Seeing the best of America: Our family drove to 46 states, over 22,000 miles, during the lockdown, to see America, enjoy our freedom and visit countless wonderful places — including Niagara Falls.
In the summer of 2020, when many families were staying home waiting for the next round of guidelines to be handed down by public health czars, my family decided to take the opposite route: Starting in July 2020, we embarked on a series of road trips, driving to 46 states, as far away as Maine, Key West, Florida, Washington state and everywhere in between. My sister and I gave up Zoom classes and masked classmates for a year on the road — and learned more than we ever would have in a standard classroom.
Not only that but because we believe so-called “public health guidelines” are unconstitutional, we never wore masks and paid no attention to other “mandates.” Some hotels refused us service, and on occasion, convenience store ladies hollered at us to leave their stores, though those instances were few compared to the ones who welcomed us.
While much of the world was cowering in fear, we lived in a spirit of joy and freedom, meeting patriots from coast to coast, “roadschooling” in the back of our rental cars and hotel rooms, praying with perfect strangers along the way, marveling at the beauty of our country and making our 2020-21 school year the best yet.
My sister Jane and I diligently worked on schoolwork in the back of the car, but we quickly learned that our very trips were an education. We did not shy away from taking in the scenery or observing the culture of the solid South, Amish country and New England towns. These are places kids read about in textbooks, and we were looking at them with our own eyes.
My family spent one morning at the Vicksburg Civil War battleground on the Mississippi/Alabama border. The site invites cars to tour the grounds, so we drove beside slopes that soldiers fought to control, and we jumped out to look at memorials honoring the very infantries that held or charged up the hills during battle. A row of cannons lined one grassy ridge, and from the top of the highest ridge, we looked down into the creviced valley where General Grant’s Union army lay siege to the Confederates. The victorious Union won control of the Mississippi River, gaining a valuable resource and dividing the Southern states. As we took in the magnificent scene, a nice breeze swayed the green grass of the battlefield hills.
Atlanta’s World War II Paratrooper
My 96-year-old great-uncle Russell lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and welcomed our company for the afternoon. He served us sweet tea and toffee, and at length, he began telling us stories from his military service during World War II. Much to my surprise, in the summer of 1945, Uncle Russell parachuted into Tokyo as part of the American occupation force after the U.S. dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but before Japan surrendered. Being an avid student of American history, I was fascinated to meet someone who had lived it.
Saint Simons Island
We arrived at Saint Simons Island, Georgia, at dusk, and the next morning we woke up to an enchanting island. Orange butterflies danced around flowers in front of the hotel and landed on the blossoms in our hands. We explored the John Wesley memorial park, where ferns and hedges lined a pebbled pathway. Tall trees draping Spanish moss (or “old man’s beard”) peered over the scene, and we almost got lost weaving through the flowering, green pathways of the park. Nearby, at a white clapboard church, pumpkins lined steps leading to wreathed doors. In a peripheral garden, trumpet-shaped flowers drooped their golden petals.
Just down the road is Fort Frederica, a national monument dating to British colonial times. The fort, which was still standing, looked onto the water where my mom and I saw a boat drift by. A cannon stood next to the fort, and the top looked designed to hold watchmen. Acres of trees dressed the landscape, covered in Spanish moss and vines, which hung down so Jane and I could sit on them and swing. Awestruck and delighted, we left the island and pointed the car towards Florida.
Key West’s Natural Beauty
On November 2, we arrived at Key West, Florida, the southernmost tip of the continental U.S., which is only 80 miles from Cuba. We drove over bridges connecting the small islands (known as “keys”) as a colorful sunset reflected on the ocean. After I took my economics midterm for Moorpark College in the morning, we headed for the beach, giddy to swim in such warm, dazzling-blue water. One side of the beach was the Gulf of Mexico, and the other, the Atlantic Ocean. There, we relaxed for hours, floating along with the gentle waves and sitting on large rocks by the water.
In the afternoon, while my dad worked, my mom, Jane and I walked around and spotted wild Gila monsters — one green and one orange. We met with a local pastor my dad was interviewing for work, and he taught us that when a house in the Keys has a conch (pronounced “conk”) shell on a stick in the front yard, that means a baby was born.
In our hotel, during a night of strong winds, we watched the November 3 election results. We then drove home by the southernmost route, having visited ten states in three weeks and putting 7,153 miles on our rented car. Thanks, Dad and Mom.
On a following trip, we drove to Maine and stopped in Shipshewana, Indiana — Amish country. We loved spotting horses and buggies clip-clopping on the roads and observing an alternate way of life. Amish farms in any state make landscapes beautiful and peaceful, with their animals, well-tended land, sparkling clean silos and clotheslines swaying with the wind.
As we drove out of a parking lot, we saw an Amish man carrying his groceries to his buggy. We introduced ourselves, and he willingly answered our questions about his faith and the Amish way of life. We learned that the Amish read local newspapers and even support local sports teams. Our new friend explained that technology brings with it evil and can mar the innocence of his children — something he values more than the use of phones or televisions. Amish people also hold church in each other’s homes and rotate the duty each Sunday.
St. Louis Arch
The day we passed through St. Louis, the top of St. Louis Arch was obscured by fog until we got closer. The arch was impressive, but what intrigued me was the Mississippi River running next to it, and beyond that, Illinois. There was the grand Mississippi, a lifeline of industry, the country of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Rivers like this across America allowed for massive industrial growth and played key geographical roles in the war.
While making our way through Michigan, we hoped to see the coast of the Great Lakes, but the afternoon was failing, and our time was running out. Then, right at sunset, we stumbled upon a view far better than we could have asked for — the fiery-orange sun over the commanding waves of Lake Michigan. Deep blue waves crashed decisively on the shore. People were stopping to take in the scene. Within minutes, the sun had left an orange glow across the horizon. We walked onto a rock strait where the spray of waves threatened to soak us. We weren’t expecting such a surprise, but we thanked God for the adventure.
After driving up coastal Ohio and skipping across the northwest tip of Pennsylvania, we arrived at Niagara Falls. Spray from the falls formed a rainbow, and across the divide lay Canada. A brilliant-red cardinal sang in the tree above us.
We bought lunch fixings in Concord, New Hampshire, and winding through trees, we brought them to Lake Winnipesaukee for a picnic. I waded back and forth across an icy cold creek that deposited into the slowly melting, still frozen lake. The lake was vast, and an island stood quietly in the middle. We ate our lunch in the pleasantly restful park.
Coast of Maine
We crossed into Maine in the afternoon hours and beelined it for the coast, wanting to see the Atlantic Ocean before the sun went down. Driving through rolling, wooded hills, we stopped in Kennebunkport, then continued with excited anticipation. At last, we walked a small sandy path between houses and set foot on the coast of Maine, the goal and climax of that trip. The sun was beginning to slip behind the houses hemming in the beach, and my dad and I quickly ran down the beach to gain a longer sunset. The waves were docile, and we touched the water in triumph. As the sun set, we played and relished the victory.
New York City at 3 a.m.
We visited a number of cities — Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and more — but our experience of New York City was unique. We toured Manhattan in the middle of the night, from midnight to 7:30 a.m., to have the city to ourselves and to avoid COVID-crazy rules and people. Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Empire State Building, General Grant’s grave, Columbia University, Wall Street, Trump Tower, the Twin Towers memorial, Times Square — we did it all, and in record time. The streets were empty enough that we could hop out of the car and run anywhere without the usual stress of parking in the right spot or disturbing the flow of traffic. Around 4 a.m., we found a small pizza shop with its lights on and a man silently working; there, we bought New York pizza, our morning snack.
After visiting a few other sites, we spotted the Statue of Liberty glowing across the water. The “city that never sleeps” began to wake up, with businessmen strolling up Wall Street, women on morning jogs just before dawn, hinting at the morning bustle to come. In the light of the morning, we crossed over to New Jersey and admired Lady Liberty at closer range. There, we slept for a while after our all-night tour.
Maryland’s Covered Bridges
We cut through Maryland, intent on finding a covered bridge. Before long, we discovered one on a side road — barn-like and spanning a small creek, surrounded by myriads of small purple flowers and lush green vegetation sloping down to the banks. A cow and barn stood near the bridge, and turkeys chattered across the road.
In West Virginia, we stayed with friends, which was a highlight of our trip. For a fun outing, we went to Harper’s Ferry, the site of John Brown’s 1859 raid, which hastened the coming of the Civil War. Having visited various Civil War battlegrounds and gravesites and listening to Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative audiobook on our drive, we enjoyed the real-life history of the town. I had read about the raid in school the year before, but to be there — it’s forever in my memory.
As for freedom fighting, we did fight battles, but we realized that most of the United States, in the thick of COVID reaction, did not care to enforce mask and guideline policies. Our tussles were mainly in large urban areas. The four of us brought freedom everywhere we walked, standing up for ourselves when needed, and at other times enjoying already fear-free environments.
We wanted an adventure — and we got one by unenrolling from traditional school, pulling out a map and making it part of our homeschool curriculum. Some 46 states and 22,000 driving miles later, we can’t help but thank God — as we eagerly look forward to the next adventure.