Monday, June 18, 2007

Loaded for Bear, Part II

(Continued from previous post, ya dig?) Upon arrival at camp, we pitched tents and unpacked the essentials. This didn't take long with four people working together. April and I had brought some food, but Dave and Dawn intended to shop in town. Dave and I ended up going out for supplies, since I had the yearning for some barley pop and they needed victuals. It was a treat to ride away on our bikes sans trailers. When you pull a loaded trailer any distance by bike you get the sensation of floating along once it is no longer attached. Our route retraced our pedal into the park, back across the beautiful meadow just east of the campground and onto the silky smooth park trail beyond. Once we met the LRT path, we headed west and it wasn't long before we were in Victoria. Dave and I ride home from work together a lot and we both like to set a good pace. The first business in town that met our eyes was a bar (a typical sign for an upper midwestern burg of any population). I counted at least 4 more bars but we could not find a grocery store. We ended up at a gas station next to a liquor store. The attendant told us there was no grocery in town. The liquor store clerk was more helpful and gave us directions ("just five minutes away in a car") to a large grocery store. I thought it better to be safe than sorry, so I loaded up a case of beer (half cans, half bottles) into my panniers and we set out.

Twenty minutes into our grocery odyssey I wished I had not been so eager to secure my payload of fermented fizzy goodness. The wind was gusty, mostly cross winds and some tail winds and I was already dreading the ride back into what would be a stiff headwind. Our trek to the grocery store turned out to be about 8.5 miles farther from camp. It was a nice ride, but it took us to a bustling strip mall in Chaska. All of a sudden I didn't feel like we were on a camping trip anymore. Of course there were no bike racks outside the Rainbow Foods. We locked our bikes to a pathetically flimsy sidewalk sign and strolled in. I learned something about Dave on this trip -- you shouldn't go to a grocery store with him if you're in a hurry. I was a little nervous because I'm a weather freak and can never stop watching the clouds and horizon when I'm camping or traveling. Before we entered the store the clouds were thickening and the temperature was feeling cooler. I kept imagining the ladies back at camp getting hit by a thunderstorm and I hadn't taken time to pitch the tarp since I was bold enough to observe (since the sky was clear and sunshine abundant) that "we shouldn't need the tarp all weekend." Meanwhile Dave was casually chatting up the produce guy who approached us because of our Surly hats. He wants to build up a Steamroller. I thought we should split up to make things go faster, so I took items from our collaborative mental list and walked the store up and down fetching them. Meanwhile, Dave was picking out fresh corn and focusing on the hunt for candy. I'd just about had enough of the store when we managed to decide we had actually gotten everything we needed. We walked outside and the temperature had dropped ten degrees from when we'd left camp. The wind had not dropped, however. I squeezed food into my already heavy panniers and we rolled back out to the road.

I kept imagining that Dave must be carrying a lot less weight than me because even with his single gear he pulled ahead on the open stretches of road. I remembered that I had neither eaten enough nor taken enough water all day. My body was telling me this in subtle code. The only remedy was to get back to camp, eat and relax. Bummer, I thought, that I'd still have to get a fire going and finish some camp chores. We navigated back to the LRT trail by a more direct route and got to the park faster than I thought we might. The sun was beginning its descent and I immediately felt my spirits lift. The lighting on a cool spring evening in MN can be one of the most tantalizing effects to witness. The air seems to draw everything from your hands gripping the bars to the infinity of the distant horizon into a sharp focus. Mental processes follow suit and the ensuing clarity is magical. With every pedal stroke I looked forward to making the turn-off toward the campground and back over that dirt road through the meadow. I told Dave I wanted to get a couple of photos, so we staged one or two with him riding by. I didn't quite get the image I was looking for, but the photos are nice nonetheless.

We rolled back through the campground loop fully laden with the spoils of our consumerism. The mood was light -- families gathered 'round their picnic tables, kids zipped by on bikes and wood smoke drifted through the air. We rolled into our camp and much to my surprise there was a healthy fire crackling in the fire grate. Everything was dry; no horrendous storm had flattened tents. Dawn had secured wood for the evening. All that was left to do was cook, eat, drink and relax. Nice.

Everybody was beat from our adventures of the day. Temperatures were in the 50s with a little breeze. The cold exaggerrated our fatigue. We all fetched layers and hats to ward off the chill. Dinner was chunked potatoes, squash, onions, hot dogs and whole corn on the cob roasted over the fire. The drive-in campgrounds always have nice, stout adjustable grates. We took advantage of this. I picked up a 3 pack of pie tins at the mega mart and we reused these all weekend to roast and reheat our food. We ate in courses as a fresh plate came off the fire. Sylvia was full of wonder and excitement. We thought she might never go to sleep, but she eventually did. Fortunately she loves sleeping in the tent. I can't imagine her ever being afraid of camping since she is so at home in the outdoors. We adults had plans to read aloud a Gothic short story by J Sheridan Le Fanu, but inspiration quickly faded. Instead, we made a few s'mores and Dave and Dawn turned in for the night. April and I closed down the camp. It was a pleasant surprise that none of our neighbors planned to party into the wee hours (or, maybe it was a disappointment that we weren't partying into the wee hours!) Sleep was welcome, however, and the bag felt nice and cozy.

One of my favorite things about camping is that I am usually the first one up and out of the tent. This is the reverse of home. April and Sylvia are always milling about before me. This quiet morning time is generally spent getting water for tea and rebuilding the fire from the coals of the night before. It was a chilly morning. I welcomed the heat of the fire which didn't take long to get going again. The wood we'd bought was cut too large and not sufficiently split. I struggled with a few chunks before I found a good system for sawing and splitting it into more efficient pieces. I am always amazed how car campers build and burn fires. They invariably construct a teepee out of fireplace-sized logs and quite often dump on some gas to get it going. I truly think you should only build a fire as large as you need and that you should burn every coal completely so the only thing remaining is fine ash (lessons instilled by my father). In order to achieve this goal, I spend a lot of my time at camp processing wood. That's okay. We didn't pack lounge chairs and even if we had I'm just not one to sit around much at camp. I carry a small camp axe (hatchet) and a folding saw. As a result I cut and split wood from a crouching position which is much safer than standing and taking full swings. I observed neighbors with their full-size axes pounding the hell out of dense logs, missing swings and glancing blows off to the sides. They might think my method underpowered and inefficient, but we were never without fire when we needed it, our meals cooked evenly and I still have all my fingers and didn't need stitches.

Soon April stirred and Sylvia wasn't far behind. The campground was coming to life as well. (Here's Sylvia and me enjoying the hammock. She played with it all weekend.) I hiked to the privy and was surprised how many camps were still shut up in their tents at 9:30 in the morning! I guess there's not much to wake up early for when you know you can run into town for coffee and hot food with your car. Me? I like to lay a good foundation for the day at camp during the morning. The problem was we really didn't have any plans and I wasn't feeling terribly motivated. My legs were flat and I felt groggy. I kept thinking how glad I was this wasn't a regular tour and I didn't need to mount up for a 70-100 mile day. While we served breakfast, like last night's dinner, in courses (some from the fire, some from the stove), we discussed ideas. The nature center a couple of miles away was the consensus. We weren't in any hurry though, so April took a spin to load up on more wood for the day. She pulled the BOB trailer and took along a strap to contain the load. It took her two trips but she was very proud to have accomplished the task on her own. Better yet, she hauled enough wood for the rest of our trip. I hadn't yet had to fetch a single log myself!

There is yet one more installment of our exciting life at camp. How will it end? Oh, more fun details await. Did we ever join in the dorky lawn games going on at camps around us? Did we die because we didn't have an auto to hop into and drive to town? Tune in next time ...

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