Three years ago, my husband, daughter and I embarked on an adventure from Pittsburgh to the Grand Canyon. With our camper in tow, we spent a total of 60 hours in the car, and we only spent a few days actually visiting the Grand Canyon. Looking back on it, the best part of the trip were those hours watching endless corn fields pass, with the occasional cow and the sky above in all its phases. Here are some pointers for travelers who may also want to take the trek:
- Before you even hit the road on a 30-hour drive each way, you need to mentally prepare yourself. Get your game face on. This is not a trip for rookies. Expect raging storms, inconsiderate drivers and a restless child (if you have one of those).
- To start, snackage is critical. Prepare yourself for massive caloric intake, though those Little Debbie snack cakes will be burned off while tossing and turning each night, trying to sleep next to your unconscious husband on the small bench the camper manufacturer calls a bed. Also, make sure to monitor how much your little one devours. They can be sneaky snackers, packing in those Swedish Fish when you’re not looking. We were lucky to discover them on the first night, because the campground had laundry facilities.
- Do not begin singing Bottles of Beer on the Wall or The Song That Never Ends, unless you like ear worms and can handle those tunes infesting your brain for the duration of the trip. May I suggest podcasts instead? If any children on board complain, modern society offers endless entertainment options, including iPads, DVD players, phones and, God forbid, sketch books and pencils.
- Oh, and make sure you’re equipped with a spare tire. When we were driving through Utah, we had Mennonite women urgently flagging us down from their 1998 Chevy Cavalier—they noticed the camper limping with a blown tire five miles back. Those women saved us from a destroyed tire rim.
- As you enter a less-dynamic state (i.e., no hills), you can play the “my cow” game. The rules are simple, if you see a cow, claim it. Gather herds. Then add bales of hay, horses and even farm equipment to build a farm. Whoever has the biggest farm wins. Beware, kids get creative. If I didn’t find hay soon enough, my eight-year-old daughter began thinning the herd by telling me my cows died of starvation.
- Once you reach the western states, you may want to plan gas stops. The painted desert may be a great place to pass through, but there are no walking paths for gas stations or stops to pick up gas cans along the way.
- Most importantly, laugh and take pictures. Stargaze at night and watch a sunrise with a cup of tea. Put down the electronics (except for when junior can’t handle podcasts). Stop at the scenic views and the world’s largest whatever-it-is. Open your ears. Share stories. Leave work behind, and try something new.
The destination is not the X on the map in front of you. It’s every day, right with you. It’s the accumulation of stories and mishaps. It’s the arguments about whose cow it is or whose bladder is made of steel. It’s the sore hip from sleeping in way a contortionist would envy. It’s the time you spent at a gas station in Utah meeting the locals while they give you a new spare tire.
Clichés exist for a reason, and this one stands true. The journey will be worth it because the trip had little to do with the destination. The end point is a formality.