My trip actually started on the 10th, since I had to pick up Dutch at the Wausau airport. Since I had no clue what he looked like, I was surprised to pick him out of the “crowd” by sight at the huge metropolis airport immediately. He was the guy with the obnoxious blue and grey “camo” shirt and the backpack. Everyone else on his flight was either a traveling salesman or a pig farmer, so I couldn’t just pick him out by smell – good thing he was wearing that obnoxious shirt! I tried to hide his bag under the mountains of gear in my trunk, but he was having none of that. The drive up was uneventful,. Lots of live deer, dead deer, and trees.

We hung our hammocks unwittingly directly across from shug and sarahgirl, and didn’t even wake them up. I guess the neighbors with their radio blaring all hours of the night blocked out our paltry noises. We left so early in the morning that we never got to see them, but I did remark about the Minnesota plates on the van and that those two vehicles might be hangers. If I had checked out the plates on the other vehicle, it would have cemented my suspicions. I have no idea where their hammocks were, we couldn’t spot them.

We did our supply run to Ashland, and still got to Porcupine Lake by 9:30. Since we were the first to arrive, we did some reconnoitering, and decided to wait until the others got there to make a decision on where to hang. We had an excellent spot by the creek to wait, and tried to take a nap until Kurt showed up. I couldn’t sleep, so I started helping the family that was camping by the lake carry out their gear. You think I have a lot of gear! These people even had a 14 foot aluminum boat that Dutch and I helped carry out – I wonder how long it took that guy to get it in there by himself? Kurt came back and suggested an awesome spot at the top of the hill overlooking the lake for our hang, and that is where the first night ended up. shug and sarahgirl showed up not long after, then one by one people filtered in.

What a night that first night was! People just clicked immediately. It helped that the site was absolutely beautiful, plenty of trees, food and good company. And people just kept coming up the hill. Spent a great night getting to know people over some great food, and watched a few shooting stars and listened to the wildlife talking to the world. I never heard a snore, but I was on the fringes overlooking the lake and creek and far away from stormcrow’s buzz-saw and kayaknut01’s fluttering trill.

The scenery that first day was unbelievable. That area of grass under the trees that nobody apparently got a picture of was crazy. There were other areas that looked similar, but that first one looked surreal. The multiple beaver dams, the great walk&talk with shug and with sarahgirl. I eventually had to slow down and let stormcrow, MrGreen and dutch catch up to me because I was tired of sucking spider webs in the lead. The firetower/lookout was excellent, and MrGreen scored a lighter from the eagles nest that I used quite frequently, so “thanks” to the stoner that left it up there. I wonder how he got down? I “tweaked” my knee coming down the last hill to the river, twisting it on a root, and was in some big-time pain climbing the hill to the shelter, only to be letdown because of the poor hanging right at the shelter, so we headed back down by the bridge. I grabbed an awesome spot for myself across an old unused road. When sarahgirl got back from her river bath up by the shelter and all the supposedly decent spots were taken, I gave her my spot and found an even better one for my rig just up the hill. I don’t know what those other guys were looking at – there were spots everywhere. I even had a nice little backrest under my B.A.T.. I went swimming in the river under the bridge, which for some reason forced Dennis to get his water above the bridge – I guess he didn’t want a little Finn sweat with his oatmeal in the morning.

The campfire that night was a magical place, with lots of stories of circus life and shows, movie quotes and discussions. shug knows how to tell a story, and to hold an audience, but was just keeping time with everyone else and their contributions to the campfire talk. We ate a little food and talked, and just had an excellent time.

I feel bad about the second day’s hiking in a way. I missed out on a lot with the group, but got to hike and get to know Hangin’Yankee, which was truly enjoyable. I wanted to start out ahead of the pack because of my tweaked knee, figuring I didn’t want to slow anybody down. I held my own until I started getting to some of the larger downhills. OUCH! It was painful, but I eventually caught back up with Hangin’Yankee at Beaver Lake. We talked to a scoutmaster at the campground, gave him one of the HF bumper stickers I had in my pack, and invited him to check out the wonderful world of camping with hammocks. Hangin’Yankee got a HUGE spider in his nalgene when we pumped water at Beaver Lake, but he didn’t pull a stormcrow and eat it.

We made it to Lake Three campground and my car before the rains hit, so we decided to go get Hangin’Yankee’s car back at the Marengo river parking area and I showed him our Porcupine Lake site that we were at the first night since he missed it. Great spot to take a family for a quiet non-campground experience, but still be close to your vehicle. By the time we got back to Lake Three, everyone was pretty much set up with where they were going to sleep, and dutch was jonesing for a pizza fix. So we made a run to Mellen, only to find out apparently they don’t know what pizza is unless it is shrink wrapped. After accosting several townies, we (dutch, sarahgirl, Hangin’Yankee and myself) eventually found our way to Gordon Lake, and a very tasty pizza, even if it wasn’t cut in triangles. Dutch, you are such a purist. By the time we got back, it was getting dark and we still needed to set up our gear. Since sarahgirl let stormcrow use her Clark, I rigged her up with my spare BlackBird and UQ. I ended up using my BlackBird, my landscape fabric UQ and my sock to stay warm that night, and I was toasty. Sarahgirl was not so lucky, as the UQ shifted on her during the night and she was left only half covered and got chilled. Oops, UQ’s do have a little learning curve, especially on a Blackbird.

In the morning, sarahgirl and I both went swimming in Lake Three, but I went first and convinced her it was a good idea. Kurt thought we were crazy, all bundled up in his fleece, but it was actually pretty warm by the water – warmer than by the picnic tables. We boiled a little water, ate a little breakfast, and said our goodbyes – sad times. I had to drive Dutch back to the Wausau airport, even though he wouldn’t end up making it back that night anyway, getting stuck in Chicago.

What a great trip, what a great bunch of people. This trip left me with very strong feelings about my life and the trail I am currently following. It also left me warm and fuzzy and sad at the same time knowing that I won’t see these people again, at least not soon enough, but that I have truly made new friends. I look forward to the next hike together. Hyvästi, ystävykset - until we meet again.