapped a few shots in front of the giant gold pan, and of course, the Gold Rush Trail sign. When we got back on the road, I felt as if I were on my own gold rush journey gaining golden nuggets of truth, wisdom, experience, and love that will prove to be my own precious Mother Lode.

The sign that resonated with me the most was at the Watson Lake Sign Post Forest.  As Marc and I meandered through the “forest” commenting on signs from various locations around the Lower 48 and imagining the stories that must accompany these markers, I realized that in some unobtrusive way, we, too, were leaving our mark.  We were here, on our own journey to our new home and feeling the unspoken connection to our hometown in Louisiana. We didn’t need a sign to remind us of the gumbo and boudin of our South Louisiana roots or the Christmas lights and water skiing on Cane River Lake.  Those signs are clearly etched in our hearts.

3. Pamper Yourself Along the Way

Even the wilderness can offer opportunities for indulgences.  On our first night on the trail, we happened upon the Laughing Loon Pub in Williams Lake, B.C.  We thought we were just popping in to a pub for a quick drink and to ask the locals where to get a bite to eat.  To our surprise, it was a full service restaurant with craft beers, an excellent wine list, and menu items such as steamed mussels with chorizo and roasted garlic cream sauce, Loon chowder made with clams, wild coho salmon, and blue-claw crab.  The atmosphere was friendly, fun, and slightly upscale. Not at all what we were expecting after a long day of driving through the mountains and wilderness. The gold rushers would have never made it to the Yukon with pubs like this! A couple of days down the road and we came to Liard Hot Springs.  Most nights, we had been staying in low-budgets inns and motels or camping to save money along the way, but as we approached the famous hot springs, Marc decided we should splurge and stay at the Liard Hot Springs Lodge, just a short hike across the street and down a gravel path and wooden boardwalk to the thermal springs.  What a treat this was to soak in the warm spring surrounded by nature, in addition to the unexpected hike over a warm water swamp (being a life-long Louisiana girl, this term struck me as funny, as that’s all we have in the deep south) and through the boreal forest (a magical, mythical looking forest; very different from the Louisiana piney woods we have at home).

 
 

4. Experience the Healing (and Awe Inspiring) Qualities of Nature

Experiencing nature, especially the big, impressive wild things like a lumbering elk, a galloping moose (towards our vehicle as Bella barked and scratched at the door in full on protect-my-masters mode, and egged him on), a pair of grazing bison just outside our lodge door, a number of black bear and an entire grizzly bear family, plus the towering Canadian Rockies have a way of making you feel insignificant, or at least remind you of your place in the food chain.  The wildness of it all forces us to slow down, pay attention, and return to our innate instincts as we feel our way through each new day with much more awareness of the now.

5. Reconnect with Your Life Goals

When life suddenly gets quiet, the deep meandering thoughts creep in. The really important things that we don’t carve out time for in our busy lives.  On about day four of driving through the Canadian wilderness, my mind began to settle and think of where my life was going (even though I really had no idea what to expect once we made it to Alaska).  Was I leading with my heart? Was I leading with purpose? In preparation for the summer solstice, I took stock of the last two quarters of my life and journaled about my goals. What were my 2018 goals (way back in January and again in March at the spring equinox)?  Have I reached any of them? Which goals still mattered to me and what new goals were beginning to take shape?

Here’s what I discovered:

  • I still wanted to marry this guy.

  • I still wanted to spend time hiking, going to yoga classes, and staying fit.

  • I still wanted to write for Literary Wanderings (I would soon discover that teaching full time in a new school in Anchorage would suck all of my energy and exhaustion would overtake my desire or ability to write or think creatively).

  • I still valued my morning routine of reading a bible scripture, meditation, and journaling, and Sunday morning mass.

Here’s what I was willing to let go of:

  • A mega hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. (Ok, maybe someday, but I have new priorities at this time and juncture in my life.)

Here’s the new goal calling my name:

  • Learn how to bake a delicious loaf of sourdough bread. (I discovered The Bake Shop in Girdwood, AK sells their starter with instructions.  As soon as I get my new kitchen, I plan to spend the winter perfecting the recipe.  I guess that also means I better continue to stick to my workout routines.)

 
 

6. Believe That Travel Dreams Are Attainable (Even on a Teacher’s Salary)

Many teachers believe travel, especially epic road trips like this one, are out of their reach.  It feels too big, too scary, too expensive, and too uncertain.  I first learned how to overcome these fears back in 2010 when I treated myself to a week at Miraval Resort and happened into a workshop with climber, adventurer, and leadership coach, Matthew Walker.  It was in this workshop that I was introduced to Walker’s theory that there are 5 Elements of Adventure that can be applied to everything we do (detailed in his book, Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose, and Inspiration).  I refer to these elements often, as they are now guiding principles in my life.  In the spirit of the two elements: uncertain outcome and great companionship, Marc and I agree that two of our favorite nights on this trip were spent at the Wild West Ranch and RV Park for $18 a night (and that included two beers), and Carnivore Cabins in Haines Junction, British Columbia for $75 Canadian dollars (about $57 American dollars) a night.  Both were clean, with friendly owners, safe, and most importantly, CHEAP!  You don’t have to spend a fortune at a luxury hotel to enjoy your journey.  It’s the little things that matter and make the trip memorable.  Another way we saved money was only eating one meal out a day.  I think we tried every fish taco from Texas to Washington State because it was always the cheapest item on the menu, they came two or three to a plate (plenty), the ingredients were fresh and delicious, plus they are served with chips and salsa.  I brought our own coffee (pot, mugs, freshly ground beans, mini-moos, and stevia) and made it in our room, the bathhouse, or where ever I could plug in a small coffee pot. We ate instant oatmeal and apples for breakfast, snacked on cherries and dark chocolate, granola bars, or cheese and crackers in the afternoon and stopped for our one meal a day around five or six in the evening.  We never felt like we were missing out.  All of this was part of the journey.  In fact, it brought back fond childhood memories of camping trips and picnics at rest stations.  Marc and I (and Bella) were building our own memories, without breaking the bank account, and that felt great!

 
 

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I would love to hear about your epic journeys and how they have helped make you a healthier, happier teacher. Please feel free to post in the comments below or email me at literarywanderings@gmail.com.

Epilogue — Two Weeks Later

We finally rolled into Alaska on Sunday, June 17, two full weeks after leaving Louisiana. We were so ready to make it to our new home that we pushed through 612 miles from Haines Junction, in the Yukon Territory, to Anchorage, Alaska that day making our first stop The Lakefront Hotel, home to the Fancy Moose Lounge, one our favorite spots for great food and the best views in town to watch float planes take off and land on Lake Hood. In the words of Maurice Sendak, “Let the wild rumpus begin!”

Upcoming Posts:

  • Side Hustle Highlight with Dr. Samuel Stokes, a Teacher-Composer with a Unique Twist on A Christmas Carol

  • What I’ve Learned from Teaching in Alaska

  • How Meeting Your Favorite Authors Can Inspire Your Students’ Writing