Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Coussoules' Great Western Adventure: Day One

It's finally here!! We have been waiting, anticipating, planning and counting down the days to the summer vacation we planned over spring break. And here we are, Day One travel complete - we have officially embarked on The Coussoules' Great Western Adventure driving tour!!

Eight states (nine if we make it to Idaho!), fourteen days, two kids, two parents, and a van full of suitcases and bags - a trip of a lifetime for all of us. The initial kernel of inspiration came on my drive to and from Steamboat Springs last fall for my cousin's wedding. I came home telling Justin that I really wanted to go out west and spend some time; the drive was awe inspiring and the beauty of the plains and the Rocky Mountains was breathtaking. The next little nudge came when we were visiting my family over the Christmas holidays and my mother was talking about trips she'd like to take and places she'd like to go. At one point she said: "I've never seen Mt. Rushmore. I've always wanted to see it, and I'm not getting any younger." Finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place as I made my New Year's Resolutions, and crossing items off of my life list was a goal for the year.

We took a family vacation to DisneyWorld a couple of years ago, but last summer was spent doing things locally and within driving distance. This year over Spring Break, Justin and I decided that it felt like a good time to plan another big vacation, and with the trifecta of inspiration in my head, we looked west. Starting with the assumption that we would be driving, we checked into the cost of renting an RV. It didn't take long to discover that was wildly expensive, so Plan B - going in the family van - was quickly arrived at as the next best thing!

After much Googling of "best driving tours of the west"; reading reviews on TripAdvisor; checking hotel rates; looking for discount codes; and consulting friends who've done much traveling, we had our plan:
Over the course of the months between my initial hotel / excursion bookings and actually leaving, Justin refined the plan, finding specific things to do in each place and trying to find any other amazing sights to see along the way. We figured, this is literally a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so we'd better make it count. In the last month, we decided to try and add the Little Big Horn Battlefield, Devils' Tower, and we added one more day to our stay in South Dakota after seeing how much there is to do in the Rapid City area. Who knew??
You can see the whole plan HERE
The original plan was to leave the house on Thursday morning, July 10th, and drive straight through to Colorado Springs. The more Justin thought about it, that was a tough way to start our vacation, so we decided we'd leave on Day 1 Minus One to get to Wichita and stage the troops four hours closer to the destination! 
Turns out that was a great plan for more than the obvious reasons; when we woke up this morning at the hotel and saw the weather report, turns out it was pouring rain on the route we had just driven the night before. What a blessing to have already made our way through southeast Kansas!! We had a good breakfast at the hotel, packed up the car, and it was time to leave on the official first day of our trip. Here we go!!
The drive started out by reviewing the kids' worksheets on Kansas - thanks to the summer curriculum, they were academically prepared, and shared interesting facts about the state and its people. After going through the 25 Fun Facts for Kansas (compliments of Daddy, who did his own pre-trip research!), it was time to watch a movie in the backseat and listen to an audiobook in the front. We watched the beautiful Kansas prairie roll by, eating up the miles as we were on our way. 
It wouldn't be a Coussoule summer road trip without a stop for lunch at a rest stop and deli sandwiches; the difference between the Kansas rest stop and our standard at the Texas / Oklahoma border was the WIND!! Holy wow was it windy - but it was a beautiful, sunny summer day, so we enjoyed our picnic and the break from the car despite having to hold onto our lunch with two hands!
We rolled along I-70, cracking up at some of John's answers to questions from 5 Second Rule and playing License Plate Bingo. We managed to find over 30 states the first day - so fun for the kids! On John's blank map of the U.S., he colored in the states from which we'd seen plates, and it was so cool to hear him say, "WOW - New York is a long way from Colorado!" Mom win - learning is fun! 
Only one more stop between lunch and arriving at our hotel; the kids are at an age where road trips are actually fun, and we aren't stopping for the bathroom every two hours. The timing of the one pit stop was pretty good - we hit the Colorado rest stop just over the Kansas line, and Daddy found maps and guide books to keep him entertained along the way. Oh, and coffee. FREE COFFEE!! Everybody wins!
Colorado stretched in front of us, but there was no complaining, no "are we there yet" as John dozed and Caroline looked out the window. It was a thrill for each of us when Daddy pointed out the front windshield and said, "There's Pike's Peak!" Their first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains, and though it wasn't my first glimpse, it's impossible not to be struck by the majesty of the mountains.

We had forgotten about the change from Central to Mountain time (win!!), so we pulled into The Academy Hotel parking lot in Colorado Springs at 4PM on the dot. Excellent!! Settled into our room, and of course, time to blow off some steam - kids into the pool!! 

Dinner at a place called Drifter's, which is supposed to be the best burger place in town, and then Glacier Homemade Ice Cream to top off the day. I think we'll all be ready for bed tonight so that we can get up and get going in the morning. Places to go, sights to see, fun to be had, and more to come on our Adventure!

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