Car Camping Trip, Part I
After nearly two decades of touring the country almost exclusively by motorcycle, The Man I Married and I took our first road trip as parents in the family station wagon. I mourned the loss of a mode of travel that I’d originally taken to like a turtle to skydiving, but which I had come to embrace as an adventurous way to fully appreciate the landscape. Motorcycling immerses me in the environment, whereas a car seals me off. Car travel is like watching television; the windscreen isolates me from smells and temperatures, from bugs and wind and the sun’s rays. Blast the air-conditioning, crank up the radio, and my insulated bubble could be passing through wintry Maine or summertime Montana for all my senses can tell. Motorcycling also offers an entré to conversation with strangers on the road, whereas no one much cared to converse with the owners of the filthy, diesel VW Passat.
We kept the a/c and the radio off for the most part, with the windows cracked, trying to replicate at least some of motorcycling’s appeal. But for all that I missed the glorified moments of two-wheeling, motorcycling had its definite disadvantages. On our last road trip by motorcycle, I had not had enough room to pack even a paperback book. Despite this, at a junk shop in the middle of nowhere, the Man I Married purchased a twenty-pound metal disc thingy that he thought was a cool something-or-other from an old tractor, but which turned out to be part of a washing machine. He bungee-corded the foot-in-diameter rusted junk to the bike’s rear rack, and as we hauled it around for days, I wondered why this could be managed but Heart of Darkness could not (other than the one beating resentfully behind my ribcage). The thingie is now lying flat in our front yard, used to keep the bike’s kick stand from sinking into the mud.
So let’s just say that I came to embrace car travel mighty quick on our recent, 3000-mile, five-state journey with the Little Monster. I packed the electric tea kettle, single-serving creamers, two kinds of tea, and two mugs. Oh!a hot cup of tea every morning in a campground turned out to be mighty addictive. We were tenters, so I snuck over to an unused RV site and plugged the kettle in to the RV hookup, or else I’d plug it in to the bathroom’s electric outlet and stand around trying not to look like a pervert. On the one morning I didn’t make tea, because the bathroom was too far and the nearest RV post was right next to a motorcyclist’s tent, the Man I Married said, “Where’s my tea?” I was not the only one getting spoiled by life on four wheels.
I packed a car-battery charger for my Kindle, my laptop, our cell phones, camera batteries, and the Little Monster’s Nintendo (which we didn’t tell him we’d brought, saving it in case of emergency such as a roadside breakdown, a scenario all-too familiar from our bike days that never transpired in the car—yet one more advantage to mundane travel vehicles). Neither did we bring LM’s portable DVD player. Boredom in back seats is good for kids as a kick start to the imagination, and if The Man I Married and I were going to not only drive, but suffer through watching the other one drive half the time (torture for both of us), the Little Monster had better witness the scenery instead of occupying himself with things that he could do back home on the couch. When he wasn’t looking out the window or reading, LM did math. Lots and lots of math. Our Math Mobile climbed over the Grand Tetons, the Bitterroots, the Beaverheads, and the Bighorns; it shimmered and wheezed through the Red Desert, the Snake River Plain with its fifty nuclear reactors, and the Palouse; it followed the Oregon Trail, trailed after Lewis and Clark, criss-crossed the Nez Perce’s failed escape route and the first cross-country road trip by automobile, all the while chanting this mantra:
Jane has 43 apples, and she needs to put them all in boxes. Each box holds six apples. How many boxes does Jane need? And if all of the boxes are full but one, how many apples go in the last box?
The mantra should have been:
If the mom in the car has tried explaining the math to her son 43 times, and the dad in the car has tried explaining the math 43 times, how many times does the son say he does not get it, and who will lose their temper first? Part B: How many times is the driver tempted to end everyone’s misery by driving over a cliff at the next beautiful Scenic Pullout? Who needs Thelma and Louise when you’ve got Jane and her motherfartin Apples?
Besides math books and pencils (which LM prefers to use as drumsticks, so we had to buy more in Jackson Hole, where it’s a lot easier to find antlers than pencils), I packed juice, Fig Newtons, and a s’more maker thingie bought by MIM (where I come from, all you need is a stick). I packed plates, napkins, and utensils. Moist-wipes, sunscreen, extra shoes, and real towels. I packed lots and lots of water.
I packed a comforter to put under me (you’d think with all my padding that I could sleep on lava, but no, I might as well be as bony as a greyhound for my increasing dependence on a mattress), and, most wondrous of all, I packed pillows. Pillows! In two decades, two countries, and maybe three dozen states, I’d lacked a pillow. The lure of motorcycling pales when one lays one’s weary head down upon a lace-encased puff of hypo-allergenic foam every night instead of one’s wadded up, leather jacket with buckles that rattle like something out of a Charles Dickens nightmare.
Here’s what I packed for two months on a motorcycle: two pairs of jeans, three shirts, seven pairs of underwear and socks, a granola bar, and a “camping towel” about the size of a eyepatch (my undies are bigger). MIM and I shared a jigger of toothpaste, but I drew the line at sharing a toothbrush. In the car, however, I brought three full-sized toothpaste tubes! Imagine the luxury! Oh, the orgy of over-packing for this motorcycle mama!
Of course all of this packing was completely selfless and was solely for the sake of the child, for whom we reverted to this very American form of travel and for whom we are now thinking about acquiring a trailer.