Backyard Adventures & Why It’s Worth All The Effort

July 10, 2011 in North America, Travelogue, United States

javascript:;“This is the real America…” I mused, standing in the shade of a big maple tree, absent-mindedly pushing my two year old friend Jenny, waiting for the other children to return.

It was a homecoming, of sorts, to attend “customer appreciation day” at the Hill Village Store in Hill, New Hampshire. This is the last place we “lived.”

We had a nice house on 2 acres, backed up to 1800 acres of state forest. We moved in when Ezra was ten months old and sold our house in 2008, when he was 5, to hit the road full time on our bicycles. For the years in between the Hill Village Store was a several times weekly stop:

  • For pizza
  • Or beer
  • For Hannah to sell her cookies and brownies


Or, just to get the village scuttlebutt from Gary, the kindly proprietor with a Tennessee twang.

We ran into him yesterday when we were collecting our mail from the post box and he insisted we come on up, even though we’ve not spent a dime in his shop in well over three years.

So, we loaded up The Mama Bus after church with all eleven kids (we were kid-dog-chicken sitting for the Wood family) and headed for “home.”

The children scattered between the team of oxen, quarter midget race car, antique hot rods, bouncy house and fire truck brigade as soon as the van rolled to a stop. We bought lunch ($10 for 13 people!) and ate it on the rainbow painted picnic tables next to the “don’t let your dog pee in the flower bed” sign while Aunt Dianne sang Karaoke.

I kept Jenny in the swing while the other ten kids made a bee-line for the WW2 army truck that was giving rides. They piled in while Tony took pictures and I resisted the urge to yell for them to watch out for Jessie (4yrs) and make sure she didn’t fall out of the side of the truck on the main roads. “They’re big, they’ve traveled lots, they know,” I reassured myself as the old green troop carrier belched smoke and pulled out onto the state highway headed north

Sometimes I have a bit of an “out of body experience” in which I see myself from someone else’s perspective and I wonder, “What kind of mother puts ten kids on a truck with a stranger and sends them off into the wilds of northern NH without any reservations, or even a cell phone?” They type of mother who has watched kids rise to the occasion on multiple continents and who believes strongly in the need for them to pull themselves up by their boot straps, I suppose. I wonder what that says about me?

Thirty minutes into their absence I noticed that they’d been gone a while.

Jenny was getting hot. We bought her a water bottle and danced with her, to someone butchering ”Light My Fire,” by The Doors. Another twenty minutes passed. “Man, they’re getting their money’s worth out of that army truck ride,” Tony quipped to Gary who was sweating beneath his ball cap in the mid-day sun.

“Ha! Your kids are on that truck?!” Gary laughed. “Danged thing’s broke down out there in the bush. We just sent some trucks after ‘em!”


I rolled my eyes. Great. The one time I let all ten kids, aged 4-15 go off an have their own little adventure the truck breaks down, sigh. It’s a good thing my friend Lois (mother to the six kids on the truck that are NOT mine) has a sense of humor.

It was another ten minutes before the pick-ups rounded the corner. The first thing I saw was Hannah, eyes bright, with that signature sparkle that lets me know she’s in her element, standing up, leaning on the cab of the first truck. Her chocolate hair was whipping her friend Jerry, sporting a grin of equal proportion, in the face. That girl loves nothing more than to hop a pick-up truck any chance she gets, with or without us. I think it’s what she misses most about Central America. “Never thought THAT would happen in this country,” she breathed as she leapt over the side and landed on the dirt, silk skirt settling around her ankles.

“Mrs. Miller!!! THAT WAS EPIC!” hollered a chorus of voices all of whom were competing to tell bits of the story.

From what I could piece together, it went something like this:

  • They loaded up the truck, lectured the little kids on the “safety basics” and headed out on the highway.
  • Gabe got to ride up front and wear the WW2 helmet and talk to the driver who was a “combat engineer” back in the day. (“I really learned a lot, Mom… I do NOT want THAT job!”)
  • Everything was going great until the truck shuddered and rolled to a stop on the dirt road that ran way back behind our house.
  • Everyone piled out of the truck and there was minor freaking out among the adults and a few of the kids. It seems cell service was lacking.
  • Hannah and Gabe pointed out that “this happens all the time,” and that “another truck will come.”
  • Hannah and Jillian took the opportunity to make it a forest pee stop for the tiny kids.
  • Jeremiah, true to form, began plotting plan B, including what would have been “a long hot run” back to town for him if needs be.
  • All ten of them sat down by the road and waited.
  • As predicted, trucks came, they loaded up the littles and came on back to town.


“Don’t worry Mom,” Elisha informed me with a serious tone, “We didn’t let Jessie ride in the back of the pick-up truck, I made her ride in the front with me.” I praised his good judgement just as Gary announced that there was a free meal for anyone stranded on the truck and the kids evaporated for their “second lunch” like the Hobbits they are.

We took their picture by the “Historic Hill Village” sign. Jonathan stepped squarely into the huge pile of ox dung because he was too busy telling his story of the adventure to mind where he was stepping. We turned up the music in the bus and laughed and danced the entire way home: In The Bus!

We’re less than eight weeks away from the big launch of our cross-continental drive. Lois and I are planning and doing our best to leave no stone unturned in our quest to cover all of the bases. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work for a trip that will be a lot more work.

And then… I look up from the planning long enough to see that sparkle in Hannah’s eyes, riding into town with one of her best friends, queen of the world for a day, and he the king.

  • And I see Jillian and Elisha practicing earnestly in their roll of toddler referees, pushing little Jenny, a bit at a time, out of her comfort zone because, “she’s going to need this for the trip.”
  • And tiny Jessie, my constant shadow for the weekend, announces with her whole four year old heart, “Missus Millwer, the cwoss-countwy dwive is gonna be just GWEAT!”
  • And Jeremiah hugs me good-bye promising, “Tomorrow I’m filling out a ton of job applications, I’ve gotta find some work to make some money this summer for the trip!”
  • And they pile off of the back of two pick-up trucks in a laughing, howling, hollering, sparkly bunch having had just one tiny adventure compared to what awaits them.


In that moment I realize that no matter how much work it is, no matter how many of the days are grit your teeth hard to plow through on the road (and there are always those days) no matter how much it costs in time and money or any other measure that it’s worth all of that and infinitely more because in the end, all we take out is our relationships and our memories and these kids are making heaps of both.