The Great Family Vacation

I was in love with the movie “The Great Outdoors” growing up.

“How about the gourmet here?!”

It was right up there with “Vacation” in terms of how it spoke to my family’s epic DIY vacations in the 80s. While Chevy Chase’s “Clark Griswold” nailed my father so much so that we’re still calling him that, 35 years after Vacation debuted (they even looked alike, for crying out loud)…

I know this man ^^ .

…if there was a second-place slot for a movie that could reduce me, mom, and sis to tears of laughter, and an equally lovable, well-meaning, ohhh-so-overly ambitious and uncannily familiar movie dad who juuust wanted to have that “perfect, fun-filled family vacation” –

– the movie was The Great Outdoors. And that dad was John Candy’s Chet Ripley.

“If a guy can’t help his family, what good is he?”

Somewhere along the way growing up, I also actually fell in love with the real great outdoors. These movies – and all those family road trips and boat trips as a kid – might have had something to do with it. Heck – I even ended up buying a vacation home in the Sierra Nevada mountains very near the lake where The Great Outdoors was filmed.

Sis and I taking on Niagara Falls with our very own 80s movie dad. To this day, I love to travel, I love a good road trip, and I love to be outside.

But also somewhere along the way, my dad died. For a while, our adventures together as a family of three were muted… But in 2001 mom and I took a trip to Italy with friends, and I knew then that I could and should fill the very big shoes left for me.

And so I stepped boldly into my new role of “family vacation planner extraordinaire”.

I had to, you see –

I’m my father’s daughter.

I mean, everyone had fun on vacation growing up – thanks to dad – but I really had fun. I had fun during all of it. I had fun during the planning, during the plotting of the route on the road atlas, during the precision-packing of the car, during the scrapbooking to document our adventures when they were all over (especially during the scrapbooking!)…

I even had fun when things inevitably went wrong, and we had to problem-solve our way back on to the family fun track. I got a rush from watching how my dad did it; I knew I could do it, too. Those moments were precious to me; they might be the most valuable things I took away from all those trips. I learned that nothing was ever perfect, but that every imperfect thing could be amazing. It was all in how you rode out those moments of imperfection.

So along comes summer 2018.

It’s 30 freakin’ years after I first saw The Great Outdoors. I am 40 years old and, ironically, it’s exactly 25 years since my dad’s passing (on July 1, 1993). What does this Clark/Chet think we need?

A good old-fashioned fun-filled family vacation. At the cabin (complete with a screening of The Great Outdoors, of course).

Because “we’re a family, for crying out loud!”

First adventure: swimming the cave at Natural Bridges.

Not quite a 96-ounce prime-aged beef steak, but close…

Thought about renting a jet boat, but stuck with our new kayak instead.

Family (plus our 80s neighbor Scot and his wife Tamara) at Utica Reservoir!

Stopping off for a quick sip at Kola Farms in Murphys.

Gearing up to head over the Ebbetts Pass! The ultimate holiday road.

Stopping off at the gorgeous Mosquito Lakes. Luckily no mosquitos (could have been a cinematic vacation fail)!

Family at the midpoint of the drive, at Pacific Grade Summit.

How to give our matriarch a heart attack. I warned him we would end up having to strap her to the roof for the ride home.

Overnight in Reno. We learned nothing about the dangers of gambling (or 32 ounce margaritas).

The whole gang does some wine tasting at Gossamer (and a few other spots in Murphys).

A good old-fashioned teensy tiny Independence Day parade.

Sunset at Ironstone Vineyards for an epic end to our fun-filled family week.

We went out with a very big bang.

Dad would be proud. It very nearly took plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles.


See all our pictures of our summer family vacation in the mountains here.

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One thought on “The Great Family Vacation

  1. Margaret Wisniewski says:

    Another epic vacation thanks to our “Clarkette Griswold”! Lisa, you found a way to fill your father’s shoes, and we could not have enjoyed anything more. Your plans never fail to yield the “maximum fun-filled vacation experience”, and we are lucky to have you. You have created moments and memories for all of us that we will savor for years to come. I am still imagining that cave and those fireworks (but the mountain pass gave me nightmares).

    There is a good life lesson there, however. If I hadn’t braved that mountain pass with our masterful driver and tour guides, Lisa and Trent, I would have missed one of the most awesome sights imaginable on this continent. Who wouldn’t want to check that off their bucket list?? Life is a fantastic ride when you have a tour guide like Clark Griswold. We are so lucky to have one in our family.

    And the best thing about this was that we did it all together. I wish I could replay all of it, and maybe we can again one day. I suspect that “Clarkette” has another trip in her somewhere, some time. And we will love joining you on the journey!! Your dad would be so proud.

    Love you!

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