Maine family shares memories of their ‘trip of a lifetime’ across the US
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — During the fall of 2018, Heather and John Harvell of Presque Isle found a creative way to help their children see and learn more about the world outside of their hometown — an RV trip that took the family over 10,492 miles and through 34 states, all in 71 days.
“When I was 9 years old I took a trip with a foster family from Washington state to California and had a good time, so we thought it would be great to show our kids the world beyond Presque Isle,” said John Harvell, who is originally from Connecticut.
From Oct. 2 to Dec. 12, the Harvell family toured states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, California, Washington, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Montana and Louisiana and made their way to some of the country’s most famous landmarks, including the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Badlands National Park, Yosemite National Park, Crater Lake and Redwood National Forest.
On Jan. 2, the Harvells showcased their trip during a special First Friday Downtown Art Walk exhibit, entitled “10,492-34-71: Miles, States, Days,” to more than 50 friends and community members who came to experience their story through family photographs.
For Heather Harvell, who grew up in Presque Isle, the photos not only capture the beauty of the landscapes that her family witnessed firsthand but also the memories they made together. While speaking about one of her photographs titled “Saving Worms” she recalled how seriously her 4-year-old son, Isaiah, took the task of saving some worms in Chicago.
“It had been raining and we were in a hurry but Isaiah said he had to save all the worms that were on the ground,” Heather Harvell said. “Eventually John got on the ground and started helping him.”
Other incidents were not as fun for the Harvells, such as getting a flat tire before they even left Maine, seeing their RV slowly get invaded by wasps in Iowa or simply becoming accustomed to two months of life in an RV instead of their home in Aroostook County. But during the trip the youngest members of the Harvell family used their RV “schooling” to write daily journal entries of their travels, keep up with homework that their teachers back home assigned and document their journey through special projects.
Ten-year-old Josh Harvell created a digital slideshow with his own photographs of his favorite subject — “Cool Campers and Cars” — which he played during the opening reception of his family’s Wintergreen exhibit. Josh included photos of the most unique campers from various RV parks, as well as the Lamborghinis and Porsches of Las Vegas that made the young traveler wide-eyed.
“He kept staring at all the cars in Las Vegas and decided he’s going to live there one day,” Heather Harvell said.
Another spot that Josh captured through photography was the 1,943-foot-deep Crater Lake, which formed in south-central Oregon after the collapse of the Mount Mazama volcano and contains the deepest water in the country.
“The best part was spending time together as a family. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” Josh Harvell said.
For his project Isaiah, with help from other family members, created a replica RV park using toy campers and handmade roads and scenery. The oldest Harvell child, 11-year-old Jayden, decided to collect acorns from various oak trees in Florida, California and Washington state and sell them during the First Friday reception. She said she wanted to share some of her favorite memories of the trip in a unique way.
“I love how the acorns tell their own story about where they’re from,” Jayden said. She also noted that one of her favorite places to see was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. “It was scary but also really exciting.”
While preparing for their exhibit the Harvells built and painted a large replica of the United States, with printed photographs from their trip placed in all 34 states that they visited. They also placed a basket of brochures near the map, hoping to inspire others to read about the landmarks they visited and perhaps one day embark on a similar trip of their own.
Francine Fabiano of New Sweden admired the family’s personalized U.S. map while attending the First Friday opening and noted that hearing their story inspired her to think about possible trip destinations of her own.
“It’s amazing to look at all the places they visited,” Fabiano said.
The Harvells are not strangers to Wintergreen. Heather Harvell is an artist, and over the years, she has served as the executive director, an art instructor, board of directors member and co-chair of the board since the nonprofit organization began in 2006. John Harvell, a local State Farm insurance agent, has helped sponsor the center’s Pizza ‘n Paint for Teens and Tweens events, and in 2017, State Farm matched his donations to Wintergreen with a grant of $1,500 to support youth art.
Heather Harvell admitted that in the beginning she was a little skeptical about the family of five being stuck together in an RV for hours at a time and driving to places that none of them had ever been before. But it wasn’t long, she said, before an amazing thing happened: the trip brought the family even closer.
“We became a team together. We would form an ‘inside committee’ and an ‘outside committee’ to help set up the RV outside and do chores inside,” Heather Harvell said.
As a Presque Isle native, Heather Harvell knows firsthand how physically isolated Aroostook County is from the rest of the state and easily one can forget that there is an entire country beyond northern Maine. Seeing her children explore new territory for themselves and gain lifetime memories made all the challenges and sacrifices from those two months worth it.
“Everyday we woke up to different landscapes and gained so much knowledge about cultures, people and nature,” Heather Harvell said. “Life can be full of distractions in the real world but out there we really learned to appreciate things that we took for granted and gain a greater understanding of life.”
Community members can view the Harvell family’s exhibit throughout the month of January at Wintergreen Arts Center, located at 149 State St. in Presque Isle.