Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the one-crate trip: on the road with Big Red

In 1998 we went a little crazy and drove with our four kids to Montana and back. It was, hands down (kids, correct me if I'm wrong) the most memorable and fun family shenangigan ever. A few highlights:

* We rented a 12-passenger van that we named BIG RED. The back bench seat stayed home in the garage, providing us plenty of cargo space. Four kids got three bench seats which of course lent itself to some riotous, sibling-type situations.

* I gave each kid a plastic milk crate for the 15-day trip; an 18-inch square cube. No duffles, no suitcases. If it didn't fit in your crate, it stayed at home! I was that bossy. Hey, we stopped in campgrounds along the way, equipped with laundries. The crates stacked perfectly and worked! We also threw in sleeping bags, two coolers, food crates, propane stove, dishes, pots and pans, and a pillow for every head.

With the exception of a swanky resort in Whitefish, Montana for Bill's business conference, we stayed in KOA campgrounds. I let go of my tacky, Yogi Bear-stereotype of these facilities: they were actually ideal while traveling with four squirrely kids. We'd pull into Devil's Tower, Wyoming or where-have-you and the kids would leap from Big Red and head for the pool or playground, happily occupied while I began assembling the dinner grub. Camping, as one mom aptly put it, is just taking your housework to the woods. But I capitalized on the opportunity to teach the children some life skills ...

We once met a family whose rule was that only children over age 6 went on the family vacations. I thought this a little extreme until our Montana trip. Let's just say our youngest family member, age 8, was tired and cranky approximately 14 and 1/2 days of the 15-day trip.

I went a little overboard with my enthusiasm for history. The kids were ready to gag me as I said for the 15th time in North Dakota: "Gee, imagine being a settler and doing this in a covered wagon!" Poor kids.

We discovered history (Little Bighorn battlefield my favorite), saw buffalo, cooked and did dishes together, got up extra-early to beat the crowds to Old Faithful, slept in a tipi and tiny cabins in rain and wind storms, and rode "to the sun" in Glacier National Park in "jammers." We especially built memories as a family that will last forever.

I have a hunch our kids will find a way to take their little rascals on such an adventure. That is, after they turn 10.


-d said...

What a wonderfully fun post. I've heard about this trip so much over the years; it's neat to get to see the pictures.

How is it that those cute little kids are all grown, now?

Great photo at the end!

Karen Dawkins said...

I remember this trip! You were so excited. And I was so jealous. Still waiting to take our own Big Red Adventure!!! :)

But I can't imagine a family vacation without Ellie. That's just a sad plan! :(

Barb said...

That comment was in jest ... though at the time I could understand the logic!