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We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the screaming began to take hold.
Or perhaps it was Omaha? According to Counting Crows, that’s somewhere in middle America — which, as it turns out, is not near Barstow at all. It’s fair to say, then, that my mind was rather frazzled. A 36-hour drive will do that, as will 4 kids apparently intent on initiating a Civil War.
Oh, and the cat had just defecated on the carpet.
Relocating across country with 4 kids and 5 animals is not easy. Our trip started in Westfield, Ind., culminating in Livermore, Calif., less than an hour’s drive from the bustling city of San Francisco. At times it felt like our modest 30-foot Cruise America RV was the reincarnation of Alcatraz, while other moments were immensely special — an opportunity to share the landscape’s beauty with my family (and many pets).
The RV boasted few creature comforts: no TV, a radio that seldom worked, and sofas festooned with questionable stains. It wasn’t cheap, either. The weekly rental cost $2,700, and that didn’t include bedding or kitchen utensils. Why so pricey? Because it was a one-way trip, and most RV companies won’t send their vehicle across country without a return ticket.
Our theory was to do whatever was necessary to ensure the drive went smoothly.
The journey was roughly 2,400 miles, taking us from Indiana through Illinois into Iowa through Nebraska into Wyoming then Utah through Nevada and into California. It was a mammoth of a drive, and we had just 3 days to complete it.
This was a problem. We couldn’t leave until 6 PM the first day, meaning it was unlikely we could drive for more than 6 or 7 hours. That meant, for the final 2 days, we’d need to average around 15 hours per day.
Leaving Indiana was bittersweet. We’d had an emotional farewell with friends, privately whispered goodbye to the family house we built just 2 years earlier, and prayed we were doing the right thing. The move was for my new role here at Beepi. I’d already started working for the company, based temporarily out of an Airbnb in San Jose while the family finished up school in Indy. By now I knew the job was awesome. I knew California was, too. Still, leaving for good is hard, especially when you see your 8-year-old daughter hugging her childhood friend, tears streaming down her face — her blurry eyes piercing mine as if to say “Why daddy? Why?”
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cause my own eyes to become blurry.
My wife and I would reminisce about the time, 10 years earlier, we packed our bags and left England, arriving in the U.S. with nothing more than a suitcase filled with dreams. This was different though. It was no longer just the 2 of us; there were children at stake (aged 3, 5, 7 and 8) and there were 5 animals (3 cats, 2 dogs). Not to mention we were leaving a home we’d built specifically to live in forever.
For the final 2 days, we’d need to average around 15 hours per day.
People say you’ll always have your memories. The fact is, though, memories do fade. It’s now over a month since we made this move, and I’ve already forgotten the way the carpet felt on my feet or how the sun rose behind the trees, sneaking its way into our bedroom each morning, nudging me to wake up like a dog licking your face.
Pursuit Of Happiness
Back in the RV, Tinker — a cat with hair long-enough to make Van Halen jealous — was scared. Her 2 brothers cowered in the back bedroom, snuggling between boxes and bedding as the colossal machine rattled to its core, as if each bump would cause the RV to snap in 2. Tinker, however, used me for comfort. Not only would she nestle on my lap while I drove, she’d often place her paws on my forearm and unblinkingly stare out the window. To the untrained eye, she seemed almost dog-like, enjoying her new adventure. But I knew this behavior was a product of fear.
The dogs were fine. They took it in their stride with barely a whimper. And anyway, animals—even in an RV—are far less hassle than tiny humans. How were we supposed to occupy 4 kids on a 2,400-mile road trip?
That’s where the RV came in. The kids could get up, switch chairs, go to the bathroom, eat, all without pestering mommy or daddy. The lack of endless pee breaks, too, kept mommy and daddy sane. We brought lots of coloring books and, of course, iPads (because no parent in 2016 can function without iPads).
Our theory was to do whatever was necessary to ensure the drive went smoothly. If the kids wanted to eat a giant tub of Nutella, for example, they could. If it keeps them quiet (and they don’t throw up violently) I’m okay with that. This philosophy worked, and we motored through the journey’s half-way point with with barely a bicker.
Leaving for good is hard, especially when you see your 8-year-old daughter hugging her childhood friend, tears streaming down her face
While the kids slept, I’d drive until 1 AM. Having imbibed a Red Bull or 10, traveling at night was enjoyable. The quietness was almost mystical, buoyed by I-80’s wilderness and star-filled backdrop. Even with a cat on my knee, perched on my forearm to the dismay of my bicep, I was content driving until my eyelids could take no more.
After a few hours sleep, around 6 AM, my wife would take the helm. This was helpful as I’m rarely human until noon. The downside, though, was that I was responsible for feeding the kids breakfast. I kept it simple: Toast and jam, a sippy cup of milk that can’t be spilt, and a fresh dose of iPad. This worked well.
While the radio seldom functioned, when it did, it proved to be a handy companion. We chose generic pop music, mostly because it offended no one but daddy. And anyway, who cares what dad thinks about Justin Bieber? If the kids are quiet then daddy is happy — leading him, perhaps, to even hum a few lines of “As Long As You Love Me.”
The happiness didn’t always last, especially during the latter part of the journey. The kids became bored, and to combat that boredom, the only logical way was to inflict combat upon each other. This went on for hours: “Stop fighting, please,” I’d beg.
The response? Three seconds of silence prior to a deafening *smack:*
“DAAAAAADDDDDDDDD,” she’d wailed. “HE HIT ME!”
“NOOOOOOO,” he’d reply. “SHE HIT ME FIRST!!!!!”
This went on and on, like a Monty Python skit that wasn’t funny. I could feel my blood boil, my hands clenching the thin-rimmed steering wheel and my eye twitching uncontrollably. Justin Bieber came on the radio. And smoke billowed from my ears.
People say you’ll always have your memories. The fact is, though, memories do fade.
My 7-year-old daughter turned up the volume on her iPad to drown out the incessant howling. The LEGO Movie was playing.
“Everything is awesome,” it sang, over and over. “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!”
And then things got worse.
The cat, who had just relieved herself in the litterbox, jumped onto my lap, her buttocks still warm from the deed. My wife and I glanced at each other with a look only parents understand.
The Turning Of The Tide
We then entered Utah. The topography was changed, boasting endless salt flats decorated by towering mountains. The drones of boredom faded into the scenery, our collective souls baffled by its awe-inspiring beauty.
America really is a wonderful place. Even during times of chaos, even when the world is seemingly on its head, you can’t help but appreciate how lucky we are to call it home. As a nation, we’re unified by its foundation, its rivers running through, the ground that we walk on, the sun that beats down upon our head. We must never lose sight of this.
Leaving the flats behind, an equally spectacular route led us through the steaming deserts of Nevada into the still-snowy mountains of Tahoe. When we arrived at our new home, the mood worsened. It was rundown, in need of much work (my wife had never set eyes on it before). Worse still, my 7-year-old held her ear in agony, the elevation in the Rockies reeking havoc upon her eardrum. (We later found she had a vicious ear infection, leading us to spend until midnight in the local ER).
This went on and on, like a Monty Python skit that wasn’t funny.
It was a fraught arrival, not helped by the fact that our California house was a third the size of the one we’d left behind and about a billion times more expensive. It’s taken until now to feel settled. On occasions, I still wonder whether we made the right call; typically these thoughts arrive at the same time as my mortgage bill.
And then I look out of the window, the hills decorated in grape vines. Clouds don’t exist here, at least beyond the mountain where we are — far enough away from the city’s glazing of morning fog. It truly is paradise, and while that doesn’t justify the cost of living, it at least makes it easier to stomach.
And hey, I have a job I’m passionate about, and my kids will be going to a great school. And my animals, well, they still have plenty of carpets to defecate on. We ripped the Band-Aid off, leaped into the unknown with nothing more than courage and hope, just like we did 10 years earlier. We embarked on a road-trip that would have broken most. And yet at the end of it all, it turns out Emmet was right.
Everything is indeed awesome.
Alex Lloyd is the senior automotive editor at Beepi. Prior to joining Beepi, Lloyd spent much of his life as a professional race car driver, competing in the Indianapolis 500 4 times—finishing 4th in 2010. Read more from Lloyd on Beepi’s Backseat Driver blog