Life does not always go as planned.
May 2, we pulled out of the driveway, our car laden with bikes, a kayak, hiking shoes and visions of a secluded outdoor vacation in the Ozark Mountains. One year earlier to the day, we expected to board an airplane to Costa Rica to spend two glorious weeks in the rainforest and next to the beach. That didn’t happen, and the rest of the year didn’t pan out as expected either. But we were finally on our way.
We needed this vacation. Mentally, we were eager to escape the scene of anxiety and uncertainty brought on by Rich’s heart surgeries. Physically, we itched to shed our winter layers and don shorts in the warmth of sunshine. Socially, we expected to continue our Covid distancing, but with new scenery.
We targeted a remote cabin in the mountains, an AirBnB that allowed us to be self-sufficient and required only one motel stay en route. How our selection criteria have changed! But we soon discovered that we had fallen short on our research.
The drive into Jasper, Arkansas and ensuing trip to our cabin took us on twisty, windy, steep roads with no shoulders. As we plunged down and back up the mountainsides, it soon became clear that we would not be using our bicycles – if we wanted to live. Crossing the Buffalo River we could see it was gushing with the spring runoff. Fine for floating in groups, maybe, but not so safe for this novice kayaker. More redundant equipment. Oops.
The cabin proved to be perfect, as picturesque as the advertised photos, with views across the forested slopes. I quickly found my happy spot on the deck, where I could linger with my coffee in the morning, and eyed the fire ring for evening bonfires. Just as Covid has retrained us to live differently, the natural beauty that surrounded us would challenge us to rethink how we spent this vacation.
Pouring over the extensive list of outdoor pursuits provided by our host, I targeted hikes that we could do together. Rich’s heart limited him to fairly flat routes – another oversight, having chosen to be in the mountains. But we found trails that wound through inspiring rock formations, took us to waterfalls and caves scoured out by rivers. Progress was unhurried, time to appreciate abundant, wildflowers bloomed and we could wear shorts. Occasionally I scampered up to higher elevations while Rich waited. We were even able to combine a birding and hiking outing.
Running out of trail options, we tried a new tack – a visit to Bull Shoals White River State Park. Every trip through the Ozarks takes far longer than highway speeds, but eventually we crossed the massive dam that holds back the White River to create Bull Shoals Lake. My thin hope of launching my kayak on the lake drained away with the words “boat launch closed” due to the high lake level. But we found plenty of short trails.
Rich spied a red headed woodpecker – a bird not often found Up North – and I sensed the perfect opportunity to divide and conquer. I hiked a longer, higher trail while he hunted his prey. I got my vistas and Rich found not only his bird, but its nest!
Weak wifi and abysmal cell reception in our cabin provided the incentive to pull away from the world. Away from responsibilities. Away from that To Do list that followed me there. I plowed through several books. I did some drawing for my community ed Beginning Drawing class. We grilled most nights and ate outside when the weather was favorable. And I got my flickering bonfire.
Did the week turn out as expected? Nope. But there was no denying we were on vacation. We had warm weather, slept in each morning, appreciated our leisure and spent quality time together. I returned refreshed, glad to be home, eager to hop on my bike. But grateful for the escape. Just as it should be.