The other day, one of my best friends told me about his family’s weekend road trip to Miami to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday. They returned to the stomping grounds of their twenties to show their tween son and daughter where they lived – before kids. What ensued could have been lifted right out of an episode of “Married With Children” as a tropical storm formed sending them indoors and eventually forcing them to evacuate.
Their experience made me realize how incredibly lucky we were on our 8,500 mile two month jaunt through 25 states. Consider this… after a short rain shower on the day we arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, we didn’t see a drop of rain until we left Yellowstone National Park 5,500 miles and 6 weeks later.
Not only did we enjoy excellent dry weather for camping, we missed major wildfires that closed Yosemite just a few days after our visit. We were detoured by a fire in Oregon that gave us a the chance to see Antelope, Oregon and The Dalles. Not long after we left Oregon, half the state burned up. The smoke was so bad, Idaho got a contact high.
It seems our entire summer was a series of near-misses with carnage. We also lucked out mechanically. While our van ran perfectly, I’m pretty certain that the radiator fan stopped working in Seattle – something I’ve got to have checked now that we’re home. We’re the Mr. Magoo of family travel, journeying blissfully through the country as all hell breaks loose in the background. (Sorry, I’m dating myself with Mr. Magoo and Married With Children references. That’s what Youtube is for.)
Death Valley was hot that June day – 120 degrees. You can’t take a picture of heat, so we added a hot woman to the lush landscape. Our five year-old was not the least bit impressed by the abstract concepts of “low elevation” or unusually hot weather.
The other thing that didn’t happen – illness. Along the way we had a couple of runny noses that never developed into anything. Never once had to bust out the Children’s Tylenol or (thankfully) the Zofran for the stomach funk. The only hurling was done by me after a bad dizzy spell in Montana. Monica didn’t get bit by a rattle snake in that crazy chimney she had to scale to reach Kitchen Mesa. No one got hypothermia in the frigid waters of the Virgin, Merced, or Clark Fork Rivers. No seasickness in Deception Pass.
Other hikers warned her of a rattlesnake that guarded the “chimney” section of this hike. They say never hike alone, and in Monica’s defense, we intended to join her – but our daughter got too tired before we reached the trailhead. Later in the day we all returned to see the views at the beginning of the hike, where it was immediately clear that the trail and Vascular Ehlers Danlos don’t mix.
The thing about these rivers is that they are fed almost entirely by snow melt. Monica was the first to ease into the Merced River in Yosemite. Then she coaxed us all in. In Montana, I was the first to get wet in the Clark Fork River, however, I dropped in off the edge of a moving raft. It’s the coldest water I’ve ever been in. But what I really wasn’t prepared for was the way the guide had to fish us out of the water like shipwreck victims.
I don’t know if I believe in Karma, but after surviving the ordeal of 2016, I’ve become pretty relaxed when it comes to things like airplane turbulence and heavy lightning storms. If I die on a plane, the odds are it’ll be from an aneurysm and not a crash – so you’re safe flying with me. If I get struck by lightning, well, then life is just cruel because I don’t need any more help from nature. I’m more likely to keel over mundanely getting up from the dinner table, or tying my shoe.
This all comes back to the piece of wisdom I wish everyone could gain, without having to endure something like a dreadful medical condition. Stop worrying and live your life now. Do work you care about. Live where you want to live. Don’t put off the things you love.
It would have been very easy for us to think of reason not to do a two-month road trip. It would be too hard on me physically. Too risky to drive through Death Valley or climb Tioga Pass in a 15 year-old van. Too much “together time” for the family. Too expensive. I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan for the future. But don’t take for granted that the future will be what you think it is. For me, the future is now, and it always will be.
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“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Check out Jon’s periodic column, “So How’s That New Book Coming?” at Creative Loafing – Tampa. His 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Monica is a freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and connoisseur of 70s rock lyrics.