Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Smoothing It

The wise old woodsman, George Washington Sears, wrote, "We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it."  

That quote has been used to justify all manner of camping excess.  I suppose it could be taken to mean Bring everything you want, and be 100% comfortable at all times.  To do this you'd need, of course, to be car camping.  Car camping, glamping, and other super plush forms of camping have their place but for the most part this kind of outdoor experience is not for me.

But I love the quote - and that love relies on an interpretation of the quote that's about as far from promoting glamping as you can get.

The quote is from the book Woodcraft and Camping which also includes a chapter titled: A Ten Day Trip in the Wilderness - Going It Alone.  In this chapter Sears traverses, by foot, a 60 mile chunk of Michigan (this was written in the 1800's so it really was a wilderness). Something tells me that when he refers to "smoothing it" he wasn't talking about hauling a two-burner stove with him.

Another tip off is that, still in the same book, he says, "Go light; the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort and enjoyment."

Is it possible to go light and still smooth it?  Sure.  But it requires knowledge of how to do more with less, and most importantly, a definition of smoothing it that doesn't include being perfectly comfortable at all times.

Referring to the "smoothing it" quote, he also says, "To this end you need peaceful days and pleasant nights.  You cannot afford to be tormented and poisoned by insects, nor kept awake at night by cold and damp, nor to exhaust your strength by hard tramps and heavy loads.  Take it easy, and always keep cool."

I should mention that Sears was a slight man, 5'3" and weighing slightly over 100 lbs.  He wasn't some big brute that considered a 70 lb pack light.

I guess the next question is: what does all this have do with biking?  Many riders strip down the things they carry to maybe a granola bar and various tools to fix their bike.  If that's your style then by all means, go for it.  My frame bag lives on my bike and carries: a map, folding saw, poop kit (trowel, TP, hand sanitizer), extra cord, sheath knife, lighter, and a tool kit and pump.  Depending on what kind of ride I'm doing also included could be a lock, pot, stove, fuel for the stove, SPOT GPS device, chain lube, clothing layers.  Every single one of the things I carry sees at least occasional use - and I carry them because they make my rides better.  Maybe carrying around the extra weight slows me down, but 1) we Americans have an unhealthy obsession with speed.  I go on bike rides to interact with the outdoors, not to blast through it as quickly as possible.  2) If you enjoy riding you're probably going to do more of it, which makes you faster.  The things I carry make riding more enjoyable.

An example: last week I did some bikepacking, and took with me more than I technically needed in order to stay warm at night.  It was forecast to get down to the high 30's but I took my 0˚ sleeping bag and a sleeping pad for sleeping on snow.  I didn't think that my summer top quilt and under quilt would keep me comfortable.  Of course the warmer gear was bulkier and heavier.  I'm still glad I had it with me.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Soup's On

The day before the ride I chopped up some turkey, carrots, celery and various other soup-making ingredients with the idea that I'd ride out into the National Forest, make myself a campfire and cook the soup.  To that end I brought a knife, folding saw, chunks of rope (for making a tripod to hang the soup pot, as well to suspend said pot), extra clothes to keep warm while not exercising.  I rode out a ways until I saw a good spot - out of the wind and two oak trees down nearby, hauled my bike through the trees and snow to a good spot.  Only then did I realize that I had forgotten matches or a lighter.

Happily in the handle of my knife is a ferrocerium rod (which is a rod that when you scrape it gives off sparks).  I gathered everything I needed to coax a spark into an actual fire.  Birchbark, small twigs, finger-sized twigs, and finally some larger fuel.

I even split down some dead/standing maple to get to some nice, dry wood in the middle.

I had lashed a simple tripod but needed a fire to cook.  After a bit (OK, a lot) of scraping and swearing (that little ferro rod in my knife handle isn't really meant to be the go-to method for starting fire and as such is kinda tricky to use) I finally managed to get a spark to land just right on some birch bark and it caught.  I quickly threw on the fire-building materials that I had collected and it took off - and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

They say (and I agree) that everything tastes better when cooked over the campfire and eaten outside, and the soup was delicious but I think it would have held it's own in most kitchens - it's delicious-ness wasn't only because of the campfire setting (hell, even ramen noodles taste good cooked over a fire and eaten in a beautiful setting) was just good soup.  I think.  Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me.  I'm sorry to toot my own horn I'm just sayin' that I enjoyed my soup.  

It was kind of a huge serving of soup and when I first saw it I didn't know if I could finish it - maybe I'd have to leave some for the forest critters, but as the contents of the pot got lower my belly didn't get as stuffed as I thought it might.  

Soup eaten and hot cocoa drunk and dishes "washed" it was time to pack up and head home, but not before watching the sunset through the trees.  

Friday, September 7, 2018

Bikepacking: Lenawee Lake - empty bottle from the number three pile

A couple of days back I headed north towards Lenawee Lake to do a bit of bikepacking.  It's getting to be my favorite time of the year.  Everything seems to be turning color, from apples to leaves.

I reckon that I've spun these cranks once or twice.  

"Two paths diverged in a wood" and since they both have about the same "less traveled by" look I took the one toward Lenawee Lake.  

None of the lakes the the CNNF are very big.  The few that are big enough to have motor boats on them are generally privately-owned anyway.  Which works out well for me since I'm not a particular fan of motors in general and when attached to a boat they can be particularly obnoxious - mainly because lakes can (and should - in my opinion) be quiet, serene places.  Certainly motorboats have their place, I've ridden in them lots, and will in the future.  But if I don't have to go far/fast and am not carrying a big load then I'll be happier in a canoe virtually every time.

When I was packing for camping I realized that I didn't have any alcohol to fuel my alcohol stove.  Lacking a source to get more I packed my wood-burning stove.  And it turned out to be a good thing...for one I just enjoy fires and for another my Steripen ran out of juice and I ended up having to boil my water.  Even if I'd had a bunch at home I wouldn't have brought enough alcohol to do as much boiling as I needed to.  Sticks to burn in a small twig stove are virtually infinite.

I pack a Crazy Creek chair with me.  I could get by without it but my 39 year old back doesn't really like me to grub around on the ground anymore - or more accurately I should say that my back never did like it but now complains more loudly.  They say that when you're packing for a backpacking/bikepacking/canoeing/any-human-powered trip you should divide your stuff into three piles.  The stuff you'll need, the stuff the might need, and luxuries.  Then you take all the stuff from the first pile, none from the second (besides things like the first aid kit and rain gear) and one thing from the third.  Well, truth be told I'm out here to enjoy myself and part of that is enjoying my time on the bike (which would be hard to do if it weighed a ton) while still bringing enough stuff from the second and third pile to make my camp time (which is the majority) enjoyable too.  And, of course, the idea of what we "need" varies from person to person.  Some "need" a smartphone.  Some "need" air conditioning, etc - you get where I'm going.  Do I technically need to bring that down vest?  No, I mean, it's not like I'd die without it.  But was the camping part more relaxing with it?  Absolutely.  As some wise old woods-person once said, "We don't come out here to rough it, we come out here to smooth it."  So I take more than one thing from the third pile.  

In camp you could hardly turn around with literally tripping over beaver sign.  

Cooling the water I had boiled.

Another item from the third pile.  While the second pot of water was boiling I used the first to rehydrate supper and make some hot chocolate (into which went the contents of this bottle) and then, once the second pot of water had boiled, poured it into the now-empty bottle.  

It was well after sunset when I was standing out near the lake when I heard a loud sploosh behind me.  Having heard this particular style of sploosh before I knew right away what it was - and waited for it to sploosh again.  It swam around for a bit and then slapped it's tail again.  Thankfully it let me sleep and didn't sploosh all night.   I managed this ridiculously blurry handheld shot of the beaver. 
View from my hammock in the morning.  It got fairly chilly overnight - mid 40's.  I was never all that cold but did wake several times to shore up my insulation.  It might have been chilly but damn, I love me some lake-mist in the mornin'.

The bright spot in the background that looks a bit nuclear is the brightness of Lenawee Lake .  

My bear-proof Ursack tied in place overnight. 

You can see that when this pinecone fell from the branch it gathered enough steam, and was oriented such that when it hit, it stabbed.

Packed up and ready to go.

Some of the roads in the CNNF have been graveled and have been packed down enough that a 23 mm road bike tire could make it without huge problem.  Contrast that with this: a narrow two track made up entirely of sand - some of which was too deep/loose for my 3" wide tire to handle. 

Remember that fork with the two equally "less traveled" roads?  Well I took one fork on the way there and the other fork on the way back.  On the way back I happened to see these bear tracks.  I think a good indication that the path you're traveling on is on the "less travel by" end of the spectrum is 1) it's deep, loose sand 2) animal tracks aren't covered by car tracks 3) said animal tracks aren't from a dog or cat, they're from a bear.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Bikepacking: Tub Lake and humankind's (2nd) greatest invention.

Tub Lake is a small lake in the CNNF that I ride by quite a bit on the way to Delta.  I decided to go bikepacking there this week.

See my Youtube video of the trip:

Or read on for some deep thoughts on rum and bug netting:

This shirt reminds me of something my grandpa would wear.  Just to do him proud I got it at the thrift store too.  

A few trees (mostly maples and birches) are already starting to turn.  Fall comes early to northern Wisconsin.

During the summer Indian Pipe (this plant) has a head that droops down.  Later in the summer things straighten out 

Tub Lake

Home for the night

Instant mashed potatoes: it's what's for dinner

My kitchen for the evening

Making hot chocolate

Sitting enjoying my hot chocolate I took this selfie.  It looks as if I just noticed a dump truck bearing down on me and I've gone deer-in-the-headlights.

It's only logical that on a bikepacking trip you'd want to limit your weight.  Well, when at home I knew I would want a little rum in my hot chocolate.  But in order to have just a little I had to bring a container for the rum and the only metal container (carrying alcohol in plastic freaks me out a bit) container I had was a water bottle that was much bigger than necessary.  And a few years back I made a nifty mug out of an old metal water bottle - so I might as well bring that too.  Technically I could have had my chocolate out of my pot but that would take all the joy out of sitting in the woods sipping on a hot beverage.  So anyway I poured a couple of ounces of rum into the bottle looked at how much space was left.  My thought process went something like this:  I'm already going to the trouble of carrying the weight and bulk of this bottle - what's a few more ounces of rum?  It'd be silly not to put a little more in.  So I did.  In camp after supper had been eaten and I was making the hot chocolate I put in about as much rum as I thought I'd want.  I used half of what I had.  My thought process went something like this: I carried this all this way, and if I don't use it (or dump on the ground) I'll just have to carry it home.  I don't want to waste it and I don't want to carry it home.  It'd be silly to pour it anywhere but into my mug.   So that's what I did - and though I was worried that not putting it into my mug would be silly it was only after I drank all the rum that things got a bit silly.

I've been using a Steripen to sterilize my water.  It does a good job and I don't really have any works by zapping all the nasties in the water with a UV light, but it doesn't filter it.  So if the water source tastes bad it doesn't really do anything about the taste - even though it may be safe to drink.  You probably already guessed why I am bringing this up - the water in Tub Lake tasted pretty gross.

The view from my bed in the morning.  (BTW a good photographer knows to focus on what's important.  We tend not to think about it much but bug netting is truly a marvel.  How many times have campers fled to their tents when they hear the intensifying thrum of mosquitos at dusk?  Now imagine you couldn't escape - or at least that if you did have a place to go it had to be solid material with no windows or ventilation.  How did people live without bug netting?  Forget cars and space travel, bug netting is humankind's greatest to the bicycle of course.  Actually the auto focus of my camera just focused on the bug netting when I rather it focused on the trees.  But bug netting really is amazing stuff)

In the morning I decided the walk around the lake.  In a couple of spots I noticed where trees had grown up around a stump, then the stump rotted away...
...and one where the stump was in the process of rotting away

This is a pretty decent opportunity to tell you the gear that kept me comfortable throughout the harrowing 57 degree, clear night.  Handlebars: the maroon bag (peeking out from behind my helmet) had my underquilt it it.  On the top side of my handlebars (a little camouflaged against the garage door) is my Crazy Creek chair.  I use (and love) Surly Moloko Bars and in addition to being extraordinary comfortable (because of the 34* sweep) they are great for strapping on stuff.  It's kinda hiding in the picture but on the right side of my front wheel is a Salsa Anything Cage with my tarp strapped to it.  Top tube bag/Gas tank: camera and few camera accessories, Leatherman Squirt Multitool, bike multitool.  Frame bag (still going strong even though I made it [and it was the first one I ever made] almost 15 years ago): various stuff such as bike pump, snacks, tripod, map, bug spray, bear spray (I haven't used it at all since I got it 5 years ago, I dunno if it even still works and, to be honest, I'm more scared of bugs) SPOT, sheath knife, folding saw, chain lube, shit kit) The brown bag under my down tube is a homemade job holding a 32 oz. nalgene.  The small yellow bag under my seat is a spare tube.  I also have a small black bag that rides under my seat containing tool (tire irons, a few extra links of chain, patch kit).  On my rack: blue bag - hammock, purple bag - top quilt, grey panniers (there's also one of the far side exactly the same that you can't see) general camping stuff (food, rum, first aid kit, Steripen, pot/stove/fuel, bear bag, solar light.  On the ground is my waist pack primarily containing clothes but also my headlamp and wallet.