Thursday, September 5, 2013

11,563.4 miles

And we are home.  Our amazing journey is over.  So many things to process, rejoice over, pray for, remember...

Our last week of travel felt pretty strange.  Just heading northward with the setting sun out the driver's side window was a change!  But most of all was seeing everything so green and lush.  After two months spent mostly out west in blazing heat and drought, to see green hillsides, streams, lush felt like a different world.

After leaving the swamps, we went to Jackson, Mississippi where we were able to accomplish one of Tanner's goals for the trip...take in a baseball game.  The Jackson Braves are the AA minor league team of the MLB Atlanta Braves, and we just happened to be there on fan appreciation night.  That meant cheap tickets and even cheaper food!  $1 hot dogs and drinks.  Unfortunately, the concession stands didn't seem prepared for 5000 people wanting multiple hot dogs, and the lines quickly grew dozens of people deep, and many people waited over an hour to get food.  We patiently (not) waited until the lines had died down a bit in the 7th inning, and got our dogs.  Tanner was able to get some pregame autographs on his glove, and in between innings was even given a foul ball by a very kind usher, who thanked him for coming all the way from Boston for the game!  It was a fun night to be sure, topped off with a couple of free Papa John's pizzas as we watched the post-game fireworks.

From there we went to Asheville, NC to visit the largest home in the US...The Biltmore, built by George Vanderbilt, one of the children of the railroad monopoly giant Cornelius Vanderbilt.  The home was immense, dwarfing the summer cottages of his brothers in Newport, RI, and the gardens and grounds were spectacular.  We particularly enjoyed learning about the crucial role of Frederick Law Olmstead, since he is deeply rooted in the history of our town of Easton, MA.

Along the way to Asheville we made one small stop thanks to a billboard announcing tours of the Mayfield Dairy Factory...including its world famous ice cream!  It was a great tour that shared the history of the dairy, the Mayfield family, and the process of making ice cream.  Best of all was the free samples at the end...a huge ice cream cone.  And yes, it was fantastic and delicious, some of the best we've ever had!

Our trip north followed the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the truly beautiful and scenic drives in our country.  Following the Smokey Mountains and the Appalachian Trail, the parkway hugs ridges, flows through rhododendron forests, and crosses rolling farmland.  There was a nice sense of relaxation driving through this scenic byway, rather than simply speeding north on the major highway.  It was slower going, but worth it.

One final stop remained before we returned to New England.  Hershey, PA and both the Hershey Chocolate Factory and Hershey Park.  We camped right at the park campground, and spent the first evening at chocolate world, learning about the chocolate making process and the powerful witness of Milton Hershey, the founder of the chocolate company, who left his entire fortune to create and sustain a school for underprivileged kids.  And of course, there was chocolate everywhere!  Even the town's light posts are shaped like Hershey Kisses!  The chocolate/peanut butter Hershey's milkshake was unbelievable!  The next day had us as one of the very first people through the gates at Hershey Park.  We spent the entire day riding roller coasters and having a great time.  Tanner even did a loop to loop coaster...and more amazing, so did Johnny!  The favorite ride was The Claw, a wicked looking ride that spun 360 degrees at the same time that it rocked back and forth a few stories into the air.  Johnny did sat that one out.

On Labor Day weekend we pulled up to Ann's Dad's house in CT.  We spent a fun weekend with Ann's family, sharing moments from our trip, apple picking and doing load after load of laundry.  We arrived home on Monday night, knowing that Tuesday would be a day of chaos, as we figured out schedules for school, sports and music, and got ready for school on Wednesday.  Bright and early Wednesday morning, Tobi began 9th grade, Lucy started 7th grade, Elsie entered 4th grade and Tanner began 2nd grade.  Ready or not, here we go!

Over the next few weeks, we'll add a few more blog posts as we continue to reflect on our trip.  We are so grateful for the many prayers and well wishes we have received throughout our journey.  We are home.  But we still have a be the light of Christ to those whose paths we cross.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

10,000 miles

After leaving Canyon Country we headed deep into the heart of Texas. First stop was San Antonio, which we were all looking forward to. Unfortunately this was our first real disappointment of the trip. Riding bikes into the city in the blazing heat (even at 6pm), we were quite shocked by the numbers of homeless people; the acclaimed River Walk was underwhelming with over priced restaurants, dirty water, and your basic tourist traps. What a juxtaposition to the beauty we had been experiencing up to that point.

However, we did enjoy learning about the history of Texas at the Alamo. Unfortunately, No matter how hard we looked, we just could not find the basement or PeeWee's bike.

The next few days we found ourselves battered by the surprisingly large waves and strong rip tide on the beach of Galveston, TX.  The heat continued, of course, and the Gulf waters reached temperatures of about 90 degrees!  Crazy compared to the waters off if Cape Cod.  Thank goodness there was a pool to cool in!

With San Antonia still weighing heavily on our hearts, we spent some of our travel time in the RV preparing sack lunches, hoping to give them out to the homeless people we seemed to be encountering more often on our travels.

Upon reaching LaFayette, LA we enjoyed a little of the Cajun culture.  Ponte Breaux Restaurant offered some of both in that we tried jambalaya, gumbo, hush puppies, shrimp and fried alligator, and put our best foot forward two-stepping to some live zydeco music.  To top it off we spent one night at an RV resort complete with water slides and swim up bars.  This was certainly a new way to "camp"!

We decided to stop at a Police Station in downtown Baton Rouge to inquire about their city's homeless. They directed us to The One Stop where several area service providers offer counseling, shelter, showers, health care, employment services and more. We pulled up not knowing what to expect and found people in a lot going through piles of clothes. Ann asked one gentleman the best way to pass out the lunches and a line up to our RV formed immediately.  It seems that in a matter of seconds the 40 or more prepared lunches were gone, with plenty more people in line. We quickly opened our cupboards to offer what we could.  Johnny, Tobi and Lucy set to work making more sandwiches, Tanner and Elsie handed them out, along with granola bars, while Ann made conversation with the individuals waiting in line.  Asking if they wanted to wait in the shade, one gentleman responded that there was no way he wanted to loose his place in line.  A mom with toddler twin boys asked for something cold to drink, and we were relieved to discover our last 2 juice boxes.  Each and every person was polite, thanking us for anything we could give...even the man who was next in line when we ran out! He even blessed us for stopping by.  What a humbling experience.  Though we have taken many amazing pictures on our journey, we feel that this one is the one that will impact us the most.

Just outside of New Orleans we toured the Oak Alley Plantation and learned about the plantation life both pre and post Civil War.  We really enjoyed the emphasis placed on slavery on the plantation.

One of the real highlights of our journey down south was our swamp boat tour through the Honey Island Swamp.  We saw lots of wildlife...including Brutus...a really big gator.  How big?  This big...

After leaving the swamps, we turned northward and stopped in Jackson, MS, the home of the AA Jackson Braves.  The thunderstorms passed just in time for fan appreciation night, and we enjoyed a nice evening of baseball followed by some pretty sweet fireworks.  Tanner got some autographs, and even got a game ball from one of the really nice ushers.  The only downside was the hour long line for $1 hotdogs...we waited until the line was gone and even got free pizzas out of it!

We've got about a week to go.  10,000 miles seems incredible, but each mile created a thousand memories.  And for those of you who have been finally happened!

Ann was great behind the wheel and even drove through easy task!

The Blue Ridge Parkway is next...we'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Multiple choice

We all ate this at dinner last night in Louisiana
1. Jambalaya 
2. Gumbo
3. Fried 'gator
4. Stuffed shrimp

The operative word is ALL because the above were enjoyed by many of us but only fried alligator was something each of us ate.  To top it off, everyone really liked it. Although Elsie only had a little claiming that "it tastes good but I feel weird eating it".

These photos were taken where?
1. The RV Park we stayed in
2. Breaux Bridge Water Park
3. Pilgrim Pines Conference Center

Yes, the RV Park we stayed in! We were astounded as well. It was actually called an RV Resort, and that it was.

Walmart Super Centers in the South have what?
1. No lines 
2. Someone pushing your cart out to your car and helping with shopping bags
3. Nail salons
4. Indoor play space 

We are chagrined to say it, however we must admit we have done most of our food shopping @ Walmart, as they are ubiquitous.  We now know that in the south you can relax with a mani and/or pedi  when doing your shopping. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Yesterday, we left Moab (UT) and Arches National Park and drive south towards Four Corners, the intersection point of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, as well as the boundary point between the Navajo and Ute Nations.  The kids had been looking forward to standing in all four states at once ever since we began our journey back in early July.  It was about 105 degrees in the shade when we arrived, and the fry bread we devoured was even hotter!

We enjoyed our visit, especially interacting with the Navajo and Ute craftsmen and women who displayed their amazing handmade jewelry and other items, including arrows with obsidian points.  As you might imagine, Tanner was especially intrigued and fascinated as the gentleman explained and demonstrated this craft, and our next blog post will include Tanner describing it.

We drove further south into New Mexico as we prepared to journey into the heart of Texas, but we did so with heavy hearts.

Both Ann and I have spent time serving on reservations in the past: Pine Ridge in South Dakota (Lakota Sioux) and Lame Deer, Montana (Northern Cheyenne).  They are deeply challenging places of cyclical poverty, and the local leaders who work so desperately hard to bring hope and vision to their people are inspiring.  But as we drove southward through Utah and passed through these tiny reservation communities with their run down and weather beaten government issued "homes", with absolutely no opportunity nearby for employment, we both felt a deep sense of sorrow for what the Native Americans have endured.  The image of mile after mile of the most desolate, unforgiving land that our country contains, littered with thousands and thousands of empty, discarded alcohol and beer bottles along the side of the road was a grim reminder of the reality of rampant alcoholism that ravages these communities.  Our mood was only deepened when we were approached by a visibly bruised Native American woman, who told us a convoluted story with slurred speech that made no real coherent sense, eventually asking us for money and/or a ride (unfortunately not in a direction that we were able to go) while her husband watched from the shadows of the gas station we had pulled into.  Though we were able to give her some funds and talk with her, we left feeling depressed and helpless at witnessing both the grand scale of the problem that many Native American communities face, and the personal face of it in this battered woman.

Next summer I plan to take our senior high youth group back to Lame Deer, MT, to both help as we are able, and also to expose our youth to the needs that exist within our country.  I know it will touch them deeply and impact them in powerful ways.  Ways that might lead to lives dedicated to making a difference.  Lives lived with a purpose that brings light into the darkness.

Friday, August 16, 2013

8500 miles...

Thoughts from Lucy and Tobi...

We have learned many things on this trip, including that Lucy is like a billy goat.  She is the fastest one in the family on all our hikes, even when our mom tried to sneak up on her and run by! Lucy's favorite hike was the Bright Angel Trail going down into the Grand Canyon and back up. Tobi's fav was hiking The Narrows in Zion.  For those of you who don't know, this is basically a hike IN The Virgin River through slot canyons. 

Fortunately, we've had some shopping opportunities along the way, buying gifts for our friends and momentos for ourselves.  The best purchase, by far, was Lucy's "magnificent" buffalo hat (Tobi insists this is the opinion of some, not all). See photo below. However, it is best for colder climates than we are currently experiencing!

People keep telling us we should be thankful our parents are taking us on this trip- and we are. But, if Elsie farts one more time Tobi threatens to do something vicious and mean. She doesn't know what that will be yet, but she's considering her options. 

One of the best things we do is building camp fires most nights and sometimes cooking dinner over the fire.  S'mores aren't bad either!  

Seeing the many canyons, hoodoos, and arches in Utah has been incredible! We are ready to hit the Deep South.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

RV Living update part 2

Now that we've been traveling for over a month we're all missing a few comforts of home.  However, there are some things we DON'T miss.  Here's a couple from each of us:

Elsie misses the library (she's not the only one), but she doesn't miss practicing piano.

Tobi misses the dishwasher, but she doesn't miss having a well balanced diet.

Tanner misses "space", but he doesn't miss his regular bedtime.

Lucy misses sleeping with covers ( ie not a sleeping bag), but she doesn't miss regular hygiene. 

Ann misses having a conventional size refrigerator and the gym (it's always a battle between food and exercise, isn't it?), but she doesn't miss her alarm clock.

Johnny misses showering (the rest of us miss him showering, too), but he doesn't miss T.V.

Of course, we all miss our family and friends and we hope you miss us just as much! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

7500 miles...

After leaving Sequoia/King's Canyon, and enjoying a great evening and morning of hospitality at the Phoenix home of Ann's Aunt Joyce and Uncle Bob (more pizza than we could eat, and a beautiful neighborhood swimming pool), we made the long journey across the desert, with just the briefest of stops in Joshua Tree National Park, where the temperature hovered at 109 degrees.  It was there, at a gas station in the middle of no where that we had an opportunity to help someone in need.  As I was filling up the RV with gas, an older, worn auto pulled up to the pump behind me, and a woman approached me while her husband and young daughter went inside.  She came right up to me and asked for money.  I admit that every instinct I had was at work judging her.  She (and her family) were overweight, she looked bedraggled, and sounded uneducated and possibly struggling with some forms of mental illness.  I wanted to turn my back and ignore her.  But I remembered our trip motto...Parks with a Purpose...and that purpose is to serve others in Christ's name.  Especially those in need.  So, I offered to fill her tank with gas.
While I went in to prepay her gas, she continued approaching other cars asking for money.  Ann struck up a conversation with her, asking about her needs and challenges, caring about her as a person, and validating her.  She was grateful for both the gas and the conversation.
As we drove away, we both felt a bit hollow inside.  So often it seems that the help we give seems insignificant in the grand scheme of the life of the one in need, and yet, it just as often seems that those in need wouldn't take the real help they need even if it was offered.  Frustrating, yet we give as we are able, hoping that even small moments of light along the way might impact in ways we could never hope for or imagine, through Christ's power and love.

What did we do next?  After a fun day in Sedona on the Pink Jeeps...The last few days have looked something like this...

The Grand Canyon.  Too awesome for words.

Now we're at the border between AZ and UT heading into Zion NP tomorrow.  Canyon country here in UT looks to be spectacular and we're excited about what the next week holds!