The Harrison family is still at our home, preparing for the final leg of their 7,000-mile journey across the U.S. on their quint bicycle. If all goes well, tomorrow morning Yukon and Bear will escort them through the winding bike trails of Anchorage to the Glenn Highway, where they'll head towards the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and then north to Denali National Park and Fairbanks.
The more time we spend with this family, the more we are learning about them and their style of parenting and simple living. I have asked them how others respond to their trip and the questions and/or comments, both positive and negative, they have received. Since we, too, are involved in family travel as a lifestyle rather than an occasional occurrence, I was curious to hear what people say to and about them.
Comments apparently range from overwhelmingly positive to desparingly negative. Not surprising, of course, but surely hurtful to parents who truly believe they are doing right by their children in offering them an opportunity to pioneer their way across America. People have accused them of abuse, neglect, and false pretenses.
The question of "Why are you doing this?" has followed them from Kentucky, hanging over their heads like a little gray cloud that just won't go away, and people consistently want to know why in the name of heaven would you take three little girls, plop them on a bike, and take them away from their home and security for more than a year. I will admit I, too, first looked for a "cause" when I first heard about the Harrisons; after all, people just don't hop on a funny-looking bicycle without a mission to change the world, right?
Here's the answer: Because they can. And that's all.
I have discovered, these past five years in Alaska, that life is unbelieveably and remarkably short. Travel as a family is our way to connect with each other and our environment in a most intimate way, separate from the daily flux and fuss of everyday activities, jobs, and other distractions that while necessary, manage to take away some of the meaning behind "family time."
Yes, this family is tired. Yes, the girls get on each other's nerves and might need some adjustment time upon arrival in Fairbanks to regroup after their family's 12-month nomadic lifestyle. But is it harmful? I don't think so. On the contrary, I think it is the most valuable experience a child could have, and one of the best gifts a parent could offer.