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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Big River Trip Continues

The RRR returns to his journal for the big River Trip. When we last looked at the story. It was Sunday May 20th. I'd found a spot by a field at the top of a tall scramble up the bank. I learned several things that night. First, the Wenzel Starlite tent might be CALLED a 1 and ½ man tent, but they would have to be 1 ½ very small men. It was so tiny that I could not turn around inside it. So when bedtime came I was obliged to lie on my back with my feet facing the doorway and wriggle in as though putting on a pair of pants. I could see right away there was going to be a problem for a man my size... 6'2” and 270 lbs... to follow the manufacturer's instructions and not allow myself or any gear to touch the roof or walls in case of rain.
But in the meantime I was cooking supper. I made noodle soup and decided to thicken it by adding three powdered eggs. Mistake. The bubbling soup foamed up and over the edge of the pan and put out the stove. This is not good thing in the encroaching darkness as mosquitoes diving in to the attack. Then I compounded my problems by putting too much water into my biscuit mix bag and making a watery goo instead of biscuit dough. I should say that I had put enough biscuit mix for one meal into separate zip lock freezer bags. Theoretically, I only had to add a little water and knead the bag and squeeze out the dough. Obviously it does not always happen exactly that way. So I poured the watery gruel into a hot greased fry pan and cooked it quickly into a sort of cracker like mess which served the purpose in the soup that had remained in the pot. I made sure to mark my territory in three spots around the tent to discourage other large predators and slithered into bed. That was the end of Day One.
I was awake by 0600. The birds were telling me exactly what they thought of someone who would still be in bed at such a late hour. The mosquitoes were not nearly so enthusiastic this morning. There are only two sure repellents for the little vampire bugs in my experience. 100 percent DEET and smoke from a fire. I didn't want to build a fire. I try to avoid it when “borrowing” a campsite on private property. So liberally doused with DEET, I prepared breakfast and broke camp. Mrs. RRR and I discovered in desert camping that it makes sense to have an almost liquid breakfast so that only one pot needs cleaned. While the little Coleman stove sputtered away still burning out the previous night's spillage, I mixed a cup of powdered milk in my Sierra cup. Colin Fletcher always used a Sierra cup, so I must also, right? Then my juice... powdered Gatorade. Wiping the cup clean, I put in two pouches of Quaker Instant Grits.
Grits! What are grits? I can hear my yankee and foreign readers asking. While my southern purists are demanding, Instant! Who would eat instant grits? Well, my rebel friends, they're a whole lot quicker and easier on the trail. My other readers should know that grits are a variation of “cold flour”, the original trail food. It is the predecessor of all instant cereals and such foods. Everything from Malto-Meal to Hamburger Helper to Bisquick can trace it's ancestry to cold flour. Grits are a staple of life in the south and almost unknown elsewhere. Both sides of the civil war marched and fought on cold flour. It was part of the provisions of every exploratory company in the west and in every wagon of wagon trains and in every cowboy's saddle bag. Hominy, first cooked, then ground like flour and some sugar or spices sometimes added is what cold flour and now grits consist of.
So I added boiling water and mixed to the right consistency. And what is the right consistency? Go to any Waffle House diner of which I've already waxed eloquent on occasion in these pages and order a dish of grits. Tell them the River Rat Ranger sent you. Then add butter. And you're snacking like Kit Carson, Joe Walker, Major Drummond, and Lewis and Clark did. John Wayne has nothing on you.
Once the grits were down; my favorite breakfast is Cheddar Cheese and Country bacon, one pouch of each with Parkay squeezed on; I began to make coffee. I am a coffee snob. Not a purist, mind you, but a snob. I had with me a pound of Columbian Supremo roasted whole beans. I set the tiny backpacker's coffee grinder on coarse and ground and shook and ground and shook. The shaking seems silly till you remember the historically ludicrous but detail accurate film, Dances With Wolves. The young officer makes coffee for the Indians the first time by grinding the beans in an old fashioned wood and cast iron coffee grinder and hops about shaking it as he does so. At last my coffee was ground. I tipped the fresh ground delight into my cook pot. The water had stayed cold because I dipped the fleece covered canteen into the river the night before making it an evaporative cooler. I lit the stove and sat the pan on and very quickly the mixture started to bubble. I raised it a couple times when it began to foam, then set it off the fire and splashed in a dollop of cold water to settle the grounds. THAT, my readers, is coffee. I've tried instant. I've tried the coffee bags. NOTHING is like fresh ground Columbian Supremo boiled in a pot in the out-of-doors.
Then I had to get the gear down to the boat. I took a long piece of parachute cord and put through the handle of each bucket and swung it out and let it drop down to the boat, slowing the drop by braking the cord as it ran through my hands. Ranger Advice, readers. Wear gloves or wrap your hands with rags during this operation. Nylon parachute cord burns like a hot iron when it whips through your grasp. After each piece of gear was safely down I let go of one end of the cord and if I pulled the other end slowly and carefully, got the rope back without scrambling down and back up. With everything stowed in Shermona, I was on the river by 0900. Three hours from wake up to cast off seemed to be the story for the whole trip. Once more I wished for a companion to share the duties.
At 1130 I dug in the food bucket for lunch. There was one ziplock bag of homemade trail mix for each noon meal. It consisted of 16 almonds, 4 dried apricots, and ¼ cup raisins. Of course I craved more fat and protein. The large summer sausage that had waited frozen in the deep freeze since Christmas had stayed cold in Mrs. RRR's careful wrapping of old newspapers and plastic grocery sacks. By 1530 (3:30 PM to non Rangers) I had reached Glendale Access, a public boat ramp and camping area. The area had flooded earlier and was still swampy, I was greeted by a cloud of determined gnats and mosquitoes. The DEET helped, but I put my experience of night One to use and dug out my long sleeved canvas shirt. From then on, I put it on before landing at night and took it off after pushing off in the morning.
As Glendale Access looked easy to find on the map, I called Mrs. RRR on the cell phone hoping she could drive over and join me for supper. Fortunately she wasn't home yet, because when I walked up to the bridge you can see in the background of today's picture, I saw a road closed sign which would have caused her a very difficult detour. I was disgruntled, but made myself a big supper. 4 Cheese instant potatoes with pieces of summer sausage simmered in the water before the taters were stirred in. I was very fatigued after and continued my trip routine of wiggling into the tent and falling asleep, only to wake up later and gradually get myself into the blanket bag as the night grew cooler. You can observe from the picture, that I tried solving the problem of not touching the tent walls by rigging my REI tarp over the tent as a fly. Later I discovered a simpler way.
It was the end of Day Two.

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