What I Learned From My Latest Trip

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Every journey brings new lessons. This past summer we went on an extended trip. From Southern California to Kings Canyon-Sequoia National Park. Then up to Oregon. And back home.

I love the freedom of cruising the open road in the truck and trailer. I enjoy being able to take my time because my rig is self-contained and I don’t need RV hook-ups. In Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado there are so many places to boondock (dry camp) or just pull over and sleep. The Pacific coast is an entirely different world. I made assumptions that didn’t pan out. This made for a few uncomfortable situations. Reflection helps to put things in perspective. Here is what I learned from my latest trip.

Check for camping spots along your intended route in advance.

I hate it when I have to keep driving because I can’t find a place to sleep. Our first night out I started checking Walmarts around 4 pm. None of them allowed overnight parking. I drove through the few rest areas that were still operating but the truck/RV parking areas were crowded. 

I was being very stubborn because I didn’t want to pay fees for hook-ups I didn’t need so I kept driving. Finally, around 1 am I found an RV friendly Walmart. Gratefully, I pulled in and popped the slide out about 6 inches for stealth camping. Nights like this I am extra grateful for my comfy mattress and full bathroom in the trailer.

Lesson:

Our trip was much shorter and less enjoyable because we did not find the boondocking spots we hoped for. I should have done more research on BLM and state park sites. I also could have padded the budget for a few extra RV park nights.

Chapel at The Grotto, Portland, Oregon
Confirm Mass times in advance. 

All the churches in the vicinity of our destination were an hour or more away. I checked the park website and saw that wifi was available at the visitor’s center. So I decided to wait until we got to the campground to figure out where we would go to Mass on Sunday. Once we checked into our campsite and met up with our family and friends, it was such a whirlwind of activity that I never drove the 30 minutes to the visitor’s center to use my phone and their wifi. We did not make services that Sunday.

Lesson:

Wifi and cellular service may not be available where you are camping. I could have called the most likely two or three churches to confirm Mass times, but I didn’t. At the visitor’s center, the wifi and cell signal were so weak that getting the info I needed was nearly impossible and we didn’t have time to wait. And I had no intention of driving 4 hours round trip to find out the website wasn’t updated. 

Use a buddy system in unfamiliar places.

The Sequoias are truly nature’s cathedral. We stopped at an RV park along the Redwood Highway one night. We could have stayed a lot longer. The trees were primeval. My dad went for a walk while the boy and I set up the trailer. As dusk fell and he hadn’t returned, I sent my son to look for him. No luck. Just as I was going out to take a turn looking for him, our “neighbor” walked him to our door. We managed to laugh it off but I swallowed another reminder.

Lesson:

Just like a small child, an elder with cognitive impairment can easily get disoriented and lost. Things get a bit awkward when your elder starts knocking on other trailers looking for home. It can also get tricky trying to convince an older adult to wait for a buddy to accompany them. I find that asking dad to wait for me so I don’t have to go alone (to the bathroom, for a walk, into the store, etc.) or having my teenage son say “wait up, grandpa”, works well.

Top off your fuel at the halfway mark.

Driving through the mountains is relaxing for me. I enjoy the scenery, the focus, the being in the middle of nowhere. Out of the rat race. The downside is that the truck uses more fuel, especially pulling the trailer. And when we’ve been camping for several days, away from the more budget-friendly gas stations, it is not a good idea to let the fuel tank get low. Especially when diesel fuel is not available at every station.

Lesson:

Twisty turny mountain roads often lack services for 50-100 miles. Those places that do have services can be pricey. Better to get a few gallons of pricey fuel than to run out. We didn’t actually run out, just got a bit too close for comfort.

Be flexible.

Okay, so I’m always flexible when it comes to travel plans. Just before we left home, we found out a family member was likely dying. So we decided to extend our trip to visit him for a few days. This took us from our original destination of Sequoia National Park to Oregon. It made more sense than going all the way back to the Los Angeles area only to head up to Oregon later. I am happy to say that our family member did not die after all. But our spontaneous visit was priceless and most enjoyable.

Most important:

Don’t let fear of making mistakes keep you from taking a trip though. Just accept that it is part of the adventure and realize that most goofs can be easily rectified. And a few prayers to one’s Guardian Angel don’t hurt, either.

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