The Burgeoning Explorer of Central Illinois

From as young as I can remember until our family moved to Muncy, Pennsylvania when I was 15, my family went on vacation to the same spot every year. On my mom’s one full week off of the year, we would trek what seemed the interminably long two hour car ride from the Chicago suburbs to this fantastic lake house on Lake Thunderbird owned by Mom’s good friends, the Tierney’s.

That lake house holds so many of my childhood memories. The first time I caught a fish was on Lake Thunderbird. The first time I yelled at guys who were looking at my sister too much was there. I watched two Olympics there. I also picked up the exploring bug there.

We became familiar with the whole area. We would visit the local and locally significant towns like Putnam, Peoria and Springfield. We would spend hours sitting in the Chair Tree eating fruit or swimming off of the dock. By far our favorite place to go, and the place we would try to convince Mom to take us two to three times a trip, was Starved Rock State Park.

My brother, sister and I were crazy bundles of energy our entire childhood. At Starved Rock State Park, we would become even crazier bundles of energy. Mom stoked our imagination even more by coining us separately the great explorers Marquette, Joliet and Sacagawea, and we took to this idea with rapt enthusiasm. We took to the idea of exploring exactly as you’d suppose three city kids suddenly placed off the beaten path for the first time in a year would take to the idea, we became MANIC with exploration. We’d run from one site to the next, the three of us each dragging the family to anything we thought looked interesting.

How Mom managed to herd three bundles of energy pin-balling beside, in front of and behind, I’ll never know. I can only note that she was a maestro of a well-placed word of warning and chalk the rest of it up to some good luck.

One thing we were never able to do was camp on these trips. I don’t think that the idea of going camping in Starved Rock or at the Chair Tree Park ever occurred. As far as I knew, we were as far out as  humans went.

With time came education about numerous things, including how far out humans actually go. With education came opportunities. The opportunities take me here. And right here sits the same kid who wanted to explore the west with Joliet and Sacagawea. And how I see it, camping is my way of becoming an explorer.

Ok, I’m ready to start camping! What’s next? I have no idea.

My big camping goal is to stay in Yosemite for a 2+ nights on a camping and backpacking trip. It’s a simple goal and I have had it for some time but it make sense to me to ask why be so fixated on Yosemite? I can explore right here! I fully intend to.

Yosemite is Yosemite. Yosemite has the Yosemite Falls. It has El Capitan. It has the Half Dome. It has Ansel Adams, bears and sequoias. Teddy Roosevelt camped on top of Glacier Point with John Muir in 1903, and awoke to five inches of snow. It’s Yosemite! The romance and history of the place are more than enough to draw me and my inner explorer. I can think of no place I want to see more.

(Yosemite draws just fine without my plug, by the way. To reserve a camping spot, you’ll have to call within the first few minutes of 7 am pacific time on the 15th day of the month, five months before you’d like to go or else you’re not likely to get a spot.)

I want to do more than just see Yosemite, as well. I want to take it in. I want to experience it. I won’t be able to see the whole park on one trip, but I would like to get immersed the atmosphere.

Why not go now?

Perhaps I should just do two nights in Yosemite right now because why not just go? Shaun White would just go, and you know it because he’s a badass. I dabble in badass sometimes. I can set up a tent. I could probably splint an arm fracture if necessary. I can carry a backpack. I can definitely do two nights in Yosemite with little more than a good map and instincts, right? Of course!

No dice. I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and spoken to some more experienced campers and found out that there are actually a bunch of different ways I could die, and that is NOT something that I want to happen on my awesome Yosemite trip. Perhaps my “why not go now?” plan isn’t the best way to get there.

I’ll have to resolve this exploring uncertainty over time. For now, I think I just need to get a tent.


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  1. Where does Abby stand on this adventure?

    1. She loves it. She may come on the trip!

      1. Glad to hear it! I’ll buy the gorp.

  2. You and Abby get the first trip to Yosemite alone. The second one I’d like to join Marquette and
    his lovely Amelia Earhart. Sounds like a great adventure. Mom

    1. Hey Mom, you can definitely come on the first trip. I think everyone should come.

  3. Do it! You know I’m all about enabling adventure 🙂

    1. I’m ready to go already! I’m more than happy to be enabled.

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