Not a Happy Camper
Back in May, I went on a short camping trip at Wild River State Park to enjoy International Migratory Bird Day. I enjoyed this little adventure, as it gave me the opportunity to do some birding and hiking. Well, I thought that it would be a good idea to do another little camping trip. I have some post-travel blahs and this would be a way to enjoy nature. To combat these blahs and take advantage of my time off, decided that I would head to Mille Lacs Kathio State Park for a little camping adventure. As it turns out, it was a miserable time!
The Plague of Traffic:
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is about two hours from Duluth and located in an area steeped with Native American history. The earliest signs of human settlement in Minnesota are found in the Mille Lacs area. As for the lake itself, it is the second largest inland lake in Minnesota. Like many state parks, I haven’t visited it, so it was another incentive to visit the area. Thus, I set off for a short adventure. It was raining when I left Superior, but the forecast indicated that the rain would stop. It didn’t. Most of my drive involved driving in the rain. I took my time since there was no point arriving in the rain. The rain did eventually stop, but I did not predict the enormous traffic jam by Mille Lacs Lake (which seems odd to say Lacs Lake, since it is “lake lake”). It has probably been over a decade and a half since I was out by Mille Lacs and even then, it was never for anything tourist related. The towns dotting the giant lake only have a few hundred people, yet, I was stuck in traffic for an hour as trucks with boats tried to merge into one lane. I watched time pass by. I watched the lake. I felt annoyed by the mass of fishermen and women who were scrambling to return to the Twin Cities. I also felt annoyed with myself for choosing to camp on a Sunday (when everyone else is returning home from the weekend). Considering the throngs of traffic, it is no surprise that the lake is empty of walleye (well, that and climate change warming the lakes).
The Plague of Flies:
After suffering through the traffic, I set up my tent. Despite the crowded herd of slow moving trucks, the park itself was nearly deserted. There were very few campers in the park that night. This was encouraging. I decided that I would spend several hours hiking, so I went to the trail center and picked a trail that looped around one of the lakes in the park. I immediately found that the trail was rather muddy and infested with swarms of flies. The flies surrounded my head, buzzing loudly and getting tangled in my hair. I picked out pieces of dead flies from my hair, swatting the others who seemed equally determined to meet their death in the snarls of my black and blue tresses. It occured to me that perhaps I could use my super duper DEET 100 to deter them. So, I doused myself in DEET. The DEET was so concentrated that it took the nail polish off my nails. I suppose this provides makeshift beauty advice. While camping, DEET can be used to take the varnish off your nails. While it removed my nail polish, it did not remove the flies. The flies seemed completely indifferent to the chemical stench wafting from my body. I even sprayed a handkerchief with DEET and wore it on my head. The flies did not care in the least. This cut my hike short.
Not pictured: a plague of flies.
(What could possibly go wrong?)
Instead of hiking, I made a detour to climb a fire tower. I figured that if I couldn’t hike, I could at least climb up the tower. This was a good challenge for me, since I really hate heights. And, I actually had to tell myself out loud to keep going up after I was above the tree tops. I focused on looking up and made it to the top without incident. Though, on the way up I imagined getting stuck up there…too afraid to go back down. Since I was all alone, it would begin my new life. My new life on top of the fire tower. It was completely fine. The view from the top allowed me to see Mille Lacs Lake and several of the lakes in the park. I felt a little accomplished.
After clambering down the fire tower, I thought I would take a short hike on the Interpretive Trail. The flies continued to harass me, but at least I was distracted by the various signs about the history of the park. It was interesting to learn that many of the campsites in the state park were places were Native American villages or camping sites were also located. The park also contains burial or ceremonial mounds that date back to 3000 BC. The park is filled with archeological sites, including the remnants of settler homesteads. It was also interesting to learn about the ecological history of the park. From about 300 BC to the late 1800s, the area was dominated by white pine. The white pine forests were ended in less than 50 years with the arrival of white settlers and logging companies. Deeper in history, the park was Oak Savanna, Aspen, and other variations of forests. The park was at the edge of the glaciers of the last ice age, which carved out the lakes of the area. Another highlight of the trail was seeing a catbird. I heard a strange, crying noise from the bushes and spotted the catbird tucked into the foliage.
Since my hikes were thwarted by flies, I decided that I would venture out of the park back to the town of Garrison. It would offer me the opportunity to take some photos of Mille Lacs Lake and explore some landmarks. This went wonderfully. I enjoyed the evening taking photos of the lake and watching some purple martins catch insects by a boat landing. I even saw an immature eagle in a dead tree. I watched the birds and lake until near sunset. Little did I know, that back in the park, it had rained. The glossy pavement as I approached the park was a sign of the isolated shower. I wasn’t worried, as my tent…should be water proof. This would have been the case but part of the flysheet on the backside of the tent was not pulled down far enough. Somehow this tiny slit had let a deluge of water into my tent. I was astonished by the lake that had formed in my tent, soaking my sleeping bag and forming puddles on one side. Thankfully, I had two emergency blankets in my car. I was also thankful that I had a spare towel in my car as well. I sopped up the soggy mess, but was not happy.
I went on to make a fire, where I sat and journaled. I also spent some time reading various articles on a Marxist critique of Intersectionality. I will try to write up my thoughts on these articles on a future blog. Writing and reading restored by sense of peace. I decided that I would devote several hours to hiking the next day and studied the map to see which trail I would chose. There was something peaceful and restorative about taking time to delve into those articles. I stayed up late, took a shower, admired the nearly full moon, then headed into my moist tent. Yes, it wasn’t perfectly dry. Sopping up the water had made it moist at best.
Then I sat there, tossing and turning, bumping elbows with something wet. I pushed my soggy sleeping bag into the corner. I stared up at the ceiling of the tent. It rained again. Even when it didn’t rain, the forest sounded like 1,000 leaky faucets. I felt that somehow the moisture outside had penetrated by bones, making me feel chilled and uneasy. The raindrops continued to pound the tent, drop by slow, torturous drop. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to sleep, I took a Tylenol PM. I hate taking these because they have been connected to dementia. But, they work very well. I dozed off and slept. The next morning I continued sleeping. I slept and slept…and slept some more…missing the opportunity to hike.
When I finally forced myself to get motivated, I decided the adventure was done. My tent was still wet on the outside. I packed it up, picking off a few slugs. I felt wet and dirty putting everything away. I had a feminist meeting later in the day anyway, so I was okay just leaving the park. I was disappointed, but there were some highlights. I enjoyed the fire and my time reading and writing. I enjoyed my encounters with birds. I can add purple martin to my life list, as I have not seen one since I started birding about two years ago. I enjoyed climbing the tower. So, even though I wasn’t a happy camper, I didn’t regret my mini-adventure.