Western Adventure Road Trip Wrap-Up

I recently wrapped up another western adventure. This road trip chimed in at 31 days, 5,890 miles, and spanned 11 states, making it one of my smaller undertakings. I spent 18 of those days exploring solo before Fred and George joined me. In that time, I ventured to Overland Expo and explored the joys of eastern Nevada. After I picked the boys up in Las Vegas, we headed east to northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

val in real life - subaru forester new mexico
Blubaru delivered another successful trip. She’s a champ.

In the course of my 31 days on the road I was able to visit places like:

  • Overland Expo
  • Great Basin National Park
  • Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historical Park
  • Cathedral Gorge State Park
  • Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
  • Meteor Crater
  • Petroglyph National Monument
  • Bandalier National Monument
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park

If you’ve been following along here for awhile, you know I like to look back at my trips and assess what went well and what wasn’t so fabulous so I can make adjustments for the next adventure.

In this case, the trip was off from the get-go. It was supposed to be a three-week solo motorcycle adventure for me. But being hit by a car has a tendency to force you to change your plans. After some recovery time, this trip got shifted to another car-based adventure.

Each trip has its own subtext of what I hope to gain from the journey. This one was mainly about regaining myself and rebuilding my confidence. Even though the tone of this adventure was philosophical, there was still plenty to learn in terms of how to manage that type of travel.

Thumbs up…

There was much that worked out well, some of it by design, and some of it by dumb luck.

val in real life - great basin national park
I took on an inclement weather solo hike in Great Basin National Park. I didn’t make it as far as I wanted and I struggled much of the way, but I count it as a success for the obstacles I overcame to do it.

  • For once, I paced the trip pretty well. Other than some driving pushes at the very beginning and end, I actually managed to not try to cover too much ground. That changed the entire tone of the trip. It allowed us to enjoy some of the hotel amenities like pools and hot tubs instead of rolling in at midnight and sleeping for a few hours before rolling out again.
  • I didn’t sweat having reservations for campsites as I have in the past. With one exception, that worked out just fine. And that reduced to pressure of needing to be certain places at certain times which crushes flexibility.
  • I packed smarter. I made some minor changes to how I store food and gear and was much more stingy with how much clothing came along. Result? Less frustration with feeling like the car was going to explode in a gory mess of camping gear.
  • It was unplanned, but George happened to bring along his Boggle game. So we ended having a two-week long Boggle tournament. He won, of course… because he’s a total word nerd. But it gave us a fun anchor and helped Fred engage.
  • I managed to get by with only two rounds of laundry by embracing a multi-day camping strategy on our duds even when we weren’t camping.
val in real life - bandelier national monument
I’m smiling because Fred was being funny. But working my way through Bandelier was really tough. And it shouldn’t have been. Keeping frustration at bay became my biggest focus some days on this trip.

Thumbs down…

I’m a fairly seasoned road tripper but I’m still always amazed at how each trip has its own personality and vastly different challenges… and some that persist regardless of the adventure.

val in real life - cadillac ranch texas
Fred and George getting their hoodlum on at Cadillac Ranch in Texas where I redeemed myself from our last visit here.

  • Fred isn’t a fan of these trips and is at an age when his brother’s mere existence is insulting much of the time. Being confined to a small car doesn’t exactly improve that mood. So there’s that. The upside (if there is one to navigating the teenage years) is that we managed that dynamic much better than on last year’s Pacific Northwest Tour.
  • On the Overland Expo to TBEX adventure, Blubaru took a rock to the windshield which needed to be replaced. The Pacific Northwest Tour found me replacing the sunroof glass for the same reason. Aaaaand, here we go again. This trip resulted in another cracked windshield. The bright side so far is that it has remained quite small so it didn’t have to be addressed while on the trip.
  • Peak season travel means crowds. No way around it. Fortunately, most of the places we went were not super-popular but it did impact our time in Great Sand Dunes heavily. For me, that’s really hard given my love for the park. I altered our plans and took a chance on heading there on a Friday. That plan failed and left me deflated.
  • Both boys had some tummy trouble that resulted in some unpleasant clean-ups and altered plans to accommodate lethargic sickies.
  • That, along with my diminished state, resulted in more time (and expense) spent in hotels which skewed the camping-to-lodging ratio unfavorably.

Plus, there’s the belligerent 800-pound gorilla that came along… that I’m still recovering from a major trauma. Nothing I could really do about that. My physical limitations impacted every aspect of this trip.

val in real life - cadillac ranch
I may have embraced my inner hoodlum as well. 😉

  • I ran into issues with how long I could sit in the car without having to stop and stretch.
  • I battled not being able to stay warm at Overland Expo and Great Basin.
  • I found myself completely exhausted from the effort of setting up camp, even with the boys’ help (which, let’s face it, is often less-than-enthusiastic).
  • I even struggled to pop a squat in the woods when nature called.
  • My hikes and outings had to be kept short. I simply can’t do what I used to be able to. My leg tires quickly. Throbs. Aches. Stiffens.
  • Loading the roof box of the car was a dicey affair since my method involves some semi-gymnastic maneuvers on the car door and my leg is not to be trusted in those duties yet.
  • I struggled up and down inclines and stairs, concentrating on each step so I wouldn’t fall and damage the camera gear I carry or reinjure myself. Kind of hard to enjoy yourself when your focus is on your feet and the availability of hand rails.
  • I found myself not taking the shots I would have because the position I would need to get into was too painful or I was just too worn out from hobbling along on Frankeleg. Compelling photography isn’t about standing there with the camera to your face and clicking and I struggled to move beyond that. My work shows it. I’m very disappointed with my images the trip.
  • I struggled to keep up with my physical therapy. Even though I was creative, it was daunting finding appropriate spots to do my exercises, as well as the energy, given the rigors of travel.

All of this created an emotional battle for me. What can I say? It sucks to have to struggle with things that used to be simple. I would have success followed by struggles and failures then success again. Up and down. High and low. More so than life’s typical roller coaster. More extreme.

There was a good bit of time feeling dismayed that what I used to be was taken from me and that my journey through recovery is far from over. But gratitude for some beautiful moments and places. And there were some I knew were helping me heal, filling in the cracks of my broken spirit.

val in real life - geocaching
We kept our geocaching light and easy under the circumstances by mostly sticking with park and grabs. And we still managed to find some fun places.

Big picture…

Overall the trip was good. I love being on the road. But it was also hard. Certainly harder than it should have been for reasons outside of my control. It was also necessary. In the end, I at least proved to myself I could still do it. And with time, the happy moments will outshine the struggles.

So yes, it was worth and I would still encourage anyone to take a chance on travel.

And now for your moment of green…

val in real life - great sand dunes infrared
There is so much emotion in this image. The dunes might as well have been Everest to me, they felt that big and unachievable. But the boys wanted to climb. And telling them “I can’t” left a festering hole in my heart. And so we set out, thinking we probably wouldn’t get very far in. It took a snail’s pace and mining the depths of determination but we made it.