Fall backbacking on the St. Croix River

We (Steve Mikula and I) were hoping to take three days this past weekend and spend some time on the Superior Hiking Trail.  http://www.shta.org/ “The best layed plans….”

Fall rain cancelled Friday and it just seemed to far to drive four hours for a two day hike.  Steve couldn’t take Monday off, so it was looking like another weekend that didn’t happen (we had planned to hike the SHT the week before, perfect weather and great colors; but work got in the way!)  I remembered a write up in Backpacker Magazine http://www.backpacker.com/  talking about a 16 mile hike on the St. Croix River along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border.  After thumbing through 30 back issues, I found the hike; 16 miles in the Governor Knowles State Forest http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/StateForests/GovKnowles/ in Wisconsin.  After convincing Steve that we would not get shot by hunters, he agreed to go!

We started at the south end of the trail http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/StateForests/govKnowles/documents/Lagoo_Creek.pdf .  It seemed that the colors had passed (should have been up there the week before!)  But we had the trail to ourselves, not a soul in sight.  Some time near the river, some of it in the woods, all beautiful, a nice easy trek.  We started at 11, and made camp (#3) at about 3 o’clock ten miles later. Time to relax?  Wrong, time to gather wood, it was going to get cold tonight, below freezing they said!  We hauled logs, we hauled brush, we hauled small trees, all downed already!  But most of it was damp, and getting a roaring fire was work.  It

The St. Croix River

The St. Croix River

Another Governor Park in Wisconsin

Another Governor Park in Wisconsin

Hammock Camping

Hammock Camping

IMG_4808

The River again

The River again

not the river!

not the river!

seemed like we burned about 5 trees in all, but we got a warm fire going!  Tea, supper, chocolate bars, and time to hang in the hammocks.

I’m new to hammocks, but learning, steve is patient and willing to loan me what I need!  Down to 32 degrees that night!  But I was warm (too warm), woke up early, breakfast, coffee, and off we go.  6 miles to the car!  A wonderful day for a hike, lots of pics, and lots of scenery, my favorite of the two sections.  We finished up at 11:30 after starting at 9:45, the sun came out, we were tired and thirsty, but another great hike discovered.  I will be back to hike the north section, and to hike the south section again!

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Solo mission abandoned

While Lon was at Whitewater with Scouts, I decided to go for a walk at the Rice County Park south of Northfield. The drive down the gravel road to get to this park always gives me the willies. The houses along the way are Deliverance-like. There is the house with the sheet covered windows that I’m sure is a meth house. Nearly all of the houses have lots of junk in the yards. This park is hillbilly-ridden on the summer weekends, due to the free camping. The park is between Northfield and Faribault, and honestly, Faribault has more than its share of wackos. So, I took the dog along for the appearance of protection. She’s 12 years old and getting slow. She does still have a wicked bark, though. When we got to the park there were no cars in the lot, which I took as a good sign. We started down the path that goes along the river, but I soon realized that this was going to be too much for her. The path was ice and snow covered, too rough for her old paws. So we headed back up the path and took the marked Nature Trail that leads up into the hills. There was more bare ground for her on this path. I was surprised from the start how well worn the path was. There were lots of footprints. Also, lots of plastic garbage, which is unusual for trails around here. There were a few Jennie-O Ground Turkey roll wrappers on the trail, which I didn’t give much thought to.  jo turkeyIt was a beautiful day and my shoes and clothes felt just right for the 15 degree temperature, so I just kept walking along enjoying myself. The dog was having a great time plodding along behind me, sniffing all the way. At one point I wondered where the garbage might have blown in from, but it was just a fleeting thought. The walking was taking quite a bit of attention, due to ice on the trail and slick muddy spots. I noticed that there were shoe prints in the mud, but I’m no tracker. They could have been there for a month, for all I know. As we went along, the amount of garbage on the trail increased. It was when I saw the Taco John’s Potato Ole container that the Faribault connection became clear; Faribault has a TJ’s, Northfield does not. So, it was obviously a Faribault slob messing up the park. tj poStill, no worries. There hadn’t been a car in the parking lot, right? We had been walking at a pretty good clip for 30 to 45 minutes (don’t know for sure, again I was lost in how good it felt to be out) when I smelled fuel. I wondered fleetingly where the odor would be coming from, but kept going. There was a slippery creek bed in a little ravine to get through, so I had to concentrate on not ending up a muddy, broken hip mess. I got across (the dog made it look easy) and walked a few feet when I saw an Angel Soft toilet paper wrapper on the trail. as tpThat’s when the alarm finally went off in my head. Nobody carries an entire pack of tp into the woods for a hike. I finally looked around to see what this might mean. I looked to my left up the hill and there is garbage everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. Jennie-O wrappers were prominent in the mix. It was shocking to see trash all over the hillside. There were plastic grocery bags and wrappers and debris of every kind. As my eyes traveled up I saw that just over the crest of the hill was the blue of tarps. There was something hanging in a tree, maybe a backpack or coat. I stood like an idiot while I realized that I was standing below what clearly was someone’s camp. Now, if I’m going to wander into a homeless camp, I need to be expecting it. Like most things, I want it to be on my terms. I want it to be under a bridge, or in an alley, or (in Bellingham, WA) along a busy street. Not out on a trail, by myself, with an old dog who is running around thinking she’s in heaven because there are turkey wrappers to lick. Also, if I’m going to stumble upon a homeless person in the woods, I want them to be rugged and tidy and living in the woods by choice. rugged manWe might sit down in camp and have a cup of coffee from his clean cooking area. Not this. I stood, transfixed, looking for the person who might have created this disaster. It was clearly someone who was not in his (I’m assuming it was a man…had to be) right mind. I stood there and stood there, not knowing what to do. Clearly I needed to leave as quickly as I could. I am reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and had just learned about deaths along the AT. Transients = Danger. Simple as that. I didn’t want to go back the way I had come. The trail was too slippery. So I finally pulled myself away and started moving along the trail. I was pretty sure that it went downhill soon and would join up with the trail along the river. I called Nikki and left her a message, then called her again. No answer. I tried Lon and he answered. He took me seriously, which caused me even more worry. His advice? Keep the dog near me. It sounds reasonable, only at this point, she is plodding along far behind me, clearly exhausted and ticked off that she had to leave behind all that delicious licking. Nothing about her looked menacing. I started wondering and hoping if dogs get adrenaline rushes when threatened. Nikki had called while I was talking to Lon, so I tried to call her back. No signal. Of course. The trail beyond the littered hill was faint and harder to follow. I guess the creepy person who lives there doesn’t venture beyond their camp. Fortunately, the path soon went downhill and rejoined the path along the river. I flew along hoping that the dog would keep up, constantly keeping my eyes on the hill above waiting for some raggedy-ass man to be lurching down towards me. He wouldn’t, couldn’t be in his right mind and would want to kill me, I was sure. My mind was going faster than my legs could keep up.

I cruised along the trail as fast as the dog could keep up. After all my fear, of course, nothing eventful happened along the way. We made great time getting back to the car. The dog was exhausted and hobbled her way onto the back seat. I locked the doors, texted Nikki and Lon that I was safe, then drove quickly back along Deliverance Lane.

I really want to go back to the park and walk today. The park is my new obsession. The walk is beautiful along the river, with an eagles’ nest and lot of birds at this time of year. I am going to call Rice County parks today and report it. Sorry homeless person, but you’re keeping too nasty of a camp for me to not call it in. Hopefully you can find someplace more remote (not visible from the trail…duh) to live. Besides, this is Minnesota and we had a horrible winter. Don’t live outside here. And, don’t let your trash be everywhere. But I’m glad you’re getting enough protein in your diet. And that you have nice soft tp to wipe with.

A Winter Camping Trip to Whitewater State Park

I’ve been afraid of winter (camping) ever since I can remember.  COLD, COLD, COLD!!!!

I don’t have the gear I’ve said.  Well I tried to conquer that fear this weekend on a trip to Whitewater State Park with the Boy Scouts.

I brought two sleeping  bags, a Marmot 0 degree, and a 15 degree Big Agnes, figuring I would put one inside the other and try to survive the low of 8 predicted for the night.  No problem during the day, we hung out at the group camp in a heated lodge.  Had a blast, lost at bingo (I always do) got some good chow, and got in a hike walking around the camp on the Dakota Trail.  Later that night the boys, Paul Vandergon, and I went for a night hike to Coyote point.

And then I went back to camp prepared to endure the worst.  And did I ever, first I had to remove my gloves because I was hot, then I had to remove my stocking cap because I was still hot, then I slept for a bit, then I woke up hot, so I removed my light down coat.  Then I slept for a while, and woke up hotter, off with the windpants.  And I woke up at five in the morning totally wet from sweat!  I opened up my sleeping for some cold air and got to sleep til’ 7.  So lesson learned! I can winter camp, I just need to keep cooler!

Check out the pic of my gear!  I read all of these books on ultralight backpacking, and then I bring all this gear, but really it was car camping!

first time in the snow

first time in the snow

The boys get a pic at Whitewater State Park The steps to Dakota Trail and Coyote Point My first trek after reading a million ultra-light packing, I didn't learn much I saw the password hear for the hiking club, but didn't have a clue what it was.

A hike in the Wilderness

Got out today to hike around a little bit.  Temp was a balmy 18 degrees, a fair amount of snow on the trail; but that made it interesting.  As well as testing out the waterproofness of my Keen Bryce hiking shoes, (they did great).

Still need to find more hills to get tuned up for the SHT, but soon you won’t be able to ski at The Big Woods anymore…

Starting to think more and more that a thru hike needs to be a top item on my bucket list!  Maybe even obsessed with it (if you talk to my family)  What is wrong with wearing a fully loaded backpack around the house?  “We are talkin’ about practice!”  AI

It would be great to go for a ride on the river, but it will have to wait a week or two, the river is still iced over in many spots, but not in others!!!

Anyway, here are a few pics 20140316_110735

The ice is coming out

The ice is coming out

Elias and I stayed here a few summer's ago with Steve and Sam.  A few less bugs today!

Elias and I stayed here a few summer’s ago with Steve and Sam. A few less bugs today!

What a great old sign!

What a great old sign!

Had a lot of trips start here!

Had a lot of trips start here!

The canoe launching pad is a little snowed in, but will see about 60 Boy Scouts in two months!! Can't wait

The canoe launching pad is a little snowed in, but will see about 60 Boy Scouts in two months!! Can’t wait

Alcohol Stove Disaster

the learning curve of light weight camping!!

the learning curve of light weight camping!!

The inside is the old color!

The inside is the old color!

20140312_190847Alright, always learning.

Turns out that Heet in the Red Bottle is usable (but not really),  if necessary; and you don’t mind a really sooty pot, and alcohol floating on the top of your liter of water,

And you don’t mind cleaning it all up, and then opening up the house (in winter) to air things out!

I’m pretending the tea tastes alright!

The water boiled in 9 minutes, spent 30 minutes cleaning up; and still airing out the house (45 minutes later)

Looks like the yellow bottle next time (outside)  it should be warm enough then!!!