Monday, April 03, 2006

Things that Make Noise in the Night

I really enjoyed our camping trip this time and think it was one of the better experiences we have had. Although I did not enjoy dinner Saturday night, we had cameled up enough at Mac Grille and it didn't matter.
Once we were snug in the sleeping bags, it was nice to look up and see the stars. A few birds annoyed me but most of the sounds were pleasant. Whenever I sleep outside, I can't help but think about the other things that are outside with me. Would the lost horse walk over our tent in the middle of the night? Would a racoon be curious by the metal on the tent and start clawing at the lining? Would we hear a panther, or even a bear growl close to us? I like animals but my imagination sometimes gets the best of me. When you're outside, the least little breeze makes a tiny leaf moving sound like a large creature is walking across it.
The storm that rolled through later that night was more stressful that the leaves ... mainly because we were about 15 minutes from a spot that had a severe tornado destroy several buildings about two years ago. I was almost in that tornado but was spared by being about five minutes behind the storm. The area STILL has not been cleaned up completely. As the lightning and thunder rolled in, I decided to push the memories of the other storm from my mind. We were there to enjoy the experience so I did what I do best. Sleep. Soundly. My new sleeping bag liner was a hit with me. I didn't get chilled the entire night.
I wasn't supposed to be able to go this past weekend because I was on call. Someone asked me to switch weekends with him and I'm glad he did. I really enjoyed the camping experience.

Nation Procrastination

With our adventure starting on April Fools Day, Michele must have been convinced I was joking. Friday, March 31st rolled around and I had nothing prepared. I hadn't picked our destination. I hadn't picked out meals. I hadn't packed a single thing and I hadn't figured out anything I was going to bring. Unfortunately, it wasn't a joke.

Friday night, I mostly packed while Michele put up with my mounting crabbiness and packed her back and made up all her meals. I settled on Berryman Recreational Area in the Mark Twain National Forest and I drove Michele nuts.

Saturday morning, I was distracted by some writing I needed to do for a project I am working on with a friend. Understandably, Michele was frustrated by even more procrastination in light of my desire to get out. Eventually, I finished packing (poorly) and picked out my meals. We finally got out of the house at almost 3:00 PM. A quick stop into Macaroni Grill for lunch and we were on our way.

Berryman ends up being about 90 minutes away, down Hwy 21 to Potosi and west on Hwy 8 for 17-18 miles. We could easily have missed our last turn if we weren't watching the odometer. I read aloud from BackpackingLight's print magazine for most of the drive. I think Michele appreciated me not just sleeping.

Berryman is a small facility with only 8 campsites and one picnic shelter to its name. We knew there was no potable water available and packed in more than enough water of our own. There were two campsites in use when we arrived and neither spent the night. One was a man with his wife and daughter and the other was a truck which eventually filled with a couple four wheelers and disappeared. The man was far enough away from the site we picked that we never heard them leave but they were gone before we left in the morning and we never saw a tent.

After a fairly comprehensive search for the pay station mentioned in our guidebook, we were informed (again the man with his family) that, "this here's gubmint, it don't cost nuthin." Another 5 minutes of searching convinced us that must be the case. We went back to our site $5 richer (or is that $5 less poor?) and setup camp.

Our selected campsite was the furthest in we could pick. It was fairly level, had a picnic table, a grill stand and a green post for hanging your lantern. It also had two nice mossy areas and we picked one to setup the tent in before sunset. The tent went up quickly and we made dinner.

While we were cooking, a man drove by in his truck and asked if we had seen a horse running free. Apparently it had gotten away from his daughter that morning and they had been unable to find it. I took his cell phone number and promised to call if we saw anything. We never head from him again. I hope he found his horse. I think I'm going to make sure Dave has contact information in his saddle bags from now on.

I had prepared the ingredients for Meat'n'Taters and Michele had made something based on that recipe. The recommended amount of water was not right for our ingredients and both of us ended up with runny glop. Michele barely touched hers and I was not able to finish mine. Point made. Never take a recipe camping you haven't tried at home first. I think the consistency problem for both of us was a result of the wrong amount of water. Maybe our potato flakes don't require as much water as the author of Travel Light, Eat Heavy. I am sure this is something that could have been fixed if we had done it at home a couple times and adjusted our water. What I couldn't have fixed in mine is the way the flavor of the jerky permeates the dish. If you try meat'n'taters, make sure you use a jerky you like. I picked one I tolerate and it basically ruined the meal. To be fair, there are not many store bought jerkies I could say I do better than tolerate. Anyway, only time will tell if Michele and I learned our lesson or not but like I said, point made. Never take a meal camping you haven't tried at home.

After the dinner fiasco, it was getting dark so we went to bed. I finished reading Michele the article I had started in the car then lay there in the dark. That night convinced me I have to do something different. Our tent is too small. It is too tight and I take up too much space. I really want to switch to a catenary tarp and a bivy sack but I might have to go with a larger tent for the two of us together. I also need more padding for the ground. I tossed and turned all night and by morning, my back was just one solid ache no matter what position I lay in. A fear plagues me. What if I am not cut out for camping and hiking? It makes me both ashamed and embarrassed to think of it but it might be possible.

A while before dawn it started raining, of course. I don't think we have ever gone camping without the rain. At least once, I would like to pack up dry gear. The lightning bothered Michele a bit, I think she felt too exposed, but eventually the rain lulled us both back into a fitful doze. I woke at dawn to the sounds of the wet trees dripping their deferred rain down on the damp leaf cover. I got up and because the tent is so small, I woke Michele up doing it. A short while later we were preparing two versions of Gritty Nuts, mine with tart dried cherries and Michele's without. Breakfast was much better than dinner and Michele stated emphatically that next to waffles, Gritty Nuts is her favorite breakfast.

During breakfast the rain resumed and I packed up hastily and poorly. I have to develop camp skills that don't leave things scattered everywhere and don't leave us exposed to the rain. I'm sure these are lessons mostly learned with time but I hope I can accelerate the process. By 6:30 AM, we had finished breakfast, packed everything up and were back on the road, damp, tired, aching and all in all, pretty glad we had come. Go figure.

One weekend down, only 8 more to go.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I am excited about the upcoming camping trips. Our past trips have been a little challenging. During a camping trip with the Sierra club, it rained, snowed and sleeted in the same night. When we went to Niagara Falls, the entire area was having a rare heat wave and it was sooo hot we could not stand it and ended up staying in a hotel. By camping in April and May, I'm hoping to alleviate some of these concerns.

I love the outdoors and feel very peaceful there. Ironically when I was growing up I lived in the middle of the Ozarks and did not appreciate the surroundings when I lived there. Now that we live in the middle of the city, I sometimes miss the privacy and peacefulness that walking outside brings.

Several of our friends are excited about camping too so I think we'll have some nice weekends ahead.

Dinners and Breakfasts

Last night, we tried another camp meal. Michele had Creamy Shrimp Alfredo and I had Golden Brown Rice. 1/2 cup water seemed a little low for Michele's food. She had some dry spots but mostly enjoyed her food. I tried the new microwaveable rice bags with long grain wild rice instead of brown rice for mine. As I feared, the water was almost not absorbed at all. Still, the flavor was good and the meal was very satisfying.

This morning, I decided to try Bulgur Breakfast. Just one problem. It is supposed to be prepared overnight without boiling the water. I tweaked the recipe a bit, replacing craisins with blueberries and adding a tsp of butter buds. It has been cooking for about 10 minutes and I can't wait to dig in.


As I feared, the water did not absorb as well as it would have overnight but the taste is great anyway. Texture seems to be a challenge with these boil and add water meals. I don't know how to get the heat penetration that would make them spectacular. Still, I don't think I would ever go hungry if I had them along and they are at least good when they are not great.

New Shoes

I have been without a decent pair of hiking shoes for a long time. If I am considering time on the trail, I need a pair.

After reading a review by Ryan Jordan on the Timberland Delerion Pros (membership required), I decided these were the shoes for me. They are ultralight and they dry quickly after full submersion.

Some investigation revealed they are not sold within 500 miles of home so I sucked it up and ordered a pair online. They arrived to have me realizing I got the pair without the integrated gaiters and they might be too small. This is fairly typical of my online shopping experiences. I rarely know enough to make a perfect choice. It is a good thing I don't go skree skiing. I probably don't need the gaiters anyway.

Reluctant to send them back and futz with shipping, etc, I determined to wear them for a couple days and see if they are really too small. Three or four days later, I think they are just right. I might have a different opinion after 100 miles on the trail but with my current range of 5-10 miles a day, for one or two days, I don't think I have a lot to worry about. They are certainly light.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

First Breakfast Test

Regularity was pretty good though a bit mushy. Michele really liked her Gritty Nuts but didn't finish it.

I had a blowout on the ziplock bags and my cooking had was covered in slimy white goo (instant milk + starch from the Grape-Nuts). I ordered Aloksaks from Backpacking Light. I don't ever want to see that happen again. The extra quality is worth the cost but I have to keep in mind packing out the bags to see if I can clean them. I ordered the long handled titanium spoons from BackpackingLight as well. I can see the value of eating without getting goo on my hands.

I am having a hard time deciding if 1 or 2 stoves is the way to go for Michele and I. Portioning boiling water seems like a pain but I feel a little silly taking two stoves and fuel, even at 14g for the stove. I am using a titanium esbit stove from BackpackingLight. I also ordered a titanium windscreen.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


We went to REI and the grocery store today and I made substantial progress in getting together things I need for the upcoming trips. I also put together our first camp breakfasts for us to try tomorrow morning. We will prepare them completely as if we were in camp, including the camp stove and utensils. I am going to try Regularity and Michele is having Gritty Nuts and Pineapple.

I bought a Tilley hat at REI. I think I am buying into the hype. I also bought a Photon III light (white) so I can show Dave what they look like.

Tomorrow, we are going riding with Dave and Chris on the other side of Pere Marquette park. We will be riding on the side that closes for hunting season and Dave says there is more chance to get lost. I wonder if I should let Michele know. She didn't enjoy being lost in Shawnee in November. We almost had to spend the night in the woods that time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Things to Do

In order to succeed, I need a plan. Here is a list of things I have to do to make this happen.
  • buy new hiking shoes.
  • develop gear list
  • buy scale
  • weigh gear
  • evaluate gear list
  • buy food
  • home test recipes
  • home test cooking gear
  • pick destinations
  • pick recipes
  • determine final pack weight

False Starts

One weekend down and not much to show for it. I have purchased what seems like massive quantities of nuts and dried fruits that will contribute to meals on our outings. I have read the regular chapters and skimmed the recipes in Travel Light, Eat Heavy ( Many of the recipes in this book will go with us as we wander the wilds. I also received some gear I had ordered from Backpacking Light ( I am going to try Esbit stoves for water heating. I now have an insanely light, titanium Esbit stove. I also have a new skullcap shell hat in huckleberry purple.

Finally, today, I pulled out books and started researching places to go. I have to get off my lazy rear and do more work if we are going to succeed with this crazy scheme of mine. Some of our friends are getting interested in our insanity and we may have company for some of those weekends.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Humble Beginnings

For five years, I have been a backpacking gearhead who never gets out of the house. Well, change is coming and it is coming soon. For two months, I am going to spend every Saturday sleeping outside. I don't know if I will be backpacking, camping, horse camping or what but I will not sleep under cover of roof for the months of April and May this year. Rain, shine or storm, I will be out there, exposed and experiencing.

I will try to keep a record of my preparations and experiences here so others may learn from my mistakes. My focus is on ultralight backpacking gear and making it work. Eventually, I want to do some long distance ultra light backpacking but I have a long way to go before I am ready.

Michele, my wife, likes the idea and there is a strong chance she will participate for most of it. Maybe I will get her to blog her experiences too.