"Success is not measured by what you accomplish but the opposition you have encountered and the courage
with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds."

Orison Swett Marden

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I had been planning for Memorial Day 2010 since Memorial Day 2009. Yes...I am a planner. And when you're camping at Minnesota State Parks, you have to be. They allow campers to make reservations up to one year in advance now, rather than the 90 day window they used until last year. Especially for Memorial Day, you gotta have a reservation somewhere. Campsites have become a very hot commodity all over. Many private campgrounds are switching to seasonal sites only and if they do have weekend spots, they come with a price tag that sometimes rivals that of a hotel. The Minnesota State Park system is set up with a maximum stay limit so there are no seasonal sites and they set aside a certain number of sites that cannot be reserved—are there on a first come, first served, basis. Especially at the more popular parks, these sites go fast. But all other sites are available for reserve one year in advance.

When I talk about camping, first you must understand something. Camping is not just a thing we do in my family. Camping is a way of life. I’ll bet if the labs could test for such things in my blood, they would find tree sap, lake water, seaweed (ewww), sand, bug spray, suntan lotion, campfire ash, and a whole bunch of other stuff that normally doesn’t show up. It’s like the only reason we have winter is so we can prepare for camping the next summer. I am in my mid-forties and not one single summer has gone by without camping. That includes the first one when Mom brought the diaper pail (no disposable diapers in the 60s, friends…gotta hand it to her). Even when I was on my own, I bought my own tent and never skipped a beat. In 1992, I bought myself a canoe. I wasn’t going to let “singlehood” keep me from doing what I loved.

Here's a few pictures of campsites and me with my canoe (Old Town...only way to go with a canoe!).


Suffice it to say that my future husband had to have some potential for camping as well. I’m happy to say that Allen slid right into camping mode quite well with me. We used my small blue Wenzel tent for several years, but when Craig wasn’t really a baby anymore, we needed more room and graduated to a full-sized Coleman tent. 2003 brought the great adventure: no more sleeping on the ground. We got a small Starcraft pop-up camper and we thought we had it made! And we really did. But when you have the camping bug, you’re always looking ahead. The 26’ travel trailer came in 2008 and we were star struck (and still are). And if you tell me I’m spoiled, I’m sorry but I will throw that back in your face because this body has laid on enough hard ground that I can say I paid my dues and now I can enjoy the conveniences I have in that trailer! (Little sore spot there….).

I couldn't find a really good picture of our Starcraft, but this was a campsite at Scenic State Park in northeastern Minnesota.

Here's a couple of pics of our trailer.

And here's Willy...staking a claim for his bed!

Anyway…I digress. Memorial Day weekend. When I was 11 years old, my parents had their graduation from a tent to a pop-up camper. My extended family on my mother’s side had a tradition of going to Upper Red Lake on the Minnesota fishing opener and Memorial Day weekends together and that was our first year to go. There must have been at least 25 annual trips after that for us. First we stayed at a very unstructured DNR (Dept of Natural Resources) campground—no set spaces, we just camped where we wanted. It was located on the Tamarac River, which flows into Upper Red, just a few miles north of Washkish, MN (about 70 miles northeast of Bemidji…see map).

We were on the eastern shore of the lake. Eventually, after Mom and Dad graduated again to a travel trailer, my dad would carefully pull up alongside my Uncle Vern’s motorhome, with just enough space so that the two awnings could be put down and meet. We would then place a tarp over the gap, leaving a small open space so that smoke from our campfire could get out. Then my older cousins would pull in on the sides with their camping units and we would put up tarps to have our own little shelter from the wind and rain (and believe me…we dealt with a lot of wind). We’d go out on the lake and catch our limit of walleye, come in and have a fish fry, then go out and catch our limit again. It was awesome. Eventually, the family made the change to Roger's Campground, a privately owned campground on the south side of the lake. By then, Dad had his own motorhome as well as a boat. It was always a treat for me to go camping with them in the motorhome…I didn’t have to sleep on the ground and my mother took care of me!!

Here's Dad at the "helm" of his motorhome.

Just to give you an idea how passionate we are about our camping, in the early 1980s, my mother had surgery on her foot. But did that stop us from our annual pilgrimage? Certainly not! Here you can see my mom in the boat with her special boot on her foot and a crutch in one hand. And as history often repeats itself, I am going to have the same surgery tomorrow, so I will be going on a few camping trips with my boot and crutch too!

We also endured ridiculous weather. Here you can see my dad and two brothers dressed up in winter coats just to go out fishing.

One day when we were staying at Roger's, my father and I went out together and we headed toward the northeast shore--toward the mouth of the Tamarac River. It was a beautiful day. I suppose we caught some fish, but that's not what I remember. I remember a beautiful day on the lake with my dad. We fished and talked and didn't really worry about anything. Then all of a sudden we realized, after watching a gorgeous sunset, that it was getting dark and we had a long way to go to get back. "Do you suppose we can find it?" was his question. To our advantage, the water was calm so we could go full throttle. About halfway back, here we see my Uncle Floyd flying across the lake in his boat. They were worried because it had gotten so late so he came out looking for us. We made it back, of course, and it left me with one of my most favorite memories.

Here's another pic...the dark shadow in the middle is actually a small peninsula that formed a channel for the boats to come in off the lake. It formed Shotley Brook...which is where I was canoeing in the picture above.

Our trips dwindled with the dwindling walleye population. There was such a negative impact on the walleye that it became illegal to take any. The DNR spent several years trying to restock it. There was a crappie boom in there for a few years, which we took advantage of in 2003, but it just wasn’t the same as walleye.

Last year, I was getting nostalgic. I wanted to bring Craig up to where I spent so many weekends. With the walleye restocked (limit is up to 4 now), I just knew we were going to catch fish…and fresh Upper Red walleye is about the only kind I go for. In 1990, the state park system took control of more of the land and made the area into the Big Bog State Recreational Area. Just a few miles north of the campground is a mile long bog walk where you can enjoy nature at its finest. They also put a lot of work into the campground. It is now up to par with other state parks (Yay! No more outhouse!) Well, unfortunately, I got distracted last year and missed my earliest reservation date. Panicking, I signed on to the state park website and found ONE spot left, which I quickly reserved. Then I just had to print out my confirmation page, put it in my camping file…and wait a year.

Well, the year came last week and I was so excited. We got there about 8:30 on Friday, so we had plenty of time to set up before it got dark. The next morning we took the boat (we inherited the one pictured above) out on the lake. Now, as you can see from the map, this is a pretty big lake—and it’s famous for its wind. We headed south from the mouth of the river. We didn’t catch anything that morning…except Craig and his bad case of motion sickness. Not good at all. We headed back in and had a lazy afternoon. After an early supper, we wanted to go out again. Craig—not so much. Again, he’s growing up so much…we let him stay behind with Willy and Allen and I went out. I didn’t think he should go out alone with that wind and I just wanted to fish! The wind had died down some and this time we went way over to the north shore. Allen started getting disgusted (this is a man who has patience for just about anything except when it comes to fishing) and then he finally got himself a walleye. Not long after, one hit on my line. Then we had some action. In about three hours, we got our total limit of eight walleye…two the maximum length of 17”. I was SO happy! Walleye fish fry!

This is the Tamarac River leading out to Upper Red Lake....and one of the fish Allen caught. Kinda hard to take a straight picture with all the waves!


Sunday it was cloudy and very windy again so we didn’t even go out on the lake. We took a ride up the Tamarac River to sight-see, took a walk, a nap, and of course, had our fish fry.

Both Craig and Willy liked the calmness of the river versus the waves of the lake!

Deciding to go out early Monday before we left, we got on the water despite all of the white caps. I should have known better from past experience. Even with a Dramamine, Craig still got motion sickness and I think Willy did too. Allen caught two fish: one walleye and one northern pike. By the time we decided to head back to the campground, there were three foot waves coming over the side of the boat at times. And yes, we did get wet. Live and learn.

Afternoon came and it was time to go home. I know I certainly didn’t want to but I guess I feel that way just about every time we go camping. It’s about a 200 mile drive and it felt like about 400 coming home on Monday so we were all tired. Tuesday night we went to my parents and had a fish fry to eat up the rest of our catch.

So, our first camping trip of 2010 is done. A special one for me. A memorable one for Craig—he’s going to be very cautious about going on that lake again. In a couple weeks, we head to Lake Carlos State Park, north of Alexandria, Minnesota. It will be tough to get ready with my surgery boot on…but I guess that’s what kids are for, huh?

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