The most epic family trip the Cains took while I was growing up occurred in 1985. My parents planned a trip that departed from Opelika, Alabama, took us up the east coast, through three cities in Canada, and then back home. We borrowed my grandparents’ RV and, in the darkness of one early summer morning, pulled out of our driveway and took the Great American Road Trip. It was also my first international travel experience.
I was 11 years old, so I can remember the major highlights. By the way, you’ll see me, my two brothers, my sister, and my parents in all of these. I’m the oldest and, therefore, the tallest kid in the pictures. Props to my mom for digging through her archive of family photos for these gems.
That was a lot of fun, but I distinctly remember the part of the trip I was most interested in was coming up next. I don’t know when I became fascinated by dinosaurs, but once I learned there were actual dinosaur bones on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., that became a focal point of my trip. I just hoped I could see actual dinosaur bones before I died.
We also made sure to get photographic evidence of our visit to the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the Washington Monument. Did I mention that I got to see dinosaurs?!?
The next major stop in our travels was to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Looking back, I don’t think I was quite old enough to really appreciate where I was, but I was glad to be able to visit such an important place.
Not too far up the highway is Hershey, Pennsylvania, which is home to Hershey Park and is where the Hershey’s chocolate empire began. We definitely hit the theme park — I remember seeing the Gatlin Brothers play a concert there — and my parents bought us so much Hershey’s merch that we were essentially walking advertisements.
The above photo, by the way, was made at Niagara Falls. I remember thinking what it would be like to ride over that waterfall in a barrel.
Here’s where my mind gets fuzzy. After we left Hershey, I don’t remember if we went to Niagara Falls first, entered into Canada, and then hit Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, finally driving south through New York state — or if we did it in the reverse order. I guess it doesn’t matter. At some point, we got to swim in Lake Ontario, which was awesome for us because the biggest lake we had ever been in was Lake Guntersville.
I have three enduring memories from these days: we were swimming in exotic foreign waters; we found lots of glass that had been shaped and smoothed by the lake; the water was frigid.
These next three photos were made in Ottawa. That’s us at the Parliament building, and we found one of those awesome double decker red buses, too.
As I mentioned up top, we made the whole trip in an RV, which meant we stayed in campgrounds all across the eastern U.S. and Canada.
I’m happy I got to have this really cool adventure with my family. Today, what resonates most with me is that our parents made the effort to plan it, save for it, and then take us to parts of the world none of us had ever seen.
Nearly 30 years later, those experiences are still priceless.