I’m the old one on the left.

We did it. Daniel, my younger son, and I made it home Sunday night. We logged 5000 miles in 14 days and passed through a 13 states. I don’t think I’ve ever driven so much in my life. I’m pretty sure my back is now permanently the shape of the seats in my Toyota Highlander.

First we drove north to the Grand Canyon. From there it was Zion, Bryce Canyon, then on up to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

Bryce Canyon

After that we drove into Montana, then turned east. In South Dakota we went to Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands, then through Minnesota and Wisconsin to the shore of Lake Michigan.

We spent a day driving up the peninsula in Door County and then on to Green Bay, where we attended the owners’ meeting (I own a share of the Green Bay Packers) and the first two days of training camp. Then it was a long, mad dash hiome thru Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, Texas, New Mexico and then back to Tucson.

Except for the drive home almost all of it was on little back highways. We wanted to see the heart of America up close. We avoided the chains and ate in tiny, local diners wherever possible. We got out and looked at town parks and local attractions.

We drove through Daniel, Wyoming, population 150,

and took a picture of Daniel Street, which was nothing but grass.

I had an amazing Reuben sandwich in a tiny diner in Laurel, Montana. We saw the first glockenspiel tower ever built in the US in New Ulm, Minnesota.

We watched the sun set over the Mississippi.

We ate amazing BBQ in Kansas City.

We did all that and a thousand more things. We passed through so many small towns and states that we lost track. We were always saying things like, “Remember that river/lake/town? Where was that? What day was that?” We were vagabonds, carried ceaselessly through the countryside by our steel-and-glass horse. Movement became the most important thing, so much so that each morning there was a sense of haste, an eagerness to get back on the road and see what new thing lay around the next bend.

It was surreal at times. We’d pile out of the car in some tiny village and head into some mom-and-pop store to buy snacks and feel like visitors from another planet. We were weird and disconnected, not quite at ease until we could scurry back to our little mobile cave.

It was exhausting and completely amazing. Most of what made it amazing was getting to spend all those hours with my son, enjoying these last, brief moments before he begins college and takes the last steps that will lead him out of our world and into his own. (Yes, I am going to miss both my sons very much when they leave home.)

Somehow, mostly without my noticing it, my son has grown into a pretty awesome young man. I’m not sure how it happened. Only yesterday I was playing on the slide at the park with him and now he’s done with high school and moving on. 

Came away with a few observations about this country we live in while I was at it. Here’s the first one, a real shocker to all of you, I’m sure:

The United States is a really big country. I mean, REALLY BIG. We drove until I thought I was going to become permanently affixed to my car seat and only saw the tiniest fraction of it.

Observation number two: There is a ton of farmland in this country. From Montana through to Wisconsin and then back down to Texas it was almost all cropland. Endless miles of hay, corn (So. Much. Corn.) and various other green, leafy things. We all know the Midwest grows a lot of food, but until you see it in person… Whew.

All in all it was a hell of an adventure. I may have a hunchback until I die, but it was well worth it. A road trip in the truest sense of the word.

PS As an added bonus, I got a ton of writing done on the road, all of it the old-fashioned way, by hand in a notebook. Out there, rolling down the empty highways, the scenes and characters sprang to life with a fullness and vibrancy I haven’t seen in a while.