Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Basic Camp

A basic night out in a bag. Josh's Saturday Night camp out is a bike-pack-camp commonly called bikepacking. So long as you have lightweight gear and know how to pack it small and on a bike it's easy to be comfortable. I chose to go even lighter and forgo the tent for a bivy bag and a small piece of plastic if it rains. My sleeping bag is inside the bivy, it's just a 'skin' to protect the bag.

After a short ride through the woods to a remote area that happens to have a massive amount of downed wood we stoke up a huge blaze to push the chills out of the way and get eating. It's a mixed bag of dinner choices. I have some chicken noodle soup mix that I boil up on my micro stove just to give me something warm and savory to kick the last of the chills out of my core and give me a few extra calories so I have a warm nights sleep. Others have full on meat roasts over a huge bomb-fire and they only want to carve one stick. This leads to wild outbursts for several reasons depending on your take.

A good amount of socializing leads us to bedtime and by then the temps are making frost.

A pack of coyotes yelp and howl as I drift off looking at stars. (I don't have a roof) By morning it's in the low 20's.

Re-stoke the fire to warm up while everyone gets going. I don't think anyone had breakfast but I have coffee before packing the bike.

 The ride out is about 8am. I ride back to my van, rush home, eat and head out to go scuba diving.

No, I haven't gone totally soft in the middle from Ocho.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Site Occupied

Shortly after the North Shore Tour we reload and occupy some sites in the south west corner of the state. On the way to Blue Mounds State Park we stop at Schell's Brewery. The tour is suppose to be pretty good but our guide is not interested in showing us anything so we get the worst tour I've ever been part of. I saw more waiting around for it to start so the paid tour is a joke but your results may very. The brewery is worth a cursory look around so if you're passing through New Ulm, MN stop at a local coffee shop that has free WiFi and take the virtual tour. I'm kidding of course, a smart phone is all you need.
That's the brew-house (not that we got to go inside) and the truck is full of used hops and grains (not that we got to see how they are used). The only reason I know what's in the truck is it spilled some contents while driving away and I looked at the mess that spat out the back. 

 Above: These are hops. They are flowers that are used to give beer a tart flavor and preserve it.
Below: A historical record of all the breweries in Minnesota. Some still exist but their tour blows.

Speaking of tours we are on our way to Blue Mound for the weekend. On the way it's windy as hell and my house is getting blown all over the road. I say this because we coin another inside phase, 'The Winnie Wiggle'. Ocho isn't a speed machine so we are glued to the right lane and get overtaken a lot. This means that much of the time I have a car on my left. Be it, I want to change lanes or Ocho is taking an unplanned wind wiggle, it gets tense. It's not more than 20 minutes and I realize every time I crowd the dotted line anyone next to me gives it the berries and gets out of my way! So if I want some safety margin for a lane change or anything, I simple weave a tiny bit and a wide berth opens up. Call it the Winnie Wiggle.

It's not long and we are set up as 1 of 2 people in the park.

I use to do a lot of rock climbing here with my good buddy Brad so I have special memories of this place. I once sat down to a camp dinner and ate 1 pound (uncooked weight) of spaghetti with a pound of Jimmy Dean sausage and the majority of a small can of sauce by myself. It was about 3800 calories and I can't say I felt well that night. burp

As usual we lump up on the couch with the trail maps and read them with the intensity of astronomers trying to find a new planet. After an hour or so we have a route that will give us the best blend of wide open spaces and fine grain structure and it's packaged into a 4 hour loop. In the morning we go wild for a pan of cinnamon rolls right out of the oven, get lazy and blow an early start to our day.

We'll be leaving the park soon but there is something really cool about this rock. Its not that it's up to 5000ft thick quartzite and that it's wicked hard but that it's 1.8 billion years old. Why do you care about it's age? Because 1800 million years ago life hadn't evolved so it has nothing in it but sand!
Back at camp I'm fired up to go to Sibley State Park and hike Mount Tom the next day. There is little left at Blue Mounds and Sibley is a little closer to home. Yadda Yadda Yadda ... it's the next morning and we are at Sibley, have eggs and get an early start to the day.
First order of business is the hike to ever iconic, Mount Tom. I load up the day pack with all the standard 'what if' gear and some experimental hot cheese fixing. About an hour or so out of camp we are teased by the breathtaking vistas of Little Mount Tom.
Our goal is lofty, nothing less than the rarefied air of Big Tom will do so we press on into the wonderful weather and the path most traveled.
Scooby is electrified and pulls us up the last hundred feet and pow!
Of course it's not really worth the hype I gave it but it's easily worth the little bit of effort it took.

After we take in the views which are quite good we need to keep a schedule and take a different return trail to keep things interesting.

We have several mile to go and it's getting close to munch time and I'm dying to try out my new griddle.

The first trail crossing we get to is an XC trail that isn't likely to be used in summer. We get off the beaten bath so we can have lunch without interruption and make grilled cheese sandwiches.

The cheese is good from such a tiny stove.

Our internal furnaces stoked by hot cheese we get back to the campground to find everyone else has left and we are the only campers in the park. I take a short walk around to look at the old water tower created under the WPA and it's amazing stonework before we Winnie Wiggle our way home.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oopita Doopita

A few friends and I meet up at the starting line for what I believe is the first Oopita. 

For November we are all happy it's dry and sunny but a little cold to stand around for an hour as everyone signs in and otherwise messes about wasting time till the start.

The launch is fast and fun. I pull off the limiters and gun it with the front pack for the first 30 minutes before I start to crack. Blake catches up with me shortly after I cut the throttle and we ride together for the next few hours.

 After some navigation challenges we eventually muster up at the end of the River Bottoms Trail.

The 'second' half of the race is when things really go pear shaped. The route notes or cue sheets are too hard to translate to the real world. Things like "turn left onto trail" is all you'd get and we simply didn't see any 'trails' that made sense or route us back the way we'd come.

Above: We are totally lost and many miles from anything we know. We are picking up other lost riders because we think there is strength in numbers but in reality, misery loves company and there is a lot of misery on everyone's plate with 35 miles left to go. Hills and head winds almost break me. We are all hurting. 

Blake turns the pain off and drops from the race about this time. He still has to find his way home which has to be at least 20 miles so it's hardly quitting. The rest of us power on and it's not long before the pack breaks in two with the stronger riders pulling out a significant lead and dropping me and 2 others. I still need to ride home as well and the race ends in downtown Minneapolis. Even if I was to push past the pain and finish I still need to ride 25 miles home at night and I don't have my lights with me. 

We stop at a local cafe for a much needed snack and I make the decision to drop and head home. It's 14 miles to the finish but it's too late and it would just make a mess so I fire down a sandwich and head east as fast as I can to jump on the Light Rail before the last of the daylight is gone. I call my wife for a pick up because I can't get from the train station to home without riding on really busy roads and I'm not at all ready to die after such a good day.

I learn from the 2 buddies I left at the snack shack that had I finished I would have been 9th overall. That may have been just enough reward to push on but alas I get an DNF for my efforts.

Monday, November 11, 2013

State Parking

Shortly after leaving the Sudan Mine we are all set up at Bear Head State Park, the first of three parks we'll be saying at in 3 days. After a night at Bear we go to Tettegouche and then Banning. We had planned to stop at Jay Cook but we'll get to that as well as a doctors appointment for me and a large vet bill for fuzzy muzzle world champion Scooby.

The reason we moved up from tents is to make life easy and to get out more. If we don't care about weather or where we'll stay we can just go and let things work out as they may. With a day trip under our belts we pull a 4 day and the only plan was to get to Tower for the mine tour before 12 on Sunday. After that we have no plans but to park at parks and have a look around.

The parks are empty this time of the year so it's ideal for us. It's been years since I stayed in one of the flagship state parks in MN and I'm surprised at how close you are to the adjacent campsites. Why on earth would you want to be so close to people! At one point there were 2 others camping in the entire campground and we each had a 3rd of the park to ourselves and that still felt too close. I suppose it's something you have to learn to deal with when your tent weighs 11 tons.

After a sunset bonfire we pop in for some dinner, turn the heater to 72 and lump up on the couch to review maps and plan out tomorrows hike. We do a short 5 mile loop out to a remote lake to check out some remote backpacking sites we'll probably never commit to using.

Then it's load up and head over to Tettegouche. This park is so hard to get into during the summer we didn't bother until now. We don't really care to plan and by we I really mean me and to gamble that you can get a camp site or be out on the proverbial street is too much risk. Now that we have a home on wheels we can hide out about anyplace for the night.

Just before sundown we make quick time to the river to see both of the waterfalls so that in the morning we can get right to the long hikes and not have to double back and waste time.
It said no jumping on the bridge so of course I did.

Some time that night I started feeling lousy. Chills started and I didn't have the willpower to stand. I developed a fever as well as other maladies. I know you're probably already tired of the RV talk but that little box really started to pay for itself about now. I have a fever of 101.5 an still shivering under a few blankets on the couch. Kristen makes me some soup and turns the heater up to 75. I don't even have to make long cold walks to the outhouse (it's raining and 45 outside). In the morning I put on some slippers and slide into the booth from a hot breakfast. Sure I'm still sick but I'm not really miserable.

Day Use, no kidding!

We talk about options and we still have 2 days of camping and I'm about as well off as I would be at home so we stick it out and go for a short 3 miles hike in the rain anyway. Scooby isn't himself ether. He isn't interested in eating and is sleeping a lot more. So by the time we finish our hike Scooby and I crash on the couch for a nap while Kristen grills up some lunch. It's about time to get to the next park that was suppose to be Jay Cook but with all the rain and illness we use the remainder of the day to 'beat antiques' to Banning State Park to check out the old rock quarry before heading the short distance home tomorrow.

The weather is still unstable but at least its not raining so we make the hike down to the old stone quarry. I could look at this stuff for hours if I wasn't so sick I wanted to find a hollow tree and take a nap.  

The next day Scooby gets an ultrasound, intravenous antibiotics, and a lot of blood tests to figure out what his liver is or isn't doing and why his numbers are off the charts. I on the other hand have a common case of food poisoning and a course of meds because some slob didn't wash his hands before returning to work so I'll give the replacement signs a try:

Wash your hands before returning to your dead end job!
Wash your hands before returning to work, if this isn't obvious please go home.
Wash your hands with soap REGARDLESS of what you're going to do.

On that I'll return with a primitive camp out, a failed 80 mile Oopita Doopita and a southern tour of Blue Mounds State Park to Sibley tour.