After 5+ weeks of waiting and wondering about our camping future, the Fireball finally returned, complete with its new axle. That was Tuesday afternoon. By noon Wednesday, we had packed up and headed off to explore a new campground (to us) in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, about 70 miles from home. Rain? Who cares? Unseasonably cold? So what?
Part of our excitement was that we could finally try out the new modifications we made to the Fireball since returning from our winter trip. First, we decided to remove the TV/DVD, which we never used. Besides being in the way, it took up space we wanted to use for storage of maps, brochures, and all the other little stuff one picks up on a long road trip. This is our solution.This little metal basket, which I spraypainted red, works great for holding stuff. In addition, it’s a great spot to dump our tablets and phones while they’re being charged. We give this little mod an A+.
Another mod was designed to increase (my) comfort on long trips. One thing that I really miss is having a spot where I can put my feet up. Crazy, but true. We don’t carry the lounge type of camping chairs, and our small dinette just didn’t give me a spot to sit comfortably for long periods. (John and Jezzy hang out on the bed). So, we decided to permanently take out the dining table, beef up the cushions with a memoryfoam layer below, and add back cushions. We purchased a small “C” table with a butcher block top, which I painted shiny red and coated with several layers of polyurethane. Love this so far, but we need to change the back pillows – they’re not quite right yet. But, it really feels like we’ve got a lot more space inside now.The table is bungy’d into position during transit to keep it from slamming around.We had torrential rain for over 24 hours on this trip, and having spots for both of us to stretch out was heavenly.
One more small improvement is our new outside doormat. It’s made of recycled flipflops – colorful and durable. This scrapes sand off our shoes so much better than our last one. Love the funky colors as well.John invested in a Luci Lite, a solar-rechargable lantern. Bright and light (it weighs about 2 ounces). This will be perfect for tent camping as well.The Luci Lite blows up like a beachball and folds flat when not in use. Perfect!So…..we’re camping!
We chose well for the campground, and had a nearly perfect campsite – great view of the lake, firepit not too close to the Fireball, and plenty of clearing for our solar panels. There’s no electric hookup or water at each campsite here, although there were flush toilets and one shower. It’s a great setup – $8/day with our federal geezer pass.There’s even a swimming beach.Another attraction of this campground for us was its proximity to the North Country Scenic National Trail, which runs 4,600 miles from North Dakota to New York. We got settled in on Wednesday late afternoon – the rain stopped by the time we pulled into the campground. Thursday morning, we made our favorite camp breakfast and decided to go for a hike.
“Uh, Houston….we have a problem,” says a voice through the window as I’m pulling on my hiking socks. “Haha, it looks like I brought one of your hiking boots and one of mine.” (Note to self: Judy, next time, pack ALL your own stuff. Don’t let John touch any of it!). This dilemma ensures that we won’t hike for miles and miles – John needs his boots because of foot problems. I can trudge along in my sandals for the most part. We set off anyway, figuring to hike until foot discomfort turns us back.
In our relatively brief hike (about five miles), we did discover several things. This gorgeous Lady Slipper orchid, all by itself alongside the Trail.We were curious about what must have caused the twist in these trees. There must have been something big and shady during their early years to cause them to twist into the sun. It was odd to see this little grouping – they really stood out!As we hiked, we became aware that there was a sharp division in the forest. Hardwoods on the right (we were on the northbound Trail), and pines on the left. The Trail split them. There was no crossover – it was startling to see such a demarcation. Couldn’t really get a photo, so just take my word for it, ok? There were no land features that seemed to account for this division, but in sections, it was very pronounced.
Another oddity – no squirrels! Never saw even ONE in the five days we camped. Jezzy was crushed – that’s the highlight of her camping experience.
We didn’t hike any notable distance, but were happy to have acquainted ourselves with another section of the North Country Trail. Last year, when we camped our way across northern Michigan, Wisconson, and Minnesota along Lake Superior, we bisected the Trail in many spots. Our footprints may not go far on the Trail, but we’ve laid them down!
Lounging around camp that afternoon, John reported that there was an opportunity for me to fulfill my wish to be a Trail Angel. What??? Trail Angels are individuals (or groups) who help hikers with food, water, or shelter. There are legendary Trail Angels on the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and out in the Arizona desert, where Angels leave water and supplies for border crossers. In our case, there was a grizzled hiker, propped up against a tree near the bathroom, waiting for his cellphone to charge. (There’s a power outlet in the bathroom). I wandered over to offer Dave a sandwich and a beer while he waited.
Oh boy! This hiker needed a hand. He mumbled something about low blood sugar, but could barely talk. I pointed out our campsite, and asked him to come over for a comfy sit and some food. A beer, caffeine, whatever he would like. After a few minutes, he stumbled to our site. John gave up his Strongback Chair, and Dave kind of slumped into it. Refused a beer and a sandwich, but accepted the offer of chocolate and a cup of coffee. I gave him one of our favorite salted dark chocolate/almond bars. He asked if we had one without nuts – turns out he only has about three teeth. The nuts were a problem! After a half of a candy bar and a good coffee jolt, Dave could once again speak in full sentences. Interesting character – had been on the Trail for eight days but had only covered about 25 miles as the crow flies – probably 35 or so on the Trail. He was headed to Manistee, which he estimated as another 75 miles. I asked him if he had a time schedule, and he said that he had to be back home by July 3 for a medical appointment. I think he’s going to need all of that time at the pace he’s going. We did send him along with a banana, an orange, the rest of the chocolate, and two gallon-sized Zip Lock bags. Filled up one of his water bottles with the now-cooled coffee for another caffeine jolt down the road. Hope he makes it.We spent one day wandering around on our bicycles, where we happened to run into the Jake and Elwood at Woody’s Bar in Bitely. You never know who you’ll find in the North Woods.The rest of the trip was a swift decline. Friday night the rain began, and continued through Saturday relentlessly. With spots for both of us to stretch out, we settled in pretty easily to a day of books and crossword puzzles, accompanied by music or NPR on our new portable radio (a Sangean, which we really love).
Sunday morning was windy and cold (40’s), so we weren’t too unhappy to pack up and head home.
Our long campless nightmare has ended.