Each summer it is our tradition to load up the travel trailer, and lumber into the late afternoon. Never the morning mind, because that would require planning. We might have had a few discussions before hand about where the road will take us, but usually it’s still an open question when we roll out onto our street, the sway brake creaking as we turn into the main road. The floor board is packed with books I won’t read, and knitting projects I will almost certainly abandon. The kids are plugged in, and snacks abound.
On our first trip we traveled from Colorado up through Wyoming and Montana, where we all but stumbled on Yellowstone National Park. Most families plan their Yellowstone vacation months in advance. We rolled in on a random Tuesday with a can of bear spray and a map, looking for bison. We moved camp each morning of our visit in order to vacate for incoming campers, but each afternoon we’d find another spot without too much trouble. We lost count of the bison.
On our second night Andy left to use the restroom in the dark, and I became hysterical, convinced he’d been eaten by a bear. There was no cell service, so I paced the camper, peering out the windows into the black until he returned. The next day we enjoyed a visit with some Moose, lounging in the grass near Mammoth Hot Springs, and we splashed in a lake so vast it might have been an ocean. Astonished by the beauty of Yellowstone, I spent our last morning outside, breathing in the pine, and plotting how we might stay forever.
We next made a stop in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. We pulled into a gas station there where we were heckled by a hoard of teenagers, then rolled in to a pretty little camp ground near the main attraction. We ate Cheapo Brand hot dogs soaked in condiments before we grabbed our suits and pool toys, headed for the waterpark. The hot pools were the perfect treatment for our muscles, sore from our days hiking the park, so we spent two glorious afternoons soaking up the mineral waters, and each other’s company.
The next day we rather abruptly came to understand that we’d acquired a few unwelcome travel companions. This is to say the two younger kids spent a combined nine days with explosive diarrhea and vomiting in our tiny travel trailer. Our hot springs adventure thus led to not one, but two emergency room visits, and the discarding of precisely one shit filled car seat.
So we limped our way across Oregon , stopping in Pendleton, and then Hood River before we spent a few days galavanting around Portland, visiting old haunts and discovering new treasures. Ultimately we would make a trip down the California Coast. We froze our faces off at Newport beach, ate bags of salt water taffy, and clam chowder in bread bowls. We played in the redwoods where we felt small and whole, and when our brakes began to fail while winding down hwy 1, we pulled over and made fancy coffee in the dark.
We’ve grown quite an affection for our generic little travel trailer. We’ve strung it with christmas lights that twinkle the kids to sleep at night, and we have a colorful banner across one window that reminds us to be kind and live with intention. We have a no poop rule, except in cases of emergency (see above), so it doesn’t get stinky which was a real worry for me when we bought it. And while our summer road trip will always be a somewhat ramshackle operation, our kids have seen a good bit of the their country. They’ve felt the road pass beneath them, and seen how this town leads to that town, how we are all connected regardless what they say on TV.
When Andy and I first met he owned a white Econo-line van with shelves in the back that rattled. It was impossible to converse without yelling. Nonetheless we tried on our very first trip together from Dallas to Chicago. We tromped around the city on foot through snow and ice, wearing borrowed clothes. We mooched chocolate chip pancakes from his old boss, and slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment. We ran out of money and gas the last few miles home, and had to borrow from a friend to make it there. A year later we married in a courthouse in Denton, Texas. I wore a red and white maternity polo, and we paid the clerk in change.
Our trips are no more organized than they were that first, and each hodgepodge journey reminds us how we fell in love. We no longer require the help of friends to make our way, our days of mooching pancakes are over, and home these days is a much sweeter place. Since that trip to Chicago we have grown by four incredible humans, and while it is a treat to take them on our adventures, it is a privilege to bring them home again to our cool little Texas town.
Inevitably Cleo is the first announce that she is ready to return to her “Star House,” echoing our own quiet longing. The drive is a struggle, too many miles and too few pit stops make for cranky people, but when we find ourselves on the country road that meets our street we turn the music up, and roll the windows down.
We are greeted by a gaggle of goats, chickens, bunnies and our sweet Millie. Everyone disperses to their rooms, abandoning the trailer that we will slowly unpack as summer rolls on.
Later, Andy calls me outside to look at the stars. He helps me find Polaris, and has me guess at the others. I look up, and I wonder about us humans. That we travel. That we are always searching. I look at the man next to me, and I remember again the thing I keep forgetting. I remember that on a clear night I need travel no farther than my own driveway, where I’ll find him studying the sky, the pieces of our hearts asleep in their beds. I think that maybe this is why we travel. To come home.