I’d like to share with you the story of our first ever “Balls Out” style road trip.
The year was 2014.
I had only one year left of my youthful 20’s and was beginning to feel a little bit of a nervous breakdown / quarter life crisis.
I was in the beginning of my new career. My husband had just started his own company.
We had all just suffered the incredibly difficult loss of my mom-in-law, Debbie. She passed away late in 2013 after an extremely rapid and brutal battle with breast cancer.
We found ourselves faced with the hard to swallow truth that our lives won’t last forever. That we are in fact mortals.That the time we spend between birth and death is a story for us to write. That our lives are only as good or bad as we make them, and that each and every day is a gift – not to be misused or wasted. We may have 60 years left on this planet, or we may have 60 seconds. You just never know.
This would prove to be the catalyst that would put our wanderlust in overdrive and change the shape of who we are forever.
Allow me to paint you a picture.
2010-2012 was a struggle, but we were making it work.
2012-2013 we had just about lost it all. We were in severe financial crisis.Our family life was chaotic. I was in beauty school 45 hours a week, he had lost his job. At the beginning of the summer of 2013 we were finally putting the pieces back together, just to have them fall apart again. I was getting ready to graduate, he had found stable employment. Life was getting better. And then cancer happened. Debbie. Debbie, my charming, spontaneous, playful, and thoughtful, yet complicated mother in law.
She’d been given the dreadful news that she had cancer in June, and passed away in November after fighting one of the most courageous battles I’d ever seen. In her final two weeks, her closest family never left her side. We were in her hospice room around the clock, clinging to each and every precious moment left of her life.
During this time, she didn’t have many conscious moments. When she did, we flocked to her bedside eager to talk to her and let her see our smiles and feel our love as we helped her to feel comfortable and allow herself to transition out of her human form and this world.
One of the most valued moments was when she told my husband to take our children on as many adventures as possible while they are still kids, and to make them wise adventures. When she passed away, I think she took a piece of all of us with her. To say that we all left that hospital just a little bit different would be an understatement.
2014 would be the beginning of a healing journey. My husband had lost his mother, my children had lost their incredibly loving and involved grandma. I had lost the woman who I could always count on to bake me a birthday cake every year and be there for me anytime I needed. I could count on her to listen to my drama, and share all the gossip or pick me up outside of the doctors office after an emergency procedure that left me unable to drive myself. I loved that woman, she was a part of my life for over ten years. Life was different. 2014 would be different.
In January Chris and I attended the Hocking Hills annual 6 mile winter hike during a brutal winter weekend.(If you’ve never been to Hocking Hills state park in OH, add it to your bucket list. NOW.) During the 3 hours of hiking through what looked like a fairy tale in 13 degree weather, We decided then that we would plan a cross country road trip with our kids.
When we got home, I started planning.. After doing a bunch of research, I decided that we needed to go as far as we could get away in a two week period, see as much as possible, and we would spend less money by not getting hotel rooms or vacation rentals.
We would camp. Tent camp to be exact. And we would only “eat out” a handful of times, trading high restaurant bills (lunch at a mom and pop diner would easily run our family of 5 over $70 with the tip) for home cooked meals over an open fire. The entire trip.
I forgot to mention that on top of all of this hard work of driving and setting up and tearing down and preparing meals and taking good care of my 6, 8 and 13 year old girls (Hello, guided bathroom trips ALL THE TIME, goodbye running in and out and getting back on the road in less than five minutes) I would also pack as much activity and sightseeing as humanly possible into our itinerary.
Because I had prepaid everything, and planned everything so precisely, we were left with virtually no room for error.
I think people thought we were insane. I know that my mother was worried. So worried, in fact, that she forced me to download a tracking app to my phone and share my location with her constantly. Little did she know, everything in the West is less convenient than the East, including cell service. We sometimes would go days without a signal. When we would regain service, I’d always receive several SOS messages from mom, like clockwork.
Planning everything in January paid off. I quickly learned it is INCREDIBLY difficult to get camping reservations in National Parks. We actually ended up getting 2 separate spots in Arches NP and hauling all of our crap over in the middle of a Sunday. All of the parks are different, and they all open their reservation season at different times. This is some of the most valuable information to have when planning a camping road trip in the National and State parks.
I repeat, If you take nothing else from this blog – take this. Research the parks you want to stay in WELL in advance and find out when the reservations open up, and mark your calendar. I am currently getting ready to make reservations for 13 months out in the Grand Canyon… a blog for another time.
As a result of choosing to camp the entire trip, minus one night at my besties apartment, we spent only $250 on accommodations for 10 nights of camping (2 of those nights were free). In most larger cities, you can’t stay even one night on $250. I used a popular travel site to snag a minivan and scored one for $650 total for the 2 weeks, and I budgeted $1,200 for gas and tolls. We only ate out at restaurants a handful of times, and cooked at our campsites the rest of the time.
*Side note – I did plan and save to splurge a few times, shopping at the famous Pikes Marketplace in Seattle and a trip up the space needle, a rafting trip on the Colorado River in Utah, and a Jeep rental for some amazing off-roading and 1 death defying experience around Canyonlands NP and Moab. I saved and paid for all of this only after I had saved enough for us to get around and eat for two weeks.*
Now that you have a very vague background on some of the reasons and planning behind our first big adventure, allow me to finally share this incredibly brief itinerary.
Days 1&2 ⇒ 1,300 miles, 19 hours. Drive from NE Ohio to SW South Dakota. Destination – Mount Rushmore , Crazy Horse memorial, and camping 1 night in Custer state park.
Day 3 ⇒ 500 miles, 10 hours. Drive from Custer State park to Bridge Bay campground in Yellowstone National Park, where we will camp for 2 nights.
Day 4 ⇒ 200 miles, several hours inside the park. This day happens to be Fathers day, and if you ask my husband, this was the most amazing Fathers Day he’d ever had.
Day 5 ⇒ 900 miles, 14 hours from Yellowstone NP to Tacoma, WA. Finally! I get to show my family the gorgeous state of WA and see my best friend, Chrissy!
Day 6 ⇒ Day-trip to Seattle and back to Tacoma! Chrissy was gracious enough to drive, so I won’t count this mileage as our mileage. We were fortunate to finally take a break.
Day 7 ⇒ 225 miles, 5 hours from Tacoma to Shi-Shi Beach in the Olympic National Forest, and a quickie stop in Forks, WA to satisfy my stepdaughters “Twilight” loving heart with lunch at a themed restaurant.
Day 8 ⇒ 225 miles and 5 hours back to Tacoma to drop off Chrissy’s husband and do some laundry, before hitting the road that night to drive south to Utah.
Day 9 ⇒ 1,700 miles, 19 hours from Tacoma, WA to Moab, UT. This part of the trip came with the immense relief of adding a 3rd liscensed and not yet exhausted driving partner. I don’t know that my husband and I would have made it without getting a hotel, thus screwing up the most expensive reservations we had waiting for us in Moab.
Night 9 ⇒ This night needs a special shout out as it was one of the most exhilarating and nerve racking nights of camping that any of us had ever experienced up to this point. Its also the very first time that Chris and I had ever seen the milky way which can speak to just how dark it was out there. After speaking to my BIL (brother in law) and being assured that we could drive off the side of the highway and camp almost anywhere so long as we closed the gates behind us, we did just that. In the dead of night. We drove a mile away from the highway in the middle of the desert and set up our three tents. That night as we enjoyed a campfire and a well earned beer, a scorpion crawled a little too close to comfort next to my flip flopped foot. Needless to say, we were relieved to wake up alive in the morning.
Day 10 ⇒ 150 miles or so in and out of Arches National park, spending the day rafting, driving to Dead Horse point where I discovered an intense vertigo and newfound fear of heights. Day 10 happened to be Debbie’s birthday (June 21st – Summer solstice).
Day 11 ⇒ 200 or so miles in and out of Arches and driving my best friend to the Moab airport to sadly send her back to WA. After that, we visited Canyon lands National Park and went on a hike.
Day 12 ⇒ 650-ish miles, 12-ish hours. We drove a few hundred miles in the Jeep rental, between Moab and Canyonlands before dropping the rental off at 6 pm and driving to the Moraine campground, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Day 13 ⇒ 75 miles, several hours. We drove into Estes Park in the morning, and up Trail Ridge road in the afternoon. I nearly died from anxiety on this hairpin turning road which is the highest continuously paved road in the country.
Day 14 ⇒ 1,500 miles 24 hours. We drove south to Denver, and drove I-70 the entire way home. It added a couple of hours to our trip, but we saved around $80 in tolls and we were completely out of money by then. My husband was able to return the rental just moments before we would receive a late return charge.
Day 15 ⇒ We arrived home exhausted, smelly, and flat broke – yet filthy rich. Rich in new experiences, feeling the euphoria and bliss of all of the amazing things we just saw and experienced. Feeling a brand new sense of family bond and love and an intense inspiration. We had already planned a good majority of our next trip before we even got home.
15 Days – 7,000-ish Miles – 15 States, 110 engine hours.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, and please let me know! I must have intrigued you a bit. Please hit follow, and stay tuned for individual location stories coming soon! Thanks for stopping by!