Excerpt: Geo Kids by Array


Chapter 25

What next? We'd completed our 50 states journey and were ready for a new and exciting challenge—preferably a quest that would build upon the tools and skills we'd gained traveling over the last few years. Our next mission would do just that. We would hit all seven continents. 2020 was going to be our year.

Needless to say, there was a slight change in plans. That's precisely what the year 2020 did with our lives—and everyone else's.

The original goal was to finish all seven continents in a single year. We had Europe and Africa under our belts. In 2020, we had plans to finish up the sweep by visiting Asia and Australia, then South America and Antarctica. But in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, this strategy became unrealistic and impossible. Still, we Masseys aren't easily discouraged. We held some brainstorming sessions and devised a new plan.

Backyard Adventures

The worldwide quarantine did more than just change our goals. It made us see traveling in a different light—one we would not have if the world had carried on as usual.

Hi all, Jim here. One important thing we've learned is that rerouting encourages us. Emily and I have the luxury of traveling for work, and we enjoy traveling in our personal time as a family. But what our 50 States on School Breaks journey taught us is that it wasn't about the travel—it was about the adventure. The COVID-19 restrictions on travel only reinforced this concept.

If canceling travel plans, working from home, and attending school online taught us anything, it's that families don't have to travel for adventure. Adventure exists in your own backyard, your own neighborhood, your own state. Yes, the next chapter of our adventure was supposed to begin with boarding a plane. Instead, it began with walking out our back door into our own backyard, discovering nearby hiking trails, exploring local parks, and revisiting some of our old haunts. Activities and sites we were "saving for later" now bounded to the top of the list.

Hello. It's Sawyer. One of these sites was the C&O Canal, a spot we ended up visiting every weekend for weeks on end. The C&O Canal Towpath trails stretch 184 miles through the Potomac River Valley from the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. There is lots to see along the way, like historic lock houses, aqueducts, lookout points, and plenty of wildlife.

We'd been to the C&O trails plenty of times before and knew the sections around D.C. pretty well. During the initial stages of lockdown, we wanted to get outside but didn't feel like we could safely leave our neighborhood. We decided the C&O Canal trails would be great.

But this was in spring, and even though people weren't supposed to be gathering out in public, the trails around D.C. were really crowded. We found it difficult to maintain the "six feet apart" rule in the sections of the canal trail that we knew best.

So, we started thinking, "What if we went out further?" Mom and Dad went out and found the right kinds of bikes for the rock trails, and every single weekend without fail, we loaded up our bikes and explored further. Sure enough, the crowds disappeared. We had space and freedom to explore the outdoors.

Turtles Curing Tedium

If you think about it, it wasn't all that exciting biking these trails every weekend. The view started looking more and more like the same thing along the C&O towpath. But compared with sitting at home, our canal trips were good.

Hey there. Lawson. At first, we didn't know why our parents wanted us to get out and do stuff on the weekends. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Mom and Dad didn't have to leave for work every day. We didn't go on trips. We even had school at home online. Our weekends didn't have to be any different from our weekdays.

But our parents said that was exactly why we needed to get out on the weekends—to help our routines feel normal and break up the weeks. And it worked. We had school during the week and went out exploring the Canal on weekends. Yeah, it wasn't some amazing trip where we racked up frequent flier miles for more amazing trips, but we were still having adventures.

The best thing about riding bikes on the Canal trails was the water. Most of the trail runs between the Potomac River and the Canal. It's really quiet with no people around, so you can hear the sound of the river rapids while you ride, which is nice.

Nature has a way of entertaining you. Like I said, the bike rides could get kind of boring. After a few trips, we started really looking around at the scenery a lot. You probably would have missed most of what we saw if you weren't looking. Since the trail started to feel the same, we were looking around hard for anything cool, interesting, and different.

Well, one day, we spotted some turtles. The next time out, we saw another group of turtles, and there were enough that we decided to count them. As I rode, I kept counting the turtles I saw, and I counted around 100 turtles! The next time we counted 200. Then it was more like 300. And I'm pretty sure I remember a 400-turtle day!

Anyway, I know we wouldn't have seen them at all if we had just gone biking along the Canal one day and weren't looking so very carefully to find something different. It's important to look around, especially in nature. The most interesting animals, insects, and plants are usually camouflaged. You really have to slow down your mind and look.

We also learned that once you spot one thing, lots and lots more suddenly start to appear. That's what I learned from those turtles. Even when you are bored and nothing seems to be happening, you are always surrounded by amazing little things, especially in nature. You just have to slow down and look.

U.S. Revisited

Adapting to life in quarantine meant learning new tricks and ways to keep some level of normalcy and routine. One important thing we realized was that, despite having to stay in our area, we could still make getaways—quick distractions from daily life that didn't cost much.

Hello! Emily here. By summer, it was clear we weren't headed to Asia or Australia. National quarantines were in full effect, and we couldn't fly into those countries. Our new plan? Trek back to some of our favorite U.S. states. We decided to hit 13 states, including Colorado, Utah, Iowa, and Missouri. All said and done, our summer trip was measured at 6,799.4 miles. Yes, I remember the point four because the guys wanted to go the extra zero point six miles to make it an even 6,800!

Still, this was not the summer we had planned. Mere months earlier, we were prepping our packing lists for Sydney. Now, spending time in some of our favorite U.S. states was looking much more feasible. And even with the new travel plans, we had to really think things through. Jim and I had big concerns around COVID-19. We had to double-check where we stayed, what activities we did, what we could do outdoors, all while keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible.

Hi. Lawson again. I have to say that just because you've been to 50 states doesn't mean you've seen it all. We'd been to Utah before, but this time we visited Arches National Park, and I wanted to try rock climbing. What we ended up doing was like the opposite of rock climbing. It was more like rock falling (the adults say it's called canyoneering). First of all, the hike to the top of the cliff was really fun. It was a mile and a half of all rocks and small climbing. When you got to the top, ropes were fastened around trees and boulders. You had to clip your harness onto the rope and walk slowly backward off the edge of the cliff. You really had to trust yourself.

Jim here. One of my favorite memories from this summer trip was another spot in Utah, at the Grand Staircase of Escalante National Monument. We hadn't planned on visiting this site and weren't even going to stop. But we ended up going on a hike through the area. The hike led us to Calf Creek Falls—a large waterfall pouring over the rim of Calf Creek Canyon, 126 feet above us.

And what do you do when you are standing right next to a massive waterfall? Well, of course, we had to do a challenge: Whoever could stand under the freezing cold, rushing water the longest would get a hundred bucks. Here's a tip: This waterfall was coming down over some red sandstone that was really heating up from the sun. So, while we were standing under this freezing water trying to win the $100, I just leaned up against the hot sandstone wall and stayed warm and cozy (Lawson is now asking for his $100 because he believes I won by cheating!).

Hi! It's Sawyer again. We'd already been to Utah once, but this time was different. We ended up adding some new national parks to our favorites lists on this trip. Since I knew we would be in the desert on this trip, I really wanted to do some jeeping. We were out at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, and there was a portion of the park we really wanted to see. It was a big part of the park with huge monolith formations called the Temples of the Sun and Moon and smaller ones called Temples of the Stars. But the only way to get to that area of the park was with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

It just so happened I had been checking out this bright blue jeep parked in front of our hotel that I really wanted to ride in. I'm pretty sure two forces of the universe aligned: I wanted to go jeeping, and we couldn't get to this part of the park without it. We called the number and got to go off-roading through the park to see these really cool monoliths. Getting to go back to some of these states was pretty great because we saw totally different things the second time around. I don't think you could see everything any one state has to offer in just one trip or even two.

We also went back to Colorado. Personally, I liked the mountain snow type feel of the Rocky Mountain National Park. But another one of my favorite things in Colorado this time around was hiking and sandboarding in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

We rented sandboards and sleds for the day and went riding down these 500-foot-tall sand dunes. Lawson had the most courage of us all and tried out sandboarding. My parents and I did the safer version —sand sledding. Which is still pretty daring—we got up to like 50 miles per hour!

Hi, it's Lawson. Mom and Dad definitely didn't want me to sandboard. They even said I couldn't do it. I've never done snowboarding or even skiing, so my parents didn't think it was a good idea that I start out on sand. The staff at the rental place even told us, "If you've never done snowboarding or skiing before, you should probably do sledding, not sandboarding." Mom and Dad agreed, but I wanted to board no matter what.

I fell the first two times. It wasn't working out for me. Then Sawyer started telling me to lean back. At first, this wasn't right because I started losing all my momentum. But leaning into the sand worked. Leaning forward and back with my speed helped control my board. Falling on sand hurts, but when you don't fall, it's fun!

Jim again. Lawson certainly proved Emily and me wrong that day at the Great Sand Dunes. Seeing him follow through and master sandboarding after falling the first two times showed he had the fight and indignation within him to prove us wrong. On his third try, he brought it down the whole way and never fell again the rest of the time.

It was one of the proudest moments I've experienced as a father. Seeing him refuse to give up and watching our boys work together on the last national park of our summer trip was a pretty cool thing. They figured it out, and it was great to witness. It was a parenting fail that Emily and I were able to turn into a success.

Adapting to Change

Sawyer here. Yes, COVID caused a change in plans, to say the least. But Lawson and I weren't bothered much by having to put off the seven continents. I didn't really know what we were planning to do in Australia in the first place. I knew we were going and were going to get to do some fun things, but I didn't know specifically where we'd be and what we'd be doing there. So, I didn't really know what I was missing. Of course, I'm really excited for when we do go, hopefully in the next few years. But not being able to go in 2020 didn't affect me much.

I've learned a lot about adapting and dealing with setbacks. It is important to be able to go with the flow and still have fun with what you can do. We were really fortunate to have parents that were willing to work to find safe ways to travel during the pandemic. Some families were afraid to travel or just felt safer spending time at one local beach or park all summer. For me personally, I like to go and visit different places.

We just accepted the idea that we couldn't travel overseas and worked to decide on some new places that we could visit safely and still have a good time. And that lesson can apply to lots of areas in life. Things don't always go as planned, and that's OK. Just adapt and move forward!

Hi, it's Emily again. The kids may have been OK with the change, but as adults, Jim and I mourned the loss of the trips we had planned. Especially knowing that Sawyer and Lawson are growing up and our time with them at this age is limited. But we have taken notice of the boys' capacity to adapt and move forward.

Whether canyoneering at Arches or taking selfies at Sydney Harbor Bridge, we can find ways to experience new things. It's no longer just about the traveling and the sites we see. It's the experiences we have along the way. The ability to adjust to change and live in the moment is something we all can continue to strive for. To be able to live our lives to the fullest, whether things go as planned or not, is key to success in most any endeavor.

It doesn't have to be a pandemic that gets in the way of realizing your dream. People who have planned their dream trip for months or years end up having to cancel because of an illness or financial situation, or natural disaster. Jim and I still wish we could have experienced Asia and Australia as a family, but we may have experienced something more valuable. By having to reroute and switch focus, we've learned a lot about each other as individuals and how we work together as a unit.

I remember one moment that was a true rerouting. We wrote about our mistake in returning to Zion for a quick visit. Before we knew it, four hours had passed. And no one was happy. The boys weren't happy when we got there. I wasn't happy. We are not what you would call "spontaneous types," and this long trip four hours out of our way just reaffirmed that impulsive moves weren't our thing. We just wanted to get to our hotel and call it a day.

But on the way to the resort, our car got that flat tire we've mentioned. Now, normally a flat tire would be no big deal. But here we were at six in the evening on a Saturday night in a rural part of Colorado. We were fairly certain no tire repair shops would be open until eight o'clock Monday morning. We looked and looked and finally found a Walmart that was open, but we knew this meant our trip to our next spot would be delayed by more than six hours. We were tired and cranky and just ready to get to our room.

Finally, the tire was fixed. We were on our way to the resort and couldn't get there soon enough when suddenly, right in front of us, a man on a motorcycle collided with a deer. We were right there. We could have hit the deer—or even worse, hit the man—ourselves.

We contacted emergency responders immediately, and the next people on the scene happened to be medical professionals. They said the motorcycle driver was seriously injured. He suffered a broken arm and had internal bleeding, but he was in their good hands. One of the next people to pull up was an animal control officer, who was able to care for the injured deer. Speaking of forces of the universe aligning, it was one of those moments where you know something had acted to bring all of us strangers together in this split second.

We spent about an hour at the accident site, helping direct traffic around us and making sure things were taken care of. The reason I tell this story is that, after one of our most stressful, aggravating days of travel, at that moment, none of it mattered. All of our frustrations had vanished. The only thing that mattered was helping this man, this complete stranger, and keeping everybody else on the road safe. Suddenly, a flat tire was nothing. Worrying about driving four hours out of our way seemed silly. A six-hour delay for our trip the next day was trivial.

Likewise, there is no real reason we should not be able to adapt when life suddenly takes us in a new direction. And it will. No matter how much of a die-hard planner you are, unexpected events will always occur. And many times, these unexpected events are more significant or offer more valuable lessons than anything you could have planned for. While it isn't always easy, it is important to try not to get discouraged with change but to embrace it. Look for the turtles, spot the bright blue jeeps, help a stranger, and experience the adventure.


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