After some recent trips, I had become concerned that the kids needed some perspective on their lifestyle. I don’t blame them and know the responsibility is ours. I had this vision of taking them on a road trip this summer in my crappy old 80s car (really, it’s the coolest) and staying only at the Days Inn, like how Grace and I traveled as kids (except in 70s cars). Then I realized that they probably wouldn’t mind that much as long as there was a pool and that it might not be that fun for me.
I say “I” because I didn’t really envision Grace having the same tolerance for being on the road in this manner. At the beginning of the summer, I started to consider camping instead of a road trip and then realized RVs were readily available to rent (excess capacity thanks to Burning Man). Now we were talking. I had gauged Lucas and Olivia’s interest in such a trip and they both seemed game.
The only thing that held me back from pulling them out of the camps in which they were enrolled was that I had no plan. I realized that the idyllic coastal campsites need to be booked months in advance in the height of summer, not days. So, I just let it go.
A few weeks later, the kids inquired about the RV trip and I was surprised they remembered. There might have been some misunderstanding on their part about what type of RV we were going to take on this trip, but it was crystal clear to me that we were renting an Airstream in any color as long as it was silver. I booked the RV for the last week of summer when they were already free.
Like any trip research, reading Yelp, TripAdvisor or campsite reviews only makes you not want to leave the house. People mostly complain and the complaints are severe enough to discourage just giving it a try. After a while I came to grips with the fact that there was no ideal itinerary or campground and accepted that the journey would be the destination.
I only finalized the trip a couple weeks before we left, taking into account the logistics of travel, oil spills and forest fires. Ultimately, I settled on spending two nights in Half Moon Bay, which is just 30 minutes from home. This was partly so that Grace could have the option to join us for the weekend, as she had to work during the week. The other reason was close proximity to the Ritz-Carlton, in case shit went really sideways (just kidding – haha … ha). Posse mentioned that he would be up in Donner that week and that the Rantas would be up there, too, so I planned 3 nights in Lake Tahoe so the kids could spend some time together.
I rented the rig from Elite RV in San Jose. There were 5 different Airstreams from which to choose. I picked the second smallest one (a 20′ Flying Cloud) because it was only the three of us and I had never really towed anything before. I figured it was a good test to see if the size was sufficient and it was well within the towing capacity of the truck. Nora and Chris couldn’t be nicer and all of their Airstreams are only several years old and come fully stocked. By fully stocked, I mean Le Creuset, Scanpans, Dyson vacuum, high-count sheets, Egyptian towels, spices, and even latex gloves to hook up the sewer. The only option at booking was Nespresso or Keurig.
We arrived at their place at 9am on Saturday. It took about 90 minutes to get the training on every procedure and feature. I added the wiring to the truck the week before and the actual hitching process seemed pretty straightforward. After pulling out, I immediately had some issues with the lights, so I pulled over from the 280 to have a look. Waze apparently didn’t know I was pulling a trailer and routed me though the windiest roads in Portola Valley to get to Half Moon Bay. Besides trying not to clip dozens of bicyclists, some of the bridges were barely two-lane. Ironically, I lost satellite in the trees and missed a turn up La Honda and ended up going through Woodside back to the 280 and the 92, which was what my instinct told me was the best way.
The RV park in Half Moon Bay was nothing more than a dirt parking lot with full hookups. It only took me a little while to get everything hooked up, after which we went into town for lunch. Both Lucas and Olivia were hangry at this point, and I basically won and lost father-of-the-year in that first hour when I almost lost my shit at the restaurant.
I came up with a list of rules for the RV trip when the kids agreed to go. We added some along the way and I made them recite them almost daily throughout the summer.
- No whining
- Listen to Daddy
- No whining
- Have fun
- No whining
- No fighting
Lucas and Olivia were breaking all six rules simultaneously at the restaurant (and indrectly breaking #4 for me). After they finally got some food in them, order was restored and we were back on track. We spent the afternoon at the beach as we had so many times before (it’s never too early to start working on the holiday card photo). We were there a record 12 minutes before Olivia said she had to take a dump. Seriously? She offered to go to the porta-potty we had spotted on the trail, but I advised her against it and pointed her toward the hotel in the distance. Lucas is a poky walker and Olivia was in a hurry. I told her to go ahead and we’d either meet her or she could come back and find us. She never came back, so we walked through two weddings and found her waiting by the bathrooms for us. It was a productive stop for all of us.
Grace decided to spend the night with us in the RV, so she came out to HMB with bags of supplies. Ann, Jeremy, Emme and Elsen were in town for the weekend and we met them in HMB for dinner. They were curious about the Airstream and came over for a visit before going home. The kids started watching Harry Potter before bedtime and finished the following morning after having our first meal in the RV (pancakes and sausage).
Clara saw we were in HMB and said she had a photo shoot on Sunday morning at the hotel. I told her to have Mike bring the boys down and we could all hang out. All the kids had fun in the RV park before we went to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach. This was our first time there at the tide pools, which were teeming with sea life. Afterwards we went to Moss Beach Distillery, which was also a first time for us.
Grace decided to stay a 2nd night with us and go straight to work from there on Monday, so she went home again for gear and supplies. In the spirit of roughing it, we had dinner at the hotel. We enjoyed the seaside fire for a bit before heading back to the RV to sleep.
On Monday, Grace took off early in the morning and the kids slept in a bit. We went into HMB for breakfast before returning to the RV to pack up and pull up stakes. We were on our way to Tahoe by 11:30am. I let them know that I didn’t plan to make any stops, but by Pinole, Olivia said she needed to potty, so I pulled into a Target parking lot. I explained why we had to park far away and that it was going to be hike to the store. Olivia pointed out that we could just use the RV, which was indeed our mobile rest area. After some chilled refreshments, we got back on the road and both of them took a nap.
They woke up about an hour from Tahoe and Olivia needed to stop again (tiny tank?). We were just passing Ikeda’s so I got off and circled back. I hadn’t stopped there since the 90s and was a little unnerved to pull the trailer into a street that says “No Outlet,” not knowing if I was going to be able to park the rig. Miraculously, there was one spot that didn’t have a concrete divider, so I pulled in and through and just fit. We had a quick lunch and picked up a Razzleberry Pie (Marionberry and raspberry) and wine for the Patches.
From there, we bombed up the 80 into Lake Tahoe and settled into Coachland RV Park in Truckee. We were a little behind schedule, so I didn’t even set the landing gear on the Airstream before we headed over to the Patches place on Donner Lake for dinner. The Rantas were there, too. Even though they only live a couple streets over, it had been at least six months since we last saw them.
On Tuesday, we spent the day with just us. We went into downtown Truckee and had breakfast at Squeeze In. After, we gathered our gear and headed over to the Nevada side (state #2) to go back to Sand Harbor. We went there exactly a year ago with the Crowthers and had a great time. This year, being a weekday late in the summer, we almost had the place to ourselves. We had lunch and spent about four hours there. The water was a little chilly, but it didn’t stop them from exploring and having fun. Of the 20 things I ordered from Amazon in the days preceding the trip (my bear spray didn’t arrive in time), the kids’ swim shoes were the most appreciated.
We stopped at Mountain Hardware on the way home to get some local knowledge for fishing the following day. After a long day out, who had the energy to cook? We went to the familiar Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton, which was nearby (coincidence?). It was nearly deserted so we had a nice quiet dinner together. The kids have been into Harry Potter this summer. They are allowed to watch the movie after Olivia finishes each book. She finished Goblet of Fire in the car on the way to dinner, so we watched the movie when we got back to the RV (while I squeezed in a couple loads of laundry). They finished a little past midnight.
Despite being up late, we got up (relatively) early to catch the fish. After stopping to buy bagels, Starbuck’s and nightcrawlers, we had our lines in the water by 10am. Morgan, Mason and Ben came and met us at the piers on the West end of Donner Lake. They learned a life lesson that fishing takes patience and is hard. We didn’t even get a nibble, but it’s the process that matters.
We went back to the Airstream for our second RV-cooked meal: 신 Ramen. Then we gathered more gear to spend the rest of the day back on Donner Lake at the Patches. The Rantas brought a variety of meats and Eric did the grilling. The kids all kept themselves busy and played so well together, which allowed the adults to have a very peaceful evening. We headed back at a decent hour and the kids wanted to watch Star Wars Episode II (having seen IV, V, VI and I, in that order). Lucas made it about 20 minutes and Olivia lasted a lot longer, but eventually chose bedtime over Clones. It was a great last day in Tahoe.
On Thursday, I got up early to start cleaning and packing. Eventually I stirred the kids to get dressed and ready. Our neighbors at Coachland were all very friendly, and one helped me back up to the trailer, which was helpful. We headed out before 10am and after a quick stop at Starbuck’s (with the Airstream in tow), we were on the road in earnest and drove non-stop to San Jose to return the rig.
This was defintely a different kind of vacation for us, but it turned out to be one of the best ever. When I picked up the RV, Chris at Elite asked me why Grace wasn’t joining. I said two bosses are better than three, and he completely understood me. Despite this, I’m very glad Grace decided to join us and now she’s sold.
Everyone along the way seemed pretty interested in the Airstream, so there was a lot of talk about renting a fleet and meeting up somewhere. I hope they’re serious, but I know for sure we’ll be there, probably in a 25′ next time. In my head, I’m ready to go North and South, and probably won’t wait until next summer to do it again.
Who’s coming with us???