4082 Miles with a Pair of Toddlers – or, the Utterly Epic Cross-Country Adventure

This summer, my family completed an epic move across the country from Silver Spring, MD in the DC area to Lake Oswego, OR in the Portland area.  I wrote previously about the effort we took in preparing our children for the drive across country, but now I figured I’d give the highlights of how we actually managed to make it across the country with our belongings and two small children, and not only managed to live to tell the tale, but also enjoyed it.

Now, I’m going to go into a bit of detail for those out there who are either (a) interested in what there is to find in between our two coasts, or (b) is interested in what dastardly tricks we used to keep the kids interested and in once piece throughout the trip, for purposes of their own future road trip adventures.

But, in the case you don’t want to wade through all that – here’s the one thing my 5-year-old daughter wanted you to see: a two-minute montage of our cross-county trip footage, backed by her singing her favorite song (and the song that really was our trip theme song for this adventure):

So, with that, on to the good stuff.

Packing Up & Going

One item that I was remiss in mentioning in my previous article about preparing for the move, is how we handled moving the kids’ belongings.

As you can imagine, space & weight are major constraints when moving cross-country, so we had to eliminate a lot of our belongings prior to the move.   It’s easy enough to say that we’re going to go on a throw-out-stuff-goodwill-run spree, but when it comes to the kids’ belongings – that’s where it gets harder.

Kids get attached to things, and especially so when we’ve been as stringent as we have in ensuring that the childrens’ belongings BELONG TO THEM, and that once we give them something, it is up to them to determine the fate of that object.    In other words, the parents weren’t allowed to just go into their room and start randomly throwing stuff away.

So, once we reserved our moving van, we solved this conundrum by talking over with the kids a few times our moving plans, and making real to them how much space we had.  We came to an agreement that any toys that could fit into the two Ikea bucket-shelves that we had, the kids could keep & take to Oregon.  Anything else that didn’t fit, we’d either throw away (if it was broken) or give to another family (Goodwill).  The kids were remarkably receptive to this idea, and as a result, we were able to take something on the order of 28 boxes of clothes, toys and random objects to Goodwill, leaving the kids with their favorite belongings all still intact, and zero tears shed.

The kids were then also amazingly motivated, once the moving trailer arrived, to help get all of their things into the van, and expended more calories than I’ve ever seen them do, lifting boxes, bicycles and brow bears into the back of the truck.

So – as I know I’ve had more than one friend ask about how to go about thinning down on kiddo clutter, the above has been my best solution:  (a) Do a Move, and (b) involve the kids and their own power of choice on what gets moved.


The Trip

Our trusty Subaru Forester XT, loaded up for the trip, pictured here just north of Yellowstone National Park.
Our trusty Subaru Forester XT, loaded up for the trip, pictured here just north of Yellowstone National Park.

We took just under two weeks to make our way across country from Maryland to Oregon.   Yes, it can be done in less time, but in hindsight, the length of the trip was perfect.  None of our days were particularly grueling on the kids (most days kept to 8 hours driving or less with one exception), and as such we had time to get the kids out of the car, burn some calories, and actually see & experience the country.

Screen Time

If you’ve read any of my other rantings on the subject, whilst we don’t have TV at all in our house, we’re also not total anti-screen zealots.  The happy medium that we established whilst on the trip, was that we’d limit ourselves to one movie per day for the kids, and never do movies or learning games on the Kindle Fire when there was something to be seeing or observing outside the car.

Going across the USA, there are certainly long stretches of positively nothing.  So, for those periods, I’d much rather have the kids involved in something than making the only game be, “Hey mom – want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” – or worse, pillow fights, toy fights, etc.    But, we ended up pretty much successful in getting them out & about & observing the country, while still having them stay in once piece and not turn into bleary-eyed tablet zombies.

Highlights of the Trip

As noted in my last post, we planned each day of our trip out on Roadtrippers.  The final trip that we took was remarkably similar to the original plan:

Cross-Country Adventure! | My new trip on Roadtrippers.com!

Out of 12 nights on the trip, we camped out 7 of them, stayed in a hotel for 3 of them, and stayed with friends the other two.

We drove a total of 4082 miles, and went through 16 states and provinces (DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon).

We saw waterfalls, mountains, prairie, swamps, great lakes and badlands, and saw prairie dogs, black bear, grizzly bear, moose, elk, buffalo, pronghorn, and countless other bits of natural wonderment.

Here are some highlights:

Pennsylvania:  Staying with my wife’s extended family in Lancaster Country, PA, we experienced something quietly beautiful that we likely won’t get to experience again for some time:  fireflies.  At my wife’s uncle’s cabin up in the hills, the fields just come alive with them at night.   Really quite magical.

Niagara Falls:  One of our three nights in hotels on this trip, was a night spent overlooking Niagara Falls.   I would have much more photos & video from this iconic adventure, but unfortunately my beautiful daughter managed to knock my brand-new smartphone out of my wife’s hands, and right into Niagara Falls.  We won’t be retrieving it anytime soon.  Luckily, I snapped a few pics with my DSLR, and luckily my DSLR was securely fastened to me with a neck strap.

Chicago, IL:  As the only really major city that we passed through on the trip was to be Chicago, I had spent a good bit of time with the kids showing them flyovers of Chicago in Google Earth before we arrived.  But more than the buildings, it (curiously) was Lake Michigan that they most wanted to see.  Their favorite book, Paddle-to-the-Sea, features each of the Great Lakes, so they badly wanted to see this one for themselves.

It was a scorcher that day, though, so we burned calories by playing in the fountains at Millennium Park.

Camping in the Prairie:  On our way to the Black Hills, we camped two nights in the prairie – once on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in Minnesota, and another on the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota.   The weather cooperated, and the scenery was fantastic.

Badlands National Park:  We made a slight diversion to go through Badlands National Park, and I really wasn’t prepared for how striking the terrain is there.  It really is like some sort of lunar/alien landscape, with sharp contrasts to verdant prairie all around.

Mt. Rushmore:  One of the parts of the trip my daughter was most looking forward to, was seeing Mt. Rushmore.   She had learned all about it on ABCMouse, including details of the Presidential Trail that tours around the monument, the hundreds of people that worked to create it, and even a song describing it.

Wyoming & Yellowstone National Park:   We made our camp in the absolutely stunning Buffalo Bill State Park, and used that as a staging area for two days of sorties into Yellowstone.   After all of the documentaries my wife & I have watched on Yellowstone, we knew we were barely going to be able to scratch the surface of the park in only two days, but we gave it an honest try.

Whilst Yellowstone is indeed naturally beautiful, the highlight of the park was the abundance of wildlife.  Nowhere else have I seen such a plethora of large game just hanging out in plain sight.  The one hike that we ended up doing with the kids ended up getting cut completely short because we came across a large specimen of bull bison lounging in the middle of the trail.   Yep – time to turn around kids.

Glacier National Park:   Now, Yellowstone was awful pretty.  But, comparing Glacier National Park to Yellowstone, in terms of visual impact, is much like comparing the Virginia hills to the Rocky Mountains.   Glacier is just in a different league altogether.    Nowhere have I seen someplace with the volume of stunning, leave-your-mouth-open, scenery that Glacier has – specifically the Going-to-the-Sun Road.     Please remind me, I need to go back.

Flathead Lake, Montana: Our final stop before reaching Oregon was two fantastic nights, staying with friends of ours in Polson, Montana – where they have a farm near the edge of Flathead Lake.   We rode horses, picked fresh veggies from their garden, and kayaked in the lake.

Arrival to Oregon!   We then finally, after an absolutely tremendous adventure, arrived to our new abode in Oregon!


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