What I learned on my summer vacation: You can never have enough snacks packed for two young children as you drive from the Rockies to the Great Lakes and if anyone can get sick on a month-long trip, it will be the one you least suspect – the dog. And it will happen at 1 a.m. in your camper van. I’ll spare you the gross details, but somehow I managed to clean up the mess without waking up the rest of my family, which might be even more surprising.
Thankfully we had only a few hiccups on our road trip, mostly minor mishaps like missing the exit for our campground in North Dakota and not realizing it for 20 minutes because the kids were whining and crying in their car seats. Of course, there was whining and crying and it wasn’t just from the kids, because no matter the number of snacks or songs, road trips are long and tiring. Yet, driving cross country in this beautiful nation of ours, especially eschewing the freeway for state highways, allowed me and my family to connect in ways that we might not have done otherwise if we’d remained home for August.
We camped at state parks from Montana to Michigan, and if you aren’t already a fan of state parks, you should be. From hot showers to trails to nice friendly neighbors, I can’t think of anything else that costs so little and delivers so much. You would be hard pressed to feed a family of four for less than $30, but that’s what a night, with full hookups if you need power, will get you at Fort Peck or Turtle River or the Porcupine Mountains. Some sites even come with a view of Lake Superior. Our kids likely ate way too many s’mores and gummy bears than they should have, but we got to see a vast and varied landscape in 1,800 miles and see how it’s all connected, from crossing the Missouri River in our home state to see it merge with the Mississippi River a few days later.
I learned that while it’s not entirely comfortable to live in such cramped quarters, especially when the skies erupt in a thunder storm, but then again reading aloud a good book while trying to dry out socks and shoes is a good way to spend an afternoon. I’m still doing laundry from our trip and the car seats need to be deep cleaned, but it was worth it. There’s much to see between here and there, and sugary snacks do the trick when you want your kids to hike to a lake in the rain.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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