For the past few years, Colburn’s family has arranged for all of the siblings to meet for a week or two of family time with either Granny on the Cape and Grandpa up in the Adirondack Mountains. Some years we are able to do both, but we always try to make it for at least one week together. These events have become an institution: cousins separated by a continent play together on the lake or in the ocean, siblings reconnect, and time is spent together as a family despite the geographic disparity of where we live. As we planned our trip, we realized that we did not want to miss out on the annual get together, so were trying to be back in the US in time for the end of the July get-together. When we decided that our trip would take more than a year, we committed to being back for the summer. We knew that if we stayed in one place we would lose our travel mojo as it is much easier to be sessile in a comfortable location with your native language than it is to constantly work to understand the language and customs of foreign lands. And so, the seed for a US road trip was born. A couple months on the road with Sylvia, our trailer (yes, we named our trailer), would allow us to explore the US in a similar fashion to what we have done in other countries. It would be a little bit of a rest break but we could visit some of the “must see” highlights of the US while enjoying relatively easy travel.
When we were abroad, there were a couple activities that the kids really missed and we couldn’t find a suitable substitute. Mac really missed riding his bike and few places rent kid-sized bikes. In nine months, we tried several different times but could only muster one trip around a city park in Buenos Aires. Lucia really missed rock climbing. Much like trying to find a Mac-sized bike, trying to find someone that was prepared to take kids rock climbing was challenging. Sure, they can zipline lots of places, but no one had climbing available for anyone under 16. Interestingly, I didn’t realize that either of these things were really important to the kids, but it came up several times while we were traveling so we made sure we scheduled in climbing and biking time to our US itinerary as possible.
Our trip started in mid-May getting Lucia on the rock at Joshua Tree. For several years we had tried to get there during spring break when the weather there is perfect, but the timing never worked out for us. In the 1990s, I ran outdoor ed and climbing trips in Joshua Tree so remember well the challenges of trips planned too close to summer. The heat can be oppressive. You only have until about 10:30am to do anything then must to hole up in the shade until early evening. As intense as the midday sun can be, the nights are still gloriously cool. Even though when we went it was only mid-May, the 105 degree heat and blazing sun every day reminded me of why April is a better time to be there. But, we pushed on and were able to work around the weather by climbing early and late in the day. Mid-days were spent under the awning of the trailer doing school work and reading. Lucia loved the heat of the rock and used her sweaty determination to climb steadily more difficult routes. One day as she reached the top of her climb, she said, “I have gone from liking rock climbing to loving it! Sure it’s hot and sweaty, but I think I want to do this more when I get older!” Now we ponder what her twenties will look like — and worry just a little that it might look an awful lot like ours!
After Joshua Tree, we headed to Los Angeles to do some theme parks (Legoland and Disneyland) and visit friends. It was wonderful to catch up with old friends that are sorely missed. The kids had three full days of playing with some of their best friends in the whole world, our old neighbors from Reno. Picking up as if they had never been apart, the kids realized that true friendships survive months and miles of separation and spent the entire weekend engrossed in their play. In fact, we rarely saw them unless it was meal time!
Next we headed to Utah and Arizona for some Southwest fun. Mac had wanted to do more biking, so we planned on a few mountain bike trips. First was the St. George area, a fabulous biking and hiking spot in southern Utah. Red rock formations, slot canyons, and great mountain biking trails kept us busy for an entire week. The kids are really just getting their legs underneath them in terms of mountain biking and it was amazing to watch them progress on each ride. Gooseberry Mesa (just outside of Hurricane, UT) has lots of interconnecting trails of varying length and difficulty so you can create any type of ride you’d like. It is also substantially cooler than in the valley so provided a nice break from the heat. The area also has beautiful slot canyons to explore. Our favorite was actually at our campsite (Red Cliffs) – perhaps a 20-30 minute walk to a series of swimming holes and waterfalls to explore. Unfortunately, we lost our camera with all the beautiful slot canyon and water pictures on it, so can’t share the images. Great fun was had by all we highly recommend this to anyone interested in biking and hiking.
Continuing our Western adventure, we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to ride the Rainbow Rim trail. This place was AMAZING! Having rafted down the Colorado twice and hiked both in to and out of the canyon, I have a soft-spot for the quietness and solemnity of the place. We had originally planned to stay in the Park on the north rim and pedal around the trails there when we found out about the Rainbow Rim Trail just outside of the park on National Forest land. The trail itself is 18 miles of intermediate level terrain that parallels the canyon rim. Vistas in to the canyon are only had at one of the five points you bike across, but whoa, are they beautiful! Perhaps the best part was that we were able to do some wild camping right on the rim overlooking the lower Canyon.
We had the place to ourselves, literally not another soul around except for the bikers during the day. As with the St. George area, if you are at all interested in this type of experience we highly recommend it. The only caveat I would provide is that the trail is really an intermediate one with a few sketchy areas (think scree slope crossing that dumps over a 100 foot cliff or sharp downhill turn that if you miss you’d go over a cliff in to the canyon) so is not one for newbie mountain bikers. There were a couple times we held our breath as the kids negotiated these challenges, but in the end they did fabulously and we had a lovely time.
It was hard to beat our experience at the Grand Canyon, but Moab gave it a good run. Moab truly is an outdoor heaven. We stayed in a commercial RV park right in Moab so we could have air conditioning, power, and an easy stay thus giving us more energy to explore the surrounding areas. We biked in the mornings and climbed in the afternoons. As with Joshua Tree, mid-days were spent doing school in the comfort of an air conditioned trailer. Both kids mastered going over 12-18 inch ledges, learned to shift on the fly and rarely put their butts on the saddle. Mac is a truly gifted mountain bike kid — and is fearless when it comes to down-hilling — which also makes us wonder what his twenties will look like. He was confidently going down stuff that I was hesitant to do. Lucia, on the other hand, was again completely in her element on the rock. Sweaty and dusty, she would beg us to stay longer so she could do, “just one more route, Daddy!” every evening.
By the end of the week she wanted to lead her first climb. Colburn and I looked at each other wondering if 10 years old was too young, but we were confident that she could do it because she had easily done the route a couple times so we said, “Go for it!” Although she got a little tweaky mid-climb, she completed it with her usual understated grace. We couldn’t be more proud of our kids. Not just for what they do, but also how they do it. Each time we present them with a challenge, they seem to step up to it without much hesitation. They know what we ask them to do is sometimes “scary” and “difficult” but that we won’t let them auger unnecessarily. We mitigate the risks and recognize when it’s “too much”.
In reading blogs of families that travel, one family that bicycled with their kids from Washington to the tip of South America provided the advice to “never ever underestimate what your kids can do”. When I went on a 9 mile, 2400 foot vertical “Third Grade Hike” with Lucia’s class I couldn’t believe that the whole class did it without even one whimper. We saw it again when we were trekking in South America and now again here. Kids can do much more than we think they can. The lesson has now sunk in – never, ever, underestimate what your kids can do.
From our outdoor adventures in the West, we made a bee-line for Tulsa and the Woody Guthrie Center to begin our “Civil War to Civil Rights Tour”. Chronicling his life, music, and art, the Guthrie Center has a mix of his music and artifacts as well as a broader presentation of the importance of his music to society. It provided a very informational and inspirational start to this part of our trip. The Guthrie Center was followed up by the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis (where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed). An incredibly interactive experience, the kids really got an idea of how the Civil War did nothing to assure equality and that the struggle continued with great consequences for more than 100 years. They recognized some of the parallels to the race relation issues we learned about and witnessed first hand when we were in South Africa. The concept was reinforced when we went to the World War II Museum in New Orleans (which is also a fabulous and interactive experience) and they listened to the stories of soldiers, especially African-American soldiers. We can whole-heartedly recommend all three places for an interesting and educational experience with kids. The discussions that followed were pretty interesting.
After so much focus on “learning” and “education” we headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – one of the relatively new sections of Universal Studios Orlando. As big fans of the books and movies, it was almost a pilgrimage for us. There is a replica Hogsmeade village complete with HoneyDukes, the Three Broomsticks and butter beer, a reality ride that begins with the line wandering through the different parts of Hogwarts, and the opportunity to have a wand choosing session at Olivander’s among other things. We were engaged for several days – even as adults. Although we missed the opening of the new Diagonally section by less than a week, we thoroughly enjoyed the theme park experience before visiting with family for the remainder of July.
Eleven weeks and more than 10,000 miles later we made it back to the California/Nevada area to get ready for the next leg of our trip – biking the Rhine. We didn’t realize it when we were planning the US adventure, but perhaps the greatest benefit of road tripping in our trailer is that we wouldn’t have to pack up and schlep our bags every day. We had a home and all of our stuff with us without having to move in and out all of the time. If you are not in constant motion, it may seem like a little thing, but the sheer process of packing up and moving is exhausting with frequent repetition – absolutely exhausting – and we only used carry-on sized bags when we were abroad! We we were able to experience a great cross-section of Americana; from an incredible wilderness campsite by ourselves on the rim of the Grand Canyon to truck stops/Walmart parking lots in the south and lots of places in between. Great fun!