The Curse of the Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned

I typed up an extremely rough draft of this in May, 2017.  It’s a true story–a funny one. This is my second draft, not exactly polished. I wrote it as a break from the chaos that has been my life the last two weeks: two kids with chicken pox and a host of family issues. I am posting it here to remind myself that writing doesn’t always have to be so serious. It’s a good way to remember your own voice. I hope you enjoy it. 

The Curse of the Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned

By Mallory Kelly, 2018

It was The Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned.

I reminded myself of its majesty many times while enduring The Cursed Roadtrip.

The Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned was the trip that would finally sell my husband on living full-time in our camper. We’d depart with great tranquility the white sand beaches of Navarre, Florida, which we’d called home for the previous six years. Butterflies would float by in the April morning air. The only sounds from our 6-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter would be delighted giggling–at least for the first day. I was sure of it.

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One of our last days on the Gulf of Mexico.

Our first stop would be the perfect-for-my-toddler Easter egg hunt in Memphis, Tennessee. Then a visit to Elvis’ hometown, the Blue Whale of Catoosa on Route 66, the Denver Aquarium, and even the World’s Largest Watermelon in Green River, Utah, right before we would pull in to my mother’s home after six wonderful days of peaceful adventure.

Included in the Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned–an organizational feat which had taken me several months–there were playgrounds where my toddler could run and my dog could pee next to restaurants with ample parking where our 23’ truck pulling our 38’ camper and our Jeep pulling a U-haul trailer could nestle in happy rest. All of these places had been confirmed with satellite imagery and calls to managers of Bass Pro and Camping World. I knew whether there was mac n’ cheese on the menus of restaurants with the correct hours and enough parking.

I knew the exact price of fuel. I had to, because calling our budget shoestring is too generous–our budget was dollar-store necklace chain, at best.

For months I’d collected dollar store books, games, treats, and toys to pack five perfect bags with which to appease the Gods of Toddler Screaming Boredom. We would travel no longer than two hours before we would park, play for thirty minutes, then continue.

It was, indeed, The Most Wonderful Roadtrip ever Planned.

And we followed it to the T!

For the first twenty minutes.

Well, technically, by the time we’d departed we were three hours behind schedule, but confident we’d make Memphis that night anyway. Our Jeep, by this point more parts installed by my husband than actual Jeep products, was lined up with the U-haul ahead of our truck and Salem camper.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I’d confidently told our friends, “I’ll be driving the Jeep. The easy one.”

Fast forward thirty minutes and envision my heavy breathing and white-knuckled hands, pulled over on the side of I-10 during rush hour. One finger poised on the window button, waiting for a break in the rush-hour traffic so my husband, parked behind me, could hop out and come advise.

Lesson #1 – How to pull out of a wild fishtail.

It is important that you do not attempt to correct the violent sensations of tossing death attached to you and your infant baby as you hurtle downhill at 70 mph, nor should you apply the brake. Instead, keep the wheel steady on and slow down as naturally as possible until what U-haul so lovingly calls “whipping” ceases. U-haul is not joking when they say their speed limit is 55 mph.

Lesson #2 – Be flexible in one’s planning.

The wonderful, beautiful trip I just described to you? Dropped like a hot, moist diaper handed to you unexpectedly–which incidentally happened to me on what we’ll now refer to as the “Trip,” spoken with deep undertones and no smile.

And so, because the U-haul, although properly packed with appropriately distributed weight, was a squirrely son of a gun and I still had the jitters from my near death experience on I-10 (the semi behind me threw on the engine brakes, people), we decided that my husband would take the wheel of the Jeep and I’d drive the truck and haul the camper for the first time EVER. I wasn’t even comfortable backing the truck up, really, let alone with 38’ of unwieldly investment behind me.

Lesson #3 – Believe you can do hard things.

We didn’t make it to Memphis. We missed the egg hunt. We didn’t even make it out of Alabama that night.

Day 2 we awoke in the randomly chosen Thomasville Wal-mart. The driving began just six hours behind my hastily slopped together new schedule–no satellite imagery, no mac n’ cheese research. The Jeep’s oil pressure sensor quit on us and the suspect tires on the camper needed replaced. So our first grand site-seeing tour was through the mystical aisles of a rural Alabama Wal-mart. We ate exotic subs at the hip local eatery, Subway. We were lucky to afford that, after paying $500 for tires. The dollar-store necklace was stretching frightfully.

Our path was straight up through Alabama on back roads where I had less chance of killing people and the Jeep had less chance of “whipping”. I was thrilled to finally cross the Mississippi state line. And guess what! Mississippi looks exactly like Alabama with one exception, Mississippi’s back roads were paved by Lightning McQueen. The bumpiness vastly improved my singing vibrato, I’ll give it that. Thank heavens that a toddler can still be charmed by a Bug Juice from a gas station.

You know another thing that toddlers find charming? Cigarette butts. Thankfully none of them made it into her mouth, I think, but she certainly pointed them all out to me at our next great site-seeing location: the AutoZone parking lot. Yes, Day 2 required two fixes to the Jeep–first that oil sensor and now the wonderful bumps of rural Mississippi had aggravated a terminal illness in the Jeep: Death Wobble. More on that peach later.

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Admire our exotic view of the AutoZone parking lot.

Oh yeah, and my daughter is very helpful.

My resourceful and mechanically minded (and YouTube armed) husband “fixed it” quite quickly. With our limited funding we purchased a new steering damper and a new socket wrench set. “Where’s the 15mm?” Did the toddler run off with it? Has it rolled under any of these parked cars? No, the wrench set was sold purposely without the one that we needed, the 15mm. So we bought that, too. Fuses from my husband’s tool box would have been helpful–he pulled the one controlling the ABS in hopes it wouldn’t inadvertently trigger death wobble.

Suddenly, I could see his side of our earlier argument about why the tool bench shouldn’t be packed in the back of the U-haul. I’d thought there would be no need for it on The Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned so we should pack it’s heaviness toward the back? Right?

So close, yet so far. Such was the theme of our Trip.

Lesson #4 – Obey Lesson #3, but not to the point of stupidity.

On the way into the empty field beside the AutoZone parking lot, my rookie-self rammed the side of the camper into a mailbox. The mailbox? Made of titanium or something, completely unharmed. Not so for the camper. Battle wounds. Chicks dig scars. And on the way out? My husband (who didn’t think I could make it out) pulled down and dragged the very large “NO TRESPASSING” sign with the camper’s bumper. “It’ll fit through just fine,” he says. “Prove it,” I says. Eh, chicks dig a lot of scars, right? And hammered up campers? Sure!

By the way, I tipped the sign back up… Just hope for no strong winds, or at least no security cameras.

The evening of day 2, when we should have been in Elvis’ hometown eating hamburgers and mac n’ cheese in a charming diner, was instead spent in the parking lot of a Dollar General which was next to a convenient O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. I’m not even sure what he had to fix that time because I was one broken part away from taking an axe to the Jeep’s windshield.

We found ourselves in the belly of the semi-truck beast that night, man are they loud when they leave the engines on. Bless you for your free parking, Flying J!

Lesson #5 – Treasure the highlights.

Ahhh, to leave Mississippi (when our Wonderful Roadtrip had us in Kansas by now, hrmph). We stopped at a “Welcome to Arkansas” rest stop. I hastily wiped the marker from my toddler’s entire body–thank you, Crayola. I should’ve known better than to think markers would be a great activity. She would eat crayons and put an eye out with pencils, so markers were a logical choice. To be fair, they did keep her quiet, too quiet.

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Thank heavens that “washable” is an accurate description of Crayola’s markers.

I ducked into the camper to make some sandwiches and emerged to find my husband and daughter flying a kite with delighted giggles as our little puppy ran alongside. Birds were tweeting quietly, the gentle breeze and shade allowed a comfortable rest for my infant and his disheartened mother. I took mental pictures.

I didn’t know how much I’d need them. The Trip had just begun.

Lesson #6 – Accelerate on the downhills in order that you may achieve the top of the hill.

Into Arkansas’ roller-coaster hills we pressed onward. Perhaps God’s intention in the Trip was to get me comfortable driving and maneuvering our tenement on wheels in every condition possible. Y’all Arkansawyers know what I’m talking about. Lesson #6 can also apply emotionally, as we found in Colorado–just you wait and see.

Lesson #7 – Pray.

To whatever Deity you believe in, pray. If you do not believe in a Deity, just watch your husband and infant fishtail a U-haul down a hill in a death wobbling Jeep with five vehicles tailgating them already pissed off that they’ve had to pass your big slow butt. You will find a Diety quickly.

We didn’t want to call it quits that night. We had only made it a few hours from Florida, and it was already day 3! We were going to tough out the Death Wobble, we were making it to Branson, tonight, dang it! Then the truck’s engine started clanking.

Hours of taxing hills caused a fuel injector to malfunction, reducing the truck’s power by half. It couldn’t get above 25 mph… on roller-coaster hills… with pissed off Arkansawyers flying by… 30 miles from anywhere. And so my diligent but aggravated husband pulled us into the first place available: the driveway of a guaranteed haunted house. Guaranteed haunted. If not haunted then it had at least been the site of murders, plural.

And then the rains came.

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Guaranteed haunted.

Lesson #8 – When attempting to sell your significant other on the perks of full-time RVing, do so in the middle of nowhere in the rain.

Wait until they are so stressed and exhausted and agitated from the road that your own fairly dirty and stuffy-without-A/C camper feels like a 5-star luxury suite. Maybe your significant other will listen better than mine, he’s still not sold.

Miles from anywhere, at 7 p.m. on a Sunday. Easter Sunday.

How sweet it is to peel your despairing forehead off of the steering wheel of your broken down vehicle in the middle of nowhere and be able to climb right into the comfort of your own bed in your own home. To put your exhausted toddler to sleep in their own fort of stuffed animals and stickers and little kid junk. I wish I could take home with me wherever I go. Oh wait, I can!

At this point, what with the multiple Jeep repairs and the new tires and the price of fuel far surpassing our calculations, we shame-facedly called my dad. Guaranteed haunted, but hey, the area had service. We were one-up on the slasher film vibe.

Lesson #9 – Don’t count your days before they hatch.

“I promise I’m a grown up,” I told my dad, as he attempted to direct deposit $2,000 into my account. But, true to the Curse of the Trip, our bank’s fraud department flagged it and politely let us know they would allow us the money in six days. 6 days! Thanks for the help, bank. “We will be home by then! We won’t need it!” I cried out. So optimistic was I.

Day 4 dawned to puddles and mud, which my toddler quite enjoyed under the looming shadow of murder house. My husband disconnected the U-haul to more safely wobble his way down to the nearest town and get a fuel injector something or other for the truck. With that fixed we left the haunted house and drove down into Clinton, Arkansas, where we were directed from auto shop to auto shop until we ended up at Napa. The Napa gentlemen were exceptionally friendly, but it doesn’t instill confidence to walk in and see your husband and the Napa man Googling “death wobble fix.”

The verdict? “A day or two, tops.”

Lesson #10 – Smell the flowers. Every flower. It will pass the time.

The Jeep and U-haul left behind, we found our way to the lovely Whispering Pines RV Park. It was undergoing renovation so we had the place almost to ourselves–and at a steep discount. This place was another highlight to treasure. The field was enormous and full of purple flowers, of which, over the course of an hour, my daughter smelled every single one, then pronounced to each, “Smeeeelllllls… good!”

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I’m not exaggerating when I say she smelled every flower.

Our puppy smelled nearly as many and peed on most.

We got a hot shower for the first time since we’d left home, and I set up our camper just as it had been before we left Florida, instead of the ramshackle it’d been thus far. The only difference was our view out the window (lovely) and some excessive allergies (horrible). The Curse strikes again.

Lesson #11 – Did I mention smelling the flowers? Smell every single one. Then go find more flowers to smell. If you run out, smell some rocks.

Day 5 and fix one on the Jeep was pronounced unsuccessful. Still wobbled like the tires might fly off at any moment. So we toured Blanchard Springs Caverns.

Or attempted to.

I hauled my wiggling toddler back out of the cave before the tour had begun. Who starts off a tour with ten minutes of sitting still and listening to facts about rocks in the semi-darkness? And expects the children to behave themselves? Yikes. We left less out of my fear of her plummeting over a precipice than of my irritation at the friggin’ park ranger with his disapproving eyebrows.

Treasure the highlights. Treasure the highlights.

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This, the first view of inside the cave, was as far as my daughter and I got.

While sleeping little brother and daddy took the tour (he’s a cave nerd) we saw some bugs and some flowers. We bought Stellaluna in the gift shop. Not a bad day, really, but per The Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned, we should have been arriving home the next day, not avoiding excessive guano in the Ozarks.

Day 6 and fix two was unsuccessful. Wobbled even worse. My father offered to just drive out and get us, or fly out and rent a truck to pull the U-haul and push the Jeep off a cliff, anything, just get us home!  

“Oh, no, I’m sure we’ll leave tomorrow.” Or I’ll push the Jeep off of a cliff myself.

We drove through more roller-coaster hills to the Indian Rock House. Pretty little hike. Treasure the highlights. Didn’t plan to see so much of the Ozarks. We were supposed to be home by now, Big Foot kitsch free.

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The enchanting stairway to the Indian Rock House.

Two-year-olds don’t know that you’re developing an ulcer.

Day 7, and, you guessed it, fix three unsuccessful. Did I mention we’re paying for all these fixes? All the parts? All the labor? Yeah. I don’t think it was a scam–the Napa guys were giving up hope and they wanted rid of us. Especially the Jeep-guy’s belligerent wife who wasn’t afraid to ask, “Why the hell not?”

I was giving up hope. My dad could have been here by now and we’d be on our way home. Such is hindsight.

We broke down–emotionally this time. “Let’s just stay here! You don’t have a job waiting in Utah, anyway! It’s pretty! We could live here!”

Instead of giving the RV park a month’s deposit, we dragged our despondent feet into the Jeep dealer. He would give us $1,500 to sell the ‘04 worthless hunk of junk at auction. Maybe that’d cover the rental truck to get the U-haul back. Either way, we were two days late on turning in the U-haul and holy goodness what will that late fee be?

“One more fix,” my husband says, his hands resting on the burning hot body of the Jeep he’d loved for nearly a decade. I felt a little different. Death wobble or no, we were leaving the middle of nowhere Arkansas tomorrow if I had to set the bloody thing on fire! We’d eaten quite enough Huddle House. They put gravy on everything.

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We passed this sign several times.

Figured we ought to stop and see it, since we had the time.

Note the tiny toddler by the “O”.

Lesson #12 – Jesus take the wheel.

Day 8 and fix four… mildly successful. My husband jumped in the Jeep with the Napa guy and they took off for a break-neck test drive. When they got back, my husband didn’t quite meet my eyes when he called it fixed, but I didn’t care at that point. We were no longer in denial, we were past anger, past bargaining. Definitely depressed, and longing for acceptance of our fate, fiery burning crash included.

We hauled out of Arkansas as fast as we could wobble. In the rain. Because it only rained when we were driving–another stipulation on which the Curse insisted.

Kansas or bust!

In delirium, as we reached the border between Arkansas and Kansas, my husband came in over the walkie, “Let’s move here! We’ll open a gun store and our logo will be, ‘We Put the AR in Kansas’.” He was the one with the map. Jesus take the wheel–my husband was laughing like a madman. We were high on the belief that surely, surely, the death wobble was it. Death wobble was our big ob-sta-cle and we left the serious wobbling behind in Arkansas. From here on out it’d be smooth sailing. Ha.

Lesson #13 – Take your breaks during rush hour.

If you only had to be three feet tall to ride Arkansas’s hills, you needed to be five feet tall to ride the hills of Branson, Missouri. We hit Branson at about rush hour in an absolute, zero-visibility downpour. I am dead serious when I say that if you’re going to nap, or eat, or go for a walk, do it during rush hour. Nobody needs that angry homebound illegal passing.

I have no idea what the Branson area even looks like because I was lucky if my wipers kept up enough to see the tail lights in front of me, let alone the ones whizzing past and cutting me off. And I was going ten over the speed limit! Dang, people of Branson, Arrive Alive!

I made some deals with God that day, friends. And I, too, laughed like a madman when it seemed that downshifting and judicious brake usage would not do the trick. My daughter laughed, too, from her cracker-and-sticker hoarding nest in the back seat. That’s it, keep laughing, we can die laughing, I thought.

Lesson #14 – Pray for help.

We reached a tiny blip of town called Parsons, Kansas, at long last. I could have kept driving. For Pete’s sake it was only drizzling, let’s keep going! But it was about 1 a.m. and I can’t tell a streetlight from a brake light in the dark (really, I shouldn’t night drive, let alone an enormous camper).

I thought we were pulling into a truck stop but in the quest for seclusion my husband continued up a gravel road behind it. To better arrange the door of the camper, I attempted to turn around. My brain, drunk on Branson adrenaline and too many shots of Nasacort because the pollen of Arkansas was still out to destroy me, said, “Sure, that field looks mighty fine to turn around in.”

Genius, I am, for forgetting the flood of the previous days.

You may have heard the term “hopping mad”. I always thought it was just a figure of speech. It’s not.

When the truck couldn’t crawl through what turned out to be two feet of freezing water and mud, my husband gave me quite the demonstration of “hopping mad”. Choice words were said. He got his day’s exercise there on the gravel road by the side of the muddy ditch.

After complete emotional and physical exhaustion comes submission, and after submission, insanity. I hid my laughter from the spectacle of drenched and furious toadman. Then I prayed. We needed help and we didn’t know where to find it, at 1 a.m., in the middle of nowhere, in the rain, without any money to pay for it.

We had some lovely, expensive wood in the camper we were intending to build some storage box steps with. Down under the tires into the mud it went. Still not enough traction.

We disconnected the U-haul… again… and hooked up some chains from truck to Jeep so it could help with traction. It didn’t.

Then, from Heaven’s own truck stop itself, up drove a friendly man in a tow truck.

“Y’all need help?” More blessed words never spoken.

Without ceremony and without a fee, he hooked up, pulled us out, and took off before I could ask his name. We shouted our thanks to his disappearing tail lights.

Morning broke on day 9 and we flew across the gentle hills of Kansas. Or tried to.

Lesson #15 – What to do in a wind gust.

Much like a fishtail, don’t try to correct it. Have faith that your tires aren’t actually lifting right off the road. And hey, there’s nothing here but cows, so when you are thrown from your vehicle odds are you won’t be hit by a passing car, you’ll just come face down in a cow-pie. Bright side. If you suspect you are too light for an upcoming windy area, don’t pull your tanks and make sure your fresh water is full until safely on the other side of long stretches of nothing like Kansas and Wyoming.

Lesson #16 – Keep your gas tank at least half full. Seriously, cut out the cockiness. Keep your tank FULL.

Learned a few things in Dodge City, mostly how there isn’t a lot to do in Dodge City.

My toddler learned a lesson about geese at the free zoo. A hard lesson. She probably believed that her finger was severed as much as I had believed I’d be blown off the road. Perspective.

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The goose-feeding area of the Dodge City Zoo. Watch your fingers. 

Day 10 we awoke to another great site-seeing area. We were becoming quite the connoisseurs of Wal-mart parking lots. Should have filled up before we left La Junta, Colorado. But we didn’t.

Wallsenburg was our next blip in the grand scheme of Nothing Anywhere and we barely made it. I was unsure we’d be able to make it up the hill to the gas station. We did. Curse broken? Ha ha ha, no.

Oh, what a sigh of relief. With a full tank, hey, maybe we’d just power through and get home to Utah County!

And the Gods of Roadtrips laughed.

We should have taken the Jeep dealer’s $1,500.

Those peachy engineers over at Jeep not only ignored the terminal flaws causing death wobble in 25% of their vehicles, they also found in their infinite wisdom that the best choice for regulating voltage to the battery was the PCM, or Jeep computer instead of through the alternator like a sane company.

Remember the fuse my husband pulled out when death wobble first reared its ugly head? He fished around in the wreck that was the camper (those wind gusts are no joke) and came out with it again. “Ah, I’ll just throw that in there, slapdash it together, see how far we make it.” Comforting, hubs, comforting. I’m sure we’ll make it all the way home–not.

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My view of the U-haul on the side of the road.

I saw this view a lot.

Lesson #17 – If you’re broken, don’t stay broken.

Del Norte was how far we made it, friends. Little ol’ speck of a place called Del Norte, Colorado. Bless the typical architecture of an LDS church building. We saw one from afar and pulled into it for what I hoped was the night, but no. Just a moment’s refuge in some gale-force desert winds.

Husband first went and laid down on the sidewalk, staring at the sky, dust and excessive wind whipping by his dried contacts, and for all intents and purposes looked to be a completely broken man. He only stayed broken a few minutes, though, then he jumped up, disconnected the truck from the camper, removed the Jeep’s alternator and headed back to Alamosa–about 40 miles behind us.

With our little remaining water, I bathed the toddler. I bathed the dog (he had some lovely dog crap dried in his fur from the playground in Wallsenburg) . I stared out the window at the vast array of nothing and tried not to scream. I focused again on not clenching my teeth–my jaw had been aching ever since Branson.

Should I do what I should have done in Arkansas and call for help? My sister, bless her, offered to come in her truck and just GET US HOME. But I remembered that little heap of broken husband laying on the sidewalk and decided I couldn’t leave him with a broken Jeep and no bed to crawl into at night. What was this all about? Why had these things happened? Please, please, let this be the end of the ridiculous nonsensical disasters! I was a broken woman.

Well, the alternator wasn’t bad, and whatever slapdashery my husband had done got us all of five minutes down the road, where we pulled into a rest stop and the Jeep died. I stood and watched my husband stare at the engine and ate my leftover burrito from Taco Bell. Really, reach the stage of insanity, it’s great here.

The man of action came out in my broken husband. He had a plan. He tried to turn the engine over, then jumped out of the Jeep and closed the door all prepared for something, and then his face fell. For there, friends, on the passenger seat, locked in, was our only set of Jeep keys. He just walked away, far away, into the rest stop bathrooms, possibly to drown himself in a dirty metal sink.

And so I sighed, pulled my pieces together, gave up blissful insanity, and started bargaining. Specifically, bargain shopping. For a locksmith. Man, they’re expensive, some of them. And it was a Sunday, at 6 p.m., and we still had a day to wait for that $2,000 to drop into our account from the clutches of the fraud department. You know, the $2,000 I wasn’t going to need.

Penniless, I left Google and went to YouTube to look through the shadier versions of How to Break into a Car. I pulled myself up into the camper, found a wire hanger, a level that was sort of wedge-shaped, a butter knife, and some odds and ends. I was going to get it done.

Lesson #18 – When God sends the help, take the help, no matter how sweaty the help is.

Once outside with my toolkit for the insane, from God’s own pasture again came another trucker. He was a sweaty Russian with a thick accent who Had Done This Before.

“This be better, I think?” He hopped out of his rig with a serious looking motley of wires and wedges and slim jims. I stepped aside. I was taking the help.

My husband watched, silent and broken, from the other side of the Jeep while I helped the sweaty Russian break in. I pulled on the door with the wedge, he pulled on the door and slid in the wire hook, getting sweatier and sweatier and I had to get closer and closer. Not sure whose sweat was whose by the end. But bless his sweaty tattoos, he did it!

Disclaimer: in all fairness, the rig the Russian was driving was hauling a double stack of expensive cars. That’s probably where his skills came from. But I like to think he was a Russian spy picked for his burglary skills straight from the cold streets of Vladivostok.

Lesson #19 – Laugh.

We charged the Jeep off the truck for about twenty minutes, figuring it could buy us three miles to the nearest RV park, Ute Bluff Lodge in South Fork, Colorado. Just in time, too. It was starting to snow.

We did it! In spite of a few scratchy walkie-talkie doubts from my husband–“lost the speedometer”, “there went the electrical”–we did it. We reached the RV park and pulled in to the biggest spot that would fit us both.

So, so done with that day, we quickly began to level the camper. The snow was coming down.

GA-GUNK! The front foot bent and snapped. The front end of the camper smashed nearly to the ground.

What did we do, my broken and hopeless husband and I? Laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And got under it and looked at the damage and laughed some more. “Look, it ripped a hole through the floor! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

Then we pulled out the jack from the back of the Jeep and jacked the front end up, jimmy-rigged the foot, and went and paid for our night’s stay after a pleasant conversation with the elderly proprietors. Laughing is a lot more fun than hopping mad.

Lesson #20 – Don’t kill the messenger.

On day 11 we drove into Del Norte and ordered a new PCM for the Jeep, with an overnight rush. Hemorrhaging money. Jeep makin’ it rain dollar-dollar bills! Know how we paid for it on our dollar-store necklace budget? Glory be, we needed daddy’s $2,000 after all.

We stayed in the camper that day. We drew the shades. We watched movies and took long(ish) showers. No matter where we were, whether the elevation was 10 feet or 8,000, the temperature 80 degrees or 30 degrees, we were home. And regardless of how much crazy laughter or hopping madness filled the day, it’s always good to be home.

Day 12 dawned and we ran on up a hill by the RV park. Toddlers don’t know that you’re hemorrhaging cash, that the U-haul is overdue, that you’re fed up and exhausted, that you just want to get there! What they do know is “Wow, flower!” and “Ha ha ha ha ha, squirrel!” and even “Eeeew, poopies!” “Yes, baby, deer poopies!” And snow, for the first time they can remember. Snow is way funny. Treasure the highlights.

 

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Husband, daughter, and puppy on the hill behind the Ute Bluff Lodge.

What wasn’t funny was the Napa in Del Norte. Apparently, someone “dropped the ball” and our PCM hadn’t made it, and no, they wouldn’t refund the fee. I left that store quickly so as to not commit unnecessary murder.

Suddenly, the snow wasn’t funny anymore; it was so cold we had to drive 40 miles back to Alamosa–the nearest town with a McDonald’s Playplace. Toddlers get wiggles and the joy of RV living is mostly about the outdoors. Running and playing is limited in 270 sq. ft.

Around 4 p.m., Napa “found” the PCM. Ummm, okay. Again, let’s not kill the idiot in the mail room. So we trashed our uneaten chicken nuggets and sped on back to Del Norte and South Fork and my husband changed that part out while I disconnected the camper from the water and electric and brought up the feet and got it ready to go faster than I’d ever seen done before. And we left. In the blizzard. We were going home!

Lesson #21 – Find a happy place.

The snow didn’t last long but then came the roadblocks. No big deal to be stopped for twenty minutes three different times when the scenery is nice unless you’re a child or infant extremely sick of the car seat. They tend to get pretty loud.

Find a happy place. Find a happy place. Find a happy place.

After some driving, we did. Durango, Colorado, has a playground like you wouldn’t believe! It was harder to get my husband to leave it than it was to get my toddler to. He was blowing off steam, climbing up ropes and going down slides and playing the enormous chimes and giggling. I was tapping my toe.

Durango wasn’t all roses. We ate some bad chicken at KFC that night. Should’ve predicted an illness–the KFC ceiling was moldering before our eyes. Again I was thankful for a camper with a bathroom that night! And privacy behind a big empty silo in Dove Creek, Colorado.

Lesson #22 – Be proud of how far you’ve come.

Day 13 began with a majestic drive through Bryce Canyon. I was grateful at last for the “opportunities” I’d had to learn how to control and maneuver the camper. I was confident enough driving that I could enjoy the views.

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The view from my windshield of Bryce Canyon.

Hey, I said I was confident driving, not taking pictures while driving.

If you’ve never been to Bryce Canyon, put it on your list. Right now. Go write it down. I’ll wait.

If it hadn’t been day 13 with the U-haul over a week late and two restless children, then I would’ve spent some serious time at those overlooks. Maybe crying from the beauty, and the relief.

You’ll never believe it! Guess what! In Green River we saw the World’s Largest Watermelon!

That’s right; we hit one destination on The Most Wonderful Roadtrip Ever Planned! It was a complete accident. We were eating at a restaurant that didn’t have mac n’ cheese on the menu, and as we walked out it was parked behind a bank (it travels).

“Oh,” I said quietly, “Look.”

And we did–well, glanced–as we walked to our vehicles and climbed inside and drove the final few hours home.

I cannot express the satisfaction and joy I felt when I saw the Y on the mountain above Provo. My toddler pointed out the window at the mountains and said, “Preeetty.” And my eyes leaked.

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The Wasatch Front. 

It was The Worst Roadtrip Ever Travelled. The Cursed Trip. But at every point when we needed it, we had someone looking out for us. A generous RV park proprietor, a tow-truck far afield in the middle of the night, a sweaty Russian with the skillset we needed. True, we missed the Denver Aquarium. We were a week late. We were out a lot of money–I can’t give you an exact amount because it makes me ill to think about. But we flew a kite in Arkansas. We saw a cave, and the bugs outside the cave. We showed our daughter what cactus is the day after we showed her what snow is. We didn’t kill each other–and with seriously cooperative undertakings in our future, that is an experience worth its weight in salt.

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The Indian Rock House in Arkansas.

What a beautiful place we never would have seen.

We’re staying with the kids’ Granny and Grampy while we determine our family’s path ahead. Even though the hot water doesn’t run out, the wind doesn’t shake the walls, and the fridge can hold two gallons of milk at a time, I am homesick for the camper.

Outside of our front door we’ve seen white sand and we’ve seen forests. We’ve seen wildflowers, deserts and mountains. Heat waves and blizzards and rain, all within the same week.

Inside, it’s always home.

Lesson #23 – There’s no place like home.

P.S. My husband read this one year after our trip. His reaction (along with laughter): “This really makes me want to go on a roadtrip again!”

Heaven help us.

 

What was the worst thing to ever happen to you on a road trip? Tell me in the comments!

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