Homer's Travels: My First Camping Experience - Part One

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My First Camping Experience - Part One

Had my first camping experience Friday night.  It went relatively smoothly even if there were a few hiccups.

I drove up to Hitchcock Nature Center early Friday morning to reserve a spot.  I had no problem getting the spot that I wanted.  It turns out I could have arrived late afternoon and still gotten my spot.  It was not as busy as had been suggested by the Hitchcock staff.  I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon home going over what I was taking and twiddling my thumbs mostly.

I returned to Hitchcock around 5:30 PM and hiked the mile and a half to my campsite.  My pack felt very heavy.  It was roughly eight or nine pounds heavier than my Camino pack.  I was carrying my larger DSLR camera, a tripod, and all the camping gear I didn't need for the Camino (sleeping bag, cooking system, tent).  I felt every extra pound.

I reached the campsite and dropped my pack.  It was a beautiful day with blue skies and a breeze.  At least it was that way at home.  At the campsite there were still blue skies but the breeze was more of a wind.  I'm guessing 10 mph (16 km/hr) or more.

The view West from my Campsite in Hitchcock nature Center.
First things first, put up the tent.  I laid down my tyvek groundsheet ... which promptly tried to fly away.  I laid out the tent over the groundsheet in an attempt to hold it down ... and it too tried to fly away.  I put the groundsheet away temporarily - I would put it under the tent once I'd pitched it.  The tent area in the back country campsites at Hitchcock have a bed of pea gravel.  The gravel provides a smooth surface to sleep on.  Unfortunately the six inch long tent stakes that came with my tent (they look like large nails) would not hold well in the gravel.  I would put one it the ground just to have it pull out when I tried to put another in.  It was a bit frustrating.  At one point a gust of wind caught the tent, yanked out a stake, and flung it into the bushes.  I finally dug down below the gravel to find firm dirt to set the stakes.  This helped.  I also used some cut logs found nearby to reinforce the stakes.  It also helped that the wind began to die down.  This effort resulted in ...
LESSON #1  Buy longer tent stakes for sandy and/or windy conditions.
With the tent up I decided to start on dinner.  I put my stove together and found a place close to a log to keep it out of the wind.  I measured out the 14 fl oz (414 ml) the Mountain House Lasagna with Beef Sauce required, lit the stove with a lighter, and sat my pot on the stove.  It worked like a champ.  I let it go for four minutes but I'm pretty sure I would have been fine with only three minutes ... maybe less.  I knew the handles of the pot could heat up so I used a handkerchief as a pot holder and poured the boiling water into the pouch.  I mixed it up with my spork, resealed the zipper bag, and waited nine minutes for it to be ready.  I was pleasantly surprised by the lasagna.  It wasn't gourmet but it was good cafeteria-ish food quality and quite hot.  I'm not sure I would call it lasagna since it was just wavy flat noodles in a beef and cheese sauce but it did taste sort of like lasagna.  My spork was long enough to empty the pouch though a slightly longer handle would have been nice.  After finishing the pouch, marked as two and a half servings, I came to the realization that ...
LESSON #2  A dehydrated meal will not be enough after a long day of hiking.  Additional food will be required.
At this point I was done putting camp together and, frankly I became bored quick.  I walked around and took pictures of the area.  Wrote some notes on my tablet (yes - I brought technology with me).  Putzed.  On the Appalachian Trail (AT) this shouldn't be a problem since there will likely be someone to talk to to pass the time and I will be tired from a long day's hike and will surely be in bed by Hiker Midnight (i.e. 9:00 pm).

Shortly after 7 pm I decided to light a fire in the fire ring.  I'd brought a duraflame log with me figuring it would be an easy first fire.  Turns out that duraflame logs can get old.  I set the log on a couple pieces of tree limb, used the lighter to light the wrapper where it says "Light here", and watched the wrapper burn until ... it went out.  A dud.  I tried to light the log directly with the lighter but it wouldn't light.  I pondered my situation for a few seconds.  I had no intention of hauling that log back to the car.  I found some dried leaves and grass and made myself a nice ball of tinder.  I put it on top of the log and took on the the pieces of tree branch over it to keep it contained and I lit it. I added some dry bark to the burning tinder and, before you can say Pyromaniac, the artificial log and the tree branch were burning.

My campsite with my awesome fire.
With the fire burning, and the sense of satisfaction I had, I sat on a log next to the fire and relaxed.  As the sun was going down it became quite serene despite the distant highway noise, train whistles, and the occasional low flying plane.  It's hard to get away from civilization sometimes.  I even detected a WiFi signal though it was too weak to be useful.

The sun setting through the approaching clouds.
The sun slowly set in the West.  You could see the clouds coming in.  I'd hoped to see a starry sky but the clouds and haze said otherwise.  The half-Moon didn't help either.  I periodically would get up to take pictures of the sunset or of the Omaha city lights. (Pictures can be found in my 2014-2016 Camping in Iowa and Nebraska Google Photos album.)

The glow of the Omaha skyline.
As it got darker you could hear some animal activity.  Turkeys gobbling.  Something large - probably deer - rustling in bushes down near the bottom of the ridge.  The annoying call of the whip-poor-will that sounded like a high pitched car alarm and was continuous until well after 11 pm.

Despite the boredom, the whole experience grew on me.  I stayed up watching the fire slowly burn down to ashes - kind of like watching reality television.  I poured some water on the glowing embers to put them out and headed for the bed.

How I spent the night will be Part Two of my First Camping Experience coming to a blog near you.

1 comment:

  1. Which goes to show, that when it comes to camping everyone has an opinion on what works for them. Robin Sloan