I like getting out with my sons, on the few times when our schedules permit. We'd penciled in "something" for this week, when one of them was home from college, the other between semesters of graduate school, and I'm not off on business somewhere.
Plan A was to drive over to the Nebo Ridge Trail (home of the Hoosier Hang) and hike in to Browns Hollow to camp overnight. Well....it takes a bit of planning to pull together an actual hike, you have to think through what to carry, issues/questions of water, and more to the point, schedules got crowded around the trip.
So Plan B was launched...rather than drive 3.5 hours each way plus a couple hours hiking, drive instead 45 minutes to Forest Glen and car camp at one of their tent sites. There's 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, temps forecasted to bottom-out at 23 degrees. Nice camping weather.
Of course the great thing about car camping is you can just throw whatever into the car without worrying overly much about carrying it.
So we got out of the house around 2:30, hopped over to the grocery store
and got a manly meal for the evening---Brats with fixin's and instant potatoes to be augmented with bacon and cheese. Then we were off.
All we needed for sure was firewood, to be purchased on site. The campground is seriously picked over and we had a lot of dark hours to fill with warmth and light from a fire.
Now the thing about the tent sites at Forest Glen is that once upon a time I was there and was given a sheet of do's and don'ts and on the list of don'ts was attaching any line to a tree. Now we know we aren't hurting their trees using tree straps, so better just not to bring the topic up.
The normal drill is to enter the preserve, go to the tent camp grounds, pick a site, and eventually the ranger will come up and say hello, take note of which site you've taken, and then you follow him up to the ranger station (rarely occupied except to do such registration business) to register and so on. And this is when you can ask the ranger to buy some
firewood, follow him out to the stockpile, and pick up what is needed. So we don't want to break out the hammocks until we've seen the ranger and gotten the firewood, because experience is that after that he's not seen again.
We hit the preserve at 3:30---ranger station is closed, as expected---we went to the campsite---empty, as expected----and picked a site at one far back corner. Put up a tent brought along for protective coloration, scouted out good places to hang hammocks, and then it was time to find that ranger. More importantly, to get some firewood.
The park is deserted at 4:00 on a week-day afternoon in late December. We got in the car and went looking. Ranger station dark and closed. Preserve offices dark and closed. Lot's of deer around to look at though, fat looking deer. There's a maintenance building we've visited when returning tools for one son's Eagle project, we went there and found a human! Not a ranger, but someone who could and did take us to a spot near the building where they split the firewood they sell elsewhere. Pointed us to a rack which when filled provides the basic unit of firewood sale, said we could load up what we needed and pay the ranger when he showed up. Said ranger showed up just as we were finishing loading up the back of the Outback with two racks, friendly guy, said we could meet him to register back at the ranger station in 10 minutes. Plan B was working out after all.
When I registered at the station, filled out one of those sheets that has space for multiple names, I noticed that the closest in time registration for camping was in November (!) and that my visit with the nine-year-old six weeks ago was the next entry before that. Not a lot of camping action in the dark months.
So the fire got started and the hammocks got hung, but as is all too usual, in the dark. We roasted our brats, boiled water in a Kelly Kettle just set next to the fire, made our instant spuds with cheese and bacon, and feasted as only young men without cholesterol concerns may. Which excludes me, but no way was I going to each a spinach salad in _that_ context.
By the time we finished with dinner it was (only) 6 pm and had been dark for a while. We had a long night of sitting around the campfire ahead of us and bellies full of brats, time for a night-time hike. Not on the trails, but on the roads through the preserve. Off we went, hither and yon, and ran the clock down to 7:30 pm. Settled in to some hours of burning wood, staring into the flames, some idle chatter. Should point out the camp chairs we're using, Alite Monarch Butterfly Chair, see this link. Kept us up off the ground (good because it is snow-covered!). Balances on two legs. In these colder temps you want some more insulation between you and the chair, I used an insulated sit-pad.
We exhausted the firewood supply around 11. I used the final coals to heat water for my nalgene-in-sock hot bottle for the hammock.
Sons each slept in a Blackbird, each insulated on the bottom with a 3-season Yeti covered over by a JRB Shenandoah. Had to create suspension systems for the JRB quilts on the spot, knew that was going to be neeed and brought a roll of shock cord for the purpose. Did that in the light of headlamps.
I took the opportunity to use my Speer peapod. That doesn't work on bridge hammocks of course, but I have an HH Explorer that has the full zipper mod by 2Q/ZQ. I also put on the underpad that is part of the HH super-shelter set up, and between the pad and hammock put in an emergency blanket. I slept in my fleece-lined pants I'd been wearing
(which were fully dried by the fire), a polypro base over which I put a possum-down sweater, and then a light insulated jacket. I also had a light down quilt inside with me. On my feet were possum-down socks, on my head a possum-down beanie. I like possum-down. The nice thing about car camping is.....
I was warm so long as I stayed inside of the underpad. If a knee strayed above while on my side, I knew it PDQ. I awoke in the middle of the night, I don't do the pee bottle thing---the consequences of failure too high for my tastes---and while admiring the early morning moon-lit view could tell that it was colder than 23 degrees F. I guessed closer to 15 F, and that was later borne out by weather station data.
I'd told MedicineMan (who likes peapods too) about my use of the peapod and he asked for pictures. That in fact, is the principle reason for this long missive----(that and avoiding the work that awaits me next). Figured I'd share the pictures and story for all who don't have anything more interesting or pressing than reading these many words.
View of the peapod. One thing different in use was that I tied the end of the peapod with its closure cords to the top of the hammock to keep it from sliding. In use I had some of the velcro closed up at the top, an airhole from my mid-chest up to above my head, and closed down the rest of the way.
Layer next to the peapod is the HH underpad
An emergency blanket is sandwiched in between hammock body and underpad.
Sons are proud of the low temp hit---15 F---the sleeping systems all did what was needed in these conditions.
We got up, packed up, and came home. I have stuff all over the basement hung up drying now, and some avoided tasks calling me.
It's good to get out, however briefly, and even in a campground, but especially if it's with sons.