For our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband planned a trip for us to our favorite place, Avila Beach. Looking to be generous, he booked more nights than I was comfortable leaving my twelve year old in the care of his adult siblings. So, in a what-were-we- thinking moment, we decided to bring him along.
Since the crowd was already growing, we next invited my daughter, and granddaughter, to join us. She jumped at our invitation, and then soon after announced that her husband had gotten the days off from work and would be joining us. How perfectly reflective this growing crowd was of our family’s growth over the years. What started out as a pair was added to and multiplied. Like our vacation list, our family has seen both planned and surprise additions, each a treasure to cherish.
The younger couple decided they would camp nearby in his favorite vacation spot, the Oceano Dunes, and travel between their campsite and our haven, Avila Beach. This would be a true blending of vacation styles for all of us. To better understand the contrast between the two vacation sites, let me describe.
The Oceano Dunes is a state park in California with 5 1/2 miles of beach that vehicles can travel on. Many, like my son-in-law, drive their 4 wheel drive trucks pulling toy haulers, loaded with quads and other off road recreational vehicles, and drive as much of those 5 1/2 miles as they can. The trick is to not get stuck in the sand, but if they do, there is a certain prestige to being able to pull others out. So those who get stuck are helped to get out. When they find their sites, these dry campers (no water, electric or septic hookups) turn their trailers facing away from the ocean, so that the constantly blowing sand doesn’t get in. They set up camp in the shelter of their trailers, often placing temporary skirts along the spaces under the trailers as an additional protection from the blowing sand. This environment is my son-in-law’s favorite place on earth.
Meanwhile, a vacation in Avila Beach means time spent in a hotel or vacation condo. As described in my previous post, it is a warm, sunny cove with many visitor friendly amenities. These include restaurants and swimming pools and sleepy afternoons on the beach followed by warm showers and possibly a dip in the hot tub. After dinner, we walk in the balmy evening air, eating ice cream on the promenade and watching the tide come in. This is the kind of vacation my family enjoys.
Many times our son-in-law has been a good sport about vacationing our way. So when he and my daughter wanted us to come over to their campsite for a barbecue and campfire, we felt we had to reciprocate and take this chance to experience his kind of vacation. None of us realized the date we’d set for this was our anniversary date. We reserved rental quads for my 12 year old son and husband and bought some goodies to go with dinner.
At the appointed time, we tentatively entered the sandy path leading into the dunes, my husband driving his pick up truck which does not have 4 wheel drive. (We’ve never before missed this feature!) It gave us a surreal feeling to be driving our vehicle along the water’s edge. Though there was a track somewhat packed down, we were driving where children played with shovels and pails and dodging the incoming waves with the truck like we do when we walk barefoot along the beach. “What will happen if a wave reaches us?” my son piped up from the back seat. We didn’t have an answer. I wanted to know what happened if someone going the other way wanted to drive by. I didn’t have to ask because very soon we had to squeeze past an oncoming truck, they not wanting to go too high up into the softer sand and we not wanting to venture any further towards the ocean. “People do this for fun?” I questioned aloud. My husband just shook his head, and I could tell he was not one of them.
Another question I did not need to voice was “What happens if we get stuck in the sand?” After ten minutes of driving, instead of finding my daughter at her campsite, we happened upon a patch of unpacked sand and couldn’t go any further. We were stuck. My stomach turned and I worked hard to hold back a feeling of panic. My husband, for whatever reason, didn’t appreciate my unsolicited advice to stop turning the tires. I was sure he was digging us in further, but he assured me that he was “rocking” the truck out of its rut. I texted my son-in-law for help while my husband continued “rocking” the truck for another ten minutes. The truck made sounds that I was sure came from important pieces breaking off. However, before my son-in-law arrived, my husband was able to free the truck. We agreed to immediately get off the dunes with our unequipped vehicle and park it on blacktop at the edge of this sandy park.
Our son-in-law picked us up from the parking lot we found and chauffeured us, as well as his mother and brothers who had just arrived, to his camp site. My heart was racing and my stomach was still in knots from our ordeal, trying to get to this spot. The campsite was a random patch of sand on a barren beach at the base of the dunes. It was windy and cold and while the boys prepared to ride quads, we girls huddled in the shelter of the trailer and tried to stay warm, if not sand free. I thought I was being pleasant and open-minded to this different type of vacation. However, my daughter’s mother-in-law recognized the look in my eyes and, laughing, said, “This is how I spent every vacation. We had sand everywhere. When the boys went riding, that was my time to clean up camp and make their next meal. It was no vacation for me!” (I knew not everyone thought this was fun!)
Once settled in with the memory of our traumatic ride in fading, my husband, son and I enjoyed our time on the dunes. Both son and husband loved riding quads and connecting with their masculine selves. The cool wind made a barbecue and campfire even more appreciated than usual. The smell of hamburgers on the grill was familiar in a new place and something about a campfire creates an instant sense of togetherness. Smoke from the embers drifted among us, lacing us together with our children, grandchild and in-laws. As the day wore on, we were less observant of our environment and more aware of our company, the family we’ve gathered over the years.
When it was time to go, our son-in law once again drove us the nearly 20 minutes along the beach, pointing out the trucks and trailers that had gotten stuck in the sand while we were visiting. He would help them out after he drove us back to our parking lot. We shook our heads as we again tried to wrap our brains around the idea of this being anyone’s idea of a fun time. As we were unloading ourselves and our chairs and sweatshirts from his truck, our son-in-law said, “Today is your 25th anniversary, isn’t it? Happy anniversary!” We’d nearly forgotten!
Back at the hotel, we were grateful for warm showers. As my husband and I fell into our fresh, clean bed that night, my husband began to apologize. He felt bad about the way we ended up spending our milestone anniversary. “Did you ever think 25 years ago that we’d spend today celebrating our anniversary getting stuck in the sand and …..”
I interrupted and was honestly able to tell him, “I am not disappointed. We spent today with children we created over the past 25 years and the people they love. We are blessed to have family who want to be with us no matter where we are. I am really not disappointed.” And I really wasn’t.