If there’s one thing our family loves to do, it’s celebrate! We chose to celebrate our first anniversary of marriage with an anniversary trip (or mini vacation/camping trip/anniversary celebration to Northern Iowa!)
If there’s one thing our family loves to do, it’s celebrate. Alan and I were pretty big on celebrations before we got married, but it’s definitely something we have incorporated into our marriage as well. Whether it’s taking the time to recognize a small victory like a new job, turning in a tough grad school assignment, or completing a hard race, we celebrate. If it’s something bigger — finding out scores for a hard test or completing another year of grad school — we celebrate. That celebration isn’t always a big ordeal either. It isn’t always buying something, going out to dinner, or anything like that. It’s just making sure we are taking intentional time to be thankful, proud, and joyful about whatever needs to be celebrated.
This past week, Alan and I celebrated one year of marriage. It’s crazy because I think we’re both still just so thankful we are even married to each other at all, and then to realize it’s been one year is nuts. Regardless of how long it’s felt like, we thought being intentional about how we celebrated was important. We realize that each year will probably look very different because we will not have the same opportunities each year, but this year we decided to plan a mini vacation to celebrate. Thus began the minimal planning for our mini vacation/camping trip/anniversary celebration or whatever we should call it — we called it all 3 names depending on the day.
I say minimal planning because we did not put much effort into the early stages of this trip. We decided a couple of months ago that I would save vacation days so I could take off work the second half of the week, but we didn’t know where we were going to go. We had an urge to travel north and also wanted to be near a lake (which makes total sense for the beginning of July, right?) so we looked at Google Maps and zoomed around looking for random lakes. We found Lake Okoboji, a popular lake in Northern Iowa, and booked a campsite in Gull Point State Park. It’s worth mentioning that we had never heard of Lake Okoboji before that night but once we shared we were going there, we received very positive feedback from some Iowans that Lake Okoboji was awesome, so that was encouraging.
I think it’s also worth mentioning this was another trip where we were going to ball on a budget, which is the reason we decided to camp instead of rent a house. You’ve probably heard me say “balling on a budget” a lot recently, which is just the season of life we are in right now. We still want to go on trips and travel to new places, but don’t have a large budget to do so, which means we find ways to make it work. Yes, we like staying in rentals as well, and we have plans to do so in the future, but for this trip the best option for us was to camp.
Other than booking the campsite and requesting vacation days at work, that was about the extent of our planning. Technically I went to the grocery store to pack our meals for the trip and checked out some books from the library, but that was really all we decided to do beforehand. There’s some beauty in taking a trip without having much plans. We would get to make decisions based on how we were feeling, what looked exciting, or what we needed.
So, here goes, our mini vacation/camping trip/anniversary celebration/trip to Northern Iowa.
I didn’t think Tuesday deserved it’s own subtitle, but technically it felt like our trip started on Tuesday at 5 p.m. because that’s when I got off work for the day and my vacation officially started. Tuesday night consisted of dinner together and going to Trivia Night at Maxwell’s with our good friends, The Franklins, where we proceeded to get destroyed at president/history-themed trivia. We left trivia early, not because we were losing so badly, but because there was a fireworks display that I wanted to watch. We didn’t bring any chairs or blankets to watch the fireworks so we ended up watching the display in the car with our seats reclined, listening to country music, while eating some snack plates. It ended up being way better than we expected PLUS we protected our hearing while staying in the car. Win-win.
Wednesday morning we wanted to hit the road pretty early, so as soon as our alarms went off, we hopped out of bed, packed up the car with all of our gear, ate some breakfast, and hit the road. (You’ll see in the pictures below that we don’t have a very strategic way to pack our car — the strategy is “make everything fit in the small amount of available space.” Also, we are interested in purchasing a truck in the future so spread the word if you know any good deals.) We packed things like: a laundry basket of dried goods to eat, a cooler with food that needed to be kept cold, a smaller cooler of drinks, towels, sleeping bags, a tent, sleeping pads, clothes, books, sunscreen, dishes, a lantern, lighter, hammocks, camping chairs, a speaker, and the other necessary camping supplies. We’ve camped several times together so we know exactly what we want to pack for these kinds of trips.
After packing up the car, we spent the next six hours of the day driving north. The car ride consisted of singing, listening to podcasts as well as the soundtrack to Book of Mormon (a musical Alan likes). We took a pit stop for lunch at Hawkeye Park (thanks for the recommendation, Shari!), half way through the trip. Hawkeye Park is a little park in Ankeny, Iowa where we were able to spend 20 minutes stretching our legs and eating lunch under a pavilion. Note: If you’re looking for ways to save money, packing lunches to eat while traveling is a big money saver! After lunch, we stopped at QuikTrip, my favorite gas station in all the land. If we are traveling and there’s a QT nearby, you bet your bottom dollar we are stopping for drinks or slushes. The QT drinks and lunch fueled the rest our journey driving straight North until we reached our destination.
We drove through the rain, but by the time we arrived at Gull Point State Park, an Iowa State Park on Lake Okoboji, the rain had stopped. The pause in rain gave us the perfect window of opportunity to setup our campsite. Again, this wasn’t our first rodeo so setup took approximately 13 minutes to pitch the tent, lay out our sleeping bags, open our camp chairs, and crack open a cold one. (Yes, opening a cold one and proceeding to enjoy the drink in our camp chairs is included in set up). As we sat in our chairs, we then watched our neighbors at the next-door campsite get tickets and then kicked out of the Park for underage drinking — it turns out they were all minors and they were using a beer bong as a Sheriff drove by…. We decided to peace out and explore as they were blowing into the breathalyzer and showing their fake ID’s.
We walked all around the State Park looking for walking trails as well as the beach, which we couldn’t find. I asked a fisherman where the beach was which made him laugh and say “Underwater! It’s gone!” Well, one of the reasons we wanted to go to a lake was so we could enjoy time on a beach so we stopped by the DNR Office to talk to the rangers. I asked about the available places to visit and things to do. The officers said that because of all of the recent flooding (we didn’t know before the trip there was flooding) that beaches were minimal. However, they recommended a few beaches a couple of miles north we could drive to, one of which was called Spirit Lake, a lake north of Lake Okoboji. The officers also told us that the annual firework display that was supposed to happen over the lake that night was cancelled due to the high waters…which that was a bummer because I sure love the fireworks.
We walked back to our campsite and ate an easy dinner of tuna bowls and veggies. After dinner, we drove around the area so we could get our bearings and find Spirit Lake to see if there was a beach. Lucky for us, there was beach, so we planned on spending the next day there. We continued driving and ended up at Mini Waken State Park, another small State Park in Northern Iowa. We parked our car on the boat ramp in front of the unpopulated lake to watch the sunset and dance on the dock.
We weren’t quite ready to go back to our campsite yet so we asked ourselves “Where should be go?” We looked at our map and realized we were very close to Minnesota, so we drove the five minutes it took to get there. It was very uneventful, however, and there wasn’t any sort of scenery change or sign that made it look like we were in Minnesota — if it wasn’t for the fact that I was looking at a map I would have not known we were there. After making a u-turn we stopped at Taco John’s where Alan got a taco (which was just alright) because we had never been there before.
We drove back to camp and spent some time in our camp chairs until we were both pretty tired. For some reason we aways end up tired really early in the night (the same thing happened on our camping trip to Smoky Mountain National Park) so we were in the tent by 9 p.m. At this point in the night is when Alan and I began to have very different experiences. At first, I was wide awake and Alan was tired so he started to fall asleep. Him falling asleep made me tired so then I read a book for a little bit and then passed out (also, I’m a hard sleeper so I can sleep through conditions like loud noises, uncomfortable ground, heat, etc.). Unfortunately for Alan, he is not blessed with the “sleep through any conditions” genes, and listened to the longest and loudest firework display (even though the official Okoboji fireworks were cancelled) as he laid on the mat with me sleeping right by him. That’s the thing with camping — you can’t always predict how the night will go and so many factors can impact your sleep such as weather, bugs, noises, etc. Anyway, I slept and I think Alan did too….eventually…
One of my favorite things is waking up outside and with the sun. Because of that, I always look forward to either waking up in my hammock or in a tent — in this case, our trusty tent. Mornings in a tent are usually a bit slower than mornings in a home.
After a slow waking-up process, we got up and had some breakfast. We specifically didn’t feel like cooking much on this trip so we packed meals that required minimal preparation time on our end. We had coffee, which was essential, and then I made a bowl of oatmeal with banana, strawberries, and almond butter. Alan made a bagel with cream cheese. Both meals were super quick and easy!
After a quick breakfast, we both agreed to take a long, long walk. Now I am one who is absolutely always on board for long walks, but sometimes Alan takes some extra convincing. However, I must give him credit because he was the one who initiated this 8 miler. Lake Okoboji is huge, and there was a recreation trail that wrapped most of the way around the lake that we walked on. The cool morning made the walk feel super great!
IMPORTANT FACT: One of the most important things Alan and I have learned since dating and marriage is that long walks in new places create the absolute best environment for good conversations. We have our best talks — the kind of talks that are full of encouragement, honesty, dreams, and love — when we are walking in a new place. I encourage you to figure out the environment that is best for you for good conversation! Is it driving in a car at night? Or maybe laying on your bed on the phone? Whatever it is, find where you are able to be honest and real, because it could bring hope and dreams into your conversations and relationships.
After our long walk, which was longer than we anticipated, we were sweaty and ready to hit the beach! Since the beach at Gull Point State Park, our campground, was flooded, we drove up to the beach we found at Spirit Lake. We spent the next few hours straight up chilling and it was awesome. We sat in our chairs listening to music and the sound of the waves, we ate lunch (lunch meat, fruit, veggies and hummus, and chips), and we played in the water. We made the last-minute decision to make our floaties, which was a great move on our end because we spent a good chunk of the afternoon floating around in the lake. The weather was so perfect as it was in the high 70’s and low 80’s.
Overall, the afternoon at the lake was exactly what we wanted and what we were thinking about when we said that we wanted to take a trip to the lake. The only thing that happened that afternoon that wasn’t super great was the fact that we got roasted, even though we applied sunscreen multiple times. I’m talking bright-red, touch-your-skin-and-it-hurts, crispy kind of burnt. It happened on my chest and then Alan’s back, and it didn’t feel great. Personally, I have spent minimal time outside this summer (that office 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. life has me inside most days!) so this was one of the first long time periods out in the sun, so it was my first burn of the summer. Regardless of the reason, we accepted the fact that we were toast and knew it would be a painful next couple of days.
After our afternoon on the lake, we went back to the campground and showered up and got ready for dinner. Though we pre-planned most of our meals for the trip, we decided ahead of time that we would eat out one time to serve as an anniversary dinner.
We had our dinner at Okoboji Store, a waterfront bar and grill with deck seating and live music. The atmosphere of the restaurant was super laid back and fun, which was what we were hoping for. We had a little table on the corner of the patio so we got to watch all of the boats driving by on the lake while we ate.
The meal itself was good! For drinks, Alan ordered a Spicy Bloody Mary (which was gross in my opinion, but I am not a bloody mary girl) and I ordered a Blueberry Lavender Lemonade (made with vodka, lemonade, blueberries, and lavender). Both of our drinks tasted okay, but had very little alcohol in them. We ordered Wisconsin Cheese Curds, which seemed like the appropriate thing to do since we were so far north. The fried cheese curds dipped into the homemade ranch dip were a new treat we hadn’t shared before! For the main course, I ordered the Haywards Bay Frisee with Ahi Tuna, which was essential frisse lettuce, goat cheese, asparagus, soft-poached egg, cherry tomatoes, pan-fried prosciutto, roasted tomato vinaigrette, and seared ahi tuna. Alan ordered Steak Frites with a huge New York strip, garlic parm fries, and asparagus. Our overall thoughts about the meal were that the atmosphere was fun, food tasted great, but it was super pricey.
After dinner, our stomachs were filled to the maximum capacity so we took a little walk around the area before getting back in the car. We walked along a nearby bridge, which was a bridge that boats were using to get from the East to the West sides of Lake Okoboji. We watched the boats go by and actually saw a boat hit the top of the bridge because the captain estimated the clearance incorrectly (though nobody was injured except for the top of their boat). Anyway, it was a super great people-watching spot and I could have stayed their for hours. I probably would have if we wouldn’t have made the decision that ice-cream should be in our future.
We walked back to the car and both agreed we wanted dessert but not right at that exact moment, so we decided to watch the sunset first. We drove around to a couple of different spots to find the one that felt right. We ended up setting up our chairs in front of Loon Lake, a lake in Minnesota! In all honesty, we only sat there for a few minutes because the bugs were insanely terrible. I had at least five mosquito bites in a matter of three minutes.
So we got back in the car and drove around some more. It might seem annoying that we kept driving around looking for lakes and spots to stop, but we actually really enjoy driving around together as well so it was all part of the fun. We drove around a couple of other lakes to check them out too. We drove past several pretty golf courses and Alan said there’s no way he could golf at any of them — not because of the location or courses themselves, but because his body was way too burnt. This confirmed that we were as badly roasted earlier that day as I thought we were.
After the sunset time, we stopped at good ole Hy-Vee that never steers us wrong. We picked up some pints of ice-cream for the two of us — Halo Top’s Birthday Cake and Cool Haus’s Campfire S’mores. I got birthday cake because we were celebrating the birthday of our marriage… aka anniversary. I love Halo Top so I give that a high rating and Alan rated the Cool Haus flavor a 9/10 if you ever want to try that!
We drove and ate our pints super fast; we were basically done eating by the time we made the short drive back to our campsite. This wasn’t too surprising because we love ice-cream and can eat a lot of it, and this was not our first rodeo of committing to a pint of ice-cream each.
We spent the rest of the night hanging out at our campsite. It was at this point we did something SUPER COOL that we had wanting to do for a couple of months. We wrote our family mission statement! I plan on making a separate post about our family mission statement, but basically we talk a lot about wanting to make decisions that match up with our values and goals, so a mission statement would be able to help us do so. We both had separately thought about things we wanted to include before working on it together, so it was one of those things that was really good to write and work on together. Now we have a Smith Family Mission Statement, which is an incredible and I love it.
We spent the rest of the night hanging out in the tent reading. Similar to the night before, Alan got hit with the tired bug almost immediately. The same sort of thing happened as the night before where soon after Alan fell asleep, then I got tired and fell asleep but then Alan woke back up. Again, the same follow-up happened where I slept the rest of the night until morning but Alan didn’t have such luck…. the combination of loud fireworks, loud neighbors, burnt body, and me stealing his pillow (whoops), didn’t create the best night for him…
It was a new day, and another day of me waking up in a tent in the outdoors. Again, really enjoyed it. Alan was already awake by the time I woke up, so when I opened my eyes and saw him sitting up and looking at me I couldn’t help me laugh. He told me about how he didn’t sleep well at all which meant he didn’t feel 100 percent, but we were still optimistic about the coming day.
We got up and ate RXBARS to give us energy for our morning walk. We wanted to take advantage of some more walk and talk time, plus we had such a great walk the day before, that we decided to spend the morning going on yet another morning stroll. We walked the opposite way on the Lake Okoboji Recreation Trail to switch things up from the day before. Similar to the day prior, we had such good conversation about the future and doing life together. We were both feeling so pumped and just fueled about life together that we were again reminded why creating opportunities for good, honest conversation and time together is so valuable.
After our walk, which was a few miles shorter than the day before, we had some coffee and breakfast back at the campsite. Though it was only 10 a.m. by this point, we ended up having roast beef and turkey sandwiches, veggies, and some chex mix. It might sound weird, but we both really try to follow the motto of “listen to your body and honor your cravings,” so we did.
After breakfast we changed into our swimsuits (but added some layers to avoid further sun burn) and headed to Arnolds Park, an old-fashioned amusement park right on Lake Okoboji. Our plan was to rent some sort of watercraft vehicle so we could be on the lake. Don’t get me wrong, our tubes rock always, but we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to kick it up a notch and take advantage of the options we don’t regularly have. We thought we were going to go kayaking but the kayaks looked so weird (they weren’t normal kayaks — they were raised up really high and sort of look like something like this). So then I told Alan about my childhood and how fun driving a jet ski was so we decided that, but there was a 5 mph speed limit all across the lake due to the high waters…so that left us with either a paddle boat (in my opinion, THE most lame watercraft of them all) or paddle boards.
We went with paddle boards and it was AWESOME. We spent time paddling, chilling, laying on our boards, and just bopping around the lake. We were both so glad we ended on that!
We didn’t actually do anything at the Amusement Park, just walked around for a minute so we could check it out. I did end up using a bathroom in the Visitor Center and the older woman working the desk had a grandson who went to Truman (Go Dogs) and she recommended a beach for us to go to, which we decided should be our next destination.
We drove by the beach the woman told us about but it was so crowded and kiddos were running around everywhere so we decided to pass on the vibe we thought that beach was putting off. Instead, we drove back to our good and faithful destination of the beach on Spirit Lake.
We unpacked our car with the necessary supplies, which I’m sure you can guess at this point: chairs, tubes, cooler of food and drinks, sunscreen, and speaker. The essentials, in our opinion. However, unlike the day before, the water was SUPER choppy because of all the wind so I honestly felt like I was in that wave pool at Six Flags bopping around in my tube. When my stomach couldn’t take it we sat in our chairs and both napped hard. That was exactly what we wanted to happen! If you’ve never sat in a chair, listening to waves, feeling heat on your feet from the sand, and then found yourself drifting off to sleep… please try it sometime! We both woke up feeling amazing.
We ended up eating a super late lunch around 4 p.m. and just hung out for a little bit longer to soak up the sunshine, wavy water, time in the location.
We were sitting on the beach and VERY satisfied, we evaluated. When Alan and I travel together we usually evaluate a couple of times a day to figure out what we want to do. In general I am VERY Type-A and love to have a plan. However, I’m not very much like this while traveling. Of course I always want to know where we will be sleeping and to know there will be snacks, but other than that, I like just seeing what happens. We like to follow the motto of “eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired” and then we do whatever sounds fun in between.
All of that to say, we evaluated how we felt and made the decision to drive back to Kirksville a little early. We decided that we had a super great trip and were satisfied in all that we were able to do together. We also realized that we had never been able to spend a full entire day at our home together not having any plans in months because we had been so busy with school and work in the school year and then transitioned straight into traveling so much on the weekends in the summer. We really wanted to be able to spend an entire day together at our home, which is why we made the call to go back a bit early.
Once we decided that, we headed back to our campsite and packed up the car in record time. We used the showers at the State Park, took one last picture in front of the sign (had to do it) and then waved farewell to Lake Okoboji and Gull Point State Park.
We really loved making the drive back together. Alan is always the driver and I’m always the co-pilot. Al drives and I look up directions and find good places to stop and eat. In this case, on the 6 hour drive south through Iowa, we routed through Ankeny so that we could stop at Fong’s Pizza! We actually went to Fong’s one time before, but it was the night before I ran a half marathon and I don’t eat foods I’ve never tried before that might make my tummy feel weird the night before a race… SO I basically sat and watched my friends eat pizza. Alan and I have been dreaming of going back since them. So we made that dream a reality and called in a pizza to pick up to eat in the car on our drive.
The remainder of our drive was powered by Fong’s Pizza, the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album, americanos, and the Holy Post Podcast. We arrived back in Kirksville around midnight and went straight to bed without unpacking because we were pooped, and we were excited to be well rested for our extended “staycation-day at home-no expectdaions day.”
I know one of the recurring themes of this blog post was me talking about how much I enjoyed waking up with the sunshine with the outdoors, however I also really loved waking up in my bed without an alarm knowing that the day was completely open without any expectations. THAT, my friend, is a glorious and amazing feeling.
I woke up and made the executive decision that Alan and I needed some pancakes for breakfast, so the day started out on a great foot. The rest of the day followed with a short bike ride at the Rec Center, watching many episodes of Community, naps, picking up some groceries, more chilling, and then some more chilling. It rocked.
Spending four days locked at the hip was the absolute best. We are so thankful and don’t take any of our extended time together for granted. We always jump on the opportunity to find ways to be intentional with each other and find ways to recharge about life in general, and taking a mini vacation/camping trip/anniversary celebration was a decision we’re so glad we made!
These trip recap posts I have been writing recently have been super long, so welcome to the end if you’re made it this far! I have only a few final thoughts and things to recap:
- Go with the flow! Like I mentioned a little further up in the post, I have a super Type-A personality and love having a plan. I don’t always extent this to my travels and trips. I genuinely enjoy when I’m traveling and get to decide how to spend the days as they are happening. I enjoy not forcing things, doing what sounds fun, and seeing what happens. I think this also depends on the kind of trip you take (you best believe that if I go to a city like Chicago I have a plan for when I’m eating where), butcamping can be a lot more loose.
- “Eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired.” When I was a wilderness guide, we lived and breathed this motto. And this is an extension of the first point, but enjoy your days based on how you’re feeling, not on what time it is. If you’re hungry and it’s 9:30 a.m. but you already ate a breakfast, eat lunch. If it’s 2 p.m. and you’re tired, take a nap. Listen to what your body is telling you!
- Travel in a way that fits your budget. Don’t let a small budget keep you from traveling! As much as we love camping, we also enjoy sleeping in an actual home. In the current season we are in, camping is a great way for us to save money and real soak up the location we’re traveling to. There are absolutely ways to save money and travel so let me know if you want more of those tips!
- Pack meals, drinks, and snacks! Basically pack all of the goods. We knew that we would want a bottle of wine as well as beer, so we bought it ahead of time because it’s so much cheaper than buying it at a tiny gas station. We know we love to snack, so we packed a bunch of things we picked up from Aldi the week before. It may sound really obvious, but it’s so simple to bring the things you know you’re going to want because it will end up saving you some cash. Also, you’ll have 24 hour access to everything you brought, so you can pick and choose whatever you’re craving!
- REST. I know all trips aren’t like this one, but our goal for this trip was to rest and recharge. We found several ways to do that each and every day. Whether it was sleeping long hours, going on a walk, reading books, bopping around — we wanted to leave feeling more rested than when we arrived.
- Create the environment needed. Alan and I knew we wanted to be able to have strong communication and some good talks, so we chose to go on morning walks. We knew we wanted to rest so we sat on the beach for most of the day. We knew we wanted to spend time together so we went to a place where we relied on each other for entertainment and conversation.
We loved our trip. Our hearts are still filled and we feel recharged. We’re hoping this gets us through for awhile, but as soon as we start to lose that, we will find some way to spend some time together doing what we need. That might mean a trip to a cabin in the west, a drive around town, or just a walk around campus — but whatever it is, we will do our best to figure it out.