Trial Camping

As I’m sure we’ve mentioned on this blog, one of our long term goals is to do some true backpacking rather than the long day hikes that we’ve done in the past and have planned for the upcoming summer. The biggest implication of this is that if we’re going to be on the trail for more than one day we will need to sleep at some point, which means camping will be a necessity. We’re also interested in doing some more remote hikes this coming summer that would require very early mornings if we stayed in hotels since the nearest hotel in some cases is hours away.

That’s how we found ourselves camping this weekend, for the first time, in mid-November. We’ve discovered that our idea of camping is pretty different from most other people’s ideas though. The camper friends we’ve talked to seem to think that the camping itself is the experience and have questioned our lack of cooking supplies, entertainment, and even firewood. The other campers in the campground we were at, in my opinion, barely qualified as camping. Most of the sites were decked out with RV’s bigger than most mobile homes and were complete with party patios, big screen TV’s, real beds, showers, and gourmet kitchens.

Our idea of camping is: we want to hike in a certain spot, in order to do that we’ll have to sleep. This means that our camping supplies were cut down to the bare essentials: tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. We also brought along a telescope for fun this time, but that isn’t something that will be a “must-have” going forward. I’m not really sure why people bother with so much other stuff. There were great restaurants nearby and plenty of entertainment on the hiking trails of Mathession and Starved Rock State Parks.

We pulled into the campground about 1:30 and picked out the most secluded and heavily wooded spot we could find (#109). Thankfully I had the foresight to practice setting up the tents at home last weekend for the first time, and they were up in no time. We inflated our pads, spread out our bags, and with our camp fully assembled we were on our way to Mathession by 2.

We’d heard that it was just as cool as Starved Rock, and the reports are right on. You’ll have to look at Molly’s post for pictures, but there were sights galore. My favorite part was “Knott Trail” – we decided that whenever we make up our own trail this is the name it should be given. Navigation is actually becoming a bit of an issue for us, since apparently we’re not very good at it. I’m not sure why the trail we hiked on here wasn’t official though, it was perfect! There were no other people around at all, compared to steady crowds on the other trails. There was scrambling up waterfalls and shimmying along an exposed ledge, compared to the paved walkways most people were on.

After finishing up our hike it was only about 5, and way to early to go to dinner since we were in no rush to get to our sleeping place. As the rest of my family has described we found two good places. The first with good beer, free popcorn, and little service (which was a good thing since we were just looking for a spot to hang out). The second had great homemade food and Miller Lite. By the time we made it back to the sleep spot we were pretty tired anyway, so after stargazing we hopped into bed and fell asleep.

My only memorable moment during the night came when I was woken by Zoe saying “Dad, I’m stuck!”. I mumbled something and then went back to sleep figuring that she couldn’t be too stuck in whatever it was she thought she was stuck to.

I had very low expectations for sleep, but I did pretty well. The worst part was not being able to reposition myself very easily, but fortunately I only woke up, rolled over and fell right back asleep for most of the night. For me the best part was being able to sleep with the rain-fly’s off. This meant that there was only the mesh top of the tent above us so every time we looked up we could see a beautiful starry sky. It was cool sleeping (the overnight low reached 35 degrees) but not so cold that I had a hard time sleeping. In fact in the morning I unzipped my bag thinking it couldn’t be much colder outside than in, but then quickly rezipped when I realized how warm the bag actually was.

Once everyone was awake we got dressed, packed up the sleep spot and were on the road in under an hour.

After a hearty breakfast in Utica we headed to Starved Rock for another great day of hiking. It was an absolutely perfect day for a hike. Everyone was in a good mood, the temperature was just right, and the trail and scenery were beautiful.

I have a feeling this is our last training/practice hike/sleep until spring and we’re all a bit bummed that the next one is so far away. At least we’ve got summer to look forward to!

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