Six weeks of road tripping with the kids

Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2009

My family is in the middle of a six-week road trip. When you live in Juneau with its 40 miles of road, a driving vacation seems every bit as exotic as an African safari.

For the first time, the kids can see cows grazing in the fields, fireflies twinkling in the bushes and kudzu covering everything in sight - that is, if they can spare a moment from their movie or computer game to look up. Road trips have changed a bit since I was a kid. Still, I like having the chance to broaden the kids' horizons beyond the familiar glaciers of Juneau.

We've got big plans for our six weeks on the road. We planned to camp our way up the east coast in our new three room tent. Our first night of campingin southern Georgia just about did us in. The car thermometer read 100 degrees during the day and 92 at 9 p.m. We set up the tent in this stifling heat, and tried to settle down on top of our sleeping bags. That's when we saw the roaches. Inside the tent. Thousands of them. Well, maybe six or eight, but it sure seemed like a swarm to us.

It was late, it was hot and those roaches could run faster than Roadrunner with the Coyote in hot pursuit. Even after we got rid of them all, the mere possibility of those roaches kept us awake most of the night. Every rustle, every shadow on the tent wall morphed into a scuttling roach in our overheated imaginations. We spent the next night in a motel, with nothing but the Disney Channel to keep us awake.

In fact, we haven't gotten much sleep at all on our vacation. Somehow, bedtime gets pushed back later and later. At my sister's house, we rarely got the kids to bed before midnight. My niece just graduated from high school. She had friends dropping by at 10:30 p.m. to hang out, unless she was making phone calls at midnight.

So when my sister suggested that we take in an outdoor movie beginning at 10 p.m., no one thought anything of it. We all packed off to see "Raising Arizona" on the University of Michigan campus.

If you've ever seen "Raising Arizona," you'll know that it's not a movie for young children. I hadn't seen it. I didn't know. Perhaps the absence of any other kids in the audience should have tipped me off. But when the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse roared onscreen on his Harley, lobbing hand grenades at bunny rabbits, I knew we had made a mistake. I didn't hear of any nightmares that night - maybe the kids were so tired by the time they got to bed that they skipped dreaming altogether.

Surprisingly, we did get the kids to bed before midnight on the Fourth of July. In Pittsburgh, you don't have to wait until midnight to see fireworks. The show can start at 9:30 p.m. with plenty of darkness. We saw the most spectacular fireworks of our lives and enjoyed some sparklers and jumping jacks in the backyard.

We discovered on our drive that you can legally buy fireworks all the way from Florida up to Michigan. Ubiquitous yellow signs along the highway scream "Big Daddy's Fireworks," or "Best Buy Firecrackers." We stopped at Big Shot Bubba's Fireworks to procure our stash. We entered the metal roofed building as the sky darkened and the first raindrops began to fall. We marveled at the rows and rows of brightly colored fireworks surrounding us, as the rain shower turned into a downpour.

With thunder crashing and lightning flashing, we took shelter under that metal roof in a room filled with explosives. Who knew that buying fireworks was far more dangerous than shooting them off?

We have at least 2,000 miles to go on our road trip. We'll try again on the tent, as long as it's 80 degrees or less with no roaches in sight. I've given up any hope of getting to bed at a decent hour - hey, we're on vacation!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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