Sunday, July 9, 2017

25 Things I Learned Camping Across the Country

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”
― Elbert Hubbard

The Four of Us at Mesa Verde National Park's Cliff Palace
The Husband, The Things and I have logged just over 5,000 miles together on the road for our Great American Family Road Trip, or, as The Husband named it prior to our Great Adventure, the PTSD (Patterson Tilyard Southwest Debacle).  Admittedly, I was a wee bit nervous prior to our travels.  We’re a newly forged family and I’m not always sure how the Things are going to take my Alpha Male husband.  To my great relief, we’ve made it all the way across the country and back and I think the boys have a firmer understanding of who their new stepfather is and are even able to joke around with (at?) him. 

Completely exhausted from the last year in which we have prepped a house for sale, sold the house, built an addition, moved our families in together, we opted for this Great Adventure many months ago.  We packed our things, loaded up the trunk and camper and we left the Eldest Daughter in charge at the homestead, keeping watch over our faithful hounds.  The two youngest Things came with us, mainly because they, unlike their fully grown step-siblings, simply don’t have a choice in the matter.  We’re going and you’re going to have fun, dammit.”

We’ve missed our other children and our puppies tremendously along the journey but I’m so thankful we’ve had this Great Adventure together and for the things we’ve learned along the way.

1.     The boys have three food groups.  The Husband likes to cook.  He likes to cook things people like to eat.  He has finally determined that the Things have three favorite food groups:  bread, meat and sugar.  At almost every meal, he assessed whether they had at least two of their food groups and would announce that since they had bread and meat or bread and sugar or, in the case of pancakes and bacon one morning, bread, meat AND sugar, they should be satisfied.  He is working on adding vegetables to their required food group list.
2.     The Kum & Go convenience store makes teenage boys smirk.
3.     It’s good to have an itinerary.  The Husband is a Planner.  He is, in fact, the ULTIMATE planner.  This seems to be a great comfort to Things 1 and 2.  Finally, they have someone who doesn’t say “We’ll just wing it!”  In deference to The Husband’s hard work prior to our adventure and to the Things’ desire to know exactly what is happening each day, I compiled our journey into a handy three-ring binder so they could see how far we planned to travel each day and the things we would be doing (enduring). 
4.     The book IT by Stephen King has some uncomfortable sex scenes (we found that out listening to the audiobook).  Oops.
5.     We can set up and take down camp in record time.  Prior to this Great Adventure, we went through the pop-up camper and streamlined our tools.  We organized everything with efficiency in mind and included only those things we really need.  Yes, a wine tool is something that we really need.  OK, maybe it’s just me who needs it.   At the first site or two, The Husband showed the Things the order of business and, by the last camp site at The Grand Canyon, we were all a well-oiled machine.  The boys grabbed tools before they were asked and everything was put away in the same place every time.  (See number 3…remember how extraordinary The Husband is at planning?)
6.     The restaurant/saloon in Leadville, CO called The Silver Dollar has really terrible service.  Like, terrible.  I wanted to go there because I couldn’t go as a kid (duh, it was a BAR).  During the day, it’s more of a restaurant.  A terrible restaurant.  When I enunciated while giving the (terrible) server my order, the Husband asked if I was using my Colorado accent.  Before I could answer, the (terrible) server answered (she thought he was talking to her). “I’m not even FROM Colorado.  I hate it here. I’m moving.” 
7.     This country is big.  The Husband and I knew that prior to this Great Adventure, having both traveled all over the country.  However, the Things had never experienced THIS long of a road trip.  They saw corn (a lot of corn), desert, mountains, and the wide Mississippi river.  They saw elk up close.  They ran across a bearded lizard on a mesa in Colorado.  They felt the high dry heat of the desert and they stood high on the rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset.  When I was a teenager, I cut out an article from the Reader’s Digest entitled “There is No God?”  The article began with the statements, “There is no God.” It went on to say that the mountains just formed themselves, the animals just arose out of nothing.  It went on like that for a bit and then talked about the glorious beauty of a sunset and how the curves, hard edges and soft, flowing hills are so perfectly aligned against the sky.  It ends with “There is no God?”  I hope that the Things saw the grace and beauty of the earth with an omnipotent presence in mind. 
8.     Museum bathrooms really ARE clean and nice.  We found this out after eating the Maid Rite sandwich at the Mark Twain Dinette in Hannibal, MO.  ‘Nuff said.
9.     I don’t want to live in Nebraska.  Or Oklahoma.  Or Arkansas.  There are probably more states on that list but I guess there’s a reason I moved back to North Carolina.
10.  We can all get along.  As I mentioned, I was a little nervous prior to the trip.  The Husband is a very different parental figure than I am.  But, in almost no time, the two boys had aligned with him to mock me about my rule-following (Hello?  Crosswalks were invented for a reason) or my ridiculous morning-person greetings.  I hope they figure out someday that we went on this Great Adventure for them.  I hope they know how much love he pours into all he does even when he seems all gruff on the outside.
11.  Thing 1 has a new road name:  Trailblazer.  He earned it deciphering maps at Mesa Verde National Park.  Thing 2 is now Two Dogs Hunching.  But that’s just because of the joke.
12.  Satellite radio is a gift.  Even high in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal to be found, our Sirius XM worked like a charm.  We listened to blues, classical, hip-hop, pop and, mostly, the Husband’s choice of Classic Rewind or Classic Vinyl. 
13.  There are no (few?) overweight people out west.  They either make better food choices or hike their butts off during the 2 months of summer every year.  This does not make me want milkshakes any less.  Nor does it make me want to move at all in 100-degree heat.
14.  I don’t miss TV.  Period.  Thing 2 has downloaded Mad Men on Netflix (don’t judge me…we’re talking about some of the more questionable things happening on the show) and is watching that during long driving stretches.  But, for the most part, we don’t have TV and don’t miss it. 
15.  You can move past mistakes.  So, SOMEONE left our National Park Pass at home.  I mean, someone PLANNED for it, paid for it and conveniently put it in a folder MONTHS prior to the trip and then someone just went off and FORGOT IT.  (Can you guess who forgot it?  Remember the one of us who is much more likely to just “wing it?”)  I felt bad about forgetting it and thought The Husband was mad (and, still, I think he was, a little) but we worked through the snafu.  I am a huge mess.  Always.  I speak before I think, I fall down, I spill things and I…well…I FORGET things.  We worked through it.  And I guess we will keep working through it. 
16.  There are people who drive with goats inside their personal vehicles.  True story.  We saw it.  And then we made up a goat-song parody to Prince’s When Doves Cry (re-titled When Goats Drive).
17.  Sometimes, lessons in opening and shutting truck doors are required.
18.   Raccoons are little bitches.  With cute hands.  And they try to steal peanut butter.  And they leave paw prints on coolers.
19.  Along the same vein, squirrels will bite.  They will. I have proof from the brochure from the Grand Canyon. And they probably carry diseases.   In fact, squirrels are the only dangerous animal they mention. #Validated.  That didn’t stop anyone from continually making fun of my irrational fear of squirrels.
20.  Camping on top of a mesa is cool.  Best. Campsite. Ever.  You should try it at Colorado National Monument.
21.  Farts are funny.  Always.
22.  A little bit of a schedule is good for me on vacation. A lot of schedule is too much.  This vacay had a perfect amount of schedule. 
23.  A 100% acrylic poncho that makes one resemble Clint Eastwood can be had off I-40 in Texas (or was it Oklahoma?) for about $10. 
24.  Coming home again is sometimes the best and most satisfying reward after a Great Adventure. 
25.  Best. Trip. Ever.  I am thankful…always.