Taking things for granted

Anytime I do work on one of the cars (oil changes, coolant changes, spark plugs, etc) I inevitably take it out on a short "break in" road test. I usually drive about 3 miles south on Highway 169 to the O.K. Corral, turn around, and head back home - clocking in about six miles (four of the being freeway). It's just the right distance, and it takes just about the right amount of time to do it.

After completing my last repair, I needed to get the car out on the road and give it little "break-in". This time though, I felt like changing things up a bit, and decided to take a different route. This day, I took the proverbial "road less traveled" and headed west down Township Road 57 until it turned into Park Boulevard (about a mile from my house). The road is called Park Boulevard because it cuts through the Minnesota Valley State Park. I often "forget" (ok, lets be honest here... "take for granted" would be a better choice of words - hence the title of this post) that I have an actual State Park less than 4 miles from my house. It's about a two or three minute drive from my garage to the State Park.

As you drive through the park, it is easy to totally forget you are 3 minutes from Jordan, and about 35 minutes from the dreaded Mall of America (shudder). Bordering the east end of the park is a cattle grazing field. The landowner keeps longhorn cattle on that property. I passed the longhorns, and was surprised to see a pair of white-tail deer standing on the road. I slowed down, hoping to get a picture of them (I still had the camera in my car from taking photos of the brake job). But, alas they fled before I could get a picture, so I continued down the road. Towards the western end of the park I again noticed a group of three white-tails. This time I slowed down to a stop, and turned the camera on. Just as I brought the camera up, they fled into the woods. Another missed shot. I left the camera on and continued to the far west end of the park, but never saw any more deer. As I made my way back through the park I was hoping that some of the deer had returned, but I knew better, and indeed did not see any. Not wanting to leave "empty handed" I did snap a couple of pictures of the longhorns, and the surrounding landscape to share.

In years past (before he moved to Duluth) Ed would call me up (frequently from the road whilst en route to my house) asking (ok, again lets be honest - its was more like "telling") me what I was doing for lunch. He would have already packed a lunch, then he would swing by my house and pick me up. We would head into the park, find an empty campsite (it was always #9, #10, or #12 on this map), make a campfire, cook our lunch, followed with a game of cribbage and / or a hike on one of the many trails. After working our lunch off on the hike, we would return to the site, clean everything up, and head out. This usually took less than two hours. These State Park Lunches happened about once a week, and are one of the biggest things I miss about having Ed in the Twin Cities. (But, now that he is the "Father-of-One-with-Another-on-the-Way" (Ahem... Ed.. Possible Blog Title??) I am sure our State Park Lunches would be less frequent (well, that - and I am now working during day-time hours).

A couple of times now we have also camped at Minnesota Valley State Park. Once we got together with a group of friends (Ed (of course), Janine & her girls, and Katie & Brianna). We camped in the "walk in sites" (#29, 30, and 31). It has been many years since though, and (at the time) the kids were all very small. It was difficult because they were so small, and because we are in the Minnesota River-bottoms, the mosquito infestation was pretty... "significant"...

I do love camping. I grew up spending time the BWCA and learned how to camp there. It is a very rustic, very low impact, very "no amenities" style of camping. State Park camping, although nice, is just not the same as BWCA camping, and so I have a difficult time feeling like I am "camping" when I am "camping". (This is an "internal" battle within myself - and I need to (more frequently) tell myself that State Park "camping" is better than no "camping" - I often forget this fact.) I also struggle with camping 3 miles from home, where it is WAY to easy to jump in the car, head back home if you forgot something. Again, this should not keep me from camping, but for some odd reason, it tends to...

Expanding outward from the "close proximity" and convenience of the Minnesota Valley State Park (Lawrence unit), as you can see on this map there are several other "outdoor recreational opportunities" within just a few miles (some as few as 5) from the State Park. (The State park is in the lower left corner.) The highlighted areas along the Minnesota River north and east from the State Park is the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge. The two closest units are the Rapids Lake Unit and the Louisville Swamp Unit.

In years past ("years past" seems to be a theme here...) I have hiked and worked a "clean up detail" with the boys' Cub Scout troops, and hunted squirrels and pheasants with Ed and with my brother in law Mike at the Rapids Lake unit.

I have also hunted ducks in the Louisville Swap and Michel WMA (about 20 minutes away) with Ed.

As I drove through the Minnesota Valley State Park (breaking in my new break pads), it really sank in. There really is no good reason whatsoever that at least a couple times a year I don't camp out there with the one, some, or all of the kids (or as a whole family). I need to come to terms with the fact that it is O.K. to not camp in the BWCA, if the BWCA is not an option (due to timing, schedules, funds, or any other reason).

I regularly read through The Ethereal Garage, and frequently daydream of snowshoeing through the BWCA, winter camping, and ice fishing trips. I get to feeling trapped by my own life, and how life feels like it keeps me from doing the things that I enjoy. It is true that my life is a bit "busier" than I had ever planned it to be. Being the Father-of-Five was never on my radar as I planned my life. Although they all have their "moments", I can not imagine my life without all five of my children. I truly enjoy 99.99% of the time I do get to spend with them.

As I drove through the State Park thinking about how busy my life is, how much I miss many of the outdoor activities I "used to do", how much I would like to resume some of those activities, and how much I want to spend time with my kids before they are too old to want to spend time with me - I realized that perhaps what I need to do is to start compromising. I need to be more open minded in what my idea of camping is. I need to stop feeling like my life does not "prevent me" from doing the things I want to do (life may "limit me" a bit, but it does not "prevent me"), and that I have a responsibility (as the "Father-of-Five") to make sure I do MORE of these activities, passing along what I have learned, for the sake of helping broaden the horizons of my children.

Perhaps by spending more time "State Park" camping (even for quick "overnighters"), I can spark an interest within one or more of my children for the taste of a more rustic "BWCA" camping experience, thus providing me a higher probabilibity for opportunity to return to the camping that I enjoy so much. (My wife is not a "rustic" camper. She likes camping, but is more of a "State Park" camper.) It is an easier "sell" the idea of a BWCA trip, if it involved a larger percentage of the family than the 14% of the family that is "Dad".

Realistically, I do have some time limitations. I have my summer work schedule in place (but yet have been assigned my overtime duties). I already know that due to a rotating work schedule, of all the weekends I have off between June 1st and August 31st, every single weekend is booked with plans. I am having a hard time (working with my cousins) coming up with our annual "guys weekend" at my Uncle's cabin. Michele and I even sat down a couple of days ago and tried to find a "long weekend" that we could go camping as a whole family. Not even one weekend was available.

The up side to my work schedule is that I also have weekdays off. Which can be nice, but now that Michele is working, it makes a Wed-Thurs-Fri camping trip next to impossible (at least when she has to use her vacation to go to her brother's wedding). That does not, however, keep me from partaking in some outdoor activities with the kids while she is at work. If we plan it out right, (utilizing the Minnesota Valley State Park) when my wife comes home from work (with the 3 year old) they can join us at the campsite, hang out, have dinner, and return to the comfort of home so she can be ready for work the next morning.

What does this all boil down to? As I have been reflecting on this, I have decided to establish a few realistic goals for the summer.

So, without further ado, I'd like to use this forum to make a public announcement. Let it hereby be known that by the first day of the 2007-2008 school year I plan...

Goal #1 - To broaden my ideas on what camping is by utilizing the resources available "in my own backyard" that I have taken for granted.
Goal #1.a - At least two "overnight" camping trips to the Minnesota Valley State Park.
Goal #1.b - At least two hikes in, through and around the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge units
Goal #1.c - At least two "State Park Lunches". (This could also be a "Wildlife Refuge Lunch" and is separate from Goal #1.b)

Goal #2 - Spend at least five mornings (I am going back to working evenings 3pm-11pm) fishing with the kids. (Since my outboard is on the fritz, and the clutch on my car is pretty much "roasted", hauling my boat may not be a possibility this year. I will have to limit my fishing trips to shoreline and pier fishing). This should be a fairly easy goal to reach as I can even take the kids fishing on days that I work!

Goal #3 - Update Dad's Outdoor Journal with the above listed activities as a means of tracking how well I am keeping up with my goals.

I will also (as a reminder) send this entry to myself as an email - scheduled to arrive on June 30th, July 31st, and Aug 31st - to help "keep me motivated".

Now, it's time to do some planning. If I do this right, it should be very easy. I can "pre-pack" a couple of large Rubbermaid boxes with our tent and camping essentials. All I will need to do is pack a little food and some personal needs - we can be on our way in no time at all! I can leave most of the stuff packed, and make another "overnighter" that much easier!

I can feel myself starting to get "stoked" for this... It may not be so bad after all!!


  1. What a great post Dave! I wish I could have all of the beauty so close to my house! You know how to get a hold of me if you ever needs someone to hike, camp, or fish with! If you recall, that was my one goal for this summer is to do more fishing!

    Happy Easter!


  2. Hey slick, I will send Christopher with you anytime up to BWCA, he's been begging me for years. Like Michelle, I am more of a "state park camper". We also have rubbermaid tubs packed with camping gear that are just ready to go at any given moment, I can tell you, it's a great plan. GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR GOALS!


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