Road Trip Revival: Chapter 1 – The Station Wagon Is Dead

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Nate at the Grand Canyon
Every adventure needs a good hat.

I was speaking with a friend recently and discovered a terrible tragedy had befallen me. I found I had been born into the wrong century. A century of lawn chair summers, electronic instant gratification and computerized socialization. A world where most people you ask could not tell you the root of the phrase ‘Howdy' is from ‘How do you do.' Where starting a conversation with a stranger is seen as trivial and even a bit suspicious. My friend asked, “If you could move with your family and live anywhere you wanted to, except here, where would you go?”

“The past.” I replied.

Chelsea at the Canyon
Chelsea on our trip to the Grand Canyon before we were married.

Specifically when? I'm not sure. But I'm reminded of Norman Rockwell's painting of the family road trip and a feeling of nostalgia washes over me. I'm lucky enough to not have to live in a city anymore. Chelsea calls it the middle of nowhere, but I call it sub-rural. Drive down the hill and I'm in town. Drive 40 minutes…downtown to one of California's largest metropolises.

Don't get me wrong. I've lived in cities, and they have their draw. Los Angeles for five years was enough for me. As far as my experience there went, it was one of the most detached cities I've ever been to (excluding Las Vegas). There is no sense of an actual connection with the people around you, and horrifyingly enough, less and less with the nuclear family. After my conversation with my friend and the my little epiphany, I found the answer…with Mr. Rockwell. A shock to the senses. By unplugging. By venturing. No, adventuring.

Sleeping in the bed of the truck
I knew how to get Chelsea into my bed…of my truck

“An exciting or remarkable experience” is how Merriam-Webster defines adventure. It was just what my family needed. A way to stimulate ourselves and not be numbed by the constant excitement of our urban surroundings. So I pulled out a map and studied it with great thought and insight. I blew off the dust and rolled out the Google Earth. It didn't take long at all. The plan came to me like a message: 110010001100100111001111001101100010.

A road trip is what we needed. But where to go? What would we base our first adventure family trip around? It all started to fall together. The great West. Well, actually, when you live in San Diego it's the east but based on the time it was referred it was west of where everyone lives. Which was the east. Anyway. Our travel targets started popping up like monoliths; Hoover Dam, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton, Yellowstone (the granddaddy of 'em all) , Cheyenne, Denver, Grand Junction, Durango, Four Corners National Monument, Flagstaff, Mojave Desert, the gold diggin' city San Francisco and finally home.

packing a trailer for camping
Chelsea's idea of being prepared.
utility backpack
My idea of being prepared.

Chelsea helped me plan out the stops because she was better at calculating what we would need as far as our two little boys. We had learned from past experience that we would not want to drive more than four to five hours at a time unless we wanted to deal with a combustible baby and toddler. I wanted to camp it all the way, but Chelsea came up with smart idea of staying at a KOA every now and then to give everyone a break and a chance to shower. More civilized stay without getting too close to civilization.

Ford F-350 Super Duty Lariat Extended Cab

“How would we travel though?” Chelsea asked. “Will we take the Elantra? It's more fuel efficient.” “No. The truck,” I replied. We recently had to put my 2001 Tundra to pasture and replaced it with a diesel 2014 F350 4×4 with a crew cab and long bed (I was so happy to have my first 4×4). Why the truck? As they said in Rome, “Destinationus Unlimitedus.” Not only was it large enough that the boys would have leg room while our seats were all the way back, but it also gave us the ability to take the whole household. That meant the dogs could come with us. Comfortably. It was also able to pull the “former Marine” M101A3 military trailer Opa had acquired. This would give us the added ability to bring supplies for a trip which we calculated to be 20 days and 3000 miles long (God were we wrong, but only by 2000 more miles and an extra day).

station wagon is dead
A ghost of road trips past.

Oh yes, my friends. The days of the station wagon are dead. No longer does Chevy Chase remain the iconic father of the road. Now is the the time of conquering the roaded and unroaded. It was just a matter of being prepared.

Tundra in the desert
My first truck with BF Goodrich A/T tires.

I love my truck, but complete it was not. I knew, based on my trip to the Grand Canyon with Chelsea back when we were dating, a better traction tire would be needed. My Tundra actually came with BF Goodrich all terrain tires (my mother got it for me as a college car…er, I mean, truck). I fell in love with the tire after messing around in a dirt field (as most boys with trucks are bound to do). So, I called up BF Goodrich and they offered up four new (and larger) tires. Unfortunately, the shipping time was longer than our departure date. So, I fixed that by having them shipped to an off road garage I found just east of Salt Lake City; Sexton Offroad.

The call to them was actually kind of funny.

“Sexton Offroad. This is Dusty,” he said.
Me: “Can I ship my tires to you?”
“What?” he said.
Me: “Yeah, I need to put tires on my truck and need to send them somewhere.”
Dusty: “Um…your house?”

Don't look down
This is when I fell in love with vacations without boundaries.

As it turns out, I got very lucky calling Dusty, as not only was he a fellow first responder, but he was a professional racer sponsored by BF Goodrich. Totally random. Either way, because of him, a lot of things about our road trip changed and we wound getting to meet some of his great crew. I also wound up learning a lot from him which in turn improved our road trip at the 1/3rd mark when we made the tire change-up.

packing for a long road trip
Opa and his trailers. Picking them was almost like a game show.
updating the trailer
Dogs helping with light modifications.
military trailer reverse lights
Some Boy calls these “shine shine.” I agree with the redundancy.

Finally, before leaving, my father and I made some modifications to the military trailer to make it a little bit better for the long haul. We added two extra large reverse lights and a set of running lights so I could tell where the trailer was while pulling and backing it. The cool thing about the trailer is it's attached by a pintle-hitch and lunette system which is better for offroad use, especially on rough terrain. Obviously, just having this would make me go through some rougher terrain (tee hee).

We packed up the trailer, dogs, and little bits of the truck and away we went…after one last dinner at Oma and Opa's house.

Update: check out how a wrong turn turned into one of the best sights of our trip.


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