Truman Tribune

Momma On a Mission: 60 hours, 30 spent driving



Tuesday, July 19

It was just after my writing deadline last week … Taco Tuesday dinner at the Brookens residence and I was so excited to see my phone light up with my daughter Kaycie’s face. She was on the East Coast enjoying the Youth Pilgrimage Retreat and we hadn’t heard anything from her for several days, so I was eager to get an update.

“Hey sweetie,” I answered eagerly. But my mood was quickly dashed when I heard her choking out words through sobs on the other end.

“Mom,” she cried. “I don’t know what to do.” Hard sobs. “I’m so scared.”

The worst comes to mind. Is she lost or kidnapped? Did she lose her credit card or something? My mind is racing, but I have to be calm and be the saving grace.

“My roommate just tested positive for COVID. And I’ve had a runny nose and headache.”

The Humbird Cheese shop in Tomah, Wis., was the only tourist stop on the journey from Pennsylvania to Minnesota for the Brookens duo. They purchased cheese and cheese curds for their family members awaiting their arrival in Minnesota.

The Humbird Cheese shop in Tomah, Wis., was the only tourist stop on the journey from Pennsylvania to Minnesota for the Brookens duo. They purchased cheese and cheese curds for their family members awaiting their arrival in Minnesota.

She goes on to tell me COVID testing isn’t mandatory, but if she tests positive, she won’t be allowed to continue the trip and she also won’t be able to board a plane to fly home and someone would have to come get her … in Gettysburg, Penn.

“I know that’s an 18-hour drive, 34 hours both ways,” she said, breaking down in hard sobs.

Many in this situation might be willing to not test and carry on, but the thing about my daughter that acts as a double-edged sword in situations such as these is her strong moral conscience. I knew she wouldn’t be able to rest easily until she knew for sure, so I gave her my blessing to get tested for COVID and we would play the cards as they fell.

As we waited for the news, we started making the game plan just in case. My husband suggested how we could make it a mini-vacation. But my Momma Bear side took over. I already had a single one-way flight from Minneapolis to Baltimore and a rental car ready to book when I got the call back half an hour later.

Kaycie, left, and her mom,Jennifer Brookens, leave the hotel in Philadelphia where Kaycie quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19.

Kaycie, left, and her mom,Jennifer Brookens, leave the hotel in Philadelphia where Kaycie quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I tested positive,” she said subdued.

“I fly out at 7 a.m.” I replied.

We reviewed schedules and technical details. Her travel insurance covers COVID issues, so it’s possible we could be getting reimbursement for many of these costs. The rest of my evening is stuffing a few days of necessities into a backpack with plans to get anything else once I land since I’m only flying one way. I barely get any sleep since I learned about this monumental trip at 8 p.m. and I need to leave for the Twin Cities airport at 3 a.m. I’ve never been to the East Coast and have had minimal big city driving experience. I made sure to have my phone charger with me at all times, because I knew Google Maps was going to get a workout.

Wednesday, July 20

Even at 5 a.m., the MSP airport is already jam-packed. Since I only have my little backpack, it saves me some time and stress, but I’m still far from relaxed. It’s a two-and-a-half hour flight, but I can’t really nap, even with a window seat and the center seat next to me empty. I felt the jitters kick in as we prepared to land in Baltimore and I looked down at the highways and interstates below. At least they didn’t look any more busy or crazy than the Twin Cities.

Getting to the rental car place and then actually getting my rental car took longer than hoped. The rental car place was located at a different building than the airport and I had to take a shuttle. There was a wait for rental vehicles (even for people like me who had reservations). A few others and I were a little miffed about this, but it did give me time to get over my nerves about driving and to just be glad to get a vehicle and get outta there. (Plus I loved the vehicle I got — a little Chevrolet Trax AWD, which is just a little smaller than a Chevrolet Equinox).

Now it was time to deal with the new monkey wrench. Instead of heading to Gettysburg, the rest of the Youth Pilgrimage trip had been canceled because of the COVID outbreak and the kids had been relocated to Philadelphia. So now I had an extra two-hour trek to Philadelphia to get my daughter, return the rental car to Minneapolis and get us home. I was starting to feel like I was in a real-life Mario Bros. game: “Thank you, but your Princess (daughter) is being held in another castle!” ZONK!

Google Maps: Activate.

For once, technology was on my side and as soon as I paired the Bluetooth on my phone and the rental car, the GPS maps led me seamlessly to the hotel where my daughter was. I drove through three new states where I’d never been before (Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania) with ease, only getting honked at once. (One: it was by a Mercedes, so does it even count? And two: my rental had Florida plates on it, so any faux pas could be blamed on that, I suppose).

Interesting side note: For those of you who play the license plate Bingo game on the road, Delaware is usually one of the most difficult plates to find. It’s still not as easy to find even in Delaware — at least not on I-95.

Finally I got to the Philadelphia hotel and made contact with my daughter. She left her room and comes out the front doors of the building before I’ve even had a chance to enter the hotel (being quarantined in her room was obviously getting to her). I find the adults in charge, introduce myself, thank them and we are on our way — after fulfilling a request for a Taco Bell run.

“You wouldn’t believe how I’ve missed Taco Bell,” she said, after listing family, friends and her own bed.

We spend the next six hours soldiering across Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania reminds me a lot of the road trips that I took with my parents across Nebraska or South Dakota except the scenery is more green. My mother would always joke about how I’d fall asleep in the back of the car and when I’d wake up, I’d ask where we were, “… and don’t say Nebraska!” I found that sentiment coming back when we passed the turnoff for Harrisburg and I said, “So we gotta be at the halfway point across the state, right?” After a moment, my daughter says, “Actually, we’re still pretty far to the east.” Ugh.

During this time, my daughter had the forethought to book a hotel on the outskirts of Cleveland for the night. By this time, our family members back home are checking in on us. Daddy “King of the Road Trip” is asking why we aren’t taking this route or doing this or that. We remind him that this is technically a quarantine/rescue mission.

We make it to the Pennsylvania/ Ohio border right at nightfall. A few minutes after we passed the Ohio toll booth, I observed something out loud: “Ohio smells funny.”

There was a weird chemical smell in the air. P{erhaps a chemical plant nearby or construction work being done. Either way, the fates of Ohio apparently didn’t like my remark because a few moments later, a giant deluge of rain opened up and dumped down on us. The fastest setting on the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up and I needed to put my hazard lights on to warn other drivers that I was creeping along to avoid hydroplaning. I was gripping the steering wheel so tight, the knuckles in my fingertips are still a little sore thinking about it. But as quickly as it started, it also stopped.

As we wove our way through Akron, the low fuel light came on. We filled up for $4.13 and we finally made it to our hotel for the night 11 p.m. Eastern time. As I looked over at my daughter going to bed, I saw she was trying to sleep with her mask on. She did not take her mask off around me except to eat and we were eating in shifts. I did not make any of these requests of her.

Thursday, July 21

My daughter and I are motivated to go, go, go! We’re on the road by 9 a.m. after a coffee stop. We whiz by off-ramps for places in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana where she now has friends, thanks to the Youth Pilgrimage trip. She mentions how the Washington, D.C., portion of the trip got canceled because of the COVID outbreak, but one of her new friends is going to American University there and has already invited her over for a visit.

“So I will get to see D.C. after all,” she said.

As we breeze through Ohio and Indiana, we have discussions about things I’d wanted to reach out to her about for the past year or two, but never could due to the daily grind. I heard her take on certain philosophies, what happened with certain relationships and why she reacts when I say/ do some things. I’ve always been proud of her, almost to a fault. But this was a good reminder that she’s no longer a kid. She’s legally an adult, a wise young woman who is able to speak for and take care of herself. I don’t need to step in as much anymore and she even resents when I do so at times. In four weeks, she’ll be away at college. Even as Momma Bear, I must remember when to let my strong little cub go.

Just before we near Gary, Ind., we prepare for the most stressful part of the road trip — trying to avoid Chicago. There will either be hours in traffic or hours on the road. We take a deep breath, program the GPS for as far south of the Chicago mess as possible and plunge forward. We stayed with Interstate 80, but it was by far the most white-knuckle driving of the trip along with the hydro planing in Ohio.

Things got more Midwest-like once we passed Joliet and then we went north on I-39. Our second night on the road was spent in Wisconsin Dells, even though I didn’t have a bathing suit and we were too tired to hit any water parks (COVID quarantine technically takes that off the table anyway). We also saw our cheapest gas fill-up of the trip in Janesville at $3.78.

Friday, July 22


We’re both excited to hit the road and because I’m familiar with Wisconsin, I’m more confident on the road and not relying on GPS as much. We make our one tourist stop at a cheese shop, where I load up on cheese curds and other fresh cheeses for the family. As we drove through western Wisconsin, I remembered thinking that when we drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, it reminded me of Wisconsin. But the truth is Wisconsin is actually prettier with its bluffs and valleys.

As we get closer to the Twin Cities and time to return the rental car to the airport, we rely on the GPS one more time. We fill up one last time (most expensive at $4.78) and get it back an hour and a half before the due time — and an hour and a half before my daughter’s original flight was due back.

Finding our way back from the rental car ramp to where my car was parked was the only time we were legitimately lost and Google GPS wasn’t much help. But with a few creative Google searches, we were eventually able to find our way. (Plus I had been smart enough to take a picture of where I was parked a little over 48 hours ago). We deal with a little more city traffic, as we hit during the lunch hour, but we grab a quick bite and then we’re back on the Interstate again. By 3 p.m., we’re pulling into the driveway, where I had pulled out at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. Doing the math, I realized my trek lasted 60 hours and of that I spent 30 hours driving.

It’s amazing what a Momma Bear’s love — and stubborn streak — can do.

While I hate the reason I had to make this trip, I have no regrets about making it. For the past year, I have had ambivalent feelings about “losing my girl” and being left behind with a goofball husband, temperamental teenage boy and spaz dog that won’t stop growing. I know she’s going to go far and do amazing things with her life. But also for her to do those things, I need to get out of her way.

The past year I’ve been learning to accept the reality that she’s a grown up who can take care of herself, speak for herself and doesn’t need me to jump in to speak up for and rescue her.

But at least this trip showed me that if she does need rescuing, I’m still the first one she calls on when she’s truly scared and needs help. And it’s good to know I can still come through for her. TRIBUNE PHOTOS

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