We covered more than two thousand miles in nine days, traversing eight states and one Canadian province, sleeping in six different hotels with two still mostly happy kids, one still-solid marriage in our trusty ol’ Ford Edge.
The adventure was that–a true Griswoldian family adventure, but my retelling of it tastes a little like a flat Pepsi. Maybe I’m loopy from now three weeks of rotator cuff tear pained-induced sleep deprivation. I’m at a point I can’t recall how it feels to live agony-free. Juiced with ibuprofen though, I lived fully on this trip. I stepped out of my comfort zone, I took it all in–I remained patient with the kids always (they are GREAT kids 95% of the time), enjoying their enjoyment. I toasted with and sipped from the glass half-full, walked on the sunny side of the street and carpe-d the hell out of each diem. Smiling through shoulder pain, sleeping too little, I was the model Ellen to Tom’s Clark.
The tour kicked off in a monsoon at the home of the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. Somewhere past Chicago and before Indianapolis, one boy expressed deep regret at maybe having left his bedroom fan oscillating when we left, while the other fretted over that possibility the entire time. For a moment, I did consider turning around. I did. I’ve woken with my house on fire. I didn’t especially enjoy that experience, so you can imagine I’d be in no hurry for a repeat. No such (bad) luck after all; the fan had been turned off.
I made the boys promise they’d smile or minimally appease my requests for geeky tourist photos, and to my delight, they obliged. Our story begins here with a four-story baseball bat, not quite smiling for the camera, but whaevs. At least they looked in my direction.Nothing of note happened in Louisville, but the “city” in which our hotel was reserved felt like a scene straight out of Deliverance. We stayed near Mammoth Cave National Park, and friends, near is not the same as in. I begin with travel tip #1: You get what you pay for, but it’s a hotly contested battle with travel tip #2 for that top position: Location, location, location.
Mammoth Cave, KY
You should go there. We scheduled the Historic Tour, two hours and two miles in duration. The US Park System doesn’t mince words when its agents tell you it’s a strenuous trek that will make you lose your cookies if you suffer acrophobia or claustrophobia. I experience neither, but will admit to feeling woozy and gelatinous looking down from high above. Number One Son led our family with me filing behind him, and I misted up three times I can remember, maybe a few more. He worked like a beast of burden maneuvering through that cave system. Yes, it’s all marked and lighted pathways, but crouching and squishing through Fat Man’s Misery and Tall Man’s Misery are required. He managed this with muscular dystrophy–victory #1–AND wearing a splint for his still-broken collarbone. I beamed with pride at his effort, but couldn’t help but wonder if he will ever be able to do something like this again.
Exiting the cave required a steep climb back to the visitor center, and though he was exhausted, he persevered up that hill. Later, my husband told me he was struck at the contrast between #1 and #2 walking up that hill. Our younger son is a rock; he was born with my curse–extremely contoured leg muscles–and is in excellent physical condition. #1 has absolutely no muscle delineation. It makes me sad when my husband has these moments of clarity re: MD.
Cleveland, OH (Or That One Time I Lost My Son’s Passport)
Like music? En route from Kentucky to Cleveland, my boys arm-farted Believer by Imagine Dragons in time and in tune. My husband laughed himself to tears, and OK, so did I. But do you really like music? Have any interest in its history? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame kicks ass, and you should go there. Travel tip #3 reminds you not to let your freak flag fly while watching a movie about Journey and ELO’s Hall of Fame Induction. ELO, you guys!! Journey!! These bands were the backbone of my middle and high school years. To see the handwritten lyrics to Can’t Get It Out of My Head?? My head spun.
So we sat watching film, and as I do periodically (you may call it OCD, sure), I counted our passports. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three, holy shit!!!!!! There’s supposed to be four. Where is four?? I charged out of the little theater, dumped my purse out on the floor and promptly lost my shit. Heart to beat out of my chest, sweaty, shaking, and wild-eyed to be sure, I bolted from there back to the parking structure and dialed the hotel we’d just left. No, they didn’t have it. Oooooohhhkay. . . breathe, Wendy. I know that I had it yesterday because I count them periodically. You may have heard I’m travel-OCD, and this little one, two, three, four confirms my status as a responsible parent. I didn’t even care that I was a sweaty mess from my midday sprint or that the parking lot attendant threw me that “oh dear” glance before completely avoiding eye contact. I recovered the missing passport, tented between the door and the door frame of the car. No idea how it fell out or landed in such a fashion, but Canada, here we come!
My favorite part of the Hall wasn’t observing my personal faves though, but snapping a couple photos for my friend Jill who worships Mick Jagger, and finding a wall full of The Replacements memorabilia. My husband positively glowed.
Niagara Falls, ON
There’s something wrong with you if you’re not impressed with the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, or Bridal Veil falls, especially when they’re illuminated at dark. They’re gorgeous natural miracles. Mother Nature has a few cool tricks up her sleeve, so you lay down the cash to hop a boat into the mist. Touristy? You betcha! Cool? That too! Then you stroll across an impossibly high bridge back to the US (one, two, three, four passports, check!), hike to the bottom of the American Falls and dive into its hurricane. Again you position yourself behind your son because it’s 1000 billion percent WET and slippery, and wonder if he will ever again be able to negotiate that catwalk. You’re moved to tears that he’s made it this far, and no one even knows you’re crying because everyone is a billion percent wet, so it’s all good, yo.Also, Tim Hortons are on every block. Ooh! And also, because this never happens in the US, you catch a dude in an outdoor cafe with an acoustic guitar strumming and singing Barenaked Ladies’ Brian Wilson, so you stop and you tell your kids you love Canada, and they roll their eyes only like 70% of the way back.
Toronto, I love you. Love! You! But there are so many of you, and you each drive your own damn car to and from the city. I didn’t want to leave, and Jaysus, you wouldn’t let me–three hours to get through traffic making our way to oh-so-happenin’ Sudbury. But while we were in your heart, my own heart quickened. City Hall, other-worldly delicious braised beef poutine at Fran’s, La Tour CN, Ripley’s Aquarium, the railway museum, random needles in the alley (what? I’m sure they were diabetics. . .), the Toronto Zoo, of course a Blue Jays game, and an impromptu coffee date with Katie, Torontonian and one of my #Ladiesladies! I regretted dragging her out of bed early, but that regret lasted only for a moment. I was so happy to see her.
Sudbury was but a way station between Toronto and Mackinac Island, and our hotel was, um, dated? Only intermittently and randomly updated? But let us harken back to travel tip #1, something about getting what you pay for. . .We did bypass a town called Moonstone toward Sudbury, and if you’re not a Barenaked Ladies fan, you wouldn’t care. That’s OK. I care, and enjoyed a satisfied little smile as I drove. I had no idea this town was just off Highway 400, so seeing Moonstone on the exit sign, and knowing what the song carrying its title is about gave me a moment of quiet maternal contentment.
St. Ignace/Mackinac Island, MI
Through the miracle of international cellular data plans, I learned that my friend Bek had planned to bring her girls to Mackinaw City for the weekend. I did some quick math, and determined we’d be there at the same time! What a sweet surprise to enjoy a brief visit with my dear friend, another of the #Ladiesladies.
My husband was so pleased to meet her and her daughters, and I was goofy that some of my very favorite of all earth’s citizenry all got to meet, however brief our time was.
Our last two nights were spent overlooking Lake Huron. We enjoyed fireworks of the explosive type along with the celestial type in the form of the Perseid Meteor shower. It was a great place to sew up the adventure. We ferried from the mainland to the island, and chose to sight-see by horse-drawn carriage. Tom and I went back and forth only briefly over the rent bikes vs. carriage route, Medical evidence suggested the carriage was definitely the safer way around. With #1’s arm in a sling, even renting a tandem could have spelled disaster at worst, and discomfort at best. My shoulder was screaming too, so we ponied up (ba-dum-bum) for the carriage ride. Fritz and Jeffrey were kind enough not to poop in the street during our carriage. Fritz and Jeffrey are horses, you guys! I’m sure. Actually, upon hearing their names, I felt a little less stupid about my canine called Caleb! The sun shone crystal clear all day, and we enjoyed the tour.
But it was time.
Nothing went wrong.
Nothing was terrible–I mean I found the passport and everything. Nothing was less than smooth. But in terms of a great travel story? Also, nothing. We met good people, kindness was shown to us at every turn, and I’d happily revisit any one of the spots along the route. My children were amazing. Minus the 84.7 million fart references and short a few please-and-thank-yous, they were in total control. In spite of marked trepidation leading up to this, and one minor panic in Toronto (I really had no recollection of having been there before. No, I mean I know I was there, but I had no idea about directions and navigation. I felt like I was supposed to be the tour guide there, when all I knew was that I saw a concert at Massey Hall in 2015. FYI, the lake is at the south end of the city. Where I’m from, the great lake is eastward. Very confusing at first.) I so feared letting down my Clark, but I think we’re marking this one in the ‘W’ column.
Travel tip #4? 2000+ is a whole lot of frickin’ car miles, yo.
But you learn stuff. Like you find out your younger son’s favorite kind of days are cloudy, and like you, believes that if the day begins cloudy or rainy, it had better stay that way. You learn that you’re the more patient of the two parents when it comes to stupid boy stuff, but you love your husband all the more for jumping in, wrestling and instigating as much or more than his sons. You learn that your son, over whom you fear daily that his loss of physical capacity will make a road trip insurmountable some day, carries more strength and endurance than you dreamed. Every time you ask how he’s doing, even after some 20,000 steps, he replies, “I’m good” and your heart both bursts and dies a little.