In the same way that this has felt like the longest year, it somehow has passed quickly enough to forget what day it is. It’s how a road trip can feel. The same drive going home feels far longer than the drive at the beginning, despite the time passing is the same. Call it anticipation on the way out and disappointment on the way home, I am vaguely aware of both.
We have spent nearly 1,200 miles making our way out to Colorado and everyone has loved having a front seat view. Today was about changing things up. We played new songs and learned new games. A few takeaways: 1) a game of poker lasts a lot longer than I realized 2) it’s easy to raise the bets when real money is not at stake 3) word search competitions only work when you are looking at the right page (try to find airmail😉)
We have laughed. We have snacked. We have slept. We have drained our hot spot capability according to ATT …and we still have one hour to go. Even our dog Cleo begs us to stop by staring at the exit.
It’s all worth it to me because we are actually having a blast even in our boredom. We know what’s ahead. The view through the windshield is clear for now. The next few days we’ll soak up the sweet and precious time with cousins and I can’t think of anything more important than that in the middle of the road driving across the country in a pandemic.
Sometimes it’s important to back up before you fully understand where you are headed. As I mentioned, tracks are always left.
We’ve left out a few details so I thought I’d play catch up. In an effort to be fully transparent, I’ve been in a place lacking all creative juices. I’m self described manic since Covid-19 hit the states …and my state of emotions is unstable at best. I work hard to feel differently but I’m a hugger by nature and I feel a bit lost in social distancing. So I fake it. I know how to laugh and smile and put on the show but for those who know me well enough, it’s just plain tough to feel happy on some days.
One of the most important pieces of buying a new rig is stability. It must be able to handle the road with all of the construction zones, wind, and storms. The final landing spot is equally important. The need to set up and open slides and stay parked for a while requires balance and equilibrium. It’s not just the vehicle that needs stability, but it’s the person behind the wheel. I’m not there yet so I’m grateful to have this man owning the road for us. Our little Cleo (our Italian retriever) is a good companion and seems to be enjoying the views too.
Another shocking thing in upgrading is there is no license necessary to learn how to drive this much of a bus. We spent three hours being checked out on the exterior and interior hoses, generator, plumbing, air brakes, etc. At the end of the tour, they just hand over the keys. It’s yours to drive off the lot; no questions asked. We had a lot to learn and did our best, despite a storage door popping open after taking our first turn out of the sales lot. And the gas pump could use a little more instruction about how close you should get to fill up your tank. We stretch ourselves in the newness of it all and still we feel invigorated.
The kids. They are just plain excited about the space. I think they are excited for both the extra space to move around and the space to be together again. It’s the definition of time. We spell it out in a way the kids are not only prepared but ready to take it on with us. Let’s be clear. For all of the room we have bought into, it’s still a tight fit. Attitude is the only way forward together.
We wrap up the first of our 8 hour drive realizing the firsts. Parker barely remembers Jackson Hole and he and Wilson have never seen a windmill because typically T and I drive the long legs out west.
As we cross into our KAO in Kansas, we still hold the tradition of playing AC/DC loud to make ourselves known.
Our first night to stay in our new rig is overall a success. We have a few wires crossed with the black water (never something to play around with) but our induction stove top and convection oven work like a champ for dinner. Ramen noodles for the win.
And after a long day, we know it’s time to settle. We head to our carved out spaces and get comfortable. We say our prayers and we can only hope and pray tomorrow brings about the plans we made.
2020 has been a year like no other. It came on stronger than any one of us could have imagined. We went from thinking we might stay in place forever, to finally waking up from then numbness of this strange new space. Instead of laying down, we decided to strong arm our way back. It’s time we embrace the new normal so we ramped up our plan to take back the summer we love.
We have always loved the open road, mapping out the adventures of traversing national parks. We feel ahead of the Corona curve in that we decided nearly ten years ago to purchase our first travel trailer and explore East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains. We not only needed a change of scenery but we needed a shift in the pace of life. We were out of balance with work and family and we took to the road, squeezing in time together in our truck with our travel trailer hitched to the back. I like to tell the story of how unhappy I was in our first road trip until I hit the cool waters of a concrete pool just outside Gatlinburg and felt baptized in a new way of connecting with my family. Their giggles gave way to the fun I had been missing. Life had become so complicated. This stretch of time helped us simplify and reset our priorities.
Years have passed and we still lean into this time and hold it sacred. Stuart is a rising senior and likely next year will look even more different as he makes plans for college and beyond. We decided to make the most of our time and upgrade the family experience. There is no squeezing into tightly packed spaces of trucks and trailers this year. We traded in for comfort. We call this big rig Trona, based on last year’s nearly 12 hour truck ride through Death Valley and Trona, CA where an earthquake hit mere days after we came through. It’s our safe word. We need it more than ever this year.
We have saddled up every thing we possibly can because there is more square footage in this bus than a New York City apartment. It’s home for two weeks and the first stop is to see my sister and her crew who we haven’t seen since the world changed on a dime. We have a plan but if we have learned anything during this time of Covid -19, plans change.
I’ll end with this thought. Just like the rings of a tree can tell the story of how it lived, I hope this time speaks to my crew about living with what matters most and loving well those who cross your path. Time is something we can’t get back. How we spend our time and use our energy leaves an impression that can be traced. Our future depends on learning from our past.
It’s difficult to read maps sometimes, either when you don’t have all of the facts, or if you are inherently directionally challenged like me. It also helps to understand scale. We (ahem, I) made a few mistakes when mapping out our destinations and misread some of the mileage, but what a journey we had. In all, we covered almost 1,600 miles, and countless more going in and out of the 6 National Parks, exploring all they had to offer. It was epic and exhausting. It’s time to face the sad fact that all good things come to an end. The longest drive planned was jammed into one day so we could maximize every little bit of Lake Tahoe before we made the descent into life as we know it. We agreed to the almost 8 hour drive by our family fist bump. It’s how we counted down time, every hour we crossed in the car together. That’s a lot of fist bumps.
There is little to take in across Nevada but it is the state the helped us stay connected a bit longer. I’ll be forever grateful for that 500 miles to Utah, savoring the time before it ends.
We will make our way back to Tennessee to celebrate our nation’s independence but I will still be reeling in the beautiful independence I experienced with the each of the people I call mine.
Lake Tahoe was a refreshing surprise as we rounded out of the grasslands of California and rediscovered the dense woods and roaring waters again. There were plenty of cabins as we made our way closer to the lake and it did my heart good to know we were going to be in cold weather and surrounded by mountains.
Camping in the woods is so special. The trees allow for the perfect resting spots of enos tied up. The canopy of comfort I feel under the trees with a fire going is just good for the soul.
Lake Tahoe is embraced by all of us full throttle. There are so many lake activities to take in and we do our best to enjoy the ability to unwind, without the looming feeling of getting back into the truck. . .that will come later. We wiggle travel plans around to stay one extra night here so we can just be by the beach and be together without any agenda. The real El Capitan has arrived and he has a contender. . .I’ll take both.
We log in a lot of firsts for the kids. . .first dinner cruise taking in the sunset, first time on a wave runner and first time parasailing. It’s a wonder to watch the wind lift all three of our kiddos up into the air. . . they have their own personal experience flying together and all we can do is take in the backdrop of the mountains as they fly high above us. That’s what every parent wishes right? For their kids to fly high and live life to the fullest. . .sure there are supports and there is cheerleading and there is a moment of nail biting too, but in the end, we want to say we helped our kids soar.
That is what I’ll remember most about Lake Tahoe. . .you only live once.
There has been a lot of build up to this leg of our trip since it involves seeing El Capitan. Our kids have watched the documentaries called the Dawn Wall and Free Solo featuring this area and they are pretty well hooked on climbing. Yosemite creates a space of inspiration, particularly since we learned a 10 year old just climbed El Cap as the youngest climber a couple of weeks ago. The greatest surprise in Yosemite for me, however, is the sweeping views of waterfalls. It seems at every turn, particularly coming out of tunnel view, you are hit with the most breathtaking expanse of rock and water that come together in perfection. Once you see the view, you can walk up to experience it and feel the water wash over you.
It was the perfect cleansing to my soul and I could have sat under Bridalveil Falls forever. For my family, El Cap was the crown jewel and we spent two days walking the base of the towering rock and climbing the nearby boulders.
Everyone wanted to feel bold on the rocks. I felt a deep respect. Scaling these monoliths are dangerous at best, but there is something inspiring to think about making it to the top or getting over the ledge. There is teamwork and encouragement. There is gravity and nature at work too.
For us, it’s about being together, whatever the challenge, and taking in the views together.
We spent a lot of time in Yosemite walking and climbing (and admittedly I spent a lot of time driving the parking lots to find a spot, because yes, it’s very crowded). There is no shortage of sights and it’s a park that feels perfectly on display.
However, with all of the water, it’s not forgotten that this park suffered in a mighty way last year due to a forest fire. The drive to Yosemite Valley is a clear reminder of what fire and heat can do and again, a deep respect sets in for how we take care of ourselves and our outdoors.
It is also a glorious display of resilience to know so much can survive after a fire and how new growth can begin (photo taken at Kings Canyon National Park). For today, we’ll savor the sweetness of what fire can also bring to a moment.
There are always a few alter egos that pop up when you spend a lot of time with people, particularly when you are all trapped in tiny quarters. We’ve discovered Stuart’s ability to capture the spot on voices for Yogi Bear and his sidekick Boo Boo. Wilson is a mean match for Shrek as she shouts out “Donkey” and Parker has a nasally voice he created all his own. We crack up every time these egos pop out. The laughter it creates diffuses any tension in the car, whether from our long drives or from hunger pains (and the In and Out Burger stop before Yosemite campsite was added bonus to settle the cravings). The biggest ego in the car that has emerged is hard to ignore. . . Sancho. His mustache is fierce and he can channel the attitude to match. He has his own theme song, thanks to Sublime.
Laughter is the medicine for the soul and we’ve experienced more of it out here than we have anywhere. It may be because we are delirious or it may be because we have stripped a lot of the unnecessary out. We are left with ourselves. We have to figure out the nuances of moods and irritability. We have to embrace the boredom. At some point, all of our true selves rise up and it forces us to pay attention to the good, the bad. . . and the gross. I’ve determined that more than 85% of our connection on this trip centers around potty talk, literally bodily functions, and it fuels the giggles of our 7 year old like no other.
This trip has been about going big. Going big with voices or going big with the sights we have seen, we are taking in some of the grandest views nature has to offer. From the biggest hole in the ground, to the hottest place on earth, to the largest living sequoia tree, we are living large together. Laughing hard. Eating plenty. Driving tons. It’s hard to grasp the size of what we are taking in and pictures don’t quite do the sights the justice they deserve. We try to wrap ourselves around the base of one tree and we can’t even fit. These trees are so massive and so old. They say their rings tell their age and scientists have told us their stories. Touching one up close is a story all in itself. It’s a story of a family on a road together.
We came out of Vegas feeling on top and ready to take our chances on Death Valley. There is not a lot of wisdom to offer in this post other than the journey through Death Valley is one not to be repeated. At least that’s how our family will remember it. We came to check the box on the National Park stamp, which we did, but we should have turned right back out of the and never looked back. We mapped out the trip the night before and we were still unclear about the approach, but I was confident my route called for 6-7 hours if accounting for stops. I had us going Vegas to Death Valley and then Death Valley to Sequoia National Park. If you broke the trip into two stretches when typing in the information, we would be golden. I wanted that park stamp. Spoiler alert: don’t use a map this way.
Aside from passing the signs that alert you to Area 51 and alien sightings, we were convinced a wind tunnel was taking up spirits as we drove. Wild mustangs greeted us at the road that led to the park entrance. We should have known they were signaling us to stop, but we were so close now. The entrance was the equivalent to a pay phone booth, lack luster at best. We came for the sand dunes and got a beautiful hot glimpse at the overlook called Zabriskie Point. For the two hundred steps I might have taken, I was already in heat stroke mode and my cell phone literally told me it was over heating in my hand as I took a picture of Wilson climbing to the dunes. Meanwhile, we discovered upon our arrival at this first landmark, that we did not have service and knew that we would need to find someone to guide us to the right route to Sequoia National Park. We pressed on to the Visitor’s Center where the thermometer topped out at 114 degrees as we drove by it but we felt the solid 112. We were told to follow the road through the park to pick back up on our journey. For the next 3 ½ hours, we would pass one car and have no cell service. Our truck would signal it’s overheating and kick on a fan. The elevation went from 200 feet below sea level to 5000 elevation. The signs on the road would say things such as “turn off air conditioner next 14 miles” or “no gas for 40 miles.” That’s crazy talk National Parks. The only map working was our satellite in our truck. The gravel road we took out to find civilization was long and hard to travel. Surprise Canyon was the scenic backdrop to our constant laughter but it’s no surprise to us that we won’t be back anytime soon.
It’s safe to say our family had a lot of jokes about dying in Death Valley. We think it’s why there is so little said about it, likely because many people don’t make it out. There is no cell service, little if any water, and lots and lots of miles of dry heat that feels suffocating. It’s easy to feel turned around and we felt we had been going in circles to find our way out. The one thing we all agreed on, Death Valley was a place like no other. It was as unfamiliar as it was familiar. It’s the road that takes you nowhere and everywhere. From what looks like Ayers Rock in Australia, to the dunes of the Middle East, or even the volcanic mountains of Guatamala, you can see it all in Death Valley (one pic is what we took and one pic is pulled from Google to show how Death Valley is as scenic as it is barren). It’s a vision like no other but we came out alive. That’s all that matters for today.
When traveling by road, you have far more opportunities to take in the wide variety of landscapes that stretch across this great country of ours and learn from all you see and experience. Each state we cross allows for different habitats to be on display. It’s fascinating to think those who came before us had the vision to plow through the elements to establish roads and interstates to connect us to the land. It was no easy feat. The accounts of lives lost to winter, disease, and war feel present in the shadows of the valleys we pass. There are small tributes to the loss of these brave men, women and children noted in the road signs honoring our veterans. Several more signs dot the states touched by the Trail of Tears where Native Americans were pushed out of the land they called home. We do some of our own searching and study this uncomfortable history of ours while driving comfortably to a cool 70 degrees of air conditioning. Because of the hard work put in before us, we get to choose where we might want to settle. We get to explore without the intense fears of how the West was conquered. We’ve crossed the windy flat lands of Kansas and felt the leftover lava rocks in New Mexico. We stood soaking in the layers of rock at the Petrified National Forest, contemplating the foundation we have built and if it is strong enough to hold up against time. We’ve wondered how anyone could walk through the miles of cacti scattered across Arizona. We’ve trekked over the rocky hills and made our way into the shifting desert sands of Nevada. We will land under the California cover of the forest trees that grow higher than any trees in the world.
Studying history is not only important, it can be uncomfortable. Pain and hardship seem to be recycled in the themes of the West. It was not easily won. The aftermath of all of the effort arguably left more lives to suffer than we had means to track, because not all lives mattered back in the days of old. Studying the landscapes help us understand just how much more to appreciate how far we have come. Like the layers of the Grand Canyon, we can build a story of what happened. Knowing what happens gives us a clearer understanding of what we can change going forward. We don’t have to repeat history, we can change the future. Einstein said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
There is no shortage of learning on the road if one has the desire to access it. We take in the road signs and study the maps and stretch ourselves to discover more of what took place around us. It’s a classroom like no other. It’s 360 degrees of being exactly where we need to be while remembering to honor the paths of those who traveled before us.
One of the greatest gifts of marriage is to be seen as you want to be known. We will make our way through Las Vegas with all of its distractions of bright lights and big bets. I think about how we tackle 24 hours there as a family and I want to take some time to think about gambling on love.
I’m grateful to be with someone who has eyes only for me. It’s evident in how he holds me up with his words. He speaks with a passion when he talks about our love. He is driven by his commitment to deepen our connection of understanding. He is affectionate and heartfelt. I continue to learn how to soak in that unashamed love. I’ve always been more guarded. I have to work to silence the negative voices in my head that often take what he says and spins it opposite. When I focus on the truth of what he is saying, it’s the healing balm I need to go out and conquer the day. It’s what a strong and healthy relationship should do; it should strengthen the connection, sharpen the affection and make one another better.
I share this because I believe in finding deep joy in the marriage relationship and feeling side by side. Choosing the right relationship is more like a sure placed bet where you cannot move the chips. It’s all in on one person. It’s an unwavering commitment to do all you can because you can’t fold. Joy in marriage is not a discovery process that unveils itself with the morning sunrise after saying a Vegas style “I do”. It’s sometimes a heavy trudge through the leftover words laced with hot lava.
It may be the vigorous climb back together to the top of a weather worn mountain with no ropes. It’s looking for signs, however small they might be that love is still in this place.
It’s taking the hard places with you to remember just how resilient the two of you are and that you could not do this with anyone else.
There is no perfect guidebook for a marriage and there are plenty of missteps. We’ve taken the pages of our own experiences and tried to study some of the steps we made so we can focus more clearly on how to make our next move. . . to grow closer, not further apart. Considering we are in our forties, I’d say we’re half way up the trail. We’ve held on for dear life and we’ve walked stretches alone. However, our marriage goal has always been to get to the top together. It’s vital for couples to share the same goal and almost just as vital, is for couples to have the same rules of engagement.
We’ve often talked about marriage being an effort of 50/50 but we see it as a long journey; a series of efforts where the end goal of living life together is to FEEL like it was 50/50. I want to believe I can look back over our lifetime and know we were giving each other the best of what we could and that over time, it was balanced. We know we haven’t matched up at times and some of our seasons were out of sync for too long. But we know that’s how careers are made, how vacations get curbed or new ventures are begun. There have been stretches of 90/10 or 40/60 and we can identify those seasons pretty well now looking back. Thankfully we learned to fight fair and love even deeper as we unloaded the hurts of those desert stretches of misguided attention and lack of shared vision. We acknowledged the distractions of work and children and definitions of success. We allowed those arguments to be heard and then we tucked them into the folds of our journals, and scripted our history so we would not repeat it.
Now, we focus on each other and the road ahead. Who knows, we may even renew our vows in Vegas just to relive the fun of saying I do, because if I do say so myself, the view sure looks better when sharing it with a partner who’s all in.