Travel Log: Our Worst Road Trip Ever

We are finally back from our trip to California and while we are happy to have been able to see some close friends and family that we haven’t been able to visit in a long time, the trip itself was absolutely the worst road trip we have ever been on. I can’t quite call it a vacation because it was so stressful and expensive that it will be relaxing to get back to work deadlines for a change.

Our long time friend and fellow Maxed-Out Puppeteer, Sean, was scheduled to be married to his love, Kate, on December 30th in the LDS Temple in Oakland California. Despite the fact that my wife, Chastity, was over seven months pregnant, we decided that we would go anyway. We looked at plane tickets but they were much too expensive. Little did we know that events that were to follow would end up costing us a great deal more.

Three of Chastity’s siblings had been living in Las Vegas for a while, including a brother who returned from Iraq last year whom I had not seen since he got out of basic-training over five years ago. And just two weeks earlier her father and a younger brother had moved in with her siblings in Las Vegas as well. We thought that it would be good to visit them on our way back from California.

We were worried about trying to drive our little Kia Rio through mountain passes of the Sierra Nevada mountains on Interstate 80, so we decided instead to to leave on December 27th and try to make the 16 hour drive south on Interstate 15 and then back up through California to the bay area.

For the last month or two the temperature gauge on our car had been malfunctioning. At first we thought it was overheating, but when we had taken it into the mechanic and he said that he was unable to make it overheat. The husband of a friend, who also works as a mechanic, also took a look at it and said that it was the temperature sensor that was broken, so we ordered a new sensor and he installed it for us the day before we were to leave. And that day it seemed to be working.

The night before we were to leave, I went out to check up on the car to make sure I had all of the tools necessary in case we got a flat tire. We had just had all of the tires replaced and still owed almost $400 on them (that is another story, but it is an important fact to know later on). I am not at all knowledgeable about cars, but after a frustrating hour trying to figure out how come I couldn’t find a wrench to get the lug nuts off, and a 10:00pm trip to AutoZone, I discovered that the new tires had rims and that I had lost the special “key” that fits onto the wrench to allow me to remove the lug nuts and change the tire. A replacement key was only available from the tire company.

So the next morning Chastity took our dog and cat over to All About Pets where we were paying to have them kenneled while we were out of town. Then, after an atypically long delay in getting ready that I wont go into, Chastity took the car over to the tire company and they were able to give us a replacement key for the wrench.

So, confident, that our car was in working order and that we had the tools to handle a flat, we finally got on our way at about 11:00am on the 27th with the car packed full of food and clothes for the trip, and toys and books for our two little girls who were sentenced to be restrained in car seats for many, many hours over the next week and a half, despite having done nothing to deserve such a punishment.

Within 30 miles we could tell that the new temperature sensor was not working. It was still reporting that the engine was overheating even though the engine itself seemed fine. So we pressed on.

We hit a major snow storm a hundred miles south of home. Chastity was driving and it was very tense with big trucks, who seemed all but oblivious to the weather, tossing gallons of brown slush and snow onto the windshield as they passed at ridiculous speeds. We stopped for gas and there was an amazing collection of dirty ice crystals that had formed all over the sides of our car that made it look like a giant blue and brown geode. Interestingly, the crystals had all grown outward at about a 45 degree angle toward the front of the car (against rather than with the friction of the air against the car).

Between the snow-stress and pregnancy discomfort, Chastity was exhausted, so I took over driving for the next 10 hours. Even though the temperature gauge reported that we were overheating the whole time, the engine was fine. We gave up when we reached Interstate 5 in California, after passing through Bakersfield (where we would have stopped had they had any hotels along the state highway that passed through town).

We left the next morning and headed north, me driving. We got to Oakland with no problems, and the traffic was reasonable. But even though the wedding was to be in Oakland the next day, Kate’s family lives in Santa Rosa, and the house where we would be staying and the church where the Pre-Wedding-Reception was to be held that evening were in Sebastopol, so we pressed on.

Suddenly, within the space of one mile, near Berkley, the traffic transmogrified from normal into an insane traffic jam with more lanes than my brain could count while simultaneously trying not to crash into the hundreds of cars pushing their way in. All of a sudden, we were on three highways at once and we missed the exit to the one we wanted because we were too many lanes away. It was nearly 3:00pm. I’d hate to see what it would be like at “Rush Hour.” Unbelievable.

Somehow, I was able to exit, get back on the the freeway going in the opposite direction, and find my way onto the correct highway toward Santa Rosa. Once we crossed the big old bridge across the bay, we ran into a different kind of traffic jam. There were only two lanes, but there were enough cars to fill four. Even in the worst of Utah Valley rush-hour traffic, it had been a long time since I have come to a complete stop on a highway and just sat there for minutes until the traffic began to flow again.

I should mention that, amazingly, throughout the whole trip our little girls were, other than a few minor moments, wonderfully well behaved.

We finally arrived in Santa Rosa with only an hour and a half or so before the reception was supposed to start. We met Kate’s family, and Sean’s sister whom we had never met before. My sister Mary was also there (Sean and Kate hired her as their wedding photographer and flew her out the day before). After eating some pizza, graciously offered by Kate’s family, we hurried over to Kate’s aunt’s house in Sebastopol where we would be staying along with Sean’s family while she was out of town with her family. We got changed into more formal clothes. The church where the reception was held was only a few blocks away so we walked over.

The reception was nice and rather informal and we enjoyed getting to know some of Kate’s family and Sean’s sister. The walk back to the house was colder than expected, however, and Chastity was in pain by the time we got there.

We had to get up really early on Saturday morning so we could get ready and travel the hour and a half back to Oakland. The wedding ceremony was to start at 9:00 am, and we were supposed to be there by 8:30. Somehow, we managed to get up and ready and out the door on time with our two little girls.
The night before I had asked Kate’s father, whom everyone told me was really good at giving directions, for detailed instructions on how to get from where we were staying in Sebastopol to the temple in Oakland. We followed his instructions without any problems until we got off the freeway on at Fruitvale. There was supposed to be a small sign that said “Mormon Temple,” but neither of us could see it. Somehow I had thought that Kate’s dad had told us that Fruitvale road would “turn into” Lincoln. Perhaps he actually said that from Fruitvale we were to “turn in to” Lincoln. In any case, I followed Fruitvale up until it changed into Lyman road and then continued on until we had disappeared into a bunch of tiny, winding roads high in the Oakland hills.

We made our way back down to Fruitvale, and Chastity finally made me stop and ask for directions at a Safeway grocery store. (Little did we know that Safeway stores would become nearly a temporary home for us later that day.) Lincoln was only a block away, but it never touched Fruitvale at all.

We finally got on Lincoln and arrived at the temple—nerves frazzled. For those of you who don’t know, Latter-day Saint temple wedding ceremonies can only be attended by adult members of the church who have conformed to the behavioral standards of the church and have a entrance pass called a “Recommend.” We had hoped that between Sean’s family, who were not going to be attending the actual ceremony, and my cousin Rus’s sister in law, Holly, we would have enough people to watch the girls while Chastity and I went in for the ceremony. But Sean’s family was nowhere to be seen, and we couldn’t find Holly either. Had we not spent so much time wandering around the hills only a few blocks away, perhaps things would have worked out better. So after our long trip and hustle, Chastity ended up missing the ceremony to watch the kids while I went in and attended. Argh!

In some ways it was an unique ceremony and there were a number of very funny moments that I have never witnessed at a temple marriage before, but I wont go into the details here. I missed Chastity terribly and wished she had been able to be there with me.

After the ceremony we had a good time taking pictures and chatting with Rus and his wife Kelly, and her sister Holly. There were still several hours until the wedding luncheon and ring ceremony back in Santa Rosa, so we took a late breakfast with them at a little café a couple of blocks from the temple. There we had a great time talking and eating. Rus and I grew up together and he and Kelly were among the founding members of our puppetry troupe. They moved their family to Hawaii two and a half years ago and it was nice to see them, though we were sad that they had left all of their kids at Kelly’s parent’s home in Sonora except for their youngest daughter, Gwen.

Rus and Kelly were not going to be driving out to Santa Rosa for the luncheon or ring ceremony as expected, but they invited us to head out to Sonora the next day to visit and so our kids could play.

We headed back to Santa Rosa with what we thought would be plenty of time to get to the wedding luncheon and with certainly enough time to make it to the ring ceremony, which Sean had asked me to conduct. We were not only excited for the ceremony, but we were also expecting some of our good friends from college, Rachel and Alex, to be there with their three little kids. Our kids had been excited to see them the whole trip.

It was a long, hot drive. We were surprised that even on a Saturday at midday, the traffic between Oakland and Santa Rosa was just as terrible as it has been the day before. I was fairly sure that I knew the way to the location where both the luncheon and ring ceremony where being held. All I had to do was get on Occidental road, the same road we had followed to get to Kate’s parent’s house, and follow it until it turned and came to the school or center location. Unfortunately it was not that easy, and we had accidentally left the invitation with the actually address on it at the house where we were staying.

We followed the road up until we, for the second time that day, found ourselves lost in a bunch of winding road. Then we turned back. Unfortunately by that time I was quite turned around and I couldn’t remember the way back to the house where we were staying. We thought that the ring ceremony was being held at a school center of some kind, so we stopped at a service station and asked if there were any schools nearby. He pointed us the way to the local high school, but that wasn’t it. I remembered, however, that the high school was somewhat near to the house where we were staying.

We drove ourselves around in circles looking for the way to the house, but we only made ourselves more frustrated. We also noticed that the car was sounding a little funny. We stopped at another Safeway and tried to use a payphone to call Sean and Kate’s cell phones, but all we got was their voice mail. (We still don’t own cell phones ourselves, but this and later events of this trip nearly convinced us that we need to get some.)

We drove back to Kate’s parents house, but we knew that it was unlikely that anyone would be there. And they weren’t. The door was locked, of course, so we couldn’t go in and try to locate a copy of the invitation. By this time we had missed the luncheon and were in serious danger of missing the ring ceremony as well, which I was supposed to be conducting!

We drove back to the Safeway where I popped open the hood on the car to find that we were low on oil and out of coolant. So I went in to buy oil and anti-freeze. The guy at the register asked me why I got antifreeze instead of just using water. I explained that we would be heading back to the cold of Utah. He asked me if I was going to put it into the car while still wearing my suit and offered to have the bag boy do it for me. (I guess in Utah we get used to doing a lot of things while wearing our Sunday best, whereas he probably wears a suit infrequently, if at all, and only for very special occasions.)

By this time we had missed the ring ceremony and I just hoped that they hadn’t waited long for me before having someone else conduct it.

We went back into the Safeway to use the bathroom and buy some junk food and then sat in the parking lot try to calm down a bit. Once we had gathered our wits a bit, we went out on the road and were able to remember the way to Kate’s aunt’s house.

Unfortunately, we were sharing the house with Sean’s parents and they had the key to the house. We were still locked out. So we went back to the Safeway to try to call again. This time Chastity called Utah to get my sister Mary’s cell phone number from out family.

Finally we were able to get through to Mary, but the ceremony was over and Sean and Kate had already left to go on their honeymoon. We had spent hours driving in circles and sitting at Safeway. To make it worse, Rachel and Alex and their kids had been waiting for us, but had finally given up and gone home.

So we had driven all the way to California for Sean and Kate’s wedding and to see friends, but I had missed all but the actual Sealing ceremony, and Chastity and the kids had missed all of it. Blech! We might as well have bought just me a plane ticket to come out for the sealing and fly back home.

At least we had been able to see Rus and Kelly for a couple of hours, but since their kids didn’t come with them, the trip felt wasted for our little girls.

That night we watched Napoleon Dynamite with Sean’s family and I taught Sean’s sister how to hack into the administration system of the neighbor’s wireless router. I had just finished telling her how an incredible number of people foolishly use the word “password” as their password, so it is among the first thing hackers try. Ironically, the neighbor’s router administration credentials were “admin” and “password”.

The next morning we decided that in order to make the trip worth while for Chastity and our girls we would drive an hour and a half out to Davis to visit Rachel and Alex and their kids, whom we had missed the day before. With oil and coolant replenished, the car worked without any problems, even though the temperature gauge still reported incorrectly that we were overheating.

We made it to Davis, where Alex is working on his PhD in Physical Chemistry at UC Davis. He is developing analysis hardware and software to study photosynthesis at an atomic level. Rachel recently gave birth to their third child. We reached Davis in time to attend the last portion of church with them before we went over to their apartment in the university housing.

On the fifth Sunday of a month, LDS congregations often have a combined class for the women and men over some topic that the local leadership selects, and in Davis they had asked a member who is a professor of economics at UC Davis to teach a class on money management. He preached the gospel of Milton Friedman with a smattering of scripture and half-jokingly made a mathematical argument that if you pay tithing and keep the day of the Lord by not spending money on Sundays you return 10% to the Lord and Save 14% so you come out ahead in the long run. You could tell it was a college town.

At Rachel and Alex’s apartment we had a wonderful time and the kids had a blast playing with their two daughters, who are nearly the same ages.

When the evening rolled around we said farewell and headed off through the California countryside toward Sonora to visit Rus and Kelly and their kids and stay the night at Kelly’s parent’s home. We made it all the way to Sonora without getting lost, but getting to the house in Sonora was another story. We missed the correct road a few times. By the time we got there the car was overheating, and the coolant was all gone.

Once the we got the kids down to sleep, we stayed up with Rus, Kelly, and her family chatting until midnight arrived and the neighbors noisily celebrated the new year. We went to bed happy.

The next day we had a wonderful time with Rus and Kelly’s kids and extended family, and Kelly’s dad, Rus, and I took a look at the car, cleaned off the corrosion on the battery connections and replenished the coolant again. I figured that it had taken us 200 miles before the coolant had run out, so we should have been able to go about that far again.

Kelly’s parent’s live out in the beautiful mountains within about an hour or so of the Yosemite National Park and the kids had a great time playing in the back yard.

After spending the day in Sonora, we decided that it was time to head off toward Las Vegas to visit Chastity’s family on our way back to Utah. We planned to try to get as far as Bakersfield that night and stop in Vegas the next day.

But after only about 30 miles south of Sonora the car started acting a little strange again, but since the temperature sensor was broken, and we couldn’t see any steam, we decided to keep on going. We were out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cow pastures.

It had grown foggy, and the car hadn’t made any strange noises in a while, but as we reached the outskirts of the town of Merced, we came to a stop sign. When we stopped, the car died and it wouldn’t start again. The people in the car behind us said they would try to get us a tow truck as they passed through Merced. A bit later another fellow stopped and let me use his cell phone to call a towing service. The first service we called didn’t accept any after hours towing unless we had AAA.

Finally, a tow truck arrived and we crowded into the cab of his truck and he towed us to the other side of town near highway 99. He dropped the car off at the mechanic shop, drove us over to a hotel to drop off Chastity and the kids, and then drove me back to the car to get our luggage and drove me back to the hotel with it.

The next morning the mechanic informed us that the engine was completely ruined. The cost to rebuild it would be as much as we paid for the entire car a year ago when we bought it. And it would cost nearly as much to get a used engine to replace it. And we didn’t have that kind of money.

We were stranded.

We decided to abandon the car, which we still owed $400 on for the new tires and had only re-registered a few weeks before, and find an alternate way home. We looked at Greyhound bus fares, but it would have cost us about $500 dollars and we might not be able to take all of our luggage. A bus trip would have been miserable for Chastity as well and difficult for the kids. Airfare from Fresno would have been about $250 each, not including problem of getting down to Fresno without a car in the first place.

We finally called the Hertz car rental company in town and found we could rent a car for about $150 per 24 hours. But there was a problem. They only had a few cars that they allowed to be rented for out of state travel and at the time they had none available. They told us that they would call us as soon as one became available.

We spent all Tuesday and a good portion of Wednesday sitting in the hotel room. I took a taxi over to the mechanic shop to get the rest of our stuff out of the car to bring it back to the hotel. There was a gas station mini mart next door and a McDonald’s across the street and that was it. I don’t like McDonald’s much, and had only eaten there once in the last 10 years or so, but we made up for it in that day and a half. Had there been a grocery store (maybe a Safeway) nearby and had we had cooking equipment in the hotel room we would have spent significantly less money on food.

The hotel was right by the freeway and didn’t appear to be in the safest neighborhood, so Chastity and the girls remained in the hotel room the entire time.

We did have internet access at the hotel and we were able to chat with a few family members both through Gmail’s great instant messaging feature and by phone. At one point, my brother Ben almost borrowed my Uncle Roger’s car to drive out to pick us up.

Around 10:00 am on Wednesday, after several follow up calls from Chastity, Hertz finally said they had a car for us, but they would have to have someone drive it down from Sacramento to Merced for us. In order to rent it we had to have a credit card that they could put a hold on until the car was returned and the owner of the card had to be physically present to rent the car—so my dad couldn’t let us use his card unless he was right there.

We have avoided credit cards and tend to do everything with cash or cashier’s checks. Chastity has a Mastercard through her PayPal account, but it is really just a debit card for funds currently in PayPal. So Chastity got on the internet and transferred the money needed to rent the car from our bank account to her PayPal account.

We didn’t want to have to pay for an additional day at the hotel if we were going to be leaving that day, so we packed up all of our stuff (overfilling our suitcase with stuff that had been packed in the car), and checked out. We waited with our mountain of stuff in the hotel lobby.

Finally Hertz sent a car over to pick us up, but with the driver and our luggage we couldn’t all fit easily. So Chastity went with the driver to the Hertz office to rent the car and then drive back to pick us up.

The girls and I waited for a long time. The desk manager at the hotel finally called me over to say there was a phone call for me. It was Chastity. Hertz had neglected to tell her that when they put a hold on the credit card, they hold it for $100 over the amount for the car rental, so when they ran the card it had failed and even if we were to get online and transfer additional funds to the card, they couldn’t run it again until the next day.

Chastity is usually much better and resourceful under these kinds of stressful situations than I am, and before she called me she had already arranged a solution. She had called Utah to get my Aunt Shelly’s phone number from my parents. Then she had gotten Kelly’s parent’s number in Sonora from Shelly. (Ironically, Shelly told Chastity that the parents of their son-in-law, Justin, live in Merced and would have let us use their credit card for the hold, but that at that moment they were visiting them in Utah!) So by the time Chastity called me, she had already called Kelly’s mother, who was driving the hour and a half down from Sonora to Merced to help us rent the car.

Hertz sent the driver back with Chastity and to pick the rest of us up and bring us to the office. We squeezed into the car. Once at the office, we waited for Kelly’s mom to arrive. Fortunately there was a little neighborhood playground only a block away from the car rental building, and I took the kids over to play for a while. They had been cooped up in the hotel room for nearly two days, so they were very happy to get out…and they needed it before the looming hours of car-seat incarceration that were to come.

Kelly’s mother finally arrived. We are very, very grateful to Kelly’s parents: they were wonderful hosts when we stayed at their home, and then they made great sacrifices to help us when we were stuck.

We were able to rent the car. But there was a new problem. Had Chastity been renting the car, I as her spouse, could have been able to drive it. But because it was Kelly’s mom renting it and adding Chastity as a secondary driver, I was forbidden from driving the car unless I had my own credit card, which I don’t. So I was not authorized to drive it; only 8-month-pregnant Chastity.

The car we rented was a brand-new 2007 Infiniti with computerized everything—including a talking GPS navigation system (Hertz Neverlost) that would show a real-time map of where we were and tell us were to go and when to turn and what road to take for any address we entered. That would have been nice to have earlier in the trip. It also played MP3s, and we just happened to have 2 CD ROM’s full of MP3s with us.

Chastity drove us for two hours, but when she started having contractions, I took over and drove the car unauthorized and we just prayed that nothing would happen while I drove so we wouldn’t get in any trouble.

We switched on and off when Chastity was feeling better until we reached Las Vegas late that night. Chastity’s family had already gone to bed, and their house was already full, so we got a hotel and decided to visit them the next day.

Remember that we had been paying for our pets to be kenneled this whole time, and so every day that we weren’t home yet, the price was accumulating far beyond what we had budgeted for animal care. So Chastity called her sister in Provo and my mother in Pleasant Grove Utah to get their help to pick up the animals before All About Pets closed and take them to the house and close them in the bathrooms so we wouldn’t have to pay for an additional night of pet boarding. We would be home either that night or the next morning and could let them out with minimal mess.

Everyone was at work except for Chastity’s dad and our little nephew, Faith and Ronald’s little boy. It was the first time I had seen Chastity’s dad since we married almost 8 years ago. And other than a couple of email conversations a few years ago, the first time we had spoken since then. Things were a little uncomfortable, but went generally well.

I spoke on the phone with Chastity’s brother at work, and spent the entire day fixing everyone’s computers in the house, removing viruses and spyware, downloading Microsoft security updates, and installing software upgrades. It’s what I end up doing almost everywhere I go.

We really needed to get going home, but we felt like it was important to see her family.

Chastity’s brother, Jacob, arrived home from school and we had a good time visiting with him. I hadn’t seen him in almost 3 years since we were his legal guardians.

Chastity’s other siblings, Faith and Rodney, and brother-in-law Ronald arrived after 7:00pm. It was great to see everyone and I got to chat with Rodney about all kinds of things, including his experience in Iraq and his views on the war. He had some great observations based on personal experience. He also said he had some interest in learning more about computers and I helped him install a free C# development software so he could start playing around with it.

We left Las Vegas around 11:00pm and headed for Utah with the idea that we would get as far as Cedar City that night with the hope that we could get back to Provo the next day before 2:45pm so tat we wouldn’t have to pay for an extra day with the car.

When we were about 26 miles south of Cedar City, we hit the blizzard. The snow was blowing with such speed and changing directions so fast that we could hardly see. The roads were covered in ice and we crept along I-15 at about 20 miles per hour. Unlike the snow storm on the way down, this time even the Semi-Trucks were cowed into submission by the snowy roads and blinding, wind-tossed flakes. Both kids were fast asleep, but it was very tense and scary. And Chastity started having contractions again.

Finally we made it to Cedar City, we got off on the first exit that had gas and lodging. After refilling the gas tank we headed for the closest motel. It was 3:00 in the morning and the snow was getting deep.

The hotel parking lot was down-hill from the road and as we tried to turn into the lot, the car slid into a deep snow drift and got stuck. We tried to get it to back out, but it wouldn’t move.

I ran and woke up the hotel clerk, who was only semi-incoherent through our conversation and got a room. She said we would still have to check out by 11:00am, but she gave us a slightly reduced rate. It must have been a pretty expensive hotel, because it cost more than the hotel in Las Vegas even at the “reduced” price. Then we carried our little girls about 50 yards from the road to the room through the snow that was, by then, up to the middle of my calves and still accumulating.

Once Chastity and the girls were safe in the room she tried to call both the police dispatch and a few towing companies to see if we could get some help getting the car out of the drift, but everything was busy—I imagine they all had their hands full that night with more serious accidents than ours.

I went back out to see if I could get the car out. After about 45 minutes I had made a little progress (about 2 feet) and more than one early morning passers-by had tried to help and given up.

Finally, a man came by and after returning to his home a few blocks away with a tow rope, was able to pull the car out (which at this point I was driving without authorization!). Fearing that the car would only get re-stuck if I tried to drive it down into the snow-filled hotel lot, I drove it around and back to the gas station a quarter mile away. The station was closed, but I left the car there, hoping that they wouldn’t have it towed away before I could come back and talk to the clerk once they opened. Then I walked back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed at 5:00 am.

I awoke at 8:00 and, fearing that the car might have been towed away by the gas station owner, I walked back to the gas station. The car was still there and the owner said that as long as I wasn’t blocking the pump he wouldn’t have a car towed, given the storm.

I walked back to the hotel and went to talk to the hotel clerk. She said that a man would come to plow the lot before checkout time. We waited and waited so I could walk back to the car and bring it down to pick up Chastity and the kids, but by 10:30 am the lot had still not been plowed, and we needed to go or we would end up paying for an extra rental day if we returned the car late. So I walked back to the gas station again and drove the car down to near where we had been stuck earlier, and we brought the kids out to the road again.

The roads were still awful, even on the freeway. And we crawled along for an hour before we started seeing clearer roads. The stress continued to give Chastity contractions, and with everything that had happened up to that point I half expected her to go into labor before we reached Orem.

At one point we passed a big semi-truck that had jack-knifed off of the road and nearly tipped over. South of Provo we were still seeing cars off the road from the night before, and at one point there was another semi-truck that had slid off the road and crushed a smaller car that had been driving beside it against the rocky hills.

We made it home to unload the car, but it was already 3:00pm and we were afraid that Hertz was going to make us pay for another day. At Hertz in California they had told us that if we didn’t have the car returned by 2:45pm, we would have to pay for an extra day, even if it was late by only an hour. We were prepared to argue that we had rented the car at 2:45pm Pacific time and so that we should be able to return it before 3:45 Mountain time.

When we opened to door to the house we discovered the dog, whom you remember Chastity’s sister had put in the bathroom with the expectation that we would be home to let her out in the morning. She had escaped from the bathroom (the door is kind of tricky to that room and she can get it open if it is not closed carefully). And now, at 3:00pm, there were piles of dog poop and urine soaked spots all over the living room and family room carpets!

Chastity’s immediate reaction was to start cleaning it up, but once the poop was picked up, she remembered that we were supposed to be hurrying to get the car returned before we had to pay an extra day of rent (which we might have already been too late for).

In the midst of all this chaos we had a much-needed blessing. At this point the last cent in our account was about to go toward paying for the rental car ( if we didn’t get charged for an extra day—otherwise we weren’t going to be able to pay for it). I had been expecting a payment on a contracted computer programming job that had been promised since October. It was supposed to have arrived before we left for California, having been reportedly mailed before Christmas, but it hadn’t come. When we arrived home, it was there waiting for us!

So leaving the urine spots for later, Chastity raced the car back to Hertz while I called my family to see if we could get one of them to pick her up at the rental and take her to the Credit Union and then bring her back home.

Our sophisticated time zone argument for why we didn’t have to pay for another day of car rental turned out to be unnecessary. They simply charged us for two days with no questions asked.

Chastity was able to cash the check and go to the store with some help from my sister, and returned home with enough food to get uis through the weekend.

After spending the afternoon cleaning up dog pee, doing laundry (we had only packed enough clothing for 7 days), and trying to decompress, we finally fell asleep. I slept for 12 hours.

It is good to be home.

We’re happy that we got to see the people we did, some of whom we fear we wont be able to see again for a long time, but it was a miserable trip. I wish we could have seen a few other friends who live in the bay area, but it wasn’t possible, and I know you understand.

At the same time we have been blessed to have enough money to make our mortgage payment, pay for all of the unexpected hotels, gas, tow trucks, food, car rental, and with a little help from family, pet lodging. This catastrophe of a trip could have devastated our finances for a long time to come. But, while allowing us to pass through tribulation, Heavenly Father has given us what we need to get through it. And that is a true miracle.

We are also acutely aware of the superior blessing of family. I feel more thankful for my wonderful wife and children than I have felt in a long time. Sometimes we need troubles to remind us of what is important.

Material wealth can be taken from you in the blink of an eye, and your plans can be dashed to pieces before your eyes. The control we have over our lives and our fortunes is illusory. In the end is it is the relationships we have to family that really save us. A kind-hearted mother-of-the-wife-of-a-cousin and a wonderful wife and children are better than a well-thought-out plan and a careful budget. Be thankful for family.

Now we just have to figure out how to get a new car!

You can view a map of our travels by clicking here .

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