First Stop: Home ~ May 22-24

One of the intentions of our travels is to reconnect with family and friends. To reestablish relationships with those in which we had lost touch during the years of raising kids, building careers and caregiving for parents. This is why the first destination of choice was our hometown of Wichita Falls, a bit of a sleepy town located just south of the Oklahoma border in north central Texas.  It is where both Trey and I developed our strong work ethic, perseverance, and sense of knowing right from wrong – not just from the great examples of our parents, but also from the community as a whole. We very much enjoyed catching up with family and friends, and we visited our favorite old haunts and drove by childhood homes.

University Park

There were several areas that had since been developed, and some that had notably deteriorated including the neighborhoods around Trey’s childhood home and his high school, Wichita Falls High School, or “old high.” The highlight was an 18-mile bicycle path that is being expanded to circle the city; but for the most part, the city was similar to the one we left in early 1988.

Bike Path Near Lake Wichita
Bike Path Near Lake Wichita Dam

Trey and I have longed joked that the rule of six degrees of separation doesn’t apply to those from Wichita Falls.  Instead, it is closer to one to two degrees of separation.  At least, that has been our experience living in Austin…just a few of many examples: An Austin city councilwoman graduated from my high school class; after years of friendship, we found that Trey and the husband of a former co-worker of mine graduated from the same high school class; and the manager of a Wichita Falls grocery store when it was directly hit by the 1979 Wichita Falls tornado was the manager of an Austin area grocery store when it was directly hit by a 1997 tornado.

Sadly, I’m afraid that these regular “small world” occurrences may be due to the fact that, like us, a lot of people born and raised in Wichita Falls end up leaving it for different opportunities.  A quick check of the census data shows that its population growth between 2000 and 2010 was less than ½ of a percent while Texas’ total population grew by more than 20%.

We also found the city facing huge challenges: A school board at odds with the community on how to best address aging secondary school buildings while better balancing enrollment at each; and foremost, a water shortage at near crisis level due to extreme drought.

You can walk across Lake Wichita from the south shore of Fairway Blvd
You can walk across Lake Wichita from the south shore of Fairway Blvd

Kudos to city leaders and staff that took initiative to address the city’s impending water crisis. We first heard of Wichita Fall’s unique solution prior to our visit on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. While not ideal, it appears city officials had no other options, so they did what they knew was right to best sustain the city through the continued drought.

As for the high schools situation, we are hopeful that the good people of Wichita Falls will continue to speak up and work with the school board and district to come up with a best solution. One that expands the opportunities for learning, growth and positive experiences for every student across the city and on an equal basis. The school district and citizens should see this as an opportunity to invest in and create a better, stronger foundation for the city’s future.  Because, using ourselves as examples, people don’t stay where there are not ample opportunities.

God speed Wichita Falls.

Nooks & Crannies – May 21

We have never been good judges of how much time and effort is needed for the tasks of packing and moving.  Despite extensive planning, this again was the case on Wednesday, May 21st — the designated day of our departure.  The only item listed on the schedule for the 21st was “Let the Adventures Begin!,” as this was the day that we were to pack our camping gear and clothes into our small SUV (a.k.a. the “Escape Mobile”), turn in the keys to our apartment, and be on the road by noon.

We knew that the goal of moving all of our remaining possessions into a 15×10 storage unit was a lofty one, but we did not realize that moving everything over the course of one day was an impossibility because we had not fully accounted for just how much we had.

The big stuff is obvious

The process of downsizing had begun in early April with the help of Craig’s List, friends, family, and a slew of non-profit organizations who were willing to take some items off our hands (thank you!).  All furniture was either gone or its destination was determined well within the set time-frame. The only clothes that remained were those we were taking with us and they were tucked out of the way in our closets.

Having the apartment essentially void of furniture gave us a greater sense of progress and accomplishment than what was actually the case.  It is not that we had completely forgotten about all the small stuff, just some of it.  Plus, we didn’t fully appreciate how it adds up. It was what I like to ironically refer to as a not seeing the trees for the forest situation.

It is the stuff in the nooks and crannies that you don’t always fully recognize, properly deal with, or you simply forget about. You know, those places where you bury things you don’t know what to do with – the things you don’t have a need for, but because of some attachment or another, you can’t simply get rid of either.  Places such as behind the closet doors, underneath the bed, under the kitchen sink, and the back of a bathroom cabinet.

Moving necessitates dealing with the nooks and crannies. It requires confronting attachments and making decisions about all the small stuff which, I think, was probably the hardest part of downsizing our life into a 15×10 storage unit.

Despite this, I’m happy to say that our adventures did begin on the 21st – just about 10 hours later than planned.

Good-bye Austin!

Sunday Slice & A BeerAustin Skyline @ DuskSouth Congress 1

Test Camping Trip ~ May 3-4, 2014

We made the necessary investments in quality camping gear in April, and had previously practiced setting up our tent in our apartment. It took us about 20 minutes, which was pretty good considering the time we spent trying to interpret the instructions.

Garner State Park 3

We have lived boarding the Texas Hill Country for a little over 26 years, yet haven’t taken the time to enjoy what it offers as much as we would have liked. With our departure from Texas looming and experience in camping lacking, it was the perfect place for a weekend trial run – convenient, beautiful and included locations that we have wanted to explore.

Our 355 mile Hill Country trek looped from Austin through San Antonio, past the notorious Snake Farm, which has since been re-branded the “Snake Farm Zoo” and seemed to be thriving, perhaps as a result of the Ray Wiley Hubbard song. From San Antonio we headed west to Uvalde County, then north to the small but quaint river city of Concan, which is the nearest city to Garner State Park.

IMG_2803[1]

Leaving the park we choose the less traveled route east to Utopia, crossing the dry Sabinal River several times and through what felt like the heart of the Hill Country, with 360 views of steep valleys and rolling hills.

Garner's Cactus Flowers 4

After a brief stop at Lost Maples State Natural Area, we headed northeast meeting up with, and then following, the Guadalupe River through Hunt and Kerrville. We continued northeast to Fredericksburg, a place we had visited several times, so not stopping, but acknowledging the mast-like home of Admiral Chester Nimitz and honoring his historical significance through our thoughts and conversation as we passed.

Like the drive from Austin to San Antonio, the drive from Fredericksburg was a familiar one, but proved to be a fitting send-off gift to us from the Hill Country. Sans bluebonnets and paintbrushes, the wildflowers were very much still in bloom and provided waves of yellow, red, orange, purple and white on each side of Highway 290 through the waning rolling hills toward Austin.

Garner State Park was not as lush as we had expected, and although well aware of the drought, we were both taken back by how little water was in the Frio and surrounding creeks.

Garner State Park - Frio River 3

After setting up camp and checking out the river, we biked through the park and found it alive with people, food and fun times. We cooked our dinner over the open flame of the fire Trey built — orange honey habanero chicken breast we’d picked up at Central Market on our way out of town, and the leftover beans and jalapeno cornbread I had prepared earlier in the week – a great meal to christen our new camping cooking and dinner ware.

We were told of the traditional Saturday night dance hosted at Garner State Park’s pavilion. So, with the sun setting, we mounted our bikes, turned on our head and seat lights, and headed to the pavilion for the dance. A footpath we found leading from the road led us to the pavilion’s flagstone patio that was serving as the dance floor and Garth Brooks was crooning about Friends in Low Places.

Lost Maples State Park 5

The final big test, at least for me, were the public showers. There was no avoiding them — we were dirty, dusty and sweaty. The important lesson I learned about outdoor showers is to first do a careful 360° examination for shower companions – this should probably actually be done twice as a particular caution. If I had thought to do so, I would have avoided taking a shower with a Texas giant centipede!

Once, safely out of the shower and bathroom, I could joke as I told Trey of my experience. We both laughed and agreed that we are, after all, embarking on these travels for new adventures!

Test camping trip:  Success