The patio pavement is warm on my back as I stare at the night sky. Crickets and cicadas serenade in an euphonic chorus. Trees frame a window of stars; city lights glow dim on the horizon. Still, it is dark enough to see the brightest of flashes. There! A meteor streaks suddenly across the sky, burning quickly into dust. The Leonids are peaking. My wife heads in and I harvest cucumbers by flashlight with the boy, who won’t go back to bed. With enough in hand to finish a batch of pickles, we head in and preserve the garden’s bounty. We lie on the patio again and gaze into infinity. There! Another rock quickly slides to oblivion and I tuck the boy into bed.
My wife and son stayed home to go to one of his friend’s birthday parties. That meant Sylvia, 2, and I got to go camping. She was very excited to go and talked about camping all week.
We took several Great Park Pursuit (GPP) trips this summer and this was to be the latest. The GPP encourages participants to visit up to 20 GPP sites located across Nebraska between May 1 and Sept. 17, 2018. Players follow clues that will lead them to a GPP post, where they use a pencil to make an impression of the post or use the mobile app to prove they were there. We used the phone app.
While we were packing the car, Luke sent George with us and let Sylvia take his fishing pole and hiking stick (we didn’t use any of it, but it was very nice of him to offer).
We left Saturday morning after breakfast (frozen waffles). The first stop was Heartwell Park in Hastings. We had a picnic lunch of turkey sandwiches and chips. Sylvia watched ducks by the “treasure” (our name for the GPP posts that were the goal of the trip), located on a small island. Then, Sylvia changed into her swimsuit to splash her feet in the wading pool for a few minutes.
The next stop was Melham Park in Broken Bow. The “treasure” was right next to where we parked but we didn’t see it and ended up walking around quite a bit. Sylvia wanted to go to the splash park. It was only $4, but I didn’t know what the camping situation would be at our destination and thought we’d be able to swim in the natural spring-fed lake at Victoria Springs. So, we headed to Victoria Springs State Recreation Area. It was a very cute little park with camping areas nestled amongst the cottonwood trees. There weren’t many places where we could hang the hammock because most trees were well beyond 10 feet apart. The best was near the campground entrance but far from the restrooms. This would come into play later. Sylvia enjoyed playing on the vintage playground equipment, especially the tall slide and merry-go-round. We also went on a paddleboat ride in the small lake. She picked the shiny, red boat. The lake was coated with a thick layer of algae, so swimming was out. Fishing was out too; the park staff guy said all the fish had died off. Interestingly, Sylvia recognized the park guy after we had spoken to him briefly and then later went looking for him to rent the boat.
We set up the hammock, bug net and tarp and cooked hotdogs and baked beans on the Coleman stove. After clean-up, it was about time for bed. I took Sylvia to the potty and we settled in around 8. Over the next 2.5 hours Sylvia had us get up and walk the several-hundred yard trek to the bathroom to potty or poo. We’d get to the bathroom, Sylvia’d sit on the toilet and pee, or not, then say she was done, wash and dry hands and I’d carry her back to the hammock and she’d wave at the campground host. Then, just as we laid back down, Sylvia would say “I have to poop.” So we’d get up. Go back. she’d sit a moment and say “all done,” and repeat. The last three trips (of about 8), Sylvia actually did poop … all three times. Like, she wasn’t done and didn’t realize it until we were back in the hammock. Sylvia finally fell asleep near 11 and we woke up around 6, got up, made oatmeal and tea and headed out to the next park.
Calamus State Recreation Area was a little disappointing. It was a gorgeous lake and the drive through the Sandhills to get there was quite pretty. But without a boat, there was little to do (actually, the fish hatchery would have been cool but Sylvia refused). The playground was pitiful and dominated by bigger boys. We left right after finding the treasure and headed to the last stop: York Ballpark Complex (at her request we ate pizza at Pizza Hut before). It was actually closed and the access was barred with a chained gate, but we jumped the gate, found the kiosk, took the picture then headed across the street to the Family Aquatic Center. Her admission was free, but I had to pay $6. They had a kiddie pool with sprinklers and a toddler slide. Sylvia tried the slide, but her head dunked under water at the bottom and she was too afraid to try again. We got Sylvia’s flotation vest from the car and she played with some of the sprinklers for a while before she said she wanted to go home. Then we went home.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
A forecast of overnight thunderstorms — and our tent lacking a rainfly — caused us to change our Nebraska Great Park Pursuit plans. Instead of an overnight 5-park trip, we packed three parks into a day trip to the Omaha area.
We found a windmill and played on slides at Chalco Hills Recreation Area, threw twigs into the Missouri River at Miller’s Landing in Omaha and played at the splash park and explored at Platte River State Park. Not only was the splash park a hit, but splashing in the stream around the waterfall at the middle of the park was a big hit with the kids.
A cajun restaurant in Omaha was the choice for lunch and the day ended with a burger dinner in Lincoln.
The prior week I picked up a pair of parks — Rockford Lake and Verdon State Recreation Area — on the way to and from a client in Topeka. The latter of those may entice me to bring a fishing pole on my next trip.
As I take each step, I focus on two things: Birdsong and breathing. The birds chirp in the dawn sky, I breath in comfortably … and exhale. I look at my watch less to see when I next can walk between stretches of jogging. I am up from 30 seconds of running to 10 minutes at a time. Sometimes, I don’t look at the watch at all. Sometimes I do, then its back to birdsong and breathing. I recognize the calls of red-wing blackbirds, but there are other birds I don’t know. My breathing is less labored now that it was two months ago. Breath in. Breath out. Run a little further.
The game is afoot. The Nesheim clan began the 2018 Great Park Pursuit Memorial Day weekend with a two-day overnight jaunt to three sites in the challenge and several other parks for good measure. The trip contained several milestones: the first overnight outdoor camping for the kids, ages 4 and 2, my first hammock camping experience, the boy’s first time fishing, the girl’s first theatrical movie and both kids’ first drive-in movie.
The Great Park Pursuit is a contest by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Recreation and Park Association to promote active lifestyles and increase awareness of the state’s outdoor recreation opportunities. There are kiosks at 20 parks and recreation areas where teams make an etching or submit a photo via app to document the visit and qualify for prizes. For us, it was an excuse to see areas of the state — our home the past five years — we have not yet been and to get the kids’ introduced to the outdoors.
Our first stop was the Neligh Mill State Historic site. Once the third-largest water-powered mill in the state, it is the state’s only 19th century flour mill with the original equipment in place. Mandy realized that she’d been there on a childhood trip with her grandparents. We planned to camp nearby in Fred Penn Park, not on the tour but with inexpensive camping near the movie theater (actually, the flimsy fee box was broken so we should mail in payment). We picnicked in nearby Riverside Park and checked out the campground, but it lacked trees spaced an appropriate distance to hang my hammock.
Then we headed up to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. Future paleontologist Sylvia, 2, was in heaven checking out the “fossil bones.” A watering hole at the site was engulfed by volcanic ash 12 million years ago, entombing innumerable animals. I walked the dog outside while Mandy took the kids into the museum then we all went into the dig barn (dogs allowed).
Then it was back to Neligh to set up the tent and hammock at Fred Penn. While Luke, 4, and I fished for his very first time (actually, he tried a year ago at a fishing expo but fell in before he cast a line), Mandy and Sylvia went out for ice cream. Luke caught a dogfish (he hooked our border collie’s tail). We saw the new Star Wars film at the TK-Starlite Drive-In. My first movie at a theater was Star Wars, Luke’s was The Last Jedi and Sylvia’s is Solo. Between the dim screen, bathroom trips, snack and beverage refills and fending off climbing kids, I think the movie might have been pretty good.
The kids slept incredibly well and none of our pre-trip fears of frightened children or kids unzipping the tent and going on a late night walkabout manifested. Sylvia tucked up with me in the hammock and slept the night through. Luke and Mandy shared the tent. The kids and I awoke refreshed.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast on our new Coleman two-burner stove — the classic green kind — and a new set of used metal cookware that I’d picked up cheap at a thrift store. Then it was off to Lewis and Clark State Recreation area on the Missouri River near Crofton. A short hike to a scenic overlook took us to the Great Park Pursuit kiosk. The kids were fantastic on the trail: Luke led the way part of the time with his miniature hiking pole I made as a scaled down version of mine. I’ll do a how-to tutorial at some point.
The final stop was the Summit Lake State Recreation Area near Tekamah. We had originally planned to camp and there were several suitable spots available, but it was 100 degrees and nobody was looking forward to several hours in the heat when we were less than two hours from home. We’ve already made plans to visit 15 more of the sites.
Luke, 4, went on his first backcountry hike. We started at our rented cabin and headed down a steep trail to the East Lake Trail, which went along the shore of Backbone Lake in northeast Iowa. He cheerily ran ahead to look at birds and plants and asked questions about everything. Then, he had to poop. Fortunately, we hadn’t gone too far and my mom had reached her hiking limit and took him back (they made it back in time). My aunt and I continued along the trail, caught a frog as the trail went through a boggy area before making the steep climb up namesake Devil’s Backbone.
We returned via the Bluebird Trail, and I even spied a bluebird flitting across the trail. This trail was wider and more open than the lakeshore trail, going through several small and sunny clearings, before making a steep descent back to the East Lake Trail. In total, our loop was 3 miles.
The previous day we had hiked a few paved trails in the park, exploring the dams at the south end of the lake, and at the north end a cave and trout stream with a handicap-accessible stream-side paved trail. An angler showed Luke a pair of trout he’d caught and we spotted several swimming in the spring-fed creek.
My son Luke, 4, joined me running for the first time. He completed the first 1.5-minute running segment at my pace. At his request, we then walked him back to my wife and 2-year-old daughter, who were following behind with the stroller and I forged ahead solo. After finishing the first half of my 30-minute run, I met up with them on the return and he joined me for the the final three run-walk segments of my training regimen at a slightly reduced pace (16:15/mile vs. 14:38/mile). He could probably do a mile of running and walking at that pace. I think I might have him join me for some short recovery runs on area trails more often. Maybe we will do some informal fartlek training (lets run to the big tree, OK, now walk to the bridge) rather than sticking to the stopwatch. I can’t help but think if I had gotten into running as a little kid, high school soccer pre-season training wouldn’t have been quite as brutal.
Three weeks in and I have stuck to my run plan, even walking and running during a work trip to Kansas. Consistently logging food to track calories, protein, fats, carbohydrates and other nutrients, including measuring portions with scale and scoop has kept me on target as well: Three weeks, eight pounds lost, 42 to go.
I realize, early weeks can have disproportionate weight-loss success, as water is a greater proportion of body mass and comes off easier. That’s OK. I’m moving in the right direction. I’m also generally eating healthier: not so much in food choices, but portion control. Even a day of splurging — duly recorded — stayed within 100 calories of target. The challenge in coming weeks will be to stick with it. It takes 30 days to build a habit and I’m not yet a month in.
An interesting side note: in my first week of running, I ran for 30 minutes four days a week, with each run divided into alternating 30-second running segments followed by 2 minutes of walking. Each week, I added 30 seconds to the run portion to my current 1:30 running and 2 minutes walking. The funny bit is that despite running three times as much, my overall run time and distance remain the same of a little over 2 miles at around 14:45 minutes per mile. Apparently, the longer the run segments last, the slower I go.