Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bike-Camping at Birch Lakes State Forest

- St. Joseph, MN to Birch Lake State Forest.
- 38mi

A good opportunity for an overnight ride and trip to Birch Lake came up suddenly. My mother would go visit her father in Sauk Center, and I could get a ride as far as St. Joseph, take the Lake Wobegon trail for a ways, and meet up in time to get a lift back home. It's a short ride, but the weather promises to be contrary to cycling and I only have two days I can be away.

By the time I was dropped off under the trail shelter at St. Joseph, the downpour had become a saturating mist, and the wind was picking up to quickly sweep that away. I bundled up in my heavy rainpants and coat mainly to take measure of how well they'd work. The pants where stiff and hot, but I bet they'll do great in a prolonged, cold rain. About forty-five minutes later, I could see an edge of teal-blue sky beyond the rainclouds.

As the clouds dispersed(More like torn up and thrown out of the way by the wind), the wind really started up. A sidewind, for the most part, but one strong enough that I'd be hanging off the side of my bike trying to keep it upright and didn't dare move too quickly. Still, it was sunny - almost warm, and at least it wasn't a true headwind.

By the time I reached the State Forest, I was riding directly into 35mph gusts, and it was a relief to put the open fields behind me. Forecast says wind all night, snow, freezing, and more wind tomorrow.

Raining in St. Joseph.

A bit of blue sky approaching Avon.

Lake Wobegon Trail near Avon.

Lake Schwinghamer shelter. The one I never seem to be able to get a decent picture of - always too early in the morning, too cloudy, or too dark!

Where is St. Rosa?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

In the last week, I've...

  • Bought, received, and used my new Trangia camp stove. It took about twenty minutes to get a full water bottle to a rolling boil. In defense of the device, I was using using a coleman folding stove as a stand, which is anything but efficient. I've got my eye on the Vargo Titanium Woodstove, which has been shown to work well in conjunction with the trangia, able to boil a similar amount of water in about eight minutes.

  • Found an Oggi food-grade stainless steel water bottle discarded along the Luce Line trail. A bit scraped up and dirty, but no real damage. Score! I picked up a second stainless steel bottle at a thrift store for $2. Both are uncoated and safe to heat water in.

  • Finally stopped deliberating tents and bought this. I've only seen the coal/sage version on Sierra Trading post, and they where running a one day sale. I ended up paying $93 with free shipping. Pictures and more impressions once it arrives.

  • Failed several times to bake damper over a campfire. Ray Mears makes it look too easy, you know? Maybe I'll have time for another attempt tomorrow.

  • Attended an orientation for my new job. It was... long.

  • Trimmed down a 9.5x12ft nylon tarp and am in the process of fashioning the cast-off bits into a fitted bike cover. I also made a pair waterproof shoe covers from the sleeves of a superfluous rubbery raincoat. Pictures when both are complete and proven functional.

  • Added to my camping maps. A few hike & bike sites in Oregon, local stealth camp hideouts, and state forest free campgrounds in New Mexico.

  • Discovered this blog. The post to which I linked is of particular significance. You see, though I plan on driving more traffic to my own blog as my departure date nears, but I'm unsure of how to sell it, so to speak. Most of the successful, captivating, long standing, bicycle tour sites are focused on a different sort of experience than I intend for myself. Laura and Russ of refer to their meandering, vagabond life as an 'open ended bicycle tour', and I think I'll borrow that term. Had I discovered their blog while I was early in the planning of my own meandering, vagabond future, I could easily say I modeled my plans on their own.

  • Felt fairly well cheated by the weather. From 70 degree days and 30 degree nights, it has plummeted back down to 40 degree days, rain, and... well, still 30 degree nights. It's already too late for a 10-day tour in northern Minnesota before I start work, but maybe just a few days would be nice...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wood Rill Natural & Scientific Area

Just some pictures from a short hike & bike. Summer weather has come in force.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ramps and Nettle

With an incoming thunderstorm keeping most folks off the trails at the nearby county park, today seemed like an ideal day to go pick some nettle shoots and try to spot a better patch of ramps.

Part of a massive colony of ramps. They're easiest to spot now, when little else is growing, but better to eat before the leaves appear, or after the flower dries.

Little nettle shoots. I didn't bring gloves, but picked them until my hands where too irritated to continue. Nettle is it's own remedy - a few leaves and a bit of stem, crushed and rubbed into the stings, mostly fixed it. Jewelweed is 'juicier' and seems to work a bit better, but it's still out of season.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ice and Sand

This was taken yesterday morning, on a walk through the forest to find the developed campground, which is still closed for the season. It didn't fit well into either of the previous post, but it may well be the last sighting of ice until winter rolls around again, and it's a nice picture besides, so it gets a showing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Overnight to Sand Dunes II

Sand Dunes State Forest to Plymouth, MN
44mi, 7.1AvS(Constant headwind, okay?)

Woke up pretty damn sore, but the ride home felt nicer than the ride out. I suppose I always worry I'll reach an impassable road, I won't find a place to camp, ect, so now that the route was familiar and I was going home, I enjoyed it more. Oh, and it hit 68 degrees. That helped.

A trailhead and parking. I'd like to come back and explore this place more, but I didn't dare take more than a sort walk before starting back.

Tempting, but I was driven to keep moving by this point. Besides that, I brought enough food to get me there and back and did not want to spend a penny on more. I had some good ramen, a bag of cheerios, an orange, some slices of candied ginger, and three small loaves of camp bread(or damper, if you prefer).

At a plaza in Elk River. Spot the painted outhouse.

Some serious flooding along the Mississippi near Dayton.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Overnight to Sand Dunes

Plymouth, MN to Sand Dunes State Forest
46.78mi, 9.1 AvS

So, I wrote up a long post and it sounded awful. Bored me to tears to read it. Better that I stick with a short sum-up and some pictures:

I've been quietly assuming that as soon as the weather was decent enough, I'd at least go on an overnight bike camping trip. On Tuesday I saw the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday. Awfully cold night, but both days where sunny and warm - not just warm by "Holy shit winter sucks" standards, but really comfortable 60-ish highs(never mind the wind). I packed like a maniac, planned a route to a State Forest within 50 miles I've not been to before, and left Wednesday morning.

As ever, getting out of the suburban and industrial sprawl took most of the day, but it was still a nicer route then trying to break through the cities heading east. I took it easy, stopped often, and reached my goal by 5pm. Camped in a welcoming, sweet-smelling pine plantation by a pond, ate some spicy ramen, and slept like a log. Glad I got a new bag at the REI sale - the overnight low was 31 degrees, but I slept like a warm, warm log.

Somewhere near Dayton, MN. One of the nicer bits of road.

Nearing the State Forest, the terrain and scenery quickly changed for the better.

The barely detectable, primitive road to the pond I camped by was somewhere near here. It's at the corner of the forest boundary, and I could just barely see a building of some sort while sitting at my fire. The spot was otherwise so perfect, I'll forgive it that.

There is still a snowbank on the other side of the pond.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Not Much to Show for it

I went out looking for wild leeks today, but had no success. Too early. Here's some pictures from a week ago, tho.

This may well have been the last substantial snow of the season.

Geese being swept down the Sauk River.

An Artist's Conk, I think?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Scratch and Dent Loot

Today was the day of the scratch and dent sale, at the REI store nearest my home. I've been to one before, on a bitterly cold November morning. That time, I arrived in time to smell the breakfast-cooking of the overnight sale-campers, and watch enviously as they carted away the best of the goods. My local REI had the decency to schedule their sale while the snow is melting rather than falling, and it turned out to be a decent night; 43 degrees for the ride there.

Since I would be arriving by bicycle rather than car, I did not leave until after dark. I wasn't sure how many overnight folks would show up for a smaller sale at a smaller store, or how early they'd set up camp. It's a silly concern, I admit, but I didn't want to arrive too early, a spectacle with a loaded bike, and have to wait hours in the cold until etiquette dictates that now is the proper time to pitch a tent on the sidewalk and try to sleep. Note to myself: Next time, don't bother.

The above picture was taken 10 minutes after I arrived. It was 11:30pm and twenty-six people where in line ahead of me. I didn't find out that exact number until the tickets where handed out. There where twelve tents, and one young man huddled in a sleeping bag. Among those arriving before 4am, I was second to last. The first in line told me he'd been there since 7pm. Justifiably, I felt like a complete fool.

All the same, it was a fruitful day. After a long and chilly night, I got in with the second group and found some great deals. The sale room was smaller, but with only 24 people let in at a time there was less of a solid wall of people around the interesting stuff. I had to ignore the clothing the shoes - 10 minutes just wasn't long enough to sift through items of great quantity. Fortunately, a few hours later when I was able to come back for seconds, it wasn't picked bare. The best deal of the day was probably the discontinued REI Radiant Down Bag. The REI Halo bag has mostly replaced it, but the original Radiant bags are wider, and I can curl up inside it without moving the whole bag. A bit below is a complete list.

Scratch and Dent Sale Loot

  • REI Alpine Lakes Rain Pant
    Sale Price: $31.93/Orig. Price: $99.50/Condition: New, missing snap.
  • Dakine Sequoia Gore-Tex Gloves
    Sale Price: $20.93/Orig. Price: $65.99/Condition: Used, good.
  • REI Radiant +10 Down Womens Sleeping Bag
  • Sale Price: $43.93/Orig. Price: $219.99/Condition: New.
  • Princeton Tech Headlamp
    Sale Price: $7.93/Orig. Price: $19.95/Condition: Used, malfunction.
  • Gray Smartwool T-Shirt
    Sale Price: $11.93/Orig. Price: $50.00/Condition: Used, minor damage.
  • Crazy Creek Hexalite Camp Chair
    Sale Price: $21.93/Orig. Price: $39.99/Condition: Used, minor cosmetic damage.

  • Average savings: 72%