Wednesday, June 25, 2014

OMG....I got one in my ear!

We thought we were fortunate to get our favorite camp site for the second week of May. Not realizing that it was open due to others knowing more of that camp site than us. We soon found out why it was open but I think we have a nice little trick for next time.

You see our favorite camp site has a swift moving stream close by. That swift moving stream is a perfect breading ground for black flies. So, on our last day there we ended up leaving a bit early because we were being swarmed by them. I didn't know what the bug was at first. I knew it wasn't a mosquito so I set my mind to finding out what it was and how to keep the horrid biting bugs away from us.

The first thing I did was search the internet for flying, biting bugs in Pennsylvania. I was lucky to find a web site with a long list of pictures to search through. What I was looking for was (in my mind) a cross between a bee, a fly and a mosquito. It didn't take long for me to find this picture.

Black flies need swift moving, non-polluted water with lots of oxygen for egg, larva and pupa growth. One of the ways to control a black fly population is to dam up these swift moving streams so the larva can't breathe and die.

Most female black flies need a blood meal for egg production. Some species will only bite one type of host, some will only bite mammals, some only birds and some will bite just about anything. This is why May and June are not the best time to be doing anything in the woods near a swift moving stream in Pennsylvania.

Now that I have a name I can find a way to keep them away... I thought. We used DEET spray and had citronella candles but they didn't seem to work very well. In my searches I found that not all black flies are put off by either. It seems that when they are determined to bite you they will ignore the DEET and citronella. Just ask Alraune. He feel asleep in his camp chair and woke up with his legs looking like a small child took a red marker to his legs. I even ended up with a bite in my ear. Let me tell you that wasn't fun at all.

By the end of that camping trip we did discover that Aloe is WONDERFUL for black fly bites. I had a bottle of it along because I sunburn easy for the first few months of the summer and it's wonderful for that. Alraune got an idea and read the back of the bottle, grinned at his good luck than slathered it all over his legs. Instant relief. It has to be reapplied from time to time but it really helps the itching and the bites heal much faster.

We didn't discover a way to keep the biting flies away until a day hiking trip 3 weeks later. Again we brought DEET, Aloe (half knowing we'd not keep all the bugs away) and (almost as if I knew) Patchouli incense sticks. Alraune has taken patchouli powder along for camping trips before. I saw how it worked on bugs and I thought I'd take a chance. I'm so glad I did.

We sprayed ourselves down with DEET right after getting out of the car and headed down the path. We were fine for about an hour or so, then the bugs started to get bad again so we reapplied the DEET... No good. I was going to save the patchouli incense sticks for when we sat down to eat but on a whim I had Alraune pull one out and light it. It worked much better than either of us thought it would. The rest of our hike I kept one burning and we didn't need to use the DEET again. I even tried it a few times on a small swarm of gnats to see what would happen. Each time I did all the gnats hastily left the area.

Part of me wonders if the patchouli incense worked so well because the bugs are getting used to DEET and citronella in the same way that some bacteria are now becoming immune to antibiotics. We plan on doing more experiments with incense sticks. We have two other kinds and wonder if it's just the non-typical smell that is keeping the bugs away or just the patchouli smell.

We have an overnight hike planned in a few days. The camp site we decided on is very close to a swift flowing stream most likely loved by black flies. We're going to take along our normal “get you gone” bug repellents but I would like to see if the patchouli incense sticks work alone. I'll let you know how it works out.

Dreaming of Butterflies,

Monday, June 2, 2014

Naked Mountain PA Mid-State Trail Hike

It all started with the pudding...

On Thursday May 22, 2014 Chrysanthemum and I set out to hike a section of the Pennsylvania Mid-State Trail, running over Naked Mountain, between White Deer Creek Road and Cooper Mill Road (just off of Spruce Run Road). We began our "trip" at the trailhead just west of campsite #3 in Bald Eagle State Forest around 4:30pm and headed south.

It was pretty easy going at first. Before long, we came to a large stream with a well-built foot bridge and a very pleasant campsite on the otherside. I suppose it would make for a very delightful camping experience along the trail and I definetly have my sights set on having that experience someday in the near future; however, we continued on, anxious to discover the trail before us.

Nearly immediately the trail began to head up the mountain, which was quite a long journey – the majority of our trip. The trail wound uphill for quite sometime before coming to its first memorable landmark: an underground spring. It was really quite awesome to walk over the rocks and hear the water rushing beneath us.

Near the top of the spring we found a great spot for sampling the water. It was excellent, just as water should be - tasteless! We hiked on, up to the mountaintop, and I decided, since it was a day in which we had just had a thunderstorm, that now would be a perfect time to tell Chrysanthemum about my experience being caught in a thunder and lightening storm on the top of a mountain. I will share that story with you...

I was hiking the OLP (Old Loggers' Path) and had just reached a mountaintop when a thunderstorm rolled in. The trail wound around the mountaintop for quite sometime, so really I had no direction I could go to get off the top of the mountain quickly. I decided to keep going forward, but my dumb luck brought me closer and closer to the very peak of the mountain. During all of this the winds whipped and branches were falling everywhere, and then the lightening strikes started.

I was getting really worried as I was quickly becoming really close to the height of the tallest trees and the storm just kept on getting worse. I started to look around for some place to take shelter when suddenly a lightening bolt struck a tree probably no more than fifty feet from me (I kid you not). Once that happened I started walking along in a crotched position and looking for the third tallest tree in the vicinity. I found that tree and crotched under it for the remainder of the storm.

Now, let me tell you my logic behind the third tallest tree... I figured that lightening was likely to hit the tallest tree in my immediate area so I didn't want to be there, and I didn't want to take a chance on the second tallest tree being struck, so I decided to hide under the third tallest and get lower than it. I don't know if it was smart or not, and luckily I didn't have to find out. I like to tell myself that at least I did something rather than nothing, and at least I put some rational thought into it even if my logic was ultimately faulty.

In any event, I didn't get struck by lightening and one of my mottos still stands: always try to be third. Why third? It is a survival of the fittest type thing. Number one and number two are always in the sights of somebody or something, and they are always taking the brunt of blows and face the most stresses, but nobody ever cares about third place. At third you are just close enough to the top to influence things, but just low enough to stay off the radar, and you are still strong enough to beat back the competition. So third is where you want to be if you want to survive for a very very long time.

Anyway, we reached the top of Naked Mountian about two hours into our hike and needed to make a decision, as daylight would be completely gone in another two hours. Either we would turn around and go back the way we came, possibly doing some night hiking on the trail, or we would go forward and probably hit the road at the other end of the trail segment we were hiking before nightfall, and then we could hike the road back to the car in the dark.

We decided to go forward and take the road back as we wanted to see more and not repeat what we had seen, plus we were both more tired and it was likely that we would fair better on the road as it was much easier terrain although it was a longer walk. So we walked on, still looking for a decent spot to sit down and eat our long overdue lunch.

We crossed the mountaintop and started to head down the other side, which was a very steep southernly decent. The whole time we were starving, but still in our outside world mindset, so we didn't stop because we were looking for the perfect place to sit down (which doesn't happen too often in the wilderness). Finally, I decided I had to have something to eat and I broke out a pudding, which is when it all began...

The pudding hit my tongue and was extremely sweet. I complained to Chrysanthemum that it tasted way too sweet, and then we realized that it was because we were starving and our bodies were craving the sugar for energy, so we determined we had to eat soon, and eat some real food. Neither of us had eaten all day, we were most assuredly starving!

It couldn't have been more than ten minutes later that we said, "screw this!", and threw a blanket down right beside the trail so we could stop and eat. We ate like ravenous pigs and got food all over ourselves. Chrysanthemum reached into my pack and got out some hoagies we took along for our day hike (bad idea if you get oil on your hoagie, btw). The hoagies were squished and soggy and Chrysanthemum couldn't tell whose hoagie was whose.

She opened the first hoagie, looked it over and determined it was mine, so she handed it to me. I immediately tore into the sandwich and about one second later she said, "No. I gave you mine." Immediately, I said, "uh-oh!" through a mouthful of hoagie, and then handed her back a little more than half a footlong hoagie. Chrysanthemum just looked at me and said, "Holy crap! Is there any left?"

"I'm sorry.", I said. "You can't do that. Don't hand me food and say: 'Here eat this,' and then turn around and try to take it back because it is pretty much already gone at that point."

"I see that," she said. Despite the snafu, we devoured our food and then trekked on.

Before long we were down the mountain and headed toward a stream. We stopped at another nicely constructed bridge and determined we had a half hour more of sunlight and then probably another half hour of twilight. Chrysanthemum and I left the spot and started up another mountain hoping that the road we were searching for was on or near the top.

It took us quite some time to make it up the mountain as Chrysanthemum was having some issues, but we made it to a tower at the top of the mountain just as it was getting too dark to walk without light, and luckily there was the road.

The tower was eery and it most certainly did not belong in such a wonderful and wild environment. It made strange alien noises and hums, beeps, and clicks. I swear it even began beeping and picked up pace as an aircraft flew overhead. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie where the aliens were secretly broadcasting signals. It was truly weird!

We got to the road, flipped on our headlamps and then hiked another four hours back to the the car. We had a blast! The Pennsylvania Mid-State Trail (MST) is definitely a very nice wilderness hike, especially over Naked Mountain, and I would recommend it to anyone.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ahhhhh... I need a bigger car!

Camping has always been a favorite childhood memory of mine. Playing childhood games among the trees, listening to campfire stories, tasting food with the unmistakably unique flavor it has after cooking on a campfire and sleeping to the sounds of the forest at night. I've always loved the feeling of being in the forest. It's calming and peaceful.

Rediscovering all the fond childhood memories with Alraune, along with his childlike silliness, has become a true joy in my life. If we could have our way, we'd never leave the forest. We are slowly learning what we need for our trips into our recharging retreat. Although our list has grown to a size that no longer fits into my car, we are coming up with ideas to shorten that list.

We like our trips to be fun, comfortable, relaxing and full of good food. Planning out all of these things and fitting them into my car has become an enjoyable chore for both of us. We both have ideas in mind for our camping trips and try to fit in as much of it as we can.

Alraune can not be separated from his music. I've come to understand and love this about him. It doesn't matter if he's just sitting around the house, in the car, camping, hiking or enjoying a quiet evening on the porch, there is always music. He brings a radio on every trip and I have an ipod with a speaker that I bring along hiking.

From time to time we also bring along a laptop and a movie. It isn't easy to watch a movie in the forest but we have figured out how to enjoy the oddly modern-rustic feel of a good movie by campfire.

Alraune has always been an unending source of amusement for me. I will never forget waking up one morning to find him singing, dancing, and cooking breakfast all the while with my bra on his head. It was so comical I couldn't stop laughing. He looked like a World War II bombardier.

One of the first things we are trying to shorten is the list of bedding. Blankets and pillows take up entirely too much of our packing space. In the middle of summer it won't be so bad but in the early spring and late fall it becomes a real issue. Alraune has a good sleeping bag but I lack one so far. Once I have my own sleeping bag and we get our camping cots I think most of that problem will be solved... except his over abundance of pillows, but that is a topic for later.

Anyone who knows Alraune knows his motto, “If faced with the choice between pants or no pants, go with no pants.” Or nothing at all if he can help it. I have much the same attitude when camping. The only problem with this is we haven't found a camp site far enough from a road to be totally comfortable doing this. We are still looking and would LOVE ideas.

Shower time has become much easier since we got our solar shower and tarps. Our last camping trip Alraune built us a wonderful showering area close to the stream. He put tarps up to block us from the road and hung the solar shower up to catch the sun and make it easier for him to shower. Our trip was cut short so we didn't get to try it out but I'm looking forward to it next time.

Good camp chairs are a must. Picnic tables are provided most of the time in the camp sites we use but sitting next to a nice campfire on a camp chair is preferred. I finally have one of my own and Alraune has a new one. One of us will have to share the story of why he needed a new one in a later post.

Alraune is a big guy with a big appetite. Luckily for him I love to cook, much the same as him. We have a normal list of meals for camping. How many days we will be camping decides which ones we cook. Our breakfasts are normally some kind of egg, potato and meat mixture with plenty of cheese. We try to eat well for breakfast because we never know what the day will bring. Gathering firewood, doing normal camp clean-up, carrying buckets of water, or just taking a hike uses up lots of energy.

Lunch varies from time-to-time. If we have extra money saved it will also be hearty and healthy but we tend to cut corners here. Lunch meat sandwiches are typical or just left overs from the night before. I always have a store of zip lock bags along for just such a thing.

Beef stew with cornbread is typically on the dinner list and is the one I normally make. I made it for us on our first camping trip and pretty much every one since. Pork tenderloin is one that he's had on his list long before I came along, which he makes. Chicken Alfredo is another normal meal that I've figured out how to make on a campfire. It's not as hard as you'd think and campfire grilled chicken has the best flavor.

We always have munchies to snack on throughout the day. I made granola for us before, Alraune loves to bring along cheese curls and we try to find other things that are quick and tasty for in between meals.

Bringing along all of these things is sometimes hard to find space for. I have a rather large trunk and we tend to fill up the backseat too but we have ideas on making this list more compact for future trips. We'll share our ideas and welcome more.

Dreaming of Butterflies,

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Week of Camping During the Total Lunar Eclipse of April 2014

USA Public Domain

Chrysanthemum and I went camping for the first time this year just the other weekend. We stayed at one of our favorite campsites in Bald Eagle State Forest from Friday April 11th through Tuesday April 15th. We had intended to stay until Wednesday the 16th, but unforeseen circumstances required that we leave a day early. Call us camping-freaks or enthusiasts or whatever, but it just doesn't seem like camping to us unless we go for close to a week, which still doesn't seem long enough.

As usual, we chose to go around or during the full moon. We try to camp during the full moon for several reasons: there is less need for artificial light at night; such a time suits certain aspects of our nature-based spirituality; the moonlight makes getting up in the middle of the night to go "potty" much easier; and it's just so darn romantic.

One other reason why we chose to camp during this time was because there was to be a total lunar eclipse during the early morning hours of Tuesday April 15th, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and it was heavily overcast and raining during the time of the eclipse and into the following day.

The weather was supposed to be somewhat cold at night the first day, warm and sunny the following 3 days, and then rainy, freezing cold and miserable the remaining days, so we took an unusually large assortment of blankets to make up for the fact it was to be so cold. Why blankets and bedding and not sleeping bags? Good question! The answer is that Chrysanthemum does not have an acceptable cold-weather mummy bag yet, nor have we purchased the camp cots we want yet. So why do we desire cots and why all the need for the fluff under our backs? Because we are both pushing forty and it just seems that the ground gets harder each year.

Anyway, we crammed the car with all of our gear, which was very difficult given all the extra bedding we had, and we left for camp sometime in the late afternoon on Friday. We were eager to camp, eager to be away from the hustle and bustle of modern day society, and eager to try out the new gear we had bought for the next six months of the camping season.

For the trip we had bought a two-burner Northwest Territory propane camp stove and a small 14" BBQ-Pro charcoal grill because campfires are not permitted in Pennsylvania State Forests from March 1st thru May 25th due to the increased danger of forest fires. Both items performed as desired for the price we paid and I would recommend them so long as they continue to function and serve their intended purpose for the remainder of the year and into the following camping season (look for reviews on these products in future posts).

We were also quite eager to try out the Northwest Territory 14' x 12' Screen House we had invested in with the anticipation that sooner or later we would be placing nice comfy and cozy cots in it. It to performed quite well for its intended purpose and if it holds up for several years I would recommend it as well (also look for reviews on this product in future posts).

Now, there is a bit of a back story behind the purchase of the screen house. We had wanted something more open and airy and something larger that would allow us to stand up inside of it as well as place cots in it once we were able to purchase the folding camp cots we desired. We thought it through and had wanted to buy a screen house that was at least 10' x 10', screened in to control mosquitoes and other pests, something with attachable walls to be used as a wind break and to protect us from heavy rains, and if at all possible something with a clear roof to make the entire experience even more open and airy. Well...we got the screened walls and the large open area, but that is about all we could find or afford.

We got to the campsite just a couple hours before sundown and immediately went to work setting-up the screen house. It took two of us – although I am fairly certain one person could, in theory, do it – to set it up, which was surprisingly not that difficult. There was one problem though – the ground was wet and there was no floor in the screen house, so we dug out some plastic sheeting and some tarps that we always keep handy and slapped them on the ground.

Then while I wheeled our new Igloo Quantum cooler (product review coming in the near-future) to the campsite from the car and carried numerous other articles, Chrysanthemum started to set-up our bedding. Our bedding is an interesting little ingenious design the two of us created and I am going to share it with you because it makes a huge difference when tent camping:

We bought eight of these square foam 24" x 24" puzzle pieces which are about a quarter of an inch thick. We lay them down on the ground, fit them together, and then throw an opened sleeping bag and a comforter over them and it makes a nice and reasonably comfortable sleeping area. This makeshift bed provides great insulation from the ground and is very noticeably different from the feeling one has when sleeping with nothing between them and the ground but a sleeping bag.

So anyway, we got everything set-up and then I strung some tarps around the outside of the screen house using some para cord to provide some sort of wind break, and that was pretty much the first night.

Enter Saturday the 12th...

I got up the following morning and made coffee, went off into the woods and found a nice spot to hang our Coleman Solar Shower (look for that product review too), then made a rig with a long piece of clothesline rope and a heavy steel hook. I tossed the hook over a branch and lowered it, then used some nylon rope to fasten the handle of the solar shower to the hook, which I was then able to raise or lower by pulling on the rope or letting it loosen, then tying the rope to a nearby tree.

I then went about setting up the rest of camp and awoke Chrysanthemum for breakfast. We later went off into the woods to fill the solar shower and set-up a series of tarps and more clothesline in order to provide a privacy wall from any passing vehicles on the nearby road. I spent the rest of the day doing camp chores and drinking a whole lot of alcohol before crashing out around sunset that night. We had intended to watch a rather provocative movie on my laptop that night, but unfortunately I did not make it very far into the movie Pirates, unlike Chrysanthemum, who made it all the way through the movie – quite happily.

Once again I awoke first. It was Sunday morning, April 13th, and the day was bright and sunny. I quickly discovered that the prior day had provided me with a lovely sunburn on the top of my head and that Chrysanthemum looked much worse than me with sunburn on her chest, shoulders, and back. We had coffee and breakfast and finally managed to settle in to our camp with little cares left in the world.

That night was a trip, I mean we had a REAL trip. It all started at about 7pm that night and it just got better and better as the night went on. I went off into the woods to go potty and came back pantsless (my preferred state), which just had Chrysanthemum rolling! We sat there half naked most of the night under the light of the full moon and next to the glowing embers of the charcoal grill which had just helped us make a yummy dish of chicken Alfredo. It was a really beautiful night and one which I will not likely forget.

We retired to bed around midnight and took another shot at watching Pirates, then had ourselves a rather hot and steamy night until sometime after 3 in the morning.

The next day was Monday the 14th, and it too was to be a day I will never forget. We did the usual routine, but then set out to put together some plastic sheeting we had acquired in order to prepare for a heavy rainstorm we were expecting on Tuesday. We laid the sheeting out and duck taped it together – it was truly much easier than I had imagined it would be. Later, we got a phone call which was very unpleasant and called for my immediate attention, which would also prove to be the reason we left early.

Immediately after I got the phone call I was visited by the daughter of one of my ex-girlfriends, a girl whom I had helped to raise for many years, which was quite pleasant, but then I was forced to leave camp and head home for a bit, leaving Chrysanthemum to finish our project with the tarps.

I returned after nightfall to find that Chrysanthemum had pretty much built a fort around our screen house (it looked a lot like a pirate ship), and I dare say I was pleasantly surprised with both the progress she made and her abilities at construction.

We grilled some pork tenderloin and some baked potatoes and had a small feast before going on yet another bit of a trip into the wild and crazy night. We were awaiting the eclipse and hoping it wouldn't rain. Once again I headed off to the potty and came back without pants – why does that always seem to happen? It was set to be another great night, but then the rain came and we had to go into our "pirate ship" for the night.

Funny, but the rain seemed to arrive right as the eclipse was due and we never did get to see the thing. It got pitch black and inside our makeshift tent it was even darker, if that is possible. You see, the plastic we had used was black sheeting, 3.5 mil thick, and our tent was a regular sensory deprivation chamber!

Anyway, we decided we needed to bathe, so I convinced Chrysanthemum to take a late night rain shower with me, so we took off our clothes, grabbed so wash clothes and soap, and went out into the cold rain to take a bath. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I am very glad I did it. I actually look forward to doing it again someday.

Well, we had another hot steamy night after that and we both drifted off to sleep (probably around 5 o'clock in the morning). The next day we got up and hurried out of camp, and so went our first camping trip this season.

Stay tuned for our next camping and/or hiking adventure and look for some product reviews as we continue to live our lives "happy as a camper!"

Peace & Happiness,


Friday, April 18, 2014

Welcome to the Camping Blog: Happy as a Camper!

Welcome to our camping blog Happy as a Camper! We are your camp hosts: Alraune and Chrysanthemum.

Happy as a Camper is a blog about our experiences while camping, various products and ideas we have tried (the good, the bad, and the ugly), plans we have for future camping trips and/or items we believe may enhance our experience, the philosophy behind what we do, and all the fun and fascinating stories we have to tell along the way. You will find full product reviews on camping, hiking and outdoor gear, ocassional hiking trail reviews, suggestions on where to camp, camping tips and tricks, campfire recipes, and a whole lot of good and useful advice from two of the most knowledgeable campers you will ever have the pleasure of knowing.

We have been camping all of our lives in the forests of Pennsylvania and feel as comfortable camping as most would feel in their own backyard. You could say the woods are our home – we know we do – and we hope to make you feel the same.

Alraune is a writer, blogger, graphic design artist, certified bodyguard and mechanical engineering draftsman, and a bit of an expert on Celtic and Northern European mythology. He has been camping on and off for his entire life and has been avidly hiking (both day hikes and overnight hikes) for the past fourteen years. He believes the purpose of life is to experience it; and his motto is: "When you have a choice between pants or no pants...always choose no pants."

Chrysanthemum is a blogger, craftswoman, computer programmer, gamer, and a bit of an expert on World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Pokemon, and Skylanders. She has been camping on and off her entire life and into ATVing for just as long. She believes the purpose of life is to seek happiness and love others as best you can; and her motto is: "Don't leave Alraune alone with your bra unless you want to see him running through the woods with your bra on his head pretending he is a bombardier...again."

Along with our product reviews, endlessly useful information, and highly entertaining stories, we would like to answer any questions you may have and even post your letters and experiences for the benefit of our other readers. If you would like to contact either of us please feel free to email Alraune or Chrysanthemum and we will respond as promptly as possible.

We hope you enjoy our blog Happy as a Camper and hope you return again and again!

Peace and Happiness,

Alraune & Chrysanthemum