We spent a long weekend in Big Sur.
My friend Gwen invited the kids and I to drive up with them and share a tent. We would be camping with a large group of extended family, about 30 in all, for five days and four nights. The night before we left, we went on a shopping trip to pick up food and supplies. Luckily, Gwen is a veteran camper and has all the important stuff – tent, stove, tarps, rope and experience.
I had no idea how much food to take and was a little anxious being caught in the woods at night with starving children. The three jars of peanut butter seemed absolutely necessary. And the four boxes of crackers. Two loaves of bread. Twelve apples.
Gwen came over at 7:30 the next morning. The plan was to drive to her brother’s house in Ventura, leave our cars there, load up his much bigger SUV, and drive off together on our adventure. My car was packed to the gills with a cooler on my front seat and my purse balancing on top. Sleeping bags, pillows and towels were stuffed like dental cotton all around the girls in the backseat. Gwen’s car was just as full.
When we got to her brother’s, it became clear that our stuff would not fit in his car.
So a 4’x8′ trailer from U-Haul was needed.
This is why you always leave early in the morning for a road trip.
Because something unexpected will always happen.
I grew up traveling across the country in the backseat of a car. We used to get up before dawn to get on the road. It was too early to eat breakfast. You put on your shoes and got in the car.
We drove from the east coast to California when I was two, visiting Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Pikes Peak and Disneyland before we were done. We visited the covered bridges in New England, the bat caves in Texas at Big Bend, and small towns near the Everglades.
We drove from the Midwest to St. Augustine every summer, spending two weeks at my grandma’s house near the beach. I stocked up on Archie comic books and Nancy Drew mysteries and bubble gum to pass the time during the two-day drive. We always stopped at Stuckey’s. My dad would get peanut brittle and I would get Mexican jumping beans. If your jumping beans ever stop jumping, lay them on something warm like a television set and they will perk up.
Stuckey’s also sold car games. A square piece of double thick cardboard that looked kind of like a bingo card and listed different items you might see while driving. Cows, cars, billboards, etc. If you something on the board, you slid your thumbnail-sized colored piece of plastic over the item. The first person to cover all their items won.
On the way to Florida, we spent one night on the road, usually somewhere near Chatanooga, where the highlights were eating dinner at Howard Johnson, swimming in the motel pool, and making the bed vibrate by dropping quarters into the little machine. Even my older and wiser self does not completely understand why you would want your bed to vibrate.
Gwen and I were on the road by 11am, with a bag of lollipops and red vines safely at my feet, and Diet Cokes within arm’s reach. I will not be trapped in a car on a long-distance trip without sugar and caffeine. They kids had a DVD player and a DS. No car bingo for them.
We soon had to stop for a bathroom break at Andersen’s Pea Soup restaurant in Buellton.
We made another stop in San Luis Obispo for lunch. I tell you, we are very scared of getting too hungry.
Everyone takes a picture out of her car window when she’s traveling. It’s a bland representation of the beauty outside, but it’s a compulsion that must be obeyed.
Gwen does not like driving on Pacific Coast Highway.
She does not like driving along the edge of a rocky cliff that drops straight into the ocean.
Especially when there is construction along the road because it has a disturbing habit of crumbling into the sea.
Or perhaps she does not like the fact that boulders the size of elephants occasionally roll down onto the road from the hill above you.
I’m not sure what freaks her out the most, but she did not seem willing to talk about it.
We have arrived at our campsite.
See how happy Gwen looks?
I’ve learned that, if you own children, the most essential piece of camping equipment is a hammock. From 8 in the morning until 11 at night, some kid was sitting in that hammock. It kept them occupied in the same way that catnip occupies a cat. I will never go camping without a hammock.
Saying hello to old friends.