Our family just returned from an Epic, 26-day vacation. It was our second such trip, and we hope we’re on a roll…
For years, when we owned our first company, Yellowstone Journal Corp./YellowstonePark.com, we didn’t take vacations, mostly just weekend adventures that were like “staycations.” Jerry, a teacher, worked hard for our company during what were supposed to be his “summers off.” We sold the company to Active Interest Media in 2008, and in the following years I reinvented myself, and started Epic Life, and ever since, Jerry has enjoyed his summers off, and I’ve worked hard to not work very hard during the summer in the interest of having more family time.
These longer trips are new, and their timing is intentional. Our oldest son will go off to college in just two years, with our middle son not far behind. Thankfully, we have some years before our youngest will follow suit. We are capitalizing on the time we have left before the kids go out into the world on their own. When we’re packed closely together for almost a month, seeing new sights, and making discoveries, we learn more about each other and have some really meaningful conversations. In addition to having many laughs and a whole lot of fun, we also fight a little, get annoyed with each other, lose patience with each other, and all of this is also an important part of the bonding that happens. But most of all, we’re making memories that will hopefully last our lifetimes.
Last year, we embarked on our first international family trip when we took a 29-day to 8 countries in Europe. We didn’t go overseas this year because we determined we could enjoy 26 days mostly in the U.S. for about one-third of the cost of our Europe trip. The overseas trips will continue, just not every year.
Anyhow, after finishing 10 loads of laundry, and coming up for brief air, I wrote a quick & dirty recap of our recent Epic trip, which is this blog post you’re reading now.
If you read no further, just read this little paragraph: Take that trip. Life is short, and in the end, it’s our loved ones, and the time we experience with them, that we’ll value the most. I know this because I’ve asked people who were dear to me who passed away not too long ago, and whose days were numbered, what the most important thing is, and they told me, “the people in your life.” These were people who truly valued each of their remaining days as a precious gift, so I am trusting them.
A trip that is 26 days long requires significant financial planning. As you know, money doesn’t grow on trees, and Jerry and I don’t earn a huge income. We make sacrifices throughout the year to make these trips possible. Such big trips also require significant planning. During the Christmas holiday last year, we determined our main destinations and proposed travel route , and then, as a family, filled in the details over the last several months.
One thing that changed from our trip just one year ago, is last year, I traveled with one man (my husband), and three boys. This year, I traveled with 3 men and a boy. Our two oldest boys, Wolf and Hayden, are much taller than me, and well, they’re 17 and 15. They are men more than they are boys. And our youngest son, Fin, is only 10 years old, but he’s almost as tall as I am. So, right from the start, our boys have more of a physical presence than they did last year. Read: They take up more space.
Months ago, I had posted that we were renting a van and going on an Epic road trip that would start in Vancouver, British Columbia, and end in Los Angeles, CA. Many assumed it was a camper van, and that our adventurous family would be camping on our trip. I never said this; it was assumed. And I won’t lie, it was fun to ride that wave. hahaha
But for the record, we did not camp. We camp frequently as a family, but the logistics for finding desired campsites for 25 nights in places on our itinerary was more logistics than we wanted to handle. In short, we aren’t that Epic. We had enough logistics and budgeting to manage without adding the hunt for first-come, first served campsites.
That said, our not roughing it was not that far from roughing it. We stayed in economic 2- and 3-star hotels and motels that had “pretty good” reviews. We only booked hotels and motels that offered free cancellation (to provide flexibility for us if weather forecast caused us to want to change our dates at a particular destination, or cut short, or add days to one of our locations once we were there in real time) and that provided a free breakfast. With three boys who are eating us out of house and home, this was a must. We were on a budget, and if we weren’t careful, we’d break the bank and blow our entire budget early on just keeping our boys from saying “I’m hungry.” (At home, I sometimes order them to bed at 8pm simply because we have run out of food, and the buffet is therefore closed, if not out of business.)
We loved our van, which was nothing fancy, necessarily. It was a gray, “nondescript” Nissan Quest. But it did have doors that opened and closed automatically for us, and we had more legroom than normal. The boys nicknamed the van the “rolling wet rock” because it looks like a block of wet granite. When we returned to our extended cab pickup truck in Salt Lake City to make our return trip to Wyoming, the youngest son complained, “Darn. Now we have to open and close our own doors again.” Our middle son complained about how we’d each have to sit “at a 90-degree angle, and practically on top of each other” for five hours. The oldest son echoed both complaints.
All told, we took two plane rides, traveled 2,600 miles on highways and freeways, and took two ferry rides. Our adventure covered one province (Vancouver, British Columbia) and 3 states (Washington, Oregon and California), in 26 days.
Jerry, our resident navigator, drove all of those miles, and, once again proved he is the best for the job of transporting us to where we want to go without getting us lost. (Siri is supposedly automated, but every once in awhile, after having to reroute us several times in a row, it sure seemed like Siri was raising her voice with us. But most of the time, we obeyed her, and it all worked out.)
School got out in our hometown of Lander, Wyoming, on the afternoon of May 25, so we packed our car and drove 5 hours to Salt Lake City, Utah, where we overnighted in a hotel close to the airport.
Then, early on May 26, we flew to Seattle, WA, where we rented the van, and headed directly for Vancouver, B.C. We had heard from many that Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and ever since hearing that we have wanted to see what the fuss was about, so that’s why we started there. After 4 days in Vancouver, we’d go on to explore 15 additional destinations, including Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, Seattle, and Port Townsend, Washington; Astoria, Portland, Florence and Coos Bay, Oregon; Crescent City, San Francisco, San Rafael, Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Los Angeles, California – and everything in between.
We kept a hand-written journal for the trip. Like we did last year on our Europe trip, at the end of each day, we each contributed something to the journal. I was definitely not the most popular person, nor Mom-of-the-Year, at the end of each day when I asked each family member to take time to reflect on their notable parts of the day, and to write them in the journal. But I feel strongly that we all value the collective notes and memories when the trip is over, and so I’m strict about this. It is worth the wrath.
As we waited to board our return flight in LAX, I rallied the family to help me compute some statistics from our Epic trip. Below is a summary that includes most of them.
We stayed in 11 hotels/motels, 1 amazing beach house (thank you, Mike Kenna), and 1 beautiful home (thank you, Wexlers!)
We spent time at 18 beaches. This was a huge deal for us, given we are from land-locked Wyoming. We love the ocean, and our entire trip was near or along the West coast, and a particular bay or river or the Pacific Ocean.
An active family who loves outdoor adventure, we enjoyed 10 hikes during our 26-day trip. Four of those were “Epic hikes.” (The Epic hikes were Stawamus Chief in Vancouver, BC, which included ascending three peaks, First, Second and Third peaks; the Hoh River Trail to a point beyond five-mile beach, in Olympics National Park; an Epic loop hike in California’s Redwoods, including the James Irvine, Fern Canyon, Gold Bluffs Beach and Miner’s Ridge trails; and 15 miles worth of trails in Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands, near San Francisco, CA).
My company is Epic Life Inc., and part of my work is leading coaching clients on guided Epic adventure, so I know what I think an Epic hike is. I wanted to know what our sons think make a hike an Epic hike. Here’s what they shared: An epic hike is when the hike is longer than I told them it was. An epic hike is when there is more elevation gain than was expected. An epic hike is a hike where they ask several times, “Are we almost there?” An epic hike is when there is amazing, and unusual scenery, especially things we don’t see every day. An epic hike is a hike that may have obstacles such as a ladder or two, some ropes or chains to hold onto, and other technical difficulties. An epic hike is a hike that causes them to be even more hungry than normal. A hike is epic if we aren’t sure we can finish it. An epic hike is a hike that causes our youngest son to say things like, “My rib is going to break if we keep going” and “if i smile for the picture, it will be lying” and “my legs may as well get cut off because they cannot go another step” or “my lungs are exploding.” Based on these criteria, we definitely completed four Epic Hikes.
The other hikes were comparatively easy and more “fun.” They were more like “mini explorations.” Our favorites among these were our 5-mile roundtrip walk to “Glass Beach” in Port Townsend, where we found about one pound of beach glass, plucked one little pebble at a time from a quarter-mile stretch of beach. Another favorite was hiking Tillamook Head, and to an underground, 6-room concrete bunker that was used to house a radar installation during WW2, and also provided a great vantage of “Terrible Tilly,” the Tillamook Rock lighthouse, situated on a tiny island one mile from the shoreline. Additional favorite short hikes were our explorations of the Cape Perpetua area, including little hikes to Devil’s Churn and Spouting Horn. We also loved our 2-mile roundtrip hike to some sand dunes in the Oceano Dune Natural Preserve, near Pismo Beach. We also loved exploring the sand dunes near Florence, OR. Sauntering around Oregon’s Seal Rock and Haystack Rock, and California’s Shark Fin Cove was also memorable.
So no surprise, ours was definitely an active vacation. My FitBit reports that I walked 487,000 steps – 222 miles – during the 26 days. Multiply this times 5 for a total of 2,437,500 steps – 1,110 miles as a family.
When you are away from home for almost a month you need to bring a lot of clothes and “stuff.” We had 5 @ 49-pound bags. I don’t mean to brag, but after two annual almost-month-long family trips, we are experts at distributing the loads among our five Patagonia Black Hole Duffel/backpack bags in order to prevent having to pay extra when flying and checking our bags through to our final destination. Jerry deserves a lot of extra credit here. I, for the most part, only had to manage my own suitcase. Because I am in a family of men, and Jerry is the main man, he got stuck with managing the boys’ smelly socks and used clothing. So he managed four bags and I managed one. I owe him something for that, and I will make sure he gets paid. 🙂 Anyway, sometimes I’d ask Jerry for something, and he’d go in search for said item. It was like an Epic challenge to find the thing, and almost always he did. It always felt worthy of some kind of huge prize when he’d present the thing to me several minutes later, often long after I had forgotten what I had requested. Like I said, I owe him.
Speaking of loads, we did laundry three times during the trip. (Since our return home, I had 10 loads of laundry to do. That gives you an idea of how much clothing we packed for our Epic vacation.)
Our sons, especially Hayden and Fin, love playing basketball. On seven occasions, we found a basketball court so we could play hoops. (The most scenic basketball courts were in Astoria, OR, with the Columbia River as a backdrop, and at Venice Beach.) By the way, there should be an app called Hoopsfinder or BasketballCourtFinder. (We learned early on, after hunting down playgrounds and parks, that not all playgrounds and parks have basketball courts.)
We played disc golf two times. One time was at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, and another in Crescent City, CA. We highly recommend families pack discs on road trips, and take this on as a pastime. It was a fun way to break up long travel days, and is a way to stretch the legs without getting out of breath.
We (well, the boys) saw two movies during the trip, (Pirates of the Caribbean, in Coos Bay, OR, and Wonder Woman, in San Rafael, CA)
Speaking of nighttime activities, Jerry and I managed to have 5 date nights during our trip. With the boys old enough to take care of themselves, we had some great date nights, including wine at sunset beach during sunset (duh), in Vancouver; we went out for sushi one night; We went out for dinner at Buoy Brewing Company in Astoria, we went out for delicious Indian food at the Lotus, in San Rafael, and out with our friends, the Wexlers, to the SoHo House in Malibu.
We ate ice cream 16 times. One of these ice cream stops provided the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted – salted caramel chip – at McConnell’s in Santa Barbara.
We took advantage of being in destinations near the ocean, and ate a lot of fish and seafood. Specifically, we ate 8 types of seafood (calamari, shrimp, crab, oysters, clams, salmon, fish and chips, scallops)
We enjoyed 23 dinners out. These were our only meals out, and it was a treat. At home, for years, except when we travel, we’ve only allowed ourselves to eat dinner out one time a month. Jerry and I started doing this in 1995 when we struggled financially as a way to save money, and to eat healthier and we have since have kept it up. So these dinners out were real treats, and we indulged. We went big. It was Epic! (Scoma’s in San Francisco, Dinesty Dumplings in Vancouver, the clam chowder at Splash Cafe, in Pismo Beach, the peel & eat shrimp at Brophy Bros in Santa Barbara, and the huevos rancheros at the Galvins food truck in Malibu were some of our favorites.)
We enjoyed 24 picnic lunches. To save money, and for a richer experience, we kept a cooler stocked with cold cuts, cheese, bread and fruits for lunches in scenic spots most every day.
We had cinnamon rolls the size of our heads at Camp 18, in Oregon, which were the yummiest cinnamon rolls we’ve ever had, and those big ones took care of our cinnamon roll cravings for six months probably. We had some of the most interesting donuts at Blue Star, in Portland. Speaking of carbs, we had too many pastries and donuts to count…
We saw a lot of wildlife, including: Hundreds of seagulls, about 50 elk, 3 lizards, 1 frog, hundreds of sea lions, 2 California condors, 4 starfish, 3 coyotes, many deer, several bald eagles, 3 otters, 2 harbor seals, and 6 banana slugs.
Speaking of slugs, did you know a slug moves at a rate of .006 miles per hour? We had a couple of days that were slug-like. I know it’s hard to believe, but you’ll have to take my word for it.
We found 1 bomber jacket. This was incredible! Our oldest son, Wolf, was in the market for a bomber jacket. While walking around Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, he browsed shops and dreamed out loud of wanting to get a bomber jacket. I worked hard to talk him out of it, arguing that a bomber jacket is not much of a “souvenir,” and that he could probably find one online for cheaper anyway. But, the Universe was on Wolf’s side and conspired to help grant his wish when, lo and behold, we found a bomber jacket discarded in the weeds, near Mile Rock Beach, while exploring the Cairn Garden and the Labyrinth in the Land’s End area of San Francisco. It was dirty and obviously discarded. It was full of dirt and sand, and was half-buried. And, it fit him perfectly! We are still stunned about his good fortune.
Speaking of striking gold, we found a lot of treasure, especially while combing so many beaches. We found about 30 perfect sand dollars, and more than a pound of beach glass.
We did purchase some tours to experience certain destinations at a deeper level. We went on 1 sea kayaking tour (in the San Juan Islands) and 1 ghostly city historic tour (Vancouver).
Four family members (the males in our family) had a haircut about three weeks into our vacation.
We watched about 25 street performers (which we saw in Port Townsend, Seattle, Anacortes, Portland, Venice Beach and near Santa Monica Pier.)
Our oldest son, Wolf, who is a musician and loves playing the piano, played the piano a single time on our vacation when a street performer in Anacortes, WA, let him play his piano. It was sunset at the time, and provided a great opportunity for Wolf, and an unforgettable moment for his Dad and I, to hear his playing in such an idyllic and unexpected “venue.”
We saw a total of 3 movie stars on our trip. You read correctly–we saw movie stars! We found, and got a photo with Angela, from The Office, at Capilano Bridge Park in Vancouver near the beginning of our trip. And later, Jerry and I spotted Owen Wilson and Orlando Bloom in Malibu, when our friends, Alan and Marie, took us for drinks at the SoHo Club.
Jerry and I went to one bookstore – the very best, Powell’s City of Books – in Portland. This was definitely on my bucket list, and we had a great time perusing the store, while drinking phenomenal coffee, and buying too many books.
We went to one maritime museum on this trip, and it was, you guessed it, Epic. We enjoyed exploring the Columbia River Maritime Museum, in Astoria, OR. It was particularly fascinating to learn about the Columbia River’s “River Pilots.”
Speaking of Astoria, OR, we spied the Goonies’ house. The boys enjoyed that movie so it was fun to see the setting of it.
We went to one glass museum, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, in Seattle, which is out of this world.
Speaking of Seattle, we also enjoyed the elevator ride up 158 floors, at a rate of 10 miles per hour, to the top of the Space Needle, where we had stellar 360-degree views.
Speaking of going up, we climbed to the top of the Astoria Column, which was another unique adventure.
Whew! That captures most of the things we did, and tallied, at the end of our Epic trip. I wish I had time to blog more in-depth about particular destinations and aspects, and perhaps I will when I get caught up. For now, though, I’m buried under Epic laundry, and a bunch of work that I need to make up. Thank you for reading, and for following my/our family’s various adventures and travels. Please feel free to email me and ask me about any aspects of this trip. I’m happy to share what I know, what we learned, and what we experienced with you on a more personal, and deeper level if you’re interested.
As I mentioned near the start of this post, most importantly, take that trip. Life is short, and in the end, it’s our loved ones, and the time we experience with them that we’ll value the most.
Finally, thank you to all of our friends and family who made recommendations that helped us have a trip of a lifetime. And thanks to my brother, Michael, and family, for meeting up with us in Seattle, and thank you to our dear friends, Mike Kenna, and the Wexlers, who put us up for some nights. And THANK YOU SO MUCH to Melissa Sullivan, and family, who cared for and loved our Buddy while we were away.