Go West, Young Man

About a year ago, Cy, Ellie, and I set off on a grand family adventure. We loaded up in a new-to-us RV and headed north. We visited Ohio, New York, and Maine among other states. We learned the hard way that August in New England isn’t boiling hot like it is in Arkansas. We hiked, Ellie began exclaiming, “BITE!” whenever she spotted ice cream, and made more memories than we can count.

Exactly one year and one baby later, we decided to do it all again. This time, though, we headed west. We left on a Wednesday evening and managed to make it almost to the border of Oklahoma and Kansas. We quickly learned that RV life with an infant and a toddler is a little different than RV life with just one non-mobile toddler. The biggest differences seem to revolve around Savannah’s nursing schedule and Ellie insisting that she should be driving the RV rather than Cy. We spent our first night in a truck stop. Other than adjusting to the noises our sleeping beauties make ALL NIGHT our first night was uneventful.

The next morning we got back on the road as quickly as we could. Cy had a customer to visit in Wichita. The girls and I stayed back at the RV and went grocery shopping while Cy was gone. Once he returned, we made our way across town and surprised my grandma with a visit. Her birthday is in just a few days, and she’ll be 97 years old. Ellie and Savannah are her only great-grandchildren, but she hadn’t gotten to meet them (or Cy) yet. She loved getting to watch Ellie run around, and held a napping Savannah. She told me stories of raising her children and I reminded her of my memories of her cooking and going on walks with me when I was little. We stayed for a few hours until it was time for her to go to dinner.

After seeing my grandma, we weren’t sure what our next step was. We drove back to the Sam’s parking lot where we had left the RV. As we pulled in, Cy noticed three Beaver RVs who had just arrived for the night. We’re a family of extroverts, so naturally we pulled up and started a conversation with the owners. Cy talked to the men about their motorhomes and I showed the girls off to the women. They were so friendly, which is something we have found to be true of most RVers. They told us they were heading into Sam’s for a pizza dinner, and we decided we would indulge as well. We had a few more groceries to pick up, and afterward, found the three men outside our RV checking it out. They exchanged information with Cy and they traded stories from past trips. Then, we decided to drive a few more hours before bed time. As we pulled out of the parking lot, Cy honked the air horn in farewell, and they returned the favor. To my delight, one of their air horns played a festive tune!

A few hours later, we pulled into our home away from home, aka a Walmart parking lot. The next morning, we loaded the girls up after breakfast and hit the road. Ellie has a love hate relationship with our drives. She loves that her car seat in installed in between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. She gets to see out of the giant windshield and hold our hands whenever she wants. Her backpack rides by her side, filled with books to read and a coloring book to draw in. We spend lots of time singing her favorite songs – currently her most requested songs are The Little Red Caboose and I’ve Got the Joy Down In My Heart. All of that makes her happy. But, she is a toddler, so she spends plenty of time crying and whining because she’s tired of the car seat. We spent a little while in Dodge City, KS, then headed west to Colorado, where we found another Walmart parking lot to stay in. Once we parked, Cy discovered the RV’s computer engine was having some trouble. Since we’re stress eaters and there was a Wendy’s in the same parking lot we were in, Cy went and picked up frosties for the two of us after we got the girls to bed. We got some sleep, but left early on Saturday morning to get the RV to a mechanic about an hour away. We rolled in at 8am, and finally had a fix by 5pm. It was a long day. None of us were happy. I’ll spare you the sordid details. Cy reminded me that you always have to factor in at least one breakdown on a cross-country trip. I laughed, and agreed. We stopped for the night in Colorado Springs, where we knew we’d get to have some fun!

Cy and I have both visited Colorado Springs before, so we decided we would skip most of the attractions and just drive up Pike’s Peak. Cy had previously been to the summit, but when I visited during college, I only got to go partway up due to the snowy weather. When we arrived at the entrance of the drive, the park ranger explained to us that Savannah was too young to go to the summit because her lungs aren’t quite developed enough to handle the thin air. She told us we could go up about 13,000ft though, so up we went. It was my first time to be above the tree line. The views were incredible! I had forgotten how treacherous the road up the mountain was. Though I loved the view, I was also very nervous about the sheer drop-offs! Cy loved my dramatic reactions, which even Ellie noticed. She started saying, “It’s ok mama! Mommy, you’re good! No sad Mama!”

We pulled over to take some photos to mark the occasion, and then went back down the mountain to one of the gift shops where Ellie got to get her wiggles out and explore. The remainder of our day was spent at our campsite – The Garden of the Gods RV Park – so the girls could nap and we could organize the RV. We went on some family walks and Cy grilled steaks for dinner. After the long, hard day before, it finally felt like vacation. We enjoyed our time at the campsite and started planning the next phase of our trip – northwest to Yellowstone!


Of Gnats & Men

We spent the bulk of the last week in upstate New York, and I know you’ve been dying to find out what Cy’s surprise destination for us was. I was too, but didn’t get to find out until the second day of our time in New York. The first evening, we stayed in a Walmart parking lot and woke up to a peaceful morning on Thursday. We’ve been helping Ellie practice standing up every day for several months, but Thursday morning was the first time we’ve seen great progress. She stood next to the couch without assistance and we jumped up and down and cheered like we did during the overtime win against Ole Miss 2 years ago. I’m not sure I can imagine what we’ll be like when she starts taking actual steps! Our elation was short lived though, because as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, Cy looked over at me and said, “Uh oh. It’s not running right.”

So, Cy pulled into a different parking lot and started trying to deduce the source of the problem. Ellie and I grabbed the stroller and walked around in Barnes & Noble. After a couple of hours of troubleshooting, Cy decided that rather than spend the rest of the day in a parking lot, he would take the RV Cummins distributor to help him diagnose the problem. We cruised to the distributor at a swift 30 mph on the interstate. After only about an hour and $22 later, they had taken care of the fuel filter, and we rolled out of the dealer’s parking lot at full speed! As we were getting back onto the interstate Cy said, “You know…it’s not really a Martin vacation without some sort of mechanical issue.” We laughed, and headed north.

Our mechanical setback cost us several hours, so we couldn’t make it to our intended destination, and ended up taking a random exit when it was close to dinnertime. Cy found a spot for us for the night and we stopped at a country store on our way to the campgrounds. Their store looked approximately as stocked as the bread and milk aisles at a Wal-Mart in Arkansas before a snowstorm. We bought their only package of hot dogs and some ham and were on our way.

The KOA campground Cy had chosen was on an island on Lake Erie. We took the manmade road out to it and checked in. It was charming! We watched the sun set from shore and then headed back to the RV to have dinner. That was when we discovered the one downside to the cute KOA. Gnats. There were so many gnats, and try as we might we couldn’t manage to keep them all outside. Cy grabbed a can of cutter and attacked some of them, but survivors were still everywhere – landing in our food and buzzing around. On a scale of 0 to Exodus, it was closer to the latter.

The next morning before we left, we decided to take a family bike ride around the island. I should say, Cy decided, not we decided. You see I’ve only ridden on our tandem bike for the last few years. I have not attempted to ride an actual bike built for one since I was approximately 12. I tried a few weeks ago and promptly fell off, cut up my ankle, and asked Cy, “You’re not going to make me try again are you?” He did, and I wobbly made my way up and down the street once. I was really nervous to try again on an island in front of seasoned RVers. But Cy helped me work up my courage and we got to go on a sweet family bike ride around the island!

Then, we headed out to our secret destination. It ended up being Lake Saranac, NY. As we got close, Cy explained to me that when he was 16 years old, he drove all the way to Lake Saranac to work at a Younglife camp for a month. We found an RV campsite, got settled, and then we looked at the weather forecast. The low was 33°. We had not packed for freezing weather. The most we had were a couple of long-sleeve shirts and one pair of wool socks each. Luckily, the heaters in the RV worked and so we were toasty warm inside the RV. The next morning, we drove the little distance to the Younglife camp. The grounds were beautiful, and many of the buildings looked right onto the lake. I could see why Cy had wanted to revisit this particular camp. I was freezing cold, but the more we walked around, the more I warmed up. Cy relived memories as we walked around where he hadn’t been for 16 years. He told me stories about jumping into the lake after curfew and about being mentored by older staff – several specific conversations still shape him today.

After looking around the camp and taking some pictures, we headed into the actual town of Lake Saranac. We went into a little Pizza by the slice place to get some New York Pizza. For what it lacked in quality, it more than made up for in temperature. We puttered around in some outdoors shops and then started driving around. We stumbled upon the Olympic Training Center and the ski jump that they used in the 1980 Olympics. Cy and I couldn’t believe how tall the ski jump was. We parked across the street from it and just stared for a few minutes.

We had gotten a recommendation for an ice cream place that happened to be just a few minutes from our RV. We headed there and arrived to discover a line out the door. Donnelly’s Ice Cream is on the National Historic Register and still uses their original ice cream machine from 1950s. They only make one flavor a day and it changes each day. Cy and I each got a cone of their Strawberry swirled with vanilla. And then we couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. We understood why it was a local hot spot.

That evening, we decided to walk around the RV Park. We met a bunch of older people who were all there for the summer in their RVs. They were all friends and were having their “tribal council” which was more akin to a tailgate than an actual council. They called us over and we ate and talked while Ellie showed off all of her tricks. They told us that Lake Saranac was often the coldest town in the continental US, which made me feel better for being such a wimp about the cold.

I can say without a doubt that upstate New York is gorgeous. We saw lakes, beautiful trees, and mountains. Sometimes it reminded me of Arkansas. We wished it had been warmer so we could have rented a boat and gone out on the water. I guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

Cuyahoga Falls National Park And Stops Along The Way

Greetings from Syracuse, NY! We’re on day seven of our RV trip and we’re really starting to feel like pros. The first couple of days of our trip were slow going and we had a pretty substantial learning curve. For example, all of my various hair products tumbled out of the cabinets the first day we left and it took me about 24 hours to find my dry shampoo, because who knew you really do have to shut and lock all of the cabinets before you drive off? Another moment when we knew we were novices occurred when we flooded the gray water tank (that’s the non-disgusting water thankfully) and there was three inches of standing water in our shower that had to be bailed out with one of Ellie’s toy pails.

We made it to the west side of St. Louis Friday night and rolled into a Walmart parking lot. It was later than we had hoped when we got there, but luckily there was also a Raising Cane’s in the parking lot, so we got the RV situated and then enjoyed some tasty fried chicken for dinner. As we walked back to the RV, we saw there was an antique car show going on in this parking lot as well, so we wandered around looking at old Corvettes and various cars that looked like they came off of a Happy Days set. Ellie enjoyed hearing the engines and being out of the RV for a while before bed.

The next morning was very relaxed. We took our time and made blueberry pancakes and sausage. We finally hit the road around 11:00, hoping to make it to Ohio by the end of the day. The rest of the day we made our way across Illinois, Indiana, and into Ohio. I would like to take a moment to say that Illinois and Indiana have the worst roads I have ever experienced in my life. I would also like to take a moment and note that I am extremely thankful that Ellie takes her best car naps on rough roads. As we crossed into Ohio – and slightly better roads – we found a Walmart parking lot and made our camp for the night.

When I pictured our RV trip, I did not picture making Walmart parking lots my home away from home. I had grand visions of rolling into KOA camps and befriending new neighbors each night. These hypothetical neighbors would let Ellie pet their hypothetical dogs and we would trade funny RV anecdotes until it was time to call it a night. Maybe there were also late night s’mores and scrabble matches in my visions as well. Walmart parking lots don’t really allow for cute RV neighbors, unless you’ll settle for semi-trucker neighbors who don’t actually want to coo at your baby or tell funny stories. There are also no campfires or picnic tables in a Walmart parking lot. However, the Walmart parking lot is free, and it is impossible to ever not have all the ingredients for whatever recipe you want to make.

In our second Walmart parking lot home, I made chicken alfredo and tortellini for dinner. The fact that I successfully cooked a whole meal in our RV boosted my confidence in the potential of the rest of our trip. Sunday morning we loaded up and headed toward Cleveland. We decided to stay at a KOA camp (!) and met our RV neighbors who were from Kentucky, and had family in NWA. Ellie waved at their dogs. It was picturesque just like my visions had been, but involved more cigarette smoke than I had imagined. Our other neighbors who arrived later that evening looked to be a group of college students. We couldn’t quite figure them out though because when they arrived, they immediately brought out several varieties of potted plants and a large cage in which they had several pigeons and a pig. They also had a covered cage that we never managed to see inside. We asked no questions, but we did a lot of speculating on our own about the whole scenario.

At the recommendation of my friend who is an Ohio native, we spent Monday at Cuyahoga Falls National park. It was gorgeous, and because it was a Monday, there weren’t any crowds! We went on two hikes – one to a waterfall and one around some neat rock formations they called The Ledges. Cy graciously carried Ellie in the backpack for most of the hiking. She LOVES being carried in the backpack and she spent most of the hike singing and pointing at trees and dogs we passed. We took lots of pictures and thoroughly enjoyed being outdoors and carefree. We ate a picnic lunch by a lake and met some elderly men and women who were thoroughly entertained by Ellie trying to figure out how to eat a peanut butter sandwich without getting her mouth stuck shut. We also met a man with two giant dogs who knew Chinese commands. I said hello to the dogs in Chinese and their owner got really excited and started speaking to me in Chinese. I then had to explain to him that the extent of my knowledge when it comes to Chinese includes the phrases, “Hello” and “I love cats.” To say he was disappointed is an understatement.

Yesterday morning, we loaded everything up and hit the road. We’re technically on a “working vacation,” so we made a stop outside of Cleveland so that Cy could visit a customer. We grabbed a quick lunch at Chick-Fil-A because we were having withdrawal symptoms, and then headed northeast. We drove through the rest of Ohio, into Pennsylvania, and arrived in New York Naturally Taylor Swift made a cameo as we crossed the state line, which brightened the mood considering the long line at the tollbooth. I marveled at the fact that people were honking at each other while waiting in line at the tollbooth. Cy said, “We’re in New York babe!” I’ve never been anywhere we’re planning on going from here on out, so I’m enjoying all of the newness and seeing places I’ve only heard about. Cy has a plan for our next destination, but he’s decided to make it a surprise!