This is the final installment in a series about our cross-country road trip in our Casita travel trailer in the summer of 2016. To catch up on previous posts, head here: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
After the 4th of July finale of our trip in Morro Bay, we reset our navigation to head east toward home. We visited family the morning of July 5th in San Luis Obispo before hitting the highway and heading north toward Sacramento.
For a good part of that day I felt off. I hadn’t really recovered from being sick in Yosemite, and we had pushed ourselves to keep going. (Note to self: don’t cram so many stops in a short trip!) Our pace was slower leaving California, and we stopped that night at a Wal-Mart slightly northeast of Sacramento on I-80. Not the poshest overnight stay, but it worked.
And that was really the motto of much of our trip: make it work. We did this trip on the cheap, and it was mostly unplanned, meaning lots of nights in Wal-Mart, Cabela’s or Bass Pro parking lots.
The next morning I woke up feeling significantly better, and we began our drive into Nevada. After so long in parched and drought-stricken California, our eyes feasted on the thick green pines that bordered the highway, and the iridescent and clear streams along the way.
We had no idea northern Nevada was so picturesque and vowed to return to this area again someday. High-tailing it across Nevada, we made one short stop at a pioneer-themed visitor center (of which I cannot remember the name.)
The girls played in a life-size covered wagon, and we briefly explored the exhibitions. I wish we hadn’t needed to leave so quickly, but we had a timetable to keep. Traveling this way–with time and distance working against us–made us crave slower, intentional travel. Someday.
We blitzed into Utah and stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the white salt coating our feet and confusing our senses. We entered Salt Lake City at sunset, with a strong wind on our tails.
We had our first “big city” dinner in some time, sushi at the Whole Foods in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City. We don’t normally feel out of place in most stores, but after several days without showers (again), we stood out like dirty hippies trying to assimilate in an upscale shopping area. Which was actually the truth; road travel had reduced us to our simplest selves, and we found we didn’t actually care.
We ran into some difficulties finding a place to sleep that night. The first Wal-Mart we tried had no overnight parking signs, and we didn’t want to risk a knock on the door at 2am. The second Wal-Mart was in a sketchy area, so we agreed to move on. At that point, we were exhausted and spent another 30 minutes driving to the northside of SLC to a Cabela’s. We fell into our beds right around midnight.
We woke up the next morning intending to grab breakfast and groceries with Cheyenne, Wyoming our stop for that evening. The kids were strapped in their car seats and the sun warmed our bodies with its early morning light. Then we turned on the 4Runner to find every light on the dash lighting up. The car was running normally, but when you’re towing through mountains, you don’t exactly want to take your chances. Panicking, we called my brother, who happens to be an expert Toyota mechanic. He suggested we go to an Auto Zone, get the codes pulled, then decide whether or not to take it to a dealership. The code was something unusual that he hadn’t heard of (of course) so we made an appointment at Bountiful Toyota. Our appointment was for 12:30, so we gamely surprised the girls with a matinee of “Finding Dory” to relax after a stressful morning.
After spending 3 hours (yes, 3!) at the dealership, they found nothing wrong, and we left with only an oil change. We were grateful that it wasn’t something expensive or a complicated fix that would further strand us, but we were also a bit perplexed. After some encouragement from my brother to continue, we stocked up on food for the day and hit the road.
We flew across Utah and entered Wyoming where we encountered buffalo grazing next to a public rest stop. The rest of the day passed quickly as we once more traversed through rural areas with limited infrastructure. Having grown up outside of Chicago and then spent most of my adult years in Oklahoma City, I had difficulty contemplating how people live so far removed. Once again, my perceptions on lifestyle were challenged by experiencing firsthand the vast and diverse nature of our country.
As the last rays of dusty orange dappled the low-lying Wyoming hills, the sunlight was replaced by an inky blue sky stretching and dancing overhead. As we listened to C.S. Lewis’s audio of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the landscape created the sensation that we were reaching the ends of the world. Months later, and I am still haunted by how the stars burned overhead as the landscape disappeared into the deepening dark of nothingness.
The next day we continued our trek into Nebraska, dreading our return to normalcy. We knew that when we returned we would face another major transition: moving into our new home. Quiet contemplation pervaded the 4Runner as we pondered the future, our dreams, and the jobs we needed to return to.
After midnight we stopped at a nondescript gas station as Kirk had developed a heavy headache. But it was more than a headache, more than he could describe, and it frightened me to be in a desolate place with a sick husband and two kids asleep in the back. He paced the borders of a field behind the gas station, and I sat in the dark silence of the car, waiting. I had never seen him like that before. What had happened to him?
After some persuasion, I convinced him to let me drive the rest of the way to our stop in West Des Moines, Iowa. It was my first time pulling the Casita that trip. And it was also my first time pulling it ever. But my deep-seated fear had nothing to do with driving a trailer at 1am as it did with wondering how our travels had irreparably changed my husband in ways I could not recognize yet.
We safely reached our stopping place, I chose as level of a spot as I could, carried the sleeping kids into the Casita, and dragged Kirk into bed. We still cannot define what happened that night when he physically could not continue on the road without my help.
Each mile the next day brought us closer to home. And as the landscape flattened, so did our courage. So much of the trip was a test, a chance to taste (in the smallest measure) the traveling lifestyle. Not traveling once a year as a vacation, but exploring as a way of life, a complement to our passions and values as a family.
But return we did, and two days later we moved into our little house, wondering when we would have another chance to challenge the road and explore beyond the borders of comfort and convenience to truly experience unfiltered adventure….