When summer arrives I feel the urge to head out on the road. To watch the center lines blur and the scenery change to wide open spaces. I love to feel my hair whipping around my face, arms stretched out of windows. The wind swirling between my fingers.
My sons groaned. “Do we really have to go? You didn’t consult us when you made these vacation plans.”
Instead of getting offended, I mentally checked my automatic Mom response and sighed. Driving a 2,000 mile road trip with seventeen and fifteen year old teens and a hormotional pubescent twelve-year old tween didn’t sound like an enjoyable experience for two weeks. They were completely plugged into their devices: personal computers, lap tops and phones with earbuds in. When I shared that our cabins had no wi-fi service; they bristled. The lodging literature promoted being outdoors versus Internet access and could only be found in specific, public locations like lobbies.
We were embarking on a road trip the hubs and I have been wanting to take for several years. Last summer this vacation was summarily canceled when my sons’ summer camp schedules directly conflicted with our dates. It was on our bucket list of things to do before our kids begin to leave the nest and have schedules of their own but our sons were not enthused in the least. They weren’t buying it.
In April 2016 the hubs had to pull over on the interstate. I had unsuccessfully tried to make reservations online (via my cell phone) while traveling home from a jazz festival. Cell reception in the northern Sierras had been sketchy and when the highway patrol officer inquired why my husband was on the side of the road; he explained. My wife has been trying for three hours, with limited cell reception, to book this online or phone and she just finally got a person on the phone. The officer smiled, wished us well and encouraged us to make it brief and left us alone.
Our schedules were busy up until we left. It took me a few days to relax and stop worrying about the things that I had left behind. So many things to do. So little time.
Navigation with my hubs is always a stressful affair. Accustomed to his military days; his version of navigation entails coordinates, utilizing various apps such as Waze for traffic and Gas Buddy for finding the cheapest gas en route, Yelp for food destinations, multiple views (both digital and satellite) using Google maps AND our GPS navigation device since cell reception, again, would be sketchy. As we left home and had to choose the freeway less impacted by traffic, the fight was on.
This has always been a particular point of contention whenever we travel. In Texas, I almost jumped out of our moving car…so angry with my, THEN, fiance. In Utah we had pulled over to the side of the road, sleeping under the stars, on a cross-country move to Chicago worrying that my car wouldn’t make the trip; constantly overheating. Using TripTiks, atlas maps and Thomas Guides (remember those?)…I had to be sure we were on the right interstate (which we were).
We found ourselves on this same stretch of highway and the hubs excitedly pointed out the exact place where we had pulled over in my Toyota Tercel twenty-three years before. Incredulous, I could only laugh. I could never co-pilot with this man in a plane; but I’ve survived co-piloting our relationship, and family, since 1990. In the backseat, the kids heard us recount our stories of cross-country travel; curious of our lives before the idea of them ever existed.
We drove through 120 degree high desert valleys, through mesa buttes among hoodoos and deep canyons. My stress level was indirectly proportional to the miles we were logging in. As the miles away from home increased, my stress level decreased.
Upon arrival at our first destination the boys had been forewarned of our early wake-up time the next morning. Lamenting that they were on “summer vacation” and should be sleeping in…they eventually crammed into a queen bed and were rudely awakened by the alarm clock at 6 AM. This was not their idea of a vacation. They imagined the white sands of Hawaii and the bright neon lights of Vegas (where we had spent the night the day before).
The arches of Utah were calling. But after being yelled at for not bringing our best camera (left in our hotel room), I was consoled by our youngest who cried quietly in empathy. The eldest sat in the navigation seat, arguing directions with his father. Our vacation was having a stellar start and after a missed turn, all was silent in our vehicle.
We trekked in 100 degree heat on an incline with no shade at 8:30 AM. With Camelbaks on our backs and the GoPro on my cap; we took one step at-a-time; the boys patiently waiting for their father to catch up. When we finally reached our destination, all cameras and phones were out taking the scenic panorama before us. It dawned on me then that not one single complaint was uttered the entire ninety minute hike. The hubs was shocked that I had handed my camera to the German tourist who took our family shot beneath this arch from afar.
Thus began our epic adventure.
We had many more missed directions and navigation foibles and the hubs learned to curb his impatience. Comprehension had finally dawned on him that his idea of navigation was vastly different from other people. He learned to take the missed roads in stride and the rest of us learned how to navigate more efficiently. Driving an old SUV was very different from flying a multi-million dollar military aircraft.
We all learned to compromise and exerted endless patience; a reminder that it is not the destination that matters, it’s the journey in getting there. And the pictures came out just as well with our other cameras versus our better one because the best pictures from our trip are etched indelibly in our own minds.
We found ourselves lost in the middle of Idaho; stumbling upon a quaint town decked out in all-Americana; pre-Fourth of July glory. We passed bucolic panoramas with hundreds of herds of cattle, snow-capped mountains and blue skies. When I sang, “Home on the Range” my sons had never heard of the tune and the hubs and I were aghast at their ignorance.
Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word. And the skies were not cloudy all day.
Our lack of Internet connectivity made us mandatorily unplug. As a family we have never been on vacation where we were together ALL of the time. There were no separate rooms or walls to isolate us. We always were within one another’s view; unless we were using restrooms.
I had expected fights, and there were a few squabbles; but nothing that wasn’t easily resolved. My stereotypical, oppositional, middle teenage son took great joy in counting the days until we returned home. But he was constantly taking pictures to eventually share with his friends on SnapChat. He was actually enjoying the trip and wanted to keep it a secret from us, his family.
When it thundered and rained for two of our days in Yellowstone; we were undeterred. We hiked in rain and traversed mountains and peaks where the temperature registered as low as thirty nine degrees. We marveled at the geothermal features of springs, mud pots, fumaroles and of course, the geysers although the boys felt that after walking through several geyser basins, once you’ve seen one geyser; you’ve seen them all.
Daylight began at 5:40 AM and ended close to 10 PM…the hours long in the northern latitude and summer days. We sat in road jams as bison herds ambled past and were eaten alive by mosquitoes on our first day’s hike to Mystic Falls. On the days when the boys slept in or napped, hubs included, I explored our inn and sat with my cup of coffee watching Old Faithful in all its geyser glory as the sun rose or set with few people lingering. The scenery was all my own.
As we hiked among wildflowers and rivers, geysers or travertine terraces sighting bison, elk, a moose, bears, foxes, eagles and everything in-between, I breathed in the crisp mountain air, taking it all in. Whenever our family hikes, I take the rear; the mother constantly keeping tabs of her sons. The hubs used to take the lead, but the older teens now scout the trail before us; the hubs with the bear repellent spray not too far behind.
I immersed into Nature; feeling blessed for the opportunity. Gratitude filled me. I. am. here.
When the purple mountain majesty of the Grant Tetons loomed into our landscape, several days later, the boys immediately knew they would like it there. Early for check-in for our cabin, the hubs spontaneously decided to hike one of the short and easy dog-eared hikes in my travel guide. I had directed him to the trailhead (not realizing there was an eastern and southern route) and found ourselves on a difficult ascent with spectacular views of my Grand Teton peak looming ever closer to us.
I had chosen an easy-to-moderate trail on this particular route from the southern entrance and quickly realized this was something different. But the hubs persisted that THIS was the correct place and had commenced on the moderate-to-difficult trail I had chosen to avoid; after the hubs had difficulty with the Delicate Arch trail in Utah. We were on the eastern trail to Inspiration point along the shores of Jenny Lake.
Five hours later from our “short” hike prompted one of the boys to finally ask, “Who chose this hike anyway?” as we returned to our vehicle and empty trailhead parking lot.
Even on the most strenuous trek, the boys did not complain. Not once. They patiently waited as their dad caught his breath and I followed behind in the rear. The eldest had control of the “best” camera, the youngest composed panoramic shots with our waterproof camera and the middle son’s phone was constantly snapping pictures. They threw snowballs at one another when we finally reached the “saddle” portion of the mountain and we soon found ourselves at our destination, inspired by the 360 view.
In the remaining days we rafted down the Snake River, hiked trails and the hubs and tween, in sixty degree rainy weather, leapt off a 23 foot rock into the 48 degree deep alpine lake below; while the eldest carried a baby snake. We constantly were on the lookout for wildlife; encountering a few along our hikes and drives. Wildflowers sprouted along road ways, trails and riverbanks; infusing their vibrant colors and fragrant aromas in the verdant green alpine forests. I was tempted to read Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Life’s misdirection took us on paths we’d never thought to take. At one point, in the car, we didn’t know if we were in Montana or Wyoming.
In getting lost we found each other.
In the two weeks I had let all expectations go; trying hard to NOT create an itinerary for the hubs. I listened to all of my family members’ thoughts and input to consider what to do. The middle son enjoyed the hike he chose best; taking the lead. The youngest felt the accomplishment of doing what he said he’d do by leaping off the 23 foot rock on the trail he chose. And the eldest had matured, assisting with the long drives and navigation.
The take-aways were things I would have never predicted. Our road trip had finally brought us back full circle to home. To here.
My eldest developed a love for manual digital photography and outdoors; expressing the desire to return outdoors before summer ends. The middle son loved hiking and physical activity; wanting to take control and having a choice. The youngest had vision and loved to compose shots with artistic flair. We all have a greater appreciation for jazz; the music paired with my bluetooth stereo as we embarked on our endless drives.
Most importantly, we had a greater appreciation for one another; forced to interact and compromise.
Upon our return, the hubs decided he wanted to keep our physical daily activity going, finally getting on the treadmill, swimming and eating well towards better health and well being. He doesn’t want his family to have to wait or hike without him. It is one thing for me, or our sons, to want him to be on the path to wellness. It’s another thing to want to be well and healthy, for himself.
The son who walked away from competitive swim has been swimming in our lap pool. The middle son chooses to wake early to accompany me on my morning jog. And the youngest enjoys cooking meals versus always eating out while on the road. He likes having more choices with his ingredients.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Appreciate life and live in the now. Be here. Get a little lost in the great outdoors. Life takes us in directions unknown but navigate your inner compass and find your true north. You will always land where you are meant to be.