I love a good road trip. We took one each summer when I was a kid. My parents made it a priority to create memories with my brother and me, and to expose us to different parts of the country. Driving wasn’t as exciting as flying as a child, but I’m glad now that I learned the art of the road trip from an early age.
Driving makes you look around to see how the landscape shifts as you go. You notice that the flatlands of western Kansas turn into the low foothills of Colorado, which turn into the jagged, towering Rockies. That North Dakota is somehow flatter than Kansas and that the Badlands of South Dakota surprise you with color bursting out of the deep canyons. The Northwest is cool, and lush and full of mystery; the seaweed on the coast of Maine is endless and the water is never warm; the sand dunes of northern Indiana are as exciting as the Sahara to a ten year old, and great to slide down in bare feet.
I learned how to see things on our road trips. From a plane you see things from above, which is amazing and beautiful, but it’s from a distance. It’s the Cliff’s Notes of the real thing. When you have to wait and wait for those mountains to come into view, you really feel the joy of them. When you know you’ll be crossing the Mississippi in several hours instead of twenty minutes, the rising tension is greater and the river astounds you with it’s width. You’re a part of the scenery rather than a distant observer. You and the river, and the sky, and the mountains are in it together.
We drove from Kansas to the panhandle of Florida this summer for a family vacation. Two and a half days on the way there, two longer days back. Surely that sounds horrendous to many people, but to us it was wonderful. Besides the fact that I’d always rather drive than fly for packing reasons alone, it’s also nice to stop and stretch, to pee when the need arises instead of when the seatbelt light goes off, to hop in and go instead of waiting in line after line. There’s freedom in a road trip. A plane ride is all rules and regulations, and large men snoring in the next row. But Marc and I also like to make our kids see the world around them. And we like to make them bored.
Really. Boredom has it’s benefits.
I was bored a lot on our vacations as a kid. Driving through Wyoming is bound to bore a nine-year-old. But it made me think about things. About the landscape, the people who might have lived on it as settlers, the animals and buildings and people I saw. It forced me to play car games with my parents and Boggle with my brother. Read books. Look at maps. Think about life and what it all means. Give a kid a chance and she’ll have deep thoughts that would put a philosopher to shame. Being bored spawned thoughts and ideas that would never have happened if I’d had a DVD player or a DS. Luckily, they didn’t exist.
There is actually a DVD player in our new minivan. We didn’t want one, but the best car for the money, with the least amount of miles, happened to have one and we decided we’d compromise. It was “broken” until our trip to Florida. “Oh, look at that! It works!” Even I knew that a three day trip could use a show or two to break up the monotony. But the kids missed Montgomery, Alabama while they watched Tangled, and I felt like I was making them idiots. Turning around and seeing that “I am a zombie. Whatever crap you show, tv in the ceiling, I’ll watch” look on their faces made me want to make it “break” again.
When I was little we traveled by car – a red VW station wagon at first, then a brown Chrysler, to be exact. By the time I was in junior high we had an R.V. we called the Obile Raveler (the M and T had long-since worn off by the time we bought it from a neighbor). It was old and a little decrepit, but it got us all over the country, with our food and beds and car all in one handy mobile traveling unit. In spring we would ready it for summer: air it out, clean the counters and bathroom, spray a bajillion ants with bug killer, and air it out again. Then we’d load it up with our vacation supplies and take off. A new destination each time. My brother and I complained about the long hours in the O.R., and the frequent stops at historical markers which my dad had to read out loud, and the pull-overs so my mom could take photos. Our trips were more discovery than getting from place to place. It drove me nuts at times as a child, but now I see the value of our slow-motion adventures.
Driving through western Kansas is best done at night, when you’re wrapped in stars and a pitch black sky, skimming the crust of the earth with nothing to block your view of the heavens. That’s another thing I learned from my road trips. Another thing I wouldn’t know if we had traveled a different way. The Obile Raveler is gone, but the memories of driving it across the country will likely stay with me for the long-haul. And Marc and I are going to do our best to create the same boredom, force the same self-reflection and daydreaming, and leave the DVD player off for most of our trips. When the kids are going crazy from the long hours of looking out the window, and driving us crazy too, we can pop in a show. But for the most part, I’m going old-school with our road trips and making memories that my kids will appreciate one day. Even if they don’t now.