I’ve just come off an epic road trip with my 11 year old son. Our summer road trips are a tradition we started when he was six years old. In 2007 I had just received medical clearance to go back to work, and had just started at my first “regular” job after continuous self-employment since 1993. I had the time off, but limited funds and could not afford to fly us both out to California. I remember looking at my son, who was desperate to see his family — especially his beloved cousins — out in California and saying to him, “You know, Hunter, I think we can drive to California.”
His eyes got big. “Dad? You can drive a car that far?”
I said, “Hunny, I could drive to the moon if there was a road.”
And that was how the tradition started. We did 6482 miles on that trip, measured by my handheld GPS. We stayed with friends along the way, as we were on very limited funds, and even slept in the car once. It was an epic adventure for a six year old.
That was the Central Route. We did that again, and then we did the Southern Route. This year, at his request, we did the Northern Route and it was, once again, an epic journey.
Road trips start off as a cheap vacation and, as journeys often do, morph into something much more significant and meaningful, at least to this writer and his male offspring. Road trips are our version of the Epic Quest, in which we set out in search of something — an experience, a pilgrimage, a discovery — and we discover along the way that the journey itself is the purpose and that the discovery, through the many adventures and encounters along the way, is an internal one, a soulful and spiritual exploration while traveling through the unfamiliar.
Which is a fancy way of saying that road trips are all about the journey and what we learn about ourselves and our traveling companions along the way. Speaking of companions, my son loves the Paul Simon song “Graceland” with it’s line that goes like this: “My traveling companion is nine years old, he is the product of my first marriage…” He gleefully edits it and shouts out his version: “My traveling companion is ELEVEN years old, and he is the product of YOUR THIRD MARRIAGE!”
So what were some of our epic insights? Deep seated love and joy in the company of one another. Sharing responsibility for accounting, navigation, meal planning and watching out for the other. The conversations that ensue when both of us are tired and let our personas fade and our True Selves rise up. Discovering that adventure doesn’t come in a can and can’t be planned for, that it’s all about our attitude and being open to and aware of what’s happening right in front of us, right now, and acting appropriately. That helping people and then disappearing after we help them is hugely satisfying. And discovering how self-reliant we can be in the face of hardship.
And what were some of our adventures? Watching predators prowl the modern day waterhole, the road side rest stop. Hanging out with one of the top female martial artists in the world. Being in the middle of a huge natural disaster and helping other people and getting through just fine. Being completely off the grid — no cell phone, no internet, no TV, occasional power and no running water. Using a real outhouse. Watching a master gunsmith craft a gunfighter’s pistol. Seeing a grizzly bear run through the yard of a friend’s homestead, and having a pack of coyotes race under our window at dawn. Watching Hunter go off with a mountain lion hunter to scout and run the dogs. Watching a master sniper prep a 1000+ yard shot. Driving Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park in zero visibility with fog. Driving 23 hours non-stop…just to see a beloved cousin. Throwing fish at Pike’s Market. Talking roller derby with a Roller Derby Queen who is also a practicing clinical psychologist. Meeting my childhood friends and other life-long friends who told him tales about his Dad. Seeing places we’d never seen before and, in the process, learning so much more about who the both of us really are.
The greatest gift you can give a child is teaching them to be self-reliant, adventurous and gleeful problem solvers. They’ll need that skill set in the world that’s taking shape. Money doesn’t buy that. You don’t get it off the shelf. You have to make it.
Oh, and the title of this post? That’s how much money I had left in my pocket and how much gas was left in the car when we rolled into my brother’s driveway. We managed. It doesn’t cost much to have a great time teaching a child the lesson that he can have an amazing time chock full of adventures. It just requires time, love, self reliance and a spirit of adventure.
Give that to a child. You’ll change their lives forever.