The Pinke Post: Driving 3,000 miles in a rental RV creates special moments
What if you had the opportunity to plan a five-night, 3,000-mile road trip? Would you go?
What if you had three days before you needed to depart and it was a holiday weekend?
In life, we have little moments to stay back or go. We can play it safe or jump into the unknown.
A few weeks ago, my husband, daughters and I went on a 3,213-mile journey from North Dakota to southern Louisiana and back again.
As we watched the first round of the FCS college football playoffs announced on a Sunday morning, Nicholls State was listed as the host team for the University of North Dakota, the team our son plays for.
Our daughters had waited all season to travel to an away game with us. With the Thanksgiving holiday and long weekend ahead, this was our chance to all go to an away game as a family. But airfare was more than we wanted to spend on short-notice, combined with Thanksgiving holiday travel chaos.
A fellow football parent shared the idea with my husband that we could rent an RV and drive to the game in southern Louisiana. Yes, we've been a camping family for years but never have we had an RV to drive. My husband, Nathan, reserved a 25-foot RV that evening and by late Wednesday afternoon, we were cruising south on Interstate 29 with our bags packed, sleeping bags, pillows, the RV refrigerator stocked with food and ready for the adventure.
With a blizzard brewing, we needed to drive far enough south to get out of the snow forecast. The first night, we drove until 4 a.m. to a Springfield, Mo., campground. I made sandwiches along the way for supper and we only stopped for gas. The girls slept in the bed in the back of the camper. Nathan and I kept awake with plenty of conversation, audiobooks and Christmas music.
We stopped in Jonesboro, Ark., at a Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving dinner. According to Cracker Barrel, it is the restaurant chain's busiest day of the year. More than 1.5 million people eat at a Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving Day.
It was the first time our family has ever eaten out and not been home with extended family on Thanksgiving Day. At home in North Dakota, my parents hosted my in-laws and more relatives and our son brought 16 teammates to join the family feast on the farm. I thought I would be lonely missing out on the family holiday at home. But we were having such an adventure and enjoying the road trip, I never felt regret for missing the family meal.
The final Thanksgiving Day stop was Memphis, Tenn., and we chose to stay in a hotel rather than an RV park because of the rain we had been in all day. Plus, my back needed a break from the RV life.
The next morning, we toured Graceland, the first-time for any of us. Elvis Presley's story and family life was a lesson in American culture for our girls. We could have stayed longer and would definitely visit again. But we had a few hundred miles left to drive, so we loaded back into the RV and made our way from Memphis to Houma, La., with only a gas station stop in Jackson, Miss.
I also had planned a roadside stop at a backwoods Southern barbeque joint I thought our girls should experience. But it was closed with a sign that read "We'll be smokin' again Dec. 6-7." No Southern barbeque in the backwoods available, so we ate another round of sandwiches in the RV and kept driving.
My husband drove most of the trip but I took a couple of shifts each day for him to rest. It was through Louisiana I realized I love flat, landlocked driving of the Northern Plains.
Driving an RV over bridges and water gave me sweaty palms and to keep me calm, we needed to turn down the Elvis music our girls were now playing. My husband napped through my anxious bridge driving moments. Slow and steady, I overcame my nervous driving and got us to our arrival in the bayou of Louisiana.
The greatest reward of the road trip wasn't simply being present at the game the next day. It was the moment our son walked down the team's hotel hallway in Houma to have our girls run into his arms. It was in that moment I was reminded, sometimes you just need to go. Don't hold back. Start driving, be present and seek joy in the adventure.
A second favorite memory was our girls holding a map and scratching off a state when they crossed into one they had never visited before. Our two country girls singing and celebrating all nine states they had never traveled to before was worth the miles and my aching back.
The question Nathan and I have been asked most often after our return is, "Would you do it again?" Our answer is, "Absolutely!" With the UND football team joining the Missouri Valley Conference next fall and playing more games in the Midwest, we plan to find at least one or two more games for family RV road trip adventures in our son's senior season.