As the summer is drawing to a close, I am reeling from the speed of it all. The boys have grown a few inches, we are gearing up for a new school year, and that means tick-tock, back to the clock. I never stopped to think that I was THAT much of a slave to the all mighty schedule, but after our family vacation this summer, I have a new attitude. I am going to simplify.
I for one, have learned the value of a slower pace. In addition to this new revelation, I learned a few more things this summer after spending weeks of solid “quality time” with the family and our dog.
On a trip to visit family and business for my husband in the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I felt it was the right time to let the kids see some natural wonders.
Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and Redwood City were on the map, in addition to other beautiful destinations in between. Part of the motivation for such an extensive trip was the realization that our high school sophomore will be starting driver's education this year, and according to parents with teenagers, this means independence is looming on the horizon.
This is the last year our firstborn would be our prisoner, and we would take advantage of it.
Three weeks on the road, the boys, the dog, eight states, one suitcase each, a case of water, snacks -- healthy of course -- and the Pandora. I mention this because it came in very handy one night. We were packed and ready Griswold style. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo had nothing on us, we were fired up, and I was ready to stare down any Christie Brinkley that pulled up in a red sports car.
I learned some valuable lessons on this trip, things I never expected, lessons that will stay with me for a long time I imagine. Just the crazy pace in city life was something I didn’t miss, as I left my wristwatch at home.
As soon as we left Nevada and came upon the beauty of Utah, I took a deep breath and sighed. I was astounded at the effect of fresh air and nature, and the decompression of a structured life started to take effect.
I have to mention that we had some scheduled stops and arranged accommodations, but not to the point of an overly synchronized hourly plan that would bite in to the relaxation of our trip. Some things we just left up in the air, and that spontaneity made things fun and stress free, and at times, adventurous. Lesson learned: A change of environment really stimulates your brain and lifts your mood, even if you didn’t think you had a bad one to begin with.
That said, sometimes no plans can lead to some adventure that can be a bit harrowing. Have you ever decided to take the “scenic route” only to realize that you are on a hairpin mountain road with no amenities for miles and miles?
Let’s just say Dad took the brunt of everyone’s ire one night when a wrong turn begat a trek through the back roads of a dense forest.
We began at 5:20 pm on a course that tested our endurance in many ways, one of them being our courage.
Gratefully, we did find a gas station when we needed one, in the middle of nowhere, old pumps just off the side of the road with no one in sight.
I was thinking, “horror movie”, but I wasn’t going to mention that out loud. We were happy that it took credit cards since our needle was near E. My eyes were peeled though, because any bear, mountain lion, or zombie coming our way would have sent me screaming like a B-movie actress.
Around 10:30 pm and with no end in sight, tired, hungry, with full bladders, we were nearing the end of our collective rope. The turns were lulling us to sleep like a cradle, but the next town and the interstate, was only 48 miles away!
Not when you are driving a one-lane, hairpin, S-curve highway!
Thank goodness for Led Zeppelin. Our Pandora worked, keeping us awake, blaring Stairway To Heaven, windows open, boys asleep, dog on her back, (she gave up on us too), and me, massaging hubby’s neck to keep him awake.
We were determined to survive.
With just some nuts, a half eaten bag of chips, an apple, and water for dinner we were in the zone ... we had to make it!
Our only casualty: a poor raccoon, in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the back end of a sightless corner, he met his demise.
We made it to civilization all in one piece, to the wonderful sight of a Hampton Inn, right at the exit of this evil stretch of highway. Would you believe that at 12:15 a.m., we finally emerged, just to find out the hotel was SOLD OUT?
Yep, 25 more minutes in the car to another hotel, the first time we all went to bed without dinner. Survivalists we now can call ourselves. Dad was our hero in the end.
He stayed awake. Lesson learned: scenic routes are not for the faint of heart. Pack a meal and a sleeping bag, a barf bag for the back seat gripers, and make sure you have some loud music to keep you awake when the sun goes down.
The eight states we visited were Nevada; Utah; Colorado; Wyoming; Montana; Idaho; Washington, and Oregon. While they are all natural wonders in their own right, each had its special elements. Only by driving can you see that.
Utah was one fantastic state, the warmest part of the trip, but the beauty of the red rocks shooting hundreds of feet in the air like natural fortresses all around you made all those present stare in astonishment.
Apparently, Europeans love Utah too, as we heard French, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Belgian, Spanish, Bulgarian, and Dutch.
We hiked and the sight seeing was absolutely gorgeous. Utah can also boast about -- I’m being perfectly serious -- the cleanest public restrooms anywhere. That was a downright treat for travel weary moms who use restrooms more than their boys. Lesson learned: Utah is really spectacular, and an excellent trip driving distance from Diamond Bar.
Colorado was green and full of beautiful streams, deer, and a taste of the good life, Vail. Beverly Hills wrapped in Swiss chocolate and fondue. Chalet style buildings, fine cuisine, fur salons, and first-class resorts.
Nature is the focus in this state, so we needed to experience something new, taking advantage of the many options a place like Vail offered. We decided on white-water rafting.
Being the mom I am, I asked for the family friendly experience, and my teenager rolled his eyes and gave a pleading look. Stuck on a three-hour tour going two miles an hour?
He was enduring the backseat with his little brother pretty well, so I thought that maybe he could spread his wings a little.
But Category 4 white water? With helmets? No Way! Eventually, we left the life of our firstborn in the hands of the guides, who had sworn to keep an extra close eye on him, since he was doing the scary section of the river without me.
We all met up further down river and finished the day on the family friendly part. I was proud of him. My son braved the rapids like a champ, and conquered them, without his parents. It was the first ear- to-ear grin from my teenager all trip long. Lesson learned: My child is becoming a man, and I can let him do that, even though it scares me sometimes.
After Colorado, Wyoming and Yellowstone Park were on the map.
According to one Colorado native, “God gave Wyoming Yellowstone as an apology for the rest of the state.” Harsh words you say? Not really, we found out that straight and flat freeways full of 18-wheelers is pretty much what you get until you hit Jackson Hole, the Tetons and Yellowstone.
The Tetons were spectacular; endless canvas for any photographer, but once we entered the gates of Yellowstone, things changed.
We missed the wild herds of buffalo and elk, there were none that day, but people did stop to take pictures of the stray deer, elk, or bison walking along the road, tailed by a park ranger with his flashing lights on, going 2 mph. Just fast enough to let the mosquitoes in the car.
All being said and done, Yellowstone is a marvel, a place of beauty and refuge for native animals.
There were also hot springs, geysers like Old Faithful, which had a headache that day, and hoards of people.
Lesson learned: Visit popular vacation spots in off peak times.
Driving through Montana on a course to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we all admitted we needed a break from the car and each other. Sharing hotel rooms with your kids gets old quick. We pretty well raced through poor Montana to get to Grandma’s house, real food, a real bed, and some privacy.
Someone not asking for your credit card was a nice touch too. That portion of our trek was family time, and seeing my children’s grandparents fawning over them and hearing “how much you have grown” comments.
Our dog got her first treat of the trip, grandma’s prize Chihuahua. Poor guy got the works from our little darling. She wasn’t very ladylike, but he kept coming back for more! Lesson learned: Grandparents rock! Our dog likes Latin men.
On to Washington on the back end of our trip, one week to go, to see Oregon, and the Redwood forest. We had planned the beautiful coast of Oregon, but Crater Lake was a sight not to be missed. We have beaches here, so let’s go see a lake!
No ordinary lake, this crater was created by a volcano 7,000 years ago when it exploded and blew its entire top off, creating an azure blue, high mineral lake that takes your breath away.
Crater Lake’s a real treat. Crater Lake is also a national park, but the crowds were nonexistent. We drove around at our leisure, read the newspaper the park provided, and had a snowball fight.
The boys even tried sledding a bit.
As soon as we saw Sacramento, the gnawing feeling of wanting to get home hit us. All but one of us that is. I would have stayed in our cocoon for a bit longer.
I was surprised to feel that with my family and the dog, I was home already.
Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love you, Diamond Bar, being with my family is all I need. Okay yes, I did bring a curling iron and one pair of heels, but I could have lived without them too.
Lessons learned: The years spent, fleeting ones at that, with your children looking at wonders that our earth gave birth to eons ago is an irreplaceable experience. I hope they remember this trip as fondly as I will, and I hope they value time, family, and simple things like sun kissed blackberries, boring drives, lumpy pillows and snoring as much as we do.