With the car’s air conditioner on the fritz as my family of three headed into the hottest corner of the United States, our stay in Phoenix, Arizona extended from one day to three while a local mechanic wrangled it back into working order. Hoping to catch up on the lost time, we set a goal of arriving at Yosemite National Park on the same date we originally intended, which meant pushing through three long driving days to make it happen.
By the time we rolled into a dusty RV park on the edge of Mojave, California, the road vibrations had flattened our good moods of two days ago into a puddle of the grumps. We three were all a little snippy, and for the first time since we departed Atlanta four weeks ago, our ten-foot travel trailer felt decidedly small.
From visits years ago, we knew the state of California to be a place of unparalleled natural beauty, with endless miles of cliff-edged coastline to the west, and a rugged, mountainous interior of national parks to the east. Margaret and I were sprawled over our foam mattress, examining maps, searching campground locations, and not quite seeing eye-to-eye about our next move.
The mood became increasingly tense as we pored over the potential routes. Margaret has a poignant love for the natural wonders of the world, and she cast a vote for a rumble through the parks. I submitted my ballot for a drive up the coastline, hoping to make camp in more established towns that promised better connectivity for my graphic design work. Sparing details of the nudges and nitpicks, let’s just say we went to bed in a bit of a silent huff.
What seemed like moments later, the rising sun sent warm, white rays of light through the window beside our bed. I stretched, looked at the clock, and entertained pleasant thoughts about the day ahead. And then an unease started to course through my veins… oh yes, the evening’s discord. The fog continued to roll in, and I pulled our navy, ribbed blanket over my head.
Facing another full day of driving, we pushed through the tasks of breaking camp without making much eye contact. However difficult the past two days had been, the one we were beginning was looking all the more grim.
After we weaved our way back onto the 99, the ice chipped a little. With the boy quietly enjoying time with his digital babysitter (Bob the Builder), we reminded ourselves of the tenets of the trip: no expectations, no plans, just enjoying wherever the road leads and savoring the distraction-free time together as a family.
The epic sights and experiences of California had lured both of us away from these goals and into a frenzied scramble to pack too much into a tiny window of time. And we were all suffering for it.
With that reminder came the enjoyment of a beautiful Saturday morning — fresh coffee in hand, a favorite morning radio broadcast, and the rolling ranges of the mid-California mountains just beyond the windshield.
As we ascended into the peaks, a charming family farm stand came into view, offering pick-your-own berries, hayrides, and first-rate blueberry pie a-la-mode. We pulled off the highway and into the gravel lot for some old-fashioned family road-trip fun that was not epic, not gorgeous, and not breathtaking. And in those ways, it became the perfect reminder of why we journeyed all this way in the first place.
An unplanned road trip around the country for weeks on end sounds like the living of a dream, and in many ways, it is precisely that. But a break from a home address does not mean a departure from our tendencies toward hyper-scheduling, over-planning, and unrealistic expectations. Though not always easy, I am thankful that the open road constantly reminds us to think through our priorities and focus on that which is truly important.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped near Yosemite National Park, California and headed toward San Francisco. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!