Monthly Archives: April 2012

Ninja camping at the Loj

Standard

Ninja-campers

or

How to roll with the punches and still have an amazing camping trip

March 23rd and 24th

A key component to any adventurers arsenal is his or her ability to adapt plans to fit the changing world around us. Its a fairly well known quote, but the phrase “no plan survives contact with the enemy” holds quite true when it comes to exploration, camping, and general adventure-ish activities; in this case the “enemy” is the world, fate, and the universes seeming desire to make my life “more interesting”.

The quick back story – Mike and I had planned on camping out in Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire the weekend of the 23rd of March. I’d camped out there countless times before, and even had a campsite planned out for us. Now, the campground wasn’t officially open for the season yet, but I’d never run into trouble with that before… the campground entrance was always open and unbarred, and so we’d just drive in and set up camp right next to the lake.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this year. Actually, it was quite far from the case – the rangers (I assume) had actually went as far as to fell a tree so as to block off the main road into the park. Seriously: we found a full three-foot diameter tree sitting in our path. This, obviously, was a wee bit too much for Mike’s Eclipse to drive over, and so we did what any intelligent college-educated men would do in this situation… we went to the supermarket to buy some more food.

At the market we picked ourselves up a good bit of fruit and berries and other “keep your brain working” food, to help us think up a solution to our dilemma. Driving around the log was out, since an Eclipse isn’t exactly an off-road car, and neither of us knew any other campgrounds in the area. Our solution came from a slightly unexpected place – after leaving the grocery we started chatting with a woman walking out to her car (she stopped to talk while we were looking for pamphlets). We shot the breeze for a while, and she told us about a small campground nearby, a place called sunset campground.

Unfortunately, “Sunset campground” was quite miss labeled – instead, it should have been named “sunset trailer town”. We drove around a bit, but found out that there were no open spaces, but instead of campsites and restrooms we found lots and lots of summer homes and trailer hitches. We did a quick drive-through in the vain hope that we’d find a hidden tent site farther back, but there was no such luck to be had, unfortunately.

We parked at the camp office for a few minutes to try and come up with a new plan of attack for the weekend… we debated going south-bound, going to the cape, and a few other possibilities, but in the end we both knew what was going to happen – we were going to drive up to the Loj. We didn’t want to admit it, since the drive would be roughly three and a half hours more and it was already nearing eight at night, but we both knew that it was the best option to be had, thanks to Pawtuckaway being closed.

The plan was that we wouldn’t actually go up to the Loj itself, but instead camp out at one of the small “hidden” campsites that lay around Connor Brook a bit past the swimming hole – that way we wouldn’t be interrupting the weekend that the Undergrad’s had planned, and in turn wouldn’t have to deal with a whole host of people. Not a bad set up, at least in theory.

And so we drove. We drove for hours, but honestly… it was nice. I hadn’t gotten to really hang out with Mike in ages, and so we spent the time chatting and shooting the breeze about pretty much everything in the world, from relationships and politics to job offers and masters degrees. It was nice; very relaxing, and actually quite reminiscent of that drive up to the Loj so long ago that finally gave me the impetus to start this very blog.

Once we got to the Loj we cruised in and parked Mike’s car up at the LC Lot (a special parking lot for 2-3 cars a bit up the main trail. Not really to save walking time, but to add that “we’re special” feel for Lcs. In our case, it was to make sure that the car was safe, since there had been a series of break-ins in recent weeks). On the way in we ran into a car full of people just arriving to the Loj, but I didn’t recognize any of them, and they probably just assumed that they’d see us up at the Loj, so they didn’t stop to say hi… which was perfect for us. After a quick walk up the trail we turned off for the swimming hole, walked a ways down the stream, and found ourselves a nice campsite to use – flat ground, a pre-made fire ring, and far enough away from the normal paths that we wouldn’t be bothered, or be bothering anyone else.

I had my tent set up within a few minutes (upside of using a camping hammock), so while Mike was still fighting with his tent I started setting up a fire for ourselves – we had brought a few steaks along, and I had started getting more than a bit hungry on the walk up… It was seriously time to eat. The fire caught almost immediately (with a bit of impatient help from white-gas that I had brought), and soon enough we had a cheery blaze going, with a nice bed of coals that I started cooking the steaks over.

I had brought one of my fry pans with me, so we had the steaks fried up within ten minutes or so – cooked just right so that they were cooked nearly through, but still had the nice and warm and pink center. We ate Brazilian-style, just slicing both steaks up and chowing down from a pile of meat. To boost the amazingness of the meal, we had picked up a full cheesecake-sampler that we made quick work of after the steaks had been eaten up.

For the rest of the night, we sat up and relaxed, drinking beers and singing songs. Mike had brought his guitar along for the camping trip, so we stoked the fire high and sat back against a few trees, rocking out into the night. Mike played a few old-school songs that I sang along to (notably Crazy Train… seriously. On acoustic guitar), and even pulled out a few songs that him and his friend had written earlier in the year. It was excellent, and exactly what both of us needed – him as an escape from the stress of working insane hours, and me from worrying about when I’d finally be employed again.

The next morning was relaxed and slow… I don’t think that I even woke up until ten or so, and I definitely didn’t emerge from my warm hammock-cocoon until a bit past noon. It was sunny, cold, and clear… pretty much the ultimate early-spring morning in New England. The fire had gone out completely (since we had poured a bit of water on it and spread the ashes out the night before), so we just ate a breakfast of cheesecake and drank down some water fresh-filtered from the stream next to our camp.

Cleaning up the camp took us a bit less than an hour, what with taking it slow, packing up the beers, and cleaning the fry pan, but it was a relaxed hour… we weren’t in any rush to move on. We slowly packed everything up, organized the leftovers, and finally sat down to decide what to do with the rest of our day.

The one strange part about the morning was the soundtrack – instead of just the stream, we were also met with the screams of injured and dying hikers. This would normally have sent us both rushing over to start the process of saving people from themselves (and/or bears), but in this instance we both laughed, and told stories about injuries instead. Why wouldn’t I go help people in need, you may ask? Because these people weren’t actually hurt – it was Wilderness First Aid training weekend for NUHOC, and so small groups were sent out from the main team with the job of “playing injured” so that the other students could practice their first aid skills.

After hoofing our gear back to the car we decided to head out on a short hike not something to tire us out, but just a quick stretch of the legs so that we could enjoy the weather before getting back in the car for the drive home. We didn’t honestly go very far, just a quick 20min walk or so towards the suspension bridge, and we decided to turn back a bit earlier than we had planned when the trail started to turn into mud-city on us. But it was excellent… almost fall-like weather, to be honest. That point in the fall when it hasn’t yet gotten so cold that you always need a jacket, but it’s past when all the leaves have fallen.

The drive home itself was uneventful, but relaxing as well. If you note, there is a theme to this weekend- relaxing and laid back. The drive home hit that theme exactly. We chatted, stopped for food and gas, listened to music, and chilled out. I drove for a bit, Mike drove for a bit, we even stopped in to get the car a full car wash in some small town in backwoods New Hampshire at one point, but throughout the trip we told each other stories about stuff we had missed out on – my time in New Zealand, some parties and drama that had happened back in Boston. In a word, it was excellent.

My first bike ride back in Medway

Standard

My first bike ride back in Medway

 

Of all the things that I left behind in the States, I think I missed my bike the most. It’s such a simple machine, when you get down to the meat of it, simply a gear and chain system with some pedals and wires attached, but what it means is so much more… My bike is mobility, simplicity, and health when you think about it. You don’t need to buy gas for a bike, and the machinery is simple enough that if something breaks I can usually fix it enough to at least get home, or to a shop, on my own power. And if all else fails I can just walk home, or call a friend for a ride. And I find that I always feel so much happier than when I haven’t ridden for a while. I’m sure some doctors could explain all of the endorphin releases that exercise promotes – but I’ll be honest here, nothing gives me exactly the same feeling as finishing a 20+ mile bike ride.

For my first ride back in the States, I didn’t go super-hard, but I did take myself out for a good stretch of the legs. I never actually tracked the full distance, but from what I remember of where I was, I must have gone roughly 12miles total (20km), give or take. The bonus was the weather – a perfectly crisp late winters day, where the leaves haven’t started budding yet but you can just smell the barest hint of new growth in the air. (Ed Note: Sorry. Ben’s being poetic again)

I didn’t take any pictures, or really do much during the ride at all besides simply going. The purity was excellent and exactly what I needed after being cooped up on an airplane for ages, and even being trapped by the city in Waikiki… Every time I got onto a bus in Hawaii I imagined having a good bike with me – that 10mile bus ride to Pearl Harbor, that took an hour and a half? Yeah… I could have easily busted it out in thirty or forty minutes, max. Though I’ll admit that I can definitely understand peoples hesitancy against biking in a city full of tourists in cars far too powerful for their own good.

As I cruised back into the garage after my ride I felt good, and almost philosophical, about what a bicycle actually means. It’s the freedom to move without the constraints of engine power or gas cost, where you’re only limited by your own strength and endurance.

Hawaiian adventures – Exploring the North Shore

Standard

“Damn… I hope that’s Joe! I’ve never actually gotten to drive in a Charger before!” I said, after looking over the railing from the penthouse. Below us was a silver Dodge Charger, that we believedthe belonged to a friend of Beate named Joe; a marine who she had “befriended” a few nights before. “Ohh yeah, that’s definitely Joe!” B chimed in, “You guys go down, I’ll meet you there!”. And so with a bound down the stairs, all three of us met up with Joe, jumped in the car, and started out on our exploration of the North Shore of Oahu.

Or… we tried to. Unfortunately for us the road layout of Waikiki isn’t really the most simple thing to understand, even for someone like Joe who’s lived on Oahu for the last four or five years. Wrong turns, one-way streets, and a complete lack of any on-ramps to the highway we wanted kept us trapped in the city for nearly an hour, simply driving back and forth trying to find a way onto the highway. Finally Joe got fed up with the whole situation, and simply got onto the highway going the wrong direction – in his words “screw it guys. This island’s small, we’ll just take the tour the other way around!” Heh… upside of it taking less than three hours to drive all the way around the island, right?

Once we did get onto the highway we made pretty good time, just cruising and chatting, and spending a lot of time simply staring open-mouthed at the views as they flew by. Oahu was the opposite of New Zealand – instead of rolling plains there were lush jungle mountains. These mountains were unbelievable – instead of the usual slope-sided mountains of the mainland USA, or the rocky-sided mountains of New Zealand, Oahu had jagged precipices, seemingly torn out of the ocean only a few hours before and still covered in jungle and wildlife. It reminded me most closely of the mountains in Venezuela – though the Hawaiian ones were much more jagged, they both had the same “there is a lot of living stuff on these mountains” feel to them.

As we dove farther into the island we saw more and more mountains and cliffs, and we stopped in to see them a bit closer on a few occasions. Each time we parked a ranger or other docent would quickly walk up to us, asking for either a parking pass or the $5 parking fee. Thankfully, Joe is officially a resident of Hawaii, and thus is exempt from this rule – a quick flash of the “badge”, aka the state ID, and we were good to go. I liked that about the Hawaiian tourist infrastructure… it seemed that almost everything was discounted or waived for actual residents.

After about an hour of driving, more like three hours total, thanks to the sightseeing, the highway shot out of a small pass and into the plains that separate the mountains from the ocean. Here we were neck-deep in actual jungle, and unfortunately couldn’t really see anything interesting… so we just kept pressing on towards the legendary surf beaches of the North Shore.

And these beaches… they’re legendary for a reason. The day we went out was actually fairly stormy, and so the waves were being whipped up into a series of smaller swells, all crashing into the shore at random. I didn’t know this myself, but Craig explained that surf-waves usually come in swells of three to five clean and separate waves, followed by a short calm spell, and then repeated throughout the day. Today, the waves were coming randomly and churning the surf into a froth… awesome to watch, but from what I learned horrid for actual surfing.

We bopped between a few beaches known as “the pipeline”, watching the waves and even getting a bit of sea-side bouldering in before hunger started eating away at us too loudly to ignore. And so we went… to a trailer! That’s right, to the “World famous shrimp trailer” located… somewhere on Oahu. I don’t really understand it completely, but the shrimp place was this cool little trailer with a few dozen picnic tables spread outside the front. It didn’t look like much, although I was impressed with the amount of graffiti and tagging on the trailer itself, but when we finally got the food… well, I understood exactly why everyone wanted to come here so badly. It was, in a word, magically delicious. So much more so than anything lucky-charms has ever created.

After we finished eating and analyzing the artwork on the trailer (yes, that took a while) we moved onwards to our next great destination – a bar! We had actually already hit one bar on the drive up to the North Shore, but back there we had only stopped for a quick beer. This time, since we had more time and were on the way back, we decided to relax and chill for a bit and sample the local cuisine. We ordered up a place of BBQ quesadillas (nothing against the shrimp place, we were just super-hungry) that was made with a type of BBQ pork unique to the Hawaiian islands called Kalua. It was, in a word, amazing. There really isn’t any other way to describe it.

To go with the quesadillas everyone ordered up the usual round of Hawaiian beers… except for me, who ordered up what was quite possibly the girliest drink I’ve ever ordered, second only to a pink cotton-candy cosmopolitan that I ordered a few years back at a TGI Fridays. This was a paradise-plum margarita… and it was supreme. Seriously, I would have killed someone just to get the recipe if I hadn’t been in such a haze of happiness while drinking that thing.

Soon enough our drinks were empty and the plate pillaged of its meats, and so we walked back to the car to finish up the drive into civilization. It was excellent, for my part, and Craig and I spent the whole time relaxing and chatting about his previous jobs. You see, Craig used to be a sommelier at some of New Yorks fanciest restaurants, and I wanted to pick his brain about what that kind of life was actually like. From some of his quick stories, Craig had served people like Bill Clinton and chatted with Donald Trump… thus I was rather excited about hearing stories about that sort of world.

It was quite interesting, and paired a lot more science into the food than I would have expected – primarily on understanding how a wine would pair with a particular dish. For example, when serving asparagus one needs to pair a very sweet wine, one that hasn’t fermented as long and thus retains more original sugars, in order to offset the free radicals (ions that don’t have a partner atom) in the food. Yes… they actually have to know chemistry. Sorry folks, your high school teachers were not lying to you when they said you’d need this stuff in the future.

Anyways, Craig and I had a jolly time in the back seat of the car as it raced back towards Honolulu, but the atmosphere up front was starting to feel a bit awkward. Possibly only to us, but B and Joe seemed to be playing the rather silent types up there… we spent about a minute worrying if they had run into that part of a relationship where you don’t really have anything else to say to someone, since you don’t have a very long history together, but then we remembered that they’re both big kids and can deal with themselves. So we went back to blabbering about wines and how best to pair blended red peppers with a rice dish.