Vacations as a child meant packing up the station wagon (three sets of seats, the last one facing backward), loading up the homemade car topper, ensuring the carefully-prepared picnic lunch for the road was stowed in a cooler and heading off.
A huge, slightly musty tent, camp stove, sets of clothes individually placed in plastic bags (one set for each of the seven children for each of the days), boxes of food, and absolutely no electronics were stowed away above. Books, colors, sibling rivalries and dad's dulcet tones remained in the body of the car.
We'd set off for adventure.
Miles would roll by to the accompaniment of endless games of license plate bingo, poking ribs if someone got over their "line" on the seat, and gawking at the view rolling by our windows.
Camp was made in a park, or a commercial campground (a treat as they usually had a swimming pool) and supper commenced over the Coleman stove.
I've got such wonderful memories of those trips, perhaps romanticized a bit as the years roll on. I'm sure my parents were frazzled by the preparations, and more frazzled by the bickering of the kids in the backseats.
But I don't remember that.
I've always heard that the best gifts you can give your children are experiences and your time. My folks did that before self-help books told them to. And, it's been the goal of my husband and I as we've raised our son.
I was reminded of those trips as we packed up and hit the road for a wedding in Chamberlain, S.D., hard alongside the swollen Missouri River. Our vacations have, of late, been accompanied by airports and rental cars and go-go-go. We've not been good road warriors.
While not a long trip, it reminded me again of what happens when you leave the familiar and head out together toward something different.
As we passed through the fields of northwest Iowa, the scenery was serene, neat. It reminded me of nothing more than a well-made bed, with a quilt carefully placed atop, symmetrical block after block, square mile after square mile of corn and beans in neat, flat rows.
We crossed into South Dakota, and the housekeeping got messier. Instead of being carefully smoothed, Mother Nature flung this quilt carelessly. Rolling hills, pastureland dotted with trees, and scrubby trees. We weren't in Iowa anymore.
The billboards along the interstate promised ice cold water, free, at Wall Drug. Hotels promised views of Mt Rushmore and caves guaranteed cool darkness. The Badlands promised Mother Nature at her most desolately beautiful.
The lure was great.
Then, four hours on, we came over a rise and there was the Missouri, swollen beyond its banks, with high, arid hills guarding it on both sides.
While the wedding beckoned, I wanted then to continue our travels, to see what lay beyond the next rise. And I appreciated once more those road trips of my youth.
Driving to a destination isn't really about the destination, it's about the journey. I had decided I wasn't a good road traveler because I hadn't really hit the road for so long. I'd always been headed to a familiar destination - family, work, and airport.
I'd been traveling with the wrong intention, the wrong mindset. Instead of enjoying the ride, I usually am already anticipating the destination.
Our trip was short, as we had to return to get son Drew on the road in the predawn darkness for a church youth group trip to Colorado. He awoke before the alarm, or his mom, could nudge him out of slumber. He cheerfully packed the last of his supplies, and waited, impatiently, for his groggy mom to get him on the road.
Twelve hours in a packed to the gills van?
The promise of a week in the high altitude and impossible crispness of Colorado Rockies?
"Bring on the journey," his eagerness seemed to say.
Despite sometimes poor training by his parents, he's a road trip kind of guy.
His grandpa will be proud.