I can’t believe it’s halfway through September and I’m just now going on the first camping trip of the year. I mean, seriously… who am I?
Oh yeah… I’ve been a little busy. I guess I can extend myself a little grace.
When you’ve waited all year to go camping, and the forecast promises some cool September crispness, you can’t help but get a little bit excited. Thoughts of snuggling up by a cozy campfire, floating down a river without the crazy summer crowds, enjoying a peaceful campground in off-peak season, watching the leaves start to change… I mean, if we’re being honest, my expectations were soaring pretty high.
So, you can imagine how utterly annoyed I was as my husband and I arrived at the campground at Onondaga Cave State Park to realize a) almost every campsite was full, b) there was zero privacy, and c) a large group of folks had occupied a site near us with three tents, five vehicles – one with huge flags hanging out the back – I’ll leave it to you to imagine the chosen designs, tiki torches (okay, I really liked those), and a HUGE AMP playing music so loudly that it filled the entire campground valley.
I mean… seriously??
So much for a peaceful camping getaway.
We begrudgingly unpacked our things and set up the tent, partially inclined to just turn around and go back home to Jefferson City. In the end, we decided to stick it out. If the shenanigans became unbearable, we always had the option to leave the next day. It was going to be a challenge, but we were going to try to make the best of it.
By night fall, camp was set up and a fire blazed strong. We settled in to enjoy the warmth and a couple of s’mores. I couldn’t find gluten-free/vegan graham crackers at the grocery store, so I paired some Enjoy Life chocolate chip cookies and Theo Salted Caramel dark chocolate with my roasted marshmallow. It was fantastic.
And it would’ve been absolutely perfect without the soundtrack of idiots yelling obscenities and blasting ridiculously loud music.
Yep, remember our lovely neighbors? They were still going strong.
In all honesty, I didn’t abhor their taste in music. Their assumed right to blare it for all to hear is what I couldn’t take. Incredibly inconsiderate to those of us trying to enjoy a peaceful time outdoors.
Thankfully, the park’s quiet hours begin at 10:00 p.m. I rationed my s’mores as I tracked the time, counting down to the possibility of silence.
10:00 rolled around… no change.
Surely they’ll start winding down soon.
At 10:30, I think the hooting/hollering volume actually increased.
Mike had endured enough. He walked over to their site, approached them, and very politely asked them to please keep it down. At first, they were super compliant. They lowered the music volume right away and apologized profusely.
But as soon as he walked away… the nasty comments started.
Who is he to tell us to turn it down? He doesn’t have the right to tell us what to do! Quiet hours don’t start until ELEVEN!!!
I mean, come on people.
Instead of letting it anger us any more, we decided to just make light of the situation (a.k.a. make fun of them quietly), and hope that they might eventually give up and go to bed. I was thankful for my earplugs that carried me peacefully to sleep.
We made it through the night and enjoyed a slow morning making coffee and breakfast. I love eating breakfast at camp. I remember when I was little girl camping at Montauk State Park watching my dad scramble eggs over the campfire. The novelty of experiencing him cook combined with the smoky flavor transformed a mundane breakfast food into a delicious treat.
Even though I can’t eat eggs anymore (#allergic), we fried up some sausage and boiled water for instant coffee and apple spiced oatmeal. As I began to pour the water into our mugs and bowls, I tragically underestimated my ability to transfer the scalding hot liquid to its destination without burning the living hell out of my hand.
Yep. I poured boiling water on myself. Fantastic.
I instinctively ran to the bath house to run cold water over my blazing thumb… aaand half way there I realized that we had a cooler full of ice and a box of plastic baggies… duh, Katie… lol.
As I cradled the icepack on my wound, I searched through my first-aid kit for burn cream – or any kind of ointment, really. It was then that I discovered that this kit I’ve been toting around for months was completely useless. It had a mouth to mouth apparatus, some scissors, and a few cheap band aids, but absolutely nothing of medical value. No creams. No ointment. No burn cream. Awesome.
I mean, what would I have done in the back country? With no ice? I guess just pray for a miraculous cold spring nearby? Anyway. This was a good reminder that things can go downhill in a hurry when you’re roughing it.
As my skin was peeling off (not literally, I’m being dramatic), I loaded plastic baggies with ice throughout the day, trying to ignore the pain.
After breakfast, we cleaned up camp and prepared to venture out for the day. The hooligans next door hauled their rafts and amp down to the river, so it was the perfect opportunity to get out of there. We called around to a few local outfitters to see if anyone would shuttle us along the Meramec River for a float. The going rate seemed to be $45 per kayak – even though we were using our kayaks – so we scrapped that plan. It was my own fault for not planning ahead to research more a more affordable shuttle option, and seeing all the cars parked at the river access helped me make peace with not being on a crowded river. (Side Note – I learned later through a Facebook Group that Brown’s Canoe Rental in Steelville would’ve done it for $10-20)
Studying the map of Onondaga State Park, we saw there were two short loop trails – Oak Ridge and Deer Run – with a connector trail between them. We mapped out a 5 mile loop to incorporate all three, and set off for an afternoon of hiking.
Starting at the Oak Ridge trailhead, the path ran parallel to the RV campground sites for a while before meandering along a gorgeous glade and then up into the woods. The grass was a soft dewy green with frequent pops of wildflower color. Once we wrapped around to the connector trail, the terrain was mostly dense wood. I saw several white and red mushrooms and little groups of tiny brown ones.
After about a mile, we found the intersection with Deer Run. This trail was also pretty woodsy, but much more varied in elevation. We hiked along several ridges and down into creek valleys, and even crossed a few foot bridges. The visibility was great, thanks to minimal underbrush. I was also really impressed with how well the trail was marked. I downloaded an All Trails Pro map, but we would’ve been fine without it.
As we neared the trailhead back at the campground, we hiked up along the side of the river bluff and spotted the Meramec River below. Actually, we heard it before we ever saw it, because of the noisy paddlers finishing their float trips. The views were so pretty, but I was glad to be done with our hike. I was hot, sweaty, and covered in brambles and bug spray. I was looking forward to a snack and heading down to the river to wash off the yuck. And, I knew the cold water would bring more relief to my sore thumb that was still throbbing.
It turned out to be great timing, because as we arrived back at camp, our obnoxious neighbors were heading back from their day on the river, so we wouldn’t have to endure their foolery while we were down there.
We enjoyed wading in the cold water and chatting as we sat in our chairs along the river’s edge. After a while, we headed back to shower. While Mike built the fire for dinner, I read a few pages of my book and then headed back down to the river to take in the sunset.
When I returned, we enjoyed bacon-wrapped filets and grilled zucchini under a clear night sky. The stars were abundant, revealing a faint swath of the Milky Way.
Our neighbors were slightly more considerate on this occasion – after a raucous game of beer pong, they did turn off the music and go to bed at 10:00 p.m. I, however, had already drifted to sleep, earplugs securely in place.
The next morning, I woke up early to sit by the river in my hammock.
I wanted to write in my journal as the sun rose, and to stare silently at the water rushing by. To grasp at one last opportunity for the peace and solitude these nature escapes usually provide. I was able to soak up a few moments before a dark cloud cover began littering the pages of my journal with raindrops.
I hurried back to camp to help Mike pack up before the sky unleashed. Rumbling thunder egged us on as if to say – you’d better hurry…
Mere moments after we shut the truck doors, the downpour pounded the windshield. Just in the nick of time. Take that, thunder.
Shelly’s Route 66 Café in Cuba, Missouri provided a refuge from the rain and a tasty breakfast. It was a tiny establishment, boasting a friendly staff and walls plastered with cheeky signs. 10 out of 10, would definitely recommend.
After we enjoyed our warm coffee and breakfast, we headed west of town on highway ZZ to a new home interior boutique owned by my cousin Kim. It was a beautiful property and shop – and so nice to connect with family. If you ever find yourself near Cuba, Missouri, be sure to stop in to Studio ZZ. You will not be disappointed.
We arrived back to our house in Jefferson City by mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time to unpack, air out our gear, and prepare for the coming week. I was physically exhausted and ready to chill after a weekend of enduring less-than-ideal camping conditions. Yet, aside from the continual annoyances – I still felt rejuvenated by nature. Even tiny little sips of it over the past two days were enough to propel me into the week ahead.
Though, I think next time we camp at Onondaga – if we ever do – we’ll opt for a primitive site and hopefully get a little more peace.