I spent the weekend at the state park campground on North Trout Lake and it was glorious!
Last time I was here it was, ah, not so glorious. It started raining shortly after I arrived, kept raining all night and all the next morning. It was still raining when I packed up and left.
But this time, wow! The weather was so sunny and clear when I got there that I couldn’t resist taking the kayak down to the beach immediately to put it in the water and go for a paddle around the lake. I didn’t intend to go all the way around the lake but the day was so beautiful that what started out as a quick paddle turned into a long, lazy paddle all the way around the shore. I found several little sheltered bays and a beaver lodge down at the south end of the lake, then paddled up the western shoreline through the reeds until I got to the north end where all the houses were. Circling back, I got to camp a couple hours later and ate lunch.
After lunch I crossed paths with a guy about my age who was out for a walk with his wife. He stopped me to chat me up and, as you do, asked me where I was from. I said I lived in Madison, and asked where he was from. “Oh, have you ever heard of a little town called Waupaca?” I’m sure he thought he was going to stump me with that one. Why would anyone from Madison have heard of Waupaca? He was quite surprised when I told him I grew up in a little town down the road from Waupaca. “Which town?” he asked. When I told him, he said, “Manawa! Did you know either of the Baumer girls?” I said sure, Jeannie was in my class. “She’s my cousin.”
With the little time I had left in the evening, I hopped on my bicycle and rode down to Cathedral Point, a little spit of land that sticks out into the strait between North Trout Lake and South Trout Lake. It takes me about 40 minutes to paddle as far but only 20 mins to cycle there. I had a little walk around the point before cycling back.
I had just enough time when I got back to build a fire before the sun went down. It got dark quickly after that so I ate my supper by the light of the camp fire. I played with the fire for a couple hours, then waited for it to burn down to coals before I took a walk to the beach to see the stars. By then the crescent moon had set and it was dark enough to see the Milky Way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that many stars.
When I got out of bed Saturday morning it was cold enough to see my breath. I built a fire for warmth and boiled some water to make coffee and instant oatmeal. The lake was smooth as glass and plumes of steamy air rose from it into the cold sky. It was almost too cold to go out onto the lake but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d kick myself forever, so I finished up my coffee, then trundled the kayak down to the beach.
Rowing through the mist was a dream. The bow cut through the water with barely a ripple. I paddled down past Cathedral Point and around the bend into South Trout Lake where I could ground the kayak, step out and remove my hoodie before going on. The sun was full on me by then and was more than enough to keep me warm.
There were three little islands at the northernmost end of South Trout Lake. I spent almost a half hour slowly circling them before heading back to the campground. Felt just a bit too confident that the kayak would easily slide over the rocky shoals surrounding the islands and got hung up twice, but backing off and going around was easy enough.
I had to fight a headwind and breaking waves to paddle back to camp. Not exactly the way I wanted to end a relaxing paddle and to make it just a little more irritating, the wind died just after I dragged the kayak back into camp, leaving the lake glassy-smooth again. If I’d waited another thirty minutes to head back, the return would have been so much easier.
I caught a few winks in my camp chair before going on a bike ride in the afternoon. I headed north past Boulder Junction a ways, not to the end of the trail but much farther than I had intended to go. The trail was so easy, though! I just kept going until I had been on the trail for a little over an hour. Knowing at that point it would take at least as long to get back, I turned around. Lucky for me, there was no headwind on the way back; it was as easy a ride on the way back as it was on the way out.
I was too tired to do anything else after returning, so I just sat with a book until I nodded off. When I woke it was getting dark as well as getting cold, so I built a fire and sat next to it for a couple hours playing with it until it finally burned out.
I got to North Trout Lake about an hour before it started to rain. Had just enough time to take one quick bike ride, then spent the rest of the evening sitting under the overhang of the tent behind my van with a book until it was too dark to read. Still raining when I went inside and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Rained all night.
It was still raining in the morning without any sign it was going to stop. The forecast called for rain all day Saturday and through the night into Sunday, so I packed up and went home.
I spent last Friday and Saturday night at a state campground on North Trout Lake to do a little hiking, a little paddling, but mostly just to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.
The campground seems to be really popular and I can see why. It’s right on the shore of the lake, which is so picturesque it ought to be on a postcard (it probably is). Several of the camp sites are right on the shore; you could launch your canoe from them or just wade out into the lake, which has a hard sandy bottom and is very shallow along much of the shore line. If I had been lucky enough to snag one of those sites I probably would have set up my camp chair facing the water or strung my hammock between two trees on the shore and done little else but gaze out on the lake all weekend, it was that pretty.
I unfortunately did not have a camp site on the shore. Mine was in fact about as far from the shore as it’s possible to get and was rather ugly, which is probably why I was able to reserve it for a weekend at short notice. It was ugly mostly because of all the trees which had been cut down and left in heaps around the site. On the plus side the site got lots of sunshine, was open to the breezes off the lake which kept the bugs at bay, and it was very easy for me to gather firewood, but there was no getting around the fact that heaps of dead branches do not make for a good-looking camp site. I didn’t care much. It served its purpose as far as I was concerned. I had a place to park, a nice big camp site, and a ring to build a fire in. All good.
I left the house at about three o’clock Friday afternoon and arrived at the lake a little past six-thirty in the evening, making pretty good time but feeling more than a little fatigued, not to mention stressed out, after spending three and a half hours on the interstate highway with the hundreds if not thousands of other people heading north for the weekend. When I headed back home Sunday morning I stuck to county and state roads all the way, and it was honestly worth every minute of the additional travel time. I had the road to myself practically all the way, so the drive was virtually stress-free. A+++ would definitely recommend.
At six-thirty in the evening around this time of year there are still at least two hours of daylight left, so almost as soon as I got there I unshipped the kayak from the roof of the van, trundled it down to the shore on a handy-dandy little trolley I have just for that purpose, and launched it into the lake for a short paddle up and down the shore along the edge of the campground. The wind was rather brisk that evening so the surface of the lake was the tiniest bit choppy but not enough to make me want to head back to shore. I paddled around for thirty or forty minutes before I decided I’d better get back to camp so I had enough daylight to gather firewood and set up for overnight camping.
I had already collected a few fallen branches which I broke up into tinder to start the fire. After I got that burning, I began to collect larger pieces of wood to keep the fire going – a rookie mistake; you’re supposed to get all your wood together before lighting it off. I knew better than that, but it had been a few years since I’d built a camp fire from scratch. After gathering enough larger pieces to keep a fire burning for at least an hour, I broke up more smaller branches into tinder and built up a pretty respectable fire from the coals that remained of my original effort, then built a teepee over it with the bigger pieces I’d gathered.
Now that I finally had a proper fire going, I could prepare something for dinner and settle into my camp chair next to the fire. And when I say “prepare dinner” I mean that I smeared some salmon cream cheese on some thick-sliced nutty bread and called that dinner.
After gobbling down some carbs next to a crackling camp fire, I slept like a baby.
Saturday morning I woke way too early, but I had to answer the call of nature so I tottered off to the nearest pit toilet, which was not really very near at all, another shortcoming of my particular camp site. My site was about as far from the toilet to the north as it was from the toilet to the south, smack dab in the middle. Not a problem most of the time, but for that first trip of the morning I had to lengthen my stride and move with a sense of purpose and urgency. That taken care of, I crawled back into bed and dozed pleasantly for another hour, wrapped tightly in many many blankets against the early morning chill.
When the sun was finally high enough to shine its warmth down on my camp site, I begrudgingly extracted myself from my bunk and gathered up enough fruit juice, fig bars, and nuts to make a decent light breakfast, which I noshed on in my camp chair that I gradually scooted across the camp site to keep up with a passing sunbeam. I passed the time reading two or three chapters of the very excellent book “Allow Me To Retort,” by author Elie Mystal, who examines the ins and outs of constitutional law from the perspective of a Black American. Wonderful book, would gladly recommend it to anyone.
Once the fruit juice was gone it was time to move on to more serious stuff: coffee. I neglected to bring the fixings for coffee on my previous trip up north, but not this time around. With a pourover cone carefully balanced on top of a big mug I slowly brewed the java, then settled back into my camp chair to read two more chapters.
The important stuff out of the way, I set out on my morning constitutional. My initial thought was to walk the complete circuit of the campground road, but when I got to the beach I decided to include a detour to the boat ramp about a hundred yards away. At the boat ramp I noticed a marker for a paved bicycling trail that disappeared into the trees by the road.
If I’d known there were paved cycling trails for miles and miles up here, I definitely would have brought my bike but, sad to say, I didn’t. But I just had to get a look at the trail, so I took a short stroll along it, only as far as the first intersection, the road to Cathedral Point. Along that particular short stretch of trail it rose and fell over a few very steep hills and ducked around maybe half a dozen sharp turns, but the asphalt pavement was in good condition. Cycling it would be a lot of fun even though the hills would present a bit of a challenge for me, a rider who generally prefers straight and level trails.
Having gone as far as the first intersection, I turned around and shambled back in the direction of camp. I have to admit with no small amount of embarrassment that I accidentally left my hiking shoes at home for this trip. The only footwear I had with me were a pair of sandals, not ideal for long hikes. Also, they leave my feet exposed to the elements 24/7. When I was young and indestructible I would walk barefoot all day in the summer, over smooth ground, gravel or hot asphalt – it didn’t matter. My feet were tough enough to walk on anything. Well, they’re not now. I’ll spare you the details, but after tramping around all day in sandals, I had to carefully clean and bandage my feet Saturday night before bed. Used up half a box of Band-Aids and many a generous dollop of Neosporin. Which was why I was taking it easy on this short hike along the bike trail, loafing along at a leisurely pace. Even so, I got back to camp around ten o’clock, still plenty early for a morning paddle on the lake.
North Trout Lake is a fairly big lake, but Trout Lake, to the south (natch), is even bigger, and they’re connected through a narrow strait. My aim on this Saturday morning paddle was to go as far as the strait, have a look around, then come back. Which turned out to be exactly what I did. I had to paddle against a light but continuous breeze out of the south on the way there, but after I crossed through the strait it was almost dead calm thanks to a couple of islands at the north end of Trout Lake screening me from the wind. I happily paddled around on the glassy water for a while, circling the islands and drifting along the shore.
I grounded the kayak at Cathedral Point, jumped out and had a little walkabout to take in the surroundings. The point had picnic tables, a water pump, toilets, and fire rings, but looked as though it hadn’t been visited in a while. One teeny tiny little sign caught my eye and curiosity compelled me to get close enough to ready it. “This sign is surrounded by poison ivy,” it warned, “don’t touch it.” So warned, I tiptoed back to my kayak and paddled away.
I returned to my camp site at about half past twelve and made a hearty lunch of thick-sliced summer sausage on slices of nutty bread, then sat in the sun with my book as I ate. The air was still cool and the breeze was pleasant. It wasn’t long before I began to drowse. Napping seemed like a good idea just then, so I stretched out in the van and got myself a few winks. Best thing I could has possibly done. There’s really nothing better you can do in the early afternoon, especially after you’ve been active, than get a restful nap. At least, nothing better for me. You can do what you like.
And after a restful nap, there’s nothing better than driving into town to spend a little time relaxing in the local beer garden. There’s a brewery called Rocky Reef in Woodruff, about a twenty-minute drive from the campground. I’d been there once before and enjoyed sitting in the sun with a cold, refreshing glass of hefeweizen. There weren’t any open seats on the patio last Saturday because they had some live entertainment which had attracted quite a large weekend crowd. I only wanted to pick up some beer anyway, but hung around for about ten minutes to sample a beer they didn’t have on tap the last time I visited.
When I got back, I sat in the sun and read my book again, and in the evening I lit a fire and played with it because on the inside I’m still a twelve-year-old boy who does that kind of thing. There wasn’t much peace and quiet to enjoy Saturday night because all the other campers had returned from wherever they’d gone, and they all felt the need to yell at each other a lot and share their recorded music with each other. The popularity of state parks is the only thing I don’t like about them.
I packed up fairly early Sunday morning because I didn’t want to hurry getting home. I wanted to take the back roads and make a few stops along the way to get out, walk around and return home stress-free, and that’s pretty much exactly what I did.
Got my bike down from the rafters, pumped the tires full of air and took a ride around Lake Monona yesterday morning – an eleven-mile circle, the shortest route I could make – and it just about kicked my butt; the first ride of the summer season usually does. After a couple more rides I’ll start looking for longer routes, but I won’t be riding today because it’s cold and rainy and not otherwise inviting in any way. I think I’ve mentioned more than once I’m a fair-weather biker.
And except for the walks I’ve been taking around the neighborhood, that was the first time I’ve been out and about in three weeks – not counting two day trips I made to the office, and even then I didn’t go anywhere but straight to the office and straight home after work; no noodling around in town to sight-see or stop for provisions – and it was the first time in three weeks I’ve been in what I would rather loosely describe as crowds of people, really pairs or trios out walking, jogging or riding their bicycles. The only time I felt as though other people were crowding me was on John Nolan Drive, the causeway connecting the Monona area with the isthmus of downtown Madison. The trail along the causeway has always been a popular jogging and cycling path in The Before Times, and although there were fewer people on it yesterday, there’s not a lot of room to spread out, so even a dozen people bunched up together in a short stretch of the trail feels crowded. I had to follow several joggers at a discreet distance, waiting for an opening before I could pass, but after the causeway there was plenty of room again and I rode the rest of the way home without having to thread my way through clots of people.
Funny seeing all the masked people now. Some have what appear to be genuine N95 masks – where the heck did they get those? – but most are wearing home-made masks of one kind or another: simple bandannas, scarves, balaclavas, shemaghs, and one woman had what appeared to be several yards of fabric, possibly a bed sheet, wrapped around and around her head, leaving only the smallest of gaps for her eyes.
I myself did not wear any kind of mask at all, partly because I did not think I was close enough to anybody to warrant wearing a mask and partly because I don’t know that wearing anything less than a mask fitted to seal around my nose and mouth like an N95 mask would do any good. I don’t have an N95 mask but I still have the M17A2 gas mask issued to me while I was in the Air Force – the chemical warfare gear they issued to me was so old they didn’t want any of it back, and I threw everything out but the mask as a keepsake. If I wore it now, I think it would freak people out, which might be fun, in the right setting. Can’t imagine right now what that setting would be.
I unwrapped my kayak from its winter cocoon of Visqueen and stored the tarp the corner of the patio where I thought it might stay dry until I can clear a place for it in the garage – of course it got rained on before the day was done. Maybe that’ll teach me (but probably not). I briefly considered taking the kayak out for a paddle because the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm in the back yard, but after thinking it over I realized it would very likely be uncomfortably cold out on the lake. The raised seat in the kayak would keep my butt from freezing but my lower legs rest against the hull below the waterline, and I’m pretty sure the surface water is not all at all warm yet. In a couple of weeks it’ll be like bath water; I can wait a couple of weeks.
And I’m still washing dishes by hand because I don’t want to even think about what might be wrong with the dish washer yet. When it’s switched on, the water doesn’t circulate inside the tub and it makes a noise like something broken is beating or grinding against something stationary; I’m thinking maybe an impeller blade got snapped off and wedged inside a pump, possibly breaking the pump’s drive shaft. There must be a second pump to evacuate water from the tub, though, because I was able to drain the tub. I considered buying a new dish washer just so I wouldn’t have to even try to fix what’s wrong with the old one, but the cheapest new one is around three-hundred dollars and I don’t want a cheap one. I’ll have to figure out what to do soon, or just keep on washing dishes by hand, which, as it turns out, is not the worst thing in the world. I wash them at noon and again before bed, and at that pace I can keep up with whatever piles up. And it’s a big sink, so even when My Darling B uses every last pot, pan, and spatula in the kitchen to prepare a meal, the pile of dirty dishes is manageable.
First bike ride of the season yesterday — cycled the long route around Lake Monona and Monona Bay. Also a first: I was wearing nothing but my cycling shorts and a t-shirt (and a helmet, of course). I’ve always been way too self-conscious to wear those skin-tight shorts in public; too much like being naked. Always had to put a pair of regular baggy shorts on over them, but it was so nice yesterday that I said fuck it and went out naked.
First paddle around Squaw Bay on Saturday in the afternoon. The weather wasn’t warm enough in the morning to go out; I took a walk in the morning and had to bundle up in a winter coat, but by noon it was in the high fifties, and out on the water in the sunshine I was comfortable enough to bare my arms. Doing lots of naked stuff last weekend.
I can stop wondering if biking around Lake Mendota is interesting enough to make it worth the trip. It’s not. It’s about five miles from my house to the point where the bike trail splits off and heads north, and I thought the next mile or so along the path was about as interesting as it got until I hit Middleton several hours later.
Most of the ride is along roads that are nowhere near the lake. I was within eyeshot of open water maybe twice: Once as I cycled past the marina at the northernmost point of the lake, and later when I stopped at the Memorial Union on campus for some orange juice and a Pop Tart. Otherwise I was either on a suburban street or on a back road through the country with nothing but potato fields to look at.
Finally, at thirty-four miles round trip from my front door, it’s a lot farther than I thought it was.
But now I can say, been there, done that. No t-shirt, though.
Biking home from work I got stuck behind a guy who was showing off to anyone who would watch by leaning way back in his saddle and riding no-hands down the trail. We all felt so insignificant that we would never been as cool as he was.
I would’ve passed him but, just as I approached, he wagged his butt and his bike waggled back and forth across the trail with him. Not wanting to become part of his wish to crash spectacularly, I avoided passing him until I could more completely assess his intentions.
His intentions were apparently to dare gravity to grab him and dash him to the ground. Not only did he waggle his butt again, but he went on to dance a hoochy-koo in his saddle, shaking his ass so vigorously that his chain slapped a back-beat against the frame of his bike.
I watched and waited for what I thought had to be the inevitable jackknifing that would end with his chin shoveling up dirt, but no joy. He remained defiantly upright until he grabbed his handlebars to turn, something even he was not cool enough to do no-hands.
I like to ride my bike to work, but I’ve always been a little skittish about it. I’m a fair-weather cyclist. I’ll ride when it’s sunny and warm out, but when the sky’s overcast, or the weatherman’s calling for more than a thirty percent chance of rain, I opt for the dry, warm safety of the O-Mobile.
The thing I’ve noticed on the days I pick the safe option is that, nine times out of ten it ended up not raining that day. I’d feel pretty good about my choice as I was driving in, but on the way home when everyone else was walking around in their shirt sleeves enjoying what turned out to be a beautifully sunny day, I’d be kicking myself. Figuratively speaking, of course. Pretty hard to kick yourself when you’re sitting in a car.
And that’s why I chucked the safest option yesterday morning and rode my bike to work, even though the forecast was calling for rain. I believed the forecast, by the way. The sky was thickly overcast with clouds the color of iron, it was cold and I had no doubt that rain would fall at some time during the day, but I was determined to believe that it would not fall during the crucial hour that I rode to work and the hour after work when I was heading home.
I made it to work just fine. Not even a sprinkle to dampen my clothes. And that’s the most critical thing, really. Could there be a a more effective way than getting soaked through with rain to make office work more miserable than it already is? Somehow, I don’t think so.
I thought I was going to be just fine on the way home, too. I had to pick up a few things, but the bakery and the grocer’s were on the way, and I was less than five minutes in each. By the time I got to Olbrich Park, though, it had started to sprinkle, and not the sprinkle of a passing cloud. More the sprinkle of a cloud that is warning you there is much, much more to come. As indeed there was.
By the time I reached Cottage Grove Road, the clouds had finished their throat-clearing and were belting out a bitchen blues tune that made me wail right along with them. The words to the song are not suitable for mixed company and I don’t remember all of them now that I’m warm and comfortable, but I remember that it was mostly just one word repeated again and again. I stuck a pronoun in occasionally just to emphasize that it was my own situation I was very unhappy with.
There was an especially heavy downpour just after I crossed the line into Monona and started down the home stretch, because when the universe flips you off, it figures Go Big Or Go Home. This was about when the river of ice water that was running down my back and damming up behind my belt finally broke through. Some say the devil rules a land of fire, some say ice. I’ve felt the icy cold hand of the devil reach down the back of my pants and grab my man-parts, so I can confirm that he’s not about fire.
I’d been pedaling so furiously through the rain and the wind that when I finally reached the shelter of Our Humble O’Bode only forty minutes had passed, and that included the two stops I made to pick up dinner. I peeled out of my wringing-wet clothes just inside the front door and left them there in a sodden heap until after I took a hot, hot shower.
Could’ve been worse, as it turned out. B said she went through hail on the way home.
To find out just how out-of-shape I’d become over the winter, I set out on my bike to ride around Lake Monona this morning. After being shut inside, slouched in a chair for so many months, my body feels more like a non-Newtonian fluid than flesh and bone, a puddle of slop that rears up and pretends to be alive when the need arises.
So I wasn’t too optimistic that I would even be able to finish a ride all the way around the lake, a distance of about twelve miles, but I didn’t set out with the goal in mind of finishing, just seeing how far I could get. And no time limit. I wasn’t trying to set any speed records. I don’t think I ever once used anything higher than 3rd gear. I had the whole morning to waste, a gentle breeze, and the sun was shining. Off we go.
I set off down Bridge Street, heading for the bike path that makes a short run along the south shore of the lake and connects to Waunona Way, a road through an upscale neighborhood. I like to imagine that Waunona used to be a thickly-wooded hillside before all the Yups took over and built their oversized, ostentatious mansionettes along the lake shore, blocking the view more or less completely. I thought it would be best to start the ride here, though, because it’s the hilliest leg of the journey, so I could get that over with first and then, if I didn’t feel I had enough gas to keep going, I could turn around and head back. I could even walk it, if I was a lot more out of shape than I thought I was, which could have easily been the case.
I felt just fine, though, when I came out the other side of the Waunona neighborhood and crossed the railroad tracks, so I decided to press on at least as far as Olin-Turville Park, where the Great Taste of the Midwest is held every year (tickets go on sale next Sunday!). The route was flat as piss on a plate all the way there and I never pedaled hard enough to feel winded so I had a pretty good idea by the time I got to the park that I could keep going and I’d be okay, at least as far as Willy Street, where I could stop at a coffee house and sit for a while if I felt the need.
I should’ve worn a sweat shirt, though. Even though the sun was still out, it was not as warm as I thought it would be.
A long, long train came up from the south and crossed John Nolan Drive just about the time I rolled through the park. He was going pretty fast until he got to the crossing, where he throttled way back. There must be a speed limit of about ten miles per hour after that, because I easily kept up with it all the way across the causeway and even through town. The bike path and the train tracks diverge at Monona Terrace but meet up again at the top of Willy Street and run hip to hip all the way to Ingersoll St where the tracks gradually curve away to the north. I pressed on alone.
Willy Street becomes Winnebago Street after it crosses the Yahara River, the same spot where the bike path crosses the road and runs about a thousand yards along an old railroad right-of-way to the intersection of Eastwood Ave and Atwood Ave, where it crosses the street again and ducks behind the row of buildings along Atwood Ave. I’d been thinking about stopping for a cup of coffee and maybe a danish ever since starting north through town, and there’s a great little cafe with tables set up right on the bike path to temp passing cyclists. I even slowed down as I passed by, giving it serious thought, but kept going anyway. I suppose I wanted to see if I could make it all the way around without a rest.
The trail runs between the Goodman Community Center and the Madison-Kipp Corporation, where a sign posted at the entrance of the back lot of the Madison-Kipp Corporation reads, “Absolutely no Goodman Center parking at any time.” Every time I see this sign, my brain reads it as, “Absolutely no Goddamn parking at any time.” Every. Single. Time.
After passing the Goodman Center, the trail doglegs to the southeast and runs past the back lots of the Olbrich Botanical Garden, where the remains of the old sugar factory are waiting for somebody to shoot a really scary movie about ghosts or zombies. With the pile of headstones out front, that place looks scary in the daytime.
A drainage ditch running along the bike trail must have needed some dredging this spring. It’s normally hidden from view by thick bushes which were all cut down, and the trail itself had been crushed beneath the wheels of some very heavy machinery, making it look weirdly as if a small battle had taken place in this one teensy-tiny little part of the park. I had to gear all the way down and pick my way slowly through the rutted clay laid left behind where the asphalt used to be.
I was practically in the home stretch after that. I came out at the top of Monona Drive, slowly climbed the hill to the point where the never-ending road construction began, ducked into the neighborhood behind Rubin’s Furniture and slowly pedaled home along quiet residential streets. An hour and a half after I started, I pulled into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode, tired, but in a good way.