This is a long post. That's not unusual, but the post evolves from a newsy, detail-orientated trip report into matters of the heart. This is how the writing flowed and I didn't really want to break it up into separate posts, one practical and one spiritual. For me, the details and the "deep" stuff flow into each other, and through each other. I am both an intensely practical person but also philosophical. My heart, the things most important to me, are lived and expressed in the details of my life.
The first part of this post, after the introduction, is practical and story-telling in nature. Our itinerary, affordability, roadtrip realities, "how we did it", that kind of thing.
The last part is when I delve into the heart. (All the photos in the post are from our trip.)
A couple weeks ago we arrived home from our road trip, happy to be home, but already starting to plan the next adventure.
This was a pleasant surprise for me. That I would have appreciated our trip so much as to be planning the next one.
After our 6 months on the Appalachian Trail I never wanted to leave home again. Before our hike, Damien and I had talked about many different hiking/backpacking and traveling dreams. How we might possibly work and travel and the places we wanted to see. We love going places together, having new experiences. We both love the outdoors. And then I crashed and all dreaming was put on hold. I wanted to make my life very small and very tight. Anything that sounded like "big dreaming" was met with not just weary skepticism on my part (I'm a natural skeptic), but with cynicism and a negative physical response. My body said no, my spirit said no. I'd had enough adventure, thank you very much.
Last summer we moved to Montreal and made home here and there were some plans for an end of summer trip to Maine. But when it was discovered that my passport had expired (I am usually very on top of these details) what I experienced was not disappointment, but relief. I could just stay home.
But time does heal wounds (though you still see scars). And the opportunity to root myself in Montreal - a place where our children are thriving in faith and friendship, in healthy relationships and great educational opportunities; a place that feels so alive and vibrant in my daily out and about in my neighborhood and in the greater context of city life; a place where I have made home in a tidy small apartment with a backyard to cultivate into beauty - has helped me find my equilibrium again.
And in this space of feeling attached, I am once again able to dream and to go. I want to go. And then I want to return.
(This is an interesting consideration in how we raise children also, isn't it?)
And so we came home from our road trip satisfied with the adventure of it all but happy to return to home, and church and homeschool co-op.
the boy is growing into a man
I tell this story from my perspective, its the only one I'm able to really write. But from what I can tell (as ascertained in family discussions, and people's attitudes and behaviors) the kids mostly enjoyed the trip also. And were pleased to come back to their lives, anticipating the start of the homeschool co-op year ahead.
I was thrilled that we weren't coming home from a trip and needing to establish a new home and a new routine, as we have done a couple times - had an adventure while in transition between homes. We were coming home to known variables, which is hugely important to me. Oh, the things you learn about yourself as you grow.
Our trip started as an idea to spend 3 weeks in Montana at Martin & Katie's place. But since Montana is "so close" (relatively speaking) to our homeland of Alberta, where much of our family lives, we were happy to accept Damien's moms offer of financial help to extend our travel plans north.
Montreal to Montana: 2,213 mi (3561 km) 3 days of driving. We camped our first night in Michigan. We stayed with my cousin in Minneapolis the second night of driving. And we arrived at our destination the third night.
Stayed in Montana at Martin & Katie's Airbnb for three weeks. I wrote all about that part of our trip here.
the morning we left Livingston
Livingston, MT to Edmonton, AB: 667 mi (1073 km) one day of driving.
Stayed in southeast Edmonton for 2 weeks. Stayed with my mother-in-law for the first week and my brother-in-law (and family) for the second week.
Edmonton to Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario: 2,286 mi (3,679 km) We drove three straight days from Edmonton to Guelph, staying with Michelle's lovely family in Bismarck the first night (hi Michelle), camping in Wisconsin the second night, and crashing at my brother's place in Guelph on the 3rd night. The next day we finished the drive (about 3.5 hours on the 401) to Sandbanks, stopping first at the Wal-Mart in Belleville to get groceries for the next 3 days.
Camped with friends at Sandbanks for 3 nights and then drove the rest of the way home, 234 mi (378 km).
We made the trip in our 5 passenger Honda CR-V. For our trip back east we had to add a roof carrier, in part because Celine bought an electric guitar in Edmonton.
This trip had a lot of driving (5,400 miles) which we were logistically prepared for but we didn't realize how uncomfortable the backseat of our car is for 3 adult-sized bodies until we were driving 12 hours a day. The kids have grown so much since we bought this car last year, and we realized that we have effectively outgrown this vehicle.
We are a one car family and our one car has to do a lot of things: work well in the city, have decent gas mileage, seat the five of us comfortably, be good for long-distance driving (we value travel), and have enough space for stuff (though not too much space for stuff). You can always add more space for stuff with a carrier or trailer. But it's hard to make seats comfortable that just aren't meant for three adult-sized bodies (girls hips and guys shoulders), so when we got home we decided to buy a different car. We're picking it up today. That was an unexpected outcome of our trip.
Damien worked full time for the first five weeks of the trip. We scheduled our driving for the weekends when he usually doesn't work anyway. He worked part-time during our last days of driving (he works in the car using a hot spot from our phone service), and took a complete time off work while at Sandbanks.
Damien has an amazing ability to work anywhere: his desk in Laurent's bedroom, a coffee shop, the kitchen table at my sister-in-laws with the cousins running around, in the car. We took advantage of this skill to make this trip possible. He's also not particularly attached to "place" as an anchor for routines, and is easy going about working in less-than-ideal conditions. I'm totally different. I am attached to my space, and environment has a huge impact on my routines and wellbeing.
This trip was not a vacation. It was us doing something different with our summer. We wanted to be in Montana, which was the closest thing to vacation I've had for years, and we wanted to visit family.
early July in either Wisconsin or Illinois
We had free accommodations for most of the trip, with the exception of camping. We found really cheap camping in Michigan and Wisconsin for those one night stays while enroute.
Our biggest expense, other than the roof carrier, was the gas, but driving through the States helped with this. Even with the exchange rate, gas is still cheaper in the US than it is in Canada. (We didn't choose to drive through the States for the price of gas, it was the fastest route for our destinations.)
However, because this trip enabled us to visit work contacts, Martin in Montana and a regular client in the Edmonton area, we can expense certain travel costs, specifically the gas. That is a nice bonus for us. We don't have any paid vacation, but there are other advantages. So we utilized those to make this trip possible.
Of course there is the cost to the vehicle of all those miles but those are absorbed in the larger budget of our lives, in the fact that we bought a very reliable new car last year (which includes a warranty) specifically to enable trips like this.
Food is a huge cost for our family at this stage of life but we have to buy food no matter where we are: home or traveling.
Food costs are higher on the days we're driving. I don't pack food for traveling, we stop at grocery stores along the way and occasionally eat from fast food restaurants. Grocery shopping inefficiencies are an extra cost, for sure. At home, I know the best places to shop and there are economies of scale I take advantage of. I blew the grocery budget out of the water during our time in Montana because I didn't have a stocked pantry to draw from, it makes a huge difference. (And I was buying a few more "treat" things because it was a sort-of vacation.)
getting to know the family at a bridal shower for my cousin's bride
Our time in Alberta, eating from my mother-in-law and sister-in-laws' stocks made up for that. We bought groceries and contributed food, of course, but there were stocked fridges, freezers and pantries that supplied a lot of the staples. Thank you to our families and friends for feeding us, it was such a treat.
All told the trip cost more than our regular lives in Montreal, obviously, but it didn't cost what a six week road trip with a large vehicle, paid accommodations, eating out, and expensive outings and activities would cost. The trip was in the order of several hundreds of dollars, not thousands. Which means it was affordable for our single-income, homeschooling family.
In my online world people don't write much about budgets or the cost of family life. (I don't follow money or budget blogs.) I wanted to share these details because it's a real issue. This is real life. Raising three teenagers on a single-income is no joke and managing our finances is a big part of my job. And it feels funny to me to mention in other posts how tight things feel financially (also, finances is one of my chief anxiety triggers) without explaining how this trip was possible, given those tight finances and anxieties.
As you may have noticed, I didn't write much about our trip on the blog (I tried to regularly post updates to Instagram, even that was not so successful) except for the posts I wrote while in Montana.
I was a bit disappointed about this, my inability to blog while traveling. It's something I'm trying to work out for future because I want to travel and have adventures and I want to blog. Ideally, I want to do both at the same time.
It was hard to write during the two weeks we spent with family. I eventually just gave up. I felt out-of-sorts in Edmonton. It was an emotional letdown after the high of Montana, where I felt connected to the natural beauty and lifestyle of the place we were staying.
We appreciated being with our family - Damien's mother, siblings and spouses, nieces and nephews - but I found it disorientating and emotionally draining to fit myself into relationships and routines that are not part of my usual life. There were expectations and schedules and plans, and I was there to fit into, and be a part of, a world not my own.
Our time in Edmonton was also very stressful for Damien because of work. He worked the entire trip, except for our 3 days at Sandbanks. And during our time in Alberta he was dealing with a lot of deadlines and frustration around his work. As well as other frustrations, disappointments and loss. That was extremely hard on him, and hard on me.
It was very difficult to write from the heart in this emotional and physical space, so I didn't.
Our time in Edmonton gave us lots of opportunity to see and re-connect with family, which was the purpose of going there. And we celebrated a couple significant events: my mother-in-law's 70th birthday and my cousin's wedding. We visited with my aunts, uncles, and cousins at family suppers and wedding weekend festivities. Our kids got to know their cousins. I had heart-to-heart talks with my sister-in-laws. It was a family time, and it was good.
Spending significant amounts of time with extended family, adding our family of five to a household, is a stretching experience for all involved. Our hosts were gracious and accommodating. We truly appreciate our siblings and their spouses, and feel blessed to call them family.
Edmonton was a difficult part of our trip on a few levels but it also allowed us a lot of time to re-connect with family. So this was a hard/good part of the trip, two different sides of the same coin.
We finished our trip with three nights of camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Ontario. If you love beaches, add it to your places-to-go. Sandbanks offers an incredible swimming beach experience for us northern folks. The water was warm and not salty like the ocean. The beach was lovely. And depending on the day, you can have spectacular waves. Our family played for hours in the water.
Camping with our friends though was the biggest draw and the days we spent unwinding at the beach and in the campground was an ideal way to end our roadtrip. By the time we arrived home I was relaxed, having had time to "just be" while we camped, as well as process some of the difficult experiences and emotions from Edmonton.
This is the reality of life. Things aren't perfect, they aren't all beautiful and certainly not easy. Friends asked upon our return, "how was your vacation?" and I've had to give the quick version of, "it wasn't a vacation, it was a trip", and explain it was good but it was also life, just on the road.
Vacations and Roadtrips
A vacation is an inherently relaxing experience, its purpose is to restore. (It doesn't matter what activities you find restorative - beach, hiking, antiquing - the point is that they rejuvenate you.) Traveling, or parts of traveling, may facilitate a restorative experience, but the two are not synonymous. This trip had elements of a vacation, a couple days here and there, and for me, Montana felt pretty close to vacation, but the trip's overall vibe was not "vacation", at least not for the adults.
We wanted to maximize our time in certain places, Livingston and Edmonton specifically, so we drove on a mission to get to those places. And when our time was finished in Edmonton we drove hard to get back home again. Yes, we saw stuff through the windows of the car, but the trip wasn't about the "roadtrip" aspect, it was about being at our destination.
All that driving was not so much fun but driving was the only way to make this trip possible. We had many miles to drive each day and so I had a "deal with it" stance with regards to both intrapersonal and interpersonal disagreements and discomforts.
We tried to make the experience less tedious with audiobooks (though there are very few books our whole family enjoys listening to) and of course media consumption on personal devices.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail as a family raised the bar for us in terms of what we can put up with, and what I know we can put with, to achieve a goal. Discomfort, hunger, boredom, pain, fatigue, nothing about our days of driving came even close to the discomforts of the trail, even considering our car was too small. Thankfully, no one gets car sick, that could be a deal-breaker.
enjoying innocence and three year old conversation and play with my nephew
There are things I really don't like about this type of roadtripping. I don't like some of the compromises we make. I don't like being so pressed for time or finances that McDonalds is the best option. (Reminiscent of the AT.) I don't like shopping at Wal-Mart Superstores, I find them so overwhelming. But they are the easiest to find off of interstates and highways, the prices are good, and they have a good selection. (Not always the best "natural" and gluten-fee selections but you make the best of what you can find.)
These are small compromises in the scheme of things but a long trip is full of compromises (and changes to your routine) and this is one of the hardest parts of adventuring/traveling for me. More accurately, this is one of the hardest parts of living for me.
Compromise, congruence, imperfection and freedom
And now I tack in another direction, into the heart of the matter.
I am a rule-following, order and routine loving person. I live my life by a set of values and priorities, many of which are intentional but others are subconscious. Although my core values feel to me to be fairly consistent no matter where I am, I will express those values differently based on the time and resources available. There is a constant flux in my life in terms of how I prioritize these values. I think most people can relate.
The constraints of time and resources are constantly forcing us, squeezing us, to define and re-define what is most important in the moment, the day, the particular season we find ourselves in. Traveling is one expression of this reality. And I struggle with this part of traveling, the flux and the re-ordering of priorities based on time and resources. I struggle with this part of life.
It is my perception that some people try to keep their life in tight order so they don't have to experience this flux, or can eliminate as many unknowns as possible to reduce the flux. I know this because I am that person.
Part of me is always striving towards this aim: to reduce the unknowns in my life, seek stability, eliminate flux. A big part of the reason I do this is because I want to align, as close as possible, my actions with my ideals. This is called congruence. And if I keep my world tight, tight, it's theoretically easier to do achieve this state.
I have ideals and beliefs and I try to set up my life in a way that allows me to live by those beliefs and pursue those ideals. But I keep learning, through both big hard circumstances and little everyday occurrences, how little control I have over my life. My big struggle is knowing when to surrender, and compromise, or when to fight for that congruence.
My inner anxiety-driven self wants to keep my life in tight-order so I can reduce the flux and occasions for incongruence in my life, both of which cause a lot of discomfort for me. If I let this person rule my life, I'd never travel. This is also the part of myself that esteems wealth as a way out of this mess (called life), because if I just had enough money I could pay my way out of flux, I could pay my way out of discomfort. Which has to be a lie, because I have so much more than most of the world, I have the wealth, and life is still a mess.
It's not surprising that I'm a homemaker and homebody - I delight in creating a nurturing, safe and welcoming home for family, friends and strangers; I love to cultivate beauty and comfort in physical spaces; I feel very comfortable at home.
But a big reason I love home is because it's the one space I can (somewhat) control and therefore I can achieve some sense of congruence in my life in this space. (As my kids get older I have less and less control in our home and this has been disorientating and anxiety-causing for me. I'll leave that discussion for another day.)
Seeking congruence isn't bad. We all want to feel alignment between our values, our inner sense of self, and our actions in the world.
But we live in a complex, complicated world. We live in relationships. And we have to make many compromises just to get through the day.
our family and my parents who traveled to Edmonton also for my cousin's wedding
Traveling, which is different than vacationing, gives me a lot of opportunities to grow through compromises and conflict. It is a way to face and deal with the controlling, anxiety-driven part of myself.
The experience of natural beauty, new places, and connecting with people are motivating forces for me to step outside my comfort zone. I want to go places. But because I don't have enough time in my life to manage everything "just so", to perfectly pack and plan for all contingencies, I have to wing it a fair bit. And trust a whole lot.
I have to make compromises and then wrestle with those compromises. I have to question: is this a core value or just a preference?
I would love to live in a world where I didn't have to make so many compromises on what I value, where I didn't have to sort and choose what is most important, where everything I value could be important. Some people try to do that by limiting their chosen experiences to the known and safe (life always throws us unknown and scary stuff we don't choose). Sometimes I want to live like that, in my box. And I have seasons where I do, because my mental health depends on it, but my long term health and wellbeing depends on stretching outside that box. Dang it.
Traveling, though it can make me anxious, is a way out of my anxiety.
You know all that stuff about perfection stealing our joy? My friend Krista writes a lot about this. So does Brene Brown.
I got to see Krista on this trip, a highlight of my Edmonton visit,
since we live on opposite sides of the country.
The place where this rings truest for me is my inner landscape of my ideals, beliefs and values.
Some people think of perfection as a person's obsession with the house being just so, the decor all matching, etc. That's the surface stuff (that often speaks to a deeper issue). The joy-stealing quest for perfection in my own life is rooted in my desire to align my actions with my values. And the heartbreaking reality that very rarely do those two align. My actions fall short of my values and beliefs, even my core values. I fall short of the measure. There is incongruence in my life.
There's a lot written in my world about aligning your actions with your values. I write that message also.
But when you can't align your actions with your values, what then? These situations, the ones where we can't meet the mark no matter how hard we try, they are the true heart of our quest, and failure, for perfection. So much of what we think is an issue with perfection is just the tip of the iceberg of the real issue which is much more significant than if the pillows match the paint.
And you're thinking, how did we get from travel to this?
For me, the opportunity to travel and have adventures (again, we're not talking vacation, because I would seek comfort on a vacation, comfort and ease would be the point of the vacation) brings these realities and awareness into my life, because many things feel incongruent for me when I'm outside of my comfort zone of home.
I hate that feeling, I hate that vulnerability, and yet I'm inextricably drawn to having experiences, like traveling, that help me grow. Go figure.
taking the kids on a tour of our alma mater, the University of Alberta
It was this feeling of incongruence, the many compromises I made, and my inability to find peace with those decisions that contributed to the breaking I experienced on our AT thru-hike.
I don't have to hike for six months to feel this incongruence, it was just really magnified and intense during that experience. Even when I'm in my comfort zone, that homebody place I love to be, things are incongruent at the deepest level of my being. I can just cover it up better with predictable routines and daily comforts.
Regardless of where I am, there is a fracture in my heart between what is and what I want life to be. And I can't blame "the world out there" for that crack because I, personally, am fallible in aligning my actions with my beliefs. Even in my cozy home.
The real forgiveness and freedom in our lives enters at the place of our most shameful compromises, the deepest fissure of disconnect between our values and our actions. Those are the places where the quest for perfection is healed.
This is the freedom I want. The freedom that is the healing salve on situations that feel incongruent, which is to say, most of life.
I want to explain this clearly. An incongruence between our values and actions, in other words, when we don't meet the mark, is the true point at which we need to find release from the grip of perfection. We may start to deal with perfection at the surface, we stop apologizing for what we've cooked or our messy house. This is good.
But the quest to live wholeheartedly will take us to the place of accepting forgiveness and love at our deepest levels of disconnect, when we realize no matter how hard we try, how old we get, or how much money we earn we can't there from here. That's the place we need the freedom.
I want to live in the place that allows me to travel, offer hospitality, cook meals, share friendship, raise and educate my children, write, manage my home, love my husband, knowing full well that none of these things will perfectly align for me. There will always be a disconnect between my deepest intentions and the natural outcomes. This place of course, is a spiritual one, not a physical location.
I want to live in the spiritual place where grace, not my striving, fills in the disconnect, fills in the fissure.
I want to live in that freedom. This is the quest. Not the quest for the most cozy apartment, the best trip ever, the best family or best marriage. I want the freedom to live in the discomfort of imperfect relationships, homes, jobs, homeschooling, travel, diet, all of it. I want the freedom from perfection at the deepest level, in my fractured heart.
That's the place I want to live. That's the place I want to travel.