Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm Alive

Yes, the dogs and I survived our night in the cold without any major incident. A little hail, a bit of ice on the tent and in the dogs' water bowl but it pretty much went off without a hitch. We saw a coyote (with or without the long "e"), a lot of deer (actually I saw a lot deer, fortunately the dogs only saw one of the deer), a couple flocks of turkeys, a pheasant (one of my favorite sightings- I just think they're neat looking), and some sort of Field Trial which involved a lot of horses and what I think were hunting dogs. The Field Trial thing was pretty neat so here's a bit more about that:
The first place we hiked was in the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Management Area near Danville, IL. When we got there I saw a sign that read "Field Trial in Progress- watch for crossing horses." My first thought was there must be some sort of equine religious service going on but then I thought they might mean crossing the street. I decided to just keep a lookout for both. I've been to Middle Fork several times before and one of the main reasons I go is because there's a great little campground which requires a 45 minute walk to get to. That makes it a very short hike with a backpack but almost gaurantees that you'll be the only one there. In fact I've been there about 5 times and camped twice and have never seen anyone else at the Pondside Campground. It's a great secret that I've just blown WIDE open. Both of you know about it now. Anyway, the trail to the campground can be very muddy, even in the summer, but there's a dirt service road of some sort that also leads to the campground although I don't know exactly where it comes from. There are a lot of these dirt roads in the park and they're generally in great condition so I was hoping to find a way to reach the campground by dirt road so if the hiking trail is too slick to carry a backpack while dragging two dogs we could still go to the campground. Unfortunately the dirt roads are basically unmarked so I decided to just pick a dirt road that appeared to be headed in the general direction of the campground and see where we ended up. This wasn't where we were camping so I wasn't lugging a big pack around or anything, just tiring the dogs out. Well, an hour and several dirt roads/paths/trails later we re-cross the backpacking trail so we started following it the rest of the way to the Pondside Campground which was only about 15 minutes farther. On the way there we crossed another access road and in the spirit of exploration we decided to follow it to see if it also led to the campground. A couple hundred yards down this road we partially discovered what a Field Trial is. I saw a person on horseback a few hundred yards down the road heading in my direction. One of our dogs had seen a horse only once before and it didn't go very well. In an attempt to avoid a confrontation we headed into a large, long field which runs next to the access road. Just after we did the horseman did as well. A second look and I realized that the horseman was following a brown and white dog which seemed to be doing a perimeter check of the field, and very quickly. They were both heading in our direction so we turned around and backtracked. It took roughly 2 seconds to realize the hunting dog and the horseman were going to get to us before we got back to the backpacking trail so we did what any self-respecting hiker/dog owner would do; we ran. As we got back to the backpacking trail and prepared to follow it again I looked behind us and saw that there were now about 8 horsemen heading our way. Fortunately they continued down the field while we took the backpacking trail. The whole thing was sort of creepy because the lead horseman kept yelling orders and directions either to the dog or the other riders, I'm not sure. I couldn't tell what he was saying but as we headed down the trail (at this point still uncertain if they were following us or not) it had the feeling of being tracked, or more specifically, hunted. The rest of the walk to the campground went by without incident. We ate lunch there at a picnic table that has a great view this time of year when there are none of those pesky leaves on the trees. As I finished packing up the dogs' water bowl and my leftover trail mix the sound of the lead rider again began echoing through the woods. I'm not sure if it was the same group or a different one but we had an excellent vantage point from the top of a ridge to watch them pass. I didn't see the dog but we didn't get in place until the lead rider was almost past us but we got to see the rest of the riders along with some sort of atv with a cart. The atv sort of ruined the feel of the wildness of it but it was reassuring that this was cleary an organized activity.
We continued our exploratory hike and discovered where the access road that reaches the campground goes and it turns out we could get to the campground by dirt roads. I'm pretty sure there's a shorter route than the one we discovered but the fact that it can be done at all was a pleasant find. We crossed paths with the Field Trial once more (same one, different one, I have no idea). Man could those dogs run. Non-stop. It was again pretty creepy as the group of horsemen came up behind us. It was amazing how fast they caught up to us even at just a trot. The group of riders was very intimidating if you imagined that they might be friend or foe and not knowing which. It was pretty cool to see.
After Middle Fork we headed to Forest Glen County Preserve which is about 15 minutes south of Danville, IL. There's a nice, primitive campground there and since the weather was cold I expected to be the only camper there. I wasn't disappointed. We set up camp, hid in the tent during a 15 minute hailstorm then hiked around for a bit and got caught in another 15 minute hailstorm. We lived to hike more the next day. I first discovered Forest Glen when my brother came to visit a few years ago. He and I both love backpacking so I told him I'd arrange a weekend hike while he was here. I had planned to take him to Middle Fork but then discovered that he was coming in the midst of deer hunting season and most of Middle Fork is open to hunting. I planned to bring our dog (at the time dog was still singular) so that made me a little uncomfortable. After some internet searching I came across Forest Glen which has an excellent backpacking trail that basically circles the entire park. It's an 11 mile long trail that's pretty rugged for the midwest and at the 7.5 mile marker there are 3 primitive campsites. I've never seen anyone besides us at those sites either although there are usually more signs of people visiting them than the Pondside Campgrounds, you know- litter, broken beer bottles, cans in the fire ring- the usual shit that assholes leave behind. There is a way to get pretty close to those 3 campsites by dirt road so I think they're used as a party spot on occasion although I've never seen anybody there. There are a ton of other trails at Forest Glen as well, heaploads of wildlife and NO hunting. And the place is usually empty. I don't get it, but that's how it is.
If by some miracle anyone read all of this give yourself a pat on the back and find a hobby or something. The long and the short of it- great hikes, decent weather, tired dogs, amen.

1 comment:

Loki said...

sounds like good times.