Things To Do, Travel Stories

Traveling Freestyle On The Open Roads Of America

I love decadent resorts. And if you know me, I feel the same about lavish cruises … In fact, I daresay they can be run-of-the-mill and I’ll STILL find ample reasons to like them. To me, travel is one of the greatest gifts of life. Something as simple as changing one’s geography, view and perspective can sow the seeds of learning and change. Essentially, to travel is to grow. And there are just so many different experiences and approaches to travel, there is really just no good reason to stop. Ever.

Mountain

And while there are few substitutes for the replenish and calm one gets from a week or two of doing nothing but pampering oneself, dining and letting troubles melt away into a sea of infinite calm (the kind of experience one might have at a four or five-star tropical escape) … there are other ways to recharge, revitalize and renew.

One of those ways, we call, “Travel al Dente.”

TAD can be done creatively. It can be a spur of the moment road trip. It could be pursued in tents. It can be enjoyed in odd urban sites or in areas so remote that they’ll confuse your GPS. Or you can even approach it without GPS (Though, it probably doesn’t hurt to have some tech available in case of emergency.)

The goal here is to have an experience that brings you closer to the world around you. One that calms you, not because you are cosseted in lavish surroundings, but because it allows you to let go of your regular daily rigors and monotony by forcing you to be completely engaged in something else entirely.

Look, nobody here is going to compare the quality of one vacation escape or engagement type to another or lend an arbitrary value judgement based on personal preference. In fact, I love each type of escape in its own way. I just see many (including myself), often because of limited time or know how, doing more of the resort or cruisy thing, and overlooking the joyous sensory overload of an experience al dente.

Think about it this way. When one literally cooks al dente, the food is a bit firmer and much of the time, finds their meal requires a bit more effort to chew. But, the food itself is also enhanced. It is even MORE nutritious. The colors are brighter and ultimately, al dente food better for your body and mind. I am NOT advocating giving up pizza. Cook the heck out of it and I’m in. It’s just that I am just not writing about great pizza today. Rather, I am writing about a preparation style that requires the experience itself to be a bit less boiled down.

Today, I am sitting at my desk at one of the largest travel companies in the world. We put together amazing trips and travel opportunities across the globe. We do it for individuals, members, companies – in fact, you wouldn’t believe how much of the travel that goes on in the world is touched by us in some form or fashion. Virtually everybody who works with me here loves people, loves vacations and probably with no exceptions, we love new ideas about taking trips.

Dog on RV Dashboard

That, is today.

I should tell you, however, that less than two weeks ago, I was in a late model Toyota Tacoma, one taillight out, driven by a guy named James. I had met James just three minutes earlier. He lives in a Fleetwood Bounder RV in Torrey, Utah. His Tacoma tires were kicking up the local red dust from the soil as he, for no reason other than his sense of humanity and good humor, was running me into the next town to a gas station that carried transmission fluid.

Fleetwood RV

Yep, my RV, a Fleetwood Southwind Storm was having transmission problems. Maybe a drink of some new fluid would get me going – at least far enough to get to a town with an actual repair shop (not one with a broken, hand-painted sign fastened onto a post by a guy named Mike who wasn’t “too keen on helping out until Tuesday or so.” See, hand-painted sign repairman Mike was, “into some other things right now.”

I am not going to lie, I was stressed. My wife was there stranded; my four kids were there stranded. No cabs. No busses. No train station. Nada. Our RV was cracked down in a place that was so off-the-grid that the middle of nowhere was a few miles closer to civilization than were we.

What’s more. When I did put in the transmission fluid – it didn’t work. Like Ren and Stimpy, we were MAROONED!!! (And I know most of you will likely miss that reference, but hey, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one. Besides, in the days of Google, you can look anything up – hint, hint.)

Okay, I am not going to belabor the RV crackdown. It was on the last leg of a truly amazing journey and in part, it was my fault. Why it happened or even that it happened is not critically important. What is important is that I learned and won’t be so foolish again … and that my kids learned that every problem has a solution if you keep your wits and stay positive.

But even this realization is NOT WHY I am writing this little blog story. Nope. What its really about is …

Heartbeat.

It’s about the unmistakable, strong heartbeat I felt throughout our al dente journey. It was swimming in Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald. I am telling you, it is a magical place. The lake water is so clear you can open your eyes underwater and seemingly see forever.

We were also about 80 yards from some bighorn sheep, too. There was no zoo. They could have horned us, or rammed us, or whatever it is they do with those attached shofars of theirs.  We saw Billie Goats munching on wildflowers and my elder daughter (age 15) was singled out for an intense one-on-one conversation by a yellow-bellied marmot (No shame in this guy’s game. Not sure what it was, but he had a very important message to relay to her). The moment was epically hysterical.

Mountain Goat

Did you know that in July in Montana there’s sunlight until after 11pm?

I didn’t either.

I mean, I knew the days were long in Alaska in the summer and that their winter’s days were notoriously dark … but there’s just things you get from al dente travel that mean so much.

There we were. The campsite in Glacier. A much appreciated success after missing out on a site the night before because we were newbies and got hornswoggled by campsite reserving technique pros (another lesson). My son Aiden (age 14) was doing his “Ahhhnold” impersonation by campfire. It was well after ten o’clock – at night. Still light out, mind yout.

We were laughing hysterically – our nine-year-old daughter was out of her mind – the clear result of doubling down on double stuffed s’mores amplified by a prodigious lack of sleep (those long days get you amped, I tell you). Admittedly, we also knew that we were likely annoying the group of strapping young University of Kansas guys camping nearby who, much to the liking of my fifteen-year-old daughter, seemed to be obsessed with changing their t-shirts 5-6 times a day. (Your guess is as good as mine.)

Nevertheless, Aiden was on point. He was even lacing in four-letter words to enhance his act. All fair game under the towering pines of Glacier in the glow of campfire embers and bellies full of stick-broiled hot dogs, marshmallows, chocolate and grahams.

Some other notable sights, moments, and thoughts from our journey (and these are mine though some may have been discussed with my wife and kids.) And that’s the thing, I am sure we ALL have our own list – with only instances of overlap.

With no further ado … here are a few of my al dente highlights, for you:

  • I know about the reputation for Washington cherries. But, if you were to have tree picked cherries from the orchards surrounding Flathead Lake, you too would immediately purchase the t-shirt.
  • Norman MacLean was right. Missoula, Montana is everything he said it was. And to stand on the banks of the Blackfoot River with your family – no words spoken, watching and listening to the waters ripple over the rocks. You could feel the words of his classic American novel swirl all about you, “I am haunted by waters.”
  • Kaleb, my twelve-year-old answered his mother after coming back to the RV from a rural Idaho gas station bathroom. “Yeah, Mom, the bathroom was fine. There was just this weird hole in the stall wall.”
  • Whitefish, Montana is one of the most perfect towns on planet Earth. Period.
  • One morning I awakened to the sounds of a river coursing beside our RV, we sat parked at a random pull-off I chose of the remote two-lane blacktop. I was still in the foothills on the way out of the mountains, but I could see a sun-kissed farmhouse in the distance with a tree that summoned recollections of Redd’s from Shawshank Redemption.
  • My daughter blowing dandelion wisps into the air with a backdrop akin to a Riccola commercial.
  • About 30 percent of the cars north of Utah are Subaru Outbacks. Another 15 percent are Forresters by the same maker. (I now want one too.)
  • If cows and bulls ever unionized and staged a coup d’état, we’d all be screwed.
  • Is it possible that there are more mosquitos NEAR cities?
  • When traveling, do whatever is necessary to avoid major expressways. They are miserable, life denying crap flats. Use backroads whenever possible. The time you think you will make up by taking an expressway is simply not worth it … Ever.
  • Allow yourself flexibility. Sometimes there are places along the way that are worth softening your al dente pledge for – even if just for the night. Always allow the room for something special.
  • There is beauty everywhere. Sometimes, it is better to ride through it, or stay in the heart of it (than it is to fly over it or cruise past it.)
  • Some wild bunnies are less afraid of people than others. My daughter made an actual friend that followed her around. I think it had something to do with her access to a particularly delicious leaf variety that Jade could grab from some low hanging branches that even said rabbit’s bunny “hops” couldn’t quite help her get to.
  • Mountain goats’ ability to scale sheer rock is beyond explanation.
  • There is a road named Going to the Sun Road. The moment you are on it, whether driving or riding, you realize that it was not a clever name, rather, a perfect one.
  • There is a very real satisfaction to driving, maintaining the safety, cooking all the meals and overseeing the set-up and breakdown of a roving gypsy family trickster for the family. It just gives one the feeling of being complete.
  • We call our rig Stomy.
  • Music is only slightly less important that oxygen when you’re on the road.

Canyon Pass Road

Some cheap advice to our readers:

  • Travel al dente can be done locally or over great distance.
  • Start small. Start big. It is all up to you.
  • Throw caution to the wind, but do take time to be prepared.
  • Go places that you picked randomly. Plan ahead. This is YOUR trip.
  • If you have kids, take them. (And then remember/write down the places you’d like to revisit without them;)
  • Don’t wait. Start planning some travel al dente immediately.
  • You don’t need an RV. You can take your car or SUV. You can take a train and ride it to some off the beaten path places. You can take a bus somewhere.
  • Go see what’s in between, above, below and around.
  • Fill your cup with life.
  • Share moments with those you love and tell your stories to those you cherish who were unable to join.
  • Engage the world around you.
  • Get in. Get on.
  • Roll your sleeves up.
  • Treat yourself to a little dirt under your fingernails.
  • Make it a point … to be brave.

P.S. If you’d like to know more about RVing or why/how we did what we did. Just check out or Insta @TheRVingRosenthals – See you there, road warriors!