The Journey West

What happens when you mix a homeschooling mother looking for a far-away & exotic adventure with a self-directed learner having a passion for anthropology and sign language? I got a fantastic Chimposium. (I had never heard of one either.)

Mine was in the state of Washington at Central Washington University. My daughter, Emily, is the one who took a sign language course, read every anthropology book she could find, and was most impressed with the work of Goodall, Gardner & Fouts. Emily is also the one who learned of the Chimposium's existence. However, the Chimposium was only a part of a wonderful mom-daughter trip that we will both remember for a long time. It was just the two of us for nine whole days and we recognized, rejoiced, and appreciated it as a gift. Because of the many different adventures in our journey to and from our destination, this Happy Trails will be the first of a series. I shall begin with the money saving ideas that allowed us to afford the trip, and some of our adventures in Seattle.

Our airfare was covered through two free tickets, one of which came when my husband was bumped off of a flight. Jack tries to book business trips on early flights to insure his travel. Having an early flight allows him the option of volunteering to be bumped which can mean a free flight-or at least a free upgrade to first class. Our second free ticket came when we switched long-distance phone carriers and cashed in 250,000 points we had accumulated over many years with the company.

Although some might consider it a problem that these freebies were with different airlines, we had determined that this could be a valuable learning opportunity for fourteen-year-old Emily-who was thrilled with the challenge. It was a beautiful clear day, and we flew so early that we saw the sunrise as we left Virginia. Emily went to Pittsburgh and flew west, receiving a remarkable view of our country's geography. I had an unusual flight path, going to Dallas, then up the Rockies. Flying northward, I saw what looked like plateaus, then canyons, then what I thought had to be the Grand Canyon-until the pilot informed me that we were 500 miles too far east! At last, the Cascades came into view: incredible snow-capped mountains, much higher (younger) than the familiar Appalachian range. It was a treat to see the country from this perspective.

Emily's flight arrived in Seattle two hours ahead of mine, so she had to figure out how to get to my terminal. This was no easy feat, because Seattle has a huge airport, but Emily succeeded and now has the confidence that she can handle travelling by plane alone.

I had reserved a car at a rental business near (not at) the Seattle airport. Using the AAA discount and a less advertised car rental place-which offered free and prompt airport shuttles-allowed us to save over $65 for the week. We drove to Seattle, where we stayed with a host family, found through the Growing Without Schooling directory. Up to this point, our family had hosted others yet never tried to arrange being hosted. I found it much easier to ask a family to put up two of us, rather than the whole family of five.

Having the opportunity to live with West Coast homeschoolers was a pleasure. We were welcomed by a warm family and given plenty of local history and insights on local attractions. Their Scandinavian neighborhood was interesting, and a contrast from our own. Referring to Seattle, a travel brochure states, "Here, more than anywhere else in the world, the forefronts of technology and urban culture stand arm-in-arm with dramatic coastline and high alpine terrain." They just might be right; Seattle is a beautiful city. With the sea and mountains as a backdrop, it almost has to be beautiful

The West Coast people we met conveyed a strong sense of friendliness, lived at a relaxed pace, and comprised a diverse population. We also learned that Seattle's residents seem more health conscious; there are lots of bikers and plenty of vegetarian options at food establishments. Even the buses have bike racks to make travel easier. As well, Seattle's recycling effort is very apparent.

Researching Seattle beforehand saved us a lot of time. The city's public transportation system-with free waterfront trolleys-is easy to understand, and we had a bus stop only two blocks from our hosts' house. Emily and I knew we wanted to visit the locks, salmon ladder, Pike Place Market, Underground Seattle tour (a hilarious history lesson recommended for "mature" audiences), and an absolute must-the Seattle Zoo. Here, we saw a newborn gorilla asleep in mama's arms after nursing. This animal-friendly zoo kept our interest for over three hours.

If not for time (and money) constraints, Emily and I would also have gone whale watching. My previous (and first) trip to Seattle included a fantastic whale watching expedition in the San Juan Islands. A "super-pod" of over thirty Orcas circled the boat-constantly breaching. Even without whale watching, catching any ferry in Seattle is a must. Interestingly, Seattle has floating bridges as well as floating houses (not houseboats). These houses look like yours and mine but are attached to a pier, allowing the property owner to avoid some taxes.

After two full days, Seattle (with a population of 530,000 within the city and over two million in the greater Seattle/Puget Sound area) seemed too crowded, so we headed for Mount Rainer National Park. Our one planned detour was to Eatonville, home of the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (360) 832-6117, which was absolutely worth the time and money. Admission at the park was low ($8.75 for adults, $6 for 5-17 year olds) and the tour put us up-close with an assortment of birds and mammals, including big cats, otters, gray wolves, bears, owls, bison, moose, caribou, cranes and eagles. The park's 635-acre spread provides top-notch habitat for the native animals of the Pacific Northwest, making it any photographer's paradise.

Mount Ranier

Mount Rainier National Park was another unexpected treasure. I was delighted to spend time exploring Washington State's volcano country: Mounts Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, and later, in Oregon, Mount Hood. Mount Rainier Park was particularly enjoyable because we drove all the way through-with lots of stops-on a sunny day. And yes, the clouds came and went but passed long enough for us to be able to say we almost saw the top. I was surprised to learn that Rainier has a vertical rise comparable to that of Mount Everest. Emily and I witnessed incredible waterfalls, cascading from incredible heights with a mist that reminded me of Niagara Falls. The entire drive through Mount Rainier was thrilling because of the views and intensity of the forest and there were many inviting, well-maintained trails to enjoy this park at a closer level.

I am sure that by now you are sitting on the edge of your chair, biting your nails with the question everyone asks, "What exactly is a Chimposium?" I will tell you that in Part 2 of this series, Whatever Happened to Washoe?

Mary Wilson...

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