Our first family camping trip of the year got off to a rough start. It always seems to take us so very long to get anywhere. The 2 hour trip took 3 and a half hours. It never fails that as soon as we finish with a potty brake it isn’t 15 minuets before someone has to poop. I am the mom that would gladly make you hold it but with kids that are 7 and under, holding it isn’t really an option. It doesn’t help much that I had appointments the entire day before and had to pack everything at the last minuet the morning we left. (I would gladly let Brandon pack everything but he hasn’t been camping as long as I have and has NO idea what to pack. So, sadly, it falls to me. He does help wash clothing, cook food, clean coolers and all the other prep work so that is a huge help.) We also had to stop at Walmart on the way for food and some other camping gear we needed. It all just takes forever and takes an incredible amount of multitasking. We always get it done but it seems to take forever.
Eventually we arrive and then the “fun” can begin. Ha! fun. It rained cats and dogs the entire way. I was totally frustrated and praying hard that the rain would stop and we would be able to enjoy our trip. It didn’t!! In fact it was a cycle of sprinkling, down pouring and humid hot the whole time we were in the park. To add to our drama the temperature went from 85 to 55 over night and, of course, I forgot all the coats. Luckily I did remember a fleece for everyone and I had packed both warm and cold weather clothing. I also did forget to pack most of Ammons clothing. All except his Jammies that is, so I spent the whole trip rationing clothing. His close where nicely folded on my bedroom floor when we got home, right where I left them. Dugh.
Luckily when we finally got to Natural Bridge State Park the rain had let up but the humidity had set in. It was HOT!! Not only hot but really humid, the kind of humid where you are drenched with sweat the moment you leave the air-conditioned car. We found our camp there was no ranger to be found. There was a sign at the entrance of the Whittleton Camp ground that said to go to a different camp site to register and pick the sight where you will be camping. We drove to the other campground and there was no ranger there either. UUGGG!! All I wanted to do was set up camp in the short brake in the weather when it wasn’t raining.
We drove around til we found an awesome suspension bridge that the kids remembered from the year before.Once we arrived Brandon and I got to work setting up camp and the kids discovered the freezing cold creek right down a muddy slop next to our camp. They loved walking across it and feeling it sway and bounce as the crossed. We couldn’t get Boomer, our therapy dog, to cross period. I couldn’t blame him, It was pretty high and scary for him. After a while of exploring this area we loaded back up into the Denali and drove back to the ranger station to try and get a site.
We had agreed that if no one was there this time that we would just set up and deal with the drama later. Happily there was someone there and we payed for our site and had a great surprise when they let us know that there was a promotion going on that was pay one night get one night free. Yipee!! “Why yes we will take that promo and thank you very much.” We headed to our site and let the kids loose. When paying we asked for the site farthest away from everyone. We had planned our first trip in the middle of the week on a Wednesday so that there campgrounds would be deserted. It worked, because of the weather and the middle of the week there were only 2 other campers in our entire grounds. Nice!
Brandon and I set up tent, cots and unloaded the gear in record time. Every time we camp it has gotten quicker and Brandon has realized that we only need one person in charge and if we keep it at that we work really well together and quickly. Since I have been camping since I was in diapers it is usually me in charge. One day in the distant future that may change when his experience has grown but for now we are making a pretty good team. He was mostly upset that the boys weren’t helping but I kept telling him they are only 7,6 and 4 they will help but give them time. They should have helped more but we were in the car for a really long time and they needed to explore for a bit so that they can settle in for the night and feel comfortable sleeping instead of anxiety ridden.
We got camp set up just in time to start dinner and a fire and by this time the kids were covered in mud and wet from head to toe. I start the fire, because i am awesome at it thank you very much, and Brandon cooks dinner on the camp stove because it just makes making dinner easier. once the fire is started I changed all the kids into jammies and we feed them. Brandon was loosing it by this time because with out fail 4 o’clock is when all the kids autism meds wear off and they all start going crazy.
It gets really hard to get them to sit still and eat and be somewhat quiet til they get their melitonen a few hours later. But once they get their meds their minds start to quiet and their stemming starts to lessen and lastly their anxieties begin to calm. They were ready for bed about 8pm and one by one they all passed out except Airabella. She is just one of those kids that only will sleep in her bed at home no matter how many times we camp.
Eventually she does pass out and them Brandon and I are left with silence and Field Guides to study up on for the next few days hikes. Once super cool trick I learned the weekend before is to take your water jug and put your head lamp turned in makes an incredible lantern that is bright and safe for inside the tent without having to buy any extra gear. Around 11pm we turned all the lights off, put the field guides and maps away and feel asleep to the sounds of the running creek, frogs and singing birds. Heaven.
It stormed all night long. Thunder and Lightening shook the tent but all the kids were so tired that they didn’t wake up at all. This was a small miracle because the FREAK OUT every time it storms at home and it takes hours for us to calm them down enough to fall back asleep. I was truly impressed with out tent. We didn’t have a single leak. I should have spent a lot more on a tent but when considering which tent to buy I went for more space and a lower price. Usually these kind of deceptions seem to bite me in the butt but we got lucky this time. I had purchased a 20x10ft Coleman tent from Walmart the year before and hadn’t had a problem with it yet. Fingers crossed that I didn’t just jinx myself by saying that. I knew we would need the space to spread out if it weather was bad and we were trapped inside for a time on any camp out. Space seemed like the right choice.
Once everyone had woken up, 6am mind you, it was still sprinkling and I sent the hubby out to the trailer to retrieve the Almond milk, Corn Flakes and honey I had packed for breakfast. Everyone ate happily as we discussed what to do now that it was raining and we had to forgo the big hike of the day we had planned previously. We decided to load up and drive the loop around Natural Bridge and just stop along the way when ever the rain let up. In the Denali we loaded, dog and all, and after quick potty stop we were off.
We drove several miles around the park and I got some decent from the car photos. I was getting disappointed and all the kids were getting restless when we happened on a place called “Gladie”. We pulled into the hidden parking lot and discover a small museum of native artifacts and really helpful park rangers. We were the only ones there and were very surprised to find the doors unlocked at all. The place looked deserted but once we walked in and found someone to ask if we needed to pay to be there. The ranger quickly replied that no it was totally free and we were wondering around reading stories about the area. It was really interesting with lots of stories, artifacts a model of an old fire tower in the area and a huge Loom that a kind ranger demonstrated to the kids. We were allowed to touch different types of furs of animals that had been trapped in the area long ago and we were given 2 posters, for free, and a smaller car map of the park. The posters were of spiders and snakes native to the area. The kids have been looking at them ever since and they are now proudly hanging on the boys bedroom wall.
We spent about an hour there and loved every second of it. By the time we loaded back up into the truck the kids were done looking at the scenery so we turned on “School House Rock” on the DVD player and Brandon and I spent the next 45 minuet loving the scenic drive in silence. We were even able to get out for a few minuets at one beautiful spot and take in the view at an overlook. Gorgeous!! The kids had no interest by this point and were happy just watching their DVD.
We got back to camp about an hour after our usual lunch time and the rain had started back up again. We quickly feed the kids lunch and told them it was quiet time. Two of the boys feel fast asleep while Hunter and Daddy studied the large map of the park we had brought. I got the greatest pictures of the two of them discussing the map and the things we had just seen on our drive. Hunter is just like his daddy and loves maps, it was such a great moment to capture.
Airabella had slept in the Denali the second half of our drive so she wasn’t about to go back to sleep after lunch and she was being loud so I loaded her up and she and I went around to the different little tourist shops in the immediate area. Sadly they were all about the same and they seemed to carry all the same tidbits and clothing so going to each one was really a complete waste of time except for the fact that I was trying to waste time to let the boys all rest.
We knew the rain was gonna let up and that we wanted to take a late afternoon hike to Whittelton cave area which was right near our camp. Once everyone was up we set out. The trail was completely muddy, slippery and fairly dangerous but we are not a family to shy away from a challenge so we went ahead and found the tiny cave/waterfall at the end of the trail. The hike back down is always more difficult than doing up but we made it without any real falls or danger and got some great family shots in the process. Glad we did it for sure. We got one shot on a timer that caught every ones individual personality and is now one of my screen savers. That shot alone was worth the effort of the hike.
That night was an early one for the kids and I spent most of the night nursing a wet fire and trying to dry out all our Keens so that the hike the next day wasn’t so uncomfortable. We cooked up the rest of our meat so that dinner the next evening wouldn’t require any cooking but not before I sent Brandon and Boomer off on the Whittelton Arch trail to scout and see if it would be doable the next day for all the kids. It is hard for us to remember that our youngest is still a toddler and only 2 years old because she is such a tough little cookie.
After his return to camp and hour and a half later he confirmed that it was NOT a trail that all our kids could do. So plans changed and we agreed to just brake camp as soon as breakfast was done and to head up the “Origonal Trail to Natural Bridge” and take our chances with the weather. It was only supposed to be partly cloudy and we thought the chance was worth taking because after all, most of the camping trips were for me to do some photography anyway.
Once under the Beautiful shelter at the top I pulled out the 2 camping hammocks I had shoved into our pack and strung them up from a couple of beams in the celing. It worked out great. We were able to listen to and watch the rain and I put 2 kids in each hammock where they could swing and eat their snacks. They were having a ball and I was enjoying the views while inside I was giving a silent prayer that the rain would stop just long enough for us to get down the trail without getting completely soaked.
Several couples streamed in and out seeking shelter from the rain for a few moments and then were gone. Each time someone new would come along the kids would shout from their hammocks, “Welcome to the shelter on the top of the world.” The people would nod and then basically just ignore us. Kinda rude if you asked me. About 45minuets after being there a kind older couple came into the shelter. The were friendly so my husband and I talked with them for a good 15 minuets while the kids wondered and played.
Come to find out the lady I was talking to had a special needs 32 year old daughter and some other typical older children that help with her care. This lady also was a retired special needs teacher. What are the odds. She asked all about the kids and we had a lovely conversation. She commended us for our good attitudes and our ability to be out and about on such adventures with the kids. I had a great time talking with her.
Eventually the kids ran out of patients and we decided to risk getting wet and went out into the sprinkling rain. The trail was muddy and gross but the sun quickly came out. Thank goodness. Due to being trapped by the weather we had gone way beyond nap time so Airabella and Ammon were struggling. We were emptying the mud and muck from our Keens when a super sweet couple asked if we would like them to take our picture together as a family. Excitedly we said yes and got another cute shot full of personality.
We had been promising the boys that we would take them back to the base on a different trail, “Battleship Rock” and despite the late hour they weren’t going to give in on this promise. By this point Airabella was so tired she was whimpering. She wasn’t willing to stop but there was no way she could walk another step. I looked at Brandon at this point and said, “That is it, we need to split up. You guys go down the other trail and I will figure out how to get her down the way we came up some how.” So off they went after we agreed to meet up where the trails come together and Airabella and I were left standing there at the cross roads so to speak.
I looked down at her and her poor tired dirty little face and my mind quickly went into “I can figure this out and do it” mode. I pulled off my fleece and tried to rig a sling of sorts to put her in and failed miserably. She started crying and just wanted to fall on the ground when I bent down and hugged her tight. I looked her in the eyes after a long tight hug and said, “Ok Airy, we can figure this one out but we have to work together. Can you be patient with me for a minuet. I promise you won't have to walk any more but I have to think before we can set off.” She will be 3 in July so she did understand. She sadly nodded yes and wiped her dirty tears away. I stood there for a minuet with my mind racing through the different options I had. Brandon and the boys were long gone and I knew I somehow had to carry her. I thought on the shoulders or on the back. hhhmmm, I had a small hydration pack on so how would that work. I put her on my back piggy back style and tried putting my pack on the front. Masive fail, all my gear inside the pack fell out and Airabella almost got hurt in the process. I tried yodeling for the boys, (this is how our family stays in contact on the trail. No one else we know in KY yodels so our family rule is if you hear a yodel it us family and you immediately yodel back so we can locate you.) I got NO yodel back which meant that they were already out of range. “man they must be moving fast.” I thought to myself and then I looked once again at the poor little one at my feet.
I hefter her back up on my back piggy back style and resolved to carry the pack by hand when in a flash I realized, “Dugh, there are straps on this thing, I can use it as a baby carrier.” I had her put her legs through the bottoms of the shoulder straps and her back and arms over the top of the back of the pack. It worked great. She said she was comfortable and off I went. I sang songs to her the whole way down to keep me motivated to keep going and she quickly feel asleep on my back.
I was completely angry a half hour later when I realized that I was at the base of the trail and had missed the connection to Battleship rock trail and had to hike back up tons of slippery stone stairs to get back to our meeting point. Bummer!! Some might ask why on earth I would hike back up the trial with a sleeping baby stopped in a hydration pack but the answer is simple. I had made a plan with my novice hiking husband and I needed to stick to the plan. I knew if I wasn’t at the meeting point that my husband would panic and start franticly searching for me and probably go in the wrong direction so I stuck to the plan.
I was only by luck that I ran into a couple going much faster than me up the trail. I stopped them and asked them to give a message to someone if they happened to come across them before me. I let them know that it would be a Guy wearing a pink day pack and three young crazy boys probably being loud and yodeling. they laughed and asked what the message was. I told them to let the boys know that we were fine and on our way back up to meet them. They agreed to give the message and were off on their way.
I made it back to the junction and yodeled about every 5 minuets until I began to hear my yodel return from the boys. Finally we met up but they had come from the complete opposite direction from where they should have been coming from. It turns out that they got lost on their trail and doubled back to come down the Original Trail I had just hiked down and then back up. Brandon said he was worried about us until an nice couple stopped him awhile back to give him my message. Then it was just a matter of getting to us.
We finally made it down to the truck exhausted muddy and wet. The kids watched a few geese and their babies while I found dry clothing for everyone and Brandon put lunch together. We covered all the kids up to warm them from the cold hike, turned on a new DVD and left for home while everyone eat their lunch. It was another long drive home with way too many stops but we made it just in time to feed everyone dinner, shower and send daddy off to work a third shift at the hospital where he worked. He was soooo tired. I felt bad for him but I think he thought the trip was worth it in the end.