Honey, do you have the remote? (Istanbul 2012)
Early Morning, Cow Bells in the Background (Taken with Instagram at Urnäsch)
Guerrilla Marketing einmal anders. Die Kontrolleure werden ihre Freude haben. (Taken with Instagram at VBZ Hardplatz)
Pride (Taken with Instagram at Ski School Office Wispile, Rütti)
Boys having fun (Taken with Instagram at Berghaus Rellerli)
Fun with frames (Taken with Instagram at Hot Pasta 2)
Lunch with my Lady! (Taken with Instagram at Kronenhalle)
Old Train Engine Factory in Winterthur (Taken with Instagram at Technopark)
6,681 miles is the distance we travelled in a motorhome during seven weeks, starting in Santa Cruz, California, ending in Naples, Florida. Some might think this to be a bit extreme, particularly with four kids under the age of eight on board. Others might think it to be extreme in a time when global warming is endangering our species. Others yet might term the decision to take our kids out of school and quit a job to undertake this adventure as extreme. You are all correct in your thinking, but there were even more extremes than the three listed so far. The extremes we encountered and experienced were the most fascinating elements of our adventure and promise to stay with us for a long time. This was an adventure of extremes, in a country of extremes.
I will try to list some of the most memorable extremes. Knowing that others may become apparent to me only as more time passes, these are merely point-in-time thoughts:
- We saw the geographical extremes of the country: The Californian coast (most westerly part of the contiguous United States), the state of Washington (most northerly) and the state of Florida (most southern). We travelled over Powder River Pass in Montana, elevation 9,666 feet (2,946 meters) and we drove below see level in parts of Florida.
- We drove on the dramatic cliffs of northern California, through the deserts of western Washington, the prairies of Nebraska, the urban sprawl of Chicago, the downtown of Seattle, the rain forests on the Washington coast, the colonial gems in the lowcountry and the beaches in Florida.
- Our children played in snow on Crater Lake in Oregon and could hardly wait until we restored our electricity hook-up to run the air conditioner when we reached our overnight spot in Georgia so that we can bring down the humidity to a humane level.
- Our trip made the two extremes of the American cultural poles explicit: the coast and the center. There are a lot more differences to which I will come later. While travelling the coastal areas along the West, you have an abundance of cultures melting together. You can see this in the name of restaurants for example. There are Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese restaurants in all cities. Once you pass the Cascades, they are reduced to “Oriental Restaurant”.
- While everybody seems to mind their own personal business and public space is sold to commercial messages on the West coast, once over the Rockies, you are faced with countless advertising along the highways telling you that an unborn child is a human being too and God wants you to choose life. The ratio of “pro-life” messages per mile traveled increases at the same rate as the warnings about meth use. I wonder if that is just correlation, or if there is more to this pattern, possibly causality, and if so, in what direction? Once you reach the Appalachians the God-related topical messages give way to churches and road signs to churches. I saw more churches and signs to churches than houses, cars, and people on some of the lonely stretches of rural highways in Georgia and South Carolina. I wonder how large the congregation per church is, given the high number of churches and the low population density.
- Our motorhome drove by what must be $25 million properties in West Palm Beach, that looked like Roman mansions, had beach access, huge fenced park-like gardens and a stretch limo parked outside. We also drove on neighborhood streets where every second house looked as if it imploded, every porch of the still-standing houses was populated by one or two people sitting around passing the afternoon, and the quality of housing reminded me of early footage of Soweto or the Favelas in the excellent movie “City of God”. I am amazed at the extremes in human existences this country produces - both positive and negative. Knowing is one thing, seeing it is a whole other thing. I don’t want to know what living it must feel like.
- We drove the streets of Chicago that were flanked by dozens of skyscrapers, each one seeming to want to over-reach the others in height and eclipse the design accolades of their predecessor. We balanced our motorhome on the smallest of margins called Highway 1 that separates the immenseness of the Pacific Ocean and the inspiring body of land called the North American Continent. We travelled miles and miles and miles in the Northwest where the only trace of human presence was the street we travelled on and our own existence. We travelled on rural highways in Georgia where every cross-street was gravel, the vegetation and the sky reminded me of a car trip I took with my Dad in my early youth between Nairobi and Mombasa, so much so, that I would not have been surprised if an Elephant were to cross the street.
- Our progress was interrupted by buffalo crossing our road in Yellowstone, seemingly endless trains transporting coal to the East in Nebraska, construction on rural highways where the streets seemed to be eliminated before replaced and what was left was gravel for miles. We were stopped by a tropical storm in South Carolina that made me appreciate what it must be like to work on a fishing boat in bad weather - the rain blew horizontally across the coastal bridges forcing us to slow to a snail’s pace and directing us in-land to safer areas for our over-night.
- We stayed in campgrounds where we were parked like sardines, like on a weekend on the Californian coast at the Caspar Beach RV Park. And we spent nights by ourselves, like in the AH Stephens State Park, in Crawfordville Georgia.
- We visited very dear friends and where struck again by their kindness and love.
- Mindy pulled a 1.5 cm long thorn out of Nick’s foot. Mike needed a short check-up by friendly Optometrist after hitting himself in the eye with a stick. The same Mike needed to have a wart frozen off in California. Seems a lot, but trust me, Mindy and I feel spoiled by the lack of incidents occurring on our trip. We feared much worse.
- Over the course of 7 weeks, our family of 6 lived in extremely tight quarters, about 30 square meters, or 5 square meters a person. We spent most of the 24 hours of a day in these 30 square meters. This forced us to reduce our activities, our routines, our personal freedom to a minimum. It also taught me to act more selflessly, particularly when it comes to the children. This was not an easy task for me. Mindy gave me a wonderful gift in the course of the travels, though: She did not let me be the old Andy. She forced me to change. I will be grateful to her for that for the rest of my life.
- Mindy and my desires for activities were often diametrically opposed to those of Nick, Jack, Mike and Jimmy. We wanted to see things, they wanted to bounce off of things, jump on things, run and bike. We quickly learned this and found a way to make everybody happy. We do, however, have a list called “couples-only see again”.
I am eternally thankful to my family to come along on this journey. Without Mindy’s humor, patience and at time insistence, this trip would have been flat out impossible, and a lot less enjoyable!
Over the course of the 6,681 miles I learned new skills in working with my children. I gained a whole lot of respect for everybody who is trying to make a living in this country. I gained an endless appreciation for the natural beauty in all its variations. And I have reaffirmed my acceptance of the fact that I cannot understand and will not condone people’s desire to push their beliefs on others.