Week 3 – The week we lost ourselves on the Natchez Trace Parkway

On the road...

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

Week 2 – The week we decided to slow it down

On the road...

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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.

Week 1

Let's Go!

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We made it through the first leg of our trip – Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.  We rolled into Sheridan, WY late and set up camp in the dark.  For our wedding we registered at REI.  We always imagined that we would back pack our way around the world.  Then we had children, and we imagined that we would car camp around the world.  Then they got cold.  So we got a pop up camper.  Not at all something we pictured ourselves in on our wedding day.  Yet, here we are traveling the country.  Back to Sheridan, we camped in a KOA.  First timers.  We cooked outside by ourselves, while everyone else in that place lit up their rigs and fired up their generators.  I’m a person who has learned never to say never.  Just consider my mind totally blown.

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We chose this crazy rinky dink route around Grand Teton and Yellowstone because of driving time…and also one of the kids was dying to see Devil’s Tower National Monument.  So, we said goodbye to Sheridan and made our way to North Eastern Wyoming.  Devil’s Tower is spectacular.  We used our expeditionary learning skills to explore a new to us place.  We observed the “tower”, we wondered how it was formed and then we learned as much as anyone can in a few short hours.  We hiked and thought about Mr. Doug and the belay contract as we heard real life climbers yelling, “On Belay.  Belay On.”

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That night we slept in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which led to the Mammoth Excavation site in Hot Springs.  Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska.  Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska.  And a real bed in North Platte.  We budgeted for a hotel/ motel stay every third day so we can shower, launder and shop.  We took Hwy 34 that runs north of I-80 all the way to Malcolm, Nebraska and Aunt Bonnie.  You really see a lot more on the less traveled road.  And more tractors.  And corn.

The Route

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Click here to link to the actual map/ itinerary on roadtrippers.com.

I am posting this map with a bit of trepidation.  Mostly because last night we considered scrapping everything and thought about heading to the Florida Keys for the next little bit.  Then heading west for ski season.  Our map is ambitious and we know it.  We just wanted to see what was possible.  We wanted to know if we were to hit all of the major places we ever dreamed of if that was physically possible in three months.  In the last week we took Chicago off the route.  Last night we added back St. Louis.  We debated long past our bedtime, knowing we were leaving in the morning. We are still working out our goals and expectations.

Our trip is not set in stone.  But this is our plan for now.  I think we have ultimately decided to go where we are interested and stay where we are comfortable.  We hope to never travel more than 10 hours a day, and never have two long travel days back to back.  The Broncos game in Cleveland may get the ax and so might the Hockey Hall of Fame.  We will have sad little sports fans, but it may mean an extra night in The Big Apple.

We have been using Roadtrippers to map our course.  It is a bit glitchy for this big of a trip.  We are not able to add points of interest, and it is forever changing our trip dates.  However, I do appreciate knowing what kind of driving day we have ahead of us and if I want to map out a hypothetical route, it’s very simple.

Keep us in your thoughts as we head out later today.  Our first big stop is a special birthday in Malcolm, NE.  We have 3 1/2 days to get there.  Please feel free to comment and continue to make suggestions about our route and places to see!  Bon Voyage!

With Gratitude

Preparation

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We are packing again.  This time leaving our digs in Idaho.  We have been so fortunate to call this place home for the last four months.  Brad and I are both a bit melancholy to think we are leaving.  We reminded each other that leaving doesn’t always come with finality.  It is not forever.  And as I took my last, slow drive on the Moose-Wilson road, yesterday, I found my mind wandering to all the things I would like to do and see next summer under the steadfast watch of the Tetons.

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There is so much to be thankful for and my heart is full today as I reflect.  We have a most wonderful support system of family and friends.  I realize that family is in your heart no matter where you are.  They are not only the people who claim you by birth, but the friends you meet along the way.  They are the people who support your big, wild, crazy, plan.  Support your ability to change and grow.  Support the ways in which you fail and fail again.  They are the people who pick you up and dust you off and send you on your way.

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For every gut wrenching day of road school, there has been a sweet text, email or caregiver waiting with kindness to counter.  We have had some serious adjustments.  They have been desperate and loud and tearful. {Really.  Picture me jumping up and down in frustration.  Yelling for the kids to stop arguing.  Will laughing that I look just like a child.  Simmer in that for a second.}  However, we have gone days, now, with laughter and cuddles and morning chit chat.  I hear more often, I really loved dinner last night.  Let’s read.  I want to tell you what I learned (we are still working on that one).  I feel so deeply thankful, because the way has been carved with much anxiety and uncertainty.  The relief and joy of letting go of bad feelings is really sweet to the soul.  I’m learning it’s the least we can do for ourselves.

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We are thankful for the kindness of friends and family who have been helping us every day to make this trip possible.  Mail.  Dog.  House.  Days Off.  Golfing.  DMV.  Dress Alterations.  Repairs & Maintenance.  Girl Time. Sleepovers.  Pioneering.  Aunts.  Cousins.  Comments.  Text messages.  Calls.  Emails.  Strawberry Preserves.  Love.  Endless Support.  Thank you if you are one of those people who has given yourself to this adventure.  There are no words to express the enormity of our gratitude.  We are taking you with us in our hearts.  It’s almost time to hit the road.

Tomorrow, the much debated and ever changing route….

Hebgen Lake Earthquake

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The boys collaborated on this post about their visit to Quake Lake in Montana.  

Quake lake is a lake that was formed by an earthquake in 1959.  Our Aunt Katie was working at Old Faithful in Yellowstone. She felt the earthquake from Old Faithful. Quake Lake is approximately 56.4 miles away from where she was. Our Aunt Sara and Grandpa John could feel it from Idaho Falls which is 118 miles away. Earthquakes can be very powerful.

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Quake Lake, Montana

There is a thing that measures the magnitude of an earthquake, it is called the Richter Scale. The Richter Scale rates earthquakes on a scale of 1-10. 1 being least magnitude and 10 being the highest.

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The Hebgen Lake Earthquake was a 7.5. The Nepal earthquake was an 8.1. There was a big difference in the amount of people that got hurt. In Nepal 9,000 people died and 23,000 got injured. But in the Hebgen Lake earthquake 28 people died and 250 got hurt.  There are not as many people in southwest Montana, where Hebgen Lake is, than there were in Nepal.  That’s why there weren’t as many deaths.

Please watch the video below to see a survivor’s account of the Hebgen Lake Earthquake.

Montanada

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We were able to use our location in Idaho as a launchpad for a side trip to Glacier National Park in Montana (and Canada).  The weather in the area has been dry and the fire danger high.  Wildfires have been burning in and around the park for weeks causing roads to close and the air quality to be poor with low visibility.  We (I) considered bagging the trip.  There are countless opportunities to experience nature right where we are, next door to the Tetons and at the foot of Yellowstone.  Glacier continued to dangle that carrot, though, and we loaded up for the ten-hour drive.

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It may have been a risk to drive all that way not knowing what circumstance we would find ourselves in when we got to Glacier.  As we drove towards the northern border, a storm system moved its way south down the Rockies.  A fresh blanket of rain and snow put the fires to rest, and the air was washed clean.  The next morning the peaks around Lake McDonald were crisp and clear when only a week earlier they were hidden behind smoke.  We found the Going to the Sun road closed for the first time of the season, covered for days under six inches of snow and ice.  Going the distance to Glacier proved a risk worth taking and surprised us in ways we hadn’t foreseen.

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As we finalize our plans for the next three months, the test drive to Montana gave us a lot of insight.  Our plans are not rigid, but fluid.  We can’t be limited by the unknown.  And, in fact, our ten-hour trip turned 92 days will be defined by our willingness to push past the hesitation regarding our next destination.

Details – Mileage: 1,483 miles.  Countries visited:  Canada.  States visited:  Idaho, Montana, Wyoming.  National Parks:  Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, Grant-Kohr’s National Monument, Yellowstone National Park.  Animals spotted:  Black Bear, Stellar’s Jay, Pileated Woodpecker (GNP), Moose pair, Bald Eagle, Bison, Elk, Osprey, Downy Woodpecker (YNP).

Road Scholars {the descriptive the boys use when someone asks them where they go to school}

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Lest anyone think that I have my stuff together, let me tell you that road school is giving me an education.  Every day I am reinventing the wheel.  When I go to bed I dream about the educational opportunities I am able to provide my kids the next day.  And every morning I wake up, cling to my coffee and pray that we will make it to lunch without WWIII.  Sigh.  Let’s all take a moment and thank the amazing educators in our life that mold these little minds every live long day.  They do not get paid enough.  They are miracle workers.  They have thankless jobs.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

National Wildlife Art Museum

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One of our learning opportunities this week was to view the Ai Weiwei Zodiac Heads Exhibit at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.  If you are not familiar with Ai Weiwei, take a moment to learn about him.

In the video, Ai Weiwei is quoted as saying, “To be yourself.  To be outside the system.  This is the most dangerous but also meaningful act for a person to take.”  It took awhile for us to really dissect that statement.  As we were driving we talked about how it relates to what we are doing.  We considered the “dangers” or consequences of our choice to road school and travel.  We discussed whether or not that choice is inside or outside the system.  And then the boys were able to relate our situation to the ways in which Ai Weiwei takes risks outside his system every day.  We concluded that we are both inside and outside the system as we road school because it is a choice that is offered to us.  We also found that our risks are decidedly less costly than his. IMG_0131The Zodiac Heads have traveled the globe.  This was an amazing opportunity to see an international exhibit in such an intimate setting.  We learned about the Chinese Zodiac Symbols and the lore behind their significance.    We are rat, tiger, rooster and pig.  One boy was super excited to share all the things he learned about China when he was in first grade.

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Some felt more comfortable with this exhibit than others.  It gave us a chance to talk about how we like to experience an art exhibit.  As we sat on the wooden benches and rocks provided for viewing, we took in the  traditional Chinese music playing in the background. We sat patiently and waited for others to remove themselves from the art.  We thought about respect, personal space and awareness of others.  We made notes in the back of our minds about our own successes and failures in this way.

#FindYourPark

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I am a superfan of the National Park Service.  We are so fortunate that our leaders, almost 100 years ago, thought to preserve our national heritage and lands through the park system.  It is a particularly great time to visit as the NPS celebrates its 99th year and looks towards its centennial celebrations.  This school year 4th graders and their families can visit national parks, etc. for free.  The park service has an interactive website, a list of 99 ways to find your park, and their own hashtag (#FindYourPark).

Scenic Cruise on Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Scenic Cruise on Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Because Brad works at the base of the Tetons (in the park!!) we have had so many wonderful opportunities to explore.  This week we took a scenic/ interpretive cruise around Jenny Lake.  The boys learned about glaciers and the way nature shapes the land and lakes in this area.

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Phelps Lake via Woodland Trail, LSR, Grand Teton National Park

We also spent time at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve where we learned about land conservationists who have shaped and sustained the park system by sharing their private land for the benefit of all Americans.

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Roadschool Day 3, Junior Ranger Program at Grand Teton National Park

Our first week of road schooling behind us.  I will share that there were a lot of things that did not work.  We are learning about the process, expectations, limitations and patience.  However, there was one thing that did work.  I agreed to exchange one day of writing for the successful completion of the Junior Ranger program.  Win, win.