Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Family Road Trip

Growing up in Minnesota, the summer tradition in my family was to take an annual camping trip. Mom and Dad loaded up the station wagon (and later the conversion van) with everything we could possibly need for a two week jaunt across the country. We always pulled the pop-up camper. We always tried to find every state license plate. My brother and I always fought about who got to sit where and which songs to listen to. But it was always an adventure, and nearly every summer, we headed West.

From the Black Hills to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, to Glacier National Park, to the Grand Canyon, to the Colorado Rockies and Banff, we covered most of the Western U.S. and Canada. As a kid and adolescent, I can honestly say I did not realize how important those trips were in influencing me. It wasn’t until I got to college - when wildfires destroyed a large portion of Yellowstone Park - that I finally started to understand the impact of all those vacations, and called my parents to say “thank you.”

Now, I won’t say that my parents instilled a love of camping in me, but a love of the West, they certainly did. The wide open spaces of Montana and Wyoming, the stunning peaks of the Colorado and Canadian Rockies, the amazing canyons and rock formations in Utah and Arizona, just the smell of the pines and mountain air...I could go on and on.

My first trip West as an adult was a two month road trip adventure that my best friend, Amy and I took in our early 20’s. We returned to many of those places I’d seen but didn’t appreciate as a kid. It was amazing and unforgettable. (The Trip, as it’s infamously known among family and friends deserves its own blog post another day!)

My husband and I have also returned to Colorado and Utah a couple of times, and this year we cautiously, but excitedly, decided it was time to expose our kids (8 and 5 1/2 yrs old) to the traditional family road trip West. So, we too packed up our minivan last week and took off for 10 days. It was hotels this time for us, but we road tripped it just the same. We collected state license plates, visited all the big tourist attractions from Minneapolis to Yellowstone and back, swam in every pool we found and generally had an awesome time. There were the occasional meltdowns (by both kids and parents) but we made it, and I celebrated my milestone birthday just the way I wanted to ~ by reliving my childhood.

About midway through the trip, we went to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. As I walked around it for the 3rd time in my life, and watched my boys bound ahead of me on the rocks, I thought, This is It. This is what I always imagined myself doing, and I’m doing it. How lucky I am. A smile spread across my face and I thought, I need to call Mom and Dad to thank them again. I hope someday my kids will call me, too.

On our last day at Yellowstone, my 8 year old son said,
“This trip has changed my life.”

No future phone call necessary.