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, 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.


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