Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 18-20, 2014, New Glarus Woods State Park, New Glarus, WI

We decided to take an unscheduled car camping trip this weekend, so I looked online to see what sites were available, and there were not very many choices within an hour or so of Madison. I hadn’t seen so many booked sites all year. New Glarus Woods had one walk-in site available, so I grabbed it. New Glarus Woods has no lake, but a state bike trail passes right through the walk-in sites. For the first time since I got my canoe, I would be leaving it at home this camping trip, and we would bring our bicycles instead. Then, I got hit with an unpleasant head and chest cold, which put me out of work for a couple of days. We weren’t sure if we would make the trip, but by Thursday afternoon, I knew I couldn’t sit around home for another day. So, I went to work on Friday as planned, leaving at 3pm to get out early enough to set up camp and have dinner before dark.

    We arrived around six o’clock and found that our site (21) was essentially completely on a slope, which made for interesting sleep. We set the tent up and decided to forgo the tarp since the site was fully shaded and no rain was predicted. Also, the site was pretty buggy, and we’ve found that mosquitoes often like to congregate under the tarp. After we started our usual setup routine (including Amber begging for something to eat within the first five minutes), we realized we forgot the pie filling despite promising pudgie pies. While Lorraine got our sleeping quarters in order, Amber and I made a run to Roy’s Market for some pie filling. Amber opted for strawberry instead of cherry but later seemed to regret it, although she would never admit it. After returning with the pie filling, I began preparations for making a fire. My cold really took hold of me, and I was dripping buckets of sweat after only a little bit of work. I started feeling extremely queasy and wondered if I would lose my lunch, but I made it through. For a few minutes, I wondered if I should have stayed home, but after eating grilled ham and cheese, I started feeling a little better. We enjoyed a campfire before Amber started begging to go to bed at barely 8 pm, which never happens at home. I stayed up a few more hours playing cat and mouse with a raccoon who kept wandering into camp. I wished I would have taken a picture, especially after waiting fruitlessly with the camera the following night.

    On Saturday morning, Amber and I slept in as usual on the first morning of camping, and Lorraine and Amber went to the park while I tried to drag myself out of the tent. I mostly skipped breakfast because supper was still sitting heavy in my stomach. I don’t think Amber appreciated me skipping breakfast as she was hoping we’d have some bacon, but Lorraine didn’t want to cook it if I wasn’t eating. We decided we would bike into town to get lunch at Culvers. The bike ride to New Glarus only took a few minutes as it is only a little over a mile and is mostly downhill. We ate at Culvers, then biked a little further into town, letting Amber play at the village park. After biking into town, we regretted stopping at Culvers as there seemed to be a number of more interesting options. The ride into New Glarus only took a few minutes, but the ride back must have taken an hour. Amber had to stop every few minutes and walk her bike up the hill. I took the chance to get a little exercise by riding up and down the hill in short segments as they were walking up. After returning to camp, we mostly took it easy. We noticed that the campground was getting considerably busier as people were apparently arriving from Illinois for a one-nighter. While Lorraine took a short nap, I took Amber to the park and drove into town for ice, which led to an ice cream sandwich for Amber and a six pack of beer for me. We started a fire before the mosquitoes showed up in force and had brats for supper. Once again, Amber was ready for an early bedtime, so I’m beginning to wonder if she’s not a bit nervous in camp in the dark.

    I woke up Sunday morning to a terrible ringing sound in my ear and was a bit worried about an ear infection, but it gradually improved as the day wore on. Lorraine and Amber made a trip to the park, then Amber finally got the bacon she had been wanting, and I tried some pre-flavored maple sugar instant oatmeal. I was glad to discover Lorraine got in a morning hike since she doesn’t get to go on as many hikes as she would like. After breakfast, I played a bit of pretend in the “toy tent” while Lorraine started packing up. After my discomfort in the cramped toy tent got the better of me, I started helping break camp. We stopped at Qdoba in Madison before heading home.

    The weather for our trip was fantastic, but I wish I would have felt a little better. This would have also been a good time to have a tandem “tag-along” for Amber so that we could have put in a few more miles. New Glarus Woods doesn’t have showers, and for some reason, we always seem to feel dirtier when we camp here than at other locations. Maybe this would be a better place to come when it’s not as warm. It’s convenient enough that I’d come back, but I wish we would have done a better job at scouting the sites since I’d rather not stay in another one on a hill. We, especially Amber, spent both nights sliding down our pads to the foot of the tent. I’d also like to find some other bike-friendly campgrounds that don’t have enormous hills. I feel a little better about using my bike rack on the new van, although it’s clear that the van was not designed with sporty endeavors in mind. I also think I figure how to arrange the bikes so that they can fit nicely with the canoe of the van. Maybe we’ll have to bring the bikes on our next camping trip.

 July 4-6, 2014, Sylvania Wilderness, Watersmeet, MI

Having spent so much time car camping in close proximity to other campers, I was ready to get out to the relative solitude of the wilderness. Our family’s first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is all set for August, but I didn’t want to wait so long to get out canoe camping, and the Sylvania Wilderness seemed to be the perfect opportunity for a test run of our gear and packing strategy. Also, campsites for Sylvania can be reserved in advance, alleviating any worries about fighting potential holiday crowds for a campsite, so I reserved campsite Birch on Clark Lake for the July 4th weekend.

My wife repeatedly asked me if I was sure it would only take four hours to get to Watersmeet, and if I knew how bad holiday traffic could be getting “up north”. I took that as a clue to get an early start and promised to wake up around 5 am, which is several hours earlier than my normal weekend waking time. Having packed and loaded the car the night before, we were on the road by 6 am, which I think surprised us all. The early start really made a difference as traffic was light, and we had plenty of opportunities to make some stress-free stops, including breakfast at McDonald’s in Plover, WI. We continued on to Watersmeet with what was supposed to be a brief stop at Sylvania Outfitters for some fishing tackle and licenses. The tiny outfitter was packed with only one or two employees to handle all the rentals and fishing licenses. Fortunately, the crowd at the outfitter was not indicative of our experience in the wilderness.

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After checking in at the ranger station and watching the video, we headed to the put-in at Helen Lake. Because the parking lots at Clark Lake were closed for construction, someone would have to drop our gear at Helen Lake, park 1.3 miles away at Snapjack Lake and walk back to the landing. My wife volunteered, and since, unlike me, she gets joy out of walking, I readily complied. After getting organized and waiting for Lorraine, we were on the water by 1 pm, which was an hour earlier than I was hoping to start paddling. Helen Lake was a very short paddle, and the portage to Clark Lake was easy to find, and since it was a temporary portage not marked on any map, I was glad we found it right away. The portage was literally a walk on the beach and was a piece  of cake at supposedly 24 rods (400 ft), which is shorter than many of our trips from the parking lots to the landings. The only part of the portage I didn’t like was walking through the beach sand, but it was easy enough there were really no complaints. For reference, our route from the Helen Lake landing through the portage is shown on the map. By the way, the BackCountry Navigator app is awesome and works like a charm on my Samsung G3. In airplane mode, it doesn’t drain too much battery, less than 10% per hour. I brought along the Goal Zero Nomad 7 and Guide 10 plus, which I successfully used to charge some batteries and my phone. Anyway, we were prepared for double portaging, but being our first portage, we were a bit combobulated and had to go back for the paddles, making it a triple portage, which is about 9 trips fewer than we make back to the car when we’re launching at a boat ramp ;). We’re pretty slow paddlers, especially with a full load, so we covered about 3.6 miles in right at 2 hours including time at the portage. We had no problems navigating Clark Lake, and we reached Birch campsite around 3pm.

I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the campsite was, and immediately knew that I would be comfortable there. There were limited options for placing our 4 person tent, but we found a couple places that were suitable. It would be tight with a large car camping type tent, but I think one could manage a large tent here. As usual, we immediately set up camp by putting up the tent, getting the sleeping mats and bags ready, rigging a tarp and setting up the chairs. I collected a bit of firewood, of which there was plenty. I could have gotten by without bringing the saw or hatchet, but it was nice to be able to saw and split some 3-4 in. logs. The mosquitos were not very friendly, and they seemed to love hanging out under the tarp, so we mostly did not. I had been a bit worried about the water quality, but we found the water to be pretty clean. I went out and got some water later Friday evening and filtered it with my Sawyer 0.02, which I got for Father’s Day. The water came out perfectly clear and tasted good. Amber and I fished from the shore for a little while, but we saw no signs of any fish in the area. We decided we’d try again from the boat after supper, but Amber proved a bit nervous with her first time fishing from the boat. Supper was delicious tortilla pizzas. These are a total success, and I see them on many trips to come. We were out about a total of an hour before she became completely discouraged and didn’t want to try any other locations. I was a bit disappointed as I had heard that there was some decent fishing in Clark Lake. We paddled around alone at first, but we went back and got Lorraine. I was glad to get back to shore because I needed to cover my legs as the black flies were biting me like crazy. Friday was a beautiful day, and everything went incredibly smooth. We went to bed to the sound of fireworks nearby. Happy Independence Day!

Amber and I slept in on Saturday until about 8:30, and it felt wonderful after waking at 5 the day before. We had our usual oatmeal and pre-cooked bacon for breakfast. As long as there’s plenty of brown sugar, I could probably have this for breakfast everyday camping. We couldn’t seem to decide what to do for the day, so I nudged everyone toward exploring the trails that connect our site to the beach, along the west side of Clark. We finally found the trail, but there was a bit of “bushwacking” (well, walking around where we felt there should be a trail according to the map, compass AND GPS). The trail was even buggier than our campsite, so Amber was ready to turn around after 0.6 miles. Based on everything I read about Sylvania, I expected the trails to be like a road, and maybe they are elsewhere, but they aren’t between Birch and Cedar (well, we didn’t quite make it to Cedar, but I didn’t see any wide-open trails ahead). I was game for walking all the way to the beach but was not disappointed to turn around. We had hash browns, apples, and turkey sausage for lunch. The sausage was not very good but I was glad to have some protein. Later, Amber asked if we could go to the beach to swim, so we got changed and headed out in the canoe. We didn’t get very far before the wind was pushing us around, and Amber began asking to go back. It wasn’t dangerous, but there were some 6-12” waves rocking us, and we were expending quite a bit of energy to move incredibly slowly. We decided instead to swim at camp, which wasn’t actually bad. The open area near the landing was fairly small with some weeds on both sides, but once I got out about waist deep, there was some room to move around. Amber swam around with her life jacket on for about 45 minutes, which was enough to satisfy her. We dried off, then I flaunted around naked for a couple minutes in between changing before decided I better get dressed before the mosquitoes found me. Amber seems to love dehydrated meals, so after her begging, we had Mountain House beef stew instead of the planned cheese quesadillas with salsa. Storms began rolling in later in the evening, and Amber became a bit anxious wanting to go to bed. She finally got her way around 8 or 8:30, and her and Lorraine retreated to the tent. I played with the fire for another hour and went to bed with some signs of light still on the horizon.

Lorraine woke me just after six asking what time it was since we were planning to get an early start to beat the predicted storms. Reluctantly, I hobbled out of bed, got started with the morning routine, skipped breakfast and started packing up. The rain started before I could even begin packing, and the mosquitoes were brutal. It always feels like chaos when we’re packing up, but the rain made it even worse. We mostly managed to keep our sleep stuff dry, although some water got into the tent because we left part of the fly open and because we didn’t set up the tent perfectly. Maybe we should use an innie. Although we are incredibly slow at breaking camp, we were on the water by 8:30 am with a wet tent and tarp. My rain gear seemed to work well, but I was pretty wet from sweating, so I need to think about some way to keep dry without overheating. Maybe I need to drop some coin on Gortex, but that won’t happen this year after all the gear we already bought. We got out of the wilderness without incident, had lunch at Brew’s Pub (or something like that) in Land O’ Lakes before running into traffic on our way home. The four hour drive took more like six hours, but we made it back safely with a mess of gear that I had to hose off.

Final thoughts: I had a great time with the solitude in the wilderness and definitely hope to get back to Sylvania Wilderness in the near future. We saw a fair amount of wildlife, although not as much as I had hoped. We saw three eagles, numerous loons, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and deer. We didn’t encounter very many people except at the portages. Everyone was friendly and courteous, although we did encounter some guys fishing while carrying metal beer cans, which is clearly against the rules. The area was clean and a nice balance between the wilderness and civilization. I expect, though, that if the campground was open that it would be much busier on Clark. Our gear worked out well, and I can’t think of much we should have left behind, although there are some things we *could* do without. We packed enough food for 5 days, so our food pack (60 L blue barrel) weighed 40 lbs including stove, dishes, fuel and carrying pack. Our gear pack with tent, chairs, first aid, batteries/charger, tools, etc. was 30 lbs, and the bag with clothes, sleeping bags, mats, etc. weighed in at about 35 lbs. I also took a small pack, which I did not weigh, with fishing tackle, reels, a gallon of water, and weather radio. I wet-footed with some old tennis shoes in which I drilled holes. I don’t think they really drain, so I might be on the lookout for some shoes like Quetico Trekkers. I don’t think we would have packed or done much differently for a 5 day trip, so I’m feeling ready for our BWCA trip in August.

June 27-28, 2014, Wildcat Mountain State Park, Ontario, WI

I’ve been wanting to paddle the Kickapoo River, so we decided to join MadCity Paddlers on their Saturday morning paddle of the Kickapoo from Ontario to Wildcat Mountain State Park. We arrived Friday around 7 and set up our tent at group campsite A (or “1” as it seems they have two systems for naming the group sites). I was glad that they reserved this site as it was the only heavily wooded of the three group sites. There were about 15 people from the club there, and for the most part they were very friendly, especially the trip leader Betty Thomas. Betty also has a three year old granddaughter who loved to play with Amber, so it made for a nice distraction.

We had a short stay at the campground, getting up around 7 am (OK, Lorraine probably got up hours before that) for an 8-ish departure to the put in. We decided to break camp after the paddle since Amber and I aren’t the best morning people. We were worried about storms being predicted for Friday night, but everything was dry. The club planned to paddle Saturday and Sunday, but we needed to spend some time at home as we’ve been busy too many weekends in a row to spend all this weekend camping and paddling. It took quite a while for everyone to unload and ready their boats, then we still had to run shuttles. I ended up leaving my car at the put-in after given a couple people a ride to the state park takeout. We finally got on the water around 9:30.

The Kickapoo was a nice paddle and lived up to its billing as the crookedest river, but we didn’t really see any wildlife other than the beer-drinking crowds in rental canoes. We were the only people from the club in a canoe, although there was one paddle board. The river was mostly clear but there were plenty of obstacles to navigate. There was one downed tree with about three feet of opening, and luckily someone was standing there helping guide people’s boats. The current was moving along at a decent pace but nothing dangerous. It was fine to stand in without getting pushed around, and I did have to get out a couple times to dislodge us from the rocky and sandy bottom. Even though the water was higher than normal, I wouldn’t want to paddle it at a much lower level. For the day we paddled, the gauge at Ontario reports just below 90 cu ft/sec (about 20 cu ft/sec above average) and 8.5 ft, and the gauge at LaFarge reports just below 300 cu ft/sec and about 3.4 ft. I heard that anything above 5 ft at LaFarge was not recommended, so we were at a good level.

The topography is interesting along the Kickapoo and throughout the Kickapoo Valley Reserve with small mountains and numerous bluffs. We paddle through numerous bluffs, and they make some nice shade a good photo opportunities. I think Amber was a bit worried to paddle close them as she was worried about falling rocks. I was also glad to not be on a lake as the wind was fairly strong and steady. I think we will do the Kickapoo again and definitely are interested in more rivers. Lorraine was even looking at kayaks online and in the catalog. Maybe she’s getting bit by the paddling bug too!

 June 16-18, 2014, Harrison Bay State Park, Harrison, TN

I spent a fair amount of time at Harrison Bay in my late teens and early twenties, so I thought it would be nice to spend some time there on our latest trip to Chattanooga. Back in the day, all my camping in the area was done primitively wherever we could find a place to pitch a tent, but since my family would want to visit, it seemed best to get a site at the campground. I reserved site D17 based on the limited information available on the internet, which included an image showing a lake view from the site. Once we arrived with Mamaw while Amber was at the Lego movie with Nana, we were immediately disappointed with the size of the sites and their proximity to one another. Also, D17 had a lake view, but the lake was not immediately accessible from the site because of a six-foot or so drop off. No better sites were available, so we made due.

We finally started setting up camp around 2:30 with about 92 °F heat, which just seemed to be 1,000 degrees. There were several trees around the site, but many of them were covered in poison ivy, so hanging the tarp was definitely a challenge. I got it rigged, but I’m glad it didn’t storm because I’m not sure how well water would have drained off of it. Once camp was setup, I was drenched in sweat and ready for a break.

We waited and waited for the rest of the family to show, but it turned out that my sister had a minor mishap with the jetski. After showing my mom and sister where we were on the map and how to navigate from the marina, they took the jetski out and did a drive by the site. I was a bit disappointed not to get a ride the first day, but I got to spend some time revisiting Harrison Bay and the Tennessee River on Tuesday.

My family left around 7:30 Monday, and it was mostly an uneventful evening, although we did see a couple deer, and Amber got to catch some fireflies.  It’s amazing how accustomed to people the wildlife is here. It’s obvious that people feed the animals. We had ducks wander right into camp and not care that we were there, and we saw our neighbor feeding a deer that was about 5 ft away from her. I was abit disappointed about this, along with the amount of garbage at the campsites and along shore. It’s obvious that people around here do not take environmental conservation as serious as those in Wisconsin, and I would say that’s pretty consistent with my experiences growing up in Tennessee. It was a hot night, and I don’t know how I would have fallen asleep without the battery operated fan I brought. Actually, I don’t know how I fell asleep with Amber so wired, but I guess we both nodded off around 11 or 12. The campsite was so small that every time someone walked by with their lights, it felt like they were in our campsite.

We had a quick breakfast Tuesday morning before heading out for a paddle around the bay. We explored some of the inlets and points. The highlight was probably a doe and fawn getting a drink from the lake. Upon returning from our paddle, Nana and Mamaw were waiting at the campsite with the camera. I got another chance to practice portaging the canoe as the landing was on the other side of the campground loop down a 20 ft hill. The Royalex Nova Craft Prospector 17 is a bit heavy, but it’s not too bad to portage. I do think I need to add some portage pads. The paddle was nice, but both Lorraine and I had numerous pains and stiffness problems that made it more uncomfortable than it should have been. Maybe it was the Southern heat, to which we are no longer accustomed.

We spent Tuesday at the park, and since there wasn’t a good place to dock the jetski in the campground, we spent a few hours at the picnic area. I got to put some miles on the jetski, taking it up river to Skull Island and exploring some parts of Harrison Bay I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Everything seems to have shrunk in the years I was gone. It’s amazing how perspective can change as we age. I remember the lake and river being a vast place, but it really isn’t, and getting lost in a motorized craft seemed near impossible, despite how I felt as a teenager. I also played around in the canoe for a little while. I heeled it for the first time, but I’m still not that comfortable doing so. For one, my heavy (ok, fat) frame made it a bi wobbly whenever I moved around a bit, and my ankles get sore when kneeling. Maybe, I’ll get  used to it. I also stood in the canoe for the first time. Finally, I decided to see how far over I needed to be to tip the canoe. The secondary stability is excellent on this boat, and with me kneeling in the center, it had to be pushed to and maybe past the gunwale to dump. Apparently, lake water makes me stink even worse than sweat!

My ex-stepdad Dennis paid us a short visit Tuesday evening, and we made plans to have dinner later in the week. I hadn’t seen him in a couple years but was pleased to see he looked pretty healthy. Amber decided to spend the night with Nana, so Lorraine and I had the campsite to ourselves, although it wasn’t exactly peaceful with all the nighttime activity in the campground. I don’t know if the pair of young men down the way were kicked out or left voluntarily after being chided, but it got considerably quieter after they left. Still, I was incredibly surprised at how much activity was taking place at and after midnight on a weeknight.

Lorraine and I had a nice paddle around Patten Island on Wednesday morning before packing up and heading out. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would be worth bringing the canoe all the way from Wisconsin, but I’m glad I did. We had a good time, and I got to spend several more hours on the water than if we didn’t bring it. I think next time that we’ll either just spend the day at the park or find somewhere besides the campground to camp. Even though we had a good time, the campgrounds are just too cramped and lack any privacy. 


May 30- June 1, 2014, Whitewater Campground, Kettle Morraine Southern Unit, Whitewater, WI

I left work a couple hours early on Friday to get a head start on the weekend, loaded up the van, fed the cat, watered the garden, and we were off by about 4:30. After checking in and picking up four bundles of firewood for $22, we found site 775, which I reserved a week prior. The site was a little small and buggy, but it was heavily wooded and nicely secluded from most other sites except one right across the street and one next to it. We managed to setup, eat a dehydrated meal (Mountain House Chicken and Rice, which I found bland but the ladies liked it), and start a fire before dark. I’m getting better at setting up the tarp, and it helped to have so many treese available. I also started adding a slip not to the trucker’s hitch for easy take-down or adjustments. Lorraine seasoned the new pudgy pie iron, and Amber got a Cherry filled pudgy pie. It was still warm at bedtime, but I managed to fall asleep without too much trouble.

Amber and I slept in until just after 8am on Saturday, then we had an oatmeal and bacon breakfast. After cleanup, we hiked the orange Nordic trail, which would have been really nice if someone would have cooperated and not acted like a spoiled toddler at the early stages of the trail. Lorraine ended up getting ahead of us, and the kid’s behavior improved, possibly because she was getting all the attention. I must say she looks like a natural fit in her new nylon convertible hiking pants. It must be dragonfly mating season as we saw hundreds of dragonflies, many of which appeared to be mating, although I don’t know anything about dragonfly mating. We saw quite a few wildflowers and only four other people. It must have taken us two hours to walk 2.5 miles, and by then it was over 80 °F. We decided to drive up and check out the Ottawa Lake beach, and the air conditioned ride was nice after a hot walk. We were surprised how far it was from one end of the Kettle Morraine Southern Unit to the next, taking about half an hour to drive one way. Ottawa Lake seems like a nice, small lake, and the beach was crowded. We didn’t drive through the campground, but the grounds seem well maintained with updated buildings, so it’s understandable why it seemed the campground was popular when I was looking at where to make reservations. Amber fell asleep on the way back to the campsite, but my hope that the nap would improve her disposition was not fulfilled.

We had tortilla pizzas for lunch, and I must say they were a success. With non-refrigerated pizza sauce and a way to transport/cut the cheese, this definitely will make the cut for backcountry meals. After a short rest after lunch, we gave into demands for a swim at the beach. The beach was fairly nice, but it was incredibly crowded and was full of college-aged “kids” drinking beer and partying. They weren’t really rowdy and there were plenty of families, so we indulged the kid for awhile. Afterward, we looked for a place to launch the canoe. There’s a perfect little pier next to the beach, but it was occupied by a couple dozen of the partying kids, so we headed to the boat ramp. It was a little busy and not the best place to launch a canoe, but it wasn’t too bad. We paddled toward the no-wake (NW) section of the lake past the beach, and it was OK, but the lake had more of a party feel than a nature scene, although we had hopes because Lorraine spotted an eagle when we were playing at the beach. I wanted to tour more of the lake, but Amber begged to go back, and there was a fair amount of wake from the boats. I wasn’t going to get the relaxed, quiet paddle I wanted either way, so we ended the paddle after about an hour.

Dinner was hot ham and cheese on the skillet and pudgy pies for the ladies. As much as I love sweets and donuts, I don’t much care for pudgy pies, so no need to pack on the calories for something about which I’m so neutral. I did eat two ham and cheese sandwiches, though. We had another nice fire, and we all went to by about 10:30, which is much later than Lorraine usually stays up.

We were worried about rain on Sunday morning, so we packed up early (for us), ate breakfast and broke camp before playing. While Lorraine did the dishes, I watched for cars at the bottom of the hill while Amber practiced her new-found skill of braking on the scooter. She finally figured out how to control her speed going down the hill. We were finally ready to leave the campsite at the break of 11am. Holy cow, how are we going to trip in the Boundary Waters if it takes us until 11 to break camp. Granola bars for breakfast? Anyway, we finished off the trip with a few minutes at the playground, a few minutes of fishing, some nature art, and a 0.8 mile nature trail hike. We enjoyed the campground despite the absence of flush toilets and showers, but the beach and recreation areas were just too crowded. This would be a park for the spring and fall before the busy summer crowds.


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May 17-18, 2014, Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI   

Well, the weekend started of with a bang as my back went out again on Friday night. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go camping, but I figured if I could finish packing, then I would probably be good to go. Also, I wasn’t sure I could sit around the house all weekend either. I really wanted to get out again, so I mustered up the will to hobble through the packing, and we made it out exactly at our planned time of 10am.

We drove around the park looking at campsites in the Cox Hollow campground, where we’ve stayed several times before. We landed on site 69 since it had a number of nice trees for rigging the tarp and was available. We also considered sites 72, 34?, …(I need to do a better job remembering these). We set up right away and had Mountain House Beef Stew for lunch. After dealing with some sassy behavior, we took the kid to see Stephen’s Falls, which she’d been asking to do even though she was probably 4 the last time we were there. The falls were nice, but it was unbelievably crowded, including a group of rambunctious teenagers who thought nothing of disregarding posted signs to stay on the trails. After getting some photos, we made a second, longer stop at the spring house, which was used as a refrigeration house prior to available electricity. Our daughter seemed quite intrigued by it, but it was probably more the aspect of walking on partially rocks than it was the history.

After the springs, we headed down to the Cox Hollow Lake boat ramp to launch the canoe. The kiddo was whining that “we always go canoeing, everyday…” If only that were true!! We offered the reward of playground time for good behavior, which turned out to be a good deal for everyone. The other good idea was to let her bring a toy on a string. She has a foot-long yellow canoe that I tied to a string with a loop for her wrist, and this amazingly kept her quite occupied. We basically canoed the whole lake perimeter, but I forgot to stop the gps tracking, so I haven’t yet figured out how far we paddled. We saw a number of geese who must have had offspring in the cliffs because they were none to happy with our presence. We also saw a swimming mammal that was hard to make out, but it was probably a muskrat. I’ll have to ask the wife what other birds we saw. It was a nice paddle, and we only briefly encountered gusts of wind that made paddling difficult. The only downside was my achy back.

For supper, we had cheese and chicken quesadillas. Not bad, but the foil packaged chicken is a far cry from the grilled stuff we might have at home or Qdoba. Hot sauce helped kick it up a notch. I think we plan on having something like this on one of our longer expeditions, but we need to find hot sauce in plastic packages and a means of grating our own cheese. We finished the evening off with a nice fire and roasted marshmallows for the ladies. Surprisingly, I slept great despite my back. The Exped Synmat and Big Agnes Summit Park sleep system really is amazing.

I started Sunday off with our usual oatmeal and bacon. I was going to write that we started our Sunday with the oatmeal and bacon breakfast, but I imagine the wife was up for at least a few hours before I rolled (painfully crawled) out of the tent at 8am. She went through a bundle of wood before I woke. After breakfast, we debated the day’s activities. I was feeling incredibly stiff and sore, so the ladies spent some time at the park while I started breaking camp. By 11, we headed out for a short paddle on Twin Valley Lake. Instead of the toy canoe, the kiddo decided to bring a 6” Gumby toy to which I had similarly tied a string. Unfortunately, Gumby doesn’t float, and is resting at the bottom of the lake. Tears, sadness and Dad’s sore back ended this paddle after 1.7 miles. We decided against having lunch there, so we broke camp and headed home after a quick stop at Subway. 

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May 9-11, 2014, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Stoughton, WI

With a beautiful Mother’s Day weekend forecast, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some camping and try out our new canoe, a Nova Craft Prospector 17. We invited Lorraine’s cousin Julie’s family-husband Steve and two kids, aged 5 and 7. I left work a couple hours early to beat traffic, finish packing and get the canoe on top of the minivan. It was my first attempt to load up the canoe, and I was pleasantly surprised at my competency in doing so. I was able to flip the 68 lb, 17-footer onto my shoulders in one, slightly awkward movement. After tying it down and making some last minute checks of the camping gear, I was ready to dig up some worms for bait from the garden bed and take on Lorraine’s last packing job, the ice chest. Where’s the cold food list? Shrug, I guess I’ll wait. After Lorraine got home, she couldn’t find the list either. At least we didn’t need much cold food. It was to be more of a luxury than a necessity, so anything forgotten would be no big deal. Finally loaded up and pulling out the driveway right at 5:30.

We pulled into site 10 at the park after a short, but annoying 45 minute “rush hour” drive. We stayed at this site before, so we knew what to expect. The park is not fully of great sites, and they are close together (as is typical of the state park campsites), but many of them, including site 10 are “fully shaded”, meaning surrounded by trees, not necessarily shade in early May before the leaves bloom. Our companion family arrived a few minutes after us and took site 12. I helped Lorraine set up the tent and presented her an Exped DownMat 7 for an early Mother’s Day present. Once the tent was secure and bedding ready, I set up the tarp. I got a lot of questions from the 7 year old about what I was doing with this multi-colored “thing.” Not really knowing what I *was* doing, being only my second time to rig it, and having him underfoot made me a little terse with my answers, but in short order, I got it up without any foul language or leave me alones. This time I hung it a little higher than I intended, but it was nice to have some shade on Saturday and Sunday.

My daughter and I were the group sleepy-heads, sleeping in till about 8 on Saturday and 7 on Sunday, although that’s pretty early for me to wake up on the weekend. After having oatmeal with brown sugar and bacon for breakfast, the kids were begging to go fishing, which is another thing about which I know next to nothing. I got my first ever fishing license this year and had some worms, so I might as well put it to use. We also decided to take the canoe down to the lake. I was a bit nervous after our windy maiden voyage, but once I saw the calm lake, I knew we were in for a good time. I let our friends take it first while Lorraine and I helped the kids fish. They quickly became bored and were ready for their parents to swing by and take them on their first canoe ride. It seems that the kids enjoyed their first time in the canoe, but apparently it didn’t stop them from whining about not having anything to do and wanting to come back. After they returned less than an hour later, it was our turn. Now their kids are excited to go again since my daughter was going to go. After they promised not to whine, we agreed to letting all three kids ride with us.

Well, it turns out little kids aren’t very good at keeping promises! Within ten minutes of setting off from the fishing pier, the boy has to use the bathroom, but the shores are lined with houses for probably about 1.5 miles, so we promise we’ll paddle to the North shore and find an undeveloped spot for him to get out and relieve himself. By this point, there was only mild whining at the presence of some boat wake, so we were pretty happy to continue on toward our destination of Door Creek, which I heard was good for wildlife viewing. We made it over to the entrance to the creek, but we were initially unsure if it was navigable due to shallow depth and some logs. After closer inspection, it was pretty obvious that it was passable, although with a half-submerged log to push past. There was really no discernable current, so we pushed on, but the children were freaked out by a tiny bump of the canoe on the log and insisted we return. Wow! We finally got to a beautiful nature spot with turtles sunning themselves and birds galore, and the kids wanted to turn around. So, for our peace of mind, we turned around by trying out some draw strokes we witnessed on some canoeing videos. We successfully, but ungracefully turned the canoe around pretty readily. Our paddling skills need some work, but hey we got the boat to do what we wanted. We made it back to the pier hungry after an hour and half or two hours of paddling. We will have to try the creek again without so many whiny children.

After gorging on brats by the lake, the men took the canoe out for an hour-long paddle across the lake while the women watched the kids. After returning, the women went for a hike, while we held down the camp and supervised the kids. For supper, Lorraine and I tried our hand at making some pizza but did not come away confident in a method for doing so. The first one cooked in a skillet over propade had burnt crust. The second one we cooked in an aluminum foil “tent” over the fire. I removed that one before all the cheese was melted to prevent a repeat of burnt crust. The third one was mildly better, but we have to figure out something else if we want pizza in the back country.

We kinda retreated to our own campsites as darkness set as the kids really needed some rest. I stayed up to 11 staring at the fire. On Sunday, we lounged around eating breakfast, followed by a hike of the white oak trail, then we finished breaking camp and headed home after a stop at Dickie’s BBQ.


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April 26-27, 2014 Yellowstone Lake State Park, Blanchardville, WI

We decided to try a new park this weekend, so we headed out from home around 10am to Yellowstone Lake State Park after wishing Nana a Happy Birthday. We didn’t make reservations as the plans were made late, so we got there around noon and started looking at the campsites. We picked a handful that we liked. I voted for site 55, which had a lake view, but the kiddo had her heart set on site 12. We flipped a coin at the ranger station, and site 12 it was. Some other sites we considered suitable were 26, 80, …. ? I put up the tarp while Lorraine set up the tent. This was my first time rigging up the tarp, and it worked quite well even though there were some challenges in terms of tree locations/heights. I didn’t get it very high, but it was just high enough to stand under and offer some protection from the rain. We only spent one night, but we found some time to fish at the dam and hike a couple of the short hiking loops. Lorraine really like the 1 mile loop by the ranger station for viewing birds. We saw some swans feeding on fish, lots and lots of geese and ducks, including dozens of ducklings and goslings.This is a pretty nice park with a nice, intimate lake.

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