We completed our parks! YES! We did it, and it was awesome, amazing and a once in a lifetime adventure. It has taken me two months to figure out what this blog post should say. Many bloggers would use this as a chance to build a great list of their “Top Lessons Learned” or “10 Ways to Use Camping to Heal,” I wanted to be careful how I choose my words and be honest about our experience without trying to turn it into some clickable blog article. Don’t get me wrong: I am not against those types of articles, my post “Just a little patience – seven camping essentials” was a big hit, well big hit for this blog lol, it was even picked up by another website, which is kinda cool.
A little recap first, back in the Spring, I quit my job to stay home and raise my two daughters. The plan was to provide some stability in our lives while we battle to put the pieces of our life back together after my wife’s brother suddenly passed away. If you been following along from the beginning you would know that this blog is sometimes about being a stay at home Dad, sometimes about our battles with grief and depression and lastly about how going to all the Missouri State parks was going to heal us and put everything back together after a year of chaos.
We went to 53 Parks. camped 22 nights, stayed 12 nights in hotels, 30 playgrounds, hiked 16 miles, 38 friends & family joined us, and we traveled roughly 6,350 miles across the state of Missouri. We played on beaches, looked at stars, kayaked, splashed in puddles, skipped stones, attended educational programs, visited state historical sites, napped in hammocks and got lost countless times. We dodged thunderstorms, learned how to tow a travel trailer, reluctantly went on a cave tour, saw a heard of wild horses, visited a mini-grand canyon, had movie nights in the camper and even once managed to forget to make the camping reservation.
Along the way, we became great campfire cooks, and we also laughed, argued, cried, and ate too many s’mores. We learned how to live in the moment, set reasonable expectations and just learn how to be a better team. Remarkably, Shannon and I successfully backed that travel trailer into all those campsites without tearing each other to shreds.
We would have liked to have hiked double, even triple, the number of miles that we completed, but we learned that the girls are still young and the summer sun is hot. We pushed ourselves and pushed them as far as we could. As they get older, we will be excited to hike many more miles; We have never been more proud when our three-year-old was able to hike a 1 ½ mile trail on her own. We know hiking 16 miles is no small feat for two small children and hopefully, this will impact them in ways that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Part of our journey was also accepting that, and it was ok to just play in the air-conditioned camper when it was too hot outside. Adventures don’t always have to be big, and memories don’t have to be massive to have an impact.
I know that we didn’t find or feel the way we thought we would when we ended this journey, it was much more bittersweet than we thought. It was an ending that we wanted so badly but we were so sad for it to come once it arrived. We didn’t feel healed, and the clouds certainly didn’t part and bask us in some magical sunlight. There wasn’t a package at the end that said, “here is your happiness!”. We did, however, find so many other things: we found that we all love it when we are outside. We have the best time together. We love sharing our camping adventures. We accept that we live in a constant state of chaos. We don’t have to choose the easy path. I think we also found that what we thought was an “escape” from reality was indeed the reality we should have always been living in.
Everyone asks us “whats next?” It’s a silly question, which has a lot of pressure built into it. The sequel is rarely as good as the original, right? I think what is next is that we continue to camp and teach others about camping and figure out how to take that feeling and build it into our daily lives…if we are only happy while on adventures, then we were never happy. Camping/traveling is almost a false reality in many ways, and ultimately we have to translate that passion into our lives when we are just sitting at home. It is easy to feel better in a hammock with the breeze blowing but much harder when sitting at home on the couch.
I try not to give out advice; there is an entire internet full of people with well-intended but fragile advice, that is just waiting to fall apart. People are drawn to opinions these days as if they are fact. The one thing I will say that worked for us was setting a goal. I don’t think it had to be state parks adventure, but it was more about sticking together to do something. It focused us; it gave us a path out, it was an escape, and it was a lot of fun, and I think it has defined us.
Over the next ten days, I am going to reveal our favorite ten parks in no particular order on Instagram. I will post the final list here once we have listed them all. If parks are your thing and you are looking for a milestone to help you out of whatever you are stuck in, try the list. If you want someone to come along, we will go, and happy to share our love of camping with you.
Bonus Track: Every Little Thing is going to be alright
From the beginning, I have named every post after an 80’s song. If you know me well you know that I am a major 80’s fan and it probably wasn’t hard to figure out. By no means is this blog over but I wanted to cap off this playlist with a bonus track.
Three Little Birds was playing when we were in Jamaica this summer, and it has been stuck in my head for a while. I don’t know that we found what we were looking for but I do know what I discovered – there has never been a more accurate phrase than what Bob Marley sang…”Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is going to be all right,” He was singing this to his three girls, and while I indeed don’t sing, 52 parks of therapy and some proper old fashion counseling have taught me that my three little birds are going to be alight.
To tie all this back to the original post, Shannon will always be working through her grief, but I think we all understand our new world and the storm around the island has cleared up a bit. Visitors have returned to our island and the water is much calmer. Still, though, the reef around the island is still treacherous, navigating the waters is unpredictable and challenging, but we now have a better boat.