Friday, October 4, 2013

Turkey Run

I've been so busy lately that I just haven't had the chance to update. This means I'm horribly backlogged on posts, because we haven't stopped camping or hiking! In the meantime, let me share my latest adventure to Turkey Run State Park.

Turkey Run has been one of our favorite hiking areas, but this time we had the pleasure of joining our meetup group.

We were a little late, so showed up after dark. Let me tell you, setting up hammocks in the dark is no easy feat! After getting settled, we joined the group for late night snacks and good conversation before heading to bed.

After a lovely breakfast the next morning, we hit the trails. Unfortunately, after the spring flooding this year, the main suspension bridge across the river had been badly damaged. While it was largely complete - it hadn't been opened to the public, so we had to walk an additional 2 miles to get to our desired destination.

Of course, this is no real hardship as the landscape here is second to none. Its just gorgeous - and with such good company, extra travel is a treat.

Once you find the sandstone gorges, the temperature drops at least 5 degrees. After hiking up and down steep climbs (and stairs!), its a blessing.

The landscape is so varied for such a small space - deep woods, sandy river shores, and then these prehistoric looking canyons. I always feel like one of the original explorers as I head into a stream bed to find whats around the corner.

The park staff love to keep things interesting. See those stairs carved into the stone? While they weren't necessary during our trip, I'm told that the stream can be both deep and fast in the spring time - and those stairs are required travel.

After the challenge of the 140 stairs, we had ladders before us! Three sets of steep ladders bolted to the stone. I'm sure they're not so bad going up, but its always nerve wracking going down.

We saw loads of flora and fauna out there. The turkey vultures soaring above us are a fixture of the area and we were delighted to find the millipede, caterpillars, spiders and more.

When wood stairs and stone stairs become to mundane, there are always tree roots to climb on!

In the end, walking the additional 2 miles to get back to camp was more than anyone wanted to tackle, so that meant fording the river back to the other side. The water was cold, which was a welcome respite to our hot and buzzing feet.

We returned to camp, retrieved some refreshments, made dinner (to include jambalaya and corn bread!) and spent the night tell stories about ourselves. It was an incredible way to get to know one another better, and we laughed until the wee hours.

The next morning, we had planned to hike nearby Shades Park, but the rain started and we decided to call it a day. We all enjoyed a hearty breakfast at a local diner and then parted ways and headed home.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Comlara Camping

We camped at Comlara County Park this past weekend and had a marvelous time. We hiked two of the trails there, and met up with the Peoria Backpackers for kayaking on Evergreen lake.

There were great blue herons everywhere, and often you would hear them in the brush. They squawked like some prehistoric beast and one caught us off guard enough to make us jump! The first trail was littered with wild blackberries as well. I've never eaten any in the wild before - always just black raspberries, so this was an enormous treat. Couldn't find any mushrooms this time around.

We did see a turkey though! We walked around a corner and practically ran into it - he must have been 3 feet from us. We all looked at each other in stunned silence, and then he sauntered into the undergrowth. I am still kicking myself for not getting it on film. Capturing a turkey has become something of a mission for me now. We also saw a beautiful doe under the pines, 6 varieties of butterflies, and a really cool watersnake.

I didn't manage to get the underquilt for my hammock done in time, so I brought the less ideal air mattress. It all worked out ok, and I got a good nights rest. The weekend did inspire Arbor to jump on buying a Warbonnet Hammock for himself, and I'm super excited. It can take a month to arrive, and we have an important trip around that time, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that it shows up.

I experimented with our first homemade dehydrated meals. I made the Hungarian Goulash and Spicy Vegetarian Rice from the Hungry Hammock Hanger, and will need to keep tweaking things a bit. The potatoes in the goulash never rehydrated all the way, so I think I will try grating the potatoes instead. The rice just had way too much salt for us, but thats an easy adjustment.

We headed down to the docks and joined the Peoria Backpackers and had a ton of fun paddling the lake and getting to know everyone. It was a perfect overcast day, so that it was warm without the sun beating down on us. A few hours later we met up on land for a cookout and got to share more stories with a sincerely terrific group of people. It was such a good time that I can hardly wait for the next meetup! (thank goodness the wait isn't long)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rivers and Mud

We took in a 7 mile loop at one of our favorite area parks last weekend. We decided to hike the river trail, thinking that with the lack of rain and oppressive heat, the river waters would have receded enough for a pleasant walk. We quickly learned that the entire river trail was thick squishy mud, but considered it an adventure and pressed on.

Before long we discovered that several portions of the trail were still covered by water. Undaunted, we fashioned stick and log bridges to ford the streams, or found alternate paths around the worst of the water. I felt like a modern day Robinson Crusoe, forging my way through the wilderness. ;)

We saw so many wonderful things. The bluebirds were everywhere, tiny frogs jumped out of the path with every footfall & snails in the most unusual places. At one point, there was a gorgeous and large heron laying directly in the path that jumped up when it noticed us, and took flight into the woods. The whole act seemed to move in slow motion, it was just so graceful and quiet.

We had encounters of the unpleasant type as well. With everything being so damp, the mosquitoes were unbearable. I neglected to bring any bug spray, and we weren't wearing any permethrin treated clothing. What a mistake! I look like I've been polka dotted at this point. I also had a horse fly fall deeply in love with me, and followed me around for half of the trail.

Since this trip, I've also invested in some Ivy Block and Tecnu Poison Ivy Scrub. We went off trail enough that I was genuinely concerned, even though we were careful. Fortunately, we've remained skin healthy. *whew*

Still, the day was a grand adventure and we had a ton of fun overcoming all of the challenges before us. Can't wait for the next time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hammock Hanging

Hammock setup without the tarp

We are at the very beginnings of building up our backpacking gear. There is just so much you need to really get out there for any length of time. Fortunately, we do have some foundational pieces, like my Explorer Ultralite Asym Zip Hennessy Hammock. We want to get a Warbonnet Blackbird 1.7 as well so we both can hang.

I have been using sleeping pads for bottom insulation, but its pretty miserable in the middle of the night as it shifts and leaves cold spots. I bought a bunch of the JC Penny Down Puffer Jackets on clearance for $14 each, with the intention of DIYing a couple of underquilts.

They've been sitting untouched for months, but now I'm going to have to kick it into gear because we intend to join a group kayaking trip and camp the night before.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Kickapoo Highlights Video

This is my first time putting together a video like this, and it isn't quite the quality I would like. It's all a learning process, though, and I look forward to figuring out how to make the most of the tools we have.

My biggest disappointment is that somehow I lost the video of the turkeys! I showed it to my son, on my iphone, and I must have deleted a large portion of it afterward. :( I guess that means I'm on the turkey hunt once again.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Land and Water

We trekked out to our favorite Kickapoo State Park this weekend for some kayaking and hiking. It was a perfect sunny day that was warm without being too hot.

We spent about two hours on the water and saw so many great things! The cedar trees were glorious, the resident swans were out, and the bullfrogs were singing. The highlight of the day was a real surprise. I kept hearing a bird screech over and over again. I went to investigate and saw a medium sized gray bird flapping and flopping around in the underbrush. I looked closer and saw what must have been a four foot black snake, and the bird was attacking it with its feet! It was the most amazing thing to witness, and as I watched the snake slunk away.

If anyone is a fungi expert, feel free to identify these for us

We stopped to eat some lunch at the Landing and listen to the local musicians play. Then, like a crazy person, we headed for the 7.6 mile Out and Back trail. The beehive inside a tree was hopping at this point in the season, the red squirrels were everywhere and we saw SO MANY cool mushrooms.

On our earlier spring trips to the trail, we kept hearing wild turkey warbling along the path but never caught a glimpse of them. It had become something of a challenge to see one over time, but as the summer progressed we heard them less and less. Exhausted at the end of a very long physical day, we entered the prairie nearing the end of the hike and suddenly saw a turkey! I followed it into the grass and saw it running to its mate - so cool. I got some video of them, as well as some other highlights and I hope to get a video up in the next few days. All in all, it was an incredible day.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Introduction

We have reached our middle aged status, and have found that physical activity is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. We started with just short walks around the neighborhood, but quickly began branching out to area parks and got hooked.

Now we walk 3 or 5 miles daily and try to find mini adventures on the weekends. We have 2 kayaks, a Hennessy Hammock and are starting to build up our backpacking gear. We're looking forward to some future backpacking trips and are goaling to hit the Appalachian Trail in 2019.

I just joined two hiking groups through Meetup - The Corn Desert Hiking and Adventure Group and The Peoria Backpackers Meetup Group. I'm really excited about connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts, and getting to know the area hiking/camping spots.

We hope to write regularly, share photos and start making some youtube videos. I hope this blog becomes a wonderful record of our journey. :)