Matt, at 10, is my youngest grandson. He has been tent-camping before with Judy and me and with his mom and dad and two brothers -usually in a pop-up camper, so it’s not all new to him. But this was his first venture out alone in the woods with grampa Mike -the old backpacking curmudgeon, and connoisseur of all foods dehydrated! I think Matt was the only 7 or 8 year-old I’ve known, that knew what a curmudgeon was, and he can probably spell it correctly by now, and offer examples!
We were short on time for this trip, and the weather forecast was not good, but off we went. You get what you get, I told him as we headed down the highway! He looked at me kinda funny! It rained quite a bit on the first day (it had already been raining for a couple of days) and most of the night. On day 2 it was cloudy and threatened more rain. Luckily, we both had our rain gear packed.
On this trip, I was taking it upon myself to teach Matt the basics -like the two best ways to drink water: warm or cold, and to be sure the water is potable (clean water that meets drinking water health standards -usually water coming from a faucet or well). It’s always important to carry water on any hike. If you’re going to be hiking more than a couple of hours, you may need several water bottles or a large bladder… and maybe a water filter or purifier.
As any old backpacking curmudgeon knows, we can also drink water from lakes, rivers and streams but it should be filtered or purified first. When purchasing a portable water filter or purifier, it is important to check the technical specifications of the filter -they can vary significantly from one filter to another. We want to get rid of any bad bugs and any harmful chemicals that may be in the water. Bad bugs are harmful micro-organisms (like some bacteria, viruses, Giardia and Cryptosporidia, and many others as well). Harmful chemicals would include pesticides, herbicides, organics, some algae and more). Some filters are very cheap, others more expensive, largely because of the effectiveness of the filtering mechanism. I doubt Matt has had a biology class yet, let alone any microbiology, so the discussion remained pretty basic. You can boil water or add purification tablets -the important point being to do your best to get clean water to drink.
Even when car-camping like we were, it is important to carry only the necessities and keep your pack light. Whatever we pack in, we pack out, and we discussed why -we don’t want our trails and streams to look like our streets and highways with litter scattered everywhere.
We talked about how to use his new pocket knife with all the blades, without losing any fingers -keep your free hand (the one holding the stick) behind the hand holding the knife, when carving/whittling a stick. The knife always moves away from your body, and the hand holding the stick, etc.
When pitching our tent, we always try to pitch it on the high ground (to stay dry), and near water if possible (for drinking/cooking). We pay attention to nearby trees and sun angles -trying to avoid big dead trees (or branches) that might fall on the tent during the night, and trying to get the tent located in the afternoon shade so it doesn’t get too hot. It might be nice to have a big, flatish rock or picnic table to sit at and eat… and the list goes on. How to split dry wood with a hatchet… ‘better let me do it…’ followed quickly by ‘…but don’t do it like I do it, you’re too young.’
Most of these discussions took place while we were setting up our campsite. With rain threatening, we first set up our tent. Then we set up a large plastic tarp on metal poles to shelter the picnic table in case it rained while we cooked and ate our meals. We’d also have shade if the sun came out and it got too hot. Yes, we planned for comfort -rain or shine!
The center pole for our tarp tended to slip on the wet, slippery surface of the picnic table. We found some small branches on the forest floor nearby, and trimmed them to use as a stabilizing mechanism to steady the center pole. It worked surprisingly well. We were now all set to enjoy a nice dinner and evening around the campfire!
We each grabbed a water bottle and began our ‘look-around hike,’ exploring the Riverway Campground at William O’Brian State Park. We checked out all the other campers, their tents and the big RV’s. Then we hiked along the St. Croix River for awhile before returning to our campsite.
We got our water jug filled, got out some snacks and our cooler and sat down and relaxed with a cool drink and some snacks, continuing our discussions, and watching more campers driving in to pitch their tents or park their RV’s. It was getting crowded.
I’d refer to William O’Brain State Park as an urban campground – being only about 30-40 miles from downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis respectively. It’s about twenty-five miles south of Interstate Park, also on the St. Croix River, where I visited about a week earlier.
We had purchased a couple bundles of firewood earlier in the day, since it looked like better weather had moved in. I began splitting some of the wood and getting the fire pit staged for an evening fire. Since it had been raining so much in recent days, it was hard finding kindling to start the fire but we had it set up so that I figured we could get it lit with a few matches -I usually strive to get the fire going with one match… this fire took four!
After about twenty minutes, the fire was burning well and Matt had his ‘smoke stick’ as they call them – a stick allowing him to poke around in the fire and write his name in the air with smoke. The curmudgeon kept his eye on the fire and Matt! All was well.
As the clouds cleared again and the sun came out we talked about using the sun to find directions. His older brothers learned this a few years ago, but they need reminders occasionally.
We talked about the cardinal directions (N-S-E-W), and where the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. Which windows at home get the morning sun, and likewise for the afternoon sun. We watched shadows and how they moved. When the sun was setting in the afternoon we figured out which way the shadows were pointing.
At last it was time to eat. The fire was burning well and everyone was hungry… I thought.
Matt said he didn’t like Dinty Moore Beef Stew, which was always a favorite with his brothers – we always had it for one meal when we car-camped. Matt liked ravioli, so we had a couple of small cans along with us. But after tasting it he decided he didn’t like it. We’d just opened the cans and heated them on the grill over the fire… stirring occasionally -a carry-over from my days in the military. Maybe he just didn’t like the looks of the heated, discolored cans sitting in front of us at the table? Anyway, I ended up eating a lot of ravioli for dinner that night. He wasn’t interested in hot dogs either. Next time it will be a dehydrated extraveganza. His brother Mikey likes the dehydrated meals -even the scrambled eggs! It was soon time for desert, for Matt anyway.
After dinner we continued talking around the fire for an hour as it began getting dark. Matt decided he was tired and was going to go lay down in the tent. We went over to the tent and I made sure he knew how the door zippers worked and I gave him a flashlight in case he had to get up during the night. The tent was just wide enough for two sleeping mats. I brought along a 3/4 length mat I sometimes used when backpacking, for him to use -and a full length mat for me. We left our shoes outside the tent under the vestibule fly on each side, so they’d stay dry. It was tight quarters, but it worked just fine!
With Matt down for the night, I returned to the fire and enjoyed a small Dominican Cohiba cigar after a tough day on the trail… ha, that’s a joke! When backpacking over the years, several of us would enjoy cigars at the end of the day and sip a bit of brandy, scotch or whatever, and recount the day’s adventures. We all carried a small flask allowing us a few sips each night over a 5-10 day hike. It became a regular ending to each day -a tradition, and I’m sure we’ll all remember those times forever! As time passes several guys have quit hiking, and those kinds of memories really do begin to mean something, the places and the people!
I made sure the fire was out, and I slid into the tent and my bag, to join Matt for a good night’s sleep. It ended up raining most of the night, lightly. No thunder or lightening. We both slept like logs! I was up a few times during the night – an old curmudgeon thing, and we both finally climbed out of the tent about 8:30 a.m. We were usually on the trail by 8 a.m. when backpacking, and that was after some breakfast!
By mid-morning, after we’d had breakfast, we’d taken down the tarp we had over the picnic table, shaking it well, and laid it across the picnic table to dry a bit. After we folded it up, we took the rain fly off the tent, shook it good and laid it on the table to dry a bit.
I had to explain why the rain fly was all wet on the bottom side where the rain didn’t reach all night, and that our breath contained a lot of moisture; and that during the night the rain-fly got cold and all that breath-laden moisture condensed on the cold fly -just like how the moisture in the air condenses on the cold container of milk from the cooler, or on my cold beer can last night. It took awhile to explain -I guess they hadn’t learned that in school yet. And now with the cool, cloudy weather, it was hard to get the wet tarps and tent to dry out… yada, yada. He did seem interested, however, so it was all a worthwhile discussion. And finally the sun popped out to help dry things out a bit.
It’s usually a bit harder to explain why, when you’re wearing rain gear and hiking, you still get all wet inside the rain gear. ‘Then, why do we need the rain gear, grampa?’ Good question, Matt! But as most curmudgeons know, rain gear will keep you warm, when it’s cold or windy, which can be very important.
We packed everything up by late morning, had lunch on the way home, and Matt was home in plenty of time for dinner. It was a short, but sweet camping trip. It was actually too short given all the gear we hauled along. We could have stayed a few more days with just a few more cans of food or dehydrated meals. Maybe next time!
Mike, KEØGZT Clear!
Some amateur radio-related news
An interesting article from the ARRL ARES E-letter for August 16, 2017:
Emergency Management Magazine published a very favorable article on Amateur Radio. Check it out here. — Thanks, Ted Luebbers, K1AYZ