Monday, January 30, 2017

Failing to Prepare at Devil's Lake

So let’s talk about risk management and what happens when you fail to prepare. Even for a simple hike.

A few weeks back two individuals were out at Devil’s Lake State Park near Baraboo, WI and embarked on a hike later in the afternoon. As the sun set, the pair became lost and ‘stranded’. They were using the phones to illuminate the trail in the dark and weren’t dressed properly for the conditions. They reached an emergency callbox on-top of the West Bluff at 8pm, pressed the button and reported they were ‘stranded’. Yes, they used the word ‘stranded’. Unfortunately, that callbox wasn’t being monitored at the park office as it’s the off-season and off-hours. Thankfully a good Samaritan at home listening to their police scanner picked up the duo’s plea for help and alerted local authorities. They were both found an hour later.

What’s missing in this situation? A lot of things. Yes, Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest and most-visited state park property in Wisconsin but it’s not a place to underestimate in the winter. It’s also a park that’s hard to get lost at, especially if you’re hiking on the bluff trails which go up, and down on either side of the lake. You can also see the visitor center lights on at night, from the top of that west bluff. Why didn’t they grab a map at the entrance station or print one off at home ahead of time? The bluff trails loop around the lake so why not just turn back around and head down to where you started? Not to mention…the main trail on the bluffs are even paved in some places, which would be not tricky to find even in light snow cover. Temperatures that night according to the National Weather Service hovered around 15 degrees in Baraboo with some bitter wind chills. We’re they dressed properly for winter conditions? Doubt it. Exposure kills. Lastly...I had to palm-to-face when I read they used their cell phones to ‘light the trails’. Come onnnnnn, that’s a hilariously dumb mistake. If you know you’re going to be hiking in the late afternoon and into the starting evening hours, during the winter months when it gets dark earlier, why would you not bring a flashlight? That’s just asking for trouble and raises the risk factor tremendously.

This post isn’t meant to berate these two hikers (in fact I’m thrilled they both made it home safe that night)…but rather to call-out what they did wrong and how easily this whole situation could have been avoided. You always, always, always need to be prepared and use some common sense in the outdoors. Regardless if it be a day-hike at a local, county or state park…or a multi-day expedition into the backcountry at high-altitude. Figure out where you’re going, know the land, have the right equipment and keep an eye on the conditions. 

That’s how you stay safe and have a fun time.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Where to Winter Camp in Wisconsin

You know what's the best? Winter camping. For real, it's a blast. If you have the right gear, you can stay toasty warm. And we think our state parks in Wisconsin are sweet in the spring, summer and fall months....wait till you get out into some of them after a ton of fresh snow falls. They're a completely different, surreal and beautiful landscape. Not to mention the sheer quiet and desolation of these places will blow you away. The first time I ever went winter camping in Wisconsin was at Menominee River State Recreation Area up on the border of Northern Wisconsin /the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (da UP). I backpacked a few miles out on snowshoes to a site perched atop the Pemene Falls on the Menominee river . I saw a gazillion stars at night and the only noises I heard were the crashing waterfalls below and wolves howling. I didn't see a single soul for a few days. Yea, it got down to -18 at 2am but gosh it was spectacular. Get yourself a down sleeping bag that's rated close to or at 0, a good three-season tent and winter hiking gear and get out there. Try it out! That picture above? That's from a weekend of winter camping at serene Mirror Lake State Park near the Wisconsin Dells.

Here area few places across the state you can winter camp at:
Make sure to call the park ahead of time to confirm they have their winter camping sites open. Refer here to see updates directly from the DNR.


Monday, January 23, 2017

The 2017 Adventure Wish List

Yessss! It's time to compile the annual adventure wish list for the new year.

It's been both a hectic busy few weeks and rather gloomy few days. Things everyday feel like they're flying by at a million miles-per-hour, especially at my job but it's that good kind of busy I really like. Oh! I celebrated my one-year anniversary working for our state's Department of Natural Resources a few days ago! On the downside... I've also been in-and-out of doctor's appointments (for getting hit by a car) and my beloved station wagon has been to the repair shop twice in the past week (thanks serpentine belts). All things aforementioned are on the mend now. While I'm so not wanting to admit it, I'm also convinced Mother Nature put the kibosh on winter. It was close to 60 degrees today.

Anyways on to the list and oh what a list it's shaping out to be. Already I've got a winter backpacking trip planned with some friends up to Newport State Park in Door County for a magazine story I'm writing...and then I just said 'yes' to join a climbing trip down at Kentucky's Red River Gorge with a whole bunch of fun folks come April. And that doesn't even take me to the start of summer. Clearly I'm ecstatic to travel as much as possible this grand 2017. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that right? Right. A goal I do have this year that I'm going to strive to make a reality, is to visit as many of the Wisconsin state parks I have yet to go to. I figure there's a lot right here in my own backyard I should explore.  Over the past few years I've been able to check-off about 22 Wisconsin state park and forest properties. Of course am craving a few journeys to some of our national parks as well, especially either Big Bend National Park or Saguaro National Park. I'm also dreaming and itching to go back to Badlands, again. Gosh I miss that place. I too need to get to Colorado this year at some point again. Notice the strong 'need'. We'll see what happens. No international travel for me this year, as there's much of the USA I haven't seen and I'm still getting over my high from trekking around Iceland.

It's always the best to plan out trips, draft-up itineraries and get dates on the calendar. So here's the wish list of places I'm seeking to visit for 2017, I'm already hashing out details for places below, so excited. I can guarantee you this list may change/get longer:

-Rock Island State Park, WI                                         -Rocky Arbor State Park, WI
-Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI                  -Yellowstone Lake State Park, WI
-Copper Falls State Park, WI                                       -Wildcat Mountain State Park, WI
-Amnicon Falls State Park, WI                                    -Wyalusing State Park, WI
-Big Bend National Park, TX                                        -Black River State Forest, WI
-Saguaro National Park, AZ                                         -Voyageurs National Park, MN
 -Pattison State Park, WI                                              -Isle Royale National Park, MI
-Big Bay State Park, WI                                               -Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH
-Badlands National Park, SD                                        -Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
-Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI                      -Roche-A-Cri State Park, WI
-Red River Gorge, KY                                                   -Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
-Newport State Park, WI


I've also been on a big Iron & Wine kick lately. I've always thought their music is some of the best for adventuring. If you aren't familiar with them, take a listen. Enjoy!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area, WI

So I'm convinced seasonal depression is real. Especially with this embarrassing weather we've gotten in Wisconsin lately. Today is January 17 and it was nearly 40...and I could see green grass outside my apartment window getting spritzed from falling rain. Plus the fact that we have yet to have snow that stays around long enough to recreate in. My snowshoes are just collecting dust. Boo. But!...When winter does finally decided to drop by, there are a ton of places you need to go out and explore, Places like our state's first state natural area- Parfrey's Glen.

Located minutes away from Devil's Lake State Park is Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area. It's thrilling to see in the summer and even more exciting to discover in the winter. It's a huge, deep gorge with rough rock walls on either side of it, covered in spongy green carpet moss. Our very own, slot canyon that dives into the Baraboo Hills. As you wander further into the gorge, the walls soot some one-hundred feet up into the surrounding forest. Sandstone walls with quartzite boulders and pebbles mended into them. Parfrey's Glen was designated as Wisconsin's first State Natural Area in 1952 so it's quite a special place, According to the Wisconsin DNR, it's home to rare threatened plants like the round stemmed false foxglove and northern monkshood. Two threatened birds seek refuge here like the cerulean warbler and Acadian flycatcher, so make sure on your visit to practice leave no trace and show some respect for this fragile area.

When I went to hike it, the once-bustling creek was completely frozen over- as were the few smaller waterfalls  at the end of the gorge. It takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the terminus of the gorge from the parking lot trailhead. The approach hike is about a mile and is insanely slippery and uneven so I'd strongly recommend using either snowshoes, wrap-on spike treads for the bottom of your boots or even crampons if you visit Parfrey's Glen in the winter. Year-round, it's an absolutely breath-taking spectacle to see. Prepare to have your jaw drop and gasp in amazement.

Oh- and while you're in the area...go check out Natural Bridge State Park, home to the largest natural arch in Wisconsin.


*Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area is a day-use only area located at County Road DL, in Merimac, WI 53561 just minutes away from the entrance to Devil's Lake State Park. Park admission fees are required (daily or annual). There are pit-toilets, a drinking fountain and picnic tables. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail runs adjacent to this property.*


Monday, January 16, 2017

Aztalan State Park, WI

State parks are the best. They're like mini National Parks in similar terms of quality of experience, memories and pure adventure. And we're beyond lucky to have an all-star roster of them here in Wisconsin. We've got parks in forests that sprawl across the state, along Lake Michigan and the mighty Superior, in flat golden plains and ones dotting the western Driftless Area. There are state parks that show off Wisconsin's best natural features and ones that tell stories of our early history from the French settlers to Native American tribes. So when i want to go out exploring, I've got plenty of options. I had two days off, back-to-back which rarely happens, so I decided to scratch a couple parks off my bucket list: Aztalan State Park and Natural Bridge State Park (which I blogged about recently too).

Located about an hour outside of Milwaukee is this archaeological masterpiece called Aztalan.

It's a 172-acre state park that gives us an opportunity to trek around a decades-old Native American settlement right along the Crawfish River. The Aztalans lived in this Middle-Mississippian settlement from A.D. 1000-1300. Through precise radiocarbon dating, archaeologists believe Aztalan may have even been inhabited as early as A.D. 600 with residents remaining up until late A.D. 1830. When Increase A. Lapham came here to survey the area in 1850, he discovered more than forty mounds. The park has preserved a few of the surviving mounds, including the large flat-top, pyramid mounds that make up the once-bustling plaza area. You'll see stockades (rows of tall posts dug in the ground that once made up the exterior perimeter of this village. Leaves and branches were once intertwined between the posts to create a vast wall on either side of the plaza. At its thriving peak, there were three stockades here at Aztlan surrounding the residential area, the exterior perimeter and previously mentioned plaza. The residential area contained both circular and rectangular houses made up of a combination of branches, bark, grasses and clay. Living along the river, the Aztalans frequently fished using hooks made of animal bone and copper for catfish, bass, suckers pike, gar and buffalo fish.

I so, so, so enjoyed hiking around Aztalan and exploring this place of rich history. It was almost eery at times, to stand in the exact same place that the Aztalans once roamed. You can easily spend a couple of hours here. Hike to the larger restored Earthen Mound, where religious ceremonies were held and shielded from public view. Archaeological digs have turned up two small copper masks believed to have been used in rituals. Nearby. large pits held corn and other grains There are easy trails that follow the shoreline of the Crawfish River, around and up the mounds, and back into the small, forest on property. It's a peaceful stroll through this patch of woods and the quick trail leads you to a row of marker mounds that border the road. I had to laugh at the 'Do Not Sled on Marker Mounds' sign.

Cross-off another Wisco state park property from my list. Here's to many more. If you've got a gene for exploring, you owe it to yourself to take a trip out here to Aztalan and learn a bit about the people that once called Wisconsin home.



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Out with 2016, In with 2017: Looking Back

Happy New Year! Another 365 days in the books....already? Pretty sure hot summery busy July was just like yesterday and now there's snow on the ground and it's January. Hope all of you had a superb New Year's Eve celebrating. More than twenty of my best friends and I rented a vacation condo up in the Wisconsin Dells for the weekend and it was a grand time. What did you do for New Year's? Sing a little "Auld Lang Syne" and pop a few bottles? Yesterday on January 1, I led a guided #FirstDayHike at the state park I work at and we had 85 people show up! And a few dogs! We hiked a combined 275 miles throughout our state forest land. These hikes take place across all 50 states at county and state parks. Big thanks to the American Hiking Society for their continued advocacy for getting people outdoors and on to our nation's trails.

When looking over some website traffic numbers, it seems like these personal posts I've written with the category tag 'thoughts' have been getting a lot of views. That's kind of the fun thing about blogging, having an outlet to open-up and share what's going on in your world. I've always believed in the healing power of writing, whether on-paper or by depressing a row of keys. The past four years I've kept a few journals that I cherish significantly. When things in life seem like they're flying by at a million miles-per-hour, sometimes I just need to pause it all and reflect. Picking up a pen and scribbling away brings me some much-desired sense of peace. Good things, bad things, ideas, rants, sketches and drawings, quotes. It's therapeutic and immensely helpful for my own personal growth. Whenever I'm out on some adventure, I bring a tiny notebook in my pack that gets its pages filled each night around the campfire or by headlamp in my tent. Even when I'm driving, I like to have that notebook sitting on my passenger seat with pen at-hand, so I can jot observations and lines of text down. I love writing. It gets me excited. A friend of mine asked me once, "Robby how do you come up with such clever writing?" I eagerly explained how there are times where I'll just get excited and think of phrase or two of words, (it might while I'm at the grocery store, hiking, or out at a bar) and then figure out a way ASAP to get it written down on a napkin, in my journal, a voice recording or even shoot myself a text. I urge you to keep a journal and maybe make a resolution for 2017 to write a bit more.

When December 31 rolls around each year, I take time to ponder on what went well this year, what didn't. What worked, what failed and what can I do better this next, new year. So 2016 was a pretty solid year for me. For the professional side, it was legendary. After years of trying to find employment worth sticking with and bouncing in-and-out of seasonal positions- I landed a job in my dream career field, outdoor recreation, working full-time between two state parks in Wisconsin. January 12 marks my one-year anniversary with our state's Department of Natural Resources and gosh I'm proud to say that there has yet to be a day where I don't want to go into work. When you work a job, everyday in a field you're passionate about surrounded by others (I have the best co-workers) who share that same passion, it's wonderful. I get to be outside nearly everyday, use my skills knowledge and love for outdoor recreation and get paid for it. But what I really dig about the job, is that I can get other people excited about getting outside. That's crucially important to me. It's also an insane relief to know that this is the career field I feel comfortable in and plan to stay in till retirement. Though the latter probably won't ever happen haha. Pretty sure I'll be working until I'm underground.

The biggest down-fall this past year? In June I got hit by a car at work, when a guy blew through a stop sign by our ranger station and I couldn't get out of the way in time. I flew up on the hood when his SUV slammed into me at around 20mph, came down and shattered my right knee. He was apologetic and admitted to looking over his shoulder and not forward. An inattentive driving ticket for him and a hospital visit for me followed up by months of continued appointments with my orthopedic surgeon. There's zero cartilage, tons of fissures/cracks and a chunk of bone missing from my right knee or in other words- permanent damage. The accident has put a huge damper on a lot of my outdoor rec hobbies. I can't run anymore and when I'm rock climbing it's become frustratingly difficult to do some maneuvers with my right leg. I'm supposed to get surgery, again, sometime this next year after a wave of different types of medicine and shots have just acted as temporary band aids. But you can't let a busted-up knee kill your vibe completely.

My tent got quite the use this year. I spent a humongous amount of my past year on the road traveling both here and abroad. I was able to cross more Wisconsin state parks and forests off my bucket-list, pull a few backpacking overnighters, get my fix of kayaking in and bike on some cool trails. I bought a new mountain bike! In March, I flew out and spent a pro-longed weekend seeing some of my closest friends and skiing up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. 2016 marked the centennial celebration for our National Park Service so earlier this fall, I loaded up my station wagon and explored five properties in the Dakota Badlands and Black Hills; Devil's Tower National Monument, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site along with Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks. It was a purely amazing adventure. There's something about the west, I tell you. Get me bacccccckkkkkk stat. My last grand adventure of the year took me to Iceland for two-weeks. After years and years of anticipation I finally decided that I was going to make a dream a reality and buy a ticket to Reykjavík on Icelandair. It was the best traveling I've ever done and it's the most beautiful place I've ever been. Those fourteen days I spent in Iceland taught me so much about myself and allowed for me to discover what I'm truly capable of, when I'm out on my own. It was also a chance to to see nature at its pure raw form. Just an incredible country. Make sure to read-up on all my adventures over there and see some jaw-dropping photos. I'm already toying with the idea of going back in a year or so.

2016 was personally a year for growth. I'm not ashamed to admit that I think my biggest weakness is my mountainous lack of confidence. Whether it be in social or professional situations, for whatever reason my self-esteem and own confidence is always hiding. I don't know exactly why, but in past year's I've found it difficult to sometimes break-out of my own shell and just be me. Maybe I just hold on to unfortunate events, past-jobs, relationships or inner struggles that happened in the past that I'm too shy to put behind me. Almost like I'm worried they're going to affect or put a damper on anything new I go into. I have made tremendous progress the past two-years in terms of standing up for what I believe in and living my own life without questioning if others will judge it. And it's made me a happier person, giving me a chance to accomplish and achieve more and more. In 2016, especially about half-way through the year, I decided to just pause and reflect on what I'm going to stop diverting energy and focus to things that aren't building me up. Figure out what I can do to eliminate some stress and stray away from anything and anyone that would just make me feel negative. I was becoming way burnt-out and drained from committing to too many things and too many people that it was distracting me from caring about myself. My own personal life had started to crack and needed to be put back together. Post mid-summer 2016, the changes I've made have made a big difference in my day-to-day life. I'm glad I finally halted things and went in a new direction to improve me. I'm so looking forward to 2017 and continuing on this higher path.

So now on to resolutions! Instead of blabbing on, I'd rather make a brief list of new goals I have for the hobbies I dive into constantly:

  • Flash a 5.12 route in rock climbing
  • Buy a new, bigger kayak equipped with gear storage
  • Volunteer with an outdoor stewardship organization
  • Go on an overnight, kayaking trip
  • Put more miles on my mountain bike 
  • Check-off as many state and national parks on my adventure bucket-list as possible
  • Hike as many segments of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail as possible
  • Buy a new project or classic car to work on 
  • Get back into autocross racing
  • Shoot more 35mm old-school photography
  • Continue freelance writing 
  • Blog, blog, blog and blog!

Thanks a ton for following-along with my blog for another year. I do very much appreciate it! Stay tuned because there's some cool content coming here soon. I also picked up a few recent freelance writing gigs that I'll post some links to. Have a stellar start to your 2017.



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Iceland 2016: Car Spotting

Iceland isn't jut full of unimaginably serene landscapes like tall mountains dusted in snow, black and gold beaches, expansive fields of moss-covered lava rocks, towering waterfalls, surreal glaciers and raging volcanoes- the roads and towns are also home to some pretty cool rides.

When I was over there driving around the country for two-weeks, I kept my eyes peeled for anything unique with an engine. Geeking out over cars doesn't stop as soon as I set foot in a new country. Being the gearhead that I am, I've always been fascinated by what people drive in different parts of the world. Cultures revolve around the automobile. We depend on them for getting us to jobs, family and use them as an outlet for fun. Here's a batch of photos I took of some of the rides that roam the island. Loads of old-school Land Rovers, Defenders and Range Rovers. Swarms of sleek station wagons like the Skoda Octavia (droooooool I want one) and the new Mazda 6 wagon with...all-wheel-drive, a manual and the SkyActiv-D turbodiesel engine! (Unicorn, gosh I wish I could buy one, come on Mazda USA, don't be lame and bring that model over here). I saw virtually no dorky, stupid 'crossovers', thankfully rather real, tough, large and durable SUVs like the Toyota Fortuner, Land Cruiser Prado and regular Land Cruiser, Mitsubishi Monteros and Pajero along with the almighty Nissan Patrol (one of my favorites). I piloted a little, spartan SUV from Suzuki called the Jimny almost three-thousand miles throughout Iceland. It had a proper 4x4 set-up with high ground clearance, a heated cloth passenger seat and a five-speed gearbox matted to a tiny 85-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It was an adorable, rugged vehicle that got me up mountain F-Roads, forded a few streams and kept me safe when driving through a snowstorm in the northern region of the country. Good gosh it was slow, and loud and polka danced on the highway in any noticeable wind but it was bullet-proof. I contemplated the possibilities of how I could take the Jimny all apart, fit it in my suitcase and bring it back to the US where it's not sold. In today's age of cars filled with all sorts of autonomous-this and automatic-sensing-that gizmos, I truly appreciated the Jimny's bare-bones feel. Just give me a solid vehicle I can drive without having to be distracted by an absurd amount of other technology. There's my Tuesday morning car rambling.

Like I've mentioned in other blog posts about Iceland, it's a very pro-green and sustainable country... even when it comes to cars. There were electric vehicles everywhere and many public charging stations. I saw a handful of Chevrolet Volts and tons of both Nissan Leafs and Tesla Model S. In those two-weeks in Iceland I'm convinced I spotted more EVs (electric vehicles) than I've seen for years back in the United States. Diesel-engine cars aplenty but very few if none at all, hybrids. Two other neat commonalities on vehicles I noticed were spiked tires (why on earth are we so afraid of these in the USA? They help tremendously in wintery road conditions) and over-inflated, huge off-roading tires on just about all large SUVs or pickup trucks (as you can tell in some of the shots below). There were also a surprising amount of laughably-bad Korean knock-offs  lapping 'The Ring Road' and cowering in town parking lots. Vehicles from SsangYong like the Rodius and Musso or the Hyundai Galloper (which seen below looks like a direct copy of an older Toyota Land Cruiser or Range Rover). And of the French, gosh your cars are clever and strange looking. As weird as it is, the Citroën C4 Cactus looks awesome. Can I have one? Finally to wrap-up this post, I have to extend a big thank you or 'takk fyrir' in Icelandic to the humans of Iceland for restoring faith in the manual-transmission, as nearly every vehicle I saw had three-pedals. Enjoy the pictures!