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Monday, July 17, 2006

Ten Day Excursion

Day One - Thursday, July 6

We were up about 5:00 AM. It was starting to rain and the van needed to be loaded. Thought I'd wait a minute to see if it would stop. After a few minutes it came a torrential downpour. Waited about 10 more minutes with no let up in the number of rain drops that were falling from the heavens. I tend to get impatient in these kind of situations. OK, Daniel and I will change clothes, don some rain gear and pack the van in the torrents that were coming down, and that we did. Fun, fun!!

Left the house about 6:30. About an hour and a half later stopped a Cracker Barrel and had Breakfast. Then about 30 minutes later stopped for a bathroom break. I use to not be too happy about those kinds of stops either but I have mellowed just a tad over the years. Then I started getting sleepy with three eggs, a chicken fried steak, grits, bacon, and a biscuit in my stomach. Only one remedy for sleepy eye syndrome, Starbucks. A banana/coconut frapaccino did the trick.

About forty miles from our destination we began to hear a thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. Thought to myself this road sure is loud. If you have ever driven on I10 between Houston and Baton Rouge, Louisiana you will know why I believed this to be the case, same basic sound. My wife started giving me that look. I told her I thought it was the road, she was surprisingly satisfied with that explanation. We saw a change in pavement coming and thought this would remedy our problem. It didn't. In fact it was getting worse by the second. Stopped and checked the tires visually, all looked well. Started back down the road but it was worse, now even I was convinced something was wrong. It will probably take $10,000,000 and eight weeks to fix it. Then it happened. Bang, poof, twump, twump, twump, twump......... Blow out at 7:00 O'clock, left rear tire. Fortunately we were only going about 40 miles an hour down from a cruising speed of 110mph (just kidding). Pulled over once again and sure enough blow out confirmed. Fortunately we were only less than a quarter mile from a bridge over the interstate with a widened place in the shoulder where we could pull over and change the tire relatively safely from the traffic on I20 that was moving at least 70 miles an hour, very intimidating. We all unloaded, extracted the spare from the fully loaded van, Daniel and I did our man thing while our four damsels in distress waited patiently on the side of the road admiring their knights in shinning armor. OK maybe just a bit of overkill.

20 minutes we were back on our way without a spare.

About an hour later we had turned onto Park Rd. 71 I believe it was and cruising to the headquarters of the Lake Mineral Wells State Park. Arrived about nine hours after leaving the Texas Gulf Coast, and yes we were still in Texas. Spent the afternoon unpacking at our screened shelter for the week. It was about 30 feet from the water and had a nice view over the lake that I enjoyed all week long, in the morning, the afternoon, evening, and night. It was beautiful. Hilly, rocky country. Quite a change of scenery from those who are accustomed to the coastal plains. The humidity had dropped considerably over the 360 miles we had traveled to the north. It was for this very reason that we had traveled north.

We drove around the park and familiarized ourselves with our new surroundings. Grilled pork steaks, and sausage. Sat on the lake and watched the water, went to bed on a cot in a screened shelter, except for Olivia and Daniel who opted for the tent.

Day Two - Friday, July 7

Got up at 6:00 AM and went to play in the water at the designated swimming hole. Didn't want to be there when everyone else was, had no desire to be exposed to the nakedness of others. I have never figured out why people have to strip to their underwear to play in water. Oh, well, that's another issue all together. Needless to say at 6:15 in the morning we had the place to ourselves. Left the swimming hole at 7:20.

On the way back to our home for the week, my wife asked where is your wedding ring????? Well, it was in Lake Mineral Wells. Ouch that hurts!! Hurts bad!! A symbol of over 24 years of memory laying at the bottom of the lake somewhere. The memories are still very much with me but the symbol of those memories is likely gone forever. I have tried not to think about it too much. Probably write more about that ring in another post. We'll see.

The kids rented a paddle boat for an hour and I watched from the pier. There was only room for four. Of course the first one they picked out had no rudder. One thing worse that being up a creek with out a paddle is being in a lake without a rudder. They managed to get away from the dock, but would they ever manage to get back to the dock, or would they float away over the horizon never to be seen again, poor, poor kids. It was actually quite funny for me. They did make their way back through a series of large circles and going through a regiment of forwards and reverses. Changed out that defunct paddle boat for one with a rudder. Now they could control their destiny and the seven seas were their limits. OK maybe it was just about 200 yards from the dock. Oh, well they had fun. They came back to the dock once and asked if I wanted to ride. No thanks, I've been on a paddle boat a couple of times and I always had a sneaking suspicion that my "pardner" on the other side was simply going through the motions, of course they always said, "I am paddling, I am!" Yea, right. That's also the reason I would never want a bicycle built for two???

Back at our home for the week, I did some reading, some napping, some relaxing, some reading, etc...

Went to Braums that night for ice cream.

Day 3 - Saturday, July 8

Back to the swimming hole at 6:45 till 7:45. Once again no one showed up that early. Surprise, surprise.

Had a leisurely breakfast. While trying to convince my wife to go on a short walk, my sister-in-law and her husband came by for a visit. We were expecting them, but just were not real sure when they would be there. Good thing I did not convince her to go on that walk five minutes earlier or they would have showed up while we were gone. They actually live in Kansas but were in Denton visiting their oldest daughter and her family and so were only a couple of hours from where we were camping so they graciously drove down to see us. My wife enjoyed spending some time with her sister. Her husband, Daniel and I climbed in their vehicle to go exploring in the park. Went around to the store for something to drink and came out and their vehicle would not start. What could it be, what could it be??? I am certainly very little help in these kind of situations. I am not very skilled in diagnosing these kinds of problems, have no desire to diagnose these kind of problems and in general do not like these kind of problems. We concluded that it was probably the battery or the alternator. We tried to jump the vehicle off with our van with some borrowed jumper cables. This battery was double dead. No deal, no go!! It was not going to start. No one had any tools. I did not bring any, although I usually do. By brother-in-law did not have any. So we went and made our acquaintance with the local parts store. He bought a battery and a little cresent wrench. Got back to the park and removed the battery. It was no easy chore with just a cresent wrench, at least not compared to how easy we know it would have been with a socket and a short extention. Got the other battery on and vrooooomm, started right up. Well by that time it was approaching their departure time. They left, I believe around 4:00 PM. We had a good visit.

Back to Braums for ice cream.

Day 4 - Sunday, July 9

Today was church day. Vacation is never a vacation from God. On the Lord's Day the responsibility is to be in His house celebrating His resurrection. The evening before I had looked in the phone book and found the one church in Mineral Wells that was listed under Baptist, Independent/Fundamental. We showed up there about 9:35 believing we would be on time and we were, Sunday School did not start until 10:00. It was a small church.

That afternoon we drove to Weatherford about 15 miles away and had lunch at Golden Corral. We all left full. The food was good, and of course there was plenty of it. Went back to the screened shelter to rest for the afternoon. Seemed to be really hot, but it was probably because we were dressed for church, although a bit more causal than what we would normally dress considering our circumstances.

That evening we drove back to Weatherford to visit a church there that we had been referred to by a lady that attends our church in Freeport. It was a large church. The pastor preached a very good, although short message. They baptized six people which was a blessing to see.

We went by Dominos and bought a large pepperoni.

Day 5 - Monday, July 10

After breakfast the whole family went on a five mile hike through the back country of the park. Solid trails but parts of it were semi-rugged. Up hill and down hill with rocky terrain and sand depending on where you were. It was hot. A good part of the walk was out in the sun. The sun was hot. Now that was profound, of course the sun was hot. The shade was not too bad, because of the lower humidity than what we are accustomed to. We walked all the way to the dried up creek bed that fed the lake we were on. Looked like it had been dried up for sometime, but kind of hard to tell for sure. Especially for someone who is not accustomed to judging that kind of thing.

When we returned to the camp Daniel and I decided to try the same trip plus some on our bikes. So, in the heat of the day we started out. Some of the trail was not too bad, other parts of it were a little more difficult to negotiate for us, who are mostly accustomed to riding our bikes on pavement. I generally ride mine a little over six miles in the morning. At one point going over a little bridge that had sand on it several inches thick I came within a few inches of riding right off the edge. That would have been nasty. Daniel would have had to carry my 205 pound carcass back to civilization. On second thought that would have been kind of interesting. I guess he could have made a little cot out of the resources readily at hand and tied me to the back of his bike and drug me back to the trailhead. You know the kind of cot the cowboys use to make to drag their sick and wounded over hundreds of miles. Now that is fun stuff. Well nine miles and a hour and half later Daniel and I were back at the screened shelter collapsed in our lawn chairs. I have on several occasion rode my bike ten miles but that was a tough nine.

That afternoon I napped, and read, and napped, and napped.

That evening we had received an invitation for some home made ice cream at that house of some friends we have from a parenting board on the internet. They were most hospitable. It is hard to be inhospitable when you serve home made ice cream. These folks live in Mineral Wells and in fact it was the wife that suggested the park we were staying in. They lived in an old house that in fact use to be a duplex and they had remodeled the inside. It was very nice. They had a large yard, that we envied just for a short time, and then we got right. We enjoyed our visit with these folks.

Stopped by Dominos and got a large half pepperoni, half hamburger.

Day 6 - Tuesday, July 11

Michele and the girls took laundry into town. Michele's internet friend met her there and they spent the time visiting while they were doing laundry. Daniel and I on the other hand made use of the van to do a little exploring around town. There was an old high school that we snooped around for a bit, on the outside, you couldn't get in. It was built in 1912. Then behind that building was the first public school in Mineral Wells. It almost looked like a building that doubled for a school/church, but there was nothing said on the historical marker about a church meeting there. The building was built in 1886, just a little over 20 years after the War Between the States. I guess before 1886 all the children in Mineral Wells were educated at home, shame, shame. How did they ever make it.......

We then went over to explore a few minutes at the Brazos River. Of interest to us because the Brazos River flows about 1/2 a mile from our house. We could have climbed in a boat and let it drift with the current and in a few days been home. That would be fun and adventurous.

Then went to investigate a used bookstore in town, but she was charging too much for the few things she had that might have interested me.

That evening we had an invite from the mother of a lady that attends our church. She lives in Weatherford and wanted us to come for dinner. We had a nice time visiting with her, her mother, and her son. She grilled steaks for us. Mine was a ribeye that was about an inch and half thick. It was grilled to perfection, medium rare. Pink on the inside. Looked like a roast. I did my duty and devoured almost the whole thing, left just a couple of bites. But my excuse is that there was a good sized baked potato with all the fixings, salad, bread, and cheesecake for dessert. All things considered the fact that I left just a couple of bites is pretty good. I mean a guy can only eat so much. But it was delicious. We had a very nice time with them and they were most hospitable.

Day 7 - Wednesday, July 12

Michele dropped me and Daniel at the trailhead in the State Park for the Mineral Wells Trailways. It is basically an unused railroad. They had taken up all the rails and ties and have used the bed, which was packed hard as a bike/hike/horse trail. It runs from Mineral Wells to the northwest side of Weatherford. There is also a trail head in the State Park. This is where Daniel and I began our trip riding toward Weatherford 15 miles away. I thought we would ride about 10 miles out and then turn around and come back. There were restroom facilities at about the ten mile mark. Well, when we got there I could tell Daniel was up to the challenge of going all the way to Weatherford, another five miles (it would add 10 miles to the total length of the trip) and I was feeling pretty good my self so I said lets go for it. So we did. All the way to Weatherford fifteen miles away. I was hoping when we got to the trailhead in Weatherford there would be a convenient store to buy some gatorade/poweraid. We had taken water, I think three bottles a piece. When we arrived at the trailhead a park ranger told us the closest convienience store was about two miles away, four miles round trip. Neither of us wanted gatorade that bad. So we just filled our water bottles there. They had two hand pumps going down to a well. That was kind of neat. Filled our bottles rinsed off and we were back on our way. On the way to Weatherford we had noticed a sign eleven miles into the trip that noted the highest point on the trail. So we knew the first four miles back would be mostly uphill and the last eleven would be mostly down hill. The first four were kind of tough. But then the last eleven were mostly down hill on a slight grade. There were about three places that were uphill, and uphill they were. But we made it all the way back to the campsite. It took us about 4 hours and 15 minutes, three hours of riding time to cover 31 miles. Strangely enough we did not feel as fatigued after that 31 miles as we did after the nine miles on the back country trail. The 31 miles did not require negotiating any rocks, or sand. Just up hill. Either Daniel or I or both of us saw about four rabbits, a turkey, some vultures up close, a three foot long snake and about 10 gillion grasshoppers, one of which smacked me right in the face.

That afternoon it was more reading, napping, and reading.

We were invited back to our friend's mother's house that evening to shower and dress for church. We took her up on the offer. We went back to the church in Weatherford. After church we ate at Taco Bell, that's gross. We had to go by the store for some drinks and ice. About fifteen minutes from the park I realized that it was 10:15 and that the gate closed at 10:00 and you had to have a combination to get in. No problem they give you the combination when you check in for your stay. But one of the girls had cleaned out the van, and they did an exceptionally thorough job. The paper with the combination had been thrown away. Maybe they would lock it late tonight. They did not, apparently they are very punctual locking the gate. Well now what?? Daniel and I walked up to the headquarters to see if we could find a number to call. I didn't want to call a number but I was quickly running out of options. The last thing I wanted to do was drag a park ranger out of bed to unlock the gate for which they had given us a combination. But it was either him get out of bed or us sleep in the van, or walk to the campsite and leave the van on the side of the road all night. He was going to have to get out of bed, sorry guy???...... He had nothing to worry about though I could not find a number to call. That's handy. (as we were leaving the park we saw an emergency number posted over the pay phone) Just as I was about to sink in despair and give up all for lost a guy pulling a boat came from the lake and to the locked gate. He got out of his truck and unlocked the gate. Daniel and I made sure we got to him before he was finished and I very politely, and humbly asked if he minded if we came in while he had the gate open. Lucky for him he answered in the affirmative, otherwise I would have had to take him hostage, leave him bound and gagged in order to gain entrance to our beloved State Park. I did not want to have to do it, but...........

Thank you Lord for sending this old fisherman to the rescue. Watched the full moon come up over the lake. It was a glorious event.

Day 8 - Thursday, July 13

Leisurely morning. The kids and I rented a row boat for an hour. It was a lot of fun. We rowed over to the campsite and then out to the middle of the lake. We all took turns at the oars. We usually had one man on each oar. Even Lydia, our nine year old, did a great job manning the oar. On one occasion Daniel was rowing aggressively and the next thing I knew he had thrown the oar overboard and was rolling around in the fetal position in the bottom of the boat at my feet. What in the world is going on here I thought. He literally flipped over backwards and one of our oars was floating away from us. Oh, great Daniel, your demoted! He claims he did not throw the oar overboard but that is sure what it looked like from my position. Any way a lady in a one man kayak glided over, retrieved our oar and brought it to us. Thanks lady, but I could have done it???....... I was going to do it........ Oh, well I didn't have to do it. I mean right when I was about to show my bravery and coolness under pressure a lady comes along and saves the day.....How humiliating.

At 2:30 we met our internet friends at DQ for lunch. Once again had a nice time visiting with them. We were there a couple of hours. We drove around Mineral Wells looking at the old houses. We really like old houses. Some of them had been fixed up really nice. We attempted to check the internet at the local library, what an ordeal. You had to go through a complete Homeland Security background check, name, aliases, mother's maiden name, any felonies ( yea I once assaulted a librarian for asking too many questions), Hey all we want to do is check a couple of websites????? We have no intentions of blowing up the library or anything like that. Well, it probably wasn't that bad???....... After the screening the stupid thing didn't even work....... Oh well.......... we are on vacation anyway, shouldn't be checking the internet on your vacation.

Then we went to The Scoop. An ice cream parlor in Mineral Wells that serves BlueBell. I know, your thinking, what did you eat ice cream every day? Well, no not every day, but most days. Your supposed to eat ice cream on you vacation, right? Right! That's what I thought, so quit interrupting. Everyone else got one scoop on a cake cone. I got two scoops on a waffle cone. I felt guilty....... for about 5 seconds.

Watched the full moon come up over the lake again. That's nice.

Day 9 - Friday, July 14

It is my wife's birthday today. She is four years older then me! Hee hee hee!!

Because it was her birthday that necessitated that the day start with donuts, so it did. We bought donuts in Weatherford because we were on our way to Grandbury. We had been told that there was some good, quaint shopping there. And there was on the town square. Well, so Michele could enjoy her shopping experience we went separate ways. It is not that she does not like shopping with me, she love to shop with me. She took Olivia and I took Daniel, Kimberly, and Lydia with me expecting a nightmare experience. Some of these quaint shops have stuff so precariously perched I scare myself sometimes. You know they have a $325.00 trinket sitting half way off the edge of a shelf with a sign behind it that says, "If you break it, you buy it." But I don't want to buy it. But as it turns out we all had a great experience. I know this is going to come as a surprise to all of you, but we finished about an hour before they did. So, in order to let the birthday girl finish her shopping spree my group drove out to Lake Granbury to look around, got gas and then it was time to pick the girls up.

We then drove back to Weatherford where we ate at Catfish O'harlies. It was a fun place. Their catfish was more bread than fish, that seems to usually be the case. Daniel had frog legs. I had always thought about trying frogs legs, but when confronted with the opportunity I couldn't. Daniel ate them. Afterward when he began to think about it he was a little queasy. That is why you should think before you eat. He said it tasted like fishy chicken. That's gross.

It was back to the campsite for our last evening to enjoy the lake. We did till about 10:30 PM.

Day 10 - Saturday, July 15

We had set a leave time of 11:00 AM. We managed to get away about 9:00AM.

Stopped for coffee in Weatherford. Kind of lost track of where we were, so we came home a different way. The scenic route as I like to call it. My family has other names for it, but what do they know. It was scenic. Stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch buffet. Got home about 5:00 PM. This time we covered the 360 in 8 hours. No blowouts!!

It was fun, and I am glad to be home!
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