Back in the Saddle…..

…We’re in Texas, so it seemed appropriate 🙂

Well, as you already know, the holidays are over and that means it’s back to work for some and back on the road for us! And it’s already been quite the journey. Getting from Chicago to Big Bend National Park took us 3 days and we finally made it here. We flew to Dallas on Friday, drove 400 miles to Monahans, Texas on Saturday and then drove the rest of the 200-mile stretch to Big Bend on Sunday down winding 2-lane highways.

There wasn’t a cell phone signal for the last few hours of the drive as we sojourned through expansive desert vistas. Rolling hills and distant mountains decorated the horizon, and a bright sun gave the appearance of a warmer climate (it’s about 45 during the day and 30 at night). A road runner zipped across the highway in front of us as a seeming welcome to the new terrain.

As a hiker, I am excited for the opportunity to traipse the trails, catch glimpses of the Rio Grande, and see thousands of stars. But I’m also appreciating that if I were more of a mountain biker, motorcyclist, horseback rider, skeet-shooter, or ATV-driver this would be an almost unbeatable spot. The bumpy yet manageable land lends itself perfectly to off-roading in all its iterations, and there are various equestrian activities in the area. And of course, the expansive highways and amazing views call for 2-wheels of speed.

On our toddler-friendly bucket list are day hikes, a tour-guided cowboy dinner under the stars, and long drives to breathtaking overlooks and landmarks. Not too shabby! More on that to come!

In other news, the holidays proved to be both successful and not-so-successful for us. We definitely got in the family time and fun that we wanted, with plenty of board games, food, and laughter had for all. And Eli got to play with his cousins and visit with the grandparents and some extended family, aunts, and uncles. All of this was great! On the flip side, all 3 of us got colds somewhere between Wisconsin and Illinois, so our near-desperate need for sleep, rest, and recharge was basically denied. Between staying up later with family, Eli’s restlessness and discontent (and unusual, multiple vomit pyrotechnics), our sore throats and congested noses, I’m pretty sure we all came back to Texas more exhausted than when we left.

Likewise, Dave and I got almost no alone time or quality time as a couple on the trip home. It just never materialized naturally and then Dave and I were barely motivated to get out of our pajamas. New Years Eve DAY we finally got out of the house together and tasted the instant sweetness of freedom that we’ve been missing. But a few hours of comfort, cheesecake, and conversation cannot repair months of isolation, exhaustion, and unrest.

But perhaps this was the reality-check (or whatever you want to call it) that Dave and I needed to remind us to sit down and really consider what we can accomplish on this trip and what is better saved for future adventures (with Eli, when he’s older). Recharge ain’t gonna happen, and Dave will have to continue with his work schedule as-is. If Eli was 6-months old and 12 pounds, I could go out with him more easily on my own (A bottle of milk and a few diapers?… No problem!) And if Dave wasn’t working full-time, we’d also have more opportunities to share the toddler-load. But carrying a 25-pound person around has proven to be harder than I expected, as is trying to meet his needs AND get out and about. Love this kid and all his expanding opinions, but I’d rather share the task than reinvent the wheel on my own.

And what’s the point of spending 2 weeks in a great place if we can really only enjoy it together for 2-3 days of that time? Wouldn’t it make more sense to save those trips for times when no one is working and we are all able to use the time how we need and want? What is the value of being on the road vs. being back in Wisconsin? And given all these considerations, what makes sense as we prepare for the months ahead? When do we picture ourselves back in Madison? What will we do when we get back? When do we want to start trying for baby number 2? We want to consider all these questions so that the rest of the trip can be different, and better, than it’s been so far.

I’d say this trip is about 50% of whatever adventuring we’re doing or seeing, and the other 50% is us just figuring out how to make “this” all work – “this” being parenting, our relationship, Dave’s work schedule, my energetic limitations, and the logistics of traveling (which is well-documented in prior posts :)). Related to that, Dave and I can already see the value in how this trip is changing how we think, communicate, and relate to our goals. I’m sure the lessons will keep revealing themselves long after this trip has ended.

So it’s a new year and Dave and I are setting some new goals and expectations for the trip. Instead of hopping from spot to spot every week or two, we plan to spend 3-4 weeks in fewer locations so that we can relax more, put more into parenting without it taking from touristing, take more time to see the sites, and travel less. We’ve also basically eliminated the central-western United States from our itinerary. We originally planned to take the summer to travel through Wyoming, Colorado, etc. and instead (at this point) are opting to keep exploring Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California, and then kind of calling it a day. And sure, that’s plenty! But it’s a lot less than we had originally intended. Our original US map, strewn with push pins like a voodoo doll, showed the travel itinerary for maybe 5 years, not one. And we knew that from the start, but we also don’t have to put a ring on it just because we put a pin in it.

Part of what makes our situation so great (and in truth what makes Dave and I so great as travelers) is that we can keep revamping the plan and attend to what makes sense in the moment instead of what we “should do” or what we “said we would do” or even what “makes more sense.”

As a recent example, just as we were in O’hare airport waiting for our flight to Dallas, we discussed our situation and decided that it would be much more pleasant all around to get a hotel instead of returning to the RV park in Dallas (which would entail picking up the trailer out of storage, towing it to the RV park, hooking it up, setting it up inside, and then breaking it down just to do it all over again at our mid-point). This way we could pick it up from storage and get right on the road. And Dave has the hotel points, so why not?… And the thought of 2 queen beds and pizza delivery was also appealing.

Likewise, once we got to the hotel – and since we didn’t have a campsite reservation yet for our pit-stop on our way to Big Bend – we opted to do it again the next night, getting another hotel room and giving us a chance to drive longer and not worry about the camper (you don’t want to set up at a campsite after dark). This way we didn’t have to set up the camper at all until we got to Big Bend, where we will be for up to 4 weeks. This too, we decided literally last-minute when we decided to change our original 2-week reservation to 4-weeks. Just like that.

And we have no set plans after that. At all. Just ideas. And barely any of those 🙂

So the overall game plan?… Travel gently until May or June with a trip or two home in the middle and then head back to Madison “for good.” If things go as planned, we’ll have figured out our living situation by then and can move on to whatever is next.

But as you can see, Dave and I plan as we go. We don’t make promises. We barely make reservations.

Until next time, I’m going to enjoy my mountain views and chilly desert air, and hopefully take some reasonable hikes with my 25-pound passenger, lurking rattlesnakes, and non-existent cell coverage. Sorry, mom… But it’ll make a good story.

Maybe 😉

2 Responses to Back in the Saddle…..

  1. Mom

    Sounds like a great non-plan plan!!

  2. Dad

    Well, that’s fine for you all, but what am I supposed to do? I’ve already told all of my friends about all of those push pins and the cool adventure you’re on, and now, what, I have to tell them, “Well, there’s been a change of plans”? I feel like such a fool!

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