The case for driving your kids across America

The classic cross-country American road trip will always be a rite of passage for the wanderlust set. For Jeremy Collins, a renowned adventurer and artist in the outdoor community, the allure has always been there, but, like most everyone else, finding the time was the tough part.

“I always had reasons why we couldn’t do it — a good list of them. And that list just got bigger when kids came along. But at some point we realized our excuses are always going to be there, because we’ve become experts at filling our lives with things that distract us from what we really want to do.”

That was a profound lesson for Jeremy’s wife, Tricia, to absorb. In a few short weeks wandering the back roads of America, she’s been reveling in the wide-open spaces of this country’s bountiful assortment of hidden playgrounds.

Tricia Collins is making the most of the cross-country scenery, training hard for a half-marathon she's running shortly after the trip is over. Photo: Jody MacDonald
Tricia Collins is making the most of the cross-country scenery, training hard for a half-marathon she’s running shortly after the trip is over. Photo: Jody MacDonald

Separated from endless digital streams filled with people telling her what she needs, what she wants and what she should do, she was reacquainted with the still moments she had as a child, and the ability to listen to that guidance from within. “The best part … is just being able to actually hear your own heart’s desires in the midst of that silence,” she says.

The timing couldn’t be better for Tricia, who, after 10 years of being a cardiac nurse, is venturing down a new career path into nutrition. Change is always frightening. “There’s a lot of soul searching involved in something like this, like ‘What does it mean not to be a nurse anymore?'” she shares. “So much of my identity has been wrapped up in that.”

Truth be told, there's some indoctrination plans underway getting this little one out in the open, and it seems to be working. Photo: Jody MacDonald
Truth be told, there’s some indoctrination plans underway getting this little one out in the open, and it seems to be working. Photo: Jody MacDonald

Tricia is finding comfort in the uncertainty of exploring places off the beaten path, like beautiful lakes and rivers, rocks and trails, and empty scenery accessible only by desolate back roads and dirt roads, removed from signs and cell signals. “It reminds you how to live in the moment,” she says, “to soak in your atmosphere, knowing whichever path we take, we’re going to have fun.”

For Jeremy, meanwhile, wandering the country is more than ever part of his work/life balance. His celebrated landscape drawings and his Meridian Line brand of T-shirts can be found at a number of shops in and around national parks. And his work recently attracted the attention of Ford, who, back in August, approached Jeremy with this opportunity — the same one he’d always been longing for: to cross the country coast to coast, traveling as many dirt roads as possible, while putting the new Ford Explorer through the typical family-trip grinder.

Fortunately, there's good chunk of open space left in the West where Google maps are useless. Somewhere in Idaho. Photo: Jody MacDonald
Fortunately, there’s good chunk of open space left in the West where Google maps are useless. Somewhere in Idaho. Photo: Jody MacDonald

“On the surface, it was an easy decision,” says Jeremy. “And the idea of taking it off road, I certainly didn’t need convincing. But when you’re talking about making a trip like this with a 5-year-old and 9-year-old, that’s when reality sets in. Tricia and I had to think long and hard about what that meant, because the road trips we’d taken when our daughter was 3 years old honestly didn’t go well at all. I won’t lie: That was still in the back of our minds.”

Sela Collins is still a spirited little girl who loves to showcase her independence, her spunk and her affinity for running — all wonderful qualities. Yet she hasn’t quite reached that golden milestone every parent longs for: the age of reason. As a result, negotiations are not always smooth, and Sela’s whims can alter plans dramatically, which is exactly what happened on the first leg of their trip, in Oregon.

“We planned on hanging out on the beach all day,” says Jeremy. “But as soon as we arrived, Sela sprints out the door and starts running up these giant sand dunes.” Within minutes, Sela was a tiny little spec, wandering into some very daunting dunes, so Jeremy, Tricia and their son, Zion, went running after her.

The best adventures are the often the ones you don't plan. Photo: Jody MacDonald
The best adventures are the often the ones you don’t plan. Photo: Jody MacDonald

“And in doing so,” Jeremy says, “we ended up having the greatest time. We got up there on top of this thing and took in the view, and spent the whole afternoon sliding up and down the hill with our kids. It was the perfect way to start the journey.”

Sela’s exploring altered their pre-planned travel, and the lesson wasn’t lost on Jeremy or Tricia as they set out on this adventure. “Exploring is all about embracing the unknown,” Jeremy explains, “and that’s what we’re trying to do on this trip.”

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