I'm sitting in the passenger seat of our '86 Westy staring out the window at the endless wheat fields, towering windmills, and straight, flat roads of Kansas. It is dead silent in Spud (well, as silent as he gets at 65 mph), which is rare with jabbering twin boys. But it's naptime. Hallelujah! I unbuckle my seatbelt and like a flight attendant head to the back and sneak out two M&M ice cream bars from our mini freezer. I deliver one to Chip, then we cackle while waving them in the air at the boys' sleeping faces and scarf them down in celebration of quiet time. If only they knew what we did when they were asleep. I digress...
We are only a few days into our year long road trip but as my brain meanders, thoughts of leaving our friends and community in Durango cross my mind like the drafts of warm breeze coming in my window. Handing the house key over to our new tenants and driving away from our home and neighborhood we called ours for the past three years was a surreal moment and had me crying in a very unflattering fashion. But looking back on that day, while it was depressing to say goodbye, I knew we were welcoming a new and exciting season into our lives. When we began to buzz along the road, windows rolled down, heading towards Great Sand Dunes National Park, my mood shifted as quick as a toddler's cries go from hysterical to "What? Did something just happen?"
It already felt great to be on the road. Our hearts belonged here for now and we had been longing for this sense of adventure for awhile. I know it's a mutual feeling when we clasped our chocolate-smeared hands together in silence and squeezed them tight. Not only were we signaling a sigh of relief for naptime but more importantly that we had done it! We were past the notices at work, the explanations of why we were doing the trip, past finding great renters and house/Spud renovations, and all the planning and tearful goodbyes. We were, as Willie would say, on the road again!
We had a proper farewell from our pals, the Butzens and the Rods, and neighbors, Kevin and Susan, after spending two nights at Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. Whether you live in Colorado or not, this place is a must. The best time to go is in the spring and beginning of summer so you can catch the creek that runs between the camping area and the towering sand dunes. You can easily keep yourself and your children entertained between the two. The anticipation of the pulsing creek is our favorite part of the park by far along with views of the mountainous dunes in the background. Medano Creek usually dries up by the beginning of July so timing is crucial if you're seeking water to break up the sand.
You might chuckle, because everyone else did, but for months I had been unusually stoked about the spots we were going to visit in Kansas (or Candice, as the boys called it). To get there, we had a long and unexpectedly hot drive through southeastern Colorado with temps above 100 degrees. Remind yourself that there is absolutely no A/C in Spud. (Chip would remind me that Spud does have 260 A/C, ie. 2 windows rolled down at 60 mph...not funny). Anyway, by the time we arrived to visit our friend Jane, who just happened to be working a shift at the hospital in La Junta, we were sweating, nearly naked, and sprinting towards the automatic double doors for some respite from the heat. We were delighted to see a familiar face and receive another "good luck hug" from a friend. After another couple hours of driving and Reid "styling" his hair with "product" (by rubbing peach remnants into it), we had arrived at Lake Scott State Park in Kansas. Here, we were greeted with lake views and an insane amount of wind but given the lack of mosquitos we happily accepted both. We busted out the kites, the mac and cheese, and then settled in for the night.
The highlight of western Kansas for me was our side trip to Monument Rocks. It was only a 30 minute drive from Lake Scott, and in the middle of nowhere on private land. Here are a collection of tall chalk towers formed some 80 million years ago. We had the place to ourselves and quickly began cruising around the formations in awe. Not long later, I spotted a big snake on one of the rock walls. Not knowing the snake's temperament, we started yelling for 'dad!!". He ran over and like a kid in a candy shop, his wide grin told me that the snake was harmless. We spent the next ten minutes allowing the snake to crawl near and around us while Chip lit up with stories of snakes he found as a young kid. The boys likely enjoyed the snake more than Monument Rocks itself. Not me though, I was soaking in the sights, sunshine, and lack of tourists. Kansas had already won me over.
Our last long day of driving was from Lake Scott/Monument Rocks to Eisenhower State Park in eastern Kansas. While generally we love knowing where we are headed, we also enjoy random spontaneity that is thrown at us on the road. We've found early on in this trip that starting a driving day with a rough idea of where we are crashing makes for a better outcome. Neither of us likes to watch the sun set over a conversation like "I mean come on, the Super 8 is $79, that's pretty much the whole day's budget." and "Yeah, but we are NOT sleeping in this creepy parking lot and the kids can't handle another hour in the car." Suffice it to say that we're still working on finding the perfect balance that resides somewhere between free-spirit flexibility and rigid planning. Today's surprise though just happened to be a tiny (and I mean itty bitty) town in Kansas called McCracken. Great name, right? We saw the sign for the "business district" and peeled right thinking it might be a town with some hidden charm.
The town, if you can call it that, was already in the rearview by the time we hit second gear. Aside from a few long closed businesses and houses, there wasn't much to it. But across the street was a park. I squinted my eyes. Was it a mirage? It had a green, mowed lawn that you could drive on, shade trees, and tons of playground equipment. "Should we stop there for lunch?" "Uh, hell yeah we should." And so we did. We pulled up under one of those trees, popped the top, reheated some leftovers, "utilized" the toilets, and enjoyed the sounds of our children's playful screams being 60 feet away instead of 6. Similar to the town, it was entirely mundane, unplanned, and surprisingly pleasant. Refreshed, we packed up and hit the road for the next couple hours.
After arriving at Eisenhower State Park, Chip and I both agreed that while we typically don't stay in campgrounds, they were starting to grow on us. We were impressed with Eisenhower's beaches, campsites, playgrounds, hot showers, beautiful lake views, and an awesome visitor's center complete with snakes, bees, fish, turtles, and frogs. All of these amenities make for a trouble-free experience with kids. We spent that evening, which also happened to be Father's Day, sitting by our first campfire of the trip. Much like our bodies were plopped in our camp chairs, I could tell that we were beginning to sink into more of a relaxed routine as each day progressed. It was in that moment, as we silently watched the flames dance across the logs, that I sighed a breath of relief. I was relieved that we were enjoying the trip thus far and grateful to be spending this time with family. My heart was full at the end of this Father's Day. There is nothing like feeling you have it all, even amongst the chaos of finding a new normal.
June 15-19 Stats:
Total miles of driving: 852
Poop stops on the side of country roads: 2
# of times Reid "accidentally" dropped something in the backseat: 37-ish
Favorite meal we ate: The only one out, Lucy's Street Tacos in La Junta
Best campground so far: Eisenhower State Park, KS
Worst moment in car: Hour five on day three. The boys got wound up on potty talk. A whole hour of farts, mean words, and poop talk. Thank you to the makers of earplugs.
Want to know everything we are bringing with us in Spud? We have it all laid out for you in the next blog post!
Thanks for reading - Love to all our friends and families.