Personal Journey: Mom and son: The road trip

The writer at the Grand Canyon's North rim, last stop before the journey's end in Los Angeles.
The writer at the Grand Canyon's North rim, last stop before the journey's end in Los Angeles.
Posted: August 28, 2011

Everyone said it would be a wonderful opportunity to bond with my 22-year-old son. I hoped that would be true.

My son, a quiet, laid-back college senior, was driving from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles for a semester of college and an internship. He thought the trip would be with one of his friends, but as it turned out, no one could go with him. What's a mother to do? I didn't want him to drive across the country alone so I cleared my schedule to go along, much to my son's dismay.

His plan was to arrive in L.A. in five days. He thought we would: share the driving until we could no longer keep our eyes open, find a room for the night that cost no more than $59, and stop to eat and go to the bathroom a few times a day. When I questioned him about his plan, he said, "It has to have some flaws, Mom, that's what will make it fun." Spoken like a true 22-year-old.

My plan was to drive daylight hours only and have room reservations at a decent motel, a cooler stuffed with food and water, and guaranteed bathroom stops every two hours. We compromised. We wouldn't have room reservations, but we would drive during daylight hours. We would take plenty of food and water.

Twenty-two-year-old males don't need a detailed plan. Fifty-three-year-old women do.

We decided to see Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon along the way. We would drive to Chicago and stop. Go on to Mount Rushmore and stop. From there, we'd stop in Colorado before heading to the Grand Canyon and then on to L.A. I would do the morning driving since he doesn't usually get out of bed until mid-afternoon. He would drive mid-afternoon, when I needed my nap, and those dusk hours when it's hard for me to see.

We had two GPS units but I wanted a TripTik from AAA. When I told the AAA representative about our five-days-to-L.A. plan, he laughed and questioned my "mission of mercy." That's what he called my getting involved at the last minute to accompany my son. He told me that he had traveled back and forth across the country many times, by himself, when he was my son's age. Well - not on my watch.

The AAA representative, when he heard about our planned stop at Mount Rushmore, said, "Do you know that the Sturgis Rally is that week?" No, I didn't, and what is a Sturgis Rally? It's the biggest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country, in a town about 25 miles north of Mount Rushmore. There would be no hotel vacancies in the area. We decided to stay three hours outside Mount Rushmore in Chamberlain, S.D.

During the morning drive, my son slept. There was no bonding going on.

We made it to Chicago with no problems. There were no hotel rooms available in the heart of the city so we drove outside the city limits and stayed at a Super 8.

Next was Chamberlain, S.D. We found a room. There were about 12 motorcycles in the parking lot when we got there. By the time we left, there were about 30. The "no vacancy" sign was lit.

Mount Rushmore was next. When I stood at the monument, tears came to my eyes. It was a very patriotic moment, even with the hum of thousands of motorcycles in the background. Everyone should see this national treasure.

Our trip continued with a night in Colorado. My son picked the hotel, a Quality Inn, $59. When we drove up I thought "No way," but the Quality Inn turned out to be one of the best places we stayed. No bonding was going on there, either.

We headed out in the morning only to find I would be driving on Colorado's mountainous roads. I had a death grip on the steering wheel as I drove 65 m.p.h. on 7 percent grades. My son stayed awake through this ride. He thought it was cool, I thought it was terrifying. I think he also stayed awake because he was afraid of what I might do to his new RAV4. No bonding in Colorado, but it was beautiful.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was next. I had a difficult time finding a place to stay. My son suggested we sleep in the car. Determined, I found us a room. The canyon was beautiful, but I didn't get any spiritual connection. No bonding, either. However, the beautiful night sky and the shooting star made that stop worthwhile.

Our last drive was to Los Angeles. We had made it in five days, my son's plan fulfilled. He drove directly to the hotel where I had a reservation. I think he couldn't wait to drop me off. I stayed at the hotel three nights, then flew back to Philadelphia. Other than a bus tour of L.A., I spent three hours with my son. It was heart-wrenching to say goodbye and leave him there by himself. He gave me a quick hug and sent me on my way.

I learned a few lessons: You can drive across the country, 2,800 miles, by seeing 200 feet in front of you. You don't have to know every single detail of what the day will hold. There are always a bathroom and a Subway every two hours along your journey.

Was the trip the bonding experience I had hoped for? No, but I realized that my son is a man capable of planning a trip across the country in five days. I learned we had raised an independent, capable, and responsible adult. That, my friends, is what being a parent is all about.

JoAnn Wismer is a Lunch Lady who resides in Harleysville.

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