In late July 2016 (about two months ago) my family took what might be our last vacation as a single nuclear family, heading across California and then up the west coast into Oregon. All told we spent 14 days on the road and traveled just shy of 4000 miles.
Here’s some of what we learned, in approximate order of occurrence:
We learned that the Salton Sea is ringed with a layer of dead fish – and all the magic that comes with that.
In Bishop, California we learned that if you’re not in town before 9pm on a Sunday night, your choice for dinner is Denny’s.
We learned that Yosemite National Park is aswarm through July with bugs; that they are more paranoid about bears than Yellowstone (we were asked to put even our toiletries in bear lockers); that by 11 am, Yosemite valley is flooded with tourists, like Las Vegas/Disneyland densities; that stocking the lakes with trout decimated the local frog population – which aggravates the mosquito problem, that the rangers make really strong coffee, that Tuolumne Meadows – where we camped – has one of the few general stores that is less than an hour’s hike from the Pacific Coast Trail – so consequently it was often filled to overflowing with backpackers; and that Glacier Point is totally worth the drive.
We also learned in Yosemite how our 2009 Hyundai Veracruz handles twisty mountain roads (decently, to our fortune). This sort of driving would turn out to be the rule rather than the exception.
We learned we really, really like our Veracruz for this sort of expedition. The only drawback is that there is an electric motor for every damn thing, and when they fail, the thing fails. Our sun-roof is now sealed with duct tape because it locked up without quite closing. We also learned that no one on the internet seems to know anything about the sun-roof on this particular model.
We learned from Penny’s relations in San Jose that it is possible to become just as trapped by high real estate prices as by low real estate prices.
We learned that the John Muir Woods are overrun by local joggers, and you can’t just expect to park there and look around.
We learned that Point Reyes National Seashore is a worthwhile detour, even though your best hop is at least five hours, and that it is riddled with hiking trails and fearless deer.
We learned that the California coastal redwood is the tallest tree in North America, but it’s inland relation, the Sequoia, is the largest by mass.
As the highway leaves any small town, and goes down to a single lane, you will find yourself behind the ubiquitous LTDS = Local Truck Driven Slowly.
We learned that you can BBQ oysters, and that you can make them into a hamburger.
The the southern coast of Oregon is beautiful in every direction; and that nothing ever really dries there. Ever.
Ben learned that hammocks are defenseless against mist.
We learned that the ocean is colder than the rivers.
Penny and I discovered that we could be totally happy living in Coos Bay, Oregon – if we could find a way to make a living with our big city skill sets. (More a problem for me than Penny).
We learned that you can’t take a bad picture of Crater Lake, but you can spend more in their snack bar than we did in a Lost Coast tourist restaurant and I had oysters and whisky on the Lost Coast.
We learned that by day 10, your teenage kids are totally OK with you leaving them in the hotel for a few hours in order to have a couple drinks in a local bar. Totally OK. “Go on, you guys. Have fun. We’re fine.”
We learned that 850 miles is perilously close to the most you can drive in a crowded van without everyone losing their mind.
We learned that you can spend $100 in Farrell’s Ice Cream Shoppe, and still not really enjoy yourself. This has nothing to do with the food quality or the service. It has to do with the over-sized portions of everything, and – yes – the cost.
We learned that even when it’s 100F in LA, our kids still want to go to an amusement park.
We learned that two straight weeks of vacation is long enough.