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Bikes. Parts. Chaos.

I went camping after work, last Thursday, to get away from people for a spell and test out some new gear I've acquired over the summer. My campsite is a 10-minute walk from the office. That may seem too close for comfort, but it's a stealth location if I go in after dark…so hidden I couldn't find it after I walked away from it Thursday night. I left the office around 8pm, on foot, with my gear packed in a Golite Jam2 backpack. The brush is too thick to get into my campsite with a bike, so I left it behind. I packed light-ultralight…less than a 6kg baseload including my 1kg homemade woodburning heating/cooking stove shown below.... I built the stove out of 30cm x 130cm stainless steel shim stock (chimney), 4 stainless steel hose clamps (for retaining the chimney shape), a small metal can (chimney top and bottom inserts), 2 steel bread pans (firebox), 4 thumbscrews, 8 hex nuts, and 4 wingnuts (hardware for assembling the firebox). The chimney rolls up short for packing, long for use. It naturally wants to assume the long tubular chimney shape after it goes through a single heating and cooling cycle. This stove/chimney design is simple to set up, and it works great for occasions when an open fire isn't desired or permitted. I've drawn up plans and gathered materials for a new, lighter, more functional, easier-to-pack firebox. But I haven't made much effort to construct it, yet. Too many projects, too little time. My goals for this outing: Have a little time to meditate. Play with fire. Test some gear: Equinox ultralight bivy, Golite Jam2 pack, Brunton folding ti spork, ¾-length Thermorest Ridge Rest pad (I usually use a Big Agnes), Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel Mini. Rain was in the forecast, but I knew I'd stay warm and dry if I got my stove and tent set up quickly and correctly. I found a clearing that I thought I'd used before. Everything looks different (or the same) in the dark. I set up my Golite Lair 1 Tarptent and assembled my woodstove. Then I started a fire in the stove, using my flint and steel, to get some water boiling to cook my dinner. After 5 minutes of hot fire, I melted the thin steel fishing leader I was using to support the stove chimney at a fixed distance from the tent. Damn. Without it, the stove and chimney could fall into the tent or ridgeline and melt them or burn my gear and me. Hmmm. My choices were to go without fire, MacGyver something, or walk back to the office and make a new support line out of discarded shifter cable. Regrettably, I chose to walk back to the office and make a new tether. I started off toward the office (or so I thought) with my knife, a couple of red LED headlamps (better than white lights for retaining night vision), my waterproof Windmill butane lighter, and my wallet (it has my security keycard in it). After 5 minutes, I realized that I should have grabbed my compass, too. I was lost, and I had no reference points to figure out my direction. The sky was overcast, so there were no visible stars. And the brush was thick enough to block any lights from nearby homes and businesses. I could hear some car traffic noise, but it came from two directions. I couldn't rely on that, alone, to get me out of the woods. Finally, after 45 minutes of wandering and wondering, I determined, based on the lack of undergrowth, I was on the north side of an East-West ridge. I followed the ridge until it led me out to a known trail 1 km from where I originally intended to go. I was pissed, but, at least, I knew where I was. So, I walked back to the office to fabricate the new chimney tether. I was in and out in 10 minutes and headed back towards my site. I was certain that I knew where my campsite was, so I entered the woods on a side trail that led to the clearing where I supposedly had set up camp. I got to the clearing quickly, but soon realized that my site was not there. How could this be? Is this some type of cruel joke? I could do nothing but begin the search for my tent as lightning flashed in the distance. I criss-crossed the ridge for an hour, looking for my small, dark green tent, while the strands from the derailleur cable chimney tether stuck me in the right butt cheek through the inner wall of my back pocket. I was so focused on finding my site that I mostly ignored this new pain in the ass. My red LED headlights did little good in the thick undergrowth of the forest. A white light would have been much better. Plus, some of the lines on my tent are reflective, and the white light picks this up much better than the red. It seems I brought a knife to the gunfight. Again and again, I circled around and came back to the same familiar clearing without finding my campsite. Unbelievable. Plan B. My phone was in my tent, so I decided to walk back to the office, call my wife, and ask her, oh-so-nicely, to call my cell phone repeatedly for 30 minutes, so I might be able to hear my phone and then locate the tent that was housing it. It was after midnight by the time I reached my desk, and Lynn was not pleased to receive my call at that late hour. But she agreed to cooperate and help me find my lost goods. As I headed toward the building exit, I grabbed the white-LED Cateye headlamp off my bike to aid in my search. As soon as I left the building, the rain started to fall…softly at first, but growing heavier as the minutes passed. The temperature was still in the 70's (unseasonably warm for October in Minnesota), so I carried on toward the direction of my site. I entered the woods where I had originally gone in earlier that evening. Once again, I ended up in the familiar clearing that wasn't my campsite. I listened for the distinctive ring of my cell phone, but I could only hear the dull white noise from the heavy rain hitting the leaves of the trees and plants that surrounded me. I was soaked to the skin, but I wasn't ready to give up. So I systematically bushwhacked my way out of, and back to, the same spot from different points at the perimeter of the clearing. Then things got more interesting. As I bashed through another random thicket, my right eyeball tried to shish-kabob itself on a sharp branch…effectively blinding me on the right side as the left eye watered sympathetically. I took the hint from Mother Nature. It was time to cut my losses and get out of the woods before something else went wrong. I walked back to the office for the third time, soaked, tired, partially blind, mentally defeated, scratched, bruised, and bleeding from my fruitless 3-hour tromp through the sticks. When I got back to the building, I changed into some dry clothes, called my not-so-understanding lady, and bedded down on a soft-sided bike case behind our frame alignment table in the QC shop. Sleep did not come easy. My eye felt like it was covered in coarse sand, and I couldn't shake the paranoid vision of my tent flying off into the abyss, leaving my gear open to the elements. At 8:30am, the high-pitched sounds of forklifts in the warehouse woke me up from a light slumber. The sun was up, and the rain had stopped. So I decided to start another search for my gear. My right eye was swollen and half closed, but I could see well enough to ride and walk slowly. I pedaled the Big Dummy into the woods as far as I could and hid it from potentially prying eyes. Once again, the deer trails led me into the all-too-familiar, not-my-campsite clearing. From there, I walked East and West, North and South, around and around and around for 45 minutes without any luck. Then, as I was losing all hope, there it was. I looked upon the large, flat clearing that was my campsite. My tent was still standing, and my gear was dry. I was elated that I found my stuff safe and secure, but I was bewildered by the fact that I hadn't been able to find that spot sooner. I'm sure I walked within 5 meters of my tent a number of times before it was finally discovered. As I packed up my gear and felt my spirits lifting a bit, Mother Nature bitch-slapped me again with another soaking downpour. The rain stopped 5 minutes later, just as I returned to the office looking like a beat-down, drenched rat. This was a painful adventure, but it taught me a few lessons: I'll carry a compass in my pocket, along with my knife and fire, when I'm in the woods. I'll be more observant of my surroundings when bushwhacking into a new campsite. Night-hiking away from camp should be prioritized as a last resort. Red LEDs don't work well for pushing through thick undergrowth. And most important…I learned that I have a lot to learn about living and playing in the woods. -----