Unplanned Vacation

Last week I went to OnCue to get gas and buy a few staples. The kid working the counter couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, and I guess he wanted to make small talk.

“So, are you still working during this thing?”

“No.”

“Well…are you at least still getting paid?”

“No.”

I wasn’t being curt with him, I just didn’t feel like explaining my life to a stranger. I wanted to get my milk, Monsters and Reese’s and get out of there. (Told you these were vital purchases.) I was smiling as I answered his questions but didn’t provide any other details. Through some combination of him sensing that I wasn’t super stressed about it or him just wanting to make an awkward situation go away, he gave me a wink, head nod and a smirk and said, “You’re gonna be OK.”

Everybody is handling this pandemic in their own way, and I don’t waste my time telling other people they’re doing it wrong. Missy and I settled on our strategy a couple weeks ago and we’re sticking with it until new information changes it. Of course, Missy still has to work her nursing shifts. In fact, she’s working 12 hours tonight. Her teaching gig is up in the air, but it appears she either won’t be doing it at all or will be doing it remotely from her computer.

I’m not working, despite opportunities to continue to play poker. I’d feel terrible if I inadvertently got someone sick, and live poker seems about as risky as anything you could do right now — sitting at a table with 9 different people, touching the same cards and chips. No amount of money I could win would be worth how bad I’d feel if someone I knew got really sick and there was even a chance they got it from me. I could try to play online and eventually might go that route, but I’ve never enjoyed that experience and for now we are not in bad shape financially. So I’m using the extra time to spearhead the kids’ home schooling and do fun things as a family.

Just like with my hospitalization last month, we’re trying to focus on the positives that come out of a bad situation. While I’d prefer to be able to play basketball and use the weights at the gym, I’ve been able to go for a run in the neighborhood almost every day. We take Bailey on his walks. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We’ve tried a couple new recipes. And this week we went on a family camping expedition that we wouldn’t have been able to take had school been in session.

We went to Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow and stayed two nights. Neither Missy nor I had been down there before, and it was beautiful. When we parked, the kids jumped out of the van and let out some of the energy they’d stored up during the four-hour drive. A man who looked to be about my age was camping alone, and his tent space was only about 20 feet away from the one we had reserved. I gave him a wave and he just stared back at me. He was clearly getting annoyed at the kids, who were just being kids. Collectively the four of them can make a fair bit of noise but they weren’t being particularly crazy. Also, it was the middle of the afternoon and we were in the middle of the freaking woods. After being there less than five minutes, when it was obvious this guy wasn’t happy about our arrival, I leaned over to Missy and whispered, “I feel sorry for this poor sap.” At one point when I wasn’t close enough to hear him, he told the kids to keep it down. I tried to toe the line between letting the kids be kids and being respectful of my neighbor, but in the end I basically said eff that dude. We followed all of the campsite rules, especially the quiet hours from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., so it was really just his problem. But it bothered Missy that he kept giving us dirty looks.

Views from our campsite at Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow.

That first night, we got our tents set up and roasted hot dogs and smores for dinner. I slept in the bigger tent with the three smallest kids, while Missy and Addie shared a smaller tent. The kids were all so worn out that they slept pretty good, but me…not so much. Oh well, the weather was beautiful and everyone was excited to do a lot of exploring the next day.

Breakfast and dinner of champions.

Missy made pancakes and bacon on our little propane camp grill, and they turned out great. Our grumpy neighbor packed up and left, prompting Missy to say, “Don’t let the outdoors hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” (We got new neighbors the next night and they were cool.)

The first thing we did after leaving the camp was find a fishing spot, but there weren’t many good ones if you weren’t a fly fisherman and you didn’t have a boat. So that was basically a swing and a miss. We caught a couple branches. Then we went on a little hike, which was fun. Then we found a swimming hole, and the kids really loved that. We spent several hours there. Maddux swam back and forth across the pond about 20 times — I don’t know how he had the energy.

Addie at the swimming hole

There are a couple of craft breweries in Broken Bow, something I was completely unaware of until my buddy Jacob Unruh saw where we were on Snapchat and told me about them. I called into one and ordered some beer to go, then we picked it up on our way back to the campsite. It may have been the weather and scenery more than the actual beer, but either way it was one of the more enjoyable beers I’ve had in my life.

Shout out to Mountain Fork Brewery and to Jacob Unruh for the recommendation

After dinner and more smores, we were completely zonked out. I was supposed to get the three youngest kids to sleep and then sit by our campfire and talk with Missy, but I was so exhausted that I feel asleep with them and actually got a good night’s rest.

These kids wore me out!

We dodged a bullet the next morning when we were packing up. It looked like it was going to rain the whole time. We even felt a few sprinkles and some of those ominous cold wind gusts that usually precede a storm. But it never rained hard and we were able to get the van loaded back up and make the drive home without incident.

It was truly a great time. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not an outdoorsman by any stretch, but between the beautiful scenery, the perfect weather and the sheer joy on my kids’ faces, it was a very rewarding experience.

I can’t pretend to know how long this thing is going to last or what it will look like. We’re just going to keep doing what we feel is best for our family, tightening our bonds and making memories that will last a lifetime.

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