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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Did I start a fire without matches on television in only 30 seconds? Gotta watch the video to find out!

I hope you enjoy my KHQA Morning Show appearance. Huge thanks to host Kristen Aguirre and cameraman Mark Schneider! Also huge thanks to my husband who was kind enough to camp on a Tuesday night and get up at 4 am so I could be “TV ready!”

Note to self: I should do video blogs more often! It’s so much less typing!!

 

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Hey Barred Owl! You're going to need a permit!

Hey Barred Owl! You’re going to need a permit!

Summertime provides ample opportunity to get out and follow your Adventure Foot, and one of the very best ways to do that is to go camping!  Whether you’re tent camping with the kids out of the back of the mini-van or planning a backpacking excursion “off the grid,” a few simple steps can make your next camping trip a safe and fun adventure!

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Justin putting up a tent at Sand Ridge State Forest

Justin putting up a tent at Sand Ridge State Forest

We’ve all forgotten something important on a trip before, but when we forget something important on a camping trip, it tends to cause more inconvenience than usual.  I’ve found that the way to become a better camper and to forget fewer things is to make a list!  Make a list of the items you’ll need and lay the items all out on the kitchen table before you start packing them in your bag.  When all your items are laid out, you can make sure you haven’t forgotten anything crucial to the trip- matches, bug spray, sunscreen, toilet paper…   don’t leave home without them!

Just as important as what you bring is what you do not bring.  If you’re taking the kids, leave the Nintendo DS at home! Camping time is unplugging time and you will thank yourself for giving all the technology a rest.  Also look for things you can leave out of your life for a day or two.  Pare down the things you’re bringing to just the necessities.  Decluttering is part of the beauty of the outdoors. Besides, whatever you don’t bring, you don’t have to carry!

I like to keep a running list for camping trips.  At the end of the trip, I look to see if there are any items in my pack that I haven’t used at all, and I cross those off for next time.  It lightens the load and helps me to be a more efficient camper.  Likewise, if some item would have made my life easier, I add it to the list and next time I’ll have it!

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Putting the Mmmmmm in Mmmmmarshmallows

Putting the Mmmmmm in Mmmmmarshmallows

Fire safety is every camper’s responsibility.  When building a fire, find out if the campground or space has any rules in place for fire building.  Check for dry conditions and don’t build fires any larger than necessary.  Fire pits or rings are great assets at campgrounds; use them!  They’ll keep the debris all in one place and also help keep the fire from spreading.   If there is not a fire pit, look for a campfire site that is downwind and at least 15 feet away from shrubs, overhanging branches, tents or any other flammable objects.

Please remember: do not transport firewood from one place to another.  There is plenty of loose wood around to collect and burn, and moving firewood is one of the main vectors of invasive species like the extremely destructive Emerald Ash Borer Beatle.

The Bare Necessities

I love Ryan's trail hammock.  Lightweight and even has a bug shield.

I love Ryan’s trail hammock. Lightweight and even has a bug shield.

Water, shelter, food, and waste disposal.  That’s what you’ll need for a camping trip.  If you’re heading out to a state park or campground, water might be easy to come by and all you’ll need is a few water bottles.  If you’re backpacking or going on an especially long hike you may need to bring water purification equipment or tabs.  Plan ahead and know where your water sources are.

Shelter is important too.  Check the weather forecast before you go and pack appropriate gear. In my experience, a forecast for 25% chance of rain turns to 100% if I forget my tent’s rain fly or my poncho.  It’s just the way it works.  Also, pack appropriate gear for the temperatures.  You don’t need that sub-zero sleeping bag if it’s not going to dip below 70 degrees at night.  Likewise, a nice day doesn’t guarantee a warm night, so check and double check the forecast!  It’s not a bad idea to look for safe places to go in case of a storm even if none are forecast.

Food safety is especially important on camping trips, and I’ve heard more than one story of a great camping trip spoiled a day later by intestinal distress.  Don’t forget your safe food handling practices just because you’re out in the woods.  Make sure you cook any meat you are eating thoroughly, be aware of opportunities for cross contamination (don’t touch the fish and then the apples!!), and store food safely.  Make sure you’re storing your food and trash out of the reach of wildlife too.  Even though there aren’t bears in Illinois, a cranky raccoon wandering through camp isn’t much fun either.

Check the Visitor Center for park rules and regs!

Check the Visitor Center for park rules and regs!

Waste disposal doesn’t often get much forethought, but it’s important to plan for too.  Bring trash bags and make sure you keep your campsite clean. You’ll often hear the phrase, “leave no trace.”  This basically means: bring everything out of the woods that you took into the woods.

And while we’re on the subject of waste… sometimes you’re by a porta-john or latrine, and sometimes you’re not.  If you’re in the back country, protect the ecosystem and other travelers by following trail rules.  This often means digging a small hole 10-15 feet off the trail and away from any water sources, doing your business, and covering it up.  If my cats can cover up their dootie, so can you.  In especially delicate ecosystems, you may be required to bring any solid waste with you out of the woods.  Obey rules and posted guidelines!

Maps, Flashlights, and Emergencies

My smartphone has Google Maps, a flashlight, and can call 9-1-1.  Guess what doesn’t usually work in the woods though? My cell phone!  Come on people, you knew that!

Trail tortoise at Fall Creek

Trail tortoise at Fall Creek

Make sure you’re bringing several light sources for your trip.  I’m a fan of hands-free headlights and small LED flashlights.  On longer backpacking trips, I like a hand-crank flashlight and radio combination, which can be used regardless of battery life.

Bring basic first aid equipment for emergencies and even consider a flare or other signaling device if you will be a long way from emergency services.

And bring a printed park map.  Keep the printed map in a plastic bag or have it laminated.

 Hazard Inventory

Riding and camping are a great combination! This is at RAGBRAI 2012

Riding and camping are a great combination! This is at RAGBRAI 2012

The last great piece of camping advice comes to you courtesy of my grandpa.  He said, “Beware of things that bite, sting, itch, or get you all wet!”  Make a list of the hazards you might experience in the area you’re camping.  Know how to identify poison oak and poison ivy.  Know how to identify and safely remove ticks.  Know if anyone in your party is allergic to bee stings and bring appropriate first aid materials for that person.  Know how to identify a potentially hazardous snake or a harmless one (clue: most snakes in our area are harmless).  And lastly, be aware of any water hazards, especially if you have kids around.  Don’t build your tent close to the creek; flash floods can happen whether it’s raining where you are or not.  Keep the kids away from lakes or ponds after dark.  Don’t cross flooded streams.  Just use your common sense!

Justin out on a long hike!

Justin out on a long hike!

So there you have the Adventure Foot Guide to Safe and Fun Camping!  Be sure to check out these related blogs about some of my favorite local state parks.  I highly recommend Wakonda State Park in La Grange, MO, (second winter Wakonda link here!)  Cuivre River State Park in Troy, MO and Siloam Springs State Park in Liberty, IL (second Siloam link here!) for local camping adventures.  You might also check out Sand Ridge State Park near Peoria.  This park is enormous and especially fun in the late fall and winter! Oh and don’t forget Mark Twain Lake!  There’s no excuse not to camp with so many great places to go!

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Paddle Agate Lake!

Paddle Agate Lake!

So…

I’ve been reading blogs about blogging.  Don’t laugh at me.  You’re reading blogs about me reading blogs about blogging… so really, who is crazier here?!

The blogging about blogging crowd suggests that readers love lists… and I know that I fall for the flashy list headlines all the time.  It’s nice to think that life can be “3 Simple Steps” or “Top 10 reasons.”   Lists rarely have much depth though, and can’t do their subjects a whole lot of justice.  That lack of details annoyed me… until I had an epiphany!  My whole blog is like a Top 10 list!!  It’s supposed to be one big spring board for you to go and have an adventure!  I don’t have to tell you how every hill on my last bike ride felt (tough going up, amazing coasting down) or how the water temperature was at the lake last weekend (brisk, but refreshing).  I just have to give you ideas and then you can go fill in the details for yourself!

So today, I’m embracing the list and presenting the

Top 7 Ways to Follow Your Adventure Foot This Weekend!

  1. Paddle Agate Lake!  Wyconda State Park near LaGrange, Missouri just added a fleet of 12 sit-on-top kayaks last year, and my husband and I had the opportunity to go try them out last weekend.   For only $5 an hour (or $20 for the day), you get access to a boat, a life jacket, and a paddle.  There are 2 kayak boat houses at the park; each holds 6 boats right at the waterline of Agate and Wyconda lakes.  We paddled a couple of hours, chased some geese around, saw some deer and even spotted a thirsty raccoon at the water’s edge.  The boats are super easy to paddle, are very stable, and even have a nice little storage bin to toss some snacks and your car keys into.  Kids are welcome with parents along and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
  2. Last year's Running Raider Classic

    Last year’s Running Raider Classic

    Running Raider Classic!   A Quincy tradition is THIS WEEKEND!  Saturday, June 22.  You can still sign up the day of the event.  The RRC is A 5K run/walk & 10K combination road race/cross country race that begins and ends at Quincy Notre Dame High School.  The races will take you through one or two of Quincy’s most beautiful and historic river bluff parks.  Participants will enjoy the challenges presented by either course.  There are several beautiful views of the Mississippi River Valley along this route.  The 5K course has rolling hills and is suitable for all.  The long hills throughout the 10K course will challenge you! The Raider Classic is a great follow-up event for those who have competed in the Bridge the Gap and is a perfect companion event leading to the Hannibal Cannibal. There is also have a 1 mile FUN run for youth under the age of 13 who aren’t quite ready for the 5 or 10K events.  This is an event for the entire family

  3. Hike!   It’s a short drive to get to some beautiful hikes; throw on your favorite old tennis shoes and get out there!  If I were planning a hike this weekend, I’d head to Siloam Springs State Park or maybe up to Argyle Lake State Park (near Colchester, IL).   If you’ve got kids in tow and want something a little more low-key, there are lovely short trails at Quincy’s Gardener Park.
  4. Photo Safari!  Photo Safari is one of my favorite pastimes in Quincy.  The riverfront is chock full of birds, amphibians, flowers and more that are perfect for the
    Great Blue Heron on Photo Safari

    Great Blue Heron on Photo Safari

    budding or seasoned photographer.  Make this idea even more fun by going to the Quincy Public Library and checking out a bird or flower ID guide to bring along.  Also, click here to find my FREE PRINTABLE BIRDING CHECKLIST for ILLINOIS. 

  5. Bike Somewhere  If you’re a frequent reader, you know there’s nothing I like more than getting on my bike and
    Riding with the Quincy Bike Club near Hull, IL

    Riding with the Quincy Bike Club near Hull, IL

    going for a ride.  If you’re looking for a little ride about town, you might check out the “Looking for Lincoln” trail that begins in Quincy’s Washington Park and visits historic sites throughout Quincy.  For those more experienced, check out any of the scheduled rides for the Quincy Bike Club.  There’s a group for everyone from beginner to advanced, and the weekly rides and events are now on the new Quincy Bike Club website www.quincybikeclub.org

  6. Swim! And I’m not talking about going for a swim at the public pool.  That’s not an adventure so much as it’s a headache.  Check out public swim areas at Cuivre River State Park in Troy, Missouri (1.5 hours from Quincy… this park also has great hiking trails and camping areas!)  You won’t miss the pool chemicals at all.
  7. Get Some Herbs: You know what I’m talking about.  This weekend is the Four Winds Farm Herb Festival!  The event features herbs, locally grown food, vendors, educational demos, garden tours, herb theme gardens, children’s activities, music and more.  Admission is free.  Event is presented by the Western Illinois Sustainable Agricultural Society (WISAS) and will be held Friday, June 21 from 5-9 and Saturday, June 22 from 9-4 at Four Winds Farm, 3729 North 36th Street, Quincy.  For more info, email dlee@adams.net.
Herb Festival this weekend!

Herb Festival this weekend!

So there you are. No excuses! Go follow your Adventure Foot!

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Jeremy Grootens and Laura at the trailhead to Big Sugar Creek Trail.

Everything about Cuivre (pronounced “quiver”) River State Park in Troy, Mo., is wild. There are wild flowers, wild animals and wildly-fun trails, lakes and campgrounds. All in all, the park makes for a great adventure.

Photos from my trips to the park: 1. Woodland Swallowtail Butterfly 2. Red-Throated Woodpecker 3. Wildflowers 4. Frog 5. Cardinal 6. Water Snake 7. Wildflower 8. Icicles along the bluff 9. Wildflowers 10. Squirel 11. Forest Plant 12. Eastern Fence Lizard 13. Rat Snake eating a Corn Snake 14. Dogwood Tree 15. Titmouse.

Cuivre River is only an hour and a half from Quincy, and is one of the loveliest state parks in Missouri. I suggest starting your visit with a stop in the park’s Visitor’s Center. The park staff is very friendly and will give you great tips on finding just the right activities for your group. They know the local wildlife and trails inside and out, so ask them how to get the most out of your visit.

Even though the park is close to home, the variety of trails, habitats, and terrains make the park seem like a real vacation.  The 11 trails at the park are well-marked and easy to follow, and they vary in length and difficulty.  Some trail highlights include:

Lakeside Trail (3.5 miles) This trail leads right along the perimeter of Lincoln Lake. My husband and I hiked this trail just last weekend, and saw frogs, snakes, butterflies, beavers, lizards and more.

Big Sugar Creek Trail (3.75 miles) I hiked this trail with friends in January, and it was simply breathtaking. The creek and bluffs were heavy with icicles in the winter, and in the warmer months, the bubbling stream and chirping birds are a symphony.

Lone Spring Trail (4.75 miles) The Lone Spring Trail has both a north and a south loop, which gives you the option of only doing 2.3 miles if you prefer a shorter walk.  In addition to its namesake natural spring, this trail traverses an open woodland area. This area is currently being restored via controlled burns, and it’s amazing to watch the processes of the forest right before your eyes.

Prairie Trail (.3 mile) and Turkey Hollow Trail (.8 mile) are great options if you’ve got kids along.  They each are short, well-marked trails that give you views of prairies and woodlands, respectively.

There are far too many activities at this park to list, but I’d suggest checking out the Ranger Talks on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Topics are seasonal and have featured subjects like owls, bats, wildflowers, birds-of-prey, prairies, conservation, wetlands and much more.  Call the park office at 800-334-6946 or visit their website  http://mostateparks.com/park/cuivre-river-state-park

Also, don’t miss the lake, the beach, the campgrounds, the fishing, the swimming, just don’t miss this park.

*Note: There is also a cave at Cuivre River State Park. It is closed at this time, as are most Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa caves, to control the spread of White Nosed Bat Disease. I will be talking about the cave closures in an upcoming blog, however, the closures may be lifted later this summer. Check the Department of Natural Resources for the most up-to-date information.

Original Post April 15, 2011

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Justin and Laura on the summit of Chimney Tops in the Smoky Mountains on April 23, 2011.

I’m going to start this blog with a little disclaimer: It’s unabashedly mushy and about my husband. Read on, if you dare …

This week was my third wedding anniversary.  My husband and I celebrated by taking a trip to the Smoky Mountains over Easter weekend. We climbed, we hiked, we camped, we saw a bear … we had a wonderful time. During all of this outdoor activity I got to thinking about what it is that I like so much about Justin. And that’s when it hit me: He’s the perfect hiking buddy.

Justin and Laura at around 13,000 feet on Gray's Peak in Colorado on Sept. 6, 2010.

He’s the same level of adventurous as I am, which is to say, he’s up for about anything. He’s considerate on the trail — never walks too far ahead or behind — and is always happy to slow down if I’m getting tuckered out. He “sherpas” my water bottles when I need a free hand for my camera equipment. He strikes a good balance between making conversation on the trail and being quiet to enjoy the world around us.

Justin and Laura near the tree line of Mount St. Helen's on Oct. 10, 2010.

Justin is also level-headed when we’re out hiking. I can get overly excited about nature sometimes. I might, oh, I don’t know, go running off trails past signs that say, “Danger: Rattlesnake Area,” looking for something amazing to photograph. He’s always smart about checking my enthusiasm, and sweetly suggests I slow down and watch my feet more carefully.

He’s also cool under pressure. A very long story made short: Last year, my husband and I and another couple got caught coming down a mountain after dark in poor weather with only three functional flashlights. We somehow got off the trail and were more or less lost. Justin, in a show of epic character, put his nose literally to the ground, sought out other hikers’ footprints, and rediscovered the trail. Just when we were all about to panic, somehow my husband and hiking partner came through.

What more could an outdoor-loving woman ask for? All of the qualities that make Justin a great hiking buddy carry through and make him a great life buddy as well. Happy Anniversary, Justin. I love you. Here’s to many more adventures.

Original Post May 6, 2011

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Prickly Pear Cactus are common in the Illinois Sand Prarie, but are not often found in the rest of the state.

If you read my blog last Friday, I bet you’re anxious to know which Memorial Day Weekend destination my husband and I chose.  After careful consideration, we headed north and visited Sand Ridge State Park, in Forest City, Ill.

Sand Ridge is the largest state park in Illinois at 7,500 acres, so we only got the chance to scratch the surface of what it has to offer on this short visit. One thing I can tell you is that this is the most unique environment I’ve ever seen in our area.

Justin Sievert builds a fire at the campsite.

The park gets its name because it is, in fact, very sandy. The receding glaciers dumped most of the sand there about 15,000 years ago, and a subsequent dry period turned the area into a desert. Fast-forward a few thousand years, and the deciduous forests of Illinois have grown onto the great sand dunes and merged with this formerly arid area to form what’s known as a Sand Prairie.

The area itself is so unique that it’s difficult to describe. There are the usual suspects from an Illinois forest: similar trees, deer in the distance, cardinals and robins raising a ruckus in the early morning hours, but there are also some strange features. For example, I trod over Prickly Pear Cactus in the first ten yards of the unceremoniously named “Orange Trail.” The trail was completely made out of deep sand and supported a variety of wildflowers that I’d never seen before.  The plants seemed sturdy and worn and reminded me more of the southwestern U.S. than northern Illinois.

The sand also supports a wide variety of bugs.  Besides some really pesky gnats and an unfortunate number of seed ticks, we saw some unique beetles, huge centipedes and several lovely types of butterflies.  My favorite butterflies of the forest were the bright yellow Tiger Swallowtails and blue and orange Woodland Swallowtails.

The abundance of bugs supports a variety of animals that eat bugs — particularly birds and bats.  As I was walking away from our campsite early Sunday morning, an electric buzzing sound caught my attention.  I thought to myself how strange it was that they’d run electricity clear out in the woods, when I noticed that the sound was coming not from a light pole, but from a dead tree. The dead tree was evidently the home of a whole colony of Myotis lucifugus, or Little Brown Bats.  I guess the noise was just the bats getting settled from a night on the wing at the best bug buffet in Illinois.

Out on the sandy trail!

Hiking and camping at the park is very rustic.  The trails are fairly well-marked, but there are not many of the amenities you might expect.  The bathrooms are all latrine style and unplumbed, and there are no playgrounds, rental areas or shelter houses.  The sand was wet due to storms this weekend, and the temperatures were in the 90s, so the hiking was pretty exhausting. The back country campsites are stationed every few miles on the trails and do include nice fire pits. If you’re planning a trip to Sand Ridge State Park, you can reserve campground sites (with or without electricity) or backcountry sites at http://www.reserveamerica.com.  The park does have very nice equestrian trails and a hand-trap range that look like fun.  Seasonally, hunters find this park to be one of the best destinations in Illinois for deer, pheasant, quail, doves, turkey, and red and gray fox.

Overall, if you’re looking for a rustic outdoors experience at a very utilitarian park, or if you are interested in seeing a unique ecosystem in our own backyard, Sand Ridge is for you.  I’m looking forward to visiting again in the winter and learning what a Sand Prairie looks like in colder months.  But for now — does anyone know how I’m going to get all of this sand out of my sleeping bag?

Original Post June 3, 2011

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