A Quick Camping Trip to the Sea

While we had no plans to camp for the remainder of the summer following our summer vacation out west, when we left our camper in Albuquerque, it felt like we left a piece of ourselves behind. We knew that we would get it back eventually and that theoretically it would be in good condition, but the unknown put a minor halt to our planning for the rest of the year, although I still optimistically planned for both Thanksgiving and Christmas break.

Thankfully, one month after we returned to Houston, the camper dealership in Albuquerque graciously transported the camper to us (as long as we agreed to let the rest of the reimbursements for extra lodging and service calls go) and we were ready to plan.

Unfortunately, it was too late for us to make plans to go camping for Labor Day, so we checked athletic schedules and did the next best thing: we planned a short weekend trip to Sea Rim State Park for the weekend after Labor Day.

We needed it. Despite the shorter week due to Labor Day, I felt like I personally had squeezed two weeks into one. Meet the Teacher and faculty meeting in addition to wrapping up two units convinced me that we had made the right decision to get away for the weekend. Even the above-average temperatures creeping close to 100 degrees wasn’t enough to scare me away. Our family needed some quality time together before we were completely in the thick of both sports and school.

I left as soon as possible on Friday afternoon, picked up the kids, and we rushed home to help Jeff finish loading up the camper. We knew there was no way we would beat the traffic heading east on I10, but we did our best.

We arrived at Sea Rim State Park just before sunset, giving us just enough light to park the camper with relative ease. A week earlier Jeff had finally decided it was time to improve our camping communication and purchased a set of radios so we could talk without yelling. For the first time in six years of camping with a camper, I didn’t stress out about telling Jeff where we were going and what he needed to do. I could just talk to him through the radio, he could talk back to me when he didn’t understand, and we wondered why it took us so long to make that particular purchase.

The bugs were coming out so we set up as quickly as we could, getting the kids inside to play (Sea Rim doesn’t have a playground), and starting dinner. As I was trying to get water into the ice maker and the filter pitcher, I noticed a drop in our water pressure. Eventually there was no water at all.

An investigation of the other campsites revealed that no one in the campground had water. I. Freaked. Out.

I was already a little skittish because I had nearly stepped on the same snake twice. (I looked it up when we got home and it appears that I had a close encounter with the Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake, which is safe to humans, but one can never be too cautious when living in Texas.) With no water I had to make a sudden change to dinner plans. Jeff was already cooking the steak, but without water, rice was clearly out. I pulled out the baked beans and corn and started cooking them on our outdoor stove. While dinner was good and we had beverages for the time being, the complete loss of water had me more than a little rattled. Without water, we had no way to take care of the dogs, we couldn’t do dishes, and we couldn’t brush teeth or clean hands and faces. In the past we had brought bottled water with us in case the water was no good, but with the water being filtered through the hose and then again through our Brita pitcher, we had moved away from buying bottled water in an effort to be more eco-friendly.

Unfortunately, this would have been the time to have the wasteful bottles along.

I panicked. This was supposed to be our weekend away as a family. This was our first time out since we had been stuck in Albuquerque. This was our chance to relax before the next two months of weekends full of soccer games and grading.

I’ve never been good with handling the unknown and we were facing uncertainty concerning our entire weekend.

Jeff told me to calm down and after the kids were settled into bed, I eventually buried myself in our bed, reading a book that I was determined to finish before we got home. While I was able to temporarily forget my water concerns, I still fell asleep wondering what we would discover when we woke up the next morning.

I woke up and turned the water on in the kitchen. It worked. Then I quickly filled the fresh water tank, just to be safe.

Our son woke up happy to be alive, quick to proclaim, “Mommy, thank you for making the reservation so that we could stay here and camp in our camper.” He was in the camper, he would get to explore during the day, and his precious Wolverines were going to be playing in a couple hours and we had enough reception for him to watch the game.

He was completely settled in his happy place.

Eventually the entire family was awake and fed. With an hour to spare before the Michigan game would start, we headed towards the Blue Crab Day Use Area, where there was supposed to be a boardwalk hike through the marsh. When we got there, the signage and the boardwalk were gone and Jeff accused me of another fools errand (and I do have a history). We later learned that Gambusia Nature Trail is awaiting a complete rebuild, which meant we could take that item off of our to-do list for our quick weekend trip. The trail would have to wait for a return visit. Instead we walked down the boardwalk to the beach, giving the kids a chance to see one of the activities available to them once we were done watching the Michigan game.

We spent the heat of the mid-day inside watching a football game, and then prepared for outdoor activity.

Although water sports aren’t really my thing, there were few recreational activities outside of swimming that were available for our family, so I gave in to Jeff’s desires and we rented kayaks for our family, a kid with each parent.

When we finally figured out equipment and got into the water, we enjoyed a late afternoon row on the easy trail, 0.8 miles leading to a small body of still water close to Fence Lake. For the most part, the first half of the trip was pretty uneventful. Our daughter tried to help me, but the control freak in me frequently told her to get the paddle out of the water whenever we got close to vegetation on either bank. I wasn’t just worried about getting stuck or tipping over. The ranger who rented us the gear had told us to be on the lookout for alligators and the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally push off of a gators head or fall on top on one that might be swimming underneath our kayak.

The path split, one side taking adventurers towards more water trails and a floating campsite (something Jeff wants to someday try with our son), the other leading to a turn around so that we could head back. I considered turning around where we were. The path to the prescribed turnaround was narrow, but Jeff yelled at me from ahead and told me we needed to see what they were seeing, so we continued on.

We were nearly out into open water when my heart stopped. I glanced down as our daughter pulled her oar out of the water, lifting it high and ready to it put it down again. Two eyes looked at me and slowly sank back into the murky water.

“Paddle out of the water, now!” I hissed.

“Every time I put the paddle in the water you tell me to get it back out!” she argued, convinced I was telling her that she wasn’t doing a good enough job helping with the kayak. And yes, I had been a control freak (I am certainly not the person to teach our children how to drive). But I wasn’t going to tell her that she had been inches away from bashing an alligator on the head. That news could wait for once we were safely back on shore.

My heart thumping, we caught up with Jeff and our son, rowing into the marsh right next to Fence Lake. He was right, it was lovely, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the gator that I knew was hanging out in the general area.

Jeff smoothly navigated his way out of the turnaround and worked his way ahead of us. My transition out was not quite so smooth. I rowed our kayak right into a patch of shallow weeds, digging deep with my paddle to get back into deeper water so that we could get out of there. It was a struggle. By the time I finally had the kayak free, I had covered my daughter and me in thick, pungent mud from the bottom of the waterways. Jeff hadn’t heard me yelling for help and when we finally got to them, he was ready to give me the lead. I knew better. Letting him and our son go ahead was going to be better for everyone.

When we finally returned to the shore, I was exhausted and covered in drying mud, but I felt like I had actually accomplished something. At the beginning of the new year I had made a commitment to working on light weight workouts, and it appeared that all of the work had paid off. A year ago, that row would have been nearly impossible for me. Now I was tired but I wasn’t ready to go to bed. Despite the gator scare, I was glad we had taken the family trip on the water.

When we finally arrived back at the front gate to the campground and beach, we discovered a boil water advisory. Apparently, the water main break from the night before eventually caused concerns about water safety. We had a decision to make.

To be honest, there was really just one last thing that we wanted to do at Sea Rim, and that was letting the kids play in the water and along the beach. I may be a fresh water girl, but if we were this close to any kind of water and sand, we had to let the kids play for awhile. We all walked out into the bathwater warm Gulf of Mexico, both kids able to go out pretty far and still just be in up to their knees. They jumped waves while we discussed our options. We could stay one more night and go into town to get emergency bottled water, or we could just head home. We had done everything we planned to do while at the state park and with the abundance of nighttime mosquitoes coming out of the marsh, we knew that we would be spending most of the night inside.

It was decided; after the kids got a little more time playing in the water and collected their seashells from the wide-open beach, we were heading home.

The weekend didn’t go quite as planned, but honestly, that’s ok. We discovered a pretty and simple, albeit rustic, state park perfect for those who want beach time and water activities without the crowds. We got some much needed quality family time and the fresh air we had all been craving. And while we may not return there for a camping trip, it would be a perfect spot on a weekend when we just need to get away for a whole day.

It was time to plan for the next weekend getaway.

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