FAIRBANKS — Nearly a year after arriving in Fairbanks on a five-person tandem bicycle, the Harrison family is departing in a risen-from-the-dead 50-year-old bus.
It’s not a typical story, but for the family dubbed the Pedouins, it doesn’t feel like an unusual one. Bill Harrison, his wife Amarins, and their daughters Cheyenne, 8, Jasmine, 6, and Robin, 4, plan to spend the next two years traveling the country, selling a book about a colorful journey that took them from Kentucky to Alaska.
“We’re people that like to be in motion,” Bill said. “We like to be doing something.”
The Pedouins — they gave their family the nickname as a nod to the nomadic Middle Eastern Bedouin tribes — arrived in Alaska in August at the end of a 6,500-mile journey on a custom-built tandem bike. The trip was a dream, hatched by Amarins, to experience the country while providing a unique education for their young daughters.
After a stationary year, Bill and Amarins say the family is ready to be on the move again. They plan to leave in about a week, with a different sort of journey in mind. They’ll hit every state in the U.S. on a loosely planned road trip, selling a book they wrote this winter about their travels.
The first printing of “A Pedouin Life: Stop and Smell the Artichokes” is 5,000 books, but they have an eventual goal of selling 100,000 copies of the self-published book. Bill, who gushes with enthusiasm about the project, has dubbed it the “Blue Collar Book Tour.”
He said the family’s trip from Kentucky to Alaska is a testament to the American dream and a belief that people can accomplish whatever they choose to do. He said they’ve received thousands of emails during their journey from people who say they’ve been inspired.
“People are intrigued by that chutzpah, that we got on that bike with (only) $300,” he said. “It touched a nerve in them.”
The Pedouins will leave with fond memories of a tough but rewarding winter in Fairbanks. They lived far out of town, without transportation, in a dry cabin off Old Murphy Dome Road that they remodeled in exchange for rent. Their only heat source was firewood, and they melted snow on the stove for water. When friends would deliver groceries, they’d use a sled to pull them to the cabin from their long, steep driveway.
The girls, who all have blond hair and outgoing personalities, are still enjoying the novelty of time spent playing in the woods of Alaska. Cheyenne showed off her climbing skills in a tall white spruce tree in the yard on Saturday, while Jasmine and Robin took turns practicing fishing pole casts in the driveway.
Amarins said it’s exactly what they’d hoped for when they envisioned their life in Alaska.
“The way the snow fell on the branches, it was like heaven on earth,” she said.
Bill is a bit defensive about the impression that the family simply relaxed after their long trip. While homeschooling their daughters, they also worked on the cabin, cut a winter’s worth of firewood, wrote a book and spent, by his estimate, 700 hours rebuilding their bus. Bill, who remodeled houses for a living before the Pedouin journey began, also worked odd jobs through the winter to supply some badly needed money.
“We worked our butts off here,” Bill said.
Along the way they also made some lasting friends. Muttley Martin, a neighbor who knew nothing of the Pedouin bicycle journey before he met the Harrisons, said he quickly clicked with the genuinely warm couple and their charming daughters.
“There’s nothing sneaky about them,” Martin said. “They’re just very open about everything.”
Their new home will be a 1960 C-60 Chevrolet Viking, which Bill found parked at the corner of Old Steese and Farmers Loop. It was missing all its windows and had four flat tires, he said, but he immediately knew it was perfect for a book tour.
“We wanted to arrive in something that had pizzazz,” he said.
The bus was purchased with the proceeds from 47 “Pedouin purses” the girls sewed during the winter, which the family sold on its website. The project brought in $2,200 in donations, enough to buy the vehicle and give the girls an unofficial ownership stake.
“It’s our bus,” Cheyenne squealed with delight. “You have to go by our rules!”
Action Auto, which had been using another Viking as a garage, let the Harrisons scavenge whatever spare parts they needed to get the bus running. Bill said he’s rebuilt or replaced every part that “moves, twists or turns” on the entire vehicle.
The inside is fitted with three bunk beds held up by birch limbs, a tiny table between two benches, along with a makeshift kitchen. Bill said the bus tops out at 45 miles per hour, with a likely cruising speed of 40 mph.
“This is redneck, buddy, pure redneck,” Bill said with a laugh.
Laurie Klein, who greeted the Harrisons in Ester when they first pedaled in Fairbanks, said that daring sense of fun is something she’ll remember as a trademark of the family.
“At this time in their lives, they’re not into the 9-to-5 thing,” she said. “They’re into adventure and seeing the world in a different way.”
Before they leave town, the Harrisons plan to hold a pair of still-unscheduled book signings at Alaska Feed Co. and Beaver Sports. They’ll continue chronicling the bus journey at their website, www.pedouins.org.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.