Overthinking on the Road
My family and I are road trippers. We have driven from Texas to the east coast. We’ve hit the highway from home sweet home to California. This summer, however, we wanted to explore some of America’s national parks, so we jumped in the car and drove to Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Royal Gorge, and Pike’s Peak in Colorado. We detoured to South Dakota and saw four former presidents at Mt. Rushmore. We ventured to Montana and took in Glacier National Park. Then we skipped on over to Wyoming and soaked up all Yellowstone had to offer. This was a different kind of trip than any we’d taken before because the landscape in this part of the United States is so different from any we had ever seen. It is majestic. It is grand. It is unforgettable and the pictures I took will never do it justice. I could go on and on, but being the very self-aware, over thinking road warrior that I am, there are some minor details and strange thoughts about my adventure that I’d like to share. These thoughts have little to do with the actual vacation, but when you travel 3,000 miles, there are some things you notice.
- My husband finds it necessary to provide the whole car with a concert packed full of every genre of music, from Merle Haggard to Metallica. He doesn’t care if all the passengers are trying to sleep or engage in serious conversations. If he’s driving, he’s going to be singing… at the top of his lungs.
- There is a wide variety of patterns decorating the distinct license plates of each state. New Mexico plates were my favorite; they are so colorful and easy to identify on the highway. Could Texas maybe amp up their game? Our plates are so drab and boring in comparison. We need to do better. There should be a contest. Whoever creates the best license plate design receives a year’s worth of free car insurance for the teenage drivers in your house. I don’t know. It’s just an idea.
- Once arriving at our destinations, we always make it a point to eat at the local dives, but on the way to our stopping point, especially going as far as we did this summer, we ate our fair share of fast food on the road. I must say, the fast-food service from Colorado up to Montana is phenomenal (minus the one guy at Freddie’s Steakburger whose body odor wafted strongly out of the drive-through window). Not once in all our fast-food stops was our order wrong. The employees were extremely polite, and their efficiency was unmatched.
- Speaking of restaurants and any other place I had to communicate with other humans, it quickly became apparent that I could not go more than a couple of sentences without using the word “y’all”. People from all the states we visited on this summer’s trip just smiled as I spoke. I’m not sure if they were mentally deducting points from my IQ as I talked my twang, but they seemed to love the accent from that faraway land called Texas. It’s just who I am, y’all.
- My husband and I hiked a trail at Glacier National Park with my daughter and her boyfriend. Let me say, I am 44, but in my mind, I feel 25 most days. Hiking proved to me I am indeed 44. Keeping up with two fit 18-year-olds was rough, but I was determined to do it. The payoff was worth it, as the view was something I’ll never forget.
- My Daddy always told me I better be on my best behavior because I’ll always see somebody from home no matter where I go in this world. As usual, he was right. At Glacier, we rented canoes and paddled out onto beautiful Lake McDonald. As we were returning the canoe, the park employee spoke to us with an accent that sounded all too familiar. She asked for my driver’s license along with my debit card. Then she looked at me and said, “You’re from Atlanta, Texas? That’s crazy! I’m from Maud!” She explained she had applied to work for the National Park Service and was placed in Montana at Glacier National Park. Though she was working an awesome job in a beautiful place, she seemed thrilled to see folks from home.
- In Texas, we love our barbecue, bluebonnets, and armadillos… ok, maybe not the armadillos. In Montana, they love their huckleberries. Locals make everything out of huckleberries: ice cream, bread, pastries, jelly, and beer. One native described the taste of huckleberries to me as “a blueberry with an attitude”. This is very accurate. The taste is different, but delicious. Apparently, the Montana woods are full of huckleberries in the summer and the bears feed on them until they are gone or are picked over by the residents and tourists. I brought back huckleberry jelly, and it has been a hit with my extended family.
- Let it be known that I am not, by nature, a planner. I, more or less, fly by the seat of my pants. It is for the sake of organization and vacation planning I keep my husband around. Like all our other road trips, he planned this summer’s sightseeing, activities, and lodging. The “cottage” (and I use that term loosely) that we stayed in near Yellowstone was more of a closet. In fact, it was so small that we had to walk sideways to get around the furniture that was crammed into the tight space. Also, the bathroom had an uneven floor and a mirror that belonged in a fun house. Looking back, I guess it served its purpose if you could maintain your balance and not scare yourself to death when you passed your reflection. At the end of the day, it was a hot shower and a clean bed.
- On the Idaho-Utah border, we stopped at a full-service gas station. I hadn’t seen one of those in years. The attendant came out and my husband told him to “fill’er up”. The two 18-year-olds in the back seat had never seen such a thing. It brought back a flood of memories of my childhood and the Exxon that used to stand on the corner of Main and Louise streets in my hometown. Full service was the only way to go back then, and I wish it still was.
- The only credit I give myself for planning anything on this trip was contacting Yellowstone Mountain Guides. It is a horseback riding guide service owned by seventh generation Montanan, Terry Search. Terry loved that we were from Texas, which, I guess, translated into we-ride-horses-everywhere-we-go-in-the-lonestar-state. As you fine people of this region know, we do not. It was an awesome trek through the Yellowstone countryside, but y’all… saddle sores are a real thing! If you need exercise, forget cardio or weights or yoga. Ride a horse. I’ve got a whole new respect for all you rodeo people.
- I was worried that the father north we got, the less Dr Pepper there would be. Not true! The greatest beverage of all time has a decent following in those states. As for the true wine of the south, sweet tea, not so much. If you want tea in that part of the world, there’s not a chance in Hades that it will be sweet. A word to the wise, if you’re traveling due north from the Texarkana area and you’re a tea drinker, put a sack of sugar in your purse. You’re going to need it.
- I learned not all “roads” found on Google Maps are actually roads. Some end up being 48-mile bike trails your husband turns down because it looks like a shortcut. When you’re in the Wyoming/Idaho back country, have no cell service, no human contact, or bear spray (yes, that’s a real thing), your mind wanders. In my case, my mind goes into hyper overdrive. What if we run out of gas? How long will the stale crackers in my console last the four of us if we get stuck out here? If I make it out of here alive, I’m never going anywhere with him again. Will it be clear that I was attacked by a bear when they find my bones a year from now? I should have been a Girl Scout. Then I’d know how to survive out here. Wait, do they even teach survival skills to girl scouts? And so forth and so on. Needless to say, we made it back to civilization. Also, there may or may not be video footage of my meltdown.
No matter where you travel, there are always lessons learned, experience gained and stories to tell. If you’ve never been on a tour of the national parks, I encourage you to do so. The views are magnificent, and the land is as untouched as the day God made it. Despite the unplanned shenanigans on our ten-day journey, I came to realize that traveling always humbles me and helps me grow as a person, and I find it’s the little things that stand out as the big things in my mind. I will forever treasure the memories my family made on the road this summer (the actual, for-real roads), but it sure was nice to be back home in the land of chips and salsa.