Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Camping: Giving it another try - Part III.

Haven't read the rest of the camping epic? Get some background here , Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

On Saturday morning, I awoke in a self-built cocoon. I was wearing:
  • Wool socks
  • Long underwear
  • Flannel pajama pants
  • Blue jeans
  • A long-sleeved technical running shirt
  • A hooded sweatshirt
  • And a fleece jacket.
All this, inside a mummy-style sleeping bag that was rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, lying on one of those inflatable camp mattresses that gives you a buffer from the cold ground, and covered over with a thick comforter that we had thrown in the car at the last minute, just in case.

I shuffle-rolled over on to my side, and it took me a moment to figure out where my husband's face was, because he was wearing a winter hat while burrowed deep inside his sleeping bag, which was cinched almost shut.

It was a bit cool that morning.

I should also note that I enjoy cold weather: one of my incentives for moving to Chicago was the winters. My husband is even more of a polar bear than I am: there's a favorite story in his family about how his grandfather slept with the window open until his grandmother put her foot down when she awoke to snow on their bed.

But they were both still indoors, at least.

We climbed out of our tent into the brisk, bright morning and looked around. I had noted the night before that we wouldn't really know what the area looked like until the sun was up, and I was right.

Our campsite was between a thicket of woods and some prairie area. None of the sites near ours were occupied. There was a clearing across the little gravel lane from us, where there wasn't even a site. The other three sides of our site were surrounded by short trees and tall bushes, all of which were in bright autumnal colors.

After a quick hike to the latrine, we got started with cooking. My in-laws had given us their old Coleman camp stove. For those of you unfamiliar with this beast, it looks like this:

That red jigger (note: technical term) on the front is mostly full of liquid fuel. One has to use a little pump to pressurize the fuel, and then light the first burner.

We knew that, once we got this little stove going, we would have coffee and a hot breakfast in no time. We also knew that no one had used this stove in years, possibly decades. It took roughly 30 minutes of pumping, attempted lighting, tossing used matches into the fireplace, rubbing hands to thaw out fingers, and pumping again, but finally hubs got the idea to warm the fuel tube that feeds the burner with a match. Somehow, that got the whole thing rolling.

And with that, the morning was suddenly much warmer.

I scrambled eggs and made pancakes, which I flipped with a spatula fashioned out of wire coat hanger and aluminum foil by the hubs - we had forgotten to pack one. But it worked! We drank instant coffee with powdered milk. We watched the world wake up around us, and we began to notice the fantastic colors of Wisconsin autumn. We were both feeling glad to be there.

There is so much less chaos to report for this camping trip, really. When my last bit of coffee got cold (I take longer to finish a cup of coffee than anyone I know), we decided to head to the nearest town to thaw our feet and explore a little. In town, we found an enormous and charming antique mall, a tiny independent coffee shop and a hardware store that had everything we needed for the rest of the trip : a tent pole repair kit, weenie roasting sticks, another flashlight, and - my new favorite product in the world - toe warmers. We then found a local ancient history/geology station that explained the local topography, and took a series of hikes around the park.

While it was still light out, we returned to our camp site and I began building the fire we would use for cooking hot dogs, and then roasting marshmallows, and then just warming our feet and hands as the night grew colder. Saturday night was crystal clear - not a cloud to be found. We could see the Milky Way, and we spent some time not talking at all, just watching the stars over the clearing.

It was about then that I put the toe warmers in my boots. Are you familiar with these?

People, if you live in a climate that gets cold, check these things out. "6+ hours" is a modest approximation. I slapped these things on my socks as the sun went down, and my feet stayed toasty for most of the night. They're little miracles of modern technology, that's what they are.

Where was I? Oh, right. Sitting by the fire with my favorite person as the night got colder and the stars sparkled in the sky. We were full and (mostly) warm and happy. We schemed and planned about things, and kept watching the stars, and breathing in the cold night air, until we were both yawning.

Another cozy night in the tent (with warm toes!), and I awoke around 6:00 Sunday morning, absolutely relaxed. When I climbed out, I realized it really had gotten much, much colder that night: everything, including our tent and the parked car, was covered with a thick layer of frost.

Like this:

Photo by my taller half.

But my toes were still warm.

The morning required more hot coffee and breakfast, and then it was time to slowly pack up our things and move along back home. Even the traffic cooperated, and we got back to Chicago in the three hours it was supposed to take.

So it turns out we can go camping without near-death experiences, after all.

Until next time, at least...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a very nice trip :) You have a lovely way of telling stories. I enjoyed this!


Be nice, now.