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!!!)

“WTF, guys? Can we please go home already?”

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.

Pea in a pod

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!

We sold a bike! And took a hike!

Such a great weekend, what’s not to like?

I obviously missed my calling as an author of inanely rhyming children’s books, no?

After receiving just a few nibbles on the “for sale” post on CL (only one of which was legit) in the first two weeks, we were beginning to wonder if the Pacer was going to sell (and a little part of Matthew was kind-of hoping it wouldn’t).

But it only takes one, and that one arrived on Friday night, took a test ride, hemmed and hawed for a bit, and finally decided to buy it then and there, forgoing his original plan to look at more bikes on Saturday.

When we returned from a bike ride on Sunday morning, Matthew commented that we needed the longtail, “because our [bike parking area] looks so empty now.”  The sale of the Pacer fell far short of completely financing a longtail purchase, but it does make it seem a bit less crazy.

Sunday afternoon, we drove to Castlewood Park for Gabriel’s first walking-on-his-own hike.  In all previous hikes, we shlepped him on our backs.  Time to pull your own weight, kid!


Hiking without thirty-three pounds of live, active weight on the back was nice, though our pace was quite slow, especially on the loose rock ascents and descents, which made up most of yesterday’s hike.


I convinced Matthew that trying to cover the three mile loop trail in an hour was completely unrealistic, but we made it to the top for some river views before heading back down.  Sir’s pace on the descent (while holding Dada’s hand) frightened Mama more than a little, but we all made it down in one piece.

To cover a bit more ground on future hikes, we plan to use some combination of Sir walking and riding on one of our backs.

Looking back at Cinque Terre

Despite lots of great potential content, I didn’t write much about our fabulous trip to Europe last spring.*  Over the next couple of weeks, I  will rectify that by sharing snippets from my travel journal in the “Looking back at  . . . ” series.

Cinque Terre, March 30-31, 2011
Wednesday (3/30): On to Cinque Terre.  Due to slow service, we abandoned our plans for delicious looking pizza in La Spezia (at least we hadn’t paid for it yet) in order to catch our train to Cinque Terre.  Given the sub par pizza lunch that we ended up eating in Vernazza, perhaps we should have just waited for the pizza and taken the next train.

After checking into our “hotel” (Albergo Barbara, identical to the B&Bs, but without breakfast), we filled our water bottles and headed out for some hiking.  The high trail from Vernazza to Monterosso was beautiful, and I was glad I pushed through the challenge of the initial climb, which I took at an embarrassingly slow pace (maybe I DID qualify as a person of impaired mobility!).

After a great hike, including some thunder and a bit of rain, we arrived in Monterossa at a proper Italian dinner time, only to find most of the town, including the most interesting looking restaurants, closed.  Turns out many of the restaurants and stores in Cinque Terre were still closed for “low season,” even though all of the lodging establishments were charging “high season” prices.

The day continued to be a food flop, with a dinner that consisted of pasta (the noodles themselves were decent) with the worst pesto we’ve ever had, plus some minestrone that was decent, but was likely a decent variety of canned minestrone.  If the prices reflected the quality of the food, this would have been somewhat less painful, but instead we paid about 20 euros (~$28) for the privilege.

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Thursday: Found a bakery (Il Discovolo) specializing in local products in Manorolo, where we really enjoyed the farinata (chickpea flour savory pastry filled with cheese) and the lightly sweet chesnut bar.  In Riomaggiore, we found a place to buy nice panini ingredients (buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, and olives) by the kilo, so we loaded up on lunch ingredients and set off on the hike between Manarola and Corniglia.

Another great hike, through terraced vineyards, and overgrown terraces that must have once been vineyards or otherwise farmed.  For dinner, we headed back to the bakery and picked up a savory spinach pastry (similar to spanikopita), plus more panini ingredients, since the restaurants in Cinque Terre left us quite nonplussed.

We also found out that the train strike [that we’d heard rumors of all day] was ON, which put Friday’s travel to Siena in jeopardy . . . .

Read the previous post in the “Looking back at  . . . ” series.
Read the next post in the “Looking back at  . . . ” series.

Laurel Springs and Ramsey Cascades

Water over the bridge

The water at Laurel Springs flowed quite enthusiastically after the previous night’s rain.  We crossed safely, but it seemed a little iffy.  It provided good crowd control, as we had the trail to ourselves from that point on for most of the afternoon.  Shortly after crossing the foot bridge, we entered into a “bear activity” warning area.  While stopped to eat lunch, we heard some suspicious grunts.  We never saw anything, but I suspect a bear was near.

Ramsey Cascades topped the next day’s agenda.  Getting to the Ramsey Cascades trail head involved a drive over some narrow gravel roads.  Said roads featured some interesting potholes, but the car came out unscathed, thanks to my stellar 10mph driving.  When it came Matthew’s turn on the way out, he upped our speed to a whopping 12 mph.

The 8-mile RT hike to the Ramsey Cascades was lovely, with many water crossings along the way.  I wore my new Five Fingers for part of the hike — much better than those horrible hiking boots I wore in Glacier (bemoaned here and here).

My birthday present
Darn, I forgot his leash
We found our reward at the end

Tree hugger!

Tree hugger

Why yes, I did mean that literally.  And yes, I am wearing socks with my sandals.  It’s what all the cool kids do, trust me.

I hugged this tree on the Ramsey Cascades trail.  Logging companies stripped most of the original trees from the area that became Smoky Mountains National Park.  This old growth tree, and a few others, stand as a reminder.

Turns out, I was in good company with the tree hugging thing.

Black bears like to hug trees, too!
So do other furry mammals