Ultra-light camping is all well and good, but I had a somewhat different approach in mind for the expedition to Lost Creek. I wanted to build a longhouse. I wasn’t exactly sure how to put one together; I did know it would take all the canvas I had and a metric butt-load of poles. I figured if I put the twelve-foot tipi at one end and the sixteen-foot tipi at the other end, with a ridgepole between them, I would end up with a structure roughly thirteen feet tall fourteen feet wide and almost thirty-four feet long. I would need to convince some friends to help set it up and occupy it. Phone calls were made and messages were sent out.
It wasn’t worth the effort for an overnight camp-out; this required time to set up, time to take down and even more time in between to savor the results. Fortunately, there was a long weekend coming up. With a little finagling, I was able to stretch that into a ten-day vacation.
The previous summer we had found a nice site on Lost Creek about two miles north of South Prairie. It would be perfect for the longhouse, but I wasn’t sure the roads there would be passable this early in the season. A scouting trip was in order, so Friday afternoon a week before my vacation, I hopped on the Triumph and headed into the woods to find out. I prepared for the scouting trip by packing a cooler with beer and placing a taco-thing wrapped in foil behind the cylinders to warm as I rode.
I made it to South Prairie without problem; there was still a little snow in patches across the road, but it wasn’t deep and most of the road was clear and dry. This changed when I reached the prairie and turned left, towards Goose Lake.
I didn’t get far from South Prairie before snow encroached on the road. The road narrowed to one lane and then disappeared under a patch of snow. I could see a bare spot beyond it, so I powered through, standing on the rear pegs to get more traction. The next patch was deeper, but I was able to push through it, too. But after that I came to a snow field that was almost two feet deep and stretched around the corner and out of sight. This patch was too deep and too long to traverse. I shut off my engine and dismounted. Time for lunch.
The taco thing was hot and the beer was cold. It was a one beer walk through the snow field, from the bike to the bridge over Lost Creek. The road here was mostly bare, with patches of shallow snow I could have easily ridden through if I could have gotten the bike this far. I walked up to the spur that led to the campsite. There was snow here and there, but nothing too deep. With the forecast for hot weather all next week, I was cautiously optimistic that the roads would melt clear in time for the campout.
I spent the next week organizing. I made lists and started packing the truck. I got the RSVPs from friends who wanted in on this trip and made sure they knew how to find me. This was a little tricky: there was no cell coverage up there. If the snow didn’t melt or we had to choose another site for some reason, how would we communicate that to latecomers? We decided to use a prominent signpost I knew we could get to as a bulletin board. If there was a change of plans, I would tie a note to it with directions.
Once I had an idea who was coming and when, I roughed out a menu and bought provisions.
By Saturday morning, when Robert and Mike arrived, I was just about ready. They helped me load thirty-two poles and a canoe on top of my truck. We put the ice chests in Robert’s truck and tied a kayak on top of Mike’s station wagon and we were off. Jason had gone up the night before. With any luck, we would follow his tracks in and find him waiting at camp, ready to help us set up.
As we got closer to Lost Creek I was pleased to see most of the snow had melted. The big snowfield was almost gone, and there was a set of tire tracks in the remaining slush which I hoped were Jason’s. There were a couple of fairly deep patches on the little spur road into camp, but they, too had vehicle tracks through them.
When we got to camp, we were pleased to find Jason there. He looked a little bleary – turned out he had gotten stuck the night before in that last patch of snow. He spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in his car and dug out that morning. He had arrived in camp not too long before we got there!
We looked about for a good spot to set up the longhouse, settling upon a flat open meadow right on the creek just a little downstream from where we found Jason. The four of us set about unloading the poles. We got distracted for a few minutes when I discovered we were setting up camp in a patch of morels. After we picked the mushrooms, we focused on the hard part: I had never done a longhouse before and wasn’t sure how to put one together. I had a general notion that if we set two tipis up facing each other, we could set a ridgepole up between them and wrap canvas around the whole thing. Which is more or less what we did, but as always, the devil is in the details. While we were figuring out how to get the ridgepole up on top of the tipi poles it started to rain. We were inspired to hurry and had a shelter of sorts up by the time things got really wet.
I had planned to bake a ham in the Dutch oven, but discovered it was frozen solid, so we had to come up with a different idea for dinner. We chipped some slices from the edges of the ham, and put the rest in Rob’s truck to thaw overnight. With some bread and cheese and a few morels, we were able to cook some tolerably good ham sandwiches in the pie irons. Washed down with beer, we had a satisfactory dinner inside the newly erected longhouse.