Sunday, August 15, 2010

housecamping in colorado

In planning this trip to Colorado, my first visit in 8 years, my visions usually involved waking up on a peak somewhere in one of the national forests, a steaming cup of camp coffee in my gloved hands, my breath coming out in icy wisps. The kids curled up in their sleeping bags, awestruck at the view of the continental divide just outside their tent.

So I’m almost embarrassed to say that we have been in Colorado a week now and have spent every night in a bed, with access to showers, stoves, Legos, trampolines, a swimming pool, and even television. Haven’t had a cup of camp coffee since last Saturday. Funny how my Colorado has changed now that I have kids in tow. After dragging them across the country for five days, all they really want at the end of the journey is to play, preferably with other kids. So, while I’m really missing the backcountry, I am so grateful for the hospitality of our friends, the Lentzes and the Nevins, who have basically provided us with a home base while we’ve been here.

And housecamping has a secondary benefit: it allows me to pretend, for a little while, that I’m a Coloradoan again.

Despite the luxury accommodations, we’ve done plenty of playing in the mountains: we’ve hiked in Boulder and in Golden Gate Canyon State Park; we’ve biked up the canyon on the creek path; we’ve pushed the Westfalia up mountain roads that taxed her poor old engine. But we’ve also had days by the pool, days where the kids rode bikes around the neighborhood while we chatted with friends. It’s not the rugged Colorado of my daydreams, but even this family-friendly version has been splendid for my soul. I’ve missed this place, and in many ways, it still feels like home.

And we’re going camping tomorrow.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Scribbles from the Road, Volume I

(typed in haste, with many distractions, from a hotel just outside Denver. . . .)

Day 1: Tuesday, August 3
Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, W. Virginia, Virginia

An automotive glitch set us back two days. Bryan, who had been eager to get on the road as quickly as possible, ended up spending the weekend under the van. We also had to wait for a part that was not going to arrive until Monday. We were both sullen and anxious. The kids, fortunately, were oblivious, and were surprisingly patient when we told them we wouldn’t be leaving just yet.

I tried not to dwell on the bad luck that seems to have surrounded our last few summer vacations. An uplifting call from my friend Lori, who advised me to take control of the situation by visualizing the destination (the Rockies) and cleansing my soul of negative energy, definitely galvanized me out of the doldrums and provided me with a renewed sense of empowerment. We’re going to Colorado. That’s it.

So, finally, on Tuesday morning, we piled into the van (we said goodbye to Sasha the night before; she’ll be staying at Bryan’s mom’s while we’re on the road. She’s done the cross-country trek and doesn’t need to do it again). Dylan and Lexi were much better passengers than we could ever have hoped for, amusing themselves with activity books, coloring, singing, and listening to my Ipod (a novelty for Dylan, who couldn’t get enough of being in control of the music). Before the trip, I downloaded several books on CD, and “Magic Tree House: the Musical” kept them occupied for at least two hours.

We had lunch on the campus of Penn State—Hazleton, which looked as if it had probably been an estate once upon a time. The kids played Nerf basketball and ran off some road energy.

In planning our trip, Bryan expressed a desire to take the Blue Ridge Parkway. Anxious to be in Colorado for as many days as possible, I put up some resistance. Driving through the Shendandoah Valley later on Tuesday evening, however, I had to admit that it was an excellent idea, even if it meant more days on the road. It was raining, but still the views opened up each time we passed a vista. A long, twisty road took us to Matthews Arm Campground in Shenandoah National Park. We arrived just after 7pm, road-weary but happy to have made it to the first destination on our TripTik. Bryan had thought to bring the kids’ scooters, and these provided a much-needed outlet. The campground, which was wooded, rustic, and quiet, was a lovely spot, and the kids were able to do several laps before dinner. We passed several deer who were so habituated that they barely looked up as we passed by. We could have reached out and touched them. I hoped the bears weren’t quite so friendly.

Day 2: Wednesday, August/4
Virginia, West Virginia
Long day of driving. Left our campsite in Shenandoah at 6:30 a.m. Had breakfast at the park’s Visitor’s Center, which offered up a brief panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains before the clouds closed in. I’m happy to report that the Big Sky coffee press mugs Bryan and I bought for our trip to Utah in 2001 still make the best cups of camp coffee around. Nothing like a few grounds in your joe to make you feel burly.

The westy huffed and puffed over the hills (we hit a low of 30mph on the highway at one point), but she came through it all okay. We took a detour for lunch, one we came to regret. We were led to believe, perhaps by our own optimism, that Lake Moomaw/Gathright Dam was a short drive from the exit. As it turned out, we spent almost an hour getting there, down country roads and up a canyon. A wizened old cowboy pointed us in the right direction, and when we finally arrived at the lake, it was pretty but eerie. Completely deserted. The attendant in the Visitor’s Center seemed unused to company, especially a bunch of Yankees in a VW van, and so he stood and watched us awkwardly for a few minutes before asking us where we were headed. We had lunch at the lake, as well as a brief swim (when we arrived, we were the only people there, which I took to be a bad sign), then were back on the road for a long afternoon.

The kids, especially Alexa, looked roughed up. Somehow we imagined they’d sleep during the day and play at night, like desert animals. But Dylan can battle sleep like the best of warriors, and he’s very adept at keeping his sister awake, too. I finally gave in and let them watch “Toy Story” on my laptop, which had just enough juice to through the DVD.

Big storm rolled in as we were looking for a grocery store. Ducked out of the van and into a mall for shelter.

Storm passed quickly. Pulled into a KOA in Milton, W. Virginia, around 6:45 pm. When Bryan and I did our cross-country wedding trip eight years ago, I never would have dreamed of staying in a family campground, but as much as I prefer primitive camping, I have to admit that such places have made all the difference on this trip. The promise of a playground and a swim at the end of a long ride has definitely made the miles bearable for the little ones (and, consequently, for us).

Day 3: Thursday, August 5 .
W. Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois
Churches, adult superstores, churches, crosses, adult superstores. Wal-Mart. Home Depot. Welcome to Middle America! Uneventful day. Driving. Kids a little more restless. Had lunch in Louisville, Kentucky.

The air conditioning gave out, which changed the dynamic of the trip. The kids, amazingly, stayed positive. I have been devising scavenger hunts for them, and so they spend at least part of their days looking for various license plates, billboards, colors, restaurants, etc.

Pulled into an odd little family campground in Illinois around 6pm. The requisite playground occupied the kids while Bryan cooked dinner (scrambled eggs and homemade bread) and I went for a short run. Hot. Buggy. Saw an owl in the nearby nature preserve; he swooped down over a field, then perched in a tree, watching me.

After dinner, Dylan and I had a pleasant walk by the light of our headlamps. The campground is on a lake, and we walked down a path behind the tent sites and saw, under the moonlight, a small canoe with two men fishing. Dylan definitely shares my love for road trips, and we talked about doing a backpacking trip in the fall. He made many observations ( the boy can talk, just ask anyone who knows him) about the people in the campground, the different types of RVs, the lake, the cabins, the bats swooping over our heads, the trip. Whoo! No wonder he fights sleep so tenaciously. So much to think about.

Hot night; did not sleep well. Planned to leave early in the a.m. to beat St. Louis traffic.

More later. Kids harrassing me to get moving, already!