Reflections on a Spontaneous Road Trip Fail

train-backI know I’ve grown quiet lately. You can probably accurately guess that this means I’ve also grown lethargic again, too. Upon thinking about how I’ve let this summer chew me up and spit me out, I decided to revisit the old blog and try and find some inspiration from the past. Oddly, what I did find was a post lurking in my “drafts” folder that I apparently never actually published from LAST summer, which made me feel better than some of the posts that I did publish. That’s probably because I’m in the middle of another weird-as-heck summer with a new boss (again) and new stresses. (The kids go back to school next week, and my baby starts kindergarten. I feel old and obsolete.)

Anyway, rather than write something new today, I decided to finally click “publish” on this. It sums up me as a traveler pretty well. (Spoiler Alert: I am a terrible traveling companion. I’m working on it, but I still fail a lot.)

Anyway, below is the account of last year’s Fourth of July. This year’s was much better — the kids finished their baseball season before dusk and we headed to the local minor league stadium for some bleacher-bumming and fireworks. No train-union strikes or blisters were involved this year, which is good but doesn’t make for as interesting reading as the story below…

(originally written July 8, 2014)

So we woke up on the Fourth of July and randomly decided to take the kids to the St. Louis zoo. We live about 2 hours from the Lou, and if you’ve never visited their zoo, it’s pretty amazing. Think San Diego in scale. They really do have a world-class zoo and we want the kids to have lots of memories of it when they’re grown. That said, we don’t go all that often so Hubby was really chomping at the bit to not let this summer go by without a visit.

Because it was Independence Day and the annual St. Louis Fair was being relocated this year while they do rennovations to Laclede’s Landing (home of the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi Riverfront), we learned from the Internet that there would be no parking at all in Forest Park and the zoo parking would be $30 rather than the normal $10. Ugh. We thought we were being rather brilliant, then, to instead drive to Scott Air Force Base (only a little over an hour from our house) and board the MetroLink and take it across the river and through downtown St. Louis.

It made sense. The four of us could not only ride a round trip on the Link for cheaper than it would cost to park the car (let alone pay for another hour of gasoline consumption each way), but also it would allow the boys to have a long, fun train ride at the beginning and end of trip, thereby eliminating the expected wails for zoo train tickets (which are quite pricey). There was a Metro station about 3/4 mile from Forest Park (home to the zoo, art museum, history museum, Muny, and other totally awesome fun things). We knew we could manage 3/4 mile with the kiddos on foot.

What we didn’t know included the following:

  1. The MetroLink union went on strike that day, reducing the number of operational trains and making the existing ones PACKED to the gills and making our entrance to the actual zoo not even occur until 5 p.m.
  2. All of Forest Park had been closed off and rerouted — even for foot traffic — in order to have bag check stations and the like to enter the fair.
  3. The fair made seeing or navigating in any capacity pretty much impossible, even if you knew your basic way around Forest Park.
  4. It was way hotter in St. Louis than at home that day.
  5. Pretty much all exotic animals (lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos, apes, gorillas, pandas, penguins) were inexplicably absent. (I am wondering if they had them rounded up in their indoor facilities to prevent animal freakouts caused by fireworks and explosions, but I honestly have no idea why.) We *did* see an elephant eat some grass and an ostrich go Number One AND Number Two right before our very eyes, so there was that. Also, they’ve recently built a really cool tunnel you can walk through that it surrounded by the sea lion tank. We actually had a lot of fun watching the sea lions do their funny upside-down torpedo swims from below. Ollie bought a stuffed sea lion from the gift shop later and named it “Torpedo.” It’s pretty cute.

I was kicking myself for not remembering to wear my pedometer at the beginning, but honestly, by the end of the day I didn’t even want to know. We had walked THAT FAR. With small children. The best calculations Hubby could do with a map the next day showed that not even including any of the walking we actually did inside of the zoo that day, we had done about 4 miles on hot concrete with the kids just getting to and from the train with all the blockades in place.

I still have blisters all over my feet and my back is killing me on Monday as much as it was on Friday. Did I mention we didn’t think to bring any water bottles or snacks with us? Apart from ice cream cones and one soda each, we spent no other money on food that day. We’d originally intended to stop and get a late supper after the zoo when we got off the Link, but considering the impromptu extra miles of walking and also the fact that a Cardinals game let out right as we departed town (I’ve never been squished to so many people for so long in my life as that train ride back), there was no point. We finally got to stop standing at the front of the train after 45 minutes of rail-clinging and got seats after we crossed back into Illinois, but it didn’t take Ollie more than 30 seconds in that train seat to pass out cold. And by the time we got to the car, Jamie was completely zonked, too. When we got to the off-ramp for our restaurant, it was pushing midnight so “dinner” wasn’t even considered at that point. We pulled into the driveway just after 1:00 a.m. and dragged our poor sorry bodies straight to bed. I didn’t even make Oliver change his clothes first.

Confession: I might be the world’s worst traveling companion ever. Even small road trips give me anxiety, and I have extreme agoraphobia so even a small crowd freaks me out. But I’m eager to motivate myself back into a healthier mindset. An afternoon trip to the zoo seemed like an opportunity presenting itself that I’d be a loser (or back to being like the OLD me) to dismiss. It represented exercise, and family fun, and being more carefree — all things I try to work harder on these days.

The train ride there was legitimately fun. Not gonna lie.

The train ride there was legitimately fun. Not gonna lie.

I did try. And I failed. I was pretty grouchy by the end and I’m not proud of myself for being bitchy. Parts of the day really sucked, but we had a few fun moments. The sea lions. The ice cream (maybe not healthy, but hey — I ended up missing out on dinner so we’ll call that one a draw). The train ride INTO town. (That one was fun, with the opportunities of the day still ahead, Ollie excited about traveling above towns we passed, pretending he was riding Thomas the Tank Engine through the Island of Sodor and looking for Sir Topham Hatt’s house in every yard we saw along the way — of course that part was fun. None of us had sore muscles or heat exhaustion yet.)

We did manage to be riding the train home right when they started the riverfront fireworks display. In fact, we sailed right past the pyro-barge as it was launching them over the Arch. But the kids were too tired to look, Hubby was mad at me, and I was busy trying to keep any more Cardinal-jerseyed old men from reaching second base with every rail bump.

Frankly, it was a disaster on many fronts — mostly out of our control — but I feel like I made it worse by forgetting the entire point of the day. Somewhere between the back of my shoe gashing my ankle open and the giraffe exhibit being vacated, I turned into a frenzied psycho, savoring every single new disappointment as yet another round of ammo for the next time Hubby suggested we get out of the house and go do something fun. Because, apparently, I’m still the old me deep down inside. And I really hate that bitch.

Obviously, I’m not proud of myself, and can see that I have a lot of work to do before I’m back to that healthy, vibrant version of me that I remember from last summer. The one who reached goal weight, did fun things with my family, and generally could go with the flow.

So what’s changed? Yes, I’m up a few pounds. Yes, my job is weird right now. Yes, I’m feeling stressed and disappointed in myself in ways I don’t even entirely understand at the moment.

But no, I don’t like this version of me, and being grouchy and depressed isn’t going to find me anywhere closer to who I want to be.

I’ll keep trying. And I’ll probably fail here and there along the way. Hopefully in not as epic a fashion as our zoo trip again, but probably in some way or other. In the meantime, I focus on the positive. Today is a new day.

And if I screw up tonight, tomorrow is a new day, too.

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