We found a lovely camper that comfortably slept six. It had a T.V.,VCR, a stove, microwave, shower, a sink, an oven, heat and AC. We arranged to drive to Montana to visit friends, run up for a quick looksee at Glacier National Park, and then go back home through Yellowstone Park.
I planned meticulously for this trip, packing treasures in boxes weeks ahead of time so that we wouldn’t forget anything. The four kids scurried through the camper exploring every nook like curious kittens, exclaiming over each neat feature. They staked out their territories and enthusiastically helped stock the camper. We took off for Montana in high spirits.
I loved stretching out on the queen-size bed and napping after my turn driving, being able to go to the bathroom any time, and being able to help ourselves to drinks, meals, and snacks without having to stop. I did make one annoying mistake. According to the camper’s directions, we were strictly forbidden to use the propane stove while the vehicle was moving. I had planned on cooking dinner while John drove, so that once we pulled into out night’s campsite, we’d be ready for a nice dinner before games and bed. Needless to say, we ate a lot of very late dinners after our dessert appetizers.
At our friend’s home, they piled their four kids into their car, and we in our camper, and we followed them to Glacier National Park. When it came to choosing a camping site, John insisted we travel all over the dang forest inspecting each site in his search for “the best” spot. ‘cause you know that there is only one perfect campsite that would do. I wondered what would happen if we dared settle in the wrong campsite.
Would the chipmunks pelt us with pinecones until we gave up and moved? Would fire ants invade us, infiltrating everything until we called ‘uncle’ and left? Would we be unable to start a fire in the charred stone circle? Oh, I know! A bear would circle the camper, then shake it in frustration when he failed to find a way in, before pooping and sauntering away. Or perhaps God would turn the drizzling rain into a raging storm to wash our offending presence from the “wrong” site. Really. What would happen if we squatted at the wrong site?
I didn’t utter any of my sarcastic thoughts ‘cause this was my husband’s dream vacation. I reached for a pad of paper to start listing the requirements for my dream vacation. And a nice hotel topped the list. Anyhow, after forty-five minutes of evaluating dozens of campsites, we ended up back at the first spot that our friends had recommended. At least now, John was confident we had the primo spot.
At dinner time all twelve of us huddled around the campfire, and despite the shifting wind blowing cold, acrid smoke in our faces, the pesky bugs dive-bombing us, and rain spitting on us, it was a novel experience.
The next morning, the loud rapping of the rain on the metal roof woke me. Our friends marveled at the downpour, claiming that Montana had been experiencing the longest drought since . . . the middle ages. Hmm . . . I glanced skyward, a little nervous. Perhaps we had chosen the wrong site after all. We parted company with our friends and headed to Yellowstone alone.
While I drove, John navigated. He directed us to enter Yellowstone from the west entrance, claiming it was the scenic route. He used that term an awful lot that week. Scenic route. I Grew to hate it. More often than not John’s scenic routes were not scenic—unless you were a dung beetle, I suppose. Scenic route turned out to be code for the long way.
But then we found the beauty. We drove through stunning Idaho mountains and lush green valleys to get to the west entrance. The only thing marring that day was our eldest teenager’s attitude. Fourteen-year-old Jillian lay around moping, curled up in a fetal position, refusing to confide in us what was wrong. So we ignored her, and drove all day until John picked out a quaint campground. In under an hour, too. An improvement I much appreciated.
After another late dinner, the temperature dropped drastically. I woke at two thirty in the morning, freezing. Separating icy aluminum blinds with my fingers, I peered out the window and watched the gently falling snow through the outhouse light. Snow in late June? Really? Turning up the heat, I added a sleeping bag to our bed, when I heard whimpering.
“I’m gonna throw up,” Alli moaned.
“Not up there!” I scrambled around in the dark searching for the salad bowl. Alli shared the space over the cab with Brian; not a easy place to get to in an emergency, and I really didn’t want to clean up any messes up there. I stood on Jill and Jessica’s beds and hauled Allison out of the cab down onto the floor between the beds where she emptied her stomach into the stainless steel bowl. Ah, crisis averted.
Bare-chested wearing sweatpants, John stumbled out of the bedroom area. After taking in Alli’s quivering, miserable form huddled on the cold floor, he reached up for her blanket intent on moving her into Jessica’s bed, when he stepped on Jill’s foot, lost his balance, and tumbled his nearly two hundred pounds onto Jill's sleeping body.
Jillian shrieked so loudly, that I started laughing. I couldn’t help it; it was just so ridiculous. Here we were in the middle of the night, in noisy chaos, while it snowed like mad—in June, dealing with a sick kid. Some dream vacation.
John didn’t see the humor. At all. Especially once he discovered that Alli had thrown up earlier in the cab too. So we spent the next half of an hour rounding up all the soiled bedding and resituating kids—which wasn’t easy because nobody was willing to sleep near Allison for fear of catching her flu. A tenuous calm finally achieved, I sighed and headed back to bed. As I rounded the bed, my foot landed in a cold, wet puddle. Inside. We were being flooded with waste from a backed up shower. Lovely. Hmm. I was beginning to think we'd seriously pissed somebody off.
John dressed, waded out into the five inches of snow, in the dark, and tried to convince his normally nimble fingers to work long enough to connect the waste. We sopped up the smelly mess with towels, and then used dirty clothes when our six towels weren’t enough, braved the snowstorm and drove into Yellowstone and a laundro-mat, where we spent the morning disinfecting everything.
Later that day, fortified with clean clothes and better humor, we entered the park. The kids enjoyed seeing the buffalo ambling along within arms reach of the camper, visited malodorous pots of bubbling mud, and drove around marveling at the fascinating rock formations.
We drove through acres of blackened toothpick wastelands with an eerie feeling trailing us. No wind ruffled leaves or brushed pine branches. No animal tracks marred the white snow between the blackened trees. No birds chirped or chipmunks chattered, or squirrels rustled through the undergrowth. Silence and desolation ruled.
We finally located a brown bear lumbering through a less charred area. Through miles of tiny foot-high new pine forests, we discovered a few herds of elk. It wasn’t until we were making our way out of the park that at dusk we saw two moose about three miles away.
Also, I should inform you that good Old Faithful ain’t so faithful anymore. John forced us to freeze our tushies off, insisting that we absolutely could not leave Yellowstone Park without witnessing Old Faithful blowing. Jillian thought that the posted picture would suffice, and since it was very cold and the sun was setting, I heartily agreed. But John remained adamant. By the time it blew, the kids were in tempers and their bickering drove me nuts as we left the park.
Finally I tried the old Catholic guilt. “Why can’t you kids just get along for one short week? This is your father’s dream vacation. After all he does for you guys, I’d think that you could try a little harder to enjoy this vacation.”
Jillian’s eyes widened as if I’d told her the camper had turned into an elephant. With a look of utter disdain, she replied, “That’s ridiculous! We can’t get along in a six-thousand square-foot house, what made you think that we could do it in a tin can?”
Good point, I mentally conceded. They had had to put up with a lot of bad luck and way too much togetherness; we were all suffering. On the drive home, John selected a different “scenic”, rout through Wyoming. To bribe us to comply with this last picturesque detour, he compromised his principles (since real campers do not eat out! Ever.) and offered to take us out to dinner in Steamboat Springs if we went his way.
By the time we’d reached Steamboat, found a restaurant, and got seated, it was almost eight pm. We usually eat at six-thirty. After the waiter took our drink order, he asked us if we knew how their restaurant worked. Hmm. Odd question. How could it work? We order food, he brings it to us, and we pay him.
We order raw food, grill it ourselves, and we pay him. I pay him for the privilege of cooking. Nope. It was not a joke. They expected to charge us fifteen dollars each for a cheap cut of steak and a salad bar, and I was to cook it.
We paid for our drinks and left. We found a great place around the corner where Jillian could get mashed potatoes, gravy, and prime rib, and I didn’t have to cook a thing. Perfect.
Finally on the way home, Jillian confessed why she’d been so distraught and antisocial. She hadn’t wanted to hurt our feelings earlier, but the reason she’d been so weepy and depressed was because she hated us. All of us. She simply hated us all.
My dream vacation is vastly different. An all-inclusive resort, somewhere warm sounds about right. Oh, right—without kids who hate me!