A few weeks ago I had surgery for a bleeding ulcer and horrible acid reflux. I had taken several weeks off work anticipating I would be in a rough position to do just about anything. Originally I had planned to take my Unmanned Aircraft General exam, which I did and will post about later. I wasn’t sure how I would feel with several weeks of a liquid diet so we didn’t plan anything for the holidays.
I was feeling pretty normal after a few days of resting. We decided to see what my father was doing for christmas. He was pretty excited about having us up for a quick pre-christmas trip and was even more curious to check out the new drone I had told him about. Jen and I set to making the plan and packing the essentials.
Planning for Success, or not
A good road trip starts with a good plan. Unfortunately, this was a last minute decision and the plan was more of a rough outline. As always this didn’t stop us. We took inventory of our available supplies, made a run to the local store and stocked up on the usual comfort food for the road and stockpiled protein shakes for my post-surgical liquid diet. If you are wondering what temptation feels like, try being on a liquid diet through the holidays… but I digress.
I hate to keep bringing up my ankle injury, however we had to decide if skiing was going to be an option on this trip. We really want to get our kids enrolled in lessons but at the same time I don’t want to push my ankle too much and have to miss out on the rest of the trip. I jumped on the Indo Board and grabbed a few therabands for a quick rehab session. I wanted to test the endurance of my ankle. Ultimately, we decided against packing the snowboards and opted for innertubes and sleds.
With the van loaded, we piled the kids in the back and hit the road. We took the usual route up through vegas. Jen was driving so naturally we got terrible gas mileage but made great time. I was shocked that we were able to make it from southern california all the way to southern Utah during daylight hours. The only detour we really took was to drive up through Zion because the kids wanted to go through the tunnel again.
Zion in the winter time is a beautiful place to see. The snow capped plateaus Utah is known for, surrounded by the pinion pines and occasional big horn sheep makes for a very picturesque drive. Once we crested the entrance at the bottom of the canyon it suddenly began to feel like Christmas.
That always struck me as an odd concept – the “feeling” of Christmas. The past few years have felt like a giant veil of repressed holiday spirit was being weighed down by the overwhelming despair from a global pandemic, raging inflation, and the woke media changing my Christmas spirit to a flaccid “holiday” spirit. I want to make everyone feel welcome and not repress or oppress anyones ideology or belief system. However, I am tired of having to suppress my own happiness in a feeble attempt to avoid offending someone. Even Stanford University published a list indicating it is offensive to refer to someone as being “American”, at what point do we really find all of this as ridiculous? This year, I celebrated Christmas… Not the “holidays”. Deal with it.
The reality of this story is that it was Christmas my family and I were looking for. The elusive Christmas spirit had been evading all of us the past few years and we were determined to find it.
Climbing The Mountain
The road opened up before us. There was almost no one in the park. The air was cold and had a bite to it, the kind that would sting your lips like a static shock. The kids were excited to see the snow. They began laughing and squirming in their seat belts trying to get a better look. It was as if they were seeing it for the first time all over again. They knew something special was coming.
The road conditions were freshly plowed with intermittent patches of ice. Nothing we couldn’t handle. We snaked our way up the canyon while the kids excitement grew. You could feel the Christmas spirit returning. Everyone was excited to be in this exact moment and it was exactly what we needed. It was a subtle reminder that the prior COVID isolation had not destroyed the sense of togetherness that Christmas brings.
Further up the mountain we climbed. The snow became deeper and hid the transgressions of the rock and dirt it now engulfed. It was as if a soft blanket of frozen water had peacefully washed away the jagged and unforgiving nature of the world that lay below it. We all needed that reset button this year. With constant pressures from life in general, this serene road trip was bringing the family back together.
The Last Stop
The sun was setting by the time we reached the top of the canyon. The typical stop for gas at the junction of 89 and the 14 was complete. We all had our gas station hot cocoa and one last snack for the road as we headed north on the last stretch of highway before reaching my dads. I felt lucky to have been getting in this early.
Typically we leave the house much later. This inevitably puts us in at my dads around midnight. If you are road tripping with kids, this is a recipe for disaster. It confines tiny humans within a metal box while feeding them junk food and giving them ample time to rest. Then, like ripping a band aid off, you arrive and open the door. All the energy is released at once. This is much more pleasant when it isn’t immediately followed by me trying to put them to bed.
It was barely dark when we got to my fathers turn off. The road was plowed but still covered in snow. The clouds blocked out any remnant of a moon and much like Santa, we were dependent on the lights out front of our “sleigh”. I kicked on the 4 wheel drive and headed down the road. I could see Jen getting tense because this was our first time using the 4wd in our Sprinter van. Almost every trip we had taken to this point ended with some critical system failing. I pointed the van ahead, pressed the gas and away we went.
A short time later we arrived at the house. Despite everyone’s anticipation of the 4wd system failing, it had performed admirably. We had officially made it without a single system failing… or so we thought. As it turns out, the coolant system that leaked previously and caused the heater to become inoperable began leaking. We were unaware due to the heater still working. It was a small leak and took few days to notice but we got it fixed pretty quickly the next morning.
Letting it Burn
The kids unloaded and set off to accost their grandparents. I did little to discourage their eagerness since it gave me the necessary time to unload the van. I had everything out and in the house before Jen could even get them setup with dinner. Once everyone was fed and burned off enough energy, we put them to bed.
I poured a glass of what I assume Stanford considers the most offensive beverage on earth, some small batch bourbon and sat down with my dad by the fire. (Bourbon is the only uniquely “American” spirit. By law it must be made in America. If it isn’t made in America, it aint “Bourbon”. From the 1964 Senate Concurrent Resolution 19)
My father was a firefighter for his entire adult life. He retired over a decade ago and moved from California out to Utah to get away from… California, for lack of a better way to say it. If you are from California, you know what I am talking about. We love California but we also understand that if you are not from California, you don’t want to come here. It is a shell of what it once was. It is a warm sandy beach surrounded by overpriced broken dreams with horrible traffic and no parking. I suppose he moved to Utah because he was tired of watching California burn itself to the ground. Either way, the heat from the fire and warmth from the bourbon made it all fade away.
The morning came creeping in through every crevice that wasn’t sufficiently sealed with some type of insulation. The blue sky was in stark contrast to the snow covering everything in sight. One by one everyone started their day. I laid in bed reading the news and wondering when it would inspire me as opposed to the reliable disappointment I have come to expect from the world. Then, I heard my little daughter, Alex, creeping into the room. With her smile and excitement she demanded I get out of bed and get on with the day. It is impossible to argue with her so I reluctantly gave in and let the madness surround me.
The kids had several activities they wanted to do while they were in Utah. The first of which was to play in the snow. By the time I had reached the top of the stairs from the basement apartment, the floor was already covered in wet boot prints. I saw the open sliding glass door with none nearby and instantly knew Lily was outside. Classic… her signature move was to leave the door open. I always wonder if kids do this because they are leaving a trail so I can find them when they go missing, or if they do it just so I don’t feel left out and always have activities to do. Either way, it was cold and I wasn’t about to go looking just yet.
I could hear the kids laughing outside and see Jen in the distance. There was an occasional snowball that would come into view and fall short of reaching her. My dad sat at the table alone eating breakfast. He offered me some to which I declined and gestured to my amazing protein shake. I sat down at the table and began to tell him about the new drone.
The Unrelenting Drone
I had purchased the DJI FPV drone from brother a few weeks prior. After learning about all of the regulations and requirements surrounding its recreational and commercial use, I had obtained a Drone License. I began to show my father how everything worked and prepped it for flight. He cleared off a section of his porch as a landing zone while I got it flight ready.
Once we got it airborne, I set out to test the range on his property. I did a quick loop around the property and then proceeded to locate all of the kids. Everything was working perfectly, so I flew it back to the landing zone and swapped out the battery. My father was wanting to try it out so he could survey the fence line on the back of his property. I lifted off again and set it to hover a safe distance from the house. I then handed off the controls to him and began giving him the basic education on how to fly it.
The kids continued their festivities until it was time to come in. Living in California we often forget what it was like as a child to “play” outside. We are overrun with electronics and obligations like soccer, music lessons, scheduled playdates, and of course video games. Utah is a fun reminder that just being outside is entertaining enough.
Sharing the Moment
The next item on the list was to go sledding. Laurel had purchased a small wooden sled for Alex while the older two had inner tubes. The sled worked great on the hard pack while the tubes worked great on the bigger hills. We had taken a short drive to the summit to find a well known sledding hill. The kids set off with uncle Scott while I was charge with pulling Alex on her new sled.
I found out the hard way that it was not so easy to pull it in the powder. The tracks would just sink and her weight basically turned it in to a snowplow. How could I say no to her excitement though? She wanted to ride it down the hill so bad so I did what any father would do… I got halfway up the hill, called for mom to take over so I could take a photo of her. Jen excitedly agreed to pull her up the hill until she actually got there and refused to do it again. Alex was forced to transition to an inner tube.
The kids were able to get their fill of sledding and were sufficiently worn out by the end of the day. I cannot wait until next time because I promised my dad I would bring some snowboard wax so we can apply it to the bottom of the tubes for more speed. Perhaps my dream of becoming Clark Griswold is going to happen sooner that you think.
The next day, the kids were really wanting to build model rockets. My father and I had been talking about rockets for a while. We were basically waiting for winter so we could minimize any risk of things catching on fire from the rocket engines. This was the perfect time for it. We built a few rockets and let the glue dry overnight.
Model rockets are a great way to teach kids about rocket science. It involves crafting the actual rocket, some creative painting, and the eventual application of your design as you launch it. The goal was to see how high we could get them and successfully recover it. There is an important point here that your rocket is only functional if it survives. With everything in place, the kids took turn launching rockets.
The first launch was a success. The drone captured it at roughly 200 ft. The chute deployed without issue and it made a safe landing nearby. The second launch however, went much higher than I could accurately estimate with the drone. The wind had picked up a little and when the chute opened, it was carried down river a few hundred yards and landed in a small bush. Had it not been for the drone, I wouldn’t have been able to spot it and the rocket would have been lost forever.
Once the smoke cleared from our launch pad and everything was gathered up, we decided to let things wind down by letting the kids ride the new pony. Darrel, was a new addition to the ranch. Laurel had purchased him a few months back and had been getting him ready for the kids. All three of them were excited about the prospect of riding him and being in a cart that he pulled.
Lily loved feeding the horses and especially Darrel the pony. Animals are an amazing part of life and to watch the innocence of children experience them is one of my favorite experiences as a father. Even watching Alex play with Ranger, the retriever was fun.
The Bob Ross Effect
Christmas this year was supposed to be a boring post-surgical recovery sitting at home. Instead, I let the spontaneity and spirit of the season get the best of me. We made a last minute decision to drive out to Utah for a few days before Christmas just so the kids could enjoy the snow. I was skeptical about the trip and reluctant to commit to it, but something inside me was telling me I needed this. With as much fun as the kids had, I think this trip was more cathartic for me than anything.
The last several years have been tough on everyone I know. They have been exceedingly tough on our family with everything that has happened. There is something to say about the resilience of the human spirit. I think the magic in the world becomes mundane until you see it through the eyes of a child. their sense of wonder and amazement brings back that admirable quality we all once had for life. Much like the snow blankets the world in uniformity, it allows for nature to reset and paint its canvas in new colors every spring. Finding our Christmas spirit this year was much more than going through the motions and putting on a show. It was the happy surprise after watching Bob Ross paint a scene for a half hour; it didn’t make complete sense until it was already over.
We chose to throw out the commercialism and expectations of large family gatherings. No judgement for who got what gift. It was simply for the joy and excitement of being together and experiencing the world. I hope everyone had a great Christmas.
Stay tuned for the story about Area51 and the road trip home.