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COVID Camping in Wisconsin

 

AUG 17, 2020. CONOVER/PHELPS BIKE TRAIL

 

Wanda and I arrived at our Wisconsin home from a spectacular 30-day Mexico beach-and-dental-vacation in February of this year, 2020. The world was becoming aware that a novel virus from China, COVID-19, would probably turn into a worldwide pandemic.

We spent March and April absorbing
COVID-19 news while remaining quarantined in our rural homestead. It wasn't long when we realized that social distancing for rural folks is not an issue and geared up for summer boating, biking, kayaking, and camping. Our trips to town were merely for grocery shopping and all family visits were canceled.

After our brief stint at home, we have returned to the road once again. Our first stop is St. Germain, my sister's cottage in Wisconsin. Diane and Heinrich reside in Germany and could not enjoy their annual summer in Wisconsin visit this year due to the pandemic interrupting international travel.

We checked out the dehumidifier set up in the cottage, and it continues to work flawlessly. The yard is in great shape. The subdivision's pet deer are plentiful and friendly. The neighborhood is pleasant.

The neighbor, Nancy, is up here. She bought a brand new RV and drove solo from her home in California while her husband went on a sailing trip with some buddies. She called their annual sailing trip with a dozen friends and relatives crammed into small sailing quarters, an intimate drunk.

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Today, we met up with Babs and Tom to tackle the Conover-Phelps Bike Trail. Fortunately, Wanda's e-bike behaved itself for about 95% of the trip. She still experienced occasional electrical hiccups. Bionix, the company that made the retro-fitted bike motor and battery, went out of business last year. It was the world's leading retro-fitter, and it is a bit of a mystery as to why they went belly-up. My internet search came up with only more mystery as the company, without any forewarning or fanfare, just failed to open its doors one day.

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The CP Trail isn't spectacular, but it is pleasant. The trail goes through wetlands, swamps, and through beautiful tunnels of trees. Although the surface is gravel, which usually isn't the best surface for touring bikes, the CP bike trail is well maintained, smooth, and compacted. Crushed limestone is a better surface. Of course, a brand new blacktop is best.
 

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The trail abruptly ends two miles short of Phelps, Wisconsin. There is a sign that depicts future expansion plans into Phelps and also lists all the donors to the trail thus far, hinting that if we'd throw a few bucks into the pot, they could finally complete the trail project into Phelps. I noticed that a $60 to $299 donation only bought one yard, so I don't think Babs, Tom, Wanda, or I will have the trail finished today.

 

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Phelps is on the northeast end of the gigantic North Twin Lake. The lake is about 10 miles long and is orientated such that a typical southwest wind whips up the waves around Phelps. Once, my brothers-in-law, Heinrich and John King launched my pontoon boat on North Twin on just such a windy day. All three of us had to sit in the back seat of the boat to keep the front from "submarining" in the ocean-sized swells we were catching. Today, the breeze was out of the northeast, so the lake was calm at Phelps.

Phelps is the sleepiest town in the north woods. With one square block of downtown, it could only muster one ice-cream shop and one marine motor repair shop in actual operation. Everything else is shuttered. Several historical plaques were facing empty lots explaining what "used to be." The town theater, turned into a hardware store, was boarded up with a 2015 building permit and a sign promising an extensive restoration. It looked like the restoration ship had long sailed away.

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AUG 18, 2020. FALLISON/MUSKELLUNGE LAKES

Nancy, our neighbor, took off in her big RV rig at 1 am two nights ago. Nancy calls herself "the crazy neighbor." She is, but she is also colorful - a character. I enjoy people like that.

Last night, I was awoken by what I thought was a red squirrel trying to gnaw its way through the window shade. Groggily, I got up to shoo it away. When I opened up the door, I saw that it was a skunk trying to pick its way through a small plastic bag of trash that I foolishly tossed out the camper door. That won’t happen again. Fortunately, the little critter lumbered off without leaving his tell-tail scent behind.

 

However, the Sweets, Treats, and More ice cream shop was open, and we did spread our wealth to the local economy via ice cream and waffle cones. The ice cream was delicious and a single scoop, which actually was several generous scoops, filled the big crispy cones for $3.75 each. Babs and Tom got the last two "hand-dipped in chocolate" waffle cones. I jealously watched as they enjoyed every bite.

When we returned to the trailhead, we enjoyed a potluck of snacks from our bike bags. After the meal, Wanda and I were so full that we postponed our hunt for brats. Yes, brats. We haven't had our grilled summer brat yet. That is sacrilegious. Wanda called around locally, looking for a place that served brats and found Thunderbird Bar has a Wednesday brat special. I guess Wednesday will have to do if they have take-out.

Today’s weather: Full sun, coolish - 73º. It’s hiking weather. That means Fallison Lake Trail. The trail is gorgeous, and it happens to be next to Big Muskellunge Lake, where I had hoped to launch our kayaks.

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We have hiked the Fallison Lake Trail a zillion times and still never get tired of being there. Fallison Lake Trail is a 2 1/2 mile circle around the hourglass-shaped Fallison Lake, and it did not disappoint us today. This hike was the best - no bugs. Where have all the bugs gone?

The real test, however, is on a trail in the woods. Today, it was just like the wonderful bugless fall-hiking we enjoy in late September. Typically, in the summer, we have to sprint through a deep-woods trail to stay ahead of the insect-cloud. Not so today. We could stroll along and notice every nuance, flower, fern, perfectly placed piece of driftwood or clump of moss. 

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Afterward, we headed to Big Muskellunge Lake, basically just across the highway from Fallison Lake. Being only the third time we used the electric kayaks, we were still a bit clumsy with the kayak electric motor set-up, but we’re getting better.

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The lake is large with lots of bays. We started our Native Kayaks on power level 3 only to quickly increase to power level 4. On the return trip, we jacked it to power level 5. Just like the last time we kayaked, we preferred level 5 power output. There were several other kayaks on the lake, and we left them wobbling in our wakes

 

I assembled all the components to electrify the kayaks, which include: a Minn Kota 30 lb thrust trolling motor; a specific motor mount for the Native-brand kayak; a 100 amp-hour Dakota lithium battery, a Minn Kota battery box with built-in circuit breaker; a homemade ratchet strap assembly to lock down the battery; plus added 4 feet of wire to the motor/battery cable; and installed hooks with nano-tape to secure the battery cable.

The motor has five forward speeds and three reverse speeds. Minn Kota’s specs claim that on full power, the motor uses up to 30 amps. On power level 3, it specs at about 15 amps. That would give us about 3 hours at full speed and 6 hours at half speed. However, I read that a guy did his own testing, and his readings were half that. He got about 15 amps at full speed. I can say that the maximum speed is pretty darn fast. The original bicycle unit’s top speed, which wore you out after a good five minutes of pedaling, got the kayak going at the power level of three. Normal sustainable pedaling was equivalent to the power level of two.

After a while, we tied the boats together, side-by-side, and just cruised on power level 2.  We both thought a cooler of Mike’s Hard Lemonaid or wine or a few good beers would have been perfect.  But, we are still on our weight-loss program with only 7 pounds to shed, so no booze just yet.
 

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AUG 19, 2020. SYLVANIA LAKE and THE AGONIKAK BIKE TRAIL

This was supposed to be a play-at-Sylvania day. Sylvania is a beautiful federal enclave of old-growth forest within the Ottawa National Forest, just across the Wisconsin-Michigan border. In the 1800s, some tycoons from Pennsylvania bought up this large tract of land to exploit. It was so beautiful; even the tycoons couldn't log it. In 1964, the land was given to the feds and undeveloped into a mini-Boundary Waters. 

The Ottawa National Forest is blessed with 20 lakes of all sizes interconnected with portage trails. Each lake features several rustic canoe campsites accessible only via the water trails.

(Side note: Wanda and I were in a canoe shop the other day. The new Kevlar canoes are insanely light in weight that portaging would actually be fun with one of those babies.)

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There are two huge lakes, Clark Lake and Crooked Lake. There is a spectacular 9-mile trail around Clark Lake. Nine miles is a bit long, but it is an easy 9 miles - no hills, just awe-inspiring giant 200+-year-old stands of majestic trees. We've hiked this trail many times and plan to do it again soon if the bugs would be kind enough to let up.

On the map, Crooked Lake looks like a fascinating lake to explore. It is long with many narrow passages and hidden bays and the only lake that allows electric motors - a perfect candidate for our kayaks.

The weather forecasts to be in the mid-70s and severe clear. By the time we got north of Eagle River, the sky had turned intense, the rain had arrived, and the temperature lost 12 degrees. We pushed on.

The route to Sylvania takes an hour. It isn't a direct route, but it is a pleasant drive. However, we were rudely brought to attention when, one stinking mile away from Sylvania's entrance, the road was closed and blocked. What the..........?

Wanda was getting just enough signal for me to bring up the Forest Service's web site. After being directed down several website rabbit holes, each taking forever to load, I finally found the road closure listed. To get into Sylvania, we had to go 60 miles back into Wisconsin, through Land O' Lakes, drive to the other side of the park, return to Michigan up a remote winding back-road, and finally reach the entrance. The only closed part of the entrance road turned out to be a one mile stretch right at the gate entrance. To rub more salt into our wounded day, the sky cleared up, and the sun returned, warming up all things. By then, it was too late to hike or kayak.

 
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While on our detour odyssey, I noticed a trailhead for a 12-mile bike trail connecting Land O' Lakes and Watersmeet's towns. With our Sylvania-play-day already compromised, we decided to stop at the trailhead and walk a stretch to investigate the trail for a future bike ride.

The Agonikak Bike Trail (I love these names) is a compacted gravel surface trail, heavily wooded and level, much like the Conover/Phelps Trail. We walked a couple of miles and marked it for a definite future visit.

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While on our detour odyssey, I noticed a trailhead for a 12-mile bike trail connecting Land O' Lakes and Watersmeet's towns. With our Sylvania-play-day already compromised, we decided to stop at the trailhead and walk a stretch to investigate the trail for a future bike ride.

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It was past 2:30 pm by the time we finally reached Sylvania. As mentioned above, the day had devolved from "play" to reconnaissance. We checked out the Clark Lake Campground and found the sites had tons of elbow room.

We were more interested in how full the Clark Lake Campground was. However, there were many openings; every reservable site was reserved for the upcoming weekend, further confirming my theory of only moving to new campgrounds on Sunday (after checkout time) through Wednesday. We will be moving to the Black Harbor campground on Sunday.

Next, we went to the Crooked Lake boat landing and discovered the boat landing had been completely rebuilt to disallow boats' launching from a trailer. Gone was the sign allowing electric motors. I rechecked the website, and it did confirm that electric motors, up to 45-pound thrust, were still acceptable. Our motors have 30-pound thrust. We planned to return soon.

It was Wednesday, brat day, at the Thunderbird Bar and Grill in St. Germain, Wisconsin. We called and ordered two brats each for carry-out. Oh, boy, brats! Back at the camp, we applied the optimum amount of condiments. We took a bite - well, they were OK, not the best brats we have ever had, but we did get to check off one more checkbox for summer plans.

 

 

AUG 20, 2020. RAZORBACK RIDGES

The plan was to return to Sylvania and kayak Crooked Lake. The weather had different plans. Yesterday, we had a morning shower followed by a glorious afternoon. Today, it started off promising only to deteriorate into a drab showery afternoon.

The weather apps swore up and down that the showers would clear. We thought we could salvage the afternoon by kayaking the two-lake chain that Babs and Tom have their cabin on. We contacted them, and they were up for it. We drove to Boulder Junction, which was on the way to Babs and Tom's. While getting gas, it started to rain and never quit the rest of the day. Granted, it was a light rain, but we weren't ready to kayak in any rain. We hung around Boulder for a while but finally gave up. Reluctantly, we returned to the camper.
 

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About the only thing we accomplished was to investigate a new trail, the Razorback Ridges trail network run by the Lions Club near Sayneer, Wisconsin

Razorback Ridges is a cross country ski trail in the winter and a mountain bike system in the summer. No one was there, so we hiked one of the 20 loops. The bugs, while still not bad, were more annoying than the last few days. The trail had some hills. In our minds, we double our hiking distance when elevation enters into the distance calculation. We triple the mileage if the hills are severe.

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AUG 21, 2020. MOTORBIKING BACKROADS

I am giving weather apps the boot. Today was supposed to suck - 80 percent rain by noon and then 100 percent rain for the rest of the afternoon. When noon rolled around, the temperature was hot, the sun was naked and the day was filled with promises. I took one look at the motorbike and told Wanda to hop on. We’re going on a road trip. I reasoned that if we went west, we could hightail it back to camp if things looked threatening. I needn’t have worried. It stayed warm and gorgeous all day.

I love this Yamaha TW 200cc bike. The fat off-road tires handle trails, gravel, and even sand with ease; and being street-legal is a plus. Notice the maps stuffed next to the speedometer. These are all maps of back roads.

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We took the ATV trail route to Woodruff to gass up.

Halfway to Woodruff, just off the ATV trail route, we stopped at the hidden Ericson Lake - I guess I could use a shave.
 

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Clear Lake made a nice stop and picnic area. Wanda brought a backpack full of goodies, which we attacked.

Satiated, at least for the time being, we hit some remote back roads following the Wisconsin River, which is pretty tiny up here.

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North Nakomis Lake

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Lake Nakomis Cranberries

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Finally, we slowly weaved our way back to camp using the most remote roads we could find. Funny, the roads were empty of cars but surprisingly thick with serious-minded bicyclists, decked out with riding shorts, multicolored helmets, and orange mirrored shades.

We were giddy the whole ride, knowing that we beat the weather apps, for what may prove to be our last motorbike ride for the season.

 

AUG 22, 2020. LAUNDRY COVID-STYLE

We accomplished today to get the oil changed in the van and do our daily laundry. It pretty much rained all day, never too hard, sprinkle, drip, mist, light shower, drip, repeat. I entertained myself by playing guitar and reading another one of Diane's paperback novels; this one is a John Grisham story.
 

We purchased a portable washer & spinner to maintain our COVID conscious responsibility to social distance by avoiding laundering at a public laundromat. After being on the road for seven weeks, I (Wanda) learned a lot about washing clothes using different campsite potable water and drying clothes when it's raining outdoors - and still keeping them smelling fresh.

Doing laundry for two people turned out to be a fun project. Once we figured out a routine, the laundering time averaged 20 minutes a day.

Here's a list of the equipment and detergents we use:

  • Lavario portable clothes washer. 

  • The Ninja 3200 RPM Portable Centrifugal Spin Dryer

  • True Earth Laundry sheet

  • Borax for softener and anti-microbial

  • White vinegar for softener and anti-microbial

  • Essentials oils .. as you wish 

  • clothes line with hooks or stand alone clothes dryer

  • Clothes pins

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Sorted Loads of laundry as needed when camping for two:

  1. Evenings. 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of socks are placed in the Lavario basket to soak overnight. 

  2. Mornings. 2 shirts (or more) and underwear are placed in Lavario basket in the morning. 

  3. 2 full bath towels and washcloths. (Washed once every 5 days or during a rainy day when staying indoors anyway.)

  4. 1 large shower curtain and kitchen towels. (Washed once a week or during a rainy day when staying indoors anyway.)

  5. 1 sheet and 4 pillowcases. The bedding took the longest time to complete. I have a 2nd set of bedding to replace on the bed right away. When there is time, the fitted sheet and top sheet with pillowcases were washed and ready when needed. 

WASHING DIRECTIONS:

 

Start by filling up the Lavario tub with 6 gallons of water. That was plenty for any of the loads described above.

  • Toss in a half sheet of True Fresh laundry and two tablespoons of Borax powder into the water then add the clothes. 

  • Grab the handle and give it ten up-and-down swishes. Let the clothes stand a few minutes then add ten more up-and-down swishes. That's all there is to it. NOTE: If we are going exploring a whole day, Dave and I will place the entire Lavario tub filled with water and clothes in the van so it can continue swishing all day until we return to camp. 

  • After swishing as many times as you want, raise the Lavario basket of clothes out of the water and hook on the rim of the Lavatoria tub letting the wet clothes water drain back into the tub.

  • Simultaneously, reach down and unscrew the stopper (located at the bottom of the tub) to let all laundry water drain out.

RINSING DIRECTIONS: 

  • Replace the stopper, fill in another 6 gallons of water. 

  • Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water and ten drops of essential oils of your choice - or not.

  • Swish up-and-down 10 times, let stand and swish 10 up-and-down more times - or as many times as you wish.

  • Raise the basket of clothes out of the water and hook on the rim of the Lavario tub, allowing the basket of wet clothes to drain back into the tub. 

  • Don't drain the rinse water out of the Lavario tub. 

  • Add another half laundry sheet and two tablespoons of the borax booster, and the tub is now ready for the next laundry load.

SPIN DRYING DIRECTIONS:

We decided to purchase the Ninja RV portable spin dryer to spindry the clothes making line drying the clothes faster. The portable centrifugal spin dryer is electric but only uses 350 watts for 2 or 3 minutes. Our Ford Transit 150 van's inverter is 1200 watts, so this works just fine even on battery power.

  • Take the clothes out of the Lavario wash basket and place each clothing piece evenly in the spin dryer. 

  • Turn on and hold a few moments to make sure the basket spins evenly. (If not, stop the spin and rearrange clothes. Restart). Once the spinner is in high gear spinning at 3200 RPMs, it will only take 3 minutes. 

  • Stop the spin, take out the nearly-dry clothes, vigorously shake out and hang on the clothesline to air dry. Fold and put away.

 

AUG 23, 2020. CROOKED LAKE, SYLVANIA WILDERNESS

It rained pretty hard all night long. The morning looked promising, but the weather apps doubted that promise. I know I was going to give the weather apps the boot.  I did - sort of. Around 11 am, the sky turned black again and opened up. The radar only showed one small, but a bright-red and orange blip. Once past, we thought we might be in the clear. Not so fast, the weather apps squealed with mischievous delight. They warned of more cells conjuring up throughout the day.

At 11:45 am, we paraphrased civil war Admiral David Farragut, “Damn the weather apps. Full speed ahead”. We headed for Sylvania. If it rained, so be it. I’ve had my eye on boating Crooked Lake for decades. We have an electric kayak, and it was my destiny to explore Crooked Lake today.

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By the time we reached Crooked Lake, the sky was mostly blue, and the temperature was perfect. The best part - we assembled the electric motors on the kayaks in record time. Wanda and I are now a well-oiled machine. In just a few minutes, we had the boats ready to launch, and our backpacks full of snacks. The only thing we forgot was the beer and Wanda’s Straw-ber-Rita. I guess we’ll have to do this one sober.

It was worth the wait. Crooked Lake was wild, spectacular, winding, long, and full of islands and attractive bays. The electric kayaks performed well. We went to the end of the lake on power level 4 and returned on power level 5. Even at that blistering speed, it still took nearly 3 hours of non-stop exploring under a magnificent blue sky.

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Way at the end, at the last crook in Crooked Lake, we came across a grandfathered gas-powered rowboat from the one remaining resort on the lake. It was a tiny boat with three large fishermen working the middle of the lake. The motor couldn’t have been more than five hp. I think all three guys had to carefully breathe in synchronization to keep the overloaded boat from capsizing.

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One other electric powered rowboat was occupied by a young dad and his 9-year-old(ish) son. The boy was driving the motor, as the dad patiently let him learn to steer jamming full tiller left then over compensating with a radical right, and back and forth, the kid-driver weaved. Dad, unconcerned, just smiled and waved as we glided by. How differently my histrionically critical father would have handled this teaching moment.

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The rains came as soon as we completed our pack up - after a glorious boat trip. It was just a sprinkle from a small cell, but I liked the timing.

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