So, camping. Our last camping trip was over two years ago. It involved a nine-week-old baby, unforecasted rain and chilly temperatures, a leaky tent, very little hiking, and an early return. Gabriel’s look says it all. (I can’t believe he was ever that tiny!!!)
A few months after that adventure, we received a new tent as a Christmas present. Despite being an upgrade over our leaky, musty version, it sat untouched for almost two years. This is more related to our “garden” baby than to our actual baby.
In retrospect, hiking/camping with a small, very portable infant was relatively easy, but despite our best intentions to do a lot of hiking and camping those first months (when we were both not working due to maternity/paternity leave anyway), there was just that one trip.
For our great return to camping, we left Gabriel with Baba, and had our first multi-night kid-free time in over a year.
We planned our adventure to southern Illinois, home to some state parks, national forests, and wineries. Thanks to Congress, we had to remove the national forest from our itinerary.
Saturday morning, we loaded the car and drove through two-and-a-half hours of rain to Giant City State Park (just south of Carbondale, IL). We kept peering at the sky, thinking that certainly, at any moment, the rain would stop and it would clear.
Failing that, we decided to stop in Carbondale for lunch. We ate at Longbranch Coffeehouse and Vegetarian Cafe, a spot I’d scoped out ahead of time. We enjoyed their house recipe veggie burger and a breakfast burrito-type thing — a fun stop and tasty food — would definitely return!
It finally did stop raining, just as we arrived at the state park to be met by a “Campground Full” sign. We continued to the host’s site to discuss just what they meant by “full.”
Turns out there was exactly ONE tent site left in the entire campground, so we paid our eight dollars and proceeded to stake our claim. I really didn’t want to set up our nice, clean, dry tent on the wet, muddy ground, so we hung our claim tag and drove to some short hiking loops.
We returned a few hours later to slightly less wet ground, and went about setting up camp. Between our new tent, new screen house, almost new sleeping bags (which I decided I loathe), and a couple of new backpacks, I felt like we were doing some kind of gear review (minus the free gear).
We built a fire, ate dinner, and decided to call it an early night. Unfortunately, our fellow campers had other ideas, and what seemed like a relatively quiet campground before 9 p.m. became obnoxiously noisy for the next couple of hours as we tossed and turned.
Our ultralight fabric (made from recycled plastic bottles), mummy-style sleeping bags, while perhaps great for back-country camping, were just not comfortable for me. Between that and the noise, I was NOT a happy camper.
Come morning, I strongly advocated for turning our planned two-night stay into a one-night stay. The lure of a nice, comfortable bed in a quiet apartment only two hours away was just too much.
But before we left, we decided to tackle a 12-mile hike, giving us some more of the outdoor time and scenery that we came for and giving our tents time to dry (just dew, not rain) before decamping.
Unfortunately, the “construction” that the guide at the visitor’s center indicated would last for about a mile of the 12-mile loop, combined with Saturday’s rain, turned our hike into a muddy slog, made extra frustrating by the complete lack of trail markers (perhaps removed because of the construction).
Heavy machinery, dirt trails, and rain are NOT a good combination. We found this guy with the keys in the ignition and were rather tempted to just drive ourselves out.
The “path” we were on finally led to a waste-water treatment site (beautiful nature, eh?), and we followed a gravel road back to civilization, i.e., the paved road that runs through the state park. From there, we “hiked” along the road for a couple of miles (I was tempted to stick out my thumb and hitch-hike) before finally returning to our campsite.
Midday fire, lunch, showers, and some time in the hammock put us in better spirits. We packed up our nice dry tents, drove back to St. Louis, and concluded our weekend with dinner at Tree House, a [relatively] new vegetarian restaurant.
Our camping gear is packed away again, probably until the spring, when we might get really crazy and attempt camping with a toddler. Until then, I’ll be enjoying my own bed!