At last, the day came when we were ready to set off on the pioneering section of our Big Road Trip, having finally finished packing and stocking the Airstream. A couple of hours (well, about five) after we meant to set off towards Sioux City, a city on the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota border, we left my aunt Jean’s farm. About an hour later, having driven 40.3 miles, evening start to set in. So we stopped in Algona, Iowa, where according to our trusty atlas, there was a state park.
A friendly Harley Davidson rider led us to the park’s campsite, taking us down winding roads into a deep forest whose trees soon obscured the setting sun. With a wave and a smile, he left us near a sign that said ‘Campsite’. But we couldn’t see the campsite – until we realized that we were indeed already in it, and that we were the only visitors. It took us about 10 minutes to decode the little wooden box that read ‘Deposit’, eventually understanding that the lid held park registration forms that were to be deposited along with a check for $9 for parties of six or fewer.
We don’t have a checkbook.
Deciding to embrace camping with a smile, we backed into electricity enabled site number 4, unpacked the trailer, turned on the lights and the pilot lights, settled the girls and started making preparations for dinner. Throughout this process, a surprising number of cars passed by the campsite. All of them contained kids in their teens or early twenties, who craned their necks to stare at us – New York license plates, vintage Airstream, family hellbent on outdoor domesticity.
Friday night at an unstaffed campsite. Of course. Maybe we were ruining their party.
The second time a car drove into the campsite itself, unloading a passenger into the bathroom facilities Daniel had deemed unusable, we decided to investigate. The two guys in the roofless Jeep were friendly enough, informing us that our destination was a favorite for weed-smoking teenyboppers and that we might want to check out a clean, safe, staffed campsite near a lake a bit to the north.
So were these kids nice stoners, or mean ones?
Dinner was almost ready, so we decided to go ahead with it. So we ate our pasta with sauce Daniel had prepared with Jean’s tomatoes, listening to the rising volume of kids who had parked their cars outside the campsite but still very nearby.
Explaining to Sophia that actually, our plan was to have dinner in one place and sleep in another, we packed up and left the forest.
We slept in the fabulous Burr Oaks Motel alongside route 196, it’s run by a Gujarati and is this weekend hosting Algona’s high school reunion attendees. It is by far the cleanest and most comfortable motel of the four or so we’ve stayed in on this trip. We spent the rest of the evening watching cable TV and using the free WiFi, sipping a beer we never managed to enjoy over dinner.
Will we ever make it as campers? Fingers crossed we manage it today.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.