On this, our 6th or 7th auto-journey to the heartland, I’ve come to an important conclusion. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend preparing for the great exodus, it won’t be enough.
This time, having learned a thing or two from previous years’ procrastinating, I decided to start pre-trip preparation three days prior to our scheduled departure.
A significant portion of one day was devoted to packing. I felt strongly that the boys should be responsible for packing their own things, which means I spent approximately 3 hours saying things like ‘please bring me 4 pairs of underwear,’ and hitting my head against the coffee table when each child came back with different interpretations of the same request. The bulk of the second day was devoted to cleaning the house and shopping for car-food. Which left the third day, I thought, just to ‘wrap things up’ and get in bed by 10 so we could be those people who get on the road at 6 and get to their destination at a reasonable hour.
But for reasons that are surely my fault, though I’m hard-pressed to identify precisely which personal deficiencies are to blame, the third day did not unveil in the expected manner. At all.
There were last-minute errands, yes. And more food planning and prep. But when I found myself standing in the kitchen at 10pm making pesto – because my basil plant was drowning in fragrant green leaves , and just imagine the after effects of leaving a drowning basil plant for a month – I knew I’d strayed, profoundly from my initial goal.
I crawled into bed sometime after 1am; my dream of getting on the road at a respectable time, just that: a dream.
When you combine my inability to focus singlemindedly on the task at hand, even at the risk of letting an unconsidered basil harvest go to waste, with the professor’s inability to focus on the task at hand, even at the risk of listening to a decade-old playlist on the ipod, you have a case of serious inefficiency on your hands.
While I was busy making pesto and cooking provisions for our first roadtrip dinner, the professor was busy adding the 20 CDs he had checked out from the library to his playlist.
Song, by painful song.
At the sound of the fourth-in-a-row Beach Boys tune, I called him over and quietly said something like: ‘I really hate all of the songs you’ve been playing. And if that’s the music we’ll be listening to, I won’t go on this trip.’
Some couples disagree about how to raise their kids, or how to spend their money, but we disagree about listening to music. He wants to listen to it. I don’t. He wants to create playlists when we go on roadtrips. I think our time is better spent packing, getting the car ready, cleaning, and doing random things no one in their right minds would do before going on a trip.
Like making pesto and cleaning out the washing machine and organizing dresser drawers.
Suffice it to say our trip started with a bit of tension over the contents of the ipod. Especially when it turned out all the hours the professor had spent on acquiring and downloading music had been for naught. An hour before hitting the road, we learned his new playlist had failed to load properly onto our slightly ancient device.
After stopping at the library to return an IKEA-sized shopping bag full of architecture books and random cd’s, not to mention a host of unread cookbooks, we finally got on the road. Just before 9:30am. Which is not at all like the 6am of my dreams.
The first day of driving is the worst. Really, it’s all bad. But that first day is brutal as passengers (especially parents) are forced to acclimate to the limitations of car-life. The professor sits in his seat, making gasping noises, as though he can’t quite get enough oxygen, while saying things like ‘I’m not going to make it.’ And the boys eat all of the candy I bought within the first 30 minutes of the drive, inevitably spilling something all over the car-floor. And I fixate on time. How much time we’ve spent driving. How much more time we’ll have to spend driving. And how much time has to pass before I can broach the subject of stopping the car. Again.
All while awkwardly arranging (and re-arranging) my legs around the bag at my feet, bulging with books I do not have the attention span to read.
The focus of the first day of Roadtrip Summer 2015 was getting to Grasslands National Park. Which, for the uninitiated, is located in Val Marie, Saskatchewan. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, I’m sure 101% of the world’s population hasn’t either.
I’d had a vague desire to go to Grasslands for several years because, wait for it, I’d seen a Calgarian photographer’s pictures of the park on Flickr. If you’re thinking to yourself: isn’t that why you drove all the way to Arches National Park during Roadtrip Summer 2013? You’d be right.
Social media really does ruin lives.
So we drove, and we drove, and then we got on a gravel road in nowhere Saskatchewan and drove some more. For reasons I can’t explain, driving on a gravel road increases my level of roadtrip misery one thousand-fold. And, yin to my yang, the professor becomes genuinely excited at the possibility of steering his car onto roads covered in tiny, and not so tiny, rocks. Preferably at speeds that defy the laws of common sense.
This might also be a good time to mention that the province of Saskatchewan, as I found out 12 hours before leaving Calgary, has been battling approximately 180 forest fires and the entire province is covered in a haze of smoke as a result.
Most people would hear such news and think ‘wow, poor province, hope they can extinguish those fires before too much natural scenery is destroyed.’ But all I could think was ‘wow, my pictures are going to suck.’ While images of Roadtrip Summer 2014 – driving through smoke-filled (and subsequently unphotogenic) British Columbia – flooded my mind.
All this to say my excitement at finally getting to see Grasslands had diminished considerably by the time we arrived, on account of the smoke. And the gravel roads. And the almost seven hour drive, which got us to the visitor’s centre a whopping 20 minutes before it closed for the day.