Two Days in Big Bend National Park with Two Kids (and two adults, we didn’t send the kids alone)

“I was expecting a lot more big clocks” was the joke that received more mileage than it should have as we hiked (and drove) our way through the vast and quiet Big Bend National Park.

Everyone will tell you to stay in Chisos Basin and everyone is right. But, Chisos Basin was booked until the end of time – probably when the ancient volcanoes come back to life and dragons take the skies. So we camped as close to the park as we could at Roadrunner RV. Since this was our first-time trailer camping, we appreciated having electrical hookups and access to water. The owners were helpful, the lot was level, and our view of Bee Mountain nice.

We arrived on Saturday night, slept in our trailer (slept well!), and woke up early. I made coffee on the camp stove, we laced up our hiking boots, and drove into the park.

Every Kid Outdoors

Thanks to our 4th grader, we got into the park (and all parks) for free! How? In 2015, President Obama created a program to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the National Parks program that lets 4th Graders, and their families, into all National Parks at no cost. Zilch. They say that 4th grade is when kids are prime for learning history and about the great outdoors. Eleanor beamed when the Ranger asked who was the 4th grader, “me!” she responded excitedly from the back seat – he handed a card through the window, Eleanor signed it. Our free year of visiting the Parks began.

Day One

Our first destination was Santa Elena Canyon. We hoped to kayak the Rio Grande but were told it was going too shallow. That’s alright since hiking Santa Elena is an option. We drove the recommended Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (confirmed – very scenic, lives up to its name), and because big Bend is larger than the state of Rhode Island, getting from point A to B can take some time – the drive from the park entrance to Santa Elena Canyon is over an hour. On our way, we stopped at the Castolon Ranger Station for a bio-break, picked up two Junior Ranger books, and chatted with the Ranger: 

500 million years ago, this area was under the sea (under da sea dah dah dah dah). 250 million years ago, one continent bumped into another, and it raised the land. Land eroded, the area was partially underwater, dinosaurs roamed (Dinosaurs, you say?). Righ around the same time an asteroid hit Mexico, and the dinosaurs went extinct, liquid magma created violent volcanic activity in the area. A massive slab of limestone dropped 2,000 feet. More volcanoes. More erosion. The Rio Grande cut through. And here we are. 

“Oh, and that’s Mexico,” he said, pointing to a Game of Thrones like wall of rock in the distance. “Big Bend shares 118 miles of border with our southern neighbor.”

The split in the rock is Santa Elena Canyon. That’s Mexico to the left, US to the right

Tangent

When Brooke and I were in college, we studied in Vienna, Austria for a summer. Before Vienna, we stayed in Mörbisch, a village that bordered Hungary. One morning, we strolled our twenty-something-selves up to the border, stamped our passports, and walked across. No cars. No planes. Just walked. The world felt a little smaller.

That’s Mexico!? The girls said excitedly as we got closer to the canyon. Can we go to it!? I don’t know…we’ll see. I hoped they could feel the same smallness I felt almost 20 years ago (goodness, so long ago).

Santa Elena Canyon

We parked, put on sunscreen, filled the backpack with water, and started walking. A path led us to steps that switchbacked up and down the cliff, alongside the Rio Grand. The river was slow and lined with Bamboo and a slice of the cloudless blue sky mirrored the river. 

The Santa Elena Canyon walls are 1,500 feet in some spots – as tall as the Sears Tower. That big building folks. The one that makes you go “wow” when driving into Chicago. That’s what was pressing us from both sides.

The trail wasn’t long and ended in a sandy area where people had taken off their shoes and waded into the river. A group of college students tossed a frisbee and started walking further into the canyon. There are miles to hike if you want to go further. In the shade, it was chilly, but Mexico was on the other side so we weren’t going to leave without crossing the river. We hiked up their pants, took off our hiking books, stuffed our socks inside, and stepped in. 

The water was cold! and the bottom of the river soft. The girls hopped onto our backs when the water got a little deep. When we were close to the opposite side, the girls ran up to the wall and pressed their hands against Mexico. Eleanor and Lucy bounced with excitement. I can’t believe we made it! 

We walked a little further down the river that had cut its path into the massive rock – finally turning back to our shoes. We did the stand one leg thing, trying to not fall over while we put our feet into wet socks and thought, “huh, should have brought a towel.”

The walk back was quick. We were hungry and ready to rest. Near the hike’s entrance, there were a handful of picnic tables – just the spot for a PB&J.

Chisos Basin

Chisos Basis is at the center of the park and on the way we made a couple of stops: 1) to see the Mule’s Ears from a distance and 2) to climb ancient volcanic ash where the girls found rocks that looked like crystals. They were sad when we said they couldn’t take anything from a National Park.

We pulled in next to the Ranger Station, got our National Park stamp, and saw our very first roadrunner! It was the size of a small chicken and had a pigeon’s comfort level around a bunch of humans. It neither meep meeped nor sped away with its feet in a blur. 

Nice mohawk

We walked the short paved Window Trail loop and took the shot that everyone comes for.

That face mask off to the side look, on fleek.

After the Basin we climbed the Lost Trail Mine. The trails are well maintained, and while it was steeper than the last path, it was a nice hike with incredible views. But by this point, the day was getting late, and we were hungry, and we knew we had a decent drive ahead of us. We walked back to The Beast and drove back to the campground – picking up firewood for s’mores and a campfire.

Girls, senior photo pose with Mom – and go!

Day Two – Dinosaurs, Wild Horses and a Canyon

Day two started much like day one. I woke early, climbed over Brooke to get out of the trailer, and fired up the camp stove to make our fancy coffee. A man with a cowboy hat walked by, I later learned he sailed around the world in a boat he made himself. The rest of the family woke up and we drove back into the park. 

Ranger Station

One excellent attribute of the National Park System is the Jr. Ranger Program. Kids pick up a small paper book and spend the next day finding as many answers as they can as they travel around the park. This is great because they learn, of course, but it’s also great because it keeps your kid busy as you’re driving around a park – and in Big Bend, there’s a lot of driving. 

The girls spent their first day hunting for answers. On the second day we stopped at the Panther Junction ranger station where they turned in their work, raised their right hand, and repeated the ranger motto after the real Ranger: “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” 

Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Go here! With so much natural beauty and hiking, we weren’t sure if the Dinosaur Exhibit would be a good use of time, but we’re very glad we made the slight detour.

The exhibit is housed in an open-air (good for the age of the ‘rona) modern building that gives you panoramic views of Big Bend. We were the only ones there. I’ll say it again – Big Bend is quiet, and I loved it. 

We followed a path inside the building that walked us through how Big Bend was formed and what creatures roamed when. The fossils were remarkable, all were found in Big Bend, and now Lucy is now going to be an Inventor, President, Archeologist when she grows up.

Pulled Out a Big Thorn

On our way to Boquillas Canyon we walked a short hike – Dugout Wells, which was interesting and full of more facts but not worth the time if you’re speeding through the park – and stopped by another Ranger Station to use the bathroom, meet a Ranger, and pull out a GIANT CACTUS THORN from Brooke’s hiking boot. It was an inch long, as thick as a stir-straw, and required the Ranger to use a pair of pliers to pull out. 

Wear. Good. Boots. Don’t go running around Big Bend in your tennis shoes. It will hurt. 

The kind Ranger that yanked out the thorn and taught us some things as well.

Boquillas Overlook

As we neared the canyon, I took a wrong turn making our first stop the Boquillas Overlook. We walked to the cliff edge where we could see the small Mexican town across the river. In non-COVID days anyone can take a small boat across the river, visit the town, meet some nice people, and eat some good food. In the days of the ‘rona, though, American’s can’t cross – but the Mexicans can. 

At the edge of the overlook, there was a collection of goods – walking sticks, koozies, small metal figures and a can for cash. Lucy spotted people across the river and yelled Hola! A Mexican man yelled back Hola! and waved. Several people hopped into a canoe, paddled across the Rio Grande, walked up the cliff, and asked us what we’d like to buy. 

After four years of hearing about the damn wall, it was hard to believe that this part of the border was so porous. As we drove away, Brooke commented that their little town was probably hit hard by the lack of tourism. Selling their goods this way was them getting by. There was no threat. It was a delightful interaction.

We left with two walking sticks and a koozie.

Boquillas Canyon

People write a lot about Santa Elena Canyon – for good reason – but I would like to say that Boquillas Canyon might be even better and absolutely a part of the park you should visit. A few reasons why:

We were greeted by wild horses from Mexico. (who’s gonna ride them?).

There’s more to explore – tiny rolling green hills, steep dunes to climb, rocks to boulder over. And wild horses.

Check out that leap by Lucy

The water was a deep green blue that absorbed the late afternoon light. Light that shone on wild horses.

It was warmer too. We’re not sure why but it was a lot warmer than the other canyon. Probably because of the wild horses.

We said goodbye to the horses and as we drove out of Big Bend the sun set, casting its pink glow on the mountains behind us.

Very Behind…

I’m behind in writing. We’ve been to Big Bend, NM, Tucson, Oceanside and now Cayucos. I have a massive post about Big Bend pending and it slightly stresses me out. I want to post it but if I don’t, this is me saying the timeline is about to get out of order. Or, I never post again. We will see.

Getting to Big Bend

Big Bend is remote. Reeeemote (emphasis worthy remote). Six hours from El Paso and seven hours from Austin. We only learned of Big Bend through a Google search that went something like “best things to see in West Texas” – a pretty standard search that has thrown my Google news feed algorithm entirely out of whack as we replace West Texas with wherever we are – although if you want to riff on recycling news from Kent, CT I’m your guy.

We had the option to take the scenic route from Austin to Big Bend, but after driving through the Catskills in complete darkness, we chose the most direct path. This took us through Johnson City (look, a cute coffee shop! And oh look, and a President was from here!), Fredericksburg (An old western town with German roots that we were bummed we didn’t have time to stop for) and miles and miles of vineyards, distilleries, and breweries. We’re learning that every. single. state. has their own Napa Valley like wine trailer.

With Phoebe the trailer in tow (and sucking down the gas mileage), we left hill country and entered level land surrounded by mesas – wide, flat-topped mountains with steep sides. One last gas stop in Fort Stockton and we turned south, drove through Alpine, and wound our way through hills that gave way to the Chisos Mountains, pulling Phoebe and the Beast into the Roadrunner RV campground thirty minutes before sunset – embarking upon our first ever camping adventure. 

Bee Mountain is in the background. In the foreground is the now classic Eleanor and Lucy peace signs.
Big skies lead to big sunsets!

Leg 2 – South and West and All Over

Mid-December, we left the sun and sand to see family for the holidays, to meet a brand-new baby (Wren!), and, importantly, to get Eleanor’s (gd) braces off. A wire had slipped early in the trip which turned Brooke and me into orthodontists. Dr. Brooke used a pair of tiny pink tweezers to yank and reposition the wire. I used a needle nose pliers and Eleanor’s eyes grew two sizes larger when she saw those coming.

We plan on opening a very niche orthodontia practice, accepting patients starting June.

A week after getting back to the midwest, I got a call from Terry Frazer, an older and larger man (his description) who pre-sold us our trailer in September (all trailers were on back-order because of COVID). I picked up the phone and Terry told me he’s retiring. That he’s closing the books and I’ll need to pick up the trailer by noon on Monday. This was Saturday, and the first I had heard from Terry since putting down a deposit three months earlier. I woke up at 5:00 am on Monday, drove to Iowa, and hauled back our camper, a rolling ‘rona avoiding machine we’ve named Phoebe.

To go west, to get to California, we needed a Phoebe. The distance is too great to do day trips and we want to spend weekends visiting parks along the way.

Just over a week ago, we hooked Phoebe up to The Beast (our absurdly large SUV) and drove Phoebe and the Beast south. Five hours of Illinois farmland, one gigantic cross that looked a little too much like a scene from the Handmaid’s Tale, a few more hours of farmland in Missouri, and we pulled into the Memphis KOA (technically Arkansas). There was a folder with our name on it directing us to lot 24. We leveled the trailer, hooked up the electricity, warmed up some frozen soup, slept pretty good and kind of felt like real campers.

Our first major stop is Austin, TX. We’re driving south to avoid wintery weather in the Rockies. But then it snowed in Texas. Wet, heavy snow. People pulled off to the side of the highway to make snowmen, throw snowballs, and slide down off-ramps. Since they don’t have salt trucks the streets were slushy and slippery and the Texans drove fast. I drove slow, leaning forward slightly as we hauled Phoebe up an on-ramp that was so tall it touched the sky (everything is bigger).

As if 2020 wasn’t good enough, the Texas snow was a reminder to always to expect the unexpected. As well as…

pulling into a dark driveway that was unexpectedly steep getting Phoebe stuck, very very stuck. Find 2X4s and plywood and make a ramp bridging the driveway into the street – stuck. Sammy the neighbor comes out of his house to help me back out – stuck. Brooke, who had been out walking with the girls around the neighborhood walked saw our trailer blocking the street and for a second (or longer) thought about turning around – stuck.

The trailer’s in the street (thank goodness for flexible parking rules!), and we’re nearing the end of our time in Austin. Brooke and I hope to write more on this leg of the journey – thoughts on travel during COVID, more details on things we’ve done, the food we’ve eaten, places we’ve gone. And, if you’re interested in knowing where we’re heading next, we’ve started mapping things out.

Austin -> Big Bend National Park (3 nights) -> Las Cruces, NM (10 days) -> Tucson, AZ (for just a night) -> Oceanside, CA (5 weeks) -> Unknown!

If you have recommendations for things to see, food to eat, driveways to get stuck in, please let us know!

Sea Life

One morning, after Hurricane Eta shifted direction, and the waves settled to their regular ocean wavey-ness, the stingray ray arrived. They’re as plentiful as midwestern squirrels and just as friendly. Stingrays are mostly solitary creatures, but this variety is like toddlers on a soccer field or middle schoolers at lunch. They bunch up and flap their…flaps? fins? bodies? around the sandbar – up and over they go, riding waves like underwater surfers.

The water is clear and when it piles up, before it breaks, it’s mostly transparent, like a thick pane of glass. Clear enough to see two great big stingrays shooting right at us. Being the shortest, Lucy was at eye-level with their unexpected smiling faces. Her eyes widened, her little body turned, and her tiny legs ran. The friendly rays changed direction.

Stingrays jump. A whole lot. They fling themselves out of the water like flipping pancakes. They do this to either A) avoid being eaten by predators, B) Find a mate or C) to have loads of fun. We like to think it’s C and are waiting for two rays to hit flaps in mid-air, a most epic high-five. But, it’s probably A. Not being lunch or dinner is an integral part in a stingray’s life. 

This was the first time we saw the stingrays. At this point we didn’t know there were a lot more and they’d be with us every time we went into the water.

We saw a shark at the edge of the sandbar on the same day the stingrays came hurtling at us. The shark was as long as Lucy is tall, and once again, Lucy’s eyes widened, her body turned, and her little legs started pumping towards the beach. Except running in water is hard, and she fell – half running, half swimming until I picked her up. Since this was the first time any of us had ever seen saw a shark outside of an aquarium, it took a decent amount of cajoling and a good amount of Googling before the girls ventured back into the Gulf, boogie boards in tow.

Another day, Eleanor was wearing goggles and swimming underwater when a jellyfish floated by, inches from her face. Calmly (although, this freaked me out way more than the shark), she pointed it out, and we watched it drift, aimlessly it seemed. It was sturdier than I expected but still challenging to see. This time we stayed out of the water for a bit. A jellyfish to the face would be no way to spend a day at the beach.

A washed up jellyfish.

Crabs scuttle. Pelicans dive, beak first, gaining speed from twenty-feet high. They fly in groups, gliding between the swells, wings brushing the surface like a water skier taking a turn. Dolphins arc their backs in and out of the water. Yesterday they were jumping as high as a Brookfield Zoo dolphin show.

I’m still waiting to see an alligator, but it’s probably best we don’t stumble upon one. 

Kent, Connecticut

Halloween was our last full day in Kent and it started with getting a carwash. After a month of driving The Beast through several states and the twisting New England roads, she needed it. The nearest carwash was 30 minutes away, in New Milford, and it was trips like this that made me miss being 10 minutes away from everything (especially Trader Joe’s!). We waited outside, Eleanor and Lucy already wearing their costumes, along with a mom and her daughter. The two, too big vehicles, rolled out of the tunnel, and off we all went.

Eleanor and Lucy took horseback riding lessons twice a week. The stable was at the bottom of the hill that winded up to our house – past the endless rows of New England stone walls built when everything we could see was farmland.

Taylor, the kids’ riding teacher and daughter of the stable owner, invited us to their annual Halloween party. The horses and their owners dressed as Star Wars characters, farmers, and puppies, and when we arrived, a familiar little girl said, “Hey, I saw you at the car wash this morning! I’m Grace!” Grace told Eleanor and Lucy that she liked their costumes – a cat and Medusa (Brooke was teaching Greek Mythology around then). I told Grace that I liked her costume, too – she looked down at the football jersey she was wearing and said, “I’m not wearing a costume.”

Later that day, we went to a pizza place we liked, watched a parade of Halloween themed floats that were created by the local artists, and had the feeling that this is how community starts.

Lucy and a piñata at the horse stable
One of the floats built by the Wassaic Project
Dinner at The Lantern Inn in Wassaic, NY.

Weekends

We hiked and went on day trips: New York City, Rhinebeck/Poughkeepsie, and New Haven. One day we went to a Flea Market. At the outset Lucy said she wanted to find a Littlest Pet Shop seller and sure enough, she found one.

\Appalachian Trail, Cobble Mountain, Kent Falls, and taking back the red and white hat : )

Kent Home

The house was owned by friends of family, a couple from Brooklyn who bought a country house in January. They quit their day jobs and today make a living telling the future.

(pull the toggle!)

From the top of a hill, we watched fall flow through the mountains. We watched the fog roll through the hills as we drank our morning coffee.

At the bottom of the hill was Mountain View Farm, first established in the 1700’s and today is 3 acres and run by a small family. Twice a week we’d visit the shed/shop and buy eggs, pork, kale (lots of kale), garlic (garlic grows well here), and anything else that was in season.

Weigh the veggies, list what you bought, write your name and leave some money. That’s it.

And at the very bottom (the tippy bottom, as Lucy says) was a creek. We fished, unsuccessfully, and climbed rocks, successfully.

In the mornings I would run. The fog would lift just enough and sun would squeak over the hills just enough for me to jog up hills and sometimes through the trails. Turkey were awake, deer too. Several times I saw what I think was the same hawk, or a a large owl – it flew gently between the same trees. Once I could have sworn I saw a bobcat, or a large cat – it was being chased by crows.

We cooked hotdogs, ate s’mores and gazed up at the stars. This house, this town, this was a good place to be.

School and Work

When we left, our kids were still registered in their school district. This meant they could have been remote learners like the rest of their class. But, traveling gave us something new – school outside of 9 to 2, outside standard curriculum. Brooke, God bless my dear wife, could teach our kids using our location. She, they, could use days in new ways.

Working nomadically is nothing new for many at Automattic and this home made it an easy transition. The desk was large, the chair comfortable, and the wi-fi strong. As an added bonus, the room was heated – unlike the sunporch at home (old home? former home?) I packed a bag with my Macbook, a laptop stand, a Lume Cube light, wireless keyboard/mouse and some notebooks. When you really stop and think about it, it’s wild that you can earn a living with nothing more than the things you can fit into a backpack.

Take your kid to work, no longer once a year.

This was a very long post and I could continue further. Living in Kent, living in the hills, this was all new. It was fulfilling. We’re in Florida now but before I write that post, let me leave you with some more horses – Bentley and Chewy.

Fishing with Slugs

When was the last time you read a book that you loved as a kid?

Since we’re on the edge of the Catskills, I thought it would be fun to read one of my favorites, My Side of the Mountain. I dreamt of living on the land and at one point did run away from home – all the way around the block and into my backyard fort. But, discouraged that nobody was looking for me (and hungry), I went home for a snack. Running away requires a plan, or at least Oreos.

In the book, Sam runs away because there are just too many kids in just too small of an apartment. He builds a home in a tree, trains a falcon, makes acorn flour pancakes, and eats the fish he catches.

Eleanor and Lucy, just like me at their age, felt the tug of inspiration. They found slugs under a stump, formed a fishing pole out of a stick, string, and clothespin, and went down to the creek to find dinner. Eleanor didn’t catch anything…

and Lucy felt so bad for the slugs had to let them go…

but none of this diminished the joy of making something out of nothing.

The Bass Note

Recently, my friend Omar asked me how we decided to do what we’re doing. Did we wake up one day and come to the conclusion that we should sell our house, pack our things, hit the road? Was it more than just a whim? If you know Omar, then you know this is a silly question since a few years back he saved up a bunch of money in order to quit his job and travel the world for a year. Whims don’t just happen.


Brooke and I met in college. We married young and moved into a low ceilinged garden apartment in La Grange Park. The buildings were old, heated by boilers and the pipes ran right above our heads. In the middle of winter we would sleep with our windows open.

Leaving LGP, Brooke distinctly remembers looking in the rearview mirror of our U-Haul and swearing we’d never be back. Our apartment in Roscoe Village, a tree lined neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, was 15 steps from a coffee shop and our neighbors became our best friends. We adopted a dog who spent half her day perched in our front window and the other half running across the courtyard to our friend’s apartment where she’d sit as we played euchre.

We bought a condo in Bucktown and Eleanor was born a year later. Now, when we’d take a walk, we’d walk to a park to push our baby in a baby-swing. Dinners would happen earlier than before. We lost touch with the latest and greatest the city offered.

The apartment was on the third floor and there wasn’t an elevator. We loved the condo but sometimes it would shake when a big truck would rumble by. Around this time we started to think about baby number two, as well as trudging up three flights, carrying Lucy (#2) and Eleanor, holding onto Sadie’s leash, with a bag of groceries hooked under one arm.

So, we moved back to La Grange Park. Ha!

For eight years we lived in a small but wonderful home that Brooke masterfully renovated. We raised our girls, marking their height on a wall in Eleanor’s room. They started school and met friends, we met friends too. Good friends that we would meet to skateboard with in a cul-de-sac. Friends that, by happenstance, booked a trip to Spain the same time we did. We met in Girona, wandered tight ancient streets and ate ice cream.

Brooke and I love to travel. The thrill of discovery and being somewhere new. But in our twenties we didn’t. We didn’t have the money and it didn’t fit the plan. After having kids though, that changed. We wanted them to appreciate the world outside of the Midwest. So we stayed in our small house on too busy of a street and spent anything extra on experiences, experiences that got us wondering where home really could be. A question we’ve asked ourselves countless times, a question that hasn’t gone away.


There’s this teacher named Rob Bell. He has a podcast and in some of the episodes Rob talks about the bass note. The low hum. “Something within you that knows the truth in you” he said on one episode. He suggests we try to listen to “a life that’s been speaking to us this whole time.”

The pandemic hit and for the first time I stopped traveling for work. Brooke lost her job, but she’s a masters educated educator who can teach our girls. And amidst it all there was the low hum that kept getting louder. So when one of us said “Should we sell our house? And then travel the country for a year?” the other one, without question, said “I was thinking the same thing.”

So here we are, on a journey, trying to listen to the bass note.

When things are closed

We were at the Yale bookstore because we were on the hunt for a lobster roll, and Eleanor was hot. The day was warmer than we expected, and Eleanor was in long sleeves. Areas being closed by COVID stifled our stroll through the campus. The Rare Books Library. The not so rare books but the probably still great library. Many areas were closed off only to students.

So we found ourselves in the book store, buying post-cards (and not a t-shirt as it happened), and asking the person behind the cash register for pizza recommendations. “Pepes. Sally’s. Modern. This is where you go for New Haven Style pizza. And by the way, the IKEA just opened back up, so you might want to check out the IKEA as well.” We went to Modern.

But wait, the IKEA? You’re recommending a visit to the local IKEA? Sure, it just opened. But, IKEA? Looking back on the day this is the black cat walking in front of you, the ladder you just walked under, the mirror that just smashed.. We should have felt the energy shift when we took her recommendation, ignoring my friend David’s, and ate at Modern.

The pizza was greasy. There wasn’t a park nearby. We ate it in the back of The Beast (as we’ve started calling our large vehicle). The beach wasn’t charming. We didn’t even bring the girl’s bathing suits. The historic homes closed at 4:00. A farm nearby closed at 2:00. We went to Trader Joes and picked up peanut butter, nuts, milk, and snacks. 

And this brings us back to the reason we drove to the coast. Lobster roll. Yes, Connecticut isn’t Maine or Rhode Island, but we midwesterners were excited. Fresh lobster is exotic. Where we come from, it comes from a fish-tank – claws rubber-banded with those small thick rubber bands. 

Lobster is also seasonal, and the lobster shop was closed. 

But this time, we didn’t push on. We learned from the week before – on our second day we spent too much time at the Falls, drove to a place that was closed, and chose to take the scenic route (my call, bad call, too dark, too mountainous, I kept waiting for a deer to hit us). 

This time we packed up and went home. We didn’t get home too late, so we ordered good take-out. We started a fire. And looked at the stars, observing again that night just how many there are. Brooke saw a shooting star, so did Lucy.

We won’t get every day right but we’re learning how to make the most of each one.

Midwest in the Rearview

That was easy, we said, pulling into Niagara falls nine hours after leaving Chicago. We’re going to be great at this. Our car packed better than I expected (a layer of Rubbermaids topped with duffles and baskets). The kids did great – watched shows, read, played games.

And hey, that first day was pretty easy. Our first stop was Elkhart, IN – the town where RVs are born (and then delivered to driveways by very large storks). In the travel-center, the hot dog spinning machine was broken. A panel was removed exposing insides (that’s how the sausage is made, I chuckle silently). It’s decently complicated and looked to be stumping the maintenance person who was referencing instructions on YouTube – just like the rest of us! A father and son are wearing camouflage. Lucy’s wearing a camo shirt too. Soon we realize it’s hunting season.

Indiana goes by quickly, Ohio takes longer. It’s all farmland except for the occasional tree that managed to escape its flattening fate. We picnic outside an eerily empty rest area, eat pb and j, and keep rolling.

A stop at Starbucks sends us through Cleveland, a seemingly fine town that will forever be remember as the city Brooke spotted a Bald Eagle. It flew yards above our head as we slowly drove onto an onramp connecting us from one highway to the next.

Lucy slept a little. Eleanor didn’t. This is typical.

Lucy, for reasons unknown to us, has always wanted to travel to Pennsylvania. “Where are you most excited to travel?” we’ll ask. “Pennsylvania.” is the quick response, often stretched out to Pennnnnsylvaaaaaania. There was much cheering when we crossed the border and moments of awe when we drove next to Lake Erie.

Trump signs have been a common part of the landscape. Trailers painted. Homemade items of all kinds. In PA one large sign stood in front of a cross, mostly blocking out the cross – that ancient form of capital punishment. Maybe that was the point.

New York. Full of vineyards. I had no idea. Day one ended with Chipotle and a night at the Hyatt Place Niagara Falls. We’re sufficiently frightened of COVID and avoid humans as best we can. The room we stayed in had been empty for four days. We wiped it down. Ate our dinner and saw the falls at night.

We slept and then day two. Day two was hard.