They pulled into the rest area at Exit 557 off Interstate 5 South, a half-mile north of Dunnigan, on Monday afternoon in various states of mind and end-of-vacation dishevelment.
Some stretched and lingered amid the aromatic eucalyptus trees and odoriferous urinal cakes, intent on wringing every last moment out of their Labor Day. Others kept the engine running, staying only long enough for a quick stop-and-go before going once more, hell-bent to beat the traffic back home.
"I guess now we have to start thinking about fall and winter," said Francisco Morales, whose family rented a house at Mount Shasta over the holiday weekend but decided to make it back to Dixon for dinner. "No more trips until at least January."
"But we did have a fun summer," daughter Kristen, 16, added. "We went to Mexico and went to the beach and swam with dolphins. It was fun."
Then her dad had to spoil it with a massive dose of lachrymosity, serving up this harsh reality: "Back to the books."
Traditionally viewed as the end of summer, Labor Day for many meant stocking the cooler and hitching up the boat trailer one last time. It's one more epic road trip, a final blowout to satisfy one's inner slacker before going back to the grind.
For Colin Nickel and Alex Stapleton, college buddies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, it meant soaking up the fading rays at that annual bacchanal called the Chico Float on the Sacramento River.
For young Livermore couple Mike and Chaundra Pelkey, it meant a camping trip to Myrtle Creek, Ore., with their two children, something they'd saved all summer to enjoy.
For the Arey family of Granite Bay, it meant packing up their white Ford F150 and joining three other families at Shasta Lake, a chance to chill before the coming autumnal chill.
And for the Taylor family of Napa, it meant a jaunt to grandma's house in Cottonwood, where dad Scott took his daughters fishing, "but we didn't catch a thing."
No matter the destination, some viewed the passing of Labor Day through deep blue sunglasses. Happy for the time together, but already feeling premature nostalgia at its passing.
The travel website TripAdvisor recently released a survey of 1,400 travelers in which 41 percent say they "struggle with feelings of melancholy" at summer's end. More than 80 percent reported their stress returned to pre-vacation levels on the trip home.
Take Stapleton. He had grand plans for the summer, but wound up stuck in summer school at San Luis Obispo nearly the entire three months.
"I'm sad it's over, and it's almost like it didn't start," he said. "Summer was kind of like, 'meh,' for me. Now I'm going back."
But he'll always have the Chico Float to remember, right?
"It was OK," he said. "It wasn't as crazy as I thought it was going to be. But it was still good to hang out."
His road pal, Nickel, wasn't buying his buddy's Donald Downer talk. Nickel said he had a great summer. Went to Tahoe, to Disneyland, chilled with friends in his hometown of Martinez. Ask Nickel whether he, like Stapleton, is sad to see summer go, and he snorts in derision.
"No way," he said. "School's super fun. It's funny, man. Like, in high school, it was always, 'Oh, no, summer's over.' But in college, it's like, 'When's school going to start already?' It gives you something organized to do."
It's all a matter of perspective, of course. At first blush, one might not think a three-day weekend in Redding would be memorable. But for Tamara Bellflower and her three daughters, Emily, Rebecca and Elizabeth, it was a special trip from Rio Vista to visit the family patriarch, who works on wind turbines in the Redding area.
"They got to go to the movies and the Sundial Bridge, oh, and swimming in the hotel pool," Bellflower said of her brood. "They love that."
Then again, for a lucky few, the end of summer means the beginning of their vacation season. These are people without school-age children, with flexible jobs or with retirement savings burning a hole in their bank accounts.
Katheryn Henderson left her home in Bend, Ore., on Monday morning and stopped at the Dunnigan rest area to give her Labrador, Reilly, and spaniel-Lab mix, Sheila, a walk. She'll be on the road for five weeks, visiting friends in the Bay Area, dropping in on her sister in Clovis, hiking down from the north rim of the Grand Canyon with a friend, then pulling into Austin, Texas, for a spell. No wonder she was smiling.
"It's my big 5-0 birthday celebration," she said. "No party. Just this trip. I always wait until after Labor Day to travel. The weather's still good, the roads are clear, there's less competition for campsites."
Stop gloating, please. Think of the rest of us working stiffs.
"Oh, I do," she said.