Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Break '09: Part I (I grew up in Johnson County and was unprepared for this)

Like most of the country, we here in College Town recently celebrated Spring Break. While many friends returned from the tropics with tales of dolphins and a neck full of silver baubles, I returned from our trip to south central Kansas with a half-empty pack of Claritin and sincere apologies to anyone who may have been a part of the 10:20 Hutchinson Salt Mine Tour Group with our family on Saturday.

We arrived at our Bed-and-Breakfast-slash-Animal-Farm in Nickerson, Kansas on a clear, sunny day. The sky was blue and the air was full of newly budding allergens.

Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm is a working farm with a large bed-and-breakfast, many miles from the nearest Interstate. The rooms at the B&B are huge, well-appointed, very clean, reasonably priced, and the B&B can also brag about its outstanding breakfast spread, thanks to the nearby Mennonites and their flair for coffee cake and homemade sausage. The beautiful farm is home to ostriches, giraffes, kangaroos, zebras, camels, emus, and the standard-farm-variety pigs, horses, and chickens. And some peacocks. And a hedgehog. And more...

Needless to say, the good folks at Hedricks hardly noticed when I unloaded my own herd, who made animal noises of their own.

“Look at all the nipples on that pig!”

(The very sight of that breastfeeding pig made me let down a little.)

“The zebra has a HUGE pee--!”

(Apparently he was happy to see us.)

“Can I go brush my hair?”

(That was Ellie, our preteen. I reminded her that we were standing 15 feet way from baby boars, and they really did not care what her hair looked like.)

But our official tour of the farm, which would end with a highly-anticipated camel ride (small children would need to be accompanied by an adult), had to wait until the next day… in the rain, with 20 mph winds at a balmy 40 degrees.

Because the weatherman had told me the rain would hold off until the end of the trip, I had not packed anything warm. So we toured the farm huddled together, cringing with embarrassment every time anyone asked where we were from.

“We’re from [College Town],” I would reply weakly with a slight grin.

They politely smiled and nodded, looking down at my feet as if to say, “Dontcha know better than to wear your Birkenstocks to a farm?”

Dave and I accompanied our kids from pen to frigid pen, learning all about how giraffes give birth and how to greet an alpaca (with your face, not your paws). The wind was relentless, and our kids could not wait to brave it on top of a camel. But I was not so eager.

“Is it too cold for the camel rides today?” I asked our tour guide hopefully.

“Nope!” she replied cheerfully.

The temperature seemed to drop with every area we visited. The kids pointed their cold, shaking, purple fingers in amazement at the baby kangaroos while fumbling to feed them with their numb little hands, but they did not lose focus on the camel waiting at the end. I tried another road block.

“Did I need to make a reservation?” I asked, “because I didn’t, and there are six of us,” I held my breath.

“No reservation required!” she chirped.

We shivered our way through the newborn barn where I fought the urge to push aside the gestating ostrich eggs and curl up fetal under the heat lamp. The tour was winding down, and I was not about to board a camel without a fight.

“Do we need special instruction to ride the camels,” I tried one more time, “because we weren’t here for last night’s tour.”

“Oh, no, you just climb up and hold on!” she said.

The wind grew colder, and the idea of climbing up and holding onto an exotic animal sounded just about as appealing as bringing one home to raise.

As our guide began to wrap up the tour and the promise/threat of “getting” to ride a camel in sub-arctic conditions loomed near, Dave and I began bargaining with each other to get out of parental riding duties.

“I’ll let you listen to Seether all the way home,” I started.

“You can pull out the John Denver,” Dave countered, “and I won’t make fun of you when you sing.”

“You can have all the cup holders and chew gum as loud as you want.”

“I’ll let you drive.”

I was just about to take him up on letting me sing “Rocky Mountain High” while driving all the way home, when we were informed that all four of our kids had been deemed tall enough to ride without an adult.

So Dave and I did what came instinctively at that point and hid in a nearby barn for shelter, free from the wind and the judgmental glares of the other parents who, apparently, loved their children enough to not only stand in line with them for the camel rides, but climb on back and join in the adventure.

Not us. We were perfectly happy taking pictures from afar. We could tell them how exciting it was after our teeth had stopped chattering.

Within four minutes of dismounting the camels (with the help of the staff, as I was too busy cursing under my [visible] breath and Dave was trying to regain feeling in his fingers by playing with his iPhone), I had our kids back inside our room and under the soothing water of the shower in the Zebra Suite, scrubbing the exotic dander off their little suburban bodies.

The camel ride was over, but not soon forgotten, as we would find out the following day…

Come back next week for “Spring Break ’09: Part II (Underground with Our Claustrophobic Diva!)"


la_vie_en_shoes said...

Jules, you made me laugh out loud! Only you can make talk of pig nipples into something that makes me spit my drink all over the keyboard.

Can't wait to hear about the salt mines...

The Dukes said...

Julie, you are hilarious! I simultaneously want to send Jacquie 4 cubic feet of chocolate to thank her for thinking of directing me to your blog and strangle her for not pointing me here sooner!

Adlibby said...

OMG! That was too freakin' funny! Thanks! I needed that. ;)

Sassy Britches said...

Ahaha! When you wrote "/Animal Farm" I thought you were being facetious and referencing that horribly freakish book! Lo and behold you ACTUALLY WENT TO an Animal Farm!

I'm picturing you in the fetal position under the heat lamps. Priceless!

Tova Darling said...

Nice! I'm glad you didn't have to ride... although I bet it would've made for more great stories. :)

KK said...

We've driven past those exotic animals in Nickerson so many times and I never knew they had a bed and breakfast. Another Central Kansas treasure!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I wish I had a nickle for every time I've held my nose and my kids' hands at animal farms...I'd have, like, a quarter (and nicer-smelling shoes).

Check out the Hall of Fame, Jules. Your commenting has paid off!

LC in Hawktown said...

Loved this! My husband,then seven-year-old son and I all rode camels at Marine World-Africa USA,then in Redwood City,CA in 1982. My camel was named Stymie, after one of the Little Rascals,and was apparently too feisty for kids. Our rides were fortunately uneventful,but very bumpy! Dave and you should put camel-riding at the very end of your bucket list! The one positive thing is that camel-riding will definitely discourage you from a vacation trekking across the Arabian desert!!