Sunday, November 2, 2014

October 24-26, 2014, High Cliff State Park, Sherwood, WI

  This last weekend we took our final camping trip of the season, and it was the most unique of all of our car camping trips because of Halloween. My wife and daughter trick-or-treated at High Cliff State park last year, but I stayed home. This year, we decided we would camp out if the weather was nice enough, so we made reservations about a month in advance with hopes the weather would be nice. Luckily, Mother Nature cooperated with highs around 60 F and lows of about 40 F, although a steady wind made it feel a bit cooler on top of the cliffs.

We arrived Friday night after dark to find Lorraine's brother and his 8 year old waiting for us. They had planned to surprise us with a fire but were having difficulty since the wood shed (and park office) was already closed and much of the downed wood was wet. Finding wood unavailable at the park, we had previously stopped at a convenient store just outside the park and picked up four bundles of wood. While we set up camp, our guests got the fire going. Amber played really well with her cousin that evening while I sipped on vodka and lemonade and chatted with the adults. I really enjoy having a few drinks while sitting around the fire, but it almost always result in a middle of the night call of nature, which isn't so fun in the fall with cool temperatures. However, it was unusually warm for a late October morning, so it wasn't too bad to crawl out of the tent.
Saturday morning, Lorraine treated us to bacon and eggs while Amber anxiously anticipated the two trick-or-treat events coming for the day. We headed down to her brother's house to join them for their neighborhood trick-or-treat, which felt quite strange in sun glasses and 65 degree weather. We walked around until the kids were too tired to continue, then we headed back to camp for a late lunch. We took some time to look at some decorations on the campsites, but Amber insisted on waiting until dark to be surprised by the decorations at the sites on the electric loop. I'm glad she did because the extent to which these sites were decorated was impressive and surprising. The decorations were far more elaborate than anything seen in our neighborhood. There were makeshift tunnels with creepy display cabinets containing heads and other spooky concoctions. There were lighted mazes full of witches and goblins and skeletons and costumed people handing out candy. Zombies were roaming the campground, mad scientists were creating potions, and frightful creatures were jumping out of dark corners. Quite impressive, especially for a campground.
After trick-or-treating, we returned to our site on the non-electric side and found it a dark contrast to the carnival atmosphere on the electric side. I had prepared the fire pit and started a one spark fire, which was proudly my best fire starting accomplishment of the year. I knew it would be dark and that we would have a crowd, so I put some advanced effort into carefully assembling multiple layers of wood shaving, leaves, tinder and kindling. The kids munched on their candy and roasted marshmallows while everyone chatted and enjoyed the warm autumn night. 

By my count that made 30 nights we slept in a tent this year, including our first family backpacking and canoe camping trips, so I consider this season a great success. I look forward to next season, but I admit I am ready to put away the camping gear, rake some leaves and watch some football! Go GATORS!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 17-19, 2014, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Stoughton, WI

October weather in Wisconsin can vary considerably, and since we don't currently camp below about 30 F, I keep thinking we might be done for the season. However, a decent weather forecast had us looking for a spot to camp. My wife insists that we don't camp or hike where hunting is allowed, so our options were limited. She found that Kegonsa State Park was having a candlelight hike on Saturday, so she booked a couple nights for us. With high winds and cool temperatures, I decided we would not paddle since our open water recovery skills are unexplored. Instead, I planned to take it easy and maybe walk a few miles, so I packed my 22 lb zero gravity chair, which is essentially a campground lazy boy recliner.

We hustled on Friday afternoon and set up camp before dark. I bought four bundles of firewood from the vendor, who drives around in an old pickup truck, and built a fire. It was certainly nice to have a fire on the cool windy night. I don't think the temperatures dropped below 40 F, but the wind was strong, and I got a chill if I moved too far from the fire. Instead of adding layers, I just pulled my "lazy boy" right next to the fire pit. 

As usual, Amber and I slept in on Saturday. I still wonder why she sleeps so well when we camp as opposed to home. Lorraine had already eaten some breakfast and hiked a few miles before we even got up. I built another fire and lounged around while they went to the park. When they returned, Lorraine and I had tortilla pizzas and Amber ate some oatment, then I was coaxed into walking down to the lake. Amber rode her bike and played on the playground for awhile. The campsite was covered in leaves, so I helped Amber pile them up for play and even buried her a few times. Afterwards, we
had an early supper of Mountain House chicken noodle, which Amber begged and begged us to cook it, although it turned out none of us were crazy about it. I wanted to wait until dark to take the hike, but Amber was extremely excited to do it, so we held out as long as possible and started right around dusk. The weather was nice, and it wasn't as crowded as I remember in the past. The 1.2 mile hike was over quickly, and we returned to camp for a fire and roasted marshmallows. I stayed up a couple hours after Amber and Lorraine. The forecast was for 33 F, so I actually slept in my clothes and stayed completely toasty and even had to unzip my bag a bit.
Sunday morning Amber woke up to a nearly shut eye from the stye she refused to let us cover with a warm washcloth, so we made an appointment to get her to the doctor later that afternoon. After breakfast, we hurried to break camp so we could get home and cleaned up before Amber's doctor appointment. The only treatment the doctor recommended was a warm washcloth applied numerous times a day with Children's Tylenol for any pain. Several days later her eye is almost back to normal.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October 4-5, 2014, Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI

As the days are becoming shorter and the temperature begins dipping down to the freezing mark, it appears that we have likely hung the canoe up until next seasons (literally, since I store it from the garage ceiling). Hopefully, as our skills improve and we compile cold-weather gear (such as wet or dry suits), we may take to paddling later into the fall. For now, though, are fall camping trips are primarily terrestrial. Looking for some reprieve from the unusally crowded October campgrounds, we picked out a short-trek backpack site at Governor Dodge State Park. Lorraine and I are planning an early summer backpack trip in the Smokies, so we were also looking to sort out our backpacking gear.
We decided we would hike a 3 mile loop sans packs, then backpack to our site afterward. Many of the trails at Governor Dodge were closed due to a tornado that hit earlier in the year, so we settled on the Lost Canyon Trail almost by default. As we like this area, it was really no compromise. The trail starts near Stephens Falls, which is a favorite for our daughter. We spent some time exploring the spring house and snapping photos of the falls before taking the Stephens Falls trail to the Lost Canyon Trail. The easy 3 mile hike took us more than two hours with all the stops and foot dragging, but it was a nice stroll through the small canyon, which was mostly protected from the cool winds.

I think sometime around 4 o'clock or so, we finally hit the trail to the campsite. We had never been to these sights before, so we weren't sure what to exptect. The trail was wide and dry, although it seems like it would be prone to becoming muddy in the rain. When we checked in at the ranger station earlier in the day, it seemed like a good idea to pick up some dry firewood since I expected dead and downed burnable wood near the sites to be picked over this late in the season. However, the bundles at this park were substantially larger than they are at most parks, so the burden of their weight had me rethinking whether we even would need a fire. We decided to drop the wood about a third of the way in and retrieve it later (maybe!). Without the awkward heavy bundles to weigh us down, the remainder of the trail was pretty easy even with our packs. Our lightest tent able to accommodate all three of us weighs 8.5 lbs (complete with the stakes, footprint, etc.), plus I agreed to sherpa the night's water supply, so my pack wasn't exactly light at about 45 lbs. Still, my new Kelty Red Cloud 90 handled the load really well, and I'm quite please with the purchase, although I think I would like to compliment it with a smaller, lighter pack someday. Lorraine's pack weighed in at just over 20 lbs and Amber's was between 9 and 10lbs. We were pleased to find a fairly secluded, good-sized campsite waiting for us. After weighing our options between to obvious tent pads, we chose to place the tent on the one with the lesser chance of falling trees and limbs, although it was a bit more exposed than the other pad. 

 With the tent location choice made, I left Lorraine and Amber to put up the tent while I retrieved the wood. I figured I could load one bundle on each shoulder and hike the both back in one trip, but they proved to awkward to balance that way, so I dropped one, figuring I could come back (or not) for the other. Seconds later, I ignored a faint call from a hiker behind me only to hear her calls of "Sir" become louder. I turned around to see if she was addressing me, and turns out she was offering to carry the other bundle. I certainly could not ask her to do so, so I gave her plenty of opportunity to change her mind and accept that it was not necessary, but she was pretty insistent. I was quite grateful for the offer as carrying the wood was the only time I felt exerted on the entire trip. She insisted that it offered her a good chance for a workout. As often as I am dismayed by the thoughtlessness of many campers, I encounter thoughtful, kind and generous people on the trais, water and campgrounds. I'll have to remind myself to pay it forward.

We had plenty of time to get camp setup and a fire started before dark. Although bears are not a concern in the park, raccoons certainly are, so I even set up my first ever food bag hang, It went really well, although I only got the food about 8 or 9 feet off the ground, which would certainly not be enough for avoiding a bear. Still, it gave me a little confidence in my technique and how much rope I will need. For canoe and car camping, I take hundreds of feet (probably close to 300 ft) of 3 mm polyester line, and I really like how well it works. For backpacking, I decided to try some thinner, lighter 1.75 mm Dyneema line, which is supposed to have a tensile strength of 450 lbs. Fifty feet of this stuff weighs only 0.9 oz and proved enough to hang a food bag, although I will probably bring another 50 ft of something of similar weight. The only downsides I found to this line are that 1) it's expensive and 2) the thin line is not very comfortable on my hands to pull tight. Still, I'm loooking to lighten the load for backpacking, so I think this will be my new go-to backpacking rope. Anyway, for supper, we had a Mountain House beef stroganoff, along with some cheddar cheese, summer sausage and pita bread. The Pocket Rocket stove seems like a winner, at least for boiling water. Amber and Lorraine also roasted marshmallows. Once again, Amber was ready for sleep an hour earlier than at home, so she and Lorraine went to bed around 8:30. I stayed up about an hour watching the fire.

The overnight temperatures were forecast for the low 30s, so we weren't sure how we would handle it since we usually only car camp in those temperatures and often have extra blankets ready. This time, we wanted a test of our gear and clothing, so having extra blankets a 1-mile round-trip away offered us a good chance with a relatively easy safety valve. I usually only sleep in the tent with shorts, but I decided to add socks and a fleece shirt. It took my bag about 30 minutes to warm up, then I had no problems sleeping. I think with long underwear and a hat, I could be fine down to about 20 F. Mostly, though, I was worried about Amber, but she apparently stayed nice and warm all night, although we had to keep putting her back on her insulated sleeping mat. She was layered up and slept deep inside her Eureka Azalea 15 F sleeping bag. Lorraine was the only one who got cold, so she may have to make some minor adjustments to her layers or get a warmer bag for these occasions.

 Sunday turned out to be a really nice mild fall day. Lorraine collected twigs and small branches while I got a nice fire going, and we took our time packing up camp. Lorraine had visited a neighboring campsite and found it littered with food and burnt trash. She picked up what she could, and we packed it out along with the rest of our gear but not before getting in one last photo opportunity of us with our packs. It's amazing how energetically Amber hikes on the way out compared to the way in, although she did slightly wear herself out and had to take a quick break. We promised a trip to the playground in exchange for good behavior, so after dumping our garbage we let her play at the Cox Hollow campground playground. By about noon, we headed back to Madison, where we had lunch at Laredos and did some browsing at REI before going home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 26-28, 2014, Hartman Creek State Park, Waupaca, WI

Lorraine wanted to return to paddle the Chain O' Lakes near Waupaca, WI, because she didn't really get a chance to do so on our last trip this summer. Since Hartman Creek State Park is conveniently located on the edge of the lake chain, we decided to camp there. We rushed out a little earlier than usual on Friday afternoon because of the shortened days. We made it to the park and set up camp just as it began getting dark. We were a little disappointed in our site selection as we thought we had reserved a site along Allen Lake, but it turns out we had a site inside the loop. The site wasn't bad, but camping next to strangers is starting to wear on me, and I'm craving a bigger adventure. The campground was probably only half full on Friday, so we had a little bit of quiet and privacy. We had a nice fire, and I enjoyed some quite reading by headlamp after Lorraine and Amber went to bed.

Lorraine was hoping to get started early on Saturday, but Amber and I just seem to sleep so well in the morning hours. We finally got up sometime after 8 am and enjoyed a bacon and egg breakfast. I think Amber ate two oatmeal packages, half a banana, five pieces of bacon and more than one egg with cheese. Wow! She's not a baby anymore. I really enjoyed my bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. After breakfast we headed to the Marl Lake landing and were surprised to be the only ones there, although more people arrived before we got launched. Still, compared to the last time we put in there, it was extremely quiet. I got Amber a pair of NEOS Adventurers, and we were disappointed to find out they leaked. After addressing her wet feet, we finally got on the water around 10:30 am. We paddled for about three hours, visiting twelve small lakes. The fall colors were wonderful, and the lakes were not very crowded. The highlight for Amber was pulling the boat through Beasley Creek. I admit it was a nice diversion. I think we had a first after the paddle was over. Amber let it slip that she wished it wasn't over. We had offered to take her to the swimming platform on Marl Lake, but she seemed intimidated for some reason. Since there were a couple people hanging around the platform, I didn't push it and offered that we could drive around to that side of the lake after lunch.

We had home-made dehydrated chili with Fritos for lunch, although I think Amber ended up eating oatmeal. Afterward, we walked over to the fishing peer on Allen Lake to let Amber fish. We didn't have any live bait, so Lorraine made some bait from our sandwich bread. Amazingly, the fish loved it, but she wasn't able to hook anything. Before supper, we decided to head to the beach to check out the sunset and play with the remote controlled boat. Amber and I played a little in the water with the boat, then we threw a frisbee around before watching the sun set behind the tree line.
We headed back to have dehydrated fajitas for supper. As Lorraine was preparing dinner, I started a fire. As we were eating the fajitas, I made Amber a cherry pudgie pie.Unfortunately, the campground became more crowded as the day wore on, and our relative quiet and privacy was overcome by loud conversation and bright camp lanterns. I watched the fire before becoming too annoyed with the neighbors and crashing around ten.  

I slept in Sunday morning and found that Lorraine and Amber had gone a hike around Allen Lake. I enjoyed some quiet and ate a little breakfast before they returned. We decided to pack up before lunch, then we let Amber dip a line at the fishing pier before heading home. For some reason, I seem to be drawn to Subway steak sandwiches after camping, so we made a stop for lunch. The weekend weather was absolutely beautiful, but it was probably the last such weekend we will have this year. I enjoyed the paddle, and although it's a bit disappointing to think it might be one of the last of the year, I know that we had a really great summer of paddling and camping.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September 5-7, 2014, Buckhorn State Park, Necedah, WI

It's nice to have a long Labor Day weekend, and I like to take advantage of the extra day, but it's just usually way too busy and hectic to camp or canoe at the state parks. So, this Labor Day we took care of chores and the home front with the expectation of a two-night-post Labor Day camping trip somewhere nearby. The parks didn't seem to clear out as I had remembered after Labor Day as most of the more desirable campsites within a couple hours of Madison were taken. Lorraine decided to book a site at Buckhorn State Park, which is a fairly good-sized park with lots of shoreline. Some of the sites are even on the lake, but we were not able to secure one. Nonetheless, we planned on getting some paddling and hiking in this weekend.

I took off work a couple hours early on Friday afternoon to get a jump on the weekend and to help us get to camp before dark. After picking up the kid, packing the car, watering the garden and feeding the cat, we were on the road around 5 pm. We decided to hit a Wendy's drive-thru on the way, and I paid for it later that evening with nausea. Anyway, the drive was uneventful, and we made it to our campsite, A4 by 7 pm and quickly setup the tent and tarp. Right before leaving, the forecast looked to suggest we might get some rain just as we were setting up camp, but fortunately, we only got a couple drops and a nice rainbow. The site appeared to once have been part of a group camp area, as evident by the signs and a communal fire pit. The site was not bad, but we've definitely had nicer. It's on a loop with four other sites, and would be ideal for a multi-family group. We built a fire and got a little time to relax before heading to bed. Bedtime was not entirely peaceful as we were "blessed" with the jubilation of a Christian group's kumbaya celebration on one side and a drunken party on the other along with numerous train whistles throughout the night. Nonetheless, I slept pretty well.

 Surprisingly, I was up around 7 am with the expectation that we would do some fishing and paddling in the morning. However, Amber just could not wake up, so Lorraine and I enjoyed a rare opportunity to chat without being interrupted by whining or demands. After an hour or so, I started craving the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich Lorraine had promised me for breakfast, so I started waking Amber. It's amazing how much better she sleeps in the woods compared to home. She finally became responsive around 9 am, then we ate a delicious breakfast. By the time we got cleaned up and ready to head out, it was approaching 11 o'clock. Time for lunch! Just kidding. Amber really wanted to try her hand at the kid's fishing pond, which sounded good to me. We picked up a couple dozen nightcrawlers and park at the trailhead to the pond. There were plenty of biting fish, but they were all really small. Despite feeding them more than a dozen worms, we weren't able to hook a single fish. Man, I really am a lousy fisherman. I have a lot of excuses and theories, but I guess it boils down to me not knowing what the heck I'm doing. The closest thing we came to catching was a turtle that Amber half-way reeled in before it shook loose. She was thrilled, so it was worth the couple hours we spent. Lorraine wasn't interested in fishing, so she walked the trail around the pond with camera in hand to photograph the scenery and wildlife.

I figured we better eat something before heading out for a paddle, so we went back to camp and had lunch. I made grilled cheese for Amber and grilled ham and cheese for me, while Lorraine made herself a cheese quesadilla. I started to make Lorraine's lunch, but I guess she saw the uncertainty I had about how much cheese to add, and she jumped in and made it the way she likes. I added some Fritos (which were supposed to 
go with the chili we forgot at home) to
my plate and had a pretty tasty lunch. After cleaning up, we headed to the canoe launch despite Amber's protests, which we subdued by offering her a bribe of a trip to the playground afterwards in return for good behavior. We started in the section that is supposed to be an interpretive trail accompanied with a brochure, but we paddled that section last year and were underwhelmed with the guide. For example, the place labeled #4 on the map begins as "Underwater life: Underwater lurk thousands of fierce predators" Uh, ok. How's that different than every other place we've canoed?

Anyway, it's not a bad paddle, but the loop is short, so we decided to head for the day use island marked on the park map. Amber did not like paddling out onto the lake as it was slightly choppy, but it was nothing dangerous or anything our boat couldn't glide over. Besides, most of the way there was shallow enough for us to stand, and much of it was only a couple feet deep. The island seemed pretty nice, but there must have been 50 people enjoying the lake from boats or by playing in the shallow water around the island. We circled around it, and headed back toward the cove toward our starting point. There were some ducks and geese to view but nothing too exciting, although the lake seemed like a decent recreation area. Later when exploring the shoreline around the park, it became clear to me that part of the reason so many people choose that island is that the beach and campsites along the mainland have water quality issues, sometimes with the pea-soup-like growth that is common in late summer. Uggh! Our paddle ended up being 3.7 miles and took just under 2 hours. If Amber enjoyed herself a little more in the canoe, I would have liked explored some of the waterfront campsites, but our trip was a decent compromise. Upon returning to the parking lot, we noticed a fresh scratch on the passenger side of our van and suspect some bewildered paddlers we encountered may have been responsible.As promised, we spent some time at the playground and explored some of the shoreline near it. Amber swang a little, negotiated a make-shift obstacle course, fleetingly wrote her name in the shoreline sand laughing as it was washed away by the waves and played some pretend until she decided she would rather be back at camp. It was already evening, and I think we had a fairly full day of outdoor recreation, so I was ready to wind downBack at camp, I built a fire, and Lorraine boiled water for a Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, which Amber and I shared. Of course, Amber continued her gentle demands, asking for minute rice and a pudgie pie. After catering to Amber, Lorraine finally got a chance to eat, and she opted for a cherry pudgie pie cooked on the fire. Amber eventually got a couple marshmallows over the fire before being ready for bed. I stayed up a few more hours enjoying moments of peace between drunken howls and screams of our neighbors and unsettling campfire songs from the church group. I finally had enough around 11 and fell asleep quite quickly, although somehow my mat was shove in the corner, and I kept waking up feeling claustrophobic. I finally crawled out of my bag and moved my pad to a more comfortable location. I was awakened many more times throughout the night and could never quite be sure what woke me, but every time I woke up I could still hear the drunken neighbors, even at 3 or 4 am. I sure hope the crowds thin out this fall.

Sunday morning my alarm went off at 6:30, but I just couldn't do it. We had plans for a morning hike and to try to get back home for a birthday party, so I felt pressure to get moving. Still, I slept another 45 minutes before forcing myself to wake up and start putting away sleeping bags and mats and trying to get Amber started for the day. She kept asking if we could stay one more day, but we both needed to get back to work on Monday. Still, it's great to hear her asking for more camping and outdoor activities. I took a break from packing for oatmeal and bacon. Thanks honey! The tent was wet with condensation, but we decided to pack it up anyway. We were packed and ready to hike by around 9:30 or so. We decided to hike the trails leading to the waterfront campsites on the west side of the park. We've been talking about easing our way into backpacking as a family and are also looking for some local canoe camping locations, so we wanted to scout out these sites, which are accessible by foot or by boat. Some of the sites were pretty nice, but a few had almost no shade, so I'm glad we took the time to look at these. We ended up hiking almost exactly as much as we paddled in just about the same amount of time. Interesting. Our GPS track is shown below. We probably would have hiked out of there a little faster, but Amber decided she no longer was interested in the birthday party. Since we weren't rushing back, Amber wanted to stop at the observation tower, which I did not find very exciting, but she seemed to have a good time.

We were all hungry, so we decided to have a sit down lunch at Buckhorn Cafe. Wow, they have some big burgers. We stuffed ourselves with an appetizer, burgers and dessert. Shortly after leaving, Amber changed her mind and wanted to attend the party. Although we wouldn't be back in time, the hosting family already told us it was fine if we wanted to stop by after the party hours to play in the bounce house, so Amber and Lorraine did just that as I unpacked the van. Wow, I was exhausted, but didn't feel like I should be. I guess I can't give up my trips to the gym if I want to have the energy for some real adventures. The weather was great, and I look forward to some more trips this fall, although I have mixed emotions about missing college football.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

August 16-21, 2014, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Our family took our first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. We planned a five night stay but left a day early to avoid predictions of rain and storms we heard from our weather radio. We had fairly poor weather, but as my wife exclaimed "A rainy day in the Boundary Waters is better than a nice day at work." We planned for a few different route options but ended up basecamping on Horseshoe Lake and taking day trips. We covered a total of about 30 miles between paddling and portaging and visited six lakes. Read on for more details about our trip or check out a slide show I put together of our pictures.

We left from the Madison, WI, area around 6am for what Google says is an 8-hr drive. We kept a nice pace for the first several hours of the trip with a quick drive-through stop at McDonald's in the Dells for breakfast. We made it to Two Harbors around lunch time and let Amber pick Subway for lunch despite many more interesting options off Hwy 61. Just after Two Harbors, succumbed by the views and a pedestrian bridge over the Baptism River, we pulled over at the Tettegouche State Park rest area to stretch our legs and take in the sights of Lake Superior. This is a really nice park, and according to the videos in the visitor center/rest area, there is a ton to do in the park, including camping, paddling and hiking. We walked across the bridge, went down to the river and lake, threw some stones and took in some sun and nice views. We explored the visitor center, and Amber coveted some of the toys, while I was thinking about getting one of the patches. We didn't buy anything at the time but used the toys as a bribe for good behavior. We ended up stopping here again on the way back to let Amber pick out a small toy as one of her rewards for cooperating. After an hour or so, we headed back on our way to the Gunflint Trail. There was major construction along the trail, so we had some delays. With a quick stop in Grand Marais for gas, we made it to Rockwood Outfitters around 4:30.

We checked in with Mike and Lynn and Rockwood for our stay at the bunkhouse. They really are great people and helped make for a smooth trip for us. Amber was enthralled with the bunkhouse and seemed more interested in hanging out there than outside by the lake. We managed to coax her out for dinner at the Trail Center, which I have heard a lot about from others who have visited the Gunflint Trail. Amber and a couple other patrons saw a fox across the trail, but Lorraine and I missed it. After dinner, Lorraine was tired, so she went to bed while Amber and I played cards and dipped a line in Lake Poplar. I was worried that I would have trouble sleeping because I was excited and not used to sleeping on a bunk, but I got a good night's sleep. I think I got most of my jitters out of my system in the weeks leading up to the trip.

Sunday morning, Lorraine coaxed Amber and me out of bed just after 6 am. I felt pretty stiff and tried stretching out my kinks but had no luck. After showering and navigating the chaos of packing our stuff and trying to sort out which miscellaneous items would stay in the car and which would come with us, we were ready to load the boat and get going. Amber stepped outside to an unleashed pit bull whose owners had no ability to control him. Unfortunately, we would run into it and its careless, disrespectful owners on the portages. The morning was misty and chilly, probably not even 50 degrees F, and there was a SSE wind at about 10 mph. We got on the water just after 8am.

The paddle across Poplar was uneventful, and we found the portage to Lizz with no problem. We took our time as we were figuring out our routine. All of a sudden something rushes past me, and I notice it is the unleashed disobedient pit bull. Argh!!! I ask the group where they are going, and they tell me Gaskin, which means they will be taking the same route as us. We decided to take our time to let them get ahead of us. Apparently, we weren't slow enough as we ran into the group again. This time another group with two well-behaved dogs were coming the opposite direction, and the pit was being entirely aggressive with them. Fortunately, the owners of the pair had control over their dogs and ordered them onward without incident. This pit even jumped in someone else's boat. Some people! Anyway, the thing that struck me most about the trip to Horseshoe was how crowded and muddy the portages were. We've encountered fewer people on some of our state park camping trips. Anyway, people we encountered gave us encouraging news about open campsites, some of which they had just vacated. We were told the best Horseshoe site was the one on the Eastern side of the Southern peninsula. It was taken by the time we got there, so we took the Western facing site on the peninsula. We arrived right around noon, and after a quick break, we set up camp. I had quite a bit of lower back pain for the paddle in and was worried it would put a dampener on our trip, but my back improved, although I could never get rid of some kinks I had in my shoulder blade. We would end up base camping here as we weren't very excited about packing up and moving in the wet weather we had.

Amber was excited to get to camp, as I promised her one of the two gifts I had brought along if she cooperated on our first day of travel. She couldn't decide if she wanted the game or the toy, but ultimately picked the toy. She was incredibly excited to find I had brought along a $15 3-in-1 Lego. It earned me title of "Best Dad Ever" for at least a couple hours. We built the Lego vehicles and played Uno for entertainment.

We had nice first day, complete with good weather. After we set up, I was laying on the landing rock to work out my back ache, when I was surprised by a visit from a Forest Service Wilderness Ranger and a guy from the Conservation Core shadowing her. They were checking sites for maintenance needs and asking for permits. After a pleasant chat, they left us to our day. Lunch was quesadillas with foil-packed chicken, which tasted like tuna. I don't think I want to bring this chicken again. Dinner was cheese and summer sausage. We took a paddle on the southwest arm of Horseshoe, and we went to bed without a fire because we were all tired. We traveled about 7.5 miles.

I slept until about 7:30 on Monday morning, which was about ten hours of needed rest. Breakfast was oatmeal, sausage and cheddar cheese. Amber ate two strawberry-flavored oatmeal packages, which is quite amazing considering she usually doesn't even finish one. After breakfast, we took a leisurely paddle around the southeast end of Horseshoe looking for critters. We also took the portage to Vista Lake without the boat and ran into the ranger and her companion, and amazingly, she found a wedding band at the landing. Unfortunately, they had no news of good weather in the forecast. We returned to camp for lunch and had tortilla pizzas for lunch. This is one of my favorite camping meals, and it's pretty easy to make. Amber opted for a bagel with honey. Later, the rain rolled in and was pretty hard for nearly an hour. I looked out the tent to see 1-2 inches of water around, and the bottom felt like a waterbed. Fortunately, we had no leaks and only a little moisture seeped through. Maybe Cliff Jacobson is right that we should put an innie in the tent. 

 The weather stayed overcast with occasional sprinkles, but it was pleasant enough for us to not be stuck in the tent or under the tarp. Amber dipped a line in the water from shore, and we took a paddle to get some more water to filter. She stood up in the canoe, making it obvious she's getting more comfortable in the canoe. Hopefully, her comfort will not turn into carelessness. Amber has been singing a lot, especially when she goes to the tent to play by herself, but when asked, she claims everything is lame and boring. We know better, and I've been catching her saying "This is fun." We played a bunch of Uno and built some Legos. Despite everything being wet, I built a fire. It took my constant attention for an hour or so, but I managed to get a hot fire to burn away the remnants of the last campers who left the site in a less-than-desirable state. They left uneaten crayfish with meat in the fire pit and shells from the crayfish and pistachios all around camp. The fire pit was full of fairly large, barely charred logs as if they couldn't keep the fire going or dumped their crayfish boil right into the fire before leaving. People are such pigs. I enjoyed the fire and went to bed around 11. We traveled 3.5 - 4 miles Monday.

I slept another ten hours until nearly 9 am on Tuesday. The morning was wet, dreary and foggy.I had visions of waking up early to go fishing while out here, but I love sleeping so much, and my camp bed is incredibly comfortable. Amber also slept in late, giving Lorraine some time alone to soak in the wilderness. We missed two eagles fishing, although with one nested across from our campsite we had plenty of opportunity to watch it. Still, Lorraine got the best of the show from them. Amber polished off an apple cinnamon and a strawberry oatmeal, but I just wasn't hungry.

We took a day trip to Vista Lake, this time with the boat. Vista is a beautiful lake, and the portage from Horseshoe is not bad, but the landings suck. They are rocky and slippery and getting in and out of the boat is not so pleasant. We overshot the southwest campsite and headed to the southern-most one, which is a very nice site with incredible views. We had a snack-like lunch at the site, then moved onto the other site on the southern part of Vista Lake. This site leaves a lot to be desired and has a very steep landing. After looking around, climbing around and seeing the rusty artifacts, we headed back to camp. Amber earned her second bribe, a chess, checkers and backgammon camping game. Amber and I played in the tent for awhile, even making up some games. We had spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner, then I decided to take the boat out fishing. I spent about half an hour paddling around before I got my first bite, a ~12" walleye. I'm not much of a fisher, but I've taken a little interest for the first time this year. The one fish was enough to satisfy my fishing desire, but now I wish I would have tried for some more. It was my first fish caught from a canoe. Hopefully, I'll have many more. We skipped the fire, and we were all in bed by 9 or 9:30. We traveled about 4.5 miles on Tuesday.

   Wednesday, we were all up early and on the water by 6 am to look for some critters. Amber has been desperate to see a moose, but unfortunately, we never got to see one. However, we did get a treat to see a family of beavers. We went to the SE campsite, back down to the Vista portage and back to We paddled to the northwest arm of Horseshoe and took the portage to Allen sans  the boat. There's a rocky shallow section near the portage in which we got stuck, so be careful if your heading that way. We saw plenty of paint on one of the rocks, so we were not the first to hit it. Amber enjoyed playing on the rocks on the Allen side of the portage, and we took a bunch of pictures. We also followed a loon around Horseshoe Lake on the way back to camp. Dinner was garlic parmesan bannock with parkay squeeze butter. Amber went to the tent to play around 7 and amazingly crashed for the night. That almost never happens at home. I built a fire while Lorraine cleaned up camp, then we listened to the weather forecast on the radio. The forecast was not promising for Thursday afternoon nor all day Friday, when we planned to leave, so we floated the idea of leaving early if we had a window. We decided to wait and see. I watched the fire until about 10 pm before putting it out and heading to bed not knowing if we would be leaving in the Once again, Amber had two packs of oatmeal, and Lorraine and I had hash browns and Spam. Amber and I dipped a line from shore, but it was not a good spot for fishing as the water is only a couple feet deep there. The morning was terribly overcast despite a forecast suggesting some sun, but we finally got treated to a few hours of sun in the afternoon. It was enough to charge some batteries for the phone, which I use for GPS, and the camera and to dry our clothes, much of which was wet due to the weather and muddy portages. The forecast was for more rain, so we decided to move the tent in preparation. We ate taco meat, beans and tortillas for lunch. Amber had ackaged buttery noodles (Knorr brand, which is similar to the Lipton ones). We paddled to the northwest arm of Horseshoe and took the portage to Allen sans  the boat. There's a rocky shallow section near the portage in which we got stuck, so be careful if your heading that way. We saw plenty of paint on one of the rocks, so we were not the first to hit it. Amber enjoyed playing on the rocks on the Allen side of the portage, and we took a bunch of pictures. We also followed a loon around Horseshoe Lake on the way back to camp. Dinner was garlic parmesan bannock with parkay squeeze butter. Amber went to the tent to play around 7 and amazingly crashed for the night. That almost never happens at home. I built a fire
while Lorraine cleaned up camp, then we listened to the weather forecast on the radio. The forecast was not promising for Thursday afternoon nor all day Friday, when we planned to leave, so we floated the idea of leaving early if we had a window. We decided to wait and see. I watched the fire until about 10 pm before putting it out and heading to bed not knowing if we would be leaving in the morning. We traveled about seven miles on Wednesday.  

Thursday morning I got up around 8 am, hours after Lorraine as usual. The forecast was for rain most of Thursday and Friday with chances of thunderstorms, so we decided to pack up and leave early. We were packed and on the water just after 10 am. We arrived back at the outfitter shortly after 1 pm after a slight detour due to an overshot of Rockwood by paddling around (instead of between) the islands on Poplar. We showered, chatted with Mike and Lynn, bought some souvenirs and headed out around 3 pm. We stopped at Tettegouche to pick up a patch for me and a small memento for Amber, then we ate dinner at Betty's Pies. While waiting for dinner, I saw that the detailed forecast specific for the area in which we camped was much better than the general forecast we heard on the radio. Although it was a little disappointing to leave early, I think we made the right decision based on the information we had at the time. We decided to head home instead of possibly getting a hotel and doing some sightseeing as we had contemplated. We made it home around 1am.

Overall, I think we had a really successful first BWCA trip, and there's not too much I would change. Our food barrel was pretty heavy, so I might want to lighten the load a little by leaving out some heavy items. We didn't portage very far, but if we plan to go any farther, I think an ultralight kevlar canoe is in order. If I'm not a more experienced fisherman by the next trip, I will be tempted to leave the fishing gear at home, although it wasn't a great burden to carry it. We just didn't spend enough time fishing to justify it. Now, I look forward to planning the next adventure to new waters.

Here are some additional pictures of our trip: