The joke was, of course, that I usually took a Dramamine and fell promptly asleep in the backseat for five or six hours making me the worst road trip partner of anyone we knew.
This time, though, the only ones taking Dramamine were the kids and I didn't have a friend to jump in the driver's seat when I started to get tired.
We left the Sacramento valley behind us and started north on I5.
I have a very deep love of Interstate 5. When I was growing up, it was the main thoroughfare between our house and my aunt's. It was what connected me to my family when I moved to California and, as they followed me down here, it became the vein connecting us still. Whether they lived in LA or San Diego, I always knew I just needed to jump on the 5 and it would deposit me into their lives.
The 5 is familiar to me, reassuring in its wide, high speed way. But this time we were going to veer off its path and take a new road through the mountains and dipping into the valley of the Cascades. And the divergence started in Weed.
The buildings and manicured walls gave way to fields of sunflowers pointing their golden heads to the sky. We drove through farmlands and empty spaces filled with more Harry Potter. We took bathroom breaks - too many - until, finally, lulled by the sunshine, Elizabeth fell asleep in the back, her head resting on her big girl booster while Joseph fought to keep his eyes open and his imagination at Hogwarts. "Pause it, Mama," he finally said sleepily. And so I did.
I turned off the book and turned on the music letting Adele and Ruth B. keep me company while farmland slowly turned to tree-covered hillsides. Mt. Shasta rose from the valley floor, impossibly far away and then, somehow, it wasn't. It towered to my right, its peak partially covered in snow as we twisted our way through the foothills to Weed.
We'd decided to make Weed our lunch stop. I wasn't sure what there was, but the map showed a sparsely populated route after it. Road construction and slow traffic meant it was going to be a late lunch and an even later arrival in Bend.
There are all sorts of amazing apps to help plan a road trip. Apps that make finding a spot to eat or to stretch your legs easy. Apps that promise vistas and delicious food, perfect spots to sleep, and the best place to find a haunted site. The problem, I discovered as the kids snored in the back seat, is that on a solo adult road trip, I couldn't actually access those apps unless we stopped.
Which meant we were going to have to rely on a little bit of luck.
We pulled into Weed and parked the car outside a souvenir shop. I woke up the kids and got out of the car cursing the hereditary bad hips and knees. I limped to the back of the car and, while I was stowing away my purse and grabbing my camera, chanced a look up. When in the shadow of a mountain, the views can't help being majestic.
We walked down the main street, my hip slowly loosening until I stopped resembling a range rider after a four week cattle drive. We were hungry. The snacks we'd packed hadn't been a substitute for a real meal and right in front of us was a kitschy cafe promising meatloaf sandwiches and breakfast served all day.
We walked into the tiny restaurant, nearly getting run down by the waitress with plates lined down her arms. I pulled Elizabeth back and she said, "I've got nine of them at home. I know how to dodge a kid." I grinned and decided it was absolutely the spot for lunch.
It was simple food, but the cucumbers were crisp, the tomatoes were sweet, and the sweet potato fries perfect. We watched the regulars chat with the waitresses from our seats at the counter. We took a moment to look at the pictures the kids had taken on my cell, to enter an address into the map, and for me to sip my soda and let the caffeine restart my brain.
We wandered out by way of the gift shops. I said no to the tie-dyed shirts proclaiming its wearer's love of Weed and herded the kids back to the car. We were about to start on a stretch of unknown road that would lead us into Oregon.