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On the Road
by Faith Sidlow
As long as I can remember, our family vacations were camping trips. Even before I could walk, I was sleeping in a tent. My first long camping trip, I’m told, was a cross-country adventure from Detroit to Seattle with a stop in Yellowstone National Park. I was a year old. I have no memory of this trip, but I’ve seen faded photos and 8-millimeter film of geysers and bears. My parents told me stories about the time I chased a black bear cub yelling, “Here doggie, doggie!”
Given the family tradition of taking lengthy road trips, it seemed only fitting I should embark on a similar adventure with my 19-year-old daughter. A mother-daughter bonding trip, if you will. As an “empty nester” with a daughter close to finishing college and leaving in September to spend a semester in Italy, I had come to the realization that this may very well be our last opportunity. I wanted to make it a trip to remember.
My friends warned me that a month-long road trip could test Mallory’s and my strong relationship. My daughter is my best friend, I told myself. We’ll be fine. We are the same person: determined, stubborn, adventurous—what better companion for a road trip? And we enjoy the same things: hiking, theatre, and cheese, among many others. Secretly, however, I was a little worried. Mallory hated bike riding. Hated it. Being the stubborn person that I am, I was determined to make her love it as much as I do by the end of our trip.
We spent weeks planning a journey that would take us through the Pacific Northwest. “I’d like to go whitewater rafting if we’re going to Oregon,” Mallory said.
“If we’re already going all the way up there, we might as well go to Canada,” I said. “And I’ve always wanted to go back to Yellowstone and see the geysers and the bears.”
By the time we finished planning, we’d put together a whirlwind, month-long, nine-state, two-country road trip. Yellowstone was in the center, where we would meet my husband, brother and his family. We packed the SUV full with everything we imagined we might need: a six-person tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, ice chest, portable table, beach umbrella, chairs, a month’s worth of clothing and bear spray. We threw the bikes on the back of the car and took off on our 5,000-mile adventure. The words “you’re going to kill each other” had been uttered by more than one person, but we just laughed.
Our first stop was a two-day white water kayak trip on the Klamath River in Northern California. We met up with our Orange Torpedo guides in the small town of Happy Camp, which was anything but happy. This economically depressed town of 1,100 had once prospered, first from the Gold Rush and later from the timber industry. Both the gold and the lumber mills are gone, along with most of the jobs. The town’s big claim to fame is Bigfoot, where there have been several reported sightings of the giant ape-man known as Sasquatch.
We pushed Bigfoot and Happy Camp out of our thoughts, loaded our gear into dry bags and headed out on the river. I made the mistake of telling my daughter about an earlier whitewater kayak trip where I nearly drowned. As we approached our first rapid, I could tell Mallory was nervous. I glanced at her as we finished the rapid and was happy to see her beaming from ear to ear. We both got dumped in the river a couple of times. What can I say? Like mother, like daughter.
Our group made camp on a sandy beach overlooking the serene river. We watched a bald eagle build a nest as the sun set and spent the evening around the campfire talking with our new friends. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
After a second day of rafting we returned to Happy Camp. Lying on top of our sleeping bags in the tent at 6 p.m. when it was 107 degrees outside, too hot to move, I wondered whether the naysayers were right. We were tired, hot and worried about the homeless man sleeping in the campsite next to us. It was only day three of our 28-day adventure and I was worried the kill-each-other-moment everyone was warning me about was on its way.
“I want to go to a hotel,” Mallory whined as a trail of ants marched into our tent. If there was one thing she hated more than bike riding, it was bugs—especially ants.
I told her we didn’t have a reservation or cell service to make a reservation. “Let’s go for a drive,” I suggested. “We’ll run the air conditioner.” An hour later it was 106 degrees. The air conditioning was a tease. We were miserable. I caved.
I don’t think two women have ever packed up a campsite as quickly as we did. We broke camp, loaded up the car and drove north. As soon as we had a cell signal we called a hotel in Medford, Oregon, and booked a room. Who knew a shower and bed could make us so happy?
We spent three days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, attending plays and exploring Ashland. We ran the Ashland 10K on the morning of the Fourth of July and planned to watch the parade later that morning. Earlier, we staked down our favorite quilt on a bed of grass to save a place on the parade route. When we returned, our quilt was gone. It had been stolen. Disheartened, we gave up on the parade altogether and decided to hike at Crater Lake instead. We tried to stay up for fireworks later that night but were too exhausted from our long day of running, eating, hiking, and the emotional drain of losing our favorite quilt. We fell asleep before 9 p.m.
Two days later we were in Portland running the Red, White and Blues 5K. It helped us justify the delicious meals we consumed in this foodie paradise. Voodoo doughnuts, street-cart gyros, tapas, sweet potato waffles and fried chicken filled our stomachs and our conscience.
Then it was off to Vancouver Island. We spent the week hiking and cooking, and I patiently tried to teach Mallory how to enjoy riding a bike. Our first bike ride was stressful. We were both nervous. I tried finding an easy trail for her away from traffic, but we spent 45 minutes searching for the trailhead and ended up riding along the street instead. The following day we embarked on a longer bike ride—actually on a trail this time—where Mallory took on rolling hills that pushed our legs to the limits.
We explored Victoria and had high tea, enjoying peach rosemary crumpets, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches and “Mad Hatter” tea. We ended our week at the Vancouver Island Music Festival, lying on the grass listening to Bonnie Raitt and eating chocolate-covered frozen bananas.
By the time we got to Vancouver, I decided Mallory was ready for the Seaside Bike Path. She wasn’t convinced, so we made a deal. If she did the bike ride without any complaints, I would hike the “Grouse Grind” with her, a 1.8-mile trail up Grouse Mountain with a 2,800-foot elevation gain. That’s 2,830 stairs, if you’re counting. It was a grueling hike, but the breathtaking, panoramic views of the city, mountains and ocean made it worth the pain. And I’m happy to say Mallory now loves bike riding almost as much as I do.
We made a quick stop in Seattle--enough time to ride the monorail and see the Space Needle--and then it was on to Yellowstone in search of geysers and bears.
The year of my family’s trip to Yellowstone five decades ago, 1.5 million people visited the park. Last year, more than 3 million people drove through the park gates. The dynamics have changed. Now, people, cars and traffic are everywhere. Back in the 1960s, bears came up to people’s cars to be hand fed. Now, feeding a bear will get you a stiff fine.
We arrived at Grant Campground next to Yellowstone Lake to find my brother and two nephews, Calvin, 3, and Ben, 7, setting up the pop-up camper. The following day my husband and sister-in-law flew into West Yellowstone Airport to join us. First stop: Old Faithful.
Yellowstone has more geysers than anywhere else in the world, according to the national park website. We spent the next three days hiking and visiting as many of them as we could, all the while hoping we would see a bear. We visited the spectacular Grand Prismatic Spring surrounded by vibrant orange, yellow and brown colored rock leading into the pristine blue pond. And we saw plenty of wildlife. A bison held up traffic for 30 minutes when he strolled down the middle of the highway, and elk with giant racks of antlers rested in the woods next to the road, but we never saw a bear.
When we returned to camp, our neighbors told us they saw a grizzly bear feasting on a bison carcass a half-mile from where we had stopped for ice cream earlier that day. We went back the next day to see if the bear was still there. He wasn’t.
We said goodbye to Yellowstone and made plans to meet my brother and his family for lunch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They arrived at the Silver Dollar Saloon much later than expected.
“We saw a grizzly bear!” Ben shouted as he ran to greet us.
I was only a little disappointed. We may have missed out on seeing a bear, but Mallory and I more than made up for it with the memories we created during a special time in our lives. A time I’ll cherish forever. I can now say with even more confidence than before that my daughter is my best friend. If we could make it through a 5,000-mile road trip, we can make it through anything.