Guest Interview – Wyatt Lee Pickwell, Age 8

Wouldn’t it be a great idea to hear from someone else besides myself on how our West Coast Trip went?  Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear the perspective of a kid?  I thought you’d think so.  So here is Wyatt Pickwell, my oldest son, and his thoughts on our little adventure.

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Tell me about your trip.

Well it was really fun; it was really hot.  We went to 20 states, National Parks, and 9000 miles.

What did you think about all of the driving we had to do?

All of the driving was pretty much miserable.

Didn’t you get to watch movies?

Well, it was miserable for you guys.

What was your least favorite part about riding in the truck?

My least favorite part was when it rained really bad.

Was there was there anything fun about driving that far?

The fun part was watching movies and playing the iPods.

Do you have any thoughts about the scenery you saw?

It was really pretty; really exciting.  I think that’s about it.

What did you think about Yellowstone?



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We had to drive a long ways to get to each individual place.  Yellowstone, was actually the first National Park to ever be established.  In Yellowstone it’s actually a humungous active volcano.  I saw a lot of geysers, hot springs, a few mud pots, and a few fumaroles.  I saw a lot of wildlife.

What was your experience in Arches?

So in Arches, there is a bunch of arches… of course.  We actually went through a few canyons on a hike.  It actually took three hours.  And….um……what were we talking about?  Arches.  When we were in Arches and coming back from balanced rock, we saw so much rain pouring down in the distance it looked black.  And at that same time we saw a bunch of lightening hitting the ground.  It was really weird.

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What was your top 5 National Parks?

1. Yosemite
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2. Rocky Mountain
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3. Arches
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4. Bryce Canyon
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5. Shenandoah
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Why do you say Shenandoah?

Because we got to drive through clouds.

What were your top 5 experiences of the trip?

1. Fishing
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2. The Jeep ride
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3. Playing in the pool
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4. Hanging out with my family the whole way
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5. When me and you were unhooking and I unhooked the water and it splattered all over me.

What was it like to live in a camper for six weeks?

Once you get used to it, it’s pretty much like your house.  It’s like driving around with a house on your back.

Yellowstone Day 1

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. – John Muir

What I learned, Day 7:

Sometimes you just need to rest.  We’ve been going hard since leaving Fredericksburg on June 5.  And Thursday morning we set no alarms, made no plans, and just took it easy.  I was able to piddle around the camper and fix some things the rough roads had knocked loose.  Found a great hardware store that was super helpful in getting me what I needed.  The boys road their bikes.  Played Mario Kart.  We cleaned a little.  It felt very much like a Saturday.

West Yellowstone is not a thriving metropolis.  The grocery store is really non-existent.  Imagine Armageddon has taken place and you walk into a grocery store to get your bare necessities only to find it has been wiped clean.  No bread.  $10 chicken.  $5 milk.  It was no bueno.

FullSizeRender 110It is good to have family!  When we began planning this trip, we asked my in-laws and my parents if they wanted to join us at any part of the trip.  My mom and stepdad chose Yellowstone.  After bailing us out at the supermarket where they were staying, they rolled in around 1PM and we took off to Yellowstone.

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Maps are a poor representation of what you are about to experience.  Yellowstone is HUGE.  I got a glimpse of this driving in on Wednesday.  It is very big.  Very very very big.  Its hard to comprehend its size when you see a little square box up in the upper left hand corner of Wyoming.  And within that little square box you have the wildest of geological changes.  One moment your in a canyon with a river, then a valley with grass as far as you can see and buffalo grazing.  Then you are up into a pine forest.  Then you have steam all around you.  Such wild diversity.

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Yes, Old Faithful is faithful – and very cool.  You worry that the blind are leading the blind.  You see a crowd gathered (very large crowd) around the circle of Old Faithful.  Maybe they are mistaken.  Maybe no one has actually looked to see when the next eruption will be.  Because you wait, and wait, and wait.  You have some teasers of abundant steam.  Then nothing.  Finally, when the steady plume of steam has lulled you to boredom – BOOM!  Old Faithful proves its worthiness of a must see.  I hate I can’t figure out how to upload video onto a WordPress site.

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In only half a day you can see things that will amaze you.  Mud pots.  Crystal blue springs. Geysers.  At one point, we were looking one direction at a geyser.  Then Wyatt noticed something making a bunch of racket behind us and we got to see Jet Geyser show off for us.

The sun, for some reason, is different here.  71 degrees doesn’t feel like 71 unless you are in the shade or have a breeze.  Its dry.  No humidity.  But the sun is intense.  Many times I feel its in the 80s.  Not sure why.  Maybe we’re closer to the sun.

Route/Itinerary: Yosemite National Park.  West Entrance to Old Faithful.

  • Fountain Paint Pot
  • Firehole Canyon Drive
  • Old Faithful

Bad ain’t so bad

What I learned:

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Sleeping in isn’t what it used to be. Last night I was tired. Jennifer was tired. The boys were tired. We hosed them down, put them to bed, and set no alarms. I mean, come on! Just the other morning we couldn’t get them up! Surely they’ll sleep in?  Nope. 6:30 rolled around and you could feel the camper moving. Its like a jungle gym to them. Another thing I learned is the tooth fairy visits you no matter where you are. We’ve told Weston there isn’t such a person, but he doesn’t care. He still pretends.

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The National Parks system is such a gem.  Jennifer wondered allowed if people drive by what we are seeing everyday without thinking about it.  I’m sure they do because we do the same.  But if you have a chance, get to a National Park.  Go visit a memorial in DC.  Go to Shenandoah.  Go somewhere!  There is a National Park or Monument close to you. I’m sure of it.  And they are there for you to enjoy!  I think that is why I love Teddy Roosevelt so much.

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The Badlands aren’t so bad. It was really remarkable to be driving in such flat country, and to top a horizon with these formations in your view. I truly felt I was riding through an attraction created by Disney, but so much better. You could spend a day in there letting your kids climb everything in site.

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Rattlesnakes are shy.  I was hoping to snap a picture of a rattlesnake, but they resisted. I did get a prairie dog. They were running around everywhere!

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Everywhere is God’s country. I used to say Tennessee was God’s country because it is so beautiful. Everywhere I have driven has been just as beautiful. The Badlands? Their own unique beauty. Then drive into the Black Hills. They are simply breathtaking. Tomorrow is Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain Highway, Needles Highway, and Wildlife Loop.

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Chevy makes a mean truck. Everyone thinks my truck is new. “Is that a 2013?” “Nice truck! Is it new?” Um…. No. Its not new. I bought it with 113,000 miles on it and it’s a 2008 Silverado 2500HD with a Duramax Diesel and Allison transmission. I put on some airbags myself for added support, brake controller, and the fifth wheel hitch. Today we crossed the 1700 mile mark for our trip and we did some serious climbing. Up, down, around, up again, turn the corner, transmission brake going down. The truck just kept taking it. My transmission got hotter than I’ve seen it at 195. But according Allison I have till 270 to get worried.

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Boys will look at anything you ask them to and then some if you give them a pair of binoculars. They look at the hills. They turn around and look at the truck. The turn and look at each other. You want to keep your kids entertained, give them some binoculars.

Route: Kennebec, SD to Custer, SD via Badlands Loop Road

CampgroundCusters Gulch RV Park (Spotty website)

Time: Left 9:18AM CT.  Arrived 2:30PM MT 6Hrs 12 Mins

Dark Skies

Today was another very long haul.  What I learned:

You can get ready in a hurry.  We woke up around 6AM, looked at the weather, and saw a line of storms headed our way.  It was a mad dash to hookup and get out before getting drenched.

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Us easterners don’t see too many windmill farms.  We went crazy!  There were windmills everywhere!  And as far as the eye could see.  We rolled down the windows and took at least 50 pictures.  To the left.  To the right.  In front of you.  Across the horizon.  Minnesota loves its windmills.  And that was just the first farm we saw.  You could tell we were from out of town.

Minnesota may love their windmills, but they hate their roads.  At first it was pleasant, then it got hellish.  I’d have to rank them down in the pits with Ohio.  I would have loved to pay a toll to clean that mess up.

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There is some beautiful country out there.  First, Wisconsin.  If you imagine Wisconsin as the stereotypical rolling green hills with red barns, well you are right.  I told Jennifer that I hate the fact that a few years from now my mind will forget what I’m looking at.  Then we were into Minnesota.  More beauty.  Especially when you cross the Mississippi River and climb up out onto its plains.  More rolling hills and country.  South Dakota was a surprise.  Yes it’s flat.  But nothing I’ve seen is just straight flat.  Everything has a little bit of up and down to it.  But after you cross the Missouri River it completely changes.  You would think you were in Ireland with all of this short stumpy hills surrounding you, green with grass.

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Its not a good thing when your GPS alerts you to tornado warnings.  Tornado?  The sky is blue?  What in the world could it be talking about.  But one look at our weather app and we knew we were in for some rough stuff.  We tried to outrun it, but to no avail.  Ended up pulling over for a bit.  Then pushed through to Mitchell, SD.  Which brings me to the next thing I learned.

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We miss Culver’s!  In Texas, Jennifer and I learned about this Wisconsin restaurant called Culver’s.  It is the home of the ButterBurger.  Yes, of course it is completely healthy.  And they have AMAZING custard – maybe my favorite.

Wind is a drag.  Literally.  I learned over spring break from my Step-dad that by slowing from 70 to 65, I will cut down on drag and gain some fuel mileage.  That tip got me from 9.5 mpg to 11.5.  Not too shabby.  I also didn’t force myself to keep speed going up hills and let the truck do what it needed to.  So far I’ve been pulling 11.5ish mpg’s.  Today, not so much.  A 15 mile per hour headwind was the equivalent of going 80 all day.  At one point while trying to outrun the storm, I looked down at had 8.8.  BLAH!  Can’t wait to see the number when I’m heading back east!  I felt all day that we would top the hill and see the birthplace of all wind.

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You can watch Lifepoint anywhere!  We caught our Sunday service this morning somewhere around the Illinois and Minnesota border!

Route: Morgengo, IL to Kennebec, SD

Campground: KOA Kennebec

Time: Left 7:15AM CT.  Arrived 9:00PM CT. 13 Hrs 45 Mins

The Long Haul

Day 2 – June 6, 2015

I think how I will approach each day is simply a random list of what I learned.

Starting off at the top of the heap, I would like to congratulate Pennsylvania on actually doing something with the tolls they collected from me.  Their road wins the prize, if there was ever one to give out.  Dead last, at the bottom of the barrel, equivalent to driving on the surface of the moon, would be Ohio.  I really feel like asking for my money back because that was rough.  Indiana was pretty bad as well.  But nothing, I mean nothing, can compete with the bone-jarring status of the Ohio Turnpike.  It just hurt.

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You know those windmills that are supposed to generate power that you hear about on the news.  Well they are big… like huge.  They look other-wordly in their size.

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Pennsylvania is mountainous.  I would have to say I felt like I was in the perpetual state of climbing today.  And I never felt rewarded with enough descents.  Just up, up, up, and up some more.  I did learn that the Allegheny Mountain tunnel is a wormhole.  When you enter, life is all bright and sunny.  When you exit out the other side, you literally have entered a new climate.

I hate toll roads.  And I think service plazas are a racket.  But at about the 2nd stop I was beginning to like the fact that I didn’t have to fuel up, find food, and find my beloved Starbucks at different spots.  Nope.  All right there for the taking.

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Chicago is big.  And Chicago has a lot of people.  Most of which are very inconsiderate drivers, taking into account that driving this rig isn’t like stopping a Yaris.  I could only imagine myself, if I happened to rear-end someone, not letting off the gas just for spite.  Then I realize I can’t just be Jesus to people in Fredericksburg.  I have to be Jesus to people everywhere.  They are fortunate.  Another thing about Chicago is that driving up to, through, and out of is just plain – not sure how to phrase this – ugly.  I’ve been in Chicago and love the downtown area.  But outside, it looks like a scene from ‘I Am Legend.’

The boys are great travelers.  You just have to have snacks, license plate bingo, books, more snacks, an endless supply of wet wipes and patience, movies, a good play list, and more snacks.  They enjoy seeing all of the new sites.  I am reminded that practically everything they see is new to them.  That alone is worth the trip.

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All of the trip today it has snowed.  We couldn’t figure it out until the host here at the campground said it from cottonwood trees.  I have heard of cottonwood trees and read about them in my Roosevelt biographies.  But the white cotton coating the grass is something to behold.

Route: Bedford, PA to Morengo, IL

Campground: Lehman’s Lakeside RV Resort  (Not sure where the lake is)

Time: Left 7:30AM ET.  Arrived 5:45PM CT. 11 Hrs 15 Mins

Radical Sabbatical

FullSizeRender Sabbatical.  It does roll off the tongue a bit funny.  Though it is a funny word, it means a lot to me.  At Lifepoint Church, even though we work very hard, we play very hard, and we talk a lot about Sabbath rest among the staff and even through volunteer ranks.  We want that for our people.  We strive for it.  We may not be perfect in achieving Sabbath rest.  But it is built into the need of every human body as God designed it, and we choose to obey him, and ask for forgiveness when we slip. As I have told people about what I am about to embark upon, I have had many different responses.  Many are bug-eyed at the idea, most likely horrified at the thought of traveling so long.  Many are perplexed that I would have a job that would allow such nonsensical rest.  And many are excited.  My guess is it is something they either did as a child, or have always dreamed of doing. My reaction has been one of gratitude.  I am grateful for a Pastor that would invest in me in such a way.  I am grateful for a church that loves its leaders.  I am grateful for amazing staff and volunteers that even make the idea possible.  And I’m grateful for a wife that would even agree to such a crazy idea. Many have asked if I am excited.  I say, “as excited as I would be jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute.”  That simply means, yes I’m a mix of excited and scared.  I would say the excitement was more in the planning than in the days leading up to today.  But leading into this trip, in recent days, I have begin to think a lot about a lot of things. First, will I be able to turn off my mind.  The church has done what it can to help me with that.  I have a new phone number and I have a new email address.  Will I call back and see how things are going.  Yes.  Lifepoint is in my blood.  But the daily engrossment that I’m accustomed to, the running into people out in public, the late phone calls, the early mornings, the genuine concern for all things Lifepoint – what will it look like to lay that down for a time?  Will I be able to?  Will I go through withdrawals? Second, who will I be at the end of this venture?  Six weeks is a long time.  It is longer now than it seemed a year ago when I was planning.  A one-month sabbatical with two weeks of vacation tacked on is the same length of time I was graded on in school.  Six week grade periods.  A lot can happen in six weeks.  What will God teach me?  What will I see? Will I think differently from what I experience? Third, all of the details are a little overwhelming.  I am towing a fifth wheel.  There is a lot of things in that camper to keep up with.  The truck has to stay in good shape.  The route is complicated.  There are tons of things to do at each stop.  But, I find solace in taking it one day at a time. There are a couple of things I have vowed to do.  One is not get worked up over things.  Things can go wrong.  I can’t let that throw me or my family off.  But I am happy to say I passed my first test.  We had a bulge in one of our tires on the camper before I even left town.  No big deal.  Kept my cool and had it fixed in under an hour. Two, I want to soak it all in.  I believe whole-heartedly that you don’t get a full view of God until you get a full view of His creation.  We are his handy-work.  But he also created this earth for us to live in and enjoy.  And I plan on doing it. Third, connect with my family.  Jennifer, Wyatt, Weston, and I are very close.  We eat dinner together every night.  We pray together every night.  We love being together.  I’m not naive enough to think those boys will always want to hang around me.  But for the next six weeks they will!  And they will get to do it without me looking at my phone or checking the internet.  They get me uninterrupted. The Details Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.29.33 PM So what in the world am I doing?  Crazy stuff.  Like driving 6800 miles across country with my wife and two boys, ages six and eight.  I will either want to sell my camper when I get back or never get rid of it.  I have learned some funny things about fifth-wheels.  They first grab attention.  I have so many people craning their heads watching it go by in town.  Its a beast.  One guy was giving me thumbs up in approval.  They don’t maneuver well through parking lots.  Curbs are the bane of fifth-wheels.  They weigh a lot and thus require a lot of diesel.  They take a bit of setting up and tearing down.  They also have their own ‘wave.’  If harley riders acknowledge each other in passing, so do fifth-wheelers. Now to the order….

  1. Badlands, SD.  Just a drive-by.  Going to hit the loop on the way to the Black Hills of SD.
  2. Mount Rushmore.  Not even a National Park, but going to be great.  It is what Wyatt wants to see most.
  3. Yellowstone.  Weston is a little concerned this is a supervolcano.
  4. Grand Tetons.  Just a drive-by again.  But I had to wave to the Tetons
  5. Yosemite.
  6. Sequoia/Kings Canyon.  This was my one non-negotiable.  I wanted to see the big trees.  And I cannot wait.
  7. Grand Canyon.  Jennifer wants to make sure they don’t fall off the edge.  We’ll also be riding a train on this stop.
  8. Zion.  For some crazy reason I was thinking we’d be hiking Angels Landing.  Youtube that and see what you think about those possibilities.
  9. Bryce Canyon.  Going to ride some mules!  Also has some amazing stargazing.
  10. Moab.  Here we’ll hit Arches and Canyonlands.  The most exciting thing about this stop is a 4×4 trip we have planned.
  11. Dinosaur, CO.  Just a pit-stop on the way to the next destination.
  12. Rocky Mount.  Last stop till the long drive home.

Stop 1 – June 5, 2016 Made it to Bedford, PA and Friendship Village Campground.  I am so glad I chose to go up 29 and 522 through Winchester.  It was a beautiful drive.  The short bit through West Virginia was gorgeous.   Still, I hate the PA turnpike.  Glad we won’t be on it long tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be a bear.  We will be driving between 8-10 hours (before stopping for fuel and food).  Needless to say prayers would be great!