Maybe it’s the pandemic or all the jet setting we’d been doing in the half decade it became our new “normal,” but I’d forgotten how much I love the open road until we pointed the nose of the White Whale southbound toward California on the interstate Saturday morning. The 33-foot, fully accessible 2008 Winnebago Vista we bought three short weeks ago was packed with enough baby gear, medical supplies and healthy-ish snacks to sustain my kid, my wife, my parents and me on a 2+ week swing down the West Coast for a rendezvous with our baby girl and her namesake in the desert.
It was nearly 6 years to the day since a misbehaving car top carrier disrupted my travel Karma and set me on a fateful journey with The Unfriendly Skies, so I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of hijinks the universe had in store for our three generation team on the way down. So far, it appears the disastrous flight experiences have appeased the travel gods as our maiden voyage in the belly of beast has been surprisingly uneventful, which allowed us to soak up the experience like normal motorhome-going folks.
We blazed through the southern half of Washington and the entire state of Oregon on Day One, with Claire at the helm for a good 115+ miles while my dad handled the rest. There’s a section of freeway as you descend toward Grants Pass where the successive ridgelines on the horizon filter through the haze with a different hue like a real life Bob Ross painting. I don’t know how many times I’ve driven it over the years, but is always one of my favorite views.
Despite some mild apprehensions about our new rig’s potential, she easily powered over the Siskiyou Pass and we pulled into the Shasta KOA just in time to slap together a quick dinner before tossing me into bed. The built-in tracking system from the bathroom to the bedroom made it infinitely easier on the backs of the entire group, which is crucial given this is my first trip in over a decade without bringing at least one caregiver along for support.
Day Two began by peeling down through the freshly charred (but still gorgeous) hillsides of Shasta Lake before hitting the long, straight stretch of road to Sacramento. Claire got her first real test navigating the RV through city and construction traffic as we veered east toward Fresno, including multiple lane changes amidst debris laden jersey barriers, but handled The White Whale like a seasoned vet. My Pops took over for the last leg that got us to the Visalia KOA, which boasted the name Sequoia National Park Journey on our Google search. We were sorely disappointed by the lack of Sequoias or National Parks, but still took it as a good omen that it was located just off the Betty Drive exit.
We were in the home stretch on Monday for Day Three, with the least ground to cover of to get to Grandma’s, but a high wind advisory for the Mojave Desert region meant Claire deferred driving duties to my highly capable father for the duration. Famous for the slogan, “God hates a coward,” he affirmed his road warrior status as we encountered some unanticipated snow flurries southeast of Bakersfield in Tehachapi.
After a brief stop in Barstow to connect with Elizabeth, a local quad wife Claire had met through the WAGSofSCI, we powered through some heavy gusts to get to Twentynine Palms. All that was left was a couple of turns through town to get to the bumpy dirt road that is Indian Trail. We vibrated our way down the path to find our favorite 95-year-old patiently on the porch to welcome us. Though macular degeneration has robbed her of her eyesight, her razor wit and encyclopedic memory remain intact. She could barely wait to get the baby with her name onto her lap.
To her credit, Baby Ila handled her first road trip like a champ, barely eliciting a fuss despite spending the majority of the three days confined to her car seat. You could tell she appreciated the freedom brought by Day Four, because she was especially cheery with her Great Grandma and Great Aunts Nancy and Mary until it was time to crash.
It’s still bittersweet to be here without Grandpa and his giddy energy for his family, but Claire and I both noticed a handful of his animal friends popping by as a reminder that his spirit still holds a strong presence over the 5 acre plot of dust he turned into an oasis for us all.