Monday, August 27, 2018

Day Ride, Commuting, and Infrequent Posts

Indian Lake, May 2018
Okay, I've been looking at my last three post dates: three to five months between each post. Wowie-zowie! The good news is that I have been riding my bicycle, one overnighter and lots of day rides (dawn rides) with my wife--and commuting.

Staying closer to home and interacting more with my family has been the modus operandi here at home . . . and that's a good thing. I think I'll start reading more journals at the Crazy Guy on a Bike community rather than the years-long world tours. Life is just as real close to home. In fact, maybe that's why people travel; life can be too real close to home!

I'm also see different possibilities of close-to-home day rides now that my wife and I have bought a little camping trailer. It's also a mobile office, and while she works, I can have a day ride. This allows her to work yet be out camping, it allow us to spend time together (and ride and hike some), and it also allows me to take a couple of hours for a ride. One example is for us to camp at Indian Lake, about forty miles away, and then I can ride in Shimek State Forest, which is a couple of miles from the campground.

Lake Darling, August 2018
At any rate, my posts will probably be for shorter rides and longer times with my family--not a bad combo, for sure!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Car Camping at Indian Lake

I am sitting now in my REI camp chair at Indian Lake, Farmington, Iowa, enjoying temperatures in the 70's, car camping with my wife. We are here for three days, arriving on Monday and leaving Thursday morning before the beginning of Memorial Day weekend (and thunderstorms, weather in the 90's, and the resulting humidity). My wife is set up in a nearby camp shelter and is working remotely with her consulting business.

This is our camping goal this summer, in addition to my individual bicycle camping romps. We want to get away from the house and office and enjoy more time outside in the fresh air and sunshine (although I also am out in the garden a lot). To that end, last year we bought a new six-person tent from the Big Agnes company, a Big House 6 Deluxe base camp tent. We also bought cots, REI camp chairs and an REI camp table. We went camping once with the tent before the season ended.

This year we added a vestibule to the tent, which really added to the experience. That is where I am sitting now as I write, in the shade, comfortable in my chair, my little ASUS Chromebook on my lap, writing offline using a <txt> app, which loads better onto my blog than Google Docs. Before me through the frame of the vestibule entrance, a grove of oaks are my silent companions. I hear geese at the lake, which is down a short hill to my right. I've doped up with bug spray because the spring gnats are active. It works well enough. (I've loaned my wife my hat-mounted bug net which I take bike camping.)

This last week has been a new experience for me. I traveled for three days on my bike in this area, visiting two new county parks, my trip ending here at Indian Lake where my wife picked me up. Before leaving, we reserved the tent site for three days, so I went home and immediately began packing for this car camping trip. I was unpacking and packing at the same time!

This year we also purchased better pads for the cots so that we could be ensured the most comfortable sleep. They are definitely only for car camping because they are Big Agnes's largest! Also, we picked up a Yeti ice cooler, which is much more insulated than the less expensive brands. Because of the additions to our camping inventory, we are having a comfortable yet productive time.

Car camping is certainly different than bicycle camping. First of all, with car camping there's that "super-sized" experience of all the equipment, including the vehicle, being larger . . . and heavier. Next, the ever-present concern of bicycle touring--what do I take and  what don't I need--is not really an issue. Throw it in if we think we might need it! Oh, I guess I should add that we also bought a van a year ago. We aren't RV glamping yet, but I do have to admit that we had some fun at home the other morning browsing the internet and looking at Airstream's new sixteen-foot camp trailer, the Basecamp. Pretty spiffy, but the idea of hauling such a beast around is daunting. I think we'll enjoy tent camping for the immediate future.

It is an interesting experience, though, to bicycle camp and to car camp at the same site. Our particular site is designated "primitive" because electricity and water at not available on-site. Water is available about fifty yards away at the shelter and lodge site, as is electricity for my wife's office work. Right now, I have moved to the shelter site, hoping the gnats are a little less concentrated than beneath our tent's vestibule.

Tomorrow our children and grandchildren will visit, and we will have a barbeque dinner at another shelter site that is near the playground. I'm having a good time. My only idea now is that I'll buy a second mosquito net so that I'll be able in the future to spend more time keyboarding and less time shooing bugs. I'm getting pretty good at doing both simultaneously, though!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Black Oaks of Loafer Creek

Lows around 40 degrees and highs around 60, even though it was mid-January, here in northern California, it was perfect weather for a bike camping adventure. Lake Oroville is in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just at the edge of the Central Valley. It’s a large man-made lake, the water contained by the largest earth-filled dam in the United States.

Loafer Creek Campground lies at the east side of the lake, and the campground reflects the best of the foothills in winter: the black, naked arms of the oaks, covered with moss; the shiny green leaves of the branching live oak trees; last year’s grasses now sun-bleached husks beaten down and returning to the earth; bright green winter grasses, short and thick, where the sun shines most; and finally the gray and black boulders scattered by long-ago volcanic eruptions, their scaled, sharp shoulders covered by gray lichen and green moss. Above was the gray of low cloud cover and fog, occasionally the sun burning through, beams of light and blue sky.

I began my 14-mile trek in the valley, which has an altitude of about 600 feet in the valley around the Oroville area. Highway 162 begins its climb quickly, and I enjoyed the challenge of the hills and mountains up until just past the Wagon Wheel Market, where I stopped and pushed for a while, resting my climbing muscles. I actually enjoy walking a bit if the way is not too steep or the bicycle not too heavily packed. It’s an even simpler version of bike touring except the even slower pace allows for even closer inspection and appreciation of the surroundings--a tiny dark blue flower with a yellow center is one treasure I spied while pushing my bike. The first steady ride was about two thirds of my journey; the last third was an alternation of riding and pushing.

Pushing and riding delivered me to the top of the steepest hill just down-valley of The Oaks, a mobile home and residential home development. The hill drops down a long straightaway to the bottom of a valley and then climbs again, steeply, into the  hills. I pushed and rode my way that last bit and then arrived at the Loafer Creek turn-off. The campground was about half a mile down the canyon, the trip taking approximately 2-2.5 hours. I’m not sure because I didn’t have a watch, my cellphone was being repaired, and my computer was packed away in a pannier. I had left Palermo, a town south of Oroville about six miles, at 8:30 AM, and after arriving, searching for a camping spot and checking in, eating a bit and setting up my tent, it was 11:45.

I set up camp, bought a bundle of firewood and borrowed a hatchet, cooked some lunch, and explored a bit. The day-use swimming area was about another quarter mile downhill. That’s the way it is with a lot of camping spots--down a hole to the creek, river, or lake. The lake at its closest was still about three hundred yards down the fingers of the ravines of the lake because the water was low. I followed a red dirt-and-gravel service road from one ridge past the day-use area, and where the ridge ended, the marina spread out below me, many house boats anchored in one ravine-edged finger of the lake, the red erosion lines of the earth parallel to the water and climbing the ridge up to the highest levels of the lake when full. Above the bare, red earth were soft-shouldered slopes of dry grasses, an occasional scrub oak, bare-leafed, and above that openness, the green pines of the mountain summits.

It was beautiful, silent and open. Even with Man’s hand upon the land, a primeval majesty still prevailed. I sat upon a pale yellow-red sedimentary rock and just soaked up the silence of the sky, the green mountain summits, and the blue water of the lake. My leg muscles were tired from the trip up the mountain, and I knew I’d feel my toil when I had to head back up the hill to the campground. It was worth it, though. Maybe twenty minutes by car would have brought me to the lake, but my interaction with the foothills, with the sugar pines and the scrub oaks and the manzanita would have been minimal. Some of the manzanita were flowering, their pink bulb-like flowers massed in a carpet beside the road. The green winter grasses were dew-speckled and gleamed like jewels when the sun broke through the fog.

As the sun was lowering in the sky--early, around 4:30--I began my evening camp routine: dinner, clean-up, securing the bicycle, and making sure that anything outside was not food for animals or at hazard of soaking from dew. By the time camp was ready for the night, it was indeed dark. I built a fire from the wood I had split earlier, and spent some evening time feeding and watching the fire burn, enjoying the quiet, and reading a novel, using the headlamp I had bought on the advice of an experienced bike tourist. Winter bike camping means less sunlight, and for me that meant around ten hours of light and fourteen of darkness. The headlamp made reading easy, although turning pages wearing gloves was tricky.

As the sun set, the temperature dropped. I was not uncomfortable because I had brought ample warm gear, but I was glad for some heat and light from the fire. I read and went to bed early, about 7:00. Although I knew I would be warm enough, I wondered about my mattress, which had proven to not have sufficient insulation in colder weather. The sleeping bag was up to the task, but the mattress did leave me a little cool where I contacted the ground. I had dressed warm for the night, though, and there were no temperature emergencies; however, I do plan to research more on cold-weather mattresses.

Twelve hours of darkness in a sleeping bag in a tent alone is quite a long time, at least it seemed so to me. I slept a sufficient time but woke with hours of darkness ahead. What was my plan? I finished a movie on my computer, which was pleasant, since I wisely chose a comedy, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? With good music and a light plot, time passed easily. I slept a bit more after that, and then sat up in my sleeping bag for a long morning meditation, finishing in the gray, early dawn.
A fire, tea and breakfast, and breaking camp and packing took up the early morning. I had originally planned to stay two nights, but I realized there was a reason my early-season bike touring expeditions were one-nighters: in the cool weather, bicycling and bustling around camp were enjoyable; however, for just sitting around and relaxing, the weather was a bit too cold. And that’s not even considering the long hours of darkness. If I were “motel camping,” then there wouldn't be problem. Actually, there wasn’t really a problem even with the tent camping. The one-night trip was enjoyable. Staying for more than one day, though, wouldn’t have the hours-long warmth-generating experience of bicycling. Therefore, I chose to come home.

The trip home, of course, was much quicker since it was downhill. I still had to walk a couple of sections, most notably the hill up past The Oaks, a long stretch of road straight up the hill. Also on the second day of an overnighter, I always notice the lower level of my stamina from the first day. That’s my main beef with overnighters, not enough time and mileage to really get in shape. I was patient with myself, though, and coasted (mostly) off the mountain and down into the valley fog. With my tail- and headlights blinking, I cruised into my brother’s mobile home park.

He was outside and said, “I figured you’d be coming in today,” and he was right. I woke up that night to the sound of rain on the aluminum patio roof. Dry and feeling a bit smug, I went back to sleep, another bike camping trip (my first out of the state of Iowa) successfully completed.