Wednesday, February 24, 2021

My First 2021 Camping Trip--Not!

Lake Darling, pre-thaw

The highs temperatures all week were in the thirties and forties, the lows in the twenties. After all the planning and organizing and packing for my Airstream Basecamp, why not head out to a local state park and enjoy the warm weather--warm when compared to the below zero temperatures of a week before.

I'm not a fool, though, I thought. I'll go check out the Iowa state park south of us first--Lacey-Keosauqua, which is not only close but also has good cellphone reception, so I could continue working on compiling the tiny trailer book I'm publishing. I could do what I've done in the past--write about camping while camping. And while it was still winter, being late February! 

My son was coming at 1:30 to help me chop firewood, so I bustled around and headed out at 11:30, figuring a half hour drive there, the same back, and a half hour of scouting would still provide plenty of time for the expedition and for lunch before my son arrived. The roads were clear and it was smooth sailing in my tow vehicle (minus the trailer), a beautiful sunny day with temperatures close to fifty. Turning off state Highway 1 and onto the park road, the driving was still perfect. All the snow was everywhere but on the road. After crossing the Des Moines River and entering the park, I turned off my Linda Ronstadt greatest hits CD, rolled down the driver's side window, and soaked up the silence.

I almost missed the entrance to the campground because it had not been plowed. That should have been my first clear danger sign. I backed up and checked out the campground access road again. There were tires tracks through the snow with pavement showing beneath, so vehicles were accessing the park. That was my thinking on this beautiful sunny day. I was invincible, and it wasn't really still winter. An early spring had arrived!

I did fine entering the campground. The snow was slushy, but my progress was straightforward. I followed the rutted tracks in the snow for about seventy-five yards until I arrived at the shower house area, where the garbage containers also were located. The ruts ended. The access vehicle had been the sanitation truck. Checking out the unblemished snow for the rest of the campground, I realized there was going to be no camping for a while. I decided to turn around as the garbage truck had done and to head home.

You're probably seeing where this is heading--and if your thoughts are that I'm going to get stuck in the snow, you're right! The 6-8 inches on snow was soft and slushy, with an ice base from the original freezing rain about a month ago. When I turned the steering wheel to execute a Y-designed turn-around, the slush massed and compressed to ice. Like the silly old man that I was, the warm weather and sunshine had put me in an "I'm invincible" mood, so I had brought no shovel, even though the thought had occurred to me earlier in the day. I'd just shoved off down the road, happy to be out on a scout.

I did have some camping supplies in the back of the Pathfinder, though, being mostly packed with extras for camping. I removed cardboard, a broom, and my camping rug. Using mostly my hands and broom, I scooped away snow that was packed behind the tires and then placed the camp rug behind one rear tire, tucking it in tightly and hoping it would provide traction. Shifting into 4WD low, I eased the SUV back and it moved, being released from the ice cavity the spinning tires had created. I repeated this process a couple more times until I was headed in the right direction, then loaded up my stuff and eased out onto the main road. No begging the rangers for help, no tow truck, just me literally digging myself free from my own foolishness.

I think the Pathfinder would have performed better if I had more aggressive tread on the tires, but for the most part the all-weather tires do just fine. Rather than buying more gnarly tires, I think I should just be a bit more cautious. Knobbier tires also throw more rocks, something I want to try to avoid with my brand new AS Basecamp.

I drove home, ate lunch, and then my son came over with my eleven-month old granddaughter. He was going to help me chop wood, and she was going to watch, snug in her baby carrier. I confessed my foolishness as I split kindling--my son had been planning to help me, but it turned out the little girl just wanted to be held by her daddy. With the warmer weather, I needed less wood, and my son did help me with moving a full wheelbarrow of wood from the stack to the garage, which helped me keep my back from being stressed. It was a fun time. 

After son and granddaughter left, I decided to zip to Lake Darling State Park to check out its camping readiness. Only seventeen miles away, it had been rebuilt within the last ten years, including cement access roads. I did toss in a shovel for this trip, though!

The roads were perfect on the way out--state highways--and the entrance road was perfectly free and dry. Even the campground had one road open, which circled up to the park's rental cabins. However, the campsites were completely socked in with snow, including large berms of snow created by the plowing. The parking lot for boating was clear, though, so I parked there and walked the short distance to the campground, taking along the shovel I had brought. Quickly I discovered that the snow was too dense, being ice at the bottom of the pack, for any thought of shoveling out a space. I had been hoping that the first campsite--the camp host site--might be cleared. It was close to the road and had a cement slab. No luck, though. I'd have to wait for the snow to melt.

Lake Darling campsites

It was a fun drive to Lake Darling, though, because the entrance road to the campground skirts the lake, first by-passing the swimming area, the large community center, and the boat ramps. It was fun to see the ice fishermen out on the lake and the tracks of the sleds they pulled out with their equipment. About six pickups were parked in one spot, with the anglers hiking down to the water and out onto the lake, their colorful snow parkas and insulated coveralls so bright and cheery against the white of the icy lake--red and blue and yellow against the white background of snow-covered ice.

The good news, though, was that the rest of the week included days above freezing, so the melt was prodigious and rapid. Today is Friday, and I might head out again in the afternoon for another scouting expedition, this time back to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park and also Indian Lake Campground, a city campground in Farmington. It's thirty-nine miles away, a bit farther, but might be maintained more, since they have year-round patrons. Also, there is a full-time residence and office at the park, so the road will be open to that point. Whether is campsites will be open, though . . . we'll see. My wife and I are hoping for maybe a Sunday night out, which gives more time for the snow to melt.

If I head out today, though, for another scout, I'll take a few deep breaths before charging off. I'll pack some necessaries and make sure I have a safe path before leaving the main highway. I firmly believe the old saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I'm not sure if this applies to old fools or lucky fools, but I remember how foolish I felt, opening the car door and standing there, looking at my car stuck in the snow. "I could have avoided this," I remember telling myself, before getting to work, scooping snow with red, frozen hands. 

And thus ends the story of what was not my first camping trip of the season. May it amuse you, may it be a cautionary tale, and may your 2021 camping experiences be full of wisdom and joy . . . and a bit of luck, which can always help, right? 

Subscribe--Follow by Email

* indicates required


  1. Live and learn, over and over again, right?

    1. And luckily, the learning wasn't too painful. I think I'll be able to go camping in a few days.

  2. Good Morning Tom, I LOVE your Inspirational thoughts and Camping insight. I enjoy my morning so much more when I can sip my coffee while reading your adventures and natural wisdom, and of course Pictures. Thank you for it all. Patiently waiting for tomorrow. Chrissy

  3. Thanks for your comments. It's words like yours that keep me writing!