Family

getting lost and being here

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.

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Family

objects in mirror are closer than they appear

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It’s an oxymoron to think that vacations are relaxing.  I posed the question to my husband at 11:56 PM as we drove through our state border; heading home.  Has there ever been such a thing as a perfect vacation?

The hubs is slow to respond; the deep breathing and soft snores heard from our back seat.  Outside our car windows it is pitch black; the reflective signs occasionally in our headlights’ view.  There are few cars on this portion of the highway and I wondered if he had heard my question.  I considered posing it again when he finally responded.  San Francisco. 

I reflect on this as the miles blur by.

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The moon waxed full on the beginning of our trek and the boys and I, lulled by the lights of Sin City, had decided we could make the short trek up and down the Strip.  But the boulevard is deceptively long and that first night we were exhausted.  Objects appear closer than they really are.  We already had round one of my infamous navigation skills and even with our GPS and Google maps app somehow we still could not reach our very obvious destination.  How can you miss the Vegas strip, I mean really?  Between two differing digital voices speaking almost simultaneously the hubs still did not agree with our route.  It is at times like these that I am grateful I have never had to be his co-pilot.  The poor crew who flew military missions with him for sixteen years probably got an earful.  Or maybe, it’s just me.

I hadn’t realized I said this aloud but a disembodied voice from the back answers me.  Mom.  It’s you.  I normally would bristle at this but the middle son is a great navigator.  Out of the mouths of babes.

I planned an ambitious spring break vacation at the very last minute.  Originally our destination had been to the City by the Bay.  Instead I chose to travel over 1,200 miles by car with three sons, the hubs and my grumpy self.  I had not realized it was a full moon until we walked the strip; our first overnight stop.  Neither the hubs nor I are gamblers and we had not returned to this city since his best friend married his wife over sixteen years ago.   Bedazzled by the ever twinkling lights; we shared with our boys that this was the adult Disneyland.  As we traipsed through the casino to our room, their eyes were mesmerized by the machines; the real versions of games that produced cash if you were lucky.   To my surprise our sons want to return here; the land of the JabbaWockeeZ.

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We ventured away from all cell reception within the mountain ranges; left to our very basic map.  Amidst the cliffs of red rock I could finally sigh in relief.  But I remained grumpy and tired; hiking the rear as we traversed steep drops and rocky terrain.  It took me two days to realize we had changed time zones and that my tiredness was due to the high elevation.  And, of course, my unexpected visitor chose to arrive a week early whilst on a two mile hike and I was ill prepared.   The boys continued to torment one another and when we hopped off the shuttle for our fourth hike of the day the boys groaned.  Whose idea of a vacation was this anyway?  I found myself thinking the same thing.

Day four found us on the road crossing state lines once again.  We gave up figuring out what time zone we were in; our cell reception still sketchy.  Our back seat to our SUV is now too small as long gangly legs fought for space.  For hours the car chargers were in constant use until we discovered at our last gas stop; a car charger with two USB ports.  Again the hubs chose to ignore my directions (which on this entire trip were correct, mind you).  Our differences in personalities revealed themselves in the close quarters of our vehicle.  I like to travel during the day and study maps.  My spouse, on the other hand, prefers detailed guided directions way in advance and traveling at night.  At the roundabout signaling a highway change he announced their was no signage.  Once again we backtracked to our route and I loudly and clearly stated I told you so.

By the time we arrived at our viewpoint we all were ready for fresh air.  True to form, my off-road hubs chose to trailblaze off the beaten path.  I longingly gazed from the Watchtower filled with tourists; many of them foreign.  Immersed amongst so many diverse cultures I happily took in the view until I noted my sons and husband were hiking down and away from the safe railing.

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Whenever our family hikes I always take the rear.  When my sons were young I needed to keep them in tow like a mother duck; the hubs taking the lead.  Four of the members of my family were making the descent towards an unmarked plateau and my sense of adventure vanished.  Amidst the south rim of the 7,000 foot Grand Canyon I stood frozen.  I have a fear of heights and my husband and children were happily descending into the steep canyon on an unmarked trail on the edge of a cliff.  My fear for my children’s safety overrode my fear of heights and I unwillingly hiked after them constantly repeating the mantra in my mind.  Don’t look down.  Don’t look down.  I breathed deeply; my heart in my throat.  Why can’t we be like the tourists and stay where it is safe!

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My sons chose to throw rocks over the cliff, waiting to see if they could hear them land.  They could not.  When the hubs asked where my sense of adventure was I remained quiet.  I sat away from the edge as he monitored our boys; taunting me as if they were falling. Eventually my heart returned to normal and the hubs revealed the trail.  It was well marked but it was unpaved and there are no safety rails.  But others have come down this path; the tell-tale signs of footprints.  He proceeded to tell me that this will be the best view we’ll have of the canyon, you’ll see.   I was dubious but I sat; itching to reach our hotel.  He sighed.

What is your rush?  Why can’t you just sit and enjoy the view?

Of course we lost our way to our final stop; hungry and tired in the midst of Grand Canyon village.  I was stressed and my boys, masters of the obvious, tried to ease my mind.

Look Mom!  That family is fighting too.  It’s not just us.

They had begun to notice this on our first day in Las Vegas as a mother yelled at her husband in Spanish while their kids followed while walking the strip.  In Zion National Park a German family with similar aged kids, argued and pointed at maps; lost between shuttle stops.   I did not relish traveling at night and had already wanted to be at our destination reading my Kindle.  At 8PM the general store was closed and I was still in need of feminine items for my unexpected visitor.  Thankfully, a kind woman re-opened her register just for my transaction.  Without cell reception to call the hotel that we would be a late arrival I fretted.  Minutes later we arrived.

Day five we hiked various trails along the rim with scenic viewpoints.   Leaving the crowds behind we happily hiked until we realized we had forgotten our tripod.  Across the trail we heard a mother yelling.  When I say we are going to take this picture I don’t want to hear anything else.  This is the one and only time we will ever see this place so you better act like you like it.  The boys turned to me and grinned and the hubs chuckled.  Yep.  I know the feeling.  We stuck our camera in the tree, set the self-timer and took our own picture.

I, the woman with the itinerary, still have a long way to go to be able to just go with the flow and enjoy the present moment.  But I seized my moment as I quietly sat at the end of the unpaved trail at 7,000 feet.  My husband saw my frustration and sat beside me.  The eldest stopped taunting his brothers and came to lean on my other side; quietly staring into the canyon depths.  I realized how rare this moment was and the tears came to my eyes as my other sons threw rocks below.  My time is short with these boys and Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right.

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Life is a journey, not a destination.

I smiled to myself in the darkened car as I replayed our vacation.  San Francisco had been a spontaneous, unplanned vacation with no expectations.  I had no agenda or itinerary; unlike this past spring break where I had places to go and sights to see.  I had highlighted guide books and trails and we actually did see most of them; just not on the timeline I would have anticipated.  On the evening of day four I had highlighted this quote from the book I had been reading, Moon Daughter by Zohreh Ghahremani.

“Life is nothing but a chain of mistakes.  Some we learn from, but most others are only horrible misjudgments on their way to becoming regrets.”

I was grateful that my actions didn’t become regrets.  It was natural to lament the negative: the navigation arguments, the disgruntled kids wanting Wi-Fi, the full moon and unexpected monthly visitor.   We survived 1,200 miles together, enjoyed the natural beauty of two amazing national parks and discovered that the family vacation is the same across all cultural backgrounds.  It’s real life.

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The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. 

They are right in front of me but I keep projecting out into the distance; thinking of the future.  I need to travel in the present time and enjoy them with no regrets.  No smoke and mirrors.  Here and now.