This is a re-cap of the 2nd leg of our USA road trip; a journey we took on as a family in a mighty Nissan Quest through 13 States of America in the summer of 2017 (this is written by Iain, Dad to Holly (7), Chloe (5) and Gemma (3) and husband of 9 long years to my co-pilot Rachel)
We had made it to Steamboat Springs Colorado having completed the first segment of our trip; we’d said cheerio to our family in the UK, got through our first long haul flight, conquered San Francisco, drove from California to Colorado and survived 10 consecutive nights together in a tent. Having left our home in Geneva 25 days ago, we were in need of a bit of down time. We felt lucky that our friends back home had lent us their beautiful 2nd home to stay in for a few days. It was a huge American style chalet which overlooked the valley below and was about a 10 minute drive from Steamboat itself. We bought some provisions at the local supermarket and settled in for a few days of home cooked meals, long(ish) lie ins and the opportunity to be in a different room to our children for longer than 10 minutes.
I bought some weed too. Mostly because you could as Colorado had recently legalised it and I felt as though I should. After one joint I realised it wasn’t really for me anymore, nor was it really in keeping with the vibe of our trip, but I did appreciate Colorado’s approach to the whole weed thing. If you want to smoke weed and are old enough to do so, go somewhere that’s safe and happy to sell you some. You can go somewhere which is informative on the subject and they’ll also remind you of the guidelines on when and where you can and can’t smoke it in a friendly, easy-going manner. Simples.
We got stuck into the homeschooling in Steamboat. A regular school routine whilst we were on the road was often hard and although we tried, we really benefitted from a few days inside on a proper table with time to concentrate on the two elder girl’s schoolwork.
Our loose plan post-Steamboat was coming together. Our next scheduled date was in Saint Louis where a good friend from rugby had kindly sorted us out with tickets to watch The Saint Louis Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2nd week of September. We had a bit more time to spend in Colorado before before taking on the drive through Kansas and all that it doesn’t entail. For the meantime, Rachel had booked us into a cabin on a working ranch called Whistling Elk Ranch, about an hour’s drive away.
Whistling Elk was remote. Very remote. The ranch was cool though and it was nice to be out in the wilderness again. Kids winge less in the wilderness. We used the ranch bicycles and went out for a small tour one morning, we hiked up to a mountain lake in the afternoon. In the evenings, we’d play cards and eat some of the food we’d prepared back in Steamboat. We saw lots of wildlife; deer, moose, elk and hummingbirds which visited our cabin each morning.
One day we took a drive to the Rockies National Park. It was a nice experience with some great views but it was all very vehicle oriented and to me that seemed to defeat the purpose slightly.
We left the ranch after 3 days and were excited to head down to Boulder which we’d heard so many good things about. I guess you learn with experience that, for whatever reason, sometimes things just don’t quite work out for you. Boulder was one of these times. I couldn’t really put my finger on why that was and for that reason I’m not going to pass judgement on the town itself but for us, at that moment in time Boulder and our family just didn’t quite get on. Maybe it was because it was Labour Day weekend, maybe we were tired after 3 days in the cabin or perhaps we were anxious to be leaving liberal Colorado or about the forthcoming drive through the mid-west. Whatever it was, we just put it down to experience and the knowledge that sometimes in life things don’t quite happen for you.
Kansas was fine, less boring than anticipated. Good music and mostly good behaviour from the mob in the back seats helped. We stopped for one night in a nondescript town in Western Kansas then again in Wichita which was a surprisingly cool town. It’s slightly quirky, has a fun downtown area and the people were friendly and were interested in our travels. Our hotel also sorted us out with tickets to the zoo the following day, the 7th best in the country apparently. As zoos go it did turn out to be pretty good and of course the girls loved it.
We continued our journey east and stayed in two nondescript towns and equally non descript Motels in Missouri. We were kindof treading water before our date at the ballpark in Saint Louis. It didn’t bother me too much but there is something draining about the bland nothingness of the area and it’s motels (and their breakfasts), particularly in comparison to the the scenery and outdoor living we’d become accustomed to. The people seemed less warm too. Maybe it was just us? We made tracks towards Saint Louis.
If Boulder didn’t live up to expectations then Saint Louis did quite the opposite. What a cool city! The town had a real buzz about it and we felt energised by it. One example was The City Museum which is just about the best day out you can have with kids. It’s an old shoe factory which has been restored as an urban space with slides, things to climb on, get lost in and explore. The five floors all kind of merge into each other through secret tunnels and passageways. It looks cool and feels cool. Kids are free to run about, fall over and get lost all at the same time. Every mayor of every town, all over the world should be looking at the City Museum and trying to emulate it. I’m not quite sure why they aren’t?
We went to the ball game the following day and that too exceeded our expectations. The whole razzamatazz of gameday made it fun for the whole family. We had lunch and drank beer at the impressive complex next to the stadium and soaked up the pre-match atmosphere. The enormity of the commercial machine that drives the sport in this country was impressive to see. Every possible commercial angle is covered and the droves of fans lap it all up. The Cardinals won and it was actually quite a good game. The fact that our whole family was still engaged at the bottom of the 9th innings speaks volumes.
We left Saint Louis and drove South. We spent a money saving night camping in a forest in Southeastern Illinois before heading on to Nashville, Tennessee. Unfortunately Nashville also falls into the “didn’t quite work out for us” category. I guess when you’re travelling with a young family these things are going to happen. We weren’t gonna lose any sleep over it. We’ll have to go back one day without the girls, it looks like a fun town.
We move on and as planned camped for a couple of nights along the 444 mile Natchez Trace Parkway. Despite some challenging weather we found that the outdoors invigorated us once more and the campsites are free.The Parkway itself was a bit dull. It’s commendable that the powers that be consigned this historic route to the status of national heritage, free of heavy loads and commercial interests but OMG is that road is boring!! It’s exactly the same scenery for mile after mile after mile. It’s a tarmac road flanked by well trimmed green grass verges passing through modest woodland and the odd deer – bring back the Fed-Ex trucks and Neon McDonald’s signs I reckon! We probably should have stopped more often to take in the historical points of interest but once we were on it our main purpose to complete get off.. We eventually did and made it to Natchez it was good to be in the deep South. Natchez was picturesque and it was cool to see the Mississippi once again.
Our trip was going well, we were more than halfway across the country, nothing significant had gone wrong and we were still talking to each other. We’d gotten use to this road trip thing and had figured out a few procedures and routines that seemed to work. Bring on the South, New Orleans and for my sins… Disneyworld.