Pere Marquette State Park, November 9-10, 2013

I.  Preface (11/8/2013).

I have cut an 11′ x 10′ piece of the new 6 mil plastic sheeting—doubled over (11′ x 5′) it looks a good fit for under the tent.  For Pere Marquette, I will still bring the tarp and sandwich the plastic sheeting in the tarp for under the tent.  For the Farm and other multi-night camps—if I have the room—I would still bring the old shower liner as a “throw down” for by the Jeep—to keep from stepping on dew, e.g.—for a spot to stand on while changing.  Maybe it’s not necessary, but it’s worth trying.

The old plastic sheeting I have in the garage has staple holes in it and can be tossed.  This plastic sheeting will puncture if I set it right on a new tree sprout and press down…and there’s lots of those at the Farm.  So I’m not sure what to do about that.  It was $25 for the roll and I can get two tent-fit cuts per roll…cheaper than a tarp.

II.  Saturday morning, 5:20 a.m., 11/9.

I have finished my first espresso.  I’m listening to a college football podcast and coughing a little bit.  The packing is coming together; not much more to go.  Two buckets, one box, a backpack, and an empty cooler in front of me.  B is up.  I slept OK but not great.  I didn’t need the taste of conny I sipped while managing just a couple of pages before I fell asleep.  A text from Roy greeted me on my phone this morning, from some time last night.  Saying he had just gotten home and would soon be making his first.  Dislocation, dislocation.

III.  Getting There, Saturday, 10:17 a.m.

We have left Squirt in Bellevegas and we are headed past The Shrine toward E Saint/Alorton where we’ll patch into 255N.  I am seeing two pyramids…the white-line triangle shapes of the new Mississippi River Bridge.  It really adds to the skyline, filling in to the north of the city’s downtown ‘scrapers.

Thoughts: I forgot the g-d tarp!  So it’ll be a real test for the plastic sheeting.  I did not think to bring my fanny pack, which is standard for my hikes but which I did not pack for other camp outings because I did not plan to hike.  We plan to hike at Pere Marquette.

I never ask the question: what will I do on this current excursion that I did not do on prior excursions (from which I constructed my pack list)?  And what does that tell me about what else I might need to bring?

It is a beautiful day.  Cloudless.  59°.  Not much wind.  I’m not driving.  Thanks, B.  I think I’ll have a cigarette!

I will add to the “Forgot” category: my iPhone lanyard.  You know, I used to have it tucked into this little pocket along the passenger’s side door.  And for some reason I took it out of there.  Twice now I’ve needed it: Farm Fall ’13 and now.

There are plenty of ways to get from here to Pere Marquette but we are taking the Edwardsville Road exit and heading left/west into Wood River.  After passing a Shop ‘n’ Save and a couple of car dealerships, it becomes more of a “town” and we pass a house where the family is getting its Xmas yard display ready.

Then it quickly becomes incredibly industrial.  This is major refinery territory.  Deer Park.  A little bit of Texas up here, and as easy as it is to scoff at the smoke I can’t be sure that what came out of there isn’t now getting this Jeep on down the road.  We pass a union hall.  Through this area there are lots of roads going lots of different directions: Roxana, Alton, Bethalto, Edwardsville, Hartford, Granite City, you name it.  There are levees.  Bike trails along those levees.  A business park.  Koch Nitrogen (Wood River Terminal).  This is bottomland.  Power lines. A barge, and other barges.  Is that THE river already?  A chute goes over the road above us, reaching toward the river from an industrial complex sporting a long, sloping pile of coal.  We can see the Melvin Price Lock & Dam.  The Clark Bridge.  East Alton Pumping Station #1.  Alton, population 27,900.

A great blue heron.  A flock of starlings.  The road we’ve been on has changed names several times since we’ve been on it—now it’s called Landmarks Blvd.  The Argosy is up to the left.  “Welcome to Alton” is written on the big ConAgra grain elevator.  Commerce happens here and it excites me!  Now we do a left onto the Great River Road.  We pass under another structure over the road: what looks like a walkway leading to the grain elevator.  As we get past the grain elevator, up and to the left we get our best view of the river yet: it is open, running, and wide.

We pass a cyclist.  A pickup with a dead deer—its rigored legs sticking up out of the bed—passes us.  On the right is the Piasa Bird, painted up on the face of the bluffs.  There is still fall color up in the bluffs, near and far: golds, reds, rusty brown.  A running/biking trail speeds along to our right, at the foot of the bluffs.  There are a couple of runners.  I see something about the “Great Rivers Land Trust.”  More joggers.

There is a little bit of chop on the river.  A few specks of white cap.  On the edge of the river closest to us, not going anywhere, is the Patricia Anne—a towboat.  On the Missouri side is that heaping, hulking, smoking, skanking—light-giving—power plant with its honking smoke stack pouring the bad stuff up into the crisp blue yonder.  There’s a towboat pushing a load of barges out in the middle of the river.  Houses on our side, Clifton Terrace.  One time we took a wrong turn trying to get here and got the un-scenic tour of Alton/Bethalto/Wood River.  We jogged over to the Great River Road somewhere around here, dropping down on something I thought was called Stiritz Lane. [author’s note: that’s correct, except by the time it drops down and hits the Great River Road it’s called “Whitford Drive”.]

There are some big white birds sitting on a log out in the middle of the river.  I can’t believe they are anything other than pelicans.  The Great River Road is also called Highway 100.  It’s like our Pacific Coast Highway (except that’s “Highway 1”).  The river branches into two or more channels here, making islands in its midst.  The birds love it.  Ducks and gulls.  “Piasa Creek Public Boat Access Area.”  A gas station (if we need wood?)

We are just north of the power plant now.  We’ve somewhere lost the hike and bike trail.  Is it above us? [author’s note: no.]  The statue of the lady in white is across the river from us.  Portage des Sioux, MO.  Their water tower, their steeple.  A sail boat out on the water is cutting and jibing, full of sail.  Although the hike and bike trail is gone, there is now a bike lane.  Village of Elsah.

It’s windier up this way.  There is now the little community of Chautauqua to the right.  We pass a really slow moving Buick.  Foam on the river, “falling rock ahead”.  We enter Grafton, population 650.  Raging Rivers.  We were here MLK Day this year, not since then.  Looking for eagles, and saw a couple.  On the right is a BP station that has firewood.  We see a guy sitting on a deck drinking a beer.  And lady with him has a hefty glass of white wine!  It’s 11:15, I love it.  We’re out of Grafton.  Will we need to come back for any reason?

The trail is back.  Windy road.  Brussels Ferry, 1/3 mile. We pass the “Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge,” where we looked for eagle that day but did not find any.  It’s closed right now.  Out of the woodsy area and now into a bucolic setting.  We pass a guy taking a photo of a barn.  The barn has a stone foundation.  It’s nice.  To the left, for the first time, we don’t have the river.  It’s open field.  There is a dairy not too far, the Duncan Hill Youth Camp, Pere Marquette, the Illinois River, and everything else.

IV.  Rest of Saturday, A Summary.

So we get there, set up camp in the Class B campsite area, and then launch out on this more-than-we-can-chew three-plus-hours hike.  We had noted that the ladybugs were crazy on us while we were setting up the tent.  They got crazier up on the bluff at one point, clinging to our clothes and hanging around for awhile.

But we ran into something of a problem when we decided to push on and make it out to the “Lover’s Leap” scenic overlook.  The piece of the trail that goes out there is called the “Rattlesnake”. It’s listed as being 1/4 mile—it’s not 1/4 mile, not even close.  It probably is drawn to scale on the map, but its listed length is wrong.  It’s a mile at least.  It really took the wind out of my sails.  I did not have the energy to walk all the way back via the trails so we walked part of the way back along the road, which sucked.

By the time we got back we had about an hour of sunlight left.  I went into a creek bed to get firewood.  B was busy unpacking stuff and getting ready to cook once we got a fire going.  I actually found some really nice pieces of wood in the creek bed—like, actual firewood that somebody at some point cut…and for whatever reason tossed down into the creek bed.

Well, what can I say?  We made a fire, made sandies, drank.  I smoked some Parlies.  We listened to my iPhone on shuffle, its speaker end placed into one of our metal campfire cups.  The stars were badass and we looked at them for an hour.  B saw a shooting star that I missed.

We retired.  At some point during the night I heard the guy at the nearby campsite ralph.  I got kind of paranoid.  Not because of the guy barfing—that was oddly comforting—but because stuff was hitting our rain fly and I got kind of creeped out.  I prefer camping in numbers.

V.  Sunday Morning Ramblings.

•  Get some camp plates—something we can reuse instead of the use & chuck Chinet.

•  Pack a spoon.

•  More wood, more wood.

•  Sharpen the loppers.

•  Had to use some newspaper.  Getting the fire going a second time Sunday morning (after we got back from a walk down to the river at sunrise) was difficult.

•  I got up at 3:31.  I couldn’t get back to sleep.  I was uncomfortable and a little paranoid.

•  No phone reception.  I got a few texts to and fro with Roy, who updated me on college football.  Instagram or Vine was not possible.

•   I could use a portable speaker, especially something that could simultaneously charge a phone.  The extra battery pack for the phone also would have come in handy.

•  Sandwiches in the morning, so good.  Turkey, ham, swiss, cheddar.  Texas Toast.  Mix and match.

•  There was a “vault” toilet on the Class B campground.  It really didn’t smell bad.  But I put my headlamp light up on some spiders in the rafters and got a little creeped out.  There are flush toilets in the Class A (RV) area but the vaults are fine.

•  To drink last night I had: four Stellas, George Dickel in the disposable/reusable flask, and then a little bit of B’s vodka, which I chased with Canada Dry seltzer water.

•  There were two water spigots—the old-style kind like you’d see on a farm—on either side of our camp site.  They worked.  I had to yank them all the way “up” and then give them a second.  I would hear the water rising first and then it would just come shooting on out.  It was kind of fun.  The water tasted fine.

•  The hunters started shooting at 5:45.  I had been out scrounging for kindling for a while by then.  I found myself comforted by the knowledge that other people were not only awake but going about their business for the day.

•  We walked out to the harbor right across 100 while there was still color—pink and orange—in the sky.  It was quiet, serene, and peaceful.  I took some photos.  I walked up the stairs into this old kind of shack that was really decrepit and creepy.  Considering how beautiful the world was, it was rather quiet and so few other creatures were stirring yet at 7:33.

•  I had a headache and when I gave it any thought, my blinking body cursor told me: you really don’t feel that good.  I took two headache pills and did a Doubleshot.  The part of me that is truly scared the most wonders if that will still work when I’m 44, 54.  Not likely.  We had water boiling by the time B was ready for a Via with a little Doubleshot poured in as a creamer.

•  It was pretty awesome how we could just barely see the arch from some of the lookout points along the trail system.  If I did not know that there was some sort of “arc-thing” along the STL skyline, could I have seen it through the miles and the power smog/petrochemical daze/river fog/haze-of-life?

•  Scrounging for wood this morning like Orwell’s tramp…I was trying to be quiet.  I got back into the creek bed, sort of desperate.  I checked several of the Camp B “sites” that had their own grill pits (ours did not).  I shuffled quite a few old coals into my log carrier, thinking they were radio gold.  But considering how stubborn my fire was to start after we got back from the harbor, I have no alternative but to conclude: something was wrong with those “radio-gold” coals.  They were wet or just not good or both.

•  If it’s just me and B, we don’t really need the big trash bag.  Yet, I like a trash bag with a string because it’s a good idea to rig the trash bag up at the end of the picnic table and have it hanging there so you can drop trash into it.

•  Our “site” up on the hill in the Class B area had two picnic tables and a stone-rung fire ring.  Though we did not have a grill at our site, there are several grills scattered throughout the Class B area.

•  Used a paperclip.

•  The Mesquite Krunchers! were good.  The pretzel braids were good.

•  We enjoyed our tentside tattered towel mats, one mat thrown down on each side of the tent.  That way you can take your boots on/off with your feet hanging out of the tent and you don’t have to worry about dirt or wet or frost.

•  The buckets worked well.

•  The plastic sheeting seemed to have formed a pretty good vapor barrier between us in the tent and the ground.

•  I burned a hole in my fleece.  It’s a blue fleece I’ve had for eight or nine years.  I feel kind of dumb.  I don’t even know when I did it.

•  The Home Depot lawn refuse bag really worked out well.  I put wood in it at home, stapled the top shut, and took wood out beside the fire as I needed it.  Then for packing everything up on Sunday morning I shook the bag out real good and threw random things in it.  Those bags can hold a lot of weight without any give.

•  My hiking boots are just about done.

•  On Sunday morning I was still in my pants and t shirt from the day before, though I did change my socks. 

•  Ate a pepsid at one point.
•  I was wearing my Ken Onion attached to my right pants pocket.  If I used it once, it was just the once.

•  I had remarked to Roy over text on Friday that I could not find my battie anywhere.  He suggested I look in the garage.  I figured it’d turn up before long.  I found it in the right breast pocket of my blue & black flannel shirt on Sunday morning.

•  It was $10 to camp ($10/night).  I used a ten.  I hung the tag/permit on the tent.  It flipped and flopped against the rain fly repeatedly during the night and startled me repeatedly until I realized what it was.

•  Conceivably, we could have used a little radio—a MUST if there is a Cardinals game.

•  We did not use the face wash or the wash cloth(s).  I’d still bring them both, though.

•  When we got there Saturday at 11 a.m. or so there was only one other site occupied in the Class B area but including ourselves there were campers on five sites Saturday night/Sunday morning.

•  I’m strongly considering converting the emergency kit marked “A” into a camp box—thereby replacing my current cardboard box (the brandy box).  It will only work if I can get a divider to function properly in the emergency kit (a big plastic container).  The e-kit has handles and it seals shut—two things the cardboard box can’t offer.  Could be a major upgrade.

•  We are suddenly short of decent twisty ties!  I have cut a length of wire into smaller sections and put it into the camp box.

•  I do not believe it got below 40° last night.  My compass/thermometer was in my backpack and I thought about checking it at least a couple of times…but never did.

•  A little charcoal for that morning fire re-start would help.  Just like we did up at Mark Twain Lake a la J Brett.

•  Sounds in the night: in addition to the permit popping on the rain fly and the guy the next site over doing a vomit at 3:00 or so, there was another sound: something falling to the ground in the wind and reverberating slightly.  I could not place it.  Later this morning when a Chinet was whisked off the table I knew what it was I had heard.  It got windy during the night!

•  We looked at the stars for an hour Saturday night.  B nailed Cygnus (the Northern Cross).  Everything flowed from there: Altair, Vega, the Corona, Draco, Cassiopeia.

•  But this morning Orion was upside down  (I think!) and it stumped me.  We stared at the brightest star in the early morning sky—it had to be Sirius—but comparing that to Orion, and looking at the star chart…it didn’t add up.  Is it possible we were not in fact looking at Orion?  But the belt, three stars, in a straight line, I’ve seen it a thousand times.  It was frustrating.

The end.

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