Part 1 – Setting the Scene
I grew up with the taste of saltwater in my mouth and the feel of gritty sand under my nails, and my children seem to have been born with a burning desire and craving for the same. Jason grew up mostly landlocked in the middle of the Australian continent, but a few years in South Texas changed his disposition. It is for this reason that the ocean is where we go as a family when we have the time, the inclination, the need. It is our reflecting place. Our meditation. Our comfort. Our peace. Our Zion. Our Mecca.
Our trips there include a wending, winding drive that takes us over rivers, mountains, and straight into the majestic Redwood National Forest — the majesty and reverence of which is tinged with dread for a handful of our family members due to the fact that they spend the time counting each bend and turn that skirt and encircle the ancient trees, reaching and hoping for the end and a promise of sweet relief from their motion sickness.
The trip started off perfectly at 4:00 a.m. The baby slept, the big kids napped, and we had the road to ourselves. We had the best of luck, attitudes, and circumstances. (Traveling with five children can be a challenge, after all.) About an hour and 45 minutes into the trip, with only 20 minutes to go until we set our eyes on an infinite view of the Pacific, one that would take us out of the relentless curves, it all changed.
Part 2 – So Much Vomit
A plaintive and mournful cry from the back of the truck smacked us in the back of the heads, followed shortly thereafter by the telltale signs of a kid about to throw up. Plastic bags were tossed into the back with pleas to try to make it in the bag and a promise I’d pull over as soon as I wasn’t trapped between the massive trees, a sliver of road, and a rounding bend. The bag was made, though the pullover wasn’t done in time. My green-faced girl got out of the car and breathed in the sweet, mossy, spore-rich air to settle her stomach for a moment or two, then clambered back in, buckled herself in near a window, fresh bag in hand, and stuck her face into the wind as we coaxed and begged for her to give us warning, if at all possible.
Not two minutes later and another plaintive cry sounded from the back of the car — but not from the same child. Again, we tossed a plastic bag helplessly to the back with the same promises to pull over as soon as we could. And again, the bag was made, but the car was still moving. My ashen-faced boy got out, heaved the rest of his stomach contents all over the moss at the base of an ancient Redwood, walked a bit to calm his stomach, and then clambered back in, buckled himself in near a different window, fresh bag in hand, and stuck his face in the wind.
I pulled back onto the road in the cool of the morning, and not five minutes later the crunch of tires on gravel, the back door thrown open, children spilling out to heave again. Then back on the road; then pull back over. Rinse. Repeat. We now had 20% of our children sleeping soundly, 40% of our children totally unaffected and oblivious playing their video games, and 40% of our children begging for the world to stop spinning.
When we finally, blessedly, about 30 minutes later cleared the trees and found ourselves speeding down the highway with the ocean a whisper above the horizon, 100% of the parents sighed in relief, mistakenly assuming that the worst was behind us.
Through the small towns and trees and mountains and gentle curving roads we traveled, stopping close to every ten minutes to let a heaving child out of the car. With each stop, Jason and I were incredulous that these little people could have anything left in their stomach — and each time we were wowed and amazed. By now we had shifted seating arrangements so that Jason, all 6’1″ of him, sat in the very back third-row seat with the unaffected children, his head bumping into the ceiling with each rut in the road, while Andrew and Elizabeth alternated between sitting in the front seat every stop.
I remember at one point we pulled over at the top of a small hill with an incredible view of a sandy beach a short hike away — the glistening, shimmering morning sunlight showering the water with its rays. It was picture perfect. It was also at this stop that I realized I simply had no other places to put a plastic bag full of vomit left in our vehicle, so, like a common, littering criminal, I tied it up and left it on the side of the road. (Thug life, yo!)
As we found ourselves on hour four of our trip, our nerves frayed, our kids miserable, our bag supply dangerously, desperately low, we saw the sign that read “Eureka: 8 miles”. And the angels sang.
We were passing through a smallish town called Arcata, and just as we passed the “population” sign of this place, Andrew yelped out that he was about to be sick — only he didn’t have the very last bag at our disposal; Elizabeth did. Chaos ensued, and just as Elizabeth weakly picked up the bag to hand to hime, time stood still… the only sound that could be heard was the wrenching, twisted sound of Andrew getting sick, and then the feeling of warm throw-up pelting our shoulders and spraying onto the dashboard and front window.
And that’s when I just… I couldn’t even. Not even a bit.
It was on an offramp in this little town of Arcata, California that I flipped on my hazard lights and wiped down my truck as the faces of morning commuters eyed us all curiously. And then, sans dignity, we stripped out of our vomit-covered clothes, wadded them up in the back of the truck, donned a set of clean clothes, and drove the last eight miles — miraculously vomit-free.
Part 3: Eureka!
You know it’s been rough when we rolled up to a Wal-Mart and were thrilled to be there. Bathrooms visited, new sweatshirts bought, and enough time and distance had been put between our last episode of Vomit Theater that we decided it was, naturally, breakfast time! Yelp led us to a little place called Chalet House of Omelettes, and we were all AWESOME! Because why not?
The place was tiny, the service fantastic and friendly, and the food? Delicious.
(My two non-sick kids, Noah and Nicholas, ate piles of pancakes and bacon. Elizabeth, spent from her two+ hours of sickness, went easy with a waffle and some juice. Andrew? He went with the “go big or go home” option and ordered a shrimp omelet. Did he eat it? Yes. Did it stay down? Incredibly, yes.)
After breakfast we hit the little local zoo, though “zoo” is a generous term for this place as they had about six exhibits total that was about two-blocks wide. It was the middle of the day though, and school was still in for the local kids, so we had the chance to sit and stare and enjoy the animals. It’s safe to say that the adorable red pandas stole our hearts, just sitting there, chomping on bamboo leaves, all while staring back at us warily as if they knew that all we wanted to do was squeeze them tight and put them in cute little red panda outfits.
Later in the day we drove down to the boardwalk where we enjoyed the intense fish smell and the bad luck of most of the stores being closed. We took advantage of the downtime though and poked around a few of the local antique stores and thrift shops before heading back to our motel to check in.
The motel check-in process had the kids more excited than pretty much anything because we had rented a two-room suite, which meant a kid room and a grown-up room and smartly boasted two bathrooms — a luxury to us Kubes since we only have one — YES, THAT’S RIGHT! ONE! — bathroom for all seven of us. It also had a perfect view of the bay. Another Yelp find that did not disappoint.
For dinner we wanted something super local, but the kids begged to go to a place called Shamus T Bones, and it looked just like it sounds. It was really loud and had all sorts of animal heads on the wall, which I reasoned to Jason must mean good BBQ. They also had a Tesla coil that they apparently fired up every 30 minutes or so, and that had the boys all excited.
Part 4: Robbed
The next morning we all slept in and then walked down the hill to a coffee stand we heard was famous for their Mexican hot chocolates. Just as we were enjoying our last sips and planning our day, my neighbor called.
Now, our neighbor is great. He lived a pretty crazy life before moving to Oregon to get clean and bid adieu to his former habits. He’s got long hair and tattoos up and down his arms, a mouth that could peel paint, and probably someone whose bad side you don’t want to be on — but he’s also fiercely protective of the neighborhood, his friends, always there if you need him, and is basically a one-man neighborhood watch program.
So when the phone rang and he was on the other end telling me that there were two people nosing around in our backyard and near the shop in our carport, I took him up on his offer to go find out what’s going on. (“WAIT! Mike! Do you have your gun? Don’t do anything crazy or stupid!”)
When he approached these two individuals, at first they acted nonchalant and asked to bum a cigarette from him. When it became apparent that he wasn’t there for a social call, they dropped their bag and ran — a bag that they were getting ready to fill with more of our things. So he called the police on them, and stood around my yard to give his statement. My mom left work to go make sure that they hadn’t made off with anything from inside the house (they tried the doors but didn’t get in the house), and my other neighbor who was helping to watch our dogs came out as back up. And then the cops were there taking statements and trying to find the two that had been there.
(Listen, every time I leave town, something really crazy or dramatic happens… this is par for the course.)
Fortunately, it all ended well, and the worst thing they tried to steal was some fishing tackle, and they didn’t even get away with that as it was left in their bag, along with other stolen items, drug paraphernalia, etc. Had they been thinking more clearly, they could have just hopped on the bicycles that we had stored near the fishing tackle and ridden off in style.
With all of that finally settled, we decided to stay in a locale closer to home, so we checked out of the motel, our beloved two-room setup, and headed north on Highway 101 (but first stopping and enjoying some truly authentic and delicious Hawaiian food… we’d go back just to eat here again!). With the ocean now at our left, the car full of bags just in case, we reminisced about all of the places we had stopped at the prior day so the kids could throw up. Memories!
Part 5: The Rest
We had been directed by some locals to go to Moonstone Beach, which was close to a tiny town of Trinidad (population 210 or something like that). This beach was AH-MAZING! To get to the ocean you had to cross a little river that bisected the beach, which was surrounded by mountains all around. The tide was out, so we walked and walked and walked out into the water, explored the caves they had there, found some great rocks and shells, and then walked in the river on our way back to the car. It was a perfect few hours.
We piled back in the car, a destination in mind, but still stopping along some of our favorite beaches along the way now that we were in familiar territory, till we were at our final stop of Brookings, Oregon. Our favorite hotel is right on the beach, and it is here that you can fall asleep to the sounds of the waves, the ringing of the buoy bells in the distance, and the soft snores of five little kids with pointy limbs sticking in your kidneys — perfection!
For the rest of our stay, we walked through the little town where we enjoyed mermaid figurines and pirate decor and all other jaunty nautical bits and bobbles that I suppose people buy. And just before we headed home, we ate ice cream at a small coffee shop that was very hipster-ish and out of place in this little sea town. But they served Umpqua Ice Cream, so we forgave them as the kids gave them their sweetest sticky smiles in thanks.
And then it was time to start home — a drive that dips back down into California before winding back up to Oregon.
Crossing the border back into California, we stopped at Rumiano’s Cheese Factory in Crescent City, California, where we loaded up on squeaky cheese, and then headed out to our favorite beach for a last-minute communion. Here the kids delighted in trying to spy the seals sunbathing and barking at each other in the distance on Seal Rock, the sounds of which are carried on the wind. Then they dipped their toes in the cold Pacific, fisted hands hitching up their shorts and pants, squealing every time they got sprayed with the frigid saltwater, till finally they ran down to the other end of the beach to explore the tide pools for an hour or more, with Jason a step or two behind them.
And the baby and I sat on the beach in a comfortable chair, our bright quilt spread out at our feet. He slept peacefully in the sunshine, and I gave my thanks for the adventure, the opportunity, the glory of the natural wonders I love so much, and my wonderful, beautiful, crazy family.