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Camping 2014

There are few places I love as much as my home state. It has its ups and downs, and of course there are lots of great places to visit in the country and the wider world, but here we are surrounded by a simple, quiet, understated beauty that cannot be matched. Water, water everywhere; soft, white, sandy beaches; majestic trees. The wildlife is plentiful and mainly friendly (as our new neighbors who came from Alabama like to put it, there really isn't much here that can kill you). Brilliant sun in the summers, sparkling snow, when we're lucky, in the winters. The Pure Michigan campaign, now in its eighth year, really nailed it on the head. I'm sure there are plenty of people itching to get out of dodge, but we truly love our home, and we do our best every year—especially every summer—to take advantage of the beauty around us, and not take it for granted.

Last weekend was our annual camping trip with our good friends who have a daughter exactly two days older than Calvin. We started this tradition when the kiddos were just 3. That first year we packed up all our gear (which thankfully was limited at the time) and drove to a site less than an hour away, figuring that if the trip was a complete bust we could still make it home in time for some decent sleep. But it was a big hit—really big—and in the years since we've upped our game to a five hour drive and four nights away.

We feel like regulars now at our favorite campground. This is drive up camping (not like our backpacking trip last year), and our favorite two sites have a lake view and easy access to the beach, the water pump, and the bathroom without being right in the middle of camp traffic. They also come with a resident Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel. During the day we watch him scurry around, scoping out our contributions to his layout, at dusk we sit around the campfire waiting for the bats emerge, and in the cool mornings we lean back in our chairs and sip hot coffee while listening to the loons.

In all these years, this was our first trip that was less than ideal weather-wise. We arrived Friday afternoon, a day ahead of our companions, and enjoyed a beautiful evening on the lake after setting up camp. The rain storms held off until about four in the morning, when wind, thunder, and a driving rain woke us in the hours before dawn. Or the wake up call might have been the campers in the tent behind us who were screaming, and giggling, at finding themselves in a not-so-weather-proof tent.

By the time we got up in the morning the rain had passed, leaving cool, damp air and a chilly wind behind. While our neighbors went about stuffing all their possessions into garbage bags in preparation for a trip to the laundromat, we had coffee and cereal and planned a morning hike. Jon discovered a point labeled Mt. Nebo on the trail map, and that's where we headed because...well...because Mt. Nebo. The four mile hike was wonderful. Possibly my favorite part of the whole trip. We found birds, toads, frogs, bugs, and mosquitoes, and the cooler air was perfect for the exercise. Back at camp we fired up the stove for a sausage and pancakes lunch and watched the sun burn off the remaining mist and clouds. By the time our friends arrived the air was warm enough to play a bit on the beach before assembling chicken fajita foil packets to cook around the fire.

Our second night was much quieter, and our second full day more eventful, our friends having arrived. Since it was still too chilly for swimming (a situation that remained in effect the whole trip), we instead went into town for putt putt golf, ice cream, and sweat shirt shopping (the funny thing about kids is that they outgrow their warm clothes every year). Back at camp—sand play on a sunny beach followed by dinner. One of the ways that I can tell we've improved our camping skills over the years is our culinary prowess at the campfire. Dinner number two for us was corn and steak.

On Monday we ate cold breakfasts, packed lunches, and headed over the bridge into the U.P. to see the Soo Locks up close. We were fortunate enough to see an osprey, too, and on the way home we stopped at Castle Rock—our tourist trap for the year. Back at camp it was still too chilly for the beach, so we spent more time with ice cream in town and outfit each of us with new shirts (why should the kids have all the fun!) before heading back. When we got back our tent neighbors were packing up and heading out. The forecast was promising heavy rain and storms in the middle of the night and on into the next morning. Since it was our last night, we decided to the same—the air wasn't getting any warmer, and the idea of having to pack up in a pouring rain was less than desirable. So we started a fire with our remaining wood and packed up while the kids played, then ate one final meal and roasted one final dessert. And would you believe it, the rain started just as we climbed into our cars to head south.

So we spent our final night of the trip in a Holiday Inn Express, and our final morning swimming in their pool instead of the lake, but at least we got some swimming in.

And because we had extra time on our final day—no packing up to do and we were already part way home—Jon and Calvin and I decided to make the most of our trip home and visit a zoo we'd never seen. Scattered storms blanketed most of the state, and we were driving in and out of rain the whole way, but when we got to Potter Park Zoo (in Lansing), the radar said we had about 20 minutes before the next storm hit. It's a small zoo, and we made a dash around all of the outdoor exhibits, then broke out our ponchos to go from building to building, taking in the indoor exhibits. It worked out perfectly, even if we were a little wet, but we'll have to go back sometime because we never did get to see the baby moose, our main reason for stopping.

Now we're home, and with rain still dotting the landscape in unpredictable patterns, all our camping gear is spread out in the garage, waiting for a dry enough day that we can set it up and clean it out well for the year. It's slowly dissipating, but it makes the garage and laundry room smell like camp—wood smoke and pine—making me already eager for next year.

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