Even under normal circumstances, a road trip covering 2,000 miles of asphalt across seven states and two time zones would be challenging.
But these weren’t normal circumstances. This was a no-nonsense, no-time-for-sightseeing trip with my youngest son, Jordan. Not a leisurely car trip at all.
We were hauling the contents of a three-bedroom house in a 20-foot trailer to Columbia, Missouri. We were leaving the Seattle-Tacoma area on May 30, the morning after Memorial Day, and we had exactly four days to get there, and one day to unload everything so that I could fly back home today (Sunday) and be back at work early Monday, June 5.
We were planning to put Jordan and Jamie’s compact car on a trailer and tow it. But when we made a last-minute decision to put their three family pets in the car so the animals could travel in relative air-conditioned comfort, that changed everything.
No. 1, it meant we would each drive 2,000 miles, taking turns with each vehicle.
No. 2, it meant we’d have no opportunity for casual conversation – or even sit-down meals – because we had to ensure the two dogs (a pit bull terrier mix and a Chocolate Lab) and an adult cat wouldn’t overheat.
We figured we could handle that.
What we didn’t count on was having a rear tire blow out on the rental truck in the northern Idaho mountains the very first afternoon. That resulted in a 3-hour delay for a service call and ended with us driving through the night, with no dinner, to reach our motel in Missoula, Montana, just before midnight.
And what we certainly didn’t count on was another tire blow out the very next afternoon on a remote stretch of highway in eastern Montana that resulted in another 3-hour delay. This time it was a front tire on the U-Haul rig. We limped into Billings at around 9 pm, well short of our 500-miles-a-day target. Now we’d have to drive about 600 miles each of the next two days to get to Missouri on time.
Day Three meant driving from Montana, across a slice of Wyoming, to a small town in central South Dakota, again arriving around 9 pm. It would have been 8 pm but for the change to Central Time. In the hour it took to check in and then walk, water and feed the dogs, all the town’s restaurants had closed but one — McDonald’s.
Day Four was pedal to the metal. We drove to Sioux Falls at the eastern end of the state and, after 1,500 miles of traveling east, finally turned south and powered down through western Iowa and Missouri. Naturally, we got caught in Friday’s outbound rush hour as we came upon Kansas City and the turn onto Interstate 70 eastbound. The extra traffic and a couple of construction work zones guaranteed the last leg of our trip would go slower than planned.
But, hey, we did it.
We found our motel, put the pets in the room, and headed out to T.G.I. Friday’s for the only sit-down dinner of the trip – and our only beers.
We raised a toast to ourselves, devoured our meal and agreed to “sleep in” until 6:30. After all, a truckload of furniture and other possessions awaited our attention and, first, we had to pick up keys to the apartment where all this was going.
In the end, the degree of difficulty made the feeling of accomplishment twice as satisfying for Jordan and me. Though we didn’t have the luxury of hours of conversation, we did have the shared experiences of white-knuckle driving, countless rest area stops, greasy food and energy drinks to fuel us mile after mile after mile.
There may not have been time to discuss politics, American culture and world events, but there was at least time to get a better sense of what awaits our youngest child, now 29, in Middle America.
He and Jamie will be in one of the country’s great college towns, far from family and all that is familiar. Just having received his B.S. in Biology from Saint Martin’s University, a small private college in Olympia, Jordan will be one of more than 30,000 students on the University of Missouri campus. He will be there for a year, possibly two, doing a Professional Research Experience Program fellowship (PREP for short) that’s designed to prepare students for graduate study in biomedical research.
He’ll be working in a lab with a faculty mentor, taking advantage of the ample resources offered by a leading research university that weren’t available at his comparatively tiny college.
We will miss Jordan and Jamie and our 10-month-old granddaughter, Emalyn. But we will be rooting for his academic success, as well as a smooth transition to Columbia for him and his wife. When I return to Mizzou next year, I’ll have the satisfaction of seeing how they’ve decorated the place with the furnishings I helped haul across the country. That’s worth something, right? Another brewski, at the very least.
Be sure to check back in the coming days to read more about our Missouri-or-bust experiences.