January 3, 2018

A Fork in the Road

Filed under: Aurora,Calendar,Everyday Life,Family,Outside AK,Roadtrips,Travel,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:01 pm

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

“Which road do I take?”, she asked.

“Where do you want to go?”, was his response.

“I don’t know”, Alice answered.

“Then”, said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.” ~ Lewis Carroll

It is Christmas day, and I am sitting in the living room with Steve, watching television. We had leftover roast for dinner – a feast I prepared last night for Christmas Eve. It’s always so delicious the second day, after the vegetables spend the night marinating in the au jus.

We ate early today – a little after 2pm. We tend to eat much earlier in the winter – no doubt because of the very short days. We often lose track of time, and now that Steve is retired, we have even less of a reason to pay attention to the clock. Needless to say, when the sun starts moving down to the horizon at 1pm, my brain and body convinces me that the dinner hour is nearing.

I find myself dozing off between 7-8pm. Sometimes it’s even earlier. A few hours later, Steve will rouse me from the sofa, and guide me up to bed. Only 3-4 hours after that (usually around the 2am hour), I find myself awake again, and ready to face another day. As always, winter is the season of messed up sleep patterns. Sometimes I’m happy for this schedule, as I get to see beautiful aurora displays like those I saw at 2am in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Aurora, North Pole AK Christmas Eve Aurora, North Pole AK Christmas Eve Aurora over the house, North Pole AK


“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

I have been composing this journal entry in my head for months. (I wonder when I will finally publish it?) It has only been a matter of months since I began thinking about change, and life, and goals, and most of all, family. Sure, I’ve written about how much I miss my family many times throughout the last nearly 15 (!) years that Steve and I have lived here in Alaska. After my granddaughter Juliet was born (July 2016), I started thinking a lot more deeply about family, and opportunities for family time. Then, later last year, Steve started having problems with anxiety and was having a difficult time adjusting to full-time retirement.

We spent the next few months planning our summer roadtrip to the Lower 48. We were so excited about picking up our new travel trailer – the first step in our loosely-constructed retirement plan. We were also thrilled about seeing family and friends, camping in our new RV, and visiting as many National Parks as we could while we were down there exploring.

Planning for such a long excursion takes time and organization. Organization is my strong suit. The first thing I did was buy a notebook. I left it out on the coffee table or kitchen counter – jotting thoughts and plans in it as they came into my head. Writing things down is mandatory for me. And I must admit I have a love of list-making (and crossing things off of it).

I stressed myself out unmercifully in the months leading up to our departure. By the time we were within two weeks of hitting the road, I was having panic attacks and feeling anxious. I was also having nightmares about Steve towing the new RV, driving in the mountains, something happening to our house while we were gone, and a mixed up list of weird stuff. The closer we got to departure, the more tense things were. (As always, as soon as we pulled away from the house, a lot of the anxiety abated)

I’ll be honest with you – the trip had its share of anxiety, stress, small and large misunderstandings, and some tense breakdowns in communication. But are any vacations perfect? Especially long excursions? With that being said, the trip was also full of family, and friends, and love, and beautiful scenery, and a really beautiful travel trailer that we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know. We also shared a lot of laughs and made wonderful memories. But we also learned a lot. Which is exactly what we had to do if we are going to embrace this RV lifestyle as more than just the occasional camping trip.

When we were first married, and having those “what do you want to do when we retire?” conversations, we always talked about buying an RV and seeing the country. Making the decision to sell our old camper and purchase a new – more comfortable and modern – camper was a no-brainer for us. This was step one in our *retirement plan*. The three month trip around the country last summer was step two. We had to make sure we could really do this for longer than the usual camping getaway.

As I wrote earlier, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. There were glitches. There were stressful issues we needed to deal with (like tags and licensing long distance, trying to find a campsite over July 4th weekend, and getting Steve a refill on his medication while on the road). There were personality conflicts too. Two people living in less than 350sf isn’t the easiest.  But it’s hardest in the beginning, when you’re still trying to find a place for your stuff, while figuring out the personal space too. (Which recliner do you want? Do you have a preference for where you sit at the table? Which side of the closet is yours?)

We were also dealing with health issues along the way, so the stress levels were even higher than usual. (Steve was having a hard time adjusting to some of his newest meds, and was experiencing some unpleasant side affects, and I was having problems with altitude sickness and overexertion in CO, with my asthma condition making things even worse). When we were not having a good day, I honestly wondered if this extended RVing thing was right for us.  I’m sure Steve had the same worries. When we returned to Alaska, we both had our medical care fine-tuned, and I’m happy to report that we’re both feeling much better now.

We both relaxed once we were home. We were both so happy to see our house and our yard and our beautiful trees. Things were lush and green, and our lawn maintenance guy had our lawn looking beautiful. And we could spread out again.

Autumn crept in. And the temperature dropped. And the leaves fell. And the light disappeared. And it was time to get the house ready for another winter: scheduling boiler tune-ups, checking weather stripping and caulking, and raking leaves.

I flew to WI in November for several weeks. I was with my family for Thanksgiving, which was such a joy! I wished that Steve could be there with me, and was so thankful that friends invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. At least he wasn’t alone.

I had several worrisome phone calls from Steve while I was in WI. He sounded so depressed. The darkness was really getting to him. He was pretty much a shut-in, as he didn’t want to go out and do anything. He had several anxiety attacks while I was gone.

In the meantime, it was 64F in Reedsburg WI on Thanksgiving Day. The sun was shining brightly, and Brandon had the windows open in the house to cool things down. Becky worked hard in the kitchen, preparing a feast for us. Although the winter days are short in WI too, they are not a brief 6 hours. Later that evening, while talking to Steve on the phone, we came to the decision that it was time to leave Alaska. Possibly for good.

The original plan was to give snowbirding a try, come back to AK in March or April, and then decide if we were going to make snowbirding a lifestyle, or leave AK altogether. But I have been so stressed out about finding someone to watch our house while we’re gone.

Leaving a house alone through the winter is risky – not only weather wise, but also security wise. So, at the very least, we would need a house sitter who would preferably be willing to stay here most of the time – if not all of the time. I don’t know if I could travel all over the country if I was worried about our house way up here in AK – especially in the winter.

And then there’s the expense. Even if we’re not living here, we still have to pay the mortgage and utilities. This is not conducive to a stress-free life.

When I first came to terms with leaving Alaska (several days before Steve was fully on board), I was really sad. Alaska has been our home for 15 years (this June). Fifteen years spent in one of the most beautiful states in our country. What a blessing this has been for us! What an opportunity we were given! Now, although I still feel sad about leaving, I have been instead focusing on all the amazing things that Steve and I have seen and done and experienced over the last 15 years. And I am hopeful and excited about the amazing things that Steve and I will see and do and experience all over the rest of our country (and our second favorite country: Canada).

Making this decision is so hard for so many reasons, but we also believe that it’s the right decision for us right now. That’s about as sure as we can be at the moment.

The new tentative timeline is to talk to a realtor in the early spring. If we decide this is really it, we will need to list as soon as we can, as most people want to be settled before school starts (mid August). We don’t plan to leave AK until September, as we want to enjoy the summer here, but depending on what happens with our house, that could change.

Which leads to downsizing. Serious downsizing. Forever downsizing.

Being a military family kept us in check, for the most part, when it came to accumulating lots of stuff. With weight limits placed on every military move, we knew we’d be paying dearly if we went over. The army moved us every three years. This is the best way to stay on top of clutter and unnecessary stuff. But we haven’t been packed up and moved since 2003. We have stuff.

So we have been de-cluttering. We have been purging. I plan to start selling and donating and giving away. I only want to move mementos, personal effects (clothing, etc), and a few choice pieces of furniture (antiques).

I think the most difficult thing for me has been evaluating belongings as to whether they are really needed. But since Steve and I finally came to the same conclusion that we should move, I have found it much easier to stand in the middle of a room and look at my surroundings objectively. Mostly I ask myself “Is it worth paying the transportation cost to get that to a storage unit in the Lower 48?” Because that’s what it’s going to be – a storage unit. Which we will pay for every month until a) we decide to settle or b) we give it away or donate it because we realize we don’t need it after all.

Eventually, we’ll settle down somewhere in a stick-built home. As older folks, we don’t expect we’ll be able to spend the rest of our days in an RV.  I’d like that to be as close to my kids and grandchildren as possible. Chris and Kimmie are due Feb 6th, and we just found out that Brandon and Becky are due with baby 2 at the end of April! Even if we put down roots in another cold location (like WI), we can still snowbird as we originally planned to do from Alaska. At least we’ll be a lot closer to the rest of the country.

But right now, we are entertaining the thought of being full-timers, instead of just snowbirders. If our house sells, we are thinking we might just enjoy being mortgage free for awhile, and live in our camper for a year or more. Which takes us back to the conversation about two adults living in less than 350sf!

If any of my readers full-time or snowbird, I am totally open to any advice, info, etc! Email me at   susan@susanstevenson.com.

So this is where we stand. I hope to update periodically, so that you can follow our journey. But I know it’s been so many months since I updated and I’ve probably lost a lot of readers. If you’re still here, thank you. Big changes ahead….

I didn’t want to end this entry without sharing some photos from the last year. I know I have been very lax about writing here. It has been a very busy year. And also a very emotional year. It has been so hard for me to be so far from my family – especially now that I am a grandmother. I can’t stand being away from Juliet. She is growing so quickly and I want to be an important part of her life.

Cherished Family Memories

When we arrived in Madison, it was sunny and beautiful, and we were surrounded by family and love and so much energy. Spring was in full swing, with balmy temperatures and spring flowers.

Our reason for traveling early in the year, was to attend my eldest son’s college graduation. He has worked so hard for this, for a long time. We are so proud of him for finally reaching his goal!

While in Madison, I made great use of the local Dollar Tree stores to help outfit our new camper. We needed everything. We decided that we would just buy everything new for this camper and retire the 15-year old stuff we’d been lugging around in the old camper. It’s no secret that I’m a frugal person. Let me tell you – the Dollar Tree has some awesome stuff for only a buck! (There is no such thing as a dollar store in Fairbanks) I decided on turquoise as my accent color and spent a lot of time engaged in retail therapy all over Madison. Sheets, towels, dishware, rugs, blankets… I haven’t shopped like that in a long time! I have to admit that it was rather fun. Steve, on the other hand, was taking care of the important (and boring) stuff – like hitches and generators and jacks and hoses, etc.

Our camper was ready for inspection and pickup on May 22nd. The dealership is located outside Chicago. We chose it because of the proximity to my kids; just in case we had to have warranty work done, etc. We’d at least have a place to stay without incurring hotel costs. We were both excited as we made the hour drive to pick up our new home on wheels.

When we first saw it, we were shocked by just how large it is compared to our old camper. The old camper from front to back was about 30′. The new one is 10 feet longer and also about a foot taller. Talk about intimidating!

After the hitch was installed on Steve’s truck, and the walk-through was complete, we were handed the keys and sent on our way. Fortunately, there is a huge parking lot across from the dealership, and we were able to practice turning and backing up, etc. Steve was towing like a champ only a few days later.

We managed to find a campsite at nearby Lake Kegonsa State Park south of Madison, and we stayed there until after Memorial Day. Then we moved to a campground about 50 miles west of Madison. Lake Kegonsa only has electric hookups, and we wanted to make sure all the systems worked correctly, so we moved to the second campground which had full hookups.

We stayed in the Madison area until June 4th. It was wonderful to have so much time with my boys and their families! Especially on Mothers Day. It’s been decades since I spent a Mothers Day with my sons.

Mothers Day with my family Me and my boys, and Percy Brandon, Becky and Juliet (age 10 months)

Here is our camper at Lake Kegonsa, south of Madison WI:
Camper at Lake Kegonsa
Our next stop after Madison was the Kansas City, MO area – where we spent 10 days visiting with Steve’s son Eric and his family, while also sightseeing around the area. We camped in Odessa, which is actually closer to where Eric lives, and we drove into the city several times to enjoy the museums and farmers market and the beautiful fountains. And we ate BBQ.

Steve and me with Eric, Lacy, and granddaughter Regan (and Raven in front):
Steve's son Eric and family

As serendipity would have it, Steve’s daughter Kayla and her husband Robby (and Steve’s grandson Colt) happened to be about an hour outside Kansas City, en-route to Nebraska (from NC) for a goat show. What are the odds of that?! Unfortunately, Eric couldn’t join us for a quick meetup, but we did get to have breakfast with the three of them, which was unexpected and wonderful.

“These are the people’s parks, owned by young and old” – Harry S Truman

We were both sad to say goodbye to our families, but we were also very excited about our upcoming trip.

Steve and I have seen all 50 states. We intend to go back and see many of them again. And, until we left for this trip, we had visited a little more than half our National Parks already. Why not make our retirement travel goal about seeing all of our National Parks? But instead of just visiting the ones we haven’t seen yet, we plan to revisit the ones we have as well. (So I can get a sticker for my National Park Passport Book)

With our goal in mind, we researched a route west and then north to Alaska – visiting a few new parks, as well as revisiting others. Our first stop was Colorado – where we spent 3 weeks camping on the Air Force Academy base in Colorado Springs. While there, we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. We also took several long scenic drives to check out other beautiful parts of the state. Staying in Colorado Springs was a great choice, as there is a lot to see and do, and the surrounding landscape is gorgeous. Also, while staying in CO, I had a chance to meet an online friend in person for the first time (Rita in Pueblo), and also spend some time with friends who used to be stationed at Fort Wainwright (Stella and Jay).

From Colorado, we headed north into Wyoming. We found a place to camp in Boulder, WY for a few days over the July 4th holiday, as the parks and recreational areas were booked solid. At first we thought we’d be a bit bored in such a small town, but we ended up going to a rodeo in the next town over (Pinedale) and having a wonderful time with the locals.

Our next stop was Grand Teton National Park, which Steve and I visited about 23 years ago when we were still tenters and hauled all our gear in rental cars or on airplanes. The memory that sticks out from our last visit is camping through a horrible rainstorm with crashing limbs and bushes – while signs warned of a nuisance black bear in the area. Needless to say, no one slept that night. This time was much better, as we were lucky to secure a campsite inside the park – within walking distance to the lake, and ranger programs and hiking trails. We stayed four days.

Next, we visited Yellowstone (our second visit). Yellowstone was horribly crowded and not at all easy to navigate. There was road construction going on, as well as building and parking lot renovations within the park. And frankly, summer is the busiest season, so it’s our fault too. With all that being said, we stayed just outside Yellowstone for 5 days. We drove different loops in the park each day, and also checked out some cool stuff in West Yellowstone, where we were camping. I also met another online friend, who was working at Yellowstone for the summer. What a fun job she had! (I loved the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center)

Leaving Yellowstone, we continued north to Glacier National Park – our last stop in the US. We spent 8 days in Glacier, and thoroughly enjoyed taking scenic drives, hiking beautiful trails, soaking up the scenery, and having a few relaxing days too. I went to a night sky talk, put on by the rangers one evening. Glacier National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park. The Milky Way was amazing! These programs are such a valuable resource (and FREE!). We also met up with another friend who used to be stationed at Fort Wainwright in the old days (April).

Another cool thing was seeing the cabin we stayed in, when we visited in the early 90s. It doesn’t look like they changed a thing. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. (Photo below)

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO Rocky Mountain National Park, CO Grand Teton National Park, WY
Steve and I at Jackson Lake, Tetons Yellowstone National Park, WY Steve and Me in a Field, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Glacier National Park, MT Avalanche Lake Hike, Glacier NP The cabin we stayed in back in 1994

Milky Way over Glacier National Park

Milky Way, Glacier National Park - a Dark Sky Park

Continuing our National Park Tour, we took advantage of Canada’s Discovery Pass (in celebration of their park system’s 100th anniversary) and visited Banff and Jasper – spending several days in each area. We enjoyed several hikes and drove a few scenic loops, while also taking time to just relax. The weather was beautiful – especially after suffering through record breaking heat all over the country.

Our drive up the Alcan was uneventful (which is good). As always, the scenery was gorgeous. The campgrounds we stopped in along the way served us for what we needed: overnight accommodations. We decided to spend an extra night in Whitehorse and do the tourist stuff the second day, and I’m really glad we did. It was a nice respite from dusty driving on a lot of dirt and hard pack roads (ongoing construction).

Inhale Peace, Exhale Stress

Despite thousands of miles on the road in the months prior, nothing could keep us away from Valdez once tourist season was over. It’s our favorite time to go, and the fishing’s not bad either. We stayed at our usual RV Park adjacent to the duck marsh. Because we have a huge picture window at the back of our camper, we asked if we could park backwards in our spot and use the hookups for the site next to us. This way, we would have an unobstructed view of the flats. It was breathtaking! On windy days, I enjoyed reading there while the fireplace warmed me. The drive up and back was absolutely gorgeous with fall colors.

End of Summer Getaway to Valdez End of Summer Getaway to Valdez End of Summer Getaway to Valdez

More fall photos…. (Richardson Hwy and Pipeline, Raven, our yard in fall)

Fall Foliage Richardson Highway Raven and Frisbee Our back yard in fall

After Road Lottery Weekend in September, my friend Joyce and I went to Denali for the day to do a little hiking, and to drive the road to mile 30 looking for wildlife. We were surprised to see that they replaced the park entrance sign with a new one. From what I understand, a local artist made it for the park. We hiked down to a suspension bridge near the entrance and were lucky to see a bear foraging along the road.

Shoulder Season Trip to Denali with Joyce Shoulder Season Trip to Denali Bear sighting in Denali

As the days grew shorter, the stars appeared again. And soon Lady Aurora was back too. This was taken from a corner in my neighborhood. (The lit up house is not mine)

Aurora over my neighborhood - September

Today’s moments. Tomorrow’s memories.

I was missing Juliet so much (and of course everyone else too), that I visited again in November. In just a few short months, there were so many changes! When we last saw her in June, she was crawling occasionally. When I saw her in November, she was running and climbing and quite mobile. I’m glad I was able to see her again and not miss all of this. I was also so happy that she remembered me.

Beautiful Juliet! Juliet Running to Daddy Beauty and the Beast photo shoot
Brandon and Becky's new home Chris and Kimmie - Baby announcement Me and my Family

Season’s Greetings!

The camper is wrapped up for winter, and we have about a foot of snow on the ground. When the temperature goes above zero, we like to get outside at least for a short time and breathe in the fresh air. Staying in our pajamas is mandatory some weekends! The shorter days mean beautiful, drawn-out sunsets.

I am happy that we are gaining daylight hours again.

Winter House Pajama Days and Play Winter Sunset and Ice Fog

Christmas was a low-key affair here. I didn’t even bother putting up the tree, because I didn’t want to have to deal with packing it all up again a few weeks later. But Steve was so sweet and wrapped our address pole at the end of the driveway with colored lights. Inside, he hung lights in the kitchen window, and in the dining room window. Seeing the colored lights when I got home, made me smile. Especially against the beautiful snow. The lights in my kitchen window are a lovely frame for the beauty beyond.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

The months ahead will be filled with quite a bit of organization and planning. Some days I feel scared about the big changes ahead. And other days I am very stressed because there’s so much to do to prepare. But most of the time I’m excited about the future, new adventures, and most importantly – more time with family and friends.

I plan to continue blogging, but I don’t expect my entries will be regular. If you have been reading me since the very beginning (nearly 15 years!), you have been with me through some of the most memorable days of my life. I am so grateful for all of you.

I also want to take the time to thank all of you who have chosen to hang my yearly calendar in your homes and offices over the last decade. I have decided that 2018 will be my last Alaska Calendar. Ten years of calendars is a nice round number.

Until next time…

Whatever’s good for your soul… do that.




  1. Hello Susan,
    A little hello from someone who’s been following your blog for 11 years 🙂 Thanks for the update (beautiful pictures, and your granddaughter is adorable!!). I can relate to what you’re saying about moving from Alaska, and the partly being excited, partly being stressed about all the changes ahead. I recently moved back to the Netherlands (my home country) after nearly 14 years abroad, the last 10 years in Norway. I loved Norway, and I do miss all the photo opportunities there with amazing nature on the doorstep, but I have not regretted moving back at all. I love being closer to my family, I love being in a more central place in Europe. I hope you’ll keep blogging, as I would LOVE to read about your adventures in the RV, and especially all the national parks you plan to visit. All the best for the future!! And keep purging, it’s so freeing to own less STUFF! I felt lighter and lighter with each item I got rid of / donated / sold.
    Hanneke 🙂


    Hanneke Luijting Reply:

    11 years? Make that 14! Oops, time flies. I was in Alaska in 2004 🙂


    Comment by Hanneke Luijting — January 4, 2018 @ 7:01 am

  2. Oh Susan – As a longtime follower, I read this post with such conflicting emotions. With a heavy heart because you are leaving your beloved Alaska, but with a joyous spirit about you having this exciting grand adventure ahead – going full tilt into retirement and enjoying your life – with so much more family time. Bonus!

    While you’re contemplating your travel and a big move down to the lower 48, our dream is to retire TO Alaska, specifically the Homer area – go figure! I hope that someday we will realize our dream, as you have, and get to experience, atleast part-time, in my ‘heart’s home’ Alaska. Fingers crossed…

    We have one of your beautiful aurora photos framed in our bathroom that we enjoy every day. And a couple of years ago, when we stayed in North Pole, AK for our first aurora hunt (successful by the way – what an experience for these Pennsylvanians), you had given me some great advice about hiking the Savage River Trail in Denali, and about things to see and do in nearby Fairbanks, and not so near, Delta Junction area down the Richardson. I wanted to thank you for all that information, it was invaluable, and for your interest in our planned trip. I also cannot say enough about your always interesting, informative and often hilariously funny blog entries. Reading it is like getting a real life, honest-to-goodness letter from a family member or treasured friend. My husband and I both appreciate your spectacular photographs and your descriptive prose that always make us feel like we are right there with you. And we intend to continue to read your blog posts – whenever and wherever they might come from.

    Wishing you and Steve and Raven all God’s blessings as you begin this new adventure together. So happy and excited for you. Don’t say goodbye to Alaska – say “I’ll be back” and mean it – even if only for a visit. Who knows, maybe you’ll come see us in Homer someday?
    Lynda and Gary Seimes, Bethlehem, PA


    Comment by Lynda Seimes — January 4, 2018 @ 8:05 am

  3. I’ve missed you! Another beautiful blog, Susan. Wishing you all the best in your life changing decisions. I have a feeling whatever you and Steve decide and where you go it will always be an adventure.


    Comment by Kelly Kurtz — January 5, 2018 @ 12:50 pm

  4. I have missed your awesome blogs and was very happy to read your January 2018 one. Please continue to blog, so I can be part of your adventures. Jill


    Comment by Jill LaCoss — January 10, 2018 @ 8:27 am

  5. Hi glad to see your post have been missing all your wonderful photos and words. So sorry to hear of your decision to leave Alaska I know it must have been a very hard one to make. I am sure it will all work out and with your goal now to see all of the states even more fully.I’m sure seeing all the new sights will help make up for not being in Alaska but than you can allways point the truck and camper back north and revisit from time to time. SMILES.Thank you also for your years of calendars and they will be greatly missed. I was going to say that the bear in Denali would be a great one for your next one. I’m not trying to make it sound like you are falling off the face of the earth or to make you feal bad but all of your posts photos and words have been a great way for many to see Alaska throu your eyes and all of us will miss all of what you have given us. It will be just as nice to see you and Steve and Raven on your new adventers and looking forward to still be part of all the things the three of you will enjoy. You have made a good choice to be closer to family and see all the friends that have flowered you in the past years as you are now able to travel from state to state. Hope to see you in the Smokies some time just let us know when you plan on being there or our neck of the woods. I will close this up by just saying thank you again for all you have given all of us looking forward to all that is yet to come. Best of love from Bruce and Marsha.


    Comment by Bruce Rufer — January 13, 2018 @ 9:59 am

  6. Happy to see your entry. Despite all the health stuff and changes it sounds like a pretty good summer!

    Hey, if you settle in WI it’s really not all that cold anymore 🙂

    All the best you & Steve!


    Comment by Heather Hansen — January 26, 2018 @ 7:22 am

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