Monday, July 20, 2009

Road School

It has been 10 years since one of our first experiences with home schooling. Although we didn't formally begin homeschooling our children until the fall of 2002, we did try a little bit of what could be considered homeschooling on a family road trip in July of 1999. Our boys (then 8 and 5) were at a great age for a family road trip, and they were excited and curious about just about everything, so a road trip to Yellowstone National Park would be great for family adventure and learning.

So as part of the planning for our three weeks on the road, we packed materials for writing a journal, for drawing pictures of what they had seen, various books, also books on tape, and other materials. We planned on buying postcards at each of the stops along the way to document the journey as well.

We had been thinking about this for a year prior to this trip and decided to buy an older motor home and then work the kinks out of before the Big Trip. That way we could hopefully keep the costs down and travel comfortably also.

The ride we eventually got, a tired 1978 Winnebago, turned out to have quite a few kinks, and the summer of 1998 found us sitting by the side of the road more than once with some sort of mechanical failure. But on July 2, 1999, we piled in and hit the road, hoping that we had dealt with most of the major issues.

I kept a journal myself. It is over 30 pages long, in small type, single spaced. Exactly three sentences of this journal described the homeschooling part of our journey. Most of the remainder of this journal is about the motor home. There wasn't a day that went by without some sort of mechanical trouble. Exhaust system troubles, electrical troubles, carburetor problems, vacuum leaks, fluid leaks, broken lug nuts, a broken awning and burned up starters were just some of the challenges that greeted us each day

We had plenty of adventure and family learning, but not in the ways we had expected. Some of the adventures related to auto parts stores, repair shops, and doctors offices. Some of the family learning was on how to keep a motor home on the road using a roll of duct tape. Additional learning was on how to secure things when the vehicle is in motion. A large pitcher full of fruit juice found its way onto the floor when we rounded a curve. Due to a temporary lapse in diligence in securing all items, it was left on the counter when we took off. The juice was greedily absorbed by the '70s era orange carpet, and what the carpet didn't absorb was taken care of by the remainder of the sugar that had flown out of an upper cupboard when a latch popped open shortly before.

We almost didn't make it to Yellowstone. On the long climb up the mountain outside of Buffalo, Wyoming, the transmission began to overheat, and we had to turn around. After the many troubles we had up to this point, we decided to turn around and head for home. The next day found us in the tiny town of Douglas, Wyoming, after two of the rear wheels nearly fell off. The motor home spent the day in the shop, we spent the day in the city pool. The mechanic told us that it could still make it to Yellowstone, so we turned around again, this time coming into the park by the south route instead of through the mountains.

Yellowstone was enjoyable, and our enjoyment was perhaps magnified by the fact that we could hike the trails and leave the motor home behind. The kids got to see Old Faithful, one of their big goals of the trip. We spent a few days in vacation bliss, with campfires, long hikes, cool evenings, and sleeping in all part of the agenda.

The trip home was unbelievable. The 108 degree heat through Nebraska, along with a lack of air conditioning, the noise from the faulty exhaust system and the vibration and rattle of a vehicle well past is prime took a toll on all of us. Any attempts at learning were long forgotten, we were simply focused on covering the next mile. The engine was running poorly, our second starter was showing signs of expiring, and I think I was putting in more and more oil, brake fluid, and transmission fluid at every gas stop.

It was a welcome relief to make it to my brother's house near Des Moines, Iowa. We were able to experience silence and air conditioning for an evening.

We had not made it very far down the freeway the next morning when cars behind us began blowing their horns. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I could not see the cars, because the cloud of smoke we were leaving behind was so thick.

The motor home didn't make it home. We left it in a scrap yard in Iowa. We finished our journey in a rented car. Not much schooling happened, but we did learn a lot. And it really was a memorable trip.

If you want learning and adventure, come join us. It always seems to follow us, where ever we go. The next year we did the simple, tent-camping thing. One of our tents was destroyed by a bear.

If you haven't been scared off by now, my full journal can be had by simply emailing me and requesting it...

1 comment:

Chris and Celeste said...

what a hoot, i couldn't stop laughing.