The Birth of a Road Trip
One of the more crazy-pants things I’ve done recently is camping all over the American west in a really, really crappy pop up camper with my best friend, our collective five daughters, and collective 3 pets. I intended to blog the entire time, and there were a lot of times I sat down and tried, but we never really sat still long enough and I was certainly never relaxed or bored enough to bother.
After it was over, I figured I needed some time and distance to process the trip before I wrote anything about it, but before I knew it, the kids and I were on an east coast road trip. Another of the more crazy pants things I’ve done. Again, I didn’t prioritize blogging any of it and once I was back in Dallas taking time to “process” THAT trip, well, I found myself doing perhaps the single most crazy pants thing I’ve ever done, dragging my kids to Saudi Arabia. I have a lot of time here in the “Magic Kingdom” and I want to start documenting some things before we forget even more of the little details that made our trips so incredible.
Although it will probably be really boring, I feel the need to write down how and why we came to be in the unique situation that allowed this trip to happen because I do get some questions about that. I guess I’ll start way before the beginning. My senior year of high school I started planning a road trip. I mostly wanted to see whatever I could see between Oklahoma and the California coast and I assumed I’d save money by camping. I had some girlfriends who were on board but it fell apart before we got into the intense planning phase and I wasn’t brave enough to go alone. Looking back, having actually done it now, I am so relieved we didn’t go. I did not have the funds or the good sense to plan a fun, safe trip when I was 18. I also didn’t have a smart phone, which is not a necessity, but there are so many apps that make travel safer and more convenient. What a time to be alive, amirite?
Fast forward something like 11 years, married, bunch of kids, living in Colorado where my husband Daniel was stationed. He found out in our last year of living in Colorado that once our time there was up, he’d be spending a year stationed in Saudi Arabia and we would not be allowed to move with him. (visiting is ok, obviously, because here I am) At the time, because I was insane, I didn’t want to stay in Colorado for the year he was gone, since he had no reason to come back there afterward. I began to plan selling the house so I could move to Texas to be closer to family.
While I didn’t want to stay in Colorado, I did regret that we had wasted the opportunity to take advantage of the beauty of Colorado and the surrounding states the couple of years we were there. Between a pregnancy and Daniel being so busy in command, we didn’t make it a priority to explore our home like we did when we were stationed in Germany. I was struck with this realization that I was going to have a lot of freedom once Daniel headed overseas. I’m a stay at home mom, the kids are homeschooled, we’d suddenly have no mortgage payment, and we’d have a little chunk of cash from the house sale. I’d be effectively single for a year in that I’d have nobody at home to miss me or need me, so I decided I was going to take advantage of our location and take the kids somewhere “cool” before we moved to Texas.
On one hand, we were closer to Yellowstone National Park than I’d ever been (though still not close at all) which has always been a pretty big bucket list item for me, but on the other hand, the girls had their hearts set on seeing the Grand Canyon. If you’re at all aware of US geography, you know those two spots lie in opposite directions, and Yellowstone in particular is not exactly on the way to Texas. Neither is the Grand Canyon though, for the record. I started thinking I could take a very roundabout way home, and do a very ambitious loop that included both.
So during this last year in Colorado I was daydreaming out loud about this trip pretty much all the time. We ended up watching a National Parks documentary and I became obsessed with making it to Glacier National Park. I would go down to our homeschool room in the basement and trace different routes on the map. These hypothetical scenarios got more and more ambitious and lengthy, eventually including finally making it to the Pacific, but a big part of me never really thought we were going to go anywhere, except maybe the Grand Canyon if I got really brave. I mean, at the time the girls were 1, 4, 6, and 8. The great outdoors and travel in general can be daunting with four small children, even when their other parent is present. Obviously we’d be taking the cat and the dog because it’s hard enough being away from Daniel, we didn’t want to break the family up further (more on that in part 2) I’m indecisive, have never been very brave or sure of myself and I have always been a very anxious driver. Also, I’d never camped without other adults around.
Daniel really only had three things to say about all of this. 1. Go for it babe, you got this, I believe in you 2. Just don’t set yourself up for getting overwhelmed 3. You’re totally going to spend way, way more money than you think you’re going to.
All of these were wise words.
Plan A was to do a camping trip to the Grand Canyon and if it didn’t totally suck and we were still having fun, we’d go to the ocean. If that went well, we’d go up the coast until we got bored or started spending too much money or just burned out. If we magically made it to a few more cool places, icing on the cake. I spent countless hours researching camping gear and slowly curated a collection of items that I decided we couldn’t live without. In the beginning I was looking into buying a cheap teardrop trailer or something (lol, there’s no such thing as a cheap one) and I was convinced I *needed* a way to refrigerate food so that I could continue to feed us awesome food. I love to cook and I wanted to cook local food along our route. I went down the whole “solar panels and backup batteries” rabbit hole for a while before I came to my senses and decided to scale it back to a tent, ice chest, and camp stove. I ended up getting a big glamping set up though, so we’d have room to stretch.
I can’t remember exactly when, but during one long conversation with my best friend Brooke, probably while I was telling her how I would lie awake at night not sure if I’ll be too chicken to go for it and camp in bear country, she said, “Listen, this is going to be awesome. And if you can wait til August, we’ll go with you.” and just like that, she and her daughter were coming (and their little dog, too!) Not long after, my brother Nathan called me and said he had a broken down pop up camper and that it was all mine, for free, if I wanted it. Knowing it would be a lot of work, I said “UM THANK YOU!” but also, “but we’ll see.”
In the spring, Daniel had to go away for a month to complete some Army course in Ohio. Halfway through the month, the girls, pets, and I decided to visit him. On the 19 hour drive there, we booked it straight to him, I drove through the night, but on the way home we took a deep detour into Kentucky to meet my friend Stacey and camp with her and her pup Margo at Mammoth Caves National Park. We took our time over the week exploring Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas. We whet our appetites for National Parks, got to try out all of our camping gear in multiple states, got together with old friends along the way (lookin at you, Abi) and learned that we all have the resilience for super long car trips. When we were done, I knew we had it in us to do a serious month long road trip, and that’s when the serious planning started.
In my next post I’ll cover some boring things about how I prepared us mentally, physically, and financially for the trip, the logistics of packing for five people and two pets for a month on the road, how we planned our route, etc.