It was the last weekend of September, 2001. The plans had been laid, and the camping commenced....
I took off of work early at 3pm on Friday, Sept 28th, and Rich and I left for Ames with a fairly well-loaded car (Rich's car) at about 4:30 p.m. We arrived in Ames at about 6:30, and loaded Heather's belongings into the car. At this time the car had enough room to fit three people fairly comfortably...then we picked up Sarah B and "crammed" her stuff in amongst our stuff. We couldn't have put much more in one car than we did, and still have room for all four of us. But somehow it all fit, and the four of us -- Rich, Heather, Sarah, and I -- set out on the open road at about 7:30.
We traveled up I-35 and, following Mapquest's silly directions, went as far north as Highway 20, then following 20 to a road that went south, and drove on this road back south about 15 miles until we reach highway 175, and took that east about 10 miles into Eldora.
We arrived at the campground after dark, between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. We drove around for a bit, and then found our home at campsite #68, on the north side of Pine Lake (where most or all of the state park seems to be), close to the fairly new cement trail. Specifically, we were perhaps a block east of the boat house, and perhaps half a block from where the trail curves northward toward the top of the park.
Rich and Heather went to submit our registration papers, while Sarah and I unpacked the tent and tried to figure out how to set it up. The directions were not much help, but after a little brainstorming and staking (and restaking), we had the basic foundation of the tent laid, and after putting poles in place in a "this looks right" manner, the tent came together...all together, it took about an hour to put the tent up. During our setup process, Rich and Heather came back, then went out to the woods nearby to search for firewood, and finally came back to help with the final stages of tent setup.
After we had the tent set up, we "moved in" a bit, and then Rich started a fire in the nearby firepot with a single match, some newspaper, and some small twigs. The fire was not large, but it was large enough to roast our smores for the night. After the smores, it was bedtime sometime around 11:00 or midnight. Rich and I did a little singing in the bathroom before bed, and Rich told a ghost story (the one about lipstick on the mirror with the message, "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light").
Saturday morning began rather late for us. Rich and Heather were awake before me, and I got up at about 9 a.m. Soon after we started eating breakfast (cereal). Sarah made it out at about 9:45 or so and finished breakfast with us. We heard stories about the previous night (from Sarah mostly) about how she now considered geese annoying birds after the noise they made several times during the night as they flew over.
After breakfast, we set out on our journey. We walked west on the cement trail, past the boat house. Along the way, we took note of the tree branches that could be used for firewood, since we didn't have a lot of it to burn. We eventually made our way off the main trail and found ourselves on a trail that went under the main road. Soon we were in a familiar place -- the "ravine" south of the Quaker Heights camp (where the BCM retreat has been the last couple of years). We trekked up the ravine and slipped by the Quaker Heights buildings. We walked along some new grass on the north side of the campground (close to the field), and then turned west for a bit, then followed the trail down to the river. The "beach" immediately off the trail was more of an island, so we walked through the middle of some weeds and brush to the north until we found a beach that was actually connected to the land, and went out on it.
We spent quite a while on the beach, skipping stones and seeing if we could hit the log across the river. Sarah got a few pointers on how to improve her skills. When we had all thrown entirely too many stones into the river (with somewhat aching muscles as evidence), we began to search for a way back to Quaker Heights. We didn't really like the idea of traipsing through the brush again, and we were still in exploration mode, so we went back a different way. The first goal was to get across a small body of water to another part of the main land...this required several minutes of careful placement of some medium-sized rocks that we could carefully walk on to get through the water. We made it -- no one fell in -- and continued on.
We walked along a creek bed for a while, finding a frog or two along the way. Eventually we decided to stop and walk up the wooded hill. The field that borders Quaker Heights to the north is at the top of this hill. At the top of the hill we took up our places in the tall grass beside the field, and talked for awhile (and sang a modified song about the "Fields of Gold [Green]". Then we walked along the edge of the field till we were along the north edge of it. We decided that there wasn't really any way around the field to the north or east, so we went back the way we came (west and south), by the Quaker Heights camp again, and back to the main road.
We were reentering the Pine Lake campground when we saw that familiar white car (and it's happy honking). It was, of course, that always timely Seth Loyd. A minute different and we would have missed each other. But by "coincidence" we were crossing the main road at nearly the same time, so he saw us. We stopped there and talked for several minutes, telling him of our adventures for the day and trying to persuade him to stay for lunch (it was about 1:15 by now). He told of his meandering morning, taking his time getting to Eldora and then looking around the campground for us for a half hour or more. He didn't stay for lunch, but we did allow him to drive us back to our campsite. It was good to see Seth, even if was for only a little while.
After Seth left us at the campground, we set out to building a fire for our hot dog lunch. This fire took about 2 matches to start, once again thanks to our "boy scout" Rich. Lunch was served, a little belatedly, at around 2 p.m.
After lunch, we set out to find some more firewood for the evening meal and toast in the morning. Rich and Heather went down the trail to the west (where we had seen some good wood in the morning), and Sarah and I looked at places closer to the campsite. Between the four of us, we ended up with an abundance of wood to be broken into smaller lengths and sorted by thickness. After we left the wood at the campsite, we took a rather short walk to the nearby boat dock or "fish cleaning station" that was a little seasickening. Then we walked to a closeby lake "peninsula" with no better name than "the rock place". We sat by the lake for quite a while, talking about various things and taking a few pictures.
After the lake-rock sitting, we walked east of the campsite, along the trail where it turns north toward the edge of the park. The sun was setting as we made this walk (about 7 p.m.). At the very top of the park we saw a small area where some trumpeter swans were. We also saw some deer in the distance here (as well as a few other places in the park at other times). Then we walked down the highway a bit, looking for a good view of the sunset, but we were a little too late and the corn was a little too high, blocking our view. We reentered the campground, found our way around an off-the-sidewalk trail, and eventually made it back to our campsite. Then it was time to build a fire, this time with charcoal briquettes. Rich set them up, and lighted them, but the fire died down a little too soon. We added quite a bit more lighter fluid to the less-than-optimal briquettes, and Rich lighted them again, this time in a blaze of fire (and we saw Rich with his quick reflexes as his arm shot out of the fire where he had lit it with the match). Even with this second helping, the charcoal did not burn real well, and when we put our "hoboes" (tin-foil covered packages of meat and vegetables) in the coals, we weren't sure whether they were hot enough or not, so we attempted to build a fire over the top of them. This did not work very well with our wet wood and such until a kind guy from the campsite next to our gave us some old dry fence laths to feed the fire. This did the trick, and soon we had a happy fire again. After about 20 minutes, the meal was served, and I think everyone was pleased with the results. For dessert we had more smores.
We stayed up for a bit after eating food, talking by the fire and such. Then we went to bed, at about 11 p.m. There were no ghost stories this evening...just a slowly fading conversation as we all fell asleep.
Sunday morning, we again slept in rather late. I got up (after Rich & Heather) at 9:15. Sarah got up again at around 10. We ate breakfast (toast) around the fire sort of informally. One of our goals for the morning was to take the tent down, which we did without much trouble once the inside was cleaned out, a task that Sarah & I shared. The tent seemed to be fairly well dried out, even though the sun had only been over the treetops for a half hour or so.
After packing the tent and getting the campsite cleaned up, we played a bit of frisbee. This was our last activity before leaving the campground. When we tired of this game, we left and headed north two miles to Steamboat Rock. We thought this was a landmark, but it was actually a city. We found a park just to the south of Steamboat Rock, so we stopped there near the river to eat lunch. After lunch, we hadn't quite had enough exploring, so Sarah led us up (almost STRAIGHT UP) a bluff overlooking the river. (Sorry Heather) We took a slightly less steep trail down the bluff again, and ended up a little downstream from where we started. There was a beach there, so of course I had to skip some more stones. Then we hiked back through some brush and weeds to the place where we ate, and then headed back to the car.
We began our trip back to Ames with a quick stop at HyVee in Eldora. We made a pitstop there. We left HyVee at about 2:30, and put on Michael (Card)'s Joy in the Journey CD to entertain us on the way back. We traveled on Hwy 175 straight west to Interstate 35, instead of going north to 20 first. This ended up being a more direct and logical path, I think. We got back to Ames about 3:30, a full hour sooner than happy Mapquest suggested.
After returning to Ames, we left Sarah off to start her busy week of homework (since she avoided it during the weekend). Then we unloaded Heather's things, and "crashed" in Heather's room. I visited Seth for a while after that, and talked with him for a bit and then helped him do some computer work for CrossSeekers. Then I went back to Heather's room about 5:45, and Rich & Heather & I went out to Fazoli's and Dairy Queen for supper (we took both to Inis Grove Park and ate there). We then went back to Heather's for a bit, and left for Cedar Rapids at about 7:30. Rich and I had a safe and talkative trip, and arrived back at home from our weekend of happiness and exploration at about 9:30 p.m.