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’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…