About six months ago I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about updating Postcard Valet. This was after a few months spent worrying about why I wasn’t updating the site during our last few months in Australia. Though I regret not explaining why I haven’t been updating, the rationalization for why was an easy one to make. Once we got on the road again, at the end of the day I barely had the time and energy to back up our photos and keep up with my daily journaling… Writing for the blog – let alone video editing – would have completely exhausted me, as well as taken away valuable travel time.
Considering we just drove onto the Alaska Marine Highway and, in about six hours we will return to Juneau and our trip around the world will be at an end, I thought this would be a good time to finally write about what Oksana and I have been up to.
If you’ve been following us on Twitter or Facebook, you probably already know. At the end of last October, Oksana quit her job working for Motorama in Brisbane and, for our last month in the country, we decided to make a go of seeing as much of Australia as we could. We rented a camper van and drove south to Melbourne, along the Great Ocean Road, up through the Outback to Uluru, then east to Cairns before returning to Brizzy. 11,000 kilometers in all. Our friend Jeff joined us in Cairns where we witnessed a total solar eclipse and spent a week diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
In early December, after we had been gone over two full years, we returned to the States. We had kept our return super-secret in order to surprise our friends at a formal charity dinner. Oksana bought a dress in Honolulu and I rented a tux in Seattle. Our friends, thinking we were half a world away, were blown away when we showed up in our fancy digs. It was a magical evening and a wonderful homecoming.
We spent the next month visiting family over the holidays – Christmas in North Carolina with my mother’s side and New Year’s in Florida with my father’s. Although we had stayed in touch remarkably well with Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, it was still great to see everyone in person again.
Our plan was to eventually return to Juneau. After living in Australia for a year, however; we did not want to come back in the middle of an Alaskan winter. We batted around many ideas about how we could spend our last six months of freedom. Backpacking through Central America (which we had missed at the beginning of our trip), sitting in one place (preferably on a beach) so Oksana could study for her CPA, or going on a cruise to Antarctica were all options on the table. When I mentioned the idea of doing a road trip through all 50 states, Oksana jumped on the idea.
When it came down to actually planning things out, though, we looked very closely at taking a 21-day cruise to Rio de Janeiro for carnival instead. We were in the last stages of buying our tickets when we found out that there was literally no way the Brazilian embassy would approve visas for us in time. With the cruise idea sunk, there was nothing preventing us from doing the epic road trip.
On January 18th, we left Florida in my trusty 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee (which had been sitting in a garage on the Outer Banks in North Carolina during our two years abroad) and started driving west. We were still in the middle of winter, so we stayed below the Mason-Dixon Line as long as we could before turning north… which turned out to be only far as eastern Texas. There, we saw a gap in the cold fronts sweeping down from Canada and we shot north while we could, knocking out all the states between Texas and North Dakota.
Our self-imposed rules were simple: We would spend at least one night in each state and try to find at least one interesting thing to see or do. Of course, if we had any friends or family in the area, we’d do our best to spend some time with them, as well. We were more or less successful completing all these goals. We did spend a night in every state, but there were some where we really struggled to find anything interesting to see (Indiana, Michigan, I’m looking at you.) Many times we had trouble matching schedules with friends and family, too, but for the most part we enjoyed a huge number of mini-reunions.
As you might imagine, we saw an awful lot of asphalt. But I have to say that all that car-time was completely worth it! Among other things, we mined for diamonds in Arkansas, hiked around in Yellowstone and Yosemite, ascended the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Sears Tower in Chicago, swam with manatees in Florida, cheered Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, saw the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, visited Mt. Rushmore, walked the National Mall in Washington D.C., explored the smoking ruins of Centralia in Pennsylvania, saw Niagara falls frozen over in New York, saw Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, explored the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and won the hiking lottery for The Wave in Arizona. In all, we spent 127 days on the road and logged over 21,000 miles. It really was epic.
Much of our route was planned around certain events. We went to an accounting training session in Toronto for Oksana, attended PAX East in Boston, and watched a taping of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me in Chicago. Where we had some flexibility, we planned our route around the 5-day weather forecast. It was ironic that we were unwilling to return to Alaska in winter, and yet because we were driving in February and March, we froze our asses off in half the states we visited anyway!
Alaska was always going to be our fiftieth state, but Hawaii was our reward for a job well done. On May 1st, we parked our car in Seattle and flew out to The Big Island to spend what little time we had remaining. We rented an apartment on Kealakekua Bay and spent two blissful weeks snorkeling, reading, catching up on TV shows, and not driving.
Hard to believe that was barely ten days ago. Since then, we spent a few days in Seattle visiting friends, a couple more in Vancouver with other friends, and drove many hundreds of miles up through Canada. Early yesterday afternoon, we arrived in Skagway, Alaska. Tonight, just one month short of three years later (despite originally only planning to be gone for a year), we will be home once again.
“So, what’s the plan now?” I hear you ask.
Well, Oksana is returning to work (with a promotion and a pay raise!) on June 1st. In the short term, I already have some freelance work lined up. Long term, I’ll be looking for full-time work. Hopefully at the university I left; if not, then with the state or local government so I can pick my retirement benefits up where they left off. The next week will be a mad rush to find an apartment to rent. We also need to sort through all our stuff that’s been left in a ministorage unit for the last three years (what’s even in there?) Next year, after we’ve reestablished a decent work history, we’ll start looking at buying a house (If we tried to get prequalified for a loan now, the banks would take one look at our 2010-2012 tax returns and laugh themselves hoarse!)
And although I have been a slacker updating our blog, that doesn’t mean I don’t have big plans for its future.
Coming up, I already have all the elements I need to edit together at least two videos: Witnessing the solar eclipse in Australia and diving on the Great Barrier Reef. I also want to finish going through our photos and post those that haven’t been seen before, including our road trip in Australia, and the second half of our epic 50-state road trip. Oh, and three more McDonald’s videos, too (for Australia, the U.S., and Canada!)
Beyond that, we have literally tens of thousands of photos to sort through and share, dozens of hours of video I can edit and post, countless stories to write, and a few big-project ideas percolating, too. I haven’t given up on my plan to write a book about our travels, of producing a photo book (or books) from our best photography, or even perhaps making a DVD out of our videos. I want to break down our expenses and share our budget with you. I want to put together a map of our entire GPS track around the world. I want to examine all the data we have collected about our travel times, distances, gas prices, etc., and use them to create more infographics. I want to write up our travel tips and recommend certain invaluable items we brought along with us. If I find time to do even a quarter of the things I want to do, there will be plenty of travel-related content posted in the months and years to come.