Sunday, February 14, 2016

BWCA Late Season

October 1st is the best time of the year. It marks free range in the BWCA. You still have to fill out a permit, but its at the entry point and there are no fees this time of year. It essentially means that you have a month to look at the weather, and pick a stretch that looks like nice weather and then head up.
It also means that there are no bugs and not many people.
The downside, its pretty chilly, the fishing is marginal, and you have to portage in knee boots.

The Stampers, the Johnsons, and the Brohaughs and a pack of 6 man-children set up base camp not too far past Lake 1 in Ely. And for 3 days, did nothing but cut wood, cook, eat, and make merry.
This is that story in images:

"Blue Steel, Griffin, Blue Steel"

Griffin is stoked on the camp vibes
Since it was pretty chilly we spent a lot of time around the stove and feeding the fire.

Butch in his element

I also have admit that the bushcraft of Paul Brohaugh blew me away. That dude camps on a whole other level. I felt like a tenderfoot several times. If nothing else, he showed me the magic of cornmeal in pancake batter. 

We had a south facing site so we caught some warm afternoon rays and we sheltered from the wind. Not quite "guns out" weather but morale stayed high despite some snow at night.

They get it from their mothers

I don't even know what to say.

One must have a minstrel with a repertoire of several chords 

Never disturb the wildlife when feeding.

A few observations about gear and camping with the progeny:
  • Get a big Boat. We rented a 3 person boat from Ely Outfitters (Thanks to Kristen and Corey Larsen, We guided together back in the early 2000's, and now they live in Ely year round). We put all the gear, two boys and a dog in it snuggly.
  • Make sure that there is plenty of food stuffs for grazing. Carb'ed man-children are happy man-children 
  • Bring several saws and axes. When its cold, you will spend much time gathering firewood, and we probably would have fished a lot more if we had cut our firewood gathering time in half. 
  • Have a large tarp that you can rig into a covered kitchen should the weather become inclement.
  •  Don't be afraid to let the man-children maraud freely. We were on an island so there was not too much trouble they could get into. We kept the smallest in a pfd any time he was near water.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chequamegon Deadhorse

This was a route that Patrick Ross cooked up that I think deserves to be acknowledged. Patrick is another one of the wonderful people that I have gotten to know through Gravel Conspiracy, and I think of him as a good friend. Its a gem of a 2 day bikepacking route that starts and ends at the OO trailhead just east of Seeley, WI and is a tour of gravel and ATV trails in the Chequamegon National Forest on the last weekend before the trails open to ATVs in the spring. Patrick has the event on FB so if you search for it there you will find it. Its definitely worth it.
I drove up to OO trailhead after work and slept in the back of my car. The next morning I saw Dallas Wynne and we had breakfast
I even brought my own country ham

All saddled up and ready to roll (Lto R: Dallas Wynne, Joshua Stamper, Keith Kowalsky, Patrick Ross) 

Golf course in the middle of  no where. Only John Waller will grasp the significance of why I stopped here, and what I intended to do

It was pretty cool to be able to see the CNF without it being either a tunnel of green or a sheet of ice. Photo cred: Patrick
We stopped in Clam lake at about the 40 mile point to lay in some more supplies, and to have lunch (ie pilfer salt and pepper for dinner), then we boosted.  And by supplies, I mean that I bought a 14 oz boneless ribeye, a tallboy of Bud, and a pound of twizzlers. 
Where I discovered that all my chainring bolts were loose.
Last 40 miles for the day ticked of easily. Then it was time for a Chippewa  river swim to freshen up, and prepare dinner

Main course that night. D-Dub lounges like a lion on the savannah. 
In a bivy, down by the river!

Don't call me, I will call you.
 The next morning we rolled about 10 miles to head into Winter for some vittles.
WE got to Wendy and Joes before they opened so I changed a slow leak. 
D-Dub revelling in the glory of the day.
 Then the day got a little more interesting. we navigated some blowdown and forded the creek. I would later create a strava section through here called "cackles maniacally"
Dallas is pumped

Cold therapy

Gratuitous WI logging shot

I totally could have done this trip without the backpack.
 I heartily encourage you to checkout this route. Like fine wine, its best shared with friends.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Yurts at Afton State Park or "Lets shiver in a rustic manner"

So this past week Butch mentioned that he had reserved one of the yurts at Afton State Park, which is located about 15 miles from our house in eastern Minnesota. This caught my attention because I have been looking for some activities to do with the boys during the winter. I was unable to find any useful information about the yurts on the DNR website other than:
  • They were available to use in the winter for $55/night
  • The yurt sleeps 7 and is heated by a woodstove
  • Firewood was supplied
  • You can't cook inside the yurt
Then Sunday morning Butch texts me that it is too cold to take the kids, and that he was cancelling his reservation. So, I just had to go investigate further, to see if these yurts were deep winter habitable by normal people.
I stayed in Gray Fox

Fire that puppy up

Temp inside when I started the fire

Temp outside when I started the fire

The power of positive thinking decreases in a linear fashion as you move away from the equator.
 When I got to the Yurt at about 3pm, the temp inside was about 14F. I immediately started a raging fire in the woodstove, and then went for a hike down along the St. Croix. I got back around 6pm, and the yurt had only warmed up to about 25F. Once I switched out my boots for down booties I was pretty comfortable. I was wearing a mid wt Capilene base layer under wranglers, a wool shirt and an insulated vest.
Took a hike while the yurt warmed....or tried to warm.

I had Cake lyrics stuck in my head

The day before I made a Cassoulet, and I heated (outside!) it up over a double boiler using a Vargo alcohol stove.

Nighttime falls on the hall of the dirtbag king

Before I went to bed I managed to get the yurt up to about 35 degrees F
 The Yurt was well apportioned. 2 sets of twin bunk beds, and another full futon bunk bed let these yurts sleep 7, but it would get pretty tight. All the furniture had that rough cut, northwoods style to it. The mattresses were comfortable, and while its was really cold, I slept very well in a -20F down bag. I did get up once in the middle of the night to pee and stoke the fire. (Pro tip: never go winter camping without a pee bottle)
While I worked pretty steady to keep the fire stoked, I was never able to get the temp in the yurt above 35F. Maybe if I was going to be here multiple  days in milder weather I could get the temp up into the comfort range, but it seemed a struggle when it was this cold and I was the only person there. 
I should also point out that the woodstove is about half the size of anything that I have ever seen or used. It was cute, but failed to heat the space. I was sort of surprised to see that they insulated the flue pipe almost as soon as it exited the stove, which usually is a significant source of heat exchange with wood stoves. I imagine that this has something to do with safety, but I was too cold to really care. 
This morning the temp in the yurt was about 10 F. Note the frozen water jug. I had to sleep with my camera batteries, and my work laptop was not happy when I started working on irrigation BMPs 

Which was slightly better than the temp outside.
 After I heated water and got the fire going again, I went for a hike on the St Croix
looks like there was some high water at some point this winter.

Hog drops

St. Croix heading north
Final thoughts: These yurts are a really cool, slightly more rustic, way to enjoy Afton State Park. My main goal was to ascertain at what level would kids (and parents) be comfortable staying in these structures during the depths of winter in Minnesota. Given the fact that I was only able to bring temps in the yurt about 40 degrees above outside temp, I would say that the outside temperature "comfort limit" is about 20F. If we could get the temp inside up to about 60 F I would totally take the boys here.
That being said, if you are well prepared and want a bit of adventure, these yurts are a ton of fun  when the mercury falls below zero. Here are a few tips:

  • Down booties or some other warm footwear. The yurts have no subfloor insulation. 
  • Liner gloves and mittens 
  • Bring a foam pad to kneel on while you stoke the fire. The wood that DNR provides is so dry and the firebox is so small you will be spending a lot of time down in front of it. 
  • Pee bottle: its a 80 yard walk to the vault toilet 
  • Have winter rated sleeping bag
  • Make sure everyone has a head lamp, since there is no power or lights in the yurts. Gas lanterns are not allowed.
  • You have to cook outside so focus on meals that just require boiling water and don't require you to stand out there tending it. Bring thermoses or some way to store hot water.
  • You are gonna need a cooler to keep things from freezing.
  • Bring your classic skis. the yurts are ski in and ski out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Southeastern Promises

I dumped the book of faces. It wan't me, it was them. I just got tired of reading crap, and it gave me pause to reflect that maybe I should revisit this type of long form storytelling.
We pretty much started shooting as soon as we got to the Mason-Dixon line, then we got down to splitting wood

This is always a highlight of going back to the old homeplace.  My dad builds the kind of fireplaces that Hunter S. Thomson would appreciate

New nephew looking all pie-eyed

I got to go ride bikes at Dark Mountain with two of my high school teachers that also coached in wrestling and baseball me over the years. This brought me great pleasure.

I also cached some beer on a separate hiking trip with my eyes to the future. Plotting~Planning

A glorious sunset over Whitetop Mountain after dropping the loot
 After a few days with my folks in NC, we packed it up and headed over to Johnson City. Brad Reed had some vacation time racked up, and so we took 3 days to do a bikepacking tour of the Virginia Creeper Trail, Mt Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park.
No. *checks* Heck no. 

Brad Reed even picked me up a Cajun Filet Biscuit on the way to the Creeper Trail.  This is Happiness
Creeper beta
We took the Creeper from Abingdon all the way up to Creek Junction, and then zigzaged up through Beartree to stay at a shelter on the Iron Mountain Trail.
The last time I would see the #adventurecrocs
 I lost my Crocs coming down Straight Mountain. This made me pretty sad. I don't expect you to understand.
We stayed the night at the Straight Branch Shelter, and boosted in the AM.
The 2nd big climb of the morning.

Not only is this choad littering on top of a mountain, he is failing personal finance. Pro-tip if you don't want your crappy grades to end up on the interwebs, don't let me catch you littering

Screamed down the IMT > 603 at Grindstone > and coasted into Fairview. Then started the climb up to scales 

I would eventually get sick of waterfalls.

Grayson Highlands is usually socked in like this. Brad Reed was quite the Bad Goat about things.

Yes I saw the ponies, but only after I left my Wingnut pack at scales and had to ride 7 miles in the pouring rain to retrieve it.

 Upon returning from my ill fated detour, I retrieved the goodies that I had previously cached.
No. I am not the least bit sorry or repentant. 
 Those kids that used to make bathroom graphitti? Turns out, they got into backpacking.
Also, those of you that know this area may recognize that we are at the AT Wise shelter. Before you get your Patagonia in a wad, we never had our bikes on the AT. We dumped them on the Wilson Creek Trail and carried our luggage to the shelter.

Go Everywhere. Study Everything. Fear  Nothing  the vegan gas cloud. 

This thing bucked me off in a glorious fashion.

After the rain stopped, it was awesome!

This valley is where all of my people came from 3 generations ago
 The last day, we rolled out of Grayson Highlands SP (clearly breaking the speed limit), and then screamed down Hwy 58 towards Whitetop. Once we got to WhiteTop store, we laid in some provisions, and then cruised over to Whitetop station, which is the high point for the VA Creeper Trail. From there it was 16 miles of downhill back to Damascus.
It spoke to me.

Best Rail-Trail evar?

"Don't shoot! We are Bad Goats"
The area between Damascus and Abingdon is defined by Karst topography, so you have no idea where a sink hole is going to open up into a cave. 
 Words cannot describe how awesome that tour was. Marrying her Al-ness 10 years ago was pretty much the pinnacle of my life, but getting to hang with the best brother-in-law ever really take it to 11 for me. Thanks Brad!
Johnson City Got a brand new Rail Trail that connects JC to Elizabethton. Its sweet, but has the steepest grade I have ever seen.

I am just going to let you use your imaginations

Laid in the last of the provisions before heading north again.

I miss the old country for what it represents in my mind, but I found myself thinking about the North Shore and Minnesota more than I wanted to tell people about. I guess I can never go home.