Maine Diaries: Living that #VanLife

Saturday, September 16

Kurt and I, plus our dog River, packed up our Chevy Astrovan for a week-long road trip to Maine. We spent 12 hours on the road, ending up in the Finger Lakes National Forest in New York to spend our first night in the van. The sky had already grown dark as we reached the campground, and since the only available site was a walk-in, we ended up sleeping in the parking lot. It was a warm night, 80 degrees and sticky. We pulled down our window shades and slept on top of our sleeping bags with the roof fan cranking.

River ready to go

Sunday, September 17

We got on the road early. I entered two new states for the first time–Vermont! (where I ate a turkey sandwich with cranberries and stuffing on it) New Hampshire! (where I bought a box of wine), and then, finally, we crossed the bridge into Maine while passing through a misty rain. We traveled down dark roads lined by forests, and I told Kurt to slow down (“You’re gonna Stephen-King someone!”).  We pulled into Bradbury Mountain State Park just before nightfall, and enjoyed the quiet solitude of nature and “got away from it all” by watching the Packer game on the iPad using the campground wifi.

entering Maine

Monday, September 18

Now that we had reached Maine, we could spend less time driving and more time wandering and exploring various coastal towns. Our first stop was in Boothbay, where we found a restaurant on the water with dog-friendly outdoor seating. I had my first Maine lobster roll with a Bloody Mary. After lunch, we walked through town and checked out a few stores; every single one allowed dogs inside, so Maine is definitely a dog-friend travel destination. That night, we stayed at Camden Hills State Park in a secluded site at the end of the loop, far from any neighbors. The sky was misty with intermittent drizzling rain, creating an otherworldly backdrop of trees that could pass for Dagobah. We cooked burgers on our camp stove and tucked into our box of wine. When I walked to the restrooms near the main road,  the forest was still and quiet, with no sign of any other humans. I held my breath as I darted back to our site, expecting to see Pennywise lurking just beyond the reach of the beam of light coming from my headlamp.

#vanlife

Tuesday, September 19

We drove from Camden to Acadia National Park, stopping in Bucksport to buy groceries and check out John Buck’s Memorial in an old local cemetery. Legend has it that Colonel Buck had sentenced a witch to death by burning at the stake, and after his own passing, a black mark in the shape of a woman’s leg appeared on his monument. When we arrived in Acadia National Park, we stopped near Thunder Hole to see our first views of the ocean. A thick fog hung in the air, obscuring most of our view but creating an autumnal ambiance. We took a drive to the quiet side to see the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and when the skies cleared, I had to quote The Little Mermaid– “A fine strong wind and a following sea; King Triton must be in a friendly-type mood.” We settled in at the Blackwoods Campground where a steady rain kept us inside the van most of the night. We stretched out on the unfolded bench-turned-bed, and I read my book (Pet Sematary) while drinking boxed wine from our camping cups. River curled up on her doggie bed on the shag rug, sleeping peacefully while I read about pets being resurrected and coming back “not quite right.”

no one was forced to be in this photo. nope.

Wednesday, September 20

We spent the morning in Bar Harbor, eating breakfast in the dog-friendly patio area of That Way Cafe. As the sky cleared up, we drove back into the park for an easy first hike, going 3.2 miles around Jordan Pond and getting a nice view of North and South Bubble Mountains. The first half of the trail was an easy dirt path, but coming around the other side of the pond (which is actually a 150-feet-deep lake), the trail traveled over large rocks and boulders, and included a series of planks lifted off the ground to protect vegetation. River scrambled easily over the rocks but it was a little tricky to keep her on the planks when she would rather jump onto the forest floor.  That night, we drove back to Bar Harbor (we did lots of back-and-forth between the town and the campground since it was only 6 miles away) and had a lobster dinner–my first! River snoozed under the table as I learned how crack the shell and slurp out all the inner buttery goodness. She *might* have been given a little sample so she could brag about it upon her return to the dog park back home.

les poissons les poissons

Thursday, September 21

In the morning, we had breakfast at the campsite–eggs scrambled with hamburger and hashbrowns, and instant coffee. After, we packed up a daypack with water, snacks, and dog bowls, put River’s little doggo backpack on her, and set out from Blackwoods to the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail.  Roundtrip from our campground to the summit of the tallest mountain on the U.S. eastern seaboard, the hike is roughly 9 miles total over 1,500 feet of elevation gain–a nice, moderate day hike with nothing too crazy thrown at us. At the beginning of the trail, we wound through forest, hopping over tree routes, then started a gradual climb over rocks and boulders. River acted like she was half mountain goat, gamely jumping up rocks with a big doggo grin. As an acrophobic, the south ridge of Cadillac is my kind of mountain—no steep drop-offs that make my heart pound in fear, just gentle slopes where, even if I tripped and fell, I’d slide to a safe and easy stop instead of plummeting to my death. Once we climbed over the tree line, the views were incredible, giving us an 180-degree view of the Atlantic Ocean. When we reached the summit, we entered a swarm of tourist who either drove to the top or arrived by tour bus. We bought blueberry soda and ice cream bars in the gift shop and sat on a bench, resting our feet and refueling with sugar. My past knee injuries make descents tougher than ascents, so I was a little nervous about the return trip over the rockier parts of the trail, but we got back to camp without incident. River was equally adept hopping down giant rocks as she was going up. Once we got back to camp, we made a stop at the coin-operated showers down the road to wash up, and then had a final meal in Bar Harbor while River snoozed under the table, dreaming of adventure. That night at camp, through the windows of the van, we could hear the crash of the ocean, the waves dictated by the moon.

mountain goat doggo

Friday, September 22

I always get a little sad whenever we leave a National Park. Even when I’m eager for strong wifi, strong running water, and strong coffee, a part of me still wishes we were sleeping in the forest like little woodland creatures. We made a quick stop at the visitors center at the park entrance to get a sticker for the van, and got back on the road towards Portland. On the return trip, we took a small detour through Bangor, in small part so we could drive past Stephen King’s house. It was obvious when we found it; besides the handful of other tourists who had stopped to take a picture of his wrought-iron gate designed to look like a spider web, a large red balloon hovered just above the fence in homage to IT. We stopped to take a quick photo and walk River on the parkway; as we stood outside, we saw a car pull into the driveway and it was obviously Stephen King himself! So that was cool, though at that point we felt like obvious gawkers so we quickly got back into the van and on our way. In Portland, we had booked an Airbnb for two nights in town. We checked in, napped and cleaned up a bit, then went out for a night of dinner and drinking with a local friend, David (and Drinker with a Writing Problem!) who showed us around to some fun bars including the Thirsty Pig and the Great Lost Bear. We had plenty of good local beers and one impressive platter of nachos before we stumbled home and slept in a real bed for the first time in a week.

camping hair don’t care

Saturday, September 23

We slept in at the Airbnb, with no sounds of camping neighbors packing up cars in the early a.m.  For brunch, we checked out a recommendation from our friend, Hot Suppa, and I had one of my top-five-all-time-favorite Bloody Marys. It was a perfectly sunny, surprisingly warm afternoon, so we took River to the beach and played fetch in the water. We wrapped up the day by having some flights at Shipyard Brewing (their Pumpkinhead is an especially good pumpkin beer), dinner at Liquid Riot, and a few nightcap beers on the back porch of our Airbnb.

boat crazy!

Sunday, Sept. 24 – Monday, Sept. 25

We got an early start for our drive home, leaving the Airbnb at 7 a.m., flying through Maine and New Hampshire, then making a quick lunch stop in Massachusetts. Another state first for me! A friend of mine and I once tried to define what counts as having been to a state–my personal rule is that layovers don’t count unless you leave the airport, and driving through counts as long as you stop at some point and your feet hit the ground. We reached Cleveland around 7 p.m., where we spent the night with our good friend Becky at her house and hung out with her adorable son, dogs, and foster cat. On Monday, we drove the final stretch back to Chicago and it was pretty uneventful except for one magical moment. The backstory: in 2009, I drove to New York City with my sister to help her make a cross-country move. We left Chicago in a rental car packed to the brim at around midnight. By the time we reached Ohio, we were cracked out on coffee and energy drinks, and made a rest stop at a gas station. We were both shocked and delighted to find a very random poster of Romeo + Juliet-era Leonardo DiCaprio mounted on the wall in the women’s restroom. Because we were so tired, the memory of it seemed surreal, like perhaps our dreams were incepted by the same Tiger Beat editor. Years passed; I’ve made the Chicago-to-East-Coast drive multiple times since, and never came across that poster again….UNTIL NOW. When I walked into the women’s restroom and locked eyes with Leo’s baby blues, I died. I had stumbled across the same mirage in the desert, that magical Brigadoon.  I texted my sister immediately and her reaction was as expected: “OMG!!!!!!!!” I asked Kurt if there was a matching Claire Danes-as-Juliet poster in the men’s room, but he said no. Must’ve been sold separately.

Leo 4-eva

Anyways, a few hours later, we finally reached home. Maine’s lovely and you should check it out.

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Spring Green, Wisconsin

img_9219October is my favorite month, and every year I love to revel in it as much as I can. Shockingly, we haven’t done fall camping in Wisconsin before, so we recently righted this wrong and visited the Spring Green area for a beautiful weekend outdoors with friends.


We arrived at Friday night at our favorite campground, which is nestled against the Wisconsin River. After setting up our tents, we stopped by the local bar for some Spotted Cows and burgers, then spent the rest of the night enjoying the crisp coolness and crackling campfire. The temperature hovered in the 50’s,  and a mist lingered on the surface of the water, like ghosts rising from graves.

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On Saturday, Kurt and I had booked a double-header of local, spooky exploration. First, we went on a tour of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green. The home was originally completed in 1911, and was designed and built for Wright’s mistress, Mamah Borthwick. Horrifically, she was murdered in the home along with her children and several workers; the killer was a disgruntled servant who set the house on fire and attacked the victims with an axe as they tried to flee for their lives. Before booking the tour, I had no idea about the home’s tragic history. This added cast another dimension to the tour, as we imagined Wright’s grief and the weight of his loss as we walked the halls and looked out the windows that framed landscapes of the hills and valleys.

img_9212After the tour, we joined up with our friends for the next destination: the House on the Rock. The original house was built by Alex Jordan, an architect who had a tense rivalry with Frank Lloyd Wright. The Japanese-inspired design was a direct nod to Wright’s personal aesthetic. As Jordan grew older, he turned into an eccentric recluse. He had his friends who traveled the world bring back trinkets and oddities to add to his growing collections. The tour includes the original house plus the grounds that hold (among other items): a dollhouse collection, a warehouse-sized replica of a squid fighting a whale, rows of suits of armor, music machines that take up entire rooms, and the world’s largest carousel. More of a museum than a house, the attraction is dimly lit and random music played by mechanical violins and horns drifts down the halls. Some of the older machines aren’t quite in tune, making everything seem even more surreal and slightly askew.  A friend once perfectly described the house as “like being inside somebody else’s nightmare.”

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And yet, this wasn’t even the main event of our trip; that came a few hours later. We went back to the campsite to make dinner over the fire, have a few beers, and rest after spending the day on our feet. Once the sun set, a few of us who sought more thrills drove back to the House on the Rock for The Dark Side experience. In the few hours between closing the main attraction and reopening, parts of the grounds were turned into a haunted house. We started down an outdoor path lit solely by torches, turning into a human knot as we clung to each other, seeking protection. None of us had been to the Dark Side version of the house before, and we had no idea what to expect. To add to the horror, we seemed to be the onlyimg_9261people there… until a clown leapt out of the shadows and spooked the shit out of us. We dissolved into the nervous laughter that immediately follows a jump scare. The clown silently gestured us toward a path back into the house. Inside, the lights were now completely turned off, and occasional strobe lights burst through the space like lightning. We walked into the carousel room, which was (even more) eerily lit, making the wooden animals appear nightmarish and leering. For the next 40 minutes, we wound our way back past dollhouses, empty suits of armor, and through the Organ Room. Along the way, other ghouls and zombies leapt out at us from the shadows, startling us into more screams.

We drove back to camp on an unlit country road, through the darkness of the trees. A cheery campfire greeted us, and we joined our friends for beers and boxed wine under a harvest moon.

 

 

Camp Colorado

I’ve been pretty sporadic about blogging on this page, but it’s funny looking back to see that that the times I jumpstart activity again are right around the changing of the seasons. Nature has always been one of my biggest inspirations, along with pop culture, which makes it a little tricky to figure out my ‘brand’ for this blog. Do I write about hiking or TV, my favorite campsite or my opinions on Kanye? Obviously, it doesn’t matter. This blog is really just a place where I post rambling stories, observations, and lists in order to keep myself writing regularly. Come for the pretty pictures of mountains, stay for the geekery.

IMG_7861On to my most recent camping experience! Over Memorial Day weekend, Kurt and I went on our first outdoor adventure of 2016. It was a destination trip to Boulder, Colorado, where we visited some good friends who moved out west. We arrived minutes before a hailstorm, which pounded onto the tented roof of the Denver International Airport like experimental noise rock. Dodging pebble-sized ice balls, we hopped into the shuttle to the care rental place which gave us a Nissan Altima instead of the Kia Rio we booked online, so sadly, we did not get to drive into Boulder like cool hamsters.

After hanging out in Boulder for a night, we drove to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for a few days of camping. In typical high-altitude Colorado fashion, the weather alternated between 70 degrees in the sun to 55 and raining when the clouds rolled in, then back again in minutes. We learned upon arrival that the state park does not allow anything to be attached to trees (#hammockfail) and we did not bring a free-standing canopy, so the guys erected a makeshift shelter using fallen branches, rope, and water jugs as anchors, after an amusing tarp-measuring contest. The next few days were heaven: cool mornings with delicious coffee from our friends’ café in Boulder, days spent climbing rocks and hanging out near lakes, afternoons and evenings relaxing around the campfire, cooking cans of chili, playing card games, drinking local craft beers, and watching the stars come out.

On Sunday, Kurt and I packed up our tents, said goodbye to our friends who were camping another night, and drove into Golden to shower because we had tickets to see My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks. I’ve been dying to see a show there, and it lived up to my expectations (though I’m glad I received the pro-tip beforehand to pee right when you enter because climbing the stairs over and over is brutal). The view of the stage is breathtaking (literally, I was dying after all of those stairs), with a backdrop of Denver’s lights in the distance.

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Stop! Pano time

MMJ put on a memorable show, playing for three hours and covering Prince, Creedence, and the Commodores’ Easy Like Sunday Morning, my weekend coffee-and-donuts anthem. The one misstep for the entire trip was the fact that we booked our return flight home at 6 a.m. Monday morning, which meant that after getting back to the hotel from Red Rocks around half past midnight, I had to set our alarm clock to go off in two hours. Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right Bon Jovi?

It was a fantastic little trip, and it was great spending time with our friends who had pulled up city stakes and moved west. May all our future hangs have equally pretty backdrops.

Winter Adventurers

“You know what’s happening this weekend, right? You’ve seen the weather forecast?” the park ranger asked the first of our friends to arrive at the campgrounds early on Friday afternoon.

“We know,” they replied.

“Are you here for the start of hunting season?”

“No, just here to camp.”

The ranger shook his head in disbelief. A winter storm was rolling into the area, expected to drop up to 10 inches on much of the Midwest. And we were driving up north, headed the opposite direction of the geese flying south for the winter overhead, to spend the weekend outdoors.
IMG_6684Winter camping is one of my favorites. Though the days are short and our beer freezes overnight, there’s something about the quiet stillness that makes the forest otherworldly. The world hibernates around us, but in our small circle around the campfire, we stay warm and pass the whiskey. Overhead, stark branches criss-cross against the silver sky. The snow falls steadily, piling up on our tents, our boxes of beer (no need for a cooler), our fur-trimmed hoods pulled up over our heads. Beyond the circle, whiteness obliterates the landscape; we could be in Wisconsin or Westeros. Coyotes yip in the night. Or direwolves.

We’ve camped in snow before. We’ve camped in 1-degree temperatures before. But this was our first time camping in a legitimate winter storm, one big enough to get a name: Bella. We were undaunted by this news; we are not the type to be scared off, especially by a storm named after a damn Twilight character. We may be crazy, but we’re tough, and this wasn’t our first rodeo. There’s a Norwegian saying that goes “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.” We were prepared with insulated sleeping pads, bags rated for 15 degrees, waterproof layers, a coat and Musher’s Secret for our dog.

IMG_6714We arrived, car by car, at our large group site. As Friday slipped into Saturday, the snow fell. It melted onto our coats, warmed by the fire. It piled onto our tents, causing rainflies to droop under its wintry weight. It buried bottles left out on picnic tables, turning them into ambiguous white blobs. It blanketed us from the rest of the world, silencing the sounds of civilization, leaving only our laughter, our breath as we blew into our mittens, the crackle of the fire.

On Saturday morning, the snow still fell. We stayed in our warm sleeping bags, our tents transformed into igloos. Finally lured out by the promises of coffee, campfire, and Bloody Marys, we emerged from our brief hibernation. Before we could eat or drink, we had to shovel inches of snow off the tables. The dogs frolicked in the fresh powder, losing tennis balls and frisbees. We posted photos to social media with Winter Storm Bella hashtags, declaring ourselves Team Jacob. Our friends back home called us crazy.

The snow eventually stopped; blue sky peeked out through the bare tree branches. We began to cook our Thanksgiving meal. Potatoes boiled over the campfire. Vegetarian curry stewed on a camp stove. A turducken dripped savory juices in the smoker. Just before sunset, we set up our spread over the picnic table, salivating before our feast.

“I wish the ranger would come by and see this,” my friend said. We ate our meal together, friends bonded by our breaking of bread under the most snowy extreme circumstances. Call us crazy; we don’t mind. We’re adventurers.

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Emigrant Diaries: Coming off the Trail

Oct. 1, 2015: from Grouse Lake to San Francisco

Mileage: 4 trail miles, 4 city miles

We woke up to the morning light and the sound of light rain. Our last campsite at Grouse Lake was a short 4 miles to the trailhead, so we decided to get there quickly. Skipping breakfast, we put some trail mix and snacks into our pockets and packed up camp for the last time. The trail proceeded up a steady climb, then back down the ridge we had traversed a week ago. As we walked, the rain slowly grew heavier, and we put on our rain jackets for the first time on the trip. I quickly grew sweaty in my jacket with all of the uphill walking. Puddles began to gather on the trail and our boots were caked in mud. My trekking poles accumulated leaves on their tips; it was definitely autumn.

21957145412_88e5a02063_oEventually, the parking lot came into view through the trees. Our hike had reached its end. We were wet, muddy, and hungry, so the rental car waiting for us was a welcome sight. The first thing I did after resting my backpack near the parked Nissan was pull out the Ziploc of packed-out toilet paper and triumphantly toss it in the trash bins.

The drive to San Francisco was about 4 hours. We stopped in Sonora to get hot tea, coffee, and pastries, and I used my cell phone to find a hotel room in the city. Upon arriving and walking into the hotel lobby, I was very conscious of how terrible we must smell to the other people waiting in line to check in. We were wet, dirty, and our large backpacks felt cumbersome compared to all of the little suitcases on wheels. Upon receiving our room keys, we quickly retreated to our room (I made a quick stop to the gift shop to buy overpriced deodorant).

There is nothing like the first shower after a long camping trip. I relished the  hot water and scented shampoo, and watched the stream of dirty water disappear down the drain. Once we both felt clean and refreshed, we hand-washed items we’d need (underwear, sports bras), hung up coats that needed to be aired out, emptied the water bladder and cleaned the filter. We decided to go across the street and buy some new clothes than pay the insane prices for downtown hotel laundry service. It felt a little jarring to be buying 4 pairs of socks for $12 at an H&M when just that morning, I was sleeping on the ground near a lake.
21943118366_92b80d232b_oFor the next two days, we ate hot food, drank cold beers, and walked around the city. Kurt had never been to San Francisco before, so we went sight-seeing: Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Bridge. With some lucky timing, we ended up in town during the weekend of Strictly Hardly Bluegrass, a free music festival in Golden Gate Park, so we checked that out with a daypack full of boxed wine and snacks. Nearly two weeks earlier, we had camped and hiked along the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and now we were staying in the city that got its water supply from that very place. Talk about full circle.

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On Oct. 3, we flew home to Chicago. It’s always good to be back at home, to sleep in your own bed again. I was excited to see my dog and our friends, to share the stories from our trip and post photos and blog updates. Quickly, we fell back into our normal daily routines. Until the next adventure…

Emigrant Diaries: Our Last Night in the Backcountry

Sept. 30, 2015: From Wood Lake to Grouse Lake

Mileage: 12.19 miles
‘Floors’: 52

21979092951_cd7184fc5c_oDespite my fraidy-cat status when I went to bed the previous night, we slept soundly and disruption-free. The mornings were definitely getting colder in the final days of September, so we had a hot breakfast of eggs and dehydrated hashbrowns with coffee and tea.

On our way out of the site and back to the trail, we ran into the two hikers we had met the previous day, and ended up chatting with them for nearly half an hour. They had been hiking buddies since high school and had spent tons of time in both Yosemite and Emigrant. When we said we were from Chicago, one of them replied “And you came here instead of Disneyland?” They were excited that we had heard of Emigrant and made our way here. The two of them were gearing up to do the John Muir Trail in the next few years. After discussing trekking poles, the Chicago Cubs, and Levi’s Stadium, we said our goodbyes and continued on our way.

21969313995_95c13896d5_oThe trail to Grouse Lake involved a long stretch of downhill climbing over massive rocks, which I personally found more difficult than going uphill. Stepping down large boulders and over gravelly surfaces while wearing a large pack without rolling an ankle took a lot of concentration, and using my trekking poles was a huge help. When we finally reached the bottom, we passed another couple. “How’s it goin’?” we said in greeting. The man greeted us back and replied “It’s a tough day.” The downhill stretch was immediately followed by a long uphill climb, and then finally, thankfully, the trail leveled off. While passing through a wooded area, I saw two mule deer dash across the trail ahead of us.

The closer we got to Grouse Lake, one thing became apparent; the trail in this area got used for livestock quite often, and very recently. Manure was scattered over the trail at intermittent distances, as if the horses were trying to poop out a Morse code message to us. Upon reaching the lake, we walked around until we found a campsite with easy water access. I noticed hoof prints in the mud, more horse hair strands hanging from tree bark, and a few random horse turds. We set up the tent in a turd-free zone and went through the normal motions: gathering firewood, filtering water, and setting up our bear cans away from the tent.

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After the long hike, I wanted to wash up a bit. Jumping into a lake was getting progressively harder now that the weather was cooling down, especially now that the sun had been hiding behind clouds for the last few days. It would be my last time to ‘bathe’ before going back to San Francisco, so I took a deep breath and submerged myself into Grouse Lake. When you’ve been hiking for miles covered in dirt from head to toe and the smell of your own armpits can knock you out, it’s quite amazing how refreshing a 2-second dip into freezing cold water can be.

Just before sunset, the birds and squirrels started going nuts. Kurt and I both remarked on how many kingfishers and chickarees we could hear chirping away in the trees. It made me wonder: were they alerting us to something, or alerting everything else about us? We built a nice warm fire and made our last campfire meal of curry rice. The moon was once against hidden behind clouds so we had little light beyond the fire. As we warmed our toes near the flames, a light drizzle began to fall. It was the first rain we’d seen since arriving in California. The fine mist wasn’t enough to get us wet or affect the fire, so we stayed outside for another hour or so. Eventually, we retired to the tent and read books by headlamp while listening to the soft pitter-patter of rain.

Emigrant Diaries: Dark Night at Wood Lake

Sept. 29, 2015: from Buck Lakes to Wood Lake

Mileage: 7.61 miles

After two nights at Buck Lakes, we were ready to move on to some new scenery. Kurt was interested in going cross country to reach Karl’s Lake, which was off trail a ways. To get there, we crossed over a ridge, then down a large expanse of rock towards a forested area. One thing about backcountry camping is that it makes you aware of your strengths as well as your limitations. For me, I discovered my uneasiness over going off-trail for an overnight stay, even though it was just a few miles. While Kurt was confident navigating with a topographic map and a compass, I was afraid of a potential scenario where he was injured or incapacitated,and I had to find my way back to the trailhead to get help. I wasn’t confident that I could do this, so I asked Kurt if we could stay at a lake closer to the trail instead. He saw that I was outside of my comfort zone so he agreed to end our little off-roading adventure early. I felt a little bit like a wimp, but I also knew that it was the right choice for me at that time. Just a few years ago, I had been nervous about camping in the backcountry where bears were present, but with time and experience I was now doing just that for close to two weeks straight. Learning to be comfortable navigating off-trail would be a new future goal for myself.

21943146616_2b24a2c527_oWe continued along the trail to Wood Lake, and spotted a possible good campsite across the water. To get there, we crossed a series of downed logs (as we learned later, we took the long way). While I was setting up the tent, I heard Kurt say something like “Is this human?” That piqued my interest, so I went to see what he was looking at: a clump of long black hair intertwined in some tree bark. The sight creeped me out, but when I looked closer, I realized that it was most likely horse hair. The strands were long, coarse, and at the perfect height  to be left by a stock animal rubbing up against a tree.

21348178313_1754c7b3c9_oWe had just finished setting up camp and were hanging out by the lake when two other hikers came along, looking for a site. They were two men about 15-20 years older than us, both from the northern California area. We chatted with them for a bit; they had stayed on our site during a previous trip. They continued along on the their way to set up at another spot further down the lake, tucked back behind the rocks.

21979093531_f15392c009_oWe made a fire as the sun set, then heated up our dinner of Ramen noodles with added powdered eggs, dehydrated veggies and chicken. It was a cloudy night, the moon completely obscured. Now, I never get afraid of the thought of ghosts or monsters while camping; there’s too many real, practical things to fear like wildlife, lightning, hantavirus, flash floods, etc. I don’t know what it was about that night–maybe the initial unsettling discovery of the hair tangled on that tree, or the lack of any moonlight. But for whatever reason, the thought of The Blair Witch Project crossed my mind. And of course once I tried to shake it, it was all I could think about. Just beyond the fire, the forest was enveloped in velvety darkness. When I turned on my headlamp, a beam would illuminate only the handful of trees closest to us, the light dissipating weakly into the black forest. Once I accidentally turned on my headlamp on the strobe setting, and the intermittent flashes of light on the trees, then pitch darkness, made me think of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which was even more unsettling. That night, I burrowed deep into my sleeping bag like a dog relying on its thundershirt for comfort and security.