Family Vacations 101

As I started writing this, I realized it’s more of a short story than a blog post, which is why it’s taken me almost a month to finish it. If there’s one thing you need to know about my family, it’s that you can’t summarize our life in 500 words or less. So, get ready for almost 3000 words of entertaining, wacky writing about my crazy family’s adventures!

Chapter 1: The Arrival

My family came to visit Kevin & me in Utah for the very first time a couple of weeks ago. My mom, dad, and youngest brother made the 12 hour trek from Oregon to Utah to spend a week with us! As you can probably imagine, I went all out. Overboard. I was a cleaning machine. I think I actually left work early the day they arrived so I could finish cleaning and make sure everything was immaculate for them.

I rearranged the furniture in my entire house until I was confident that it looked right. Okay, not really, but I did spend about 20 minutes deciding where the air mattress should go and which direction it should face.

My husband was actually on the brink of killing me so it’s a good thing they showed up when they did. The best thing about my family is they never travel empty-handed. On top of the 27 bags (because Mamma doesn’t know what she might want to wear or what the desert climate might decide to do today), they also brought us some beer (praise Jesus) and all of my childhood photo albums. 

The first of many In-n-Out trips!

The Barb (aka my mom) is on a bit of a decluttering blitz right now and everything must go. 

The photo albums even came in their own special blue tote (for safekeeping and easy storage)!

We had a full itinerary when we started planning this trip. That is, until The Barb got a real, physical map of Utah and realized that it was not feasible to go to Arches and Zion in the same weekend. But, she’s going to do 48 hikes this year so we had a lot of ground to cover at Arches.

We hit up In-N-Out Burger as soon as the Kemper Clan arrived. No In-N-Out in Oregon so it’s basically like sacred ground. Of course, we stayed up until way too late talking and laughing and probably disturbing our upstairs neighbors, which we severely regretted the next morning.

Chapter 2: Arches Day One

The day started bright and early. 5:00am. Okay, it was 5:30. Kevin made breakfast sandwiches for everyone with our handy breakfast sandwich maker. He was a little rusty, though, and had to throw out the first sandwich. Christopher decided it’s never too early for a root beer and cracked one open to go with his breakfast. My dad made coffee in our french press and it was almost like being at home in Oregon.

Except we only have one bathroom.

That made for an interesting week. 5 people, one bathroom.

Anyway, we piled in to the Toyota Corolla that really only seats 4.5 people. Let’s be real, the middle seat isn’t a real seat. Maybe if you’re a toddler, but then you have to use a car seat anyway. Luckily, the drive to Moab was only about 3 hours.

We left much later than we wanted to, per usual. We set our expectations too high and not all of us are morning people, but that’s fine because we had to stop at Starbucks to make sure everyone in the car had their caffeine and was in their happy place.

Starbucks was a near disaster.

It’s all a blur now, but there was something about my dad being the driver and not talking loud enough and not really wanting to order anyway, and the rest of us trying to decide what we wanted and direct everyone so that we could just order our drinks and get on with it.

In the confusion, my mom almost ordered the wrong drink, caught her mistake at the last second and changed it, but mistakenly ordered us both Venti beverages. If you’re not a Starbucks goer — first, are you really American? — Venti is the second largest beverage size. Normally, we’re Grande people.

This — unfortunately — led to an almost bathroom accident about an hour into the drive. Now, I have a small bladder but under normal conditions I could usually make it three hours without stopping to pee. But give me a large iced coffee and let me drink it in 15 minutes flat and we’re going to have an issue. I was convinced I could make it to the next town, but quickly realized that wasn’t happening, and we had to pull over.

I’ll just say this. I have never peed that much in my life, let alone when I’m sitting on the side of the road trying not to pee on my own shoes. Men have it easy in that regard. Women, we have to focus all our energy on creating one clear stream of pee. If the pee branches off and goes rogue, you’re screwed. If you pee to slowly or too quickly, it’s going to get on you. If you pee too much, you’ll have to avoid stepping in the pee puddle between your legs. And no matter how hard you try, you still manage to get pee on your shoes.

Somehow, we finally make it to Arches and Christopher and I are like, “What about second breakfast?” No one else is hungry, so we forage for snacks. Christopher goes on a tirade about how a snack is not equivalent to a meal. Don’t even try to confuse him with a compilation of snacks; he’ll see right through that facade.

Heat kills!

We get into the park and start our first hike, Devil’s Garden Trail. See my other blog post about this trail for more detailed information. Last time Kevin and I were here, it was spring. It was like 65 degrees when we started our hike and maybe it got up to 80 or 85. Maybe.

This time around, it was already a hundred degrees when we got there. There were signs at the front of the trail that literally said “Heat Kills“.

I volunteered to carry the backpack full of eight hundred water bottles. That way, if I did complain, everyone would let it go since I was carrying a heavy load. Kevin and I had been doing a lot of hiking prior to this trip and we felt fantastic. We kept saying, “Man, this is so much easier than the last time we did this hike.” 

Meanwhile, Christopher was on the lookout for shady spots to rest.  We tried explaining to him that we were in the desert, but he pressed on until he found a tiny amount of shade underneath some spindly desert tree. I was leading the pack and trying to make sure we stopped frequently to drink water. We had to bribe Christopher to keep going every time we stopped.

Kevin had decided he was going to wear this ridiculously awesome $2 sun hat from Ikea to protect his face and neck from the scorching sun. It was a good idea, except for the random gusts of wind. At one point, Kevin’s $1.50 hat flew off and made a break for it up the cliffside and two brave gentlemen coming from the other direction successfully stalled it, allowing Kevin to climb up the cliffside and retrieve his 67 cent hat.

When we passed the halfway point, Christopher’s mood took a turn.

Christopher in his preferred habitat – shade!

He realized that it no longer made sense to drag his feet and try to convince us to turn around. Rather, it was much quicker to just pick up the pace and high-tail it back to the car! He turned into a hiking machine and we struggled to keep up with him! At this point, the sun and heat had taken its toll and drinking water was no longer a laughing matter. There was a very real possibility of someone getting heat exhaustion or heat stroke and we had to be vigilant. People passing us saw our sweaty, sunburnt faces and decided to turn back rather than going all the way around the loop.

Once we made it out of the sand and onto the rocks, the temperature dropped substantially and we actually had a very nice hike the last two miles. Of course, by that time, my sandals had been rubbing on my feet and giving me blisters so I spent the last two miles trying to walk some weird way that avoided any more sandal rubbing.

We made it back to the parking lot and started the laborious process of filling up our water bottles, which was dangerous for two reasons. The first being these terrifying giant orange bees flying around the water fountain and the second being an ornery woman who kept making snide comments about us filling up 7 water bottles (as she stood behind us with about ten water bottles to fill up herself!).

We packed up our sweaty selves, our refilled water bottles, and the extra pounds of sand in our shoes and drove over to a picnic area to refuel our tired and hungry bodies. One hike was enough for the day, so we stopped at a few viewpoints on the way back and eventually made it to our hotel in Moab. Once we unloaded the car, The Barb and Christopher promptly passed out. Dad, Kevin, and I went outside to hang out in the pool for a couple of hours (where we inevitably got sunburnt).

Post-hike picnic!

Eventually, we woke The Barb for dinner and set off to our favorite Moab Brewery. I had only been looking forward to having my favorite beer for months, only to find that it was a seasonal beer and they no longer had it. Don’t ask me why but this hit me hard and I ended up crying in the bathroom over beer of all things! Our food was delicious and everyone else found a beer that suited them, and after much deliberation I finally had two vodka red bulls which put me in much better spirits.

The parents went off to get Wendy’s for Christopher’s dinner (yes, we left him at the hotel and went to the brewery without him, at his request) and Kevin and I walked back to the hotel (stopping for a quick detour to get some ice cream). Everyone slept great that night, except for Christopher (who stayed up watching tv until midnight) and Kevin and I (who were way too hot to fall asleep).

Chapter 3: Arches Day 2

Kevin and I awoke at 6:30, after barely sleeping the night before, and The Barb woke up at about 7:30 and got into bed with us (it’s our family’s thing, okay). We had grand plans to be out hiking before it got too hot, so I tried activating everyone and getting them moving around 8:00am. I can’t remember the exact order of things but a million people needed to take a shower, and pack up, and load up the car, and everyone was moving slower than molasses.

I took it upon myself to get everyone’s belongings in the car. I took several trips to the car, and each time I came back I took things out of people’s hands and put them in bags and put them in the car. I was not messing around. Christopher stayed in bed, trying to sleep, until five minutes before we left.

Finally, I was able to herd everyone into the car and we were off. First stop, Burger King. And thus began the second drive-thru disaster of our vacation.

In retrospect, we should have just gone in to the restaurant and ordered there. My dad pulled up so that my mom could order from the back seat. Kevin and I decided we didn’t want anything from the BK Lounge and were going to grab McDonald’s instead. The Barb ordered six items: two for her, two for Christopher, and two for my dad, and sure enough when the guy listed them back to her, something just wasn’t right.

The drive-thru anxiety was hitting me after yesterday’s debacle and I just wanted to get out of there. This very patient man read it off three times and put everyone’s order in a separate bag. The kicker: the order was still wrong.

Kevin and I grabbed our breakfast at what has to be the shadiest McDonald’s I’ve ever been to. We got back in the car where a heated debate was going about the tax rates in Utah. The Barb had all of her receipts out and was analyzing each one of them, trying to figure out if the total was wrong or if the tax rate was wrong. And so, the discovery was made that there are different tax rates for different things in Utah.

Side note: this tax conversation went on for several more days and became a major source of entertainment!

We grabbed coffee at the cute coffeeshop on our way out of town and made it to Arches for Day 2. Christop

I can’t even with this cuteness!

her was less than enthused, having realized that he had to go out into the sun for a second day. After spending 45 minutes in line, waiting to get into the park, we hiked Delicate Arch. This was a tough one for Christopher since he is not a fan of heights, so he didn’t make it down to the arch to take pictures with the fam.

Although it was crowded, we were actually able to take a picture of just Delicate Arch all by itself, which was amazing!

We checked out Sand Dune Arch after that and then called it a day. I wanted to hike Corona Arch, which is outside of the park, so we drove out there but then decided that it was a 3 mile hike during the hottest hours of the day and no one but me really wanted to do it (and I knew I could go back a different time).

The Barb had a quest to dip her feet in the Colorado River, so we went in search of a place to do just that. First, we ended up in a gross swamp that wasn’t even technically the river and had a lot of nasty bugs in it. We drove back closer to Moab and saw a park that looked promising. As it turns out,

Delicate Arch – perfection!

they really don’t want you to put your feet in the river. Something about dangerous currents and your children drowning? There were signs everywhere and no access to the river so we kept driving, hoping to find a spot along the highway with access.

Eventually, we found a promising beach-y area that we thought we could walk to so we pulled over, walked down through the bushes and at last, made it to the river! We took our shoes off and stuck our feet in the refreshing water. The Barb went for it and waded in fully clothed. Kevin jumped in with his shorts on. Christopher wouldn’t get in with only his undies on (and he had white shorts) so he asked my dad to grab some other shorts from the car. He said he would grab my swimsuit as well, but by the time he got back I had gone in with only my underwear and bra on. He had only been able to find a pair of sweats for Christopher, which gave us a good laugh, so they both stood on the shoreline watching us swim.

Dinnertime was looming, so we walked back to our car and took turns holding towels up so that we could undress without being seen by random passing cars. We drove back into town, stopped briefly at a few shops, found the Mexican blanket I had been searching for all my life, and ate at a delicious Mexican restaurant before heading back home.

Chapter 4: The Rest

After our Arches vacation, the family stayed for a few more days. Christopher and The Barb got massages, Dad & Kevin had to work, and we ventured out for one more hike in Pleasant Grove. It turns out that The Barb’s lofty hiking goals weren’t so attainable after we had hiked ourselves to death the first day. We took a few naps, visited mine and Kevin’s workplaces, had a lovely charcuterie dinner and lots of In-n-Out Burger, and watched the fireworks from the balcony at my work on the 4th of July.

The family left the next day, in a much emptier car, and began their 13-hour journey back home. We’ve decided that we need to get a family quote book before we forget all of this great material. Of course, some of it is fun for me to write about in my blog but some things are like “you had to be there” or we think it’s funny but no one else gets it.

Coming soon: The family beach house get-together on Thanksgiving! There will certainly be enough material for another novella here on the blog!

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

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