Most fathers will admit to having a little Clark Griswold in them.
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Clark Griswold is the goofy yet doting father portrayed by Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. Griswold always planned vacations with the right intentions for his family to enjoy memorable experiences, but of course, life keeps getting in the way of Griswold’s plans.
We relate to the films because all of us who have planned vacations generally share the same emotions, the excitement and the disappointments, on the getaway. And who can resist that catchy Holiday Road song from the films — I’m humming it right now. I had no idea the song comes from Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame.
Indeed, we plan vacations with the expectation that events will unfold exactly like we envision. We sense in the back of our mind that may not be the case, but we can all be in denial as we map out the trip and begin picturing the sweet memories before they even happen.
Each summer we try to plan a road trip where we head somewhere to not only experience the destination, but also enjoy spending family time together and ideally unplugging from the digital world for a few days. For the second consecutive year, we chose my parents’ cabin in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest as our destination earlier this month.
The trip had its share of anticipated highs including relaxing with the family, reading by the river and plenty of fly fishing. But like a Vacation movie (a rather tame, G-rated version at that), the trip also had its share of unanticipated challenging moments that we didn’t see coming. Interestingly enough, all of the moments involved members of the animal kingdom for some reason, and we didn’t even bring a pet.
Our first incident occurred at a stopover in Virginia City, Nev., on the way east. We wanted our sons to soak up some Old West culture in a place they had not visited before. We pulled into town on a Sunday afternoon, and Main Street was packed with few parking options.
I eventually spotted on open space on the street that I figured I could parallel park my truck into, keeping in mind I had a bike rack on the back with three bikes. I also noticed over my shoulder what I assumed to be a life-sized display of a donkey set up by the car adjacent to the open parking spot since the donkey was not moving an inch and didn’t look real at first glance.
As I backed carefully into the spot, I heard a roar from the people standing on the wooden sidewalk next to us. Turns out the donkey was alive and belonged to the old timer who poses for pictures in town. Apparently my bike rack got close enough to the donkey to cause the uproar, and I drove off to pursue another parking spot with my sons chastising me on the way. “Dad, can’t believe you almost hit a donkey, c’mon.”
The other two unanticipated challenging moments involved the lovely horsefly. Excessively warm weather sparked a bumper horsefly crop in the Sawtooths, and they pestered us frequently. One afternoon while I relaxed reading, my 10-year-old son got the idea to kill a horsefly while it rested on my hat. On my head. The lad swung his hand, smacked me square in the head and actually killed the fly. Of course, my head rang for several minutes afterward and I questioned his judgment, but Mr. Miyagi would have applauded his stealthy quickness.
The horsefly kingdom earned its revenge on us the next day. On a mountain biking trip, a horsefly bit me in the chin while we headed down a steep hill. I had both hands firmly gripping the brakes. When the fly bit me on the right side of my chin, I instinctually raised up my right hand to swat it. But taking my hand off the right brake and fully breaking with my left hand caused the bike to flip over with me going head over heels.
Yet as we discussed trip highlights on the way home, we kept laughing about the mishaps. While they are generally annoying when they occur, sometimes it is the mishaps in an adventure that provide the impromptu special moments or the comic relief. Even if they involve donkeys and horseflies, surprises can create the clearest memories.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.