Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wonewoc, we hardly knew ya (unedited)

The 22nd annual camping trip ended today. For the third time in its 22 years, it wasn't held at our private campsite outside Wausau, Wis.

Our private campsite is on undeveloped land, and it's a 0.2 mile walk over uneven ground to get from the gravel road to our campsite tucked in the trees. Usually the ground is dry by Memorial Day weekends. Five years ago it wasn't. Our campsite was dry, but it was rather wet walking to and from the campsite. That's not the end of the world, but it's not a good thing when my buddies are towing their kids with them. We ended up at the nearby county park that weekend and were lucky to get a campsite there.

Given the avalanche of snow the Midwest had this past winter, and the fact it has rained plenty this spring, it was a sure bet that the water was worse than ever. We decided we had to go elsewhere.

We spent a few hours last week deciding where to go. Online searches gave us ideas, but nothing jumped out at us as the answer we were waiting for. On Friday morning it looked like we were going to try our luck camping in a Minnesota state forest. State forests have campsites, but few amenities. Given our campsite in Wausau has zero amenities, a primitive campground in a state forest is not a big deal.

But then Doug offered the winning solution Friday morning. On Thursday night his wife found free camping, including firewood, in small town, Wisconsin. It sounded like the perfect solution. Instead of driving three hours into Wisconsin to camp in the Wausau area, we'd go to something called Wonewoc, a one-time rail stop in central Wisconsin.

Doug and I arrived mid-afternoon and missed our turn. We quickly determined our directions didn't match where we were going, so I called the number on our print out. My call went to village hall.

I think my call was answered by the city administrator. He explained what I was looking for, and noted that it had rained during the past two days, so the area we were headed to may be flooded. He noted, however, that there was another place to camp, Wonewoc Legion Park, a few blocks away.

We inspected the accommodations at site 1 and decided it was less than ideal. It's a great place to camp if you're a do-it-yourself biker or somebody traveling by car across the country and looking for free places to pitch a tent each night. There was enough dry land to meet our needs at site 1, but little more than that. There was free firewood and a fire pit, and an old park nearby, but our campsite was along the Wisconsin 400 State Trail. The aggregate trail wasn't a high traffic trail, but it was less than appealing. Great place to set up for the night if you bike with your tent and gear on your fork and frame, but not ideal for weekend camping recreationalists. We started to think we made a bad decision.

Our next stop was Legion Park. It has a city pool, a picnic shelter, a large grass field that was cleared in anticipation of a softball diamond that was never built and a small area for camping. It had an obvious place to park an RV, but if it is designed for more than one group to camp, I'm surprised.

Legion Park looked like the place to be, but we decided to check one last option. We needed groceries for the weekend, so we had to find a grocery store (Wonewoc has a small one with a nice guy who runs it. And he has a lot of stuff, but his store is more like a convenience store than a supermarket. If you live in Wonewoc, you don't do your major grocery shopping there.) As we backtracked in search of a grocery store we decided to backtrack further and check out a campground we passed. We worked our way back to Tunnel Trail Campground, named in honor of the tunnels the bike trail passes through. (The bike trail, like many others, is an old railroad bed, and the trains that ran up and down this line indeed passed through these tunnels.)

The campground had some adjoining spots open for tent camping, but most of the campground was full. There were plenty of camper trailers around, and that seemed to be what they catered to. There were a handful of tent sites, but we would have needed two of them for our four tents, and after checking them out we decided it wasn't worth it. Each site was $35 a night, meaning it was $140 for our two nights there. The money wasn't an issue, but what were we getting for our money? Two nice grassy spots together, yes, but small sites that left little room for the kids to play. There was a small volleyball area and a playground on the property, but this wasn't worth $140. There was a small mini-golf course that looked like fun, and it was cheap to play, but again, not worth $140 for access to. There was a swimming pool (heated, I think),) but in typical Memorial Day fashion the weather is less than outstanding. We weren't too interested in swimming even if the pool was warm. (I'm pretty sure the kids didn't have swimsuits.) We decided that Tunnel Trail Campground wasn't for us. We headed back to Wonewoc.

We set up in Wonewoc on a nice flat area that in a previous life had been the grassy space between horseshoe pits. A great space for four tents. Not long after we set up we had a visitor. It was Lee, the city administrator.

During our chat we learned about the history of the park and a few tidbits about small town, Wisconsin. I followed Lee over to the high school's outdoor environmental studies area so he could show me where the nature trail was. He told me more about the town's history, the Baraboo River and the bike trail. We were fortunate Lee stopped in to check on the park Friday night, as we likely never would have found the trail on our own Saturday.

German Bear and cubs arrived after dusk. We were all relatively tired and went to bed by midnight, I think.

I woke up at 6 a.m. Saturday to tinkle. I had to tinkle like an elephant. Too many beers before going to bed. It was light out already, and the kids were all up, milling about. I was convinced I'd never fall back to sleep, but I gave it a go. Sure enough, I snoozed without a problem. The next time I woke up it was to the sound of a police officer talking with the dads. It seems the kids were bored and decided to test if the old, dirty pay phone at the pool was working. It was. They decided to test it by dialing 911. Obviously the local officer on duty was dispatched to the park after this occurred. He found the kids and asked them if they had dialed the phone. They admitted to it. So he then talked to the dads, explaining what had happened. End of story. I rolled over and fell back to sleep.

Usually when I'm camping it gets too hot to sleep in the tent once the sun rises and starts heating the air inside my tent. That wasn't a problem on Saturday. It turned out to be a pleasant day, but it wasn't very warm Saturday morning. I slept almost until noon.

We headed out to the nature trail shortly after noon and walked around for a short while. The trail takes you near a cliff known as Third Castle, which has a cave in it. Unfortunately the cave is on private property, and on the opposite side of the river, making it inaccessible. I knew this, but the kids thought they'd be able to go inside the cave, evidently.

I wanted to do more walking, but the kids were easily bored by the nature trails, so we headed into town and had late lunch at a local pizzeria. The restaurant did a nice job, and they treated the kids well.

We returned to Legion Park and found a group was assembling on the field for a night of camping. It was a group of five, I think, all adults. They were quiet, unlike Doug, who insists upon singing, poorly, to his favorite rap and rock songs of yesteryear.

I went with Doug and the two boys to the top of a small cliff near our campsite. The boys thought it was a lot of fun to throw sticks into the trees from atop the cliff. I sat down and drank beer.

Eventually they headed back down to our campsite, I sat alone for a while, thinking back to my 2010 camping trip and how worthless my life had become since that time. During that camping trip my girlfriend told me she loved me. I don't know why she was compelled to lie to me that weekend, but there I was a year later, realizing I have nothing to live for, and instead of being sad about it, I was indifferent to it.

I wound up taking a nap before sunset, despite the fact I slept for most of a 12-hour period. I got up at dusk and sat around drinking beer with Doug until 2:45 a.m.

I had to tinkle within an hour of going to bed, which was annoying, but otherwise I slept until 8 a.m.

I got up to tinkle again and German Bear was milling about. I didn't think much of it, but shortly after I climbed back into my tent he started taking his down. He seemed to be a bit eager to pack up, but again I didn't think much of it.

Everybody decided to walk into town to go to the bakery. I stayed behind and eventually got up and started slowly packing my things up. It had started to sprinkle a bit, and I hoped we'd be packed up before a serious rainfall. (We had light showers on Friday night, too, but otherwise avoided significant rain, something we wouldn't have avoided had we stayed in Minnesota.)

The group came back after having breakfast at the family restaurant. (The bakery was closed.) German Bear had all his stuff packed up, so he quickly hit the road. Doug and I finished our packing and took off within an hour.

Wonewoc won't replace Wausau as our camping destination, but for a town we gambled upon for a weekend of camping, we did well.

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