As we rolled into an abandoned desert gas station at 1am, I knew we were done for.
To my left, a shirtless trucker filled up while simultaneously puffin’ his cig. To my right, the land was so desolate that even a tumbleweed wouldn’t hear us scream.
After a nose-plug-and-go bathroom visit and some candy to stay awake, we made our way semi-safely out of that hellhole for three more hours of pitch black driving up to the Grand Canyon.
While this epic, mishap-filled road trip may sound like a crazy college adventure, it wasn’t. Yes, there was booze. And of course there were laughter fits. But unlike college…
I was road tripping with my mom.
My young-at-heart, adventurous mom.
While we’ve traveled as a family to Africa, Canada, and pretty much everywhere in between, this was the first time my mom and I hit the road together. From the get-go, I knew we’d be in for an adventure — my mom did give me her coveted “I can’t read maps” gene, after all.
But despite a couple missed turns and near-heat stroke, we made it out alive and, in my case, enlightened with several lessons you can only learn while road tripping through the desert with your mom.
Don’t underestimate your elders.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I planned a three-mile hike into the Grand Canyon. I watched YouTube videos, read trail reviews, and asked friends for recommendations, but — as any hiker can attest — you don’t really know what to expect from a trail until you’re on it yourself.
(Especially when a heatwave — in fact, one of the Southwest’s worst heatwaves from this year — decides to hit during your trip.)
I mean, my mom’s in good shape and all. But she’s also my mom.
As she often likes to do, she proved me way wrong. With cautious strides, we made it slowly but surely down the South Kaibab Trail’s slippery, steep and winding dirt path. We spent the hike down speculating what our dogs were doing back home and, of course, planning our meal selections for the night.
The hike up? Well, let’s just say we were taking it all in (read: not willing to waste energy on words). With a slower, much more lethargic ascent, we both made it out in one, sweaty mess of a piece. She kept up the whole way.
Slow travel is good travel.
Our hike through the Grand Canyon was slower than I’d anticipated (thanks, heatwave), but those water breaks gave me more time to stare off into the distance and truly appreciate being inside the Grand Canyon — a trek few visitors actually take.
Slow travel doesn’t have to be an extended period in one set place — it’s also about pace. While we only spent half a day in the Canyon, having that extra time to look around instead of blaze up and down the path made me realize just how important slow travel really is.
Our slow approach to hiking the Grand Canyon helped us soak it in and really be in the moment. Had we sped through our hike or only viewed the Canyon from the rim, we would’ve missed the special moments, like petting mules at the rest stop, climbing rocks to see hidden views, and enjoying our surroundings (from the comfort of the shade, of course).
Your parents weren’t always your parents.
They were adventurers, rock stars, rebels, and badass explorers who, in my case, hiked Kilimanjaro, hitchhiked across the country, stargazed next to Egyptian pyramids, and took round-the-world trips.
On our hike down, my mom regaled me with stories of her college summer spent working in the Grand Canyon, and how she and her best friend snuck out at night to stargaze, played good old-fashioned college drinking games in her dorm room, and once even hitchhiked all the way to Las Vegas.
So…yeah. She definitely wasn’t always the calm, fix-everything mom I know today. She has more stories than I’ll ever be able to top.
Time is limited — make those memories.
This was the first time my mom and I had taken an adventurous trip like this, and we still excitedly tell tales of our Grand Canyon adventures (and debacles) to my wide-eyed, overly protective, “You did what?!” father.
Sure, the trip was only four days long, and yes, I realize it’s a trip that many people take — but my mom and I made it our own. I’ll always treasure our celebratory post-hike cheers or the “Oh crap” moment when we realized we were alone at an isolated, uber-creepy gas station.
We won’t be able to travel with our parents forever, and that’s why I make as many wild, outlandish family memories as I can now. I still travel on my own, with my boyfriend, or with friends, but I’m sprinkling more and more mom-and-dad travels in there to savor the moments while I can.
Age is a state of mind.
Age means absolutely nothing unless you let it. My mom and I hiked the Grand Canyon, steep trail and all, and came out alive and ready to hit up the bar to celebrate (after a shower, of course).
We road tripped along a pitch-black highway into the wee hours of the morning, dodging elk and staying awake with some tunes, a pack of Lifesavers, and a serious session of gossip.
And, despite the heatwave climax — I’m talking 115-degree temps with no shade — we trekked out to the beautiful Horseshoe Bend, and wiped the sweat off enough to smile for a selfie.
Sure, the scenery and photos were beautiful, but these adventures were far from easy. My mom was way more adventurous on our Southwest expedition than most people my age who I know. In her mind, she’s an adventurer — not an age bracket — and that’s the way to live.
The world we’re exploring today is not the world my mom enjoyed in her twenties. After hearing her crazy round-the-world tales (like the time she and my dad got charged at by an elephant while honeymooning), I was more motivated than ever to go out and make ridiculous travel memories that I can share with my future, map-illiterate children.
And like all good stories, my tales will begin in an abandoned, sketchy rest stop.
Have you ever tried to travel with your parents? Share in the comments!