My husband and daughters and I
Drove the car almost 10,000 miles
From east coast to west
And then back again
Still everyone came home alive!
© Nichole Perreault 2015
My husband and daughters and I
Drove the car almost 10,000 miles
From east coast to west
And then back again
Still everyone came home alive!
© Nichole Perreault 2015
We’ve taken quite a few road trips in our family: Florida, Cross Country and Back, Florida, Kouchibouguac National Park, Florida, Cape Breton, Florida, Outer Banks, Florida… Short or long, they’re always interesting.
Some notes before we begin: You may find my list light on stories about kids fighting in the car. That’s mostly because our kids are (a) girls (b) seven years apart in age and (c) have always been great car travelers. (Well, minus the fact that one of them was prone to motion sickness and used to vomit on car rides around town). Also, I don’t drink coffee…at all. All Starbucks stops are for the girls and my husband (though he prefers Dunkin’).
Travelling across the country wasn’t just about places, it was about people too. We met so many different individuals that I need help from my family to remember them all! Our first real conversation took place in Niagara Falls with a very friendly lady from Pennsylvania; she was travelling with her husband and teenage son and daughter. We had found a snake in the rock ledge along the sidewalk and she stopped to talk about the raccoons that run around the city in broad daylight.
In DeSmet, South Dakota, I particularly appreciated our tour guide, a dark-haired, fair skinned, college-age girl, dressed in period clothing who taught us all about pioneer living.
While at the Badlands, we met a middle-aged husband and wife who had planned to drive cross-country on their motorcycle (wow) until the husband tore his rotator cuff; so they rented an RV instead.
The next day we walked around Devil’s Tower with a man retired from the military and his 10 year old daughter, Kirsten, who live in Virginia. Every summer the two of them hook up their camper and head out for 6 to 8 weeks on the road. His wife, employed in the defense industry, flies out to meet them at the place she most wants to see and stays for a couple weeks before returning to work. Christina and Kirsten, both 5th graders, really enjoyed chatting together as we circled the monolith. Kirsten and her dad (we never did learn his name) are quite the adventurers, from rock climbing to white water rafting, they do it all! We actually bumped into them several days later in Yellowstone and met Kirsten’s mom! (See a pic of Kirsten early on in the blog.)
One night, after arriving at a hotel in Gillette, Wyoming tired and hungry, the front desk clerk, who had all her family and friends visiting her on the couches in the lobby, baked a fresh batch of cookies for us! She’s at the top of our list of favorite front desk associates.
We had an interesting encounter in Yellowstone. A white haired gentleman saw our license plates and asked where in Connecticut we were from. Turns out he lived in Avon! (Read about him somewhere around day 7)
We also met an amiable man from Great Britain while waiting for Old Faithful to blow. He had travelled the U.S. to visit his brother in Oregon, was touring the northwest alone by car for a few weeks and then returning to Oregon to visit his niece – who, by the way, no longer speaks to her father (his brother) so he visits them separately. Ahh – family struggles abound everywhere, don’ t they?
That night our stocky, waiter, with crystal blue eyes, chestnut colored hair and full, yet perfectly trimmed beard served us a delicious meal and dessert ~ we later found out it was his restaurant. Looking for a good meal in Gardiner, Montana? Go to Rosie’s.
While stopped for construction in Nevada we got out of our cars (if you’ve read my previous blogs you will know that we were really stopped) and talked with the young couple that was parked (yes parked) behind us. They were relocating from Boston to Sacramento because the wife was beginning her medical residency at UC-Davis.
In San Francisco we shared a tour trolley with a kind, married couple and their son and daughter. They shared lots with us about the city and we eventually deduced that they were real estate agents. (The continual pricing of every house we drove by kinda gave it away.) Their four year old son would hardly look at me the whole trip, but after I gave him my blanket to keep warm (because someone had taken theirs) he developed a new fondness for me. I actually got an invite to his 5th birthday party, next January, on 17th street in San Francisco. Or was it 16th? I can’t wait 😉 Even got a high five as we were leaving the trolley!
I sat on a bench to rest at the base of General Sherman’s Tree in Sequoia National Park where I met an elderly woman who lost her husband last year. She shared with me that her travels were bittersweet because, while she was enjoying her family, she missed her husband with whom she took many cross country road trips. I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather who only lasted 4 short months after losing my grandma. This woman has been in my prayers.
In Disney, I met a hispanic grandmother and L.A. native who vowed she’ll never leave because that’s where her kids and grandkids live. Our conversation began when we moved over on the Disney Train so she could have a seat. “Wow. You guys are wonderful people! You moved over!” she practically hollered. Sometimes it really is the little things that matter. I learned she likes California weather but fears the earthquakes – and like most women, she loves her family.
In Phoenix, Doug was walking into a Wal-Mart and he said his classic, boisterous “Good Mornin!” to a middle-aged african-american woman as she passed by. “You ain’t from around here, are ya’?” she replied, “Most people around here treat me like I’m sh–!” Doug was a bit surprised but he finally said, “Nope, I’m from the northeast and most people actually say we’re unfriendly! You have a good day!” I don’ t think he’ll ever forget that exchange.
We drove along the ridge at the Grand Canyon and there we met an african-american man returned from a tour overseas and moving with his wife and daughter to a new base. They decided to make a vacation out of it and visited the Grand Canyon along the way. Turns out he’s originally from Windsor, CT; said he hadn’t seen a CT plate in a long time.
In Amarillo, Texas, we met Bob and his teenage granddaughter, Amber. The two of them were travelling from Oklahoma City to the Red River in Mexico to go fishing and then to Denver to visit his daughter. He shared so much with us – about sorrow for friends hurt in the Oklahoma City bombings to the joy of his granddaughter’s turnaround since changing schools to the pain of recently putting his wife in a nursing home. He and she had travelled together often. Oh how my heart goes out to him.
Sitting just behind us at the Grand Ole Opry were two very friendly, elderly couples. One of which had travelled cross-country by train in 1999. We loved listening to their stories and they, the lady especially, enjoyed watching Christina. She said she missed her grandkids back home in Kentucky.
There were many, many more people that we met. Others we just observed. From wealthy white-haired women in Rolls-Royce’s on Rodeo Drive to the middle-class vacationers everywhere to the homeless man we bought a newspaper from in Nashville, (If you have a minute google “The Contributor” a newspaper by the homeless in Nashville); from the farmers in Minnesota to the Amish couple driving their horse covered wagon in Wisconsin to the ranchers in Wyoming ; from the real estate broker in San Francisco to the man talking Christian apologetics with perfect strangers while waiting for a bus at the Grand Canyon to the retired couples at every stop to the struggling musicians in Music City. This is my America. This is your America. This is our America.
There is so much that divides us. Sometimes its the real mountains, rivers, oceans and deserts that keep us apart. Other times it’s money, class, jobs, religion or race and culture. Then there are the barriers we build ourselves – our opinions, judgements, politics or even our busy schedules. And we always have a few mountains that we pretend we don’t see so we don’t have to climb them – the emotional separations, the personal isolation, family divisions and damaged relationships.
While on this trip my girl’s kept telling me that they want to meet their “other” grandpa – my biological father. We were driving through Virginia, where he lives, after all. 31 years since he moved away and made a new family, 9000 miles around the country and I still couldn’t bring myself to climb that mountain.
Even at the best of times, we will find something to divide us. I believe that’s just human nature. But as I travelled along roads built from coast to coast, highways that cut through cities and farmland, traversing deserts and mountains, bridges and tunnels to cross rivers and even the ocean, I thought about those things that connect us all: our passion for family, a love for freedom and liberty, a desire to succeed, a loyalty to our country, a need to be loved unconditionally, a longing for peace, security and a place to call home, a hope for a future and a yearning for something more than this…for meaning or purpose.
Connecting the American landscape was no easy task. Think of the years of back-breaking work it took to lay the trancontinental railroad, the lives lost building the GW bridge or the billions of gallons of asphalt that made our summer vacation possible. But somewhere, somebody had a vision of a country, a people, even a world, connected – despite our differences.
Where is that vision today? In America? In your neighborhood? Your church? Your family? I am talking to myself here, too. I mean, we never went to see my biological father. Even after a couple years of talking on the phone, I am not ready to see him or let him into the lives of my children. I’m not saying I want to turn around, but maybe some canyons are too wide to jump across – sometimes we need to stop and take time to build a bridge.
Our two days at the beach were fabulously relaxing and I have a renewed love for the Atlantic Ocean. We slept in(glorious!), had breakfast at 1:00 and walked the boardwalk. Then we returned to our hotel for a swim in our salt water pools! Throughout the entire trip Christina kept trying to make a whirlpool in just about every pool in which we swam. This was difficult because the pools were big and there were just four of us. Imagine her excitement when we found that the children’s pool housed a constantly moving whirlpool all its own! What a treat this was for her and us; we had so much fun!
Late that afternoon we walked along the ocean, played in the waves and buried Christina in the sand. For dinner we ate grinders from a local deli (yummy!); we brought them to Rita’s, ate at their tables and then ordered up some delicious custards and italian ice.
That night we tried to go for a swim in the indoor pool. Doug and Christina dipped their feet in its warm waters the night before and encouraged us all to go. Unforunately, the pool had been drained and refilled that morning and this time the pool was like ICE!!!! Christina was so sad, but I told her, “No worries! We’ll fill the jacuzzi!”
That cheered her up tremendously. Until we began filling the tub and found that the water was yellow. We all stood around the tub, staring into the water, bewildered. As the water level rose, the hue slowly deepened to a rusty green. I kid you not – our feet were in green water! Umm, had we been showering in that? Doug called the front desk and said these words exactly, “Trivia Question. What color is your water?” Without hesitation the man answered, “A brownish, greenish.” What?! He claimed that because of a drought they shipped in water and that, due to the containers, the water is tinted greenish brown. He also said that the water had been tested and is free from any dangerous chemicals or bacteria.
As we continued to fill the jacuzzi, the water turned a deeper shade of brown and eventually, we could not even see our feet. This is not a literary device of any kind – no hyperbole here – just brown water! Testing or no testing, we couldn’t take it anymore. We drained the tub, popped some popcorn, watched the end of Finding Nemo (to which we had all fallen asleep the night before) and tried to forget that this is the same water with which we brushed our teeth!
Our last day was spent swimming in the pools and walking along the shore at high tide. Even thought we all loved the hotel and beach, we were anxious to get home! Our drive back to CT was typical: heavy traffic in Jersey and toward the GW bridge. When traffic stood still, we exited and took the Tappanzee. On the other side of the bridge, our GPS tried to direct us to 95 via the Sawmill Parkway South. Doug nearly threw it out the window! We have learned that while the GPS handles most parts of the country very well, from Virginia to points north, the technological wonder seems a little confused. Maybe it was just tired!
We called a Chili’s in Milford when we were about 20 minutes away, ordered our dinner to go and ate in the car. (Still had some gift cards left!) As Hartford came into sight, I couldn’t help thinking that our little capital, all lit up at dusk, never looked so beautiful. We couldn’t avoid one final rest stop (someone had a lot to drink with dinner) at the McDonald’s on exit 37, and then we enjoyed an amazing light show as we drove north on 189. The giant black clouds hovering over Massachussettes flashed pink and gray with lightning every few seconds.
How strange and wonderful we felt driving into Tariffville. When the girls saw the signature cliffs along 189, just before the stoplight at the bottom of Elm St., they cheered! We pulled into our driveway with a well-lit walkway thanks to our solar powered lights! After 9456.4 miles, 32 days and 27 states we were finally home!
We were most excited to see our pets for the first time in a month! We were also welcomed by food and treats from my mom and a “Welcome Home” sign from our neighbors, Jay and Pam. We didn’t get here by clicking our heels three times, but no matter what, there is no place like home!
While driving through the Virginia on Wednesday, we pulled over to take our picture on a street named Cross Country Lane. I stepped out of the car and took a deep breath. “What is that smell?” I said aloud. I breathed deeper, inhaling the sweetest, freshest air I had smelled in weeks. A few more inspirations and I knew…cut grass!!! Home couldn’t be far away now!
That night we raced to our hotel and arrived about 30 minutes before the summer premiere of Psych! We ordered pizza in and laughed like crazy during our favorite show.
Thursday morning we went to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, shelling out mere $74.00 for the four of us. The property was beautiful and one can clearly see why the cost of entry is high. The land and house are immaculate and obviously well-staffed. During our tour of his home, we saw Jefferson’s books, living quarters and various collections. We learned so much about him and his family; the words, “the more I see the less I know” keep coming to mind.
We followed along a plantation tour for about 10 minutes, where we learned about the slave life on Monticello. Jefferson’s internal battle with slavery is very interesting. He believed that all men were born free, but couldn’t imagine life and economy without slavery. While the tour intrigued us, our white, middle-aged, female guide’s demeanor was very unpleasant. We felt as though we were being dramatically lectured about the sins of slavery – she was “preaching us a sermon” if you know what I mean. Quite frankly, the facts she shared were testimony enough to the horror of slavery. We didn’t need the fire and brimstone. We left that tour early, did a little shopping at the gift shop and left for the beach!
Upon reaching the East Coast late that afternoon, all of us felt as though, in some small way, we had made it home. We drove the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, stopping to stretch our legs, take pictures and get a snack at the visitor center.
Doug surprised us all with a beautiful, ocean-side suite in Ocean City, Maryland. I wish you could have heard the girls’ hoots and hollers as we entered the room. We all went straight outside to our 30 foot long balcony and soaked in the view of the Atlantic. He even ran out to pick up dinner, so we could all eat on the deck. As I sat on the chair, listening to the waves I realized that, after all the places I have been, the ocean is still my favorite vacation spot!
About 12 years ago, Doug, Jacquelyn and I ventured out on a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee to visit the Grand Ole Opry. By the time we arrived at our hotel stop in Harrisburg, PA, I had a full blown case of the flu – temperature of 103, sore throat, body aches and so on. The next morning we got back in the car and headed home. That Saturday night, through a fog of fever and medication, I watched the TV as my favorite country artist, Vince Gill, made a surprise appearance on the Opry stage. Oh that cruel, cruel twist of fate! The only saving grace: I was so sick I didn’t have enough energy to be sad or angry. I just thought, “wow,” and shook my head.
Monday, after many years and an 8,000 mile drive (we took the long way), we finally made it to Nashville! The landscape here looks a lot like home – lots of green trees, rolling hills and roads cut through rocky earth. In fact, on the way to our hotel last night, Jacquelyn said, “Doesn’t this look just like we’re driving down route 189 to our house?” We all agreed.
We walked the club and shopping strip on Broadway, near the historic Ryman Auditorium both days. Live music drifted through the open doors of every club as we passed by. With every few steps, one sound and style of music swelled and faded and swelled into another and then another and then another. I was overwhelmed to think of all these people striving to get a break and make it big. I guess, instead of being positive, I am inclined to think of all the ones whose dreams will never materialize. I pray they find new dreams! Then we visited the area known as Music Row, where some will see their dreams come true.
Monday we ate some fried chicken and barbeque at the legendary Loveless Café and on Tuesday we shared lunch at the Noshville Deli with our neighbor’s daughter, Christen, who works for Vanderbilt University. Christen often comes home during the holidays, when she and we are very busy, so getting a chance to catch up with her was a real treat! She also suggested a number of places to visit. One of our favorites? Las Paletas – a little, gourmet popsicle store on 12th St. Yummy! (You might catch them on Food Network this weekend!)
We also had the chance to swim in the hotel’s salt water pool just before the rains rolled into town. When the lightning flashed we raced out of the pool and back to our rooms. The Tennessee thunderstorms were intense this week, but perfectly timed; no storms when we were sightseeing!
Tuesday night was the big night. Tickets to the Grand Ole Opry! Because the Grand Ole Opry house is undergoing repairs from flood damage, Opry shows are currently being held at the original Opry House – the Ryman Auditorium, which is half the size of the new venue. This meant that in order to accommodate our front row tickets, two rows of chairs were placed directly in front of the stage for us and about 15 other people. We were so close that I could straighten my leg out in front of me and set my foot flat on the stage wall. At first we all thought this was a bit too close for comfort, but as you will see, it all worked out in the end.
The star studded, live radio broadcast, family show began with the ever entertaining, bling wearing, cowboy band, Riders in the The Sky – they even performed their song, Woody’s Round-Up from Toy Story 2! (I have included, in parentheses, the name of a song played by each band which may help you identify them and/or their kind of music.) Legendary artists included cajun country musician Jimmy Newman (Jambalaya) and singer/comedian Jeannie Seely (Ode to Bille Joe/Chocktaw Ridge). Chris Young (The Man I Wanna Be) and Mark Chestnutt (Bubba Shot the Juke Box) also took the stage before we were treated to rockin’ double headliners Montgomery Gentry (Roll with Me) and The Charlie Daniels Band (A Few More Rednecks).
Active military, just back from Iraq, were at the show Tuesday night. For that reason, Charlie Daniels, a frequent entertainer of troops overseas, rolled out a blues song he wrote and plays specifically for troops in Iraq. The song was a real crowd pleaser and the troops received a standing ovation.
As I mentioned before, we were seated, quite literally, under the noses of the performers. This resulted in singers and musicians interacting with us throughout the night – posing for pictures, smiling, winking and waving. For Christina, who was sitting center stage, this was all the encouragement she needed. She was wiggling and rockin’ and dancing as if she were there to entertain the entertainers. The grandmotherly ladies behind us got quite a kick out of it all.
Charlie Daniels closed the night with one of Doug’s favorite songs, the smokin’ Devil Went Down to Georgia. During this already exciting moment, Charlie leaned forward and tossed Christina his fiddle bow! I am not sure you can imagine the state of shock into which that put me. For a few, very brief moments, I was speechless. And even though before tonight, Christina probably didn’t know Charlie Daniels from Charles Dickens, she was very excited. I think she really understood the extraordinary nature of that moment. As for me, I am driving home with Charlie Daniels’ bow in my car. ‘Nuff said!
On Sunday morning we drove to Memphis, Tennessee beginning our adventures at the Mud Island River Park. We rode a suspended monorail to the park and toured the Mississippi River Museum, which traces the river’s impact on U.S. history. This included information and artifacts from the earliest river people through today, the river’s role in war, particularly the Civil War, how the river influenced culture and how the culture shaped the music industry. Christina was a little bored until we got each of the girls an audio touring device; then she eagerly moved from exhibit to exhibit, looking for which number to press on her hand-held device. She especially seemed to enjoy that Jacquelyn had one too so they could experience it together.
After the museum, we went outdoors and waded through the running waters of a 5 ½ block, scaled model of the
Mississippi River. The model is made of sandy colored, rocky cement (the kind you might find in a designer, in-ground pool) and though it is wide enough for adult feet in some places, many sections are narrow and uneven. We got out and walked along the edge in those places. The walk along the mini-Mississippi seemed to take forever; just when we thought we were near the end, we would take a turn and see the water winding on before us again. For a moment, I felt like the European’s sailing on and on looking for passage to the Orient. The stifling Memphis heat and humidity made the walk seem even longer so we preferred to keep our feet in the cool waters as much as possible. I love how this relatively short journey helped me to appreciate the actual length of the mighty Mississippi. We followed the river to its end, where it fans out into a delta and pours into the ocean – or in this case, a 3 ft. deep man-made pool where people were paddle-boating.We then headed to Beale St. for lunch. Memphis is quiet on Sundays, even on Beale St. We welcomed the thin crowds and subdued atmosphere especially because our children were with us. We decided to eat at BB King’s Blues Club, which was everything one might expect of a Memphis blues club on Beale – dark, run down, seedy, cramped and cool as ice. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that the atmosphere was not left to chance, but was carefully crafted through masterful design techniques, such as red tinted windows on the third floor, dark, sparsely decorated walls and metal railings painted to look tarnished. The “BB” shaped speakers were also a nice touch. (Blues lovers take note: BB King is playing a live concert at his Memphis club two night this September.)
While we chowed down a plate of fried pickles, a blues band took the stage. I’m not sure I ever saw the drummer but the bassist was a big, heavy African-American man in suspenders, and the lead guitarist was a skinny, white man, with wire-rimmed glasses wearing a flannel shirt and jeans. Only the back-up singer was younger than 45; he introduced the lead singer – a 60-something African-American woman in a black dress and heels. He escorted her on stage like she was Aretha Franklin. Gotta love it! But boy could she sing and man, could they play! We listened for awhile and watched a few people take to the dance floor before heading out to ride a Memphis River Boat.
I have always dreamed of riding the Mighty Mississippi and on Sunday I finally did it! We arrived just ahead of a tour bus (thank goodness!) and, per Christina’s request, sat on the top deck in the front row. We had a great view and, thankfully, the rain held off until the end of out trip. Our tour guide, an entertaining local, shared all sorts of historical facts with us. Did you know that the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history occurred on the Mississippi? I didn’t! Approximately 1800 people died when four boilers on the USS Sultana exploded and the ship sunk near Memphis. The tragedy was overshadowed by the end of the civil war and Lincoln’s assassination. More people died on the Sultana than on the Titanic!
We had the opportunity to see several towboats pushing massive (and I mean massive) barges up and down the river. I also learned that one towboat can move as much cargo as 700 tractor trailers! We also saw the towboat’s version of a riverside Wal-Mart and learned that fuel, drinking water and groceries are ordered by phone and then delivered directly to the tow-boat to save the crews time. Our guide informed us that each stop cost the shipping company $1000/hr. As they say, time is money. Overall, I genuinely loved our 90 minute ride along the river, but I would really like something longer – like a one week river cruise. (Doug, are you reading this?)
We arrived at our hotel a few hours before the torrential rains. Doug and I agreed that the thunder we heard in the middle of the night may have been the loudest to ever reach our ears! What a great day we had in Memphis!!!
Before digging into a day in our cross country lives, let me share the how’s and why’s of our general traveling approach. When finally deciding to drive cross country we considered many options – camping, renting an RV, renting a car or driving our own car. After realizing that we would only be spending one or two nights in each location, I took camping off the table. We don’t own a camper and I refused to set up camp every other night. The astronomical cost of renting an RV, gassing up every few miles and paying nightly for a place to park, eliminated that option. In the end, we chose to take our own car; our Toyota Avalon possesses a sizable trunk, offers plenty of leg room and doesn’t hurt my back on long trips.
With camping officially out of the question, we needed lodging. How in the world could afford four weeks of hotel rooms? I began imagining us sleeping in our car at rest areas along the way. However, God would save us from this peril. You see, this is where Doug’s economical skill and determination really shine! Through travel miles accrued on business trips, credit card rewards and hotel memberships, Doug arranged for 24 free nights of lodging. Out of 31 overnight stays, we only paid for seven! Another money-saver: our hotels have provided free breakfast on 22 days and free dinner on two nights throughout our trip.
So now that you have a general idea of our traveling system, how about a taste of life on the road with the Perreault’s. More than half of our days are real “on the road” days, meaning we pack up all of our bags and load them in the car. This includes a suitcase for each of us, toiletries, a traveling medicine cabinet, bag of shoes, laptop, various other electronics, my pillow, personal bags for the car (with books, activities, stuffed animals, etc.), souvenirs, a snack bag and more! Doug uses his gifting for geometric and spatial strategy to pack the trunk in such a way that everything fits and we can still reach the lap-top, water, sun-block and umbrella.
Then we either head for our free breakfast or hit the highway. Days without a free breakfast are especially interesting; one morning we didn’t have breakfast until about 12:30 p.m. and all we could find was a cupcake bakery. So guess what? Cupcakes for breakfast!
Overall, we are pretty good car travelers. Doug and I both like driving and riding in cars, though Doug prefers driving. In fact, he has probably driven 90% of this trip, while Jacquelyn and I share the other 10%. Thanks to an ipod adapter, we can listen to our various ipods in the car. We even compiled a cross country play-list. Some of our favorites are “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts, “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore” by Carrie Underwood, “Mountain Music” by Alabama, “Walkin’ in Memphis” by Marc Cohn and “America” by Chris Tomlin. Major bonus: as country music fans, we are almost always able to find a radio station that we like; and we especially enjoy all the contemporary Christian music stations – something we don’t have at home.
Jacquelyn and Christina keep busy reading, coloring, texting friends, using the laptop and Nintendo DS (thanks Grandma!), or playing car games and chatting with us. They have both previously experienced multiple road trips, even as young children. In fact Christina went on her first non-stop road trip to Florida at 3 months old in a van with 7 other passengers. (How that happened is a long story for another time!) You will not be surprised that Christina acts as our game coordinator, though she has a penchant for changing the rules mid-way through a game. Formerly inclined to motion sickness, she has adapted well and has even tolerated reading over winding mountain passes! Everyone knows when she has been in the car too long because she gets as silly as we have ever seen her. Then we all share some good laughs. Jacquelyn is a great big sister, playing with Christina and helping out as much as she can. More often than not, she prefers to sleep in the car, but that is not always so easy. I know she anxiously awaits a night in her own room and a chance to sleep all day!
We typically need stop every two hours or so for a restroom and/or gas. We had a whole conversation the other day about all the various restrooms we have experienced. They range from the large, clean, automated bathrooms in rest areas along I-80 in the Great Lakes area, to the small, unmanned rest areas with no soap (weird), to the adventurous gas station bathrooms, to national park outhouses, to a 2 ½’ X 4’restroom fitted with a mini sink and toilet at Dirty Sally’s in Ten Sleep, WY, that we like to call the “Alice in Wonderland Bathroom”. And that is just a few – I could go on, but I’ll spare you!
Eating is a little different every day, but in an effort to save money and time we try to combine lunch and dinner. This means lots of snacking and we’ve probably had ice cream for lunch more times than I would like to admit. Before our trip, we cashed in credit card rewards for $500 in dining gift cards, which also helps us save on meal costs; even still, food is probably our biggest expense.
Upon arrival at our hotel, we unpack the car once again and carry everything to our room. We use a luggage trolley, whenever available, to save time, energy and our backs. Once all the bags are in the room, we immediately begin searching for outlets in which to charge our laptop, three cell phones, three ipods, Nintendo DS and batteries for four cameras. Nope, this is not an “unplugged” vacation! Then we hang up bathing suits, still wet from swimming at the previous hotel and either flop into bed if it’s late, get ready for that evenings attractions or go for a swim.
Traveling out west, we gained an hour every other day or so, but now as we head home we are losing an hour every few stops. While no one likes losing time, being only one time zone away from EST makes calling home a lot easier.
The best news of all is that, so far, we haven’t killed one another. You may think that I am setting the bar too low, but don’t be so sure. Being stuck in a car for even a short road trip can bring many a family to the brink of all-out war. But 32 days, in such close proximity, without a break – even the mellowest of people might struggle – and we, my friends, are not mellow. Even amidst all the challenges, I believe our joy has outweighed our difficulties. Experiencing our nation and God’s creation together is a gift we will never forget!
This week we drove across the heartland of America, from Farmington, New Mexico through Texas, Oklahoma and into Arkansas. As we drove, we slowly descended back into the lowlands. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that the flat, high desert of New Mexico (el. 5,000 ft), the plains of Amarillo, Texas (el. 3,000 ft) and the prairie of Oklahoma (el. 1200 ft) all rest at an elevation lower than the rolling hills of Tariffville, Connecticut (el. 185 ft). Even the “valley” of Phoenix, AZ sits at 1100 feet above sea level! Another educational moment from this trip: we Farmington valley people are genuine lowlanders.
Our stops across the heartland ranged from the silliness of the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, where we trudged through a field of ankle deep mud to spray paint cars stuck nose first into a grassy field, to the solemn Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial site where we quietly observed 168 chairs (19 of them child size) representing the lives lost in that tragedy, to the small town of Checotah, OK, home to country music star, Carrie Underwood.
We especially enjoyed our brief visit to Checotah, quintescential smalltown, middle America. We took plenty of pictures and ate at the Sonic she sings about in “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore.” By the way, Sonics are everywhere out here. And I mean everywhere! It’s like there is some “Get a Zip Code & Get a Sonic” deal going on. In certain towns, I think the entire population could pull up and order dinner all at once, and a few stalls might still be empty.
With our sneakers still covered in mud, we decided to dig for diamonds at the Crater Diamond State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. We brought home a bag of rocks worth about 8 cents and that includes the value of the paper bag. The good news: we had fun and our sneakers are now clean thanks to high pressure rinse stations at the park. Soaking wet…but clean!
Driving across the country and back is quite the experience. One of these days I want to give you a little “day in the life” post; maybe tomorrow! We were cautioned by many people to fly or to fly and then drive part way, but I really wanted to drive the WHOLE country. Sure there are some BORING sections. One of our theme songs for the road is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”; we sing at the top of our lungs when we get to the line “it goes on and on and on and on!” But the boring moments, the exciting moments, the frustrating, peaceful, hilarious, exhausting and exhilarating moments are all part of the experience.
Belief and experience are two very different things. I have always believed America is big, but watching thousands upon thousands of miles zoom past my window, marvelling at the landscape’s diversity and then waiting and waiting and waiting for it to change, visiting so many amazing sites that we wear ourselves out and regretting the zillion more we don’t have time to see, this is experiencing America’s vastness. Before I believed but now I know. My faith has become sight.
I could write you a sermonette on how this relates to life and God – how this illustrates the difference between our belief in God’s love, mercy, grace, justice and faithfulnees and our experience of all these things. I could tell you that maybe…sometimes…God takes us on a long journeys so we can do more than just believe in Him, we can know Him. And I would encourage you to think about what this means to you and the road you’re travelling today. But I don’t want to get all preachy on you, so I won’t go there 😉
How do you like your home? Is it big enough? Clean enough? Are you like me, always redecorating, improving and even remodeling? We have a modest 1600 sq. foot home (this includes our finished basement) which we bought as a “fixer-upper”. We (that mostly means Doug) have remodeled nearly the entire house. What a transformation! Even so, our bedroom is about 12 x 12’ and the bathrooms (we don’t have a master bath) are smaller than most walk-in closets. Living in Connecticut, and especially in Simsbury, surrounded by bigger and “better” homes, I am easily tempted to want more – a bigger kitchen, a garage, a mud-room, a guest room.
On Wednesday, we visited Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The ancestral Pueblo people, known as the cliff dwellers, lived here for about 700 years before they left during the late 1200’s. Many of their homes are still standing today. We were able walk down a short path through the woods to the best preserved cliff dwellings in the park, Spruce Tree House.
The little community housing development, made of sand colored stone, clay and wood, looks almost like a miniature apartment building built into a wide, shallow, cliff-side cave. At the outermost part of the cave sit the round, underground rooms called “Kivas” – fire ready, ventilated rooms used mostly for spiritual rituals. The Kivas, situated at the entrance of the caves, have roofs so that the area above serves as a common area or courtyard. They entered the underground room by climbing down a ladder inserted in a small hole in the courtyard floor. We were actually able to climb down into one of these Kivas like the Pueblo people did! The room was very small and very dark – though a fire may have cozied things up a bit.
The front and middle rooms were built a little further back into the cliff side, just after the common area. These rooms, built for 1-2 people, measure about 6 x 8’ and were intended for sleeping and, during bad weather, served as work areas. Spaces at the far back of the caves were used for storage, refuse and, on occasion, as burial sites.
While we were visiting the cliff dwellings and touring the park museum, Christina said, “I’m so glad we live now!” Me too! How glad I am for my 1600 sq. foot palace!
We probably spent about 1 ½ hrs at Mesa Verde. But we spent nearly 2 hours sitting in construction traffic. If we could add up all the time we’ve spent in traffic on this trip, we might gain back half a day! Every national park we visited is under heavy road construction and so are many towns – it is summer after all. But how they handle traffic during construction out here in the mid-west is enough to drive a busy New Englander crazy! They don’t divert traffic or alternate lanes every 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Nope. They simply stop traffic and make you wait…and wait….and wait. At one park they let traffic through once per hour; and trust me, in the parks there is nowhere else to go and no other way to get there! On the streets of Colorado, we waited for 30 minutes to be let through a paving site which had ample space for two alternate lanes of traffic. People out here must be significantly more laid back than we are; Doug and I were so frustrated, I thought we might spontaneously combust!
We ate an early dinner at a roof-top restaurant in Durango. There we met a friendly Colorado native who works as a river guide. When Doug asked him about the traffic and construction, his advice was to “always have something you like to drink in the car with you.” I shared my theory that people out here must more laid back than us New Englanders, because this kind of system would never fly at home. He earnestly agreed, graciously pointing out that the difference between Coloradoans and New Englanders is “pretty obvious”. I loved his honest, judgment free observation. As I considered a more carefree life I kept thinking “but there are places to go and people to see!” I guess 3 weeks on the road hasn’t take the New Englander out of me yet.