I closed my studio, Jerome attended his last day of school inservice, our house was packed up and rented, we had $5,000 in our vacation fund and 2 1/2 months to spend it. We were free to do anything except stay home.
We had been saving for and planning this trip for nearly 10 years and yet we still had to ignore the daily urge to call the whole thing off. Leaving the familiar and comfortable, opening ourselves up to financial failure and social judgement and relying on the cooperation of our temperamental pre-teens made the whole thing feel like a huge mistake. There were several times when we were getting ready to go that we understood why most families don’t do this kind of thing.
When I asked my Face Book community what they would do in a similar situation not a single person replied “I would drive across the country to hike several hundred miles in remote wilderness”.
But on June 21 we loaded ourselves and all of our doubts into our 2012 Mazda 5 to do just that. It took us three weeks to drive 4,000 miles from Blue Hill, Maine to Lone Pine, California where we planned to start hiking north on the Pacific Crest Trail.
We camped, stayed with friends and family and spent three nights in hotels (Bozeman, MT is oddly devoid of public camping and Las Vegas would probably welcome public camping but was an inhospitable 110º when we arrived). We relied heavily on the crowd-sourced freecampsites.net to find safe, quiet places to camp.
We cooked most of our meals. Variations of corn tortillas, refried beans, cheese, scrambled eggs, and salsa, pasta with ground turkey, frozen spinach and sauce and those family-sized pre-made salads in a bag. We stocked up on groceries for 4-5 days at a time though our small cooler had to be refilled with ice every other day. We brought a frying pan, saucepan, mixing bowl and spatula plus our camping stove, bowls and utensils and it all fit nicely in a box behind the kid’s seats.
Since we were heading into a month-long backpacking trip above 10,000 feet, we needed to get in shape. We tried to run or hike every day. Some days were a flat sight-seeing stroll and some days were more strenuous all-day hikes. We have an America the Beautiful Pass which for $85 covers admission to all National Parks and tons of other public lands. It’s a total bargain when compared to the cost of any other tourist activity for a family of four. Our two big entertainment splurges were an afternoon spent at an indoor water park in Sandusky, OH and a half day white water rafting outside Yellowstone. Georgia loves the water and those two days were pure delight for her.
The importance of Co-Piloting
Jerome drove while I juggled notebooks, guide books and my iPad in the passenger seat planning our driving route, fun things to see and where to camp, plus planning for the PCT hike (resupplies, trail conditions, where to leave the car, stream crossings . . .) Several times I had to force myself to look up and enjoy the view, and several more times I was requested to read a Wikipedia page aloud to the driver. Like every time we crossed a state line, or drove by iconic Americana such as “the world’s largest cow”.
Meanwhile, in the back of the car . . .
Thankfully, 11 and 13 are great traveling ages. They are happy to sit in the car for a couple hours at a time reading or listening to books, improvising outfits for their stuffed animals, applying fake nails, and putting considerable effort into improving their 9 cubic feet of personal space. They don’t have digital devices and of course there was boredom but it rarely devolved into full-on sibling attacks. Stuffed animals (animated by only too willing parents) make great mediators and almost every bad mood can be fixed with a spontaneous highway dance party.
Road-tripping on a budget can be stressful but I it helps that our family is comfortable sleeping together in a small tent, cooking with a camp stove and bathing in rivers. The key is to focus on the excitement and freedom of the adventure, not the limitations and stressors. The stress is real but as I tell the kids “we’re not going to make it less stressful by stressing about it”.
We did our best to have a full, if not perfect, cross-country experience. We ran out of gas, we ran out of cell service (newsflash: there are huge swaths of this country that don’t have cell or data coverage), our phone charging cable quit right when we needed directions, our car exhaust system needed welding, there were some really weird left-over dinners eaten at really weird rest areas, there were horrifying hoards of mosquitos and no-see-ums (and a plague of giant crickets), scary thunderstorms and tornados and our AC doesn’t work on the uphills. But truly the most tragic trip moment was when Cubby, our dear stuffed bear, was accidentally thrown out and lost forever. RIP Cubby the gender-educator bear.
Photo Journal of our road trip (Maine to Las Vegas)
Coming up next . . . Living a Dream Part 3: Hiking 300 miles on the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail.