I think it’s safe to say most of us fall into one of two camps: those who took road trips with their parents as kids and those who did not. My wife and I realized we were in opposite categories when she simply couldn’t relate to or share in my starry-eyed, gleeful recollection of that time honored American tradition of being trapped in a car for an extended period of time, otherwise known as forced family togetherness. I would recall with sugar coated nostalgia the wacky misadventures I had experienced as a child, bouncing up and down the highway from the back seat of our giant station wagon (were we even wearing seatbelts?), cruising all the way up to Oregon to go river rafting or heading over the mountains to go skiing. My parents taking turns behind the wheel, Sony Walkman headphones trying to block out whatever weird music was coming out of the radio, my brother annoying me but ultimately making me laugh with whatever MadLib he insisted on completing, stopping along the way for non-organic, gluten-filled, artificially colored junk food snacks and spending the night in funky, questionably safe motels- all four of us crammed into a room that would often smell like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while. I tried explaining to my wife that while traveling by airplane gets you to the destination faster- you’re sacrificing all the benefits of confinement! The simple act of being together, possibly stuck in traffic, potentially getting car sick, definitely engaging in off key, five part harmony sing-a-longs… these are history making memories you just can’t create from 30,000 feet above ground.
So, brimming with idyllic optimism, we decided to take a family road trip to Yosemite. The car ride was eerily close to how I remembered my family trips of yesteryear. Although, instead of being in the back with my brother, I was in the captain’s seat, steering the proverbial ship down the freeway. With my wife as co-captain and our three boys in the backseat (safely belted in), we were on our way. Fancy ear buds have replaced bulky headphones, however, we told them they weren’t allowed to tune us out unless daddy got a work call. As it turned out (and probably to the boys’ satisfaction), I got a lot of calls. Every time that phone would ring, the three boys would revert to whatever video or song they were enjoying and I would be able to conduct business without adolescent noise or interruption. I think I had three different deals that were needing my attention on that particular Friday so the boys got plenty of time to do their own thing while I was putting out a variety of real estate related fires. It was all just dandy until we were going around the mountain with a 5:00pm deadline looming, client on the phone deciding how to proceed and, just like that, I lost all reception and the call was gone. Luckily my team was back in the office and they could pick up where nature had forced me to drop off. It actually ended up being perfect timing because just as I lost the call, we could make out the world-famous El Capitan in the near distance. Even my somewhat jaded, city boys stopped what they were doing and used their phones to take pictures of the awe inspiring natural landscape up ahead.
Cruising into Yosemite at sunset was remarkably beautiful. As hard as we’d crane our necks, we couldn’t even see the tops of some of the momentous rocks from the car, they were that huge. We set up ‘camp’ at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel and it was truly majestic. Who knew, though, that the interiors inspired the hotel in the movie the Shining? We didn’t until we stepped into the lobby and my wife and I were both struck by how it looked exactly the same! High ceilings, creepy chandeliers, tuxedoed piano players and red-door elevators. Our boys hadn’t seen the Shining, however, now they’ll probably want to watch which is probably not the best souvenir from an otherwise family-friendly trip. Although, what’s a few nightmares here and there? Builds character. The Ahwahnee was decidedly a step up from the motels we frequented as a kid but, just like my road trips from yesteryear, the whole family was crammed into one room. That was just as fun as I remembered except when the rest of us were trying to sleep and my 10 year old was up before the sun, tripping over suitcases and rooting around in the dark for his iPad. Older brothers used to sleeping until noon being awakened by their younger sibling crashing around made for real, authentic bonding time. The ‘city of brotherly love,’ this was not but maybe one day they’ll look back on this particular memory and laugh.
Sightseeing in Yosemite did not disappoint. We took a tour to visit both El Capitan and Half Dome. Seeing “Free Solo” on TV didn’t compare to standing in the shadow of that giant rock in person, just picturing Alex Honnold climbing up its face without any equipment. It was hard to imagine anyone doing it with ropes and harnesses, let alone just their hands and feet. It’s safe to say, the five of us appreciated the feat from a distance and didn’t attempt any major rock climbs this trip. However, the following morning we woke up early (not too early since we made Vinnie use his ipad in the bathroom if he woke up before dawn again) and set off to take a few hikes. The weather was perfect- chilly but sunny. We were armed with a few trail maps, a vague idea of where to go and excited at the prospect of commuting with nature. We were hoping to see a few bears but had to settle for big, fat country squirrels instead. There were lots of broken branch sword fights, skipping stones into rivers, selfies trying to get all five of us in the frame and just a few complaints of being tired, hungry or both.
Once we successfully hiked around, it was already time to pack up and get in the car to start the five hour drive to come home. No work calls this time, just the satisfied sigh of relief that we had endured, enjoyed and survived a family road trip, hopefully making some good, long-lasting memories in the process. Maybe one future day the boys will take this trip with their respective families and remind them that there will always be a way of doing things faster… but getting there is half the fun.