Finally an update from the road!
Trip Start May 28, 2007
7Trip End Sep 10, 2007
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Even though it's only day fifteen of our trip, it's been so relaxing that it feels like a month at least. After some struggling at the beginning, we finally have the whole camp set-up/breakdown routine down, and we can be out of our campsite in about 45 minutes (compared to 90 minutes the first day!). I remember camping trips as a kid when our Dad would turn super-agro during the set-up of a campsite - he was basically doing everything himself, and wanted everything done right so it was hard to help even when I wanted to. Now, trying to set up camp with Bob when he didn't know what I wanted, I found myself getting all super-agro, just like my Dad did. Turns out we just needed a few practice runs, and within a week we were setting things up without even needing to speak to each other - it's a great feeling to have everything go smoothly right from when we step out of the car until all the gear is unpacked and set up.
Our daily routine has worked itself out, too - on travel days, we get up around 8:00, have breakfast and coffee, break down and pack the gear, and we're on the road by 9:30, 10:00. I try to keep the driving to under 4-5 hours (which is why we're only in Wisconsin after 2 weeks) and when we arrive we unpack and set-up the site. On non-travel days, we get up and get going by 10:00 and find a nice hiking trail or scenic spot, then enjoy the afternoon and return tom camp for a few hours of relaxing. We have dinner in the late evening and then a nice roaring campfire until about 11:00. Then it's bedtime and we start the whole routine again in the morning...
So what have we been doing for the last two weeks? Here are some highlights:
- We began at High Point State Park in NJ at a pretty little campground on the Sawmill Lake. We were really spoiled by this first campsite - right on the lakeside, no neighbors, and a huge pile of wood that some previous camper had left behind.We had a huge roaring fire every night, and nothing but nature to see or listen to each day.
As we were leaving the park on our last day, we came across three girls along the roadside carrying big hiker-style backpacks. I stopped to see if they were okay, and turns out one of them had a busted ankle and they were trying to make their way to the park office - about 2 miles uphill from that point. Because we had over-packed from the start, there wasn't a square inch of extra space in the car, so I apologized for not being able to help and drove on.
About a minute after I pulled away, I got an idea - I turned the car around and told Bob he was going to have to get out - we could take the girls one at a time up to the office - about a 10 minute round-trip drive - and be done within a half-hour. When they heard this news the girls were obviously relieved. They took turns cramming themselves and their huge packs in to the front seat of the car, and I learned that they were MIT students - two English girls on student exchange and a Californian - who had decided to spend the beginning of their summer break to hike a bit of the Appalachian Trail, which passes through High Point S.P. They were just a few days into their trip when one of them twisted her ankle pretty badly, and they had been struggling all morning to get to the park office and get some help.
After the ferrying was all done, I commented to Bob that we had just stockpiled at least two weeks of good Karma with that Good Deed of the Day!
- After High Point we headed west into Pennsylvania.Our ultimate goal in PA was the Allegheny National Forest in the western half of the state, and I decided to take the interstate for the short, probably uninteresting drive from NJ to Scranton. After Scranton we got onto Route 2, a beautiful country drive of a few hundred miles. We spent an uneventful night in Hill's Creek S.P., a bland little place in the middle farm country out in the boonies. On the way to Allegheny, we checked out the "Grand Canyon of PA" - a.k.a. the Pine Creek Gorge. Bob seemed impressed with the gorge, but after having seen the real Grand Canyon, other gorges have never impressed me much, this one included!
When we finally arrived at the N.F. we made our way to the campground and spent a nice few days checking out the park. Right after we got ourselves set up and went in search of some sites, a nasty wind blew in and we knew it was about to rain. We hurried back to the campsite and I dug out the oversized tarp and the ropes I had brought, just in case. I put on my engineer's hat and quickly devised a makeshift shelter by tying the ropes to the corners of the tarp and then tying them off to the surrounding trees. We sat out the rain, and the whole time I was redesigning our impromptu shelter.
By the time the weather cleared I had a whole new plan in place - we would actually be able to sit under the tarp and enjoy a fire during the rain! The setup was a thing of beauty, and it seemed a shame to take it down when we eventually left...
- Next stop was Chicago,and this time we went for the biggest drive so far - about 10 hours of interstate driving, passing right through Ohio & Indiana on the way. On the map there isn't much to see or do in either state, so we trudged straight on thru to IL. Right outside the city we made hotel reservations - we stayed in Elgin, about an hour from downtown, and paid a little more than I wanted to (about 2 weeks worth of campground fees!) for the two nights we were in town, but it the only real alternative after a ten hour drive.
Chicago had a strange impression on me - I'd rank it high among the cities I've visited around the world, but I can't really say why. It has a "neighborhoody" feel that I liked, and there's a lot of civic pride on display, but these are things that I've seen in every city. The food was good - we had to try the pizza, so we went to a place recommended by the visitor's center's "culinary guide" - it was called Pizano's, and Oprah says they have the best thin-crust pizza in the city. We got both a thin-crust and deep-dish pie to try them both. The deep-dish was amazingly tasty, but as for the thin-crust,I suggested to Bob that Oprah should try out Angelo's in Matawan if she thinks this stuff is good!
We also checked out the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the nicer museums I've been to. They have a great Impressionist collection (my favorite kind of paintings), so that may have skewed my opinion a little, but I still can't say what it was that impressed my about Chicago.It may even be worth another visit some day...
- After Chicago we headed still west for Wisconsin. The state has a great park system, and a handy guide book from the visitor's center got us to Nelson Dewey S.P. right outside of Dubuque, IA. We arrived in the middle of the week, so the place was nearly deserted. we had another few days of hiking and relaxing, then moved on to Mirror Lake S.P. for our first weekend of camping - the previous weekend had been spent in Chicago, so we had yet to experience the potential unpleasantness of weekend camping, when all the families with little kids and rowdy teens take over campgrounds all over the country!
Luckily, Midwesterners are less rambunctious than their northeastern cousins, and the weekend wasn't too horrible. Yes there were screaming kids and loud people late into the night, but they were far enough away that we could ignore them, or at least tolerate them until bed time.
We had our first wildlife encounter at Mirror Lake - we arrived on a Thursday and the reservation system placed us right next to the only other campers - a group of three screechy, foul-mouthed girls. Just after dark, a torrent of screams and curses came across the small bit of forest that separated us - a raccoon was invading their site and they were freaking out! This carried on well into the night, with the girls yelling at cursing at the raccoon to leave them alone. At one point it (naturally) wandered over to our site, which was cleared of all food and trash just for this reason. I shined the flashlight at its face and banged a stick against the picnic table and it left - it didn't return for a few hours, until after we were in the tent, and then I chased it off with a flashlight beam and a load "Hey!" - no need for a tirade like the ones our neighbors had unleashed, which apparently never worked, because they spent the whole night yelling at the thing with no results!
- Today we are in the Nicolet National Forest at the Laura Lake campground, a pretty one right on the lake shore. The park has a surprising number of people for a weekday, but they were so quiet last night we didn't even notice them. Tonight's our last night there, then on to northwestern WI and our last stop before Minnesota. The rest of the day will probably consist of a scenic drive and then a hike around the lake before dinner and a nice campfire...
So that's all for now - who knows how long before we find another small town library with free wireless internet, so the next update may take a while...