Friday, August 28, 2015

Final Thoughts

We've been home for two weeks.  The kids are back in school.  I start on Monday.  We've unpacked, moved the camper to its home in the backyard, and the dogs no longer think we're anything special.  Pretty much back to normal.

I have a lot of random leftover thoughts about the trip, what we saw, what worked, what didn't, etc, so I figured that would be a good way to wrap things up.  

On camping: I wish that we had camped more.  Most of the days that got cut/modified were camping days, and I wish that we had spent less time in hotels.  The pop-up camper was a good fit for us.  We would have been very unhappy (and COLD) tent camping, and an RV comes with its own problems (hard to drive in cities, lower gas mileage, doesn't actually feel like "camping').  

"There's plenty of room for all of us!" she's clearly saying.
 We'll definitely do more short camping trips next year, as it's a pretty inexpensive way to travel.  The downside of hauling the camper was that we had to drive much more slowly than we otherwise would have, which, when you're driving 1000's of miles, does add up.

On the National Parks: before we left, I was pretty judgy about people who only saw the National Parks by car and didn't really get out and walk around.  But now I get it.  The parks are HUGE, and if you hike, you're choosing to see a small part in detail rather than get an overview of the whole thing.  To really be able to explore the parks, you have to leave more time for each park than we did, otherwise you have to pick and choose your experiences.  I think coming from the Northeast I really didn't have a sense of the fact that a site could be in the same national park and still be 2 hours away.  

On driving: The driving didn't bother me hardly at all.  Only on our longest days did I really want to get out of the car.  The kids tapped out at about 6 hours, but up til then were basically fine.  I think it's important to know the cost/benefit analysis.  We could have stayed places longer and explored more if we were willing to power through some really long drives, but it wasn't worth it to us.

A lot of hours were spent looking at this in front of me...

and this behind me.
On packing: I think we packed the right number of clothes (a week's worth of underwear, a few pairs of pants/shorts, a few shirts, two pairs of shoes each).  We didn't overload the car with clothes, but I didn't have to do laundry every day either, nor did we run around filthy.  

The entirety of my wardrobe for 6 weeks.  Not gonna lie - coming home to a full underwear drawer was pretty exciting.
We overpacked car activities for the kids, most of which went untouched.  A lot of the food I prepped ahead went unused as well, and things like camelbaks were handy to have, but ultimately unnecessary.  I feel like we did pretty well, but did overpack somewhat, as we could have picked up a lot of that stuff if we had needed it.  

On this country: There is so much space that is completely empty.  It is absolutely mind-boggling.  I mean, I was expecting lots of places that were rural, but I was not expecting desolate.  It's really something you have to see to believe.

Nothing.  Beautiful nothing.  As far as the eye can see.  And farther.
On what we never got good at: lunch.  We did a pretty good job either having pancakes or cereal or hotel breakfast.  And dinner I cooked on a camp stove or we ate out or had with friends.  But lunch was a challenge the whole trip, as neither child likes peanut butter sandwiches and it was impossible to bring hot lunch in the car, and we didn't always have ice to keep lunch food cold and we didn't want to spend the money and eat junky restaurant food every day.  It was hard to know whether to stop and take a break at lunchtime if we were driving, or just eat in the car and press on.  I still have no solutions for any of these problems, and we basically just muddled through, doing an unsatisfactory combination of all of our options.

On what went surprisingly well: the kids actually got along quite well the whole trip.  They were extremely good for me on the parts of the trip that Pete wasn't there.  We had cell phone coverage almost the whole trip.  Google maps steered us right and never got us lost.  We found parking spaces for the camper even in cities, only having to cobble something together once, and even that wasn't bad.  Our fuel efficiency with the camper was much better than I thought it was going to be.  Basically, things that could have been huge pains turned out to be just fine.

On what we saw: first of all, it's amazing to me how much we DIDN'T see.  We were gone 6.5 weeks and I feel like we only saw the tip of the iceberg, both in terms of actual stops made and what we saw when we were there.  That said, I think our itinerary was pretty good.  I think it was a really solid combination of friend visits, park visits, and city visits.  We definitely didn't do the same thing every day.  We tried to build in a good amount of "down time" for the kids, where they could just play or swim or whatever, and I think that made the trip more enjoyable for all of us.  

Would I do it again?  Well, no, because I don't have to.  A trip like this is definitely not a regular summer vacation.  A lot of what we saw was "bucket list" type stuff that you don't need to see more than once (I'm looking at you, Las Vegas and Mt. Rushmore).  

That said, I would definitely take a long vacation again, and would absolutely do more driving trips.  We've already said that we're going to have to go back to Utah so we can do more in depth exploring, we'll have to return to Colorado because we basically skipped it, I'd love to do both Chicago and St. Louis as a whole family because Pete missed both those cities this time, etc etc.  And there are so many other huge swaths of the country that we didn't even see - the Pacific Northwest, the entire South, and on and on.  Now that we know we can travel like this, we can take on those smaller adventures on future trips.

So there we have it.  A year's worth of preparation, 6 amazing weeks of travel, and now the wrap up.  It was truly an epic experience that I'm so glad we did.  I am hopeful that as the children get older and their memories of the trip solidify they can look back fondly on this time, and that they see it as a stepping stone to lots of other life adventures.  I know I will.  Thanks for sharing the journey with us.


Monday, August 17, 2015

By The Numbers

It's really hard to summarize this trip, but here's one attempt.

Days on the road: 44
Total miles traveled: 7500
Times "how much longer" was asked: 1,237,962
Gallons of Gas: 417
Cities Visited: 12
Pools swam in: 16
Old friends seen (plus families):15
National Parks visited: 13
Babies held: 2
States slept in:13
Museums seen:7
Hours spent listening to books on CD: 45
Average number of steps per day/total steps taken: 9000/396,000
Total miles walked: 198 
Hotel stays: 12
Flat tires: 1
Hours driving: 125
Junior Ranger Badges earned: 10
Trails hiked: 13
Pictures taken: 1,191

Saturday, August 15, 2015


We said a sad good-bye to our Virginia friends, with promises that we would see each other soon and head off to our last destination.

The drive to New Jersey was uneventful, but, let me tell you, it was FILLED with the MARVEL that are highway service stations.  Growing up in the Northeast, I just assumed that most major highways had service stations.  Maybe not frequently, but, you know, every so often.  WRONG.  Listen rest of the country: you don't know what you're missing.  They make traveling so much easier.

Anyway, we made it to New Jersey and let ourselves into our host's lovely home, and then took off to get some seriously much needed haircuts.  We wanted to look spiffy for our time about town!

The next morning we hung around and then took the train into midtown because we had tickets to Matilda!  I didn't know how it was going to go, but we had a great time.  Both kids loved the show.  We'll definitely have to make a trip back.

Before the show.

After dinner we hung around Times Square a bit until we met some Bryn Mawr friends for dinner.  Once again, people came way out of their way to meet up with us, and I am so grateful.  It was a lovely time.

One of these things is not like the other.  (Little bugger wouldn't get out of the picture)
We came back into the city the next day for a couple of totally different experiences.  After the craziness that is Times Square, we wanted to see some other parts of the city.  Originally the plan had been to meet up with a BMC friend for the day, but she was called out of town on business (boo!)  The upside was that her wife took the day off and hung out with us instead!  We had never met, but it was nice to make a new friend and she was awesome about shepherding us about town.

So we started in Chinatown where we got dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling.  Delicious.  I have no pictures because we were all so busy stuffing our faces.

We then hopped on the subway and made the trip uptown to the Met.  The Met is far too huge to do in one day, so we went in knowing that we would only do a few small parts.  We checked out the Egyptian art, 
Arms and Armor (which was awesome), 

meandered through medieval art, and saw some of the Modern section.  We also got to have cookies in the members lounge, which was a very fancy way to end our trip to the museum.

Our plan was to make dinner for our hosts, and we were getting pretty tired, so we walked across the top of Central Park (the day was gorgeous) and we caught the subway back to Penn Station and we made it out of the city and back to NJ.  We had a nice night hanging around with our hosts (a zipline in the front yard means an automatic good time).  

The next day was our last day, and it felt incredibly fitting to end back on the Atlantic Ocean.  So we made a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Lea had been asking to see the Statue of Liberty for about 3 years, and studied immigration last year in school, so it was neat to finally be able to be there for real.  

The kids outside at the top of the pedestal.  We didn't go all the way to the crown, which I think was a good choice. 
Good bye, Lady Liberty!
Ellis Island was really great, even if it is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

main hall
view from the ferry
And then that was it!  We drove back from Liberty State Park, hitched up the camper, and hit the road.  We made it home for dinner.

It was an amazing trip.  We're readjusting to being back home, but it's good to be back.  

Kids have already seen friends.  We've seen some of the family.  More of both are coming tomorrow.  

I'll have another post or two wrapping things up, but right now, my predominant feeling is gratefulness.  We had an amazing opportunity and it was filled with an untold number of wonderful people.  And now we're back, and I'm hoping that we can all hold on to the magic of those experiences right here at home.

View from 4 miles from our home tonight.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A little traveling and DC

We took off from St. Louis for our last little bit of traveling before fun happened again.  We went from St. Louis to Corydon, Indiana, where we had the excitement of ending up in the eastern time zone!  From there we went to a hotel outside of Charleston, WV, then to outside Morgantown, WV.  It was pretty boring, all in all, but we managed to find some good times.  

There were fun hotel pools.  

Our rainy day found us at a hotel that had an indoor pool.  Score! 

There was a really nice hike at a state park outside of Morgantown.

The overlook at Coopers Rock State Park.

But then we got to our friends' house outside of DC and we kicked the fun up a notch.

Our first full day here we made our "DC" day.  We left early in the morning for the mall, where we took in the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Korean War Memorial, WWII Memorial, and MLK Memorial. 

Reflecting Pool and Washington Memorial 
Lincoln Memorial

Korean War Memorial
WWII Memorial

MLK Memorial (duh)
Surprisingly, this didn't take that much time.

From there we made our way to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  

At the sculpture park where we ate lunch.

The dinosaur exhibit was closed, but the rest was pretty cool.

She's never looked better.  JK.
We were pretty done with DC at this point, but so much more fun was waiting for the day.  We came back and did a little swimming at the neighborhood pool.  Then some Bryn Mawr friends made their way over for a little get together and some dinner.  So nice to see everyone!

The grown ups.
Mawrters and future Mawrters

Another new baby!

Yay mini-reunion!
We packed an awful lot into Sunday, so our plan was to have a more low-key Monday.  The weather didn't cooperate quite as much as we wanted, but we still got in a hike where we saw some very cool wetlands wildlife, then the kids built an amazing city out of legos, then we went for a swim again, and now we're watching The Princess Bride.  

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I feel so very very lucky to have so many good friends who have taken us to explore their parts of the country.  It's been so wonderful to catch up and get to know their families.  I only hope that one day I can find some way to repay everyone for the incredible gifts they've given us.

I know we have been on the road for almost 6 weeks, but I actually really can't believe that tomorrow we head to our last stop - NYC.  We're going to see Matilda on Broadway, see some friends old and new, have lunch in Chinatown, see the Met, and check out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  I'll be sure to report on all those adventures as well.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Little Traveling and St. Louis

The three of us were pretty sad to see Pete go (not that we actually saw him go - I mentioned that he left at 4.45, right?).  But, unlike when we left and we were driving away from him and home, we could accurately tell ourselves that every drive from here on out brings us closer to being back together.

So we bravely hit the road for our next destination, Aurora CO.  We stayed at an entirely adequate, if a little sketchy, hotel there.  But the nice thing was that the kids and I got to have dinner with an old college friend I hadn't seen in years.  I totally failed to take pictures, but we had some absolutely delicious pizza and great conversation and it definitely took the edge off of sending Pete home that morning.  

We then left Colorado and drove to Colby, KS, where we stayed at a lovely Hampton Inn with an indoor swimming pool.  The next day brought us the rest of the way across the state (just about) when we arrived in Topeka.  I took the kids to see the Minion movie (which sadly was really not good) and then we hung around the hotel pool again.  This time, however, the hotel pool had a three story water slide, so that was tons of fun for them.

And then we continued on to St. Louis.  First, let me put in a plug for we stayed - the Omni Majestic in downtown St. Louis.  I had called them to confirm that we would be able to park, given that we were pulling the camper, and they assured me that valet parking would be able to handle it.  Well, we pulled up and the man said "I don't know where I'm going to put that thing," and I said "I don't know, but I was assured it wouldn't be a problem" and he said "Ok, I'll take care of it."  

Additionally, the front desk was extremely helpful, and the "complementary shuttle" really did shuttle us about town.  Finally, they brought up cookies and milk (complementary) before bed, which the kids thought was just awesome.  And I assure you, we did not choose the most expensive hotel in town.  If you are visiting St. Louis, I encourage you to consider staying there.

Anyway, we pulled into the city and headed over to see the Arch.  Now, I am a smidgen claustrophobic, so I knew that we weren't going to the top of the Arch.  But when I saw the little metal coffin contraption that you actually go up in, my choices were entirely validated.  

Hahaha.  No.
It was cool to see the Arch from the distance and then get right up close, though.  (Caveat: I'm pretty sure that the "Gateway to the West" is more exciting if you're actually heading West.  It loses some of the momentousness when you're heading east).  

Kind of a bummer - tons of construction is happening around the Arch, so there's no pretty park framing it right now. 

We then had the hotel shuttle take us over to the Shaved Duck for BBQ, as I really wanted to have BBQ in St. Louis and this place had excellent reviews.  So good, in fact, that when we got there the wait was about 45 minutes and the kids were threatening to mutiny. 

However, when the food arrived they were singing another tune.  And that tune was "this is the best food ever."  It was really really good.

This is the face of a 7 year old who just put back 1/2 rack of ribs and a side of mac n cheese.
Then it was back to the hotel (for cookies and milk, of course) so we could get up early and head to the City Museum, which was completely and totally awesome.

The City Museum is not really a museum.  I don't know what it is.  It's really a crazy indoor playground.  Mixed with man-made caves.  Mixed with a gym.  Mixed with a scrap metal yard.  Whatever you then have ended up with, it's super fun.  

Jax immediately climbed into the ceiling like some kind of feral animal
Sliding down the two-story slide.  I did that one.  It was fun. 
In the caves. 
Climbing out of the tree-slide. 
Outside.  This was about 3 stories up. 

We stayed for the morning, got an amazing lunch at this sandwich/crepe/coffeeshop place, and then got back on the road.  

My lunch.  One of the sandwiches came with me for the road.
We drove into Indiana where we spent the night before moving along into our last two nights of hotels for this trip.  Whew.

All in all, I give St. Louis a big thumbs up.  I've already mentioned to Pete that it would be fun to do a Chicago/St. Louis family trip some time, so hopefully we'll be back.