Beach Birthday


There was just one nice day in the 10-day forecast, so with a bit of magic, Ouest’s 7th birthday moved up one week and we headed off to Holly Beach.

All birthdays start with balloons. A few of them with a dollar slid inside.

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When we got to the beach I scouted it out on foot first. It seemed plenty firm. But after three days of heavy rain, I think maybe it was an illusion. Once through the hard upper crust the sand was powdery.

As it turns out, I also pulled off the main track too early, placing myself firmly in the soft stuff. Fortunately, I thought, the trailer was only about fifteen feet from the hardpack, and I stopped the second I realized we were going to get stuck. We were pretty close to being out already. Plus, we were level, the sun was out, we were above the high tide line, and we had a birthday to celebrate. Digging out could wait for morning.

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Ouest got an Instax “Polaroid” camera. Enjoying the wonder of an actual picture developing before our very eyes.


“We need just one family picture, you two.” Thanks.

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Happy Birthday to Ouest, our sweet, smart, inquisitive, friendly, fun, patient explorer.


The next morning it was time to get out of the sand. First, I tried simply laying down some legos. You can see we barely sunk in when we had arrived. I figured with a little traction I could get us moving the 20-feet back to the hardpack.


It was like driving off a cliff. The truck just fell straight down into the sand. I dug out a couple of times and moved us a few inches with each attempt, but after each one everything sunk down a little further. I definitely didn’t want the trailer buried to the frame, so I gave up, and concentrated on just getting the truck out. We’d have to find help for the Airstream.


I could get the truck a couple of feet each time before it sunk. I would have gone on like this for an hour or two until I reached salvation, but a couple of guys who were building a house nearby came over and offered to help. One pull with the tow strap and the truck was free.


Then we hooked up to the Airstream. We figured the fatter tires and 4-wheel-drive would do the trick. He could move back and forth a few feet at a time, but eventually the truck just sank. We called it quits, figuring that a bigger pickup would have no problem. There had been plenty of them driving up and down the beach the day before, so we hunkered down to wait.


A couple hours later I spotted these guys and walked over to ask for help. They came right over, hooked up, spun their tires, and gave up after two tries, afraid of getting their truck stuck. Fair enough, but not a good sign for us.


Hours went by. I eventually called our insurance company and discovered our coverage had roadside, and a beach recovery was included in that. They got a tow truck on the way. He was an hour out, but I was still 90% sure that no tow truck driver was going to drive his huge heavy truck out onto a beach.

Then one of the original guys came back over and told me to hop in his truck. We drove around the neighborhood looking for help from the other locals. Holly Beach is only about six blocks long by four blocks wide. And it’s a summer fishing hang out, not a winter beach destination, so there were only a couple locals about. After a few stops we found a guy with a small tractor who was sure he could get it out.

It looked promising at first, but nothing we hooked up could build enough momentum to keep moving. We’d about given up on the tractor as well, when he thought that maybe if a truck pulled him at the same time, he could make it.


Enter our friends from the start. We tied a rope to the tractor and everybody pulled together.


Reunited at last.


What’s a birthday without a story to remember it by?

As a guy, getting stuck in the sand is a little embarrassing, but as a parent, having my kids see the selflessness of others is a lesson worth sucking it up for. When the kids asked why those guys came and helped us, it was nice to have a conversation with them where the simple answer was, “Because they could. They saw a family who needed help, thought maybe they could offer some, put down what they were working on, and came on over to find out.” The world is filled with a lot more selfless people than we give it credit for. It’s why I tend not to get too worried with any situation we find ourselves in. If I can’t solve the problem, somebody can. And when it comes time for me to “repay the universe,” I will.

The other night I was sitting in the truck with the kids waiting to pick up a pizza. We started to look at a world map and they both immediately, and excitedly, began to tell me about what they were going to do when they grew up. This was exciting for me because:

Last summer we took Ouest to a summer reading camp/school place. At her first lesson she was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She said she didn’t know, which to us is a perfectly acceptable answer. Why should every six-year-old girl have to answer, “I’m going to be a veterinarian.” A six-year-old, in our view, should be open to every possibility the world has to offer. So, when the teacher said to her, “Oh, that makes me sad,” she accomplished two things. One, to hurt Ouest’s feelings. And two, to make Ouest feel as if she is supposed to know what job she is going to go off and work at each day when she is forty. Needless to say, we had a talk with that teacher before continuing on with the lessons.

Anyway, we broke out that map, and both kids bubbled over with excitement. They both said at once—as if they had had this discussion many times—that they were going to drive motorcycles around the world. Lowe, on a three-wheeler, apparently. They were going to pull a trailer that is a boat, that has a bed in it to camp in, but can be used to go across rivers and lakes! Oh, and they’re going to have a helicopter that they can live in! And they’re going to go to Europe, and China, and that island, and that jungle! They were so excited, and so animated, and so full of ideas. And they were going to do it all together.

And to me, these were the types of things young kids should be dreaming of doing. There is more than enough time for kids to sit down and think, “Now, how am I going to pay for that.” Kids should have a dream first, and work backwards from there. If they start at mundane, then mundane is where they’ll end up. So, do I think that a life of motorcycle and helicopter adventures is where they’ll end up? Not necessarily. But it makes me happy that is where their dreams lie for now. Those are kid dreams. Kid dreams are worth building on, and building towards. Thoughts of how to pay the mortgage, and two car loans, and student debt, shouldn’t play into them.

I immediately began to think of designs to build that small-boat/tent-camper trailer for them.


34 Comments on “Beach Birthday”

  1. We never remember “that time when” everything went according to plan. The best stories are those where you had to work for it just a smidge. Happy 7th Ouest, may all your dreams come true!

  2. Cajun engineering at its finest! I would have been shocked if no one offered to help in that part of Louisiana.
    One should never wait to be old to dream of traveling around the world in fantastic machines. That’s parenting at its finest.

  3. What a great birthday present for her! Seeing that this world still contains plenty of folks that will drop what they are doing to help a stranger in need is really something!

  4. So the secret to getting unstuck (and unsticking others) is to let your tires down. All of them (trailer included.) Til they’re bulging. When you’re getting uncomfortable about how flat they are, let them down some more. Once you’re out, haul out your pump and pump up them up again. Or wobble slowly to the nearest gas station.

    And the best sand ladder? Your mattress. It won’t get damaged (well, mine never did) and gives you 6′ of run up to gather some speed 🙂

    This from someone who spent two years driving in Kalahari sand…

  5. …teachers like that are the reason that so many ppl grow up with out an imagination or dreams.
    …this teacher has demonstrated they should not be allowed to “teach”.

  6. The photo of Ouest standing behind Ali in the trailer looking at the balloons…she looks so grown up. I can’t hardly believe this is the same little girl we met way back when on the Sacramento Delta. If anyone is going to get a live-in helicopter, it’ll be Ouest with ample help from her brother.

  7. Happy Birthday, Ouest! What an interesting life you have……and what great parents! Keep on having and finding adventures! Love, Mike and Lorraine

  8. Beautiful post! I’ve been following you since Ouest was a baby so it’s fun seeing her growing up. The universe is full of kindness. I am reminded of the time we were out exploring with our three small (at the time) kids and drove a little too close to a river that was running high. One of our back tires fell through the dirt track to water running underneath, a scary situation. Out of the trees came three migrant works who didn’t speak a word of English, but they hoisted the back end of the car and saved us from possibly floating down the river. I’ve never forgotten that selfless act. My mantra is leave a little sparkle where ever you go. As for the teacher, she is sad! We homeschool our grandson and one time at the orthodontists office the tech asked him, “What do your friends think of your braces?” He replied that he had no friends. You should have seen the look of horror on her face! And she said the same thing, “That is sad.” What she didn’t “get” is that he has tons of people in his life, from babies to seniors and didn’t think of “friends” the same way as a typical public school child might. He looks at life differently from the mold we are all so used to. He has many “friends”(people in his life including some his age), but his view of this concept is different from the “norm”. And you are right, what child needs to know what they are going to do the rest of their lives? Someone has their head in the sand! Keep enjoying the adventure and Happy Birthday to Ouest!

  9. My son had those dreams when he was 6. When I asked him how he was going to fund them he said ” I’ll just eat macaroni and cheese and live on peanut butter till I have the money. And I said, why wait, we can start doing that tomorrow. He looked at me like I had two heads 🙂
    PS he has fullfilled those dreams.

  10. I didn’t know what I was going to “do with my life” until I was 35. And now that I’m retired I’m still not sure. Life is an adventure, enjoy it.

  11. Awe- what a birthday to remember. Thanks for sharing it with us. Been reading your blog for a few years and really enjoy it. Just purchased your book on kindle so I’m going back in time.

  12. Great post! Loved the last part especially, nice to see different perspective on how things can and should be!

    Continuous adventurous travels to you all!

  13. I am 62 years old, and I am excited because I am about to join my brother, 65, on another tour of many together through Mexico. We just finished up a tour caravaning through the PNW in matching RVs. We played the same kind of games together as kids as Ouest and Lowe. I trust they can look forward to a lifetime of adventures together, as I continue to do with my brother. This post gave me a lump in my throat…

  14. Happy Birthday Ouest!

    Nice to see pics from along there. It’s fun driving that road, right next to the beach and surf. That coast got hammered by Hurricane Rita in Sept, 2005, but it didn’t get much press. Katrina had hit the Mississippi coast a month earlier and she probably stole most of the thunder – so to speak. There’s a ferry that runs from Bolivar to Galveston. Happy Trails.

  15. I get the disdain, or perhaps it’s disappointment, that some have expressed toward the teacher who thought it was sad that Ouest didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up. But I look at it from a slightly different perspective: That teacher was probably fairly young and inexperienced and was simply asking an archetypal question that we’ve all, I imagine, been asked at some point in our lives.

    In this, I suspect the teacher was “sad” because she interpreted Ouest’s “I don’t know” as an expression of a lack of creativity or imagination . . . heh, if she only knew Ouest. But that’s why we ask those questions – whether the answer is “I want to be a rock star” or “I want to be a goatherd,” it provides an opening for a conversation that will, over time, reveal the personality of the child.

    So I hope you weren’t too hard on that teacher, Ali and Pat, though I’m sure you’ve led her to give some thought to how such a simple question came back around in the way it did. And perhaps that additional thought will improve her teaching performance.

    Happy Seventh Birthday, Ouest . . . I’m still looking forward to your future writings and photography as you follow in your parents’ footsteps and express what I believe is a very sensitive and creative heart.


  16. Happy birthday, Ouest. Time flies. How are you already 7!?

    Regarding the teacher and what a kid wants to be when they grow up – I always knew exactly what I wanted to be. It just happened to change every few years. First, it was a baseball player. Then, a basketball player. Architect. Olympic thrower. CEO. President. Engineer. And finally, stock picker. Now, I’m up to your speed. Just something to pay the bills so I can maximize time with the family and enjoying life. I thank the heavens that picking stocks is something that one can do from anywhere whether for a job or for oneself. My wife, the teacher, doesn’t have that luxury.

    I had a slide into the ditch in the snow last year and a friendly farmer used his tow straps to yank me back onto the road. There is definitely kindness out there in spades.

  17. I just had to smack my forehead with my palm and say to myself WOW has it been over 10 years since i started following
    you guys around the world ? Well i guess maybe it has maybe even longer but one thing i know for sure is you all have
    brought ME MUCH JOY and getting to witness the kids growing up as i do not have any is a great pleasure. So thank you
    Pat Ali Ouest and Lowe
    Karma is a wonderful thing.
    Have a great Holiday

  18. As someone mentioned, best way out of sand is to let your tyres (tires!) down to about 12 psi. Really flat. This will normally get you out and the sand you were in does not look super soft. About 20 years ago a Swiss couple got bogged in the desert in the middle of Australia in a Toyota Land Cruiser. They could not get it out, so set off to walk the 75 km (say 50 miles) back to the nearest “town” (a hotel is all that is there). It was the middle of summer, extremely hot. After a short distance he turned around and went back, she kept walking. She died. A few days later someone found her and then him. He was still alive luckily. As to the bogged Land Cruiser, all the Police did when they got there was let some air out of the tyres and drove it out. If they knew how to do this they would have survived.

    1. I did that. Down to 18 psi, not 12. Didn’t help. Like I said, though, with a little time I would have gotten the truck out on my own.

  19. Pat and Ali, these photos are fantastic! Even more vibrant than usual.
    The age of 7 is magical. Ouest, enjoy your year!

  20. When my daughter was growing up, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up–a cheerleader was the reply. A year later, I asked the same thing, and she said, “A Used Car Salesman”!! Where that came from, I have to this day no idea. She’s now a logistic something or another–great job and a great employee. Loved this post–you wrote from the heart and I so got it!

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