Is there anything more exciting about leaving on an RV Trip? Anticipation fuels each mile. Excitement about what lies ahead runs high. The sights are new, the day's drive full of expectation.
Conversely, is there anything more mind-numbing than the drive back home? Been there, done that syndrome kicks in. The vacation is over. There are so many miles to go on a road we've traveled before.
On return from many a previous trip, Jennifer and I would resolve ourself just to drive. To get home as fast as possible. We drove 728 miles home from Branson in one day after attending the Roadtrek rally this past May. We've driven 20 hours straight home from Georgia. Twenty-four from Florida.
But as we finished the Great Roadtreking Family Vacation of 2013 – our two and a half week trip to Colorado – we determined to do things differently.
I was towing a travel trailer that my daughter, Wendy, husband Dan and granddaughters Hua Hua and Rachel (and Charlie their Goldendoodle) used. They were following behind our Roadtrek eTrek in our Honda Pilot. Son Jeff had left a few days earlier because he and wife, Aimee, needed to be back at their jobs on Monday.
Our trip from Colorado was a giant circle tour of the state, starting at Colorado Springs, working southwest to Mesa Verde, up through Telluride, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, on to the Colorado Monument and finishing in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Except for a small slice of Wyoming, our return route was pretty much the same as our going out route – I-80 straight across the corn belt of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana to our Michigan home.
I had planned to take three days to return, using the time to catch a couple of attractions on the way back. But those darn Rocky Mountains had a hold on us and we stayed an extra day.
It was so hard to start back. Our exit from the state took us out US34, Big Thompson Road east from Estes Park. This little stretch of highway was like a final message from Colorado, asking “are you sure you really want to leave?” presenting us with some of the most beautiful scenery we'd seen anywhere. Bordered by the Big Thompson River and walled in by massive canyon walls, it was the perfect mountain drive. You don't make good time on Big Thompson Road, especially towing a trailer around those steep curves. But you do enjoy every minute of it.
We had a pair of walkie talkies that we used to communicate between vehicles. That helped with the boredom of the return drive. We delighted in the bison we saw after entering Wyoming from Colorado and the stark but equally beautiful contrast of the range land to the mountains we had just left. Then came the lush green and endless cornfields of Nebraska and Iowa, the tassled tops waving like an undulating sea in the wind. Beautiful.
I found AM radio stations and listened to small town announcers fret about dropping corn and wheat prices in the increasingly dry weather as they speculated on the chances for rain and the quality of this year's crops. You can tell so much about an area by listening to AM radio. Even the local advertisements are entertaining.
We stopped at rest areas to walk the dogs and to have lunch together. Along I-80, Nebraska and Iowa have great rest areas, spaced about 25 miles or so apart. Except for the rattlesnake warning signs in western Nebraska, there were pleasant spots for the dogs. We kicked on the rear air conditioning in the Roadtrek and all of us – four adults, two kids and two dogs – squeezed into the back of the Roadtrek for communal meals.
Wendy researched and found two great overnight spots for us for the return trip.
In Nebraska at Exit 312, we stopped at the Mormon Island State Recreation Area, a quiet, very clean and spacious little campground right on the northeastern side of I-80. Named for the winter stopover used by Mormon emigrants heading westward, the state turned the “borrow pit” used to provide fill for the interstate into a swimming lake, complete with sandy beach.
We had a campfire and made S'Mores. I like my marshmallows on fire, burnt to a crisp, which the girls delighted in providing so they could “watch Grandpa eat fire.” I delight in making them laugh so I devoured way to many flaming torches of gooey sugar puffs until it was time for them to go to sleep.
In the morning, we liked the place so much we lingered over another picnic table breakfast of bacon and pancakes. There were only one or two other RVs in the whole park. Most of the grounds were empty. But the park maintenance guy decided that he needed to start cutting the grass right where we were, instead of at the other, vacant end. His unmuffled mower shattered the calm of the place and stopped our conversation, kicking up a cloud of dirt and grass clippings that started to drift onto our food.
Jennifer waved her arms and chased him away and we all laughed at the riled Mama Bear as the lawn cutting guy retreated to where he should have started anyway.
Further west at Exit 284 in Walcott, Iowa, we stopped for an obligatory visit at the massive Iowa 80 Truck Stop, which proudly proclaims itself to be the world's biggest. There is a full blown food court there with a slew of fast food restaurants and one sit-down restaurant that boasts a 50-foot salad bar and room to seat 300, as well as truck displays, a sprawling truckers warehouse store with everything from clothing to CB radios and the cleanest restrooms you will find anywhere along the Interstate.
Our last night was spent just over the Illinois border, where, four miles from Exit 19, we found the delightful Geneseo Community Campground where owners Craig and Shari Weber runs one of the cleanest, neatest little campgrounds we've ever seen. The restrooms and showers look like they are part of a home and the wide grassy and shaded spots are just a stone's throw off a bike path that follows the Hennepin Canal connecting the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Hua Hua and I walked the dogs along the path in the morning and marveled at the huge lily pads in the canal, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Then, six hours later, we were back in Michigan.
Jennifer and I stopped at Jeff's house and Kalamazoo for dinner and drove the last two and a half hours under a huge full moon. She popped us a bag of popcorn in the Roadtrek microwave and Tai , our Norwegian Elkhound, scootched forward, between the driver and passenger seats, perfectly positioned to catch the popcorn that dropped as we passed the bag between us.
About 10PM, we pulled into our driveway.
It was a surprisingly relaxed and peaceful drive home from Colorado. Partly because we shared it with family. But mostly because we decided to savor each mile, looking around, stopping when we felt like it and marveling at the countryside.
So this RV trip – The Great Roadtreking Family Vacation of 2013 – has come to an end.
The Roadtrek is unpacked. Laundry is now done The lawn has been cut and on Monday we set out on our next trip, visiting a few Southern states.
Thanks for virtually riding along with us on this adventure.
See you out there….