Tuesday morning we decided to go into Trout Lake for breakfast. There was no cellphone service in camp and Robert was anxious to call his wife. We were expecting several new people to show up and I wanted to text them with a road report and see if they had any questions about how to find us.
It took about forty-five minutes to go the 17 miles into town. When we got there, we took a short tour for old times sake. Back in the ‘80s the Trout Lake Tavern was a hopping place that attracted some of the best blues bands touring the West Coast at the time. Robert was working for the Hoedads and his crew lived in the county park in the middle of town. The tavern is under new management ( troutlakecountryinn.net) now, and the park looks a little different, having been scoured out by the Flood of ’96.
It didn’t take long to complete our tour of town, which led us to The Station Café and breakfast. I stuffed myself with chicken fried steak and gravy, with eggs over easy and a small OJ; Robert inhaled a stack of pancakes, sausage and eggs, washed down with strong, black coffee. When we finished eating, I got a burger for my dog, who was waiting patiently in the truck. While Walter was eating, we made our phone calls before heading back to camp.
We found my brother, Andy with his friend, Luke, at South Prairie ; they followed us in to camp. Scott Mc Donald showed up a little later.
Scott is another friend I have known since grade school. He and Robert are also old friends. We live at opposite ends of the state, so there was some catching up to do. Fortunately, we had several growlers of good beer to lubricate our memories.
By then it was time for lunch, so I got out the pie irons and we roasted some more hand pies. I made some pie dough to use for the crust, which worked well for some of us; Robert had no trouble with his, but Scott’s had a blow-out and the melted cheese burned to the iron. He scraped his out and ate it with his knife. He risked cutting his tongue off, but it looked like he might have done this before.
Scott fried up elk steak and Robert baked a loaf of bread. We had some salad that Jason had left us to round off the meal. Speaking of Jason, he showed up just in time for dinner. Not shy about eating and running, he devoured the steak, had a glass of wine and headed back to town before dark. With the light fading, we retired to the warmth of the lodge.
Wednesday morning was clear and warming fast, so I moved the uneaten baked ham from my Dutch oven to the ice chest. I left the gelled fat and some scraps of ham in the pot and placed it in the shade under some wet burlap. I’d use it for chili that night. To that end, I put some beans in pot of water and left them to soak.
Luke and Andy were searching for morels under the big cottonwoods out by the road. Choosing not to pick them until we needed them, they marked each mushroom with a stick pushed into the earth next to it.
Meanwhile Robert played a tune on his concertina as Scott and I were preparing breakfast: Baked scrambled eggs with elk sausage, onions, peppers and cheese in the Dutch oven and fried bacon, asparagus and morels in a skillet on the coals. Andy and Luke found even more morels by the fir tree behind the lodge while breakfast was cooking.
Rob had to get home to his wife, so he packed up right after breakfast. We were sorry to see him go; he never even got his kayak wet, and we hadn’t run out of stories.
After Robert left, Andy and Luke went exploring, hoping to find more mushrooms. Scott and I took the canoe over to Disappearing Lake. It had been sunny when we started, but almost as soon as we left the shore, the rain began to fall. We paddled under a clump of tall cottonwoods and waited under the shelter of their canopy, floating in still, black water while the rain pounded the lake’s surface only a few feet from our vessel.
Just a few moments later, the storm let up and it began to clear. We left our sheltered cove and headed across the lake. We could see by the rings on the trees coming up through the lake, the water level was dropping. The water wasn’t as high as I had hoped, but it was still deep enough that, with some perseverance, we found a passage through to the different fingers and branches of the lake. We spent several hours poking about, gliding through the towering cottonwoods along the misshapen lumps of lava which formed the banks of this vernal impoundment.
When we got back to shore, Andy and Luke were there. Luke was staying another night, but my brother had commitments in town, so he bid us adieu. He would be back Sunday.
Back in camp I spent some time in the kitchen tent while Luke and Scott got a fire going in the lodge. I drained the beans and added them to the fat and ham in the Dutch oven, along with tomatoes, onions, chilis and spices. I mixed up some buttermilk cornbread in a second Dutch oven and brought the two iron kettles into the longhouse. Scott cut up some elk meat and tossed it in the pot of chili before I hung it from a chain above the flames. It would be several hours before it was ready to eat. We filled those hours gathering wood, bringing it back to the tent and relaxing around the fire with a drink within easy reach. When the beans were tender, I got some coals going and arranged them under and on top of the Dutch oven containing the cornbread. It was a fine meal and a fine way to spin out the rest of the day.
Thursday turned out to be the nicest day of the week. It dawned clear and stayed temperate all day. Luke picked the rest of the morels and we had a pile of them for breakfast: Scott put together an outstanding omelet with asparagus, mushrooms and bacon. After we ate, Luke did the dishes, cleverly using the slats of a chair for a dishrack.
Luke left after he did the dishes. Scott and I sat eating elk pepperoni and chatting in the sunshine until we wore the morning out. When Scott had packed his gear and driven off, Walter and I had the camp to ourselves.
The dog dozed under the shade of a fir and I sat by the creek and read, until I realized it was Shower and Clean Underwear Day again. I fired up the Zodi and enjoyed a long, hot shower. I let the warm afternoon sun and a gentle breeze dry my skin before getting dressed with a clean change of clothes.
I was lamenting there was nobody to appreciate my attention to hygiene when I heard a motorcyle idling through the trees, thumping nearer. My old friend, Doug McCoy, surprised me with a visit, bringing along his wife, Jackie Ann, for me to meet. After I showed them around camp, I mixed some Kentucky Mules for my guests. We sipped the bourbon and ginger concoctions and Doug caught me up with his adventures since I had seen him last, several years ago. Soon the drinks were gone and Doug and Jackie climbed on their motorcycle and headed off, planning to do a long loop through the forest before heading home to Trout Lake.
When the throb of Doug’s engine had faded away, Walter and I found ourselves truly alone. There was chili and cornbread left over for dinner, so I didn’t need to cook. I didn’t expect anymore company until sometime the next afternoon. I had nothing to do but relax, which I managed quite nicely. This is camping.
Chapter 5 coming soon