Monday, August 26, 2013

Adventures in Camping - Table Rock Lake

You know you're going camping with a good coupla people when the first thing you do, gearing up for the four hour car ride, is blast "On the Open Road" from a Goofy Movie.

Yes, a couple of coworkers and I were headed four hours south of St. Louis to Table Rock Lake in Southern Missouri, where we hoped to have a relaxing weekend filled with camping, scuba diving, and s'mores. We'd spent the last couple weeks planning this adventure and couldn't be more excited - the days at work leading up to the big trip were spent with high fives and random shouts of "WE'RE GOING CAMPING!". No WAY our other coworkers could have been annoyed.

After gleefully skipping out of work and waiting patiently for my camping buddies to finish their respective shifts, it was time to leave. Sort of. We had to stop at Target, decided what we needed we could get at Wal-Mart cheaper (don't worry, we also discussed the ethical ramifications of shopping at Wal-Mart), and then we started our 4 hour drive to Table Rock Lake.

We arrived at 2:30 in the morning. Quietly, quickly, we set up camp in an unreserved site by the water - Campground 2 in the State Park was remarkably full and we decided not to incur the wrath of our slumbering neighbors.

Things I learned on this Camping Trip #1 - my coworkers heard me sleeping even though I had my own tent. Apparently I make a "meeeeeeeem" "meeeeeeem" "meeeeeeeeem" snore. That actually sounds pretty adorable.

Bright and early the next morning, we woke up and discussed the agenda for the day. In the daylight, I realized that Table Rock State Park isn't as remote as I thought it would be. I guess I figured since it was a State Park it would be situated in a more rugged Ozark setting, but across the water I saw finely manicured lawns that led uphill to grand lake houses. Being only a 10 minute drive from Branson, this wasn't a surprise, really. Despite being close-knit to civilization the area definitely provided a relaxing atmosphere. We were also surprisingly close to the Marina, which was only a couple minute walk away.

There was a minor incident before we had a chance to register our site and explore the marina - we were at the bottom of a steep hill, and had been chatting with some guys who had been camping across from us (they were sleeping in hammocks, and apparently didn't know we had even set up during the night). As we were talking, we see a little girl zip down the road down the hill on her bike, nearly wiping out at the bottom as the road curved to the left. We sighed with relief as she continued on her way.

Then we heard it.

CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK. Something was coming, fast, over the hill. CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK. It was gaining speed. The uneven sound of small wheels hitting the pavement was unmistakable - and then we saw him. He was about 4 or 5, and a speed demon with training wheels. CLACKCLACKCLACKCLACKCLACK - he was gaining speed down the hill and showed no signs of stopping. This was going to end badly.

He wasn't crying. Wasn't screaming. Silently, stoically, the little boy met his impending doom head-on with the tired grimace of a seasoned warrior. As he came close to the bend, he lost control of the wildly flailing bike and veered into the grass, losing no momentum, and headed straight for the hammock campers. More accurately, his path was going to end abruptly face-first in the picnic table bolted to the site. The other campers heroically stood in his way, blocking his date with the Tooth Fairy with their bodies. We ran towards them ready to help because we knew this would probably end badly. Somehow, he lost enough speed in just enough time that mere inches away from the table he ever-so-slowly fell off his bike. Astonished by all the adults standing around exclaiming their concern, he silently picked up his bike and headed back up the hill. His sister never even stopped.

Anyway. The marina had within it probably the nicest State Park gift shop I have ever seen - high end merchandise for the fashionable boater, I suppose. In the back was the scuba rent area, and we had planned on diving their $89 package that included all the gear, the boat, the divemaster, and an hour dive in the Lake. However, the Captain was short handed or something for a couple days and we were left high and dry. There would be no diving for us. While we ran through the various stages of grief at the loss of our diving opportunity. I haven't been diving since 2011, so I was especially disappointed, but them's the breaks.

Things I learned while Camping #2 - Make reservations for diving in advance

We did go kayaking/canoeing and were able to snorkel a bit. One coworker of mine had never done either, and experienced the usual learning curve of canoeing - you WILL spend approximately 2000 hours going in circles. We think we might have convinced him to get his diving certification, as well. The visibility in Table Rock Lake wasn't spectacular, but wasn't too horrible either. Small fish darted in and out of view, and plenty of rocks and submerged logs provided lots of things to explore.

Later that night we decided to venture in to Branson and settled on go-karting on some course that had 4 levels.

Things I learned on this Camping Trip #3 - I don't care if you're a parent and child enjoying a go-kart ride - this is serious business and my friend and I are in the midst of a race of honor. Sorry if I cut you off....four times.

That night we attempted to make a camp fire. Our firewood was damp, the moisture steaming out of the ends of the logs, and not even the heroic efforts of our neighbor's lighter fluid could make the fire survive. We made it through a modest dinner of corn on the cob (foil wrapped, and they turned out DELICIOUS), baked beans, and hot dogs. We struggled through s'more making, grinning and bearing the hell out of the situation.

The next day, the embers from the logs were actually hot enough that we were able to start another fire with no problem. This fire ROCKED. We had oatmeal and s'mores for breakfast, and waited for the fire to die so we could head back to St. Louis after we snorkeled in the water by our site. But it never did. It never did. No, the fire only grew stronger as if making amends for it's lousy attitude the night before. Finally, I doused the proud fire with water, and we broke down camp.

The weather had been perfect, the nights bright and starry, the days serene and warm. With a bit more planning, I definitely think I would stay at Table Rock again - especially if it meant more time to explore the hiking and biking trails*. The State Park had plenty of amenities and was close to family attractions and opportunities to explore nature alike, and it's proximity to a fairly large tourist destination wasn't detracting from the park (at least, not in the beginning of slow season). For now, it was back to work we go.

*If you'd like to read more about what I think about this particular region of Missouri, you can donate to my tip jar to speed up my savings for my next camping excursion.

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