Two years ago, we had the +perfect+ Itasca camping trip planned. Then, the State of MN shut down. Including the state parks.
I was heartbroken. See, Itasca has always been a special place for me and Greg. When we lived in North Dakota, it was an easy day trip to bike, hike, canoe, eat at Douglas Lodge and enjoy this amazing gem of red and white pines, gorgeous lake, wildlife, Pink Lady Slippers and of course the very start of the Mighty Mississippi. We’d camped there when our eldest two kids were younger.
Just before this year’s Independence Day, we returned!
Itasca is even more magical than I remembered, and in true MN style, offers something for everyone’s state of mind, from water to history, wildlife to wild flowers. Most of all, this is a place to experience our great state as God created it. High-five, Lord, you made yet another corner of unmatched beauty! Thank you.
Pines, flowers, wild friends
We spent much of each day in and on Lake Itasca, diving in for a swim in the middle of the lake (love the smell of wet dogs!), fishing, watching loons, reading, making sandwiches and…did I mention fishing?! Cara was her typical Mermaid. See a whole post on that here.
Take a hike
Amidst genetically modified mosquitoes (seriously, I’m STILL itching), hidden lakes and beautiful MN trees, we had the trail to Aiken Fire Tower completely to ourselves one evening. It was a great hike, and I was so proud of the kids for climbing the tower. That takes nerve. I made it further than before, but the top perch still awaits my shaky tennies. It’s so wonderful to see our kids conquer their hesitations. Hiking is a great way to do that.
And of course we crossed the Mighty Mississippi and ate wild rice pancakes with fresh blueberries at Douglas Lodge!
Best part of a Minnesota state of mind? It sticks with you.
That’s from the American Academy of Pediatrics (!). So I guess the Kind family is normal after all. Dictatorship, socialist, a few moments of outright oppression: We had a wonderful family reunion in Hayward.
All 14 of us joined the fun. Of course we have an elder statesman, chairwoman, hero, scapegoat, maverick and plenty of junior members. Somehow, we all filled various roles throughout the weekend.
See? Don’t we look normal?
A new member
Since last summer, we’ve added a new delegate. Little Howie delighted us all!
Various subgroups broke into various committees to work on different projects.
Diplomacy (and dictatorship) on the River
It’s become a tradition to spend some time on the nearby Namekagon River. Last year, we all tubed down. This year, sensing the lukewarm tone on that activity, Bro Dave leapt into action. “How about canoeing?” he said, plopping down a pile of brochures from his quick research. He got enough “yeah, sure”‘s to make the plan.
Hindsight is 20/20.
So, the outfitter told us two things:
1. We won’t let you go out after 3:00; even that can be pushing it on daylight.
2. The rafts are heavy to pull
We got on the river at 3:15. We had one map, 3 fishing poles, bait, coolers full of beverages and of course life jackets. And we had that #1 survival tool: PMA. (Positive Mental Attitude)
It was a GLORIOUS day on this treasure of a river.
A mild crisis
After about 3 hours, we hadn’t yet seen the landing where we were to exit. My arms were sore from paddling. We pulled over and I looked at our load: Cara had decided to ride on one of the rafts, tied to our canoe. That’s cool. But then I saw the raft was FULL OF WATER. It must’ve added 100 lbs! Good grief. One look at my brother’s face, and I knew he was nervous about making it in before nightfall, too. We’re 21 months apart. Heck, I’ve seen that “am I going to get home before <________>” many times, especially during our high school years. Truth be told, he had good reason to be nervous most of those times. So, while keeping panic at bay and glancing at the map:
We called John, the outfitter.
It was an indelible conversation:
Me: “Hey, so we’re at campsite #728. Are we close to the landing where you’re picking us up?”
John: laughing, “Hell, you’ve got about 6 hours left.” laughing
Me: “So are we close?”
John: laughing “Yeah, so I’ve already started drinking.” laughing “‘Guess I’m gonna have my wife pick you up.” laughing
John: “I told you not to leave so late. I told you those rafts would be heavy.” laughing “Yeah, so just call her when you get to that landing.” laughing
Dave the Dictator
Dave must’ve read my face (hey, I sometimes needed him to cover for me during our teenage years). He strided back to the river and assigned the strongest paddlers and made a few more edicts. No voting here.
We did make it to the landing and John’s wife was there. It was still a little light (!), and we all laughed about our adventures, fishing, paddling, heavy rafts and (yep, Allie) leeches.
Nothing a little campfire won’t cure!
Back at the campground…
Blue-ribbon partisan showing
Last year, our dogs came in 2nd in the Pet Show. The eldest child (that would be me) gets a little fired up at competition. So we came prepared this year. And planning does pay. Allie and Cara commandeered the dogs to a tie for 1st place! (Thanks heavens they tied or it would have been a year of bragging ’round the house…)
As we watched the kids sing Happy Birthday to each other: dirty, hungry, smelling of chlorine and mini golf greens and truck ride hay, my very wise brother said it best. I’ll never forget his face lit by campfire and birthday cake candles, his words glowing with pride and love, “THIS is why you do it.”
Greg and I both grew up camping, and we started camping our first summer together. Part of the beauty of camping is that many things remain the same — and many change. Thirty years ago, the Kind family camped at the Hayward KOA Kampground. All 5 of us went back this past weekend — along with our expanded (and expanding!) families.
Kamping does not = camping
As we discovered in our South Dakota vacation last summer, KOA Kampgrounds are more like resorts. The Hayward KOA has many more offerings than the pool we enjoyed there 30 years ago, including kabins, so we could all enjoy more time together. Other offerings:
So, what began decades ago with the Kind family…
…will continue on more frequently: we all booked our spots for next August!
Thanks for organizing it all, Davey! (and thanks for the Fri evening entertainment ~ ha) We love you. And that will never change.
Little Caroline, our third child, blazes her own path. She’s tried many things the other kids did not: cutting her own hair, cutting the dog’s hair, collecting gum wrappers, playing softball–and Girl Scouts. This week, she is spending three days at Girl Scout Camp. So of course mom chaperoned day one. Highlights:
Camp songs haven’t changed (much)
There are a few new verses to Princess Pat, but all the words come right back when the bus singing begins!
Learning a new “Do as I Do” ditty
Record-heat in a day away from a/c
This may be the time to share that this was not an ordinary day at Girl Scout Day Camp. The temperature hit 96 degrees F, the heat index 115 and we were not near a lake or any air conditioning. In fact, the temps, heat index and humidity levels hit record levels all over the state.
Of course we were outside all day. I can honestly say I have never been that hot in my life. And I’m an outdoorsy girl. I lived and worked at a camp for 4 summers. I grew up without air conditioning. But this was debilitating. The staff members did a great job improvising to keep the girls safe and (relatively) cool.
Our #1 activity
We drank water, we re-filled our water bottles, we turned on the hose to play in water and every activity included the instructions every few minutes: “Take a drink of water.”
On this day, the girls learned they can handle heat. Won’t that serve them well as students, professionals, spouses, friends and moms themselves someday?! Just don’t show your sweat, ladies.
I’ll always remember a very cool day with our neat little girl. Thanks for the experience, Caroline honey.
Is there anything better than the first at-home shower after a few days of camping?
As I washed away the layers of campfire soot, Root River water, sunscreen, biking sweat and pool chlorine (I think there’s still a bit of marshmallow on my ear), I thought back to what even my trusty bar of Ivory can’t ever erase:
5 kids = 5x more fun
Sidetracked from a state park because of the government shutdown, we trekked back to The Old Barn Resort with my bro-in-law Curt, his wife Janelle and their little Adam, age 8 (going on 15). Julia also had a friend, sweet Taylor, accompany us.
Tent zippers are a joyful noise
All the kids slept in the tent one night. The raccoons stayed out. And the only ghost stories they told were in the morning under the warm, bright safety of morning light.
Missed exits are good
We tubed on the gorgeous Root River, right from our campground. We missed our intended exit. Had we not, we also would have missed a little fawn playing in the river and the most beautiful summer river scenery. And the boys wouldn’t have perfected their deep, dark Coppertone tans, er, sunburns.
Wild tastes great
Raspberries, growing alongside a hiking trail, were a delicious afternoon treat. We left some for the deer.
1 part fresh air, 2 parts water
The best thing you can “feed” your kids and yourself is long, heavy doses of fresh air. The second-best is water — to drink and to swim in. We all got healthy helpings of both. Which makes for happy campers.
Simple is usually better
We again visited the Amish stand at the Lanesboro Park. I envy their simplicity and calm yet bright demeanor. Plus, it got the kids chatting about life without TXTing, which horrified them … as I wistfully recalled life before TXTing …
Home is the best
Even after our great river, bike trail, Lanesboro and other adventures, the sweetest sight of all is home. And a shower.
We made the reservations in February. Site 66E at Itasca State Park over Independence Day. Greg and I have treasured memories of the gorgeous bike trails and special moment of carefully escorting our kids over the rocks in the Headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi. The kids don’t remember their first visits there, so we were all thrilled to return.
Not to happen. The MN State Parks were all shuttered June 30 when the Gov and State Legislature could not agree on a new budget.
This came about though my friend Mary: her cousin’s husband is a freelance photojournalist and asked on Facebook about an unhappy MN camper. She connected us and there you have it.
What you don’t see in the clip is that I’ve always been a very proud Minnesotan. I haven’t always lived here, but I’ve always extoled the beauty of my home state, especially the forests, streams, vibrant big cities and of course the lakes. Right now, I’m a sad Minnesotan, hoping our leaders can sort this out soon. For far larger reasons than empty campsite 66E at Itasca.
If scenery like this was just 3 hours away, wouldn’t you go? Especially if you had a great guide (aka my Mom)! This is Gooseberry Falls, just north of Duluth, Minn., where we camped over a long Labor Day weekend. It was a great wrapup to summer and made for glorious memories as our autumn school, sports, activities schedules began.
Best of all, we did have a great guide: My Mom has spent lots of time “up north” and added her joy, stories and beautiful view of nature to our trip.
Pack the sweatshirts
It had been a sweltering summer, but we dug deep and added sweatshirts to our camper lockers since the forecast called for chilly days and nights on the North Shore. Is it ever warm up there?! … Actually it was a welcome change.
Thursday evening, we made the easy drive to Cloquet while listening to the Twins game. (Again, my Mom is a big fan, too!) We camped at Cloquet’s KOA Kampground. It was fun to see the cute little town this time of year, since last time we were there, for Matt’s hockey tourney, it was the ice/snow/bitter chill of February. (sorry, the Cloquet rink still a dump)
As promised on our last trip, I got Greg a pull-through campsite, so even though it was getting dark, there was no swearing from the Mr.
Shoreline and ship wrecks
Friday morning, we indulged in a restaurant breakfast and followed the drizzle into Duluth. Lake Superior is fascinating to watch. It’s as if she has moods and a personality of her own. The kids were intrigued by the ships, water, shoreline, ship wrecks and so much more. Luckily my Mom the teacher answered all their questions with great stories.
First stop: Glensheen
The night before, we’d talked about the Congdon’s mansion. All the adults had toured it several times before, and the kids were curious about its size (15 bedrooms?!), gardens and of course the murder story.
It’s a beautifully preserved estate and a well-paced tour that really allows you to appreciate life back then. I imagined Christmas dinners and summer gatherings, quiet moments and lavish parties. We had a tiny tour group and good guide who even addressed the murder after the official tour ended.
Some of the kids’ impressions:
“Well that Clara Congdon sure got what she wanted.” — Julia
She was one innovative, particular woman (just like Julia, frankly) who used incredible materials and techniques throughout the home. My fav: The faucet in her breakfast room that fed directly from one of the streams because she’d heard that water was healthier for her indoor plants.
“This would be my room.” — Each of them at separate times
“Those are blood stains.” — Matt, on the front stair landing. He’s right, you know. I’d love to go back and see the ghosts of Elisabeth and Velma
“Well that lady wasn’t very nice to her mom.” — Caroline, upon hearing my simple version of the story of Elisabeth Congdon’s death
Up the Shore
We drove the scenic route north, along the ever-changing shoreline, contemplating teachers, friends and coaches who have run Grandma’s Marathon. We enjoyed Russ Kendall’s smoked whitefish and of course Betty’s Pies. A few of our other stops:
Artists in action
Photographer Julia gathered some images for my Mom to use in her latest venture: watercolor paintings, printed onto greeting cards and available here in her etsy shop. Shameless plug: Check out her dozens of gorgeous creations. One of these may soon be part of her collection:
“Goodnight, John Boy”
Back at camp Friday evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner. I tried a new salmon recipe and new arborio side dish. Mmmm. The kids tried out the pool (brrr!), playground and helped Mollie meet her four-legged neighbors. The game room had the NFL edition Monopoly game and we had fun playing like NFL owners while watching the Twins.
Back in our camper, we watched episodes of The Waltons from our dvd set. Always charming, with messages that transcend generations. Lately, Grandpa Walton’s wisdom resonates with me. Like when Grandma is complaining that Mary Ellen is forever primping in front of the mirror and he says, “Someday she’ll have her own mirror in her own house and you’ll wish she was back here.” Amen.
Friday, Greg cooked us a big breakfast and we went to Canal Park. I still get excited when the lift bridge operates and the barges are on the horizon. Some images of our day:
Hay rides and ice cream
Back at camp, we savored the late summer evening with a hayride and ice cream social.
Sunday morning, we were on our way back….home.
Visited the North Shore? I’d love to hear your memories and tips for our next trip up there. Feel free to leave a comment.