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That Time I Drove 10 Hours With a Toddler

Several years ago, my parents proposed something fun: Why not drive out to Colorado, as a family? It sounded like a good idea. I live in the middle of the country, and the closest mountains to us are in the southern part of Missouri and I hadn't even seen those at the time. The idea of cutting my "not-seen-a-mountain" teeth on the Rockies sounded amazing.

However our youngest, who was 18 months old at the time, wasn't much of a traveler. By this, I mean she had broken down in noisy tears on the way home from her aunt and uncle's house, which isn't even an hour away from our own home. Not once, but many times. Driving home from the Omaha zoo—a two hour trip— equals complete and utter disaster, including an hour-long freakout.

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Clearly driving with this toddler and her three older siblings for nearly 600+ miles along the blindingly boring US Highway 36 across the entirety of the mind-numbing state of Kansas would be no problem, right? Yes. I'm crazy, we're all crazy. So we booked our cabins, coordinated our caravan, and took off.

So it was a huge surprise that it really wasn't so bad as we made our way west. As that first day drew on, our little angel really wasn't as much of a nightmare as I'd expected. She was still rear-facing at the time and required a lot of interaction, but her siblings were only too happy to comply. She napped on and off, and we made regular stops even though the heat climbed up and over 108 degrees. It's dry heat, but it still felt good to get out and run around a little. She definitely got tired of being in the van, but we were thankfully not treated to hours of inconsolable wailing.

We had smartly booked a hotel before we left that we would run into after about six hours of driving, so after we traversed most of the desolate hell that is midsummer Kansas, we rolled into the establishment. It looked fine on the website, but clearly they hadn't bothered to keep the property in good shape—and it didn't get much better once we checked in, as the proprietors told us we could use their vacuum to deal with "any dead bugs" we found on the floor. Apparently, the place didn't get a ton of business, and while we didn't really find a bunch of bug carcasses littered about, I did feel weird about putting my kids to bed in such a decrepit place. But the beds were clean and the locks worked, so we made do.

And yes, at one point I said I'd never again drive to Colorado with a small child. In fact, I may have said this more than once.

The remaining four hours or so the next day were more exciting, especially after we were a couple hours west of the Colorado/Kansas border. (NOTE: I was unhappily surprised that eastern Colorado basically looked like western Kansas.) The rest of the trip was fantastic, and even though I was afraid a mountain lion was going to pounce on me every time I had to go use our "vault toilet" after the sun went down, there were no major mishaps, and I got to see some pretty spectacular shit. Our little girl loved playing in the dirt, and while her memories of the trip are unfortunately long gone due to her young age, we have tons of photos.

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What this trip proved to us, as a family, is that traveling in close quarters really ups the bonding factor. I was definitely worried before we headed out that the trip would be a disastrous one, as being confined to a car seat can get the best of even the most relaxed toddler—and ours was definitely not relaxed.

We also went through the bag of tricks I carefully planned out within the first hour (this included new crayons, coloring books, snacks and small toys) and had to rely on a portable DVD player to get through the rough spots, and a few squalls did happen. And yes, at one point I said I'd never again drive to Colorado with a small child. In fact, I may have said this more than once.

So the challenges were there on this trip, but the rewards made our experience that much greater. Experiencing the mountains, the wildlife, the flora and the dirt with all of my kids, from the eldest to the tiniest, was priceless. And while the travel part did suck at times, it didn't suck enough that the next year we didn't do the exact same thing again.

Because we did, and it was amazing.

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