By April Larken

In March, my DJ business imploded due to Covid, I lost 22 gigs in one day and there was no hope of rescheduling dates this year. By April, I had lost the summer season and then eventually lost the whole year. It was beyond devastating. Then we found out that both kids’ sleep away camps were officially canceled for the summer, they’d been counting the days to camp all year and were crushed by this news. By May, we had hit our Covid quarantine rock bottom.

Jonathan was switching jobs and was about to have his first summer off in 25 years. Now our summer was looking unexpectedly wide open and for the first time ever, we had ZERO obligations, commitments or plans! I’m a big fan of the “you’ve only got 18 summers with your kids, so make them count” theory and I wasn’t about to let Covid turn this summer into the one they remember as the worst ever. I needed to somehow turn these Covid lemons into lemonade. I thought to myself – “Both parents have no work and both kids have no camp? When will this ever happen again? Probably never and not while they’re still young!”

An opportunity to do something we never thought we could! I’ve always had RV across America on my bucket list and Jonathan being from England has always wanted to see the “fly over states,” so I started planning! We decided on a date – middle of July (because the national parks would be re-opening by then) and on a route – head west to Las Vegas. *We didn’t want to include California on this adventure because we felt like Cali deserves its own dedicated trip and it’s just too special to “tack on” to this one. We decided to make it a one way because we wanted to take our time heading west and couldn’t imagine how depressing it would be driving all the way home without stopping after we made it that far.

When I first started calling around to reserve an RV in May, I discovered early on that we were not the only ones with this idea. It seemed like all of America was looking to rent an RV and drive across the country. (Doing the same thing we were). One of the RV rental companies told me that I was their 2000th request of the day! Renting an RV “one way” is harder to find and more expensive. They charge you extra to drop it off in a different location than you picked up. I had my work cut out for me, but I found one that we could pick up outside of NYC and drop off in Las Vegas from El Monte RVs. Some cost breakdown details if interested: $275 a night (that’s average) plus you pay for every mile (we drove ours 4000), insurance is $30 a day and then there’s the cost of the campgrounds that range from $25 a night to $250 depending on accommodation type and location.

After I explained to the kids that the journey was actually the vacation, they seemed less than thrilled. I knew that I had to create a trip that included more than just driving from state to state and going to sleep in campgrounds when we arrived. I needed to plan an “adventure” along the way, with fun activities to do in each state we stopped in. They needed something to look forward to in every state. This was a fun challenge, I got out the map and planned a route that looked fun and not rushed . We only had one day with a 9 hour drive, otherwise they were all four to six hour stints of driving and most stops we stayed for two nights each.

Hundreds of hours went into planning this road trip. We had so much fun planning! It was important to personally connect everyone to the journey by giving them stops that they helped choose themselves. I made a list of everyone’s trip wishes – Ella wanted to ride horses on a real working ranch, Jasper wanted to see covered wagons (after GCDS Westward-Ho unit!). Jonathan wanted to try fly fishing in the Colorado Rockies and I wanted to check off as many National Parks as possible (we did five).

My only experience with camping was spending summers as a kid on sailing trips with my family, we’d sail from destination to destination and sleep on our boat for weeks at a time. I have incredible memories of those nights sleeping on our boat with my family and I was hoping to share some of that camping magic with my kids. Overnight boating is definitely similar to camping in many ways, so I wasn’t that intimidated by living in an RV for several weeks, I imagined it would be just like living on a boat- but with wheels and actual electricity!

We rented a 31 ft “C Class family sleeper” it had 2 pop-outs (one on each side) and a cabover to sleep in. It was very spacious! Everyone had a space to call their own, including a separate bedroom in the back with a queen size bed and a door that closed to the rest of cabin. It had a good size refrigerator/freezer, 4 burner stove/oven a microwave, a big stand up shower stall and tons of space for storage. We were grateful for its AC in the 106 degrees in southern Utah and we bundled up with blankets in the 40 degrees in Montana.

Thankfully, everything worked well inside the cabin, but driving it took a lot of getting used to. Getting the 12,000 pound vehicle down the steep 10% grade of the winding Grand Teton Pass and up the rocky mountains of Colorado during a rain storm, was quite scary. And every time a tractor trailer sped passed, you’d hold the wheel tight or you’d end up in a ditch on the side of road. Turns had to be taken extra wide and stopping it took several hundred feet. It looked like a Ford truck inside, but drove like a school bus! Jonathan drove for about 80% of the trip, as he keeps his cool better than I do. I had the important role of choosing the music (obviously!), reading the RV manual and navigating!

We each had our “roles” in camping. We assigned our jobs early on and stuck with them until the end. Ella was our campfire chef, she cooked us dinner every night on different types of fire pits. She mastered cooking with firewood and charcoal and made delicious meals. Jasper was in charge of transitioning the RV to “sleeping mode” at night by opening the pop-outs, breaking down the bunks, placing the privacy covers on the windows and checking to make sure we were on level ground with the leveler. April was in charge of navigating the campsite showers and laundry facilities. Making sure we had flip flops and toiletries and clean towels in our shower caddies every night. And getting to the laundry rooms for clean clothes and linens. Jonathan didn’t have any troubles with toilet duty. He said it was simple. He was in charge of all the water levels – black and grey.

We were all sad when it was over, but definitely ready to come home. It was the perfect amount of time. Jasper finished all five of his summer reading books, I was really craving a hot bath, Jonathan was desperate for some fitness (FYI very few opportunities to work out when on a road trip) and Ella, our teen was missing her friends a lot. On our last night sleeping in the RV we were all sad it was over and agreed we’d miss our nights in the little cabin (mission accomplished!).

What a beautiful country we live in! And I don’t just mean the land…. lakes so big they look like oceans, endless cornfields, orange deserts and snowy mountain peaks are breathtaking! There’s something very special about crossing state lines and experiencing drastically different landscapes, weather, agriculture, food, fashion, culture, music, architecture, accents and history when you do! That’s where America is beautiful – in every state’s diversities.

We felt very patriotic. As a music lover I’m always tuning in and observing the music around me when I travel, it’s what resonates most with me. Music always gives me ALL THE FEELS and I felt my most patriotic when listening to the radio while driving through the states. You get a lot of country music once you leave the tristate area. Country music is about as American as it gets, so I embraced it! Johnny Cash came on the radio in Wyoming and I got choked up, then it happened again with John Denver in Colorado, the Grateful Dead in Montana, Michael Jackson in Indiana and Elvis in Vegas. Some songs just make me feel proud to be an American!

The sights were breathtaking. Jasper our little science nerd was floored by the Grand Prismatic hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. I mean blown away! After driving for hours in Nebraska and Iowa with nothing but cornfields, Jonathan asked “why do you guys need so much corn?” Too funny! Ella our animal lover couldn’t get enough of the bison in the Grand Tetons and Zion Mountain, and the wolves of Yellowstone.

My take away from the trip is – don’t forget to thank a farmer! I have a lot more respect for the American farmer, I had no idea how much of this country was farm land. “That’s why God made a farmer.”

There’s so many memorable experiences! Put n Bay Ohio was a gorgeous island in Lake Erie, that felt more like the Florida keys than the Midwest. Utah’s Bryce Canyon was jaw dropping and The Jackson Hole Rodeo was a very unique experience.

We are officially hooked on camping! We got back home and immediately started planning our next road trip.