Category: Camping

An Ode to the US Government

There are a lot of reasons to be cynical about the US government right now (and we’re definitely cynical about it!) This post is not about that. Our travels across the country have given us a greater appreciation for many of the things the government is doing right. Here’s a list of the some government institutions we now love even more.

The Road and Highway System

We’ve been able to travel almost 30,000 miles in 9 months to some incredible places. It literally would not have been possible without the roads and highways. Thanks to all of the construction workers, civil engineers, and city planners than work hard to make sure we can all get around.

The National Park Service

Human beings don’t have a great history of thinking long-term about the environment. The National Park System is not one of those instances. The foresight of people like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Marjory Stoneman Douglass, and so many others is something we can still learn from today. We have so many awe-inspiring places in this country with countless people working hard to “preserve and protect” the natural wonders of this world. Visiting the National Parks with children has given us an even greater appreciation for these parks – the Junior Ranger programs, visitor centers, and ranger classes have taught our entire family so much about the natural world and the importance of preserving it for generations to come.

State, County, and Army Corps of Engineers Parks

There are lots of awesome government-run campgrounds all across the country (plus tons of public land with free dispersed camping). We’ve been especially pleased with the affordability of the Army Corps of Engineers parks. While not quite as “glamorous” as the National Parks, these parks provide great opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature, have a barbecue with family or friends, or spend an evening camping under the stars.

The Affordable Care Act

We were a bit nervous about health insurance when we decided to quit our jobs and travel the country. It turns out the ACA is amazing! We were able to get quality, affordable health insurance in a process that’s way more convenient and easy to understand than it used to be. (Although our great experience with the ER in Canada reminded us that the US still has a long ways to go!)

The United States Postal Service

Did you know you can receive an email every day with scanned images of the pieces of mail that will be coming that day? We didn’t! Kimberlee’s mother has been kind enough to check our mail for us while on the road, and this feature has been great for helping us keep an eye out for important pieces of mail. Not to mention that there’s a post office practically everywhere that makes it easy and affordable to send and receive mail.

Public Libraries
In addition to checking out ebooks and audiobooks with the click of a button, libraries have also been a great place to do some work while on the road (free wifi!) Every time we’ve been amazed at how many people are using the libraries – they’ve been packed! Of course we’ve seen lots of people checking out books, but we’ve also seen students studying or working on group projects, people of all ages using the computers (including using them to look for and apply to jobs), and some incredible librarians who seem like they’re working multiple jobs at once as teacher, researcher, social worker, IT support person, customer service rep, oh and librarian as well.

Our country still has a long ways to go to achieve the ideals upon which it was founded. However, these institutions give us hope, help temper our cynicism a bit, make us glad to pay taxes, and motivate us as we strive to form a more perfect union.

Broken Trucks and Broken Arms – Our August Adventure

As Kimberlee wrote in our last blog post, we’ve had a number of setbacks that have delayed the departure on our journey. Not wanting to feel like we’ve had to totally give up on our plan, we decided to go ahead and do a modified version of our August plan. Most importantly, the LAKE SUPERIOR CIRCLE TOUR!

I grew up spending a week each summer up on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan. Many days were spent on the shores of Lake Superior – looking for agates, picking blueberries, skipping rocks, playing in the huge sand dunes, and every once in a while trying to brave the always cold water. Yet in all that time, I didn’t realize there was this whole official “drive around the largest freshwater lake in the world” thing.

We were originally going to just do part of the circle tour and then head east through Canada. Then the house sale fell through. So we figured we would just do the whole circle tour then come back to Illinois until the house sells. Then the truck broke. So sadly we decided to leave the “Houses Wheels” at home, and make the trip cramming as much stuff into our small Honda Fit as we could while tent camping along the way. So off we went to spend 15 days traveling through Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario.

The biggest challenge on the trip came when Kimberlee broke her arm protecting the children from a wild bear. Or… maybe she just tripped while hiking. Regardless, she hiked back 4 miles with her arm in a makeshift sling CARRYING A 30 POUND CHILD ON HER BACK (I was carrying the other child – I wouldn’t do that to her!) It was rather fitting that she was wearing a shirt that said: “Strong Women: Be Them, Know Them, Raise Them.” Damn right.

Thanks Canada for your national healthcare – $650 as a non-citizen is still cheaper than an ER visit in the states with insurance

Despite that setback, we still had a wonderful time. Here are some of the highlights of the trip:

Spending time with friends from seminary

Going on a hike with our friends

Spending time with Nick’s parents and grandpa

Picking blueberries with the fam – had blueberry pancakes for dinner!

Camping together


S’mores were a big hit, of course

Hiking together

We saw LOTS of waterfalls

Our favorite hike on the trip – the Southern Headland trail at Pukaskwa National Park in Canada

This was before the broken arm

Doing some cool stuff

“Mine” your own amethyst was a hit!

We went on a shipwreck tour

The boat had a glass bottom – pretty incredible to see a 100+ year old shipwreck!

Seeing some INCREDIBLE views!

A few of the views from our trip

The rest of the trip is still on a temporary hold as we wait to sell the house. We’ll have to redesign our planned route – but we knew we would have to be flexible with this whole thing. In the meantime, if anyone is looking for some web design work, feel free to send me a note 🙂

We took the trailer for a (disastrous) trial run

Last fall we took the trailer out camping for the first time. We knew we would be telling people about our plans for the coming summer, and before we quit our jobs and sold our house, we figured it would be wise to actually go camping in! The first night ended with us stuffing our faces with uncooked s’mores as seen here:

How did we get to this moment? Last summer we put in hundreds of hours and worked like crazy to finish the trailer so we could take it out camping before winter arrived. We (mostly ) finished in September and then made plans to camp up in Wisconsin the first weekend in October.

From the beginning, things started going wrong:

The trailer was too heavy – A couple days before our camping trip, we took the trailer to a weigh station to see how much weight we would be pulling. We had spent a bunch of time and money outfitting our van with a tow package – adding a hitch, transmission and power steering cooler, and new wiring for a brake controller. Only when we finally weighed the trailer, it turned out to be much heavier than we expected! The van could handle it for a weekend trip, but wouldn’t be able to safely tow it once it was fully loaded. So for this weekend we just moved the batteries out of the tongue box to reduce the tongue weight and waited to fill up the water tank at the camp.

No trailer lights – We had everything hooked up in our driveway, kids in their car seats, and we were ready to go! The only problem was that none of the running lights seemed to be working on the trailer. We finally discovered it was just a loose connection between the trailer and the tow vehicle. Okay, that’s an easy enough fix! We were off!

Quintin is distracted. Eliza is skeptical.

Something doesn’t feel right – As we drove along, we began noticing a bounce in our van as we towed the trailer. We pulled over and realized that the trailer was not level. Our hitch was too high. So we made a stop at Harbor Freight to buy a different sized ball mount. At this point it began raining. I came back out only to realize I didn’t have the right wrench. Back into Harbor Freight. Then the ball was stuck so I needed a second wrench. Back into Harbor Freight. That didn’t work, so I finally decided to just buy a second ball (what Kimberlee suggested in the first place). Back into Harbor Freight. The guy knew me pretty well at this point. Eventually, soaking wet and with darkness upon us, we finally got the trailer leveled and we continued our drive. (You’re welcome for the free ad, HF)

The rain and lights – We finally arrived at the camp – only by then it was a total downpour. The kids were crying from the thunder, so we pulled into our campsite and made a mad dash into the trailer. We flicked the light switch. Darkness. Oh right – we took the batteries out! I ran back out into the rain – the kids now screaming  afraid of the thunder AND darkness – and lugged the heavy batteries to the trailer tongue to attempt to connect them to the trailer. After several failed attempts with the battery connections coming undone, Kimberlee finally came out managed to get them connected (you’ll notice an ongoing theme in our stories of Kimberlee always fixing my mistakes). After her battery magic, we had lights! We huddled together in the trailer and ate our chocolate and marshmallows (nobody seemed to want the graham crackers), and eventually all settled in to sleep.

Eliza wasn’t too sure at first, but eventually had fun!

BEEP BEEP BEEP – In the morning, Kimberlee got up first to make everyone breakfast. After 10-15 minutes of cooking, we were startled with a VERY loud beeping sound! It was the propane detector. Oh great, now we’re all going to explode. We quickly got the kids out and turned off the propane tanks. After letting the trailer air out (and hoping we hadn’t woken any of the other campers in the park), we realized that we had accidentally turned on the valve for the oven in addition to the stove top. So propane was just filling up the oven and slowly leaking out. We were able to turn off that valve and continue cooking without issue. At least we learned the propane detector does its job!

Eventually we all sat down for breakfast – gas free!

Fortunately, none of these problems were unmanageable and made for a memorable first camping trip. The rest of the weekend turned out great. The rain held off, we went on some lovely hikes, and enjoyed an second much more delightful evening around the campfire.