Saturday, June 25th, 2022

Photo of my van parked near the shore of North Trout Lake, just north of Woodruff, WI

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.

North Trout Lake | 8:05 am CDT
Category: bicycling, camping, coffee, hobby, kayaking, play, travel, vacation, walking
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Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

We got rain today. I woke to the sound of great big sheets of rain drumming down on the roof of the house early this morning, and although the clouds are done dumping heavy rain on us, there’s still a steady fall of light rain this morning, so my plans to take my kayak out for a paddle around the lake are sunk, so to speak. I mean, I could still go. I’ve got foul-weather gear I could wear, and I could stop every so often to bail water from the bottom of the boat, but that’s not really the kind of experience I’m looking for when I go paddling, you know? I like to have the sun and clear skies above me and a gentle swell below, and I don’t necessarily shy away from a headwind but I’d rather not have to exert myself too much. One of the truly beautiful things I’ve discovered about paddling is there really isn’t any need for me to over-exert myself. The natural buoyancy of the boat does almost all the work; I just show up for the ride, and provide an occasional push. I’m not exaggerating here; I admit I oftentimes do that but honestly, if you knew how little upper-body strength I have, you’d believe me when I say paddling is not a pastime that requires great big guns of steel. I do not have those. My guns fire Minie balls. *rimshot* Sorry, gun nerd joke. Had to be done.

sunken plans | 9:04 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, hobby, kayaking, play, weather
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Monday, August 7th, 2017

I made my first road trip with the kayak on Saturday, to take it for a paddle on Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells. It’s only about an hour away from Our Humble O’Bode if you take the interstate, which I did on the way up, an experience I wouldn’t care to repeat. All three lanes were virtually bumper-to-bumper with every kind of recreational vehicle, as well as cars and trucks piled high with bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and camping supplies, all fighting for the honor of the front of the line like it was a Nascar race. If I ever go anywhere with a kayak strapped to the roof of my car again, and I’m pretty sure I will, I’m going on state highways. They may be narrow and some are in bad repair, but I won’t have to fight the constant backwash of one big-bodied vehicle after another blowing past me at eighty miles an hour.

Mirror Lake is beautiful, if maybe just a tad too popular. There’s a pretty little state park right next to it with two neat little campgrounds that I might have to check into one of these days. The park rents kayaks, canoes and those stand-up paddle boards that are so popular right now even though they don’t go anywhere at a speed faster than a lazy amble no matter how hard you paddle, so the south end of the lake by the campground is absolutely lousy with campers having fun splashing and tipping each other over. The farther I went from the campground, though, the quieter it got, so I kept to the shore and paddled off into every inlet and river I could find.

And there were a few of them. None of them were much longer than a hundred yards or so, but there was something to see in every one of them: muskrats, log cabins, a fawn wading in the weeds along the shore. The last one I went down turned out to be a river that connected to another lake after meandering for about a quarter mile through a picturesque sandstone gorge where the rock walls towered over my head. I didn’t have enough time to go further than about halfway down the river, though, so I’ll have to find another weekend to go back and get a better look.

After packing up and hitting the road, I made a wrong turn and my one-hour trip home turned into three hours because I thought highway 113 went straight through to Madison, and it does, sort of, but there’s a significant gap in it that I missed the first time I looked at the map. The gap first made its presence known to me when I got to Merrimac and turned south as the road signs directed. The road went directly into the lake. That can’t be right, I thought as I turned around and consulted my map. I went all the way through Merrimac looking for the highway before I noticed my map mentioned something about a ferry. Going back to the road that went down to the lake, I saw many cars lined up, and signs that also mentioned a ferry.

Ordinarily I would be totally down with a ride on a ferry, but this one could only take fifteen cars at a time, and there were at least thirty cars in front of me. My stomach was growling and I was already going to be late getting home, so I pored over the map for an alternate route. From what I could tell, though, the options for getting around the lake were limited. Essentially, I would’ve had to drive almost all the way back to Wisconsin Dells. Bowing to the inevitable, I got in line and waited.

As a consolation prize, there’s an ice cream stand on the Merrimac side of the crossing, and as I had to wait at least ten minutes for the ferry to cross over and come back, I took the opportunity to ask them to dish up a scoop of butter pecan for me. No more growling stomach after that.

When I finally drove aboard, thirty minutes or so later, the trip across was quick, maybe a little more than five minutes, and I was headed south again as fast as a county highway would let me go. Forty or fifty miles an hour, mostly, slowing down for the tight turns and to pass through the little burgs along the way. Didn’t pull into the driveway at home until just after seven o’clock where the rest of the O-Folk were patiently waiting for me to light the barbeque and grill the pork tenderloins we had for dinner that night.

Mirror Lake | 12:01 am CDT
Category: kayaking
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