(Notice my vintage 40's coffee pot? A thrifting steal at $1.00!)
Hello All! I'm back from the wild and in great spirits, though I'm still a little wet (It rained every day). I'm going to have to warn you that this is a heavy photo and long post...sorry to those who have dial-up.
First, I have to say that I did end up taking a rolling suitcase in addition to my overstuffed backpack and cooler (Kelly, if you're reading this, it's the same suitcase I loaned to you when you went to work in India for six months.) I figured even if other campers thought me a rube, my stuff would be easier to haul in if it was on wheels.
I decided a few months ago to go to Rock Island because it's a fairly remote and safe state park. I wanted to avoid hunters and anything that resembled convenience camping (showers, a camp store and parking for example) not to mention other campers...I like isolation!
Getting to Rock Island is a bit of a haul. I drove two hours to the tip of the Door County Peninsula and got on a ferry with my car. When I arrived on Washington Island, I drove eight miles to the next ferry dock, parked my car and got my gear out. The ferry to Rock Island is car-less (no bikes are allowed on Rock Island either).
At this point I had to swallow my pride to muster up the nerve to carry (and roll) my gear to the end of the dock. There was a man alone, a mid-twenties couple and a couple of early-twenties guys already around the dock waiting...They all had backpacking gear and duffel bags. No one was paying much attention to me, but I did see a few glances towards my suitcase. The man helped move my backpack to a better place and when I returned from parking my car, I overheard a couple of older guys fishing on the dock comment that the wind was strong and that the gear might blow into the water if not moved. The man who had helped me responded, "Trust me, I picked up one of those bags and they're not going anywhere." Agahaahahaahahaa!!!
The ferry arrived and we all got aboard and off to Rock Island we went. We arrived at a beautiful old stone boathouse and everyone was helpful as the gear was hauled off the ferry and we headed to our sites.
I knew that I'd have to make more than one trip, but I did
take a little satisfaction in hearing the two younger guys struggle
under the weight of their packs. I know it isn't nice, but it made me
feel a little better about my own packing.
My site turned out to be less than a mile in. This is where I pitched my tent:
This is from a distance. See my little red home in the woods towards the bottom?
I got situated and my tent went up easy-peasy with no hassles. The die-hards would scoff at my referring to this trip as a primitive camping trip since there are a few outhouses on the island, but let me tell you...a wooden box sitting atop a pit with a toilet seat may not be a cat hole, but it's fairly primitive to me. There's a single drinking water spigot located near the boathouse, but no showers or electricity anywhere.
My site had a fire ring and I set off to get some wood which meant walking back to the boathouse area to get a rick to haul home. I met the young couple and the man alone by the wood shed and noticed right away that the couple had a strap. Oh. You mean most people pack little conveniences like straps for hauling wood instead of the most worn (and wet) of their three pairs of cherry shoes and their miniature lawn ornaments? Hmph! Some people just don't know how to live!
Anyhoo, the man also noticed the strap and we exchanged glances indicating that we both wished we'd been a little smarter. However, let me jump ahead to say I found out later that the strap idea was a bust because the next time the couple showed up with tarp to drag their wood back, which I also learned turned out to be a bust too. So, hauling wood in my strained arms and working up a bit of a sweat was really the best method. Though next time I'll bring my mom's canvas tote for wood hauling purposes.
Paul, the campground host, said a single rick should do you for a night unless you wanted to stay up solving world problems. The man and I decided to split a rick, but the couple got a full one. The next night they asked for two and I made the wildly hilarious comment that they must have a lot of world problem solving to do, which no one seemed to think was as funny as I did. Though, the girl did say they had packed too much food and had a lot to cook up. I got a full rick that night because the wood was so dry it burned very quickly.
I need to tell you a little about Paul, he's an interesting and fairly witty guy who has a positive outlook on most things. The first day the sky was overcast and even though it looked like rain he assured us that the rain almost always dissipates before it hits the island. Let me just say that it rained all three nights I was out there and I only saw the sun once...on the ferry ride home. My second night we had 40 mile per hour winds (gale force!). Branches were coming down everywhere and even a few trees. I think the couple had enough because they left a day early, but when I saw the man (more about him later) on a trail early the next morning I laughed and said "It always dissipates before it hits the island huh?" to which he dryly responded, "Yeah, I was in my tent last night thinking that this dissipation has been going on for hours." Agahahaahaha!
Anyway, Paul camps all summer on the island. He works in a factory in Green Bay and they give him the summers off. He said his bosses at the factory know that no college kid who takes his place for four months cares about the job as much as he does, so they've been willing to work with him so he can spend summers greeting campers and making everyone feel welcome.
Apparently, many people decide to camp without doing their research and and are shocked there's no water near the sites or a place to buy anything. People often under-pack fuel and some show up with nothing to fill with water from the spigot to hike back to camp. Paul takes donations of leftover food and fuel to offer to people who show up grossly unprepared. I made a joke about not ever wanting to be in the same situation even it meant bringing a roll-on suitcase!! He told me not to feel bad because I should "see some of the stuff" people use to haul their gear in.
When I took this photo I ordered him to step away from the woodshed because I wanted it to look more natural and I told him I was going to take an extra one for safety to which he responded. "Well, if makes you feel safe, then I guess you'd better." Ha!
Apparently he's also quite the pancake connoissieur. He told me that he makes pancakes every morning on the island. His favorites being chocolate chip and apple-cinnamon. You might remember a recent post where I wrote about my life-long fantasy of a camping out pancake breakfast with bacon. Well folks, I used my bacon to make a cheese, bacon and cherry tomato quesadilla with Ezekiel tortillas for lunch one very wet and dreary afternoon and I never made my pancakes. The pancake fantasy will have to be fulfilled on another trip.
Paul told me that when he's alone on the island he likes to go down to the stone boathouse and play Meat Loaf at full volume. He said the acoustics are great and he likes playing music that no one building the boathouse in 1910 would have heard. I was surprised by this and it almost seemed like a mini confession...that he plays Meat Loaf as opposed to the Celtic music I heard when I took a walk-through. I'll be thinking of him over there all alone early in the season and wondering if he's playing Bat Out of Hell I, II or III.
He said that on full moon nights when the boathouse is flooded with moonlight off the lake, he invites campers to make the trek over at midnight to sit with him and listen to classical music. Some skip it, but those who take him up on his offer would certainly be in for a treat. It's a beautiful place.
I saw lots of birds and fortunately I didn't have any run-ins with the coyotes on the island (I learned of their presence after arriving). Aside from the blue-jays, geese, hawks, gulls and chickadees, the highlight of my bird sightings was spotting the group of wild turkeys walking through a meadow. At first I thought they might be pheasants, but they were far too big. When heading towards the lighthouse I saw them again deep in the woods. I passed the man who had also been strap-less at the woodpile and said something about noticing the wild turkeys. He looked skeptical and said, "Wild turkeys? That's unlikely. Turkeys are elusive creatures and usually travel alone. You probably saw pheasants." Oh.
Then, as if on cue, one of the DNR men appeared out of nowhere and said, "Hey, if you go up a little ways, you might see the turkeys, they just appeared on the island a few years ago." AGHAHAAHAHA!!!!! I felt so redeemed!!!! The man looked sheepish as he said, "Shows you what I know." I got the feeling if I'd known him I could have really given him the business about it, but I refrained from looking too smug (well, as best as I could...it's not like I turned to the DNR guy and said, "Oh, certainly you must be mistaken, I've just learned from an expert that the turkey is a very elusive creature and travels alone.")
I'm ashamed to say I didn't take as many pictures of my culinary delights as I'd hoped...Frankly, it was damp and rainy and while I made good things (steak with baked carrots and potatoes, quesadillas, lots of cheese with crackers and apples and my famous Bananas Caribe) I just lost steam and ate quickly in-between rain showers.
The culinary highlight was this pasta. A simple, but warming dish that was perfect on my last night when the rain let up for a bit. It was pasta mixed with fresh mushrooms, olive oil, tuna and herbs. So delicious. Shallots and garlic would have been part of the dish, but by the time I realized I'd not added them it was too late. I liked it with a little parmesan reggiano on the side. The best camping meal ever!
I have to say that my all-time favorite "bad-ass" event was the trip to the beach in the complete dark. By night two I was a mess and felt disgusting, probably more because of wearing damp clothing than because I was actually filthy, but I felt gross. I had scoped out the small sand part of a mostly rocky beach earlier in the day and had started thinking that maybe late at night when no one was around, I'd come back and wade in for a quick bath.
Since there's no electricity around, it gets pitch black at night on the island, even more so when I was there since there were no stars visible the whole time (I saw exactly four stars the entire time I was there). It was about nine when I knew it was as dark as it was going to get. I reminded myself there were only seven campers (including me) on the entire island and Paul, so the chance of running into someone else on the beach taking a bath was pretty slim.
I grabbed a flashlight, a towel and some clean clothes and headed on my trek through the pitch black woods (also past the old cemetery--no joke people), to the beach. I tried not to think about what was out there and just of how good plunging myself into ice cold dark Lake Michigan water would feel (?).
When I a saw a bunch of "things" scurrying a few feet away that looked rather skunk-like, I told myself they were probably just a band of friendly chipmunks on the prowl and kept walking.
I walked past the campsite of the couple and the girl who'd already confessed at the woodshed that she found the woods "creepy" at night, must have seen my light because she called out "Is anyone there?" I felt terrible, but since I knew they couldn't actually see who it was (you couldn't even see more than a few feet in front of you with a flashlight) I stayed quiet and just walked past them. After all, I didn't exactly want to advertise that I was off for a little late night swim!
I finally got down to the beach and fumbled around in dark trying to figure out where the sandy part was. I stood at the shoreline, peered back at the woods and figured I had no audience, so I quickly stripped off all my clothes, put my flashlight in the sand and headed for the water. OH. MY. GOD. Lake Michigan isn't exactly instant deep so I had to wade...and wade...and wade...to get deep enough to plunge in. Not only was it freezing, but I was concerned that the DNR or Paul might show up with some sort of spotlight and shine it on my bare backside!!!!!! I finally dunked and thrashed around getting clean and took just a moment to congratulate myself for doing it. I haven't been skinny-dipping in quite a few years and never alone at night in dark water.
I got back to the beach and after drying off (mostly) I felt a little disoriented and realized that I was going through a slight case of cold water shock...I tried to stay focused as I hiked up the sand dune and back into the woods, but it was a lot harder getting out than getting in because I felt so "weird" physically. However, by the time I got back to camp I was doing much better. I had wrapped a small strand of battery operated Christmas lights around a tree before leaving and the twinkle of those lights in the woods welcoming me back was a site I'll never forget. The good thing was that I felt so empowered. The bad thing was that my already fairly sensitive, but usually kept in control scalp didn't react well to being damp all night long and I woke up in Flake City, USA. Which, did nothing to make me feel more clean. Oh well, all and all it was worth it for the adventure.
This is on the other side of the island from where I waded in, but you get the gist...this isn't a tiny little lake we're talking about, though it was more calm at night. Did I mention it was dark too? :)
They don't call it Rock Island for nothing...they're everywhere!
One of my favorite photos:
A few of the Camping Wins must be credited to the right people.
- Heather Menicucci for writing such a fantastic book. It inspired me and even though she does it up more bare bones than I did, her book is an inspiration for campers of all levels and without her there most certainly wouldn't have been the clothesline. It turned out to be a valuable piece of equipment. Nothing dried out of course, but it kept me from storing wet and stale smelling clothes and towels in my tent. Plus, she's into camping (and campy) crafts and while I didn't make the day pack she describes in her book, I did take some time to decoupage my matchboxes before leaving...
- My father-in-law for giving me major support and a knife he'd had for 60 years that ended up being a godsend...it sliced cheese, sharpened sticks and in it's leather holster made me look rather tough and intimidating.
- Janet for helping to avert a major meltdown as I was en-route to the ferry and realized I had forgotten to bring my only identification...(my driver's license) and was a little freaked out about everyone in the whole entire world seeing me step onto the ferry for primitive camping with my roll-on luggage!!
- Mark for not secretly calling the ranger to check-up on me (I think). And for insisting I spend the ninety-nine cents for a disposable rain poncho...it would have been even more wet without it.
- My mom for being a big supporter and Sherry Fuller for her true happiness at my decision to go.
- To all of you blog readers who I thought about a lot...especially when I dove in and ate my meals before taking pictures...Sorry!
- And to the guy who was hanging out on the porch at the restaurant on Washington Island when I drove to the ferry (a little nervous about pulling on) who waved at me as if he knew me when I passed by. It seemed like a good omen.
Once I reached the mainland on the way home I stopped and treated myself to Swedish egg pancakes at Al Johnson's. It's one of my favorite places in Door County (when it's not busy) and I always love seeing the goats eating on the sod roof.
I had planned to get into a hot shower and bath right when I got home, but I got inspired to unpack and clean all my gear (including re-setting up my tent to dry it out and store it) and doing tons of laundry. I am absolutely embarrassed to admit that I was so exhausted after the clean-up that I took my clothes off and fell into bed (unwashed and fairly filthy). Mark realized this was strange behavior for me, so he kept negative comments to himself and said nothing. He even slept next to my wild hair without commenting about about the possibility that I needed delousing (my father in-law called and told him that I probably did!)!
I took a quick shower before work, but saved my hot soak for tonight. You all know I love Amanda at Pandora's Button Box and her bath salts and soaps. I've been saving this all natural bath blend for a special occasion and tonight was it. I mean, I think I after my four days in the woods and my naked swim, I've earned the right to use a bath blend called "'Naughty Faerie Milk Bath." It looks like someone arrived at my camp and took pictures of all my better behaved little winged friends while I was off getting stage one hypothermia in the water!!!
And to Paul who clearly takes pride in his work...this is the shamrock he painted to place over his workshop door...I felt very lucky to have taken this trip and this was a great reminder.
Whew. So there you have it.
P.S. And mad props (I'm feeling so cool) to my trusty Coleman Sun Dome tent that stayed standing and completely dry even with its duct-taped corners.