The next 7 days were pretty much pure bliss straight out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. The property where we camped is that of my best-good-friend's (Beastie Back Eastie...referenced in Poop Story) grandparents and is a beautiful wooded piece of land where their house is tucked in amongst the trees, and they have a sizeable clearing where they allowed us to camp. Having never met Adam, and me just once, it was very kind and generous of them to let us stay. The weather treated us to drier 80 degree days and 65 degree nights, but the mosquitos did not get the memo to relent. No matter. While what we were doing was still primitive camping: digging holes for poo, filtering creek water, cooking over the campstove, it was an absolute luxury to not have to setup and strike camp everyday let alone find a place to camp. Though we were still adjusting to life outside, at least those elements were eliminated for awhile which allowed us much more leisure time and relaxation.
That June, before we'd left Indianapolis, Beastie Back Eastie had invited us to join her family on their inaugural week-long camping trip held at a property near her grandparents' at the creek. That trip was full of fun activities and social interactions, swimming, skipping rocks, fishing, roasting marshmallows, hiking, the works! She and I even took a girls-only swim down the creek a ways during which I saw my first ever bald eagle. It was nice to be back at the creek again to quietly appreciate its beauty and serenity. I often found myself wondering what memories BBE had of this spot or that.
The week passed by quietly and quickly, but it wasn't without its daily marvels. We started off the first full day by chatting with Ed, my friend's grandfather. Adam introduced himself, and Ed invited us to enjoy their swimming pool anytime we liked and assured us to not hesitate to ask if we needed anything. Later, we decided to treat ourselves to an unloaded ride into town to pick up a pizza and some ingredients for cake, as my birthday was approaching. I wasn't going to let a woodburning campstove being our only resource for cooking get between me and a birthday cake. Though unloaded, I still walked up one of the three hills into town. Our bodies were still pretty ragged from the previous 7 days. We investigated a local joint, but they weren't scheduled to open for another couple of hours, being voraciously hungry, I didn't want to wait that long, so we ended up at the Casey's, a chain of gas stations with convenience stores that make and serve their own pizzas, sandwiches, donuts, and so forth. For the uninitiated, they know how to do a pizza right: with plenty of cheese. We enjoyed that pizza at a table in the store and took an extra ranch dressing or two for other food-enhancing purposes back at camp.
The second full day at the creek was my birthday, but my "party" (the day we eat cake) would be the next day. Considering that I was wearing my last pair of clean underwear, I decided to spend my birthday hiking to and from the creek via the ravine through the woods to do laundry. Usually my birthday, being in my most favorite season of sumtumn (that's the tail end of summer and the earliest inklings of autumn), presents me with the most beautiful weather and sometimes a robust thunderstorm. With clear skies, moderately hot temperatures, slight breeze, and relatively lower humidity, I really couldn't have asked for anything better. The main reason that this laundry day is noteworthy is because of the fact that I did it more primitively than I ever have before, and it was also our first laundry day since leaving Indianapolis. I really enjoy solving puzzles, and the creek provided me with plenty of clear flowing water and a sandy bank. As a bit of backstory, I spent 4 years in Ohio doing laundry on a washboard in an 18 gallon tub in the bathtub because we didn't have a washer or dryer, and I was too cheap to go to the laundromat. Suffice to say that over the years, via the Internet, I studied various laundry techniques from different cultures and time periods. There are books written on the subject. Applying this knowledge and accumulating experiences of my own, I've developed some rather effective techniques. The main key is soaking to give the soap time to work, this way, not much agitation is required.
I started off the first "load" in the camp sink that we'd purchased before Bon Voyage. I say "load" in quotations because this sink is actually pretty tiny and can only hold maybe 3 shirts at a time. Quite a bit of time passed by the time I had this load done and drying in the sun. I wanted a way to introduce more soaking basins so that one load could be soaking in rinse water while the next one soaked in soapy water--sort of an assembly line of laundry in various stages of cleanliness. It was then that I realized the bank of the creek was sandy just a few paces upstream, so I hiked back up to camp to grab a few trashbags. Back down at the sandy bank, I dug two sizeable holes with a rock, lined them with the trashbag and instantly had two more basins for the laundry process. The whole thing still took all day but went a lot faster than if I'd kept using just the camp sink by itself. I wasn't in any hurry. It was my birthday, after all, and I intended to relax and enjoy it. Enjoy it I did as I finally had the leisure time to lay back, creek rippling in the background, and read a few chapters in my book, Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring. Toward the end of the day, Adam joined me down at the creek to make sure I was still doing alright and to filter water for the night and the next morning.
Cake day arrived, and I got dressed up, as much as you can on a bike tour, and gave myself a fancy hairdo. I spent the morning relaxing and before I knew it, afternoon had arrived, and it was time to start this experiment. For the recipe, I improvised off of the pancake recipe stored in my brain and felt pleased and grown-up for melting the chocolate chips in a double boiler. No pan we have is big enough for all the batter, so I had to cook the batter in batches. The first batch was cooked in the mess kit's pot and burned on the bottom before the rest of the batter got fully cooked through. That was slightly disappointing...less cake for the eating! Learning from that lesson, the next two batches were cooked over the double boiler. By the end of it all, we had a Goldilocks situation: one burnt cake, one undercooked cake, and one cake that was juuuuust right. I had grown tired of sitting at the campstove, so that's how we ended up with the undercooked cake and no frosting. It's my birthday, I don't have to frost my cake ;-)
Over the course of the week, we were able to really practice and streamline some camping skills. It was a teriffic solar week as it only rained once or twice at night. Adam kept a steady supply of fuel for the campstove as well as a steady supply of clean water. He also fired up his computer to work on his avatar for the blog. I was able to start experimenting on the campstove and pretty much crocheted and played Clash of Clans all week (it's true). One evening, we were a tortilla dream team, and we definitely rocked some tortillas from scratch on the campstove to have a soft taco night. We did discover some personal limits though. For example, I discovered that I am still pretty much terrified to be outside in the woods by myself after dark, and that will sometimes mean going to bed without doing the dishes. This presents a bit of a conundrum because you don't necessarily want to leave dirty dishes out as they can attract unwanted critters to your campsite. This will become a focal point about 2 months from this point in the story. We didn't have any problems with critters here, though Adam did see what was most likely a mole trying to work its way through the floor of our tent. This guy got quite a surprise I'm sure when he came up and found he couldn't break free of the ground. At first a little eerie, I began looking forward to the nightly chorus of owls and still think it's hilarious when they stop "who"ing and start "haw"ing loudly at each other. I am now very comforted by the sounds of the owls, and I think it may partly have to do with my fear of rodents. Knowing the owls are out there preying on rodents puts me at ease.
After our second trip into town, we decided to befriend the neighbor's dog. I was tired of being harassed by this barking, guard-hairs-standing dog every time we went up or down the lane. The owner would always say, "she's harmless," but her body language made me think otherwise, so I figured introducing ourselves to the neighbor would put the dog at ease. "Does she like to get pets?" I asked. He replied that she did, I asked what her name was, we got to talking, and the dog calmed right down to let us pet her. She still barked when we passed, but when she roamed onto the property where we were, as country dogs do, she would come right up to us and roll over on her back for some belly rubs. So she ended up being alright. Daisy was her name. But it'll scare the Dickens outta ya when a dog you don't know stands at the edge of your camp barking and growling. Both Daisy and some other neighborhood dog did this. We didn't have much opportunity to befriend the other dog, but thankfullly he kept his distance. If you think about it from their perspective, here are these strangers pooping in their territory. They're bound to be a little protective.
Before we knew it, it was Family Day, a monthly occurrence when the whole family gets together for dinner and quality time. Most pleasingly, we were invited in for dinner, our first decent home cooked meal in two weeks! It was so fulfilling to see my friend and her family, and, if I'm totally honest, to go inside for some conditioned air. We swam in the creek, helped the baby practice walking up and down stairs, gave the kids a tour of our campsite, and shared some good times together before they had to go back home. Loading them into the car and seeing them drive off left me with a happiness that was coated with a pretty intense sadness for me. We still hadn't ventured very far, and a vast and lonely unknown still lay beyond.
We didn't want to stay beyond our welcome, and I had told Ed and Cynthia, his wife, that we planned to leave the next day. The next morning came, I think I may have taken the time to make breakfast on the campstove, as opposed to something quicker, and by the time I got everything packed and was ready to pedal out, it was the middle of the afternoon. I'll lay all my cards out and let you know that I was quite ashamed that I was not ready to go when I said I would be. It was no big deal to anyone else, including our hosts, but I still allowed a great deal of my frustrations to become vocal. It's something I could work on, I suppose: maintaining composure when things don't go to plan. Morning came again, and we started packing again. I think what delayed us was a compulsive need to do things in a certain order on my part. I had done a small load of laundry the day before and was waiting on some clothes drying in the sun. We still had a lot of stuff out and just weren't ready to go yet. I became more and more embarassed at what seemed to me to be my lack of togetherness and it put me in a nasty mood. After one more night of camping on our own private campground, we awoke, had our breakfast, packed up the tent, and by midday began making our way west with no particular destination in mind except California. We had now truly left the Shire.
We rolled out of Martinsville with some gusto, having had a shower and a decent meal the night before. Leading the way, I had a great coast going and used my momentum to confidently turn the wrong way. As a side note, there really is no wrong turn, though it might not seem like it in the short term. Needless to say, we pulled over so I could re-route. In a moment of clarity, I turned on the terrain feature on Google Maps. Sweet relief! We found a valley route going northwest on the map. Eager to end the rigors of hilly southern Indiana, we decided without hesitation to take it.
Sure, we had headwind, but this valley did not disappoint. Not only were the hills reduced to a long slow grade, the blacktop was fresh. So fresh, in fact, that the lines had not yet been painted on. I remember thinking, as we rolled through, that "...if you're gonna have headwind, *this* is the way to have headwind!" It was getting to be about midday, and I was feeling the familiar need to stop and rest and eat, so we found a nice spot in the shade by the side of the wooded road. We carefully parked our bikes lest they tumble into the ravine below. My bike tipped over a couple of times, much to my frustration, but, as I would later realize, I was still on the learning curve about good bike-parking technique. We still experience spills from time to time, but they are now, thankfully, few and far between.
Two sandwiches later, we were relaxing, and I was playing a little Clash of Clans. My clanmates happened to be talking about the eclipse, which is how I came to realize it was happening right over our heads at that moment. The ambient light became quite gray, almost like it was cloudy on such a sunny day, and gradually brightened up again, and that was that. Not long after that, we heard a distant droning sound that seemed to be getting gradually nearer. Slowly coming up the hill was the line-painting crew with a long string of cars behind it. Pure, unadulterated entertainment for us, and surely very annoying for the drivers in a hurry to get where they were going. We wrapped up our break and continued heading up the hill which was growing steeper while our water supply was dwindling. A look at the map indicated a township fire department, and my thought was "They're a fire department! They'll give us water..." At this point, we were still too shy to fill up our 10L water reservoir using water fountains or bathroom sinks. Not to mention the added weight since we were still pretty weighted down by all the food we left with from Indianapolis.
Relieved at reaching the top of the hill, we were a little disappointed that this rural fire department was uninhabited. We went across the street to the alternative: a convenience store. As we rolled up, I noticed a few older gentlemen sitting in chairs outside shootin' the breeze and also a sign on the door saying something about no public restrooms. I assumed this also meant we wouldn't be allowed to fill our water bottles. It turns out the restrooms were closed to the public due to the size of the septic system and building code restrictions. I proceeded inside with that sort of rude desperation. I wasn't going to leave without water, or at least knowing where to get some nearby. As it turned out, and this is very common, especially in rural areas, the convenience store was also a very busy "quick stop" restaurant. With my helmet on, I aksed the hurried gal working there, "Would you mind if I fill up our water bottles?" giving them a wiggle in mid-air to indicate their emptiness. With a tone of voice that said, "Of course!" she was very friendly, and I forget her exact words, but I enjoyed the cold air conditioning while I filled our bottles with some nice cold water from the water dispenser on the soda fountain. In fact, I believe I took the bottles back outside, we emptied them into our water reservoir, and I went back in for 2 more bottles full.
Ever so slightly rejuvinated, we made our way onward and, quite literally, upward. The steep hills were back, and passed, no doubt, with plenty of stopping, walking, and griping on my part. One interesting note, however, is that I noticed a mailbox painted a lovely aqua color, the color of a pool, with the last name Pool on it. Our water supply was, again, dwindling, so we made for the nearest possible fill up point, a Baptist church in the middle of nowhere. Not only was the water low and the temperature blistering hot, it was fixing to rain. We could see storms in the distance as we rode, and we knew the wind direction, so we knew it was also about time to seek shelter or else poncho up. We parked our bikes, I took the water bottles inside without any worries because my experience with people in churches is that getting water should be no problem whatsoever.
I entered the quiet building, admired the sanctuary a bit and noticed a jacket and some keys lying on a nearby table. An instinctive turn down the hallway toward the water fountain led me through a small library room where three teenagers were studying and doing homework. To nip awkwardness in the bud, I simply asked if there was a water fountain where I could fill our bottles, giving the bottles the essential, "they're empty" wiggle. I spotted the fountain in the adjacent hallway before even finishing the question, so it was really more to let them know, "Don't worry, I'm not weird, well maybe a little, but I'm just here for water." A person wearing a bicycle helmet in these parts has certainly come a long way as there's nothing but cornfields and the occasional house, or church, for miles and miles. "Yeah!" they said. "Just be careful though," the boy said. "It's got a bit of pressure." Heeding his warning, I gingerly pushed the bar to run the water, "You weren't kidding!" I said. I got our bottles filled with minimal mess, and as I left, I told the kids, "I might have to send my boyfriend in, if for nothing else than to enjoy the a/c for a little while!" No sooner than I returned to Adam and our bikes did it start sprinkling. Our first rain! "Well," we said, "what should we do?" Ultimately we decided to put the rain covers on our panniers and roll over to the awning and wait out the storm.
I'm not sure how to describe the next 45 minutes or so. It poured buckets, and we ended up being ministered by Pastor T.R. Pool. Remember the pool-colored mailbox? Pastor Tim was very enthusiastic, and I didn't get a chance to ask him if that neat looking mailbox I saw a ways back was his or not. He talked for the entirety of the storm, and I really did enjoy hearing his story, but once I saw that he was holding a few pamphlets behind his back, I realized it was not so much about sharing stories as much as it was about trying to get us to join his church. It really put a damper on the conversation for me. By the time the storm was over, I was really ready to move on from this place. Suffice to say his style of ministering did not resonate positively with me. I can't blame Pastor Tim if his ministering and my faith choices weren't compatible.
A clear and beautiful, hot and breezy afternoon followed the storm, and the next several miles, again, passed by relatively uneventfully, although the flat terrain was a very welcome change. Before arriving at the tiny town of Stilesville, we had been debating whether to push it to Bainbridge. By Stilesville, we would have ridden 23 miles that day, and Bainbridge would be another 20. We decided we would at least stop at the Dollar General to fill our water reservoir. I am usually the lucky one who gets to go inside and enjoy a pinch of air conditioning and fill up on water. So in I went and came out with not only water but also some snacks and food. We were getting low on protein rich foods, and I knew that's what we needed. Adam had wanted peanuts, and I decided against the peanuts, opting for peanut butter instead and when I came out, I said, "Well, I didn't get peanuts, but I think you're gonna like what I got instead." Two cans of vienna sausages to have as protein snacks, one of which we demolished in probably less than 94 seconds or so. After that began a life spent eating peanut butter at every meal and snack time.
The hour was getting late, we were tired, and I was beginning to feel fatigue in a few areas. We just kept sitting outside in the parking lot, enjoying not bicycling for a spell. As time wore on, and we continued to enjoy not riding our bikes, we decided to relocate behind the building where we found a relatively secluded spot that was flat and flanked by a massive cornfield. We closed the night by pitching the tent after a smidge of dinner, whipped up on the campstove. It was pasta with soup for sauce (powdered soup packets), and probably a can of vegetables. I was able to charge my phone on the campstove and get just enough reception to make my attacks in Clash and bid my clanmates goodnight, still being vague about our location, though one friend in particular, I'd call him a friend, was wanting more specifics because he wanted to follow along on our journey on the map.
We slept without the rainfly, as per the norm in those sweltering days and sticky nights, and we indeed slept well but not long. It was the first day we'd put in fair mileage. It was good, and we were looking forward to our potential arrival in Bainbridge the next day. The alarm was set for an hour and a half before sunrise, and we packed right up and rolled out quite a while before first light, and I believe it was our fastest packout before or since. We decided to stop for breakfast after a ways. I had seen a lake or large pond on the map that I figured we could stop by to enjoy some views while we noshed. So in the dark of morning, we pulled over at a large pond, parked the bikes, and just as we had gotten all the breakfast supplies out and were about to light the campstove, dawn was breaking, and we heard a man say very sternly, "You know this is private property right?" We politely indicated that we didn't and, given our loaded bikes, mentioned that we just pulled over to have some breakfast, leaving the conversation open for the chance that he might realize we meant no harm and would allow us to enjoy our breakfast by what turned out to be his pond (or one that he shared with the neighbors, it was never clear.) He was firm in wanting us to leave, so we obliged, and, not wanting to disturb any other homeowners by accident, I asked if he knew of any public parks in the area. He said none that he knew of. "Okay, thanks," we said. I smiled with a twinge of disappointment as we packed up and continued biking. Hungry, not hilly, but windy.
A short stretch brought us to an intersection with a state highway where there was a triangular patch of grass with a tree or two. We didn't see anything indicating that it was private property, an odd place for a picnic, at 7 am, no less, but we parked again, pulled out the breakfast spread, again, and I set to making oatmeal and coffee as Adam watched the skies and repeatedly warned me that clouds from the west were bringing rain. I was really focused and insisted that we still had time, but how wrong I was! It began to pour, and we had no choice but to scurry. It was a moment of good teamwork as Adam hovered over the already going campstove wearing his poncho while I clumsily put up the rainfly. I grew more than a little frustrated, and became overly stern, to say the least, but in the end, I got it pitched, trying to enjoy the downpouring. We moved the breakfast spread under shelter and enjoyed our coffee and oatmeal, a little wet, but certainly not soaked. The rain lasted a good while, and I remember joking that we did it right by putting the rainfly up after it started raining. We sat and watched traffic go by, listened to some music that someone in a house adjacent was blasting, and as the downpour turned to a sprinkle and faded away, we dried out the tarp and the rainfly and packed everything up to continue our trek to Bainbridge. It was a beautiful and mostly relaxing morning, and at the end of it all, not 3 miles down the road, I noticed a nice looking public park with a pavillion and everything. This would not be the last time we noticed something that would have been nice if we'd just pedaled a little farther.
The day's ride passed rather uneventfully, until the very end of it, of course, when we were greeted by the neighbor's barking, fun loving dog as we, drenched in sweat, pushed our bikes up one last steep and slidey gravel hill to our destination in Bainbridge. We did bust out a few Reno 911 quotes as we passed Reno. We also stopped for a pretty serious peanut butter consumption session, and I did consider breaking this leg of the ride into 2 days due to tired muscles, but with a little huffing and puffing, we made it through one last zinger from the terrain to end up walking across the finish line, wholly ready for a nice week of camping.
To describe our fatigue, I'll leave you with this: when we arrived, at about 4:30 pm, we didn't even notify our hosts, my friend Rachel's grandparents, of our arrival. They'd been expecting us though, so we had an oportunity the next morning to greet Ed with a little more pep.
Most of the time these days, I am using a double boiler to cook my pancakes as 3 larger cakes instead of 12 or so normal sized pancakes. As of this writing, I have not yet mastered "The Pancake" over open flame: cooked the normal way, they stuck like you wouldn't believe, so I started using exorbitant amounts of oil to combat this, and even then, they were difficult to flip. To avoid hassle, I tried cooking them as 1 or 2 large cakes, but cooking directly on the flame scorched the bottoms before the batter had a chance to thoroughly cook.
This recipe includes a note about using the double boiler and pertains specifically to our nomadic kitchen setup, but I'm sure adaptations can be easily made to suit your own equipment. Whatever your cooking method, whether in a mansion with a 12-burner gas stove or out on the road over a tiny campstove, the recipe is the same. Enjoy!
Mix dry ingredients thoroughly:
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-(optional) 1/4 cup alternative flour such as whole wheat, flax meal etc (...adds flavor and fiber)
-2-4 tablespoons sugar (depends on how sweet you like your pancakes)
-1 teapoon baking soda
-3/4 teaspoon salt (I just eyeball it from the 1 tsp measuring spoon)
Make a well in the flour mixture by spooning it toward the edges of the mixing bowl (our 2 quart pot doubles as a mixing bowl). Pour the wet ingredients into the well:
-1/4 cup oil (or melted butter if you feel fancy)
-(optional) 1 egg (adds nutrients, and makes fluffier p'cakes)*
-1 1/2 -2 cups water, milk, or a combination of the two**
Mix the wet and dry ingredients together into a smooth batter using a fork, see notes below if you are a novice culinary artist or just want some extra reading.
*In a house, with a sink, running water, and more tools at my disposal, I whisk all the wet ingrdients together before adding them to the dry, but in working with my limitations, I have found that just plopping the egg in with the other wet ingredients directly into the flour mixture makes no difference to the finished pancake. Just poke the egg and give it a few good vigorous stirs before beginnning to thoroughly mix the wet and dry ingredients.
**Start with 1 cup of liquid, give it a few stirs (after breaking up the egg) and continue adding up to another cup of liquid as you mix the batter. If you are using milk, depending on the fat content, you'll be using closer to 2 cups. If you use just water, you'll only need around 1 1/2 cups. It is, of course, up to your personal preferences, but I like the batter to be not too runny-not too thick, like runny pudding.
To cook the pancakes in your house:
-may favorite pan for pancakes is a cast iron skillet
-put a small amount (about 1 teaspoon, not exact) of oil or butter into the pan over medium heat
-add about 1/4 cup of pancake batter
-wait 1-3 minutes
-flip the pancake with a spatula (thin is best) when it is turning golden-brown (if you look closely, you will see the batter at the edges of the pancake are becoming dry on the surface...then you know it is about time)
-wait 1-3 more minutes
-when the other side is also golden-brown, remove your pancake, wait for it to cool a bit (or don't) and eat it!
To cook the pancakes in the woods over a wood burning camp stove:
-pour about 1/3 of the pancake batter into the covered pot from the old Boy Scouts mess kit
-find some place else to store the rest of the batter if you used your 2-quart pot as a mixing bowl (like I do)
-put about 1/4-1/2 inch of water into a 2 quart pot (it's the regular medium-sized copper bottomed pot that everyone got as a wedding gift in the 70s) (if you used it as a mixing bowl, don't worry about cleaning it out first...unless you want to spend the water on it, of course)
-place the mess kit pot into the 2-quart pot and put the lids on both pots
-get the fire going to a high blaze, and set the 2-quart pot over the flame
-once the water starts to boil, reduce the flame to a medium-low and keep it there
-keep tending the fire so that the water continually simmers
-you may need to add more water if too much of it boils off, I do this if I notice the pancake pot starts rattling rather vigorously
-check on the pancake occasionally, don't worry about any water that is jumping into the pancake
-after 10-15 minutes, it should be ready to take out of the double boiler. When pressed gently in the center, it should feel relatively solid, and the surface should be mostly dry (although it will still look a little gooey and uncooked, rather odd, really).
-when ready, remove the pancake pot from the water pot and place the pancake pot directly over the medium-low flame and remove the lid
-you may need to dump out a little water that has entered the pancake pot, no big deal, the water will run right off while the pancake stays put
-let the pancake cook over direct flame for another 5-10 minutes to release moisture absorbed from the double boiler and to give the cake a nice golden-brown crust on the bottom and sides, if you start to smell burnt food, quick! take it off!
-let the cake cool a bit, then eat the cake!
-repeat the process for the remaining 2/3 of the batter.
This method is not perfect, and so I am still seeking to perfect it. Until then, we enjoy very much our delicious, ever-so slightly gooey cake in a pan.