Thursday, May 03, 2007

We are a smoothie now: well-blended

The adventure was epic. Three days of driving south… five days in Disney Land… four days of driving north. The trip was an unqualified success. Testament to top notch parenting skills! (Yeah, yeah… scoff all you want… it’s what I believe, so it’s true).

Highlights of the trip:

Driving. We did a few hours of this. I didn’t get behind the wheel until mid-day of the second day. Southern Oregon though Northern California. I got to drive the exciting, hilly, curvy, 18-wheeler ridden roads around Mount Shasta at the going speed which was about 10 miles an hour above the speed limit of 65 mph.

The van handles much differently than my Subaru which has been set-up for rallying and I found it a bit of a challenge to steer. I attributed this to my lack of experience with having wheels directly under me - until we slowed to take a pee break and the van started to shake and shimmy and rattle and jerk. Dave suspected that a pothole had knocked the alignment out. We carried on with me keeping the speed up since it was much easier to handle at 75 mph than at 50 mph!

By the time we reached Redding, CA, the van was no fun to drive anymore. We found a Les Schwabb Tire outlet. It was closed for the day but the manager was kind enough to take a look. It took him two seconds to see what we hadn’t seen 100 miles earlier: a bulge in one of the front tires that was the size of a banana. The steel belts had started to separate. He told us to get back to his shop at 8:00 the next morning and NOT to drive at highway speeds.

Mmmm.... thank goodness for the guardian pirate bobble head we put on the dash board just before leaving Vancouver!

So, we were stuck in Redding, CA for the night, three hours north of our planned destination of Sacramento. No big deal. Except for the fact that that particular weekend was the Kool April Nites Classic Car Show. We had arrived in a town that was inundated by choppered old cars, some of which were worth as much as my house. Hotels are fully booked a year in advance for this event which draws enthusiasts from all across the country to roar their custom engines up and down the town streets, showing off their custom paint and custom choppedness. Fortunately, there was a no-show at the Holiday Inn and we got a room – with a parking lot full of life-size Hot Wheels! What a perfect introduction to the California experience!

Arriving in Anaheim just after dark, and without a map, we intuited where our hotel should be from my memory of where it was located in relationship to Disney Land. A miracle given my typically pathetic navigational skills. Trouble checking in. We were booked for five days, not the six I had asked and paid for…. Manager gets involved… we’re shown to a suite that has not just a separate room for Liam, but a third bedroom for Marcus. Woo-hoo!

Disney Land was a blast but I have to say that despite being told by several friends that it really is the happiest place on Earth, I’ve had happier moments in the Squamish area… hiking to the top of the Chief and looking down on a real paradise beats It’s a Small World any day in my book!

One highlight of our five days and six nights in Anaheim was the evening that an evangelical gathering kicked off at the Conference Centre right beside our hotel. As the children fell into dream land, the master of ceremonies to their outdoor concert preached about hellfire and brimstone. On one hand it seemed an odd contrast to the image of Disney Land as the happiest place on Earth; on the other hand, it seemed a perfect Disney Land family-values fit...

And then there was the drive home. We took the fast route down – the I-5 – which was about 22 hours of driving plus another 8 of stopping to pee and eat – so decided to take the scenic route home.

After a good breakfast and swim, we packed into the van and headed South to Long Beach for Dave to check out Jesse James’ chopper shop. On the map it looked like a one hour diversion, but by the end of the day we had only made it 138 miles north of LA! Traffic. Holy cow! Seems it’s either 16 lanes moving at Mach 5, or 4 lanes crawling at 5 miles per hour.

And then there was the short diversion we took, following signs that told us the exit we wanted had been rerouted. We followed these signs along small side roads until we reached a dead end. At the dead end: a parking lot for the Legionnaire's Club, filled with old men drinking beer and watching car after car turn around to find their way back to somewhere else! I am certain these old duffers messed with the signs to attract new members to their club.

Looking for a hotel room in Buellton proved a futile effort. Spring weekends in California, it seems, are meant for big events. In this case, it was a mountain bike race. So we drove a little further north to Los Alamos, a one-horse town where the restaurant was closed but the chirping turtles in the pond outside our room were up! We ate our scariest meal that night. No, not turtle soup, microwaved meat-things from a gas station convenience store… Ewwww….

On the road the next day at a reasonable hour (the rooster crowing in the parking lot of the motel made sure of that!) with a mid-day destination of Berkeley to visit the Bastard of Art and Commerce and his family. Our plan was to be there by 3 PM. Well, an unplanned side diversion to the Hearst Castle and some less than stellar navigating (my fault) landed us lost in East Oakland at 9 PM… at a gas station where young men in colours (sorry, that would be colors) were hanging out around the bullet-proof glass cashier box. Call it balls or stupidity, but I walked in, told one of two women in the place that we were lost and asked how to get back en route to Berkeley. She gave us stellar directions and we were on our way to what proved to be an even scarier scene: the Mills’ home!

If Greg and Paula’s kids were cartoon characters, Ruby would be the just-awakened Sleeping Beauty, and Owen would be the Tasmanian Devil – with ADHD. I’m certain that when the homies in the Bay area came up with the hip-hop expression hyphy, they were watching Owen spin out of control!

We had a fantastic time that night and the next morning. Two-for-two on great experience blog cross-over meet-ups. If you’re in Berkeley, I highly recommend a stay chez le Manoir Mills. Five stars for both hospitality and entertainment.

Two more days of driving and we were home: a happy, healthy, harmonious holiday.

And this weekend… A camping trip sans enfants! Happiest place on Earth? Right here, just off the Sea-to-Sky highway, thank you very much!

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