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Lake Desolation


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I don’t know how Lake Desolation got its name, because it’s actually quite scenic.  Just beyond the lake is Lake Desolation State Forest and the Archer Vly Conservation Area.  The Conservation Area features a pond with several primitive camp sites, one of which would be the ride’s destination.  Camping there is free.

But as you know, nothing is ‘free’.  There are two ways to get to Lake Desolation.  The first, Lake Desolation Road, involves climbing a four mile hill where the grade tops out at over 12%.  The other way would have added five miles and more climbing to the trip.  The die, as it were, was cast.

I’d been up Lake Desolation Road a few times on my road bike, and it tested me each time.  Attempting the same route with a loaded touring bike pulling a BOB trailer and starting the climb at sunset would be, shall we say, interesting.

The plan was to leave work at noon.  Obligations kept me to nearly one, so I knew I’d be riding in the dark for at least part of the climb.

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The first part of the route covered comparatively flat suburban/rural roads I’d ridden for decades.  So, not much new.

Until I arrived at Rock City, and Rock City Falls.  I’d posted a picture of these falls several years ago, I think.  As it is indeed a picture of the same waterfall, I beg your indulgence on the second posting.

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Just around the corner is an old mill, built right on the stream.  It looked abandoned.

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At one time the mill was water-powered.  Immediately upstream was a small dam, still in good condition.  The millrace begins at the concrete structure on the far side.  I wonder if any of the old water power machinery is still inside…

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A few miles past the mill I reached Lake Desolation Road, right at sunset.  The grades at the bottom were rather mild.  Not for long, as they increased as I went.  I had an idea where the worst section was, but the darkness threw off my sense of distance.

After a couple of steeper pitches, I could see it coming even in the dark.  My headlight bounced off the roadside reflectors, betraying how steep and how long the section was.  I’d been climbing for three miles already, and it looked nigh impossible.

There was nothing for it.  I decided to quit worrying, quit whining, and take my best shot.  There was no sense in giving up in my head before I’d made an attempt.  I said “Shut up legs!” and they yelled back “You’re a donkey-hole!” only they didn’t say ‘donkey’.

Being dark I couldn’t see the bike computer and how piteously slowly I rode.  I do know it was barely enough to keep the bike and trailer balanced.  Eventually I crested that grade and the rest of the climb to reach the lake; no stops.  The flat road alongside the lake made me feel like I was floating compared to the climb.

Now to find the campsite.  At the end of the lake, the road started climbing again.  I began to get positively grumpy because I’d paid my price.  So unfair!  I whined a little more, figuring I’d earned it. 

Eventually the sign for the Conservation Area appeared in my headlight.  I followed the road in to the start of the path around the lake.  From there, I walked a quarter mile to the camp site.

Finally at the site I set up the tent, move all the gear inside, and got ready to boil water to make dinner.  It was pretty cold, and a warm dinner would taste great!

Now, I’d tested this stove several times after the last ride’s fiasco, and it worked fine.  I lit a match, turned on the gas, and it lit!  For about two seconds, then FOOMP it went out.  Ever so patiently I tried a second match, turned the gas up higher and this time it stayed lit.  Let me tell you, I was ready to take the stove down to the pond and give it a long sleep with the fishes!

Dinner was freeze dried chili, macaroni, and beef.  Absolutely no comparison at all to real Texas chili, but I managed to choke it down anyway.  After that I spent some time writing about the trip in my riding journal, then went to sleep.

Until 3am, when I woke up for some reason.  I quietly listened.  I could faintly hear in the leaves shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-pause, shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-pause, shuffle-shuffle-pause.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Something or someone was circling the tent; it seemed about 50 feet away.

I grabbed the bike headlight (which I’d put in a tent pocket), unzipped the tent, flipped the light on and swept the forest.  The shuffling stopped.  I scanned back and forth a few times, even looking up into the trees too.  Nothing.  I pointed the light at the spot where I’d last heard leaves moving, and left it there for bit.  Then I turned it off and listened.  No sound, no shuffling, but I waited anyway ready to beam the light at any noise.  Whatever it was must have slunk off soundlessly, because I heard no more.

Eventually I fell back to sleep, waking at dawn.  I made breakfast using a well-behaved stove, and started packing.  Now being light, I took a few photos while breakfast cooked.

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The pond was named Archer Vly.  A ‘vly’ is a shallow lake or swamp.  I had to look that up.  Anyway, there was ice on the vly so it had gotten pretty cold overnight.

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The trail to the camp site.

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On the way in I’d heard rushing water, but it was too dark to check it out.  You know it; I followed my curiosity now, and was well rewarded.

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The last drop hardly qualifies as a ‘waterfall’ since it’s only about 5 feet high.  I’m not one to quibble, though.  This was a neat discovery for me, as these little cascades aren’t in any waterfall books and I haven’t seen them on any websites either.

You’re going to look at this picture and say “There’s nothing there!” and you’d be right. 

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Many years ago there was a glass factory nearby that made bottles for Saratoga spring water.  The owners set up a small town called Mount Pleasant around the factory.  The empty forest is where a hotel and several houses stood.  In the map below, I took the picture at the ‘X’.  The glass factory is circled and the red line shows the falls.  The glass factory closed, moving into Saratoga.  The town eventually died away leaving no sign it ever existed, and now the only things left are the roads and the falls.

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This is Lake Desolation.  Even with the leaves off the trees it really doesn’t look desolate.

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On the route home there is a small park with a large sign, and I’d ridden by it often never taking time to investigate.  Today I stopped, and the sign lists every person from the village that has served, beginning with the Revolutionary War up to 2012 when the memorial went up.  Austin Clark erected this as an Eagle Scout project.

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The memorial stands in a small park.

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My last stop was a small cemetery.  Now stopping at a cemetery might cause some to wonder about my sanity, but that issue is long settled.  I’d ridden by this innumerable times as well and noted a good sprinkling of flags, which means veterans are interred there.  I also know the cemetery is somewhere around 200 years old. 

So I looked it up.  What got my interest was a Civil War veteran who was listed as dying in 1862 in the Battle of the Wilderness, but I know the battle occurred in 1864.  So I stopped, checked it out, and found the listing had a typo.  While there I paid respects to about ten Revolutionary War veterans.

While leaving I noticed one veteran’s flag dragging on the ground.  This bothered me because a flag shouldn’t drag on the ground and a veteran deserves better. 

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The flag staff had snapped in half, and was cracked higher up as well.  I pack more than I need on these trips but a flag staff I didn’t have.  I found a stick that would fit the flag holder, then went back to my bike because I did have a couple of wire ties.

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I’m not sure how long the stick will last, but John Maxwell’s flag isn’t dragging on the ground anymore.

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And from there on to home.  I had just enough time to clean myself up before my granddaughter arrived to have lunch and play.

The profile for the ride:

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(By the way, I let it fly on the on the downhill run and hit a max speed of 43.6 mph…)

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So what's your gear situation? Looks like a similar tent to our car camping tent.

What were the temps? I'd think you folks are into the 30s or even 20s at night, so I'm guessing a warm sleeping bag plus some extra things for more warmth like a hat. 

Seemingly, a lightweight tent and a very compressible sleeping bag and mat would make leaving the Bob at home and that 12+% climb a bit easier?  Not sure it is worth the $$$ for a new tent if not doing it very often, but it seems you're at or well beyond that cut-off of extravagant vs practical.

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On 11/22/2020 at 9:47 AM, Square Wheels said:

Is that a platform you had your tent on?  

It was essentially a box made from 4x4 timbers, filled with a sandy soil mix, I guess to make it easier to drive tent pegs.  It also made clear where the 'designated' camp sites were.  There was another box for a second tent about 5 feet back from where I took the picture.

 

1 hour ago, Razors Edge said:

So what's your gear situation? Looks like a similar tent to our car camping tent.

What were the temps? I'd think you folks are into the 30s or even 20s at night, so I'm guessing a warm sleeping bag plus some extra things for more warmth like a hat. 

Seemingly, a lightweight tent and a very compressible sleeping bag and mat would make leaving the Bob at home and that 12+% climb a bit easier?  Not sure it is worth the $$$ for a new tent if not doing it very often, but it seems you're at or well beyond that cut-off of extravagant vs practical.

Most of my stuff is off-the-shelf and ordinary, essentially nothing uber-light or high end.  So it's all heavier than the more sophisticated stuff I'm sure I could buy.

For a laugh I weighed the bike and then the trailer when I got home, before I unloaded either one.  Together their weight, loaded, added up to 75 pounds.  But that's all my choice.  I could spend money on lighter stuff, but in the past few years I've camped very little and this year only twice.  If I were going most weekends or on frequent extended trips I'd be inclined to invest in lighter equipment.  Even so, looking at lighter equipment is a good recommendation.

I think the overnight temps were in the high 20's.  Surprisingly it wasn't so much the air temperature but the ground temperature that stole heat.  Sitting on the tent floor before I had the thermarest pad set up was like sitting on ice.  Now that I think about it, that pad is the one thing I bought that was specifically lightweight and compact.  Good thing - it would have been a long night on the cold ground without it.

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4 minutes ago, Thaddeus Kosciuszko said:

Most of my stuff is off-the-shelf and ordinary, essentially nothing uber-light or high end.  So it's all heavier than the more sophisticated stuff I'm sure I could buy.

For a laugh I weighed the bike and then the trailer when I got home, before I unloaded either one.  Together their weight, loaded, added up to 75 pounds.  But that's all my choice.  I could spend money on lighter stuff, but in the past few years I've camped very little and this year only twice.  If I were going most weekends or on frequent extended trips I'd be inclined to invest in lighter equipment.  Even so, looking at lighter equipment is a good recommendation.

I think the overnight temps were in the high 20's.  Surprisingly it wasn't so much the air temperature but the ground temperature that stole heat.  Sitting on the tent floor before I had the thermarest pad set up was like sitting on ice.  Now that I think about it, that pad is the one thing I bought that was specifically lightweight and compact.  Good thing - it would have been a long night on the cold ground without it.

We are car campers so ALL of our stuff is regular weight and not very compact.  We're sort of "kitchen sink" with our camping, but I know where I could reduce and upgrade to make a transition to more of a bikepacking or backpacking set up.  Tents and sleeping set up seem the biggest weight and size "upgrades", so I have been starting to pay more attention to them - what's good, what's bad, when are there sales, how long do they last, etc.. - so that I can know what to look for when I finally make the move.  

I have seen some sleeping pads that have pretty good R-values and also dual chambers that isolate folks from the ground more.  Our little stove is a $15 job (Primus) from Walmart that works great for our needs (unless I choose to bring the big daddy Coleman double stove).  I don't think I could even find anything to fiddle with on it.  But if it does die, it will have earned a respectful burial.  I'd be interested in @dennis perspective on cold weather camping gear or even just his general bikepacking packing list.  There's a lot of options out there and many are not cheap enough to just buy to try out.

I see that currently it is both the end of the season, the holiday season, and also the model switchover season/closeout season,  so I will be perusing the web with thoughts of finding a great deal or two.  We'll see.

With our old Burley as an option, at least I know I don't have to buy anything new (except a thru axle adapter), and I could see 75lbs being not unrealistic for me :o right now.

On 11/22/2020 at 9:47 AM, Square Wheels said:

Is that a platform you had your tent on?  

Have you ever been to a campground?  :D  Those are pretty standard across the US.

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@Thaddeus Kosciuszko as always, great write up. I love that you incorporate so much history into your rides. History can save you.

I was once trying to ride to a performance by my friend Ben Weaver. I had 125 miles of riding to get there. I had two options. Option one was turn at the historical marker "Tie Hack." It would require more miles, but an easier climb. I stopped at Tie Hack and read the historical marker. I decided to take option two. This option was less mileage, but more climbing. I was flying downhill when I saw another historical marker. I always stop and read the sign. Fortunately, this sign was also my turn-off. I would have blown by the turn if not for the historical marker. The climb was hard and there was snow at the top, even in July. But the descent was never ending and I caught a tailwind so I made it to the concert on time. Lesson learned-always stop for history.

I passed another historical marker that told the story of President Chester A. Arthur and his visit to Yellowstone. After reading that, I created the Chester A. Arthur Yellowstone ride. So far, there have been three CAA rides. Only two fools riders have participated. I hope to double ridership next year. It is a heroic effort to celebrate the life of a lesser known president. Sometimes you will have to out maneuver bison in the process.

To the question from@Razors Edge, my cold weather gear is heavy but reliable. My friends mock my gear choices. I'm frugal. I use synthetic sleeping bags instead of down. I have a Mountain Hardwear Lamina -30F for winter and a Marmot 20F bag for the other seasons. I have two sleeping pads, both thermarest. One is the folding variety, ridgerest, and the other is a neoair xlite. I have a bivy sack and a couple of tents. I have two stoves. The one I use more often is a simple esbit stove. I love this thing. It's super compact, light, and reliable. I think I paid $10. The other is a fancy MSR stove. This thing is awesome, but rather bulky compared to the esbit.

My experience tells me to use what works for you. I love biking, camping, and skiing. I'm not great at any of them, but I love trying. 

 

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15 hours ago, dennis said:

The one I use more often is a simple esbit stove. I love this thing. It's super compact, light, and reliable. I think I paid $10. The other is a fancy MSR stove. This thing is awesome, but rather bulky compared to the esbit.

I never heard of the esbit.  I'd be interested in seeing how those things do - how long a pellet lasts, how quickly they boil water, what do you do with partially used ones (can you douse the flame?), etc..  My little stove is great and the fuel readily available, but the cans are bulky, and it is tough to know when they are full, half full, almost empty, etc.. And you have to dispose of the spent canisters which is tough to do. 

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36 minutes ago, Razors Edge said:

I never heard of the esbit.  I'd be interested in seeing how those things do - how long a pellet lasts, how quickly they boil water, what do you do with partially used ones (can you douse the flame?), etc..  My little stove is great and the fuel readily available, but the cans are bulky, and it is tough to know when they are full, half full, almost empty, etc.. And you have to dispose of the spent canisters which is tough to do. 

I have this one. You can fit 6 fuel tablets in it when it is folded down. The entire stove fits into my little cook pot. I like it because it so compact for bikepacking. Each tablet burns for about 10 minutes and can boil a pot of water. It is not nearly as efficient as my MSR stove. 

I have a MSR with the cans. I have the same problem. You never know how full they are so I carry two. The MSR is a much better stove though. The beauty of the esbit is the size and price.

You do have to replace the o-rings on the MSR stoves at some point. The stove will explode if you do not.

 

Esbit Pocket Stove w/ Fuel Cubes 1

MSR Whisperlite Universal Stove 6630 with Free S&H â CampSaver

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1 hour ago, Razors Edge said:

Yeah - my Primus is super simple, but now you have me worried about o-rings!!!!

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My GF had a MSR explode in her face. Third degree burns. That was thirty years ago though. I'm not sure how old the stove was.

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Dennis - this is what I use for a cooking pot, mostly for boiling water as that is one culinary skill I've nearly mastered.  From what I've read the tablets burn up to ~1300F, which is pretty hot.  Anyway, just wondering based on your experience:

-would you think the heat from the tablets being that high would melt the fins on the bottom of the pot?  They're pretty thin, but I think the heat would conduct well enough that they wouldn't melt.

- with those fins would the pot sit level on the stove, or would you suggest I make a small plate to put under it?

-what's your experience on long term storage of the fuel, say, over 7-8 months or so?  

 

Optimus | Terra Weekend HE Cook Set | ORCCGear.com

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6 minutes ago, Thaddeus Kosciuszko said:

Dennis - this is what I use for a cooking pot, mostly for boiling water as that is one culinary skill I've nearly mastered.  From what I've read the tablets burn up to ~1300F, which is pretty hot.  Anyway, just wondering based on your experience:

-would you think the heat from the tablets being that high would melt the fins on the bottom of the pot?  They're pretty thin, but I think the heat would conduct well enough that they wouldn't melt.

- with those fins would the pot sit level on the stove, or would you suggest I make a small plate to put under it?

-what's your experience on long term storage of the fuel, say, over 7-8 months or so?  

 

Optimus | Terra Weekend HE Cook Set | ORCCGear.com

I don't think they burn that hot. It takes a long time to boil water for me. I even use a shield to block the wind and contain the heat. Maybe it's because mine are old. I bought the esbit fuel 7 years ago. Even when they were new, I don't think they burned hot. It's a really small flame. I don't think they would hurt your pot. My MSR boils water super fast, a couple of minutes. The esbit takes 10 minutes with a lid on the pot.

Getting the pot level can be tricky. You need a level place for the stove. You can see how it balances on the stove.

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