It was one of those nights that you know will be short-lived. The car was packed and the alarm set for 4:30 (a.m., we thought at the time). Toiletries, cooler, bike, peaches, coffee–the list for the groggy morningtime. Leaving Charlotte early should get us into New Orleans by dinnertime, right?
I would have gotten much more sleep if I hadn’t woken up every hour. But I did, with no external cause to blame. I was just tense. We were about to drive 12 hours with two preschoolers and worry was running my brain on overdrive. Deep breaths, pray, it-will-all-be-okay… but my muscles weren’t getting the message. 2 a.m…. 3, 4… 5:05 a.m.? Wait a second, what happened to the alarm?
(That afternoon it went off in southern Alabama and we laughed.)
All was well… toiletries, cooler, bike, peaches, coffee… sleeping children extracted from their beds… and by 5:45 we were on the road. I-85 south, our home for the next 500 miles. 500 miles? Deep breath.
There was some whining, some complaining, some ad nasuem “is this New Orleans?” from our oldest (no honey, this is a rest stop in Georgia) and occasional “I want to go home” cries from our youngest (yeah, not likely). We kept driving. Why did they always announce their bathroom needs right after we passed the nice wooded rest stop? We tiptoed through truck stop potties (don’t touch that! or that! just let me carry you), and kept driving. We ate Doritos and I tried not to look at the ingredient list. We put on a kid CD and listened to Wheels on the Bus twenty-six times in a row. We kept driving.
In the end I think that it was the boredom that saved us. Eventually, somewhere around Montgomery we just settled into it, accepted it, looked out the window. I stopped trying so hard. Cute husband made up a game about a monster that was named after a strange-sounding city we passed. We kept driving. Our oldest stuck playdough creations to the window, our youngest napped. The tension left my body as we drove and drove and drove.
When we reached the Mississippi coast we decided to leave the highway and find the ocean. We tried and failed, got back on the highway, tried again. And there it was. Endless water, endless sky, at the end of the (almost) endless highway. Everything was okay.
It has been a long time since I’ve been on a long road trip. Grown-up demands on my time and the presence of babies has made flying far more convenient. But I tell you, there’s a difference. It’s just different to be plopped down in a different world three hours after you left your own. It’s just different to know, to viscerally know, that expanse of road that connects one far away place to another. It’s different, and it’s good.
I had almost forgotten.