Preggers at the Campsite
Coming from a completely unbiased perspective, our baby is the best baby. Roger or Rosie Mathews has made pregnancy easy(ish). Ok there’s still heartburn and restless leg and acne and backne and swollen hands and foot cramps, but otherwise it’s been smooth sailing. So smooth, in fact, that our move across the country became a camping one. We tested out camping in the San Juan islands over Memorial Day and it was San Juan-derful.
The best part about camping whilst preggers, other than the camping and the being preggers, is that you get so much street cred (woods cred?). People would stop to commend my ability to do outlandish things like, um, walk – while JD set up the entire camp and unrolled my princess foam mattress. Budweisers were raised and nods given in approval by fellow campers when they spotted me and my s’mores. Perhaps they were just relieved that the giant creature in the bushes was a big belly instead of Big Foot.
Not every night from Sequim to Grand Rapids was a tented one, but every night was lovely. Here’s where JD and I went on our semi-pragmatic baby moon.
Sequim was hard to leave. It stands as one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Our friends there are peaches, each and every one. My students sent me off with the kind of sentimental lines from Disney films that usually involve a Golden Retriever finding its family. Our neighbors surprised us with baby gifts and a private flight over the peninsula. JD and I don’t have regrets about leaving but will always have Wonderings about the places left unexplored and the friendships that were just beginning. Certainly, we’ll be back to visit.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Not only did it provide endless opportunities for hoe jokes, but Coeur d’Alene was the backdrop for a beautiful first night’s stay. Its craggly lake is a perfect center piece to a town of fun restaurants, cool shops and neighborhoods.
JD called this his favorite small town in America – until we got to Livingston. The town itself is charming and more stylish than I expected. We were there for its proximity to Glacier and camped in the state park. The park was stunning; right on a mountain lake with each site in its own private patch of forest. The only drawback was the train. We thought it would be quite sweet to have a nostalgic choo-choo in the distance. Instead the night was filled with the terrorized screeching of locomotives on crack that threatened to careen into our tent every hour or so. We didn’t sleep well, but it was sure pretty.
Glacier National Park
Holy glacier! This is America’s best national park! Just before heading into Glacier I read an article in an old National Geographic that called nature a religion and the national parks its cathedrals. That phrase came to mind over and over as we walked along stunningly blue mountain lakes and past a moose posing poetically in front of a waterfall. Glacier had the drama and intensity of a national monument, but with virtually no one else there.
This is the “best place in the world, best place in the world”, according to the jovial chap we met who also kindly referred to JD as a “well spoken immigrant” and to me as a “fine lady”. He had every right for his optimism. Livingston was my favorite place on the move out to Washington last year with Mom and I really wanted JD to see it. Here is the treasure of the Treasure State with robust river next to town park and good ol’ cowboy bars set to the backdrop of immense mountains.
Buffalo was a nice little town but seemed to be trying too hard after coming from Livingston. Buffalo’s big claim to fame is a highly stylized saloon once frequented by Butch Cassidy. The waitresses may very well have been the same ones who waited on ol’ Butch. They were equally aghast by JD’s World Cup “snakes” as my milk order, which I wanted in a beer mug to feel more hardcore. The live music was great; the plethora of animal heads was just West of creepy; the waitresses eventually warmed up to us enough to make my 2% a double.
Badlands National Park
So cool! So cool! We pulled in just ahead of two thunderstorms rolling in from opposite directions. We were the only people left on Planet Earth as we watched them moving from the brink of a Martian-like canyon. This place really wowed us. Why isn’t this a more popular park? Oh right, because there is nothing else in the state worth seeing. South Dakota actually offers you free playing cards at the rest stops, proving that the people there are A) nice B) realistic about how little there is to do in their block state. We saw Mount Rushmore. It looks like the pictures but smaller. The tourist “mining camp” is more neon than authentic. Fair enough, the Black Hills are lovely. But the Badlands are tremendous.
BFE, South Dakota
Thanks to being so blown away by the Badlands, we emerged from the park much later than planned. One campsite was full; the next inaccessible from flooding. But no worries, this was America – land of convenience! There would be a Motel 6 around the corner! Wrong. This was the Dakotas. The next town was 247 miles away. We drove. We slept. In the morning we found ourselves on the banks of the Missouri River next to the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Needless to say, it was a small building. We went out in search of a sports bar playing the World Cup. Instead we found an entire town dedicated to second hand shops – with a bonus church jumble sale going on right in the middle of Main Street. We looked at the mighty Missouri River for the obligatory five minutes then drove over to greet the Mississippi River.
We ended our Missouri to Mississippi River drive in Winona, Minnesota. Bonus points for having such a fun name to say. Here we would celebrate JD’s birthday by not driving. I’d gone ahead and booked two nights at the AmericInn to ensure a full day off from the road. It seemed fitting (or should I say fittin’) to spend JD’s first American birthday at a red, white and blue themed hotel on the sho’es of the great M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. Our first impression wasn’t the best. Turns out even small towns can have a rough side. The broken couches on front porches were not the stately charm I had envisioned. But once in town we discovered Winona is in the middle of a Renaissance. At night there was a fantastic concert by the Shook Twins in a beautiful new pavilion next to the river. On JD’s actual birthday we found a funky brewery and charmingly earthy gastropub called Bub’s (“Boobs” the bartender corrected us – that’s the proper German pronunciation), and several picturesque pull outs along the river.
Oh geez, what a great town! Madison surpassed all expectations and made me all the more excited to move back to the Midwest. The lakes are beautiful; the downtown full of fun; the people friendly. We could easily have just unpacked the car right then and there and moved in. Even in the college section of town (which, come to think of it, seemed like most of the town) the frat houses are gorgeous and sit right on the lake! We played the pregnant card and waddled out on to what were clearly private docks to enjoy the sunset. Madison is really, really cool place.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Eleven days after leaving Sequim, we arrived in our new home. Even though I am from Michigan I don’t know Grand Rapids. From what we’ve heard it is a city on the rise; top small US city to raise a family according to Forbes, top American city to visit according to Lonely Planet circa 2014, Michigan Cool City according to Pure Michigan. From what we’ve seen so far it is going to be a great home. Our friends who are from here have introduced us to funky little pockets of breweries in old fire stations, breweries in old post offices, breweries in old churches. There are a lot of breweries. I’m becoming quite the milk-in-mug connoisseur. Our little family-friendly corner is really just lovely. The neighbors are nice; the road is quiet and there are trees, trees, trees. A creek to boot! Our new house is already feeling cozy after an initial mad scramble to prepare for a real, live baby. It will be a wonderful home.
Having family nearby is an absolute pleasure. It is a completely different kind of a move to arrive into an embrace of people you know and love – and have been a ton of help getting settled. The excitement of a new place is there, certainly, but so is a wonderful comfort. I am really happy to be here.
And so, the road trip ends and the next, even greater adventure begins. Roger or Rosie is already a fun (and accommodating) travel partner and a really good little baby. I’ve got the best husband, best family, best friends and best base to start this next thing. Here we go!