Friday, November 18, 2005

Road trips for a lifetime

I have wanted to actually write about this ‘defining event’ in my family’s life for a long time. I think it will take more than one post – but here goes.

Eleven years ago I divorced my husband and became an empowered single mom of three incredible children. I promised my self that as soon as my 20 acre farm sold we would take a trip the following summer. My kids were 11, 10 and 6 at the time – so Disneyland seemed the logical choice.

Fate stepped in and changed our lives forever. My best friend (who was not only a neighbor, but who I worked with and is the mom of my children’s best friends) moved to Wyoming. It was a big blow – everything seemed to be changing at the same time. But we decided immediately to meet in Yellowstone National Park the next summer – instead of going to Disneyland.

Since I didn’t sell the farm that year cash was a huge issue, so the kids started saving their pennies. I told them they each had to buy a meal and a tank of gas and their own souvenirs. (Gas was cheap then). We planned all winter – mapped out a route from Central Oregon to Wyoming, checked out campgrounds and roadside attractions. Figured out how far we could travel each day, what we’d have on the menu, how we’d pack the car. We had all the details listed out, maps marked – the whole deal.

Each of the kids had a different road job every day – navigator, cashier, journalist, DJ, illustrator, cook, clean-up, set up…..they loved it and learned so much.

It was amazing – we had the BEST time. We fell instantly in love with Yellowstone, Wyoming and Montana. We stopped at every Oregon Trail site, at every Lewis and Clark site. We bonded. There just aren’t words to describe what that first week long trip was like. We had always been close – but this cemented the deal.

We have gone every year since except two – one year we skipped and one year we went to the Redwoods instead. We have explored, fished, camped and laughed our way across Idaho, Western Montana and Wyoming for two weeks at a time for the last 10 years. We all learned about Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, Native Americans – we visited museums and historical sites. We wrote stories, played games, laughed, sang songs, listened for wolves, slept under the stars.

We have often met with our friends from Wyoming and my family (Mom, Dad, sister and her family) have joined us. Middle daughter has attended college in Bozeman. I’d like to retire there someday.

Each January after the first trip the kids started saving and planning for the next summer. Summer jobs were accepted only on the basis that they could have two weeks off to go to Montana. Christmas presents were new sleeping bags. In 6th Grade Social Studies each child did their state project on Wyoming. I still have a duffle with the car games we carried along when they were younger. We bought a Suburban after the second year because the kid’s legs were too long and we had too much stuff in the car for two weeks on the road.

We have detailed lists from each year – the itineraries so detailed I knew what town to buy gas in ahead of time! I have all the menus, all the maps, all the stuff we picked up along the way. Silly to say – but - tons of photos!

Each year we shopped for that best artwork from the area we visited. Our home is filled with photos of our favorite fishing spots. (We’ve never caught any fish – but we’ve fished the greatest fly-fishing rivers of the West) There are places in Yellowstone that just the thought of, brings the shivers on. We’ve gone from driving only 5 hours a day max when we started, to pulling 12-15 hours on the highway, just to get there or stay another day!

This last year, son M1 took his first vacation in two years with his mom and little sister to go to Wyoming. We camped and visited Sister M2 who was working for the summer in Jackson Hole. We rendezvoused with our friends from Wyoming and celebrated 10 years of this trip. We fished the Yellowstone and the Madison, floated the Snake and sat in our favorite meadow in Hayden Valley. We watched thunderstorms over the Tetons parked in the middle of a huge herd of bison. And had one of our few dinners in a rainstorm!

We had gone camping each summer before this trip – but only for the weekend or so. I personally had grown up in a camping-outdoor family. Fly fishing and bird hunting were family activities. Living in Oregon you never had to travel far to get out there! But taking my kids to Yellowstone was the start of something remarkable. It wasn’t just the place – it was the event.

I do have great kids. They are hard working and successful in their endeavors. I am very proud of each of them. But what I find so amazing is that they really like being together. They truly enjoy each other’s company. They each have their own pursuits and separate lives, but their bond is so strong. I know that these road trip adventures had a significant impact on them. We almost always play the ‘remember when…’game when we are together.

As they get older I doubt we will all be able to find these two weeks to go together. Everyone is now working and/or going to school. I don’t want to leave one home and I don’t want to go alone – what fun is that. But the pull to the area is so strong that I may retire there someday – Northwest Montana maybe near Seeley Lake.

Middle daughter M2 has always said that this trip was our sanctuary – and I’d have to agree. It was a time and place that seems mysterious and amazing now. I also realize that it wasn’t just the actual trip that was important – but the process as well, the planning, the individual participation of each child as we anticipated what this summers trip would bring, what we would see and do. I can truly say that this road trip adventure was a defining event for all of us. I wouldn’t change a thing!

1 comment:

Pat K said...

Wow! You fixed your template. Woohoo!

That's a great post about your trips. We went to Tetons/Yellowstone camping in 2000 and probably will go back someday. I intend to post about it someday. Where have you camped there?

How did you get the Fiber Artists button going? Did you join that group, or how does it work?

Have a great day!