KETCHIKAN, Alaska - Inda Lou Schell's soft Southern accent stands out in Alaska, but her small-town roots helped her fit in as she made Ketchikan her home for the month of October, part of her year-long, cross-country road trip in the footsteps of famous travel author Charles Kuralt.
Schell, 78, started the adventure on Jan. 1 with her younger sister, Janie Gass. Although Gass had to bow out midway through the trip because of health problems, Schell continued, visiting 11 parts of the country and staying about a month in each.
The idea for the adventure started many years ago. Schell said she gave Kuralt's book "America" to her husband, Robert, for Christmas in 1995. They both read it, enjoyed it and dreamed of visiting all the places Kuralt wrote about, she said. But Robert died about seven years ago before they could make it happen.
"Two years ago, I re-read the book and started thinking about it," she said.
Schell called her sister an d they made their plans - a budget, the route, where to stay - using Kuralt's book as a guide. They also decided they'd write their own book when it was over: "Revisiting America."
She said that she and Gass wanted to experience as much as possible in each of the locations they were to visit, and meet as many people as they could.
Schell said it was difficult to leave her hometown of Chatom, Ala., a town of about 1,100 people where she lives in a century-old house that was her mother's. Schell has four children, eight grandchildren and, she said, her family just welcomed her sixth great-grandchild.
She hasn't been back since she drove away on Jan. 1 - accompanied by a police escort - except for a single three-hour surprise visit to attend her grandson's wedding.
Schell said she's very active in her community, and especially in the Chatom Baptist Church. She misses her church, she said, but she decided that during the trip, she'd visit as many churches as poss ible. She's accomplished that goal, she said, and has been able to attend services at a variety of denominations.
The trip started in New Orleans in January, then they went to Key West, Fla., Charleston, S.C., Blowing Rock, N.C., New York City, Woodstock, Vt., Boothbay Harbor, Maine (where Gass had to end her participation), Ely, Minn., and Twin Bridges, Mont. before Ketchikan.
Last week, Schell boarded an Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Bellingham on her way to her final destination, the Rio Grande Valley area of New Mexico, and she plans to be home for Thanksgiving.
Schell said the entire trip had been delightful.
"I've just met the most wonderful people in every place," she said. "My favorite place is where I am right now."
She said her only worry has been that, when writing about the trip, she won't be able to adequately describe her experiences.
She'll have some good notes, though, through the archives of the blog she maintained throughout the adventure, http://louschell.blogspot.com, which chronicles each of her visits, the people she met, what she's done and where she's eaten. Descriptions of meals seem to be a focus of the blog, and can make readers a little hungry, especially the New Orleans posts.
In Ketchikan, Schell often went to The Point for lunch and to hear the band play, and noted meals at Annabelle's, The Narrows and Cape Fox Lodge restaurant. Kuralt stayed at the then-new Cape Fox Lodge when he was here researching "America," she said.
There hasn't been a shortage of activities here, Schell said, and her landlady for the month, Nicole Church, kept Schell's social calendar full.
"People have just been so nice to do things and suggest things," she said.
Some of those things were the Women of Distinction dinner, church services at the Lutheran, First Baptist and Gateway Baptist churches, a floatplane trip to Prince of Wales Island, shopping, visits to the Totem Bight and Saxman totem pa rks, the library, museum and Southeast Alaska Discovery Center; and car rides to both ends of the highway and to the top of Brown Mountain Road.
During her month in Ketchikan, Schell also experienced Ketchikan's typical fall weather: rain, rain and rain. In her blog, it's apparent that she's used to walking several miles a day. Her first few blog postings in Ketchikan show a slight reluctance to get outside in rainy weather, but she persevered.
Schell said one of her goals is to encourage people, especially senior citizens, to stay active.
"If you don't move, you won't move," she said. "I tell everybody: 'Don't wait too long.'"