Sunday, June 28, 2015

Unexpected Dangers Of the Road

Even the waves here are dangerous
It's dangerous out here.  In Florence, Oregon alone we've been warned of sudden fogs and sneaker waves. We also went to see the rare, and if you're an insect, very dangerous Darlingtonia California. While hiking up Collins Mountain a few days ago, we passed a Big Foot Trap, and were reminded that bears weren't the only thing to be concerned about in these woods.

So far however, our closest encounters with big scary wildlife came two weeks ago in the Grand Tetons National Park. The  day was clear, and after drying things out from the previous evenings thunderstorm we set off on a 7 mile hike around Jenny Lake with a few short side trails planned up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. More than half way through the hike all was going as as planned, although really, you can't plan on views, and nature being that gorgeous.

We had also planned on not seeing bears. "Bear Aware" warnings are everywhere in Yellowstone and
3 Bear Warnings are Better Than One
the Grand Tetons. They're nailed to picnic tables, they're posted in bathrooms, they're plastered on bear safe garbage cans, the campground had bear proof food storage containers in each camp, etc. It's a good thing, and they're all very informative. The general impression you get however is that you need to be prepared to have some kind of encounter with a bear. I am not. Neither physically nor psychologically.

The trails we took however were well traveled and the Rangers (all whom carried holstered bear spray) thought we'd be okay without spray. We hiked most of the way around Jenny Lake to String Lake when we were stopped by a Ranger. He informed us that the trail was closed due to "bear activity." Apparently this bear had been hanging around the nearby picnic area and was becoming dangerous, the Park Service was attempting to trap and remove him. We could see the giant bear trap up on the hill, didn't get to see the bear. However, we did have to turn around and hike all the way back around the Lake. We ended up walking a bit more than 12 miles all-in-all.

Our next encounter with dangerous wildlife occurred that same evening. After returning to the campsite we had dinner and were just settling in for the night when an elk wandered into the campsite. A big bull elk. He didn't really pay us much attention, just ate the grasses, stripped leaves off the various bushes, and looked around once in a while. It wasn't until another camper attempted to shoot a close-up photo and the elk lowered his giant antlers in his direction that anyone became alarmed. But that was enough of a threat for all of us to back off and realize that his being comfortable with us didn't make him any less dangerous.

Tomorrow we head up into the mountains of Southern Oregon to do our first week of serious hiking.  Experiences with these animals reminds us that while all the places we've been, and scenery we've seen, isn't just for our benefit.  There are lots of other folks out here, and there is still the need to be safe. If we meet Big Foot on the trail, we'll be sure and say hi.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fast Forward: The Pacific Ocean and Florence, Oregon

Suislaw River Inlet
We're in Florence, Oregon today. It's a long way and a long time since the last posting in Gray Bull, Wyoming. In the interest of not procrastinating any more, I'll just start in again from where we are. As time, and perhaps an appropriate segue warrants, the other stories about mud pots, thunderstorms, the Grand Tetons (Wyoming), French cyclists (in the thunderstorm), National Parks vs National Forests, elk, bears, the Snake River (Wyoming), the Grand Tetons (Idaho), wildflowers, Driggs (Idaho), the Snake River (Idaho), backroads vs highways, Atomic City, volcanic cinder cones, lava rifts, lava tubes, an overabundance of cows (and related theories regarding global warming), Boise, Burns, the white-headed woodpecker, the cow counting game, Lake Abert, the missing geyser, the water-less campground(s), an inaugural PCT hike, the eventual arrival in Ashland, Oregon, and the end of Phase One of "Retirement"; will be told.

View Up the Valley
About two thirds of the way into the cross country trip, somewhere between the lava tubes, and endless cows, it became clear that a trip that started on the Atlantic Coast, in Rockport, Massachusetts, must end on the Pacific Coast.  Stopping in Ashland, a mere three hours short of the 'other' coast was uncompleted.  (For why we stopped in Ashland, see a previous post).

Which is why, right now, S.D. and I are in Florence, Oregon.  We're in our second week of Phase Two - getting things, and bodies in order so that we can take a shot at hiking the PCT through Oregon, north as the trail or the weather permits this year.  We've been bicycling around Ashland,  hiking up and around Collins Mountain, and are now on the Oregon coast for a few more days of cycling and...just for the poetic completion of it all...seeing the Pacific Ocean. 

And it is beautiful. Florence is a nice, small town on the Suislaw River. Our hotel is less than a block from the Old Town which is also on the river and has great coffee, wine, and restaurants.

Yesterday we rode north from Florence and out to the North Jetty of the Suislaw River Inlet, and Oregon Dunes National Park and stretch for 40 miles down the Oregon Coast to Coos Bay.
North Fork of the Suislaw Rivr
Since we loved it so much, we rode  20 miles south to the South Jetty of the inlet.  They were only a few hundred yards apart as the crow flies, but 20 miles apart via the road.  The ride north took us through towering pines and junipers, the ride to the south was behind the giant sand dunes that make up the

This morning, the fog bank (more about the fog later) hung over the coast so we rode inland and east from Florence, up along the North Fork of the Suislaw River.  Totally different country from the coast. Here the sand dunes were replaced by sharp hills and mountains covered with pines and firs, and the road wound beside the meanders of the river. Foxglove and giant Queen Anne's lace bloomed alongside and moss overhung the road.

Afternoon fog coming ashore
And now a word about the fog. Pacific fog may look and feel like Atlantic fog, but apparently it works on a different schedule. During yesterday's ride, in the morning you couldn't help but notice a giant fog bank off the coast. When we asked one of the many friendly locals when the bank would burn off, as fog is supposed to, he informed us that not only would it not burn off, but that we should expect that bank to cover the coast by around 1:00 in the afternoon. He explained that the bank generally sits out there and as the land warms up, the resulting in shore breeze brings the fog inland - usually stopping around RT 101 (the north south coastal road).  Sure enough, as the day warmed the fog bank crept closer. It didn't land however, until today. With inland temperatures reaching into the hundreds today that bank just moved on in...and there doesn't appear to be any sign of it burning off the way the East Coast fog does.   Just one of the many things that is going to take  some getting used to if we stay on the left coast.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A guest blog by SD: Life on the road; having the right gear is important

SD here again with another guest blog entry.

Now we are three weeks in, we've had to make some adjustments to our gear line up.  We have had to replace out trusty tent.

For almost a decade now, maybe longer as I have no clue when I bought it, a L.L. Bean 6 person dome tent has served well.
The existing tent, it has served us well.
Up to now there has been only one failure (although it failed three times so far, obviously a design failure), of the back fly pole, and Bean has happily replaced it each time it broke.  I have to say dealing with Bean is great, after the latest failure they offered to refund me the cost of the tent I bought 10 years ago, what a great company to deal with.

Little tent on the prairie.

But as we found out in the badlands, the tent wasn't up to 30 knot winds and a driving rain (  The fly over each door sits straight out to shade the doors.  A good design in sunny or protected conditions, but when the wind blows it just catches the wind and the rain being driven sideways by it.  Spending part of the night holding the tent up from the inside then sleeping in wet gear just doesn't cut it when you're living on the road.  On a weekend trip its less of a problem as you go home after a couple of days to regroup.  The tent is our home now so no place to regroup.  So now that we're spending a couple of days in town we decided to do some research and look into upgrading our car camping tent.  One nice thing about choosing a tent for car camping is that weight and packed size just don't matter.  We are looking for comfort and the ability to stand up to all conditions.

After the great experience we've had with LL Bean that's the first place we checked.  We still find that their gear is well priced and fairly well designed for the average weekend camper.  Our top choice there ( had the same problem as our existing tent, overhangs to shade the doors that would be great in the right conditions, but not so great in some of the conditions we've run into already.  Considering how great they are to deal with, it was a disappointment to not be able to buy from them again.
The new LL Bean tent, a possibility.

The next place we looked is Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS).  Kelly used to work there and they also seem to have good gear at a decent price.   Their Big Easy 6 Tent looked good, and the price was right in there.  As you can see from looking at it ( there's a fly extension that comes down to for a vestibule, which provides a bit more storage space, but more importantly stakes down to provide a wind buffer.
The EMS Big Easy 6.
The fly in the back, we can only assume since there's no picture, comes down towards the base of the tent.  We liked it but there were two problems, we couldn't buy it locally thus we couldn't check it out before purchasing, and there's only one door.  But it was a contender.

The next place to shop for outdoor gear is Recreational Equipment Inc (REI).  An interesting nationwide big box outdoor gear store.  As an aside; one of the biggest drawbacks to the homogenisation of shopping is the lack of selection.  You go to big box stores you only get manufacturers big enough or standard enough to supply a store that sells nationwide.  The prices might be better, and you can usually find what you want after a fashion, but the selection is limited.

Anyway, back to the tent story, we liked the REI Base Camp 6 tent (  It looks like it is designed for windy rainy conditions, had two doors and we could check it out locally.
The REI Base Camp 6.
It is expensive, but being members of REI does mean a 10% kickback at the end of the year.  That helps.  So we trekked down to the local store and ended up purchasing it.  We set up this morning to try it out and make sure everything was there before we got out to a camp site only to find an important component was missing.  Everything was there and it won't be hard to put up when camping.

It is a huge tent!  But we camp comfortable when car camping, including a queen size air mattress, sheets, comforter, pillows, and all of our other gear that we want to keep dry.  This tent certainly looks like it will do the job.  

As I update you on how it works in stormy conditions after we've had a chance to put it to the test.  We have high hopes this one will last a few years of constant use.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Places Between Places: Powder River Pass and Ten Sleep Canyon

The eleventh day of our cross-country camping trip was a road/town day. We'd been camping and hiking for five nights and six days, our clothes smelled, the van was funky, we had no consumable food. In addition to that, we needed to get some westward mileage under our wheels and we needed to take care of some business, business that needed a good internet and phone connections. To accomplish that we intended to drive most of the day and get a hotel for the night.

We left South Dakota early in the morning with the plan to spend the night in Grey Bull, Wyoming. That would put us just outside the Eastern entrance to Yellowstone where we'd spend four to five days camping both there and in the Grand Tetons National Forest. It was going to be a long drive, with nothing spectacular to do or see. Or so we thought.

There are two possible routes to the Eastern entrance of Yellowstone. One, the more common, exits I-90 at Sheridan and follows RT 14 over the Bighorn National Forest on the Northern side. the other, less common, and slightly longer exits I-90 at Buffalo, follows RT 16 and crosses the Bighorn National Forest on the Southern side over the Powder River Pass.  Wanting a less commercial and less-crowded drive, we took the southern route, not expecting too much, just wanting to get to Grey Bull without a lot of fuss.
Aside from being generally happy on this trip, there have been a number of times when I have turned to S.D. and said "Holy Shit!!! This is so awesome, I'm the happiest I've ever been!" The next hour were 60 of those times.  Climbing up to the Powder River Pass, and the Pass itself were just gorgeous. Stunning views, full forests, snow, wildflowers, just beautiful. S.D. had to stop and throw a few snowballs. 

Part Two - Ten Sleep Canyon
 And then there was the ride down. Down through Ten Sleep Canyon. I mean, "Holy Shit!!! This is so awesome, I'm the happiest I've ever been!".  Ten Sleep "Creek" was running crazy. Like a huge river just rushing down still down carving out the massive canyon it had already formed. The road kept making tight hair pin turns as we descended further and further down to the floor of the canyon.

When at last we came out at the bottom, and like the Ten Sleep Creek flooded out on to the plain and through the town of Ten Sleep I was speechless.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Not Knowing: The Little Spearfish Trail

The day following the IDS post (wherein I lamented the lose of data coverage and the resulting inability to know stuff about where we were),  we were physically reminded of the joys of having too little information.

Since we didn't have maps or ideas of where any trails went, we choose to take the trail that went by our campsite in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After 10 days of driving, sometimes a bit, sometimes for nine hours; a day of not driving at all was very appealing.  The trail, where ever it went could be just as good as any other.

We set off early in the morning, hiking west, and up. Our idea was to hike out two hours, and then, if the trail still went on, just turn around and hike back. It was a beautiful clear morning, and after less than a mile we came to the trail head and discovered that we would be walking on the the Upper Little Spearfish Canyon Trail. Still no idea where it went, except that judging by the name, we figured it went up the Upper Little Spearfish Canyon, which coincidentally was the name of the canyon we were in, and the name of a trail we'd also seen marked further east and down the canyon.

At first the trail followed along what we assumed was Little Spearfish Creek and opened out into a small valley meadow. There were lots of signs of beaver activity. Trees gnawed off at beaver-high levels, little dams, and finally, one lodge. We didn't see any beavers, but we did see lots of wildflowers, birds and even an osprey.

After about another mile the valley widened out, the trail crossed the creek and began winding up
through an open aspen and pine forest with more wildflowers, it also began just slightly turning to the South. It was while walking though this section that we saw a Mule deer, the first of several we saw on this hike.

The trail continued climbing and took another turn so that we were headed due east. I began to suspect that the trail was actually a loop which should return us right back to our tent, but for now we were hiking through an amazing pine forest, the floor covered with yellow daisy-like flowers. I didn't know what they were, but that didn't make them any less beautiful.

After about two hours we reached what appeared to be the summit as the trail turned north and started heading down. If the loop theory was correct continuing on would take us back to Little Spearfish Canyon, then turn West, up the road.

And so it was that an hour later we were back at the tent having completed a lovely little hike up and around Little Spearfish Canyon. A totally unplanned, unexpected surprise.  There are joys in not knowing, you just have to go with it to find them.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A guest blog by SD: Silent Dave; some lessons learned living on the road.

Pancho and Lefty
Song by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard

Livin on the road my friend, is gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath as hard as kerosene

A guest blog by SD: Silent Dave.

Well our skin is quite tanned living outdoors most days, maybe after a few years it'll be like iron, but I doubt it.  Our breath is not that bad, we do brush and floss regularly.  But living on the road does have it's peculiarities.  We've been on the road for a bit more than two weeks now, here are some things we've discovered, I'm sure as time passes we'll be faced with more.

Camping is great, and we've stayed in some great places, but the best were not in national Parks.  The National Parks tend to get filled with mega campers with lots of kids.  Not our scene at all.  We've discovered National Grasslands and National Forests to be the best so far.  As we get further out west we will be checking out BLM land.  All of these are generally primitive, meaning there might be a pit toilet and water, or nothing at all.  Great places to camp but you need the right equipment.

A good tent is essential.  It doesn't need to be large, ours is a 6 person dome tent, but it does need to stand up to wind and rain, and bugs.  Our tent has some issues.  We will be looking to replace it some time soon.  After more than a decade of use the poles are failing and the floor leaks.  Not good, but it has given a good decade of use.

Bugs.  There are more bugs in the world than any other animal (The phylum Arthropoda (“jointed foot”) has the largest number of species. In fact, about 85 percent of known species are arthropods, and insects alone make up about 75 percent of known species. Other arthropods include the centipedes and millipedes; the arachnids (spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites); and the crustaceans (barnacles, crabs, crayfish, lobsters, shrimp, water fleas).) and they all seem to want to bite you.  Get used to scratching, and bug juice. Deet is the only thing that works so far.

Keeping clean is another essential.  Smelling like a 6 day old sock is Ok when you're backpacking, everyone else you meet will smell the same.  But when camping then driving into the nearest town you don't want people gagging when you walk by.  The need for warm water is met with a solar shower.  It is amazing to think how much water we used to use when showering.  Now two of us can shower, and feel clean, sharing a 2.5 gallon solar shower.  We are still needing to get used to our smell.  You can't keep as clean and good smelling as we used to when working in an office.  In a crowded camp ground we've done the old sponge bath, might not be optimal but it sure makes you feel better.  Back to basics I guess.

Eating is a bit different too.  The Coleman white gas stove has performed exceptionally well.  But you need to think of things that not only will keep for days without refrigeration, but will also be healthy.  We're getting older so we need our roughage.  hard to get, maybe we ought to be doing a Euell Gibbons ( see this plant, many parts are edible.  Otherwise its canned and dried stuff.  We just got some dried veggies from an organic health food store, we'll let you know how that works.

That's about it for now.  As we get better at this I'll add to it.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Information Deficit Syndrome

- This post is dedicated to all my library friends at FLO and beyond, wish you were here to help and enjoy!

Forget information overload, the information age has spawned a newer, more insidious problem. Information Deficit Syndrome (IDS).

Here we are deep in the beautiful ponderosa pine and aspen forests of the Black Hills National Forest, our campsite, high up Little Spearfish Canyon is tucked into a bend in the river, Firs, pines and aspen surround us and climb the canyon walls. It's sunny, 60+ degrees, blues sky and large puffy clouds overhead....

Mystery Stone Door
...and I can't get any data connection, can't even text. There wasn't any service in the Badlands either (but there was a camp store with wi-fi within a 1/2 mile walk). It's not the texting, or phone calls or even the posting that I miss. It's the inability to find out stuff, that's really annoying. That’s IDS.

For instance, there's this stone doorway in the canyon wall just 1 miles south. The doorway opens to a single cemented-vaulted room approximately 12'x14'. Outside the door, running parallel to the canyon wall is a rock path? or foundation? There are also signs of a well, and maybe some other concrete structure. If there was data service, I could probably find out what all this was. A mine? There are lots of those here, in fact the whole area used to be (and a majority might still be) owned by The Homestead Mining Company. Or was it some kind of real homestead? The site is at a wide bend in the river and there is plenty of level ground for crops or livestock. Not knowing is driving me crazy.

Oh, and the hiking trails. The very helpful guy at the information center in Rapid City gave us a map
Image from a website I wish I'd had access to.
of the hiking trails in the Black Hills. Four of them are labeled as being on the same road as the campsite. And there are trailheads off the road, but the trail names don't exactly match those on the map. For that matter, the map only indicates where the trails are, not were they go. IF there was cell service, I could look up the trails, and probably find a trail map.

Then there is the "Dances With Wolves" winter scene site. That's on this road too. But I only vaguely remember the Winter scene. IF I had a data connection I could watch that.

And what are all these pretty purple wildflowers? And why are some of the pines total brown, standing deadwood?

Well, S.D. has just informed me that the pines are being infected by a pine borer. So that's some information. But how bad is this infection? Are some trees resistant or are they in serious trouble?

Not knowing is one thing, not being able to find out - that's something else entirely. I was a librarian after all.  Maybe you can take the librarian out of the library, but you can take the need for information out of the librarian. Either that, or IDS is a new concern for our generation.

-- And what is a spearfish anyway?

Rain, Wind and Clay

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota is visited by over 871,000 people per year. The majority spend an average of 5 hours, driving the scenic loop, hiking the short side trails and strolling through the visitor center.

A small minority stay a night or two in the National Park Campground, many in monstrous campers, and hike the longer trails up into the canyons. An even luckier minority do so during and after a torrential thunderstorm. S.D. and I now consider ourselves among those lucky few.

Arriving Friday morning, and lucky we did as the one campground filled to capacity by early evening, we set up camp and explored the visitor center and side trails, planning to hike the longer hikes on Saturday.

The Visitor Center had a great exhibit on the geology and paleontology of the area. There was a lot of attention given to the roll that rain erosion plays in the formation of the spires, pinnacles and canyons. Every rain storm washing away significant amounts of the sand, clay and other sedimentary rocks layed down over the previous 67 million years. The clay is especially prevalent and, they warned, makes hiking after rain, extremely difficult and slippery.

That night, we woke up around 2 am, just as the rain started and the wind tried to flatten our tent on top of us. We spent the next hour, inside the tent, holding up the sides. S.D. on the South East corner, me on the South West. There was one moment when pushing out against the wind with both hands and my head that I suggested we might have to abandon ship and seek refuge in Bruce (the van). Other campers were taking that options and we could see head lights as some just up and drove away. But we held fast and eventually the storm blew over.

The next morning, after picking up the pieces, stringing some clothes lines to dry off some bedding, we drove down to the trailhead, where again the signs warned that hiking after rain could be extremely difficult. Sure, we noted, the rain last night was hard, but it's been dry now for over 6 hours, the trail should be fine.

The first half mile of the trail rises straight up. I think the entire trail was nothing but clay. Wet,
slippery, clay. Luckily the clay trail was in a little trough so you could also use your hands and establish three points of contact before moving your foot up a step. And with each step your foot also got a little heavier, since it picked up a fair amount of clay. At one point I just stopped, scrapped the dirt/clay off my hand and rolled a perfect red clay bead.

At the summit the trail took a four mile loop around the flat top of the mesa and we figured the walk would be easier. It was, was still really slippery. The ground was still holding water, as clay soils do, and with every step there was a slide. Some little, some not so little. The hike also took us through a few sloughs along the mesa. Here the clay soil held all the water and formed pools. After attempting to circumnavigate around a few of these, we eventually had to give up and just plow through the middle. It was slightly surreal, hiking in a desert, 80 degrees heat, in water up to our knees.

Throughout the hike S.D. would remind me of the exhibit in the visitor center and remark on how much the water did change the landscape, just one rain fall had moved a significant amount of the Badlands, and it was obvious everywhere.

Back at the campsite, as we tried to save our boots from becoming pottery, the wind picked up again. Not that it ever had really died, and I was reminded of the some movie. A western, the beleaguered homesteading wife wringing her hands by the cabin door and crying about the wind. The wind. It's always blowing and after only two days, I could see her point.

We broke camp (see, I'm even picking up the lingo) early the next morning, just as a few rain drops fell, and the wind lifted the western corner of the tent, warning us of another impending storm.

The park is a beautiful but difficult place, that's probably why it is a park, but as we drove out of the park towards Rapid City it was beautiful.  A reminder that the great State of South Dakota is a varying place and is worth a visit.  As we continue our exploration of our new state of residence, it is becoming plain that South Dakota wouldn't be a bad place to stay a while.  Something we didn't expect.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Little Tent on the Prairie

National Grasslands
Prairie Sandpiper
Tonight, Thursday night, is our 6th day on the road.  We're camping  in the middle of miles of grass and range land that are part of the in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. Nothing but sky and rolling range land as far as we can see. The National Grasslands are, like the National Forests, managed by the USDA for the use and enjoyment of all. One of those uses is the right of anyone to camp within the Grassland, where ever they want. We were a little skeptical of this so we'd gone to the Grasslands Office in Fort Pierre to double check. Sure enough, the Ranger assured us. He then helped us understand the vagaries of the road system, cautioned us against camping near any of the prairie dog towns, since there were usually rattle snakes there and it was also prairie dog hunting season. He then pointed out some great site possibilities. Right now, we along with some cows about 5 miles to the North East, are truly enjoying this area. It's like being in a huge green ocean with no other boats around for miles.

Prior to setting up camp, we'd already had a long and eventful day. Early this morning we woke up in Sioux Falls, visited the headquarters of Dakota Post, our new "home" and mail forwarding agent, acquired our new South Dakota drivers licenses, and registered to vote. All before 9:00am.

55 minutes and 67 miles later (the speed limit in South Dakota is 80 mph), we exited I-90 to see the world famous Corn Palace. When that turned out to be a building sided in murals made of corn we jumped back in the car and made our first ever visit to Cabelas. After declining to check our guns at the door we shopped around for large pack towels, a water container and some socks amid all the ammo and fishing hook displays. Checking out, I felt a little out of place not having purchased something that would kill something else but was happy that we had also found a great set of high-sided dinner plates.

And then it was back on the road to see if what we'd read about being able to camp anywhere in the Grasslands was true. It was, and here we are!

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Showering Variables

Much like the house dweller rates fine dinning, showering when camping is a pleasure to be savored and rated. On the road showers vary by temperature (hot and consistent being the most preferred), pressure (please be more than a trickle), ratio between ambient air temperature and water temperature (i.e. a heated shower stall if necessary), ease of clothing and shower accessory arrangement (a dry, private room for clothing next to the actual shower and a shelf within said shower for holding  bathing items), flooring and drainage (clean mats preferred) and overall cleanliness of the facility. Additionally all of these variables can be 'served' by a variety of methods.

It's only been four days that we've been on the road and so far we've 'enjoyed' three separate types of showers, the coin operated, the solar, and the consistent push. 

The coin operated shower, which we experienced on our first morning at the Log Cabin Resort, is much like gambling. The bather can assess the cleanliness, flooring and drainage, and ambient temperature before entering the shower. But the water temperature, duration and pressure are all unknown until the coins are deposited in the slot. Being the first bathers on a cold morning, a good quarters worth of water passed before I was willing to enter the shower, and the pressure was not consistent. Luckily I had a lot of quarters, and the shower area and dressing area were very clean.

For the second shower, we resorted to the solar shower. Since Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore camping only supplies vault toilets and free water, we had no other choice. The solar showers five gallon water bag warmed up to a lovely 120 degrees during the day so that when we returned from our bike ride, it was ready to go. S.D. strung the bag up in the secluded woods behind the tent. Pressure, and temperature were both very good, as was the cleanliness of the facility. The dressing room was lacking in privacy,there were no facilities for holding bath accessories and there was no control of ambient temperature. However, showering outdoors on a warm day, was fun.

Tonight we're camping at a private campground in Shawano Lake, Wisconsin, and the shower is free. The facilities are clean, the dressing room sufficient, the water temperature hot, and the pressure perfect. It's the type of shower that only runs when the user pushes a button every 60 seconds, but that's just fine. I'm clean and warm and ready to head back to our lovely tent site. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Sleeping Bear Dunes

This morning, it's Monday I think, the sunrise over Lake Michigan was beautiful. Our site at the D. H. Day Campground sits on a little wooded rise just South-West of the shore, just a short walk to the beach, and that beautiful sunrise. We'd arrived at 10:00am yesterday and the Ranger tipped us off to this site. Not only was it the best in the campground (#57), but it was opening up in just a few  hours.

Setting up the tent went quickly. Getting things in and out of the van, not so fast. There's just too much stuff to be able to arrange it so everything we need is accessible. After we set up the tent, explored around a little, and had gone to town to pick up food for dinner, we decided to go for a bike ride. Which meant more un-packing and packing of the van.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a long, skinny park along the western side of Lake Michigan between the towns of Empire and Glen Arbor, and including the islands of Little Bear and Big Bear. Most of the coastline is composed of sandy beaches and giant sand dunes. And by giant I mean hundreds of feet high. Along with several interpretive stops including a life-saving station and a maritime museum, Sleeping Bear Dunes also has a paved bike path running almost the entire length. During last year's visit we didn't have out bikes and I could only dream of riding that path. This year however, we were ready! And the path, coincidentally ran right by our already perfect campsite.

Once on our bikes we headed South. The path wound along through  oak and pine forests, open fields, bogs. Sometimes providing views through to the Lake, sometimes the Lake was blocked by the giant sand dunes. It was as nice a ride as I'd imagined.

Today, as planned, we're meeting up with Lyss in the morning, but there's a change of plans for the afternoon, and night. We like Sleeping Bear Dunes, and our site so much
we're staying another night. The weather is beautiful, there's more to explore here and we've got the time.

Rain happens

Today, our first full day of retirement, was to be our first camping day too. The plan was to drive 12 hours from Albany, NY to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park on the coast of Lake Michigan, where we would pitch our tent. Sure a 12 hour drive was ambitious but the reward was a whole day to play in the park before catching up with Lyss in Traverse City on Monday.

We got a good early start at 5:00am. The weather was a warm 80+ degrees. The forecast was for rain, but the sky was clear and I-90 was wide open. S.D. and I took turns driving. First there was the four hours thru N.Y. and then the four in Canada. The terrain for the whole trip was flat and it was easy to see rain clouds South-West and North-West of us. We didn't run into any rain ourselves.

Until. Just as we were about to return to the U.S. the sky turned black, the temperature dropped 16 degrees and the sky just opened up. I crept into the shelter of the customs booth glad just to be out of the torrent and was genuinely sad when the agent let us go after only 2 easy questions. Seriously, did he not wonder why we had South Dakota plates and Massachusetts addresses? What about all that stuff in the van? Could we not have been smuggling illegal camping equipment and bicycles across international borders? Did we not arouse the least bit of suspicion? Not even enough to warrant questioning until this thunderstorm blew by? Apparently not.

Once back in the states however, we still needed to fill up and it was S.D.'s turn to drive. I checked the radar, and sure enough the forecast had been correct, nothing but rain between us and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Heavy rain, and 50 degrees temperatures overnight. Our first big tent pitch was less than four cold, soggy hours away. Have you ever set up a tent in the rain? It's not fun, and once it's up, it's generally not dry. And when it's cold, there's very little chance of it ever getting dry. Our first night could potentially be a cold, wet miserable night.

We'd been on the road 12 hours and were contemplating our fate when we passed the "Log Cabin Resort" just off rt 115, somewhere in the middle of the Michigan Mitten. I'd read about the "Resort" during early trip research and the reviews had mentioned that they had small, rustic log cabins, and an excellent shower facilities. The cabins would be as close to tenting as you could get and, even after 6 hours of rain, still be dry. S.D. did a 180 (Bruce actually has a decent turning radius) and we scored a sweet little cabin, the last available one they had. So now I'm typing this inside Cabin #1. Our first night of the adventure won't be in a tent, but it's a close, dry second and tomorrow when we pitch our tent at Sleeping Bear Dunes, it will still be dry, and there will be lots of time to play.