Friday, July 17, 2015

A Slightly Soggy Summer Camping Trip

Toward the end of my college career, a few of my friends and I had a “tradition” (only 2 summers running) of taking a camping trip over the summer.  A group of 5 of us would get together, borrow camping equipment from our parents’ basements, and set off for a Canadian destination for a few days of wilderness fun.  But the last camping trip was years ago, and we’ve gone our separate ways since then.  (This blog is actually old enough that you can read about the 2nd trip we took, in 2011, here, though.) 

This year, Liz and I and Cheeks decided to revive the tradition.  Liz's friend Nikki joined us, and for convenience’s sake, we opted to camp close to home this time, rather than making the 8 hour drive north to Canada.  Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, WI seemed suitable. 

So we arrived late on Sunday afternoon, set up our tent and campsite in a jiffy, and got to work preparing the customary “first night of camping dinner”: steak and potatoes over the grill. 

Wrangling the tent canopy

The evening was then spent around the fire, making s’mores, s’moreos, and melting caramels between Ritz crackers while we chatted and laughed about all manner of topics.

The next morning, no one felt the need to fire up the camp stove for a big breakfast, so we took off and went hiking.  We explored a trail that led us up along the edges of a bluff overlooking Devil’s Lake.  We searched for Balanced Rock, and despite some misleading signs eventually found it.

Balanced Rock is up this tree?!

Oh, there it is.

Our last stop of the hike was Devil’s Doorway.  We arrived, took a few great pictures (after we each shimmied up into the doorway).

Devil's Doorway
photos by Nikki F.

And as we turned back to hike out again, the skies opened up and doused us in a downpour of rain.  We couldn’t get our ponchos out quickly enough; we ended up drenched, and it was a soggy walk back to the car. 

Back at the campsite, we assessed the damage.  We’d expected rain that day, but not so early in the morning, so we hadn’t bothered to rainproof our campsite before leaving.  The tent window had been left open, and one pillow inside was soaked.  Our firewood had been drenched, but other than that, nothing had been ruined by the rain. 

Lunch (chili!) under the canopy to stay dry

We decided to dry out our wet wood by building a little fire and putting the wood on the grate above our fire pit.  We also strung up a line to dry out the rain ponchos and our socks.  The rain held off for most of the rest of the day, and we ended up spending the majority of Monday sitting at our campsite, feeding our small fire damp wood and coaxing it to flame.  We had gotten our hike in in the morning, and I was really quite content to spend the day in that way. 

Tea party as we dried out our wood, and our shoes, and our
socks around the fire.  

We did make a trip to the camp store and purchase dry wood for dinner, and we got the fire roaring for the evening. 

The rain returned around 8:30pm, driving us into the tent for the night.  We slept early, lulled to sleep by the sound of the rain on our roof.  The next morning, we awoke to sunshine.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast cooked over a merry little fire.  (Our love of fire is becoming apparent by this point, isn’t it?)  When we were fed and happy, we set off for a hike in Parfrey’s Glen, which promised us a narrow gorge and a waterfall at the end.

The hike didn’t disappoint, and we found lots of great opportunities to stop and snap photos.  (Thanks to Nikki for having a great camera and taking lots of pictures!)

Parfrey's Glen
photo courtesy of Nikki F.

One of my favorites.  Pride Rock and Simba, anyone?  

When we got back, we had time for one more fire (for lunch), and then it was time to pack up and head back home.  Our camping trip was short but sweet, and it left me wanting to spend more time out in the woods!  Even with a rainy day, we had an amazing time.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better! 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

To the North Shore

It has been a long time since my family took a family vacation that didn’t involve visiting me in the new exotic location in which I was living or had previously lived.  In fact, I believe the last time we took a trip together was in the summer of 2009.

So, when earlier this year I announced to my mom that I was postponing serious summer travel plans in favor of spending a full 6 weeks at home and she brought up the idea of a short family road trip, I agreed enthusiastically, but on one condition: I didn’t want to be in charge of planning anything. 

So Mom went to work requesting for time off of work, and we decided we’d spend four days driving up to the North Shore of Minnesota (along the “north shore” of Lake Superior, for those not familiar with the term). 
The only hitch in the plan was that the days Mom was able to get vacation were the exact same days that my sister would be attending a conference and unable to go.  So much for having a full family trip.  But since Mom had the time off, it was easily decided that the three of us (her, my dad, and myself) would still embark on the trip. 

I held fast to my desire to not plan anything, but in a way, so did my parents.   The day came to leave, and we hit the road with no hotel reservations, no clear set notions of what we would do on the trip or even how far we would get each night.  

I am someone who claims to love spontaneity (and I do love it), but who also feels the need to plan each aspect of my travel and leave nothing to chance.  It was therefore invigorating (and, okay, yes, just a little bit nerve wracking) to depart on the trip with no plans.  One thing that put me at ease was the fact that all three of us have been to the North Shore multiple times.  We knew where we were going and had an idea of the available attractions we would find there. 

The trip ended up being great.  It was relaxing, refreshing, and beautiful.  The North Shore is full of breathtaking vistas of the lake and the rivers (and waterfalls) that flow into the lake, as well as cute tourist stops and history.  We did several short hikes to see waterfalls throughout our four days. 

Amnicon Falls, WI

Gooseberry Falls 

Leaving the trail to explore some rocks along the river.

International Falls, on the border with Canada

We also stopped at the Grand Portage National Monument, once a buzzing fur trading post, for a tour of the reconstructed site (all of the original buildings were destroyed around 1802 when the British trading company had to move north into Canada since the US had become an independent country and no longer really a fan of Brits).

The parents indulged me by making a stop in Lutsen to ride the Alpine Slide.  Dad had done it before many years ago and said he had no desire to go again, so I convinced Mom to come with me so that I wouldn’t have to go alone.  It was a fun excursion; we rode the chairlift to the top of the ski hill, then took our sled for the half mile slope down, controlling the speed as we went.  (I would love to ride again and see how much faster I could push it; I edged on the side of caution my first time). 

Top of the slide.  Ready set go! 

Mom coming down the slide

Passing back through Duluth on our way home, we toured the Glensheen Mansion.  The home and grounds were beautiful, but my favorite part was hearing the history of the home.  The tour was much more than just, “this lamp is from Italy, and this marble cost millions.”  In each room, we were told a little about whose room it was or how the family would have spent time in the space.  I love stories, so the tour was just right. 

Parents perusing the vegetable gardens

The library--one of my favorite rooms of the house

The back side of the mansion

Our family trip involved lots of quiet time, relaxation, and great views.  But we also had a few good laughs and made lasting memories.  Even missing one family member, it was a worthwhile and enjoyable trip.  And Liz was able to join in on other mini-trips throughout the summer, to be shared in subsequent posts…