This week I'm reporting from Edmonton, Alberta, at the half-way point of our family vacation. With our car looking like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies, we took off for our first ever family road trip. Now, a car trip with kids ages 5 and 9 might not seem like such a big deal, and some of you (those with particularly calm, easy-going children, perhaps?) might be wondering why we've never done this before. My husband and I both remember fondly long drives to see relatives throughout Canada and the U.S. But then that was before car seats or even regular use of seat-belts, and in my family the whole back of our station wagon became a kids' play and sleep area. The few 4-hour trips we'd tried with our own kids were a mixed bag, but one especially bad trip involved a long line-up at the Canada-U.S. border. The only thing that would console our then-infant daughter was to play the "Ride a pony" song on her baby music CD over and over and over again -- for two hours.
This year, though, our kids were excited about our stories of camping trips and long family drives. When we added up the cost of plane tickets to visit my husband's family in Edmonton, it just made sense to make the 16-hour trip by car, camp along the way, and take a few days to get there. My husband and I secretly dreamed of replicating some of our own childhood trips, but we also weren't averse to relying on some 21st century technology to make the trip easier. First came a Craigslist search for a suitable family tent and campstove. (Our much loved tiny backpacking stove and 2-person tent just wouldn't cut it for our family adventure.) Rather than rely on luck to find a campsite after a day on the road, we reserved campsites online before we left. And I spent a better part of a day downloading fun, new music for our trip, hoping to influence our kids' music tastes (80's new wave and classic rock, how could we go wrong?). As much as I wanted the children to enjoy the ride and look at scenery, I'm still a realist: I packed the portable DVD player. Although some of the campgrounds had Wi-Fi, we hid the laptop deep in the bowels of the car and turned off our cell phones, lest we be too tempted by technology. However, this didn't stop my husband and me from resorting to our iPods when we had trouble sleeping on the hard sleeping pads (we're not as young as we used to be in our backpacking days!).
So, with the trip still in progress, and a little breather here at Grandma and Grandpa's Edmonton condo, here are a few highlights of our first days. I'd report in a little later, except I'm not sure I really trust the campground wireless access!
Day 1: Thirty minutes into our trip, my daughter asks, "How much longer?" The kids are really amused by their parents' reactions to the 80's music I downloaded. My husband swerves the steering wheel just a bit too much as we bounce up and down in the front seats! As we head east and climb into the mountains my son announces,in all seriousness, "You know, I've discovered that it's really fun to look out the window at scenery." A few minutes later we spot a golden eagle soaring ahead of us. When we get to our campsite by a beautiful lake, the kids are giddy with excitement. My daughter is finally allowed to open the marshmallows she's been talking about for the past week. We all snuggle into the family tent, and my husband and I collapse while the kids stay up giggling.
Day 2: Scenery, although there's lots of it, no longer holds interest. Fights break out over what music to play. A Winnie-the-Pooh audiobook is good entertainment for about an hour, then I resort to Star Wars on the DVD player. Just as we begin to head into the Canadian Rockies, we spot a bear lying in a pile of grain gorging itself and making chomping noises loud enough to hear from the car. The kids are thrilled and stop watching Star Wars long enough to see three elk by the road a few minutes later. It's cold and drizzling (and snowing just a little higher up) when we get to our Mt. Robson campground, but we manage to get the tent up during a break in the rain. Chili heated up on a campstove in the rain never tasted so good.
Day 3: We spend a really cold night. The technology of long-range weather forecasts still needs work, so we were a little unprepared for -2 degrees C. At 3:30 AM we help my son get into an extra layer and a warmer sleeping bag. Afterwards I walk over to the toilets, and discover I don't need a flashlight because there's a glow in the sky -- not the moon but the sun coming up over the Canadian Rockies. I hadn't appreciated until then just how far north we'd come (or how far east in the time zone). We thaw out in the morning with jumping jacks around our tent site. When we finally load up, we convince the kids to hold off on the DVD player for the spectacular scenery into Jasper National Park. They agree reluctantly, but are eager to be the first to spot a moose (no moose, unfortunately, but we do see mountain sheep). As lunch approaches, however, mountain scenery just isn't enough to keep everyone happy, and my son begins asking for lunch at his favorite Canadian fast-food restaurant--bagels, soup, and doughnut holes that taste just like they do back in Vancouver. Sometimes you gotta love fast food. And hey, now it's only three more hours to Grandma and Grandpa's house!
Day 6: Cozy beds, hot showers, and Grandma and Grandpa's cooking! It's great to be with family, and the kids have fun sharing the stories of our journey. We'll enjoy our days here, then slowly head back home via Dinosaur Provincial Park, Calgary, and more Rocky Mountain vistas. This time we'll be better prepared, though, having stocked up on more warm clothes and sleeping bag liners! And we're all excited about the trip; my kids are road-trip pros now. Sort of!
To all of you headed on the road with kids this summer, happy journeys!