Saturday, September 23, 2017

Epic Adventure: Part Three

Exhaustion hit in the early a.m. in Montana. We found a spot to camp in a road side camping area, but they had showers.

Clean and rested, we set out for Beartooth Pass. The Beartooth Highway is part of U.S. Route 212 in Montana and Wyoming between Red Lodge and the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone. It has been called “the most beautiful drive in America.”  Agreed. Also slightly intense with narrow roads hanging onto the mountain and winding round and round and showing us one breath taking view after another. If you ever have a chance, take this road. Make sure that you have ample time and don’t go unless it is between May and October because the volumes of snow that fall there each year keep it closed most of the time.

We had a glorious morning soaking in view after view. The boys used a rubbermaid lid as a makeshift sled after discovering sledding was in fact possible and hunted hills that were steep enough for a ride; yet not too treacherous. There were snowballs flying and kids sliding and the basic snow squeals from delighted barefoot Floridians. We ate a lovely lunch by a pond with snow still melting away from the surface. It was cold and refreshing and we were not in the van.

But, we had to get back in the van. And this is where I wasn’t ready to get back in the van. Right before entering Yellowstone, I realized that entering Yellowstone without the possibility of camping meant that all we could do was drive through. NO MORE DRIVING! I felt like we were entering a buffalo vortex. 

When the trip started, I knew we were taking a grotesque size bite of the United States, and I knew that we had talked about some of these drives, but I didn’t piece together that one would lead directly into the other for several days straight. I don’t like sitting. If I could have run these roads, I would have. If I could have biked them on a unicycle with a 50lb weight in a sack on my back, I would have rather done that. I would have rather paddled the rushing rivers or climbed the sides of the mountains. At this point I was dreaming of drudging through the west with Louis and Clark.

We entered Yellowstone and I sat perfectly still staring out the window wishing that all the tourists would find another place to be so we could speed out the western entrance and be on our way. Not so on a day when the baby bears were showcasing and the elk were cooling in a stream and the buffalo were being buffalo to the left and the right and up and down and all over. 

And finally we were out. I managed to take one photo to prove we made the loop. But, what I didn’t know was that there were miles and miles and miles between the exit and the next city. We needed dinner and we needed a place to stay and there wasn’t a place for dinner and there wasn’t a place to stay. We finally found a little spot to eat while they closed for the night. With full bellies, we left sure that on July 5th, everyone was home and no one was camping, but everyone was still camping this week that they took off in Montana. Finally, we stopped somewhere. This was the somewhere night. The mosquito night. The, “Can it be over?” night. And the entire time the kids were having a blast. They continually found adventure and silly games and fun stories and songs. I was DONE! 

We woke up and packed up to escape mosquito land and ate breakfast on the Great Divide next to a semi truck loaded with his chicken cargo. Coffee and a bacon, egg, and toast breakfast gave us a new lease on driving, so we hopped back in the van and kept moving west. 


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Epic Adventure: Part Two

Our first stop - Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We didn’t think much about the date. Back to our thinking six weeks is plenty to plan a mammoth adventure, we didn’t consider that we were beginning our trek on the busiest holiday in our country. We landed in the Clingman’s Dome parking lot at the same time as 1,000 other people enjoying our Nation’s great forest on a great holiday. We hiked the paved trail with a sea of people moving up and up into the clouds to a glorious view of the blue hued hills.

After fighting Pigeon Forge traffic, we were finally off to the great wide open. We prepared for an all night drive and drifted off into mini van sleep while George drove us through the night. 

By four the next afternoon, we were in Kennebec, South Dakota at a lovely campground. George’s third grade teacher, Sylvia Ann Marquette met us there for spaghetti and wine and songs and stories before we fell into deep - not in a mini van - sleep.   

After oatmeal for breakfast and a long playground adventure with neighborly campers, we said good-bye to Sylvia Ann and headed West towards the Badlands. Years ago, as newly weds, we had popped into Badlands National Park, but just for a sunset and then off again. We took some time to drive through the park a bit more slowly and to soak in the grand scale of the ancient and strange, dry land as far as the eye could see. As we left the park, we spotted silly prairie dogs and ground owls and a huge great horned sheep. The kids squealed with laughter watching the prairie dogs pop in and out and around.

As we “planned” the trip, I did some research on Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The pictures looked like it would be a unique place to visit. It was glorious! 

This picturesque canyon land covered with conifers and teaming with trout in crystal clear rivers pushed along by cascading falls gave us a cool evening to splash and run and picnic. Amelia spotted two birds she’d never seen and the waterfalls and river quenched and refreshed us from head to toe after scorching in the Badlands. 

It wasn’t a place we could camp, so we had to reload and head out to find camping near Mount Rushmore. On July 4. There would be no camping anywhere close, so we headed west and watched fireworks explode from town to town across America. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so American and so thankful for this land. We were in the middle of it, literally, and in love with her beauty and the freedom to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

An Epic Journey - Part 1

Six weeks to plan a journey is, for George and I, seriously advanced planning. We were sure that if we took an epic trip, we should plan ahead, and six weeks seemed good enough. We have wanted to take the family to Washington State to see where we lived and meet our dear friends, and we decided that driving would be more adventurous and little less expensive. We had the time, so be charted our course. We even took notes, made a few phone calls, send a few emails, and made some rough calculations on cost. 

We've wanted to get into adventure mode with our kids. They roll that way so easily and we’ve dreamed of it for too long not to make it happen. 

If George and I plan something, it never works. You can ask my family. If I put it on a calendar, it probably won’t happen. If I don’t, it will and it will be big.

So we were somewhere in the in between, but definitely on the side of “Where will this road take us?”

So, we packed up our camping gear, a cooler, and some clothes, set the animals up in good hands, and said “goodbye” to hot humid Tallahassee.

And that is what led to the pre-trip. I stayed at home for three days, while George headed north with four kids and a dog. I painted and cleaned and did stuff you can’t easily do with four kids.

At the farm, the kids and George rode their new motorbikes up and down and all around the hills and played in the rain and ate blueberry things and headed to the North Georgia mountains to visit with our sweet friend Ben, enjoy the cool, and hike some hills. 




I met up with the crew in Suches, Georgia. We headed down the mountain after a slow cool morning breakfast and coffee to help out friends with a house project. Before the day was over, lots of Indian village play had been accomplished, and William had seven stitches in the bottom of his foot. 

I’m so very thankful for modern medicine and doctors and antibiotics. It wasn’t in the plan. It would hamper William’s adventuring, but he healed quickly and kept a great attitude even thought he had to miss out on Grandparent Camp.

Grandparent Camp at Lot 9. Before we left Amelia and George Wilder with cousins and Ema and Abuelo, we had an intense encounter with a snake.

As I sat watching kids play in the river, rain began to pitter patter on the rocks. Our dog, Ocala, relentlessly barked at the rock where I was perched. After several attempts to quite the canine, I decided to look under the rock. There, beneath me, was the wide band of a snake.

I’m not a snake expert, but I knew it was venomous. Abuelo and George immediately took action. With shovel and hoe, they made sure we would never experience an encounter with that snake again. Right away, Amelia took over dissecting and skinning the cotton mouth that had just been lurking beneath the rock minutes before. Ocala earned some serious dog points and a spot at grandparent camp.

George and I loaded up the younger two and headed north for pre-trip number two. Our route took us near my niece, Emmie’s, summer work in the North Carolina mountains. We swooped through for a quick visit and hug before heading to Linville Falls. With kids on backs and a time schedule, we raced to the top of the trail, looked at the falls, and raced back to the car before the rain came and the time ran out. 

And just in time, we arrived in Bristol, VA at the dear home of Craig and Karen McDonald. Dr. McDonald was not only our most cherished professor, he and his wife became counselors, encouragers, dreamers, and thinkers with us. Craig was in our wedding because he was that influential in our lives as we began walking it together. 

Craig and Karen graciously shared their time and space with us as if we hadn’t skipped a beat. We slowed down and talked and ate and drank and soaked in Karen’s gardens. I believe that in these moments we get a slight glimpse of heaven. We will have access, without time and space separating us, from all the people we’ve loved and we will dine and sing and laugh and talk and be together whenever we wish. But for now, that sweet time will hold us until the next time we are together. 

From there we drove the Charlotte to do a shake down, pack it up or out, wash it all, get the van clean and ready time at my parents house. My brother and his wife joined us for dinner. My heart soaks in my brother when I’m with him. Probably because he thinks I’m funny, but I think he is hilarious.

We returned to Lot 9 to everyone together. My favorite moments in this earth are that. My family together. It was too brief, but sweet. Hannah was ready to nap and we were ready to hit the road, so at three in the afternoon we let out our family’s goodbye shout and began, what would become 20 states in 20 days and nearly 8,000 miles.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Farm Trips With A Twist

The early morning sunrise gives just enough light for a run before the heat pushes us inside. It's quiet out, except for the birds. The land is going to push out piles of cotton, but for now they are tiny plants waiting on the sun and the rain. Back at the farm, the kids appear from upstairs, finished with their deep sleep and ready for breakfast, preparing to rock the day.

We used to spend our hours sitting on tractors imagining and pretending. Now they turn them on and make them go and mow the grass for Grandmother. They start the fire on the burn piles to help granddaddy. They crank up their motorbikes and zoom through the fields.

Hannah still imagines. Grandmother gives her cooking supplies and she creates a feast of flower petals and bird seed and leaves. Hannah keeps to the house, but the others are old enough to explore. We knew this day would come. Our farm trips are going to be different now with brave kids and motorbikes and things to do in the fields. Amelia still wants to wear her dress while she motors around on the mower and on the bikes. The farm is the same place, but George Wilder's cowboy dreams are more of a reality as he marches around in granddaddy's hats and helps with the work, Amelia knows all the flowers and the weeds and makes bouquets right away and William keeps up with the others.