My bad trip – it was supposed to be a 75th birthday away, it ended up being a rain-drenched fiasco

Getting my husband and children to the beachside getaway with my parents was traumatic enough, but then it got worse

My husband would describe our parenting style as safety-conscious. I would call it risk-averse. So how did we end up driving our small children down the freeway through pea soup fog, getting blown out of our lane by gusts of galeforce wind, hellbent on a holiday despite an emergency warning to avoid non-essential travel? I suspect it comes back to my deep-seated loathing of grocery shopping.

Or perhaps the trip was doomed from the start. My parents were house-sitting for some friends on the coast and invited my family and my brother’s family to join them as a belated celebration of my dad’s 75th birthday. A week before we were all due to arrive, my brother looked at the forecast, saw that his chances of a game of golf were slim to none, and promptly cancelled. We decided to forge ahead. How bad could it be?

We ate all the food in the house so things wouldn’t spoil in our absence. We loaded everything into the car. The forecast wasn’t good but we were hoping to beat the worst of it. There were gusty squalls but it didn’t seem too bad. My parents, who my husband has been known to call “optimistic to the point of insanity”, called to suggest that perhaps we should consider staying home. That should have been enough to stop us in our tracks, but I just could not face unpacking the car and going to get groceries. I later found out there was a “reconsider non-essential travel” warning from the State Emergency Service.

We were just past halfway, on an escarpment that normally overlooks the Pacific Ocean, when we found ourselves driving through thick grey clouds that were impervious to the strong gusts of wind sending our car careening in and out of the lanes. Terrified, we pulled off the freeway, unable see anything beyond the small car park we were in, the wind still rocking our stationary car. We debated whether to go forward or back, and how to get our family off the damn escarpment alive.

Eventually, I called my dad, who used to have a pilot’s licence and has some very detailed weather stats bookmarked. Together, we determined that if we persevered we would likely drop out below the cloud bank. We switched drivers and carried on as carefully as we could. The fog lifted, the wind dropped enough to stop affecting our ability to drive in straight line, and we eventually arrived, albeit with hungry, cranky children and a shattered faith in our parental decision-making.

Dog, woman and girl standing on beach on rainy day
An afternoon at the beach. For three minutes. Photograph: Merran Hitchick/The Guardian

We had torrential rain for our entire visit. Local roads were closed due to flooding, but we rarely ventured out of the house anyway. We have a photo of both grandparents standing in a playground, holding umbrellas over our oblivious tots. Come to think of it, that may have actually been the high point of the trip. Other contenders include trips to Bakers Delight and a takeaway Chinese meal. We ventured to the sodden beach one afternoon and admired the savage beauty of nature for three minutes before umbrellas turned inside out, my daughter’s gumboots filled with water and we fled.

The wild weather made sleeping impossible. The restless children made sleeping impossible. The capper came after midnight on the final night when, in a scene straight out of Jimi Hendrix’s final days, my husband walked in on our daughter lying asleep in a pool of her own vomit. Within days we all had gastro.

Shellshocked, we rolled back down our driveway on a brilliantly sunny day, four days after we set off, and swore never to leave home again.


Merran Hitchick

The GuardianTramp

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