Wildwood Cafe

There are many exciting places to visit accross the country-side. Sometimes the adventure is right out the door, other times it is not even necessary to leave these 4 walls.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Just last weekend I made a startling discovery. I could not fit on my nice pants for church. I consider this startling because I thought that my weight and I had an understanding that it would stay where it was and I would stay where I was. (Hopefully you can understand what I’m saying).

The very next day at work Aaron my Engineering boss asked George a question. “What is it that is hardest about getting into a diet?” George gave the correct answer when he said “Getting the ambition to go on a diet”.

To make a long story short, by the end of the day our entire CAD/CAM department received the ambition to go on a diet in the form of a contest. From November 1st to January 2nd we will be battling it out to determine who will become the biggest loser. The weight loss will be measured using the Body Mass Index as a somewhat fair way of determining the biggest loser. The winner will receive his payout from the other participants based on the amount of pounds that he has lost. Work can be pretty gloomy sometimes, so this contest will be a breath of fresh air. (Providing there isn’t any food smells in it)

11/01/06: The weigh in was done in the early morning. Everyone was in high spirits, and there were several spectators who were on hand to witness the beginning of the big event. During the 1st day many psychological ploys were dealt, with little actual effect.

It appears that there are several different strategies’ that will be used during the Big Loser Contest. I will attempt to describe the diet chosen, as well as strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.

Aaron: Cheeseburger and Hotdog diet
Dave: Lean Pocket diet
Dennis: Weight Watchers
George: Weight Watchers mixed with South Beach
Mick: Skoal and whatever wife decides
Myself: South Beach

Aaron: Very competitive/Pizza/Likes Shortcuts
Dave: Only one who stands up most of the day/Food/Effect of tricks against him
Dennis: Veteran of diets/already lean from diet he is on/he said he has a secret weapon
George: Favorable BMI/Pumpkin Spice Shakes/Likes to use psychological tricks
Mick: Competitive/already on a diet/No one knows what diet Mick’s wife has him on.
Myself: I will only eat what is allowable/chocolate/Evening low carb cocoa concoction

11/02/06: In reaching into the 5 axis machine Dave re-injured himself from an earlier incident of falling out of his tree stand about a month ago (which has been speculated as a weight related accident). He had to be taken to the doctor and home. Feeling for his situation the rest of the group proposed to bring him pizza to recover his spirits (and any lost weight). As the pizza was in the process of being ordered George commented “and then there were 5”. Dennis and George appeared at Dave’s doorstep with a 14 inch pizza. Dave who was quite groggy from the drugs he was on quite readily accepted the bait.

11/03/06: Everyone is a comedian it appears. Getting someone to buy donuts around here is like pulling teeth. Guess what just happened to appear outside the Engineering office. In other surveillance, Dave did indeed go for the pizza bait. It will be interesting just how much this will set him back.

11/05/06: I'm really stoked about the South Beach style chili that I made for today. If I can figure out how to attach a link I will post it here.

12/01/06: This is the official midway weigh in day. Some of us had encouraging results, and some had to go home disappointed. Dennis did not fare very well at the midway weigh in. His top secret strategy actually had him gaining a couple pounds. Dennis who was the last to weigh in made a comment about the written results of Aaron's weight loss. "Wow he lost 6 pounds!", and in answer to that "No, there is a decimal point in front of the 6". Mick was quite demoralized to find that he was the "exact" weight that he was when he started the contest. Dave, who fell for any bait offered to him in the 1st month surprisingly lost 5 pounds. George and I lost identical ammounts of 7 pounds. It was me who ended up mildly disappointed however, because our BMI results also were identical. I had thought that the BMI would favor the shortest person in the event of a tie, but this was not to hold true. It was George who picked out our weight loss format. I wouldn't quite say that there is a conspiracy here, but this might not be too far above his physcological tricks. His reply after the weigh in was "I guess I'll have to start my diet now".

12/11/06: Some of our group had an unofficial weigh in today. I believe Dennis lost the couple pounds he added. Mick was in much better spirits to see that he now has lost a couple pounds. George's diet plan has taken a swing in the wrong direction as he has added back a couple pounds from the original 7 pounds that he lost. I was quite pleased to see that I now am the front runner as the scale shows that I have lost a total of 10 pounds.


The holidays were a tough obstacle to get around. I marginally kept to my diet, and was fairly certain that I gained a few pounds back from the unofficial weigh in on December 12th. Prior to the weigh on January 2nd, Aaron was asking who he should shell out the money to. The holiday's were a little too kind to him as he actually ended up gaining a whopping 7 pounds. The contest also took a heavy toll on Dennis who already was pretty trim from a diet he was on, he gained 7 pounds as well. The skoal and beer diet did not work very well for Mick. He should consider lite beer. :-) He gained almost 4 pounds. There were only actual losers amongst our group. Easily tempted Dave actually ended up losing 2 pounds. George who was extremely close to my weight loss at the 1st official weigh in ended up fading at the finish line with a total loss of just under 4 pounds. That made me the biggest loser!!! I'm thinking the 3 or 4 meals straight of saurkraut helped considerably when I neared the final weigh in.

I've heard rumors that another contest might be in the works. Perhaps this would be a little tougher for me, because it wouldn't surround some of the most tempting food eating holidays. Now that I've shown a proven way to lose, there might be a few more South Beachers.

As a closing note, Jason at work wanted to be involved in our contest. He is thin as a rail so he knew he had no chance whatsoever in being a participant. He made a prediction on the 1st day of the contest, that he knew who the winner would be. He wagered a free meal to the winner if he did not pick the correct biggest loser. Unfortunately I could not add a free meal to my winnings, as he lucked out and picked me. Just how have I spent my winnings? I think last weekend's trip to Lake Side Charlie's will go a long ways in setting up my losing tradition in the next contest.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sand Lakes Vacation

Sand Lakes: Pre-Labor Day 2006

This year has been challenging in determining where I would spend my vacation. I wanted to have a little change-up from the big California vacations that I’ve had the last 2 years. I opted to take my vacation a little closer to home in Michigan. Initially I wanted to take a 2 week trip to the Upper Peninsula. Since then I’ve scaled back to take a weeks vacation with Amber at Sand Lakes, and take another week alone along the AuSable River towards the end of September.

Sand Lakes Quiet Area is a place that I love to visit. I don’t know of very many equal experiences that can be had across the state. There are 3 prominent lakes in this area. Sand Lakes number one is the most popular lake, and it is the 1st lake that is encountered on the hike in. There are many attractions to this lake. There are many trails to hike. This area is very dog friendly with lots of swimming and stick fetching opportunities. Campfires are allowed in this area. The fishing is very enjoyable on all 3 lakes. With the one requirement of a Camp Registration Card which can be picked up at an DNR office you are free to camp anywhere within the Sand Lakes Quiet Area.

I decided that I would bring my canoe with me. I actually prefer to use my float tube because it is much easier to keep stable when winds hit the lake. By keeping stable on top of the water the bait is much more natural to the trout which settle the cold depth’s of lake number one. However since my camping buddy Amber prefers to stay close to where I am, the canoe idea works a whole lot better. One of my preparations prior to leaving was to set up a crude way to include a second anchor. With my one anchor setup the canoe actually can do a 360 circle around the anchor point.

One of my primary considerations was to camp on the lake at a time when it would be the most secluded. I opted to arrive at the quiet area on a Sunday afternoon and stay there until Friday afternoon. The plan was to get to the lake just as the weekend crowds left for home, and leave just prior to the Labor Day weekend crowds.

4PM on Sunday: I left home to start my camping trip.

When I arrived at the parking lot I was surprised to see that I was one of 6 different vehicles that were parked at the trailhead. However I could see that 2 of these vehicles were ready to leave when I got there. I pulled the canoe off the Liberty rooftop; placed wheels underneath it, and loaded up all my camp gear for the week. It was fairly easy to haul everything down to the lake as the trail is mostly downhill.

It is always a pleasure to first view the lake as it breaks out of the woods, especially on a sunny day. The lake is a beautiful turquoise color. This sight was interrupted by a beige colored Labrador Retriever that came over to give Amber a dog greeting. Moving down the hill I was very happy to see that my favorite camping spot on the lake was unattended so I quickly set up camp.

My spot is almost invisible from most areas viewed from the lake. It is nestled away in a far corner. The best camping spot on the lake actually is directly across the lake from the entry point, but that spot is a lot more visible and is built for a family sized group of campers. The only downside of my campsite is that there isn’t an easy entry point to the lake, as the ground is quite soft and mucky as you get closer to the lakeside.

Looking out on the lake I could see that there was a group of 3 people fishing. I couldn’t tell whether they were staying overnight or not. I quickly found myself hoping that they were just there for the afternoon because noises do travel easily, and they had a radio blaring an oldies station in which the older guy felt obligated to sing off tune to.

After getting water from the pump I decided to take a quick hike over to lake 2. I could do some fishing and escape sounds of the bellowing old mule. At the lake I met up with a married couple who owned the beige Labrador retriever. They must have had the same idea that I had, minus the fishing part. The lady seemed a little unhappy about the concert on lake 1. I caught a couple small pan fish which I released and headed back to the campsite.

As I returned I was treated to the 2nd act of entertainment on the amphitheatre from across the lake. This guy’s son decided that it was his turn to step on stage. This little guy was excited about everything and he felt he should broadcast everything in high volume. From sounds of things there wasn’t a whole lot of fish catching going on, but when one of the small Perch or Bass were caught I had the full benefit of knowing every small detail about this from the catching to the cleaning of each fish.

For supper I opened up an MRE and quickly had a meal. My brother picked me up quite a few MRE’s from the time when he was in the Army. Some people might frown on the idea of eating Army grub while camping. Personally I think this compliments the kind of experience that I am looking for on one of my backcountry treks. After a lot of hiking I find that pretty much anything sounds great. An MRE at this stage really hits the spot, and I never have to worry about going hungry. The best thing though is the ease of cooking and cleanup. You just put a cooking bag in a pouch with a little water and in 10 minutes you are ready to eat. With Amber in audience cleanup is simple. There is little fear about having a lot of smell left to attract in the neighborhood varmints. I keep a plastic bag which I put the plastic MRE bag which in turn is filled with everything discarded from the meal. I hang this in a tree along with the rest of my food.

Around 9PM I was happy to watch Mr. Singing to the Oldies leave with his son Excita-boy. This was the time that I decided to call it an early evening. For the evening entertainment I started reading a book titled “Three” of which Ted Dekker is the author. The evening air was brisk. It was enjoyable listening to 2 owls that were hooting back and forth. The ground was a little uncomfortable in spite of the sleeping pad underneath my sleeping bag.

Monday: I woke up fairly late in the morning. I waited until there was a hint of sunshine that came over top of the trees. My routine consisted of starting up my one burner Jet Boil stove, which was a bit cantankerous, feeding Amber, then starting breakfast. Once the stove started up it boils water very fast. I had just enough time to empty instant oatmeal in my bowl and then place some mocha mix in my water bottle. On this camping trip I tried a product from Hills Brothers; English Toffee Cappuccino. This was extremely good; it now is on the top of my instant mocha list. Clean up for breakfast was very easy. Amber handled pre-rinse of my bowl; I cooked up some hot water, added some camp suds, scrubbed my bowl and spoon well, and rinsed this out with cold water.

As after any meal I walked back to the pump, filled up my water bottle and nalgene container and I was good to go.

The water on the lake was quite still to start the day. I wheeled my canoe to the best access point on my side of the lake. Amber jumped into the canoe, and I paddled to a deep area of the lake. I caught a small trout which I threw back. It was kind of slow fishing at that spot so I pulled anchor and tried another spot.

About the time I got there the wind started picking up. I decided that this would make a great time to test out a 2 anchor system. I’ve not yet made this very user friendly. I did string the front anchor line through the front hand hold of the canoe, but the anchor (2 window ballasts) itself was in the boat. In order to use the front anchor I had to walk my way to the front of the canoe and drop the line. This was slightly nerve-racking, not just the thought of emptying the contents of the canoe in 50 feet of water, but this had to be done while bypassing the dog which has her own idea of what counterbalance means (absolutely nothing). I discovered that I was fine until I got past the center yoke, because this is when Amber thought she also was supposed to switch ends of the boat. I insisted that she not follow me over top of the center yoke, which got me the hurt puppy dog look. I told her to deal with this, and things worked out alright.

I dropped the back anchor, and I must say that I wasn’t really happy with the outcome. I did not turn a full 360 with both anchors in place, but I did turn about 180 degrees. With this marginal improvement I was at least able to catch an occasional trout, which was pretty much as occasional as when the wind died down. The 1st 2 trout I caught at this spot were barely keepers, but I didn’t have a measuring tape with me. The 3rd trout came in around 13 inches so I was definite that this was a keeper. I actually was hoping for a smaller fish, but since it was about lunch time I decided that it was about time to eat.

I talked with a gentleman who told me that he frequently visits the lake as I arrived at shore. I do recall talking to him before as he has an interesting habit of arriving at the lake, taking a swim, and afterwards lighting a cigarette while sitting on the shore. He walked further down shore and I headed back to the campsite.

I made the decision to prepare my trout in aluminum foil accompanied with Old Bay Seasoning and Lemon. My side dish would be some Crisp bread (which my Uncle Jim always picks up for his Canadian trips) topped with some squeeze cheese.

Trout is so much easier to clean and cook at home. There may be some improvements to be made to my method but this is how I prepare the trout in the great outdoors. 1st I start the fire up, I included a few charcoal bricks that I brought from home to be a good hot bed. Next I cut a piece of Aluminum Foil which I place on something clean. I dig a deep hole with a trowel. With one hand I hold the fish; with the other I clean the fish over top of the hole. The guts, head and tail go into the hole. I rinse the trout with some water from my water bottle. The trout is placed on the aluminum foil. I insert squeeze butter, and other seasonings inside the fish, and also season the outside of the fish. This is rolled up and placed in the fire which is ready to go at that point.

When the fish was done the dinner smelled so wonderful, and I was definitely not disappointed with the meal. Normally I don’t make that much of a fuss in regards to an outdoor meal, but trout is a special occasion and it deserves the extra effort. Amber had the privilege of licking the foil clean but I threw the bones in the hole, and covered everything up. The only problem was in how to best get rid of the foil.

On that day I already was one step ahead of the above problem. I decided that I’d make a visit up to the car and take a trip to the Boardman River for my next fishing expedition.

My expectations weren’t very high for making any catches. My prior trip to the Boardman left me empty handed. Wading in the mid day on a fairly small river isn’t normally that productive. I opted to throw a spinner upstream and just walk back downstream when I had enough fishing. Amber didn’t really care much for the idea of walking behind me in the water, but was fairly well settled after a couple splashing romps. The water was quite cool, and the riverside scenery was very enjoyable.

I was excited to catch a small vivid patterned Brown Trout. Amber was even more excited than I was. Her mouth was chomping for the chance to taste my catch. When I released the fish her nose followed it into the water, and the water bubbled as she attempted to smell out the fish.

I kept working my way upstream. I occasionally caught my lure on overhead branches, the tight quarters were the main reason that I did not opt to fish with my fly rod. I made one cast that hung the line on a branch, and dangled the lure into the water. I jumped because a trout immediately grabbed my lure. I pulled the line free and I retrieved a very nice looking Brown Trout. It had been a long time since my last Brown Trout meal so I decided to put that on my dinner menu.

I had an early supper. I decided to cook my trout pretty much the same as before, but add this to vegetable pasta MRE, to make somewhat of a chowder meal. For the 1st time, I was not happy with the taste of an MRE meal. This was definitely not the fault of the trout, as it was excellent. The trout added to this MRE actually saved the meal.

I didn’t really want to chance a varmint encounter with the leftover aluminum foil, with the imbedded smell of dinner. I took the trash that I had up to my vehicle, and I drove up to M-72 to leave my garbage in a roadside park’s garbage bin. Since I was on vacation I decided that this would be a great opportunity to head into Traverse City to get a frozen mocha. Unfortunately the drive through coffee shop on the corner of M-72 was not open, so I drove further into town. I ended up stopping at a Dunkin Donuts, where I picked up an iced mocha.

When I returned to my campsite I tried a little bit of shoreline fly fishing, but nothing would take.

As night fell I once again started reading my book. That evening I had some trouble getting to sleep. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I did this to my self when I satisfied my mocha longing.

Tuesday: The next day I woke up a little earlier because I had planned to take a road trip to the upper Manistee River. When I walked out of my tent I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy the scene of thick fog on the lake.

I finished up breakfast and made the half mile trek up to my Jeep.

I arrived near the upper Manistee River around lunch time. I ate a lunch of Beef Jerky and trail mix at my vehicle.

Even though I had planned to use my fly rod on the upper Manistee, I ended up using my spin rod. My reasoning was that I had planned later that day to canoe the fly fishing only stretch below M-72.

I was very pleased with the easy wading of the upper Manistee. One of the things that I have been hoping to discover through the years are bodies of water that are easy to wade, as well as good fishing. The bottom of the river was primarily sandy, and there wasn’t a whole lot of natural structure for fish cover. The water temperature was definitely cool enough to make a trout happy, and my dog shiver. I am quite convinced that fly fishing the upper river would not pose any trouble. There is ample room for a back-cast.

As far as the spinner fishing was concerned; I was able to trick a couple small trout, but really nothing to get excited about. I have to believe that early morning, and late afternoon fishing would pay much higher dividends.

I left the Goose Creek area around 3PM, and stopped at the Shelhaven Canoe Livery. The canoe business was pretty slow that day. I was alone as I entered the Livery. They were very accommodating as far as me bringing Amber along with me. I was dissuaded from fishing the downstream stretch from M-72 because this required a pickup at a specified time. I picked the shortest trip available upstream of the Livery. The gentleman who drove the van talked a lot about dogs, and was surprised that Amber was the very 1st dog I owned. He slid the aluminum monster down some steps and Amber and I were on our own. I immediately found myself wishing that I had my own canoe as it was better in every way that I could think of. Amber of course decided that she needed to sit directly next to me, which left the majority of the shiny beast empty.
Once again I brought the spin rod with me. My reasoning for this was that I could just troll a spinner downstream to follow my canoe. A year or 2 ago this worked well with my friend Jason and I as we canoed the Ausable River.

I loved the scenery, but everything else was a complicated mess. The spinner drift idea just did not work because the river changed course too much. I hit things along the river going forwards, backwards, and sideways. I completely abandoned my spinner drift idea when I almost trapped myself in a sharp turn that had 3 standing trees and a lot of debris angled in the wrong direction with no way out. I paddled furiously and ended up colliding against the last tree in the line, which was just far enough to shake free of the trap. Every time the wind picked up the front of my canoe swung wildly in that direction, this was because all the weight was in the back.

With the burden of my fishing out of the way things started to smooth out considerably. I passed a group of canoeists that all were saying how much Amber looked like a dog that they had. I got to a point where I could manage all the river obstacles without panic.

Further along the river it ceased being a scenic beauty because both sides were lined with countless cottages. The fishing opportunities however looked much better. There were deeper runs, more log jams, and gravel on the river bed, which would be better for the hatching insects. I did see one big trout in this stretch in a deep run.

I decided that it was time to try a little fishing again. Noticing a couple canoes behind me I parked my canoe in a patch of mucky weeds.

I also noticed a couple dogs in one of the canoes. Both dogs were hanging over the edge leaving the canoe inches above the water. If not for the width of the plastic canoe they would all be in the water.

A lady in this canoe stated to me; “Your canoe goes much more graceful than ours does.” This gave me a little tinge of pride. I answered back “It really wasn’t very easy for the 1st few miles”. Before I could even revel in this moment Amber noticed the dogs in the other canoe and in one motion she tried to jump out of the canoe. Suddenly I found myself swimming in black muck, along with all the contents of my canoe. Trying to save some dignity I yelled back “See what I mean?”

I didn’t know which was worse, my predicament or my wounded pride.

This was quite embarrassing to flounder like this in front of the 2 canoes, but this also was the 1st time I tipped in a canoe since I lived near the Ausable River. I’ve been in a canoe many times since that time. I muttered “Why’d you have to do it Amber?”

I looked over my predicament. Everything was soaked including my “weatherproof” camera. The canoe was half full of black murky water. I saw a shallow ledge upriver. I trudged upstream with my canoe. I tried my best to empty the water from the canoe but I couldn’t get the right leverage to get much of it out.
I made the decision to head downstream, murky water and all. Amber didn’t want to sit in the water, but she didn’t want to move forward in the canoe either. With a bit of persuasion she did sit in the water, but with her sitting there all the water drained to our quadrant.

I had hoped to clean my canoe out in a flat stretch of the river, but the remainder of the trip had steeper banks along private property.

I did clean out the canoe when I arrived at the livery. I also made sure that Amber’s submerged half was cleaned in the river.

No one from the livery remained to make sure things were taken care of properly. The group that passed me earlier found themselves in a situation where they needed picked up from the campground they were staying with no way of contacting the individuals that were supposed to pick them up. I called information and got the number they needed to contact. One of them left a message with the place they needed to contact. I didn’t feel right about leaving them alone in their predicament so I offered to drive one of them to the campground they needed to get to. Thankfully things resolved that instant as their contact arrived at the livery.

I ate supper in Kalkaska. Initially I was planning to eat at an Arizona Steakhouse which was only about 5 miles from where I was camping, but I was very dirty and most likely smelly as well. I planned to clean up in the lake, as well as making sure Amber was cleaned up. Minutes after arriving however I saw a familiar sight walking in my direction, it was Mom and Dad. Amber was overjoyed to see Mom and Dad. She pranced in happy circles. I told them about the adventures of the day, and mentioned that my camera was no longer working. They talked to me about the upcoming camping trip that they were planning. Amber whimpered for a long time after they left.

I walked around the lake and talked with 3 people who were there to just enjoy the scenery, the stars in the sky and try to catch a fish. They had 2 friendly male Rotweiller dogs. A lady held one of these dogs because together they were a bit much for Amber. They had lawn chairs, and we talked for quite a while.

That evening I was alone on the lake. I once again read to the backdrop of hooting owls.
I could tell when I woke up in the evening that I was coming down with some kind of illness. I considered heading back Thursday instead of Friday.

Wednesday: I felt fine in the morning. Once again fog rolled on the lake, but it wasn’t as thick as the morning before. I determined that morning that if my worms were alive I’d fish on the lake, if they weren’t I’d go fishing somewhere on the South Boardman River. I was surprised to see that the worms were faring quite well in my cooler even without ice. Many of them made a jailbreak and were hiding in the bottom of the cooler.

I was on the lake around 9AM. Around noon I caught the fish that would become my lunch.
I made a slight variation to the Rainbow that I cooked for lunch. Instead of the Old Bay Seasoning I went with some Creole Seasoning. I know that Creole isn’t specifically meant for fish, but I do like the way this tastes better than the Old Bay Seasoning on fish.

Amber and I took a swim after lunch which was quite refreshing, and I felt much cleaner.

In the afternoon I took my fly rod and I headed over to lake 2. I found that the Sunfish liked a beaded nymph that I had. I caught quite a few pretty patterned fish. Amber decided that she didn’t like to the taste of the Sunfish that I caught, but she still wanted to chase them when I let them loose.

I could see some changes to a couple areas that were at one point maintained by beavers. The deep narrow trenches at the end of the lake were no longer were there.

When I walked to lake 3 I noticed that the beaver lodge was pretty well dislodged, and the water there was shallower. I did catch my biggest sunfish at this location.

On my way back to the campsite I observed that I had another set of neighbors across the lake from me.

When I got back I made a goofy decision. I opted for Beef Ramen soup over top of going to try out the Arizona Steakhouse, just a little ways down the road. Even with the Beef Jerky that I crumbled into the soup, dinner was served very quickly. I also ate some of the extra things I didn’t get to from the MRE’s. Without a doubt the steak dinner would have made a better choice.

That afternoon I decided to just take it easy and read in my campsite. My boat cushions made a fairly comfortable chair. I heard some coyotes yipping in the distance so I made some extra precautions to avoid attracting them into my campsite.

As it started to get dark I outfitted my fly rod and I headed out to the center of the lake. I figured that the best time to catch a trout on a fly would be towards evening. Many fish jumped around my canoe, but nothing was fooled by the fly on the end of my line. I overheard an old guy across the lake say “You can’t catch a trout in this lake using a fly rod like that guy has”. I chose to ignore what he said. I figured that I eventually would show him that you can indeed catch a trout out there on a fly.

The water out there was very still. With the fading rays of light it was turning a beautiful emerald color. More time passed by and I still hadn’t caught anything. By this time a father and son from the shoreline had launched their Jon Boat, had a lantern shining and were starting to catch fish.

While I was casting my fly after dark, several bats pursued it across the air. I figured after a while that I had a better chance of catching a bat than I did of landing a trout. Around 10PM I gave up, and headed back to shore. This day I would not land my 1st Sand Lakes trout on a fly.
Once again that evening I felt a touch of sickness coming on. I determined that I would break camp the next day.

Thursday: In the morning I checked on my worms. I was quite surprised to see that they were alive and well. Once again a few of them broke free of the carton which had a small broken edge. I decided that I would try catching a few trout to bring home to eat with my parents.

I took my tent down, and allowed my ground cloth to dry off from an overhanging branch. Everything was set up for me to load it up in the canoe after I was finished fishing.

The wind was fairly stout that morning. My canoe started doing circles out on the water. I gave my 2nd anchor one more try. This time around I set my rear anchor 1st. I worked my way forward in the canoe. I waited until the canoe was pointing in a direction common to where the wind preferred to push it, and then dropped the anchor.

The results this time around were much better. The canoe only swung an angle of 45 degree, instead of 180 degrees in which the canoe swung the 1st time around with both anchors.

A little after noon I caught my 3rd trout and I paddled back to shore. I packed the trout in my cooler, and I packed everything into the canoe which now had a set of wheels underneath it.

The trip back as always is quite a bit more difficult. I stopped many different times to give my arms a rest. I talked several minutes with an elderly gentleman and his grandson. When I arrived at the vehicle the 1st thing I took care of was transferring my fish from the portable cooler to my portable car cooler. As I packed things away in my vehicle I talked to several people who had questions about Sand Lakes, or my canoe carrier setup.

I celebrated my departure with a cold Diet One pop that I took from my car cooler. This was not near good as ice cream, but it is a joy to taste of civilization once more.

Note: Picture above is not actually from this trip as my camera is presently out of commision.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Carbeque at my house

The days were winding down to Father’s day, and I was thinking about what I’d get him this year.

Top on my list was buying Dad a charcoal grill so I could do some backyard barbequing.

Little did I know that I was in for a different type of cook out.

June 14th on the way home I stopped and gassed up my Liberty. On that evening Mom and Dad was at church, and I went straight down to the basement. I had barely settled in when I heard a loud knock on the door. The first thing that came to my mind was that Fed-Ex was at the house dropping off a package.

When I opened the back door no one was there. My eyes scanned the driveway for a vehicle, and to my disbelief I saw flames shooting out from under my vehicle’s hood. This was just an awful feeling. I couldn’t imagine that this was as bad as it looked, but with out a doubt my vehicle was going up in flames.

I looked towards the beginning of my driveway and noticed that several vehicles were parked with 7 or 8 people looking at what was happening. One of these individuals told me that he had knocked on my door and had called the fire department. I talked with him for a while, and as suggested by someone I ran to the house for our fire extinguisher. The extinguisher didn’t even make a difference in the hot fire. I didn’t dare getting very close because my vehicle could be just an instant from an explosion.

The fire was very close to our garage. I could see that most of the siding was melted off, and there was a dark semi circular pattern on the heated up shingles. I went into the garage because I knew that there was a gas can quite close to the large garage door. About the time that I reached the can the first explosion rung. I could feel the hot blast. I quickly moved the can and exited the garage.

The vehicle exploded 2 more times, but the gas tank did not take off thankfully. Minutes later the fire department arrived. They quickly unrolled their hose and from a distance doused the hood of the Liberty. When the flames abated someone pried the hood open and washed it out completely. Eventually the smoke was no more.

Sometime during this my very concerned parents arrived home. Dad asked me what happened, and I could only say that I was not sure. He told me that they saw dark smoke rolling over the tree tops from a long distance away.

The firemen tore down the front soffit to make sure that none of the fire caught inside of the garage.

As I removed the items from my Jeep I just about gagged in the awful stench, my lungs actually ached. I talked with the firemen and thanked them for the work they did in saving our garage.

I remembered a trip out to Fresno a couple years ago to visit my brother. When we were on the road there was a gas station where we noticed a vehicle who’s hood was engulfed in flames. I made a little joke “Looks like their having a carbeque”. This time around the carbeque was at my house.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Northern Michigan Restaurant Ratings

October 15, 2005: Goody’s Juice and Java
I really enjoyed this restaurant; it fits beautifully with Manistee’s Victorian Streetscape. It is not a restaurant per se but it is the closest thing to Panara’s that I know of in northern Michigan. The building itself is over a hundred years old. The lighting is very appropriate to match the era, and the ornately detailed tall ceiling is quite beautiful.

The selection of foods and drinks was very appropriate for a Café like setting. I had a Turkey with Asparagus Panini along with a cup of New England clam chowder, and my drink was a Hot Apple Cider. This meal really took the chill off the crisp breezy day.

The food was very well done; there were other food combinations that I would be quite tempted to sample.

I briefly described the atmosphere of the building. There was quite a strong patronage within this building. Several people were doing school work on laptop computers. Several other people obviously met to talk over their day. The only downside that I could see in regards to my visit was that the restaurant was pretty much at its seating capacity. My parent’s and I had a little bit of difficulty in finding adequate seating.

I would give this restaurant a rating of 9.5 out of 10.

December 28, 2005: Mode’s Bum Steer.
For being out of the main traffic on a Wednesday night the Bum Steer was quite busy. It wasn’t real easy picking out the correct building but Mode’s is easily accessible on State Street. The restaurant was fairly noisy; at times it was difficult to hear my friend Kristin speak. I discovered that I should have had made reservations as a wait was in order. The style of the restaurant was enjoyable, what I recall is that it was darkened somewhat by black colored recessed ceiling. I liked the large steak knifes on the table. In the backdrop bar stools surrounded a bar.

The best part of this experience was the food itself. I had the special of Blackened Mahi-Mahi. The fish was cooked very well. The blackened seasoning may have been slightly too hot for my taste, but the fish was delicious. The baked potato that accompanied this dish was not very large, but it was cooked to perfection. A thick piece of toast topped off the meal. I usually don’t get too excited about toast but I found this to be quite good.

The average price for a dinner at Mode’s is in the $20 range, it is less than half of that price for their sandwiches.

Kristin had a Prime Rib sandwich. She was very pleased with the taste of this sandwich and said that the beef itself was excellent.

I would give this restaurant a rating of 8.5 out of 10. (I would score this slightly higher if I enjoyed a crowded noisy atmosphere for evening dining.)

January 12, 2006: Timbers of Cadillac
This is actually the 2nd visit to Timbers in a couple months. Mom and Dad treated me to a birthday dinner. I like Timbers rustic antique and logging type décor. The last time I ate at Timbers I had an excellent Seared Walleye dinner. This time around I tried Timbers Prime Rib dinner with sautéed mushrooms. The Prime Rib tasted excellent. It was served in it’s own gravy, and the beef was very tender. The Prime Rib was accompanied by a baked potato. In my last visit I considered this to be excellent; this time around I considered it average.

We all enjoyed the warm loaf of bread that preceded our meal. For Mom’s meal she had a fish dinner. This dinner was quite large, the fish had a light coating, and Mom liked it quite a bit. She could only finish half of her large meal. Dad had a “Brawny Mac”??? It is a huge hamburger coated with mushrooms and onions. It appeared to be 4 times the size of a typical burger. He of course enjoyed this burger but could not eat it all.

The price range of Timber’s meals runs between 10 and 20 dollars. Their sandwiches run about half that price.

On the way back home Amber really enjoyed the leftover Prime Rib fat and hamburger. She licked the Doggy Box clean, poked her head up in the front seat sniffing out Mom’s leftover fish, which she did not share. Amber gave Timber’s a 4 paws up rating.

I personally gave Timber’s a combined 9 out of 10 rating. It is a very relaxed place to eat.

August 19, 2006: Shays Station Coffee Company
Shays Station has a visually attractive presence in downtown Cadillac.
Shays Station has a lot going for it, but in my opinion the train just hasn't arrived yet.

Shays can be entered directly from business 131 or from the back where there is a lot more parking. The name is very appropriate as Shays overlooks a park in Cadillac which has a historic Shay train on display.

The atmosphere in this restaurant is quite enjoyable, it blends a mixture of old and new. The building is long and narrow. Along the length of the one wall there is a mural of train station, as well as curved beams incorporating this theme. On the other wall there is an aesthetically pleasing food service area.

In the back of the resturant there is a large table which is very condusive to conversation, and I imagine this overlooks the Shay steam engine.

There are numerous tables along the long wall; they are rustic with themes written on them and accompanied with tall chairs.

The menu items include soups, sandwiches and coffee drinks which are prominently displayed on the wall. When you place an order you are given a decorative name tag which displays the name of a major city.

When the order is finished the individual who made the sandwich or soup announces the name of the arrival city and brings this to your table. When the coffee drink is finished the station name once again is announced and you pick up the coffee in an area that roughly symbolises a ticket station.

I will begin my criticism with the logistical food service problems. Even though I love much of the train station concept there are things that in my opinion don't work very well. There were 10 people taking orders or preparing the food. At any given time half of the people were loitering and talking amongst themselves. I personally think that things would work better if the coffee drinks were served at the table, or a tray was given to hold the entire order to be picked up at the "ticket station". My mocha was served in a large cup with a saucer, the mocha looked great, but it was difficult to navigate a very full cup accross the resturant without spilling.

I will continue my criticism with the food. The smokehouse turkey sandwich (name???)was actually decent, but I personally did not care for the walnuts and cranberries in the sandwich. The mocha drink looked great, but tasted awful. I guess taste is all subjective, but I really don't care for a very bitter mocha. The caffeine high is very noticeable. I am wondering whether each of the 10 workers put a shot of espresso in my drink.

I give this resturant a 7 out of 10 rating. To be called a "coffee station" I think that the coffee should have a high prominence. I will have to make another visit to see whether the mocha drinks are typically that bad.

October 7, 2006: Freshwater Lodge
This was my 2nd visit to the Freshwater Lodge which is a restaurant that overlooks Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City.

I enjoyed parts of my 1st visit to this restaurant in 2004. What I would consider the most enjoyable part of Freshwater Lodge is the building itself. The walls have many head mounts of trophy animals; there are deer, elk, boars, a few bass and even a moose. Additionally a couple canoes and a boat are mounted on the wall. There is one chandalier that is built from deer antlers that hangs from the ceiling. On either side of the eating room there are large stone fireplaces. I also found the apparel that the waitresses wore were interesting because they looked a lot like forestry type outfits.

In this visit I came with my parents, we spent the day on a color tour. This review may have a slight bias in that we came to the resturant hungry as we pretty much skipped lunch and ate a big meal at 4PM.

When we arrived at the restaurant we stood by the Please Wait to be Seated sign. There was no one near the entry area. A minute later a lady came towards the sign in area. My Mom said "Hello", to which she did not reply. She told us that she would be back shortly. A minute later another gentleman came by and told us that the seating lady would seat us shortly. A minute later and the lady was back again, once again she told us she'd be back shortly. When she returned she seated us towards the window, which gave us a nice view of the bay.

Our waitress arrived, she told us what the days specials were, and she said that she would be back to take our drink orders. A little bit later she arrived and even though we were ready to order our meal she just took our drink order. After a little wait our waitress arrived with our drinks. Even though she carried a large tray she did not have Mom's water with a lemon, instead she had extra water for the tea which had a lemon on top. She returned with Mom's water and finally we got to the order. The menu mentioned that our meals could either have rice or a potato. Since our waitress didn't mention anything about this Dad asked. She told him that the fish would be served with french fries, and asked Dad whether this was a problem. He replied that it wouldn't be, even though we all really wanted a baked potato instead.

She told us that she would be back shortly with our salads, which seemed like an awful long short. She told us that she would be back with some bisquits. Another long wait and she arrived with our bisquits. The bisquits were good, but it was dissapointing that there was only one small bisquit a piece.

The long wait for dinner started. Our waitress gave me a couple more Pepsi's, appoligised for the wait, and she said the meal would be ready shortly. Mom used the restroom and came back, she mentioned that she thought the meal would arrived before she got back. Dad was getting very frustrated. He said "We've been here an hour and we still haven't got our food".

Another dissapointment came with the meal. I saw that the edges of my Parmessan Whitefish were black. I was also suprised to see rice and squash for a side dish instead of the french fries that Mom and Dad got with their Beer Battered Perch.

My whitefish actually tasted pretty decent although I could tell it was overdone. I just didn't eat the black edges. My squash was luke cold, but the rice dish was good. Dad complained that his fish was greasy, but Mom thought it was pretty good.

I made sure to ask for the check when the waitress came by, because I was afraid of another long wait.

When you go to a more expensive restaurant you anticipate with service and food quality that you will get what you pay for. I did not find this to be the case as the food preparation and service showed a lack of organization and quality. The restaurant was not even busy, I'd hate to eat there when it got busy. I give Freshwater Lodge a 3 out of 10.

February 17, 2007: Blue Heron Bakery and Restaurant
This is the 2nd time that I've visited the Blue Heron this year, I will comment on each visit. The Blue Heron is located in downtown Cadillac. If parking is not available on business 131 there is a public parking lot close to the Book Nook which will require a little walk. The restaurant has an attractive exterior, and the interior is also done very well. The old style tall ceiling is ornately detailed and painted an attractive silver. Since this is a bakery as well as a restaurant it was a little confusing whether the sit down food would be ordered from up front or you should just sit down. I asked to clarify that I should just find a seat. There was a somewhat long wait before getting a menu to order from. I would describe the atmosphere within the restaurant as being relaxing, but that possibly could be different if it was at capacity. From the menus I could see that there was a breakfast selection (which includes breakfast sandwiches) and another lunch selection menu (which includes salads and sandwiches). I opted to get a Pesto Chicken sandwich. The waitress was very pleasant, but the wait once again seemed to be a little long. I found the sandwich to be quite good. The grilled bread was excellent. The sandwich included spinach, pesto, feta cheese, tomato and chicken. My only complaint was that the chicken itself was a little bit average tasting. The sandwich included a side of tortilla chips and a pleasant surprise of small slices of honeydew and cantelope melons. The price was what could be expected for the food that was served. My coke and sandwich cost very close to $10. I will briefly describe that in my prior visit I ordered a mocha. The mocha was decent, but a little bit on the bitter side. Overall I would say that this is a restaurant that I would definately visit again. The sandwich was both pleasing and healthy, it's also a big plus to be able to order a mocha. I will give Blue Heron a rating of 8 out of 10.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Look what the cat dragged in

Yesterday we had a very unlikely encounter.

This story actually begins a year or 2 ago.

Our garage has a pet door, or used to. One day my dog Amber scratched at the front door to be let in to the house. When Dad opened the door to let her in he was surprised to see that she was wearing the pet door around her neck. She did not seem to be alarmed at all about her predicament; it was just a minor inconvenience. Dad had trouble putting the pet door back into place, and ever since that day it has been left off.

Returning back to yesterday; Dad and I moved a coffee table to the garage to make room for a Christmas tree in the Dining Room.

As we moved things around, Amber let out a low woof. Amber barks at the slightest thing, so I pretty much ignored her. I turned around and was looking straight at the biggest Tabby cat that I’ve ever seen. For obvious reasons Dad and I did not want to have a cat holed up in our garage. The equation is something like this; the bigger the cat the bigger the cat mess. We started yelling at the cat to leave the garage. This cat did not budge.

There was something different about this cat. I said to Dad, “That cat almost looks like a Bobcat or Lynx”. He agreed with me, and we looked it over closer. The strange thing was that besides baring it’s teeth at Amber this animal seemed very tame.

I went inside the house to get my camera. While I was in the house I did an internet search to see what a Bobcat might look like. The animal in the garage matched appearances perfectly.

I took a few pictures which was easy because the animal didn’t show a lot of fear. We tried half heartedly to chase our visitor out, but the more we thought about it the more we didn’t mind having such a strange animal for a guest.

I called the Carl T Johnson Center, which is a branch of the DNR. They called the Sherriff’s office because DNR is not staffed on a Saturday.

A gentleman from Animal Control arrived at our house later that afternoon. The ladies in the Sherriff’s office wanted him to take some pictures. He looked up in the rafters towards the back and proclaimed “I’m sorry but that’s just a housecat”. It was a little disheartening to have our discovery to quickly dismissed. Then he looked over his left shoulder and yelled “Oh my goodness, that’s a Lynx!” The Bobcat must have been scared at the officer’s shock, and it ran for cover in the rafters.

What a joy. Not only did we have a Bobcat stowed away, we also have a house cat.

The Bobcat would not come out of hiding which meant that the officer could not get his Polaroid picture. I gave him a couple pictures that I took.

Amber made quick friends with the Animal Control officer and schmoozed 4 doggie biscuits from him. (As far as schmoozing is concerned I don’t think Amber has an equal).

The Animal Control officer asked us what we’d like to have done. He told us that he had traps that could catch the smaller of the 2 cats. I believe we arrived at the conclusion that nothing will be done for now.

Dad is fond of the idea of showing our Bobcat visitor to my Sister’s families when they come up over Christmas break. After this time we most likely will see if we can have our guests leave and shut up the pet door.

Monday, September 05, 2005

California Camping (6/04)

Shortly after returning from my Washington trip which was 2 years ago, I wondered to myself where my next outdoor adventure might lead me.

I was considering Montana and the beauty of Glacier National Park, I considered Alaska and Denali Bay, but I was almost certain that my travel would take me to the rugged wilds of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean.

Things kind of took a different twist than what I initially planned. Earlier this year my brother’s family moved out to Fresno California. Andrew told me that I should come out and visit Yosemite, and Becky told me that I would be the 1st of the family to actually make this trip. I said that I would keep this in consideration, but wasn’t to convinced that this would come about. A couple months ago a National Geographic Adventurer magazine changed my mind. This issue covered the best National Parks in our country. Wouldn’t you know that 3 of these best National Parks were found in California; Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic Park, and of course Yosemite National Park.

Quickly the idea of a California trip changed from a perhaps some day to a lets do this trip right away, and I started making preparations for my trip out west. I was also very pleased that Andrew was going to allow me to borrow his truck for the duration of my visit.

I wanted to test my physical endurance level prior to the trip so I took a backpacking trip along the Manistee River trail. Even though the trail didn’t lay me to waste, I discovered that 18 years of office work did not make me a great physical specimen. Backpacking was to be avoided unless I took the kiddy trail.

I also was 20 pounds heavier than I was last year, so I started dieting.

Day 1

Before I knew it I met my brother in Fresno airport. The arid hot heat of Fresno was so much different than the incessant rainy cool days up here in Northern Michigan.

The 1st order of business was to buy some hiking boots, because my memory left out this fine detail.

It was real nice to see Andrew, Carol, and little Katherine. Even though I arrived in the flurry of moving I was able to share the pleasure of their backyard pool, and of course the 1st of several visits to the Coldstone on Blackstone ice-cream shop.

Day 2

Thursday morning I dropped my brother off at work and started my outdoor adventure.

Most of California seems pretty desolate, bordering on being a desert climate. It was to be a very long trip to the Redwood Coastline. Eleven hours passed before I arrived at my destination. I camped in some very tall trees in the Jedediah Smith State Park. A stream bordered the campground and I took a short hike, looking for signs of good fishing. When I cooked my ramen noodles back at camp I was very pleased at how quick my new 1 burner stove had the meal ready.

Day 3

The next day I enjoyed all the sights of the Redwood Park. I started out by hiking a trail in the Simpson-Reed Grove. Next I admired the coastal scenery. In many ways the Redwood Forest looked like the scenery I remembered from my Washington trip. I saw lots of bubbling brooks, moss hanging from trees, and dense vegetation. I searched for whales off of Patrick’s Point. There were no whales to be seen, but I took pictures of several sea lions that I saw in the distance. After this I traveled back north for a little spell and took the very beautiful coastal drive, admiring many sea stacks that hung close to the shore. Arriving back at the main road I bought some smoked salmon near the Klamath River.

I arrived at my new campground at Prairie Creek. Supper was next. You normally wouldn’t think about putting smoked salmon in spaghetti, but it was an excellent taste combination, and as far as I’m concerned that’s what camping’s all about. That pleasure was short lived when I happened to sneeze with my mouth full. As all sneezing mistakes start, I tried to minimize my sneeze. The mouthful of food really didn’t help any. Before I knew it I was walking very carefully around my campsite looking for something to take care of my little disaster. The best thing I could locate was a few moist towelettes. They became moister as I cleared my nose, and I was fascinated to see that some of my spaghetti made the upward journey. Clearing my nose tickled something else up there and I had another moist towelette ready. To my simple amusement, this time I actually cleared a considerable sized chunk of salmon. That is not something that happens every day.

That evening I worried that my sneezing episode would attract bears to my campsite. Thankfully instead they were drawn to the raunchy smell of some well locked down garbage cans.

Day 4

That ended my blur tour of the Redwood Park. On my way back I enjoyed the different mountain pass that I took that aimed me towards Redding. Towards the end of the pass there were some nice views of Mount Shasta.

Saturday evening my brother and I enjoyed a Fresno Grizzlies baseball game. We were fortunate to see the Philly Phanatic mascot who was at this ball game. This ballpark had a very pleasant atmosphere to it.

Day 5

Sunday afternoon I left for the main focus of my camping trip, which was Yosemite National Park. This was not nearly as long of a trip. I arrived at my destination several hours later. I loved the sights of Yosemite until I arrived at the campground in which I reserved 2 evenings of camping. This place looked like a city away from the city. Campsites were crammed much to close to each other. A person could listen in on a half dozen conversations at once. I went about my business and cooked myself a freeze dried supper. Afterwards I started talking with a couple guys whose tents were directly adjacent to my own. They talked about some places that they enjoyed in Yosemite, as well as a couple lakes that they enjoyed in Sequoia National Park, which were Jenny and Weaver Lakes. I also learned thru them that the Lakers were going to thoroughly thrash the Pistons. The 1st game was that evening but I had to miss out on it.

Day 6

The next morning I beat the crowd by waking up at 8 AM. I never adjusted to the time zone difference, in this case West Coast time would be 5 AM. I preferred to think that I slept in instead of waking up early. I ate breakfast and promptly took the truck out to a recommended stream in the “Yosemite Trout Fishing” book. This was almost a step across creek, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Even though they weren’t that big, I was quite happy to land my 1st 4 trout in California. I don’t recall any mention in the book about waterfalls on this creek, but they were a welcome addition to this fishing trip. I determined a good spot to end the fishing trip to be an area where one waterfall was quite difficult to go around.

After fishing I decided to check out my camping options for later into the week. I went to the Big Oak Flat Visitor center and inquired about any available campsites within Yosemite. Unfortunately there wasn’t even one campsite that was not taken. This only left 2 options available for me 1) Getting a wilderness permit and doing some backpacking, and 2) camping outside of Yosemite.

The gentleman who wrote “Yosemite Trout Fishing” did not steer me wrong in finding my first trout, so I decided to try out the 10 Lakes area in which he recommended backpacking in. The dotted lines to 10 Lakes on my topo map appeared to be fairly straight so it should be an easy trek. This required that I get a wilderness camping permit from the Toulumne Wilderness Center. The trip over to Tuolumne winded through some very scenic areas, and the altitude gain meant that I got to see my 1st snow up close. At the Tuolumne Wilderness Center I had quite a wait because the lady working there had some computer problems. Eventually I was able to talk with her about my choice of camping in the 10 Lakes area. She seemed to want to dissuade me, instead suggesting that I try some camping outside of Yosemite and taking a day hike to 10 Lakes. Since I wanted to stay central to my main area of activity I stayed firm with my decision to camp at 10 Lakes, and I requested a 3 day permit. (I figured that she wanted to get to the break time that she missed due to her faulty computer.) She asked me about a bear canister, which I had, and as she issued my permit, she also issued me a bear incident form.

I decided to journey into Yosemite’s main village. I took a hike along the Merced River and was rewarded with some very beautiful scenic vistas. I could see Yosemite falls on one side of the river, and Half Dome on the other.

I arrived back at the Hodgdon Meadows Campground in which I had 1 evening of camping remaining. Only 1 of the 2 gentlemen that I talked with the previous evening was left, and he was on his way out. He told me about how his friend turned ill during the 17 mile hike they took earlier that day. He also talked about a pair of people that they talked with that had a bear encounter. He said that a good sized bear approached them as they were eating lunch, and they ended up abandoning lunch to this bear. This put a little edge of fear in my mind; because it seemed that a bear encounter could be likely.

Day 7

In the morning I started packing things away as I was preparing for the next leg of the Yosemite trip. Looking around me I couldn’t help but compare this campground to Washington for its stark contrast. Instead of the beautiful mountain smell, I took in the aroma of beer. Instead of sights of cone shaped volcanic mountains I had a myriad of dome tents of which the closest one had an eruption of cigar smoke coming out of its door. Instead of sounds of mountain streams I heard a chorus of coughing joined with an occasional fart. The name Hog Dung Meadows seemed more appropriate to this campground than its real name. I was happy to leave for another place with a little more ambience and elbow room.

I arrived at my trail head around 9 AM. The previous day I conceptualized what my camping game plan would be. I thought that I would camp one night at my base camp and on each following day I would go back to the car to trade camping garbage for new supplies, and cook the fish I would catch at the trail head so there would be less odors to attract bears. The 1st sign at the trail head altered my plans somewhat. I thought the trip in was a little over 4 miles, but the sign said 6.5 miles. This meant that I couldn’t realistically make a 13 mile round trip hike every day, so I packed up everything that I thought I might need for the 3 day duration.

The trail in the beginning was nicely sheltered and easy hiking. Before I got a half mile in however the trail started climbing. I figured that it would level out, but it kept climbing. I walked through open areas where there were big rocks, and there also were quite a few switchbacks. About 3 miles in I met the only 2 humans that I was to see during my 10 Lakes excursion. They enjoyed the one lake that they stayed at except for the wind, but they warned me about difficulty in reaching the lake because of snow covering the path.

Shortly after that encounter fatigue really started to set in. I knew that I was not in good backpacking shape, and the trail I was taking was everything but flat. It got to where I had to sit down every 50 paces. I ate my lunch of beef jerky, triscuits and trail mix overlooking a small waterfall. Shortly after I resumed my climb I felt something in which I never experienced before, I could not catch my breath. Initially I thought this was results of fatigue, but then I knew I was experiencing the effects of altitude. My rest periods had to be longer. It was getting quite aggravating because just as I would reach what appeared as THE summit, another would appear shortly afterwards. Finally I reached what was the true summit in a field covered with snow. The reflection off the snow made it difficult to see very far, but eventually the trail appeared along a ridgeline. From this ridgeline I saw views of several lakes. The ridgeline got harder to follow, and the trail seemed to disappear. I had to bypass a couple sloping snowfields because one slip would easily end my life. At the edge of the ridgeline I looked down, down and down into a scary looking valley.

I traced my footsteps back to try to find a trail leading down to the lakes. After about a half of an hour looking I finally found the trail that descended the mountain. This was fairly easy going. As I came closer to the base of the mountain I noticed that the lake which was so visible from above had now vanished. Additionally, the trail down the mountainside which was so easy to follow came to an end in a snowfield when I needed it the most.

I remembered the conversation with the 2 people I met earlier that day in my hike. They also had trouble locating the lakes. One of them had suggested that it was easier to stay to the left.

I had a large hill in front of me. To my left there was a wide gully that went downwards. I used my brain where I should have used a map and compass needle. One person had said “stay to the left”, and my mind told me, water likes to collect in lower elevations, kind of the gravity principle. I needed to move quickly because dark clouds were filtering in from the distance.

I started down the gully which was a little more difficult than I thought it might be. There were damp meadows, creeks, snowfields and areas where rocks were pretty tricky. I wanted to hug the base of the mountain downwards, but snowfields and rocky woods made it impassable. I worked my way past that obstacle, and started going down, down, and down. I looked over a rocky ledge, instead of seeing blue inviting water I saw a seemingly endless valley.

The dark clouds were now over top of me. Instantly the temperature took a dive. I didn’t know where the lake was, but I knew that I needed to seek shelter quickly. After a bit of searching I found an area just large enough for a tent along the edge of the mountain. I had a hard time pitching the tent in the cold wind. After this task was taken care of I decided that it was a good time to fix supper. I noticed that my hands were red, and everything exposed was quite cold. I went back into the gully and purified some water from a cold creek just outside of a snow bank. I arrived back at my tent, and started putting things together to cook my supper. When I tried lighting my new stove nothing happened. I tried to start the stove using my lighter, still nothing happened. I decided that the altitude prevented my stove from lighting. I finally gave up and settled on eating some beef jerky instead. I had a hard time with the cold so I decided to make it a very early evening. It was only a little after 6 PM West coast time. I knew that the correct wilderness camping protocol was to place my bear canister 100 feet from my tent, but I kept it in the tent at the base of my feet. I envisioned that if a bear was to get this canister that it would only take a nudge to roll down the gully, which stops at a creek, and descends a long, long distance into the valley. I really didn’t want to lose this canister or its contents.

In my tent I tried to decipher where I was. I reviewed the last pictures that I took to try to pick up land features from the ridgeline above me. This was not a good move as I quickly ran my camera batteries out. Upon looking at my map and compass it was evident that I should have walked up the hill in front of me instead of taking that long left down the hillside. I was a little perturbed that the author of “Yosemite Trout Fishing” suggested that the best idea was to backpack to the 10 Lakes area. I read his description of this backcountry trip to see whether I missed something. His only reference to the hardships of this hike was that he himself would not want to bring a float tube more than a few miles up a steep trail. Yet he did recommend bringing waders, of which I was extremely glad that I didn’t. I read the Bible for a little bit, and then decided to try to sleep.

I knew I was fairly safe at that time, yet I knew that I was surrounded in a very rugged location, and just one predicament could lead to bad consequences. This made me think about home. I thought of my dog Amber. I thought of my brother’s family in Fresno. Even the Hog Dung Meadows didn’t seem so bad at this time.

I fell asleep and woke up at 10 PM to hear some noises outside my tent. It sounded like something was moving around out there. I heard a noise near my head that sounded like sniffing. I heard something that sounded like brushing against my tent. I looked towards the base of the tent near my food canister, is that a head pressing against the mesh of the door?!?

Lying beside me I had my defense system for if a bear should invade my dwelling. Green alert was a flashlight; perhaps sudden light could scare away a bear. Yellow alert was a whistle; perhaps loud noises would scare it away, but it might also be loud enough to gather other animals curiosity. Red alert was my Buck utility tool, which includes a very sharp knife, I really only wanted to use this if I was attacked.

I reached over for my flashlight. I turned it on, envisioning 2 glints of light reflecting back at me. I didn’t see anything; in fact the mesh door wasn’t even pushed inwards any more. What???

I ignored some small noises outside and fell back asleep.

Day 8

When I woke up in the morning once again I heard what sounded like an animal sniffing near my head. What I saw was the inner wall of my tent rubbing against the outer wall. I also heard a sound that sounded like brushing against my tent. What I saw was snow starting to accumulate, and then falling away from my tent.

That evaporated the fear of the night before, but it built a new fear. I saw how quickly the snow was dropping, and I definitely did not want a situation where I had to wade through snow that hid danger underfoot. Also I did not want to lose the trace of the trail that led away from this place.

When I opened the door I saw only a half inch accumulation of snow. I didn’t want to try my luck however. I put on several layers of clothes. Long underwear, shirt, fleece jacket, and rain Jacket. My hands still froze when I started to take down my tent.

I started taking my load up the hill, through the trees and snowfields, and back out to the clearing and mountain side. After a half hour hiking I was shocked to find I completed a circle, because I saw the bare outline of a tent in the ground in front of me.

Out came the compass and map. I decided to find the lakes as it might help me rediscover my trail again. Compass needle in front of me I walked uphill in the direction that the lakes had to be. I did locate the big lake, but at that point in time it did not look that inviting, only cold and imposing. I walked around the end that faced the ridgeline but did not pick up a trail. I discovered what the people had tried to convey to me the previous day. When they said that they veered left, they only meant left of the big lake. Otherwise there were lots of waterholes to dodge, and the many fingers of fast moving water which connected from the other lake made keeping dry feet very difficult.

Using compass I located where I thought I needed to be along the ridgeline. Unfortunately I could not see the trail so I started up the hill where it looked the easiest. When I was higher up the hillside I discovered that I overestimated by about 100 yards, but it was great to see the trail again. Connected again I made my way up the ridgeline.

The one last obstacle to finding my way back was to make my way overtop of a snowfield which was at the highest elevation of my trip. I was not happy to find that I lost my compass out of my front pocket. This must have happened on one of the times that I had to sit down. Fortunately I only had to split the middle of the snowy pass and I found the trail again.

The scenery was great all the way back, but fatigue definitely set in, and I wondered to myself how in the world was I able to pack that far in.

It was a joy to be back in Andrew’s truck and traveling down the road again. That joy was short lived because my brother’s truck was sounding kind of rough. It was really dogging its way and couldn’t hold its gear very well. I decided to find a campground and then call my brother and see if he wanted to have the vehicle serviced.

I checked out the campgrounds outside of Yosemite on the way to Mono Lake, unfortunately the lower altitude ones were either full or under repair. I drove back to the campground just outside of Yosemite. I talked with the campground caretaker. He told me that the previous evening’s temperature was 13 degrees Fahrenheit. (That felt close to what it must have been where I camped.) He also told me that the only area I could get a phone call out was near Mono Lake.

I jumped in the truck and headed back down the hill. I called Andrew at work, and mentioned how the truck sounded. I told him that I’d check the fluid levels to make sure nothing went down real low.

I got off the phone and popped the hood. I jumped in my boots when I saw a cat sized furry animal on top of the engine. This thing started screeching at me. I was kind of frozen for a few seconds because I didn’t want to reach for the hood post or lower the hood, because it might try to bite me. I recognized later that this was a Marmot. Thankfully the Marmot decided to scramble, and underneath where it was it left behind a couple piles of crap as evidence of its scary ride. The fluid levels were fine, and the Marmot didn’t do any damage, so I drove back up the hill to the Campground.

I got out my food and my stove, and was hoping that there wasn’t an altitude problem with the stove where I was at. Once again my best efforts couldn’t bring this stove to light. Once again I was back in the truck and down the hill to the village at Mono Bay. It was good to have real food again.

Day 9

In the morning I decided to try out a little bit of fly fishing on a creek that the campground caretaker recommended. I started fishing at a culvert that went underneath a dirt road that led to another campground. I was in the process of moving downstream when another vehicle stopped and a couple people walked over. The one guy asked if I caught anything, I told him no. He asked if they were still there, I said that I didn’t notice anything. He walked over and said “yes they’re still there”. I walked over and 50 or so good sized trout appeared in front of my eyes. Since this was a small creek I yielded my spot, and privately cursed my eyes for not noticing these fish. I waded downstream for quite a stretch. The water seemed a little too fast to conceal trout. In the distance I noticed that another culvert crossed the main road, and just before this I noticed another pod of 50 trout that were holding in a 3 or 4 foot deep pool. I tried just about everything to catch one of these trout, but the best that happened was when one or two of the fish even looked at my fly.

I decided to see if the culvert on the other side of the road dug out any kind of a pool. When I crossed the road I noticed the same 2 people fishing that I saw earlier that day. I would have yielded this spot, but they told me that they needed 1 more fish to limit out. Sure enough it only was a few minutes before this spot was mine, and what a spot it was. The water was at least 10 feet deep in this pool and it contained hundreds of trout. Once again my 1st casts did not produce anything, but when I experimented with different types of retrieves finally the fish started hitting. I had a great time, and shortly I ended up with 3 fish which averaged 12 inches on the bank side. That evening I determined that I’d have these trout with Andrew’s family.

I backtracked my way through Yosemite. Since I replaced my battery I was able to get some pictures that I didn’t get earlier. I was half resenting that I didn’t fish the Tuolumne River which was quite beautiful, but I didn’t want to delay getting the fish that I caught earlier back to my brother’s house. I was very happy to get a couple decent pictures of the famous post card view of Yosemite Valley.

When I arrived at my brother’s house Katherine was very happy to see me again. She told me lots of things in baby talk.

I was able to grill my trout that had a lemon pepper marinade on it. Andrew tossed in a couple hotdogs because he is not a fish fan. At least Carol enjoys trout. The fish tasted pretty good except it was slightly under done, and seemed to have a few more bones than the trout from up here in Michigan.

After the meal we all sat down and watched the Pistons and Lakers play. Luckily the Pistons won the game which put them up 2 games to 1.

Day 10

Friday morning I dropped Andrew off at work and took a long drive to Morro Bay. Even though the map showed an easy drive down 41 to Morro Bay the roads got confusing and I ended up about an hour off my course.

The coastline in this area was a lot different than in Northern California. There is a much dryer climate. Along the beach I watched several people trying their luck at surfing. I finally got to see a Sea Lion up close but unfortunately it was dead.

I went to a real nice hands on type museum that overlooked Morro Bay.

Afterwards I located an authentic sea food restaurant, which I was hoping to enjoy. This restaurant overlooked Morro Rock, and I could watch a fishing ship return from its voyage. The food was quite enjoyable; out of the combination platter I enjoyed everything except for the oysters.

On my drive back to Fresno I listened to 3 different sets of sports talk show hosts, and they all predicted that the Lakers would win, and the only reasons that they lost 2 games was that the officiating was bad and that the Lakers didn’t play good.

Back at my brother’s family’s house I enjoyed the backyard swimming pool. Afterwards everyone settled down to watch game 5 of the Lakers-Pistons series. This one was close, but you could tell the Pistons were going to win the game. Finally the commentator with the bad suit said that he thought the Pistons were going to win the NBA Finals. It took a 3 to 1 lead before someone actually thought the Pistons had a chance.

Day 11

Saturday we took a trip to the Fresno Zoo. Katherine really liked the Flamingos and some of the other birds. We enjoyed another visit to Coldstone on Blackstone. I discovered that my new stove had a mechanical malfunction instead of problems with the altitude. I bent the piezo electric starter to the right spot and once again the stove roared to life. The rest of the weekend seemed to go by real quickly, which brought up Monday morning.

I left for Kings Canyon/Sequoia Park at the same time that Andrew left for work. This was the closest of all of the National Parks, and besides getting turned around on the California roads again the trip went quickly. The northern road in Kings Canyon was not that long so I took this to the end. This road offered several panoramic viewpoints. I was told that from top of mountain to depth of valley that Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in America. For a little diversity I took a tour of Boyden Caves.

I camped near General Grant’s Grove. It was nice to actually have a choice of campsites, and some room to breathe. Monday afternoon I went to Hume Lake on the recommendations of a Park Ranger. Hume Lake has quite a large Christian Camp which is on the Western side of the lake. There was an inlet that entered the lake that I saw several teenagers with either their parents or councilors. A little ways off I tried my luck fishing off of a large rock. I was not having near the luck that these other people were having. They were catching lots of trout underneath a debris pile on the water. I had a few bites and nearly landed a fish that was near 10 inches in length, but I knew it could get a lot better. The next day I vowed to catch myself lunch by the debris pile.

Day 12

Tuesday morning I got up early and broke camp. I was the 1st one at the lake’s inlet, so I went right to work. I found out as I have seen on several occasions that the trout have a decided preference for live bait over the artificial fly. It took a bit of coaxing but eventually I caught my lunch. 10 AM is actually a bit early for lunch, but as I mentioned I never let myself adjust to the time difference, so I told myself that I was going to have a lunch at 1 PM. I drove past the Christian camp area, and saw a picnic area sign. This was setup real nice for cooking trout, with a grill right next to a picnic table. I mixed some lemon with creole seasoning and grilled the trout inside foil.

Meanwhile I was watching a camp counselor talking with his students. After this meeting I was surprised to see the entire class of teenagers empty into the area that I was at for a quiet time. This must have added an additional level of concentration for these students for someone to be eating lunch in front of them. I decided not to make yummy sounds, even though the trout tasted very yummy.

I started down the road again to my next destinations. To top off the deepest canyon I went to see the tallest living thing in the world, which is the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park. It is so difficult to describe the size of some of these trees. It is near impossible to catch this in picture. I did take a picture of a camper leaving the grove which showed good perspective of size, in these trees immensity they still couldn’t compare with the size of General Sherman tree.

I worked my way across Sequoia Park to where the road took a leave of the park, where I could pick up another road to enter the Mineral King area. From this area I hoped to maybe see views of Mount Whitney. Unfortunately I changed my mind as the road away from Sequoia was very much switch backed, and my brother’s truck was running a bit on the rough side. I gassed the truck up and re-entered the park from the same road that I left the park.

Earlier that day I passed a nice looking campground named Lodgepole that had a fast stream running through it, I decided to give this spot a try. I was able to get a campsite at the entrance, the ranger said something about bears entering the campground from this area, but he said it was a good site. When I arrived at my site, I was very happy with it, as it was nested beautifully into the hillside, and not very far from the creek. I went back to the campground entrance and purchased an extra night at the spot I was at. I was also impressed with the Lodgepole store which was fairly close to the campground. I indulged myself with a Dove ice-cream bar before I went out to do a little fishing.

There were quite a few pools along the stream, and several people beat the heat by relaxing in the cold water. I fished the areas that weren’t occupied, and surprisingly I was able to catch 6 small rainbow trout, not including a nice fish that got away.

When I returned I enjoyed talking with my next door neighbors. They helped me with my itinerary for the next day. They talked about an enjoyable 9 mile round trip hike. They told me that it had a 2000 foot elevation gain, but it wasn’t too terrible. Somehow our conversation turned to Mountain Lions, and they talked about a couple fatalities that occurred north of San Francisco.

That night I heard noises in surrounding campsites that suggested that the bears made their entrance into the campground. I wasn’t particularly concerned because I had all my food stored in the provided locker, and I hadn’t sneezed up my dinner that evening.

Day 13

I woke up early and arrived at the trailhead to Heather Lake. There was quite a bit of elevation gain on this hike, but it went so much easier without a backpack. I was enjoying the scenery until a sign caught my attention. The sign was kind of makeshift and said Panther Gap. Suddenly I had wished I had not had the Mountain Lion conversation from the previous evening. I only walked about 10 paces, when some branches cracked uphill from me to my side. I jumped to see movement of a light tan shape. I sighed relief as this was one of several deer I had seen during my hikes. In my hikes I periodically checked around me, but all of a sudden I decided to keep a little more of a watchful eye around me. 3 miles in I had a choice between 2 trails; either the hump trail, or the fire tower trail. I chose the hump trail because I imaged that it was a little more sheltered. The last stretch was a bit strenuous but I arrived at the pretty Heather Lake. The only company I had at the lake was a Marmot that was eying me carefully. At the waters edge I saw lots of Brown Trout patrolling their water. I found that these fish were not as easy that I thought they’d be to catch. Eventually I caught 6 fish that ranged from 6 to 9 inches in length. Their growth was stunted; their mouths were disproportionately large to their body. Still it was fun fishing.

As I disassembled my fly rod I looked to see several more people arrive at the lake. Moments afterward several more people arrived. As I left the lake 2 more people arrived. Before long I realized that this was quite a popular hike. I arrived early enough to have seclusion, but as I left I passed many hikers and backpackers.

I arrived back at Lodgepole, grabbed another Dove Ice-cream bar and went back to fishing on the creek. I fished until evening because my fishing permit expired the next day. I might have caught 9 small rainbows before the sunlight passed over the edge of the mountain.

That was a bittersweet evening because it was the last evening I had elected for camping on my California trip. That night I heard a chorus of pots and pans a couple sites down, as the bears went to work again.

Day 14

For my last hike I decided to try out a hike to one of the lakes that the 2 gentlemen from Hodgdon Meadows recommended to me. The hike to Weaver Lake started from Big Meadows trailhead. This was only a 5 mile hike with only a 1500 foot elevation gain so I saved the easiest hike for last.

At the trailhead I met a couple of people whose destination also was Weaver Lake. I passed them on the trail and the hike up to Weaver Lake really wasn’t that bad. The lake was quite pretty, and I enjoyed lunch looking over the water. I did not see as many fish in the lake, but the ones I saw appeared larger than the ones I saw the day before at Heather Lake. I talked with one of the people that I had passed on the trail. He told me about his favorite hikes of Yosemite and Kings Canyon, and he asked me where I had hiked. I told him that I went to Heather Lake; he asked me whether I took the hump trail or fire tower trail. I told him that I took the hump trail. He replied “you missed it!” He told me that the fire tower trail overlooked the entire valley overlooking the LodgePole Campground. He asked me whether I continued on to Pear Lake, of which I said that I didn’t. Again he said “you missed it”, and he described the scenic beauty of the Pear Lake area. He told me that his hiking partner was a 78 year old man who hiked to Weaver Lake every week. I told him that he was in great shape. He tried to talk me into hiking to Jenny Lake. He told me that the trout in this lake were huge, (probably because this hike has to cross Poop Out Pass). I declined and mentioned that I didn’t want to get back to Fresno real late.

I took some pictures on my way down, and as I finished putting away my camera I saw that the 2 gentlemen I had passed early on the way up had caught me on the way down. I was amazed that I was being out hiked by a 78 year old man. I decided to just join their company and talk with them all the way back to the truck. We talked a lot about the hiking, animals, and fishing of Yosemite and Kings Canyon. I wished I had met them the 1st day of my trip, but our conversation set up possibilities for a future trip.

This ended my experience of the rugged California outdoors.
It was nice to be able to spend 2 more days with Andrew, Carol and Katherine. Of course I heard the news that the Pistons were the NBA champions. Friday Carol helped me ship some things back to Michigan. Unfortunately I learned that I could not send my stove’s fuel back. Andrew got out of work early so we had one last enjoyable evening. We ordered food from Jack in the Box, and ate it in a real nice park that Katherine enjoyed quite a bit. (That is except for a pretty hard fall along a concrete stream) Of course we finished the evening off with 1 more trip to the Coldstone Ice-cream shop.

It was sad to say goodbye, but it is nice to get home to slightly less rugged Michigan again.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Trial Run: (6/5/2005)

I will be heading out to California in a couple weeks, and I plan to spend a lot of time in the Sierras. There were a couple question’s that needed answered. Remembering last years Yosemite camping experience I needed to know if my gear was in top condition, and somewhat related to that I needed to know what condition I was in. More or less I wanted to be ready for different things that I might encounter. Another question actually was whether I wanted to encounter the rigors of backpacking.

Last weekend I took Friday off and Thursday evening I discovered many items that somehow ended up missing. This list included my hiking boots, my water filter, a couple stuff sacks and a P-38 can opener.

Friday morning I replaced every thing but my hiking boots. These were actually a replacement from me forgetting to bring them on my last California visit.

My backpacking guest was Amber. She was very excited to hit the trail. For the 1st time she sported her own doggie backpack. I had her try it out a couple years ago, but it wouldn’t stay on her. From the very beginning I could see that this time it would work out, none of her attempts to rub it off or shake it off worked.

Late morning when we hit the trail, the heat and humidity were already in the air. As expected the 50 odd pounds in my pack really were taking a toll on my shoulders. I hoped that an adjustment that I made off-season might have lessened the strain, but I made the conclusion (15 years after my purchase) that either my pack was built for a larger frame, or my frame just wasn’t built for backpacking.

It was surprising to see that there was nobody else on the trails the entire day. The skies may have been a bit overcast but everything was fully green, and some Wildflowers even were in attendance. The air carried a very enjoyable fragrance.

Our camping destination was somewhere between 2 to 3 miles down the trail. It was quite a relief to arrive at an otherwise unoccupied campsite, right at lunchtime. I unpacked everything and prepared the campsite. I gave Amber a bonus treat for carrying her pack so well. As I prepared lunch I made the unhappy discovery that we really were not alone at the campsite. Swarms of gnats, sand flies and mosquitoes descended on us for lunch of their own. The gnats wouldn’t have been so bad but they were of the biting variety.

I thought to myself that one thing taken for granted is the blessing of eating meals without wasting a lot of motion to ward off pests.

Not to be defeated I spent the rest of the day enjoying my Fly-fishing hobby. Even though I didn’t pass anyone on the trail there were quite a few people floating the waterway in canoes, kayaks, and riverboats. I found myself repeating many times, “No, I haven’t caught any”. “Yes, at least she’s having a great time (referring to Amber of course)”. Fly-fishing is very much a purist sport. It can be seen and appreciated, tried and appreciated, but it is not a sport for immediate results. I have seen a noticeable improvement in my casting technique, and for that I could take joy. Many factors combine to gain a feeling of “oneness” with the river. You have to begin with the relationship of aquatic born insects as with their important role with Trout, their predator. This necessitates that you actually fool a trout into believing it is seeing something common in the river’s feeding cycle. To be successful not only do you have to learn the cast (which is not common to any other sport related motion that I know of), but also the presentation, which is how the fly would naturally float in the water. Beyond this you need to know what the trout should be feeding on during the season timeframe. There are scores of variations between Mayflies, Stoneflies, Caddis flies and Midges. Each has its own special time of year that it appears on the river. You need to know what larval stage the trout are feeding on based somewhat on the time of day you are on the river. Should you even be seeing a specific insect in areas with a specific river flow, or river bottom type? All of this can be overwhelming. There is a lot less involved in dunking a worm or reeling in a shiny spinning lure. It’s just that Fly-fishing teaches many things about the outdoor experience that would otherwise pass by.

Later that afternoon I returned to fix my meal, and back to some lesser appreciated insects. Upon getting things out for dinner I made the discovery that my old water filter that was missing, was really not missing. I took my new filter down the somewhat steep 50 to 100 foot embankment and filled my water bottle with water to have with the meal. Back up the embankment and back to my already boiling water on my one burner.

I was very pleased with the easy preparation involved with making the store bought freeze dried meals. Prior to last year’s trip to California buying these meals was a slam against my ability as a backpacker. The Beef Stroganoff actually was quite tasty, and there was nothing to clean up afterwards.

I saw Amber rubbing her nose. I sympathized with her “I know the smell of my food must be driving you crazy.” I made a closer observation to see that the insects were causing her to do this. I felt bad for Amber because she didn’t have hands to kill the uninvited guests. The gnats would find easy to invade areas such as her nose and around her eyes. The Sand Flies would find a spot on top of her head, and drill for dinner. She came and laid down against me, I’m sure it was to protect that side against the insects. As I was eating I noticed that I had killed a lot of gnats, my hairy legs at least gave a 1st line of defense. I was somewhat impressed with this so I took a picture. The gnats that had an aversion towards my thighs lost big time. Unfortunately I had many bite marks on my calves that told a different story. (I’ll spare you that picture.)

I did not bring a feeding dish for Amber. I just poured her dog food into my meal pouch, and let her long snout go to work. I even let her pre rinse my spoon. This is not the way things are done at home; in the outdoors it just is convenient. The added benefit of this is that for everything that she scours clean it leaves less trace for the evening varmints to catch wind of.

I decided to turn in quite early that evening, the bugs were quite annoying and there were no other forms of entertainment readily apparent. I started to read a book about tying fly-fishing knots. I’ve never gotten very far with this and this evening was no different, 15 minutes and I was out cold.

I woke up as the dusk invaded the sky and a slight chill hung in the air. I could hear Crickets, Frogs and of course the trickling sound of the river in the distance.

The 1st evening camping in the outdoors is the most uncomfortable. Things start to ache once you rest in a certain position for a while. This evening I found myself battling territorial wars with Amber over my sleeping bag and matt. I was awakened a little after 10 to hear the sounds of Coyotes in the distance. At 1st the sound was relaxing, but the intensity grew, it sounded quite near, and I knew that I had nothing to fend them off if they wandered into the campsite. The sounds faded away and I went back to sleep. Later that evening I started to hear a quiet growl in the area of my stashed food. It sounded like a Raccoon’s growl, one of my least favorite overnight camping critters. I started reaching for my flashlight, why is this taking so long, why do I feel so groggy? Finally I woke up and realized I was having a dream. The silent sounds of Frogs, Crickets and the river reassured me and I slept peacefully the remainder of the evening.

Saturday morning I got up fairly early. I was pleased to find that the air temperature was warm enough to not require a jacket.

Breakfast was my typical Instant Oatmeal and Hot Chocolate. When I finished eating, I poured Amber’s dog food on my plate. She finished her food and applied her pre-rinse. I cleaned up with some soap and the remaining warm water.

I had determined that I would travel back to my Jeep that morning. I would take out my used clothes, and food wrappings. I would also get my sunglasses which I forgot, and spend some time fishing off of Slagle Creek.

This morning I met the 1st backpackers. I observed the attributes of the 1st person on the trail and by the attributes saw a female. It was a good thing that I didn’t say “Good morning Miss”, because I would have been quite mistaken. I heard a gentleman’s voice greet Amber who ran out front of me. This gentleman appeared to be in a little worse physical shape than I was which initially threw me off track. We said hello and continued walking down the trail. At one of the campsites that I passed the prior morning I talked with a couple gentlemen, who were part of a larger group of children and councilors. A couple children whistled for Amber to go their way but Amber didn’t hear them.

When I arrived at the river below Slagle Creek, once again I came up empty in my fly-fishing attempts. I just about took a cold bath as a slippery clay shelf made me lose my footing, I was glad that I had one hand free to brace my backwards fall.

I knew lunch was over an hour away so I hit the trail and headed back to camp.

A half hour later I caught up with the group of children and councilors that I saw on my earlier trip to the car. I heard a couple children say “Look a dog!” Amber went over to see these children. One of the gentlemen that I talked with earlier started to talk to me, and then a female councilor opened her mouth and said “I don’t want any children petting the dog.” That comment cut at me. I didn’t expect her to say that so I didn’t know what to say or even think. She continued on “If you leave it alone it will go away.” I called Amber and on her way to me one of the councilors petted her, and as she walked towards the battle axe councilor, she exclaimed “don’t think your going to get any from me.” As I walked by one of the kids with a confused look on his face petted Amber, and I just walked away from the unhappy scene. I really couldn’t understand what I witnessed. Perhaps she thought Amber should be leashed, but I’m not aware of any law of this type for Michigan backcountry trails. (I hope there isn’t such a law) If I feel that any person or group of people does not want to see Amber I take her by her collar.

Not 5 minutes down the trail I saw what appeared to be a couple good sized packs on the ground. Once again I was mistaken as the bigger pack moved. The gentleman that I earlier mistook as a lady this time looked like a backpack. The colors at least were the same. He told me that he was trying to rest off a headache, and that his group would be meeting up with him soon.

I had lunch back at my campsite. I did some maintenance to one of my fly reels. I tied what I’m convinced is a Perfection Loop on my fly line, and rigged on a sinking leader combination that my Fly Fishing guru tied up for me.

I noticed that what appeared to be 6 people were camping by the riverside within distant view of my campsite. I guess the NO CAMPING sign didn’t bother them.

The entire afternoon I walked the banks, carefully picking where I dared wade out into the water in my shorts. Amber alternated between wading with me, happily running in circles and rolling on the shore side. I made sure to call her if she smelled an area before her roll. Even so she didn’t smell as good as she did on the beginning of the day. I vowed to give Amber a good washing when I got home. Perhaps I had a couple takes on my line that afternoon, but I didn’t bring home any dinner.

On this afternoon I made a rice dish that I added a can of chicken to. It appeared that I had much more food than I could handle. I ate most of it as I didn’t want to experiment with Amber and Cajun flavored food, especially having to endure her in the tent.

As this was the last evening camping I made the decision that I would not make a hot breakfast in the morning. This time when I fed Amber she was the full rinse cycle as I didn’t have any water handy to wash with.

NOTE TO SELF: Make sure to really wash my bowl and spoon.

I did literally make a trip to the waterside (as the leaves were quite slippery), to get drinking water for the morning’s departure trip back to the Jeep. This time down it appeared that my camp neighbors were making an attempt at swimming, even though that area was not a prime spot for swimming.

When I got topside I read a little bit about Trout Fly Insects. My poor luck became a little clearer to me as I realized that the flies I used were not based on what should be on the river at that time. Added to that fact I didn’t even notice any insect activity on the river. (I’m firmly convinced that every insect was at my campsite.)

I played a game with Amber that somewhat resembled fetch. For a pet that has the last name “Retriever”, she certainly is fuzzy on the details of this game.

Once again I opted to call it a day early. I read a little bit more in the tent and went to sleep. Every evening camping has to be an adventure for me, I never seem to get a full peaceful night sleep, and this evening was no exception. I woke up this evening to hear what sounded like a very angry dog. I’ve watched many scary movies, and I’ve never heard a dog sound like this before. The noise just pierced the night air. The sound emitted from the general direction of last evening’s Coyote chorus. This went on for close to 10 minutes. After the barking I heard a sound of growling. The sound faded away and the sound of frogs and crickets once again were brave enough to fill the air. There were separate times that this animal barked after this, but the volume did not approach the same level.

That evening I dreamed of a black colored dog with red glowing eyes. This dream did not culminate in fright however as the problem was with the owner that gave the dog something bad to eat. (This was most likely some Cajun food).

In the morning I woke up perplexed by the sounds I heard in the evening. The previous day I did not notice a dog in my down the hill neighbor’s campsite. Perhaps there was a mean stray dog loose in the woods.

I had already made the decision to break camp fairly early and motor my way back to the beginning of the trail. I enjoyed my last 2 chewy granola bars and then started to pack things away. I was impressed that it only took one hour from the time that I got up before I hit the trail.

There were a few sprinkles in the air, but I had no complaints with the weather the entire weekend of camping.

As I walked my way out I thought some more about my prospects of backpacking the Sierras. I’ve come to the conclusion (which were confirmed on Monday when I strapped on my seatbelt.) that if there isn’t a more comfortable alternative I will be doing my camping from actual campsites.

So ends the story of my California trial run. When I arrived at home the 1st thing I did was take a good shower. The 2nd thing that I did was made good with my vow to give Amber a good bath. There had to be another dog’s worth of trail crud that Amber left in the tub.