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.