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Monday, February 15, 2016

Living the dream

I subscribed to Outside magazine for years, living vicariously through its pages and imagining the kind of outdoorsy life depicted in American Eagle ads.  The subscription has long since lapsed, and my trips to the mall are few with a 12 year old who refuses to wear anything but sweats, but every once in a while life inches closer to my adventurous ideal.

In almost every instance the motivation can be traced back to friends and FOMO, the only possible incentives strong enough to get me tent camping in sub-freezing temperatures.  I'm not particularly hardy or experienced in cold-weather camping, but I can't stand the thought of missing out on a good time with my teammates.

Last year's Team Virtus MLK weekend Berryman ride was the first time we'd camped for the weekend, and despite the moderate (for Missouri in January) temperatures I spent my first night shivering in a bag rated for 32 (not 31.5) degrees.  This year's forecast was decidedly not moderate (lows in the 20's for Friday night and the teens for Saturday night), which necessitated a trip to REI to beef up my winter gear.

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The new jacket, which has already seen a ton of use.
I had intended to exchange the awesome but unflattering trekking pants Jeff  gave   me for Christmas and pick up a sleeping bag liner; I left with new pants, a puffy down jacket, and a summer-weight sleeping bag.  The sales associate who helped me had suggested the lighter bag instead of the liner, and since it's rare enough for someone in retail to steer me towards something considerably cheaper than what I'm looking at, I went with his advice. The lighter bag will also hopefully come in handy for warm-weather camping trips.

Leaving straight from work on Friday, I met the guys at the campground around 5:30. Chuck, Luke, and Steve had already been there for a while, so once I traded my dress boots for winter boots and set up my tent we had plenty of time to hang out around the fire they had going, enjoying the warmth and Chuck's homemade whiskey.  Bob and Phil got there before long, the latter bringing Luke a birthday bottle of Fireball that he was kind enough to share.

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Not the Fireball, but Luke looked this happy when he got it.
The night was cold, but the company was so good (except the part where Bob knocked over the bottle of water I had heating by the fire three times) that before we knew it, perhaps through a whiskey-fueled time warp, it was suddenly 1 a.m.  Climbing into my tent, I realized I hadn't opened the valve on my self-inflating sleeping mat or laid out my sleeping bags, so I spent the next while crawling around my low backpacking tent arranging all of my assorted gear.

I'd brought a bunch of clothes to sleep in, but since I'm new to winter camping I wanted to experiment to find out what worked best.  I started out in two pair of socks, a hat, and a base layer top and pants.  It was quickly evident that this wasn't enough, so I added a pair of fleece-lined tights and a fleece sweatshirt. Now only my feet were chilly, a situation  resolved when I thought to shove my hot water bottle down into the bottom of my bag.  Ahhhh.

All of this arranging and tossing and turning and shivering meant that I didn't fall asleep until some time after 3 a.m, but the first tent zippers had me wide awake and changing into my bike clothes in the comfort of my now-cozy sleeping bag. The jug of water I'd left on the picnic table was solid ice, but another perk of using a hot water bottle to warm your bed is that you wake up with something unfrozen to drink.

I warmed up with hot chocolate and some Mountain House biscuits and gravy courtesy of the JetBoil that I'm almost able to use without adult supervision (this is a mark of my own outdoor ineptitude rather than the stove being complicated).  Our campsite filled up with punctual friends while we ate breakfast and got our things together.

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My cousin Bob making his second appearance at the MLK ride.
Luke and Steve opted not to ride, and the rest of us rolled out in a large group of Virtus, BOR, and assorted friends. I fell in near the back, which was a good place for me. I bailed on the usual spots that I assume someday I'll have the confidence to ride. Otherwise, I rode fine but felt generally crappy. Perhaps it was a combination of limited sleep and mild hangover, but even easy parts of the trail felt like a lot more work than necessary.

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Regrouping at the spring. With such a large group we had plenty such stops to make sure no one was left too far behind. It's not much fun to do a group ride alone.
On the plus side, while I started out feeling sluggish and tired, I never felt any worse. When we reached the midpoint of the ride -- when I'm always sluggish and tired -- and I had the same amount of energy I'd started with, I got a big mental lift.

Mitch caught us near the descent to Brazil Creek, so between riding a bit with him and then running into Peat at the road crossing, I had some nice visits with people I don't see often enough. We took a short break at Brazil Creek for snacks and then started back uphill. In vast contrast to my BT Epic implosion, I felt good climbing, and the reroutes on the back half of the loop have made the trail so much more fun. I still had to do more walking than I'd like on some of the rougher sections, but I guess that comes with only riding once a week at best.

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I love the Berryman trail. Such a beautiful place to ride!
The end of the loop came sooner than I expected it, which is always a good feeling, and the rest of the afternoon and evening was spent hanging around a campfire or grill, eating chili and brats, and hanging out with friends.  With the forecast calling for overnight temps in the teens, I had decided to go home rather than camp again, but somehow I sat down around the fire at our campsite and kept talking until it was dark. So much for going home!

I filled my sleeping bag with three hot water bottles (maybe a little overkill), wore two hats, and started out in my warm layers from the previous night. Other than being woken up at one point when someone decided to chop wood in the middle of the night, I slept much better. I think I might have overdone it a little since I woke up with ice covering my outer hat, but I had a cozy night's sleep.

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Drinking coffee as the snow falls.
We had planned to do the Joe Dirt gravel ride on Sunday, but the snow that started falling as we packed up, though magical, quickly coated the roads. Sitting at breakfast and watching cars slide through the intersection outside the restaurant, we opted to skip the gravel and head home. Within 30 minutes the roads were clear, and I spent the rest of my drive regretting the decision to leave early. Can't win 'em all.


3 comments:

  1. Nice jacket, but also you look super cute in those jeans! I've been tent camping zero times. This is odd, considering that I am not really a girly-girl and that I grew up in a house full of guys. Yet I have somehow avoided any situation involving a no baths and no mattresses.

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    1. Thanks! I love those jeans so much. Whatever I paid for them they were worth it, because I wear them all the time.

      My only camping experiences as a kid were summer camp and a couple weekend trips with friends. And while my husband and I did a lot of tent camping with the older boys before our youngest was born, now I'm pretty much the only tent camper in the house. And while I like it, I wouldn't argue about a hotel with a hot tub, either.

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  2. It looks like a great time. Pass the hot chocolate!

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