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!

DC by Bike — Cycle Track and Tour de Fat

Prior to my arrival in DC, Natalie’s husband, James, had mentioned something about a bike-related event hosted by New Belgium Beer (that also included music and beer) on the Saturday I would be in town — the Tour de Fat.  My friends and I weren’t making solid plans at the time, so I filed it as a possibility for later consideration.

Despite not having all that much information about what it entailed, other than some kind of costumed bike parade, followed by various musical performances, we decided to check it out.

On Saturday morning, after a quick early morning bike outing for pastries and toilet paper (I carried the latter lashed to the rear rack on the bike), I once again hopped on Chrissy’s bike and joined James, a regular DC bike commuter for the ride down to the riverside park area near Navy Yard.

I’d planned a route using 13th Street (a nice road with two lanes of traffic in each direction and no bike lanes) to connect to Pennsylvania Avenue, where I was going to check out (i.e., cautiously ride in) that center bikeway.  In the name of flexibility, I ditched those plans to go with James’ suggested route (something he knew well as part of his regular commute), which involved using the 15th Street cycle track.

DC cycletrack image from
DC cycletrack image from

This was my first time encountering a cycle track as a cyclist, and, while better in some ways than a standard door-zone bike lane, I didn’t feel particularly comfortable there.

General thoughts on the cycle track:

  • Not sure how much bike traffic this particular cycle track sees at peak times, but I could see it feeling claustrophobic.  The “lane” in each direction was certainly not roomy.
  • What the heck would you do if you needed to make a turn from one of these things?  Certainly not anything that follows the normal rules of the road and/or normal traffic flow.  I guess the safest option would be getting off the bike and crossing the street as a pedestrian?
  • The cycle track poses many of the same risks as other forms of edge-riding behavior, especially right hooks and left crosses.
  • I attempted to be very vigilant at each and every intersection, but that’s really a poor substitute for riding in a visible position as part of the normal flow of traffic.

Anyway, I obviously survived my cycle track experience and a bit of sidewalk riding as well (not in any hurry to repeat the latter).  We made it to Navy Yard in time for the Tour de Fat bicycle parade, and, despite the promise of a slooooow five miles in high temps with midday sun (and our lack of awesome costumage), we decided to join the parade.

It was fun, despite the excessive UV rays I absorbed.  I estimate that somewhere between three and five hundred cyclists took to the streets of DC for the parade. I soaked up the energy and enthusiasm of the group, which included great costume inspiration for future rides, cute kids on their parents’ bikes, and people pulling bike trailers rigged with big speakers to provide tunes for our ride.

We ended back at Navy Yard and met the rest of our crew to take in the various festivities: drum corps, various musical performances, food trucks, and a live, bicycle-themed recording of The Moth radio show.

I did snap a few photos on my phone’s not-so-great camera (the real camera was in Florida, capturing this), but they’re really not worth posting, especially since you can check out this nice, photo-heavy recap.

Thus more or less ended my DC cycling experience, since we used the Metro to get home after the event.  I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I’ll definitely be up for more biking!

DC by bike (and foot and Metro) — Part I

After a few solo days in StL last week, during which time I clearly had a bit too much time on my hands (as evidenced by a blog post day for seven days in a row), I skipped town and headed to our nation’s capitol for a much needed mini-reunion and ladies’ weekend with some fabulous college friends.

I was on the fence about the trip, but the direct (non-stop) Southwest flights from StL to DCA (Ronald Reagan International Airport) sealed the deal.  (Southwest offering flights to DCA is a relatively new thing — exciting b/c DCA is much closer to central Washington, DC, i.e., much more accessible by transit.)

Natalie met me at the airport with a spare SmarTrip [transit] card, so I didn’t even have to navigate the Metro by myself (it was actually fairly straightforward).  After dropping off my bags, and picking up our friend Jennifer, we walked to Sweet Green, a DC-area made-to-order salad restaurant.

Having overdosed a bit on lettuce in the days leading up to the trip, a salad place might not have been my first choice, but the combination of close, fast, healthy, and affordable kept me from voicing any hesitation.

Fortunately, they had some base options other than just lettuce, and I chose a combination of kale (one green which has been missing from my life recently) and warm grains.  I was excited to see that many of their ingredients were sourced locally, including the kale, [hard-boiled] eggs, and homemade spicy pickles that I chose for my salad.  Tasty and a fun twist on a “regular old salad.”

I was up early on Thursday morning, so I headed out for a short run, destination Bicycle Space, a local bike shop that carries Yuba bicycles.  (The day before I left StL, I had the brilliant idea to find a Yuba dealer in DC so I could take the Mundo for a test ride.)  The run turned into a bit of a scavenger hunt, as the shop had moved, and the address I had was their old location.  I tracked down their new shop, knowing they would not be open that early, but planning on some window shopping.

I returned from my run with my brilliant plan in jeopardy, having not seen any Yuba bicycles in the shop.  I waited until opening time to call the shop, where an employee confirmed that they did not have any Yuba Mundos in stock, but they were expecting a shipment soon.  Not soon enough for this visitor, but they helpfully directed me to a different bike shop in the DC-area.

Natalie graciously offered to drive me to The Green Commuter, in the near suburb of Takoma Park, MD.  Ironic that my one car-trip of the visit was to ride a bicycle, especially given the name of the shop.  But there it finally was — a Yuba Mundo in real life!

The shop employees were great, adjusting the bike for me and letting me take it for a spin, knowing that I was from out-of-town and wouldn’t actually be making a purchase from them.  So, yeah, no photo evidence, but I finally rode a longtail (and one of the bikes we are considering).

After driving back into DC, we grabbed a quick lunch and hopped on the Metro to the National Mall area, where we spent the afternoon walking, browsing museums, etc.  It was super hot, but I somehow resisted the temptation to cool off in the fountains that we passed.

I’ll pause there for now.  Check back later this week for DC — Part II, which includes much more biking than just a test ride (as well as the limited number of photos I took on the trip)!

I hopped off the plane at PDX with my babe and a carry-on

Hi there!  For those not in the airport code know, we recently returned from a little trip to Portland, Oregon.  With a 14-month along for the ride, it was most definitely NOT a vacation, but all-in-all, things went well.

We enjoyed our time and our adventures eating, biking, and hiking our way around Portland and surrounding areas.  We definitely had the too much to do/too little time issue, and between that and the aforementioned babe toddler, we stumbled, rather than hopped, off the plane back in StL.

Unfortunately, Portland tales and pictures will have to wait until later in the week, because we returned home to no internet.  Long story short, let’s just say it’s a shitty situation (literally), and I’m in serious email/blog/net-surfing withdrawal.

Looking back at Florence

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.

Florence, March 27-29, 2011
Sunday (3/27): After a night at a smoky B&B on the outskirts of Rome (Ciao Ciao Roma), we experienced our first Italian “breakfast,” Matthew hit up an ATM, and we headed to Termini Station to find a train to Florence.  We chose the 18 euro/person 4-hour regional train over the 48 euro/person 2-hour fast train, and, with an hour-and-a-half to kill, went in search of some lunch.  Lacking time (or so we believed) to make it to the place we first planned to eat, we randomly ended up at a Chinese restaurant.  First meal in Italy = Chinese food?  Only slightly weird.

We returned to the station without much time to spare, only to discover that, surprise, Italy did the whole “spring ahead” thing last night, and the train we planned to take departed an hour ago.  Welcome to Italy!

We made friends with a sister and brother traveling together on the train to Florence, and chatting with them helped the 4+ hours pass.  We arrived to a rainy evening in Florence.  Once checked in at our B&B (Residenza Betta, not smoky), we went in search of dinner.  Being 8pm and proper Italian dinner time, our first choice restaurant was packed, with no sign of a table opening soon in the tiny space, so we headed to Trattoria Guelfa (recommended by the B&B hostess), where we ran into our train friends.  We enjoyed a nice dinner there, including a “lasagna” with wide noodles and tasty porcinis, delicious bread soup, and complementary dessert wine and biscotti.

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Monday (3/28): The next day, we climbed the Duomo and stood outside on the top in a thunderstorm, while I thought about cathedrals collapsing, a la Pillars of the Earth (if I’d only read the book, it might have been okay, but we recently watched the mini-series on Netflix, so I was a little nervous, especially after Matthew helpfully pointed out the Duomo’s infamous crack – you couldn’t have told me about that before we climbed all the way up here?).

We found a very cheap cafeteria-line place to eat lunch and dry out, and by the time we were finished, the skies were clearing.  We found the much-recommend Grom and thoroughly enjoyed our first gelato in Italy – the pear was particularly amazing.

We crossed the river to the Oltrarno area and followed the recommended walk in our guide book.  We discovered a clothing boutique with locally hand-made clothing and narrowly escaped without depleting our euros.

After lots of walking, peaking into some churches, and watching the sunset at the Piazza Michalangelo, we dined at an all-organic, vegetarian restaurant in Oltrarno (Vivanda Gastronomia).

Tuesday (3/29): We spent the morning at the Uffizi Museum, and for lunch we found the panini place (Vinaino di Parte Guelfa) recommended by our friends.  Continuing our museum blitz, we went to the Academia to see David.  That night, we arrived early and dined at the place that was full on our initial attempt on Sunday night (restaurant name???).  After dinner, we headed to the Pitti Palace, hoping to get to see the Boboli Gardens, but the gardens were not part of the special free late night.  We caught the bus up to the Piazza Michelangelo so we could look down on Florence in the dark.

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