Sunday, June 28, 2015

Just About Ready

Well!  It certainly has been busy around here, finishing up the school year and getting ready to hit the road.

First, the end of things.

After two great years together, and many years in pre-school before that, the kids spent their last morning with the wonderful "Miss Lauren."  It's a bittersweet good-bye, because we know she's going on to do such great things, but we'll miss her nontheless.

Master of the 3-person selfie!
And then it was off to the last day of school (finally!).  

Perusing his excellent report card.
We're very proud of how she did, too!
We celebrated first by taking in Inside Out, which was adorable and I strongly encourage you to see it.  Then, a BBQ with some friends. 

Too bad we're all such a serious bunch who don't know how to have any fun.
The weekend was all business for the grown-ups of the household.  It's really amazing everything that has to happen to get ready to go.  We finished prepping the camper, getting the last minute stuff that we had to get, got books on CD from the library, packing, practicing backing up the camper into the driveway, etc etc. 

Yup, this is 6 weeks worth of clothes.
For 4 people.
(not counting shoes)
Actually, not quite all business.  We were able to take a break and see my parents, my sister and her family and my grandmother and her husband for dinner on Saturday.  It was great to be able to see everyone before we set off for a while.

Hey hey, the gang's all here!
Also, while there, I was surprised with an early birthday celebration, since we'll be in Utah for my actual birthday.  

Help with the candles, and lots of good things to wish for!
Then, while Pete and I did more getting ready stuff today, the kids went off to the Museum of Science to see the Pixar exhibit with my mom and dad.  

Tomorrow it's in to school for my last meeting of the year, then my last cortisone shot before we go.  (Leg is MUCH better, knock wood.  Seriously.  Go.  I'll wait.  Great.  But I think better to get the shot than not). Then one more day home, and we hit the road on Wednesday morning! 

Wish us luck!  I'll post again from New York!

More photos here

Sunday, June 14, 2015

So, Where Are We Going? (Part 3, coming home)

Pete flies home out of Grand Junction, CO, and the kids and I start our trek across the middle of the country and then northward to home, but not without stopping for some adventures along the way.

Grand Junction ---> Grand Lake, CO
Yes, Estes Park gets all the glory, but Grand Lake is on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Pete and I went there eons ago on our trip to Colorado.  It won't be a long stay, but enough time for us to do a little exploring.

Grand Lake ---> Colby, KS
As of now, the plan is to do the very first part of this trip across the Trail Ridge Road, which will take us up over the mountains across the continental divide.  It's not a long road (45 or so miles) but we'll be able to stop and explore some along the way.  

Almost as twisty, but not quite as terrifying as the Pacific Coast Highway
On the far side we'll stop for a little while in Estes Park and poke around a bit there before heading off to the Kansas prairie. 

Ok, then.
(Originally our plan had been to stay a night in Estes Park, but that left a lot of driving for the next day.  We figured better to visit Estes Park and just move along than torture ourselves).

Colby, KS doesn't have a lot, but we're staying in a hotel with a pool and the town has an "aquatic park" for swimming so we'll make the most of it.

Colby ---> Topeka, KS
Yup, we're still in Kansas.  The hotel has a pool.  Moving on.

Topeka ---> St. Louis
We're not in St. Louis for very long at all, but our plan is to see the Arch

eat some barbeque, and go to the City Museum, which is supposed to be an amazing adventure.  

Not quite your typical museum.
Lea is also excited because the hotel where we are staying might bring cookies and milk up to the room at night for the kids, and that's pretty fancy.

St. Louis ---> Nashville
Yay! Staying with other people again.  This time we're staying with family, and are super excited about it.  Depending on the weather, we'll probably visit Cheekwood Botanical Garden, which is a really cool sculpture park.  

We might also try to see the Parthenon.  I am super excited to go back and eat at the Loveless Cafe.  That is some good eating right there.

See how there are no biscuits in this picture?  It's because I ate them all already.
 Nashville ---> Whytheville, VA
Why Whytheville, you ask?  Because it's a place to stop and camp and it's near the highway.  It's pretty close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is supposed to be gorgeous.  

However, I think we'll play by ear how much gorgeousness the children want to explore, or if they just want to continue on the main highway to our next destination, which is...

Whytheville ---> Fairfax, VA
Once again, we are super excited to stay with friends.  From "home base" in Fairfax we're going to explore Washington, DC.  I know the kids want to see the Lincoln Memorial.  

We'll likely hit up the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History too.  But there are lots of other things that are on the table too - the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Air and Space Museum, etc.  I know that we'll be near the end, so I'm trying to leave a good amount of space for traveler fatigue, especially for the kids.  

Fairfax ---> NYC
On the way from DC to New York we're going to make a quick stop outside of Philadelphia, which has two bonuses.  One, we're going to get to see a friend for lunch.  Two, I'm going to have the kids see Bryn Mawr.  They've heard about it a million and a half times (at least) but Lea hasn't been since she was a baby, and Jax has never seen the campus.  While I know that they won't have interest in a lot of it, I'm hoping they'll be mildly intrigued to see my first year dorm and perhaps the cloisters. 

They may or may not be vaguely interested in stories inspired by that fountain.
Then, finally, last stop.  Here again, we're so lucky that we can stay with friends outside of the city.  I am sure that, with a little help, I'll be able to figure out the New Jersey transit system, so we can head into NYC and explore.  We'll definitely do the Met.  

I am also really hoping to take them to see Matilda on Broadway.  We're going to see some BMC friends while we're in town too.  Very last thing we're going to go to the Statue of Liberty, which Lea has been asking to do for at least 3 years.  

We'll ferry back and forth from Liberty Park in New Jersey, and, upon docking we'll go from

If I counted correctly, we'll be visiting 37 different locations (not staying at all of them, but most).  We'll be staying with 7 different very generous friends, and visiting many more.  We'll stay in campgrounds and hotels, eat at restaurants ranging from elegant to cheap.  We'll be in major cities as well as way out in the middle of nowhere.  We'll explore natural wonders, and gaze in museums.  We'll cover over 7000 miles.  It'll be a hell of an adventure.

Friday, June 12, 2015

So, Where Are We Going? (Part 2)

So now that I feel substantially better about the driving situation for the second half of the trip, I'm ready to tackle laying out where we're headed.  But I realized that really, before we turn around and head back east, we're going to kind of meander around the Southwest a bit.  So I'll write about that part now, and then do another post about really heading home.

San Francisco ---> Yosemite
We'll really spend some time along the Pacific Ocean when we leave San Francisco, because after many many people suggesting it, we're going to head down part of the Pacific Coast Highway

I think I'll let Pete drive.
and pop in to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  It's really supposed to be great.  Then we'll continue on to Yosemite.  

(It's interesting - about half the people I talked to insisted that we do Yosemite because it is such an amazing park.  The other half talked about the traffic and the nuisance of Yosemite.  So I am keeping my excitement about this one tempered for now)

If there's a rainbow, I'll probably be sold
Yosemite ---> Sequoia/Kings Canyon
I have seen the northern Redwoods, but not Sequoia.  I am hoping that the kids are seriously impressed.

Pretty sure they'll be impressed.
Sequoia ---> Las Vegas
I've never been to Vegas, and I really couldn't believe how "kid friendly" it has become.  There is so much for us to do.  We're staying at the Monte Carlo, so there's a distinct possibility that we'll just hang out by the pools and relax for a good chunk of the time that we're here.  

Pictured: not a pop-up camper
But we'll also probably hit up some of the sights at the hotels along The Strip - Circus Circus, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, etc.  We might also try to go to Cirque de Soleil, but that will probably be a game time decision.

Not a city person myself, this looks a little overwhelming
Las Vegas --->Grand Canyon
We're super excited for this one, as I'm the only one that's been.  We won't be here too long, though, as we're not planning on hiking to the bottom, and from the top it's basically a really big impressive hole.  And how long can you look at a hole?  

"Wow.  This is amazing.  Ok, how long to I have to look at this hole to seem suitably impressed?"
Grand Canyon --->Kanab UT
On our way up from the Grand Canyon we're going to stop by Antelope Canyon, which is in Navajo Territory and is supposed to be amazing.  The only way to see it is with a guided tour, and it is in an area subject to flash floods, so hope for good weather for us.

Hopefully that won't be the kids.
We then continue to Kanab, which will be our base for Zion National Park, and our visit to Best Friend's Animal Sanctuary.  

Walking around here with a borrowed dog friend for the day wouldn't suck.
Our plan is to spend a day volunteering/hanging out with the animals at Angel Canyon and another day exploring Zion.  I don't know very much about Zion at all, but everyone sings its praises, and I can't wait.

Oh right.  This is the one that inspired the discussion between Lea and I of the relative merits of convertible pants.
Kanab ---> Grand Junction, CO
On our way from Kanab we're going to break up the ride by exploring either Bryce or Arches National Park (ideas about which is better?)  
Bryce: Pointy things

Arches: Curvy things
 Grand Junction is where Pete will depart, and the kids and I start our stretch home, which I will post about soon. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Being Flexible

I've been saying to myself that I was going to post about our return trip for 3 days now.  I am definitely more nervous about the way home.  There will be AMAZING stuff to be sure, which I will lay out, but there will also be many longer stretches of nothingness, and it's a longer stretch of just the kids and I.

Part of what is contributing to my nervousness no doubt is that I have been dealing with a brutal case of sciatica since March, which was brought on by a herniated disc.  I have had two cortisone shots and am much much better, but sitting for extended periods is still, well, uncomfortable.  Obviously driving hundreds of miles in a stretch involves a lot of sitting.  I try to tell myself that a) I will get one or two more cortisone shots before I leave and b) the pain is SO much more manageable than when the injury first occurred and c) I have lots of "tools in my tool belt" about how to address the discomfort.  Still, it's really hard that the excitement about the trip is tempered by my legitimate nervousness about this particular issue.

I did, however, have an epiphany yesterday.  I was really freaking out about Kansas.  I didn't even realize how much I was freaking out about Kansas.  We were scheduled to drive from Estes Park, Co to Topeka, KS in one day.  That's about 600 miles.  If I was just doing this in a car, that would be about 8 hours of driving, because apparently one can tool along those Kansas highways right quick.  But my car will be towing a pop up camper, which means that we're topping out at about 65 MPH.  That means that the drive across Kansas would take us 10 hours, not accounting for stopping and walking around time.  How in the hell was I going to do that, and do that ALONE?  And then I realized I don't have to drive across Kansas in one day.  I can CHANGE MY PLANS.  

OMG - amazingness.  I looked at the map and thought about what makes sense and yes, it means another night in a random Kansas hotel, but it also means that I'll drive about 500 miles one day, but with a substantial break around mile 100, and about 400 miles the next and that is SO. MUCH. BETTER than driving 600 miles across the open Kansas prairie in one day,

Clearly, I am a planner.  I have been thinking about this trip for an entire year.  But I also need to keep in mind that it is possible for me to be flexible,  I don't have to do things just because my epic log book of things to do says that we're going to do them.  Being able to "go with the flow," be present in the moment and adapt to what life throws at us is going to be a huge part of this trip.

I think we're going to learn a lot more than we originally planned on.  And that's a good thing.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

So, Where Are We Going? (part 1)

I've been asked this question a lot as we've been planning and the answer is basically "so many places" and "not nearly enough places." 

But really, I think that we're going to get in a whole lot of really great stuff, while I acknowledge that there's so much stuff that we're skipping.  Like pretty much the entirety of the South.  We tried to pick a route that got us to see the major things we wanted to see and also covered the stuff that we weren't going to make a separate trip out of.  I mean, we could make a whole vacation out of New Orleans, but Mount Rushmore?  Not so much. 

Pictured: NOT a week's vacation
 We also are so so so lucky and excited to be visiting with so many friends, and being put up by so many friends along the way.  I'm going to meet so many children of friends I have never met before, or haven't seen since they were babies.  I'm going to get to meet new partners of friends.  And the kids are hopefully going to make some new friends.  Are pen pals still a thing?  We'll revive it if not. 

So here's our itinerary and some musings on what we are hoping to do in various places.  If you have feedback (definitely don't do X - it cost $300 and we had to buy new shoes!  definitely do Y - it was practically free and the highlight of our whole trip!) I'd love to hear it.  The only thing that can't really change is the length of time we're in any given place - we've got reservations every place we're scheduled to stop, so it would create a killer domino effect.

Home ----> Seneca Falls, NY
Why Seneca Falls, you ask?  It's a little more than halfway to Niagara Falls, and I was not going to kick off the trip with an 8 hour ride with just me and the kids.  What am I, as sadist? If we feel so inclined, we'll go to the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Seneca Falls ----> Buffalo/Niagara Falls
First visit with friends!  Planning on checking out Cave of the Winds and doing some walking around Niagara Falls State Park.

Buffalo--->Ann Arbor
More friends!  Who knew everyone from BMC was going to end up in Ann Arbor?  Not too much formally planned, save some eating at Zingermans and a trip to Detroit for the Henry Ford Museum.  

 I'm super excited for some serious catching up, though.

Ann Arbor --->Chicago
Friends again!  (See how lucky I am?)  Hoping to pack a lot into this Chicago trip.  In addition to deep dish pizza, we're going to swim in Lake Michigan, visit the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park and the Bean, and Maggie Daley Park (the kids are psyched about that).  We're hoping to get some great views at Skydeck Chicago too.  If we have time we might tourist it up and hit Navy Pier and the Ferris Wheel.

This.  We're going to try to see all of this.

Chicago ---->Wisconsin/St. Paul area
Last stay with friends for a stretch.  I know remarkably little about St. Paul, but I am also very confident that we will find plenty of fun to have.

St. Paul --->Sioux Falls, SD
What's in Sioux Falls, you ask?  Pete.  After 11 days just me and the kids, we'll be ready to meet up with him and kick off the "full family" part of the vacation.

Yup. This guy.
Sioux Falls --->Hot Springs
Ok, this is where the trip starts to get a little crazy.  Or a little drive heavy.  Because there's really a lot of cool stuff to see, but it's all juuuust to far apart to not have long drives between each place, but juuuuust too close together to justify staying at each place.  We do only have 6.5 weeks, after all.

So we're going to leave Sioux Falls and head to the Badlands.  That's about 4 hours away.  I figure we'll get out and explore the Badlands a bit, and then head onward to our destination, about 2 more hours away.

In Hot Springs, there are two things that seem really cool.  The first is seeing the Wild Mustangs.  

The second is Wind Cave National Park.  

Pictured: fun for other people.  Nightmare for me.
 Here's the deal, though.  I don't do caves.  (Enter the deluge of people who say "but it's so cool!"  "these caves aren't claustrophobic!"  "I promise, you'll get into this cave and be FINE.")  So I figure I'll send Pete and the children, who do like caves, off to do Wind Cave National Park and I will enjoy a couple of hours of time to myself before we hit the road again.

Hot Springs ---> Bighorn Canyon
It's in this leg of the trip that we'll see Mount Rushmore, which is about 1 hour away from Hot Springs.  By all accounts, there isn't too much to do there, but we'll make a stop and take some pictures before continuing on.

Bighorn Canyon --->Yellowstone
Of course it goes without saying that we're going to Yellowstone.  We're spending 2 days here, which I know is probably not enough time.  We're staying at Canyon Village and will do most of our exploring around that area.

Yellowstone ---> Craters of the Moon
On our way out of Yellowstone we'll drive through Grand Teton.  Depending on how up for it the kids are, we'll get out and do some exploring, or we'll just take it in from the car.

I can't believe this is something for which we might run out of time.
Craters of the Moon is supposed to be super cool and basically empty (although, with a reputation like that, it might not be so much of the latter!).  We won't have a lot of time there at all, because we'll probably get in late and need to leave early, but at least we should be able to get in a little exploring.

Craters of the Moon ---> Reno
This is a loooong drive.  One of our two longest, and with not a whole lot (i.e. nothing) to look at out the window.  I'm thinking maybe a Lord of the Rings marathon in the car for the kids.


However, the place we're staying in Reno looks great - pools, arcade, air conditioning, etc.  We're planning on eating at In and Out Burger whilst in Reno, so hopefully that makes the drive worth it too.

Pictured: my dinner.
Reno ---> San Francisco
Ta Da!  The Pacific Ocean!  So exciting!  

Also exciting is seeing some dear friends while here.  We're planning on seeing Golden Gate Park and we already have tickets for a tour of Alcatraz.  

We also plan on eating a lot of really good food.  We're only here for 2 days, and I'm worried I'm going to have to eat at least 6 meals.  

It'll be a trial, but I'll persevere.

Next up, our trip home...