Friday, June 23, 2017

Conclusion Episode 9

Well, I have to say it's been an interesting experiment. There are several things I learned, and several that I reaffirmed were true.

The first thing I learned was that camping alone is not for wimps. The amenities of the campgrounds I picked were not nearly as important to me as were the number and types of campers with whom I would be surrounding myself.  There is safety in numbers. It took courage to put down my guard long enough as to actually fall asleep in a tent in a strange place. Perhaps that vulnerability will fade as I get more camping nights under my belt.

The second thing I learned: my favorite part of the trip was that, except for the times I was in the car driving or cowering, I was outside. I consider being in a tent still being outside. Even though under a shelter I was not completely out of the elements. The sounds are the same, the temperature and air are the same. In other words, I was essentially still outside! Both times I ate at restaurants I ate outside on a deck or patio. In the time I was gone,  from 9 am on Thursday morning until 4 pm on Saturday, (about 64 hours), I think I was outside for 50 of those hours. Living in Minnesota means months of inside living with our nearly 7 months of winter a year. I have seen the cows leaping for joy after being let out of the barn after a long winter.

It felt like that.

Thirdly, I enjoyed the people. This reaffirmed my memory of how fun it was to camp. When folks are camping, they are not in their normal surroundings. That means they don't have all their friends with them, so they reach out to others, and seem friendlier somehow. Also, they have more time to visit. Campgrounds are places where striking up a conversation with a fellow camper is easy to do. I find people's stories endlessly interesting and entertaining.

The beauty of God's creation was everywhere. As I soaked in the beauty of that part of Wisconsin, I was thirsty to see more of the world. What marvelous things are the work of His hands. I felt spiritually restored as I read God's word surrounded by God's world.

 It was a marvelous trip. Thanks to all of you who went along the journey with me. Oh, and I did make it to Iowa and had a great time.

Out of all these people ......

I got this close........

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Day Three: Two Celebrations Episode 8

Saturday morning. It was another beautiful day. I had brought along my coffee maker in the event that I had access to electricity. There were multiple outlets in the park's picnic shelter, so I had my first really satisfying cup of the trip. Instead of making breakfast I just prepared a protein shake and a food bar. The tent is always a little wet in the morning from the dew and the ground, so I began to take it down. In the middle of that task I got talking with Pam and another camper.

My new lesson: empty the tent before you collapse it. I think the distraction of the conversation made me forget what I had been doing and I went straight for packing up the tent. You can get your things out, it's just awkward.

All packed up, I took one more look around the campsite and realized that I had not taken advantage of the rack full of courtesy bikes that you could ride in the park, or into town if you liked. So, I grabbed a bike and pedaled the two blocks into town. checked it out and went back to camp. It was a nice amenity, in an all-around nice park.

The evening before, Sam had mentioned that Maiden Rock, WI, a nearby town I would be passing through on my way home, was having their summer celebration this weekend. I was pretty sure it also had a municipal park for camping and I had planned to scout that out anyway.

Just before I got to Maiden Rock I saw a big banner next to a county road that read Maiden Rock Camping Fest or something like that. I turned on to a winding road that climbed up and up into the bluffs until I hit a plateau and found the party. There were tents and campers and lot of people and a parking lot full of cars. Some women were doing yoga in a nearby patch of grass. About 50 people were sitting at picnic tables waiting for the noon lunch.

I found what looked like an official welcoming booth and said that I had seen the sign on the highway, and asked what was happening. The gals working the booth said lunch was being served in about 10 minutes. So I bought a ticket for $5.00 and began talking to the young woman next to me. I asked her if this was a pretty popular campground. She seemed surprised by the question. She told me that she was petty sure that this was private property, but that once a year the owner opened it up for this camp out.

Most of the people here seemed to know each other. I didn't see any other touristy types. Lunch was served: A ham sandwich (with cheese slices if you liked) potato chips a giant cookie and a glass of cold milk. Not bad for $5.00. I filled my plate, walked back to my car and retreated down the windy road back to the Highway. I'm pretty sure that was a semi- private party.

Back on the Highway I drove into Maiden Rock. They were having their summer festival. I pulled in to the municipal campground which was just behind where the activities was taking place. Of course I had already eaten, but it was a hot day, and this the the party I was actually looking for, so I bought a beer and sat down.
I began talking with a woman who said she and her husband were camping at the park and liked coming here. Her name was Penny. Her brothers named her. She said she went to a Catholic school when she was young and the nuns refused to call her Penny. Her mother got a call from her teacher complaining that she didn't answer when they called on her. Her mother asked what thy were calling her and they said they were using her full name, Penelope. Her mother said, if they would call her by her real name she would answer. They finally relented.

Penny invited me to see their camper and meet her husband. This campground was also on Lake Pepin and the view of the lake was lovely. Penny's camper was really nice, too. I told Penny about my earlier party crashing, and one of the guys visiting with Penny's husband finally figured out that I had been at the old rod and gun club. He said he thought it belonged to the VFW or the American Legion now. He had no clue about the celebration, and he was from Maiden Rock!

The parade was starting in ten minute, so Penny and I grabbed a couple of chairs and went up to main street. I think the parade went three blocks. It was 20-25 minutes long at most. Perfect. The kids ended with huge bags of candy, and since they shut down the highway for the parade the line of cars that had to wait for the parade to be over was almost as long as the parade.

Time to go. I said goodbye to Penny, stopped at one of the tents long enough to buy two pieces of barbecued chicken to eat later at home, and traveled the rest of the way up the river to Prescott,WI to Hastings, MN to St Paul, MN to home. What an adventure.

What will I do next? Well, I have tickets for a Trump Rally in Cedar Rapids, IA tomorrow. I've never seen a sitting president.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Day Two. Just What I Was Hoping For. Episode 7

I woke up surprisingly refreshed. I was annoyed by my cowardice, but  pleased at the rebound. I actually liked sleeping in the tent. I gathered breakfast paraphernalia, table cloth, coffee, cookware, cook stove, dishes, matches.....uh-oh. I lost track of the matches. I went down the hill to the fire pit and they were there on the ground. I hadn't seen them in the dark. When I picked up the box it was wet and one side was a little slimy. I turned it over and there, hugging the flint was a leech. Ick.

When the camp owner stopped to see how I had slept he seemed a little disappointed that I had had trouble due to the noise. Still, he could see that I was happy with the site. I asked for another box of matches which he cheerfully supplied.

I had brought my own water from home, so the first thing I did was heat water for coffee (instant coffee. After all, I was roughing it) and then made scrambled eggs in my new frying plan. I discovered that I had forgotten to bring salt. I checked the pocket of the cooler. Paul had always packed the cooler, and he often included napkins, silverware and packets of sugar and salt in a zip lock bag. Sure enough, 3 packets of salt. I miss him.

I "broke camp" and headed back to Durand to catch WI Highway 25 south to WI Highway 35 which runs north/south along the Mississippi River. I took some county roads so that I would come out closer to Durand before getting on to Highway 25, and thereby avoided the flag persons. Ha!

The Wisconsin countryside in that area is breathtakingly beautiful. These are picture postcard visions  of the dairy farms that provide the milk that makes the state famous for it's cheese. The trees and crops and grass were lush and green. I was trying to decide if I would camp another night as I had planned. I still had no phone service and a lot would depend on the weather report. About an hour later I arrived at Pepin, Wisconsin, one of several small towns that sit on Lake Pepin, a renowned recreational lake. In fact, across the water on the other side, a bit north of Pepin was the town of Lake City, MN known as the birthplace of water skiing. I had recently driven Highway 35 and had noticed more than one sign announcing municipal campgrounds in several of the towns. I thought Pepin was one.

There was an inviting restaurant right on the highway. It was nearly noon, so I stopped for a California Burger and fries. A bonus, in addition to being able to eat outside, was that they had wi-fi.

I sent a quick text to the kids (they like to keep tabs on me, for some reason), and then checked the weather. 40% chance of rain/thunderstorms. Hmmmm. Now that I had experience as a tenter perhaps I should extend that experience to "difficult conditions". On the other hand, 40% chance of rain also meant 60% chance of no rain if my math was correct. I decided to go for it.

I couldn't find a campground in Pepin so I continued up 35. I didn't see anything at Lakeport, but in Stockholm, right in town, was a sign saying "campground". I made a left turn, toward the lake, and there it was, the kind of campground I had envisioned when I planned the trip.

Situated right on Lake Pepin, with a large grassy area in the middle for tents, and a friendly camp host, Pam, it was perfect. Pam told me to fill out my registration envelope, put in the money and drop it into the box, and she would show me around. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon but there were already 10-12 campers and RV's with their awnings and electrical hook-ups in place. There were no tents, but I would be in the circle of activity. I chose a spot in the middle of the knoll, away from branches that could break off in a wind and right across the road from Pam's camper. Pam rolled a metal firepit over to where I was and said, put it anywhere you like. If you brought wood you can burn that or you can buy some. Whatever you want. Pam and her husband were taking care of their 4 grandchildren for a week, so there was a lot of activity across the road. They were good kids and I enjoyed the lively atmosphere.

I set up the tent and got out my crossword puzzles and other books and kicked back and enjoyed the day. Before long a young couple from Eau Claire, WI, Sam and Josh, set up a tent across the knoll from me. They were very friendly and said they'd watch out for me. Sam said she grew up in Plum City, WI and Josh was originally from LaCrosse, WI. They said they really liked this campground and came here often. I was pretty sure their well-behaved, 1 year-old black lab, who slept in their tent with them, would warn us all of anything that went bump in the night.

We had a brief rain shower, maybe 5 minutes, which cooled the air. My tent did not leak. I made a light supper, enjoyed a campfire from the gift of wood from both Pam and Sam and Josh.

I watched the boats go by and my fellow campers walking their dogs, enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and slept peacefully the whole night through.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Day One. Part Two: Fifty-Fifty Episode 6

When I pulled into Menomonie a wonderful thing happened. It's called phone service. Relieved that I could now search on line for a campground, I found two listed. I decided to go for Twin Springs Camping. My phone could actually take me there! It looked okay. There were a number of RV's, and I could see at least one tent as I parked by the office. It was privately held. The sign said it had been under the same owners for fifty-two years. It showed it's age a bit, but I could hear kids having fun at the pool. A sign on the door said "ring the bell and come in". Inside a tall man, who looked like he could be the owner, was getting up from a chair in front of a TV in the living room and he met me at an office area right there in the house. His wife stayed in front of the TV.

I told him of my experiment in camping, filled out a registration form and asked if they took credit cards. He said they did not, they were old fashioned that way. Cash or checks would be welcome. I told him I was rather old fashioned as well, I tend to carry cash. I pulled out a couple of twenties, we settled accounts, he gave me a parking pass for my mirror, and said he had just the spot for me.

We went out the back door of the house where the office was, went to the right side of the house where there was a lovely, level site with a table. He pointed out that there was a fire ring at the base of the small hill behind the site. He said that would be mine to use if I wanted it, but they only allowed wood that I bought on-site. He said I could pull my car right up next to the tent, and the bathrooms were only three sites away. 

There was a camper one site from me, but I did not see anyone there. I thought they might have taken their car into town for supper.  I thanked him, pulled the car forward and began to set up the tent. That went well. The weather report included no rain. The sky was clear. It was calm and the temp was a pleasant 75 degrees or so. In other words, a perfect night to camp.
I even had my own swing.

I ate a salad for my evening meal. It was about 7 pm by now and I gratefully hit the showers. The bathrooms were aged, but clean. Two flush toilets, two showers and two sinks.  I hadn't really recovered from that hot round of golf, and there was very little breeze, so the shower was welcome and refreshing.

I checked out the camp a bit. The owner had pointed out  a path, so I walked to the lake, or the "Twin Creeks" perhaps, else why the campground name? 

No activity around the camper next door. I saw one person use the restroom. I assumed that activity would pick up as the day wound completely down. 

I want back to the office and asked to buy the firewood. A campfire seemed like a nice touch. My son-in-law, Jeff, texted on Friday and asked if I had forgotten anything. I had. I thought I had packed matches, but could not find them, so I went back to the office and the owner graciously gave a whole box. I had a fire starter along, and the wood was dry and burned well.
It was pretty dark by the time the fire settled down to a few embers, so I gathered my things and went back up the hill to the tent.

Earlier, the camp owner's wife had come out of the house. She drove around the camp on her golf cart, and went back inside. Other than that, the one girl at the bathroom and the owner were the only people I had seen. There was still no sign of anyone in the camper next to me, and I could not see any other campers from where I was. 

I got ready for bed, climbed into the tent and got to thinking. I was really pretty isolated here. (I could have done that in Durand). No one knew where I was. I had never mentioned going to Menomonie to camp. I thought I should text the kids to let them know where I was.  No phone service. I tried to sleep. I was pretty tired. Golfing and setting up camp had worn me out. 

Since Paul died I have never failed to lock my doors. I would get up and check if I couldn't remember locking them. There are no locks on a tent. Worse, the campground was only about a mile from the interstate, and there was a constant drone from the cars and trucks. There is no muffling of sound when you are in a tent. To top it off, about the time I became lulled by the highway sound a train would roar along breaking the pattern (the railroad tracks turned out to be right by the highway.)  The sound would not have been so annoying, but it blocked my ability to assess any sounds that might be immediately nearby. Rattled I took another look at my phone. It had been going in and out with rare, but occasional service.  In my increasingly nervous musings I realized that I had paid cash. There was not even a credit card trail to tie me to that camp. I have a big imagination. Why had I told the guy I was carrying cash? The phone had two bars. I quickly texted the kids about where I was and even got a text back saying they appreciated knowing. The bars promptly disappeared.

I had always had a back up plan if I was unable to give myself over to sleep. I climbed out of the tent, went to the bathroom, climbed into the car with my pillow. I closed the door. Instant silence. I locked the doors and dosed off and on checking out the surroundings each time I woke up. Nothing happened. No animals around the tent, no cars coming in from the highway, no people wandering around in the night. Still no neighbors, but about 4 am I thought, "This is stupid." I climbed out of the car and into the tent, and slept like a baby until 8:00 am.

Four hours sleeping in the car, four hours sleeping in the tent......50/50.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Day One. Part One Episode 5

I left  at 10:00 am, destination, Durand, Wisconsin, a small town about 90 miles from here. Durand was  home for the first 5 years of my married life. Our oldest three boys were born there. All went well until I came to the other side of Plum City, Wisconsin. With only 13 miles to go to get to Durand I was flagged down along with a whole long line of cars and trucks. They were paving the road between the two towns. The flag girl held us in check for fully 19 minutes. 

It was hot on Thursday, so the wait was fairly miserable (I am stubborn and rarely use my AC. Summer should feel like summer). Eventually we were ushered through the one-sided road and I rolled into Durand around noontime. 

Before I left I had asked my search engine, "What is the best place to eat in Durand, WI?" The first place listed was the Corral Bar and Riverside Grill . Even though I was pretty hungry, I wanted to check out the camping area in the park at the edge of town. Doris was right. All 14 tenting spaces were unoccupied. There was one RV parked in the RV section, but I did not see any people in evidence.

Okay, there would be a place to camp if I made a decision to camp in a relatively deserted spot. The Corral Bar and Riverside Grill lived up to their reputation. Their deck overlooks the Chippewa River which was running high, covering a road behind the restaurant and lapping at the basements of the downtown businesses on that side of the street.

 St. John's Lutheran Church was Paul's first call from the seminary, and we lived there one year when it did indeed flood those downtown businesses.

The golf course was my next destination. I am a medium to poor golfer, but I like the game  and, like many golfers, have just enough really good drives and chips and putts to keep me playing.  The Durand course was the first place I ever golfed. Several members had invited me to join a ladies league. It would be almost thirty years before I played again more often than about once every ten years. It was a very hot day. I was pretty tired when I got done with nine holes. I headed back to the park, hoping to find a nice collection of campers there so I could get on with setting up my tent.

One deserted looking RV. 

Since Paul died I have never forgotten to lock the doors before I go to sleep. You can't lock a tent, so I was hoping for safety in numbers. Camping in Durand was more than I could do, so, hot, and already a little tired I decided to check out the County park near Plum city.

Remember that road they were paving? Twenty minutes after being flagged down, I continued on Highway 10 until I saw a sign pointing to a county road that led to the park.  It was well marked at the highway, but became a closely guarded secret after that. (One frustration on this trip was that I almost never had phone service the whole time I was gone. That meant no digital directions to anything.) 

I drove that county road back and forth looking for a clue, and finally, retraced my steps to a town I had gone through. I  pulled over and asked a couple of guys if they knew where the park was. They were sitting outside of a bar in the little town of Arkansas, WI. They looked at me and then at each other and then back at me with that vacant look that pretty much says that, no, they did not know where the county park was. 

"No, I don't think I know where that is," said the more vocal of the two. 

I tried the road again and saw a man in his driveway and  asked him if he knew where it was. He gave me directions, and before heading out I asked if a lot of people used that park. He said, "Yeah, on holiday weekends it's always packed. 

I asked what about on a Thursday? 

"On Thursday?" he mused, "Well, on a Thursday you might be the only one out there."  I could have done that in Durand. 

He told me to try Menomonie, a bigger town about 20 miles away. I headed back to Highway 10 toward Durand to catch Highway 25 to Menomonie.  Only 18 minutes with the flagman this time.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Fun Starts Now! Episode 4

Once the cooler is packed I am ready to go. Yesterday I set up the tent in the front yard with the help of various neighbors who were passing by (mostly taking their dogs for a walk). 

One said, "Let me send my husband over. He's good at this stuff." So, I had a live tutor instead of a digital one.

His name is Tom, and he brought me a tarp for under the tent and told me the key was to make sure the under tarp was smaller than the tent floor to keep it from attracting rain, and to fold the tarp's edges under so that moisture would roll off the sides and away from the tent floor. He made me fill and actually fire up my Coleman stove, a nifty little one burner appliance that I trust will keep up me supplied with hot coffee and soup. He instructed me on where, especially, to apply the seam sealer to the tent, showed me a clever door at the base of the tent that lets in an electric cord if I have a site with electricity, approved my hatchet, and reminded me to take an extension cord. He said he used to be a Boy Scout Leader. My gain.

It's a beautiful day, there are no predictions of rain. Here I go!

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's A Learning Curve Episode 3

Yesterday I bought a small cast iron frying pan. The box said to be sure to season it before use. That's all it said. Fortunately we live in a digital world, so I asked my search engine, "How do I season a cast iron pan?" Apparently a lot of people know how to do this.

I don't know if I have ever had my oven on 500 degrees for one full hour. They said the fire alarm may go off so turn on the fan and open the windows. Fortunately it is a pleasant 70 degrees today, so that worked out. It seems that you season a pan by making sure it is very dry and then rubbing it from top to bottom with Crisco or other cooking oil and then placing it in the aforementioned heated oven for one hour, after which you turn off the oven and let it cool down in the oven for another hour or so. Done.

Next I located a small, nearby town that has a city park with 14 tent spaces in it's camping section. The website gave a number to call at the city hall. It warned that if you made a reservation you had to pay upfront, and if you did not give them a week's warning you forfeited your deposit. I want to go on Thursday, two days from now. I called the number and, after hitting "1" for camp reservation I spoke with Doris.

Me: I was calling to see if you have any tent sites open for this Thursday.

Doris: I don't think..... just let me check the calendar.

Me, thinking:  How did I think I could just call two days in advance and expect to find a spot to camp? I was hoping it would be a simple matter of deciding on the spur of the moment....

Doris: I don't think I have any tent reservations, so I guess you have your choice of sites. The ones up by the pool have electric, the ones farther away do not. 

Me: So, if I decided to stay Friday night, too? 

Doris: I don't have any reservations on Friday night either, so that's fine.

Me: Well, how would I do that then?

Doris: You can drive to the site and you'll find some yellow envelopes there for you to put the money in and just put the envelope into the box.

Me: So, how much do I put into the envelope?

Doris: It's $5 a night.

In early May I went to Door County, Wisconsin for a few days because I was going to lose my vacation points if I didn't use them by the end of May. The place I stay has a golf course included in the package, so I golfed every day. It was early for Door County season, so I almost always had the course to myself. I told everyone that I felt like Trump! 

I'm not sure what having a city park to myself would feel like. I mean, who does that? I guess I could go and set up my tent, and see if there are others that come, too. I read about a group that was going camping into a dangerous area, and the advice they got was to have at least six people along because there always had to be someone who was awake to stand guard. Well, that would be me. I plan to pick one of the sites by the pool, but I probably won't sleep until the first kids show up for swimming lessons in the morning. 

I could also just bail and go home, but then I would forfeit my deposit.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Girl Scout Motto: Be Prepared! Episode 2

Having learned the importance of "trying things out" before I actually show up at the campsite, I have been gathering what I perceive would be the supplies needed to "live outdoors" so to speak. I think the main problem is that I want to have all the comforts of home while I "rough it". That means transferring a lot of things from here to there. My daughter, Sarah, suggested putting as much of the stuff as possible into a plastic bin. I assume that as one gets used to camping, much of the gear stays in the container, or at least there is a prior knowledge of what to bring. 

Today I began gathering everything into one place. I took a picture. This is without food, clothing or the tent! I know this is old hat to those of you who have been camping for years. For the rest of us, we salute you!

(It also does not include the two camp chairs and the air mattress!)

Maybe this is why people stay in motels!

The tent comes tomorrow. I'll let you know how that goes.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Let's Go Camping! Episode 1

I've decided to start a series of blogs chronicling my new endeavor: tent camping. Since my husband, Paul, died this past September I have been lying low, staying home much of the time, reading, praying, just getting used to not having him around. I am finally rested, almost a little bored, and ready for the next thing. 

When we were raising our family we had a big blue bus in which our family of ten traveled and camped. Missing the camping experience, but wanting to try something new, I decided to try tenting. I have had lots of advice from friends who USED to tent camp and are now happily settled in their RV's, and who look at me skeptically, wondering why I would want to start that now. I am well past retirement age, and, while fairly fit, I'm not sure what the ground will do to my aging body. I'll let you know.

Since this is still the preparation stage, I bought a camping app for my phone that lists county and municipal campgrounds. I want to camp in or near towns. The wilderness doesn't interest me. Next I searched online for articles that coached new campers. One article suggested that it would be wise to practice setting up the tent before you go. I had bought one of those little pop-up tents, but had never opened the package. I had planned to just get to a campsite and figure it out there. After all, I would have plenty of time since I have no idea what I will do all day at a campsite anyway. 

Still, practicing seemed a good idea. After retrieving my tent from the back of the car I made a space for it in the living room, unzipped the bag it was in, and POP, up jumped my tent. Imagine my surprise when it only had three sides. I just stared at it, trying to make sense of how that was going to work. After reading the directions I discovered that I had bought a beach tent. My first reaction was that I was really glad that I had not opened the tent for the first time at the campsite! My second thought was, since this happened in the privacy of my own home, no one needed to know how stupid I was to order such a thing.

As I tried, and failed to put the creation back into it's little round case I laughed even harder, realizing I might have had to drive home from the campground with that thing all popped up in my car which was an even funnier visual. I promptly went to Amazon and ordered a real tent along with the water repellent with which  the online article told me to prep the tent.

My daughter, Sarah, stopped by with her kids today, and, after about a half hour of attempts, amid further hilarity, we have the thing back in its wrapping although it does bulge in some strange places.

Overall, so far, so good.