Explore & Adventure

Teardrop Across America

“Do you think he’s getting anything out of this?”

I’m sitting next to a lake in Montana. The water is cold, I’m wearing a jacket, but both kids are in swimwear splashing around in the mountain-enclosed water, completely happy. We’re on our way to Glacier National Park, but when traveling with kids, it’s important to stop about every hour to let them run around. So I’m sitting on the lake shore while the kids play, chatting with another traveling family.

Whether it’s worth traveling with a 2 year old is the second-most-common question I get. The first is why in the world it’s just the kids and I. But it is, just myself, two kids, a car, and a teardrop trailer. Four multi-week road trips to cover all 48 contiguous US states over the course of a year and a half. It was something I’d planned to do when the kids were older, although Skye and I had already driven across America once. But with Covid and so much shutting down, I wanted a way to get out and travel while still being as safe as possible.

A travel trailer meant we didn’t have to go into hotels. We could cook out, only going in the occasional campsite bathroom. We could see national parks, glaciers and volcanoes, buffalo and prairie dogs, hike old growth forest and sleep under the stars. So I bought a tiny used t@g trailer, almost more than my car could tow and set off the next day. We had a queen-sized bed, lots of window with good bug screens. A tiny kitchen with a 2-burner gas stove, a sink, and a electric cooler/fridge. Lots of oatmeal, rice, beans, and canned veggies.

I asked Skye where she wanted to go and she pointed on the map to Mount Rushmore. National parks were just starting to re-open some services, but it wasn’t till the last park of our trip where we actually found a ranger station open to buy a park pass. We went up to camp out with a friend in Wisconsin then struck west, spending a week in the Badlands and exploring the Black Hills. It was amazing.

Every morning I woke at 4 or 5 am, working east coast hours sitting at the picnic table next to our camper, looking out over the Badlands and watching the sunrise. Not only was the wifi better early in the morning when everyone else was asleep, it let me get the bulk of my work done before we played for the day.

Later in the year we took off across country, exploring Utah and Kansas, seeing Zion for Christmas, running through an almost-deserted Arches, and visiting the Little House on the Prairie in the snow. We were sworn in as socially-distanced Jr. Rangers and Skye became obsessed with hoo-doos. We spent time together. Maybe Skye was learning how broad and amazing the world is. Maybe River was learning that his sister rocked. And maybe I was cooking in freezing temperatures but getting to watch the stars wheel overhead in the sky.

When summer rolled around again, I’d built up my skills for teardrop camping and decided on an even more ambitious road trip. From the upper peninsula of Michigan (By the shore of Gitche Gumee / By the shining Big-Sea-Water) we headed west, dipping down to watch geysers explode and north to find where glaciers carved the land.

We headed west, picking cherries in Washington and driving up to the top of Mount Rainer (towing a trailer, I was sure it would be the scariest thing I’d do on the trip.) We soaked happily in hot springs and touched real dinosaur bones. Then I got a crazy idea to ride a train and woke up at 4am to take us south through Colorado. Unbeknownst to me, Google routed us along the Million Dollar Highway, which was even scarier than Rainer. Think cliff, narrow road, cliff. No guard rail, much bigger RV barreling downhill on the inside lane. I drove very, very slowly. The kids slept. The views were incredible and we made it to Durango in time to catch a train.

Then we went into New Mexico for a surprisingly rainy tour of Taos (which I loved), Santa Fe, and Skye’s favorite “alien national park” (aka Roswell). We found some singing cowboys, some hot chocolate, probably too much cheese dip, and a perfect day of white sand sledding. Then it was back east through Texas to Abilene (a random stop that was another gem, full of children’s book statues, art, and activities), then further east to mine for diamonds (or dig in the dirt, whichever).

Fall break was a chance to head north east and sleep under the stars in the moss-covered parks of Maine, pick up some Vermont maple syrup, and visit friends at Colonial Williamsburg. The first night of our fall trip, Geoff joined us and we discovered we were no longer able to all sleep in the teardrop. The kids had grown quite a bit over the year! So the last night of the trip, I listed the trailer online and a month later, we said goodbye to our covid-era adventures.

Shortly after arriving back from one of our winter trips, Skye’s teacher announces that each kid needs to bring some interesting rocks to class. Having insisted that we were not bringing home every interesting rock, stick, and bug, I resorted to helping her gather rocks from our creek and driveway for her project. But she already knew about sandstone and diamonds, fossils and granite. She knows that Pluto is a “dwarf object in the Keiper belt” and that glaciers stay icy, even in the summer. She’s seen the Liberty Bell and walked down the streets at Plimoth Plantation.

But what did the 2 year old get out of it? He learned to ride a scooter so he could keep up with his sister. The negotiated sharing of snacks and treats and spent hours singing to each other. They dug holes from Maine to Montana (but still didn’t find a diamond in Arkansas despite this expertise). And he was pretty thrilled with all the dinosaur bones.

But maybe he learned nothing except that his mom and his sister love him. And that his sister can play. And that his mom will chase him across a prairie. And that the sky is big and the world is vast, but that’s ok, let’s explore.