We took our children, Morgan and Benjamin, on a three week vacation in July of 2002. Duluth, Minnesota to Portland, Oregon. We had a red Chevy Blazer, 4 suitcases, and a TV/VCR combo with two sets of head phones. The kids were packed into the back seat with blankets, stuffed animals, clothing….it was as if they took everything from their bedrooms, piled it in to the back seat, and were in their own separate cocoons. Morgan in her denim hat and Ben with his Gymboree baseball cap on, my little cherubs were ready for the road!
My husband and I had talked about taking a summer trip with the kids, as we usually waited until winter to head to Arizona to see my parents. After a bit of research, saved vacation time, and new friends on the West coast, we started planning. There was so much to do! About a month prior, I called ahead and made hotel reservations. I had documented all of the touristy places and fun things for the kids to see and do!
Stop #1: Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota. Yes. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A corn palace. Everything…and I mean EVERYTHING was made out of corn. The kids thought it was cool, and we wore them out walking them all over the place. Pictures made from corn, corn on the ceiling, corn everywhere. Sort of “corny” but cool! We left laughing and playing I Spy With My Little Eye, until the kids tired out and took a nap.
Stop #2: We drove by a Blockbuster, and asked the kids if they would like to pick out a new movie. Of course they said yes, and we went in. Little did we know, the time we would spend trying to decide on a movie would take up about 30 minutes of our time away from the road. I remember standing in an aisle waiting for Benjamin to chose a movie. A half hour. That kid was so engrossed in finding a movie, that I was getting crabby. Morgan, on the other hand, knew what she wanted and found it right away. Ben was not happy about having to watch a Mary Kate and Ashley movie, but knew his movie was coming next. Turtle Man or something like that. Dana Carvey….I think. The kids still quote from that movie and it’s been 15 years.
Stop #3: Murdo, South Dakota. It is an original 1880’s town that has a jail, a saloon, a hotel, and food. It wasn’t on our list, but we were intrigued! There was even a place where people could rent clothing and take pictures in all of the buildings. Ben and Morgan both sat at the saloon piano and laughed as they tried to plink out a tune and sing. They had a blast!
Stop #4: Somewhere in Western South Dakota at a Motel 6. I had picked where we would lay our heads at night, with certain criteria. In the AAA handbook, the cleanliness had to be about perfect. There had to be a pool. And two queen sized beds.
Stop #5: Southern Montana, and a nice Motel for the night. John took the kids to the pool, I grabbed our laundry, and went across the street to wash it. Surprisingly, the laundromat was also a small casino that served beer and wine. I think John found me a few hours later, clothes in a dryer, and I was playing Keno while drinking a beer. It was the most relaxing part of the trip!
Stop #6: Blockbuster. The kids saw one as we stopped at a Piggly Wiggly grocery store that morning. Another 30-45 minutes of my life that I will never. Get. Back. EVER.
Stop #7: We stopped in Great Falls, where I used to live, met with a good friend of mine, had lunch, and hit the road! I think we bought a bunch of illegal fireworks at a stand by the river!
If it were up to my husband and I, we would have put in 12-14 hours of driving a day. Really, it was totally doable. Not with a couple of kids in the back seat who needed to stop at every single town, use the restroom, and get a juice box out of the cooler. I still think that trip was when I found out what a patient man my husband was! We found our next hotel in Western Montana and got the kids in bed after a long day of driving. But the kids weren’t tired. They had been sitting in the back seat watching movies all day. They were wired! I walked into our room, told the kids to jump on the beds until they were tired, put them in the tub, and then to bed.
Stop #8: Somewhere in Washington State. Beautiful scenery! Gifford Pinchot National Forest…Mount Ranier….and everything was so green and lush! As John and I oohed and aahed over the picturesque sight, the kids remained happy in the back seat, watching Turtle something or other, and a Disney movie.
Stop #9: Oregon. Our destination state! While the kids listened to Turtle Boy, or whatever it was, John and I were thankful to have gotten as far as we did safely! We prayed the morning we left our driveway, and still pray now when we travel, that our ride would be safe, the kids would learn new things, and that no one would want to jump out of a window during our trip. Yes. This is a real thing we used to pray for. Not so silly because it worked. No one in our family has EVER jumped out of a car window.
Between stops 8 and 9, there was a mountain pass in Oregon that was long and winding. Very picturesque. The sun was starting to set, we could see Mount Hood off in the distance, and I was driving the last leg of our trip before we hit Portland. The kids were so sweet! They were sitting close together, as one of the head sets broke. They were sharing one. Looking in the rear view mirror, I just smiled. John was resting his eyes. In a matter of seconds, I looked up and saw a truck coming at us in MY lane! There was another car in the opposing lane and he wasn’t moving over. I was going to have a head on crash with this truck, and probably lose my family. We would be smeared all over the side of the mountain and that would be it. I slammed on the brakes and screamed! At the last second, the large truck got out of my lane and into his. I pulled over, shut off the car and started to cry. I was so thankful that God has spared my little family! I turned to look into the back seat and tell my little angels how much I loved them….and they both look up at me and start yelling, “How come the TV turned off? Why did we stop? Are we at a restaurant? Can I have some juice?” Oh my GAWD! We laugh about it now, but I failed to see the humor in it at the time. And I’m sure we had to make another trip to Blockbuster just to keep them occupied for the last hour or so of our trip.
Stop #1 on the way back to Minnesota: Tacoma, Washington. We are being flagged down by a man in the same lane at a stop sign. We roll down our window and he says, “Are you crazy? We have a law here! You have to be able to see out of your back window!” As he shook his head at us, and continued on his way, we pulled over to fix the problem. Not knowing if he was serious or just in awe of our little vehicle stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink, we made a little hole in the back cargo area, so we could see.
A week in Oregon, traveling to the coast, visiting with friends, driving back to Minnesota, this trip remains my favorite. Why? Because Ben was 5 and Morgan was 8. I had a captive audience in that little Red Blazer. It was one of the only times in our 20+ years of being a family, that we were all just “being.” In that little red Blazer, packed to the gills with a bunch of suitcases, a little tv, the contents of my children’s bedrooms wrapped around them and the treasures we picked up along the way, I will always love this time we had together.