Past-Tense Dervish

My coffee cup and Mount St. Helens were both steaming.

Advice and how-to articles. Photographs. A place-by-place journal of the places we traveled. I have digital evidence of one of the wildest things I’ve ever done in this lifetime.

Nearly 13 years ago I traveled North America in a Volkswagen Vanagon named Dervish with my husband and two dogs. We adventured for a year and a half until the property we call Vanina Mandira called us in from the road to begin a different kind of journey.

I hope you enjoy the following excerpts from the Been There pages of the Grrlwander website we created so long ago Alaska had just gotten the Internet.

I hope to return in a week or so with more contemporary original writing.

British Columbia

The Cassiar Highway through British Columbia kicks our asses. 30 km of bad pavement, then 20 km of gravel, then the blessed awful pavement again. We vibrate, we slam, we kill our suspension. We check our balding tires. Until we roll up our windows, we suffer dust and mud of many colors – white, tan, green.

Pilot’s view of that hellish highway.

We realize that we aren’t going to be able to make our 300 miles a day given this road. Ugh. It feels like Alaska is still thousands of miles away…maybe because it IS still thousands of miles away.

But the scenery is exquisite. This part of BC is heaven. Green. Wildflowers everywhere. Gorgeous weather. Mosquitoes carrying off small children. We find a free campground/recreation area on the north end of Deese Lake with campsites right on the water.

We get amazing sunset views and walk the dogs without too much strafing from the local blood-suckers. In the morning I lather up my stinkiest parts and wade tentatively into Deese Lake naked, not even wearing my Tevas. I am desperate to wash my hair, but my feet go numb from the cold water and I limp out of the lake before I lose my toes to frostbite.

Hardship and challenge give way to a field of rare beauty.

Dyer, Nevada

I think we’ve officially spent more time broken down than on the road, but Dervish always picks the most beautiful places to break down (and incredibly remote, too). We watch the first of the presidential debates in a tiny, tiny bar (one of two businesses open in Dyer) where everyone, blue and red, old and young, pretty and ugly, seem to agree that the candidates have very little to say. All sound bites, no substance. This country won’t have another true leader until we stop making elections about advertising and market research. Let them put up a $500 website telling us what they REALLY think/feel/intend, not what the appropriate demographics want to hear.

Back to Dyer. We stay in an RV Park surrounded by alfalfa fields and stunning views of the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. One day we do nothing but sit in our camp chairs and watch a storm swarm the mountains, watch the dark blue folds of the hills turn lighter, than completely white. We meet Tracey, semi-permanent resident of the RV Park, on disability, eternal beers in his hand. He takes us to a hot springs in the middle of the desert that serves as a catch and release pond for goldfish. There are dozens of them of all sizes, even some grown as large as ornamental koi.

We traveled 10 miles down a dirt road to swim in these springs. Worth it, every dusty mile.


Valdez is our healing, cleansing, and salvation. Every time we breathe in the very air of this place we know this journey is worth it, every fight, every tear, every last scrap of exhausted pushing that has brought us to this place. Waterfalls; green, towering cliffs. Glaciers to climb, no guide ropes or lawyers or American Safety Issues. Cracking, shifting, dripping, raw ice, thousands of years old, rugged paths, panting us, clear air. Holy Goddess and wonder and beauty. Valdez is proof of heaven on earth, the ultimate existential argument to do your good here on earth, silly fuckers.

45 minutes past sane-time we start looking for a campsite; we find a tiny alcove off of a road to yet another glacier. The earth huffs up a field of cold steam, the water mists against the greenery, covers the mountains, turns the light world white. We go to bed only partially recovered, and wake to find The World We Left Looking For.

Beauty overwhelms the beast in the very best way.

Artifact, Art

Thank you for reading these little pieces of writing I composed on a rugged old laptop, unfastening my seat belt on the forced march to Alaska (from Florida) in order to better harness my eloquence.

In the year 2004, I hated where I was living, and even the beautiful parts of my life could not affect and sustain me.  I was miserable, and lost, and had no idea how to change.

I’m not unhappy anymore, and I practice hard at being good at change. I do not miss this time of my life, although I would never change a bit of it.

If I’d never been in that place, would I ever have seen these?

Pine Valley, Utah
Glacier National Park


No-man’s land between the Yukon and Alaska

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