We will be off first thing in the morning for another camping adventure. Just the six of us, this time. In August, it is our annual tradition to go on a vacation that does not include extended family or extras. (I should add too, that first thing in the morning does not mean with teenagers what it means with the rest of the population. If we get going by 10 am, I will consider ourselves lucky.)
Our August vacation changes from year to year. Last year we camped in the sand dunes at Assateague, a barrier island off the coast of Virginia. We swam in the surf, flew kites on the beach, and stared at the herds of wild horses that were actually not very wild but more like tame scavengers who tromped around the campsite begging for food. When a hurricane began moving up the coast, we had the excitement of trying to sleep in a tent that was swaying in gale force wind. We woke at dawn to the sound of poles clattering all around us as everyone in the campsite hurried to be the first off the island.
The year before that, we drove to Shenandoah National Park for some hiking through gorgeous lush woods and mountains so misty that it was like moving through a cloud. In Virginia, we spent an afternoon at an amazing underground cavern, with all kinds of cool red rock formations in weird shapes, before driving on to Cape Hatteras, where we camped in the sand dunes and spent every day at the beach. We were at Hatteras for the full moon so our vacation included romantic late night walks on the beach.
The summer before that, we spent our August week in West Virginia, at a remote farm in Appalachia. We were volunteers that week, all six of us, and that vacation included getting up every day at 6 am to do chores around the farm before putting on long pants and boots to go work construction on the homes of people who could not afford to hire anyone. The record high temperatures (over 100 degrees and humid) made that experience a bit surreal. I recall sitting in the hot sunshine on a roof, two stories up, absolutely melting, and watching my seven-year-old son nailing in roof shingles, one slow stroke of the hammer at a time. The best part of that vacation was watching how hard my kids were willing to work in that situation -- and catching a glimpse of the wonderful adults they were going to be some day.
The summer before that, we camped at Acadia in Maine, yet another beautiful national park. We hiked on trails that took us on cliffs above the ocean, explored rocky beaches, swam in the icy ocean, and watched a sunset from the top of a mountain. My kids, who were still pretty young, made me nervous by walking near the edges of cliffs, and I made them nervous by screaming at them whenever they did so.
No matter where we are headed each August, everyone in my family loves a road trip. Spouse and I will spend our time up in the front seat, talking, while Smart Beautiful Wonderful Daughter keeps peace amongst her brothers. Shaggy Hair, owner of an iPod, is in charge of the music this year. Boy in Black, once he gets going, is very funny and can usually be counted on to entertain us in ways that would be impossible to explain to anyone outside the family. With-a-Why, who insists on bringing his special soft blanket and pillow along with a herd of stuffed animals, will snuggle up to one of his siblings, so quiet that I will have to turn around once in a while to make sure he is still there.
We stop pretty often on trips. Bathroom stops. Food stops. I can't pass up a Scenic View sign or a historical marker or wonderfully tacky tourist places. Spouse likes roadside diners that serve dreadful greasy food and weird specialty milkshakes. In the days before cell phones and iPods, when our kids were younger and the adults got to be in charge of the music, Spouse used to stop at pay phones to call in requests to local radio stations. "You need to play it soon," he would say pleadingly, "I'm just passing through."
I cannot read in the car because it makes me motion sick so I expect my family to entertain me. And they do. We play games, we reminisce about other trips, they mock me out for my taste in music. Mostly, we just enjoy each other's company. The kids are growing up fast: my daughter will be a sophomore in college this year, and my oldest son a senior in high school. I don't know how many more of these vacations we will get, all six of us together as a family. So this week, I am planning to savor every minute of it.