Qualitative vs. Quantitative Travel: My Road Trip with mi Madre

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Clinton, Oklahoma as I begin to write this piece because my mom needed to stop riding for today. We have learned over the last week that 6 hours in the car is about the right time frame for her (and that eight hours is pushing it). And so we stopped in Clinton, of which happens to be the home of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum. She flew out to Los Angeles almost two weeks ago to see the show and hang out in Hollywood for a few days. The plan was to then drive across the country to Atlanta together, touring some National Parks and stopping at major sights, with Maggie Dog of course along for the ride. But as we got started on our adventure, one thing became clear: my mom was developing a different view of this trip than me.

When planning this road trip, Madre, as I have called her since I was a teenager, said to me that she wanted to take the scenic routes and for me to play tour guide. Excited by that prospect, I got started planning. I thought, “Driving out of LA, we could see King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks… then detour to Desert Valley as we drive to Vegas for a night and catch a Cirque show. Oh! And then we could drive to the Grand Canyon (maybe via Zion NP?)… and yes, we have to stay in Santa Fe!” I couldn’t wait to share the West with my 73 year old Southern momma. Her voice shook with joyful anticipation as we discussed the plans prior to her arrival in California.

But as we began to drive, I started to notice that Madre was not having the best time. Distances in the West are deceiving to many people; one can look at the map and think that it is easy to detour into national parks, but the roads are slow, winding, and sometimes desolate. Those detours and scenic byways can add hours to your trip, and once you decide to head that direction, the best solution is to just keep moving forward. If you backtrack, then it will only add even more time until you reach your destination. With the hours in the car growing, Madre was not feeling well. She needed to stop more often than she liked to admit, sometimes causing her to feel pain in some way. Eating on the road was hard, and the hairpin Sierra Mountain roads were making her carsick. She is not a hiker, so walking trails in the parks or along the drive was not really an option. She became tired early in the evening and needed a hotel soon after the first snooze in the front seat. The trip was becoming hard on me, too, as I had to do all of the driving and hauling of luggage. Plus, traveling with a dog can add some needed lengthier stops for walks and such. We were not moving quickly, but there was no way to move faster. The scenery was beautiful, and we were enjoying the time together, but ultimately this was not going well. She didn’t seem happy. Once in Las Vegas, we talked about it. She physically needed, but also wanted, us to slow things down. “Maybe we see less and do more,” she said. She also needed me to take more interstates, meaning straighter roads with more frequent options for services.

I came to realize that it wasn’t just that she was having a hard time in the car; it was also that I had packed in too much. The trip was flying by way too quickly for her, like a whirlwind bus tour. She wanted to slow it down, breathe in the air, and savor the moment. I felt silly for doing this to her, as that is my mantra when it comes to travel: take your time, talk to the locals, and stroll the streets. Why did I think that I needed to show her every inch of every park or scenic byway? I might as well of wrapped my car with one of those cheesy tour bus logos. This was a once in a lifetime trip, so I had wanted to show her everything… every curve, every rock formation. However, through that decision, I realized that I had made a mistake.

And so we did just that: we slowed down. The following day was her birthday. We decided to book an extra night at the Grand Canyon, and being that it is the off-season, we got lucky. We spent all day at the canyon, just walking, looking, sipping tea, taking pictures, and discussing the magnificent beauty that Mother Nature has created. It was wonderful. I hiked some with the rim trail with Maggie Dog while Madre took an afternoon nap. Then we bundled up and headed back to the rim to watch the sunset at Yavapai Point. Are there more vistas and mesas and buttes that I could have shown her? Sure. Many more. But that no longer mattered. What mattered was the quality of the experience rather than the quantity of rock formations that we viewed. When we are younger, we want to see everything, running from point A to point B, sometimes all of the way to Z. But as we get older, we just want to pick one point and stay awhile. My mom, being now 73, wanted to just sit and stay awhile. I was reminded to appreciate that view on this trip, the qualitative view of travel, even on a road trip.

I now finish this blog post from her kitchen counter in Georgia. We made it here Sunday evening, two and a half days later than expected, bringing the total days on the road to 8, but that’s okay. We did spend an evening in Santa Fe, taking the time to look at the cathedrals and architecture in town before heading East. We stopped in Oklahoma, and then again near Memphis, before we finally reached our Georgian destination. We called family along the way and played with Maggie Dog in dog parks across the states. And even though I did have to miss a friend’s baby shower on Saturday in Atlanta, she completely understood once I explained the way the trip was going. “Mom comes first,” she said. I am so grateful to have such a loving mom, kind friends, and a patient husband. I wouldn’t exchange those extra days spent on our mom & daughter adventure across this country for anything.

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And now, I need to catch up on writing about the cities and places we have visited over the last six weeks!

 

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