Saturday, September 26, 2009


"Dad," Juliana asked, "can I play with your iPhone?"
"No", I responded. I was in the middle of trading IM's with a friend, after all.
"Living in the wilderness is hard" was the flat reply. Not a trace of emotion or sarcasm in her voice.

This was last Saturday night, just after she'd downed a S'more, sitting around the campfire after dinner. The tent was up, the Dinty Moore Beef Stew was down, and the fire was keeping us warm, now that the sun had retreated from the day's beautifully clear sky. The three of us had driven up to Tully Lake Campground that afternoon, set up our campsite then gone off to explore a bit before settling in for the evening.

Tully Lake is the campground I'd ridden to last year on my Schwinn, but this year I drove, and without bikes, at that. Nighttime temperatures were forecast to be frosty, and I didn't relish the idea of riding cold the next morning before packing up. Instead we brought our sneakers and hiked for entertainment. Turned out to be just as much fun anyway, and I didn't risk denting my car's roof with the gooseneck of the trailer bike, like I'd done when we took the bikes down to the Cape.

We started by heading up to Doane's Falls just outside the campground. There are several distinct falls and natural sluiceways where Lawrence Brook makes its way down an insanely steep little hill into Tully Lake. Tully Lake itself was created by the Tully Dam, a flood control dam built just after World War 2 out in Royalston, MA. Just as an aside, the top photo was shot from the top of the dam overlooking the lake.
Anyway, back to the falls. They've apparently been the site of several mills over the years, though none stands today. There are two obvious building foundations along the brook, and someone who knows what they're doing could probably identify other such sites. There's a trail that follows the falls and whether you're supposed to or not, there are a bunch of places to get close to the edge of the rocks overlooking the falls for a better look.

I have to say it's a bit nerve-wracking to hike with little kids in those conditions. The brook isn't a raging river, but it moves along fast enough at this point to wash someone away, especially someone small. Plus it's all rocks at this point -- no sandy bottom to break one's fall.

Neither of my girls has much experience in the woods, and Juli in particular tends to gallop along rather than moving with any degree of care. That's why we have a picket fence at the house, actually -- to keep her from running blindly into our busy street. She did a fair amount of stumbling and tripping along the path, as a result, but I don't think she ever fell. Ava is generally more cautious and seemed more open to my suggestions/requests to slow down and plant each foot with at least awareness, if not deliberation.

In any case, it's a pretty area and a good introduction to camping to the girls. You can park reasonably close to the sites, but the sites themselves are either right on the lake shore or in wooded patches that are nicely isolated from other sites.

The weather gave us only one challenge -- cold. I have a +35 bag, and the girls have Disney Princess bags that have no identifiable rating on them. We borrowed a friend's 4 person dome tent, which kept the condensation nicely at bay -- much better than my own tent (which is at least 30 years old, and acquired as points award from I think a Cub Scout fundraiser). It's time for an upgrade.

The girls slept on the Thermarests I picked up for backpacking at the Grand Canyon a dozen or more years ago, in clothes, in their bags and under fleece blankets. I slept on a poofier ground pad (getting too old for a Thermarest), in clothes in my bag, and then later in a fleece sweatshirt. I was awakened no less than 6 times in the night by Ava, who wanted me to stop snoring ("Daddy, stop doing that!" "Doing what?" "Making that noise!") or to change the batteries in a dimming flashlight (one was left on at all times) or to fix her blankets. We all slept cold, and I rebuilt the campfire the next morning to warm our bones. The frost was thick and clumpy on my car when we made our way up to fetch our breakfast and hit the bathrooms.

After breakfast, we took a guided hike around the campground, then made our own way back to the falls for a bit, and then over to the little recreation area for a game of horseshoes and to exercise the playground equipment over by the dam. All in all, a good 24 hour camping trip.

The only equipment-related challenge we had was my stove. I had a Camping Gaz campstove (note the past tense, there). It was an impressively compact and hot unit I bought probably 12 years ago for the aforementioned trip out west. I had also bought a large Camping Gaz propane/butane canister for it, because I figured it would make a more stable platform for cooking than the smaller one. Problem is, the flame burns so hot that unless you're cooking constantly with it, you just don't use much gas, so I had that same canister for 12 years, and it was still well over half full. With age, the seal on the canister's valve wasn't so good. Some gas escaped around the seal, causing some flaming down by the valve, which in turn melted the attachment point on the stove. Scratch one Camping Gaz stove.

I used it outside to boil a Caphalon spaghetti pot full of pasta the other day (which it did just as quickly as my Thermador range), let it burn for a few hours to try to burn the gas off, and then dropped it at the propane tank area of our recycling center yesterday. So in addition to a bigger and better tent, I need a new stove. Next time I'm going with a Trangia set (burner, stove and cookware). REI has a mini-set and Rivendell carries two larger sets that look like they'll trap the burner heat really well. Based on my experience with the Gaz setup, I really don't need what amounts to a blowtorch to cook with, and I like the idea of little refillable alcohol burners rather than tanks that become a disposal question later. Plus I keep denatured alcohol around for shellac, so I'll consolidate those two supplies into one.

I'd like to return with the girls for a similar trip next year, and this time maybe work in the bikes. Speaking of which, I've got a plan and have been gathering parts for the Columbia, and will share more about my goals for that bike next time.

All for now,


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