When islanders leave their islands, if they are not referring to a specific city or place, they might say something about going to the mainland, or they might say they are going off-island.
Or, they might just say, “I’m going off.”
Out of context, I suppose that sounds strange. And context often makes for a good story, so when I tell you we went off, giving you a little context seems like the right thing to do.
And did I mention we went way off? Grab your mug and fill it to the brim with whatever you usually fill it with; I’ve got a series of posts coming detailing our trip that was way, way off. Here’s the first.
We Went Off: A Little Background, a Big Dream About “Coming Back New,” and a Long Haul West (#1)
For years, we’ve dreamed of taking the small people out West, of showing them the world of mountains and cowboys and the endless open range. But school obligations have limited us to traveling during the summers. And unfortunately, business obligations have kept us traveling large parts of the summer, which means we’ve been less than enthralled by the idea of more travel during our limited free time.
This year, our obligations have changed a bit, allowing us to stick closer to home for most the summer, so we decided to make this the summer of the trip out West. Being all about bang for our buck, we also decided to rent an RV for a few days of the trip so that we could check off the “Go RVing” action item from our family’s to-do list as well.
The plan was this: We were going to take two days making a beeline for Denver in our faithful minivan. In Denver, we’d pick up an RV and head north, weaving our way through Wyoming and Montana. Then, we’d return to Denver, drop off the RV, spend a few days in Colorado, and then head up to South Dakota before continuing on to the Midwest to see family. In the course of just over two weeks, we were going to show the small people as much of the country as we possibly could.
Oh, and see, there was one other thing. I’ve mentioned that I’m spellbound by the concept behind the Princess Cruises tagline “Come Back New.” Since a cruise wasn’t really an option at this juncture, I’d secretly hoped that after this trip, the All-American family trip if you will, I’d come back new. After all, our horses were westward bound, pointed toward the land of wild, optimistic openness, a land that to me has always spelled the opportunity to remake oneself. It was my best shot, I reasoned, at realizing the “Come Back New” dream.
No pressure or anything.
So we took off in the morning of the first day, a day which proved to be largely uneventful other than the fact that Baby-girl asked how long until we got to Denver approximately one hundred and seventeen times. The first time she asked, we hadn’t even left our county yet. And so it continued from there.
We planned on stopping either in St. Louis or Kansas City the first night, depending on how we felt at the time, but somewhere in Tennessee I got the idea of seeing if we could just drive straight through to Denver. My thinking was this would allow us to get to our hotel in Denver really early on the second day, so that we could stock up on supplies and get to bed early to prepare for an early start the next morning.
There I went thinking again. No, actually, I wasn’t entirely sure if I could do it driving-wise, but LCB’s always game for what he considers child’s play anyway (“When I was a kid, we always drove straight through when we went out West…no air conditioning and no windows…uphill the whole way both ways…Pa dropped us by the side of the road with bows and arrows and told us not to come back until we had enough food for the whole family…blah, blah, blah.”). So, with LCB already eager to remind us all of his manhood (picture grunting, followed by, “I’m ready to muscle through it,” and then more grunting), when I got the midnight second wind courtesy of Cyndi Lauper and Starbucks, I was in. We drove our little manly selves through the night.
Because a story is never complete unless it includes either blathering or a story within a story (I’m not really sure which category would be accurate for this next part), let me share something here. For years, with all our business travels, where I often had to pack for weeks at a time, as I packed, I’d repeat certain lines to myself over and over as a way of encouraging myself to keep the pace instead of assuming the fetal curl like I usually wanted to do. Early in an evening of diaper counting and contemplation over how many pairs of socks one needs, I’d begin with lines from Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The lines I’d repeat are:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Later in the evening, when my literacy regressed, I’d switch to Dory of Finding Nemo fame, and repeat her lines:
Just keep swimming,
Just keep swimming,
Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming,
What do we do, we swim, swim, swim.
That night, as I drove, fortified by unprecedented levels of caffeine, I began repeating these lines again. But this time, I added a new one. I’d recently finished teaching Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River, a story involving a family who takes an Airstream out West in hopes of finding a family member. A day or two earlier, as I was packing, some of the lines began running through my head. As they leave on their journey, the boy’s sister writes: “And so we take our leave. So we forsake the encouraging company of the last friendly outpost, riding alone into a wide cold land in pursuit of our brother. What a speck we are on this vast prospect! How small appear our chances of success!”
The whole thing feels exactly like our situation did, minus the Airstream, the desperation, the maybe-lost-to-us-forever brother, and the fact that it wasn’t really that cold that night. I added these lines to my repertoire, repeating them between many a song that night.
Thus the mood in the minivan was victorious and jubilant around noon the next day as we found ourselves thirty miles or so east of Denver. The mountains were faint on the horizon, the sun shone warm above us, and all seemed right with the world. We were within arm’s reach of the long-held dream.
And then, the minivan shook a little and made a strange little noise.
I turned toward LCB, who was driving. He made what may be accurately described as “a sound,” and our pace began to slacken.