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Are We There Yet?

Source: Personal experience

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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Enjoy the journey. But if you're the only one in the car trying to enjoy the journey, might as well focus on the destination!

Ever since I first visited Shenandoah National Park and the beautiful Skyline Drive, I had imagined driving the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. What a wonderful adventure that would be! Driving through the mountains, pulling over at a scenic rest stop whenever you felt like it, stopping to camp wherever you happened to be at the end of the day, not giving a thought to the end of the road. That would be great.

Of course, we all know how the story goes. Never seemed to get around to it. Too much to do. Too many destinations and deadlines.

A day came when I was living in Norfolk, Virginia, and my parents were living near Warner Robins, Georgia, and I had an opportunity to take a nice, long leave from my job as an instructor at Fleet Training Center.

This was it!

I had already introduced my wife and young children to camping. The kids loved it nearly as much as I did, though perhaps not for the same reasons. They weren't quite in touch with the near-mystic attraction of the outdoors that I felt. It was just something different and new things to experience.

My wife really didn't get it at all. She went along gamely, because I loved it and the kids enjoyed it, but it was all quite strange to her. The culture she grew up with in the Philippines had no traditional love of the outdoors. Cooking over an open fire ... sleeping under the stars ... These were things she did when she was poor. She didn't have to do that anymore.

But I announced to her and to the kids that we had a chance to fulfill a long-standing dream of mine. We would drive down to visit my parents for a week or so, but we would take a week to get there, instead of the usual one long day. We would camp a night or two in Shenandoah National Park, then explore the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to its southern terminus in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Who knows and who cares how long it will take? We'll stop to camp when we feel like it, and we'll get there when we get there!

We happened to leave Norfolk the day after my oldest son's birthday. My wife and I had given him his first watch, a digital watch (they were quite a novelty in those days).

I guess it was about a four hour drive from Norfolk to the northern end of Shenandoah National Park at Front Royal. If I had paid more attention, I could tell you precisely how long a drive it was. Each time the digital watch updated its display, my son announced what time it was. To the best of my recollection, we got about 243 updates on what time it was between Norfolk and the park, and we passed through the Front Royal Entrance Station at about 1:37 PM.

I was too blinded by the happy realization of my dream to see that this was a hint of things to come.

We camped the first afternoon in Matthews Arm Campground, about forty time-checks from the northern entrance to the park. We took a little hike around somewhere. We went to the Park Ranger's presentation in the campground amphitheater that evening. We toasted hot dogs. We camped.

We spent the whole next day driving the length of the park. We stopped at many scenic overlooks. We wandered in meadows. We scrambled over rocks. We ate wild blueberries. We passed Big Meadows Campground, where we had camped several times before, but we continued our wandering down Skyline Drive.

The second afternoon, we camped in Loft Mountain Campground, where we had never been before. That night, we had a visit from a skunk, but that's another story.

The third day, we left the park and headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Mercifully, the novelty of the digital watch had worn off, even for my son.

Unfortunately, the novelty of a leisurely, multi-day drive through the mountains had also worn off for everyone except me.

"How much farther to Grandmom's house?"

"I don't know exactly. Who cares? Hey, let's stop at this overlook!"

The drive south was taking us into ever higher mountains. Although this was clearly not the National Park anymore, it was still quite beautiful, and I was enjoying it thoroughly. Well, between distractions, anyway.

"Are you sure this road goes to Grandmom's house?"

"This road goes through the mountains. Georgia is near the other end of this road. We'll get there. Look! There's a hawk!"

So it continued for a few hours. Slowly, I came to a philosophical conclusion: Nobody was enjoying this journey except me, and everyone else's concern for the destination was preventing me from enjoying it, too. That is, nobody was enjoying this journey.

I would enjoy my dream more if I let it continue as a dream. The reality was becoming a drag.

I checked the map. Before noon, we were back on the interstate.

In the wee hours, not wanting to disturb my parents, I set up the camper on their front lawn, and my wife and I carried the sleeping kids to their beds.

Not long after dawn, my father came out, and we pushed the camper - kids still sleeping inside - around to the back yard. And the kids woke up next to Grandmom's swimming pool.

Thus ended my first and, so far, my last attempt to realize this dream. The Blue Ridge Parkway still awaits.

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