A Weekend Adventure at Mark Twain Lake

It’s not often I get the chance to take to the outdoors with a member of my family, and so when my niece expressed interest, I jumped on it.

Laura is in her fifth year of teaching elementary music, and like most dedicated teachers out there, she’s extremely exhausted. I was honored to plan a mini-getaway for her to claim a bit of nature therapy with me.

We met up at Mark Twain Lake State Park on a Friday after work – about an hour’s drive for each of us. I packed up my car with everything we needed, so all she had to worry about was a change of clothes and some food. By the time she rolled into our campsite on the Coyote loop, I had the tent assembled and firewood ready to light.

We hadn’t seen each other in a few months, so it was nice to catch up while we settled into our campsite.

I’ve always felt a special connection to Laura. She was the second girl (after me) to emerge from my nuclear family, and we never seem to run out of stories to share. Surviving a childhood surrounded by boys creates its own unique comradery… you know… enduring all the farts and everything else that comes with having brothers…

We laughed and relaxed while she explored the wildflowers near our campsite, and when the sun sank down, she gazed in awe at the star-studded sky.

It was a crisp fall weekend in Missouri – one where shorts are comfortable during the day, but by nightfall you need to bundle up. Our fire blazed strong as we sipped our tea and readied ourselves for bed. I knew as soon as we extinguished it and headed to our tent, we were going to be chilly.

Earlier in the week, I asked my friends on Instagram to share cool-weather camping hacks. An interesting suggestion was to pour boiling water into a Nalgene bottle and place it inside the foot of the sleeping bag. Another was to stuff extra clothes down there as well to add extra insulation.

I tried both methods, and it worked really well to keep me warm in 40-degree temps.

I woke up early the next morning to start the fire and brew coffee, and then when Laura emerged, we prepared breakfast together. It was a slow Saturday morning of girl-talk, silliness, and hanging in the hammock – until we realized our time together was quickly dwindling. She’d need to leave in just a few hours, so if we wanted to get the kayaks out on the lake, we’d better get going!

The night before I left for Mark Twain Lake, Mike and I struggled in the dark to install a new roof rack on my CR-V. Typically I only need to transport one kayak at a time, so my foam car-top carrier usually does the trick. This time, I needed to take an additional boat for Laura, so I researched and purchased this rack on Amazon, planning to pair it with a set of j-hooks my buddy Paul had lying around in his garage.

I wasn’t sure how it would all work together, and I knew I couldn’t install it by myself. Thankfully, my husband is a brilliant engineer and stubborn to boot, so he got the job done with only a tiny bit of assistance from me.

The racks held up great as I drove to Mark Twain Lake, but I was nervous about unloading and loading the kayaks by myself. Mike seemed to think I’d be okay, and I had my step stool and roller loader if I needed them (#shortgirlproblems). Also, Laura was there – an extra set of hands that I would certainly appreciate.

We drove to the boat ramp on Highway U, unloaded the kayaks without any issues, and paddled out onto the glistening water. The sun gleamed in a clear blue sky, and I shed layers as the temperatures climbed. Laura was giddy observing the flocks of birds perched in their respective cliques along the water’s surface. There were so many!

One thing I immediately appreciated about Mark Twain Lake as opposed to others in Missouri is how undeveloped it is. Most of the shoreline is pure wilderness with only a few boat ramps scattered about. With the exception of some fishing boats and an occasional ski boat, we had the pristine cove to ourselves.

The lake level was unusually low, revealing rock bluffs and tree stumps that wouldn’t have been visible otherwise. We explored their wild beauty as our conversations delved deep into some big life questions.

I loved hearing about the issues she’s wrestling with as a 25 year-old newlywed who is relatively new in her career – and the sprawling dreams that occupy the very same space.

I remember what it felt like to be her age, and how much I appreciated older wisdom as I navigated the same weighty questions… bravely reconciling the past in order to cultivate a meaningful future. I marveled at the power she holds to make a difference in this world. I wonder if others saw the same in me.

We could have meandered around that lake for hours, but sadly, she needed to get back for a family event at home. Begrudgingly, we paddled back to the boat ramp and faced the somewhat terrifying task of loading the kayaks and tying them down.

It took longer than I’d hoped, but we did it. And we made it back to the campsite with both kayaks still strapped securely to the car. Huzzah!

I sent my niece off with a big hug and well-wishes, and lazily settled into my hammock. Mike would be arriving soon to join me, and I craved a little shut-eye before he arrived.

In perfect comedic timing, 30 seconds after Laura drove away… Mike pulled in.

Though I was tired, it was so good to see him. He chatted with me while I swung in the hammock, and I think I did get a chance to doze off for at least a few moments.

Around 4:00 p.m., I got restless. Doing nothing at a campsite can only last for so long before I need to get up and GO. There were a few trails around the park, so we picked a route and headed out.

I just LOVE hiking around lakes. Especially in the fall when the vibrant colors embrace the dreamy water during golden hour. The hike was mostly flat, well marked, maintained, and beautiful. We could hear the motor rumble from boats passing by, but our time on the trail was generally peaceful.

Returning to our campsite refreshed, we were anxious to start a fire and eat.

Just one problem-o.

Our wood pile was a little scant, and I really didn’t want to pay for more wood. Especially since the last bundle was almost too wet to burn.

I eyed a fallen limb near our campsite and thought we might be able to use it if we could chop it up into smaller logs. It was really long and had gobs of crunchy leaves that would be perfect for kindling. Mike approved, grabbed the saw, and went nuts on that limb. It was tiring work, but before long, we had plenty of wood and a blazing hot fire.

While Mike played lumberjack, I made dinner.

When it comes to making meals in the outdoors, I’ve found there are usually two camps (pardon the pun) of folks. Those who eat hot dogs and chips… and those who plan elaborate, complicated meals that I wouldn’t even attempt at home. I land somewhere in the middle at healthy, yet convenient.

That night’s menu included a bag of garlic herb rice, chopped up broccoli from my snack bag, and a package of pre-cooked chicken breast. I had some extra dairy-free cheese sticks, so I threw one of those in there as well. It was pretty tasty!

Want to make it? Here’s the recipe.

As the sun set, we roasted s’mores and then I boiled water for lavender tea and my sleeping-bag Nalgene hack. We enjoyed the fire for a while and climbed into the tent for yet another chilly night.

The next morning was pretty similar to the first – coffee – breakfast – relaxing in the hammock… so very relaxing and beautiful. Once the early hours passed, it was time to pack up camp and head out to the lake for more paddling.

As we finished loading up our gear, I realized that we had some extra firewood (ironic, I know). It wasn’t enough to take home, so I walked it over to offer to our neighbors.

I had been eyeing their camp set-up since I arrived and admittedly had the ulterior motive of asking them a million questions about it. They were grateful for the firewood and happily entertained all of my nerdy questions about their tent.

It actually attached to the back of their SUV so they could sleep on a mattress up in the car rather than on the ground. Genius! I love learning how other people camp.

When we finished visiting, Mike and I caravanned to the Ray Allen Boat Ramp to catch more paddling time on the lake.

This time, we had an island in our sights. It was windy and the waves were choppy, but we made it to our destination to explore. We spent an hour or so taking in the beauty of the day – gorgeous rock bluffs along the shoreline, birds soaring above, cute wildflowers swaying by the water.

Heading back to the boat ramp, I was thankful that I had Mike there to help me load the kayaks. Actually, he loaded the kayaks in his truck, so I really didn’t need to do anything. Score!

It was a good thing, because I started to feel the weight of my exhaustion. Planning and executing a weekend camping/kayaking/hiking excursion for others is fun, but the mental gymnastics of thinking through and being prepared for every possible scenario is overwhelming. I’m sure it gets easier with practice.

Climbing into the car, I felt sleepy and wondered how I’d find energy to drive home. A shower and a nap sounded heavenly. Though it was a wonderful weekend to spend time with loved ones and to explore a new place, I was certainly ready to head back. I would also definitely need to stop for a Scooters coffee along the way… Thank goodness for coffee!

Published by adventurewithkatie82

Newbie adventure writer! Learn more about me at www.adventurewithkatie.com.

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