Koehler-Andrea State Park Birthday Camping Trip July 27-29
2020-07-29 Several years ago my son started the "tradition" of a camping trip for his son (my grandson) on his birthday. The two previous ones were at Wisconsin's Devils Lake State Park in central Wisconsin. Many consider this the premiere state park thanks to a beautiful lake, remarkable rock formations, excellent facilities and lots of interesting, some serious, hiking trails.. But this year they elected to go to Koehler-Andrea State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan and just a few miles from Sheboygan, WI. So this past Monday afternoon the twelve of us, two men and ten teenage boys, headed north.
It took us a while but we had two 8-man tents, one 2-person tent and one hammock all ready to go in Group Site B. We were a bit concerned because the central gathering area with the fire pit and picnic tables were in the lowest spot on the site and showed signs of standing water in the not-to-distant-past. Also their were relatively few good more-or-less flat and somewhat higher "pads" for the tents. But we made it work.
Group Sites A & B were adjacent to one another and shared what appeared to be a new, very nice pit toilet facility. One would almost think it was a regular one except there was no water. And not too far away was an equally nice shower/toilet building which also provided drinking water. The whole camping area was quite nice and well maintained.
It was about a mile walk to Lake Michigan with huge sand dune banks between the campsite and lake. But the walk was made shorter by board walks that snaked their way among the dunes to the lakefront. I actually didn't make the trip but everyone said it was quite nice with multiple routes available. We were overall impressed with the campsite and park and recommend it. The boys said they preferred Devils Lake that that didn't seem all that big a deal, from just watching them!
I was essentially the campsite/meal guy. My wife and I did all the meal planning, she did all the shopping and I transported everything up there. I even provided the tents, most of the cooking gear and was responsible to oversee or do all the food preparation. They boys joined in pretty good! We planned hot dogs, hamburgers, pancakes and eggs and bacon and eggs, ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with tons of chips apples, etc. thrown in! The hot dog dinner Monday night went well. We followed up with a campfire and smores. And everyone worked out a place to sleep, or at least claim for themselves. My son slept in the hammock, I in the small tent and the boys made noise and eventually slept some in the two large tents. Temperature was probably in the high 60's all night with tolerable humidity. And ear plugs provided some "peace and quiet!" Day one was a success!
Day 2 started about 5:15 for some of the boys who wanted to watch the sunrise at the lake. They didn't return until about 6:00. I had a shower and then we fixed breakfast of pancakes and eggs. Two of the boys helped with cooking and did well. Took a bit keep them from whipping the pancake batter into a heavy cream texture. And the boy who did the pancakes was a bit overly precise in dabbing the batter on the grill, turning them, etc., but we got there! Everyone seemed happy and stopped just short of eating everything. Several of them even washed the few pans and utensils! Success.
While they went for a hike I set up my portable hammock stand and a screen gazebo. Then I took a brief nap in the hammock just to test it. Worked well! I was looking forward to sleeping in it that night.
The ham & cheese and peanut butter & jelly lunch was devoured quickly along with some small mandarin oranges and Oreo cookies and lots of chips and pickles, etc. Only one guy complained about not having lettuce! Again, success!
Then off they want fishing. I stayed behind to play ham radio. I set up my QRPGuys EFHW antenna and an inverted vee using my 20 ft carbon fiber collapsible fishing pole and connected my Xiegu X5105 QRP transceiver. Forty meters was clear and quiet with quite a few signals. I tried tailing onto a couple completed QSOs but no one responded. So I tuned up to 7.055Mhz and called CQ SKCC. I love the CW message memory of the x5105 which will automatically send CQ or whatever you want. But after just a couple repeats a station in Michigan came back. We did the SKCC exchange with no trouble. He was 559 and gave me 579. Had a nice brief CW chat. As soon as we ended a station in Illinois called me. After our brief QSO ended, one in Stanton, MI called me. That is where Sharon's twin sister lived for many years while her husband pastored a church there. When we ended a station in Indiana called me! As we ended the boys were coming back. One more Michigan station called me. He was a whole 71 miles directly across Lake Michigan! All the others ranged from 150 to 455 miles from me. so he should probably get the prize!
It was about 4:00pm and Charles said a storm was predicted around 6:00. So we began getting things out of the car to fix hamburgers. Then we noticed that a huge black cloud was quickly approaching from the West and clearly it wasn't going to wait until 6:00. So we hastily put everything securely back into the car, made sure the hatches were battened down, nothing that could be harmed by rain was outside and went to Sheboygan for Pizza! Turns out that was a good call. The storm was somewhere between severe and violent with lots of wind and buckets of rain.
When we returned to the camp at about 6:30 everything was drenched. The entire central area of the campsite, where the fire pit and picnic tables were located was in several inches of water. The tents were standing and dry but clearly had taken some hard knocks. Charles hammock was hanging still. One tarp stake had pulled up so the underquilt and hammock got more than damp but less than soaked. On the other hand, my hammock, on the stand, still stood but the tarp pulled loose from the ground and the hammock and underquilt were soaked!
As we looked the situation over, considering out options, we noticed the wind picking up with another dark cloud approaching. The boys went in the tents and Charles and I went to the van to sit it out. And for about half an hour it pummeled us strong, gusty winds and another massive downpour. At one point I thought my small tent was going to rip free of its moorings and fly away as the wind laid if way over. The two big tents also showed the wind's impact but all three stood firm. Charles hammock tarp again stayed tied pretty well. But my hammock stand collapsed laying the hammock, underquilt and tarp in the water. I knew I wouldn't be sleeping there!
Finally it began to die down and stopped. So we did another damage inspection. All three tents stayed dry and in place. The rain fly had pulled it's stakes on the upwind side. A strategically placed strong gust would have ripped it off! But that didn't happen. Another inch or more of rain had fallen so all tables stood in water, the fire pit was unusable, basically the site was "uninhabitable" for a while! It did look like the storm system was now clearing out but after considering the situation we decided that the best option was to pack up and head home. Which we did.
I spent most of today drying tents and other gear and stowing it away and enjoying the relatively mild, sunny end-of-July day here in SE Wisconsin! What did I learn? I need better stakes and more anchoring of tarps for storm survival. The portable hammock stand should have additional anchoring in bad weather. On the other hand, my hammock stand design held, nothing about them gave way other than their attachment to the ground. A four sided instead of a triangle suspension of a tarp provided both better protection and more anchoring. And it doesn't provide as large a "window" for the wind and rain to get inside. Charles could have probably slept in his hammock since it was only damp. But mine was soaked. Regarding the camp site itself, search for the highest ground possible! Overall, I guess I was reminded that one always needs to be prepared for something like this. These two storms were not predicted until late on Monday and even then the predictions didn't make it look severe!