See our entire trip in 4 min or less.
The rumors are true, you guys. This summer, the Craig family pulled off a Griswold-worthy cross-country trip across this-here land of the free and home of the highway-bathroom stops! And it was glorious.
It all started when Katie’s parents declared they wanted to hold a family reunion. We’re fans of family reunions and of our families, in particular, so we were in. Then, they doubled-down by suggesting that since we are all spread out across the fruited planes and purple mountains (Katie being one of 10 children), that we should meet in the middle.
Which begs the question: Is Kansas … is that … is Kansas the middle? I’m pretty sure no. I’m pretty sure Hawaii is the middle. But then we crunched some numbers and turns out that if you’re going by budgets and expenses, Kansas is for sure the middle.
Then we decided that if we were going to drive all the way to Kansas, we should just make this trip – how the kids of 2014 say – epic. Yessir, we decided to go all the way! From sea to shining sea, baby!
If you're counting the Great Salt Lake as a sea, then yep! From Utah to Boston, Massachusetts!
For those of you keeping score at home, Katie and I have 8 children. (If you’re really a baller, then you know that one of our children is serving an LDS mission in Brazil and was not available for this road trip. But he’ll be available in 16 months, ladies…)
Anyway, the 9 of us piled into our 12-passenger van (alias: Big Red) and drove off into the sunset! Then we realized that was the wrong direction, so we turned that bus around and drove east! Like the old saying, “Go east, young man!”
We took 3 weeks, covered 17 states, and racked up 6,270 miles.
We made 8 lip sync videos. Technically, we made nine. But we never posted this one.
If you want to see the rest, they’re on YouTube.
We saw lots, my friends. Lots. The landscapes, the cultures, the people, the foods. But not everything. And that was maddening to me. It was like ordering a sampler plate. You know how when you are eating a sampler plate and you’re like, “Well, that was the right amount of stuffed potato skins (Hershey, PA), but I could have easily eaten an entire dinner of those sliders (Washington DC).” It was like that. We were in New York for precisely 10 hours. TEN HOURS. Sure, we saw Lady Liberty and walked the Brooklyn Bridge and played in Central Park. But is that enough? (It’s not. It’s like one and half sliders.) But I think we really nailed some cities. Have you EXPERIENCED the St. Louis City Museum? (Answer: You haven’t, and you should be ashamed.) We embraced Washington DC. High-fived Boston. And gave Philadelphia a sporty bum-smack. But some places, like Chicago, demanded more of our attention. And we just couldn’t fit everything in, or we’d still be out there. I even saw a billboard in Iowa that said, “Next Exit: Ride a boat pulled by mules.” And I thought to myself, “YES. That’s precisely what I want to do!” But time mocked us right to our faces.
But, perhaps most importantly, you don’t drive across America the Beautiful without learning a few things. Here are a few nuggets from this trip:
1. Our van fits in parking garages with a minimum 6’8 clearance. Not 6’6, not 6’7. We learned this the hard way at a garage in Washington DC. Worst. Sound. Ever. The good news is that we’ve traveled in this van for 7 years, with 8 children, on road-trips, eating countless meals, and nobody but nobody is interested in buying this used van from us. We clearly do not care what it looks like. We’ll just continue to abuse it until it refuses to run anymore. Which, if it were a person, and that person were me, that would have been 6 years ago.
Parking my 12-passenger van in downtown Manhattan. What?
2. Everything takes longer with a big family. EVERY. THING. And when I say everything, I am mostly talking about bathroom breaks. Try this with me. Hold your thumb out in front of you. Close one eye and really focus on it. See your thumb nail? Not the entire thumb, just the nail. Have you got it? That’s the combined-size of my three youngest children’s bladders. If we were a band, this would have been called The Bathrooms Across America Tour. And for reasons as varied as the urinary habits of children everywhere, each bathroom stop took 45 minutes to three days. After I realized this pattern, I had to weigh our opportunities before parking anywhere. “Hmm. Do we want to see Midtown Manhattan, or go tinkles? There’s only time for one.”
3. I am willing to spend big bucks for good treats. And we ate some good treats. We made several ice cream stops. If we weren’t stopping at bathrooms, we were stopping for ice cream, my friends. And it was easily $40 every time. But I dare you – I defy you – to drive across America in the summer and not stop at mom n’ pop ice creams shops, fresh fruit shake stands, or frozen custard places every time you see one. Never mind meals or souvenirs or toll roads or parking garages or museum tickets or subways or taxis or whatever else – you will go broke on ice cream. And you won’t care. Because it’s delicious and you’re American and if you had to, I bet you could find a bank that would let you open a line of credit just for ice cream.
4. When I’m out of my routine, and there aren’t any other demands on me, it is the most wonderful thing to sit and watch my kids. At the end of our day in New York, we were taking the subway from Central Park to Battery Park, and we were the only ones in our car. Connor (17) was flag-polling on one of the vertical subway poles, and Tanner (12) grabbed his legs and was running him in circles. Some of the kids were singing. Hillary (4) was laughing. She was just laughing so hard with Becca (10) and Lucy (7). What was so amazing about this moment? I can’t tell you. I was just looking at my people, and I was overwhelmed with how much I loved them, and how much I liked them, and how much I liked being with them. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world than on that subway, with my favorite people. And I missed Garren (18).
5. Sometimes I’d just be doing my thing, lost in my thoughts – driving or sitting on the bed planning the day or wondering if there was something back home I was supposed to be doing – and I’d turn and catch Katie watching me. Just silently, intentionally watching me. And when I’d look at her, she’d just give me this huge smile, and say nothing. It is by far her most powerful way of flirting with me.
6. You may learn some starting things about yourself on road trips. I was standing in the parking lot of a Walmart on the Indiana/Illinois border when I had a moment self-reflection. It was 8 AM and the parking lot wasn’t overly crowded. The kids were waking up and stretching, and I’d already gone inside to buy fruit, muffins and a 3D Chrome VIP Lounge Toilet Seat. (Just kidding – I just Googled “weird things to buy at Walmart” and that was the first item mentioned.) Anyway, we were anxious to get to Chicago, so rather than sleep, we had driven through the night from upstate New York. With no hotel room or other accommodations, but still needing to look and feel presentable before heading to the Art Institute of Chicago ... (you can see where this is going) ... I resourcefully turned to the Walmart parking lot. I stepped outside, rubbed on some deodorant, ran a comb through my hair, and thanks to a conveniently located drain, brushed my teeth. Then I changed clothes ... in the front seat of my van. I remember thinking, “This can’t be the first time people have done all this in a Walmart parking lot.” And though my logic was solid, somewhere in the part of my brain that sorts through social mores, I could sense that this was something I should be more embarrassed about. But also, I was tired, I knew I’d never be in this place ever again, I didn't know a soul there, and kind of, I just didn’t care. And that’s when I realized who I had become.
7. I really, truly love the history of this country. I was inspired over and over as we visited these old cities and read about those who “more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.” I felt profound respect for those who collaborated, compromised, worked, and served to create one nation under God. And I felt that plea that God shed his grace on us, and crown our good with brotherhood.
8. We did the hotel thing for a few nights, but our favorite is always the people we get to stay with. We truly appreciate siblings, cousins, even friends I’ve known since I was 4 years old. I also got to visit with a friend I hadn’t seen in 28 years, from when I lived in Hawaii, and another friend I worked with 20 years ago…about the time that Katie was the age that Abbie is now. (For reals.) Sincerely, friends. This country’s greatest commodity is its people! Not the ones you see on TMZ, necessarily, and not the ones you did or didn’t vote for, in particular, but the ones running ice cream shops and the ones riding with you on the Staten Island Ferry and the ones who welcome you into their home and feed you delicious food and the ones who sit with you in the ER and the ones that help you get your keys out of your locked car and the ones who apologize and the ones who forgive and the ones who tell you that you can buy the CD for the Gettysburg Driving Tour or you can look it up for free on YouTube and the ones who confide in you and the ones who trust you and the ones that hug you and love you.
My friend, Ann Marie, from Hawaii. We went to her Junior Prom.
Most recently, we had lunch together at Katie's sister's house.
Most recently, we had lunch together at Katie's sister's house.
My friend, Terry, and his family. We've been friends since 1974. We were both single then.
My friend, Debby. She's great for a number of reasons -
but getting us a table at Grimaldi's and knowing the NY subway system makes her a national hero.
Katie was able to meet up with her high school pal, Beth.
And yes, it was as adorable as this picture makes it look.
One Sunday, we went to the church that Katie went to growing up in Reading, PA, and drove around her old neighborhood. It was so sweet to hear people gushing about Katie's family and their influence in the area. It was also sweet to hear Katie tell this heartwarming story about the first time she fasted, and Becca's hard-hitting follow-up question, "Which stall?"
If you don't have any MalleyCats in your life ... why?
Katie's cousin, Meredith, and her adorable daughters. It was minimal time, but maximum party.
Our friend Jjana, who literally gave up her bed for us.
And her husband Cliff (not pictured) bbq'd for us and it was insaaaane.
Katie's cousin, Marliese, and her family!
I have a sister named Marlise. TWO Marlises in my life? Yes, please.
Katie's sister, Shellie. Behind her? The Capitol Building.
But if you want something done, my money is on Shellie.
Katie's sister, Stephanie, and her kids. There was just enough room for me to sleep right in the middle, there.
9. I love cold cereal. I do. The “free-breakfast” hotels we stayed at all featured a variety – waffles, eggs, muffins, yogurt, bagels… No thanks. I’ll just have four bowls of Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops. Breakfast of champions.
10. At some point you begin to sense that back home, reality has not pushed “pause” while you’ve been gone, and Real Life is waiting for you at home. In fact, Real Life is mounting back at home. And you’re sad to see the trip come to an end, but grateful that you have a Real Life that you’re actually excited to get back to.
So that's it in a very small nutshell. In the end, we had one minor hiccup. It didn’t seem minor in the moment, but things are looking up. On our second to last night, our youngest, Hillary, took a spill down some stairs … and broke her clavicle. A quick trip to the hospital and an x-ray revealed a pretty bad break. The ER doc said that when we got back to Utah we should speak to a pediatric surgeon. We told the ER doc he was fired. Our doctor back in Utah assured us there was no need for surgery, and Hillary is on the mend!
Also after eating a donut.