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Last weekend, just prior to the inception of this new calendar season, but after the much-appreciated arrival of Daylight Savings Time, I took my girlfriend down to the Ouachita (WA-chi-ta) Mountains for a night of car camping and an overnight backpacking trip over the spine of the range. We drove into Cedar Lake National Recreation Area, where no one seemed to be around, and so we stopped to look at the campground map. A ranger stopped and asked us if we needed something, and when we told him we were camping, he looked at his clipboard and said he didn't know if any of the campsites were open. He told us campsite #57 was available, oh, no, that one is reserved. Well, it looks like we have one available - number 68. Right next to another occupied campsite, in an almost-entirely vacant campground. Besides our two camps, there were maybe two other campers in the campground. I suspect this ranger doesn't like people camping in his recreation area. (Subsequently, a friend called to reserve a campsite at Cedar Lake, and was told that nothing was availble. Hogwash. Maybe they're running a covert moonshine business out of there.)
We pitched our tent and gathered a pile of decaying limbs and branches from the forest floor near our camp. With this, I made a campfire while Julie fired up the backpacking stove to cook some sausage links and ramen noodles, complimented nicely by a plastic cup or two of Eco Vino Helibiker Red.
1 pkg Chicken flavored Ramen Noodles
4 breakfast links
Cook breakfast links in skillet. Boil water. Remove from heat and insert brick of ramen noodles plus cooked sausage links. When ramen is tender and enlarged, strain water. Add flavoring packet. Stir. Eat. Pair with appropriate wine.
And after a couple of smores for dessert, we went to bag inside the airy tent. The weather was so nice that I saw no reason to use the rain fly, and as we laid our heads on wadded up shirts and pants, we could see through the tent mesh a legion of stars in the night sky. Camped in the midst of a pine forest, which is unusual in Oklahoma, the tall, straight trees swayed in ebbs and gusts of wind that howled through crowns and jingled a trillion needles.
Morning came as the wind receded, as if the earth spins faster in the dark. I built a new campfire to take the edge off the morning chill, and Julie prepared the rest of our sausage links and some scrambled eggs. Camp coffee has been an ever-changing ritual for me through the years, and though I always have DoubleShot Coffee, my methods have traversed many genres. I've crushed coffee beans in a plastic bowl with the back of a screwdriver, which is no easy task. I've pulverized coffee beans wrapped in a tshirt using a large rock, which works surprisingly good and I'd recommend it if you're ever in a pinch. I've made pourovers using a bandana or a paper towel as a filter. I've steeped, I've french pressed, and I've even tried to make coffee from cold stream water when minimalist backpacking.
Give a frontiersman coffee and tobacco, and he will endure any privation, suffer any hardship, but let him be without these two necessaries of the woods, and he becomes irresolute and murmuring.
~U.S. Army Lt. William Whiting, 1849
But now I have a system that I really like, and we take it with us everywhere we travel. It's compact, light, and easy to use, and it's only possible because of an invention created right here at the DoubleShot.
So I retrieved some Yirgacheffe out of the car, along with my Coffee Travel Kit. I've pre-measured 60 grams of coffee in the hopper of my Hario Skerton Grinder and sharpied a line, up to which I filled the grinder with Yirgacheffe. I filled our cooking pot with the water from my stainless steel GSI Infinity bottle (which is the same size, but much better for making coffee than a plastic Nalgene bottle because it is easier to clean and retains less funky coffee taste). Using the Connect3 Adaptor Ring, I screwed the grinder onto my stainless bottle, and ground the coffee while the stove brought the water to a boil. Detaching the grinder and ring, Julie and I enjoyed the delicious, floral fragrances of vanilla and citrus emanating from the Yirgacheffe. And then I twisted the GSI H2JO filter onto the bottle and filled it with the hot water. After four minutes, the coffee was ready, and I poured us each a dose into our multi-purpose coffee/wine cups to enjoy with breakfast.
After breakfast, as the fire was dwindling, we struck camp and spread all our gear on the picnic table to load our packs with everything we'd need for the rest of the day and night and the following day. And then we set out on a trail through the pines toward Horsethief Springs.
I'd never spent any time in these woods. So I didn't know what we would encounter. But I do know that this area is home to Black Bears and Copperheads and some say the North American Wood Ape resides here. It's been years since I last went backpacking and it showed. My pack felt heavy and my hips hurt. But we trudged on and after a couple of miles passed under my borrowed boots, everything started to feel better. The pines shortened and mixed with oaks and other deciduous trees, and our trail wended its way along ridges and gullies, climbing up to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail.
Horsethief Springs probably used to be a big deal, since water can be scarce in these hills. (We pretended to follow the horse hoof prints toward the springs, because that was where the horse thieves congregated.) But, to our disappointment, when we reached this exciting landmark, it turned out to be a CCC-built rock pool with a few inches of water in the bottom, covered in green moss, and it looked like a cesspool for all the things we were trying not to drink. And there was not even a trace of any horse thieves to be found. We started with a gallon of water between us, and by this time we were down to about a quart, and feeling a little thirsty. Since it was only mid-afternoon, we decided to head down the other side of the mountain toward Billy Creek, hoping to find water somewhere along the trail. Though the land fell away to either side of our path, which was a narrow way amidst a thick forest of 3-foot tall baby pines, the land seemed dry and we weren't crossing any waterways. Looking off to our east, the gully appeared dry. But once the trail opened up a bit on the hillside, I decided to drop my pack and head down the western slope in search of water. And though it wasn't much, I found a small stream flowing down the mountain parallel to our trail. This is where we decided to camp.
Foot-tall stout grass and crunchy leaves made our tent-site a little scratchy, but once we cut out most of the roots and shoots, it felt nice enough. I wandered the hillside looking for flat rocks to make a place for us to sit down and to cook on. We hadn't seen much wildlife up to this point, except for some circling hawks and a few squirrels, but out there under every rock it seemed I would find something different and interesting. Maggots, termites, ants, spiders, a centipede; ticks found there way onto our legs, looking for dinner.
Dinner-time for us brought more Eco Vino wine and a spicy, rice-based backpacking meal and some cookies. We camped without a fire because the place seemed especially well-suited for a forest fire, and we didn't want to take any chances. We filled all of our bottles with purified stream water and hung our food from a high branch in a tree and climbed in the tent. This night was as calm as the last one was windy. It was unusually quiet. There was not even the sound of crickets, nothing. So in the middle of the night when something was walking through the woods near by, crunching leaves, it was the only sound to be heard. It was like one of those movies where you hear footsteps in the dark and they're coming closer and closer. I shined my flashlight out the tent screen, but I couldn't see anything. I've been fooled by this before, and so I knew it was just an armadillo wandering through the leaves looking for whatever it is armadillos eat. Probably all the things I found under those rocks. No bigfoot, and no bear.
Next morning, we made french toast, a first for me on the trail. I repeated the coffee ceremony and we drank some more delicious Yirgacheffe made with stream water. And then we struck camp once again, repacked our bags and hiked back over the mountain.
If you're a backpacker or a camper or just a traveler, I recommend the coffee travel kit that I've put together. It's been an accessory that I never travel without. Just add hot water.