Mission not so impossible

Clare Howlett of Merewether accepted an invitation to share with Aurora readers her family’s epic US holiday. Clare and husband Brett, Thomas (12), Gabrielle (11), Joseph (9), and William (7) set out with a clear itinerary but less clarity about what to expect. They returned with dozens of photos, scores of stories and more than a few insights about life, the universe and each other.

Mission not so impossible

Perhaps the exchange rate between countries had something to do with it.  Certainly it was the lure of cheaper airfares as our four kids were still under twelve (just). Or was it the desperately longed for and sorely needed family adventure that had eluded us for so long? Whatever it was, it all conspired to booking the 'Trip of a Lifetime' - a month in the USA in an RV (Recreational Vehicle, or Big Home on Wheels) for the six Howletts! Buoyed by encouragement from family friends who had recently completed a similar trip, and lived to tell the tale, the planning began.

 

There is one member of my family (who will remain nameless) whose attention to detail and research is unsurpassed. While this can be the cause of some serious frustration on the part of the rest of us (actually, me) when they are choosing which washing powder to purchase, it in fact became the 'essential ingredient' to ensure the perfect holiday. Anyone travelling with kids, nay, living with kids, knows that it can all go to hell in a hand basket at the drop of a hat. Each moment of our time was organised to the nearest second, to the benefit of 'Team Howlett' it must be said.

 

Think Robin Williams or maybe Chevy Chase and you'd be getting close to the early days of our adventure. Picking up the RV an hour out of San Francisco, less than adequate handover instruction, demonstrated by the young girl (who'd been employed only a week before in this role), pressing an unidentified button on the wall, saying "I wonder what this does?" only to find a 1.5 metre extension open up in the lounge area. Fortunately the researcher was already across this. Still jetlagged, unable to get theGPSworking, light fading, an hour to destination, driving on the wrong side of the road at 100km per hour on a 16 lane freeway in a vehicle the size of a standard bus, all contributed to some hairy moments. Not the least of these was scraping through the toll booth with a centimetre to spare on each side. Fortunately another member of the team brought his previously underappreciated technological skills to the party and managed to get that GPS working. I knew Nintendo wasn't a total waste of money!

 

A unique and unexpected encounter with the 'wise old man' of San Francisco's Chinatown tea shop led to the characterisation of each of the children as a particular animal. It was amazing how accurately each was described by a person whom they had never met. We have the loyal 'Dog'  who follows his master;  the 'Tortoise' who carries everything they own on their  back  and never rushes; the brave 'Dragon' who will take on any challenge, even if dangerous, and the 'Mouse', who moves around undetected, seeing everything.

 

After several days exploring San Fran, we headed to Yosemite National Park. What a spectacular place!  Snow still on the ground on the first day ensured a fun time for the kids, along with snowball fights, picturesque waterfalls, unique fauna and free bus shuttles through the park with some colourful and well travelled bus drivers. Later that day we experienced the most anxious, but fortunately short lived, moment of our holiday. Back at the van park late on a freezing evening, after we all went to the bathroom 'one last time', came the realisation that we had locked ourselves out of the van. What to do?! The previously complained about unlockable sliding window next to the driver's seat could be opened, but who could fit through this tiny space? The Mouse (all of 26kg) was our only hope! After passing him through the small space, he managed to unlock the door from the inside! Mission not so impossible.

 

The next stage of our journey wound its way through Las Vegas on our way to the Grand Canyon. Described by a friend as 'the Gold Coast on Steroids' it lived up to its reputation, but alas no blackjack tables or Celine Dion for our little group, just lions - real ones - in the foyer of theMGMGrand Hotel and monster pizzas at the Bellagio before retiring  to bed at the crazy hour of 8pm.

 

Our little convoy then wound its way past Lake Mead and over the Hoover Dam to another astonishing destination, the Grand Canyon. A friend had suggested it might be a little scary for me and she was not wrong. The lack of fencing on most of the trails winding their way around the edges led to many a shriek from Mum, "Not too close!" "Be careful!" "That's close enough!" "Move away from the edge!" After the first long look, I don't remember paying too much attention to the Canyon itself.  Not surprisingly, they lose a few people each year simply from falling over the edge...

 

Back through Las Vegas and on to LA via San Diego. Five theme parks and a zoo in seven days! Who will ride the big roller coaster with Dad?  "Not me!", "Too scary!", "I don't feel well!"  "I'll mind the kids!"  The Dragon to the rescue, "Sure Dad, looks like fun!" It was about this time that the journals, which initially had been kept by each traveller each day, started to lose their appeal! Not for the first time, a paperwork mishap was averted by the adroitness of the Tortoise who collectseverythingand managed to rescue a piece of paper approaching a green card in importance.

 

Surviving the trip of a lifetime, without mishap, was quite an achievement for a family that spent so much time at the John Hunter Hospital in the early years we were expecting a ward to be named after us.  The memorable nature of our holiday is confirmed when I hear one or other family member casually say, "Can we do that again next year?" We will remember the 'big rig' and all it captured not only for the fun and the exciting places we saw, but for what we learned about the members of Team Howlett.

 

And just for the record, no, I did not drive the RV.

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