Ramble On – Family Road Trip

We went on a family vacation a few weeks ago. We drove 13 hours to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This was our first visit to Hilton Head and South Carolina. Let’s just say we’ll be back. I started to write this post while we were on the road and between the back to school shopping, school tours, and catching up on laundry, fitting in final beach days, I’ve been a little slow at getting it finished.

Family vacations mean a vehicle jammed packed with suitcases, bags, favorite stuffed animals and toys to occupy little ones. As we zipped along on our road trip I couldn’t help but think of all the wonderful vacations I was lucky enough to go on as a kid. We always drove. There’s no way we could afford to fly and if we flew, we’d miss out on so much of the trip – the journey! We had family spread out across the country so we would drive to Texas, Florida, Arizona, Washington DC, and California. I was ready to go with my favorite blue and pink quilt my granny made, a little brown suitcase full of Barbies, crayons, and coloring books. I guess some things haven’t changed that much since I was a little girl. I still like to color, but sadly I’ve had this adult coloring book for two years and this is the only page I’ve colored. There’s not a lot of quiet time at home and the last thing on my mind is to color a page in a book when I plop down on the couch.

Our first few vacations when I was a kid were in a station wagon. I remember my older brother teaching me how to blow bubbles with orange flavored Hubba Bubba bubble gum in the back of that big station wagon. There were lots of little games and ways we entertained ourselves along the way. When we had our Oldsmobile sedan car, we were three across in the backseat. I can’t believe we made many long road trips like that and from what I remember, we all got along. I remember when we were going up the mountains in California, my oldest brother who is not a fan of heights did not like being on the window next to the drop off! We had it made when we upgraded to the big conversion van. Hello – full size bed in the back and plenty of room! TV mounted up on the ceiling behind the driver’s seat (that you usually smacked your head on as you made your way to your seat.) The little table where we played lots of rounds of Connect 4, Uno, and travel size Battleship driving down the road. Lots of room for my frequent potty breaks in an old Folgers coffee can. Probably my favorite trip was out to California and exploring the Sequoia National Park. I still remember how magical that place is. Driving under that famous carved out tree and seeing the gigantic General Sherman. We hiked around hunting for “Big Foot.” I have no idea what we would have done if we would have come across anything like that. We saw lots of evidence of bears and some in some open spaces, but luckily no up close encounters. I cannot wait to take the girls there someday soon. As my oldest brother grew up, got married and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, we made the trip again to go visit him and his family a few times. Now it was just my brother Cliff and me in the backseat. He loved his Mustang magazines. He knew every detail of every  model and would try to show me little differences in them (not that I understood much of it) but I grew to love those Mustangs so some of it must have sunk in, I guess. There were day long “slug bug” wars and checking out all the different license plates we’d see along the way. There was music shared and frequent replacements of batteries for the Walkmans. I would study that big atlas from State Farm that my parents used. No GPS or cell phones on those trips. They didn’t exist yet. My parents used maps and navigated their way along. I remember my mom would have books from hotels with directories of the different hotels in the area and she would have to call to make a reservation for the night. Sometimes we wouldn’t have a reservation and would drive up to the hotel and hope they had available rooms. Crazy to think that now we can just do it all from our phone driving down the road. I remember the hotel wake up call requests. My dad would call the front desk to request a wake up call at a certain time. This was usually at the crack of dawn so we could get on the road bright and early. I always hated that early morning call. My dad didn’t like it when we slept too long in the car and would point and holler – look at this beautiful scenery kids. Queue the “Holiday Road” song. Pretty much a scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation and it’s even better because to me, my dad always resembled Clark W Griswold. “Ahh that’s the Mississippi, the mighty Miss, the old Miss, the man…” (Clark goes into song) “Deep River.” I laugh because I have a tendency to do the same thing. If the girls are nose down in their screens, I tell them to look around and see the mountains and quiz them over history of the area. We just went through Pigeon Forge area where I told them about Dollywood and who Dolly Parton is. I packed along little snacks in our cooler bag, just as my mom did for our trips. She was always prepared for our trips. Now I understand all the preparation it takes to get a family of five packed and ready. Prior to this trip, I had to get all the laundry done and keep it caught up and clean so I could get the girls all packed. Gathering little goodies to keep our youngest entertained on the trip. I had to make sure the house was clean and picked up. Garbage all taken out, fridge cleaned out – the fridge. Oops – just remembered there’s a few containers in there that I didn’t get to. I don’t like to leave a dirty house or come home to a dirty house and wanted clean sheets and towels and everything all presentable for our dog sitter guest. You’re pretty much exhausted and haven’t even left yet on the trip. Now as we were along our way on our trip, the girls were playing Uno, our youngest in the third row on her iPad, I’m was busy typing this up on my laptop as my husband drove us through the Smokey Mountains.

Once we arrived at our destination, it was vacation mode. We were able to just relax and enjoy the day. No set agenda. No plans. Just vacation!

I enjoyed my daily morning coffee on the porch.

We all enjoyed the beach and pools, explored the magical creatures in the sea. The girls were busy hunting for sand dollars, starfish and anything that crawled. They thought they were such cool little surfers out there on their body boards. For a few moments, our oldest forgot she was a cool, almost teenager and all three got along so well exploring the ocean and jumping the waves. I tried to imprint these precious moments in my momma brain so I can always have them as the girls continue to grow up way too fast.

We played a few rounds of Mexican Train Dominoes and Uno at night, ate out at some pretty cool restaurants, and snuck in some shopping.

On our first night there, we had to venture to the Wal-Mart of Hilton Head. Note to self, try to check in to your hotel/condo on any other day of the week, other than a Saturday. The traffic to the island was all backed up and it’s a madhouse. The Wal-Mart experience was a little interesting. There were soooo many people stocking up for their vacation. They were buying coolers, beach chairs, beach carts and wagons, sand shoes and flip flops. There were multiple families in each isle, discussing what meals they were making for their week – arguing over who likes or doesn’t like this or that. The place was a madhouse. Luckily we didn’t need a lot and managed to get in a line that moved pretty quickly, but just trying to get in and out of the parking lot was another story.

My daughter took this shot

After our Hilton Head stay, we headed down to Georgia to visit my brother and his family. They recently moved there and were showing us their neighborhood, schools and around town a bit. It’s always heartwarming to just hang out together, hear those laughs, and see those familiar faces in person. We were able to spend the day together at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC. It’s such a nice zoo. We enjoyed Rock Climbing, Train Ride, Carousel, giraffe feeding, and more climbing fun! Lots of fun memories!

After a few days in Georgia, we headed back up to home. The trip home is never as fun. You are tired. You’re a little sunburnt. There’s a bit more arguing among the troops. The car is starting to have a funky odor of lingering fast food mixed with a little sweat and stinky feet. I drove us through the Smokey Mountains this time as we made our way home. I was pointing out the mist coming off the mountains. The tops of them looked like they were steaming in the clouds.  You can tell I grew up in the flat cornfields of Illinois. I am just in awe of the mountains when we are driving through them.

My husband reluctantly took this since I was driving and kept pestering him it was so pretty “Take a picture!” The dirty windshield adds to the realist charm, don’t you think?

We have a rule in our car, whoever drives rules the radio. The driver gets to listen to their music, or boring podcast about a video game (that sounds like a foreign language to me) or whatever the driver wants. So when it’s my turn to drive – I have my playlist of choice all ready to go. And I sing to every single song. It’s just what I do. I can’t help it. They make earbuds for passengers for a reason! Of course I had to play some of Led Zeppelin’s more country folk influenced songs as we wind through the Smokey Mountains. I’m singing away to “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Black Country Woman,” “Over The Hills and Far Away,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” “That’s The Way,” “White Summer/Black Mountain Side,” “Going to California,” “Ramble On,” and of course, “Misty Mountain Hop” By the way, these are on a playlist, don’t worry – I wasn’t shuffling around on my phone while driving through the mountains! Ha! At first the misty mountain tops and the slow drizzle seemed almost like it was planned. I imagined the little cottage in Wales that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retreated to around 1970. I’m singing my heart out going up and down the mountain hills. Meanwhile, my husband is trying to take a nap as I wail away to my beloved Zeppelin. I imagined all the back little winding roads up the mountains. The thought of driving around them in icy conditions made my hands tingle a little bit. Do yours do that? When a car swerves or moves a little close to our lane, or any close call on the road, or even thinking about it – my hands tingle. Maybe I’m just weird. The whole reality that a major interstate has been dug out of a mountain amazes me. How do you even begin that task? How do they get the power lines up there? It’s all just fascinating and overwhelming. The quiet rain picks up as we head out of the foothills and quickly turns to a downpour with lots of lightning as we get closer to Knoxville. I couldn’t help but laugh because it always seems like I bring out the worst weather when it’s my turn to drive. Crazy green sky tornado weather driving back to central Illinois, sudden downpours driving back from an Indy getaway, whiteout blowing snow on I80. So it’s seems fitting that a mountain thunderstorm would be accompanying me as I round out our day on the road. We made it to our hotel without any major issues. Just a little stressed – white knuckled (tingly hands) :), and ready for a good night’s sleep. Luckily that hotel mattress was pretty comfy.

We made it back home safely with no major issues. Well, one small problem with George and our couch while we were away. Let’s just say we’ve learned he can no longer be trusted to be out of his crate when we are gone. He must have a little anger or something and just likes to tear stuff up when we head out the door with suitcases. Our patient dog sitter fetched the crate and put him in doggy jail while she was gone since he definitely left his teeth marks on our couch! Oh George! He’s lucky he’s cute and loved. It took me a few days to catch up on all our laundry, get those suitcases put away and get back to reality. Soon it’s on to the first day of school!

It’s a few decades later than my childhood family vacations and a lot has changed as far as traveling conveniences, electronics, and gadgets, but the family vacation together still remains one of my favorites. Hopefully we are making memories that our girls will take with them for the rest of their lives.

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