first travel ramblings

ok…internet access and cell phone service has been scarce, as in not at all, so i am posting quickly everything i have written in parking lots and in the shotgun seat of the BMV while we are at a nasty taco place in rawlins, wyoming, which happens to have free wi-fi. hopefully i will become better at this (as in more coherent and succinct) as we go, but for the sake of time, here’s my first update of the chino house on the road.

Saturday May 24, 2008

REI Parking Lot

Denver, CO

Our last week at home was crazy but wonderful. I really had no idea the kind of response that our leaving for the summer would initiate in the folks with whom we normally do life. We were showered with all kinds of love and blessing as we said our goodbyes. Laden with treasures for the road, we headed home from saying goodbye while our babies spent their last night at their grandparents. I frantically finished packing and cleaning when we got home at nearly 10pm, and so it wasn’t until I sat down near 1am to read a couple of verses and breathe a thankful sigh to my Maker that I realized how incredibly honorably we had been treated over the last several days. All of a sudden it completely overwhelmed me. Not just the homemade cookies and energy bars. Not just the books, games, puzzles or even the “happy trails” banner to hang in our summer home. Or the money for gas or gift cards for the road. Or the details like Whitney showing up with a red bucket after she knew I had searched and searched for one for my own little wannabe member of the Mysterious Benedict Society. As I reflected on the “shower” we’d been given in our last days at home, it was how much we had been loved that hit me. That people actually care that we are going away. I guess I hadn’t thought about it that much. It’s not like we’re not coming back. The summers usually fly by so quickly that I have really thought that people would hardly notice we were gone. But I think God knew that somehow this outpouring of affection would be the wings we would fly out of town on and will carry us through our lonelier days. Through any doubts and darkness ahead.

I walked through our empty house one last time before I finally fell into bed. I could feel that lump in my throat swelling up as I put away the last of the clean clothes that weren’t going with us. I closed all the closets and turned off all the lights. But when I started to feel like I might sit down and cry, I drew from the lasting warmth of our evening and I just felt fuzzy instead of sad. I worried for a minute that our taking this big adventure and having so many blaring needs in light of that adventure (a need for a camper or for lots of watching Simon while preparing to leave came to mind) was putting us unnecessarily at the center of everyone’s attention. I never want anyone to feel obligated to make a big fuss over me. But I tried to let that go in the wake of how grateful I felt (and still feel) for whatever circumstances have allowed me to see how much we are loved by this community we call home. And in their eyes, a glimpse of the depth of the love that God has for me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Riding shotgun from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Grand Tetons

Our first few days on the road have been nothing if not eventful. It is now amusing to me that I left Arkansas desperately in need of a good night’s sleep after the last couple of weeks of lying in bed at night and thinking of all the things I still needed to do or pack. (Why didn’t I get up right then and pack the whisk and the potato peeler?) I thought that I would just sleep and sleep when my head finally hit that pillow in our sweet rig. Well, let’s just say that we are in the phase of the journey that I would call “working out the kinks.” We knew our first night was going to be a crapshoot. Come on. We were driving all the way to Denver on our first day and then hoping to roll into a state park around 10pm on Friday of Memorial Weekend and find a place open to camp. Somewhere on the road in Kansas we started calling parks and realized that, ahem, they were all going to be full. It was going to be so late when we rolled into Denver that we decided we should just pull into a KOA on the outskirts since they actually had spots. After hearing that all the parks were full, I was grateful to find an open spot, never mind that it was RIGHT in between two other rigs like our own and very dark when we were pulling out the pop up for the first time, while many others watched from their cozy RVs and chuckled, “Hey, look at the rookies!” I kept chanting grateful phrases in my head as I listened to the semis roll by on the highway as I tried to fall asleep, freezing cold and with Simon bundled up between Taido and me. I thought about all the people praying for us. I thought about how we had found ourselves in Kansas in a rain and hailstorm so heavy that I began to pray out loud that Taido could see (instead of screaming at him to pull over). I was praying with my eyes closed (because the only thing worse than driving through a storm in which you can’t see out the front windshield is watching someone else do it) and Cole said, “Hey Mom! Dad can see!” I opened my eyes and it was truly as though God had parted the storms for us. There was darkness to our left and right, and ominous clouds behind us, but streaks of light poured down on the road just ahead of us. We had clear roads the rest of our way, dodging bad weather all around us. As we drove, I could almost hear my Grandmother’s prayers for good weather for traveling and for safety for our family. I knew that she was probably watching the weather even at that moment. When we stopped for dinner, the gas station attendants were warning people not to drive east for the next hour because of tornadoes. It was then that we realized the extent of the protection we had received. And so, somehow the cold and the loud noise of the highway, however annoying, seemed small in comparison to the fact that here we were in Colorado, all six Chinos together in our little provided shelter. I also chuckled as I remembered Ben getting out of the van and saying to me as Taido was putting up the camper in the dark in what is essentially a glorified parking lot, “Hey Mom, should we go hunting for some stuff for our scratchbook?” He has been very excited about this darling scrapbook that Jerusalem gave us that has little bags in it to put your treasures from the road. Ben has been dying to put something in the “scratchbook,” as he calls it, almost as much as he is dying to spend every dime of his money before we even get to Vancouver. I told him he could take only two dollars into a gas station in Kansas and that he didn’t have to spend it. He came out with a magnet of Oklahoma (because we did drive through Oklahoma) that was $1.99 and when I asked him how he paid for the tax with only two dollars he said, “Well, I’m a kid and sometimes people, you know, they just let little kids.” Little optimist.

The next day we rolled into Denver for some Einstein’s Bagels, a stop at Whole Foods, a stop at REI (of course!) to get Ben a new sleeping bag because his toddler bag is being passed down to Simon and a new rain shelter for our Kelty Carrier. Then we ate lunch at Tokyo Joe’s in Boulder before we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park. Strangely, in all our trips to Colorado, neither Taido nor I have ever been there. It is different from the other areas we camp in Colorado in its appeal to international tourists. It still has the majestic beauty of Colorado in full and because animals are protected from hunting and the park only just opened to campers this weekend, we saw lots of wildlife. The kids were shouting from their seats and pointing out the windows (even Simon) at all the elk and deer. Is there anything more beautiful than a deer? I will never tire of seeing them. We also saw mountain goats and wild turkeys, rolling down the windows to hear them gobble at one another. We hiked to Alberta Falls on a snow covered trail. Simon’s favorite thing might have been the Park Shuttle which runs through the park on the weekends and is free, so you don’t have to use your own gas driving the mountain roads. Also, you can be dropped off at a trailhead and then picked up from another one. Simon was just ecstatic to ride on someone’s lap instead of in a car seat.

Two of the three eastern campgrounds were full when we arrived, and the pass to the western campgrounds was still closed due to snow, so we were grateful to get one of the last available spots at Glacier Basin Campground, even if we had to move to a new spot the next day due to our own spot being reserved for someone else. We moved about 5 spots down, so we just sort of paraded everything down the road. Taido didn’t even put the camper all the way down. Our neighbors said we looked like homesteaders walking behind the popped up camper with our kitchen supplies. I told them their description was not entirely inaccurate.

It was cold our first night, so cold that it even snowed a little. I couldn’t bear to come out of my sleeping bag and when I did have to undo my drawstring a little to poke my head out and cover Simon back up, I had hopes that maybe our next destination would be at a slightly lower elevation. It seems like our current itinerary, drawn up by the gearhead, goes from one mountain range to another. I might have known I would be freezing cold in a campground called Glacier Basin, but I haven’t seen a bug yet. I did say many grateful prayers for our camper. Even though I think I was shaking down to my bones, I was so glad I could go inside, turn on a light switch and sit down on a little couch to read the next chapter of our book to the kids. Had I been crawling into a tent, I think I might have started crying. The second night was a tad warmer, but in exchange for its being not as cold, we got rain. Thankfully it had stopped when we packed the camper down at 6:30 this morning. We tried to tuck the wet outside edges in a way that the inside will not be wet when we open it around 10pm tonight in the Tetons. We’ll see.

Most oft repeated phrase at this point is Taido saying, “We’re living the dream honey. Living the dream.” It is usually said in response to a look I am giving him about something that is obviously less than dreamlike, like being up with Si in the middle of the night or a request for an item however small, that will send me crawling through the van digging through fifteen different plastic tubs I am not sure how many more times he is going to say it without getting a black eye.