French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

And when we were on these driving vacations, we didn’t stay in motels. (See same reason given for not flying, above.) Nope, we slept outside. Well, not outside-outside, exactly. We stayed in a popup camper. (See our Nimrod in the photo at the top of this post.) In those days these things were too hot or too cold, mosquitoes (and little kids) whined around inside, and when it rained the canvas leaked.

Once in a while on a road trip, we wouldn’t even bother with the Nimrod. Dad would just pull over by the side of the road and we kids would grab some Zs on a mattress that was back in the cargo area of the Ford station wagon. (But, hey, at least it wasn’t outside.)

Getting ready to hit the road back home to Memphis after visiting the Peterson relatives in Northern Illinois. At least our luggage is on top, and the mattress is in the back

We drove and camped our way to Colorado, a trip I associate with the aroma of Alberto VO5. (It was super-hot in the car, no automotive AC available in those days, and the goop had liquefied. Younger Only Sister Laura, who was a mere tot at the time, had been playing with the jar and spilled its contents.)

Regardless of the smell, I also remember walking in the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail and being amazed by the vastness of the Badlands. Great Mom Quote: “Just think, the early settlers rode in their covered wagons straight into the sun for months at a time — and they didn’t even have sunglasses.

A couple of good kids (Scott and me) out in the Badlands

We drove and camped our way to Canada, too, a trip I associate with instant mashed potatoes “cooked” on a Coleman Stove and with “toasting” rinsed diapers on a stick held over a campfire. Heady times. I also recall a side trip to see the WaWa Goose. And I will never forget driving over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the source of many a nightmare of mine to this very day. 

Dinner in the “dining room” — a tent that attached to the front of the Nimrod

Basically, though, these family trips were a lot of fun and made memories to last a lifetime. But I did promise myself that when I grew up I would never ever sleep outside again. And I haven’t.

Not even on the Upper Reaches of the Amazon River did I sleep outside. We had no hot water, but we did have real beds in that boat there in the background

Amagansett, New York. August 2019