Ok, Orlando isn't 2000 miles from here, it's more like 1100, but the general direction holds - head south from Detroit, and turn left at the Florida turnpike. Fairly simple, really. In some ways, the directions are the ONLY simple thing about packing five people with very different personalities and temperaments into a minivan and hitting the highway. Especially when one of them is taking all the things that she'll need to live comfortably for the next three months.
But it really ain't that bad, particularly when you maintain cautious expectations and accept certain things as a given. Oldest's blog entry from the day/night of departure holds some clues as to accepting we, as a family, have learned how to be over time. To paraphrase:
So far today, we've argued about what I'm taking, what they're all taking, when we're leaving, how long we think it will take to get there, and how to avoid the construction at the bridge. All that's left to do is argue about the right way to pack the car, then ACTUALLY packing the car, and we're good to go.
Children, even young adult children, embrace consistency.
We rolled out of Dodge (or at least away from the curb) at 2:30 a.m. having gotten some, but not enough, sleep. US Customs and Immigration is a very intimidating place, even when the faces are friendly and helpful. But her paperwork was all in order, and by 4 a.m.-ish, we were hitting the highway.
I love night driving, particularly on the highway. I am an "owl" by nature, and nearly empty roads are remarkably stress-free. I can set the cruise control and there's plenty of space for the occasional speed demons or slow pokes without me feeling any pressure to "keep up with traffic" or impatience at not being able to change lanes. The pavement, wet or dry, seems to glow, and the hiss/hush sound of the tires on pavement whisper each mile as it passes. The passengers, fast asleep in the back, need no reassurance that we're "almost to the state line" or "will be stopping soon."
Pulling into an Interstate rest stop, you meet the rest of the club who are also making this traditional trek. It's almost crowded; sleepy children, dressed in sweats or pjs, stumble toward the restrooms and scarf down snacks, while moms and dads splash cold water on their faces and pull a comb through their hair. Relief at taking a break is complicated by impatience to be back on the road, and parents share knowing glances as they resist sneaking a peek at their watches. How much further can we drive before the sun rises, and the backseat starts to clamour for breakfast, fresh air, a peek at the map, are we there yet, where are we?
Back on the road, the club loses its connection; slowly or quickly, the distance between travellers grows until once more you're alone on the road, nothing but you, the open road, and your own little tour group asleep in the backseat once more.
Once the sun rises, it's a whole new ball game. The heat beats down through the windows, the traffic builds, the scenery, while beautiful, is also a distraction. The mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee are breath-taking, and I feel a certain sense of guilt that these natural wonders are something, for us, to be gotten through instead of experienced for their own sake. When it's dark, we could be anywhere, and it doesn't matter where - when it's light out, we know that we're passing some pretty cool places at 70 miles an hour.
Oldest drove the state of Kentucky, while I closed my eyes in the backseat and tried to forget that the last time we made this drive she had a bucket of toys in the seat beside her to keep her busy. Letting her take the wheel, and the responsibility for getting us through the next 200 miles safely, was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And she did just fine, which is possibly even more unsettling. If she can drive across Kentucky, she can go anywhere, do anything. Which is the point, right? As long as she remembers that the road away also leads back home from time to time.