We returned from our big family vacation out east last Saturday night, back after ten days, with more than 42 hours spent in the car, and over 3,000 miles put on the new Highlander. We drove through Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Boston, saw Niagara Falls, Great Lakes, and big mountains, spent four days with family in the green mountain state of Vermont, and four more days off the coast of Maine, in a little sea town that forever stole my heart. It was epic in every sense of the word, and a trip that will go down in our family's history as one of our favorites. Seeing parts of this beautiful country with the people I love is one of my greatest joys and being that far away felt exciting and surreal. We were a thousand miles from home and it was so fun to make a temporary home in this faraway place. I was worried I would get homesick and be eager to get home, when in reality I could have stayed another week. Or just up and moved there. :)
While we enjoy flying and will probably rely on that before either one of us is ready to tackle another car ride of that extent for quite some time, there is something about driving that just screams family vacation. Not only do you have complete control of your pace and stops along the way, but watching the odometer creep higher and higher, crossing big bridges that connect state lines, and honking at each new state sign passed makes you realize just how big our world is and how much there is to see. And truck stops along the way? My favorite. I love all the different license plates all gathered in one place, the kids in their pajamas running wild after being cooped up for too long, pillows propped up in back seats, and luggage racks strapped to the tops of cars. It's one big melting pot of summer adventures and families of all shapes and sizes, and I love being part of the club.
We pulled out of our driveway at 9:30 Thursday morning, two and a half hours earlier than scheduled, with hopes of making it all the way to Buffalo that night (although I told Beau it was highly unlikely we'd make that 13-hour trip in one day). Packing for this trip was extensive to say the least. I had a cooler with picnic food for a potential stop along the way, a separate suitcase of clothes for our late night pit-stop at a hotel, a bag of beach toys and life jackets, a clothes' basket of snacks that allowed for easy access, and a canvas tote full of boredom busters to keep the kids busy for a long long time. Not to mention ten days worth of clothes for a unpredictable weather forecast. It took hours to get it all straightened out the day before and when it came time to put it all in the back of the car, I was just happy it fit. We were ready to roll and the kids were so excited.
Cruz and Mila were nothing short of amazing in the car. They slept well, loved watching movies with their headphones on, looked forward to their road trip prizes scored every 100 miles, and thoroughly enjoyed their tackle boxes of snacks. We played our I Spot card game and had a ball (highly recommend this one!) and Cruz loved his pencil case I transformed into a Lego carrying case. Before too long, we found ourselves at R Place Restaurant right off the interstate in Morris, Illinois.
I discovered R Place thanks to an app I downloaded on my phone from the Travel Channel. The app tracks your location and will highlight surrounding restaurants and stops that have been featured on TV for one reason or another. R Place had been featured as one of the best truck stop dining experiences and we happened to find it just at the perfect time. Their menu was huge and nearly everything, from the donuts and banana bread to the salad dressings and chicken pot pie was made from scratch. They had a salad bar that was to die for and the kids ate for free. We were treated like grandkids by our waitress and I was quite proud of my first find along the route.
After filling up the tank and ordering jumping jacks, leg stretches, and a few laps around the perimeter from the kids, we hopped back in the car and traveled East. The Avett Brothers sang us through Indiana and every time we got a little sleepy, we blared Ain't No Man, always sure to add a little pep to our step as the toll booths multiplied and the road construction slowed us down.
We started to get a little groggy around dinner time, especially when we realized we had lost an hour in the time zones somewhere between Indiana and Ohio. I found a little state park in Ohio and we snuck our way onto the campground for a couple of hours to picnic, play, and pajama the kids.
Harrison State Park in Fayette, Ohio, proved to be the perfect little stop for us along the way. With its nice picnic area, pretty lake, large playground equipment, and beach, the kids had plenty to explore and if we had a camper, we may have just stayed the night. If you're planning a road trip in the future, I highly encourage you to replace at least one of your restaurant stops with a simple picnic. It was cheap and easy and most of all, nice to give the kids the chance to roam after being stuck in a car for so long. We stayed a little longer than we intended and got the kids in their pajamas for a late night showing of Zootopia before it was bedtime for them and more driving for us. I loved getting them all cozy in their seats, washing out their cups in the public restroom with my travel container of dish soap, and filling up their tackle boxes with new snacks. I often told Beau he had the easy task of driving and that there was much more responsibility placed on the co-pilot. :)
The last leg was the worst for Beau and I, especially once we hit the twelve hour mark, but the kids fell asleep like champs and slept until we carried their little selves into a hotel in Buffalo, NY just after midnight. And then they woke up. :) We made it farther than we had ever guessed we would and looked forward to a slow morning start and a waterfall to see.