I got another reminder this past week of our western trip, as a spectacular crash during the annual Pikes Peak race made the news. I can personally attest to the grueling nature of that road. Even though I had just gotten my license a few months before the ’80 vacation, my parents let me drive most of the way down the mountain. Even taking it slow it was a challenging drive for a 16-year-old.
Climbing Pikes Peak was one of our many goals that summer, and my dad, brother and I made it to the top over a spectacular two day hike. My mom met us there with the car, and what took us two days to go up, took less than an hour to roll down. I pictured myself racing headlong down the mountain, but only a couple of turns into the descent convinced me a more melodic drift would be the better way to go.
As I mentioned earlier, my parents had traveling down to a science. This was particularly true in the car. When we were little kids, she had sewn this huge sleeve for the back half of the front seat — one of the few projects she ever actually finished — that had dozens of pockets for all our toys, books and stuffed animals, all within easy reach. On every trip, during long stretches when we didn’t want to stop for lunch or dinner, she would construct entire meals on her lap in the passenger seat, handing each of us bite-sized portions until the whole family was fed.
While publishing from the passenger seat is now easy thanks to laptops, I remember my dad pasting up an entire newspaper as we drove over the Rockies. In his job as head of communications for the synod office, he was editor of a monthly paper that went to churches throughout Pennsylvania. When he first started his job in 1975, it took him several weeks and the entire surface of the pool table in our basement to layout and paste up an issue. Five years later, while my mom and I drove, he put the whole thing together in a few hours on his lap, stuffed the pages into a large envelope and dropped the package in a mailbox in the next town.
Our entire trip that summer was a logistical feat. I had actually flown out earlier to Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico for a grueling week of backpacking & mountain climbing with an ad hoc ‘expedition’ troop from Pennsylvania. After dropping me at the airport, my parents and brother drove down along the Appalachians, through the south and across Texas, meeting up with me 10 days later as I came out at the foot of the Rockies.
We proceeded to drive west, into the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. Turning north, we took in the Great Salt Lake, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We veered into Idaho and Montana just long enough to buy a soda and check those states off our list. South into Colorado, we careened along mountain roads, pushing the family station wagon so hard it barely made it out of the state — eventually the car didn’t survive the trip.
When “National Lampoon’s Vacation” came out a few years later, I thought “oh, a documentary.”