An important part of any trip is a tolerance for imperfection. No matter how well-organized, how planned, how flexible, or how prepared you are, things will go sideways. How do I know? Because we are adventuring in real life (and in 2020)! A willingness to go with the flow and look at everything with a glass-half-full perspective will make the SNAFUs of traveling seem like all part of the fun. Below I will share with you our top 5 Misadventures of the last two months in order of bad to worst. (BTW, I do know what SNAFU means. If you don’t I encourage you to look it up and bask in how accurate it is to the idea of travelling with children.)
1. Snow snow snow
For Veterans Day I decided to take the kids to Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California. We live in California and this amazing destination is only two hours from home. Though it had snowed in higher elevations the week before, temperatures had been well-above freezing and I expected the light snow to be gone.
For this trip we decided to borrow a friend’s mid-size RV to test out how we liked it (I didn’t. Like it, that is). I planned for cold temperatures by packing our snow gear and plenty of warm clothes. Driving the RV was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done but not the most difficult either … until there was snow on the road. Now, I grew up in the mountains and am extremely confident driving in the snow. I actually enjoy it when I’m on my way to an epic ski day in a 4WD SUV. In an RV with my four babies, however, there is nothing fun about driving in snow.
In addition to challenging driving conditions, the snow negated a lot of the fun parts of camping. It was too cold to sit around a campfire, the picnic table and benches were wet, playing outside was limited.
Always looking for a silver-lining, I can say that we enjoyed more off-trail hiking than we normally would have. In the late afternoon we had the park almost completely to ourselves which meant that we could climb and hike wherever we wanted because the snow protected the earth. Lastly, the feel of the air in snowy mountain forests is unlike anything else you’ll ever experience; just the act of breathing was a delight.
2. No Vacancy
Getting to a destination and finding that there is no place to stay can really throw you for a tailspin. Of course the logical thing is to always have reservations, but when you are travelling footloose=and-fancy-free reservations can really bog you down. We had two separate occasions when there was no room at the inn. (Fortunately my babies were already born or I would have had even more empathy for Mary and Joseph!)
The first occasion was when we went to Yellowstone in October and found that all the campsites that could be reserved had closed for the season, leaving first-come-first-served only. Since it’s 2020 and I’m not the only one hitting the road, this meant that we couldn’t get a campsite – until our last desperate night when I offered someone $200 for their campsite. Luckily for me, they were more kind than mercenary and offered to share it with me instead. I am still so grateful to them!
The second occasion was when we left Yellowstone and headed to Jackson, WY on a cold, stormy night. The fact that it is 2020 again worked against us as the hotels could only operate on partial capacity. I called every hotel from the low-end to the high-end and found nothing. I’d anticipated this would happen at some point, so we slept in the back of the Sequoia; it was a tight squeeze but on the bright side the kids got to have McDonald’s drive-through breakfast in bed!
3. No restaurants on this highway (or that one or that one)
Being able to stop at a grocery store or restaurant was something I didn’t even know I take for granted! I grew up in a rural area where it was a 20 minute drive to the nearest supermarket, but there is a fair assumption that in a 250+ mile stretch of road trip a grocery store will pop up. Unless, of course, you set your Google Maps for “fastest route” and forego the freeway because it adds another hour onto the drive. We had more than one day of driving where we were lucky to even find gas stations, including the day we drove the Loneliest Highway through Nevada.
On the bright side, a friend had warned me ahead of time about “food deserts.” I was sure to keep a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter in a picnic basket inside the car at all times. No matter where we were, we could always have a pb&j.
4. Power steering – do we really need that?
As it turns out, yes, yes you do really need power steering, especially when you are driving an RV. This particular misadventure most unfortunately overlapped with the unexpected snow misadventure mentioned above. Trying out an RV for the first time, we borrowed one from a friend rather than renting. I had a mechanic check it out before we left and even had new brakes on it. Although the belt was old, it as in decent condition and didn’t need to be replaced … until it broke.
We left the campground a day early because of the snow and as I was driving down the steep, winding mountain road with a logging truck hot on my heels, the battery light came on and the steering started to feel a little stiff. In a miracle of the mountains, I pulled over where there was actually cell service, so I called my mechanic. He said the battery light was a bad sign but I could still drive the RV into town and find an auto shop. By the time I got five more miles down the road, I knew for sure that we had no power steering. Luckily, I was able to muscle the steering wheel and get us into the parking lot of a tow company – the only AAA tow company in a 50 mile radius.
The bright side was that since it was an RV we had a warm, dry, comfortable place to hang out and play games for 2 hours while we waited for my husband to come get us. The only truck the tow company had that was big enough was not available until two days later. We treated this part of our trip as camping, also (just stuck inside since we couldn’t very well play around in their parking lot).
5. A small fall – a big deal
It started off as a fun trip to Grandma’s house and then to visit the Aunt/Uncle/Cousins. It ended with 20 hours in the hospital and surgery. All because of a very small fall off a very small table.
Melanie was playing downstairs with her cousins, messing around like kids do when the grown ups are watching. She backed up off the edge of a kid’s play table and threw her arm out to break her fall. Instead, she broke her arm just above the elbow. This is not the first time one of my kids has broken a bone, nor is it the first time Melanie has had surgery. It was, however, the first time it was considered emergency surgery and scared 10 years off my life. On Thanksgiving, she was transferred by ambulance from the ER to a children’s hospital. She had pins placed to hold the humerus while it healed and spent a few (6? 8?) hours in the hospital. The worst part, however, came when we got home and tried to move her medical care back into our network.
(Let me just say right here that I hate insurance and the way it dictates the type of care people receive. It is utterly ridiculous to me that anyone can refuse to care for a patient simply because of “policy” without considering the details of the case. It is equally ridiculous that they can send you back to the initial place of care simply because of policy without regard to whether or not it’s feasible and reasonable. In the two weeks after the injury, I placed dozens and dozens of calls to doctor’s, hospitals, and our insurance company fighting for coverage. We haven’t even gotten the bills yet, but I shutter to think what this will all add up to.)
The bright side is that we have a great primary care physician who will go out of her way to care for her patients. When I was beyond frustrated with people passing the buck and saying, “it’s not my job,” our PCP held onto the buck (is that how that saying is supposed to go?!) and kept it her job. She was the one who made it happen when I couldn’t, no matter how many phone calls I made. Having an advocate is an incredible blessing and one that I took completely for granted until this accident happened away from home. I had no idea how much I didn’t know!
One last piece of advice:
Know when to turn around and avoid a misadventure!