We capped off birthday season with a trip to the Santa Cruz mountains for Eric's birthday celebration. This wasn't supposed to be our first camping trip this year. I had made reservations for us to be in Yosemite over Mother's Day weekend. However, the weather in Yosemite that weekend was supposed to have a high in the low 40s. Having been more adventurous when Kai was a 3 year old, we have already attempted camping in cold conditions with a toddler. And, while it had its highlights, she was mostly fairly miserable about how cold it was the whole time (and we were mostly looking for places to get warm indoors). So, we skipped that trip.
Similarly, this weekend, I had made reservations in Lake Tahoe and then, when I checked the weather, saw that it was supposed to be in the low 40s and raining. Where is my California weather this year?! We've only hit 100 a couple of times this whole year. So different from the last few years we lived in Sacramento. It hardly feels like summer. Neither of us wanted to go someplace cold and wet, so we looked at the map to see where the sun would be shining this weekend and realized that the beach and Santa Cruz looked great. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is the oldest state park in California and a fairly big swath of redwood forest that is fairly easy to get to -- perfect, except that we didn't have reservations and it was the beginning of summer. We wanted to leave at 1:00 on Friday afternoon and hoped to get there by about 5:00 PM.
The problem with trying to fit in adventures, camping and fun with the kids on the weekends and over the summer is that our jobs are insane. This last week, I was in Eureka (a 5 hour drive north of here) Monday- Wednesday. On Wednesday evening, we had an evening meeting at the school that went until after 8 PM (to meet the new candidate for Principal). Thursday evening Kai had a piano recital. I needed to prepare for two separate conferences the next week (I'm in Wisconsin the bulk of next week) and had to catch up from being away fro 3 days. Eric had a major grant report due. And, we were trying to cram it all in during the working hours, with even those being cut short for evening activities. And, someone needed to pack food, camping gear and clothing if we were going to go camping. Really, camping for two nights away is the same as packing for a week.
To complicate it, my policy assistant sat me down as I was rushing to get out of the office on Friday and told me she's leaving. Of course. I haven't really had a chance to process that. I went back to packing and told myself I'd figure out a plan over the weekend.
It was a busy week. We didn't get on the road at 1 PM. But, we were driving by 3:30 PM. Not bad, considering. And, more importantly, we were on the road. Eric brought his computer and worked on the drive, but at least we were driving!!
We got to camp at 7 PM. The campsites are mostly of the variety that you have to reserve in advance. Like, 6 months in advance. But, they always hold a few for same day arrivals. You cannot reserve these in advance, but they are first-come, first-serve. 7 PM is not an ideal time to arrive for these sites. The kids were road weary but SO EXCITED to be at the campground. I was certain we were doomed for an evening of disappointment.
But, fortune befell us!! The camp host told us that a family had just decided to pack up and leave that evening. I didn't have the highest hopes for the campsite itself, given that it had prompted another family to abandon camp. But, beggars cannot be choosers and the kids were beyond thrilled that we had arrived and got to set up our campsite. As soon as we got to our site (which was right next to the road -- but, it's a quiet road through the woods and was totally fine) - they immediately started playing pretend. Our site had a bit of a hill in it, and they started running up and then running down as fast as they could, pretending to be birds. They hopped around in excitement commenting on every little thing they came upon. Kids love the woods. My kids love the woods. It felt so good to be outside with them.
The thing is, even after sleeping outside and being sore and tired, I was so excited to wake up in the woods with my family. We made fancy French toast for breakfast. It was delicious. All food is better in the woods. Then we hiked to the camp host station to see if we could keep our campsite for another night and, again, got lucky. No need to move!! The day was ours! We played in the amphitheater for awhile -- with the kids making up performances for us. Then we went on a hike and taught Kai had to navigate using the map. Alden did fantastic and hiked most of the way.
When we got back to camp, we made grilled cheese and then went bike riding. It was a fairly hilly campsite and Alden rides his scoot bike (balance bike) FAST. He is great at picking his feet up and just flying along. But, he's not used to hills. He did a couple of them at full speed and managed to get himself back under control. The look on his face was one of utter concentration. But, there were a few times (3 to be exact) that he wasn't so lucky and took a spill. What's amazing is each time, although he cried for a bit, he brushed himself off and got right back on. He loves riding his bike. He did slow down eventually and learn to manage the hills a bit better. He ended up with a bit of road rash on his side but no other owies, which is amazing. He is a pretty controlled crasher. And, by the second day of riding, there were no more crashes. We were beating ourselves up a bit that we let him crash three times. But, he learned a lot about riding his bike and balancing. And he didn't give up. And, by the end of it, he was yelling, "I KNOW I can DO it." It was pretty cool to watch him perfect his skills before our very eyes.
Kai also loved riding around the campground and conquered her fear of riding fast down the hills (helps to have a little brother egging her on!) She also loved making up plays and getting Eric and Alden to perform with her (I was the audience). The woods really spark their imaginations.
Later that evening, he stood up on a chair and took another tumble, cutting his upper lip. And, he got about 5 bug bites on his face, one of which is a bit infected on his face. So, coming home today, he was quite a sight. A bit bruised up but SO happy!!
We cooked a feast the second night and the kids ate a ton. There's nothing like hiking and biking all day to work up an appetite. I made mashed potatoes and a bunch of rice and they ate it all. Plus, we had two big pork loins and they ate almost all of those as well. Alden was obsessed with the marshmallows all weekend. He ate most of a bag. And, Kai is an expert marshmallow roaster (Alden cannot be bothered with roasting them).
It was really good to get away for the weekend. And reminds me that we need to force ourselves to get out even when it is not easy to get away. It's so good to watch them play and explore outside. It's so good to have time together away from screens and distractions so that we can all just play together. We all had a blast.
Happy Birthday, Eric! 47 years young and still playing in the woods.