Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Memorial Day Camping
Ready to go... or so we thought. We ended up repacking my bike.
We left a lot later than I wanted to... you know how it is, the doctors appointment runs late, Max gets off work later than expected, we had to get gas and stop by to replace our sleeping bags. By the time we got on the road it was nearly 6pm, and darkness would creep up on us soon.
We rode purposefully up 400, until it turned into 115, then onto 52 toward Helen, and I eyed the little shops and farmers market with regret and promised myself a meandering ride home and to figure out some way to bring home the muscadine cider I saw advertised near a rental barn whose owners I knew long ago.
The is no hardship in a reasonably paced and reasonably long ride; in our case, an hour and a half of slow looping turns, old farmsteads, and brief cold blasts of creekbed air. Parts of it made me wish to stop and put on my sweatshirt, but the sun sets earlier in the mountains than on the piedmont and I didn't dare risk stopping. Max rode behind me, easily in sight of regular checks in my mirrors, and at every red light and country stop sign we would check on one another. Finally, we reached 348 and it's tight curves, through which I pushed us a bit faster than was likely wise, excited to almost be there.
The area was full when we pulled in, prompting me to a mental groan of realization. Saturday evening on Memorial Day Weekend? What had I been expecting, an empty stretch of forest? We passed my preferred campsite with a sigh of regret on my part and journeyed onward, pushing our reluctant bikes along the slick mud - and - gravel road until we reached the deep trough where the creek crossed the road. Max wanted to push the bikes across and keep going, but here I demurred as nerves and experience failed me... I ride rarely enough on rough ground, I was unwilling to try to cross a 2' deep and fast-moving stream that was easily 12' across. Instead, a gentleman whose camp lay just off the road beside us suggested that we would be welcome near them and we gratefully agreed to explore the area. His little setup, fortified by an electric fence, 'to keep out bears,' included two tents, chairs, rugs, and a grill. I could only giggle, while still appreciating his generous spirit since many campers prefer others as far away as possible.
Ten minutes exploration netted us an excellent spot a few meters up the trail, mostly private and with trees ideal for the hammocks. Setting up the hammock tent was a bit of an adventure- we didn't test the new equipment beforehand like we should have, and it was a race against time to set up shelter and a fire pit and food and a rain - fly in case of the possible showers tonight.
We managed, albeit barely, and there's no way I would have been able to get it all set up myself. Here, Max's superior knowledge of knots and his mechanical mind saved the day. We did the minimum needed to set up, boiled water for our dinner- chicken a la king out of a hikers good pack, which was surprisingly good, and gratefully collapsed into bed.
Camp, all set up!
Collapsed being the key word... despite blithe assurances that it was meant for two, our Eno Nest was NOT comfortable for two people to sleep in. After a frustrating half hour of shifting and figuring, full of muffled laughter and elbows in bladders, we have up and I moved to the other hammock and left the Eno to Max. With a rain fly and a sleeping bag it was comfortable enough, but at 3am one needn't be on the ground for the earth's cool fingers to chill you. I slept deeply when I slept, and spent much of the rest of the night cursing my inability to sleep in my jeans, as my legs and feet were the coldest parts of me.
I woke to birdsong and the sound of Max extricating himself from the other nylon prison, and we agreed that today would involve a run to Helen and the purchase of a tent and sleeping pads.
With light on our side this time, gathered enough firewood for the day, and Max set up a cheerful little campfire of mostly pine to keep away mosquitoes while I made breakfast- more hikers food, strawberry granola with milk. Again, surprisingly good. A round of tea followed- Early Grey is surprisingly good made over a campfire, and the smoky flavor lent itself well to the bergamot.
The new water filter seemed to work well... we had bought two water bottles en route up, and used one to fill the water filter from the creek and the other to move filtered water to the fire and the mini-stove. A bottle of water flavoring drops made for surprisingly good mango - pineapple 'juice,' and once all was established we settled in with our books and enjoyed the gradually-warming morning.
Later, we cleaned up the camp and headed into Helen to replace Max's ripped jeans and play tourist. The ride in was much more leisurely, knowing now that not only did we not have a time limit but that Max wasn't bored by my (lack of) speed. Long, slow curves and gentle turns, dappled sunlight and the ever-present scent of honeysuckle and water. The river lay to one side of the road for a mile or two, giving glimpses or green and silver and shivers of water-borne zephyrs.
The road into Helen was slow, as always, but I couldn't argue the opportunity to keep looking around. Finally, on the recommendation of the carriage driver, we tried a little restaurant tucked onto a side street called BodenSee. Lunch was excellent- garlicky wurst, house - made by a chef with a predilection for meat. Max's chicken schnitzel with grilled onions was also excellent, and our Sacher torte was phenomenal. The cafe was a definite win, and we will be eating there again.
We wandered a bit after that, enjoying sun and breeze and the many tourists. Max found a puzzle box that stumped for almost 10 minutes- a record, I think- and I fell in love with a metallic dragonfly 3d puzzle. Only as we looked up and noticed patchy clouds rolling in did we realize that our sojourn- or its length at least- might have been ill-advised.
We raced 'home,' but were too late. The ride this time was far less pleasant as rain quickly soaked our jeans, dripped down the backs of our necks, and made me at least thankful for tall boots that allowed no drips to soak my socks. Rain-slick blacktop, and new blacktop at that, is a terrifying thing when you're cold and wet and in a hurry. The gravel road twisting along the mountainside inside the camp area carries its own warnings, and thin bike tires meant for asphalt are perilously slippery in gravel and mud. Still, I pushed our pace a bit faster than may have been advised, but not Max had no objections and was likely more comfortable with our pace than I was being the better rider.
On arrival, I all but leapt off of Skya, grabbing my saddlebags- which, I realized, I'd never fastened on properly!- and nearly running to our campsite to salvage what wood I could and get it under cover. With the addition of a few pieces of heartwood donated by the campsite next to us, we were fairly well set up for the storm that soon broke over our heads.
We layered both tarps over the Eno's rainfly, creating a big triangle of dry, under which we reslung the hammocks and stowed all of our gear, laying our soaked jeans over the rope of one of the hammocks so they could hopefully dry out some.
When finally the rain began to break, Max did the cooking this time- we found that my Ensi stove doesn't boil water with a single fuel cell like it claims, but that in the all-the - way open position with 2 of them, you get a decent little boil. The beef stroganoff was our least favorite, but was still eminently edible when allowed to cook for 15 minutes instead of the directed 10.
Snuggled down with books to wait out the rain
Visiting puppy who looks EXACTLY like my Noka
When the storm broke, we were pleasantly warm and dry in our respective hammocks, in dry socks, dry shorts, and in my case a sweatshirt, and snuggled in our sleeping bags with books.
We also found that our lifestraw family filter was basically perfect for our needs: while harder to pack into saddlebags, the hard-sided 'dirty water' container made pouring into it easier (something our water bottles and leftover hikers food bags were ideal for), and a bungee to secure the lower end of the filter pipe made using it a breeze once we figured it out.
If you're unfamiliar with them, they work like this- pour 'dirty' water into the big reservoir, turn the red tap and let water drain for a few seconds. Turn off the red tap. Turn the blue tap and use the bulb to pump clean water through the filter and put of the side straw. Voila! Clean water! It would drip on its own with the tap turned, or the bulb would pump it faster.
Rebuilding the fire, post-storm
Not very successful attempt to dry out our soaked jeans
Our gregarious neighbor brought us the makings for s'mores, which was very welcome after an early lunch and early dinner- Max eats less when camping, but I eat quite a bit more. The rest of the evening was spent playing with the fires in Max's case, as he tended our neighbors during their run to the store and showed our other neighbors- a group of orthodox Jewish men and a bunch of kids- where to find the heart of pine from a downed tree, which burns fast and hot even when wet. In my case, there was a lot more lying in the hammock and reading my book.
We decided that next trip, a tent is in order, but we will have to figure out a way to keep from being cold and stiff the next morning. We will try the thermarest pads, possibly layered under an air mattress although I despise the things.
That night was rather more comfortable, as we both slept in socks and shorts and in my case, my sweatshirt again. The morning was still damp and early, and even an hour by the fire the night before and a night beneath our sleeping bags in the hammock hadn't dried out our jeans.
I woke before Max and wriggled into my cold and damp jeans, and started another fire and breakfast to let him sleep in a bit.
The bandito scramble was the least - good of our prepared meals, although the banana raisin quinoa we followed it with was quite good. We had our tea and spent most of the morning breaking down camp- really, less than an hours work but we were leisurely about it- before snuggling back up in the hammocks to laze about a bit longer and let it get warmer before riding back town town in still - damp clothing.
It was nearly noon, and one more meal (excellent chicken teriyaki) before we heard thunder and realized we were overdue to get out of dodge.
Camp, mostly broken aside from the hammocks
Everything packed up, aside from the hammocks
Ready to head home!
Unfortunately, we were very overdue and the rain broke over our heads just as we finished loading the bikes. Joy.
The ride home was a misery... little in the world is more unpleasant than cold rainwater finding it's way into your groin, down the back of your neck, and trickling into your boots. I at least had tall boots, although they didn't protect me nearly as much as I'd like. Poor Max had ventilation in a few spots he'd rather not, as we hadn't replaced his jeans in Helen like we'd planned.
It's hard to enjoy the sights and sounds of rushing water and a world draped in emerald lace when your helmet fogs with every breath and needles of rain sting your cold, bare hands with every flurry of showers that passes overhead.
Nor did it help that after stopping at a gas station to check our bearings and reactivate the data on our phones, the bluetooth on my helmet went out, leaving me instead of music a teeth - grinding intermittent crackle. Even more frustratingly, this extended not only to my music but to my gps, meaning that my route back was 100% memory, and I hadn't been here in 2 years. Our ride was made longer by this, since I didn't dare try it from memory and run risk of adding 'lost,' to our list of adjectives on top of, 'wet, cold, and miserable.'
Reaching 400 felt almost like safe haven as we dropped altitude and gained warmth, so that even the ever-present cold wasn't as bad as it had been in the mountains.
A half-hour's stop at Gypsy's, a few miles south of the outlet mall, netted us warm and mostly dry clothes and steaming mugs of tea- you know you have good friends when you can show up on their doorstep and ask to use the dryer.
We still hit a few squalls before reaching the house, but finally we were able to unload the bikes, spread out our things to dry, and went to the apartment for long-awaited showers. It took two shampoos to get the smoke out of my hair, and little else compares to the joy of lotion after 3 days in the woods....Unless it's Damian's hugs when we went to pick him up, followed by gorging ourselves at Chili's (and indulging in a margarita) with Val and Wentzel.