Hopkin’s Prairie in the Ocala National Forest

I almost let camping season in Florida get away from me.

Last year, I took my oldest for his first overnight in a tent, which turned into a smashing success. He’s been talking about going back ever since, and I did a poor job of making a new trip happen. I can make a lot of excuses – among others, Payne’s Prairie, where we went last year, got jacked up by Hurricane Irma – but those are all excuses.  The probability of us going on a trip this year went down with each passing weekend.

But my boy, he is tenacious.  At one point he and my wife played a wishing game – I think throwing coins into a fountain – and he told her he wished for more adventures.

My heart went *bloop* because, well, I also wish for more adventures, and when my boy is wants to head down the path I want to take him down … I want to be a follow-through kind of Dad.  This pushed me to start researching dates, places, and weather. Payne’s Prairie was an option again, but the recent hurricane flooded the area and caused limited site availability. Other somewhat local state parks and designations did not have any campsite availability, either. So after poking around, I settled on a primitive, un-reservable campsite in the Ocala National Forest called Hopkin’s Prairie.

The word “prairie” deserves some discussion here – the word has been used twice now. When I hear the word “prairie,” I conjure up a mental image of the Great Plains of the American Mid-West – miles of grassland almost never punctured by trees or, for that matter, features of any kind.  In Florida, “prairie” still means grassland, but the scale is different. Here, the grasslands in question are formed by low-lying seasonal marshes that flood in the rainy season and can’t support stands of trees. The major ones, like Payne’s Prairie, can look like they go on forever when you stand in them, but for most of them you can see the forest pick up on the other side.

Hopkin’s Prairie is one of these low-lying areas in the Ocala National Forest, set in a sea of Florida scrub interspersed by islands of longleaf pine. The campsite is seasonal, only open from early November through June 1.  The primary reason for the seasonality is as much about bugs as heat, too. Any time you hear the phrase “low-lying marsh,” feel free to substitute the words “mosquito factory.”  The area is all-the-way primitive – no running water, only a moldering toilet, and the 22 campsites are not electrified – so the end of April is starting to risk yucky weather. Read more

Take a look, it’s in a book…

One of the best parts about being a parent and a full-blown adult is getting to be Santa Claus during Christmas. I get into the role – while my wife and I do the big Santa presents together, I am in charge of all of the stockings, including mine. This is serious business, and I take it seriously. While there are some throwaways in the group, I try hard to make the stocking gifts thoughtful and meaningful for all of us. We have some traditions – everybody gets an ornament every year, etc. But my favorite tradition is that each of us receives books from Santa every year.

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A Letter to My Son on His First Day of Kindergarten

Son –

When you were born, I kind of knew that there were going to be feelings and experiences and levels of exhaustion coming that I could not expect.  I expected to be surprised by the unexpected, if that makes any sense.  And that was all true, but there was one thing that stuck out to me the most as something I truly and really did not see coming.

It turns out, when you are holding a little baby in your arms, and when you are watching that little baby start to turn into a small person, you get an overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect that little creature.  In every way possible.  You obviously want to physically protect it – but you also want to protect it emotionally and psychologically.  Childhood innocence is real, and it is beautiful.  I dread the process by which you will, slowly but surely, lose that innocence.  Kids are cruel – they make you feel self-conscious about nearly anything, they laugh at you and hurt your feelings, they are cruel in a way that only kids can be.  Read more

My Favorite Thing I’ve Ever Done

Last week, after a work trip up to North Carolina, I wound up attending an afternoon class at Celebration Crossfit, which is rare.  Normally it is either 6am or it doesn’t happen.  But, I was there, and the CCF social media guy – and fantastic photographer – Guillermo was also there, but waiting for the class after mine to start.  Guillermo takes great photos everyday at CCF, but they tend to be of the same-ish group of folks because of his timing for being in the box.  Since I was different, I was a target for him – we were doing push presses, which I suck at, and he got this shot, which was posted to the CCF social media sites with some very kind words:

Push Presses – 175#, a 10lb PR

It is always fun to have my picture featured on the sites – I still find it to be a bit surreal – but then this one had a little follow-up.  My wife showed it to my kids, and the 5-year old apparently studied it for a minute, got all wide-eyed, and gave a big thumbs-up.  And then moved on.  Like a 5-year old.  When she told me this, I initially smiled and also moved on … but over the last few days, this little moment – one I didn’t even see – has stuck with me.  Maybe it is that we’re having a challenging few weeks at home – summertime means the boys are out of their routine, which means they can be little disasters – or maybe it is because Father’s Day just passed, or maybe it is because a couple of close friends and colleagues recently lost their dads … whatever is driving it, fatherhood is on my mind. Read more

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Back in August, relatively early in my current path to fitness, I wrote this post, in which I articulated some secondary goals related to my fitness.  These are not goals about the fitness itself – they are goals that address a theme I’d call “How I Want to Live My Life”.  For the record, though I couldn’t have done so when I wrote that post, I can sum the answer to that up in one word now – Adventure.

One of those goals is worth quoting in its entirety:

Start keeping track of bag nights.  I love to hike and camp, and I don’t do it enough because it can be hard.  I don’t have the energy, and the physical work is just exhausting.  It has been on the order of years since I’ve done even minor camping.  That has to change, if for no other reason than that I’m committed to introducing my kids to the outdoors.

And so last weekend I took my oldest son on his first camping trip. Read more