Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Roll: The Williams Family Wild West Roundup

My favorite vacation is the one we took about 13 or 14 years ago.

It was our first motorhome adventure and in spite of some fairly significant problems along the way, I was hooked. RV travel, I decided, is the only way to live.

I was a popular radio personality in Sacramento in those days and managed to talk an RV dealer into giving me a brand new 38-foot gas-powered Class A motorhome to take wherever I wished for two weeks. The deal was, every morning I would phone the radio station and do a short report (aka, "commercial") explaining where we were, the exciting things we'd seen and done, how wonderful the motorhome is and how the luxurious convenience of that motorhome had brought our family closer together in blissful, eternal bond.

And where you could buy one, of course.

Sweet deal, huh? It was for me, though I'm pretty sure the RV dealer felt differently when we returned.

"On the road again!... I just can't wait to get on the road again!"

I like to start every road trip by treating the family to a loud, bad rendition of Willie Nelson's signature song as we're putting the sticks and stone house in our rearview mirror. They roll their eyes and groan but I know they'll remember me sweetly for it when I'm gone.

And so, we were off; Carolann, our sons Nathan and Jeremy, Jeremy's girlfriend and eventual wife, Emily, and me.

Like a band of gypsies we went down the highway!

Sacramento to Sparks, Nevada, is only 135 miles but that's where we stopped for the first night because we got a late start and having never driven a big rig before three hours of stressed concentration was about all I could handle.

Oh, yeah -- and somewhere in the first hundred miles our brand-new, never-used motorhome had lost all electronic functions in the dashboard. It drove fine but we had no idea how fast we were going, no clue as to whether we were about to run out of gas and no headlights.

For some reason the turn signals and brake lights didn't want to have anything to do with this calamity and continued to work.

Poised on the western edge of the great deserts of Nevada and Utah and pointed THATAWAY with no patience for sitting two or three days in a Reno repair shop, we accepted the challenges and charged into our two-week, four-thousand mile adventure the next morning with no electronics to guide us.

We thrilled to the spectacular Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and played peek-a-boo with the puckish prairie dogs of Devils Tower, Wyoming.

We meandered in awe through Yellowstone Park and hiked lightly among its world-renowned geysers.

We drove the literally-breathtaking Beartooth Highway to its dizzying eleven-thousand foot summit and beyond, into Red Lodge, Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota including historic Deadwood and the magnificent Crazy Horse monument. Then, onward to Zion National Park, across Southern Nevada into Southern California and then 400 miles north and home again. We did it all in two glorious weeks sans electronics.

We never drove at night, we bought gas at every opportunity and my wife and son gauged our highway speed using roadside mile markers and a watch with a second hand.

But, wait...there's more!

Our never-used motorhome, plastic carpet covers still in place, began literally falling apart by the mile. Cabinet doors wouldn't stay shut. The bathroom and refrigerator doors wouldn't stay shut. A window screen blew loose. Mirrors began to rattle. Stray screws began falling out with such frequency we could never walk barefoot inside the rig.

Duct tape became the primary theme to our homey decor. It was everywhere.

At one RV park, inexperienced as we were, Carolann and I managed to back into a very solid bush. Bush, though biologically correct, is a bad way to describe it. It was more like a boulder with branches and leaves. It did not manage to shake some sense into the electrical system but it did make a scratchy dent in a lower panel that seemed to get bigger each time I looked at it.

Oh, and did I mention that our beautiful young future-daughter-in-law was highly prone to motion sickness but too embarrassed to tell us? Somewhere in the Rockies she learned for the first time she is also prone to altitude sickness. The poor thing was pretty miserable throughout the trip.

The dealer was apoplectic when he saw us limp back onto the lot. Wearing four-thousand miles of road dust and squashed bugs, duct tape flying like streamers in a Home Depot parade, we surely looked like Clark Griswold's Cousin Eddie and family arriving for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

But honest to God, this is my favorite family vacation of all time. Because between the knicks, bruises, queasy tummies and duct tape door locks we shared a million smiles, hugs and laughs that we still carry in our hearts.

The best memories are full-spectrum life experiences: the good, the bad and the sticky.

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