27 July 2013

The Vacation that Never Was

For the past three years, I've taken a couple weeks in the middle of July off of work and headed up to the redwood forests of Northern California to, well, work. I have the honor of cooking for the Mendocino Sufi Youth Retreat, a wonderful 5 day spiritual retreat for 18-29 year-olds. I've been attending the youth retreat as a regular camper since I was 16 (the age limit has since been changed), and when I was offered the opportunity to take over the kitchen responsibilities at age 20 I jumped at the chance.
my first year at the retreat!
Each year it has been quite a bit of work in the weeks leading up to the retreat- I not only have to design a five day menu, I need to make sure there are plenty of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and dairy free options at each meal, test all the recipes I haven't made before, convert every recipe to fit the number of campers expected at the retreat (usually between 25-35), buy all the groceries... and then drive the two days up to camp where I usually work from about 6:30am-11pm in the kitchen with only a few hours here and there for meals, errands, and relaxing. It is intense, to say the least. I love doing it though, and I have no hesitation in saying I'll happily do it again next year.

This being my third year, things really seemed to click and I felt like I had a pretty good handle on everything I was trying to do. Nothing came out inedible (I'd say most things came out pretty good!) and meals were never more then 5 minutes off schedule. I'm going to say that is at least in part due to the multitude of timed cooking competitions I watch... somehow I've internalized Gordon Ramsey shouting "two minutes out on risotto!" and it has made me a more punctual cook.

I never remember or have the time/energy to take pictures of the food I make or the things that go on in the kitchen, but luckily some people do! Here's a few:

Salmon baked with lemon, butter, and dill
Simple risotto
Ratatouille- one of my favorite simple summertime vegan meals- the hardest part is making the spiral!

Everyone did a fantastic job helping out and it was a really fun, delicious year. That said, once everything was said and done and the kitchen had been scrubbed clean, Colton and I were greatly looking forward to embarking on the second half of our trip- the vacation half!

We were planning on spending the night in Fort Bragg (a coastal town about 30 minutes away from the camp) with my parents and then leaving the next day for San Francisco, where we would spend two nights with a couple friends. From there we would enjoy a leisurely road-trip back to Prescott over the course of two days, where we would pick up Clementine and then head back to Tucson with a day to spare before having to go back to work.

As you may have been able to glean from the title, we did not get very far into these plans.

We were able to enjoy our time in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, and joined the rest of the retreat-goers for the traditional drink at the only bar in the tiny little town.

Afterwards, we met up with my parents (along with my sister) had a nice Thai dinner which I greatly appreciated not having to cook, and went to bed early in order to be up bright and early to begin the next leg of our trip. When we awoke we had breakfast, took a short walk around town, did some laundry and some last minute shopping and then we headed off to the bay area.

We made it about an hour to a town called Cloverfield. Just a few miles past, my engine began making a loud knocking noise and I realized I needed to get off the highway immediately. Although my Dad had changed the oil before we had left for California, we soon found that I was completely out of oil and the lack of it had likely caused some engine damage. With the help of a slightly senile albeit very helpful passerby and AAA, we were able to get the car towed back to Cloverfield and put enough oil in it so that we would be able to drive to the town's mechanic the next day (it was about 7pm by the time we got back into town). We stayed at an overpriced Super 8, ordered takeout, and went to bed hoping to get the problem resolved early enough to get to stick mostly to our original plan, minus a day.

We took the car to the mechanic the next morning and went across the street to have brunch and pass the time. Eventually they called to inform us that the oil was not leaking from the oil pan but from some other part of the engine (how this occurred I have no idea) and that unfortunately the damage was bad enough that the car would need a whole new engine. After a lot of stressful phone calls, tears, and discussion, we decided to pay to have the leak fixed and attempt to drive the car home with the damaged engine, knowing that it could possibly seize up but hoping it would at least make it on a slow trip back to Arizona. We wound up spending another night in Cloverdale, this time deciding to scrap all plans of our vacation and just head straight back to Prescott.

We got the partially fixed car around noon the next day after shelling out about 400 dollars. Tentatively, we headed out on the road. Things seemed to be going well for the first 30 minutes, but just as we were entering Santa Rosa, the engine seized up and we wound up having to coast into the nearest exit via the shoulder and into a gas station. From there it was pretty clear we would not be leaving California with this car.

Luckily, my Dad was in the area so he was able to come pick us up, help us call a towing company to take the car to a junkyard, set us up in a hotel, and arrange an alternate route home. After discussing a couple different options, we finally decided to ride a combination of amtrak buses and trains over the next 24 hours which would eventually land us in Maricopa, a town close enough to Colton's parents for them to come pick us up and take us to Prescott, where we would pick up Clem and one of my parents' other cars and drive all the way back down to Tucson. Our relaxing post-work vacation had now become a stressful 3 day ordeal which left me with a drained bank account, no car, and a long ride home on public transportation.

We left Santa Rosa on a bus at 8:30 the next morning, transferred onto a train a couple hours later in Martinez, arrived in Bakersfield 6 hours later where we got on another bus, arrived in LA where we had a 3 hour layover, and then finally boarded a train at 10 pm which we rode until 5:30 the next morning, finally debarking in a state of grogginess and exhaustion.

We did try to have a bit of fun throughout all this, since we weren't going to be getting the vacation we hoped for. We played a lot of cards, watched movies on my laptop, listened to audiobooks, took silly selfies on the bus, and sampled the amtrak's outrageously expensive selection of food and drink.
By the time all of this was over with and we were in Prescott with little Clementine, we pretty much only had enough time to go to sleep, get up the next morning, head to Tucson, and immediately clock in at work. Hence the Vacation that Never Was.

The good news is that we are now settled back in Tucson, my summer classes are over, youth retreat is over, and I now have about a month before starting my last semester of college during which I can finally relax for a little bit and look for a new car. It was a rough trip to say the least, but I've never been more happy to be home!

<3 Em

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