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.