Friday, August 5, 2011

National Park Nomads

Three weeks on the road as what I am coining “National Park Nomads” is not even close to a vacation but it was a trip, in every sense of the word.  My definition of "vacation" is vague and unstructured but involves:

1)  No Cooking while still consuming wonderful food (and wine) - often resulting in weight gain
2)  Reading 5+ Books just for fun, that don't make me a better person - often embarrassing to admit reading
3)  Sans Kiddos -- although this one is negotiable if the DH & I have a suite with a separate bedroom
4)  Come home a rested, inspired, world beater who is ready to take on anything from reworking the budget to starting graduate school.

Given this vague definition, our 3 week voyage was nothing close to a vacation but it was a life changing and terrifically crazy experience that I wouldn't trade for the most vacation-y 3 weeks in Fiji (okay- not true, but still).

For quite some time, my slightly granola DH and I have been concerned that we are raising soft suburban kids.  Kids who have no idea what it means to live without; who can’t entertain themselves without electronics; who think “hiking” is the three blocks they travel to our neighborhood school.  Our family needed a real grounding experience, not an all-inclusive resort. We needed a genuine camping trip, with the work and reward that the DH & I both had growing up.  Not to mention that we had very little money and a lot of time.  

My DH has about a month off in the summer.  In the past, my job has been keeping us from taking total advantage of that time, so we would go on mini trips or fly.  This year, with that not the case, we decided it was time to start making some lasting memories.  Our kids are plenty old enough to be in the car for hours as long as they have their pacifiers (at 8 & 10, their pacifier is a DS or ipod or some other electronic device). 
My parents live in the mountains between Seattle and Vancouver, I’m sure you don’t need a map to see that is exactly as far as one can possibly go from our house yet stay in the states.   But it gave us a goal.  We packed our 8 year-old Odyssey to the hilt with everything one needs to live in 95 degree days and 28 degree nights.  On the road we stopped at every National Site including (but not limited to):  Sioux Falls, The Corn Palace, Wall Drug, Badlands, Black Hills, Custer, Rushmore, Yellowstone, North Cascades, Vancouver, Whitefish, Glacier, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Mall of America (if that is not a bastion of US life, what is?)  We stayed in a sizable tent with air-mattresses at state or federal run campsites with no electricity and often no running water but were wonderfully primitive (mixed in with a couple hotels when I could no longer take it).

We woke up in the fresh cool air, met interesting people, cleaned up in nearby lakes, hiked the best trails, ate local food, drank local wine/beer, gazed at the Milky Way, ignited lots of fires, and really embraced what was around us.  My DH grew a mini-beard / hobo beard (depending on which kid you ask).  We laughed and listened to all sorts of music.  I read books aloud in the car.  We played road games.  We saw TONS of wild-life (including one very mean little squirrel who threw stuff from trees at us because we wouldn’t feed him marshmallows).  

I was afraid that our sweet girl would break down the first time she needed to use the outhouse, complete with spiders and flies; that she would beg to go home.  But she didn’t.  She didn’t mention missing her friends because she met new ones everywhere we went.  Every night she would “nest” our tent, setting each persons bed perfectly and neatly, just like home.

I was afraid that our active son would be bored and difficult with only rocks and sticks so we brought a soccer ball, football, Frisbee, hacky sack… none of which ever left the van.  He found it a very fast 3 weeks and was shocked when it was over.  He tirelessly hiked and helped gather for the fires and swam in 40 degree water straight from snow melt.

They didn’t complain when allergies were up because we were tenting in the middle of a sage field.  They barely noticed when it rained every day. They calmly ate the fire-roasted mac and cheese for dinner.  That is not to say that they became avid campers.  Rather than embracing the wonder and beauty of the geysers, they serenaded the entire walk with Ke$ha "This Place is 'bout to BLOW".  Our son couldn’t wait to get in the car again because that is the only time electronics were allowed and our daughter basically did the hikes and saw the sights to get to the gift shop at the end.  They were normal kids but as kids often do, they pulled through, and admittedly better than I was.  

In the end, I was more home-sick than anyone.  I excitedly checked my iPhone whenever we had internet, just so I could get a glimpse into the lives of my friends comfortably back in civilization.  I found myself dying to make dinner the easy way (with an actual stove and dishwasher and fridge); and a shower!  How I longed for a nice hot shower in my small but wonderful master bath (alone, without a line of people waiting outside for me to finish).  To my utter horror, I was the soft suburbanite who needed a reminder of how vacation-like my real life is.  How easy I really have it.  Mark my words, you will not hear me complain about making dinner or laundry or weeding or the craziness of my life for a very long time.

There will be more about our trip later, once the house (and my thoughts) are back in order... 
Badlands National Park, South Dakota - just after a severe thunderstorm blew through - our tent held strong.

Glacier National Park - hiking 1 mile level then 2.6 miles up following a gorgeous waterfall, to this snow melted lake (called Avalanche Lake).  Nearly the entire hike was in a cloud - which is very cold and wet but totally worth every minute.
Thankfully the walk back was MUCH easier (although slippery).

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