Three Lessons from an Epic Road Trip

From a busy October, August seems like a year ago. Our summer holiday this year was a departure from our normal time away. Stemming from an unplanned ‘win’ at a school silent auction, we made the decision to take a road trip from our home in Metro Vancouver up to the Yukon, a journey that took two weeks and covered more than 6,200 kilometers.

Some (many) might question the sanity of such a trip with four kids under ten and a (quite) pregnant wife. When we learned we’d be welcoming a fifth child earlier this year, the trip was already in the planning stages, and while we considered deferring, we also realized that if we did not do it this year, it may never happen. After some discernment, we decided that we needed to seize the moment.

On a superficial level, I hoped for a ‘good’ trip. One on which the kids were reasonably well behaved, we’d have good weather, see some new places, and make it home safely.

Deep in my heart, however, I hoped for something greater. After two years of disruption and many disappointments, my hope and prayer was that the Father would use this trip to provide restoration in my and my family’s life. That it would be a gift to us and would create lasting memories.

When I reflect on our trip, it was not a blissful, conflict-free two weeks. There were challenges and frustrations along the way. But in its entirety, the trip was more than I hoped it would be. It provided us with many memories and experiences that we will not soon forget. I am grateful for all of it.

Our travels allowed for significant reflection time – 60+ hours of driving will provide that opportunity. Though there are many I’d like to share, below are three important lessons I learned or re-learned from our time on the road that stand out the most.  

1. We Need Space to Breathe – I used to think that ‘disconnecting’ on vacation meant not checking emails (which I have been terrible at doing on previous vacations). Work is a hard thing to disconnect from, but what this trip taught me was that I needed a break from far more than work. With four active kids, and six schedules to balance in our house, it is rare to have a night when we are not coordinating rides and pickups.

It is hard to recognize during the busyness of life but having some time away from schedules and activities helped me to realize how crazy our life can be at times. Three days into our trip, the combination of having to drive and the loss of a steady cell signal created the space I hadn’t realized our family had been missing.

Over the course of our trip, the landscapes changed numerous times but for long stretches, the roads could be long and straight with nothing but trees as far as we could see. Some might see this as monotonous, but we found it created space for conversation beyond the daily schedules. Space for talking about big ideas, big hopes, and big dreams.

Moose Lake, AB

Every day on our trip, we passed through a town or area that we had marked out on our itinerary, and there were many interesting and beautiful sites along the way. But it was the in-between times that gave rise to new conversations, thoughtful discussion, and unscripted laughter that we often miss in the day-to-day of life.

It’s not realistic to hit the road every time life gets a bit busy but finding mini-reprieves or places to step back and take a breath is important and necessary. The daily grind is just that. We need to reclaim space to rise above it.   

2. Beauty Can Save the Soul – I love being outside in nature. We spent half of our nights away sleeping in a tent, so there was plenty exposure to the outdoors during our two weeks away. As we moved further north, we were exposed to landscapes and vantage points that none of us had ever seen.

As we encountered fewer and fewer cars on the road, we started to encounter more animals. Many of them roadside, but we had a few closer encounters including a young grizzly bear walking past our campsite one morning – thankfully the bear was just out for a stroll and was not fussed with any of the campers.

Many of these moments left us in awe and I am grateful we have the photos to remind me of them. But the beauty of creation provides more than a great opportunity for a photo. As our trip went on, I found myself wanting to linger in those moments. They often felt like a gift or an invitation to pause and be present. Being present to nature is to witness the masterpiece of our Creator, which feels like a big thing. But in those moments, I felt the Father say to me, yes I made all of this, but I made this moment for you.

When I view things through a lens of gratitude and see the abundance that God has for me, it is incredibly healing and restoring. Though the jagged peaks of a mountain range in Northern British Columbia make it obvious, these moments are available every day.

The more I see life as a gift, the more I notice the beauty that exists within the day-to-day. Sometimes I just need a reminder and I am fortunate that our journey provided many.

3. The Journey is the Destination – Our trip started with a long day of driving, followed by many more long days of driving, and it ended in exactly the same place it started – our driveway. We had set out to reach a destination just outside of Whitehorse, YT, but our trip was not about three nights on a lake. It was the adventure that each day brought. The new experiences, the little challenges we overcame, the unplanned rest stops, and discovering hidden gems along the way.

One example is Sign Post Forest, which is in Watson Lake, YT. Until the day before we got there, we had no idea it existed, but just off the highway is a park where thousands of street signs, license plates, and other markers from all over the world are pinned to posts and trees. Lacking a spare license plate, we used a frisbee, a marker, a pocketknife, and a zap strap to make sure that our stop there would be marked.

Various Attempts at Smiles, Signpost Forest, Watson Lake, YT

As our trip rolled on, I started to realize that it was not about any one day or destination. The gold in the trip for me was the time I spent with my wife and kids and the cumulative impact of the daily adventures we had along the way – the people we met and visited, the wildlife we encountered, the audiobooks we listened to among other things. When I think back to what I enjoyed most, it was all of it.

It was not a perfect trip. Even in my most relaxed state, being asked to stop for a bathroom break five minutes after the last one will test my patience. But in many ways, I look at our family’s two weeks on the road as a metaphor for life. There were ups and downs, adventures to experience, challenges to overcome, but most importantly, it was the people who made it so special.

In life, we all come from the same source. Each of us created uniquely for a unique purpose, but ultimately, we are all called to return to an eternal home. The journey of life comes with roadmap in the Gospels and the life of Jesus Christ, but this does not make it an easy trip. We are called to engage in the journey and to live fully with courage. There will be moments of doubt, fear, and sadness, but ultimately we are called to live in hope of what is to come – a return home.

Life Moves Fast

One might assume that two weeks in a car with four kids under ten might feel like a long time. The truth is that it went by far more quickly than I would have liked. I wish it could have gone on longer.

Time seems to accelerate as I get older, and while it can be tempting sometimes to wish for a pause button, to freeze life at a certain stage, that isn’t what we are called to. We are called to engage in the journey, to embrace the adventures, face difficult things, and become who we were created to be.

My hope for my kids that are old enough to remember our trip is that they will remember our trip as a small step in our process of becoming. That we entered one way and came out the other end better off. I had a lot of fear about going on this trip before we went and many times, I questioned whether or not it was a good idea. Even when my wife and I decided to go, there were still moments when I felt uncertain, but somewhere within me I felt the call to go, to step out and engage in the process. Two months later, I am so glad we did.

– Sean

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