Note: This is part two of a seven part series about our camping trip up north during the summer of 2018. I had originally written this as part of a much longer memoir manuscript, but as I continue to rework what has been been written, the original is taking a different shape. However, I still wanted to share everything our family experienced and learned while on that vacation. So as I take a writing break so I can successfully make the transition back into my classroom over the next few weeks, I’ve broken down and revised the 2018 summer journey, which was a very different adventure from our 2019 vacation.

On the morning that we woke up at White Oak Lake State Park, we quickly packed up after a simple breakfast and a short stop down at the visitor’s center to select a magnet to add to our collection. One we were back on the road, Jeff drove through the Ozark Mountains to the Missouri border, finally getting to Sam A. Baker State Park after 340 more miles on the road. It was our first stop at an actual Missouri State Park, so while we had already earned our Missouri camping sticker on our move down to Texas three years earlier, it was the first time where it actually felt like we were camping in the state. It was a quick easy set up, and as soon as I had his bike out of his bedroom, our son put on his helmet and started riding the loops. We had gotten an early enough start to our day that when he asked for a pre-dinner family ride, Jeff and I happily agreed. Easy dinner prep of hot dogs and baked beans could wait until we got back from exploring the bike trails.

Our daughter, still a little wary of jumping on her bike and desperate for some alone time, refused to join us, and so our son got some treasured Mommy and Daddy time with just the three of us. He couldn’t have been happier. He rode around the bathroom loop twice and then we decided to give the 1.5 mile bike trail a try, just to see how far he would be able to go. A couple weeks earlier, when our daughter was at camp and Jeff was traveling for work, our son and I had attempted a short bike ride around our neighborhood. With the temperatures climbing towards 90, oppressive humidity, and bike tires that were not properly inflated, he was done in less than 1.5 miles, so I didn’t have high expectations for our family bike ride.

I was wrong.

The temperature was at least ten degrees cooler than when we attempted our neighborhood ride. We also discovered that the air pressure in his bicycle tires was much lower than the recommended PSI. He noticed the change in tire pressure immediately, racing over the gravel that covered our loop. He was ready to go.

We rode along the perfectly smooth bike trail, the river running through the park to our left as we rode the small rises and dips towards the other main campground. When we arrived at the next campground over, he insisted that we ride around that campground before we headed back to our camper. By the time we returned to our camper, we had logged at least five miles of biking.

When we returned, our daughter excitedly showed us the three drawings of three new characters that she had invented (they suspiciously resembled the Greek myths that she had recently started reading) and then showed us the accompanying short story. Apparently she had found something productive to do while we were riding our bikes.

I started setting up for dinner, getting the supplies necessary so Jeff and our son could make a quick meal of hot dogs, when Jeff said, “Sarah, look up.”

I stopped everything and looked up. Right in the empty campsite across the way from us stood a deer, peacefully looking for food, oblivious to the growing audience that had just noticed its presence. I got my son’s attention and then he ran inside the camper to get his sister’s attention, both quietly rushing out so they wouldn’t miss out. We watched our animal loving city girl creep out to the end of our site, getting closer and closer to the deer, longing to actually pet the wild animal while maintaining a safe, parent approved distance. Since we live in a concrete jungle with animal sightings limited to squirrels and armadillo roadkill, this was something new for both of our children, and certainly not the kind of thing they would get to see if we had been staying in a hotel for the night.

After dinner, our daughter agreed to a short ride to prove to us that she wasn’t afraid of her bike, just hills. We took a short ride around the loop and to the visitor’s center where we parked our bikes. I rode a little past the visitor’s center and discovered the river behind the campground, convincing my family that they needed to follow me on foot.

Our kids did what they do best: they explored. They hopped rocks, eventually falling in, our daughter losing a flip flop (not the best river hiking shoes), and Jeff chasing the runaway flip flop while wearing his bike sandals.

When bedtime stories were finally read and we were able to relax outside with the kids comfortably in bed, it was fair to say that even after a long day of driving for Jeff and a long day of sitting and waiting for the rest of us, we had made the most of our Missouri stop. If all Missouri State Parks were as good as Sam A. Baker, we were sold.

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