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I blame my wanderlust on my parents.

I grew up in the late 60s, early 70s. People were hitting the road. Gas was cheap, and cars must have been affordable, judging from the way my dad cycled through them. We were always on the go, taking memorable trips to Crater Lake, Vancouver B.C.and Disneyland. When I got older, my dad got a job that involved travel, and he arranged a partially sponsored three week road trip that took us through Yellowstone, down through Denver, San Antonio, Santa Fe, then L.A., before heading back home to Oregon. Looking back, that seems painfully ambitious. I was sixteen at the time, and probably not entirely pleasant to be around for short periods, let alone trapped for hours in a car with, yet I look back on that family vacation as one of the best. I can only hope my parents feel the same. I experienced so much of the country – geysers and bison in Yellowstone, great southwestern food and culture in San Antonio and Santa Fe, and always the mountains,  plains, and deserts rolling by.

My husband and I made a point to take our kids on road trips as well. In our mind, it’s important for them to see the country, to know the expanse of the land in which we live, to develop a sense of place and geography, and to see what makes us different and, more importantly, similar. We have driven to Mexico City, through the Chihuahuan desert, a great expanse of nothingness where we came upon a group of people selling rattlesnake by the roadside. On our way back, we were able to make side trips to the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns. On a different trip to Disneyland, we swung by to check out Yosemite National Park and ended up staying and hiking up Vernal Falls. So many trips. So many memories.

Five years ago, I coaxed Maverick and Goose into going with me to take Sunshine to college in Texas. Mr. A was deep into his busy season and would fly down and meet us in Texas. It was just the kids and me, every nook and cranny of the little Kia Soul packed with Sunshine’s belongings and our bare-bones luggage.

Let me tell you, it’s a long road trip from Oregon to Texas. We had planned a stop in Arizona, where we took a couple of days to hike in the Grand Canyon and explore around Flagstaff, where we looked at the stars from Lowell Observatory and hiked through Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona. Blog RS0784
We revisited Carlsbad Caverns on the way through New Mexico so my cave-dwelling sons could be impressed by the size and grandeur of the open areas we walk above. We finally reached San Antonio at the peak of summer in a drought year and made the best of the 108 degree heat with swims in the rooftop pool at our hotel. You’d never have known it at the time, but Maverick recently shocked me with his admission that this was his favorite road trip.

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Inside Carlsbad Caverns
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Finding our way around the Riverwalk

When the kids were young, we heard the same ‘are we there yet’ every other parent hears. We played all of the car games my parents played with us to keep us stimulated. The alphabet game had us searching for words that began with the last letter of the previous word. Someone was always excited to be the one to stump the group with a word ending with x, y, or z. We played a version of car bingo. We sang songs and listened to books on tape. During those times, we were a unit, a family, relishing our togetherness and sense of adventure. We got in each other’s space and lived through it. We had to learn to work together within the confines of the car and of the experience. We didn’t watch movies. We weren’t checking out on personal devices. We shared. We did this together.

You can keep your planes, trains and buses. Give me a car and the open road any day. Road trips offer a sense of adventure and exploration. On the open road I’m free to stop and wander, to veer from the path. I can travel on a budget or in high style, camping in the back of the car or having the valet park it for me at some ritzy hotel. I’m the captain of my ship (alright, it’s a shared job), and as long as we can avoid mutiny (says the parent of teens), there are wondrous adventures in store.

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.”You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely — bike? Hot air balloon?)

Sometimes You Have to Lose to Win

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Perfect Game.”

We lined up the life size chess pieces in the brutal sun, and I thought to myself how much of life was strategy. This was just the latest of a series of many failed attempts to connect with my teenage son during our latest family camping vacation. I had picked a campsite with as many amenities as possible for the teen set – boat rentals, wi-fi (though limited), swimming, and games, like the one we were attempting now. Yet he had thwarted my attempts at conversation and had spent much of his time camped out in front of the little campground store, sucking energy and wi-fi off the campground grid. He refused to sit around the campfire and talk, preferring online chatting with his friends back home. He grudgingly hiked with us, quickly leaving us in his younger, more agile dust. Even when I suggested a game, he simply stated that his brother wouldn’t want to play. When I emphasized that I meant with me, he paused, then reluctantly accepted.

Once the pieces were laid out on the lawn. He indicated for me to begin with a somber nod of the head. I looked at my son, once a smiling, curly-headed boy who used to cuddle up on the couch with me to watch a movie, who used to lay out on a blanket under the tree as I read to him. Here he stood, tall and strong, confident in the knowledge that he would surely beat me. I half rolled, half picked up the heavy pawn and moved it two spaces forward. He quickly made his move. I scanned the board. I made another move, followed quickly by his. This pattern continued, and I managed to hold him off for a while, but soon he began to take out my key pieces. First my knight was lugged off the board, followed by a bishop. I managed to keep my king and queen safe for quite some time. At some point in the game, a preschool girl approached with her mom and started putting pieces back on the board. He was unfazed, and continued his assault as I removed them. Her mom lovingly distracted her into a new investigation, and our game continued.

I thought how odd it was to play chess with such a large board, and with such large pieces. The perspective was different, skewing the strategy. Playing on a table-top board gives you a good vantage point to see what’s coming, allowing you to plan for the next move. This life-size game was throwing me. Parenting this stranger was throwing me. Like chess, everything was much easier on a smaller scale.

My son started closing in. He lined up his bishop, but I thwarted his move. He grabbed his heavy rook and lined it up as well. I maneuvered my remaining bishop into a defensive position. I could tell my options were quickly becoming limited. I had my remaining pawns arranged to take out his key pieces should they make an attempt, but he was one step ahead of me, lining up his flanking moves. I made a misstep, he moved his rook, and with a subtle smile said, “Checkmate.”

I just smiled. For me it wasn’t about winning. It was just about playing the game.

“Ping-pong?” he asked.

I smiled again. Sometimes you have to lose to win.

Familiar campground scene