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We’ve been home, now, for two months. We are being pushed in new directions and it is so much fun to have the freedom to explore. The roles we played before our trip, even the roles the children played are different. We have ownership. We are not skating through life afraid to choose. We are struggling and it’s that good kind of struggle where you can only save yourselves. The kind of struggle where you come out all the wiser for having experienced it. Long ago are the days of worry. Having a sense of dread has become so foreign. Peace found our family on the road and lingers still. We are sitting on the silver lining. Slowly, ever so slowly, we have been inching towards our new normal and a new sense of happiness.

We stop and think about our trip often. We see the places we visited on the news and we reflect. We hear about events both past and present and we put visuals with the information. We have a richer sense of the politics of our country and the lingering issues that remain unresolved. Somewhat of a surprise, we found folks experiencing the same lifestyles and sentiments in the south of Oregon as in the North of Carolina. We saw the lasting effects of the relocation of Native Americans throughout the states, and we wondered if they have been forgotten.  We saw current events playing out right in front of us. As we passed by Japanese internment camps along the west coast, our current politicians debated the collection of groups of citizens. We have come so far in this nation, and remain so encumbered by our past.

There has never been a time when I felt more compelled to be patriotic.  Our family was set free to roam and explore all the resources the United States has to offer. We were in need of forward thinking, and were fortunate to have been given the chance to see, really see, our country.  We roamed across this nation stitched together by innovation and construction and imagination. We were able to step outside of our every day and see more clearly how our forefathers raised us up as a nation of quilt makers. Somehow our patchwork fabric holds strong despite the mismatched pieces. We got to see if first hand. We got to learn at the foot of a mountain and the base of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. We saw the antebellum south untouched and the seeds of tall, tall trees spread to the wind. This nation is a lighthouse for us all. A beacon in hard times. A place to weather storms. To gather and to scatter. What an amazing education we received when we stopped to appreciate the earth beneath our feet.  Wherever that was.  From sea to shining sea.

There must be something we can glean from this trip in our lives at home. If nothing else, we can make hard choices. Right and wrong are secret words for fixed mindset, but we are growers. We will fail and start over. We are the living examples to our children of a life lived, not observed. Whatever injustice we have caused we can set a right path. We are misinformed so we must search for answers. The key to feeling home in our locality and our nation is opening up dialogue not closing it off. We are responsible for our own behavior. We are safe. We have people who will pick us up when we shoot for the moon and bust out. We are a nation of neighbors. We are the Larry Squares and the KOA hosts and the gypsies in the desert and the park rangers and the beach campers and the Redwoods and the canyons. We are of this land, and it is home.

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Week 12 – Last Leg

On the road...

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.

Week 11 – Coastal

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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.

But, Seattle.

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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Week 10 – Homesick

On the road...

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.

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!

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).