Summer 80

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

When it came to family vacations, my parents had traveling down to a science.

(In fact, Marty and Connie were professional travellers, having been to some 60 countries themselves, and escorting hundreds of people to the Middle East, Europe and Asia. I’m pretty sure they got most of their training from years of backpacking, canoeing and traversing North America with my brother and me.)

Each summer we would plan out a vacation that grew in distance and ambition as Brent and I got older. Every other year they would pick a quarter of the country we hadn’t been to yet and plot a course that would take weeks to navigate.

This culminated in our odyssey across the West in the summer of 1980, a six-week journey that took us through dozens of states and the length of the Rockies. It was the biggest trip we ever took together, and the last of the epic family summer vacations.

I’ve been thinking about that trip a lot this summer; or, more accurately, I’ve had a steady stream of triggers show up, starting when the Flying W Ranch in Colorado burned down last month. Every week then it seemed another reminder would appear, some sought, some over the transom — each adding to the cascading recollection

Even now, I can recall more details about that vacation than any other trip we took. We hit all the spots you’d expect — the Grand Canyon, Pikes Peak, Yellowstone — but it was more than sightseeing. I pushed myself further than I ever had before physically, climbing two of the highest mountains in the country and set some personal bests. It was also the first time I ran up against my own limitations. Smacking headlong into barriers is something that sticks with you.

Behold, a brief moment of triumph

It probably didn’t hurt that I’d just got my driver’s license, and, for the first time, could take over the wheel for awhile. That sort of rush, and the novelty of responsibility also sticks with you.

I remember driving across the the Arizona desert very late one night as everyone else slept. Eddie Rabbit was on the radio and the sky really was full of stars. The road was flat and preternaturally straight, with no landmarks except the occasional telephone pole. I felt I was crawling along, hovering almost, and wouldn’t make the next town before I fell asleep. Glancing at the speedometer, I saw it was over 100mph. I woke right up.

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