The Wingmen were beyond exhausted. Aaron was almost to California by now, but Casey was with us in the RV. I have known Casey Robles for a while, and it was very clear that these first couple of days were getting the best of him. He had left his wife home with three little kids, he had pulled a couple of all nighters already, and he was really trying to hide how tired he was, being that he had the responsibility as a Wingman to drive and work. As a friend, I was really worried about him, and I knew that I was going to need to step in and help out. I decided that if I drove part of the way that night, he could catch some sleep and really, that would make the biggest difference. I was nervous, in my entire life, I had never pulled an all nighter, ever. I am a morning person, and I have always struggled staying up even until 10 p.m. And being behind on sleep over the past few days made me even more nervous, but it was important for me, and I was going to do this. I figured that I would let him sleep, and when I got tired, he could step in and drive.
I said a prayer, my plea was on Casey’s behalf, “Please help me to drive well so that everyone in this car, and especially Casey can get some sleep. Also, help me to stay awake and get us there safely.” Aaron would get a full night’s sleep after picking James up from the airport in California, but Casey would have to suffer through another day. I really needed this to go well, and my family needed to be safe in the RV as I drove.
I got behind the wheel of the RV, and started to check everything out, to be sure that I knew how all of the buttons, gears, windshield wipers, etc. worked. I liked how tall it was, I could see everything all around me. It was long, and even longer having the Mazda in tow behind us. I had definitely never driven anything this long, but I drive a 15 passenger van and have a general understanding to take wider turns and give myself more time to change lanes. My dad raised me to be a problem solver, so I figured that I just needed to think this through, be conscious, and it would be great.
As I drove through the night, I continue to load up on my energy source, Ningxia Red Nitro, a Young Living Product. I shifted through music, variety seemed to help me stay awake. After a while, I remembered my friend Carlee telling me that she had listened to comedy stations on Pandora. I booted up the Jerry Seinfeld station to give it a try; after all, Carlee had only offered positive feedback about the comedy stations on Pandora. This was definitely the golden ticket! I heard all of the greatest comedians on this station (I insist on clean humor), and at 3 am it popped me right up, feeling reinvigorated. I had headphones on, so I had no idea what my volume was as I laughed. I was laughing so hard, I had to make a conscious effort to keep quiet and not wake everyone up! I have to admit, it was hard to listen to funny things and not have anyone to share it with. I had to wait until the next morning to text Carlee and share the jokes, and let her know that ‘she’ had saved the day!
Casey woke up about 7 am. He came up front, feeling bad that I had driven. I simply bragged about my ability to stay up all night, “Look who is a grown-up now, this girl!” I know, this is a common thing, but in my early thirties, I had never done it, and I was pretty excited that it had all gone well. I headed back to catch an hour or so of sleep, we weren’t too far from Santa Cruz.
The next thing I know, I wake up and I hear Casey open the door of the RV, climbing out and slamming it. We are at a gas station, so I decided to get out and see what the deal is. As I step out of the RV, there is a putrid smell. I gasped and walked away from the RV. I see Casey back by The Little White Mazda. I walk over to him, “What is that smell???” I looked at The Little White Mazda, and the whole front is splattered with blood! “Oh my gosh! What happened?! The stank is unbearable!” Casey starts laughing, “Well, I ran over a dead deer that was in the middle of the road.” I was near gagging, “You hit a rotten animal? You are seriously an idiot!” He is now in a full cackle, doubling over, having a hard time standing up. I start laughing, mumbling to myself, “Seriously, you are unbelievable…”
I went back to sleep, nervous about what else could possibly happen in the next couple of hours before we arrive in Santa Cruz. I started to stir, open my eyes and realize that it is morning. We are at a dead stop. I look at the window and see Alcatraz Island. I smiled, I love psychology, I love social justice, I love history, and I love Alcatraz. What a pleasant surprise, to have that be the first thing I saw that day when I looked out the window. I walked up front to see what was going on. Brittany was in the passenger seat, all the kids were chatting and enjoying themselves, and we were at a complete stop on the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked at my watch, 8:30 a.m. How did we time that just right…to hit San Francisco rush hour! I found it hilarious that we were in an RV, trying to stay inside of the tiny lanes provided for us when the bridge was packed with cars. We were definitely smothering the cars all around us.
I sat up front now, feeling surprisingly refreshed after only sleeping 90 minutes or so. I have to be honest, being with my friends is always a treat. Casey will never disappoint you on the entertainment level, the kids are up for anything, and Brittany was happy to be in the RV with everyone. We laughed and exchanged stories from our previous two days. Brittany and I discussed the best way to handle the text message that I had received from my sister in Alaska. I still had that looming over my head, and I needed to address it.
It took us another 2 hours to get to Santa Cruz, totaling a 12 hour drive! It is a good thing that James decided to fly, he would have NEVER made it! By the time we pulled up to the AirBnB, having driven along the beautiful ocean coastline for quite some time, James was out on the bike. Yet another morning we missed James. A little light from heaven shined down on us while were were driving, about 30 minutes from our location. James passed the RV on his bike! We went crazy honking and cheering; it was especially exciting for the kids to be able to see him. But my heart continued to get heavier, I knew that this meant that we would not be seeing him at all that day, again. This was definitely not happening the way I had anticipated.
As a crew, we needed to come up with a plan. Everything was disorganized, and we needed to get everything sorted, figured out and have a plan. I wanted to dive in and organize everything, my favorite, but I needed to make sure that my ducklings had a great day as well. I instructed Brittany to get 3 bins (I am obsessed with bins), a swim bin, a bike bin, and a run bin; this would be enough for now. We had no idea where the van was and most of what we needed as in the van. “Where’s the van?” became a daily question throughout the 50/50/50. Casey and Aaron had not been given any real instruction as to what their responsibilities were, but we hadn’t realized that until we were here in California. That needed to be figured out as well, who is doing what. There was nowhere to do laundry, the AirBnB house was more like a studio, and so we had no purpose in doing anything at the house. Brittany stayed and helped the Wingmen get organized, and then Natalie and I took the kids to Monterey to go to the Aquarium.
People had ranted and raved about how amazing this Aquarium is, so we figured it was worth the drive. It was over an hour each way, which is a long way when we spend so much time driving state to state. The 5 kids were smooshed in the back of our compact car, the Little White Mazda. The kids shared seat belts and strategically got buckled up. Natalie sat shotgun and we chatted, both of us secretly praying that I could stay awake. She offered to drive, but I was actually feeling okay, and insisted on driving.
Along the drive, we had friends texting us from home, “What is going on? Why isn’t anyone posting on social media?” I was confused, what did they mean? We had a designated person who was posting on social media. Their response, “No one is posting! Only James, but if he goes to sleep before he posts, we are worried, wondering if he finished!” We had no idea that no one was posting, except James. I addressed this concern with the designated poster, “I am posting, all the times” This was their response, but it wasn’t until many states later that we realized that they really weren’t posting.
Once we got there, we went inside and saw come cool stuff, but it wasn’t what we expected. The way people talked about it, I thought it was something that we could not miss; unfortunately, it was not worth that long drive. We were definitely bummed, especially after paying a high price to get in. We definitely wished we would have picked something closer; the kids hated squishing in the back of the car, and they made me promise that there would be no more aquariums. We smooshed everyone back in the car and headed back to where people were meeting for the 5k. I am sure that the aquarium didn’t compare to their day with the Sandrews the day before. Maybe had the days been spaced apart, they would have enjoyed it more; or maybe we should have tricked the Sandrews into spending the next 45 states with us!
About half-way, I turned to my dear friend, “I can’t drive, there is no way I can stay awake.” She had offered several times, but now was the time to take her up on the original offer. I was definitely not okay at this point. We saw a fruit stand and I said, “FRESH FRUIT! Let’s grab some produce and then you can drive the rest of the way.” I have a love affair with health food stores and farmers markets! Everything is so beautiful, and the smells cannot be beat! I loaded up the trunk with fruits and vegetables, feeling so happy, and headed back. After visiting with her for a few minutes, I finally said, “I will die if I try to stay awake any longer,” plopping my head to the side; I was asleep in seconds.
I woke up when we arrived at the park where the 5k was starting. There was only a little hustle and bustle, this was a much smaller event then the one in Oregon. I unloaded our fresh produce into the RV. The fridge was still warm, so I stacked it all over the RV, figuring I would find a better place when we had a minute. It was dinner time, and I needed to feed the kids and get dinner for the crew. We drove into the downtown area, which was beautiful, almost like we were in a movie. As beautiful as it was, there weren’t really places to eat. There were a few sit-down restaurants, but we needed something quick, and something easy to grab for the crew. We finally found a hot dog shop. My stomach was weary about this idea, but the kids were excited. We ended up with burgers and corndogs for the kids.
We had looked at the gift shop at the aquarium, but the kids were not excited about paying that high of a price for their souvenirs, so we were now on the hunt. There was a pharmacy across the street, the perfect place for souvenirs. I swear, pharmacies are amazing, they have everything, and some of the most random stuff. They had toys and items that said ‘California’ for them to choose from. They are always excited about souvenirs with the state name on them. After a very long hour, encouraging everyone to make a choice, they had their treasures, and we needed to hurry back to pack up. The 5k would be starting soon.
Upon arrival at the park, I was pulled aside by strangers to be interviewed. James was never available, so I was always the source of information. I tried to talk about everything I could so that they didn’t need to bother James with the same repetitive questions. We visited for quite some time, and then Wingmen joined us in our visit. After 45 minutes, I realized that James would be coming soon, and if the Wingmen were visiting with us, that meant they were not preparing his stuff for his departure. There was a lot to do to prepare for James’ trip in the Subaru. We were driving through a mountain pass that night, on our way to Las Vegas, and the RV needed to get a head start on the predicted 8.5 hour drive. The Subaru was going to wait until James finished, and he was going to be riding in the Subaru that night to Vegas. He needed all of his ‘after’ clothes ready, food, things for the next day. And most importantly, the Subaru was packed full of stuff and needed to be emptied!
I panicked and immediately started emptying the Subaru! There was so much stuff in there, I was just setting it in the parking lot. I folded down the seats to make a bed. I ran to the RV to get the bedding, and was moving desperately to get things done. I said to our chatting Wingmen, “Aaron, he needs an overnight bag!” Aaron hadn’t been with us very long, he had no idea what James actually needed in this overnight bag.
I ran to the RV to get his personal items for his overnight bag, and shoved it into the bag. Aaron grabbed the bags that I had packed, and took them over to the Subaru. Everyone left to run the 5k, as I continue to hurry and get things put together, totally freaking out inside! I put his food in the car, so it was ready when he got back, and quickly headed to the RV to get it packed up. This task, preparing the RV became a huge job, at least 45 minutes every night, before we could take off.
We had loaded the car earlier in the day. I kept saying to Casey, “It is crooked, it has to be straight.” We would do it again, and again, and again, but the trailer was crooked, so every time, the car didn’t load straight. “I think we need to move the RV and trailer so that the car can go on straight,” I said to Casey after all of our attempts. Casey’s response, “Nah, it’s good.” I had all of this stuff from the Subaru that needed to go somewhere, so I loaded it into the Mazda; it was packed to the max. The RV was a mess, everything was disorganized, but it was time to go! We had another long drive ahead of us, so we had to get on the road. I gave myself talk therapy, “It’s going to be okay to travel like this, you can pull it together in the morning.” I moved a few things around, including my produce from earlier in the day, in an attempt to keep it all from falling while the RV was moving.
“Kids, it’s time to go. Give your dad a kiss and hug.” They squealed as they told James goodbye. Lucy and Lily, understanding better the circumstances, offered love and support, “You are doing great dad. We love you!” My entire body was in panic mode, I gave James a kiss and a hug, “I love you forever and ever. We will be thinking about you while you finish, cheering from the road.” As I walked away, it just all seemed so wrong. Why were we just leaving him? He was battling this on his own, as we rested from our day. I did NOT like the way that this journey was going. Not seeing James day after day was not working for me.
Casey cheerfully hopped in the driver seat of the RV. “Where to tonight ladies?” he asked with an accent. “To Las Vegas please sir!” Natalie laughed, and everyone found their spots. At this point, I was not feeling very well. After being up the whole night, the night before, and just catching a brief nap in the car driving back from Monterey, I knew I wasn’t going to last very long. I wanted so bad to hang out with Natalie and Casey. I knew they would be having fun without me. I sat up toward the front, as an attempt to join the party, but within 30 minutes of the drive, I was out cold.