Wednesday, June 14, 2017

And We're Off: National Park Odyssey Day 1

Our 6-week, 23-national-park odyssey has officially begun!  Packing certainly didn’t go as we had planned, and so we got a later start than we had intended.  Our original plan was to use those plastic drawer thingys in the back of our Volvo as storage for our clothes.  We wanted to find a way to avoid each of us schlepping 6 weeks’ worth of luggage in and out of a hotel every single night, and we thought that having the drawers filled with our clean clothes and having an overnight bag with our toiletries and one night’s clothing would be a brilliant plan.  And it still seems like it should have worked.  But in reality, it was an epic fail.

There are those of you who would not have waited until 7:00 on the night before you plan to leave to go to Wal-Mart to purchase the plastic drawers that were the linchpin of our plan.  You would have bought them a week or more in advance.  You would have already done a test run where you packed all the clothes you intended to take into the back of your vehicle to make sure it all worked the way you envisioned.

We are not that kind of traveler.

Josh measures the drawers we planned to buy to use for our trip.  And while they fit, they didn't hold nearly all of our stuff.

And, consequently, it wasn’t until after midnight on the night before we were to leave that we came to admit our folly and accept defeat.  We were not going to be able to fit everything we needed for six weeks into drawers.  We had bought enough drawers for each of us to have one large drawer and part of another drawer, but that was nowhere near enough for even our clothes.  And we still had shoes (hiking boots, tennis shoes, the cowboy boots required for our upcoming mule ride into Grand Canyon, water shoes for the hike in Zion, etc.) and other gear to fit in!  We had to come up with another plan.

We decided to try to each pack a large suitcase with our clean clothes but then use overnight bags for toiletries and a change of clothes each night.  This was similar to our original plan but used suitcases rather than the easier-to-access- and-open drawers.  Josh and I would share an overnight bag, and Kinley and Knox would share one.  Before checking in to each hotel, we planned to stand at the tailgate getting clean clothes out of our big suitcases and putting one change of clothes (or two or three if we were staying more than one night) into our overnight bags.  Then we wouldn’t have to lug the big ones into the hotel.

Plan B: four large suitcases and two overnight bags plus a couple of baskets for snacks.

Even now, I’m not 100% sure why the drawer thing wouldn’t hold everything but there’s plenty of room for four huge suitcases in the back of our 2008 Volvo. (And if you’re more visual-spatial than I am and you completely understand it, just do me a favor and keep it to yourself for now.)  And if you’re one of the people who heard me talking about this packing plan weeks ago and thought, “That’s never going to work, but I’m just going to smile and nod and let Gina enjoy her illusions until the harsh lighting of the garage on the night before she leaves illuminates the facts for her,” well, you’d better keep that to yourself, too, or else I’m afraid we can’t be friends anymore.  But, for heaven’s sake, tell me next time.  Just politely pull me aside, gently remind me of my lack of spatial sense, and tell me how to do it the right way.  You might even want to refer to this post as you delicately try to convince me that I’m out of my mind.  I promise I’ll thank you for it eventually.

But packing woes notwithstanding, at 11:12 am on Monday, we pulled out of the driveway headed for Memphis and our first stop.  A family friend was hosting us for the night, and we were looking forward to some Memphis barbecue for dinner.  The 8 ½ hour drive was uneventful, and we arrived in Germantown (a suburb of Memphis that reminds me of Green Hills in Nashville) hungry and happy to be out of the car.
Our friend Alan and his lovely girlfriend Holly were waiting for us, and we all walked together to the nearby Germantown Commissary.  The tiny hole in the wall was located right by the railroad tracks and had a line of 25 people waiting outside at 7:30 on a Monday night.  We put our name in and sat down to chat and wait.  

Alan, Josh, and Knox wait for our name to be called outside the Germantown Commissary.

After an hour or so, we were taken to our table inside the cramped but charming dining area, walking on appropriately-greasy brick floors and past glass cases displaying coconut cream pies, caramel cakes, and homemade banana pudding.  Tammy, our server, served up delicious pulled pork sandwiches, deviled eggs, and the best house-made chips I’ve ever had.  I cannot say enough about these chips.  They were EXACTLY the right texture – not tough, not soggy with just the right crunch – and they were well-seasoned.  And best of all, they were $2.75.  Kinley had an appetizer portion of the barbecue nachos that was larger than she could finish and still only $4.75.  In fact, the bill for all 6 of us was less than $55.  I haven’t eaten at a barbecue joint that was that reasonably priced in a long time.  If you find yourself in Germantown, check it out.

After dinner, we walked back to Alan’s by iPhone-light because of a bizarre power outage, and then the kids went for a swim in his salt-water pool.  The power came back on before bedtime, but we still turned in relatively early to get ready for another day of travel.  The next morning, Alan made us breakfast, and then gave us a precious gift of an old samovar that his late wife Debbie had once smuggled out of Ukraine.  Josh once smuggled an Imperial samovar out of Ukraine to give to one of his favorite college professors (I’ll ask him to guest blog about that story sometime), so we certainly appreciated Alan’s gift.

Josh shows off our new samovar, a gift from Alan.

Knox poses for a picture with his rich uncle Alan (Alan's preferred title for himself in spite of the fact that we're not related at all).

Grateful for dear friendships, we set out for our first national park, Hot Springs.

Day 1
(I totally stole this idea of doing a rating system from Mike and Angela at We MarriedAdventure.)
-2 for packing drama
+1 for barbecue at Germantown Commissary
+1 for awesome accommodations with Alan
+1 for unexpected gifts


  1. I'm reading this post, looking for the next one! Maybe one day I will try this trip too!
    Hope to see you soon in Brazil or USA.

    1. I'm so glad you're reading, Wesley! Thanks for commenting!

  2. What a fun adventure! Germantown Commissary sounds awesome, Gina!