Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Christina and the No Good Very Bad Family Vacation (Part 3)

Part 1
Part 2

Sorry for the delay to all my avid readers (haha). I was down for the count with a mysterious illness this weekend...turning on a computer was not on my radar. But here you go...Part 3!

Quick recap: We planned a family camping trip to Kentucky over Labor Day weekend, the location being driven by a wedding we were supposed to attend. A lot happened with that, and we completely changed our plans and opted for Missouri instead. We arrived to our very buggy, muggy, and dark campsite at Markham Springs right after a thunderstorm had passed through, set up our tent, ate dinner and went to bed. We had approximately 2 fun through all of this (on a scale of 1-10). We held out hope that the rest of the trip would be better!

Completely irrelevant information at this point. Someone asked me how/what I made for dinner on Thursday if it was raining. I made steak tacos with cilantro and onion (and refried beans) on our camp stove by covering the camp stove and pans with foil while I worked. It seemed to go okay.

And now the adventure continues!

Even though we'd already struck out the day before, I was convinced we could make a good time of our trip, and was determined to get a good breakfast in, followed by finding some mad hiking trails.

While I started on breakfast, Anthony and Little Man took a little wander around our site with our very rambunctious dogs, both of whom were glad to be leash free and running wild after a day in the car followed immediately by a night in a tent. There was a river not far from our site, and they went to check that out.
^ Is that not the most tired baby you've ever seen?
Just a note - you're going to see the above baby carrier in a lot of pictures, and it was a lifesaver! My uncle gifted it to us for our baby shower. It's this Kelty model, which is no longer available, but I'll vouch for the brand. Not only is it great for hiking or long walks that you can't use a stroller for, you can put your kid in it while you mow the lawn too...or spectate a marathon in it! The possibilities are endless!

After we ate (eggs with leftover taco meat), the crew went for another walk while I cleaned up. The quality of sleep the night before can best be summed up in the following picture, which occurred right when they got back. Obviously, we had to postpone our hike for a while:

While someone was sleeping, I did some yoga then Anthony and I prepped and packed the stuff we'd need for a hike. We had talked a bit and decided to drive away from our campsite for the morning's hiking. We wanted to get a longer hike in, and the trail near our site was short (a loop a little under 2 miles).

We didn't have a map of the area and had really spotty cell service, so we stopped by the same shop in Williamsville and asked the locals. The man I talked to gave me very basic directions, pretty much sending us back the way we'd originally driven in the day before, and said it would be about 15 miles to the closest recreation area which had some hiking trails. He told me that once we were on 67 there would be signs we could follow to 'Greenville Recreation Area'.

So we headed out, and FINALLY found a hiking path. I say finally because it actually took us a lot longer than we thought it would. There were not many trail heads, and some of the actual recreation areas seemed to be closed(?). When we did finally find a trail head with a very small parking lot I spotted a map hanging up on a signboard, and we decided that would have to do for a starting point.

The map (below) made it really hard to orient ourselves, but I finally figured out that we had found an outlet for the Ozark Trail...it's the yellow dotted line going through the dark green patch on the map.

From where we were, the trail would take us 2 miles towards the Greenville Recreation area, where we could hang out/eat lunch/play a bit before turning around to hike the two miles back.

Or so we thought.

Because seriously, I have told you this trip was not good, so please don't think that plan actually happened.

We started our hike!
Daddy supermanning it up! Carrying baby and commanding the doggos!
What you cannot see in any of these pictures are...THE SPIDERS.

We did not even get 10 feet onto this path before we were confronted with an entire spider web strung up across it, big fat spider sitting in the middle and all. Undeterred, I picked up a stick, batted down the web (sorry spidey) and we continued on our way.

For another three feet, where I was met with another web.

I'll just go ahead and tell you now that it did not get better. Our solution was that we both picked up rather lengthy sticks and, as we walked forward, twirled them in a circular motion to bring down any webs we came across. And that seemed to work for a while, so we forged on.

Little Man, taking in the scenery.

Despite the spiders and the humidity, the nice thing about the woods is that we were in the shade. We hiked a little over half a mile, and then came to some prairie, which finally gave us respite from the spiders (even if we were now in the sun)!

Annoyed with my request for a photo op :P
The prairie land took us up until almost the one mile mark, where we encountered more woods. Knowing what (probably) awaited us, we picked up sticks again to use on the webs, and entered the second bit of forest.

One step in, okay. Second step in, alright there's a web up ahead. Third step, take down web. Forth step...

Holy shit, these trees are netted in webs.

Anthony and I looked and each other, then back at all of the spider webs. And we (pretty freaking obviously) turned around.

Pretending we're happy and it's all okay.
As we walked back (this time unencumbered by all the spider webs we'd already demolished), Anthony and I decided to drive south - the direction we'd been hiking - and pick up the trail further down instead. We figured we could even just go to the recreation area which had both a lake and a playground, and hike out from there.

Sounded like a plan!

(Please tell me you're beginning to catch all the sarcasm regarding this trip's "plans"...)

We got back to the car, our measly two mile hike all we had to show for it, and headed back the way we'd come. You'll remember me mentioning the lack of trail heads, which we again struggled with. We decided to just follow signs for the recreation area, and finally spotted one and turned off. And as we pulled up we were greeted with...

...a no trespass sign.

Actually, multiple signs.

Because - the signs announced - the recreation area and adjacent campsite were closed for improvement until Summer 2020. There was no beach access, no access to the playgrounds or pavilions, no canoeing or kayaking allowed, and no...hiking.

Which clearly explained why we had not been able to reserve one of the campsites a month earlier. You would think one of the many websites I visited beforehand would have mentioned this. Alas, no.

Womp. Womp. WOMP.

Angry, annoyed, and disappointed, we decided it was time to go back to our campsite. We could have our lunch there and explore the site's trail loop, as short as it may be, and that would take us through the rest of Friday's daylight.

So back to the campground we went!

We took our drive back, now very aware that we were spending more time in the car than anywhere else on this "camping" trip.

We ate said lunch, and then packed things up again to go exploring. Sidenote: Everything about toting a baby with you makes stuff slightly more difficult, like making sure you have the diapers and wipes and pacifiers and water cups and...and...and...

...but we got it figured out and went on our merry way.

One of the things I forgot to mention is that this campsite had three loops for actual camping. Two were dedicated to trailer hookups (ie you can get electricity at the site), and our loop was just for "primitive" (ie tent) camping. We decided to walk around the loops and scope things out, then wander to the trail head for a leisurely hike. I'd read up ahead of time and knew it would be an easy loop, and we were okay with taking our time.

We made the rounds and found a sign pointing towards the trail, and started out.

And 100 feet in, we stopped.

I am not kidding, nor am I exaggerating. We weren't even out of a sight of the closest campgrounds when we realized the trail was not hikable in the best of circumstances, and it certainly was not hikable with a baby on our backs and two dogs in tow.

Not only had a large tree fallen across the path - the path was completely obstructed by fallen brush and foliage up to knee height. There was no way around it either, because the river was directly to the right of the trail.

So we did what anyone would do on a looped trail - we turned around and decided we would hike as far as we could in the other direction, and then turn around to make our return when necessary. Good plan.

*cough cough*

That ended up not working either, because the trail just...stopped existing on the other side. I was baffled, and pretty upset. I'd done a lot of reading about this campground. I knew there was access to this trail (which had a sign pointing directly at it) and that it was a looped trail. People had been posting reviews about hiking it as currently as June. I knew we should be able to get on it.

And yet, we couldn't.

So we turned away from the trail, opting to just walk wherever there was area for us to walk. Parking lot? Okay. Small field? Alright. Around a pond? Sounds good. On the side of a road leading in to camp? Why not. We just wanted to be moving, and so we moved, once again trying to make the best of things that were not turning out to have any best to be made.

Although we did find this mill:
This is a mill!
Us, in front of the mill!
Family picture time! Again, pretending like "making the most of this" is actually working.

You can tell how thrilled he is regarding everything with this trip.

Our cute (and hot) puppers.

Trying to make the best of things while sweating our skin off!

Not quite hiking if it's a road, huh?

We eventually turned around when we realized we kind of just ran out of places to walk. We'd made it all the way to the main road into our site (which was not safe to walk on) and turned back to head back to our site. We hadn't really used up much daylight and let's be honest...pretty much everything had gone wrong at this point.

Back to our site we went.

Back at the campsite.

When we finally gave in.
Pretty much right when I took the above picture (of Zorra), Anthony and I started calling hotels in St Louis.

You see, on our way back from our "hike" we started talking about leaving Markham Springs. It started with "maybe it won't be so bad to leave a day early" (Saturday, rather than Sunday). Things gradually morphed when I mentioned that I really wanted to stop in St Louis to see the arch, and given that STL was on our way home we would be able to have a much shorter, more leisurely drive back home on Sunday if we stopped Saturday night.

Both of us were bummed about the decision. The campground just turned out to be a total waste of time, money, energy, emotion, etc etc etc. A waste of money for the reservation, of time and money for the drive there and back, of energy for the KY to MO rebooking nonsense and stress that had originally occurred, and of emotion for our first vacation as a family failed.

We were both in pretty low spirits, knowing this would likely be our only chance for a vacation any time in the near future and the only thing that made it better was that Little Man did not know, and would not care. And that really did help make it a bit better.

So it was decided. We would do our best to find a dog friendly hotel somewhere near St Louis. On Saturday morning we would pack up and head out and find something (dog and child) friendly to do.

We had no expectations for any of it to be worthwhile or enjoyable, but we'd enjoy air conditioning and hot showers and a bed before heading home on Sunday.


Part 4 to come!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Christina and the No Good Very Bad Family Vacation (Part 2)

Part 1 here

Quick recap: We planned a family camping trip to Kentucky over Labor Day weekend, the location being driven by a wedding we were supposed to attend. A lot happened with that, and we completely changed our plans and opted for Missouri instead. 

I promise today's post is more positive in that it is not rageful, and there are LOTS of pictures!!

Today's post will take us through Thursday...and YES, there will be a Part 3 covering the next day of camping...followed by a fourth post about the rest of the trip! How happy are you that I'm this verbose and love dragging these things out!?!


Labor Day weekend came, and we were excited for our trip! Originally the plan was to camp and hike, but things took a bit of a turn when that didn't work out...read on, my friends, for the thrilling tale!

Our plan was to leave Thursday by 9:30, but that didn't happen. We ended up pulling out of the driveway around 11:00, car and Roof Bag jam-packed with all the necessities for camping. Plus two adults, two dogs, and one baby (the cat was left to fend for himself).

But we got on the road and headed out, hoping to pull in to camp with enough time to set things up before the sun went down.
Our dogs, once they finally calmed down, on our way to Missouri!
I'll spare you details of the drive. If you've ever driven north to south in Illinois you know it's pretty boring. And flat. And boring. And boringly flat. And flatly boring.

I'm sure you get the picture. Only noteable stop was at the Walmart in Springfield for some perishables that we wanted to pick up at the last minute, and for the cilantro I forgot to bring.

Literally as soon as we crossed the state border from Illinois into Missouri, we were greeted with lots and lots of rolling hills. I don't know how it goes from pancake-flat to hill upon hill just over a river, but that's how it was! To be honest, I was imagining riding my bike on them!
One such rolling hill.

We had a very full car.
If you're a person who camps, you probably know about firewood restrictions. Most states have restrictions that you cannot bring out-of-state wood into their state. This is to prevent pest spreading, specifically with bugs that destroy trees (such as the ash borer beetle).

As such, we knew we'd need to stop for some firewood in Missouri. On the website for the campground it said you could stop in a town called Williamsville to pick up firewood. So when Google maps told us we were in Williamsville (about a mile from Markham Springs) we pulled over to the one store that appeared to exist in the town to buy ice and firewood.

Well let me tell you what. They do not sell firewood in Williamsville.

Strike one!

I found this out from the owner of the store, one of 342 people who lives in Williamsville, MO. He told me to wait a second, then went to the back of his carry-it-all store and asked his wife and a towns-person named Lee if they had any ideas where we could get firewood. The answer: about 15 miles back the way we'd come.

That wasn't going to work. It was getting dark, and there were ominous rain clouds following us.

Fortunately, this Lee guy was really nice. He told us he worked at a lumber yard that was literally 1,000 feet away, and he would get us some of their scraps. He even drove home quickly (like, took him 3 minutes) and got a chainsaw so he could cut them into more manageable sizes for us.

Btw, I hope you're understanding from all my subtle hints just how small the town of Williamsville is. Here's another tidbit: There are no traffic lights, and we counted one stopsign.

Anyways. Pictures.
Waiting for Lee to get his chainsaw, still optimistic and unaware of the weekend awaiting us.
Our buddy Lee, cutting up some scraps to load in our tiny, already packed car:

My artistic and photographic talents end about here:
Sunset looking out over the trees of Mark Twain National Forest.
After Lee's assistance, we thanked him profusely, we loaded up the firewood and left...and the rain really started coming down. This was not good news for us. It made it dark and obviously wet and meant that we'd be setting our tent up in less than ideal circumstances, and had absolutely no use for the firewood we'd just acquired.

As soon as we pulled in to the site I jumped out of the car and scoped things out to decide where we would set up, and Anthony maneuvered the car to give us some light while we set up the tent. Without our headlights, it was pitch black (duh, woods).

Tent set up sucked. The rain had thinned to a drizzle, but it was still very hot and muggy, and there were more bugs swarming our heads than I have experienced in my whole life put together. On top of that, the dogs were going stir crazy in the car (we hadn't let them out yet because we couldn't see anything and we didn't want them full of mud when they got in the tent)...and Little Man was screaming. We all wanted out of that car!

I finally got the tent up, sweating profusely and dripping with rainwater the whole time. It's a good thing I've set the tent up so many times because it went relatively quickly, and we were able to get our crew situated inside while we finished up with the car. Luckily, for some reason Little Man was thrilled with crawling around the tent. He could not stop smiling and playing with random things (like our pillows and sleeping bags). So the baby was momentarily entertained and not screaming, and Anthony was able to let the dogs out to relieve themselves without getting super muddy!

Meanwhile, I grabbed our air mattresses and plugged our brand new pump into my car outlet (yes, my car has a 115V outlet!) to fill them up....and strike two! The pump worked for about three seconds, then died. Apparently it was too strong for my car battery. And, since I was trying to eliminate non-essential packing, I did not bring the battery operated one. Strike three.

I was swearing like a sailor, and ready to cry about it. Anthony rescued me and said he would work on the air mattresses (by blowing them up with his lungs...) while I organized the car and made dinner on the camp stove, because we were starving.

Positive note: We brought a camp pad for Little Man to sleep on. It was perfect, and we actually have two that were meant to replace our air mattresses. In the future they will, and we'll buy a third!

I organized and cooked by flashlight, in relative darkness, stopping only to spray myself down with bug spray and fog our campground with an entire can of fogger because the bugs were SO bad. They were swarming every source of light they could find, including the lights still on in my car and our camp lantern. Joy.

When I finally got in the tent I was hot, sweaty, and damp from the rain, and all I wanted to do was change my clothes so I could be hot and dry instead of hot and wet. We ate dinner in our tent, and then listened to Little Man talk us all to sleep.

Two adults, one baby, and two dogs, piled in a tent!

Playing with something completely random. Probably a dog, or the sleeping bag tie.

Seeing how much drool he could get all over my sleeping bag, and all over Daddy's shirt.
Lol as if. We finally caved and gave him a bottle to get him to stop talking so we could all go to sleep!

And thus ended our day of travel...with a very eventful campsite setup, in the dark and the rain with whining dogs and a crying baby.

The next day would definitely be better. Right...?


Part 3 has been posted!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Returning to the Blog: Christina and the No Good Very Bad Family Vacation (Part 1)

Why hello there. It has been quite a while. Over four months since I last posted!

The truth is, I don't routinely have a ton I want to say here, nor the time to say it. I post a lot of things on Instagram these days because I'm able to get my thoughts out coherently and (relatively) quickly. Even though I don't put up posts super often, I add to my story pretty much every day!

Head on over to follow me there for daily updates about pregnancy (oh yeah, that's happening again), commuting (and a new job too), and cute baby and animal pictures :)

The truth about what happened here (on the blog) is that I started writing a post about our Labor Day Weekend vacation-fail and it really bummed me out, and ended up with me stepping back from blogging. Weird, right?

You see, by the end of our Labor Day vacation, Anthony and I agreed that it was not the best trip. Our baby had fun and didn't know the difference, our dogs enjoyed running freely through the woods, and we had a good time in St Louis - but the trip was not ideal. It felt a bit like wasted time everything.

That said, I'm going to document it. Sometime in the future all of the snafus of this trip that only he and I will remember will make a funny story, and we will laugh over it.

And...I want to post the pictures, even if it was a shit weekend. (Fair warning, this post has no pictures.) It should be self explanatory just how shit it was, given we went on this trip the last weekend of August and I have just now come to terms with everything to post the pictures in January, but there you go.

It is a very long story (I did actually write most of it back then), so I'm going to recap the initial mess that "caused" things here in this post, then continue about the actual camping in another. I warn you. It is going to sound preeeeeeeeetty negative. Not only that, I'm going to hate on weddings for a hot minute the rest of at least some of this post. So if you want the back story you'll have to deal with that, otherwise just skip to the next post.

Christina, what's the deal with your hatred for weddings, anyways?

If you know me well, you already know just how much I hate weddings. If you don't know me well, I shall explain.

First of all, it's not the premise of weddings that I hate. I happen to be in a very happy, committed relationship - one with 1.5 children (and 3 furbabies and a house) involved, and I can honestly say that I fully appreciate the sheer amount of love, compassion, empathy, support, compromise, and hard work that go into long term committed relationships. If you are getting married before you have kids, I want to say that all of these things and the need for them are only amplified once you do have them.

I have always been happy to see people I love tell me they are embarking on this journey with their partner - even people I am no longer friends with. If you've been reading long enough you know that my longest friendship ever was actually ended because of "American Wedding Culture" - which is another story - but even with her, I was never not happy for her to be getting married. I was mad about the wedding that caused all the actions that led our friendship to end.

Basically, I don't want people thinking I'm jealous because I'm not married (would you believe I don't place the same importance on it as most of society?) or because I'm jealous of other people's happiness and commitment. No, I'm not. Already have those, thanks.

My problem with weddings is the sheer level of selfishness and entitlement that goes along with them, especially in America. And the wedding you have to thank for this little diatribe was no exception. *sigh*

So with that little preface, here goes. The back story to this whole mess, which I've been avoiding posting about for over four months.

~*~*~The Back Story to Labor Day~*~*~

We were not originally supposed to go to Missouri, which is where we ended up. We were supposed to go to Kentucky. Our plans changed, very last minute.

When we first started planning this trip (in February) I found out that someone I know would be getting married over Labor Day weekend. We were going to be invited to the wedding. Leaving aside my hatred for American Wedding Culture (which I have already acknowledged exists), here's a pro-tip: Don't get married on a holiday weekend. People like to plan things like vacations for long weekends, and there are only so many of them in a year.

(Not only that, but I also found out that some people are restricted from time off prior to holiday weekends, like teachers. This can make that whole travel thing even harder and more restrictive! Who would have thought.)

Anyways. I delayed booking anything camping related so we could plan around this wedding. We waited, and waitedand waited, for information about where this wedding would be so we could find somewhere to camp near there. I know that people involved with the wedding knew this, as I sought out for information occasionally.

Sometime in April I was able to dig around a bit to get the information I needed, and we booked a campsite that was about an hour from where we were told the wedding would be. We would drive out Thursday, camp and hike Friday and Saturday morning, pack up and leave for the wedding on Saturday, and make the drive home on Sunday. Not ideal for the kind of hiking/camping we wanted to do, but we'd work with it, including finding a dog friendly hotel near the wedding venue, even deciding to tote along Zorra's crate for when the dogs would be alone.

Then a while later (after booking our site) we found out kids wouldn't be allowed at the wedding. I get that people want child-free weddings, but for reasons I'm not putting here, I didn't understand it for this wedding and had assumed we could bring our 9 month old. We were told we would be provided with a list of babysitters. Newsflash: We weren't...and I asked a few times.

And then we finally got more details and learned the reception venue was 15 minutes from the hotel, and were not comfortable with the idea of leaving our infant with a stranger, 15 minutes from where we'd be, 6 hours from home.

So we decided I would attend the wedding 100% solo, from ceremony through reception. I wasn't going to force my very non-religious significant other and our infant son to attend a super boring Catholic mass in Latin *rolls eyes*, especially when neither would be able to even get dinner out of it afterwards. Anthony and I agreed they'd be better off chilling with our dogs in the hotel room and ordering pizza instead.

(Throwing this in again...I don't care if you want to have a child free wedding...but a child free wedding that most of your guests are traveling for, on a holiday weekend when people would like to be planning actual family things? Not cool.)

On top of this, some other stuff happened that I'm not going to go in to here, and I finally said "Fuck it. I have bent over backwards to make this work, and I'm not anymore. We're not going to Kentucky."

This was the first week of August.

Change of Plans
I will be honest, we could have still gone to Kentucky and just added a day to our original reservation. But the whole state seemed spoiled at that point by all the inconsiderate crap that happened, and I wanted a fresh slate for the trip.

The problem is that fresh slate would have been best prepared in February, when we first started looking around. Anthony and I spent three hours looking at sites the Saturday after we decided not to go to this wedding, and after looking at state park after state park from Michigan to Wisconsin to Minnesota and Indiana AND Iowa and running into plenty of problems (all sites full, no tent sites available, no hiking nearby, on and on) we finally found a national park that we decided to give a go.

Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.

Finding reservable, drive-up, tent camping still proved to be a bit of a headache. Lots of sites are drive-up, but practically none were reservable, and we weren't going to drive that far hoping to find something. We finally found somewhere to reserve though - Markham Springs Recreation Area:
(In case you're wondering.)
It was about 2 1/2 hour south of St Louis...so it turned out we'd be driving pretty much the same distance we would have going to Kentucky *facepalm*. But I was so sick of looking - it honestly brought me close to tears. So we settled.

The site itself had a loop trail to hike, a spring to explore, and after I did some digging, some other hiking trails kind of close that we could drive to. So we were hopeful.

Yeah. We shouldn't have been....


Also, out of complete spite, I'm going to say that after this wedding happened, I found out that there were tons of kids at it. Someone who went estimated the number at around 20 children in attendance at the reception. TWENTY.

Weddings generally make me pretty "fuck you", as I'm sure you've guessed, but finding that out still has me mad all these months later, simply because it was insult-to-injury for our ruined weekend.

And PS, there is no excuse to be that rude and inconsiderate to your guests. Either go child free or don't. Don't tell people their kids can't come so they go out of their way to accommodate your special day, as you expect them to, and then find out they were the only ones you were apparently rude as fuck to and whose kid you didn't want there. That is complete and utter bullshit, and a pretty good way to make someone go mama bear on you and solidify some pretty strong resentment.

So again, fuck you if you do this to someone.


Part 2 to be delivered soon.

Part 2 has been uploaded here.