Play and camp

While my mom has slowed down her mountain climbing a tad at age 64, she still loves the Great Outdoors. So far, there’s every indication that my daughter is cut of the same cloth.

Earlier this summer, Grace and I went camping with some friends at Blue Mounds State Park, where we embarked on a roughly four-mile hike on which she did pretty well. There were a couple of times when she rode on my shoulders, but she was a real trooper and the ‘Daddy, I’m tired’ whines were at a wonderful minimum.

This weekend, my 4-year-old and I did our third “Daddy and me” camping trip of the summer. The first time we stayed right in Worthington; the second two excursions were to Spirit Lake, Iowa, and Spencer, Iowa, respectively.The trip to Spencer, for the most part, happened for one primary reason: a park — or should I say, an enormous playground.

I had earlier thought about heading over to Pipestone (an adventure we may try to complete yet this year), but for some reason Spencer popped into my head Saturday morning. Becca and I had been down there more than seven years ago, and we enjoyed the town yet had never been back. I did a little research on the Web and in a couple of clicks found the clincher: The “Miracle on 4th Street.”

It was hard to tell online just how sizeable this “Miracle” was, but it was clear that it was some type of good-sized place to play. And once we got down to Spencer — after our second summer round of mini-golf at Treasure Village in Okoboji — we were far from disappointed. “It’s huge!!” Grace immediately shouted.

Grace entertained herself at the playground —which had slides, swings, tires, climbing apparatuses, you name it — while I grilled our burgers in a nearby pavilion. She made a couple of friends around her age — a girl and boy — while cavorting around, and it was extremely difficult to get her to sit still while eating her dinner (never mind the fact she was more interested in the BBQ chips than her hamburger). Then, after dinner, she quite reluctantly got in the car and went with me to find a camping spot.

Well, we found one, and almost immediately there were four youngsters (ages 3 through 7) over playing with Grace. Meanwhile, I was trying to navigate the tent, something which is never as easy as it should be for me … and certainly no piece of cake when I’ve got five children scurrying about. The tent was eventually set up with the assistance of the dad of two of the kids (there were two boys and two girls, who were the boys’ cousins), but not before Grace’s babies, pillows and pajamas, as well as our sleeping mats, were strewn about in various directions.

While I normally look forward to spending one-on-one time with my daughter on our little getaways, it was wonderful to see her have so much fun playing with others. We were invited across the road for S’mores later that night, and there was more fun at the playground with the four youngsters early the next morning. The absolute highlight for Grace (and more than a little embarrassing for Dad): The 3-year-old boy, full of innocence, running off from the playground to go potty in broad daylight in front of all of us. We got a good front and back view. The air was filled with giggling kids, and all I could really do was shake my head and try desperately not to laugh along with them. I know my mom — experienced outdoorswoman that she is — wouldn’t have been able to contain her guffaws.

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