I was snowed-in last weekend at a motel in Oakhurst, California.
This motel (a Comfort Inn, and deserving of its name) was next to a bar called the Dirty Donkey. The Dirty Donkey was also deserving of its name: it had a large banner reading “Bikers Welcome!” next to the entrance, and a picture of a donkey’s butt painted over the door.
Oh the times I could have had, at the Dirty Donkey, if I had only gotten over my sudden attack of the giggles.
It was the first real snowfall of the year: up to that point, winter in the Sierra Nevada range had been unseasonably dry. Last Saturday night, when we were trying to drive into Yosemite for our family reunion, though, snow fell by the tractor-load. I woke up, looked out the window, and suddenly realized that that song—“Walking in a Winter Wonderland”—(which Greg always gets stuck in my head, thanks very much)—was actually appropriate.
Yech. Christmas tunes.
Our cars were hatted with six inches of snow, and the roads covered in a thick sleet that left clear footprints wherever we stepped. I can’t say this influx of snow was particularly surprising: we’d stopped overnight in Oakhurst (as opposed to pushing on to the cabin in Yosemite) because when we’d driven into the mountains the previous night, the windshield had been bombarded with falling ice. “How surreal!” Mom exclaimed, taking a picture with her phone. I gritted my teeth.
It grew more perilous the higher we climbed. The pellets of snow hitting the windshield made it barely possible to focus on the dark, tortuous road. Flakes struck with mesmerizing regularity, and there were no streetlamps, or other cars, to illuminate the way.
Finally, Dad decided to retreat. We were all shaking with adrenaline as we pulled back into town, which was, at that point, still beneath the line of snowfall. We found the Comfort Inn, which had a welcome matt in the lobby that my nephew Luca (he’s fifteen months old) collapsed onto, saying “Ahhhhhhhh.” We bundled down for the night, learning that three of the Comfort Inn employees were prevented, by the blizzard, from making it home.
That’s when it’s great to work in a hotel: if you’re stranded, and they have extra rooms, you’re guaranteed a place to sleep.
We woke up the next morning and scraped the snow off the cars with a lunch tray. We learned that the highway into Yosemite was passable, as long as we put chains on our tires. So we ventured up the mountain again, at 21 miles an hour, dodging the random (but seemingly malicious) ice-dumps of overhanging trees.
Yosemite. An awe-striking place, if there ever was one, from the crest of Half Dome to the blackened rock around Bridal Veil Falls, to the way the pine trees surge up the edges of the valley like waves. Yosemite Valley itself is cupped inside of sharp, sheer cliffs. We stayed in the neighboring (and less majestic) townlet of Chinquapin, which is still within the boundaries of the National Park.
For our family reunion, Cumminses came from far and wide—old hands, new brides—to gather in Chinquapin. It’s always interesting when members of my extended family clan are trapped under one roof. This time, we played Apples to Apples, got into an extensive argument about whether Batman counts as a superhero (I say no—unless “money” is a superpower), and built a snowman with quarters for eyes.
The cabin we rented had six bedrooms, three floors, and a deck overlooking an untrammeled snow-meadow—where we had one day of wading knee-deep through snowdrifts, and aiming snowballs at the back of each other’s necks.
Then everyone began to get sick.
Don't you love family road trips?
Don't you love family road trips?
Someone had brought a particularly virulent strand of influenza into the cabin, and there was no escape. It was kind of like watching a reality TV show—who would drop next? The people who didn’t regularly interact with children were first. Then came the children and babies themselves, making us all very sad with their retching.
Then came the people who did regularly interact with children, but weren’t actually parents—including me. I was congratulating myself on lasting so long, up until I realized that I’d held out just long enough to be at the peak of sickness during the six-hour drive home.
That was NO FUN. I ended up having to vomit in one of my snow boots. The puke was red, because of eating three red gummy bears the previous day—which is a lesson in how much dye the candy companies use, everyone.
My mom is the prizewinner of the event, though: she, alone of us all, never got sick. She puts it down to copious consumption of grapefruit seed extract, but I say it’s because she has the immune system of a true superhero (not Batman).
I suppose there could have been worse vacations. We could have kept driving into the blizzard, up the dark and winding mountainside. We could have had a serious accident and been stranded, far from help, in the domain of ice.
The red color in my vomit could have actually been blood.
But in terms of the worst vacation I’ve had, there isn’t really much competition with the family reunion in Yosemite, during the last days of winter, when I puked in a boot.