by Aaron Heflich Shapiro, author of Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures
When I was growing up, there was no such thing as typical. I mean, unmarried parents who were disappointed that I didn’t want to get a piercing and a globetrotting grandmother who retired in Mexico? It was all part of that adventurous roller coaster called my childhood that, at the time, seemed completely normal to me. But there was one area where my family seemed like every other one…the great American summertime tradition of the road trip!
It was a scorching 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) when we climbed into the family station wagon, the back packed to the brim with our entire lives for the next month. This was a trip that would take us from our home in Las Vegas (yes…people actually live in Las Vegas) to our “ancestral” home in Massachusetts (ancestral at least by my young standards) and back again, camping our way across this great nation.
From my perch in the backseat (which I was small enough to stretch out on at the time), I watched lasting bits of Americana go by as I kept myself entertained with a small collection of Klutz activity books. As we passed through the majestic desert, into the rolling plains and onward towards the east coast, we experienced such icons as historic Route 66, the Antietam Civil War Battlefield, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Washington DC, Boston, Niagara Falls, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” fame), Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug.
What’s that you say? You haven’t heard of Wall Drug?? Well it’s only the kitschiest roadside tourist trap around, known for advertising themselves on billboards hundreds of miles away with an ongoing countdown:”Only 523 Miles to Wall Drug,” they scream! With all the attention, you simply have to stop to see what all the fuss is about (like most tourist traps, not a heck of a lot)!
The trip was full of memories that still bear strongly with me to this day. Like the night our reliable station wagon nearly exploded…
You see, one night we crossed the border from Ohio into Kentucky with the intention of finding a hotel to sleep in, as it was far too dark to try to camp. This was the first night we had opted for a hotel over a campground and what should we come to find? Not a single hotel with vacancy in the entire state of Kentucky! The reason? Motorcyclists. Thousands of them on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
So we kept driving. And driving. And driving. And our gas tank kept emptying. And emptying. And emptying…at a fairly alarming pace. So when we finally stopped for the night in West Virginia we got the car checked out. And what did find? A fuel leak in the engine… (which could, you know, potentially ignite…).
That station wagon survived that night and many more nights on that trip. But our flirtation with danger was perhaps an ominous message that we must stick to our original mission to only stay in campgrounds. I mean, we weren’t lugging tents, sleeping bags and food across the country for nothing!
Many more nights of food cooked over a campfire later (and one strikingly close encounter with a wild bear…), we pulled back into our driveway, still broiling in the hot desert sun. The car was still in one piece, having survived a near replacement in Massachusetts (when we purchased a new Sport Utility Vehicle, only to return it 4 hours later…) and two painfully slow trips over the Rocky Mountains where we became the true embodiment of “The Little Engine That Could.”
But in that month long road/camping trip we had changed. Exploring all the spectacular desert scenery, with its rocks of every possible shade of red rising majestically out of the ground, we came to the realization that we were here in Las Vegas, a city that none of us particularly liked, to explore the Southwest (hence the short lived SUV). As time went on, we fulfilled that mission and then some, expanding our exploration to whole country and around the world!
And have I been on any long camping trips in a station wagon since? Nope! That month long “traditional” vacation was more than enough for me!
A world traveler since the ripe old age of 4 when a midlife crisis took his family to Ecuador, Aaron now blogs about his experiences in unlikely places at Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures. You can follow him on Twitter @adventurousness and find him on Facebook.