My mom spoke fondly of her cross-country trip to the Grand Canyon when she was 14 — the crappy motels, driving for hours on end, the terrible food, the ultimate goal of seeing America.
We left for our own family road trip on a Tuesday afternoon in August. The first leg was going to be 18 hours from our home in New York City to Omaha, with bathroom breaks every three hours and that was it. It all seems like a blur, now that I think about it.
I remember I couldn't sleep that first night in the car. Everyone else but Dad and me was knocked out. My brother Izzy was lying all over grandfather "Papa Dan" in the back; my assistant and friend Mahmood leaning against me, dead to the world; the radio playing quietly so no one woke up. “The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves.” Like a typical Jersey boy, my dad loves Springsteen, and 'Thunder Road' is his favorite song of all time.
We drove through the night, marking all of our stops for gas in a travel journal, taking down mileage and the amount spent, something to look back on. I do still look back on it. Even though it has only been two years, that road trip feels almost like a different life. It was so unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I have been camping before, and we have gone for long drives, but something about this trip was special. It was seeing America, it was following in my mother's footsteps, it was a rite of passage.
I never thought I would be so happy to be in Nebraska. My dad quipped that we should have just kept driving and seen how far we could have gotten. This was met by dull groans and an angry look from Mom. After such a long time spent in the car, the Holiday Inn felt like the Waldorf Astoria. There were almost animal-like sounds from everyone getting out of the car.
“My knees are too old for this,” Papa Dan said. He kept his legs at an angle for a while because he couldn’t get them quite straight. While my parents and grandfather unpacked the car, Mahmood took me and Izzy up to our room. I went in my stander, which keeps me upright, and Izzy jumped on the bed for about 20 minutes straight.
The next day's drive from Omaha to Colorado was fairly uneventful and seemed short when compared to our 18 hour jaunt the day before. What was most noticeable was the changing scenery. It was amazing going from the rural farmland to the mountains and forests of Colorado. The whole state smelled like grass right after it rains. That fresh crisp scent triggered a hundred different memories for me.
Allenspark, Colorado, was our first real stop on the trip. We pulled up to the most picturesque cottage you have ever seen. It sits deep in the forest without another house in sight. Going into the cottage, I could see why Dad picked it. He is always one for being in nature, isolated from other people. The house was all wood with a small fireplace in the front room. Everything was decorated in a cutesy way — a picture of a fish on the wall, an animal throw on the floor. The two days cramped in the car were quickly forgotten as we stretched out by the creek in the backyard.
Our first day of hiking came after a good night of relaxation and a lot of sleeping. Later we would find out that it was good we were so rested. Rocky Mountain National Park is a really beautiful place in the summer. It's not too crowded, and there are so many trails that you never feel like you’re hiking with a hundred other people. I hike in an ATV. My dad built it custom just for me. It is an amazing four-wheeled chair made out of unistrut, a lightweight metal. It also has four big tires so it can get over rocks, bad trails, and small logs. Dad even built in suspension so it has some bounce to make it more comfortable.
Our first hike was one my mom picked out. It was a one-mile trail to a nice waterfall, where we would have lunch and then hike back. When we got to the park, the ranger told us there was a second parking lot farther up the trail, so we didn't have to get out so far away. For my mom and dad that was a challenge. They didn't want a head start; they wanted us to hike the mile like everyone else. So we got out, Mahmood strapped me into the ATV, and off we went.
The park was absolutely stunning. There were amazing trees unlike any I've seen in New York; some connected to each other, and others were taller than anything I've experienced. But here was the problem with the hike. I am good at math; Mahmood is good at math; and my mom is an engineer. We know roughly when we have gone a mile, and after about an hour and a half Mahmood started to question Mom, "Are you sure we are going the right way?"
"Absolutely!" Mom assured him. "It's a hiking mile, so it takes longer."
"Ok, no problem," Mahmood responded, a favorite phrase of his. My family often jokes he would never say it was a problem even if it was. So he kept pushing the ATV.
It had been about two and a half hours when we finally saw a sign that said the waterfalls were up ahead.
"See? We are almost there," my mom said, feeling vindicated.
"Yeah, just one mile away," Mahmood said in a snarky tone, drawing a big laugh from my brother and dad.
When we finally did arrive at the waterfalls, they were beautiful. The water was rushing. Just the sound of it was mesmerizing, and at that moment it felt like the polar opposite of being in New York City. We were standing there in the middle of nature and seeing everything that surrounded us. We could just stay still in that serene place and tune out the rest of the world. The only word to use for that feeling, especially for someone who has grown up in one of the busiest places in the world, is magical.
In New York City there are lots of amazing things, available whenever you want them. On this trip I found places we could not reach in an hour, or two. The days spent traveling were more than a physical necessity. They prepared us to slow down and really see the mountains, feel the coolness of swimming in the waterfall pool, and hear the splashing water over the silence. Time spent traveling was time well spent.
Abraham Weitzman is a 14-year-old writer with a love for irony. And he has cerebral palsy, rendering him non-verbal (to learn more, check out his article Simply Speaking at https://kidspiritonline.com/magazine/simplicity-and-complexity/simply-speaking/). He types using his chest while standing. It is tiring and rewarding. Abraham enjoys traveling and staying home.
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