Friday, April 15, 2016

Trip of Fools

April Fools Day 2016: We leave at dawn. April Fools! We leave right after school. We are headed out on a rare spring break trip. Fresh off our August Yellowstone trip, I'm ready for another one already. I've been hankering for my first trip to Arches National Park for decades. Huck was against this 100%. He's a road warrior wuss and can't handle the idea of 14 hours of driving. Since I, a former road trip goddess, can't drive much anymore, I concede to his tolerance levels. I show the kids photos of Arches instead. They get excited and show Huck whose resolve starts to crack. I note that the park will be closed in 2017 and that the best time for us to go wouldn't be summer (because Blue faints and I wilt in heat), but spring. Yes, the nights may be freezing, but I buy a case of hand warmers and we will fill our sleeping bags with them.  Then we will roll on them while sleeping and leave burn marks on our tummies.

Blue at Arches
And here we are now, tetris'd in to our tiny SUV. We stop in Butte, Montana again. It's only been 9 months but the hotel we revisit has taken a serious dive. It's 10 pm, Coyote wants to swim and we'll be in a car for 9 hours tomorrow (haha, April fools! But we don't know that yet), so we swim. Despite huge signs that say no alcohol, there are piles and piles of empties. There is also food flung everywhere: chicken, tortillas, chips. It is disgusting. I get so grossed out that I run out of the room, even though the signs clearly say "No Running."  This is the perfect start to our trip, a deep, dark foreshadow of pretty much the whole thing.

Day 2: Today is our biggest day of driving (oh, we have NO idea!) We start the day singing the raggae classics at top volume and new sunglasses all around. We stop in Salt Lake City to see the Mormon temple. It is not nearly as beautiful as it looked on the 431 pictures of it hung in Coyote's piano teacher's living room. But as an historic structure, it's fascinating. There's some kind of conference here and the cherry trees are all blooming. It's is beautiful and vibrant. We are not Mormon, nor considering Mormonism, but we try to respectfully tour the grounds understanding that for many, this is a place of spiritual sustenance, though we don't understand it. The Mormon's do have a lot of great ideas about family that are worth cribbing.

We enter a visitor's center and peruse large paintings of the Old Testament, the New, and then the book of Mormon where we see dioramas of blond Jesus ministering to the Native Americans. At this point, it's really hard to remain respectful, but we rise to the challenge. We head up a spiral ramp into a stunning and trippy space-painted dome which houses a 20 foot tall Jesus. We take a family photo in which I look hot. I have to post it to Facebook immediately, despite not wanting to tip off possible thieves of our out-of-town-ness. But in the moment, being fleeced of all worldly possessions seems like a small price to pay for showing the world the only known decent photo of me. I am stunningly non-photogenic and no one believes me until they try to snap one themselves, then it's all "OMG! WTF, SARAJOY?! What the hell is wrong with you?!"
Space Jesus! Maybe not the best photo in the cold light of day.. but better than most
Testimonies are ringing out over the loudspeaker. One man describes his search for "the one true religion," an oxymoron. Another declares that we "know, in fact, that families are forever." This, in fact, involves zero facts, as most of us define that term. It's a phrase that will haunt us, especially in the later stages of road-tripping fiascos.

In the bathroom, I discover I've been blessed with the panty-stigmata. great. It's what every woman wants on a camping trip. I try to be grateful we aren't camping in bear country this time.

After the temple, I'm exhausted. I need sleep. All navigators, human and GPS, are silenced with sleep. I awake 2 hours later. We are nearly to Nevada. We are not supposed to be anywhere near Nevada. Turns have not been made. Directions were not clarified. No one realized the GPS was muted. We back track and cut across southern Utah, taking a back road that is windy and steep and makes me sick with it's spinning and lack of air. But it's beautiful. 14 hours of driving now. We roll in to the only camp ground I could make reservations at on such short notice, the short notice of three months. One has to plan far far in advance to get a campsite in Arches. I can't imagine the hubris in thinking you know what's going to go on in your life, what you'll want, so many years into future. This site is well reviewed, in the middle of Moab. Unfortunately, we can't drive up to our tent site. It's 11 pm and we have trek it all in 5 miles 1/2 a block. Trip after trip. This campsite will torture us for two days. When we car camp our car is the 5th family member, only much more useful. Perhaps, with much time, we could have figured out how to camp like this but in the two days we are here, no one sees anyone else, as we all make endless hikes to and from the car. We are not allowed fires in town, so the next night we will make s'mores over hurricane candles. Also, we live in the country and this city spot is much louder than our home.

Double Arches
Day 3: We enter the Arches. We peruse the maps, make a plan of attack and then abandon that plan on the first pull out. We are too excited. Everyone wants to hike, but the hike is too hard for me. I have only circled the hikes that say "perfect for families with young children." I drive to the pick them up point at the end of Park Avenue. Here I stare up at the red towers and I am so overwhelmed by awe that I ugly cry. We stop at every damn stop. Perhaps due to heat exhaustion, Huck gets REALLY excited over green dirt. He can't stop talking about it.We begin to plot his demise.

When you regret buying her climbing lessons
Day 4: We move to a more remote spot outside of town. It's got pit toilets, no running water. It's on the full and muddy Colorado River, in a deep gorge. After setting up our tent, we begin our second day in Arches. By the end of the day, I wonder if there isn't something wrong with us all, if we haven't gone soft after a winter of video games and "New Girl" binging. I'd have given us two days, tops, on the Oregon Trail back in the day. Other people's kids are running and climbing and jumping. Coyote is dragging.

Evening. We start our first real fire. Coyote's always pranking us so when he starts not making sense, I'm sure he's just messing with me. He "eats" dinner, but lets it all mush out of his mouth on to the ground. I'm getting annoyed with this "prank" 11 years in. When he starts mumbling incoherently, we discover he's got a fever. We give him ibuprofen. But he gets worse. He tries to eat Huck's shoulder and leg. He tells us he needs help and we tell him we are trying to help him. He says, "But then why can't I see you? Why is this wall here? Why can't I see anything?" I say, "E.R." Huck nods, grabs him and my phone. The ER is only 4 minutes away.

Before they get there, I roast my hand on an open fire. There's a starburst attached to it and i can't get it off and it continuously burns me. I'm screaming and running and I realize Huck has taken all of the ice and water and ibuprofen to the ER with the car. I soak my finger for an hour in the 1/2 cup of water left on the picnic table. A blister grows to the shape and size of California. For the rest of our "vacation," I will lick it over and over, thinking it's the last bit of chocolate from the Theo bars we eat every day after lunch.

I'm not doing well not knowing what is going on in the ER. My imagination is not built for this reality. Huck's phone (the one I have) runs out of juice. They get back around midnight. Coyote had a temperature of 104F, after Ibuprofen. He's got Influenza B and a strict medication regime that we will need to "religiously" (I'm not sure that's the term for us) follow for the next four days. It involves waking up at 2 am every night.

Day 5: A slow day. Everyone is tired. Huck insists I will not be happy with a slow day. He is remembering old Sarajoy, type-A traveler. My itinerary usually went:

-run before breakfast
-early morning activity
-late morning activity
-early afternoon activity
-late afternoon activity
-dinner, evening activities.

I remind Huck that I now travel like a toddler with copious naps and very short, easy hikes, if any, and lots of crying. We decide to do a short river drive, checking out dinosaur prints and petroglyphs (but not from the same time period. You know that, right?)

Newspaper Rock
But before we go, I want to brush my teeth. In all our moving about the toiletries have gone missing. The bag is here, but the items are gone. No one has brushed their teeth for days. I keep thinking it will all show up, but it doesn't. We go to the grocery store in town, home of the world's most messed up parking lot maze. We buy everyone tooth brushes, toothpaste, dental floss, everything. We head to the bathroom to shave our teeth of all the hair they've grown. A pushy manager follows Blue and I in. She yells at us, "No bathing in the bathrooms!" I say, reasonably, we aren't bathing, we are just brushing our teeth. I show her the bag of stuff we just bought. She is super belligerent. It is obvious to her that we are trying to fuck with the store, disobeying rules I've never heard of. I'm confused. She marches us out of the store as if we are shoplifters. I feel humiliated and angry. Certainly there are better ways to inform people of your odd rules. We brush our teeth in the parking lot, leaving huge chunks of toothpaste to dry in this crazy maze. Perhaps their Minotaur will find his way here and freshen up a bit. I go back into use the toilet for it's actual purposes and hear her loudly bragging about her bathroom victory to her underlings. She says, "They won't look you in the eye. That's how you know. And THEN you're doing your job." ... as if that even makes sense. I just wanted to brush my teeth. I'm not "they." I'm not a criminal. I just didn't know you had rules like that. It puts me on edge. I'm grumpy now. I feel trapped in a town that hates the hands that feed it. I've lived in tourist towns before and it's easy to hate "them." But unless you are independently wealthy, "they" are the only reason you get to live where you do.

Back at the car, I discover the toiletries are actually in the toiletries bag, just in a side pocket I forgot existed. 

Now Huck, understandably tired, is being an asshole. An argument ensues along our drive. It is unpleasant. But in therapy I'm working on not caring what others think and I decide to REALLY apply that work at a populated picnic spot along the Colorado River. We're all sleep deprived and stressed out and hurt and those parts of our brain that make sense of the world have run out of juice and shut down. But we work it out eventually and all happily eat at a diner in town because Blue says she's never eaten diner food. I get a salad with nothing on it because everything is soaked in wheat here... even the fucking milk shakes!

Day 6: Mesa Verde, the cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo. It's a bit of a drive, but at least it's not a bit of a hike. The "open" cliff village is actually closed because it's collapsing and no one knows why or how to stop it. The other villages require guided tours, which start in 4 days, when we return home. I'm sorely disappointed. I've wanted to visit since seeing photos in a Social Studies book 30 years ago. I've called and emailed, begging for maybe a practice tour. I settle for seeing the 1000 year old dwellings from across the canyon. Everyone loves this day and this trip, although I'm certain it could have been better.
Mesa Verde: closed

2AM: Huck wakes me up, "I'm going to barf!" He runs from the tent. And he ralphs, hard and loud into the concrete pit toilet. It echoes, through the campsite, through the canyon, the entirety of Southern Utah. We have attached sleeping bags and I speedily unzip us apart and toss his bag out of the tent. He sleeps in the car. We all use the pit toilet at the other end of the campground for the rest of the trip, though he swears he cleaned up.
Camp ground in echo-y canyon

Day 7: Blue and I buy showers at the local gym. Due to dryness, lack of showers and a profusion of bandanas, my hair is supremely flaccid. My family barely recognizes me and my hair, cut for uneven and uncontrollable waves, is now uneven and odd. None of them knew about my Dennis the Menace cowlick, camouflaged as it was among my curls. But it sticks out now, like a hoodoo in the desert. When we leave the gym, we walk across a park that appears to be covered in dog crap. COVERED. Every square inch has a round log on it. I panic, run back to the sidewalk, and wonder about this crazy ass town and where the hell they got all of this dog crap. I realize that they've just done some aeration/plug thing and the dirt is red/brown and we proceed across the lawn safely.

Jumping Needles: Coyote is back!
We drive to the Needles District of Canyonlands. It's incomprehensibly beautiful. I ugly cry again. It will be 4 times before this trip is over.  On the way there, I see a raven gagging. This is not a good sign from my totem bird, but I dismiss it because totem animals are stupid superstitious crap. In minutes we realize that the lighter fluid (not something I usually use but the firewood we picked up in Moab was so green it looked like Kermit's dismembered body) had leaked all over the back of the car. The next three days will be spent driving with the windows down.

Day 8: My god, someone shoot me. I'm so over this trip. We decide we need a laundry day even though we're very near the end. Some members of this family smell like rotting flesh and need showers. The boys shower while Blue and I tend to the laundry. The laundromat seems fine on the outside, but inside is an alternate universe from the 70's. Most of the gold and avocado green machines are broken. There is no change machine, you have to go to the window every time. An grody old man runs the place. He checks me out creepily. He chain smokes and everything smells. Everything is dirty. He has about 7 women working for him and I can't figure out what they all do here. I conclude that it's a super dysfunctional harem situation. Blue and I sit on a filthy couch while we wait for the dryers to literally melt the spandex in my favorite jeans. We get to brush our teeth in the damn bathroom.

Couch in Landromat, Moab, UT
The rest of the day is spent at the incomprehensibly beautiful overlooks of Canyonland's Island in the Sky District. I can't even describe it. And photos can't get close to the feeling of being in that landscape. I'm overwhelmed and nap and cry and go numb on picnic tables while they hike.  Everyone else is back to being energetic and I'm relieved to see it was just sickness, not softness, that made them so lethargic for the first 2/3 of the trip.

Canyonlands. Don't even imagine this is what it's really like.
Day 9: On our way north we stop by superb dinosaur tracks and put our hands in them to feel the 150 million years between us. I'm feeling like I'm in a good driving groove and could go all the way, but I've made reservations at a KOA in Eastern Idaho. We make our way 10 miles off the highway and find ourselves in a little heaven called Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. Hot springs are required for every road trip of mine. In Yellowstone, we hiked in to wormy, slimy Huckleberry Hot Springs. By contrast, this was tastefully developed and 100% less wormy. We wished we'd stopped here at the beginning of the trip. Everyone is relaxed and happy. Finally. We ran into the people we camped next to in Moab. We eat the best Thai food I've ever had. When I ask if the dish I want has any wheat (or soy sauce with wheat) in it, I'm waiting for the eye roll and annoyed huffing. Instead the waitress asks if I have Celiac's. She then enthuses at me about all the many many dishes I can have and how careful they are with cross contamination. The last time I accidentally had wheat, I was in the ER for most of Christmas Eve. I have to take it seriously. And I'm relieved someone else does too.

sitting in Camararus tracks
We play poker with Starburst ante back at the cabin. We do indeed bribe the kids on camping trips by feeding them everything they never get at home. Coyote wins so much that everyone starts gobbling their ante before he can win it too.

Day 10: My only hope is that we meet the Donner party and they eat me first. please. why did we do this. Nine more hours on the road. The kids eat sandwiches in the car and by sandwiches I mean Oreo lemon sandwich cookies. We arrive home. Everything has bloomed and our home feels perfectly wonderful. Why do we ever leave? Huck and I hug. We are alive, reconciled. The Mesa Verde tours finally open, 17 hours away. I sleep for three days.



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