Thursday, January 1, 2015

I can camp -Sibley State Park

This is part one of a two part article on what I would want to describe as our journey from I-can-Camp! to I-did-Camp!

Camping and fishing seem to be popular outdoor activities that Minnesotans involve themselves in during the summers. You may add cycling, trekking, canoeing to that list as well; basically everything outdoorsy. I guess it has to do with the fact that for 6 months or so, people in this part of the world are pretty much holed up in their warm homes. Of course there are the brave-hearts who find fun outdoor activities like skiing and ice fishing during the winters to keep themselves busy. However for someone like me and my buddy who had never camped on our own, we were missing out on this fun activity and thanks to Minnesota DNR’s I-can-camp program we were able to do that as well this last summer.

Last summer in order to promote outdoor activities, Minnesota DNR came out with a lot of I-can programs and we enrolled for I-can-Camp. They had a schedule laid out informing the masses as to which camp ground in a State Park was selected for a particular week to host the I-can-Camp program. From our side we were expected to bring ingredients for easy to cook food like pasta, sandwiches etc. and some comfortable clothing. All the camping and cooking gear would be provided. We enrolled for the program at Sibley State Park by paying $40. With this experience we would know if we’d really enjoy camping without paying a ton of money to buy all the gear.

We were expected to reach the camp ground by 10:15 AM on Saturday and were camping there till Sunday afternoon. The idea was to stay overnight and get to experience proximity to nature. Since we had bought a Minnesota State Park pass earlier in the year, we were not required to pay any money to enter this park. Ours was a primitive camp site which meant that we had a fire ring, garbage cans and access to drinking water and primitive toilets [pit]; no electricity and bath area. There are multiple campsite at Sibley and it took us sometime to find out ours.

The primitive campsite is right next to a small water body –Lake 21. The benefit of arriving early was that we got to choose our campsite. We were given a tent, a couple of air mattresses, utensils, cooking stove and propane gas. Once all the participants for the program had assembled and picked out their personal campsites, our instructors informed us about the rules and regulations of camping –not moving firewood, respecting quiet hours, keeping food and trash away from the tent and locked and similar such practices. Our first task was identifying a site and then setting up the tent securely. We were given instructions on what to look for in the site –no anthill, not uneven and rocky or no depression least should there be a rainfall we might find ourselves in a puddle. Setting up the tent was fun; the instructors showed the same step by step. Though the program had their tents on offer, we used our Marmot 3P tent and setting that up was quite easy. With our tent ready our instructor then asked all to inflate the air mattresses; since we had our sleeping bags, we utilized the time to arrange that inside the tent.

Our next task was to cook up a meal. We used the Coleman Triton series two burner stove as was recommended by our instructor. This was offered to us as part of the I-can-Camp program. We were guided on how to set up the stove on the picnic table, attach the propane gas cylinder to that and light up the flame. It was daylight and I could not see the flame coming out, just a whoosh sound. My partner in crime prepared pasta for us. After cooking, we washed the utensils and laid them out to dry. The water that was left after cleaning the utensils was not to be poured into one place but instead should be thrown such as to spread over a larger area. This was to discourage animals from coming near us and depending on our food for their survival.

After our lunch we drove to the nearby Lake Andrew –the biggest lake in this park. It was a pretty windy day and the beach was gone due to high water level in the lake. A short wall constructed a little away from the beach acted as a boundary between the lake and higher ground. We kept ourselves on the drier side and set out our folding chairs for some nice lazy hours of reading and watching the waters. Further down there was another place where a little stream opened into the Lake and a lot of pelicans had gathered there –presumably to catch fish. We spent some time there as well, just watching these huge birds.

We came back before it got dark and had some Maggi noodles with hot coffee. A fire was already going strong and we set our chairs around the pit and joined the other campers. Up in the sky it was cloudy and there were chances of rain so we were ready to rush into our tents should there be a downpour. The fire was going strong and I was the last one to leave after burning all the firewood that I could lay my hands on. Late at night it was nice to just be alone, away from technology and just enjoy the warmth and light of the fire. I don’t remember what I was thinking but I remember being happy. Needless to say, we had a pretty sound sleep. The night passed without any incident –no animal encounter. Early in the morning we left for a short trail to Little Mt. Tom and then walked further taking the Mt. Tom trail and Oak Hill trail back to our campsite. There were patches in the trail where we passed through dense tree cover that were mosquito infested. Though we had bug repellent applied all over our exposed arms and face and neck, it wasn’t enough. Moreover a light downpour had started too but waiting under a tree was out of questions; thanks to the mosquitos we had to keep moving.

 Back at our campsite we had a light breakfast of peanut butter jam, coffee and cookies. Though we could have stayed back till the afternoon, we had had enough fun and learning how to camp. Before leaving we packed our tents, returned all the utensils and gas stove and thanked our instructors for showing us how to camp. By the time we left for home, we were quite excited with this new found love of ours –camping. On our way we were discussing about what are the next few things that we would need to buy, now that we were confident that we too could camp. Thanks to Minnesota DNRs I-can-Camp program, now we too can count ourselves in the I-did-Camp group!

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