I get so worked up before everything. Even if I’d done it a million times and know the people I’ll be seeing; I still get the jitters. The butterflies. The “Oh God, why did I sign myself up to do this…” (No offense. It’s my anxiety, not you.)
I was talking mindlessly as Turkey drove around the park trying to find a meeting place.
“Turn here.” I said in the middle of a sentence that didn’t matter. He was already half past the entrance to the lot when I said it.
“I seriously hate when you do that.” He sighed, looking for a place to turn around.
“No, nevermind go up to that pavilion.” I pointed. “Or…no, yeah that’ll work.”
We parked the car and got out. The wind was fast and very cold. It was 9:50am. Ten more minutes. I set up a plastic tote full of stickers, trash bags and snacks at the edge of a picnic table. “There.” I thought to myself.
Britany was already at the campground. We met briefly the prior evening, a little before the rain came. She was walking up to the meeting spot (she camps in her car and would have to break everything down to drive a couple minutes.) She was with her dog Brody.
Kallan and her pup Ellie stayed the night before also but Turkey and I arrived as it was just beginning to get dark (and oh, that rain was on the way…) so we rushed to get our dogs situated, got the camp site ready and retreated into the warmth of our camper for the night.
Of course, I knew all week that all of these strangers-but-not-really would be attending, but it didn’t register until each of them arrived and were standing with me.
A car pulled in. And then another. One more. And then the last one. Mike from Texas. (FROM TEXAS.) He pulled an all-nighter to drive all this way, yet somehow was full of energy and so happy to be there.
And here they were. All 7 registered attendees; not including myself and Turkey. But they weren’t just attendees; they were the very first group of Illinois Park Project volunteers. Friends. Here. Supporting my wine-born idea. Coming to an unfamiliar place to meet a bunch of people they didn’t know and all to leave the park better than they found it.
I began as I do at any meetup I host. Awkwardly giggling and hugging and thanking people for coming. “Help yourself! Get a sticker! Grab a snack!” And then; the calm. It’s all good. (S’allllllll goooood.) In the zone. This is what I love.
Brisna tells me she and her daughter have driven 4 hours south for this. “I got up at 4am! My daughter and I, we’ve never done anything like this. We’re so excited.”
Stacey says dang near the same thing. She’s been the sweetest, most encouraging internet friend for a long time now. Here in person, with me. Doing something new with her daughter, Amanda. On such a cold day like this.
I couldn’t stop smiling anyway and immediately began witty-bantering with Mike. I’ve been waiting so long to unite with this person.We all walked around 6 miles, the first part of the day I’d say. In 6 miles of trail and road walking – we ended up picking up around 18lbs of trash.The official event lasted 3 hours, with a snack break in between.
After everyone who wasn’t camping Friday night with us said their goodbyes; the rest of us headed back to the campground for a chill break and to grab some lunch. Mike was camping at our site with us so he spent some time getting his tent set up. He and I chatted for almost 2 hours and drank a few afternoon craft beers. Kallan and Ellie joined us and soon, Britany and Brody met up with us as well.
We decided to finish what we started and explore the last trail in the park, which added an extra 4-ish miles to our day.
When everything was said and done we had totaled a little over 20lbs of trash, made new friendships, and had a slight case of windburn.
Leaving wonderful weekends and days and people behind is difficult. Everyone reluctantly parted ways. It was a beautiful sunny day; perfect for camping and trail beers. But; plans were made. Ideas tossed around. Promises to stay in touch and to keep doing what we’re doing.
I was floored for days afterward. Turkey was so happy, too. I love being able to do things like this with him. It just fills me with gratefulness that he supports me so excitedly. I’m kind of bummed we didn’t get a photo together. We need to be better at that.
This weekend I have my next park cleanup planned and I absolutely cannot wait. Each event is going to be so unique and special; but this first one will especially hold a place in my heart forever.