Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy New Yurts!

The Yurt. It is handicap accessible.
I've had many people ask about our experience camping in the Yurt at Muskegon State Park. We had a wonderful time and definitely recommend it. Below is some information on our stay and some things to consider if you are planning to visit the Yurt.

What I liked:
  1. It's nestled amongst the trails and trees of one of my favorite places, Muskegon State Park/Muskegon Luge and Sports Complex!
  2. There are miles of trail outside the door and Lake Michigan is, hmmmm, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile walk away. 
  3. It's simple. No electricity, no water, no bathroom, no kitchen. It's a glorified tent with bunk beds, a wood burning stove and a board game. 
Things to know if you go:
  1. Bring a lantern and flashlight or headlamps. While the woods were illuminated by the snowfall and light of the moon, it was dark inside the yurt. 
  2. Pack water, food, plates and utensils. There are two small burners atop the wood burning stove for a small frying pan or tea kettle. We kept things simple by bringing granola bars and bananas. We ordered Hobo's Pizza for dinner and went out for breakfast. The closest restaurant is 5 miles away, so if you plan to eat out, know you are in for a bit of a drive. 
  3. There are two sets of bunk beds. One bunk has a queen size base. There are several cots available for use as well. Bring sleeping bags and pillows.
  4. It takes awhile to get the wood stove cranking enough to heat up the yurt, but once you do it is a toasty retreat from the winter cold.
  5. While there isn't a bathroom, an outhouse is located 30 yards away. Or use a tree. 
  6. My son relieved himself on the picnic table at 2:30 AM so . . . bring a table cloth.
  7. You will not have a cell phone signal while in the park.
  8. You can reserve the Yurt a year in advance. It does fill up on weekends. If you think you want to go in 2015, make your reservations now

Our Yurtcation

2 PM  
The kids and I arrive at the Yurt with bedding and snacks. We are able to carry all of our supplies in one trip, trekking the 30 yards from car to Yurt. While the kids made the beds, I began building a fire in the wood stove. It didn't take long to get it going--as my son Bear said proudly, Mom! You sure can build a fire, for a girl! Proud and offended at his exclamation, I struggled with what to say to guide his forming views of gender roles but ultimately decided to let my actions do the talking.
The campground provides wood, tinder and a lighter. 

2:30 PM 
We depart to run some errands and attend Sage's indoor soccer game.

6:30 PM
Sage and I finally make it back to the Yurt. The fire is out but there are hot coals. It's dark and all I have is a light that I pulled off my bike. I'm not sure how how much battery life is left, but I set it up in the middle of the yurt and go to work rebuilding the fire.
Sage settles in her top bunk with a flashlight and book.

7:00 PM
The men arrive with Hobo's pizza and friends join us after their winter night hike. We find folding chairs stacked inside a little table. There's plenty of room for everyone. I put water on the stove for hot cocoa. The children take off for the sledding hill.

It is snowing but inside the yurt it sounds like it is raining.  I put Jiffy-Pop on the stove and it doesn't pop so we leave it there, thinking the stove is not hot enough yet.

The kids are sledding, the adults hang out around the lantern. Log bunk bed with queen base is pictured.
8:30 PM
Our friends depart and we jammie-it-up* before settling down for a rousing game of "Camping Out," a Michigan State Parks Board Game, provided by the campground. Chad has brought a lantern and it is a stellar replacement for the bike light.

The yurt smells like burnt popcorn. Chad has an "aha" moment, we were supposed to remove the packaging before placing the Jiffy-Pop on the stove. Good thing we have more! Our second attempt at making popcorn goes without a hitch and we all enjoy a buttery treat.

Playing "Camping Out"

9:30 PM
Mom and dad are tired which, by default, means so are the children.

Everyone goes outside and grabs a fistful of snow. We let it melt in our palms before swishing it around in our mouth and chewing on fresh mint I found growing a few yards from the Yurt. Just kidding, we brushed our teeth with chemical-laden toothpaste. After that we wandered outside to our individual trees for one last bathroom break.

10:00 PM
It is a tradition in our family to tell stories and legends. The kids asked for me to tell them their favorite stories of Scout and Blacky**. These are completely of my own invention which works out well for me as I can change them anyway I want to and it will always be correct, unlike my failed attempts to retell traditional camp stories.

We do a "Waltons Family"*** good night before lights out.

2:30 AM
A herd of elephants, otherwise known as my children, invade the Yurt. Everyone needs a drink of water. Bear, who has somehow lost his jammies and is completely naked, puts on his boots and stomps outside to relieve himself.

We put more wood in the stove. Our once sweltering abode is starting to get chilly.

4:30 AM
Two children need another cup of water and another bathroom break. It works out as it's time to feed the fire. I am surprised at how comfortable the kids are going outside to use the bathroom on their own.

8:00 AM
Everyone is up. There is almost 5" of fresh snow on the ground. We put on our snow gear and head outside for sledding. We hike the trails in search of exciting new sledding routes. The sun is rising over the sand dunes.

10:00 AM
I'm hungry and I didn't pack coffee. I tell everyone its time for breakfast. We see a Golden Eagle who is in the same frame of mind and is on the hunt for food.

We go to Mr. B's for pancakes and bottomless mugs of caffeine.

Back at the Yurt, the kids head out for more hiking and sledding while Chad and I clean up. Guests at the Yurt are asked to let the fire die down and sweep up. Everyone is sad to leave the Yurt but we are all happy and tired and thankful for our time together. We sign the Guest Log before locking the door behind us.

The End.

*The act of removing one's daytime clothing and replacing them with evening attire, otherwise known as pajamas.
**Scout is a boy of 6 or 7 years of age with no mom or dad. Blacky is his trusty dog, with a coat of fur darker than a moonless night and is as large as a bear. Scout rides on the back of Blacky just as a man rides a horse. Scout wears a cowhide hat, carries his prized red lasso across his chest and a knife in his back pocket. Scout and Blacky have many adventures that take place in the early 1800's on the prairie.
***Good night, John-Boy! Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.

Hobo's Pizzeria and Mr. B's are Gluten Free friendly restaurants.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Iceman: Slushcup Edition 2014 Pt. 2

Read Part 1 here.

I remember how nervous I had been at my first Iceman at 30 years of age, I can't imagine what the anticipation would be for someone who still shows how old they are by holding up their fingers.

As I watched Wave 4 ride off into the woods and soon after, Sage and Gage, I couldn't help but feel what a privilege it was to be able to share in their adventure.

The Sluschup course is comprised of mostly two track trails which allow for plenty of room for new and young riders to race at their own comfort level, unlike the Iceman, which is dotted with technical and frustratingly crowded single track sections that can fumble-up the most experienced racers. S(G)age immediately found their stride and were able to catch their wave. They maneuvered up the first climb, ticking off riders at a steady, strong pace.

Sage, on her own
Chad and I have always encouraged Sage to ride her own race. I suppose it wasn't all that surprising when she immediately peeled off from our little group and rode herself out of sight. I sped up to check on her, she assured me she was fine to ride by herself. I wished her luck before turning back for Gage, my riding partner for the remainder of the race.

Unlike Sage, who can be very chatty on the trail, Gage was stoic and silent. He kept his head up and eyes forward, holding a steady pace. I simply followed along.

Just 1.5 miles in, we came around the corner to find Sage standing on the side of the trail. The momma-bear in me became immediately worried and protective. Did she have a flat tire? Did her chain break? Did she fall and hurt herself?!?!?!

I quickly rode up to her and began fussing, "Are you okay! What's wrong!"

"I'm getting a drink."

What? She stopped for a drink? A drink?!? Thereisnostoppingforadrinkinracing. She had a huge lead and we caught up to her because of a drink? "That's what your hydrapak is for--so you don't have to stop. Keep going you crazy kid!" I laughed. "You're doing great!"

"Okay, Mommy!" Sage smiled. I was so relieved that she wasn't hurt. Phew! Sage rode off and Gage and I continued our race together. In silence. And then the rain turned from "light" to "driving" and while we had been cold, it was suddenly bone-chilling.

I've heard a lot of veteran Icemen say this was the worst conditions they've experienced: the cold, the rain, the mud, the failing bikes, the hypothermia . . . The Slushcuppers raced in the same conditions. Yes, it was only 8 miles. But for an 8 or 9 year old--that distance is as equally challenging as the 30+ miles are for an experienced rider. Most Slusher's bikes aren't set up with X1. For many of the Slushers, their bikes weigh almost as much as they do. They don't have insulated booties--their riding in sneakers. If your $3k+ bike was having a difficult time in these conditions, well, you can imagine how a kids bike would fare.

Gage, Team Troll, at the start of the race
I was constantly checking in with Gage. Are you thirsty? Hungry?  He simply kept nodding that he was fine and rolled along. About 5 miles in I could tell he was starting to struggle. While he insisted he was okay, sometimes moms know better. I made him drink some water and eat apple squeezie--for those that don't know, apple squeezies are apple sauce in the form of a large gu packet. I took off my rain coat and put it on him--not sure how much good it was going to do as it was soaking wet, but Gage said it helped--the one handful of words he spoke the entire race. Then we soldiered on.

At 6.5 miles the Slushcup and Iceman course merge. Gage and I had been riding over an hour already with several miles to go. Gage was doing great, but I could tell he needed something to build his confidence, keep him going. Fortunately, it wasn't long after that we heard some bongo drums.

"We're almost there Gage--you've got this! Peddle to the beat!"

The bongo drummer gave us a heads-up that the Slushcup course was to the left. While the wide trail went up hill then turned for a steep downhill (the Iceman), the Slushcup course had a narrow single track section in the opposite direction that cut through the woods and spit you out at the finish.

Gage and I emerged from the woods and rode down the finishing shoot to the cheers and applaud that is The Iceman Experience.

Sage and Gage's family were at the finish line to meet us with hugs and cheers.

"Mom! You told me it was 8 miles but it was 11!" Sage guffawed.

Sage missed the turn-off where the Sluschup and Iceman separate. Even with the extra miles, added single track and steep climbs, Sage wore a huge smile the rest of the weekend.

I'm so proud of both Sage and Gage. It was their first Slushcup in very challenging circumstances. They both worked past their discomfort and endured to the finish. What they accomplished is a hearty deposit in building their confidence and character that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Sage 1:24:51
Gage 1:31:28
Heather 1:31:29

Sage at the finish--mud and smiles!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Iceman: Slushcup Edition 2014, PT 1

Icemans of Past 2010 and 2012

This was my first year attending Iceman as a Slushcupper. I was worried that once we arrived at the expo that I would have regrets about not signing up for the whole shebang. Let me tell you, that was not the case. It was AWESOME!

The dreaded weather report of 34 degrees, rain and wind (arguable the worst conditions for a mountain bike race ever) was a blip in my radar--after all, I was only going to be out there for an hour. One can endure just about any kind of conditions for that long. Sleep and nutrition--other aspects that generally heighten my nerves were of no concern. I wasn't racing! There was, for once, no pressure. I was looking forward to a day of riding with awesome, inspiring kids followed by indulging in the spoils of one of the biggest parties in Northern Michigan.

Sage, Gage, myself, and a photobomber sizing up her competition at the Slushcup start line
My riding buddies of the day were my daughter Sage and a friend of ours, Gage. Sage has gained some mountain bike racing experience this summer having competed at Big M, then doing her first solo races at Skirts in the Dirt, and Pando Fall Challenge. I had never ridden with Gage before and was uncertain what his experience was to that point, but I knew his family rolled with Team Troll. I could tell both Sage and Gage were very nervous.

We were assigned Wave 4 (the last wave in the Slush Cup). As each wave proceeded to be ticked off and the crowd amassed forward, both Sage and Gage were inclined to stay put. Eventually it seemed like there was a good 20 foot gap between us and the rest of Wave 4. I casually mentioned moving to the front but S(G)age implored me to stay right where I was. The crowd was clearly increasing their apprehension. I think if S(G)age had their way, they would have had a Wave 5 created just for them.

My competitive nature was twitching to shove both kids to the front of the line. But, this was their race and I was just along for the ride ;) If we never, ever passed one person (Sage has been known to start last, catch someone, stop, let them get ahead again before starting to ride) then that's what we were going to do!

Before we knew it the race had started! And S(G)age each had one foot on the peddle and the other on the ground, letting the chaos at the start line clear while they stood motionless for the moment.

. . . But then we were off!

The End of Part 1.
I'll finish the rest tomorrow! This mom only has so much time to write in one day . . .

Our home at Iceman / Timber Ridge