Claire Welch was nine when her father decided to move the family to the Klamath River Valley. She didn’t take it well. Claire is the main character in the River Girl novel.
Claire started her journey in Antioch, California, spent a few years in Eureka, and then moved to the Klamath River Valley just south of the small town of Happy Camp, California. This map doesn’t show her exact route because in the novel, she boards a ship in Antioch that takes her out through the San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay – then north to Eureka by way of the Pacific Ocean.
This mirrors my own journey, in that I came from the East County part of Contra Costa County, and ended up living in Happy Camp. However my route was different.
My children and I left Pittsburg, the town next to Antioch, at the end of November 1999. We piled everything we owned into a U-Haul truck. We traveled north on Interstate 5 and put most of our belongings into a storage locker in Redding.
After that, we were homeless for two months, though we spent one of those months at the Traveler’s Hotel in Dunsmuir. My memoir of this experience in Dunsmuir is found on another site of mine, Journey! California: Dunsmuir, CA. The other month, we slept in our car, while looking for a place to live in the northernmost part of California.
We considered it a great adventure and read a lot of books during that time. One of them was about homeless children: The Family Under the Bridge.
Our final destination (for that move) turned out to be Happy Camp, CA where we were offered the perfect home to meet our needs. I lived in that home thirteen years – remaining for a few years even after both my children were grown and out on their own.
I loved, and still love, the little town of Happy Camp, CA. What a great place to raise children! The forest there is beautiful, and the town, although it is very remote, has everything a person needs: a clinic, dental office, schools, market, and a gas station. About 1200 people live there.
Read more about Happy Camp on the Journey! California site: Happy Camp, CA.
While there I felt inspired to write a novel for the children of the town, and that novel turned out to be River Girl.
Claire started as a lonely girl named Clara. I changed the name to Claire after my children’s Aunt Claire passed away at an early age, from lymphatic cancer. Such a tragedy! The inspiration to honor her memory by naming the main character of the book after her, would not leave me alone until I made the change.
Claire’s loneliness is her main problem in the book. She’s constantly wanting friends – in particular, a girl her own age.