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.