We bought our camper with big dreams. Sure, we wanted to have an “easier” way for our family to get out into nature and to camp, but even bigger than that was our desire to see the country and to have our children see as much of the country as we could as a family.
Of course, dreams are those pie in the sky goals that we hope to someday achieve, and then there is reality.
Our first big trip with our camper was when we moved from Indiana to Texas last summer. We rushed the trip (well, as much as you can rush a trip at 60 miles an hour) and made only one real “vacation” stop: St. Louis. Otherwise, we were focused on getting down to Texas so we could start the house hunt and get ready for school. A true vacation was out of the question.
For awhile we discussed what we should do for vacation this summer. Then my family made plans for an anniversary celebration for my parents and our vacation plans were made: we were going to Michigan for summer vacation.
We’ve known about the trip for months, but between work, school, and still trying to get settled into our new home, we honestly kept forgetting about we were even taking a vacation. We had no idea when we were leaving and we had no idea when we were returning. All we really knew was when we HAD to be in Michigan and then when we HAD to be in Indiana (so my husband can do some in-house work there). It turned out to be the LEAST planned vacation we have ever been on in nearly 15 years of marriage. But plans or no plans, last Thursday night we packed, cleaned and folded clothes, made snacks, and got ready for the big load up with the camper. Friday morning we dropped the kids off at VBS, picked up our camper from storage, and then parked in front of the house while we ran in and out of the house packing everything that we thought we could possibly need for up to three weeks on the road.
We left with no plan except to stop after we crossed the Arkansas border with the intention to get to Michigan by Sunday night. My husband got behind the wheel and we packed two adults, two kids, and two dogs into the truck, ready for the nearly 1200 mile trip north.
Our first leg of the trip lasted much longer than we anticipated. We took the risk of leaving without reservations anywhere and ended up traveling nearly 400 miles for over seven hours before we finally found a roadside RV campground. It came with a playground for the kids and absolutely no place outside to put our dogs, but it worked for night of sleep.
The next day was much of the same, only we left earlier and actually had a goal. While we didn’t have reservations, we were going to drive to Illinois so we could put the Illinois sticker on our camper map and we were going to try to camp at Fern Clyffe State Park. We travelled for nearly five hours before our first stop. For five hours my husband drove through the entire state of Arkansas, a state that I have decided is worse to travel through than Iowa, and this is coming from a person spent many miles driving across Iowa in four and a half years of attending college in Nebraska. When we finally crossed the Missouri border we discovered that we had another 20 miles before we would arrive at the welcome center. Our whole family was relieved to finally get out of the truck so we could get food, water, and go to the bathroom. We also discovered this playground.
I ran back and forth, filling our many water bottles while my husband watched the kids playing and held the dog leashes to keep the dogs from escaping down the Interstate. Our seven-year-old daughter has recently discovered that she can successfully cross the monkey bars at any given playground. Our five-year-old son has decided that if his sister can do something, so can he. Before I headed back into the rest area to fill up yet another set of water bottles, I watched our son attempt the first two monkey bars and then safely drop from that height to his feet. Thankful that he didn’t break a leg, I left to fill the water bottles. I returned to discover my shaken husband comforting my wailing son. After I left, our son decided on another attempt across the bars, slipped from the first bar, landed on his feet and then fell on his wrist. We found as cold of an ice back as we could, I dug around for some children’s ibuprofen, and then we headed back on the road with me in the backseat trying to comfort my son while the kids settled in to watch some Zootopia. Yesterday we discovered that that little playground mishap is our first childhood broken bone. I guess that I’m thankful that it is at least his wrist and not his legs, right?
When we finally arrived at Fern Clyffe State Park, we found it was beautiful and full of empty spots. Another playground, another place to walk the dogs, and a much roomier place for our whole family to settle in for the night.
Day three was more of the same, only this time driving through most of Illinois, the northwest corner of Indiana, and finally arriving in Michigan, where our camper is currently parked in my in-laws side yard. Six states, three days, and 1200 miles later we are parked for a week of time with family.
We learned that we can do at least three days of road tripping with the camper. My husband arrived exhausted (I refuse to drive with the camper attached because it is one of the few times I will readily admit that my husband really is the better driver and I don’t want to kill my whole family) and we were all ready to stretch our legs, but we can do it. Now we have to plan for the trip home and actually plan for places that we can visit along the way. So far, it has been a good test run, so I guess now we can actually start planning for our dream trips, right?
Sarah is a high school English teacher, yearbook adviser, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she uses this space to write about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures whenever they can get out of town.
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