Vacation 2009: Day 1

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Day 1: Tulsa, Okla. to Pacific, Mo. via I-44, 367.0 mi., 6:20 en route.

We didn't leave until 7 pm.

The plan had been to pack our bags the day before and take care of final errands and packing the morning of, while the minivan was at Cartec for some minor surgery. (The dealership, we believe, had stripped the threads on the bolt that holds the oil pan. Jiffy Lube discovered the problem and installed a temporary fix. We didn't think we should drive more than 3,000 miles on a temporary fix.)

I hoped to make Terre Haute. Then I hoped to make Effingham. I was reconciled to a stop in Vandalia, and by the time we left, I decided I'd be thrilled to make it to St. Louis, which we did.

It always takes us longer than planned to get packed. The challenge is not getting the bags in the car; it's deciding what goes into the bags. My wife thinks and rethinks, wanting to be sure we don't leave anything behind that we might possibly want or need at some point. Plus she was trying to put all that we'd need for the first two nights on the road -- clothes, toiletries, medicine -- into three bags, so even once she'd decided to take something, she still had to figure where it should go.

Only after all the bags are zipped up can I solve the three-dimensional puzzle of fitting them in the car. This did not occur until about 5 pm. I quickly realized that the large rolling suitcase I had packed was simply not going to fit, so in the driveway I swapped the essential contents (clothes) to a roll-aboard suitcase and left the rest (books, mainly) in the bedroom or stowed them in other bags that were going in the car. In the end we had 8 smallish, mostly squishable bags, 2 larger bags, a laptop backpack, and a rolling laptop case. That was just in the back. On top of that we had two sleeping bags and three pillows. Two more big pillows and a small pillow plus three fleece blankets were in the main compartment for the kids' comfort.

The minivan also contained a violin case under the back seat, a large cooler in place of the left middle seat, a rolling hanging file box between the cooler and the driver's seat (containing non-perishable snacks, umbrellas, and travel activities), rolling backpacks for each of the two older kids (normally used or school) containing their travel activities, a small backpack to hold maps and to keep a few cold cans of pop handy up front, two small camera bags, two sets of juggling sticks, a diabolo, two portable DVD players. Around my wife's feet was another bag stuffed with travel activities and books the kids might want to read, plus her purse and at least two canvas tote bags filled with I'm not sure what. The biggest son sat in the right middle seat. The smallest son in his car seat immediately behind, with big sister to his left on her booster and yet another box of toys and amusements (including his Leapster) between them. Big son's job was to pass things between mom and the back seat and was pretty attentive and helpful as long as he didn't have his nose in a book or his Nintendo DS.

S3011572I took these pictures as we unpacked at our first destination, my wife's aunt and uncle's house in Hustontown, Pa. They came in handy five days later when we packed to leave, as I couldn't remember how I'd made everything fit. You can't see the large rolling suitcase behind the two small roll-aboards or the tennis bag at the bottom filled with swim stuff -- suits, sunscreen, goggles, inflatable lily pad. You can barely see the soft-sided light blue suitcase behind the sunshade.S3011571

The other problem that always slows our departure is the urge to get certain tasks done before leaving for two-and-a-half weeks, as if we hadn't already been putting them off for at least twice that long. I spent valuable time the night before departure trying to synchronize our digital photos between the laptop and the home computer. (I never did find a way in Perl to get the size or date of a file in Windows. I wound up running a "find . -depth -exec ls -lR {} \;" command in Cygwin on both computers, then writing a Perl script to parse the output and compare the contents of the two drives, then manually copying folders from one to the other. One vexing problem was Windows XP thinking that the high-speed USB ports on the laptop weren't, slowing file copy speed by a factor of 320.)

My watch battery was dying and the case for my Treo was falling apart, so at 1 p.m., when the car was ready, I walked over to pick it up, paid for it, then drove to Promenade to get a new case and a new watch battery. My wife had me pick up some Arby's sandwiches for a late lunch. I bought enough so we had the leftovers for dinner as we were getting on the road.

Finally, around 6:30, we did the positively final uses of the potty, then I chased everyone out, did my obsessive checks of locks and windows, set the alarm, said a prayer over the house, and got in the car. I asked our three-year-old to say a prayer for a safe trip, and at 6:53 p.m. off we went....

... to the branch library to drop off all the books that were checked out.

At 7 we were truly underway. We made a pitstop at 9:30 at the Quik Trip -- a final outpost of civilization -- on the Kansas Expressway in Springfield. I made some phone calls to book a room on the outskirts of St. Louis, everyone used the bathroom, little bit got a clean diaper, we bought a bismarck, donut holes, and a cheap 32 oz. soda. We set up the DVD player for viewing. My wife and almost-13-year-old son rigged up a kids' car desk that could hang on the back of my seat, reinforced it with long strips of velcro and ribbon, and that became the platform for the portable DVD player. The player plugged into a power strip which plugged into an inverter which plugged into what we used to call a lighter socket.

That pitstop took about 45 minutes.

We made another "brief" stop (about 30 minutes) for gas at about 11:30, in St. Robert. At the first station we tried, a voice over the intercom informed us that there were doing the daily closing and it would be 20 minutes before we could purchase gasoline, but we'd be welcome to wait. No thanks, I replied. Off to another station, where we bought gas, used the restroom, dispensed night time medicine, and turned on the inverter so that it would actually power the DVD player. The kids watched Finding Nemo and at length all fell asleep. About 30 miles west of our hotel, we hit thick fog, which (so I was told by the desk clerk) is fairly common. At 1:20 we pulled up to the Comfort Inn's front door. Everyone was settled by about 2 -- mom and sister in one bed, dad and big brother in the other, three-year-old on his sleeping bag -- except for me, still wound up from the drive, checking e-mail and posting a couple of blog entries.

Next morning, we were up at about 8. We had the hotel's "hot" breakfast (starchy stuff, make-your-own waffles, and thawed and nuked egg patties) along with a Baptist middle school youth group. We let the kids wrestle around as we got packed and then hit the road for day 2 at 11:00 a.m.


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 16, 2009 5:33 PM.

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