A 34-Day Road Trip with My Kids

Cover photo courtesy of James P. Johnson

By James P. Johnson

“Daddy, I don’t think I want plastic surgery,” my 8-year-old daughter Tricia stated as we drove through Central Washington. An interview about the topic I’d tuned into on the radio earlier apparently caused her to contemplate it. Her thoughtful expression produced a follow-up statement. “But I think witches need it.” Tricia, my 6-year-old son, Eric, and I were on an epic 34-day road/camping trip.

Now adults, we still chat occasionally about incidents. Early into my career as an elementary school teacher and married at the time, my wife was taking summer classes. I’d be watching the kids anyway, so I envisioned some adventure to know our state better. Labeling it the “See Washington Tour,” my wife wasn’t happy about not seeing our children for so long. I still have the journal I kept detailing what we did each day.

Courtesy James P Johnson

With little route planning, yet a goal to hit all regions of the state, just two of 33 nights were spent at a motel. My young ones became proficient at putting up and taking down our 8-person, fair weather tent, tall enough to stand in, but requiring tarps in case of rain. They also helped unload supplies and pack them back into the car. I prepared meals using an old Coleman stove as they explored the surroundings or involved themselves in an activity, this before the age of personal electronic gadgets.

Tenting had a downside: High winds caused a broken pole and a one-night motel stay. A store-bought sprinkler riser substituted perfectly. At an oceanside campground, a tall tree next to the tent compelled me to carry the kids to sleep in the car when a thunderstorm struck in the middle of the night, and a heavy, nightlong rain in the Olympic rainforest caused water to pool on the tent roof, which grew and sagged so low I could push and empty it with my legs. I had to do this repeatedly to prevent collapse and slept very little. The kids had a restful night.

Courtesy James P Johnson

We would stop at a park in the towns we visited, and I’d often prepare lunch as the kids took to the play equipment. Sometimes I joined them. Small town museums were a frequent stop. The two-headed calf at the Douglas County Museum in Waterville was a memorable exhibit.

I’ve always had an affinity for hiking; my young ones had resistance. I tried packing treats with a promise to serve mid-hike and again at hike’s end. It brought only a slight improvement. Yet, while visiting Artist Point near Mt. Baker, an alpine environment with paved trails and rocks lining the edges, they didn’t just hike—they ran with glee.

Courtesy of James P Johnson

Our trip was enjoyable enough that the following summer we did another, covering Montana. It’s been stated that traveling is inherently educational. I can’t say precisely the impact our trip had on their intellectual development, but I corrected a misconception Eric had, who commented time to time about very large or especially fancy CDs. Not knowing what he was talking about, I let it slide until about the third or fourth time.

“Eric, what is a CD?” I finally asked.

He pointed at the road ahead. In the opposite lane, coming toward us, was an RV.

After much analysis and experimentation, James P. Johnson learned that grabbing the end of the sleeping bag and shaking was the best way to get kids up and going.

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