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Colin and I decided to go on one more river trip before fall turned to winter. We decided to head back to the Meramec River and chose the 20 miles upriver from Onagonda Cave State Park as our destination. This would be our longest trip of the year but we were feeling experienced and ready for it.
I told Colin that I would be picking him up early from school. He was very excited about this because it meant he did not have to lay down for a nap! I left work early on Friday, September 24th to pick him up and we headed home to load the car. We left town and headed towards Jefferson City. Not having a nap, Colin was getting very tired and cranky. Being that he loves pizza, I stopped at a Pizza Hut for dinner and he really enjoyed that! After we got back on the road he soon was snoozing peacefully. The only drawback to this was that it had taken time...and we were behind schedule. I tried making good time, but as we worked our way down to I-44 and then off onto highway H near Leasburg I began to think we were not going to make it to our outfitters, Ozark Outdoors, before they closed at 10:00. Then, as we were heading downhill towards the river I saw the cop, but too late. Sure enough I had been caught in the local speed trap. On a steep hill the speed limit dropped from 45 to 35 and the to 25 in a matter of a few hundred feet. The cop was very polite and when he saw it was myself and my 3 year old with our Kayak strapped to the roof of the car and I explained we were trying to get there before close he let us off with a warning. I was very pleased, but it was now 9:55 and I was not sure we would make it.
Fortunately for us, there was someone reserving rafts for the next day that was taking their time and trying to bargain their way into a bigger raft for the same price. So, by 10:20 we were finally able to check in. I arranged for our shuttle the next morning and asked if we could rent a cabin as I did not want to mess with setting up camp that night. They had winterized most everything already but had a hotel room available...it just didn't have linens. Since we had our sleeping bags this was not a problem. So, just as we were finishing unpacking what we needed for the night it started sprinkling. By the time we were in our room it was a full on downpour! We got settled in and slept very peacefully with the rain outside. Good thing I went for the room as we would have been setting up the tent right as the rain hit!
The next morning we checked in and went to meet our shuttle down by the river. He rode with us to the Bird's Nest put-in and took our car back. There were two older gentlemen putting in for a day of fishing and they were very impressed that Colin was going along. We soon passed them and were on our way. The river was very scenic, and although the water was too cold for swimming, we stopped several times to stretch our legs and for Colin to practice skipping rocks. At one point we came across a rope swing and he really wanted to try it until I reminded him how cold the water was. He made me promise that we would go back next year so he could do it.
He has been a very good sport about the long days on the water, but it was on this trip that I really realized he enjoys the time in camp much more than beig in the boat. So, even though we had only gone 8 miles, I stopped when we found the perfect gravel bar with 4 hours left until sundown. He had lots of fun playing and exploring while I setup camp and made us some dinner. We have typically not done a campfire because it was always late and we were exhausted, but this time I thought it would be a special treat. We found some driftwood and soon had a nice little fire. He really enjoyed helping me cut the wood, and when he scraped himself with the saw he was pleased to see that I had brought band aids. After the fire died down and he tired of poking at the coals we retired to our tent to read stories and watch movies on the iPhone. The forecast had called for thunder storms so I turned on the weather radio. It seemed that they were coming our way, and sure enough we could see lightning to the South. Someone was looking out for us though because they stayed to the South and it never once rained on us in the night. We soon dozed off and slept peacefully.
The next day we slept in until after 8:00 and didn't hit the water until close to 10:00. We had a couple paddle by as we were making breakfast. They had put in just up river and had stayed not far behind us. After letting the tent fly dry in the sun we loaded up camp and embarked. The day consisted of even more gorgeous scenery and we took it all in with the occasional stop to play. Later in the day we passed two guys in a canoe and a younger girl (12-14) in he own Kayak. It was a blue Wilderness Systems Pamlico. Colin thought he needed one like that someday. I think he is right!
I had been a bit worried about having to do 12 miles on day two with our early stop the day before, but the river was flowing nicely with few obstacles so we made excellent time. We reached the car just after 3:00 and I took my time packing while he went swimming. He was freezing but didn't seem to mind! I got him into some dry clothes and he was snoozing before we hit the highway. He slept most of the way home and I enjoyed the quiet drive. This was the longest trip of the year, but it had been the one that was the most enjoyable and had the least amount of challenges. A perfect way to end the season!