Long drives require frequent stops. Especially when you are travelling with children under the age of ten.
My husband and I learned this years ago when we took a summer trip to Nova Scotia. With Pat being a stay at home dad and my five weeks of vacation, we had the luxury of being able to get away for a while. For ministers, this is usually a good idea—we can step away from our role in the community and really let our hair down. Without a cottage or a big vacation budget, car camping has always been our way to travel. The thing was, we had never done it with four children. Two, yes, but never four. And they were young, too–six, four, two and nine months. (I think we might have been off our rocker.)
We packed up everything we would need—two strollers, two plastic booster seats, two playpens, two child carriers/backpacks, a huge tent and sleeping bags, a camp stove, pots, dishes, a cooler and of course, toys. How we fit all of it into our Aerostar van I have no idea.
We drove and camped. Then got up and drove some more. We set up camp, slept, packed up camp again. Over and over, through Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia—all the way to Peggy’s Cove where we had a rustic, beside-the ocean campsite. We toured lighthouses, saw Theodore Tugboat in Halifax harbour, ate lobster, roasted marshmallows. We discovered out of the way places like Minister’s Island and camped in the Bay of Fundy.
We also were caught up in a storm that forced us out of our soggy tent in the middle of the night, spent hot afternoons in laundromats and changed endless diapers on the floor of the van. I think we visited every playground in the Maritimes. We also became rest stop connoisseurs.
A good rest stop, in our estimation, is one with a clean, air conditioned building to cool off in. It also has bathrooms with a changing station, friendly staff who like children, and a drinking fountain. A shady picnic area is terrific, and a playground of some sort is a bonus.
Now that my children are older, however, I appreciate one more thing: beauty.
After driving for hours on a highway, passing an infinite number of transport trucks and mile after mile of monotonous grey asphalt, it is a relief to find a pretty oasis. Green grass and perhaps a few blooms are a sight for sore eyes and a balm for weary travellers.
As our family made our way through Quebec this summer, we stumbled on exactly that: a rest stop in a pretty clapboard cottage surrounded by large stands of daylilies and carefully planted beds of petunias. The community of Mount-Saint-Hilaire along the TransCanada Highway obviously took great pride in making their tourist welcome a lovely one. It almost made me want to hang around a little longer.
We stayed for lunch there, sitting at one of the picnic tables in the shade. We talked to the staff for a few moments, although they couldn’t tell us very much about the history of the old building or who maintained the gardens. They were polite, although slightly mystified, when I told them I appreciated all the flowers. I suppose not everyone notices the daylilies.
But I did notice–and that is really what’s at play. Travel now is far easier for me because it involves a car full of children who are happy to read for hours, lifting their heads only occasionally to ask for a snack. Even without fancy equipment like iPhones or an on-board DVD player there is very little whining or complaining. When we stop, everyone can make their own way to the bathroom, and I have help cleaning up after lunch.
This year’s trip—the first in a quite a few years—found me more relaxed and less distracted than the one to Nova Scotia trip some years ago. Now I have the freedom and the energy to stop and notice beauty, to savour the blossoms I might have overlooked before. Having passed through the hard work of those younger years, I receive this as a blessing. I have a deep appreciation for such a luxury as this: time and space to see not just the essentials, but to drink in these delights on the journey that I have never noticed before.