The miles of New Mexico highway stretched out in front of me as if inviting me to drive to eternity…a journey that we are all on and one that may run for miles between big and memorable events. Each day there are small things that will build into memories upon memories, but only a few of those events are placed into a families shared memory. Many holiday memories become an amalgam of Thanksgivings or Christmases past. A few of those stand out. This is just such a story.
For me, the journey to any destination is just as important as the fun you have at the destination. Sometimes the journey is fun, sometimes it has challenges…in the best of times it has both. You get home feeling as if you have had a good time, learned valuable lessons and overcome obstacles as a family. The most important part of this process is not the completion of the journey, (although sometimes getting home is quite a relief!) but learning, adapting and embracing the good and bad on the journey.
That year for thanksgiving we faced a trek to Sacramento, CA from our home in Roswell, NM. We knew that anyway you cut it; this 2578 mile round trip journey would be a challenge. We looked at flights from Roswell, Albuquerque, El Paso, Lubbock and Amarillo. That cost would swallow up our entire budget for the holidays, so we ruled that out quickly. That left two options. Drive…the epic American road trip. Five days, 2578 miles, 172 gallons of gasoline, two hotel rooms and eight tired buns. I’ve driven much farther on vacation, but never under the time constraints that we faced. If we drove we would spend four days in the car and one day in Sacramento with family. All of these options left us scratching our heads as we were up against a wall and the only suitable option we could think of was to skip the entire expedition.
Then we remembered Amtrak. Our kids love the train and we have taken Amtrak when we lived in Missouri and again while here in New Mexico, but only for a few hours journey to Lamar, Colorado. We looked at our options and found an incredible deal! We could take the train in the afternoon, travel through the night while we slept and arrive in Los Angeles early the following morning ready to drive a few hours North and be there for two and a half days! This option won out, we bought the tickets, made the car reservation and began looking forward to the trip.
From the outset, we were all very excited to see family. We drove the three hours to Albuquerque, caught the train and were off to California. The train journey is extraordinary. For those who say it takes longer than driving, it is important to take into account the ability to continue to move 24 hours a day. Now, taking a flight will almost always be quicker, but for ground travel there is little that a car has on the train. No car seats are the first bonus and the kids were in awe of moving around, watching movies and playing cards while on the train. You can choose to sit in the sightseer lounge and leisurely watch miles and miles of America roll by while you have family time. I have to say, I was particularly pleased to be on a train without Wi-Fi access as we could only watch the movies we had on our laptop and IPad. A funny thing happened as we were sitting there…we talked, played cards…talked some more…the kids fought a bit, then shared and worked together. It was an amazing experience in this day and age, to sit around a table and be a family. No TV, no laptop and for the most part, no cell phone service. As journeys of self-discovery go, it was amazing to reach back in my memories to hours around the table playing games, talking and having fun back when we only had 5 channels on the TV and a video if you remembered to pick it up before the store closed for the holidays. Those were good times and I was relieved to remember them and know that they are still possible.
We arrived in Fullerton about an hour late, but still much farther along the trip than if we had driven. We had breakfast with my family and began the 400 mile journey North to Sacramento. Now, in most of middle America and certainly in New Mexico you can safely assume a 60 mile an hour trip, which accounts for frequent stops. That would take 6 ½ hours…the best you could hope for would be slightly over 5 hours, travelling at top speeds while family sleeps. What we didn’t account for was California traffic. Most Californians would tell you there are several things you should never discuss: Politics, religion and your epic journey for a holiday on the 5.
We were just South of Sacramento (at least we thought we were) when the level of pain endured in the 8 buns reached a tipping point. This strife overflowed in to the mouths and minds of our family members and there was an eternity (or a few minutes) of complaining followed by a ‘can’t do anything about it now’ attitude…all summed up in an unfortunate turn of phrase, ‘well, do you want to turn around?’ Being almost to Sacramento and mentioning returning directly to Roswell was certainly an attempt to throw down the gauntlet. However, one never fully thinks through the aftermath of such a comment. As a friend of mine says, ‘If it feels good (to say)…its no good’. I will let the reader interpret which member of the party took part in the conversation, but the final comment elicited a heated response immediately followed by the arrival of the epic freeze depicted in The Day After Tomorrow. We had another two hours to travel to Sacramento…little did we know that our family lived in the vicinity of Sacramento, meaning one hour North of Sacramento. By the time we arrived we had been locked in the car together for 9 hours, 42 minutes and 13 seconds.
We spent two great days with family. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner, games, pictures, kids playing…kids fighting. Overall we had a great time. For the return trek we had learned some valuable lessons. We checked traffic times using INRIX and decided to leave at 3AM based on the apps ability to predict the best departure time to make sure we missed most of the traffic issues. We arrived in LA just 8 hours after leaving, and that included a 45 minute detour to start off the trip. We spent some good quality time with family in Long Beach, and then loaded the train for the journey east.
As the miles and miles of open New Mexico highway lay ahead on the last leg of our passage I watched the mountains in the distance, the mesas float in an endless sea of prairie and I gave thanks for the safe journey, the family to share it with and the blessing and beauty of a clear path.