Sunday, September 7, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I was on vacation with my family. This year we rented a van and hauled the kids, the grandma, and the dog up to Donner Lake. Yes, kind of like the Griswolds, except grandma and the dog made it back alive. Grandma took the brunt of most of our jokes but she was a good sport and offered to ride on the roof whenever we needed her to.

The car was full and the mood was tense for the first 90 minutes of the trip, at least it was for me. It takes a lot of effort to get this freight train moving, and I usually don’t relax and settle in until I get to highway 395. This is when my vacation starts, at the junction of interstate 15 and highway 395.

This desert highway is the road to many fond memories in my life.

When I was 8 years old my father woke me up in the middle of the night to pack me into his ‘70 Barracuda for our first father-son fishing trip. He didn’t tell me what we were doing and to try and go to sleep. I slept for a couple of hours but woke up when my dad cranked the 8-track tape player, the group Creedence Cleerwater Revival, the song Travellin’ Band. I think he was excited and wanted me to wake up; I didn’t mind and I like CCR.

My dad told me about our trip. We were going to a place he used to go to when he was a kid, Rock Creek Lake. Rock Creek Lake is about 45 minutes north of Bishop, CA. and about 45 minutes south of Mammoth Mountain. Over the years Sherri and I have caught a ton of fish out of the crystal clear waters at Rock Creek Lake.

It was still dark, and the Cuda was flying. “Slow down dad! Please don’t hit that rabbit!” were thoughts going through my head, but would never say. He never slowed for a single critter, but we managed to avoid them all. I was relieved.

I think we were in Lone Pine when the sun finally came up. I was surprised to see snow on the mountains in the summer; you would never see that in southern California. ”Holy shit! 45 cents a gallon!” my dad bellowed, “We’ll gas up in Bishop.” I think it was 43 cents a gallon in Bishop, much more reasonable.

We stayed 3 days and 2 nights at Rock Creek Lake. Our campsite was next to an outlet creek from the lake. I caught my first fish in the lake and many more just from our campsite. I used worms and salmon eggs, bait that still works for me today. The sun and mosquitoes did a number on me. At the end of 3 days I was sunburned, mosquito bitten, and filthy (no showers), I was ready to go home.

The ride home from RCL is about 5 to 6 hours, an eternity for an 8 year old. I think my dad was shooting for 4 hours, I think the CHP thought those were his intentions too. “Shit! I knew I should have kept it under 90!” my dad whispered as he pulled over. The CHP stood at his window and asked, “Do you know how fast you were going sir?” “95,” my dad replied as he showed him his badge. “Pomona Police? You know sergeant Hannibal?” asked the chippy. “He’s my boss,” said my dad. “Try to keep it under 80 officer Johnson,” the CHP smiled.

The two knuckleheads bullshit for another 20 minutes and probably lost whatever time my dad had saved while speeding down highway 395. I watched my dad’s speed the rest of the way home; he was just under 80, like a good boy. We didn’t talk that much but it was understood that mom wouldn’t know about that little CHP thing.

My father and I made 3 more trips to RCL, all of them before I got married. When he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer I tried to get him to make one more trip. It was literally one of the first things that popped into my mind. One of the first things that I thought would give him and me comfort. He said it was a great idea but he kept putting it off until he was just too sick to do it.

As a teenager I made a couple of trips with my friends, no parents, fun, very fun. Sherri’s family is very familiar with Bishop and places to go along the 395, so the tradition of camping and fishing along that highway continued when I got married. Each trip I would be surprised at how things have changed and haven’t. Each time that pleasant feeling, as I turn off the 15 and head north on to the 395.


Stacy said...

Childhood camping trips are the best.
My mom and step dad still go to the camp/resort my mom and dad took us. The only change is they now stay in a condo instead of the camper or rented cabin. Every other year or so we meet them up there for a night or two. Such memories.
Hubby's mom still camps even though his dad passed less than a year ago. It holds such a special place for all of them. We went a couple of times this year and stayed at the camper.
I sure hope my kids and yours have as many wonderful memories as we do.

Dave said...

Reading your story reminded me that my Dad used to drive like a bat out of hell over humped bridges just to give us kids a thrill. It was great fun flying (just for a second) over the top.

That’s the cancer that got my Dad too.

The old boys network still works very well. It can be nice to be part of something like that. Nothing sinister, just comrades who understand something about the other person through a shared experience.

Steph said...

How cool is that? I think too often that's an area that is overlooked by everyone flooding into Tahoe, Mammoth and Big Bear when really it is a gorgeous area.

Malathionman said...

Stacy, I actually did more camping with my in-laws after I got married. I guess that's why the trips with my dad were special. It was one of the few things we did before my parents got divorced.

Dave, I think my dad got bad advice on his treatment. They should have told him to get the most out of the six months he had left intstead he got 9 months of misery.

Steph, No kidding. We drive by the packed beaches at Tahoe and shake our heads as kick it at Donner with half the people.

Dave said...

Same here. I think they knew there was no hope but he went for the treatment anyway. It was painful for all concerned. I imagine when you’ve just been given the diagnosis you’ll cling on to any hope of beating it, even if it might make it worse.

Still, I have some great memories from those last few months. I’m grateful for that much.

Miranda said...

Man, I had a great family but we never had any traditions like that. I really hope I can do something like that for my kid. Sounds just so great!

Do they have Sharks items for babies?!? Umm, YEAH, and I already have some stuff! Jerseys as maternity clothes? I'll have to think about that. Especially while in Boston in a few weeks, might have to get a Sox jersey. I have a Sharks jersey already, which might make it hard to convince my husband that I need another...

Chris said...

Very cool memories, dude. We had good vacations as a kid as well, but nothing where we were traveling 95mph in a Baracuda! We HAD the family truckster. My dad loved his station wagons...

White Hot Magik said...

Great story, I am sure your kids will have great memories too. How many times did you have to threaten to turn the car around?

Albert said...
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