Yellowstone: Signs That Might Be Omens

We are embarking on another monster road trip. This one will log over 3,500 miles not including any of the countless wrong turns, detours and scenic byways we will inevitably take.


Our family is headed to Yellowstone, and while this should be epic enough given the distance, unpredictable wildlife (our boys, not the bears) and rugged terrain, it seems this adventure was not adventure-y enough for the Wirgaus. We’ve done long miles through mountains with three crying children. We’ve even done long miles through mountains with three crying, vomiting children – and so, like always, we must push those boundaries. This time, we might have pushed them just a little too far.

Instead of counting three little bobbing heads, bouncing along the edge of molten hot geysers and thundering herds of bison, on this trip, we will be counting six. Three blondes, one spunky ginger, a quick little brunette, and one semi-bald infant. This time, we will be joined by my brother, his wife, and their three kiddos (7, 3 and 5 months). My parents will also be caravanning alongside the craziness – in their own vehicle because they aren’t completely insane.

Our lodging is booked and ranges from a spacious VRBO to adjoining bunk rooms in a motel. We will require three vehicles to make the journey since we are all so adept at procreating. As for meals, my parents have been stockpiling applesauce and Cheez-Its in their pantry for weeks. They will be transporting all the food to Wyoming for us since neither my brother nor I have any room remaining after we load up our babies and their necessities.

I am pumped for this Chevy Chase brand of chaos. At least I was until all the signs that were pointing to “go” started pointing to “No!”


I start the packing process. Within five minutes, I am sitting in a pile of my children’s clothing, dialing my sister-in-law. She tells me she has packed her two older boys things into a carry-on. I look at the 43 piles of pant, shirt and shorts combos along with 19 sets of pajamas, 6 jackets and 9 pairs of shoes and silently offer up a prayer of thanks that she lives 1,000 miles away. I love her and wouldn’t want to cause irreparable harm. It’s good we live five states apart as I realize that not only is she unimaginably beautiful, she is also an exceptional packer.


My husband, who has been away for work since Tuesday, finally arrives home right before the kids’ bedtime. Once he’s in the garage, he sees that someone has tried to break into the back of our truck during his travels. The tonneau cover is busted along the length of the tailgate. We will have to take our other vehicle instead which needs a good once over at the auto shop.

We get the kids into bed, and while my every intention is to start grabbing clothes to shove them into a massive suitcase, I end up falling asleep with the boys. I wake up long enough to throw myself into my own bed and slip back to a dream state. Visions of carry-ons with room to spare haunt me til morning.


While changing his oil, my brother sees a bigger issue with his Jeep and spends from noon to midnight under his vehicle, employing the help of other mechanically inclined friends. Like most gas-guzzling Americans, his family has two vehicles, but the second one (which was actually their first choice to take on the trip) isn’t exactly in his possession. He bought a new truck at the end of March, and although the dealership promised it to him by the middle of May, his driveway remains empty. My suitcase remains empty.


Again night falls and I intend to pack up clothing and other essentials for my husband and me. This time, the dog pees in little puddles on every inch of our living room carpet. We spend the entire evening steam cleaning. I consider canceling the trip and re-homing the dog.


Here is my day to finally get it all together, and my husband gets called away on business. I am used to this, so I pretend like it doesn’t phase me. It does, and instead of staying up all night to get us ready to go, I eat half a batch of raw cookie dough and decide it’s better to super-stress over everything right before we leave. I procrastinate another day.


I get a call from my mom that the route she and my dad were intending to take (the route they always take out west, and really the only route there is to take from where they live) has been washed away in a freak flash flooding incident. Nature is telling us to retreat.

My husband finally arrives home at 10:30 pm, and we take our secondary vehicle to the mechanic for a late-night drop-off. It is scheduled for an inspection the following morning, which is also the day we leave. I guess we will just feel better knowing what is wrong with our car even though there will not be any time to fix it.


That’s today, and somehow we pull it off and charge toward Chicago, our first stop for the evening. Our car made it through the inspection with nothing more than a burnt out fog lamp. My brother received word this morning that his truck finally made it to the dealership and will be delivered before we set off together later this week. Despite my countless piles of unnecessary clothing options, everything fit into its intended bags, and the bags all fit into our SUV.



Ten miles down the road, my husband stopped to ask me if we had everything since he had a clear view of the road behind us. Driving blind is our norm.

We even got out of the house early. This has never happened. Not ever. In fact, the only time we’ve ever even left on time, we had to turn around 20 minutes later because we forgot baby bottles in the fridge. I can’t claim credit for our early departure, though. My oldest had a baseball game which was cancelled due to rain, so we pulled out of the drive two hours ahead of schedule. This allowed time for a gourmet dinner at Big Boy, and now my kids are all hopped up on sugar from a mountain of Oreo pancakes.



Nothing says you’re on vacation like chocolate pancakes for dinner and a chorus of little boys in the backseat singing “Wagon Wheel.”

Now the five of us are snuggled across two queen beds that feel like twins when you have tiny feet pressed into your thighs and a bony elbow threatening to separate your ribs. The toes searching for warmth calm my nerves, frayed and frazzled from a week of bad omens. The signs have finally begun to swing in our favor as another adventure begins…

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