By Linda Scherer
Panning for gold on their recent Alaskan trip did not make Kevin and Lois Campbell any richer than they were when they left their home just east of Winsted, but the couple would agree, they came home wealthier all the same.
The Campbells have always loved to travel but the responsibilities of children and farm kept their wandering to a minimum.
Now that their children are all grown up, and they sold their dairy cows in 2006, Kevin and Lois have taken advantage of their freedom and have traveled throughout the US going south, east, and west.
So this time, when making travel plans, they headed in the only direction they had not yet gone north to Alaska.
The Campbells were part of a tour that left the Minneapolis airport July 7 with 26 other people their destination was Juneau, Alaska where the journey began.
Their trip to the 49th state had been something Kevin and Lois had been thinking about for 10 years, especially since Kevin’s nephew Matt Hertel had moved there.
After Hertel had moved to Alaska, other relatives went there to see him. Some neighbors had also traveled to Alaska, and the Campbells noted that everyone that made the trip never seemed to come back disappointed.
Now with their visit to Alaska behind them, Kevin and Lois are finding they are no different than anybody else, and it is obvious their expedition was a success. They have a four-inch thick scrapbook loaded with many photos, brochures, and postcards, and lots of stories to tell.
“If someone were to ask me what the negative was about the whole trip, I would say it was coming home,” Kevin said. “Every day of the tour was just awesome.”
The tour, which was a total of 11 days, included four boat rides, a train ride, three plane rides, and the rest was coach (bus).
For the start of the trip, the weather was cooler because the towns visited were located along the northeast passage.
“The temperature doesn’t vary much,” Kevin said. “The water that comes into those areas can be up to a couple of thousand feet deep so the temperature is going to stay between 34 and 60 degrees.”
In the towns like Juneau, Seward, and Valdez, there were large numbers of people to contend with because there were up to six cruise ships that would anchor in port every day.
“On any given day there are 14,000 people that will tour,” Kevin said.
As the Campbells moved away from the ocean, the weather got warmer, the crowds got smaller, and their sightseeing led to many highlights in the tour.
With a picture to show their daring venture, one of the very exciting experiences the couple took part in was a raft trip down the Nenana River in Denali Park.
Denali Park is a total of six million acres, which is just one of many statistics Kevin recalls since his return from Alaska.
The trip down the river, part of it through a canyon, was a total of 11.5 miles and took about 2.5 hours, Lois said.
She recalls the first rapids on the river being a little intimidating but as they floated down the river, the eight to nine rapids they encountered grew less scary.
One of the things Lois remembers from the instructions given before they left dry land was to hang onto the paddles because one of the rafters had lost some teeth the previous day from a flying paddle.
Lois also added, with a laugh, one of the rafters, Beth Simonsen, learned to keep her mouth closed to keep the water out.
Less frightening, but every bit as exciting as the whitewater rafting, was the 27-mile, 1.5-hour train ride through the White Pass & Yukon Route from Skagway to Fraser, British Columbia.
From their vantage point, riding the last car on the train, they were able to see why the 110-mile route was designated an international historic civil engineering landmark in 1994.
The White Pass & Yukon Route honor is shared with other outstanding world engineering designs like the Panama Canal, Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower.
It is recognized for the many difficult and hazardous obstacles that construction overcame like granite mountains, steep grades, cliff hanging turns and unimaginable weather conditions.
The $10 million project was the product of British financing, American engineering, Canadian contracting, tens of thousands of men, and 450 tons of explosives.
Later on and definitely considered another highlight of the trip was riding in a large yacht where they were able to view the amazing sights of Prince William Sound.
They saw sea lions, sea otters, whales, Orcas, and ice bergs.
“The creatures come out and put on a show for you just like Sea World,” Kevin said.
“The captain told us we were really lucky,” Lois said. “He said he had done seven trips so far this summer, and this was the first time he had seen so much wildlife.”
And not to be forgotten in their miles of trekking was seeing the Trans Alaskan pipeline, which is 800 miles long beginning in Prudhoe Bay in the north, all the way to Valdez in the south.
“The majority of the pipeline is buried, but they bring you to a segment that is above ground so you are able to see it,” Kevin said.
In Valdez, the pipeline ends and that is where all of the crude oil is loaded into ships, which will supply up to 14 percent of the nation’s oil, according to Kevin.
With only a few hours of darkness each night through the entire trip, it allowed the visitors to be able to see and do so much more.
We would go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and it was still daylight,” Lois said.
We never saw pitch dark,” Kevin said.
Would they go again? “Absolutely,” Lois said.
Some Campbell family history
Kevin grew up just east of Winsted on his parents, Jim and Magdalen Campbells,’ farm. He attended Holy Trinity High School where he graduated in 1971.
Lois grew up east of Winsted and is the daughter of Wallace and Luella Hecksel. She attended Watertown High School and graduated in 1972.
The couple met at a wedding at the Blue Note in 1970 and were married six years later.
Kevin and Lois have always enjoyed traveling. They had toured much of the US when they were first married.
Before they purchased the farm in 1978, they had been to Hawaii, Colorado, California, Arizona, Nevada, and Jasper, Canada.
The Campbells said they felt very lucky to have Luke Hertzog of Waverly who has helped them out many times to get away on a number of their trips. Until recently, most visits were short and most of them out to South Dakota to stay with Kevin’s brother, Tom, for the night.
They also have managed to travel separately a few times, but for 30 years they were unable to make plans to travel together because of the farm.
Since selling the dairy cows, they have been to Texas, California, six New England states, and Washington, DC.
Lois works at Herald Journal in Winsted and Kevin does crop farming, raises about 70 steers annually, and works for another farmer.
Kevin and Lois have three children:
• Sarah is married to Will Sevigny, and they live in Blaine with their daughter Isabella who is 11 months old.
• Jason lives in St. Cloud and has a daughter, Katrina, 9, and a son, Tristan, 2.
• Eric is currently stationed at Camp Ljeune in North Carolina and should be returning home after Labor Day when he will be deployed to Djibouti, Africa for seven to eight months.