Yes, we have returneth-ed. :) What can I say? I haven't written anything professional for two weeks. Instead letters, postcards and journal entries have been it. Deeeee-licious.
So, here is the abbreviated report on our trip. Comment away!
We travelled 2,200 miles down the coast of Oregon and California, changing our minds on our next day's route on a regular basis. We went as far south as San Francisco and then came back up through central California and into Portland. We stayed at KOA Campgrounds every night except one in which we were at a county park. We learned how to pitch two tents, including pumping up all three mattresses, plumping pillows and spreading out sleeping bags and blankets, in less than 30 minutes--even in the dark. It took coordinated teamwork on everyone's part but by the end of the vacation, we had it down to a fine science.
It is impossible to relate everything that happened over the days, so here are the highlights:
We were serenaded by so many different things as we went to sleep each night, which for me was a gift since I usually hear nothing but a high pitched emergency signal in my head. Over the course of two weeks, we fell asleep to the sounds of chirping crickets and cicadas, hooting owls, croaking bullfrogs, howling coyotes, whistling trains, roaring highway traffic, rolling surf, babbling brook, pouring rain, dropping pine needles, blowing wind, strumming guitars and murmuring voices.
We saw amazing scenery including miles and miles of brown velvet rolling hills, endless rows of grape vines, millions of soaring pine trees lined up on mountain sides and ocean views that left us gasping. The huge white eaves crashing into black craggy rocks never got old. We went through tiny tourist towns and complex hectic cities. We were humbled by the ancient redwoods. We toured a lighthouse and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge during heavy fog, making it feel as if it (and us) were suspended in the middle of a giant cloud as we could not see the water below, or the bridge ahead or behind.
We stayed in tiny campsites and huge ones. One was next to a field full of donkeys who made the same noise as our air pump. Another was next to a farm and we were wakened by the sound of a crowing rooster--who does not stop with the dawn--and the mooing of cows. One site was in the middle of a cedar and pine forest where we were sheltered under a leafy, green canopy that soared almost 100 feet into the sky. In one place we walked on pine needles and the next in sand. One gravel, the next grass. What made one place better than another? Price? No. Services? Nope. Pool? Nah. How close it was to the bathrooms? You bet. I truly do not care to see the inside of an outhouse ever, ever, ever again.
We were reminded that tourist sites are fun but can cost a fortune for a family of five so we chose carefully. No to the Mystery Trees and the Sea Lion Caves; yes to lighthouse tour and Confusion Hill. We found a number of Goodwills (much to the boys' total despair) and scored a few treasures, including about $400 worth of greeting cards we love to send for a mere $9. At another, I found two Thanksgiving candles like ones I had when I was about 6 years old. For 98 cents I bought them because they woke the little girl underneath all of these years and gray hair. We stopped at countless gift shops and I am sure that Nicole and I increased postcard stocks because we sent out more than 50 of them. We somehow managed to come home with MORE stationery than we left. (oops)
We found that food cooked and eaten outside always tastes better. We found out that it is difficult to take a shower in under four minutes but eight is more than enough. We found out that soap works as shampoo when Mom packs two bottles of conditioner by accident. We found out that, between all of us, we can read 26 books in 12 days. We found that a 34 pound dog on an air mattress with two adults somehow takes up far more than one-third of the room. We found out that reading out loud is still fun and that no one writes a better metaphor than Ray Bradbury.
We found that changing the route on whim is fun and misreading the map entirely can result in fun detours. We found that KOAs charge hugely varying prices for the same exact tent site--we paid a low of $29 and a high of $67 for the same darn thing. We found that nothing is quite as beautiful as a full moon with brown/red aura around it shining through pine tree boughs above our softly lit tent below.
We stopped at a nursery that specialized in carnivorous plants, i.e. sundews, venus flytraps, etc. They are amazing plants in all colors, sizes and styles. We took dozens of pics of us being eaten by the oversized styrofoam plant inside the store, as well as the huge 10 foot metal plant in the field out front. We made a campfire one night, thanks to Nicole's outdoor skills, and sat around it for hours talking, laughing, telling stories of our part and watching the kids poke, poke, poke at the fire as they wished we had packed ingredients for s'mores. We found out that Nicole can sneeze so loud it echoes throughout the campground and woke people from a sound sleep wondering if there had been an earthquake.
We encountered temperatures from 90 to 32. We had bright blue skies and pouring rain (which is lovely from inside a tent if you can quit worrying about leaks). We hit elevations of 5000 feet and rode on some of the curviest, craziest highways full of hairpin curves. We ate in restaurants that had amazing service--and appalling. We ate fast food, food from the cooler, food made on the camp cook stove, food from gas stations and food bought from fruit stands on the side of the road and blackberry bushes. My personal favorite was the medium rare prime rib eaten with plastic utensils standing around the trailer in some small coastal city.
We laughed-a lot. We told stories. We sang stupid songs. We read. We talked. We took walks. We connected as a family and when I walked back in the front door when we got home, I knew I had achieved everything I had hoped for on the trip. I had spent time with people I love more than anything on earth. I didn't work for 12 days. I saw amazing beauty. I relaxed. Most of all, I fell in love with my family all over again. I appreciated anew their humor and wit, their patience and kindness, their skills and qualities, their individualism and their love. It was exactly what all of us needed.
A wonderful, memorable, special time.