Part of this long road trip with my family was about the journey around the United States. But part of it was a good time and space to disconnect from the life I was living before, and figure out what to do next. Another part of the figurative “journey” was also to abruptly change our family dynamics. My husband and I were living “non-traditional” roles in the traditional way that people do these days. Except we were not very happy. We each wanted something more in our lives. We had to search for that more. We had to find it for ourselves. Rather than sit and dream about it one more day, we went looking.
It’s been both comforting and disquieting that at the end of our road trip I found myself in Portland where I’m now realizing my journey had just begun. Until March of 1993, my life was going one way. My dad drove me to Lewis & Clark College. I was on an expedition, of sorts. An expedition in a foreign land called Portland, OR. I met new people and had new experiences. Then I got homesick. Everything changed after that, and my dad drove me home from Lewis & Clark College.
Standing in front of my dorm with two littles by my side, I realized I had been feeling like a quitter all this time. I always urge them to persevere, but somehow the lesson of perseverance skipped a generation, and was coming back to haunt me. I’m the one who didn’t stick it out. I’m the one who came home for no good reason. The one who crushed under the weight of homesickness. With my heavy heart we walked around campus and I remembered all those times. I stood on the bridge crossing the shadowy ravine, I could hear them laughing. I could hear their voices tell our made up stories – with Minnesotan accents. Those girls, those characters from the story of my early life, their words still ring in my ears.
Keeping the entire LC Posse in my back pocket, we walked around the Bone. I started to notice how small everything was. I was aware of the dark, drizzly, damp surroundings. Looking around as a fully functional adult I knew for the first time that I had not been prepared for that place. It was the furthest out of my comfort zone I had ever gone. And like a rubber band that has been stretched to it’s greatest length, I snapped back to my resting state. And I stayed there for many years.
I know I was meant to go back to Portland to see how far I had come. This part of my journey has taken so long. And in so many ways, I’m at the same place I was all those years ago. I’m standing on the precipice of something big in my life. I can feel it all the way to my soul. I have the knowledge and the choice to go forward bravely. It is exciting to have been given an opportunity that I can use and not squander.
Maybe perseverance isn’t measured in the short term. Maybe it’s value is the sum total of all the ways a person tries, fails and learns. Perseverance doesn’t mean sticking it out at all costs. The power in perseverance comes from having the courage to try again. It’s the difference in waiting for something to happen as opposed to choosing for it to happen.
And then we go home.
We made it to Seattle and spent a wonderful week there with our family. For most of our trip we avoided large, urban areas because of our parking challenges. Let’s be honest. We just liked to avoid large urban areas.
We visited Pike Place Market and saw the proverbial fish toss. We watched magic tricks at the magic shop. We lunched at Lowell’s for the sole reason that as we looked at the menu, someone walked up and said it wouldn’t be a mistake to eat there. Then we got to business. We picked up fresh herbed pasta at Pappardelle’s, then headed across the street to Beecher’s to watch the cheesemaking process, and to buy some cheese. From there we started wandering in search of dessert and found Metsker’s Maps which was really the coolest travel store. Our final destination: Trophy Cupcakes. I know we didn’t hit the mothership. We just went to the mall location, which was kind of disappointing. I’ve heard that the Wallingford Center location is in an old school house and it’s super cool. Nonetheless, the cupcakes were pretty great. As we walked back to our car we found the Seattle Antiques Market which was a must see before we headed home to make scratch Mac & Cheese.
Our second day in Seattle we spent all morning at the Seattle Aquarium, and did the Underground Tour in Pioneer Square. We spent too little time at Magic Mouse Toys, the most amazing toy shop ever.
Next, we went to the Pacific Science Center, and we spent a whole day there. When the kids were worn out from the inside of the museum, they played and climbed and made music at the park outside.
On our final day in Seattle proper we hit the EMP Museum which was pretty fabulous. It was all things pop culture including newly designed games, a Hello Kitty exhibit from Japan, and hands on music opportunities. I’m certain the boys could have stayed there all day. Instead, we enjoyed our last hours in the city walking around finding the most amazing shops: Pike Street Press and Ugly Baby, and riding The Great Wheel.
We spent the weekend with friends, and somewhere between gingerbread houses and Hallmark movies they asked where we were headed next. In true form, we had no idea. Suggestions were bantered. The idea of going to the place where my first travel adventures began put a little spring in my step. That and being refueled by family and friends. We decided to spend our last week enjoying Portland, Oregon, the Coast and the California Redwoods.
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Preparing for our push up the west coast, we received news that had been painfully anticipated. To try and explain the significance of the following days would be trite. A close family friend passed away and her death was slow and unfair. She fought a long hard battle with cancer. She was loved in this life by more people than I know. Loved faithfully by her family. And loved by my husband. We would make the trip to Idaho Falls, there was never a question. These people are our people and we care for them the best we can.
The unanticipated trip to Idaho brought on feelings of homesickness that I hadn’t yet encountered. I believed the next time I stepped foot in that state it would be to pick up my car on the way to Colorado. We were in Idaho, but my heart was traveling elsewhere. I was longing for home cooked meals and my own bed. I wanted my dog to sit on the couch next to me in front of the fire. I needed a coffee with friends. I was aching for exercise not afforded by long car rides. These feelings gave me an all new appreciation for my baby boy’s strength – he was homesick from day one.
As much as I wanted to throw in the towel and head for home, we had two solid weeks left and the Pacific Northwest waiting for us. Then there was that other, opposite to homesick, feeling that I was feeling. For all the times on our road trip I wished for independence and privacy, the trade off for those luxuries was losing the intimacy of constant companionship. This trip showed me all the ways I had been missing from my family. All the ways that we were not close and cared for.
We have learned so much about perseverance. We have learned what happens after the really hard times and how often the reward is just getting through it. I sorely fail at modeling good behavior for my kids, but this was a chance to model perseverance. Everyone knew by the time we got to Idaho I was imagining myself cozied up in Colorado, they did not know how I was going to make another two weeks on the road.
We stopped in Boise to round out week 10. The boys watched football and Aunt Sara made us breakfast and lattes. I am writing this after the fact. Mostly to remember all the greatness that happened because we persevered (we meaning me). We were blown to Seattle through the Tri-Cities and right past Prosser, WA (the home of my college roommate – little known fact). For much of December we stayed with family or friends, freeing up our budget, and settling my heart a bit. I knew one thing for sure, I did not want to miss one moment of the weeks to come. Next up: Seattle, WA.
So, we were sitting in the middle of Death Valley on Black Friday when we realized that the drive back towards Los Angeles and then Sequoia National Park were really far. And going backwards seemed like a less than good idea. So we made the decision to push on towards Yosemite. Which in the end was an even worse idea.
We stayed in a minuscule town outside Mammoth Lakes called Bishop, CA. There was one room. It was a smoking room. My entire childhood came flooding back through my nostrils. All those years of inhaling second hand smoke. The many hotel rooms we shared with my dad who did not give a hoot about our potential lung health (and I might point out that he is currently and forever deceased). I woke up in the morning with a headache, sneezing and coughing. And I told my dad, “See I told you I was not imagining all of that as a child.” But he can’t hear me now, much like he didn’t hear me then.
We learned something in Bishop, CA. We learned that in November the eastern mountain road crossing the Sierras through Yosemite to the west closes. For the season. Ugh. And also, when there is a winter storm crossing the Sierras, all the other mountain roads close too.
While we missed most of our bucket list California National Parks, this story ends well. We pushed up the eastern side of the Sierras to Lake Tahoe, where it is a lovely winter wonderland. As we were sitting at lunch pondering our next steps, we found out Aunt Katie was not using her time share in, guess where? Lake Tahoe. So for the next few days we will be sledding and snowshoeing from our digs at the lake. Thank you, Aunt Katie. Those words are not nearly enough, but we are so thrilled to get to spend time here.
All of this to say, that we spent an amazing week in Arizona. Flagstaff was pretty fabulous. We went to Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert National Park, Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano and Wapatki National Monuments, and of course the Grand Canyon! We caught up with friends near Phoenix and spent Thanksgiving in Las Vegas. And I repeat the sentiment…what makes you more thankful for the things you have than Las Vegas? We spent the most memorable holiday looking out over the lights of the city eating a delightful meal made mostly in the microwave. A to the Men.
Next week: The Redwoods then Oregon. Bend, Tillamook, Mt. Hood, and Multnomah Falls. I’m excited to relive the LC Posse days in Portland and spend some nights in Astoria. Those were the days…
With four weeks left to go on our trip, we sat down and re-wrote our plans. Again. As time goes on we become more flexible in some ways and less in others. Although we had great dreams of south Florida, the truth is, Florida wasn’t as much our thing as we imagined. We started to look forward to the west and wide open spaces again. We dreamed of snow. We decided that our trip up the west coast was not to be missed. With little fanfare we bid the peninsula adieu and hightailed it across the country.
Here’s what that looks like: we passed the 10,000 mile mark somewhere in Alabama. Brad has driven every inch of our trip. He has hauled that camper through the biggest cities and the tiniest of roads. He has searched high and low for parking. Every time we go anywhere, knowing we are too tall for parking garages (roof box with skis) and too long for one spot. All the live long day, hooking and unhooking the camper.
We took a good long look at the weather, and a good long look at our budget. In the last week Brad drove us through eight states. Safely. We agreed that pulling the camper through snow in the mountains was not what we wanted to do and therefore stored it in Albuquerque. This requires us to reallocate our resources, but doesn’t break our budget. So onward.
This week we look forward to the Grand Canyon and time in Arizona. Our soft Florida cheek skin has become wind blown and dry in the desert. We have loaded up on chapstick. At least one of my boys is still wearing shorts (he is a true Coloradan). We have so much to be thankful for. Regardless of where we are. We will miss the traditional family Thanksgiving feast as we pass through Nevada. We will make the best of where we are and enjoy Las Vegas. With kids. It can’t be worst than that one block of Bourbon Street they saw, right?!?
Sometimes life is so big, the weight of it is crushing. I find myself to be the smallest at the ocean. A sea of unknown creatures, and unknown depth. The vastness not visible. On the beach, shells lay battered by the tide. A brave few cling to the shore with their last moments of life, fully intact. My little people comb through the sand and try to make sense of centuries of birth and death. They pluck up shells and stars and find a dead jellyfish. And they are so small that is crushes me like the sea.
And Clair De Lune. If someone pecked that tune out for me on a beach under the starry night, all of life might make sense. But Paris. And Beirut. And Kenya. Like the shells on the shore, the boys pick out the bits and pieces they understand. We are removed from the enormity of the crises happening, but the news filters to us on the road. We answer question after question trying to glean some understanding ourselves. They make me wish that life could be boiled down into the simple understanding they have of love and peace and kindness.
As we explore our corner of the world, it’s interesting to see how parts affect the whole. How change can start with one little step, one little voice, one little person. I love to see them picking at pieces as they search for answers about greater things. We will spend our last few days in the south exploring more about civil rights. Connecting current events and history sometimes creates a tangled storyline that is full of complexities and simplicity at the same time. I find it fascinating that we can do something big and abstract like sending humans into outer space, but we haven’t yet mastered how to relate to the humans on earth.
Next we travel to: Selma, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; then head west via Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.
We spent the last week camping in Fredricksburg, Virginia. What I take away most is the way in which we become part of a community. Right out of the gates a roving band of square dancers pulled us into the fold and invited us to their monthly dance. I hesitate to tell this story for reasons that seem obvious. Like, don’t give me a hard time for spending a Saturday night with the square dancers. Some of my favorite folks are square dancers.
What was most endearing was Larry of the Larry Squares (because there were four Larry’s in their group) who invited my kids to watch him cut a rug. The Larry Squares have been meeting since the 1970s. As I watched them do-si-do, I did the math and calculated that they have been dancing together since their 30/40s. Since they had babies. Careers. Pre-retirement. Larry shared pictures of his family, his home and his wife. He dances because it helps with memory. None of their children participate, nor their grand children. And still they promenade. For just one evening we spent time in the company of others who could not be more different than we were, doing something we would not choose to do. And it was lovely.
We meet people every day who grace us with their kindness, advice and humanity. We try to do the same for others. We try to do the same for each other. The more we welcome stories and share our own, the better the experience becomes.
Next up: Kitty Hawk and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Orlando, Florida.
We’ve started to experience weather on our trip. There have been multiple nights with freezing temperatures and our first rain in Virginia. But that’s not the only storm we have weathered. I’m always encouraged to post the bright, pretty pictures of our trip. Looking at the beauty of what we’re experiencing is sort of a coping mechanism for what we’re experiencing. When I look at pretty pictures I know there’s a back story. I’ve done enough family photo shoots to know that one picture with eyes open, smile/ no smile, pre-tears is worth a thousand hours. Our family is no exception.
I hope you know we miss home often. We wonder in exasperation why we’re doing whatever it is that day. Everyone has thrown a temper tantrum. Most of us have cried (I’ll let you guess who still has dry eyes although we may push him to the point). We argue. We have the normal navigational “discussions” that happen to husbands and wives across the globe. There have been heels dug, food thrown, feelings hurt and words misunderstood.
We are learning to get past the stormy weather and fixing our eyes on the sun. We are not a perfect, happy go lucky family. But we are scrappers out here on the road, doing what we can to make it work. For every sunny landscape you see, you miss the family at the rest stop gathering themselves. For every close up shot of moss or a rock or a leaf, you don’t see alligator tears or a timeout or a giant dent in the fender of the car. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees, but you just keep driving.
As we sat around the table in New Orleans, we talked about Aunt Sara’s bike ride up The Natchez Trace. We hadn’t really known or considered what it was. We started to hear a lot of good things about the drive and we were pretty sure that the north eastern part of our trip was about to be scrapped, so we decided to check it out.
Mississipi was stunning. In so many ways untouched by time. We found many little backroad towns with long ago forgotten buildings just waiting for someone to find. Plantation homes in the middle of nowhere. Kind people everywhere. And the discovery of so many unlikely foods at the grocery store. Cinnamon sugar butter, y’all. Grits. And we made campfire ribs.
The Natchez Trace is a national park. It was probably the first substantial trade route in the US. It was important for Native Americans as well as settlers, trappers and traders in later years. The trace was so well traveled that the footpath is still visible throughout the park. It was also used to relocate the Cherokee Indians from their land as part of the Trail of Tears.
The parkway is 444 miles from north to south (or south to north in our case) running from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. We camped in state parks (Natchez State Park and Tishomingo State Park) along the route. We took a nice side trip to the civil war battlefield in Vicksburg, and to an important civil rights stop for us at Ole Miss in Oxford. And we saw Aunt Sara on her ride!
We were scrambling to find an affordable place to stay in Nashville and opted for the suburb of Brentwood. Still we were ten minutes from downtown and all the action. We caught lunch in a dead bar in broad daylight. As our luck would have it we were the only patrons so the talent played to our every whim. Which apparently was not country music. He was pretty great. Against my better judgement we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame (the Dylan/ Cash exhibit was amazing) and added the Hatch Show Print tour. Hatch was hands down my favorite thing I’ve ever seen. Almost better than Mississippi. It is a terribly old letterpress operation that has produced show posters for all the greats in Nashville and so many more. So cool.
We are leaving for the Great Smoky Mountains which we think will lead us to Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway, possibly Shenandoah and then Washington D.C. where we will settle in for a bit. The weather is getting cooler and I expect that we will test our fortitude in the pop up trailer as the nights get colder. We were spoiled by all that warm weather in the deep south. Until next week…
The second leg of our trip taught us a thing or two. For one, we are not ambitious travelers. If you saw our original map, just throw it out. Because, seriously, we are in a pop up camper. Two weeks in and we know that we are not going to go to all that trouble for one night. Plus we are sick to death of the boys asking if they can stop to see something and (we say no because…) we are worried about how we are going to set up camp before dark. Those days are gone. We are ready to explore where we are and hang out for a bit.
And, another thing. We had very little time to spend in Oklahoma. We would have liked to stop and visit, but as our navigation tells us – proceed to the route. We spent some time at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It was heavy and really affected the boys. I was affected. To tears. It just brought back so many memories of the children who were lost. It was a beautiful memorial. But. It’s good to remember that kids can only handle so much. We will pass on some other memorials until the boys are ready to take on the sadness of those places. They understood and took in more than we expected.
One of the great highlights of this last week were all of the new to us animals we encountered in Texas. Let’s just say that armadillos are at the top of our list of wacky, fun to observe creatures. They make so much noise. Like a bear in the woods kind of noise. All they are doing is looking for bugs in the underbrush. They were totally oblivious and not at all concerned with us.
We are nine states in (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana) and 3,000 miles. Things are coming together. We are learning to work things out on the fly because there’s nowhere to hide. No room for bad feelings. These guys I’m traveling with are top notch. We are in New Orleans for a few days and then we will follow the Natchez Trace Parkway from Mississippi to Tennessee.