Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gear Review: Merrell Moab Low-cut hiking shoes

One of several deals I got from the REI Garage Sale, these were bought more for running around town/going for walks than for on-trail use. They were designed for trail use, certainly, but they aren't what I want in a trail shoe. I'm high-wear on my footwear (heck, I'm high wear on everything) and after demolishing shoe after shoe after shoe, Bob pointed these out at the REI sale, and I figured what the heck, they fit, the bottoms are vibram soles tougher than most shoes, and they're cheap (under half their retail price.). I'm liking them for kicking around town, it should take me a long time to grind through the bottoms.

Some people DO endorse shoes like this for hiking, but not me. I'm clumsy, and my ankles are historically a problem point. I MUST have ankle support. No ifs ands, buts or compromises. So, even though these are lighter than my Vasque Breezes, I'm not wearing them with my pack. I might wear them to run around a local park or trail without a pack though. And they're a well built shoe, just not to my specifications. I am finding though, that the sole doesn't give me as much support as other shoes, even after breaking it in and molding it to my foot shape. This lack of support lends itsself to a bit of discomfort in the arch, particularly on my weaker left foot.

I've done some training walks, and according to Bob I'm much faster when I'm wearing my Breezes. I don't think that was the only factor in my pace, but they sure do seem to contribute to a slower speed.

All in all, they're a nice shoe, and while I wouldn't necessarily recommend them for backpacking, someone with different criteria might consider them. At the end of the day though, I'm mostly left wondering "why did they name a waterproof shoe after a desert"?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Camp Games: Infernal Contraption

When Car Camping, particularly in a large group it can be nice to have some games along. The weather won't always oblige you, it might pour rain, or get so hot and muggy you can hardly stand to move much less sit beside a roaring fire. And sometimes it's just nice to do something with somebody that doesn't take a lot of energy. Card based games are excellent for this, since they're usually fairly quick to clean up, don't take much space or weight, and can be played repeatedly

One such card game I'm fond of isn't much like others you might think of when I say "Card Game." Called "Infernal Contraption" it's about a bunch of tinkering goblins making a rube goldberg machine out of their scrap pile. Each player starts with a power core in front of them, and adds cards which represent pieces of their machine to their creation. Each card must be connected to a power core, or it will stop functioning, and cards process left to right, top to bottom. Some of them let you reclaim things from the discard pile, others attack another player's machine or scrap pile (deck), others still modify what the cards they're attached to do. There are different power sources, indicated by icons on the edge of the card. Something mechanical might need a gear icon, to indicate mechanical power. Something electronic might need to be connected to an electricity icon. There are also chemical and all-purpose energy icons. other cards amplify or modify the behavior of a device they're attached to.

I personally prefer to focus on mining for more cards and building up my machine rather than going directly on the offensive. I also tend to try not to start things, and then dedicate my wrath to whoever provokes me first. Unless I'm training someone anyway. I might start things, or spread out my fury if I'm teaching. I like this for camping because one, it doesn't take much space, two it plays pretty fast, on the order of 30-60 minutes, while retaining playback value and three, it accomodates up to four players. The main downside is that it does take a good deal of table space to actually build your machines. But you can fit four players on the picnic tables that populate most Wisconsin state parks.

For the longest time it was near impossible to get your hands on the game. FORTUNATELY, they finally reprinted it, and the box now includes the expansion set as well as the core game. If you're interested, I'm including the amazon link to buy it below!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Post-Trip: Harrison Hills

So, what'd I learn from this trip?

I need better bug countermeasures. Possibly Permethrin? (I believe permethrin is supposed to kill bugs not just repel them)

I need a liquid human fuel solution for hilly terrain

I need to pick a less hilly trip for my second outing ever.

It's a lot nicer having a companion with you. Some people might prefer solitude, and I did okay solo hiking, but I enjoyed having a companion.

I should go back to harrison hills next april, when temperatures are much cooler.

I'm nowhere near the shape I should be in.

I need to test my filter further, decide if I want to keep it. I'm not as happy with it as I was prior to this trip.

I'm happy with most of my gear though, most if it worked splendidly.

I need a bug net for my hat.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Post Trip: Harrison Hills Part 4

Our flight from the mountain was not swift. Not on the whole. We made relatively good time in the downhill section of the trail, refreshed from our break atop the mountain. But we were low on water and we knew it. and downhill does not equal easy. if anything it's a greater challenge in terms of balance, your load wants to pitch you forward and you need to stay in control. Still, we made admirable time from the mountain, down to the meadow we might have stayed in. But by then we were steeled against staying, and moved onwards. As we continued, we kept waiting to reach "bumblebee" lake again. Surely it was just around the next bend, just past this next hill... But it didn't turn up. and it didn't turn up, and each step we took without seeing it made us gladder and gladder that we didn't decide to stay.

It turned out to be over a mile away, as the trail lies. I checked, afterwards on google. We would have walked a mile out, and a mile back for water, and been dead exhausted from it. As it was, my filter didn't like something in the water. It started spraying out the pressure release port, rather than pumping properly. I scrubbed, pretty vigorously, with the included brush. Rinsed it out. tried pumping again, and we only managed another liter or so before it began spraying again. Mind you, this was WITH the prefilter I'd bought. I was fairly displeased. I don't know if the lakes are full of ancient glacial silt or what. Best theory I have is that the slime from Bus Lake's weeds is responsible. I'm going to need to put that filter through it's paces and evaluate whether I want to keep it after all. I think the worst part of all, was how frustrating it was while I was exhausted.

We figured we had enough water, at this point, to reach the car. I'd managed to wolf down a Clif bar before pumping, and that kept me from crashing completely, but my muscles were nearing their limits. It was most noticeable from my left leg. My bad leg. a 2008 ski crash left three titanium pins and a plate in my tibia, and I don't know how to keep myself from subconciously favoring the leg. As a result, my left leg is weaker than the right. I was relying heavily on my ski poles, sometimes cantering with left leg, right pole, right leg left pole motions, and other times I was bounding like a gorilla, slamming the poles in place as one, and heaving myself past them on the strength of my arms. I had to keep moving because the lower the sun crept, the further we went, the worse the bugs got. But more than once as I reached the top of a hill, I'd feel the ascent take it's toll on my legs, and had I not had my trekking poles for support, I'd not have stayed upright. At least twice, my left leg wobbled and threatened to fail utterly.

At some point, crossing a fallen tree I nearly twisted my ankle. And here's why you'll NEVER sell me on going with lightweight trailrunners as some of the toothbrush drilling elite prefer. My left foot came down weird, on uneven terrain and the ankle began to roll. My trekking poles steadied me as I lurched forward, but without them, and without the ankle support of my vasque breezes, I KNOW I would have completely rolled, possibly broken it. But With my poles to catch me, and while my boots won't stop it completely, they impeded the roll, making it less severe.

Those last two miles were hell. I was SO glad I failed to talk anyone into joining us on this trip, had I done so, that would be the last trip they would ever agree to take with me I am sure. Bob and I both went quiet, lost in pain and morale depleted. We no longer chatted, we no longer even swore at the inclines. The most you got from me at the sight of the next climb was a pained whimper. I wanted SO badly to just lay down and cover my face with my hat and REST, but I couldn't. if I lay in the brush I'm sure the ticks would have carried me off to their lair.

Returning to the car, we checked ourselves for hitchhikers, stowed our gear, rehydrated from the supply we had there, and made for culvers. I purchased a feast of meats to sate the fierce hunger I had worked up on the trail. I even allowed myself a Dr Pepper. That sweet nectar, rich in caffeine and sugar reinvigorated me incredibly. I began to feel some semblance of human. Had I been able to tap into the food cache on my back, devour a lara bar or two, I might have stayed in higher spirits or been clearer headed.

I don't regret doing the hike. I intend to go back. I do regret waiting till this late in the season to go. I do intend to go earlier in the year. I'm also going to try coating my clothes in permethrin, see if that's a more effective anti-insect measure. And when I go back there, I'm going to find some way, concoct some liquid elixir to subsist on during my climbs/descents. Something to keep me energized and alert and that won't require me to stop to consume it. Get a cheap camelbak knockoff that I dont have to keep clean for water and fill it with some sugary nectar perhaps. I was considering maybe dissolving in a little caffeine and asprin too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Post-trip: Harrison Hills Part 3

You would think that it'd be easier after eating some lunch. Well, nothing about this trip was easy. I hesitate to say that this was the hardest part of the trip though. I also hesitate to say that we made good time. We were ascending towards Lookout Mountain, and the terrain was very much more of the same, except growing steeper and steeper the further we got. Our path took us through more of that "young growth" area, past more lakes, across a murky crossing that reminded me of the beginning of the trip. We crossed a logging road and found a bulldozer sitting where the trail continued. Soon after, I declared a rest stop at a rather pretty lake with a bench beside it. Later, we would come back and filter here. As I've no real clue what the lake's proper name is, and there was a bumblebee buzzing around near the bench, I will refer to this lake henceforth as "Bumblebee Lake"

It got drier and steeper, significantly so after "bumblebee lake" as we headed towards Lookout Mountain. Roughly four hills from the mountain, I spotted the towers on Lookout. This gave me a slight energy boost, a good thing because increasing insect swarms prevented me from eating anything out of my food cache. There really isn't anything I can say that will properly convey the tax this section of the trail put on us. Pictures would not do it justice, so I really didn't take many at this point. Also, a desire to keep mosquitoes out of my mouth was a factor.  I point to the relative lack of pictures, in fact, as evidence of this difficulty. I'm sure there are numerous hikers out there who'd find the difficulty we had with this section amusing, and point to trails that were far rougher on them, but this was only my second such hiking expedition, and it was proving overly ambitious. I hope to reach a point where I too can laugh at these woes.

Eventually, we won out over the slopes. Dragged ourselves to the top. Found a group of ATVers who welcomed us to the peak, and expressed surprise that there's a hiking trail leading up to the top. We chatted with them and made our way to the lookout tower atop the mountain. Nearby were two towers, one Radio, one Cellular. I had infact noticed that my reception was better than I would expect in that area. The lookout tower was steel, and had a fairly sturdy feel. It's ascent was narrow, and it occurred to me that it was mildly sadistic to make the reward for scaling the hill, Another Climb!

You could see Rib Mountain from the lookout tower, off to the south. You had a pretty commanding view of the area from there infact. Looked just like it did from the video I posted earlier, which was taken on that same tower. I took a picture but it didn't turn out.

At this point, we retired to the base of the tower and began discussing our options. With all the ticks we were seeing (even there at the tower) we had little desire to stay the night. I really wanted to hear the wolves though, so I waffled. Additional bug repellent options, and earlier seasonal arrival options were discussed and it was decided we'd come back another time to hear those wolves. Initially we thought to make for Firefly Lake, seeing as we were almost all the way there (only another 30-40 minutes once we hit highway). Eventually we'd just decide no, it was too late at night, we were about 3 hours behind our inital schedule (my prior post puts us up there~ 1:10pm, and it was 4:10pm) and we hadn't eaten dinner yet... we'd be better off making for home.

Tomorrow? Our grueling trek out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Post-Trip: Harrison Hills Part Two

Though the first stretch was taxing on my morale, meeting up with Bob had boosted it. He was fresh and excited to be on the trail, and this spread to me. Almost immediately I started feeling better. The terrain was getting worse though, the hills more frequent. I had planned to start eating chocolate covered peanuts (bad idea, they got melty fast) but my hands were constantly busy. I had planned on making a little better speed than we were, but the grueling constant hill climbing was taking it's toll on our progress. Still, we pushed our way in, battling the terrain until we topped a hill near Bus Lake, roughly a third of the way in.

Taking a break and digging into our snacks, we spotted a group's car-camping (ATV camping?) site on the side of the lake, but saw no trail that led down to it. I expressed a desire to filter some water, and we began talking of stopping for lunch soon. We wanted to see if we could find a trail over to that area which appeared to have good lake access, and so we continued around the lake. It led us down and away from the site we'd seen and I was beginning to think about filtering from where we were. We stopped to try and identify some object in the middle of the lake, when another Hiker hailed us.

Jim from Waupaca was 800 some miles into the trail, headed westbound to the terminus at Interstate Park. We chatted awhile, taking the opportunity to rest and learn from an IAT through-hiker. I envied his mesh bug net that encompassed his face, little did I know how badly I would want something like that before the day was through. Learned that on average he was getting something on the order of 17 miles a day, and had some support in terms of resupply from his wife. We didn't want to hold him for too long, and soon bid him adieu, continuing a little further.

A side-trail lead us onto an isthmus in the lake, and noting the relatively clean ground, comfortable shade, and pleasant, mosquito-banishing, crossbreeze off the lake we decided to have lunch here. I unpacked my supplies and began cooking a Cheesy Broccoli Rice to mix with my Salmon Packet. Bob enjoyed a sandwich he had prepared and some Cheese Nips he had packed. We finished my raisins. Looked at where I'd filter my water as I cooked. We heard the campers across the lake return and were glad that we hadn't cut over to their site after all. Lunch was delicious and foritfying, and absolutely necessary for what would come next. 

Filtering water turned out much easier with an accomplice to help hold the bottles and bag, but the water was weedy as far out as I could reach, and the weeds trapped a bit of slime in there. In my post-mortem analysis of our later adventures, I begin to suspect that this slime was in part responsible for the degredation in my filter's performance (at the worst possible time). But we pumped our fill before continuing on.

It was around this time that we noticed the Ticks. 

Attempting to hitch a ride on our boots, we found that our lunch spot had harbored some ticks that we had not expected. We executed a thorough inspection, redoubled our application of  bug spray, tucked our clothes a little more securely and continued on.

Tomorrow? Part 3: The Ascent.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Post-Trip: Harrison Hills Part One

That was grueling.

The plan, as we laid out here on the blog was certainly an ambitious one. I suspected that it wouldn't be entirely accurate, I doubted our ability to go PAST Lookout Mountain, and with good reason. While the 12 lateral miles on the map is certainly within my means, This is High Relief Terrain. and I do NOT mean we're getting a lot of rest in here.

I got dropped off at Alta Springs Rd, at the southern/western end of the trail, and even there it was a little difficult finding where to start. There was some sort of snowmobile/atv trail that faked us out. We even had a hard time finding alta springs road to begin with. But, I quickly got put on the right trail, and as Bob drove away, I started towards our meetup point. The "nice beach" that the trail guide referred to was one of the nicer spots on this segment of trail, I guess. But it wasn't much. A real disappointment after what I saw in the Waupaca River segment. There was a bench, and a nice looking bit of creek, but no sandy shore like I'd been led to expect, and it was tiny, and there was a lot of foliage encroaching.

So, this first segment? It was a swamp. And when it wasn't a swamp, it was a hill. But mostly it was a swamp. This was one of the only times this day that I would make good time. Why's that you ask? Well, being a swamp, it was full of mosquitoes. Shades of my traumatic hike on Wildcat Mountain in 2013, I could NOT stop without getting swarmed by them. This was worse, really. Wildcat only had gnats. Gnats I could have pulled my neck gaiter and shielded my mouth while I caught my breath. I could have even covered my face with my hat if I had to. Mosquitoes didn't care where they landed, they just wanted my sweet sweet juices. So, no matter how I felt, I had to keep trucking.

Then, passing through a section that had been logged maybe 10 years ago, I had a stand of very dense new growth to my left, and I see this black lump way ahead at the curve. My first thought is "oh shit, a bear" and I make some noise, trying to run it off. Nope. Not a sleeping bear. No reaction. It's about 6 feet long. I approach it. It's just a black mass about the size of a body. I poke it, hoping it's a singing hobo and not a stabbing hobo. It's neither, it's a sleeping bag. Someone has abandoned this, sans stuff sack on the trail. Somehow, this didn't make it feel less eerie. I don't know if someone lost it without knowing, or fled the mosquito swarm, abandoning it in the process, or if there's a shredded tent somewhere out there in the wilderness, missing it's sleeping bag.

So, I was glad to make good time. I started thinking about how "mosquito" has the word "quit" in it. My stomach was NOT agreeing with the steak egg and cheese bagel I'd had for breakfast. It calmed by the time I reached the Turtle Lake lot. Our original itinerary had me starting a little earlier than I began our trip (about a halfhour late) and I arrived at Turtle Lake Rd around 10am. Bob was shocked to see me, expected me closer to 11am.

One of the high points of the trip was meeting Ruby and her husband, who head the local IATA chapter and take care of the trail. We chatted with them for a little while, they'd seen us in the lot and stopped to talk. My morale went up after hearing from them that it was very likely we'd hear the wolves in the night. Also, from linking up with Bob.

In the future, I'd definitely just start the trail at Turtle Lake Rd. I didn't see anything I would dearly miss there. Skunk and Foster Lakes was DEFINITELY a better first leg of a trip than this was.