Wish You Were Here: Cross-Country Road Trip

A big family, a big car, a big country. You learn a lot on a 3,500-mile road trip with your nearest and dearest -- not all of it fit for postcards home.
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Family Road Trip

Unless you count Pensacola, Florida (10 miles away) and Chattanooga, Tennessee (13 miles away), I was 18 years old before I ever left my home state of Alabama. When I was a child there was no money for elaborate vacations, and I dreamed about those iconic American journeys -- to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Disney World -- that I heard about every September from my classmates. I told myself that when I had kids of my own, we would spend our summers exploring the great American landscape, from sea to shining sea. No child of mine would get stuck writing a back-to-school essay called "My Summer Vacation at Lake Lurleen State Park."

Then Haywood and I actually had kids and discovered that traveling with small children is absolutely no fun. Imprisoned in their car seats, they wail for hours, begging for deliverance from their government-approved straitjackets. Family reunions were the only trips we could handle. One day, we figured, we'd be up to a big adventure.

But then my father died, and Sam became a teenager, and still we'd taken no grand excursion into the heart of America. It hit Haywood and me that these days together are terribly, terribly short. So we came up with a plan to combine a mini family reunion with a massive family vacation: a multigenerational trip through the American West involving a grandmother with Parkinson's, a grandfather with an artificial knee, and three bouncy children completely unaware that mountain overlooks are not safely surrounded by guardrails. It did not begin auspiciously.

Continued on page 2:  World's Largest SUV


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