Reconnecting on the Road
A 10-day road trip covering thousands of miles was either going to save us or kill us.
I'm happy to report that Matt and I not only made it home in one piece, but we came home with a sense of accomplishment and a renewed faith in our marriage.
For a couple that's been together for 20 years, it can be hard to keep that spark alive. The stresses of everyday life within a marriage are hard enough, then layer in a global pandemic, unstable income and a looming uncertainty of the future — it can leave even the strongest of relationships in a state of exhaustion.
It's something I've been worrying about in the back of my mind lately. It's not that we don't get along most of the time, but sometimes we feel like we're just living separate lives. So when it came down to making vacation plans, I wasn't sure what we might be up for.
My heart was set on a road trip to the Grand Canyon but my mind was worried it would be too much stress when we're already stretched thin. I asked Matt what he wanted to do. I was actually surprised when Matt said, "Grand Canyon, let's do it babe!"
He's usually one for a more relaxed vacation, but he said he was willing to hit the road. It has been a few years since we've been stuck in a car together for a week and even longer since the two of us took a vacation together without any other friends or family. And this time we'd be car camping most of the time!
We headed out from Waynesville around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday and drove 7 hours to Memphis. We stayed in a hotel that night knowing we had a 10-hour drive the next day to Amarillo. I intentionally planned our longest driving day the second day of our trip before we had time to get irritable with each other.
That drive to Amarillo was indeed very long, but we stopped in Little Rock and Oklahoma City along the way and chased the setting sun into Texas. We were smart enough to stop when we still had daylight and blew up our mattress in the back of the SUV so we wouldn't have to deal with it in the dark at the KOA.
The Amarillo KOA was quiet and spread out under an open sky. We sat at our picnic table and made sandwiches from the cooler. I drank a few hard seltzers and Matt strummed his guitar and we talked until we were ready to climb into the car to sleep. We woke up to the sun rising over the horizon, got ready in the bathhouse, packed up our shit and we were on our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The four-hour drive through the dessert was breathtaking — landscapes these southerners have never laid eyes on before. We checked into our downtown hotel early and walked around downtown. We split some coconut chicken curry from a food truck for lunch. I felt so lucky that the Georgia O'Keeffe Art Museum was reopening THAT DAY and I was lucky enough to book tickets before it sold out!
It was fun to tell Matt more about O'Keeffe and her artwork and see that he genuinely appreciated it. He was even helpful as I tried to narrow down which two prints I'd take home with me and what gift to pick up for my mom. We strolled around downtown until Matt could tell I needed to take a break. He quickly found a patio where we could order a cold drink (he knows me too well). That prickly pear frozen margarita was just what I needed. We ordered some delish Mexican food from DoorDash and pigged out in our hotel room before calling it an early night. It was a good day.
The next day we drove toward Flagstaff with stops at El Malpais National Monument (highly recommended) and Winslow, Arizona. I'm a huge Eagles and Jackson Browne fan and had to see the "Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona" statues, murals and other instagramable spots to commemorate the song, "Take it Easy."
We were pretty tired when we got to our KOA in Flagstaff. It was a Saturday so it was packed and the sites were close together. It felt like a zoo with all the dogs barking and kids running around screaming. But Matt and I sat there enjoying our Del Taco dinner and mapped out our next day at the Grand Canyon. Another nice evening of good conversation as he played guitar and I sipped on some fancy tequila I bought in Santa Fe.
We were 4 days in and not one fight had occurred! I think we were both surprised to find that we still enjoyed each other's company. We actually still had things to talk about and stories we haven't told each other a million times. We actually still make each other laugh (even if it's at the other's expense).
By this time, Matt was becoming a pro at setting up our car bed at night. It was like a game of Tetris in the front seat of the car as we moved the bags around to make room for the mattress in the back. He made sure I could still reach my shoes if I needed a midnight potty run and made sure I could reach the water in the middle of the night. In the mornings, he'd pack it all up again while I would go get ready and find us some coffee.
We were a team and all was going well. Sunday was Grand Canyon day and I knew if we could survive an entire day of walking around in the heat then we could pretty much survive anything. The first few hours were great — we walked around the South Rim in awe of everything around us.
I did have a couple of whiney moments because despite my extensive research and planning, there were still a couple of things that I didn't plan for — very limited food options during a pandemic with nowhere inside to sit down and eat, long lines for any food and no "healthy" food options to be had. I was a little fussy and annoyed by that, but I sucked it up, ate a shitty chicken caesar wrap and half a soft pretzel with cheese and downed a big thing of water. I would survive.
We continued on to Hermit Road via the shuttle and walked around to some more vistas. I researched all the shuttles to ensure I knew what I was doing and planned for the blue shuttle to take us back to our car, which was miles away now. However, the blue shuttle was closed and we had to walk all the way back to the other side of the rim in the midday sun.
We were both a little cranky when we finally made it back to the car around 4 p.m. with about 10 miles under our belts. Matt knew I really wanted to see the sunset, but I was also sweaty, exhausted and dehydrated. But he rallied with me and didn't let me call it a day. We sat with the AC blasting, ate most of the snacks remaining in our cooler, drank a liter of Gatorade and chilled until after 5. Then Matt led the charge toward Yaki Point, which was our best bet for seeing the sunset over the South Rim.
A little loopy from the day, we pushed on a couple more miles until we neared Yaki Point and found a perfect spot hanging off a rock and looking back toward the sun. I tend to set unrealistic expectations, but that sunset was everything I imagined it to be. Well worth the 12.5 miles we walked that day. We hopped a shuttle back to our car and headed back to the campground.
On our way back East, we stopped in Downtown Flagstaff, Meteor Crater Monument, Petrified National Forest, and Downtown Oklahoma City before we moved south down into the Mississippi Delta. Clarksdale, MS, was a stop I added to the road trip at the last minute because I knew Matt would love it. It's the birthplace of the Delta Blues and it's where blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil (as the story goes) in exchange for his mad guitar skills.
By selling his soul, Johnson paid the price — he died at the young age of 27 — and began The 27 Club - a story many of us music fans are familiar with today. So many incredible artists have died at 27 following Johnson — Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse to name a few.
Clarksdale was like a ghost town when we arrived. The old side of town where the blues cafe and other music dives remain were all shut down due to the pandemic but it looked like they hadn't been open in years. We got the iconic photo of him at the crossroads with his guitar and I took him to the small guitar shop so he could pic on some instruments he'll probably never be able to afford.
We stayed at The Clark House, the oldest home in town. It was an antebellum mansion turned into a B&B. We were the only ones staying there, which was a little creepy, but we enjoyed it. The blues journey continued the next day as we made our way back up to Memphis and walked down Beale Street taking in all the history.
We were supposed to stay the night in Memphis and make it home the next day, but as we sat at Central BBQ chowing down on some ribs and brisket, we were ready to go home. Not because we were cranky and tired of being on the road, but because we had such an incredible trip, had done all the things we'd set out to do and we're ready to see our pups again!
Sure, part of us didn't want to return to reality, but I think we felt refreshed from all the adventure. We were going home with a deeper connection to each other and with a reassurance that we have each other's back when we're faced with challenges.
It was a relief for me to know that even with everything we've been through in the last few years, all the growing and changing we've done individually hadn't changed the way we feel about each other. We're still in love with each other. We still want the best for each other. It can't last forever of course — we got into a fight not even a week after we got home — but that's just marriage.
Now we're getting back into our routines at home and at work, but we're both committed to working harder to continue our adventures together every day. We will fail, we will fight about it, but we'll keep trying. That's what this commitment thing is all about.