Michael had business in New York, but I still wanted to meet my parents in Santa Fe, N.M. for fall break. We also wanted to hit the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta along the way, but that meant I had to drive alone with three kids about 420 miles (plus 63 miles later than night to Santa Fe.)
According to Google maps Albuquerque is about 6.5 hours away if you go through the steep mountains of the Tonto National Forest, which I wasn’t going to do. I added about 30 minutes to the trip heading straight up 17 to Flagstaff and then taking 40 east (through Winslow, Arizona, for the Eagles fans out there) to Albuquerque.
My plan was to leave by 7 a.m. get to Albuquerque for the night session of the balloon fiesta and then continue our drive after 9 p.m. to Santa Fe. (I lost an hour crossing the state line because Arizona doesn’t observe daylights savings time.)
It took us 8.5 hours instead of 7 but that’s reasonable with stops to pee, eat and get gas.
Coming back was the problem. We did both parts of the trip in one shot and then with stops we ended up being the car for 11 hours!
I had never driven the kids by myself anywhere of any great distance. I am usually the relief driver for Michael only stepping in when he is just exhausted or wants a break before a second shift of driving.
The longest trip I had taken to date was with the kids to Las Vegas to meet Michael at the Mandalay Bay, where he was staying on business. But that is much shorter trip – only 4.5 hours.
It’s hard for people on the East Coast who are used to driving up I-95 to imagine the desolation out West even on major highways. It’s often desert, no towns and often no cell towers. That is a little scary being a woman alone with three kids.
Even though there are major highways between Phoenix and Albuquerque, there are still some very lonely gas stations and rest stops. In two instances on the trip I rushed the kids out of gas station or gas station parking lot because I didn’t like the vibe.
The first situation was a kind of crazy-acting, ill-kept man probably in his 40s who looked he was in his 60s driving a van with no windows. Call it my Scooby-Doo training, but I’m steering clear of men with vans. I hurried the kids out of the empty gas station past the van into the car.
The second incident was a rough-looking lady carrying multiple purses. (Is she robbing people? Why did she have multiple purses? And she kept circling around us while I was getting gas. It was odd and I got out of there.) My kids were just completely unaware of their environment and didn’t understand why I was shooing them into the car quickly.
I made them stay together in public restrooms in truck stops and rest stops. Sorry Walsh, it’s the ladies room for you when Dad’s not with us.
Have you driven your kids alone on long trips? Do you feel more vulnerable as a woman doing this than when you are with your husband? Would being out West make a difference versus heading up I-95, which is through fairly dense populations? Do you watch out for off people in truck stops and rest stops? What is a reasonable distance for you to drive alone with your kids?