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.