The International Writers Magazine: Travel

Three Weeks on the Road with Teenagers – Vacation Paradise?
Chris Zawistowicz

y wife and I have two teenage sons – 16 and 14. We’re going on a family vacation to explore California. The elder son is soccer mad and we shall be on the road during the World Cup. We’re planning to cover 2000 miles in the middle of summer often miles from any civilization and any TV. Even my 16 year old son doesn’t have enough music on his iPod to get him through this.

Hot, cramped car, hours of driving, boredom, bickering, flailing legs and arms encroaching on each others precious space. iPods blaring in each others air space, hours to the next Rest Area, sounds like fun doesn’t it ?
Actually, we had a blast. We spent three weeks on the road, hiked in the mountains, lazed on the beach, had a snowball fight, canoed on an alpine lake, shopped in downtown LA , got very hot in the desert, cycled across the Golden Gate bridge and saw some wonderful wildlife and spectacular scenery. Bored – not a chance. Cramped – never. Oh – and we managed to see every England football game too.

So just how do you survive such a trip? Easy – you do it in an RV. In our case, a 29ft motor home. We had done this before – in the Canadian Rockies a couple of years ago – and we all loved it.

We flew into San Francisco and soon we were standing beside what would be our new home for the next three weeks. Renting an RV is similar to renting any other vehicle – with one important exception. Buying the correct RV miles package is crucial – so know how far you plan to drive as additional miles afterwards can be expensive. Half of the fun of an RV trip is planning the route beforehand. We had the added complication of trying to match our itinery with that of Beckham and the rest of the England team – nine hours removed. One tip – you’re going to be spending a lot of time together so paying for a little more room is money well spent. Our 29 ft home had a separate double bedroom and the boys had the choice of sleeping above the cab, on the sofa or on the converter bed. We had lots of room and were never quite sure where we would find them in the morning.

Before receiving the keys, we had to view a comprehensive video showing us how much fun we were about to have. Although eager to get started, it was useful to learn how to do all the hooking up – filling the water tanks, connecting into mains electricity and yes, dumping the sewage. Make sure the kids watch this – they’ll be the ones… well, you know. So it was time to take ownership of this baby. First job unpack and stow the suitcases. Everything was easily stowed in the ample cupboards on board. Books, iPods, drinks and snacks all strategically placed within easy reach …. of the boys that is. No more digging around in the trunk looking for some phantom socks. We checked the map and we were ready to explore.
With "California Dreaming" playing on the CD and expecting to see the Beach Boys any moment, I settled into the drivers seat. It felt more like an armchair – I was comfortable in about half a second. "OK boys, where to?" I asked. Beach, mountains or into the National Parks ? "Supermarket" my wife replied - and she was serious . Despite the urge to get out onto the open road and feed our pioneering spirit, we had to show great restraint and head for the nearest supermarket that had a good size parking lot where we could commandeer half a dozen parking places. But first some essential ground–rules. Remember how tall the RV is – fortunately we had the height posted right in front of the driver. Amazing how now you actually pay attention to those bridge height signs. Then we went through the reversing routine – before every reversing maneuver, the boys were dispatched from the RV and posted at each of the rear corners so that they could be seen – one in each wing mirror – so they could guide me in. Be prepared to say – often and loudly – "I can’t see you"!

And so we finally pull out onto the public highway. I feel as though we should have at least a police escort for something this size. We find the first supermarket with a reasonable sized parking lot – other RV’ers are already there. No-one pays attention to how well you park this first time. Parallel parking comes later (I’m joking). We abandon the RV (this time I’m not joking) and hurry away before someone associates this appalling parking with us. We load the fridge freezer and find all sorts of cubby holes to store our supplies. We’re stocked and ready to go.

With the navigator in place, map at the ready, the boys plugged into their iPods with feet up, we pull away. I feel like a truck driver embarking on a mission with precious cargo – I suppose that’s what it was really. We head south on California’s Pacific Coast Highway – Route 1. We haven’t been driving for 10 minutes before one of the boys asks for a drink. Sure – the fridge is full. By the time we have driven for an hour, drinks, snacks, magazines and abandoned shoes and socks are strewn through the van. The boys are more horizontal than sitting. The van resembles a cross between our living room and the boys’ bedrooms already. I guess you could say we have made ourselves at home.

We head for Los Angeles – but we’re in no hurry. The road runs along the Pacific coast and the scenery is breathtaking. It’s heading for lunchtime and we’re getting hungry. We pull into a small parking lot by a remote beach. Sheena prepares lunch – we have a microwave, four ring cooker and oven - what more could a girl desire? We eat at the table whilst watching others struggle with their picnics down to the beach. After lunch, one of the boys washes and puts the dishes away (and yes, we have just about every dish and utensil you are likely to need). "We’re supposed to be on vacation" moan the boys as they do their chores. Maybe it was a little bit too much like home.

Although we had our own itinery, it was flexible and if we wanted to spend more time in any one place we did. We went to the beach ! As others returned to their cars encrusted in sand, we stepped into our own hot shower and changed before driving on.

We visited Monterey, took the famous 17 mile drive admiring the Pacific breakers on the right and gawping at the mansions of the rich and famous on the left. We drove through Pebble Beach and stopped to walk around Carmel. Didn’t see Clint but the mission is well worth a visit. Further down the coast near Morro Bay, we pulled over to see a hundred elephant seals dozing on the beach. They were apparently adolescent males who were just hanging out here for a few weeks. The comparison with two teenage boys was not lost on us. It was awesome to see this natural wildlife up so close.

Although we had pre-booked some of the campgrounds before our trip, there were many evenings when we just showed up and took what we could. Most sites had a full hook up though we did stay in some with absolutely nothing. One was on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific. At night, after we had finished our meal outdoors and the camp fire had died down, we were treated to a sky emblazoned with millions of stars and the sound of waves crashing ashore. It was perfect.

We left the relative isolation of the coast and soon headed into the traffic of Santa Monica as we approached LA. We decided to explore LA by bus - no point fighting the traffic in an RV. From the hubbub of the city, we headed towards Death Valley passing through the Alabama Hills and the Mojave desert. This was Bonanza country. We had a well stocked fridge, enough food to feed an army AND we had air conditioning. We stopped wherever and whenever there was something to photograph, needed to eat or needed the rest room. No more having to run behind trees (which would have been difficult in the desert).
We continued north towards the snow capped peak of Mount Whitney – the highest point in the contiguous US. Needless to say, we stopped often and explored. And so we headed – like good tourists - into Yosemite. We traversed a couple of passes – lots of very winding, steep bends – forever climbing or descending the mountainside. You have to concentrate on these roads but you are rewarded with breathtaking scenery. As I carefully coaxed my 29ft baby around each corner believing I was the largest rig on the road, around the next bend would come hurtling a Winebago that put us in the shade. We spent three days in Yosemite – hiking among the Redwoods, admiring the waterfalls, driving up to 10,000 ft and even enjoying a snowball fight with boys (even in late June) before heading towards Lake Tahoe.

You could easily spend a month in Yosemite alone. In Tahoe we hiked, lay on the beach, took the canoe out on the freezing water (trust me on this one), imbibed the fresh, clear air and generally took in the spectacular scenery of snow clad peaks surrounding us. We enjoyed Tahoe so much we decided to stay an extra day before heading back to San Francisco. What itinery ?

We covered almost 2000 miles in three weeks. We played on the beach and in the snow, we drove through the desert and over mountain passes. We saw wonderful wildlife, experienced the glamour of Hollywood and witnessed some of the world’s best scenery. We often stood outside at night, watching the millions of stars with nothing but cicadas as neighbours. Then we would climb back into the RV, brush our teeth and turn off the lights. It was good to be home.

© Chris Zawistowicz September 2006

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