Among the fondest memories of my childhood are the long summers spent traveling across the country in our turtle-topped, CB-squawking Dodge conversion van. My mom would pack us in that puppy just after school let out for the summer and we’d travel just about anywhere four wheels and a tent could get us. It has been a dream of mine to do that with Jocelyn and the kids.
Jocelyn’s story is different. Since she was tiny, summers were spent at her grandparent’s place on the rocky coastline of southern Maine. We’ve been going there every summer since we got married, and when the kids came along, we continued that routine. Sadly, in 2020 Jocelyn’s grandmother sold the place. Joce was beside herself. But grieving eventually gave way to possibility, and the stories of my childhood adventures provided encouragement that we could start a new chapter – we’d go beyond Maine. We’d see what other wonders the great United States has to offer. We’d go further.
We began planning in December 2020 with three key criteria. First, we’d have the month of July. Second, we wanted to visit Abe Lincoln’s home. Third, we wanted to see Mount Rushmore. I broke the trip into three phases, a week of westward travel, a week in the Black Hills, and a final week of eastward travel. Travel days were broken up into segments of five-to-six hours of driving with nights spent camping in National or State Forests. I identified and booked the campgrounds, Jocelyn took care of finding sights and activities along the route.
Once we had a solid plan, we assembled a slide deck with tons of pictures and walked the kids through the whole operation. We wanted buy-in because each kid was going to have specific chores, and we wanted them to know that there would be plenty of fun to accompany the hard work! Jocelyn then created a daily “scratch-off” sheet where the kids could take turns uncovering the fun activities for the day.
The kids also started a savings plan. They get five dollars per week for allowance; and they could choose how much to put toward savings for the trip. I made “savings certificates” they could buy. Each certificate cost a dollar, and if they held on to the certificate for two weeks, they’d earn back their principle and a whole dollar of interest. This proved to be very useful in helping them understand the value of saving and interest. By the time we left, each kid had saved over 50 dollars! We promised them they could spend it on anything they wanted, and warned them that was all the money they would have for the trip.
The first night on the road we stayed at Buck Creek State Park in Ohio. The kids had endured a year and a half of COVID-19 lockdowns and I was worried about how well they would do socializing. But kids are surprisingly resilient. Two campsites down was a family with two daughters of similar ages to ours. They all started playing like they’d known each other for years. It was perfect! It was all we could do to pull them in for dinner!
Charlotte confuses me. Certain everyday things terrify her. But on the other hand, she can be fearless when it comes to activities that are solidly in the “substantial threat to human life” category. For a whole week and a half of the trip she held on to her dollars because she had her mind set on paddle boarding in South Dakota. I was in a real predicament. I told the kids they “could spend the money on anything they wanted!” I could not say no!
I swallowed all the fear she should have had and took her down to pick up the rental. She had the time of her life! It was six months before I told her how scared I was! That tiny speck in the middle of the Pactola Reservoir is Charlotte. Gulp…
Andrew has wanted a knife for as long as I can remember. When he was six, he snuck into my tool room and took a small multi-tool, managed to open the knife blade, and as all good six-year-old’s do, cut his thumb deeply.
Once we got him all bandaged up I promised I would teach him how to use a knife safely, AND that he could use a knife any time he wanted as long as I was there, AND that once he demonstrated he could use one safely, I would let him buy one. Yep, that was this trip. He got himself a nice Buck folder. It’s a great first knife.
I’m proud of that kid. I have full confidence in him. He even mentors his sisters when they use scissors to open boxes and whatnot.
I jokingly say that Annabelle is “partially domesticated.” She is more wild than tame, and there is a special affinity between her and other living creatures. She remembers the minutest details. Horses are her favorite. She plays with horses, pretends to be a horse, and lives to go riding. We went for a trail ride in the Black Hills, and it’s no surprise that she still remembers the names of the horses and who rode which. She was in heaven.
There are too many memories to write about them all. Below is a gallery of some of the great times we had!
It was early and I was the only one awake. I sat to enjoy a meditation as the sun rose across the still waters of the Pactola Reservoir. A few minutes in I heard the tent zipper and someone making their way outside. As I focused on my breathing I could hear rustling around and the clinking and clanking of camp cookware. Things quieted down and I finished my meditation. When I was done and opened my eyes, Charlotte was sitting next to me sipping a steaming cup of hot cocoa. I was so impressed! She was only 10, but had managed to fill the pot with water, start the propane stove, and make it happen without asking for help! What a rock star!
Here are the places we stayed with a brief review. Links take you to reservation page.
- Buck Creek State Park, OH – A quick stop. We didn’t get to enjoy the park or lake.
- Sangchris Lake State Park, Il – Another quick stop. No swimming! Beautiful.
- Lake Macbride, IA – An all-around favorite. Fireworks on 4th. Great lake.
- Myre-Big Island State Park, MN – I wish I had more time to explore the trails.
- American Creek Campground, SD – I have fond memories of Chamberlain. Bring your business here.
- Pactola Reservoir Campground, SD – I would retire here if I could.
- Lewis and Clark State Park, IA – Got mauled alive by bugs, but loved this spot!
- Lake of the Ozarks State Park, MO – Quiet, beautiful. The cave tour was amazing.
- Hoosier National Forest, IN – Virtually uninhabited when we stayed. Superbly quiet. I loved this spot.
- Twin Knobs Recreation Area, KY – Huge. Only here one night. Kids had a lot of fun!
Here’s to FT22!