The Journey

“Enjoy The Journey” is a common phrase that is either sure to make your eyes roll or strikes you right in the guts.

In Georgia in the Unicoi State Park bathroom, it struck me in the guts. “Enjoy the journey,” Bathroom Lady said after I told her my little story while we both brushed our teeth for the night.

As Winnie ran around my ankles, I explained, “We have a month off. Our kids are almost 2 and 4 years old. This is our first real vacation together, so we’re really excited. We built a little camping trailer to stay in.”

In between brushes and spits and smiles at Winnie, Bathroom Lady told me all about her kids, “…but they’re all grown now.” She paused and turned toward me when she said this part, “Enjoy the journey with them. It really does go very fast.”

Bathroom Lady had eye contact that was both gentle and piercing. Her words had power. “Enjoy the journey with them.  It really does go very fast. ” She might as well have punched me in the stomach.

Michael and I have traveled to many places together.

We’ve lived out of vans, tents, boats, and most originally- his 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

We travel together easily. We are happy to shower in streams or not at all.

We can live off of Clif bars, beef jerky, and Arizona teas.

Michael and I like to do big hikes when we travel, most notoriously was the Na Pali Coast in Hawaii. This was 22 miles in one day in which we brought one small water bottle and no food.

I don’t know what we were thinking but I remember being nearly trampled by a mountain goat and later asking Michael if I was hallucinating when I saw a rat doing ninja moves with it’s hands… but Michael saw it too.

Now, here we are without Michael’s speedo and with a half decade hiatus from any significant travel.

We are due for a trip, a good long one. This time, we have two little humans to tote along.

We have our 4 year old homebody.

And our 1.75 year old Miss Independent.

I anticipate that we will not be hiking 22 miles in one day and will hopefully be more prepared than Clif bars and beef jerky.

I later find that Michael has purchased an 18 pack of Clif bars in preparation for this trip, so some things never change.

One major upgrade from the Jeep Grand Cherokee is that Michael made us some pretty luxurious sleeping quarters.

After 80 hours of work, we now have a camping trailer that we have lovingly named “The Mosquito”.

The Mosquito is made of the following: an aluminum snowmobile trailer, two layers of 1/8″ plywood shaped into a tear drop form with fiberglass and epoxy, and wallpaper to the sides with more epoxy over.

The windows and doors were found on the side of the road. If you know Michael, you know he always has “side of the road” finds- often strange, sometimes useful.

Inside The Mosquito, Michael installed shelves with a sink, a battery called The Jackery that he outfitted to charge while we drive, and a cooler-style refrigerator made by Alpicool.

The Mosquito fits a full size bed for us, a pack and play for Winnie, and a Nugget couch for Hutch’s sleeping quarters.

We also have a coffee maker for every day (essential) and a TV for rainy days (spoiled).

The Mosquito is light and ALMOST waterproof- a discovery we made during the one storm system we encountered in St. Augustine, Florida when droplets fell on our friend Sam while we waited out a tornado warning.

As former liveaboards, we are connoisseurs of leaks, so we knew how to locate the source and do a temporary fix. We duct taped that shit like a true sailor.

With The Mosquito and our bikes in tow, our family of four took off on our grand adventure at 2am on March 28th.

Hutch was so excited to drive in the night and pointed out all the “Christmas lights” (aka street lights and house lights) he could see.

We drove 780 miles in that first day, and the gift of “I Spy” was born. Hutch could play this for hours with clues and answers on repeat. Winnie would join in by yelling “Yup!’ from the third row whenever we made a guess.

This road trip was lovely in the way it arrived in three heartwarming segments.

First, we traveled to Charleston, South Carolina where we spent a week with my parents and my sister’s family of five.

This week together was planned in celebration of my dad turning 60. Love ya Dad.

It was such a joyful week full of forever memories and feelings of familial comfort and easy joy.

The second segment of the trip was spent in St. Augustine, Florida where we stayed at our friend Josie’s Lion & Lanterns Inn (highly recommend).

We enjoyed time with her and our friend Sam who flew in from Minnesota so that we could all be together.

These two were our neighbors on the water a full decade ago so you can imagine how we act like kids together & have endless stories to recount. It was the heartiest and happiest soup for the soul.

The third and final segment of our travel was dedicated to our family of four putzing around to different waters and woods as we traveled back to the north land.

For this portion, we made no plans ahead of time but rather moved as the weather and the wee ones allowed.

This time together was gentle and replenishing.

Our three(ish) week itinerary looked like this: Minnesota – Red River Gorge, KY (two nights @ Lago Linda Hideaway) – Saluda, NC (one night at Wilderness Cove Campground) – Isle of Palms, SC (seven nights at a Vacasa home with my parents and sister’s family) – Savannah, GA (one night at Skidaway Island State Park) – St. Augustine, FL (one night at Lions and Lanterns Inn & two nights at a friend’s beach house on St. Augustine Beach) – Lincolnton, GA (one night at Elijah Clark State Park) – Helen, GA (two nights at Unicoi State Park) – Great Smoky Mountains National Park (two nights in Elkmont Campground) – Marion, NC (one night at Tanglewood Campground) – Barren Springs, Virginia (one night at River’s Edge Trail Camp) – Lyndhurst, VA (one night at Love Ridge Mountain Lodging) – Home Sweet Home (24 hours of driving with stops included and one popped tire to mend).

I found myself feeling quite tender on this trip. This tenderness arrived just before Bathroom Lady told me with her entire soul radiating through her eyeballs to “Enjoy the journey.”

I felt tender in a good way. It was a tenderness of knowing that this time is precious, a tenderness that comes with watching my kids enjoy everything that is simple and good, and a tenderness of spending undistracted, wholesome time with my whole family, some of my dearest friends, and with my little family of four.

This tenderness made me feel both vulnerable and alive, sensitive to everything happening.

So, perhaps at the peak of my tenderness right after our time with family and friends, when Bathroom Lady says “Enjoy the journey,” and metaphorically punches the air out of my system, I see myself twenty years from now in the same campground bathroom. I am watching another mother of two run around a bit disheveled and distracted but wholly alive in the presence of her kids.

As I watch the younger mom with kids running around her ankles, I am aching to see my own kids like this again, and maybe to see myself like this again too.

In the eyes of my two and four year old, I am the entire world… what a tremendous and undeserved honor.

So in my weird vision, the older version of myself can’t help but look that young mom straight in her soul and with both grief and gratitude in my voice, I say to her, “Enjoy the journey with them. It really does go by so fast.”

Within seconds, I am back to reality with a big feeling of connection to Bathroom Lady and to every woman before me.

I remember my own mom sitting on every sideline near and far, even while she worked full time, went to school, etc. She never missed my big or small moments. She let me be free and entirely myself while being a steadfast presence and support. I see now how she did this so beautifully. I only hope to do it half as good as she did.

I remember looking at my Grandma J as I climbed the trees. She would gently say, “Be careful sweetie,” while simultaneously smiling at my bravery. Thank you Grandma. You let me love who I am in the trees. I still love who I am in the trees.

My Grandma Larson has always listened to my stories with her whole being. Her eyes would radiate admiration and intrigue for anything I had to tell her. She made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. Now, I get to see her eyes light up with the same love and adoration for my kids. Grandma, thank you for every moment of this.

I wonder- did these women also feel the weight of being my whole world? Were they told to “enjoy the journey” at just the right time?

So, for the rest of our road trip,  I feel incredibly sensitive. Thanks a lot Bathroom Lady.

I feel sensitive to the men and women with and without kids, to the old and the young and how they exist in the water and woods that we cherish together.

I feel sensitive to rocks- beautiful ones and plain ones. I feel sensitive to the way the water moves across the rocks and how it feels when we touch it too.

I feel sensitive to every bird song and every human conversation.

I even feel sensitive to the elevation as we walk up to Clingman’s Dome.

Simply put, in a perfect storm of experiences, I am blown away by the privilege, sensations, and scope of being alive.

This road trip was special. Not only was it the first time that we traveled with kids, but it was also a reawakening of sorts.

There was a recognition that I won’t always revolve my days around tiny humans that track my every move.

Simultaneously, there was a realization that I love this part. Being their mom might be my favorite chapter.

This trip was different in that it didn’t include a Na Pali Coast marathon or a Half Dome climb or hitch-hiking or scuba diving.

It was very simple and very slow.

This trip included endless “I Spy”, chasing each other in the ocean sand while we yelled “Chomp! Chomp!”, starting campfires as the sun set, throwing rocks in water wherever we went, showing each other the coolest rocks we could find, stopping at playgrounds after Winnie yelled “SHLIDDDE!” 100 times, seeing a bear for Hutch’s and Winnie’s first time, talking about the flowers and the trees, biking, writing in our journals at the end of the day (Hutch and me that is), and just falling asleep together.

There were no big hikes or destinations.

Okay, maybe some big hikes…

In it’s essence, this trip was exactly how Bathroom Lady described- an enjoyment of the journey.

It really did go by so fast.