This ”vacation” is kicking my a$$

The other day, my friend Patrick texted asking “Vacation looks amazing, but scale 1-10, how exhausted are you?!” I responded with only a number.


This vacation is kicking my ass.

I get it. “Cry me a river with your 8-week RV bonanza, bro! You crazy lucky to be able to take a trip like that.” It’s not lost on me. We’re blessed. We’re making life-long memories, and were it not for career risks I took in my 20’s, we likely wouldn’t be in a position to be able to make this work. We are loving this time together, and don’t take it for granted.

But damn, I’m exhausted.

You think of 8-weeks on the road in an RV, and you envision a lot of downtime, maybe sitting in a camping chair by the fire pit, cozied up and reading a book at dusk, the sweet melody of your children’s laughter in the distance as they frolic about cheerfully, passing the time together playing catch and made-up games.

I brought 6 books. I haven’t even opened one. Hell, we’ve driving 2,000 miles already and I’ve listened to maybe an hour of an audiobook.

 So what, you ask, have I been doing?

First things first, RVs are a lot of work. There’s the continual shuffling of crap about the cabin before you hit the road and after you arrive at your destination. You literally have to move the entire kitchen and dining area just to get a precious extra 24” of walkway. Stow the coffee machine behind the drivers seat. Put the ladders on the bunk bed. Fold the couch and pull out the seat belts. Secure everything in the cabin, lest you leave a frying pan on the stove behind you to literally knock you out whoever’s sitting in the dinette if I brake too severely.

And that’s just the cabin. If you’re blessed to have hookups wherever you’re staying, you’re first leveling the vehicle, and then hooking up city water, a giant 50amp power cable, and the “black/gray water drainage hose”. Like Randy Quaid in Christmas Vacation, draining the sewage tanks is real life in an RV. It’s actually not nearly as disgusting as you’d think, and I’ve gotten quite good at it. It’s only one step of the process that I’ve mastered. It’s not complex, but you’re not exactly just putting ‘er in park on arrival and enjoying an insta-camp.

There’s a lot of logistics involved in RVing, and of course the driving. Extensive time on the road always leaves the same spot on my lower left shoulder aching, and fighting the sway of the vehicle against gusty winds as we cruise state highways at 65MPH can be a bit taxing, but nothing too crazy.

Then there’s the bikes. Oh, the @#$%ing bikes. We bought a Thule 5-bike rack for all of our bikes, and a “third-wheel” WeeRide that attaches to my bike for Quinn to ride (this beauty is stowed in a compartment underneath the RV, which requires me to break out both a socket wrench and Allen wrench to take the seat and handlebars off so it will fit).

Watching the YouTube videos for the Thule rack, you’d think it’d be simple. Just slide the bikes in the grooves, secure each bike with the rubber tie downs at three points of contact, and move on to the next bike! You’d also think that the kids bikes being smaller would be an advantage on said rack. You’d be dead wrong. These racks are made for real bikes with their uniform dimensions and light frames. Turns out the $130 Target bikes that the boys ride weigh more than they do and are an unwieldy pain in the ass. You’d think we could just use the simple Thule adapter to attach to the frame and make it easier. Wrong again, sucka! The adapter won’t fit because the stem of their bikes have those fancy detanglers common on BMX bikes that let them spin their handle bars 360° while they balance on one wheel while standing on their front pegs.

Son, please. This bike is falling off that damn rack and getting run over by a big rig long before you’re coordinated enough to even attempt that shit.

Besides, even I had sprung the extra $50 for each Thule adapter like I did for Grace’s bike, they just would have gotten stolen at our first stop in Zion just like your sister’s. (True story.)

So instead I brute force the hell out of each bike in a frustrating game of Tetris, only the blocks are heavy and awkward and you’re trying to slam them onto two skinny poles sticking straight out the back of the RV. Mounting each bike requires multiple attempts to make sure the handle bars, pedals, pegs, and every other attachment isn’t infringing on the adjacent bike’s personal space. At our campsite in Bryce, we were backed in to the spot that left the rear bumper sticking out over the downslope of the hill behind us. I should have pulled forward first and attempted loading them on level ground. With the rig nestled up against a tree, that would have required me retracting both the leveling jacks and the slide out.

Nah, I got this! Like a dumbass, I hoisted each bike overhead and performed the entire operation with the rack overhead instead of at the normal chest level. I should have aborted the mission after the first bike or two, but by then I was pot-committed. I’ll be damned if I was letting those stupid bikes beat me. Instead, I wrestled with the rack for 45 straight minutes, emerging victorious yet exhausted. I ached all-over, and the whole ordeal left me feeling like that one time I took a free jiu-jitsu class and spent an hour on a mat exerting all of my energy fighting against the inevitable force that was the other dude kicking my ass. At least when I roll with the bikes, I eventually win.

Bedtime’s a pain in the ass, too. We’re basically all in the same room, and turns out the kids aren’t really keen on going to sleep when it’s still light out until 9:30pm. The physical exhaustion of the bike mounting is rivaled by the mental exhaustion of exerting significant energy all day and then having to put the kids to bed when you’re already spent. It’s like managing the bedtime dynamics of a slumber party. Every. Single. Night.

Easily the most exhausting part of the trip, though, have been the hikes. Not because the hikes are necessarily that strenuous. We’ve gotten after it a bit, but seeing as we’re with four kids, nothing has really been that crazy. We’re talking three miles max.

It’s not that hikes are that tough. It’s that the tough ones are already more strenuous for all of us, and made even more so for me by the fact that I end up carrying Quinn for the latter half in addition to the backpack weighed down by a half gallon Camelbak and over a gallon of water in various vessels strapped or carabinered to my pack.

Encouraging the kids to press on during our hikes is always a tenuous situation for me. As much as I like to see them push themselves, there’s the continual fear that Quinn is going to spontaneously collapse and refuse to propel his body another yard, and I’m going to be the one literally carrying the brunt of the breakdown. I watched with both pride and trepidation on the front end of the Navajo Loop at Bryce as the kids gleefully descended the 600 vertical feet to bottom of the canyon on switchbacks, effortlessly enjoying the descent. And like clockwork, I found myself spinning my pack to my front and hoisting Quinn on my back with his legs through the shoulder straps at the very bottom of the hike, the same 600 vertical feet in front of me on the Queen’s Garden trail over the next 1.9 miles, climbing back out of the canyon they so effortlessly bounded down.

I powered through on the ascent amid heat and exhaustion, stopping occasionally with my hands on my knees and shifting the center of his weight entirely above me to give my shoulders and upper back a respite. Hayden, too, broke down on this hike with about a half mile to go, but I could do nothing but yell hollow and exasperated encouragement from afar while Allison coached him by his side. “You’ve’ve got this bu...buddy! C’mon! We’re almost there!” I think I may have more been trying to hype myself up by encouraging him, but my inner monologue was having none of it. “You’re a damn liar. You know it, and he knows it. We’re all gonna die on this trail, you moron, and you’re gonna die a liar and a horrible father!” (My self-critic gets a little dramatic in moments of exhaustion and desperation.)

As I miraculously approached the top of the trail after an hour of toil, I noticed the solo German hiker lady who I’d spotted on the trail at several points, seemingly waiting for me at the very top of the trail. Her jaw was dropped, her face a mix of amusement and wonder. “I’ve been watching you this entire time,” she said as I stumbled her way, breathless. “I cannot believe you just did that. How do you possibly have the strength for that?!” Well, you see, German hiker lady, you find strength you didn’t even know you had when you pair it with the resolve to not let your 5-year-old perish in the heat of the Utah dessert at your hand.

This same script has repeated itself multiple times on the trip thus far, including at Delicate Arch on Quinn’s birthday in Arches. Luckily though, every time since we’ve been either smart enough or fortunate enough to leave the downhill for the latter half of the hike, making the “Dad carries Quinn” portion of the hike relatively easier than the Queen’s Garden death march.

I feel like this trip has given new meaning to the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation.” Sure, it’s exhausting in the moment, but I’m cherishing it anyway. The way I see it, this is an investment.

This is actually the second time I’ve spent 8 weeks over the summer roaming the country on a road trip. The first was the summer after my Junior year at Notre Dame, when eight of us piled into a rickety Chevy cargo van without air conditioning and looped the country on an a cappella tour. Looking back, there were brawls and spats and tempers flaring as personalities collided in extremely tight quarters. There was a a rift that started in Seattle with a prank and ended with a reckoning in a basement in Denver. There was miserable time on the road driving across Texas in the middle of summer with no A/C and only an AM radio, where you couldn’t decide which was going to kill you first, boredom or heat stroke.

That trip was 20 years ago. And if you ask any of us about our best summer ever, we’d all tell you it was that one. Not only did we make memories, but we formed life-long bonds. The eight of us were from all over the country, and yet today, four of us live within a few miles of each other in my hometown of Danville, raising our families together. That summer of 1999 probably kicked our ass while it was going down, but we don’t remember it that way. Now we laugh at even the worst parts of that trip, and there aren’t many we can even recall.

The mind is funny that way. Pain is temporary. We’re seemingly wired to hold on to the goodness for the long haul while discarding the frustration and exhaustion shortly thereafter. This was true for me in 1999, and I believe it with ring true yet again in 2019, both for me and my family.

We may be getting our asses kicked, but someday soon we’re going to look back and our memories are going to tell us we loved every minute of it.


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