Tuesday, May 8, 2012

First camping trip of 2012!

One of our victims sitting in Pug's Puddle
When my college roommate announced on Facebook that she would be making an appearance in New Hampshire 3 days later with her 4-week old little one in tow, I pounced on the opportunity to roll all sorts of awesome into one quick weekend trip - I figured spring had sprung enough that we could survive a night in a tent without freezing (despite the skepticism of my co-workers) , there was a supermoon happening (I thought sleeping beneath a supermoon added an aura of even more awesome to camping), and I could meet the new tiny human and take lots of baby photos (the only way I can truly appreciate babies is with a camera safely in between me and them).

Attempting to catch frogs
The first step in my spontaneous camping plan was, well, to find a place to camp! I easily found two state parks in the vicinity of my roommate's house, but despite the initially promising statements that the parks were "open year round for recreation", none of their camping grounds were up and running yet. I quickly turned my search to private campgrounds, and soon settled on Saddleback Campground due to the fact that they had (wait for it...) a pond where you could catch frogs! The two twelve-year-olds embodied in Matt and myself needed no further persuasion, and I made our reservation for a tent site and spent the remainder of the workweek hoping that the incessant rain would clear up by the time we hit New Hampshire that weekend.

Got one!
We threw a veritable mountain of sleeping bags and an abundant supply of snacks into the car (oh, the joys of car camping) on Saturday morning and hit the road a little past noon. It was pretty smooth cruising for 2 hours and we pulled into the campground in the early afternoon, noting with delight that the heavy grey skies of the morning were lightening. It took a little while to get someone to check us in (I probably pulled too gently on the bell rope as instructed in case of an empty office, as I must admit the resulting "ding" was a little lackluster) and a little longer to figure out that the credit card reader wasn't functioning. I guess that's what happens when you show up less than a week after a campground opens for the season, but we eventually ended up in our site and proceeded to set up our home (my new REI Camp Dome tent's virgin outing!) for the evening.  

First order of business complete, we proceeded gaily down to the edge of Pug's Puddle, where a little cluster of bamboo-poled green nets sat by a "frog catching here" sign (you do have to release them after, in case you were wondering). We excitedly pointed out the plethora of green frogs that were calmly sitting amidst the reeds, as well as the giant tadpoles that quickly wriggled away into the murky depths, and eagerly grabbed nets to begin the hunt. However, our excitement was short-lived as we realized that we were surrounded by a cloud of black flies and other various bloodthirsty insects, and we bid a hasty retreat to the car to mist ourselves in a cloud of noxious repellent. Alas, it was too late for me, as a hungry individual had marked me with a bite (the only one I acquired that weekend) smack in the middle of my forehead.

Northern water snake!
Sufficiently repellent-saturated (or so we hoped), we returned to the water's edge and proceeded to merrily (and clumsily) attempt to scoop up the little croakers. Netting a frog proved to be initially more tricky than we anticipated, especially as they would let out little panicked squeaks of warning upon sensing our approach and retreat en masse into the water. After feeling a wee bit embarrassed that the family a little ways down was capturing frogs aplenty with no problem, we finally figured out proper ninja technique (approach from behind their eyes!) and managed to net our own. As entertaining as frog hunting was for us, the wildlife-spotting highlight of the day was definitely was a northern water snake that we espied sitting in the reeds (those hefty tadpoles probably make for good eating!). We were a little bemused that everyone immediately assumed it was a water moccasin and seemed a little unnerved by it, (I'm pretty sure those don't live in New England), but we were just glad to be able to watch it for a little while.  

Campfiring it up
Our next mission was to get a fire going and fill our bellies, and we did just that - we had wood to spare, having had to buy a "half tractor load" of firewood, and some delicious hot dogs just waiting to be roasted on a stick above the campfire. Not only that, but we had brought along a jar of curried pickled ramps (Matt's first attempt at pickling), so we were definitely dining in style. We had two dogs apiece, and since we were so full, we decided it was time to go for a walk!

I had made ambitious plans to take gorgeous photos of the sunset and moonrise from within Pawtuckaway State Park. Little did I know that the State Park authorities had different ideas. Upon reaching the park, the first thing we learned about the parks being "open year-round for recreation" meant that you could walk as far as your legs could take you into the park, but the roads were closed to motor vehicles. Walking an extra mile each way on a paved road to get to the start of the trail that we actually wanted to walk on seemed a little bit frustrating, but we were there and hell, we were going to walk! Before heading out on foot, we scrounged up 5 dollars in singles and change (all our cash had unexpectedly gone towards our campsite, thanks to the malfunctioning credit card machine) in an attempt to be good citizens who paid state park fees, although no rangers were manning any booths and the self-pay station was equipped with the wrong envelopes. We stuffed the money into a donation envelope and left a note on our dashboard, and headed out along the road into the park. 
Burnham's Marsh

Pawtuckaway State Park seemed to be a mysterious, cool green place with mossy boulders and groves of pine trees, small brooks and the low sun filtering through the greenery. We trucked along the road and finally reached Burnham's Marsh, where we watched the birds for a little while (no moose made an appearance, unfortunately), before heading off on Fundy's Trail which skirted the edge of the marsh, since I figured that taking a little stroll would be a good way to kill time until sunset and the (super) moonrise. Dusk was descending, and we heard owls calling to each other (if you know us, you know that Matt has an obsession with owls), and we spent a while trying to spot one particular tease of an owl that would keep calling, and then shut up when we got too close for comfort.

Thinking that we still had some time until moonrise, I decided that I didn't want to stay and wait around in the park until after dark (alright, so the woods at night can be a little creepy), and so I thought that we could make it back out in time and find a good vantage spot. Little did I know that at some point in the evening, I had (mistakenly) got it stuck in my head that moonrise was at 8.41 pm instead of 7.41 pm. We power-walked our way back out of the park in fading light as I didn't want to miss the moon (I even managed to give myself some degree of shin splints in the process! Another reason to hate walking on paved road). To my surprise, when we managed to catch some breaks in the trees on the drive back, the moon was already well above the horizon! I mentally slapped myself for my mistake. The moon was definitely big and bright though, and maybe I will give the moon-chasing another shot in June since the difference in Earth-moon distance is supposed to be pretty nominal between this month and next.

We got back to camp and pretty much went straight to bed - but as luck would have it, we were stationed next to the loud, drunk group of campers who insisted on playing crappy music (Country Metal? Is that even a genre?) at unreasonable volumes. Thankfully, they turned things off and went to bed at some point, although the music was soon replaced by deafening snores that echoed through the New Hampshire night - we could hear them quite clearly in the site across from theirs, and it definitely made us grateful that we weren't the snorer's tentmates - although, judging from the mess of cups and bottles on their picnic table in the morning, they might have been too drunkenly passed out to care.

Somewhere in Bear Brook State Park
I slept fitfully but warmly (and have definitely decided to invest in some sort of air-filled sleeping pad since I'm apparently getting too old for a roll of blue foam from Wal-Mart), and we woke up the next morning to the sound of turkeys laughing in the distance at 5.30am. We hustled the sleeping bags and assorted bedding into the car but left the tent up to dry, and headed out to Bear Brook State Park for our morning walk. We couldn't pass up the idea of coffee though, and being in New England, our GPS quickly found us the nearest Dunkin' and we acquired some brew to get us going.

Matt looking for porcupines
Once again, NH parks determined that we were going to get some extra walking done and we found ourselves at the edge of the park. We decided to skip out of trying to pay any form of entrance fee (especially when I opened the "trail map" box to find a dirty pair of work gloves and no maps). We opted to walk in along Podunk Road and hike along Hedgehog Ledge Trail (misnamed for the supposedly abundant porcupines who inhabit the area), planning to turn back before it hit the Ferret Trail and looping back around Hayes Marsh on the Lowland and Hayes Farm Trails. 

Mossy rocks
It turned out to be a pleasant morning walk - the terrain was fairly level, although some of the trail junctions weren't signed as well as they could have been. We unfortunately didn't see any porcupines - just some fun ferns and various fungi, although the giant moss-covered boulders and slabs of rock that the porcupines are supposed to love were pretty impressive. We weren't too keen on poking around in the crevices in a more thorough search for porcupines, (I gather that being stuck by one isn't too pleasant), and so the most exciting point in the trail was probably having to negotiate a few flooded sections without getting our feet too wet or muddy. We finished our loop in around 2 hours, headed back to the campground to break down the tent, take a shower, and headed out to make our social calls. 
Flooded trail

It was a good weekend outdoors and a great way to kick off camping season, but I think I'm ready for some bigger climbs - hopefully Memorial Weekend will bring good weather! I'm eyeing Mt. Marcy in upstate New York for a good ass-kicking, but we'll see - we need to get some proper camping gear first if budget will allow.

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