I grew up in central New Jersey. My family lived a modest middle class lifestyle and I’d never flown on a plane with my nuclear family growing up. What we did was camp. We went car camping every summer. I have fond memories up through 8th grade of those summers.
When I was in the 5th grade and about 10 years old, we went on a month long car camping trip from New Jersey to California through the middle states (Illinois, North Dakota, Colorado), and then back through the southern states (Arizona, Texas, Louisiana).
My dad was a hobbyist carpenter and had converted our GMC passenger van to add a bed. That van became my first car, and going to a Catholic boy’s high school, it became our after school locker room and hang out spot before our respective lacrosse, tennis and baseball practices. It was a bit of a “road monger” which was it’s nickname. It was good times on wheels.
But, back to the trip. During that vacation we visited family along the way, stopped at national and state parks and cities. One of my favorite memories from that trip was actually driving through Los Angeles, and my dad bringing a cake to the van from a Filipino bakery. We hadn’t been able to find a parking spot, so we just had that snack stopped on the side of the road somewhere. I’d never had it before and remember it being the best thing I’d ever tasted. The blog Kawaling Pinoy has a recipe for that cake, Brazo de Mercedes. It’s a meringue roll with a custard filling and it looks exactly as I remember it from that stop in LA.
Years later I asked my mom about it. She didn’t remember much about it, but I did some research and found that it was probably the Goldilocks bakery that we had stopped at. I then discovered that there was one of these bakeries in Daly City, and when my mom last visited this year, I took us there to get one. When I tried it this time, it was good, but was certainly not the life altering experience I was hoping to relive. The Bibingkang Malagkit, on the other hand was amazing. Sticky rice deserts like this and Suman remain favorites. Mmmmm.
A lot of food memories have been coming back to me lately. My mom’s Pancit is the soul food and flavor that brings me back to childhood. But I digress.
I repeated a cross-country trip again when I was 21 with one of my closest friends in college. We drove from NJ towards California, car camping along the way. I left my friend in Colorado. She ventured on to land in LA and stayed there a few years.
In the years between college and the present, living in Brooklyn, there weren’t many camping experienes. My ex wife wasn’t a fan of camping. But whenever there was a chance to take the kids to sleep outside in a tent and do all the camping things, I excitedly got the gear together and we (at least my sons and I) always had a good time.
Fast forwarding to the present… A few recent camping outings have rekindled my interest in taking road trips and camping, including camping and road trips with my youngest son and a solo hiking trip in Yosemite. I also have a wonderful girlfriend now who likes to camp. We borrowed a VW Westfalia a few years ago and took it out to camp with my son nearby and it was a blast.
Other less happy life events that have happened recently have also played a role in my desire to get out of the bubble of comfort. My dad passed away last summer. Right after he passed, I started having dreams about him, and about those two road trips. Subsequently I couldn’t stop fantasizing about hitting the road in a van again.
Writing about the idea of a road trip feels like making a contract with myself—something I’ve been doing a lot lately. Almost 2 years ago I put down a deposit with Recon Campers and have been patiently waiting for my build day. With my build date approaching this month, I’m feeling like I’ll get to see the road a lot more. There’s so much of the West that I haven’t seen, and I’d like to share that kind of experience with my son.
But back to those memories of that meringue roll, and my judgement of that moment as underwhelming, the second time around. I know I’ve been romanticizing that first memory. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned getting to this point in mid life, it’s that these kinds of expectations are unfair to one’s experiences.
I’m a mental planner. I find that I prepare in my head for a lot of things before they happen, because somehow I learned that doing that gives me some sense of comfort or safety. But life continues to teach me that as much as I prepare or attempt to be ready, I have to accept that there are things that will happen that are out of my control. And I have to be OK with that.
Accepting the unexpected while I’m embracing this urgency to explore is exciting and is good practice for me. Somewhere along the way, I think I got too safe because of getting married, having to pay mortgages, becoming a parent, etc. etc. This month, I venture out to Burning Man for the first time with my girlfriend. That’ll be good practice too.
Something awaits. I’ll try to venture out open and with fewer expectations to let it or them in.