(Yes, camping, in Canaan's happy land. - Sorry, inside joke.)
I've had cabin fever for a while. Bob and I got to talking one day about taking a trip out East to see some Fall colors, but Riah overheard us and inputted that he wanted to see the ocean, and we realized the Fall break at Bob's college would almost coincide with Riah's birthday, so we let him have input. To sum up, we decided to go to Pensacola, Florida. Bob's uncle lives there, and it seemed a reasonable driving distance, and there's a Navy base there with a campground.
Oh, yes. We went camping.
I booked the tent site on base (the National Parks website hinted at tent camping at the Fort Pickens site, but the website was SEVERELY lacking in information, so I went with the Navy). I booked a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. We bought moving blankets at Harbor Freight for $6 each, to use as padding under the sleeping bags (the cheapest made-for-camping pads were $20 each). I looked up things to do in Pensacola, and printed out directions from Google maps. What could go wrong?
Well, our first official stop was at the "Welcome to Louisiana" sign for a photo op; as we posed, Ella stepped in a fire ant pile. Daniel doesn't like the car seat, so every time he woke up we stopped to feed and change him. We forgot to lock the garage, after Bob bought a lock and specially adapted it to fit. Taryn had to go to WalMart for a personal item that she didn't think to pack. We ran out of tissues. It rained. And rained. And RAINED.
The first day we were 11 hours on the road, what with Daniel and toilets and tissues and gas and dinner. Bob drove from Little Rock to Pine Bluff; I drove the rest of the way, since driving hurts his knee. That put us at our hotel in Jackson at 9:45 pm. We checked in, made our beds, and slept. We stayed at a Best Western because reviews said they had a nice breakfast, and we figured it was worth a little extra. Beds were nice but firm, everything was clean and working except the shower drained slowly. Interestingly, the room A/C actually cut off when it got cool in the room. I've never stayed in a hotel that did that.
The next day we started off by getting lost. Bob found me on the map and cleverly directed me back to the route. Bob drove the last leg of that trip, from Mobile, Alabama, through Pensacola, and onto the base. We finally found the camp site 10 minutes before they closed (only to find out there is a "host" who lives on site and can check you in at anytime). We stopped by the bathhouse and then set up our campsite. Boy! It was hot and humid! It didn't take long to set up the tents, but by the time we did we were all wet, with rivers of sweat down our faces and shirts. It was getting dark fast, so we knew we wouldn't make it to the beach that night.
We went for supper at the Navy Exchange (sort of a mini mall), arriving 20 minutes before they closed. The pizza guy agreed to make us a pie, and Bob and I got all the food that was left at the Chinese place, for a nice discount. But the janitor was putting chairs up on the tables and had turned all the trash bins against the wall so there was no place to throw things away, so we took our food and ate at the smokers' tables outside. While we ate, hundreds of Sailors came up to the NEX to go in, only to find it was locked, and then to stand around and wonder what there was to do here.
From there we went to the base gas station (the one without diesel, as the road to the gas station with diesel had big "NO Unauthorized Personnel" signs up) and got a gallon of milk, a bag of ice, and car floor mats to use as welcome mats for the tents (the whole place was sandy, and we'd noticed other campers had door mats). Then we went 'home' and tried to build a campfire in the dark while fighting of mosquitoes and sweat. I'd read that the lows would be in the lower 60's, so brought blankets and sweats for everyone. We didn't use the blankets, and those who wore their sweats wished they hadn't. It was warm, HUMID, and still all night.
The next day we had our breakfast of cereal, got into our swimsuits, and walked down to the beach. Sugar-white sand, as advertised. Nobody on the beach. Clean... We set up our umbrella and lawn chair (for feeding Daniel), and the stroller so that Daniel was in the shade. Bob waded out to test the undertow. Finding everything satisfactory, he called the children out to him. They were all too scared to go! There is a sort of ledge right at the edge of the water, so if you are in, you're in to your waist. But it stayed at waist level for a long ways after that. Anyway, we got the children in, and then we had fun. Elijah wouldn't swim, but played in the sand, so we took turns staying with him while the others swam. Some learned to snorkel, some learned to float, and we all got nice and salty. We stayed almost 3 hours, and then went back to camp, stopping to rinse off on the way. Bob called his uncle, who agreed to meet us at Joe Patti's fish market (the second most popular attraction in the area). So we dressed and headed into town. We toured the market and then drove out to Gulf Breeze for lunch at a Mexican place. After lunch we went to Uncle's house where he showed off his tropical garden (while Bob took Riah back to the restaurant to get his camera). He has bananas, satsumas, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, and blueberries. We visited for a while, then headed toward camp. Stopped at Walmart for a new lantern and some supper and bottled water. Made a nice campfire, ate, and went to bed early. Uncle gave us some waterproof spray to coat our tents with, and I got that on about 15 minutes before it started to rain.
That night I got a little spray on my face, but everything else stayed dry. The next morning it was rainy, but everyone we had talked to told us that Florida had frequent, short showers - just keep going and it will clear up in a minute. So, we decided to go to the barrier island, and check out the National Seashore at the Fort Pickens site (which I'd read was nice empty beaches, and Bob thought Uncle said was a good place to spot dolphins - Cedwryck was especially excited about getting to see a dolphin). We realized that the road to the park was lined with parking spaces and paths out to the ocean, so thought we could save $8 and just go there. The waves were boisterous, and when Bob checked, there was a decent undertow. He let each child go to him in the water, one at a time, but no one wanted to let go of him, as they could feel the pull of the current. By the time they'd all gone in, his knee hurt from bracing against the surf. No dolphins in sight, of course, so we went on to the National Park. We drove all the way to the end of the island, walked out on the little fishing pier (which actually points into the bay rather than the gulf), and stopped at the visitor center on our way home. No mention of dolphins anywhere. Lots of ants on the sidewalk. Bought a pirate map in the gift shop. We had a con-fab, and the one thing everyone wanted (more than dolphins on the Pensacola Beach pier, more than the Naval Aviation Museum, more than ANYthing) was to go swimming again. We thought the beach near our camp was nicer than the one on the island, so decided to go back there. Storm clouds gathered. Back at camp we headed to the ocean as the storm really picked up. It hurt to stand there, with the rain and sand pelting my legs. Bob and some children got into the water briefly, but the waves were nearly as high as they had been on the gulf, and I couldn't lay Daniel down because of the rain. As it really started pouring we made a run for the bathhouse. We sat on the bench in the shelter of the bathhouse for a while, realizing that even if we could get dry and changed, it was too late to go the the museum anyway. In a break in the rain, Bob brought the van up to the bathhouse, where we unloaded it under the overhang, and began sorting and packing within the shelter of the laundry room there. He was worried about the state of our camp. So the next rain break he and I went back to the camp to discover that our tent was completely flooded. Water standing on the floor; my pillow wet through; a puddle in the baby bed... So we started packing. We squeezed out the blankets and sleeping bags as much as we could, but when we folded up the tent it held all the water inside. I spread a tarp in the back of the van, and we started layering the stuff, wettest on the bottom. Then back to the bathhouse, where Taryn had folded all our newly-dried clothes, to shove in the rest of the stuff and people. And away we went. We made it to the far side of Mobile before stopping for supper, and then into Hattiesburg, Mississippi to spend the night at a Super 8.
The children liked it there, but I was a little frustrated about the rate. Anyway, the beds were soft and dry. Tuesday morning we tried to eat the whole breakfast bar, and were finally back on the road by 9:30. Bob drove through Jackson (not quite as scary in the daytime, but still very big-city with all the highways merging and exiting, and part roller-coaster ride with the terrible state of the road), Then I took over and made it up to Little Rock before Bob got nervous about me driving in town. He got us up to Conway, where we had supper, and then I took it to Ozark, where we got fuel. It was getting dark, and I guess Bob was nervous again, because he wanted to drive on home. We made it home at 10:30pm. Phew!