Finally…FINALLY…after nearly 9 months of paTROLLing these forums, buying and making gear, and generally not using said gear, yours truly was able to escape the confines of the city and venture forth into the wilds of the Indiana woods. Sadly, my opportunity came on probably the hottest day of the year.
I left Indianapolis with my Brother, 7 year old nephew, and 13 year old son Saturday afternoon. Our destination was the Frog pond near the Terril Cemetery in the Charles Deam wilderness, Hoosier National Forest. Frog is capitalized on purpose…more on that later.
We arrived at the Firetower parking area roughly around 2:40pm and, after a thorough gear check, hit the trail around 3pm. Our first stop was 30 feet later. Even though this wasn’t our sons’ first rodeo, it was the first time they carried nearly their full hiking weight…so, we made frequent stops along the way.
We made a brief stop at the cemetery which is wildly overgrown. I saw a gravestone with a date from 1992 and was struck by the fact that, in all likelihood, only hikers and park rangers ever visit the grave sites anymore. Makes you ponder things like your own mortality and what your legacy will be. It’s at that moment when I realized I set my pack on top of a vine of poison ivy. Great.
We also encountered someone who set up a campsite right next to the cemetery. We have no idea who this person was, but they were trying very hard to contact someone on a ham radio. “CQ, CQ, this is whiskey…something-something-something…calling CQ.” My brother and I were mostly in awe of this person because they were wearing jeans. Granted, it’s under two miles to the cemetery, but in the heat and humidity, the last thing I would want to wear is jeans…so, this guy was either nuts or the Marlboro Man.
We left the cemetery behind and continued on another 100 yards or so to the pond where we were alone. I expected to see at least some other fools (besides the Marlboro Man) who would brave the heat to spend the night in the woods. The only beings to greet us were frogs. So, we had our pick of the campsites.
We chose a site my brother and I had used on past trips. Mostly because it offered a wide space of mostly flat, root-free ground. I was the only hanger in the group…though, my brother did bring a “camp hammock” he got for Father’s Day. I found my trees and a nice spot nearby for my son’s tent. Set up took a bit longer than I would have liked, but this being my first outing, it was more of a shake-down than what I expect on future trips.
Adding to my set up time, I also had to help my brother with his hammock. The “camp hammock” he brought was little more than woven mason line netting hung between two 24” long, 2” diameter dowel rods and swing-set like nylon for a suspension. The manufacturers of this hammock believed the user would only need about 3 feet of line on either end for the suspension. So, my brother was having a rough time getting it hung. Luckily, I brought some extra 550 line and we had it up and lounging in no time. As horrible as that hammock was, it was still a blessing to sit in compared to the alternative. The entire time we were at camp, someone was vying for a spell in either hammock.
While I continued to dial in my set up…tarp layout, underquilt, etc…my brother tried to fish the pond. Poor [expletive]. No fish. Plenty of lily pads and the endless mocking from the frogs, but nary a fish to be had.
After my brother’s failed attempt to find a fresh water Nemo, we decided it was time for dinner. My homemade bud light stove worked like a champ and we were munching on cups-o-noodles and canned chicken. My son said, “Normally, this would taste like butt…but, out here it’s a feast.”
Any tips on what to eat in hot weather? Seriously, I love cup-o-noodles for dinner in the woods, but eating a hot meal in 90 degree weather is unpleasant to say the least.
After dinner my boy scavenged to find roasting sticks for marshmallows. I got to use my Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife to sharpen them up. Ok…personally, I’m more of a Less Stroud fan, but I was looking for a good knife on the cheap and Bear just happened to partner up with Gerber to make a decent, economy version of the LMF II which includes a firestarter. (No flaming from you knife guys, please.) My boy gave me the “don’t you think that knife’s a bit overkill” look, but happily took his skewer when I was finished.
And then night fell over the camp site…the Frogs and Fireworks, however, continued on. Camping near a pond full of at least 4 different species of Frogs isn’t what one would call a peaceful experience; unless you’re Marlee Matlin. Add to this being in close proximity to a college town/reservoir on Fourth of July weekend and you’re looking at experiencing the equivalent to a sonic tsunami. Tylenol PM can only help so much.
So…there I am, sprawled out in my hammock with a small portable fan clipped to my ridgeline while the world outside is exploding and croaking and eventually I fall asleep. Around 3:35am, my tarp begins to flap like the wings of a giant polyester bat as a breeze picked up. I reluctantly opened one eye and noticed lightening off in the distance and decided I needed to get up and batten down the hatches.
30 mins and many, many ‘skeeter bites later, I got back inside the safety of the hammock and waited. By the grace of the Verizon Gods, I had 3G service and was able to check the current radar for my area…which showed a massive storm system about 20 miles west of our camp. For about an hour I laid there, wondering if my taut-line hitches were tied correctly and if the additional tie-outs I sewed into my Gear Guide tarp were going to be strong enough to keep me covered.
Then the rain came. Rain, like butterfly kisses, fell lightly upon my tarp and lasted maybe all of 20 minutes. And that was it. I fired up the radar once again and the massive storms had taken a Southerly beeline course and missed us completely. Visions of hang gliding across the forest quickly faded and I tried to go back to sleep.
My next coherent thought was: the bladder has won. So, it was time to leave the comforts of the hammock and begin the day. After that pressing matter was attended to, breakfast was made and eaten.
Normally, I like to putter around camp for an hour or so before I pack up and head back out. However, I had reached the limit to my heat endurance and was looking forward to getting back to civilization…which at that point meant a shower and napping in front of an AC vent. Everyone agreed that the best thing for us was to return to the car.
Packing up was much quicker than then setting up, though I was still the last to close his pack. No matter how hard I try, I still end up with a pack explosion when I get to camp…so, there’s the obligatory 30 mins of searching for everything I brought and going over everything like my Grandmother leaving a hotel room.
The boys had a bit more pep in their steps. I’d like to think it was because my brother and I pulled the hero card and put more of our sons' gear in our packs, but I think the prospect for playing some Xbox probably had a bit more to do with it. We made fewer stops than before, which was nice. We also ran into two box turtles on our way out…which is becoming a tradition for me. Nearly every time I venture into the Hoosier National Forest, I encounter a turtle somewhere along the way. If I were New Agey, I’d suspect that this would be my totem.
We made it back to the car in record time, where we changed clothes and munched on a pound of beef jerky left behind for the ride home.
Considering this was my first trip out, I was only slightly disappointed in my set up.
My HH Explorer worked as intended, but I had a couple of moments when the Velcro didn’t want to close tightly. When I slept, I slept well, and rarely moved…though, my right ankle was constantly bent inward in almost every position. The pressure could be alleviated by switching my leg position periodically, but almost never eliminated. More annoying than painful and there was no lingering soreness in the morning. The best thing, though, was the complete lack of mosquito bites through my hammock.
My No Sew PLUQ was a mess. I really thought I had this dialed in before we left and I was really wrong. This was my first DIY UQ and it was barely functional. Luckily, it was so hot I didn’t need it much…if it had gotten into the 60’s I might have been uncomfortable. Now that I have some thread injector experience under my belt, I foresee some great changes to this UQ in my near future.
My Gear Guide Tarp has to be one of my best investments, but I need to work on the set up. I left a couple of wings loose and when the breeze kicked up I thought I was being attacked. I also think making a set of snake skins for it will help with the set up times.
Two bright points on my set up: Dutch Clips and Dutchflyz. So easy, a caveman could do it.
Anyway, there you have it…all 1678 words of it. Sorry, for the rambling. Wish I took more pics of my hammock, but I'm more of a doer than a picture taker.