Camping Up Nort'

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Starett Lake Campground

Flag of United States  , Wisconsin
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whenever we asked one another what we wanted to do while we were home for the summer, the main thing we would come up with was camping.  There really wasn't any camping to be done in Vietnam, and it was something we'd always really enjoyed before we moved, so it was definitely a priority for us.  On Tuesday morning, we dug all our old gear out, put the bikes in the truck, packed up our food, and hopped in the truck, heading north towards Minocqua.  

Driving, in itself, was really fun for us too.  We hadn't had an opportunity to drive a car since leaving Madison, so we enjoyed every opportunity we had to get behind the wheel.  As such, the five or six hour drive to Minocqua was a lot of fun -- a classic road trip, full of good tunes and sunshine.  

The area just outside of Minocqua is a state park and is full of loads of different state campgrounds.  Konrad had grown up camping at Crystal Lake, a campground set on the banks of a really, really cold(!) lake that is known for being a family camping area -- which was perfect when his family visited during his youth.  We were hoping for something with a few less kids, so decided to head to Starett Lake, a campground just a little further north, and also a bit smaller.  Starett had some great walk-in campsites that were right on the lake.  We'd been fortunate to snag one or two of these sites before and, as Konrad put it, it was like being in the middle of a beer commercial: you couldn't see or hear anyone else, and your view was just of the lake and the trees and the loons -- perfect!  We were hoping to grab one of these spots this time around.  We didn't get the top spot (the ultimate beer commercial), but we did get one of the walk-ins that had its own private view of the lake.  

It was late afternoon when we finally arrived, but it was still the middle of summer in Wisconsin, which meant the sun wouldn't be setting for many hours yet (gotta love daylight savings!), so we had plenty of time to set up camp.  I used to hate the set up bit of camping, but somewhere along the way, whether due to the nostalgia or missing it I'm not sure, I grew to enjoy it.  Picking the perfect spot to put the tent, making sure the tent faced a certain way, getting the extra gear set up around the picnic table, foraging for firewood... all of it -- I loved it!

While all of those little activities are fun, perhaps the absolute best part of camping is the campfire (really, who's going to disagree?).  After getting everything set up, we settled down to get the fire started.  We'd brought along this "enviromatch" thing, which was a magnesium and flint tool that was supposed to be the equivalent of a trillion matches or something.  It may have been, but it certainly wasn't as easy to use as matches.  I think it took about a gazillion strikes to actually get a spark, and in the end we probably had to fall back on the power of the mighty lighter to get the fire started.  Either way, it was amusing and the end result was the same: we had fire!  We settled down for the night, enjoying the great camping pastimes of drinking beer and grilling (veggie)brats (yum!).  

One of the great things about camping around Minocqua is that, probably due to the number of campgrounds in the area, there is a great network of bike trails linking one campground to another.  That means there is loads of great biking to do, something we decided to take advantage of on our second day of camping.  We zoomed around the different lakes in the area, finally stopping at Crystal Lake to relax and soak up some sun.  Like I said, the water there is very cold.  It's a deep lake, but I think I've also heard that it's spring-fed, and the combination of the two makes it a very chilly summer dip.  Konrad used to swim across the lake when he was a kid -- something that probably takes at least an hour; I can barely make it five minutes without my toes going numb.  Either way, I was reluctant to jump in on Wednesday afternoon, and spent most of my time burying my toes in the sand.  

That evening was one of perfection: the weather couldn't have been better, the water was amazingly calm and placid, the food (courtesy of moi, of course) was excelente, and the company was pretty darn good too.  All in all, camping had been as good as, if not better, than we'd hoped.  

We got up early the next morning to drive further north to the city of Bayfield, located on the shores of Lake Superior.  We'd camped in Bayfield before and love the area, which is a popular tourist spot in northern Wisconsin.  After hanging out a bit in town and trying to find info on good bike trails, we headed further north to the Red Cliffs.  This was a great spot for canoeing and kayaking, as well as hiking.  We hadn't found any useful info on biking, so we decided to hike along the trails at Red Cliffs, trails we'd explored before.  Once in the forest, it was much warmer, and we made good time, returning to the trailhead with plenty of time to take a dip in the freezing waters of Lake Superior (whether in July or January, those waters are still far too cold to swim in!).  We'd been brave enough to try it once before, in early September, but the sun had been more intense that day so that helped with the chill factor a bit.  On this July day, the sun had waned a bit and wouldn't be providing us with that extra bit of help, so I declined the Superior Splash this time around.  After having a little picnic, we hopped back in the truck and began the drive back to our campsite.  

One of the drawbacks of returning at the time we did was the gas prices.  They were SO high!  We paid $4.59 outside of Madison, and $4.09-$4.19 in Madison.  And that truck guzzled gas, which meant that we were spending loads on gas -- the price we pay for camping, I suppose!  Despite the fact that stopping at gas stations meant dropping a lot of cash, I still loved it because we don't have gas stations like that in Vietnam; in Vietnam, they're just fill and go, no food, drinks, or trinkets.  But back in the US, there's always something to buy when you stop, whether it be an icy A&W (yum!), an English language newspaper (hurrah!), or a bag of Reese's Pieces (mmmmm).  We stopped at one such store on our way back to camp and grabbed a few goodies, along with some Mike's Cranberry (double yum), then continued to camp where we had another great night around the fire.  

Unfortunately, that night brought massive storms.  So big that I considered going to the car to sleep because I thought it might be a bit safer, due to the tremendous thunder claps and giant lightning strikes lighting up the skies.  In the end, the prospect of getting drenched on the way to the car deterred me, and we stayed huddled up in our tent, waiting for the storm to pass.  It was still raining in the morning, so rather than hang out in our ponchos, we headed into Minocqua to do a little browsing and grab some grub.  The skies were still pretty dark, and we wanted to get back for Kara's birthday party the next day, so I voted to pack it up and head home rather than spend another night in the rain.  As we drove back to the campsite, the skies cleared up, making us second guess ourselves -- should we stay for another night?  In the end, we packed everything up and made the drive back to Madison, stopping along the way at our favorite spot in Steven's Point (Hillside Grill) for their delicious black bean burgers.  I woke up pretty much as we pulled into the driveway around 1am, looking forward to sleeping in my own bed with dry sheets and pillows.  And with that, the great camping trip of 2008 came to an end.
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