We recently took our first family road trip and went all the way to Yellowstone. It was a lovely trip but not without it’s unexpected challenges.On the long drive home we were reflecting on all we did. We were thinking about when things did not go according to plan, we didn’t panic, didn’t get angry and stressed. We stayed calm and worked out a solution. We worked together as a family and found a way to make it work. Approaching a problem without freaking out makes life so much easier. It is a skill that I have worked to build and am constantly trying to improve. Below is the story of how I put this skill into practice on our trip.
We had spent 2 wonderful days driving all over yellowstone and were going to drive back over the beartooth pass (a 3 hour drive) to our cabin. The drive was taking longer than expected as the bison were out in full force and had all decided that they all wanted to cross the road at the same time for several miles. When a big ass bison bull is standing right in front of your car staring you down, you just wait. When we finally got through the bison and turned onto the road heading outside of yellowstone, we saw a sign saying the pass was closed every night from 8pm to 8am. It was 7:30 pm… Well crap, how did we miss that sign coming in? (answer, the spot where we entered the highway was past where the one and only sign was, so we didn’t just space it). We took a minute to think about the possibilities. All cabins, lodges and campgrounds in yellowstone were booked, The nearest decent sized town outside of the park was 2 hours away the way we had just come from, and would add 2 hours to our drive home the following day, so that was out. We had our tent and camping gear and although it would be cold, we thought, hey we could camp. We didn’t have breakfast food but we could eat jerky, cheese sticks and crackers right? Well, as we started to drive out of the park into the national forest to find a campground, it started raining, hard. So tent camping was out (which was ok really because it was bear country). We thought about other options, maybe the tiny town just outside the park might have a motel room available somewhere. I checked, they didn’t. As it was still raining, the only option left to us was to sleep in the car. We talked about where we could best do that, side of the road, a pull out, and decided we would see if a national forest campground had a spot. The higher up we drove the colder it would be, so we pulled into the first one we found and did indeed find a spot. Now came the challenge of how do we make room for 4 of us to sleep in the Ford explorer with all of our stuff? It was not wide enough for us to all lay down in the back, so someone had to sleep in the seats, we decided that the kids could do that. Still where to put all of our stuff, including food in bear country? Lucky us there was a bear locker in the site! We put on our headlamps and in the dark, while it was raining, crammed all items we didn’t absolutely need into the bear locker. We then made our cozy but cramped beds in the car. It was not a fantastic night’s sleep for any of us, but we were warm and safe.
Throughout the whole process we did not freak out. We calmly talked through our options and worked together to find a solution, If we had gotten stressed and testy, the kids would have been worried and anxious and the whole night could have been awful. If even one person in the family or group gets upset, it becomes very difficult for the rest of the group to stay calm. There was nothing about the circumstances that we could change, the pass was closed, we just worked through solutions. We stayed calm, told the kids what to expect and that everything would work out fine, it was an adventure.
We found out after the fact that the campground and our exact campsite had been the location of a vicious bear attack a few years prior… glad we didn’t know that at the time and really glad we didn’t camp in our tent.
A calm approach to the unexpected challenges in life is a learned skill. I didn’t used to handle things so well, at work or my personal life. I had a mentor tell me once to think about what was the worst thing that could happen. If that did indeed happen, would I be ok? When you look at it that way, things don’t seem like such a huge deal. I ask myself this so often that I don’t even have to think about it. As soon as we read the sign saying the pass was closed, I asked myself what would be the worst thing that could happen. The answer was we would have to sleep in the car on the side of the road. I decided I could live with that if all other options failed. So when we worked through all the options and were left with sleeping in the car in a campground (with a vault toilet, which beats peeing in the woods with the bears), I was feeling like the situation was manageable.
I encourage you to try out this strategy next time you are in a stressful situation. Don’t panic, think about what the worst thing that could happen is and would you still be ok? Most likely the worst thing will not happen, and you already thought through the worst thing. Stay calm, work with your team or family to find a solution.