12 Days On The Road Learns You

Vacations aren’t usually meant for thinking. They’re usually reserved for unplugging your brain, letting everything go, and this adventure was no different. But, they’re not a vacuum for learning.

After spending 12 days on a seven-person road trip that took us nearly to the northern border and through five national parks, you come away with a few things. And you have a few moments.

Like, my oldest quasi graduated from the “kid” table, preferring to sit with me and Ron as much as possible, referring to the other four tiny maniacs as “the kids.”

camp site 9

She and her brother also both decided, without any adult intervention, to leave their woobies and teddy bear at home this trip, which is HUGE.

And after watching her hoard all the tiny shampoos, conditioners and body lotions at the few stops we made at hotels along the way, I now know my youngest likes miniature, complimentary hygiene products.

She probably has shampoo in her pocket.

The kids learned a shitton about wolves. And it’s because they were allowed to explore, on their own, in Yellowstone (and in the other parks, too). When they did at Yellowstone, they ran into a ranger carrying a wolf’s pelt, which they got to feel and size up, which then intrigued them even more for that evening’s ranger program at the campground – from which they returned and each reported facts they learned from the talk, including nuggets about their poop, how folks worked to save the species and reintroduce them to the park, and info about other animals in the park.

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I learned I’m cool with IPA – like beyond cool with it. I wanted to taste the places we were seeing, and craft beers help you do that. And, most times, they come with a story, which totally speaks to me. We tried a growler of Echo Canyon IPA in Zion, Going to the Sun IPA in Glacier, an Old Faithful Ale in Yellowstone and a micro-brewed wheat ale in Moab that came in the coolest, Dia de los Muertos-style can.

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I also learned that it’s impossible for kids to annoy their own selves. They can make a grating noise, repeatedly, or sing the same four words over and over and over and over without ever phasing themselves. Oh, and they only need a few bites of something infused with sugar to lose their damn minds.

A cinnamon roll we shared in Montana that set them off until Wyoming. That roll was worth it, though.

The biggest thing I think, that the kids learned, is how little they need. Really, what they need. We packed them each three outfits, one sweatshirt, one pair of pajamas, a swimsuit and a pair of wet sneakers. (We did laundry a few times at hotels and a couple laundromats on the way).

camp site 3

We got them each their own daypacks, so they could decide what they needed to bring on each hike – from snacks to sweatshirts to binoculars – and they each filled and drained their own water hydration packs.

Approaching Avalanche Lake — a trail they weren’t pumped to do, until they saw the pay off.

Which I guess all leads to self-reliance, which is something we’re pretty passionate about. They did things they didn’t think they could – announcing it out loud, even – and then surprised themselves when they actually did it – from opening a can, to lifting something heavy, to unsnagging a sleeping bag zipper to getting up the biggest uphill grind on the Delicate Arch hike.


They slept in bear country and survived. They walked to and from bathrooms on their own. They peed outside – out of necessity – and survived the utter mortification that came when a runner zipped past our impromptu potty spot in Grand Teton, saying “Hi guys!”

Reeeeaaaal close to our not-so-private potty stop.

They ventured out to get water, they washed dishes, they survived hours in the car without technology, and they could now successfully set and break camp without us lifting a finger – if it ever came to that.

There have been so many lessons throughout these 3,000 miles, more than I anticipated. One of the coolest is for us, knowing we have the ability to pull something like this off. With this adventure in the rearview mirror, all options are open.

We can go anywhere.

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