On the Brink of Adventure: Our West Trip Begins

**It certainly seems like a lot has changed since the last time I posted. In fact, we were on the other side of the country when things started to change rapidly. On our return trip home we learned that my husband’s football players would not be returning to campus after spring break for the time being. A few short days after returning we learned that the kids would be out of school for at least the next two weeks. This completely unique situation has a lot of us questioning what we should be doing. There is a balance point, I am sure, somewhere between overreacting and pretending all is normal. Since I don’t have any idea where that balance point is, I am hopeful that my friends in the medical field will continue to share what they are doing to protect their families moving forward, and I will try to do the same for mine. My oldest son has asthma. It is brought on by allergies and has led him to the hospital in the past with pneumonia. For this reason especially we are erring on the side of “overly cautious”. The beautiful news about having a big family is that even when we are socially distancing from others, there are still a lot of people around. As much as we could all talk about the Coronavirus and what we should or shouldn’t be doing, I would much rather tell you about the adventure my family just completed. So without further ado…Spring Break 2020.

There are different types of travelers who are flying in and out of big airport terminals. On Saturdays I would guess that most, or at least many, are people traveling for pleasure, like us. They are smiling and enjoying the start of their trip, or relaxed and happy as they return from a vacation. There are a few traveling for business: focused and efficient. Since that’s the way my husband usually travels I think he returns to that state.

We made it through security without any hassle. Fortunately for all, the kids didn’t have to remove their shoes, and our bags flew through the scanners without any concern. (For those who wondered, you can, in fact, bring squeeze applesauce on a plane.) 7 people is always a little bigger than what a facility is prepared for. It’s hard to find a table to seat us; a space out of the way for us to stand and gather our luggage. Since everyone was wearing a backpack and responsible for a rolling carry-on bag, we had a lot of things to look after in addition to people. The people-mover concept was a little tough for my kiddos to understand. Grace wanted to stand completely still and be carried to her next destination at the pace of a snail. The people behind us were hoping for a little quicker movement. In the end we managed to convince her to just walk on the floor and ignore the people-mover…but that doesn’t mean she stopped wanting to use it.

We were at the airport before ChickFilA began it’s lunch service…much to the horror of our breakfast-sandwich-hating daughters. In the end we made a lunch of deli sandwiches and uncrustables after wiping down the entire section with Clorox wipes. As we watched the countdown until boarding, Nick went to grab a coffee from the nearby Starbucks. Lucas began the countdown. He nervously listened to each announcement (none about the flight we were actually boarding) and watched the minutes tick away. When Nick calmly returned with a minute or two to spare the relief plainly showed on Lucas’s face. Thankfully he had his mind right because as they announced that boarding would begin Lucas glanced under the seats and noticed my driver’s license laying on the ground. Without that clutch save the rest of our trip would not have been as smooth.

We would be sitting in the back of a completely full airplane, and we were carrying on all of our items. So that means when we boarded with group 9/9 we made our way along the full aisle of the plane with our suitcases (I had Will’s, too) and past each and every passenger. The couple sitting in front of us significantly lowered my stress level by smiling and saying that they remembered traveling with their young kids. It was nice to not feel hated from the get-go. We were not able to sit all in one row (obviously) but we were close enough to pass around headphones and books and to switch seats as children requested a new buddy. My seatmate to my right was a young woman who came aboard with a container of honeydew melon and a container of Crown Royal. It must have accomplished what she wanted because she slept through the entire flight with only a brief moment awake to praise the kids for being good travelers. I couldn’t have asked for an easier person to sit next to.

The flight went much more quickly than expected, and we were soon on the ground in Las Vegas. As we waited for everyone else to exit the plane, Grace was running out of patience. The lovely flight attendant asked her if she wanted a snack. Gracie had seen the man in front of us order Pringles in flight (they probably cost him $45) and that was all her little heart desired. So the flight attendant grabbed a bag and threw in 5 cans of Pringles, 2 Zoe’s salads, and a fruit and cheese container. All in all it was probably worth the same about as our plane fare. Sometimes being a large family has its perks.

We again hustled through the airport to our rental car pick up. We would be driving for the week in a beautiful blue Toyota Sienna. And just as every family of 7 would hope, it was BRAND new. Like, had less than 15 miles, new. I said a silent prayer that the van would still look new after hauling around our children and gear across the West. (Which meant that other than a couple chips before entering the van, the Pringles would have to wait.)

At this point in the trip the children were starving. (To be fair, so were the adults.) We were excited to find a nearby restaurant called Wahoo’s Tacos and More. It looked perfect. We ordered at the counter where we encountered the most patient cashier in restaurant history. She was calm and kind and waited as the kids made decisions and asked questions. The trip was off to a great start. Each child proclaimed their meal to be the best thing they had ever eaten. Grace was especially thrilled that she could just order a piece of salmon and french fries off the children’s menu. It was her dream restaurant. After fueling up with what would be our dinner (despite it only being 3 or so in Vegas) we headed out to Williams, AZ to stay our first night in a Holiday Inn Express. Things were going well.

One struggle of being a big family is that hotel rooms are really not suited for so many people and getting two rooms quickly becomes financially questionable. Since we normally tent camp through our National Park trips, I booked us a room with two queen beds and a pull out couch. If you have never seen 3 children sleeping in one pull out couch you are missing out. Nick and I sat in the dark and watched an episode of Mad Men on the iPad with headphones at about 8pm. (Although to be honest, I’m no longer certain what time anything happened. We dealt with 4 time zones and Daylight Savings Time change during our 7 days of adventure. We finally adjusted on the last day or so. Now that we are home at least people are sleeping past 7am!)

Due to the time zone irregularity, and a family of early risers who were excited to see the Grand Canyon, we were up and ready to go by 5am and had to slow down to be able to eat breakfast at the hotel (which opened at 7). Even then I think we annoyed the woman preparing the breakfast area by swooping in to grab whatever new foods she put out. In the end I’m not even sure what the kids ate, but they seemed full and we were ready for the adventure to begin. I try to always ensure that we are traveling in a way that makes our large amount of stuff fairly organized and whatever space we will be living in less chaotic. For this trip that was made slightly more difficult by needing clothing for the outdoors and a wide range of weather. (We had 70s and snow in one week.) It also meant hiking gear like crampons and water bladders and one brand new Coleman hiking back pack that suffered two broken zippers before we made it out of the first hotel. We filled up our coffees and our gas tank and headed to our first National Park of the trip: Grand Canyon.

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