driving across the country

In the beginning of September, one of my best friends was getting married and my oldest daughter and I had the honor of being in the wedding party. My two daughters were 3.5 years and 4 months old, respectively, and my husband and I decided we didn’t want to just hop on a plane to get to New York, because where’s the fun in that? We only had a few weeks left of my husband’s parental leave and a beautiful opportunity to see the countryside, so we took it and opted to drive, both daughters in tow. From Vancouver to Upstate New York.

A lot of people thought we were insane.

Probably they were right, but we thought, why wait until our kids are older to go on great trips? We don’t want to keep adventures at bay until they reach some random age that’s deemed safe enough for enjoyment – we want to plant the adventure bug in them as early as possible, and do as many things together as a family as we can. My other best friend had driven from Virginia to Vancouver the year before to be in my wedding, so we felt confident we could do the same – even with kids. We rented a car for a dirt cheap price with unlimited mileage, and instead of crossing Canada, we went stateside. Aside from gas being a lot cheaper across the border, the US had some must-see places on our list. So we packed all of the essentials and our camping gear, and set off on a wild adventure we won’t soon forget.

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In some ways, the trip was a disaster. Some of our evenings were spent in hotels, rather than campgrounds, because of dangerous weather conditions. Wind and thunderstorms barrelled through North Dakota, and although we had verified before leaving, our only campsite options outside of Chicago were shut down for damage repairs. We had contingency money of course, which helped, but it was frustrating at the time since we’re a big family of campers. But it didn’t really matter, because when you drive across the country with kids, you can’t really expect things to go smoothly. The real setback happened after three days of travel. We spent most of our fourth day in 8 hours of traffic crawling through Ohio, and ended up missing the big dinner my family of cousins, aunts, and uncles got together for; when we got in, all had returned to their homes. I was heartbroken and the grief that settled in my heart stayed with me for the rest of the trip. It had been three years since I saw them, so to go that far, just to get stuck so close to the goal, was crushing.

But my best friend got married. I was able to share in that moment with her and stand by her side, as she stood by mine the year before. We had a badly-needed timeout together, taking shots and reminiscing, getting last minute details done, and spending some time with her other bridesmaids. It was also incredible getting to spend time in the beautiful Catskill region of New York again, where I spent much of my youth exploring and getting stuck with speeding tickets. During our stay, we were blessed to be given an entire house and pool, situated at the very top of a long and windy mountain, overlooking the valley. The owner of the home was a gracious hostess who shared her wine, stories, and groceries she gathered for us before we arrived, and didn’t mind Fox chasing her dog. Our mornings saw us waking to the lush green and cavernous valley below, due to our ceiling-to-floor windows next to the bed. We were speechless and repaid her generosity with a card and bottle of wine, but it still didn’t feel adequate enough. She didn’t know us, yet because of her love for my best friend’s husband, she shared her home and really went the distance to make our stay a comfortable one.

 

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The return trip  home was infinitely harder than the first. I missed New York. I missed the fireflies in the summer, the apple orchards and rolling hills. The insanity of the city, its splashing lights, doing yoga with my best friend in the East Village. I spent the tedium of Nebraska and Iowa wishing I could go back for just a little longer, without time constraints, to slip back into that world for just a day longer. I missed my family, my friends, and the weight of missing dinner sat so heavily on my heart, that I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about it for a long time. But once we left the monotony of the plains and entered the breathtaking beauty of Utah, I remembered why we went on this insane trip to begin with. Pointing out all the wind mills and miles of corn to Fox, I explained what life is usually like out in the country when she peppered us with her millions of questions. After the endless fields of corn, all of us were in quiet awe as we approached the deep canyons of Utah and Idaho, my toddler too stunned to form her questions. We gazed at the red rock, came uncomfortably close to a rattlesnake while walking, and hiked around a cliffside of red rock and Bison when we needed out of the car. I was awestruck by the overwhelming beauty around us. Even my 4 month old seemed to be at a loss, all of this newer to her than anything else.

The trip revealed truths in us and strengthened us as a family. It was a bold adventure, and surprisingly easier of a drive than one might expect because there was just so much to see. From Washington to the Dakotas, there was no shortage of indescribable scenery surrounding us, constantly changing, growing, ebbing, flowing. Despite the downs of the trip, I can’t regret going, sharing in those moments and making memories with my children, because these are the kinds of things I want to fill their childhood with. Taking them on these adventures from a young age, and instilling a heart of wilderness in them.

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