A picture's worth a thousand words
But you can't see what those shades of gray keep covered
You should've seen it in color
Songwriters: Jamey Johnson / Lee Miller / Lee Thomas Miller / James Otto
If I had known we weren't going to return, leaving would have felt much different. We packed what little there was to pack into "Mother" and headed back to civilization. The most vivid part of the trip back through Mexico was my mom (not to be confused with "Mother") throwing a screaming fit. Russ, my step-dad, had decided to take a different route back and we traversed the Sierra Madre Oriental. To be fair to him, I don't think he realized how freaky scary the roads would be. To be fair to my mom, they were freakin' scary. She called him a "Mothertrucker" more than once, but she pronounced it different. She had been riding in the back and there was no way to communicate between the cab and the back. We survived and crossed the border at Mcallen, TX. and camped at Brownsville for the night.
My mom and Russ had a "talk" with Sheri and me about our plan. We were parting ways. I was eighteen and Sheri was nineteen. Our plan was for me and Sheri to start hitchhiking there at Brownsville with our backpacks and about $100 to live on. We had a vague destination, which consisted of visiting Sheri's brother Gary in Spirit Lake, ID. It might as well have been a million miles away. Val was against it. Russ was more concerned about my going from my mother's care into Sheri's without "making it on my own" first. We insisted. We were in love and just wanted to be together.
We spent our first night on the bank of the Rio Grande river while helicopters flew up and down the river overhead. They were shining spotlights on the bank looking for "mojados". This was spring/summer of '73 and we didn't really have a time schedule for the journey. People were helpful for the most part. For cash we donated blood plasma. This was easy for me, not so much for my traveling companion. Her veins were small and hard to find.
Some folks went way out of their way to help us along the road. One guy in Idaho, near Burley, made sure we had a hot bath and let us crash on his feather bed in the "guest house". He even moved his stereo speakers into the bathroom so I could listen to "Blind Faith" while I soaked in the tub. We went to Mukilteo, WA first and visited my sister before going on to Sheri's brother's Idaho cabin. My sister told us that Russ and Val didn't go back to Mexico as planned. That sure came as a surprise! We stayed in a tiny one room guest house at my Grandma Bessie's house (my sister lived with Bessie and so did my other stepdad, Bessie's son Jerry). I did some odd jobs, hedge trimming and yard work. Bessie overpaid me for these services. I think she felt sorry for us.
One of the strangest things
that happened on the whole trip was when we went on to visit Sheri's brother. Here we were, on a dirt road in the middle of "nowhere", Idaho and this lady picked us up. She was picking her kids up at the bus stop and said she had a few minutes to get us closer to Gary's cabin. We gratefully loaded our backpacks in her car and as she drove us up the dirt road, she asked about our future plans. We told her we were eventually going to Arkansas, where my sister had said my parents ended up. "Where in Arkansas?," she asked. We told her it was some little town called Mena. I really thought the lady might drive off the road, she was so shocked! "I was born and raised in Mena, Arkansas!
," she said. Before she drove off we got her to write down, on a slip of paper, the name and phone number of her family that still lived in Mena. Before we made it to her home town, I lost it
We spent some time at Gary's cabin and then he decided to take a road trip to Washington and we said we would go back with him so we loaded up on his flatbed farm truck and headed back west. Once we got there, Sheri and I went to visit my maternal grandparents who had bought a houseboat. They told us they planned to take a long cruise up into British Colombia, would we like to go along? We would.
The houseboat, a landing craft conversion, was moored at a dock in Kingston, WA. and the Watergate hearings were happening on television. Grandpa Bob was following the story and we were planning our departure but the hearings would keep going. Sheri and I had made quite a few friends in Kingston and, at the date we had told our friends we were leaving, a small crowd showed up at the dock to see us off. We told them that the hearings were still going, so we were staying so the boat captain could watch them. We gave them a re-scheduled departure date and time and, this time, only a handful showed. We told them, not yet, the hearings aren't quite done. When we finally left for B.C., we waved goodbye to an empty dock.
The stated objective of the B.C. cruise was salmon fishing at Campbell River. As with many such journeys, much of the fun was getting there. I had no idea what to expect when we left Washington and Puget Sound via the San Juan Islands. During the first day of our trip north up through the Salish Sea, I slept a lot. This seems to be my go-to defense against sea sickness. Once I've "slept it off", I'm good to go. We visited the town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and picked up some supplies for the next leg and proceeded past the city of Vancouver and into the Strait of Georgia. Sheri and I were basically honeymooning and this was a great adventure. My sharpest impression of the inland waters is of abundance! The mountains came right down to the water and many had snow-capped peaks, though it was summer. As we went further north the towns became smaller and farther apart and many were deserted, or nearly so. The tides were as radical as I was used to seeing in Puget Sound and in some places, if you didn't know your tide charts, you could be in for the thrill of your life. A narrow channel between two larger bodies of water would become white water at peak tide flow. You needed to time your passage and go through at slack tide. My grandparents had taken a nautical class for a few weeks before we took this trip. Out of a dozen students, Bob came in first on the final and Tessa second. They were not seasoned mariners but they knew enough.
This was not the case for one older couple who pulled into Owens bay while we were staying at the abandoned logging town dock there. They were white as sheets and shaking as they tied up. I asked what was wrong. They were pretty much still in shock but eventually explained that they had just come through the bottleneck channel known as Surge Narrows. It is a small miracle they weren't killed. They hit it at the worst time and were tossed through like a cork in their little Chris-Craft pleasure boat.
But I diverge. Abundance. Everywhere. Abandoned homesteads with apple orchards and you could drop a jig anywhere and pull out rock cod one after another. We did catch a few salmon, and those were great, but the rock cod were everywhere and easy to catch. That was our main source of protein and, if you're not familiar, it is basically a small red snapper. Delicious! Tessa had brought a pressure canner along and canning jars and they all came back full of fish and other foraged food. If you go hungry up there you just don't open your eyes. Wild blueberries, apples, fish, oysters, clams. We often went for long spells barely touching the stores we brought along. The abandoned villages and homesteads puzzled Sheri and me, so I asked my grandparents what the deal was. They said it was because the main industries were logging and sometimes mining . Boom and bust economy meant that the towns would prosper until they didn't and the people would just move on.
Our routine was to cruise during the day, keeping a close watch on the tide charts and navigation buoys. Then as dusk neared we would either find an abandoned dock or drop anchor in a sheltered cove. Sheri and I would often drop the dinghy and row ashore to explore once we were settled in. One of my favorite pictures from this trip is of Sheri wearing a pink summer dress that she was fond of while I strummed the guitar and she rowed the boat. One night Grandpa Bob woke us all up and we rubbed our eyes as he told us, as calmly as he could, that the boat had dragged anchor during the storm that we were sleeping through. We had drifted dangerously close to the rocks. He needed our help to weigh the anchor as he started the diesel motor and pushed us back into deeper water and safety.
The title is somewhat misleading. We did eventually go back south but not back to Ziracuaretiro, Mexico. That is another story for another day.