And just like that, a whole year came and went! We had our trip planned months ago, and then we had to move the timetable up by nearly two weeks. Our son and his team took first place in the State of Arizona Odyssey of the Mind Competition, which meant they were moving on to the World Competition (so exciting!!) which was to be held at Iowa State University the third week of May.
The last day of school wasn’t even until the 24th of May, but we knew for sure that we would be taking the RV there since we were planning on driving east for the summer anyway. May became a very crazy month as we had to rush to finalize work and life at home and pack for two months on the road. The kids had their last day on a Friday (we pulled them from school four days early), and the next day we were on the road!
Despite the crazy sped up timeline, I think we felt much more prepared this year after our big Alaska excursion last year. And our furry kids are acclimating much quicker to life on the road as well!
We took the I-40 east and jetted out of 95 scorching degrees of Arizona heat and towards New Mexico.
Everyone was just so excited that we were back in our tiny house, our happy place, with a summer full of adventures ahead of us!
We cruised right on through until 11pm when we made it to Albuquerque and found a Cracker Barrel to stay at for the night.
We woke up early, fueled up, and blended up some quick smoothies for breakfast before hitting the road. We cruised out of New Mexico and into the beautiful state of Colorado.
We drove through the eastern corner of the state, through small town after small town.
Finally we made it to our third state line – The Wizard of Oz state of Kansas!
It was another day of awesome music playlists and “who can name the song/artist” the fastest (a favorite game of ours). My older kids are getting some major game. Finally some competition in this house (love you, honey).
As evening approached, we decided to take the evening off from driving when we came across the first RV park we’d seen in hours (and it was full hook-ups and WiFi for only $20!)
We grilled up some burgers, and Charlotte learned how to pedal her tricycle with the help of her older sisters!
Today we took our time in the morning and slept in before finally hitting the road out of Oakley, Kansas and up to Nebraska.
It was a slow day on country roads with farm after farm and lots of green, green grass. Absolutely beautiful, but a little monotonous after 8 hours!
We tried to liven it up a bit as we crossed from Nebraska into Iowa and searched out some roadside oddities. Nothing like a giant spider made out of a Volkswagen to add some excitement into your day!
We made it through Des Moines, Ames, and to our final destination of Jewell, IA by 11pm. We quietly pulled into the campground at Little Wall Lake, crossing our fingers for a space. Because we were so close to Memorial Day weekend, all of the campgrounds go to a first come, first serve basis a week before a holiday. I was warned on the phone that everything starts to book up on Tuesday so we were nervous about not having a place to park for the week of the Odyssey competition. Fortunately, we lucked out with a full hook up space directly on the lake! To say that we were thrilled was an understatement!
We were even more pleased with our camping spot when we woke up and saw where we were in the daylight!
We packed up Nicholas for his week at the University and headed down to downtown Ames for lunch. They have an adorable Main Street with shops and restaurants. We read that the Downtown Deli was highly recommended, so we stopped in for lunch before we headed over to the University.
Today ended up being harder than I thought it would be. After lunch, we headed over to Iowa State University to meet up with his Odyssey team and coaches and get him registered and moved into his dorm for a week. It’s like he’s going away for college – at the age of 11.
Even if it’s only for a week, it’s still the longest he’s been away from us since that time we went to Bora Bora when he was 16 months old (and don’t EVEN get me started on how sick to our stomachs we were missing him during that trip). It’s a weird thing… I can best relate it to the first day of kindergarten. It’s a big milestone. Your baby is going away from you, and you are leaving your trust in their teacher to keep them safe for the time they are away from you. You feel like something is missing without them with you all day, yet you are so very proud of them, and excited for the adventures you know they will have!
We are so extremely proud of what he has accomplished and I know what an amazing experience it will be for him. He is competing with teams from 20 different countries from around the world. China, Germany, Poland, Russia, India, and Qatar are just some of the countries they will be interacting with and learning the cultures of. His team is personally “buddied” up with a team of kids from Hong Kong.
He will have wall to wall activities from morning to night, like bowling, swimming, rock wall climbing, nighttime flag football, and pin trading. He gets to attend two days of classes taught by NASA (he is especially excited about this one), and I know this is an experience that will stay with him for the rest of his life. I am very excited for him, just as I was on that first day of kindergarten knowing he was going to learn so much and make so many new memories and friends. And just like the first day of kindergarten, I smiled all the way through it, and then cried when he was out of sight. Happy tears and tears that are a little sad as well. My baby is becoming just a little more independent and stretching his legs in the big, big world without me.
We did a little shopping in the Odyssey gift shop and met up with his team that afternoon.
After lots of hugs, it was time to leave him for the day. Needing distraction, we decided to try a Chinese restaurant called Mandarin in downtown Ames. Our server was the nicest lady! She gave us tips for all sorts of things to do in town while we are here. They also have a fish tank with the cutest fish that appeared to kiss Avery and Charlotte back every time they put their lips to the glass. They wanted to bring it home with us! It was adorable.
Today we took a leisurely morning. We slept in, I did a full workout from the tiny RV bedroom (clapping myself on the back for keeping a goal to myself to stay on top of my health and fitness during this trip), and then we walked over to the park and lake directly in front of our RV. We were going to rent a canoe for the day, but it was pretty windy so the older girls just swam from the beach and practiced their “surfing” skills.
Despite the mild humidity, we are still loving the lower temps than we were having back home before we left. The bugs on the other hand….
Charlotte has gotten so big since last summer! She is loving vacation already this year with the freedom to run around and explore. She is taking everything in and put together her first sentence already on this trip. When she is looking for someone, she will say, “(Name)- where are you???” with an emphasis on drawing out the “you” quite a bit. When we saw a bunny in the grass this week, she starting tip-toeing to it calling over and over, “Bunny- where are youuuuu???” It’s pretty stinking adorable.
We cleaned up that evening and headed over to the university where the opening ceremonies were being held from 7 to 9. We were shocked to see the scope of the ceremony and the amount of people involved in Odyssey!
It was great to see Nicholas, who was a bit exhausted after a full day of bowling and swimming and rock climbing. Odyssey is truly an amazing organization that brings kids together and encourages all quick thinking and creativity. The energy in the stadium that night was amazing and we felt so blessed to be a part of it all!
Today Adam got to attend a NASA education course with Nicholas. They learned about Photons and a laser satellite NASA is sending into space to record the heights of all objects.
Nicholas and his team had the “spontaneous” portion of their competition for the judges in the afternoon. Although we weren’t able to watch that (it’s closed to everyone but the team and the judges – even the coaches can’t come in), Nicholas assured us after that it went really well and was happy with how they performed.
As they exited, they were greeted with dozens of cans of silly string being sprayed at them as a congratulations for completing the first stage of their competition.
That evening we decided to have a treat meal at – where else? – a highly recommended local brewery! The Olde Town Brewery on Main street.
Yummy beer, and an amazing house specialty burger (fried Wisconsin cheese curds and special house BBQ sauce on it). After being stuck in the RV with a fussy toddler all day, I deserve a splurge meal!
After all that food, we needed for walk for awhile, so we took a stroll up and down Main Street.
When we came upon the specialty chocolate shop, the girls were drawn in like magnets. They immediately went to the gelato counter and pressed their faces to the glass.
I picked up some hand made pistachio creme filled chocolates to drop off at the university for Nicholas and then we sat outside and the girls indulged!
We stopped in to see Nicholas, who was deeply involved in pin trading with his peers, a huge activity of Odyssey. All the teams come armed with pins from previous years and the new pins that represent their state and then they trade them, based on what appeals to them. Certain pins are more valuable than others so there is quite a negotiation process involved in it. We dropped off his treats and visited for awhile before leaving him for the evening.
Nicholas had quite a busy day with another NASA class and the creativity festival.
They also spent some time with their buddy team from China.
We took the girls to the Reiman Gardens for the morning.
There were lots of unique sculptures throughout the grounds. Most of them were wind powered. I believe it is part of the Wind, Waves & Light Sculpture Exhibit they currently have going on.
We heard about the gardens when I was searching for fun and different attractions and came across Elwood, the world’s largest gnome, who sits proudly overlooking the gardens!
They also have a butterfly sanctuary in a VERY humid green room space.
We spent the afternoon running errands and I took Aubrey with me to get our nails done. The tech recommended a local BBQ joint called Hickory Park for dinner so we headed over there and made it safely inside just as a quick moving hail storm blew in.
The food was amazing and the portions ridiculously huge! Of course, my husband ordered the sampler. RIP to the four animals who lost their life in the process.
I was trying to play it safe with a quarter white chicken breast and the two vegetable sides they offer, but then my meal came with this big sausage!
Nicholas called us during dinner to check in. He and his team ended up being out in the middle of the university as the storm hit and had to run through hail to get back to their dorms. He seemed pretty excited about his little adventure and nobody was hurt.
When we left the restaurant, the parking lot was flooded. Thank goodness we drive a big truck! Adam treaded through the water to the truck and picked us up at the curb. All this water is very exciting for a bunch of Arizona desert kids like us!
Tomorrow is BIG competition day for Nicholas and then we depart Iowa and start vacation!!