Lewis and Clark to Badlands

All the men here look like the Marlboro man.  Maybe not all.

We are trekking through South Dakota, and the landscape is alien. It is both green and desolate. Long stretches of rippling grass, flat for miles, where the road seems like it goes straight on forever, and when I can't see any further, the road glimmers and ends in sky. The sky is huge and clear, brighter blue where it is raining miles ahead. No hint of grey; a conciliatory ocean for the landlocked. 

When we passed over the Missouri River, over Lake Francis Clay, suddenly the landscape burst and rocky bottomed, roly green hills popped up all around us. Even the little ones were impressed. Lilly took better pictures than I managed to take.  The water was Caribbean blue and very surprising. 

 Lake Francis Clay 

Lake Francis Clay 

Three days in, we have some new car rules. 

1. No one may eat something that everyone else is not also eating.   Exceptions only for medicine. 

2. Yes you do have to go potty.   Unbuckle. You are going. 

3. No one may ask "how much longer?" We are not annoyed by this question. We are annoyed by the second time you ask it and say "but you SAID an hour two hours ago!" 

4. Silent time is strictly enforced, or, we wish it were. The only way we have found to enforce this is by passing out lollipops. Doesn't last long. Right now, we are out of lollipops and on a merged two lane road, under construction, in heavy rain and wind, with five loud kids and one 31' trailer. Be quiet, now. Also there's hail. Stephen swears the wind is blowing at 40 miles an hour. 

5. Don't touch Jane.  

6. Do not crunch up styrofoam cups. Why would you do this????  Henry, why would you do this??

We are getting near to Badlands and beginning to see all kinds of taxidermy, tacky Wild West types of billboards.  "See an 11 ft. elephant!"  "Shootin' Range!". "No mean, all keen, no growl, no howl PRARIE DOGS!" Maybe we'll line up for one of those sepia-toned western pics.  I hear we ought to be prepared for kitch beyond our wildest imaginings. We chose fairly rustic campsites in hopes of a counterbalance.  Tonight, a park inside Badlands with no amenities and roadside spaces but amazing views, and tomorrow, Custer State Park where we hear Bison will roam freely through the campground. 

 somewhere along I-90W in South Dakota  

somewhere along I-90W in South Dakota  

 pulling into Badlands

pulling into Badlands

Topeka to Yukton, SD

Shorter drive today. We spent the morning at Gage Park in Topeka, which was pretty and probably not quite worth going out of your way for, but we enjoyed it. The kids rode the carousel and train and hung out at the playground with a picnic lunch. Then off for the 5+ hour trek to Yukton, South Dakota, to Lewis and Clark Rec Area. Spectacular - I woke up to a view of a lake cut down into enormous sediment rock. Coffee and oatmeal, morning walk to the shell covered beach, and off for lunch into town. Yelp told us that every eatery in town was terrible, so we hit the only five star place around and had ice cream for lunch.  

 Dairy Dive, Yukton. Good stuff here, Yukton.  

Dairy Dive, Yukton. Good stuff here, Yukton.  

 I never like when they do stuff like this.  

I never like when they do stuff like this.  

On the way to Lewis and Clark, we passed a Benedictine Monastery and popped inside. Henry was never ever louder anywhere in his life, and the sweet nun inside wondered if we were an hour late for the Mass. We look like the type. Beautiful grounds, beautiful 1930s gothic, and lots of hushing children and one epic nosebleed, then off to Badlands. 6 hours. No big deal.  

 Sacred Heart Benedictine Monastery  

Sacred Heart Benedictine Monastery  

Five states

We drove through Tennesee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas today. We tried to push it to get out West quickly so we could spend more time exploring places unfamiliar.

We made one extended stop at Patti's 1880s Something or Other in Kentucky. This place was entirely tacky in an ideal Roadside Americana way.   The grounds looked like a mini golf place and the restaurant was absolutely packed, with an hour wait at opening. We headed to an identical restaurant that had no wait just across the gift shop. There were plastic flowers and ivy affixed to the walls and Christmas lights all over. It was clean and neat somehow, and exactly what one might expect. Paula Dean recommended the Sawdust Pie, coconut meets pecan.  This is the kind of place where you might run into Paula. The pretty servers had to wear floral polyesther ridiculousness, like Amish wear trying for sexy.  Meals were better than we expected. We had to ferry the children through a candles-candy-keychains type of gift shop and quickly back to the car so we could make Topeka. 

Which was actually not on our route.   Oops. (How did I miss this??) Topeka took us an hour out of the way. We arrived in the dark and tried to set up the trailer on a sloped campsite that dipped down into a lake. We decided to pull into an empty spot on the opposite side.  We got all set up at the green, hilly lakeside campground and brought the kids inside for a late bedtime. Poor Jane was distraught and cried for her own bed but fell asleep in a quick second.  Epic road trip begun. 

 Topeka.  

Topeka.  

 bright green and blue for miles 

bright green and blue for miles 

Underway.

We got off to a late start yesterday. That's always how we roll. We had a hard time saying goodbye to all of our dear neighbors! Thanks to everyone pitching in, the trailer is painted and pretty inside, and will feel like home.  Our sweet friends brought us pizza, cooked us dinners, popped over with lunch, helped clean the house, and one stayed hours inside the hot trailer painting so we could get things wrapped up before leaving.  (She painted the thing in her panties. No kidding. Don't be judgey. It was like painting the inside of a stove, y'all.)

 Setting off. My nice, new, talented neighbor offered to take a pic before we left, then hung around graciously for thirteen hours while we gathered the kids for said pic. 

Setting off. My nice, new, talented neighbor offered to take a pic before we left, then hung around graciously for thirteen hours while we gathered the kids for said pic. 

Here are some pics of the interior. We have some work to do still on the bathroom, and we never did get to the wallpaper. Next trip.  

 the kitchen - replaced the stove with a coffee machine. way more important.  We removed the bulky bulky bulkheads and though still tight for our big family, it's much more open and airy. 

the kitchen - replaced the stove with a coffee machine. way more important.  We removed the bulky bulky bulkheads and though still tight for our big family, it's much more open and airy. 

 Chalk wall was a good call. (Thanks, Anna!) Kind of tacky couch pulls out to a double ish bed. It's soft and fabulous. 

Chalk wall was a good call. (Thanks, Anna!) Kind of tacky couch pulls out to a double ish bed. It's soft and fabulous. 

 Not tacky teepee fabric. This pulls out and Jane and Henry sleep on it.   The girls have a bunk bed in the back room, and we have a queen bed in the front. With a door. 

Not tacky teepee fabric. This pulls out and Jane and Henry sleep on it.   The girls have a bunk bed in the back room, and we have a queen bed in the front. With a door. 

So, we were totally excited to sleep in this but I failed to make any reservations. And nothing at all was available. Because, Memorial Day weekend. First stop was an Embassy Suites in Nashville.   

While we were traveling up to Nashville, my Nashvillian friend Emily texted to say "saw an airstream on the interstate and thought of you" and It WAS me.  

Tomorrow we head to Kansas. Off to Topeka, where I have booked something.  

This is going to be SO FUN, y'all.

I keep saying this to the children, over and over.  I know it's true, and also that being on the road will be a lot like being home, with it's usual ups and downs and all the same kid behaviors, but more smooshed up.  Some of us in our big family are less outdoors-y than the others. I know I am not a hiker, but I am imagining quiet, peaceful hikes through gorgeous, not-scary, not-steep, not-buggy scenery.  In my imaginings, I am not holding five cast off jackets, three water bottles that are making red marks on my hand, and a fussy red-headed baby.  In my imaginings, I am not potty training any people.  I am certainly not potty training anyone on an epic road trip.  I imagine us gathered happily in the evenings around a campfire, singing, the children catching fireflies.  It's going to be pretty much exactly like this: 

Only less multi-cultural.

I know better.  It's rather likely that the children will have their faces in their Kindles all day, fight over flashlights, insist on unending hours playing Sorry! (worst. game. ever. Who likes this game? No one like this game.), and that at the end of it all, I will look like this:

 It's cool though.  I can look like Maggie.  

It's cool though.  I can look like Maggie.  

But we have to do this.  The children are growing wildly fast, and soon they'll be too big to fit in the tiny trailer at all.  And I want so badly to hold on to these kids, to draw in close (very close) and make memories that we can embellish for years to come, making it all sound more fun than maybe it really was, turning it over time into the perfect, most dreamy summer.  

Before and During...

This is the Safari, up above, and here below, the new look, in progress.  We left the couch alone - that pleather turned out to be butter soft and we couldn't stop touching it.  The new kitchen will be painted white or maybe Rainwashed (super soft turquoise).  It's the exterior of our home now, and I think it will feel home-like.  Check out my not-tacky teepee fabric and my Emma Moloney Peter Pan wall paper, which is going on the walls between the bedroom and the main room, and again on the bathroom door by the bunk room.  I've had it forever - a gift from my amazing sister, and I never could commit to using it.  This cool Ikea Rimforsa (say it.  Feels great.) is going where the massive bulkheads once were.  (Click on the pics and you can scroll through.  Sorry.  I know you're not stupid.)

The kitchen has been reworked. We removed the stove as we'll be cooking outside anyhow, and we'll grab a hot plate/toaster oven that we can stow.  There was a bump out that was truly irritating and created a terrible flow (read: five tiny kids were attached to my bottom while I boiled water), so we nixed it.  We also made the kitchen less deep and popped in an IKEA farmhouse sink.  Here it is, put in backwards - I better call about that.  I think I'll keep an eye out for new hardware, as this teensy kitchen has a ridiculous number of knobs.  

We pick it up on Weds. next, and I can't believe it's nearly time to set off.  Quick overview - we are going from Atlanta to Mississippi, across the midwest (the Badlands! Kansas City!) and on to Jackson Hole, WY, where I think of our trip beginning.  From there, Montana, which is practically Canada.  I haven't packed a thing, but I did order up some bear spray. 

HERE WE GO.

WE'RE GETTING READY.

Our family of seven has purchased a 2005 Airstream Safari Bunkhouse and we plan to take it on the road full-time beginning in May.  You can follow our progress here.

It took us so much longer than we anticipated to find the right home on wheels for our enormous family.  Our Safari Bunkhouse model is new-ish (we're not terribly handy and didn't want to deal with a lot of mechanical issues), and the interior lacked any sort of retro coolness.  "Safari" is the Airstream term for their design scheme... think tacky black and gold and cream pleathery-ness. Yuck. Totally livable, and totally live-with-able, but we wanted it to feel more like home.

Apart from our lack of mechanical prowess, we chose this newer model because it features a front bedroom w/ a closing door (so important) and a bunk room in the rear that will be perfect for the girls.  The boys are still quite small and they'll sleep on the fold out and on the couch, so no child has to share a bed except the baby, who is everyone's favorite anyhow. 

We made a test run the first weekend we had the Airstream to a nearby state park.  When we arrived, it was nearly dark because we are always late everywhere, and Stephen and I fussed with the water hook up in the half-darkness for just about forever.  We decided to give up and do without water, but when I was faced with the prospect of trekking kids and babies and toiletries and towels across the park to the communal restroom, I thought I might have a second look.  I don't know what we were doing -- it's like attaching a hose.  So easy.  The rest of the weekend was relatively smooth.  It rained a lot and the kids were cuddled on the tiny couch in the tiny trailer watching movies (totally not what I had envisioned), but fun nonetheless.  

This thing has a ridiculous amount of storage, even for our family.  We decided we'd rather trade out some kitchen and storage space for a more open feel.  We took the trailer to a custom van place near our house, where the kitchen and bathroom have been gutted and redesigned.  The bulkheads in the kitchen area (which is also the living area and some people's bedroom) have been taken out.  We're removing the vinyl floor and putting in flor tiles in a light blue-green tone.  (I'd rather vacuum than sweep.)   The banquette has been removed and will be replaced as it was black and gold and all kinds of grandpa-chic, and it'll be recovered in this crazy teepee print fabric we found that isn't tacky, we promise. We took out the table, which is weird, and I can't remember why we did that, but it's too late now.  The bathroom has the world's tiniest sink.  The sink is so teensy that it makes me envision dollhouse miniature-sized toiletries, and I feel like a giant standing next to it.  

The bathroom floor is going to remain lame during our first long trek, but I have big plans for later. Because of the tiny space, I can splurge on these awesome painted wood floor tiles.  And paint will help so much.  I'll have to paint what I can in a mad rush once we pick up the trailer.  The fumes will surely help everyone stay chill...

I'm not terribly outdoorsy, but I suppose I will be by the end of the summer.  We look forward to family campfires, seeing amazing places, and hopefully, shaking ourselves a bit free.