Happy New Year! Procrastinator that I am, I’m sharing a post I never finished last year. However, it does also serve as an excellent point of reflection over one of our greatest family adventures of 2018…
This past June I went on the longest road trip of my life—with my wife, a four-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-month-old. We had one reserved destination ~1,800 miles away and zero plans on how to get there. It was National Lampoon’s Vacation minus Wally World and the bb-gun hostage taking.
To backtrack a little, I should explain that this all began when my wife and I sat down to write out some New Year’s goals in 2017 and decided we should write out a “bucket list”. And so, we did—scribbling some prayerful thoughts on a napkin one evening at a noisy restaurant while a baby sitter watched the kids at home. Many line items spewed forth, one of which: the goal to see all the National Parks in the United States.
So, come this past May when we were blessed with our fourth child, Amelie, and a newly implemented eight week paternity leave plan at work, we asked ourselves: what’s one of the furthest parks we could see?
We landed at Acadia National Park in Maine, which is about a 27-hour drive from our home in Louisiana.
Talk about a marathon. With an overloaded van of tiny demanding people and their stuffed bags, we crawled along at a driving rate of 4-5 hours per day. If it weren’t for the Amazon fire tablets and the DVD player, we wouldn’t have even come close to that.
The whole way felt like we were tackling some sort of Parenting Olympics, with various weird events such as:
The minivan toss. How many consecutive snacks can you toss to your screaming kids in the back of the van? (My wife is a gold medalist).
The toddler catch and carry. Chase down a running toddler and carry them back to the minivan. Bonus points if it’s raining.
The bladder hold. How long can you go without stopping to pee since the baby finally fell asleep and you don’t want to risk waking her up?
We also saw the business opportunity for marketing car radio headsets (like you see in helicopters) for parents of toddlers, so they can comfortably talk to one another in the car over the yelling in the back.
Anyhow, with the need to stop constantly for tiny legs to stretch, we were faced with a dilemma—where do we stop? Enter the terrific discovery of my wife and one of the best app downloads of all time: The Roadtripper App.
You simply enter your route into the App’s map and it spits out places of interest along the way (i.e. food, parks, attracts, etc.). Whenever the baby would wake up and scream or whenever the older kids would reach a tipping point, we’d set our sights on the closest thing that looked interesting to us. Here were some of our favorite stops on the way…
This cool covered bridge built in 1861 in Alabama:
Lookout Mountain in Tennessee:
And Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia…
… where I learned the hard way that hiking with 6 people takes a lot more water then you would think (even if those people are tiny). Thankfully, a nice couple must have thought we looked desperate and gave us electrolyte popsicles.
At the end of the day, we’d look for the nearest Chick-Fil-A, stagger into whatever hotel was available in the area, and call it a night. Then we’d wake up way too early, destroy the hotel breakfast room, chug a couple cups of coffee, and repeat the process.
On day 4 of the journey, we reached the bonus destination of our route: Shenandoah National Park. Excited about our first taste of National Park beauty and wildlife on the trip, we found a little “benign” hiking trail to tackle with our kids, which led us to a beautiful little waterfall wrapped in green.
We could have stopped at the top but of course I pushed my family a little further to get to the bottom and take a picture. That’s when the monsoon came. Out of nowhere, the heavens opened, and we found ourselves scrambling back up those hundreds of steps with water coursing down the path like Jumanji (the 1995 original).
In a moment of mercy, an older couple caught out in the rain with us lent us a jacket so I could cover the baby and sprint back to the car and put the heater on her. God’s got helpers everywhere!
After drying off and buying ice cream for everyone as an apology, we took Skyline Drive through the park and drove on to Gettysburg to stay the night. I’d have to say, this was by far the most sobering moment of our trip, thinking of all the men that had died on that battlefield when this great nation nearly tore itself apart. Sure, we have more work to do – but let’s not forget how far we have come either.
The next stop after that was a lot more lighthearted. Hershey’s Chocolate World!
This was a quick stop to stretch our legs and buy several pounds of chocolate and a jolly rancher drink for the kids (though I’m pretty sure it was straight crack judging by how crazy the kids were after drinking it).
The next day we managed to meet up with the grandparents outside Boston (who were travelling separately with their camper) and spent a crowded night together before setting out on the final leg of our journey.
And then…finally…we made it to the little cabin we rented in Maine on Flander’s Bay – and boy was it worth it.
For a Southern family used to sandy beaches in Florida, the rugged beauty of waves smashing into rocky shorelines was an amazing sight to behold. The tide surges were astounding as well. Entire lakes would appear and disappear over the day as the water swung dozens of feet in and out.
And of course, Acadia National Park itself was absolutely stunning.
Though we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife (except for a beaver within arm’s reach in a storm drain), the park more than made up for it with its scenic beauty. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
After a week of fish and chips, lobster, and chowder and soaking it all in, we found ourselves on the ominous trail back home. To switch things up a bit on the way back, we hit up a cool colonial farm with all kinds of animals and an awesome playset in Connecticut…
We also stopped and ate a hot dog and some ice cream in City Park for a New York minute (see what I did there?).
We also retraced steps to hit up Hershey World one more time and stop again in Gettysburg, where—since it was the 155th anniversary of the battle that day—we saw lots of people dressed up for a reenactment.
And then for good measure we stopped at a drive-thru safari in Virginia where you can feed animals out of your window. This is where I found out that emus look a lot like velociraptors. They have huge eyes and you have no idea what they are thinking. They are straight up terrifying. Even more so than the bison that ripped the food cup from my hands.
Finally, after 3 weeks of a long and eventful adventure, we were home. As tired and worn out as our bodies were, the minivan took an even bigger toll. After bearing that burden all those miles, it now has the pleasant added feature of making an extremely loud and angry grinding noise whenever we shut the back-right sliding door. The driver side window also creaks whenever it goes up and down. We also returned without all the items we left with—such as our folding up baby cot which I left in a parking lot (I had it propped up against the minivan while I made room for in the trunk and then simply forgot to put it in).
So, what did God reveal to me on the trip? What nuggets of wisdom and experience did I glean? I was hoping for a huge spiritual makeover. Instead I got a laundry list of areas that need growth: too much pride, too heavy expectations from toddlers, too little patience, tendency to grumble even in the midst of joyous moments, “occasionally” push my family too far…
But you know what else? I also got a healthy dose of wonder for God’s beautiful creation. And I learned that there are still a lot of kind hearted people out there willing to help an overwhelmed family when they’re looking desperate. And that even when you don’t have all the details planned out, several heartfelt prayers go a long way in finding a place stop, eat, or lay down your head for the night (and probably have a lot to do with those kind hearted people being sent your way in desperate moments).
But most of all, I got bucketfuls of invaluable family memories to last me a lifetime. It’s funny how a few months later, those memories of my fuse about to blow because the kids were screaming in the backseat have all (mostly) faded, outlasted and outshined by all those wonderful moments that carry far more substance.
Was it worth it?
Do it again?
I’ll take the flight.
– Nicolas C. Day