Day Eight: Los Angeles or Bust

Odometer Reading: 1025

I’d hoped to take the Pacific Coast Highway down to my sister’s, but after talking to Uncle Dennis and my brother-in-law Will, they convinced me that it was foolhardy to think we could make it down there in one day. It would slow-going and expensive, two things I didn’t really want. So, instead, we rose early and got back onto my least favorite highway: I-5.

Eight hours later, we rolled into Los Angeles swarming with people and pollution. Just being in LA makes me a little insane and I’m sure the kids were completely baffled by the dramatic rise in my stress level, but the highways just mix and mingle and get all backed up and I feel like I might just lose my mind. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I’m the driver; I didn’t stress out in Bangkok, Hanoi, Boston or New York City, but I never had to drive there. In LA, I really feel like I’m gonna blow my top. Music turns off. Kids keep quiet and my knuckles turn white on the steering wheel.

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Day Seven: Sardines and San Juan Bautista

Odometer Reading: 878

Moving everything up a day, we decided that we’d visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium while staying in Gilroy since it was close enough and besides, then we wouldn’t have to pull out all that camping gear yet again. So, for an hour I bugged the kids to get up and at ’em, hoping they’d be a tad more excited about seeing what is supposed to be one of the world’s best aquariums. We managed to get out on time, though and headed further west to the ocean.

California beaches aren't what they're said to be

Unfortunately as we reached the shore, there was nothing great to be said about it. It looked remarkably like an Oregon beach: cool, grey, cloudy and it stank. Luckily, we weren’t going for a day of sunbathing, we were there for the aquarium, but it sure would have been nice to see the supposedly-beautiful California beaches that people ramble on about.

Pictures after the jump
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Day Five: Day of Rest

After not getting to bed until after 11 p.m. and having spent the entire day either walking or screaming, we were all exhausted. I couldn’t even bear to wake the kids and let them rouse on their own schedules. By 11 a.m. everyone was awake again.

It was also nearly 100°F outside. Somehow we’ve landed in Sacramento during their first real extended heat wave. Awesome.

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Day Four: Screaming is Fun

When I was just barely six years old we moved from Sacramento, CA (near my father’s family) to Newberg, OR (to be near my mother’s family). I don’t know how soon it started, but it became a tradition that nearly every summer, I would go down to Sacramento–first with just Marcella, then when Stephanie was old enough, the three of us–to stay with Grandma. We’d visit Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Carl. We’d go stay with Aunt Diana for a few days. And they would take us places: parks, the Sacto zoo, Disneyland once and several times we went to Marriott’s Great America.

Aunt Diana and the kiddos

Back then it was owned by Marriott, the hotel chain, but after several name/owner changes, it is now called California’s Great America. I have some fond memories of riding the rollercoasters and the freefall ride, the carousel that greets visitors and being there with family. So, when my Aunt Diana, who was hosting us in Sacramento, asked whether we’d like to go to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom or Great America, the decision was easy for me. We all went to Six Flags on our last big California trip in 2002 and there was something nostalgically wonderful about Aunt Diana taking another generation, my kiddos, to the same park we’d enjoyed twenty years ago.

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Day Three: Leaving the Desert

Odometer Reading: 367

As soon as the sunshine slipped through the trees, I got up, rolling my sleeping bag and getting the kids to walk up and do the same. I had hoped that the chill of the morning would keep the mosquitoes at bay for a while, but, again, as soon as I opened the trunk with all our bags of clothes, they were all over me. So, while the kids did their things, I got the food back into the car, then their sleeping bags as they ran for the safety of the car. Stuart and I broke down the tents, not bothering to clean them off or even get them into their cases. We just shoved them into the trunk; I’d take care of them when we hit Sacramento.

Lily at the roadside breakfast; Scoop Away=portable kitchen

Still dressed in their pajamas, we left Crater Lake National Park and drove south toward Klamath Falls. Along the way we passed long and shallow Klamath Lake. According to our Only in Oregon book, it’s more than 20 miles long and 8 miles wide. Somewhere past the lake and past the city proper, we pulled off onto a side road for breakfast. There, in the gravel, we pulled out our kitchen box and the ice chest. The kids ate cereal and I prepared another round of hot cocoa on the propane burner. It was all fine, despite Audrey’s worrying that we’d get in trouble. In fact, the electric company guys waved as they drove by. As we ate, falcons flew above us to their nest.

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Day Two: Rocks and Mosquitoes

Odometer Reading: 174

Despite turning the heat on the yurt (what a lovely invention) it was still a bit chilly in the high desert when we woke up sometime after 7 a.m. I made some hot cocoa for the kiddos (cooked on the propane burner instead this time!) and found an intriguing entry in our copy of Only in Oregon, a rock garden out near Bend. Of course, the book didn’t have an address for the place and my map didn’t list it and I couldn’t just Google it. But my sister could. So I called her up, she searched it, read me the driving instructions and I wrote them in blue Sharpie on the only paper I could find, our now-empty food bag.

pointless pretty path

With Stuart as my navigation guide, we managed to drive straight to Petersen’s Rock Gardens. Thankfully, Google got this one right because there wasn’t a single sign until we got to their street, then it was only a small plywood sign propped against the fence.

this bridge ain't fallin' down

Petersen’s Rock Garden turned out to be a highlight of our time in eastern Oregon; we spent more than an hour looking around at all the creations that Mr. Petersen constructed nearly 50 years ago. There were bridges and buildings and water ponds and fountains and lots of miniatures houses, mansions, and churches. The kids thought it was great and were willing, even though I resisted, to run through the sprinkler to get to the small island in the middle of a lily-covered pond. The array of rocks was astonishing, with obsidian, cinder rock, and petrified woods, among many, many others that have names I don’t know. The strangest thing about the place? The forty peacocks they have that wander the property, yelling what sounds like “Help!”

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Day One: Heading South and East

suitcase/bag/sleeping bag version of Tetris

We’d been planning a road trip since last summer and I got the crazy idea that we’d merge it with a visit from my sister’s family. So when my sister flew home, she took only her son, leaving her daughter for us to bring home via our meagerly planned road trip. So today, we loaded up the rental car and started driving south, then east.

tree graveyard in the national forests
a small part of the Deschutes National Forest

We drove south to Salem and then onto Hwy. 22 over the Cascades to eastern Oregon, stopping to check out the information kiosk about the B&B Complex Fire. Seeing the vast number of burned trees in the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests awed all of us. Come to find out, ninety-thousand acres burned that year (2003) and seven years later, their grey trunks still stand, an eery forest of ghost trees. Hill after hill was covered by the sticks, reminding me of Mt. St. Helen’s eruption two decades ago.

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let the packing begin

As the trip draws closer, things have changed. Sort of like my life. I plan with high hopes, but things never seem to work out like I wish they would. And so it goes with our summer vacation. What originally was us getting to see the Grand Canyon at long last, will now not even put us in Arizona. We’d planned to couch-surf our way through a few places and one by one, others’ plans have changed and we’re left without a place to stay. And with the little money I have, we need all the free places to stay as possible. So it’s with a bit of sadness and frustration and the slightest bit of anger that I cross the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and all the Utah national parks off my list of things to see.

Road Trip 2010

Instead we’ll be spending two weeks in California and Oregon. It should look something like this with stops in Bend, Crater Lake National Park, Sacramento, Gilroy, Monterey, Solvang, Los Angeles, Riverside, Yosemite National Park, San Bernardino National Forest and Redwoods National Forest.

It’s close to 3000 miles total and even though we’re taking two weeks to do it, Google says we can make it 2 days and 7 hours. I guess what that really means is that I’ve got something like 60 hours of driving ahead of me. There are going to be some long days on the road, but interspersed with enough fun stuff, I hope, to keep the kids happy and me sane.

So yesterday I hit the local library and picked up some audiobooks for the drive. With what already have in my audiobooks file (thank you,!) we should have plenty to listen to:
* The Funny This Is… by Ellen DeGeneres
* Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
* In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
* Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
* The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski
* The Help by Kathryn Stockett
* Going Solo by Roald Dahl
* The Lost City of Z by David Grann
* The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
* Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
* The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I was thinking we might be able to get through the whole Harry Potter series over the two weeks, but the library didn’t have them. So instead, we’ll get a mish-mash of fiction and non-fiction, youth and adult.

Hopefully it’ll drown out any sounds of arguing from the back seat.

We’re bringing my niece along for the bulk of the trip, returning her to her parents (my sister and her husband) in Los Angeles. Should be lots of fun to spend so much time with her; since she lives so far away, we don’t get to see that side of the family often. In fact, it had been two years between visits (we’d been in Vietnam last summer when they visited), making it extra nice to be together again. But it also means that for the next two weeks, I’m the mother of three and I never liked being outnumbered by kids.

I pick up our rental car on Wednesday morning and we’ll hit the road at noon. Wish us luck; with my history of things not working quite right, we’re going to need it.

traveling close to home

The chaos of summer has struck for certain these days. We are in and out of town like crazy. I had the pleasure of spending four days at a beach cabin with a good friend of mine.

Then a week later I joined him for three days of camping at the Prineville Reservoir.

Just yesterday, the three of us returned from a beach trip with my sisters.

You wouldn’t guess by looking at us, or our children, that we’re related at all. We look, talk, eat, parent, and simply live our lives different from each other. The kids did well enough this trip, too, though there are always inane arguments when you have cousins together. Especially with the three girls: 12, 11, and 9. It was mostly good though and the girls had fun wearing big sunglasses, looking chic, playing board games and roaming the sand.

We had a mini-dance party (which always makes me happy):

We lit the last of the fireworks from the 4th of July celebration:

And overall, everyone had a good time despite our differences. I think that’s part of what makes family interesting, though, are those differences. The three of us were raised in the same house, by the same parents and we’re each unique. I wonder sometimes how it will be with my own two. I can see how they differ, yet they get on so much better than my sisters and I did as teens. I can hope for less bumps in the road to their adult friendship, but there’s some relieve in knowing that how a kid turns out isn’t all in how the parents are. There’s s much more to it and it makes me intrigued to watch my children become adults (something that is happening faster than I’d thought possible). It makes me grateful for our little family and for all the family members who are a part of our lives.

three weeks is all we have

All we have to plan this trip, but so far we’re doing all right. I’ve got the car rental taken care of and reservations for the first two nights of camping, then we’ll be lucky enough to stay with friends and family throughout California.

Yesterday I trekked it down to the central library (a trek indeed when live out of the city proper and you don’t have a car) and picked up a couple of travel guides for Southwest USA and for California. Strange to look at guidebooks designed for foreigners, but as I read through them I realized that the Arizona, New Mexico, Utah area is all foreign to me, too. Audrey was finally getting excited about it and over the next week we will be marking the map with places to visit. Must-sees. If Audrey has any say in it, there will be plenty of camping, but I’m pretty sure Stuart is going to veto it as often as possible. We’ll see… I think that final week is going to be spent in a tent.

Oh and I found out about that Skywalk where, heaven help me, you can look through the glass bottom to see the Grand Canyon gaping beneath you… yeah, it’s about $85 each with all the different fees. Not going to happen and frankly, I’m relieved. I’ll do almost anything for my kids, but that one was going to require some serious panic-quelling.

Personally, I can’t wait to finally see the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.
photo from