Thursday, July 8, 2010

Road Trip Recap

Well, we did it. We completed the time honored, all American staple of parenthood, the cross country family road trip. Luckily, we did it without the joy of whining teenagers. We just did it with frequent diaper changes. Now, I have the story of our journey here for you. I'll give you a minute to grab a cup of coffee or iced tea, take a bathroom break, stretch your other words, this isn't going to be short. Settle in and listen to the story of how we decided the furthest we would ever drive on vacation again, would be driving to the airport.

Every time we have a vacation planned, we question our choice to go on said vacation excessively. After we finally come to the decision that we definitely should go, we finally allow ourselves to get excited. The planning, the packing, the discussion of what we'll see and do, it just overtakes our lives. We're ready to go yesterday. It was no different this time. We planned, we packed, we discussed, and my husband, Josh, convinced me we should get an early start. This is fairly common for our adventures. We have a plan, and then as it nears, the excitement overtakes us, and we leave early.

Day 1 was our longest driving day, so naturally it made sense to leave early in the morning to allow for maximum daylight once we reached our destination of Rifle, CO. I had no problem with this at all. Plus, the first part of our journey took us across Nebraska. If you have not had that pleasure, I suggest you do anything to skip it. Like sleep through it as I did. Anyway, we loaded up the car (seriously loaded up...I've never seen the tail end sit so low...) and Josh went to bed at 6 p.m. My son eventually went to sleep and I decided to just tidy up the house, so it wouldn't be a disaster when we finally returned 8 days later. I cleaned up, got everything in order, and was still awake at 12:30 when my husband emerged from his early slumber. We roused our sleeping toddler, strapped him into the car, and away we went, our approximate departure time of 1:00. I went about 10 miles before I was asleep.

At approximately 2:00, I was awakened by a THUMP! and a 4 letter word. I groggily asked "What was that??" The response was "a ****************** raccoon." "Did you kill it at least??" This was a pretty logical conversation, considering I was mostly still asleep. We pulled into a nearby gas station, and Josh spent 25 minutes making sure the bumper was still attached to the car. Off we went. I went about 2 miles before I was asleep. I did wake up periodically through the night, though, because the roads in Nebraska make noise when you are driving. I'm not nuts, they really do make noise. Do you know what it sounds like? Have you ever seen the episode of SpongeBob Squarepants where the wind blows through his sponge holes and makes this weird piping music that attracts jellyfish? No? Well, you should watch it. Then you will know what kept waking me up throughout the night.

Around 6:15 a.m., we pulled into a rest area in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. We all went in to freshen up. I changed clothes for the day, got my son changed, and was ready to take on the rest of the day. As soon as we exited the building to go to the car, we were attacked by the largest and most vicious mosquitoes that I have ever seen. Literally, in the 50 yard dash to the car, we were all three covered in mosquito bites. Natural reaction is to slap at them right? I'm slapping left and right, trying to get them to stop biting my son. What did I do without even realizing it? I totally slapped him across the face. As soon I killed that little bugger, I was like Oh my gosh! I just slapped you! I am SOOO sorry! He was not amused. I really don't blame him.

We got back in the car and kept on our way. We had planned to stop at this place in Paxton, NE called Ole's for breakfast. Josh had eaten there on the way to Colorado with friends when he was younger and really wanted to eat there. We had checked ahead when we decided to leave early to make sure it was open early. Sure enough, it opens at 6:00 for breakfast. Excellent timing on our part, we thought. We reached Paxton at about 6:45, so we were really pleased at our planning. Until we reached the restaurant and the doors were locked. Seriously? What the heck? That's when I suddenly had a terrible thought. I grabbed the humongous atlas we brought along (just in case the GPS wasn't doing it's job) and sure enough, we had just crossed into the Mountain Time Zone. So it wasn't even 6:00 yet. Now we get why the doors are locked. We head back toward the highway to a gas station, where we fill up the car. As we're heading back to the restaurant, we get stopped at a train crossing, which was fine considering the fact that my son is obsessed with trains. Every time the train would blow its whistle, he would hold his hand up to his ear and say "Listen. What's that? A train!!!" Then he would go "chugga, chugga, chugga" It was cute, even at that early morning hour.

We eventually got into the restaurant, where we had the most delicious breakfast. Everyone in the place were locals except for us. I totally felt like I was sitting in Luke's waiting for Lorelei and Rory to walk in for coffee. (I had to make a Gilmore Girls reference. I was watching it while cleaning before we left.) The place had a bunch of stuffed animals-like an elephant, a polar bear, a giraffe. My son didn't want to eat because he kept wanting to "go see animals, peese" the whole time. After stuffing ourselves, we got back in the car to keep on keeping on.

We soon crossed into Colorful Colorado (or so the sign said) and the day was really heating up. About the time the thermometer hit 90, we realized it wasn't much cooler than that inside our car. After several moments of fiddling with the controls, we decided it was official. Our air conditioner was blowing hot air. Now, normally, we're not little pansies who need cool air to make our vacation enjoyable (but it sure does help!), but seeing as how the next day we would be traveling to the desert, we thought air conditioning might be something helpful. Especially with a small child who doesn't understand the phrase "just power through it." With a few phone calls we made an appointment at a VW dealership in Denver. We traveled the rest of way to Denver with our windows down. Fun times.

We reached the dealership at noon. I unloaded snacks, drinks, the DVD players, a score of movies, and my son's beloved bunny. We traipsed into the waiting room where the man told us we would be waiting for at least 2 hours while they "checked it out" for a problem. They must like to tell you a super long time, so that when it's only 1 hour and 50 minutes later when they come talk to you, you feel grateful. Feeling much like an anxious family waiting for news about a loved one in the emergency room, we watched the man's face for signs of impending doom as he returned to tell us the outcome of the "check." Yep, he kind of did that crinkle the nose, pull up the lips thing that people do when they really don't want to tell you what they have to say. The good news? "We don't think this was caused by the raccoon you say you hit." Excellent. The bad news? "The compressor is out. It was probably going to go out no matter what, its just unfortunate that you are on vacation." Tell me about it. "But, luckily I have a new compressor for it on the shelf in the shop. We can put it on for you, but it will take another 2 hours." Give us a minute, doc. After a tense, whispered conversation about our options (none of which we really liked), we gave them the ok. We strongly considered just saying no thanks, getting in the car, and going home. But we don't like to give up. We're warriors! We had to keep going! So 2 hours later, and minus a small pile of money, we were good to go. An added bonus: they washed the car!

By this time, it was 4 in the afternoon. We hadn't eaten since our breakfast in NE at 6 that morning, so we headed straight for the nearest McDonald's. While sitting in line, we suddenly hear a distinct rattling sound coming from our car. Now, normally, this wouldn't concern us that much, but since we had just parted ways with what felt like enough money to buy a third world country to have the car fixed, we were not happy that we heard this rattling. We pulled into a parking space, popped the hood, and Josh looked around. After a few minutes of seeing nothing out of the ordinary, and the bizarre rattling gone, we decided we were good and headed toward Rifle.

The drive through the mountains had been one we were looking forward to the most. It did not disappoint us. Someday, I'll sort through the 1, 500 pictures we took (you think I'm exaggerating!) and share them. The most amazing thing to us was the changes in the environment during this drive. From Denver to Rifle, the highest elevation we reached, according to our GPS was 11, 300 feet. Our house is at about 1000 feet so this was crazy to us. When we left Denver, it was 95 degrees. The lowest temperature we saw in the mountains was 63. Just amazing.

We arrived at our hotel around 8:30. As soon as we unloaded, my fish of a son wanted to "go fwimming" so he and I headed to the pool. He got in the pool and decided he wanted to go to the hot tub. After spending 20 hours in the car, I was not opposed to this. He sat on the edge and dangled his feet in, trying to pop all the bubbles with his toes. I finally had to drag myself out of the tub when his little legs started turning red. We headed back to the room where we were all in bed by 10:00 because of sheer exhaustion.

We awoke at 6:30. As soon as we got out of bed, my son ran to the door and said "Let's go!" So much for being worried he wouldn't want to get back in the car. After a quick continental breakfast and a stop to fill up the car, we continued on I-70 to Utah.

We had no idea of what to expect from Utah. We figured it was flat and boring. We figured wrong. Utah is very, very beautiful. It totally took us by surprise. It's also very desolate. For the first 45 minutes in the state, there were no signs of life. There were no roads other than the one we were on. There were no houses in the distance. There were nothing on the exits. They were all listed as "ranch exit only." We jokingly talked about how it would be very bad to break down in a place like this, especially since our cell phone reception was very spotty. We stopped at the first travel plaza we saw, because the sign before the exit proclaimed it was another 103 miles before another one. They weren't lying. After the quick stop, we came across several view areas which we pulled into to snap a few pictures without the windshield hindering our view. We decided the best thing Utah ever did was put in these view areas (The Reef, Black Dragon, Ghost Rock, Salt Wash) because they were worth every oohh and aaahh we had to offer. The top elevation we reached here was 6,500 feet and the temperature went from 91 degrees to 75 degrees. (We were obviously fascinated)

After passing all of the view areas, we hit the first stretch of construction since leaving home. Wouldn't you know, on our freshly washed car, we got the opportunity to kick up freshly laid asphalt. Yay!

Soon we were passing a small town called Beaver, Utah, where billboards proclaimed they had the best water in America. Josh made the comment that he wished we had time to test that theory. I laughed. About 5 miles past the town, just as I was reading the Michael J. Fox optimism billboard, we heard a loud POP! Immediately thinking of blown tires, I'm trying that optimism thing I was reading about. "There's a spare in the trunk. Not a big deal!" We got to the side of the road where we discovered all 4 tires are filled to perfection. What was that then?? Josh attempted to go, and the car just kind of lurched a little bit and groaned a lot. We sat in silence for a minute, until he said "I think we just blew a turbo." I don't know really anything about cars, but I do know that the car is a Jetta TDI. I know that the T stands for turbo. Since it's in the name, I then used my deductive reasoning skills to assume that "blowing a turbo" is bad news bears. Still, I decided to risk verbal decapitation by asking "What does that mean?" The response? "It means that we're probably going to be spending a week in Beaver, Utah waiting for parts that will probably cost us over $5,000." ARE YOU SERIOUS???? After these words were uttered, I gave up hope, he gave up hope, we all gave up hope. We called a tow truck in Beaver to come and get us, and while we waited, a state trooper stopped to check on us. He assured us that the shop we called was reliable, and that he did all of his own car repairs there. This made us a feel a little better. I commented that at least now Josh would be able to test the water.

We waited on the side of the road for half an hour. When the flat bed tow truck arrived, we were astonished to learn that we would be riding IN our car. ON the tow truck. Talk about trusting a stranger with your life, your husband's life, your precious child's life, not to mention your car filled with all of your belongings. We rode back to his shop, where I unloaded all of our waiting room materials once again, and settled in to learn even more bad news.

About 10 minutes after arrival, Josh came in with a smile on his face. "It's done!" he said. "You mean it's done, like we need to go home?" I said, not quite believing this. "Nope! I mean, it's done, we can hit the road and keep heading west!" Turns out, it was a hose that connects the turbo to....well, something important. I don't really know. But the mechanic said that when we hit the raccoon, it probably knocked the hose clip loose. He looked all around and couldn't find the hose clip. That was when Josh had an AH-HA moment. Perhaps the rattling in the McDonald's drive-through was the hose clip coming off. I'd bet that if we were to return to that drive-through in Denver, we'd find the missing clip. Awesome. With the hose reattached, we were finally feeling like we were having some good luck.

Until our credit card was declined when paying for the tow. How can this be?? We knew we weren't at the limit, what the heck? We paid in cash, got in the car, and Josh immediately called the bank, which put us through to fraud prevention. Lightbulbs! Maybe the large purchase at a car dealership in Denver was flagged as suspicious. Ok, makes sense, but since credit cards are often used in emergencies, surely they can take that into account? After finally getting through to an actual person at the bank (stupid automated call centers) we learned that when getting fuel way back in Colorado that morning the card had been swiped twice by the clerk. So it really was a fraud prevention! At this point, I stopped cursing the bank and started thanking them. With our emergency fund back at our finger tips, we began our trip into the desert. The first thing Josh said was "UGH! I forgot to test out that water in Beaver!" Figures water is on the brain when you hit the desert!

Literally the second you cross the border into Nevada, there are casinos everywhere. Gas stations even have slot machines. I was not aware of this. It's very weird, especially when you consider my home state of Arkansas only recently began having a lottery. To think you can play a few hands of video poker while waiting to pay for your coffee. Crazy. Anyway, the hottest temperature we saw there was 113 degrees. That was insane. No matter what people say about it being a "dry heat" so it's "not that bad" -don't believe it for a second. 113 degrees feels just like I thought it would, only when the breeze blows it's not a cool, refreshing respite from hot air, it's like someone is holding a hair dryer on you. Ridiculous! Anyway, we reached Las Vegas and decided to head straight for the Hoover Dam. We made the trip down and when we got there, we assumed we could just park in an area before the dam, walk around, take a few pictures, you know the drill. Well, the only place to park is in the parking garage, which was closed because the tours were over for the day. So we had to keep driving straight, and before we knew it we were back in Arizona, which we had briefly passed through earlier in the day. There was a parking place on the Arizona side where a nice family took our picture in front of the Arizona sign. They were on their way to North Carolina. At that point, I was very grateful that I wasn't driving that far! After taking several pictures, we headed all the way back to Nevada (haha) and back to Vegas.

Before going to our hotel, we decided that since I'd never been there before, we should drive up the strip. I've always thought Vegas sounded interesting, but I've never had an uncontrollable need to go. But when in Rome-er Vegas- you should definitely see the strip. We drove from one end to the other and I have to say that I was amazed. I've been to NYC 3 times in my life, and I swear there were more people on these sidewalks than I saw at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was insane! Lights flashing, cars honking, people everywhere! I also don't really know what I expected it to be like, but honestly no amount of watching shots of Vegas on tv or in movies can really prepare you. It was just insane. To think all that is in a tiny little piece of a city in the middle of nowhere. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. Eventually, I raised my jaw off the floor and got my mouth to shut again.

We then went to the hotel. We stayed at the Circus Circus and after driving around in their parking lots/garages for 15 minutes we finally found the check in door. We went in to get checked in, leaving our loads of luggage in the car. Josh gave me a key, and a map, and told me where to go. He was going to put our bags on a bellhop's cart (apparently those actually exist...) and go park the car in the garage. Ok. My son and I wandered around for 10 minutes before we finally found the right elevator. We made it to our room and started to get settled in. Soon the bellhop arrived with our bags and as he started unloading them in the room, I suddenly panicked. Am I supposed to tip this guy??? I've never had a bellhop before, and I'm not even that great at knowing how to tip a waitress...what am I supposed to do?? I finally dug a few dollars out of my purse-thank goodness I even had money, since I rarely carry cash-and handed it to the guy. I still feel like I seriously under tipped, but what can I do? After he left, my phone rings. It's Josh. "Um, so where is the room?" "You have to go past the first casino, and you'll see a sign for the wedding chapel, and right after that there's elevators for floors 1-10. That's where you need to be." "Um, but which way do I go after the escalator?" "Escalator? I didn't see an escalator!" "Oh, well, I'll find it." click. now I'm seriously concerned about our choice in lodging while in Vegas. Several minutes later, he arrived at the door. I joked about being able to find our car the next day, and he said "It's not a joke! I had to put the car's coordinates in the GPS so we can find it tomorrow!" Oh great.

We already decided that since I'd never been to Vegas, I could go down to the casino first and try my luck. $10 dollars in hand (I don't like to gamble, because I'm always thinking of something way more fun to buy with the money) I headed for the slot machines. It didn't take me long to go through my money and I was tired anyway, so I headed back to the room. My son and I started to get ready for bed while Josh headed down to the casino. Not long after he left, I went into the bathroom with toiletries to lay on out on the counter. Without me knowing, my son had followed me into the bathroom, carrying his beloved bunny, who is appropriately named Bunny. Suddenly, I hear "oooooops....uh oh..." Bunny was now in the toilet. I really don't think he threw him in on purpose, but the damage was done. Bunny was soaked with toilet water, and backup bunny was on the other side of the universe in the car. I almost had a nervous breakdown. Josh was gone, Bunny was out of commission, and I was about to have a very angry toddler on my hands. Luckily, the child was so tired, that he was content with just his blanket to go to sleep. Whew! Crisis averted. It did not take long for me to fall asleep after that long day.

Because we were heading to see friends in California, and we were only 4 hours away, we got up and left Vegas around 7:30. We were hungry, but the GPS kept trying to take us only to McDonald's that were inside casinos. We gave up trying to get before leaving town, and finally found one right before we crossed into California. After a while of driving in California and taking in the terrain, we quickly decided that so far, California was not the most beautiful place we would be seeing on vacation. We joked about how we hoped all of our bad luck was over, and talked about the stuff that had already happened. I said "As long as Wally World isn't closed when we get there, everything will be ok!" We laughed really hard, because already we felt like we were following the Griswold's vacation plan to a T. Seriously, if Christie Brinkley had driven by in a Ferrari, I would not have been surprised. A little bit later, we stopped for a quick restroom break and once again hit the road. As soon as we got on the interstate, a state trooper pulled out of nowhere. Immediately, I assumed this will be the bad luck for the day (did we leave a dog tied to the bumper??) and we both held our breath, waiting for him to turn on his lights and signal to us. After a few tense moments, he sped on past us and into the sunset. Well, actually it was still before noon, so there wasn't really a sunset. I just wanted to say that.

Anyway, we came to a place in the road where we had to stop and be inspected. We're still not really sure what we were being inspected for. We think the lady asked if were were carrying any produce, but it also sounded like she asked if were carrying any pine boards. Maybe she did. Anyway, we said no, and we kept on our way. We arrived at our destination and spent the next 3 days there with very little to report. We had a nice visit with friends and it was a very good time. While we were there, our son turned 3, so to celebrate his birthday, we took him to Magic Mountain, which was like, practically next door to our friends' house. It was only after we got back, that we learned we really did go to Wally World. (Magic Mountain is where they filmed the roller coaster scene. That coaster is still there. Crazy!) We finally felt like our Griswold vacation had come full circle!

After our time with friends, we loaded up once again and headed north in California. Before long, we were hungry so we decided to try one of those In n Out Burgers you always hear about. Our verdict-very, very, very good. After getting back on the highway, Josh asked me for some medicine out of the glove box. He had sprained his ankle while at our friends, and to top it off, he was having a little problem with gout. I retrieved the medicine, and was putting it away, when I found out why you should always pack a first aid kit. It involved seeing first hand what happens when your middle finger is still in the glove box when the glove box latches. I thought I was dying, Josh thought I was being overly dramatic, and I'm pretty sure my son slept through the whole thing.

Our next destination was Reno, so we decided to drive through Yosemite on the way. If you ever get the opportunity to see Yosemite, I highly recommend it. I honestly wish I could have spent about a week there. It took us 3 1/2 hours to get through, and the first hour, we were kind of like, um, this is pretty much just trees. Boring. But then you go through this tunnel, and when you come out the other side, there are these huge granite mountains and this magnificent waterfall cascading down one. It's unbelievable. We drove on Tioga Pass, which was crazy because the road wasn't even opened until June 5th, because of the snow it gets. The temperature got to 50 degrees on that drive, and there was still snow on the ground. It was just absolutely unreal.

By the time we emerged on the other side of the park, it was 7:00 and getting dark. We still had 3 hours to Reno and we were already getting tired. After a quick pit stop, we headed to Reno, on very curvy back roads with zero cell service. It was probably one of the most stressful times on the trip, because I just kept thinking about all the bad things that could happen, and we had no cell phone reception on top of it. We eventually rolled into Reno, and found the hotel right away. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the check in door. So much for this hotel being easier to navigate than Vegas. During our search, we turned right down a street only to almost run over several bike cops. They had several girls handcuffed on the sidewalk. Most of them looked like they were enjoying the night a little too much, but I wasn't really looking at them. I was too busy trying to see if Lt. Dangle was one of the bike cops.

I finally had to call the hotel to ask them how to get the check in desk. After getting directions, we found it. We got checked in, found the right parking garage, and unloaded our son and our belongings. As we got into the elevator to ride to the 25th floor (yes, you read that right) I realized that I hit my injured finger when loading up with bags. By the time we got to the 25th floor, blood was running down my hand, and I looked like I had just come from murdering someone. It was not good. We got to room, I got my hand doctored up again, and we collapsed into bed.

The next morning, we got all packed up and ready to go. We went out to the elevators to head to the car. We then waited for 20 minutes to get in an elevator because apparently everyone in the entire hotel was trying to descend at the same time. We finally jumped on one that was going up, but decided it worth going up a couple of floors if it meant we were finally going to get down. We got out to the car, and realized that we forgot to put the keys in the key drop box. Josh's gout was really giving him trouble by this time, so I kindly said I would drop the key in the box. As I headed back in the building, I tried to remember where I'd seen one of those gold boxes. I passed by the elevator hallway, looking around. I kept walking. I passed by a couple of pastry and coffee stands. Still nothing. I passed the gym, then several gift shops. Nothing. I had to go up an escalator. Nothing. I passed a casino. Nothing. The next thing I know, I'm two blocks from the garage and I'm at the front desk. I finally saw a gold box, dropped the keys in it, and attempted to find my way back to the garage. The whole walk back, I was trying to figure out where I'd seen the box before. Right before I got to the door to the garage, I happened to look down the elevator hallway. There it was. The gold box. Right there, 10 feet from the garage. Seriously...

So after getting the keys squared away, we found the garage exit, and headed toward the nearest source of coffee. After filling up, we hit the road toward Salt Lake City. For the most part, Nevada was as boring the 2nd time as it was the first. We hit Utah and passed by the salt flats, which are very interesting to see....once. I can't say that I'll be rushing back, because it literally is just a wide, open, white place. The tree of life is interesting though. We arrived in Salt Lake City and were very hungry. Josh asked the front desk attendant where a good place to order pizza was. His reply "Pizza Hut." Josh asked him if he was sure there was nothing better and he said "Dominoes is pretty good, too." In an effort to not eat stuff we could eat any old time, we hit the internet and found a place called The Pie. It was the best pizza I've had (with the exception of Waldo Pizza in KC, but that's a different story) and we gorged ourselves. Right before dinner arrived, I went down to our car to get a drink from our well stocked cooler. I went back up to the room, and proceeded to pour the coke into a cup (a plastic one...I've seen those investigative reports about the dirty hotel glasses! Yuck!) and was preparing to feast on delicious pizza. The pizza arrived, we spread open the box on the table, and dug in. About that time, my son asked for more juice. When I got up to get it, my hip hit the edge of the box, which in turn hit my beautiful ice cold cup of coke, which caused it to fly through the air, and land upside down on the floor. Awesome. So I cleaned up the mess, while my pizza stared at me, fixed the cup of juice, and proceeded back to the car to retrieve yet another drink. When I returned, my son, in his excitement for my return, knocked over his juice, where it landed on my feet. Double awesome. After cleaning up that mess, which included washing my shoes, I finally got to sit down to my delicious pizza. It was totally worth it!

The next morning, we hit the road to Cheyenne. By this point in trip we were really ready to be in home territory, so there really isn't much that was memorable. Oh, except for when we stopped to fuel up, and there was a dead animal on the side of the ramp. From far away, we were like, oh dead something, but as we got closer, we realized that dead something was HUGE. It was a moose. When Josh went in to pay for the fuel, he asked the lady about the moose. She said that a brand new pickup truck (less than a month old, I believe) hit it head on. She then went on to say that the truck was in their repair lot if he wanted to go look. Well of course we wanted to look! Holy moly! I think it suffices to say that you do not ever want to be in a vehicle that hits a moose. It is not pretty.

After we arrived in Cheyenne, we were again very tired and very hungry. We found a Chinese restaurant, ordered takeout, and pigged out again. By this time, we were very very ready to be home, so after some begging, pleading, and bribing from my husband (the promise to take me to see Eclipse when we got home), I agreed to go to bed super early and hit the road at 2 in the morning. Which was fine with me, since out of all the hotels we had stayed in, this one by far seemed the most questionable. The less time in those sheets, the better, I say.

I slept through most of Nebraska the second time, which again, was fine with me. We pulled into our driveway around 11:30 am which was absolutely perfect. We relaxed all afternoon, went and saw Eclipse that evening, and pretty much enjoyed the fact that we would not be getting in the car for an extended period of time any time soon.