By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 5/23/2017
Occurred: 5/22/2006
Topics/Keywords: #NewportBeach #Disneyland #McGrathStatePark #Zachary Page Views: 2106
We celebrate Zach's birthday with a trip to California!

We decided to celebrate my grandson Zachary's birthday with a trip. The original plan was to rent a motor home, drive it to California, spend Saturday at Disneyland, Sunday at McGrath State Beach, and return in time for work Monday morning. I did the math about six weeks ago, and started putting aside the money for it, paying in advance where possible.

Cast of characters:

  • Me
  • Michael (my spouse)
  • Mary (my ex-wife)
  • Zachary (our grandson)
  • Karen (our daughter and Zachary's aunt)
  • John (our son and Zachary's uncle)
  • Amber (our son's dog, a pit bull and Shar Pei mix)
  • Cirrus and Astro (Michael's and my dogs, black lab mixes)

I was especially concerned about bringing the dogs, since Astro and Cirrus don't like to travel. (Every time they gotten into a vehicle, they either moved to a new home, or wound up at a vet's where something was snipped off.) But kennels are expensive and this was one of the ways we were saving enough money to make the trip.

We picked up the motor home from Cruise America without incident Friday after lunch, drove it home and packed it. (We got a special deal on the rental through Costco, saving several hundred dollars—look into it!) My original plan was:

  • 12:30: Show up at Cruise America, fill out paperwork
  • 1:00: Pick up motor home (earliest time allowed)
  • 1:30: Get it home, pack
  • 2:00: Leave Mesa before rush hour starts

The reality, of course, was more like this:

  • 12:30: Show up at Cruise America, fill out paperwork
  • 1:00: Pick up motor home (earliest time allowed)
  • 1:30: Get it home, pack
  • 4:00: Leave Mesa after rush hour had started

That meant that the one-hour drive across the Valley took more like two-and-a-half hours.

The rule at Cruise America is, when you pick up your motor home, however much gas is in the tank, that's how you return it. They do not send you off with a full tank. In our case, the tank was one quarter full. So we had to fill it immediately. Six weeks ago, when I first started planning this, gas was about $2.50 a gallon here in Arizona; and I planned on getting about 10 miles a gallon for what I calculated was an 800-mile trip. However, in Arizona gas was now running $3.07 a gallon, and the motor home had a fifty-gallon tank. I spent $140.00 on gasoline before we even left Mesa.

We had previously rented a smaller motor home from Cruise America for a ski weekend, and it had a stove, conventional oven, and a microwave oven. So we shopped with that in mind, planning on baking a frozen lasagna for our first dinner. However, this unit did not have a conventional oven, and the frozen lasagna came in an aluminum pan. So we had to leave it home and have the second night's dinner the first night. Karen volunteered to cook frozen beef stroganoff. We stopped, hoping to avoid a Long, Long Trailer-type cooking scene. Nevertheless, one of the awkward cardboard trays slipped from Karen's oven mitts and managed to hit the floor. Consequently the dogs ate really well that night. As for the people who hadn't already been served beef stroganoff, well, we had enough food with us to make suitable, if distinct, dinners for everyone.

We had made reservations to stop at a KOA in Pomona, about an hour's drive from Disneyland. The directions in the KOA book were not very helpful; we wandered for nearly an hour before we found it. It was now 1:30 am. Our reservation was taped to a bulletin board, with two notes: "Bathroom code available from Site 58" and "WiFi code available from the camp store in the morning."

Given that we had six humans to use the single bathroom in the motor home, we had planned to use the camp bathroom for showers—especially when we discovered that the site we had reserved, which was supposed to be full-hookup, in fact has no sewer connection; so we couldn't all shower in the unit without filling the "grey water" tank. We walked to Site 58, hoping the bathroom code would be posted somewhere on the trailer we found there. It was not, and no lights were on.

We let Zachary have a quick shower (a shower in the motor home was one of his birthday wishes) and the rest of us did without.

Zachary awoke us around seven. While Mary made breakfast, I worked on my calculations. We had used far more gasoline than I had planned. Instead of getting the ten miles a gallon the Cruise America site suggested, we were getting more like three. Perhaps that was because of the time we'd spent in Phoenix rush hour traffic; perhaps it was because we'd run the generator to power the rooftop air conditioner while we drove through the Mojave desert. In any case, I found we did not have enough money to buy Disneyland tickets for everyone and gasoline for the trip home.

The camp store opened at eight and we got the WiFi code so we could surf the web and look for alternatives. I checked out Six Flags' Magic Mountain. Our local AAA office had discount tickets to Magic Mountain that we could afford; but you had to buy them there—California AAA offices did not have the same discount; and, without it, Magic Mountain was very nearly expensive as Disneyland.

Meanwhile, Zachary was outside the motor home, helping his Uncle John walk the dogs. He popped his face into the window over the dinette table. "Can't we just spend two days at the beach?" he asked. "I really like the beach!"

I really like Zachary.

So we took showers in the camp bathroom (now that we had the code), dumped our sewage tanks and filled the water tank and, after filling the fifty-gallon gas tank (at a wallet-numbing $3.67 a gallon), drove the ninety miles to McGrath State Beach.

John and I had been there ten years before. We remembered it as beautiful and nearly deserted. This day it was full (we had prepaid reservations). We were given a site about 400 yards from the beach, between several good climbing trees. (You can see pictures in the Flash presentation above.) In spite of the crowd, there was plenty of room for all; it didn't fell crowded. There were flowers everywhere, and green trees; it looked positively lush to eyes grown accustomed to Arizona's sere desert.

I stayed behind to walk the dogs, who were not allowed on the beach, while everyone else slipped into bathing suits and ran to the water. I went near the beach, and found a tidal pool for the dogs to frolic in, then returned to the RV and rinsed off the dogs under a water spigot.

By this time, the others had returned. "That didn't take long," I said.

"It was dis-gus-ting," Karen moaned. "You have to walk through a tar pit, and there was a dead baby seal on the beach."

"And it's rocky," John added. "When waves break on you, they throw rocks."

"A tar pit?" I repeated. I didn't remember a tar pit from my previous visit.

"From the oil refinery just South of here," John explained.

"But Zachary liked it," Karen added. So Zachary and I went to the beach to see what was up.

The "oil refinery" turned out to be an electrical power plant; the baby seal had apparently been disposed of; Karen's "tar pit" turned out to be the tidal pool I'd already found. Someone had tried to make a bridge out of driftwood so they wouldn't have to get their feet wet.

"That's hard to walk on," Zachary told me.

"I'm not surprised," I said. "But why bother? The water isn't any higher than your calves." I stepped into the tidal pool; muck stirred where I stepped, billowing great black clouds in the water.

"What's that black stuff?" Zachary asked.

"Well, it's biological material," I said.

"What's that?"

I laughed. "Basically, it's fish poop. But the ocean is full of it, and we don't worry about it there, do we? So don't worry about it here. We'll rinse off later." Zachary laughed, too. Poop is funny to seven-year-olds, even when it's microscopic and from invertebrates. I wondered how kids, who play with and kill bugs as children and go camping every summer, can grow up to become so stuffy.

And why I didn't.

The beach was sandy, but there were a lot of rocks. And the waves did displace stones, which did hit your ankles if you were in the water that far. But Zachary liked to play that the waves were attacking him, and he held a driftwood stick sword and attacked back. I sat in the sun—now lowering—and watched as he ran back and forth, back and forth, parrying and thrusting against the evil wave monster.

The air was mild, the sky clear. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. However, after an hour or so I saw Zachary was shivering, so I told him it was "about time" to go back. We've been taking him swimming since he was an infant, and I always warn him in advance of leaving so he can get used to the idea. Consequently, he almost never complains when we actually have to go.

At our site, he rinsed off and changed, then got busy climbing trees. They were perfect for his size and easy to climb and he had a ball. I was pleasantly surprised how much fun it was just to watch him. And how impressed I was with how competent this once-teeny baby had become. Seven years old! Where had the time gone?

John cooked dinner—pre-formed Black Angus hamburgers, some with embedded mushrooms and cheese—and we set up Karen's laptop to watch Hoodwinked, a movie we'd been saving for the trip. Someone came to tell us that we had to turn the generator off at 8 pm and couldn't turn it on until 10 am. We had thought the guard at the gate told us off at 10 and on at 8. But, whatever. We shut it down and continued to watch the movie until the laptop's battery gave out just before the end. The movie was a little slow and we were all more than ready for bed, so we didn't mind so much.

I had hoped to sleep in the next morning, but no such luck. It had rained most of the night—I love sleeping in a tent or motor home while it's raining, but the sound had roused me and now John was up and ready to move. He parked the unit by the bathrooms with the intention of our taking showers there. However, the shower stalls wanted quarters. So he pulled to the camp's dump station and drove back and forth between the sewer and the fresh water while each of us bathed.

(One "regular" shower, that is, running the water for the entire procedure, fills the "grey water" tank. One "Navy" shower, where you wet yourself, turn the water off, soap yourself, then turn the water back on to rinse, fills about a third of the tank—but isn't as much fun.)

The rain slowed and it looked like the weather might clear. John, Karen and Mary wanted to go to Newport Beach. They had once lived in Huntington Beach, one town up the coast from there, and thought Newport Beach was just the nicest beach there is. That was another ninety miles. When we got there, the rain had stopped but it was still cool and the sky was overcast. Parking was a challenge; none of the parking lots we could find there could accommodate a thirty-foot motor home. I finally found two adjacent parking spaces I could fit into, on the street. We pooled all our quarters for the meters and found we could stay there for one hour and fifteen minutes.

Still, Newport beach was nice. John explained they had machines that combed it each night, picking up the trash and leaving only clean sand. Zachary took his boogey board into the water and tried to ride a wave in, then waded out with Michael and me, running back and forth into the waves. Although the air was cool (in the seventies, I'd guess) the water wasn't any cooler. By the time Zach started shivering it was time to leave, anyway.

On the way back home, we passed Huntington beach. It was not crowded, and there were beach parking areas that had RV spaces—and for free! Oh, well, we'll know for next time.

We stopped at a Pizza Hut Express for individual pan pizzas for everyone, and then started home.

By now I was quite sleepy, not having gotten much rest so far. John and Karen and I had taken turns driving, but now I let them have at it and went into the back bedroom to take a nap.

On the thirty-footers, the back bedroom hangs over the rear axle and consequently bounces more than any other place in the motor home. My stomach jiggled; I swayed from side-to-side; and once when I got up to go to the bathroom, we hit a bump at an inopportune time and I smashed my hand against a cabinet, jamming my left pinky—which still hurts.

I cooked a meatloaf on the bank of the Colorado river, just over the border into Arizona, after (again) filling up with gas. Whoever thought I'd be grateful for "only" $2.93 a gallon?

We finally got home about 1:30 am. I quickly stumbled into bed, as previously arranged, since of all of us I was the only one who had to be at work in the morning.

I could be mad at George Bush for the gas issues. John could be upset over the muck in the tidal pool, and Karen could be upset over the dead seal…but the fact is, we actually had a very nice time. We enjoyed each other's company; no one got too stressed, even when we couldn't do what we planned to do; and Zachary had a wonderful time doing what he enjoyed most—being seven.

And that was the point of the trip.