Summer has slipped away and I have had time to marinate on our 2500 mile adventure. Before we left, I read a beautiful article centered on how much a family learns about one another on a road trip. It advised parents not to tell their children what to look at out the window and allow the kids to discover their own joys on the other side of the glass. They will eavesdrop on their parents conversations and learn how the most influential adults in their lives behave when they are almost alone, their guard down after miles of travel.
I thought the article very wise and I fully intended to follow the directions with a bit of tweaking. I intended to be a better version of myself while young impressionable ears were listening.
All of this flew out the window at around mile 5.
In my defense, I have lived my entire life in Texas; big, but not scenic. I tell people all the time that Texans make the best travelers because we are basically in awe of everything: hills, trees, water, green grass versus brown. So, the minute we pull onto Pacific Coast Highway the temptation was too much. John and I both were.
“Girls! Look!!! Look!!! That is the Pacific Ocean.
WE are on one of the most famous roads in the world.
When the travel channel does the specials on the coolest, most scenic, most fun to drive drives, this road is on the list!
WE are on a destination road.
People from all over the planet come to California just to experience what we are experiencing!
Hey, what are you looking at? Your iPads?!?! Seriously, quit looking at your iPad!
Okay, just hand over the iPads and enjoy the damn scenery.”
So much for the better version of myself.
So much for letting them experience the trip their own way.
Our first night, we checked into a hotel outside Santa Barbara early enough to relax and head over to a local place called the Cliffs to view the sunset. It was beautiful. Except the kids wanted to run around after hours of being in the car forced to look at scenery.
This is not a big deal at home as you can run around a Texas beach for hours without fear anything more than black tar will cover your legs. The beaches are flat brown horrid things that we like to hide with drunken college students.
The beaches in California are way more attractive, but they are also more treacherous.
The kids could see the water, from the side of the cliff and didn’t seem to get the concept that things would go badly if they stopped paying attention and went over the side. Before the sun had completely set, John said “We are leaving. This is not relaxing. Get away from the edge and stop trying to coat yourselves in sand.”
The next day we all woke having transitioned into vacation mind set.
I am convinced it takes 24 hours to stop worrying about day to day life and start enjoying vacation. There is a level of anxiety you don’t even know is there until it evaporates.
We piled into the van, ready for a 1500 mile road trip. Our first stop: McDonald’s of course. Is there a more American way to start the Great American road trip? This was a top notch 5 star McDonald’s. There was a ping-pong table on the outside patio. This patio was nicer than ¾ of the patios I have encountered in Dallas.
For me, the Kodak moment came while waiting long excruciating minutes for the girls to go to the bathroom. I was standing in the middle of Mickey D’s scouring the plaques on the wall when I discovered I was standing on ground zero for the very first Egg McMuffin. Thank God for camera phones. I now have an image of the blue egg plaque sitting on my phone that I can whip out when talking exotic destinations.
“You have been to the Eiffel Tower? That is great! But have you been to THE McDonalds to first introduce the Egg McMuffin? I thought not.”
As you can see, the girls and I can become easily distracted.
What with peeing, Helen wanting pictures in front of the McDonald’s ping pong table, me fantasizing over interesting McMuffin conversations, it is enough to drive my poor husband insane. If I had a dollar for every time he said “WTF took you so long!!???” well we could retire and go on more trips.
So with John’s first WTF of the trip, we said good bye to Santa Barbara and went off in search of some forest and beach.
One of the benefits of a road trip, is setting your own itinerary. I must admit that ours was pretty aggressive: we had 8 days to get back to Texas.
The sensible thing to do would have been interstate 40 straight across desert country all the way home. Yeah, we didn’t do that.
Maybe if we were a family of scorpions that would have been the plan, but we have watched too many Nature Valley Granola commercials, we wanted lush vistas. So north we went. Up PCH to Pismo Beach where we lucked into a wonderfully empty beach with a parking spot, basically right by the bench that shows up on google maps.
Enthusiastically we raced down the wooden stairs, past the surfers, past the kayak class, we were all so excited I failed to notice Lauren in her iconic, I have to pee stance. (Surely someone else has seen a statue of this stance: butt out, legs crossed, and little hand going for the privates….)
Time to divide and conquer! Helen and John to the left, Lauren and I to the right. Fortunately a helpful surfer informed us that beach peeing was perfectly acceptable, we just needed to find a semi private spot, which we did, beside a pooping seagull.
I guess when you are eight there is no greater find than a “bathroom” that is apparently okay for girls, boys, and birds.
Being a fairly typical eight-year-old, Lauren is that she is always too busy to inform us she has to pee. On the up side, since we have so little notice, she has adapted to being able to go anywhere and she is done in like, 15 seconds flat. Seriously, she was faster than the seagull.
We start back down the beach towards Helen and John. I notice through the camera lenses that Helen is running pretty far out into the ocean. At the moment the water is a little past her knees, but then…CRASH! The wave almost covers her. She comes running out of the water like a sea monster is after her.
There is nothing like the shock of the Pacific Ocean. It beckons with its beauty and lulls you into a false sense that it is not going to be THAT cold. Then it whacks you full force.
It leaves me breathless. My feet even cramp. Helen was experiencing that moment on the other end of the beach. Apparently, being a beach novice, she had left her crocs too close to the water’s edge and a wave stole one. She was soaked to the bone but had successfully reclaimed her shoe.
She looked utterly stunned. “I had no idea I was that far in the deep end.”
We rushed back to the van, where Helen stripped and traveled the rest of the way to Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space clad in her robe. It is one of my favorite images from the trip. (Preceded by John totally loosing it over having the van less than 24 hours and it forever tainted by sand.) I was trying to think why on earth we had only taken one beach vacation. And that would be it: my husband’s extreme hatred of sand.
Perfect time to head for big trees.
I had looked into Muir woods but everything I read advised against it on a holiday weekend. I scoured the area for other giant groves of redwoods. I found Purisima Creek. It looked perfect. It was right on our path, we could go from there to Half Moon Bay and on to San Francisco, all in one day. Done.
The only thing I had failed to realize was that we would be on a teeny tiny road, on the side of a mountain, with a giant drop off, for over an hour. That one hour took three years off of my life. I was sore for days from leaning to the left. Willing us not to go over the side of the mountain.
John may believe it was his driving but I am sure my leaning was just as critical to surviving such a horrible skinny steep road.
We reached the forest, Helen got dressed and off we went for a hike. Really, there is nothing like hiking in a forest. These were not spectacularly big redwoods but it didn’t matter. The air smelled rich and woody. It was pleasant without being cold or hot.
Best of all, there was a bathroom so no crouching behind the redwoods. We had a hike that was just long enough to work out the road kinks but not so long to tire us out. We climbed back into the van, happy, refreshed, and ready to go. And we did go.
Directly backward and smack dab into a car parked behind us.
There is nothing that will make a man go green like wrecking a car he has recently purchased. Especially when it happens the day after writing a very large check for said car. Everyone was fine, in fact, I hit things in my car so often that the kids hardly flinched.
I think they even commented as much.
The good news, it was just a scrape. We left a note for our victim, since they were off enjoying a nice hike, unaware someone had just smooshed their tail-light to smithereens.
Huge kudos to my green husband for dusting himself off and getting back behind the wheel, it is one of the great things about John, he deals with things head on and keeps going.
So, we continued on our journey, which to our amazement, seemed to become more and more beautiful the further north we went. Finally we reached San Francisco. It was only our second night but somehow it felt like more. Not more in a bad way.
It was two days made larger by seeing and feeling all the details.
Daily life sometimes misses that. Vacation doesn’t. It can reopen your eyes to all the millions of tiny moments.
You go to the ocean thinking you will remember it like a picture in a magazine but it is so much more. It is the smell, the vastness, the laughter of family, the taste of salt. I crawled into the slightly lumpy bed that night, snuggled up beside John and felt completely happy.
Content with the treasure already discovered, and all we would find on the rest of our journey.
About the Author: Jeanette McGurk
Jeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.
She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.