Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Country of Three" holiday weekend

When I was a kid, one of the most memorable Thanksgiving weekends we had was the year we ignored the extended family festivities, packed up, and went to the Oregon Coast to enjoy a relaxed weekend together as a nuclear family. Not that I am against all you extended family members, mind you, but once in a while it is a really good thing to have some relaxed vacation time to bond just with immediate family away from home, responsibilities, and all the normal patterns and habits that creep in during the day-to-day slog of getting through the work/school weeks. The hot dogs on the beach we had that year were an oddly festive sort of meal, too.

When Chad and I got married, his brother Frosty had a great phrase in his toast -- he pointed out that Chad, Nim, and I were forming a "Country of Three" by merging as a family.

This year for Thanksgiving, the goal was to celebrate our Country of Three and simultaneously relax and indulge in recreational activities that (a) weren't boring to anyone, and (b) included everyone. Those of you with kids know the challenges. Plus I just wanted to get out of the house lest I fall into doing chores by default.

Chad came home the day before Thanksgiving making wistful comments about all of the people that were going to get ride up Mt. Hamilton on Thanksgiving Day. This is quite a tradition around here among a certain set -- ride hard to work up an appetite, and then go feast. The weather was set to be gorgeous too. What he didn't realize was that I too had been having the same thoughts -- so had convinced Nimue that riding over on Mt. Hamilton would be a good adventure for the whole family.

One way to do this when one of the members of your Country of Three is only seven years old is to have a solid breakfast, load the tandem and another bike on top of the car with lots of leftover Halloween candy and toys, and head over to the hill. Our plan was that Chad would ride with us for the first third of the climb, at which point Nimue and I would stop at Joe Grant County Park to have a snack, play, and read until he climbed up to the top and came back down.

Fortunately, after about 45 minutes, Nimue got bored and wanted to get back on the bike. We went ahead and climbed up the second third of the hill, waving at cyclists. There were literally hundreds of people coming down at that point. It was sort of jolly watching everyone, both when riding and when waiting -- cyclists on the road ranged from those who were clearly giving their all to get back down the hill after the 4000 foot climb to those who fly up the hill on a regular basis. In general, people looked happy to be out -- none of that horrible grim "I'm too busy training to even respond when another cyclist says "Hi"" mode that one sometimes sees around here. Heck, I was ridiculously happy to be out too. It was Thanksgiving, we were having fun, and I was outside goofing off :) We eventually found Chad on his way down and rode back to the car together.

Yeah, maybe I'd have liked to ride my own bike and gone all the way up too, but it was a nice day, Nimue felt really good about riding even though I pushed her twice as far as we had planned, I got at least as much exercise going 2/3 of the way up on the tandem as I would have gotten going to the top on my own bike, and we all got out into the sunshine as a Country of Three. I count it as a victory.

But where's the turkey? Sarah and Todd were kind enough to invite us over for dinner, so we took our chocolate pie (made the day before) and a bottle of wine over to their place and feasted. The kids even all got along with each other for once. It rivals that hot-dog-on-the-beach day of my youth as the least stressful Thanksgiving day ever.

I still, however, had urges to get out of town. We had originally planned to head over and go camping at Mono Lake for the rest of the weekend, but it snowed there the previous week, and was forecast to snow again. Forecast lows were down around 10 degrees, which, combined with the possibility of getting stuck on the wrong side of the pass if it closed led to the need to pick an alternate destination at the last minute.

Krebs map to the rescue! For those of you not familiar with these maps, they are delightful cycling maps for various regions of California that point out all the good stuff you need when planning a bike adventure -- suggested roads to ride on, bike paths, trails, campround locations, where to get food, bike shops, etc. The roads and trail are all marked with arrows indicating where and how steep the hills are. Most useful. At any rate, I pulled out a map, looked at it for a few minutes, and was reminded that there is a flat 32 mile paved bike path along a section of the American river over by Sacramento that I had thought might be good to explore as a family. Even better, there was a campground that was still open for the year at Beals Point on Folsom Lake right at the end of the trail.

Never mind that the snow we were avoiding by not going to the mountains would likely give us less than perfect weather -- we packed up the car and headed off for some more fun as a Country of Three.

Shortly after getting there and setting up the enormous tent palace in a delightfully large campsite with plenty of rocks to keep Nimue occupied, a most impressive thunderstorm rolled in. We threw a tarp over the food on the picnic table and retreated to the tent to watch the lightning through the open door. The electrical activity stayed just far enough away to be exciting but not worrisome, and after about an hour, the storm rolled off and let us emerge to make dinner.

That evening and the next day brought crazy, crazy crazy wind. Nimue got to learn the joys of what happens to the tent if you ignore your dad when he says "Don't take out all the stakes", made more exciting by the fact that she somehow had enough time to get herself into the tent after taking out the stakes but before the next big gust of wind struck. She also got a good reminder of the difference between a headwind and a tailwind when on one's bike -- the section of bike trail we explored went both down river and downwind on the way out; we then had to fight our way back up on the way back. Lucky girl got power assists first from Ma, then from Chad.

I managed to catch this shot while I was still riding :)

We only explored part of the trail, as Nim was (mostly) self-powered, but it's clearly a place that could use more exploration. The notion brewing in Chad's brain is that a fun family weekend could be to take the train out to Sacramento with our bikes and camping gear in the trailer, and ride all the way up the bike trail to the campground. No car needed to get out of town.

Sadly, it's now back to the slog of all the stuff that happens in a more normal week for us (this week's list for the three of us includes school, rehearsal&concert, ancestor project, book report, Christmas shopping, too many meetings, teaching large numbers of crazed kids, decking the Christmas tree, making the lego rubik's cube robot work, and deferred house chores). Somehow, that's all fun too, but we really enjoyed our weekend off!

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