I had a lot of fun camping last November, and I've got all this new equipment; let's turn this into a more frequent thing, a way to experience the wilderness in all of its outfits.
This season's event: snow camping in the Nicolet National Forest, near Three Lakes, Wisconsin, about 340 miles from home. Friday, January 25 through Sunday, January 27. Average temperature for this time of year: high around 18° F, low around -3° F. To follow along with the narrative on a map, click the compass rose at the top of any page; a new window will open with an annotated map.
This trip actually began the day before, on Thursday. We had reserved 2 pairs of snowshoes at REI, and I went in to pick them up that afternoon. We got the biggest shoes they had, plus floatation tails. These are extra bits that attach to the end of the shoes to make them bigger, for when you're hiking in deeper or looser snow, or when you weigh more than the recommended maximum for the shoes you've got. Given that Jim and I are both big guys, and we both had 60-pound packs -- we weighed them -- the biggest shoes they had came nowhere close to being big enough for us. The only tails they had for rent at my store were little 4-inchers. The REI guys at first tried to convince us that we should rent shoes and longer tails from the Madison, WI store, which would require a longer road trip and at least a 1-hour detour. We decided to just take the smaller tails so that we wouldn't have to make any extra stops, and so we wouldn't have to gamble that the Madison store would still have shoes in stock. Jim -- again, the only person to attend of several to indicate some interest -- came over after he put his little girl to bed so we could make sure we were all packed and could leave earlier in the day, rather than spending a chunk of time on Friday morning just getting our selves and our gear into one place and one car. By this point, I had already packed twice; I like to be organized in advance, and I like fiddlin' with my gear. Jim was still in a state of... mild disarray. He had everything with him and then some, but nothing was actually in the pack. First we spent some time looking over maps and picking the precise area we wanted to pitch camp. A lot of the Nicolet is bogland, which would be frozen when we got there, and so could be camped on, but bogs are open areas with no trees to screen any winter winds that happen by. Once we picked a spot we went out to Meijer for some last minute trail snack purchases, which extended the packing, repacking, and enthusing phases of the project to around 3 in the morning.
The next morning was fairly straightforward, especially since I had done so much pre-planning and pre-packing. Eat a hot breakfast, pack the boy off to school, and away we go! We threw our packs in the car, and we each set aside a cold-weather outfit to wear once we reached the forest, so we could drive in comfortable clothing. We didn't end up really leaving town until around 9:30 or 10, but the extra rest after being up so late packing really helped. The drive was easy and uneventful, right up until the very last few seconds. The forest roads were even plowed!
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