After incurring some delays related to my slacking off and agreeing to do some actual work for money, I finally made my first stealth camping attempt last night.
I figured it would be best to try it in a place that was a) close to home and b) familiar and c) relatively free of hoboes.
Answer: St. Paul’s Mounds Park.
At just about sundown, I headed out on my bike.
Typical to such endeavors, I was given some reminder that I was about to do something that probably isn’t 100% legal: on the way to the park I ran across a security guard guarding the Union Depot parking tunnel from felonious shortcut takers such as myself, and a police officer down on the path along the river.
I cruised over to Hoffman, and biked up and around to the top of the Bluff. My idea was to bike out to the edge of the park that faces the railroad yards, follow a path from there that goes on a steep decline down the bluff, and set up camp somewhere off the trail.
It’s odd. I used to run up and down that trail when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it being so utterly choked with mansized weeds. I wondered if the kids these days are just too busy twittering and such to bother traipsing around in the woods. Or, more likely, yet another invasive species had made a foothold here.
Eventually I settled on a spot about halfway down the Bluff, that, appropriately, was about 80 yards up from the site of the Burlington Hotel, wherein weary railroaders would rest before heading out on their next trip.
I suppose more practice will help this, but I always seem to settle on a pair of trees that are too close together, but I don’t notice that fact until I’ve tied up one side of the hammock, and then I end up swinging it around to some other tree which may be even less favorable.
The same thing happened this time, but even worse, once I finally had it hung, I realized that it was facing the wrong way. I wanted to be looking down the bluff, not up. So, I tore it down and did it all over again.
By 9:30pm, I was finally situated. Hot and sweaty and tired, but situated.
I sat back and listened to all of the sounds around me. Some were natural, but most were industrial: lots of train traffic on the mainlines, with wheels screeching around the banked curve at East Hoffman, plus the CP house switcher going up and back shoving cars around, with bell ringing constantly, plus the occassional distant boom of a freight car slamming into another car down in the hump yard.
A light plane kept circling above me; it was probably doing touch-and-goes at the airport. A helicopter blasted directly overhead. Cars and trucks – and the occasional pair of glasspack-bearing, riced-out street racers – flew by on Warner Road. I could also hear tow boats manuevering barges out on the river.
If you are thinking that this is hardly the environment in which to get some proper shut-eye, you are right! I was constantly being awoken by some jarring noise or other. But I have no complaints. I knew that would be the case going in.
The fact is that these noises provided me with some good fodder to practice some of the techniques that I was taught at the meditation retreat I attended last weekend.
At 1am, I woke up to a splash of water on my face. A couple of raindrops. Looking up, I could see that the clouds had rolled in, and it was getting rather windy. I got up immediately, put my shoes on, and went outside.
I thought about folding the con, but then I thought, no, I’ll stick it out, and try to get the rain fly up. The situation reminded me of a bit toward the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where, just as they are about to ambush some bandits that had ambushed them, Butch tells Sundance he’s never shot anyone before.
“One hell of a time to tell me!”
Yeah. One hell of a time to try to figure out how to tie on the rain fly, the source of many complaints of Hennessy Hammock owners, and whose installation instructions can only be described as cryptic, and for which there seem to be no good instructions available from other users, since nobody else can figure it out (or, in truth, everyone else is an experienced camper that knows what in the hell they are doing, and such instruction isn’t necessary!): under complete darkness, in thick underbrush, with a heavy wind, and impending rain.
Well, let’s just say that this endeavor was a bit frustrating. I did eventually get it on, but just as I was about to declare victory, I heard something that sounded distinctly like one of my stakes being ripped from the ground, due to there being too much tension on it from the hammock bungee stabilizer, and flying off to points unknown. (Another lesson: carry spare stakes!)
But, during my brief, fruitless hunt for my escaped stake, I saw that my hammock was swinging just above a giant vine, probably the same piece of vegetation that had been poking me in the ass all night long. I tied the hammock and rainfly to that, and all was well.
I got situated again. Hot and sweaty and tired, but situated.
Of course, it shouldn’t be too hard to predict what DIDN’T happen next: The wind kept up, but nary a drop of rain was to be had for the rest of the night.
After the adrenaline rush, I didn’t get back to sleep until at least 2:30. From then on, the trains and trucks and airplanes and boats went quiet, and I slept right up until the birds started singing.. at 4:30!
By 5:30, I decided it was time to head for home.
With the approaching dawn, I thought it best to take a photo to mark the occasion:
I tore everything down, and tried to figure out which way out was best: back up the bluff, or down to the road. Since the trail was highly soft due to all of the rain we’ve been getting, I chose the latter.
Thirty minutes later, after crashing through and snagging on and getting whipped by grove after grove of those damned invasive weeds, I popped out of the woods into the field near Fish Hatchery Lane.
Hot and sweaty and tired, and covered head to toe with cockleburs, grassburs, sandburs and otherburs, but this time I was ready to bike home.