Let It Burn!

A post from earlier this spring…
It’s springtime in the Midwest, and you know what that means. Old piles of brown snow mixed with Wendy’s wrappers, sand, and road salt.  Brown, matted grass, flooded muddy streams, and unsettled weather means the impending end to the gray midwestern winter.  But look on the bright side; unlike the higher altitudes of the west, you KNOW the weather is going to warm and summer is just around the corner.  A few more sunny days in a row has the winter depression lifting, you are hitting the trails, and dreaming of jeep rides, single track biking and maybe some backpacking.
This is a perfect time to hone some of your outdoor skills.  One of the most crucial skills for the outdoors is the ability to make a fire under any circumstance. Wind, rain, wet, hot, dry, snow, thaw, you name it, and you should have the skills to find fuel to make it burn.  What better time to practice than in the early, soggy, days of spring. Saturated grasses, damp sticks, little tinder, and damp air stack the deck against you.  But these are a few things that can help you make a warming fire under any circumstance.
10 Steps style!

C'mon Baby Light My Fire

         1.  Start small!  A little cotton smeared in petroleum jelly, or just a handful of dry pine needles stuffed with dry twigs will ignite.
         2.  Need dry tinder?  Look for areas that have been sheltered from storms and snow pack.  The grasses around the base of a tree, or twigs and branches underneath a fallen log are usually dry, and even if they are damp, we can split them to find a dry core. (See step 3)
         3.  If your kindling is a bit damp on the outside, use your knife or multi-tool to split it with a rock.  Usually the center meat of the stick will be dry, and will ignite.  Eventually drying out the rest of the kindling.
         4.  Use dry fuel.  It goes without saying, but a dry CRACK is a good noise.  Any green color or bending and twisting?  You’ve got the wrong stick.
         5.  Dig a small trench (about a hand width) in the dirt. Put some dry leaves, and your tinder wad in this trench, then gently cover with your smaller sticks stacked JENGA style (crisscross). Light the fire from underneath.  This will allow the fire to BREATH, and we all know the best fuel for fire is AIR!
         6.  Start with tiny dry twigs, then graduate to sticks about the width of your finger.  Once those are blazing, move on to sticks about an inch or two across.
         7.  Purse your lips, and blow HARD at the base of the fire.  Then turn your head away to suck in a breath, and repeat. Be careful with this step, as I have heard of people who have accidentally inhaled a batch of black fire smoke and immediately passed out INTO the fire.  That’s bad, don’t do that.
         8.   Once you have a nice bed of hot coals, and a good open flame, you can start to use larger logs, but don’t smother your fire!  Many times I have gotten anxious and plopped a log on top only to snuff my little creation.  Stack the larger wood in a tee-pee fashion around your flame.
         9.  For a fire to last awhile, you need way more wood than you think.  Wood heat is one of the most inefficient ways to warm up, but in the woods it’s really your only option. Stack wood at least waist high, and make sure it’s able to stay dry.
         10.  Once it’s crackling sit back and enjoy!  While backpacking, a fire can be a crucial source of boosted morale, or a simple recharge!

Sleeping Bear: Find solitude by visiting one of the most visited places in the U.S.

Michigan.  You think white sand beaches, towering dunes, and crystal clear waters.  Valley View trail and backcountry campsite inside the park offers none of that!  In a slow weekend just before Memorial Day, my wife and I decided to break in our packs and do our first backpack trip of the summer.  The weather was cool and rainy, and the crowds had not formed yet in the small beach towns on the northern tip of the mitten.
Or so we thought!
We loaded up our packs (Osprey Kestrel 38), and made sure to pack rain and wind breakers.  The weather off the lake can be unpredictable, but with proper gear, you can have a very enjoyable experience.  We had originally planned on backpacking a 2-mile clip to “White Pine Backcountry Campground” right near the beach in the deep interior of the National Lakeshore.  There we could setup camp and enjoy the dunes of Lake Michigan away from any crowds, and cars.
Or so we thought…again!
After a bit of trouble with some directions, we finally found the DNR station.  There, the ranger informed me that the camp we were planning on hiking to, was filled with a troop of boy scouts, and there were no spots left!  Really?  On a rainy 51 degree day, with wind spray and a couple weeks before Memorial Day?
So he recommended another backcountry site.  Valley View Campground, nestled in the hills over looking over the tiny town Glen Arbor, MI.  The short, easy trail, gradually gains a few hundred feet elevation through an amazing forest of hardwoods, and thick Northern Michigan timber, before topping out on a ridge and into a small open valley.
The ranger told us this trail, and its little set of backcountry tent sites would be virtually guaranteed privacy, and we probably wouldn’t see any other people in this rarely visited corner of the park.  He was right!
The hike only took us about 35 minutes, and we were able to enjoy the deep forest of mature timber around us. We arrived in camp in a heavy rain, pitched our tent under a huge pine, and tried to dry off, completely alone in the site.  Sitting inside the tent sipping whisky, and playing blackjack while listening to Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen provided entertainment, while we gently were pelted by the tiny beads of rain slipping off the pine.
Around 9:30 pm the rain stopped, and I was able to make a little dinner on our butane stove.  About this time we heard a coyote a little ways away give a fantastic howl into the night sky.  This was our yellow lab Gus’s first camping trip and the coyote’s howl reminded him he wasn’t in Kansas anymore!  The evening was chilly, with rain off and on, but the morning brought fantastic sun, and great color for some pictures, as the sun bathed our little valley

While the other campgrounds are filled with motorhomes, huge tents, and sun burned city slickers, Valley View is a peaceful clearing where you can pitch your tent and sip your morning coffee in the shade of hardwoods while watching a whitetail meander through the small meadow.
The price for such tranquility is carrying your necessities 1.5 miles from a parking lot. And then carrying them out when you’re ready to head home.  Valley View is an EXCELLENT choice for a quick backpack getaway that is virtually guaranteed to be private!