Campers – Is There a Bread Truck in Your Future?

Remember sleeping on the ground on camping trips? Me neither.

The truth is it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep lying on the ground. Unless you’re like my camping buddies who got so drunk they wouldn’t notice the rocks, ruts, and tree roots. Actually, getting drunk doesn’t mask the pain; it just postpones it. At least the aching bones and joints took their minds off their hangovers.

Remember sleeping on the ground on camping trips? Me neither.

Before I discovered the joys of self-inflating ground pads, I did my share of trying to sleep on the ground. I have “fond” memories of squirming around and contorting my body around the lumps and depressions in the ground. Even a tiny stick can feel like a log when you’re trying to settle in and sleep.

I bought my first Therm-a-Rest more than 30 years ago. Best 60 bucks I ever spent. That little mattress rocked (or de-rocked) my world. For the uninitiated, self-inflating ground pads are constructed to provide maximum padding with minimum thickness. Properly inflated, you won’t feel the rocks and roots, and you should be able to lie in your side without your hip bottoming out. They roll up tight and, if they get wet, dry very quickly.

There are other brands on the market. Some might be as good as or better than my Therm-A-Rest. I can’t say one way or another, because I’m still using the one I bought more than three decades ago.

I’ve patched it once and replaced the valve. All of that can be done pretty easily — even out in the field. (Although I wouldn’t attempt a valve replacement in sub-zero temperatures.) Patch kits are available and should be packed with your mat.

By the way, mats should be stored flat or on their sides with the valves open. Keep them in a dry environment and out of direct sunlight. It helps to scrub them occasionally with mild soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s) and rinse thoroughly.

I now own four Therm-A-Rests. I bought a second standard model (like my original) from a Goodwill store for $3. I found another — the larger Camp Rest model — discarded, apparently because it had a small leak. Seven years ago, I bought a lightweight model for canoe excursions to Algonquin Provincial Park, where we do a lot of portaging. 

The only downside to my Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Trekker is that it isn’t self-inflating. However, it is easily inflated by mouth, it’s much lighter than the standard model and better insulates against the cold. It also packs smaller.

The company boasted that it can be rolled up to the size of a loaf of bread. Actually, a lot of modern camping gear manufacturers are making the same claims about sleeping bags, tents and folding chairs. So I’ve decided that, in lieu of buying a camper, I’m going to see if I can’t find an old bread truck for sale.

Advertisements

More cooking advice from the Breakfast Bitch

omelet

Pouring eggs from the chili can. Note the pan of chili set close to the coals to keep it warm. (Photo courtesy of Kevin & Theresa Clark.)

Previously published in a series of outdoors columns in the Ashland Times-Gazette and Loudonville Times-Shopper.

We eat better on canoe trips than we do at home. Being a morning person, breakfast has always been my specialty — chili omelets in particular.

Making elaborate omelets over a campfire can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.

Here’s how I do it.

For the chili, I start from scratch — Scratch together a few bucks and buy a can of Amy’s organic black bean chili. Not to be confused with Amy’s organic spicy chili, which has the consistency of sawdust and play sand. In a pinch, I buy Tony Packo’s world famous chili with beans! (The exclamation point is Tony Packo’s idea. Personally, I never get that excited about beans.)

As I was saying, I generally start with Amy’s, then I make it my own. I add onions, peppers, sausage, and — if I’m really feeling ambitious — sliced portabella mushrooms.

It’s easier to pre-cook the sausage at home. I brown patties, cut them up into small chunks, then cook thoroughly. Wrap them in foil and, while you’re cutting up your peppers, onions and mushrooms, warm the sausage by putting it well above the fire on your tripod grill.

Lightly sauté the onions, peppers and mushrooms in olive oil. If you’re one of those people who prefers overcooked, flaccid onions and peppers, stop reading this immediately. You are not worthy of my culinary masterpieces. Vegetables should be sautéed to the point that they retain some crispness. By the same token, never overcook portabellas. Sauté them just enough so they’re slightly darkened and moist inside. If you’re one of those people who likes leathery mushrooms — reread the second sentence of this paragraph.

Once the prep work is done, open the can of chili, scoop it into a small pot and mix in the sausage, onions, peppers and mushrooms. Warm the pan over medium heat by adjusting your tripod grill.

Clean out the chili can; you’ll use that to scramble your eggs.

Next, wait for your campmates to wake up. I discourage them from sleeping in by threatening to urinate on their tents.

Once your campmates are stirring, crack a couple of eggs into the can, You could use a wisp to stir the eggs, but that would be just one more thing to wash. Or forget to pack. I just break off a green twig, preferably with a forked end, and use that to stir the eggs.

Remove the chili from the tripod grill and set it close to the coals to keep it warm. Rotate occasionally to distribute the heat evenly.

Lower the grill because you want a hot fire to cook your eggs. Once the skillet is hot enough, coat it lightly with butter. Pour in the eggs and cook till firm. Take the skillet off the grill, flip the egg and spoon chili on half of it.

Now you’re ready to cheese it. Cheddar, of course.

It’s easier to grate the cheese at home or buy pre-grated cheese.

Sprinkle the cheese over the chili, then fold the other half of the egg over it. Cover the skillet with a paper plate, raise the grill and warm it up just enough to melt the cheese.

There you have it. Next time, I’ll divulge my secrets for serving up tomato and basil omelets on canoe trips with fresh basil! (The exclamation point is mine, because fresh basil on camping trips is worth getting excited over.)

Pierogies Saved My Life

joecanoe

Dark clouds await us.

If you’re going to be miserable, you might as well be someplace you can enjoy it.

That’s been my motto ever since I took up canoe camping 38 years ago. On my very first canoe trip I was sick as a dog and it rained the entire weekend. I had the time of my life.

To truly enjoy the outdoors, you need to develop certain skill sets. More importantly, you need to develop the proper mindset. Case in point — a recent camping trip with my son, Irvin Oslin III, and my longtime canoeing buddy, Joe Hughes.

It didn’t rain the entire weekend. The rain stopped occasionally to catch its breath, long enough for us to sit around the fire and wait for the next shower. We caught a break Saturday when the sun came out almost long enough to get in a five-hour paddle.

Joe and I took a canoe trip while my son stayed behind at basecamp. We paddled from Grand River Canoe Livery to Tote Road Park in Ashtabula County. The autumn leaves aren’t very colorful this year, but they really stood out against the backdrop of slate gray sky on the horizon.

Less than half a mile from our takeout, Joe and I caught up to the dark clouds. We struggled to keep the canoe moving against the strong wind, driving rain and hail.

Meanwhile, back at camp, my son had gathered a small mountain of firewood. That’s where your skill sets come in; seasoned campers know that a big fire can withstand a pretty heavy downpour.

While Joe and I warmed up by the fire, my son whipped up a feast of comfort food — pirogies followed by kielbasa and sauerkraut. Joe and I were teetering on the brink of hyperthermia when my son served us a skillet full of steaming hot pirogies.

I’m thoroughly convinced that, if it hadn’t been for the pirogies, we would have died.

The wind and rain continued through the night with a bit of sleet and snow thrown in to make it more enjoyable. I got up at the crack of dawn, put the coffeepot on and prepared my version of comfort food — good old-fashioned breakfast glop.

Throughout the entire weekend I didn’t hear one complaint about the weather (or my cooking). If you’re going to maintain a proper mindset under adverse conditions, you should seek out kindred spirits — people who enjoy being miserable as much as you do.

iii.jpg

My son, Irvin Oslin III, lugs Joe’s tent to higher ground — and shelter under the dining fly. $15 tents aren’t very reliable in heavy rain.

Tangential Travel

Experiencing Algonquin through modified base camping

3squirrelencounter

Steve and Ken encounter a red squirrel on a hike around our Big Porcupine Lake island. Reminiscent of the killer rabbit scene from “The Holy Grail.”

While we were camped on Big Porcupine Lake late last month, Steve McKee explained how he arrived at the concept of modified base camping on Algonquin canoe trips.

Typically, with wilderness tripping, you go from lake to lake, camping one night then moving on. The same with river trips. There’s a lot of work involved in setting up and breaking camp, but the scenery is constantly changing. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed the sense of movement — the sense of progression — that you get from doing it that way.

Many years ago, a group of stubborn Boy Scouts inspired Steve to opt for the modified base camping approach. He told us the boys crapped out on their leaders in the middle of a trip, refusing to move on from their camp and enduring several more days of portaging and setting up and breaking camp.

Steve wasn’t happy about it and pressed on, leaving the Boy Scouts and other leaders to their squatters’ camp. However, he later turned the experience into a positive — adapting it to his own preferences. The result was a modified base camp approach, which allowed him to move at a slower pace, spend more time at each lake and take day trips to other lakes or hikes into the back country. This involves spending a few nights on each lake and taking the empty canoe out for excursions during the day, sometimes portaging to other lakes.

Steve’s an accomplished naturalist and this left him plenty of opportunities for botanizing. In fact, on every trip, he’s found at least one plant species he had not seen in the wild before.

I have to admit, I was skeptical about this approach at first. But, after six years of Algonquin trips with Steve and our friend Ken Arthur, I’ve come to see the value in it. There is much to be said for taking day trips from base camps and canoeing to some of the more isolated lakes.

This year was no exception. The highlights included Steve finding a few “life plants” on Ragged Lake and coming across a yellow birch three feet in diameter on an island where we camped on Big Porcupine Lake.

Now that I’m retired, I occasionally use the modified base camp approach on river trips. Especially when the weather is bad. There’s something to be said for hunkering down,  listening to the raindrops on the tent or tarp and watching the birds and other critters going about their business.

3cottongrass

Cotton grass, a “life plant” for me, but not for Steve. We came across it on one of our day excursions along Big Porcupine Lake.

 

3kencottongrass

Ken keeps an eye out for killer squirrels while Steve and I check out the cotton grass and other flora.

yellobirch

Ken and Steve check out a huge yellow birch. Estimated to be 250 years old, it somehow was spared when Algonquin was heavily logged.

botanizing

Botanizing on Ragged Lake. This is where Steve found a few “life plants.”  The species we spotted included glove clubmoss, lance-leaved violet and lady tresses orchid. And we snacked on a few cranberries.

 

Finding the ‘can’ in ‘Canada’

Algonquin 2018 – Part 3

cans

Pre-ringtab era cans — older than most of you.

On Big Porcupine Lake we found tin cans — for better or worse.

Cans are prohibited at Algonquin Provincial Park. As are bottles. Campers have a habit of not packing them out.

That includes a cluster of very old cans we found at one of the first campsites we scouted. We elected not to stay there because of its proximity to a portage trail head. That turned out better for us and a large group of Canadian Cadets (a sort-of ROTC). The site was better suited for a large camping party. There were only three in our group and two canoes.

We hooked up with them the next day while we were exploring and they were making the portage to Bonnechere Lake.

Among the cans was a peanut butter jar with a picture of an elephant wearing a silly cap molded into the glass. Ken collects bottles, so he scavenged it.

Ken would later make use of two tin cans we found at our campsite, which was on an island across from the first site we scouted.

A canoe trip isn’t a canoe trip unless you forget something. I forgot to bring a reliable vehicle; Ken forgot the “feet” for his camp chair. The feet were something I came up with to keep the legs of the chair from sinking into the mud or sand.

He improvised by putting the cans on the front legs of his chair.

Necessity proved to be the mother of invention. The afternoon of our second day on Porcupine Lake it started to rain and didn’t stop till the next morning.

To be continued.

3chairs

Steve’s chair on the right with the feet I designed. Ken’s cans on the left.

3kenandchair

Ken putting charred cans he found in the fire ring to good use.

 

 

Algonquin 2018 — Part 2

Isthmus Be the Place

firstmorn

Morning view from the east side of the isthmus.

On the second day of our trip, I awakened to see a foggy sunrise through a curtain of silhouetted pine trees. All was well with the world — and I hadn’t even had my morning coffee.

 

It turned out that sunsets and moon rises would be equally as wonderful. The campsite was on an isthmus with small sand beaches facing the east and west. The latter also had a resident eagle that spent much of the day perched in a dead tree across from the beach.

Not bad for a campsite we found in the dark. As reported in the previous post, the ol’ Canoebaru broke down en route to Canada and we had arrived at Algonquin Provincial Park four hours behind schedule. We considered ourselves lucky to have made it there at all, much less on the same day we left from north central Ohio.

Especially considering the confusion caused by my hearing impairment when we passed through customs. The border patrol agent asked where we were from. I thought he asked where we were going and told him “Algonquin.” From the look of confusion on his face, I might as well have said I was from Mars.

From then on, Ken and Steve acted as my interpreters in all confrontations with figures of authority.

As had been the case five years ago, we planned to camp on Ragged and Big Porcupine lakes. This time, we’d spend two nights on Ragged Lake, two nights on Big Porcupine and the final two on Ragged again.

And, as I mentioned five years ago, the portage from Ragged to Big Porcupine is challenging. To put it charitably. In the post from 2013, I described the portage as “a vertical climb of 400 feet covering a distance of 1.4 gonzometers (roughly one-third of a light year).”

I wasn’t far off. Actually, it’s only a 150-foot climb over a distance of 590 meters (about a third of a mile).

To be continued.

 

222igl

A bald eagle keeps watch over our isthmus campsite.

 

222cuntseyeview

There was a great collection of driftwood on our west beach.

 

222beachboyssunrise

Ken Arthur with his journal and Steve McKee enjoying the sunset.

 

222isthmussun3

Another sunrise from our isthmus campsite.

 

 

 

Algonquin 2018 — Return to Big Porcupine

Part One — Getting there is half the grief

dealership

We had to take the boats off the car so they could work on it. Thanks for the fast service, West Herr Subaru.

As my friend and canoeing buddy Ken Arthur said, “This is our first portage.”

Unfortunately, it was in Orchard Park, New York, less than halfway to Algonquin Provincial Park. What I originally thought were road vibrations on the New York Throughway were the front axles falling apart on the ol’ Canoebaru.

We got off the freeway, looked up the nearest Subaru Dealership and I limped the car into Orchard Park, outside of Buffalo.

Four hours (expedited service, thank you, thank you, thank you) and $730 later, we were back on the road.

We arrived at Smoke Lake, paddled 3.5 miles to Ragged Lake. We completed the short portage between Smoke and Ragged lakes, arriving just as it was getting dark. Unfortunately, most of the campsites on Ragged Lake were taken. We didn’t find one till well after dark.

By the time we set up camp, we were pretty spent. We ate what amounted to a shore lunch and turned in. Best night’s sleep I ever had. Awakened to a stunning view of the sunrise from my tent.

To be continued.

firstmorntent

This is what I saw when I first opened my eyes and looked out of my tent.