Camping at Ratcliff Lake

I did another camping trip at Ratcliff Lake. The place really makes sense as a destination with it so close to the house. Just have to wait for the weather to be agreeable before I’ll go. I’d have a hard time camping when it gets 100+ in midsummer.

I had a big test earlier this week and I needed some R&R. The plan was to leave the house on Saturday morning, set up camp and then go hike a little in the afternoon searching for a geocache or two along the way. My wife lacks a hammock, so she opted to sleep in our big car camping tent with Biner. I wanted to sleep in the hammock because I haven’t used it all summer.

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I got a Warbonnet Traveler bug net awhile back and this is my first time testing it out. The bugs weren’t bad on this trip because it was cool…but it hasn’t been cool for long so there were bugs around. I liked how the net worked. I slipped it on over the hammock and ridgeline, and the ridgeline kept it up out of my face and it fit well underneath the hammock, as well. I got my tarp pitched better on this trip than the last time I set it up.

After setting up camp, we went out for a hike on the 4C Trail for the afternoon. The geocache we looked for (Ratcliff Lake Hiking Trail) served as our turnaround point. It turned out to be a good cache hunt. We saw a lot while we were in that small spot by the pond. Right when we arrived at the pond near the cache, we heard a tree falling in the woods. YES! I concluded after much philosophical debate that trees that fall in the forest when noone is around do indeed make a sound. The existence of sound does not depend on the presence of a detector (my ear). That would be like saying that since I do not have a UV detector with me, there is no UV radiation nearby. UV radiation is all over. So is sound. It exists whether I hear it or not.

We had a wildlife sighting, also (in addition to the deer we saw at the beginning of the trail, which was notable only because deer are pretty uncommon here compared to the midwest). We saw a very cool tree frog (the American green tree frog, Hyla cinerea).

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The cache hunt was a good time. We eventually found it, it was a sneaky hide, but you won’t find any spoilers here.

There were mushrooms all over the woods, too. These were huge!

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I must write a little about our camp food, which was oh-so-delicious. For dinner, we simply cooked sausages, corn, and beans over the fire. Nothing unusually spectacular there. For dessert, we made s’mores…for the first time in a very long time for both of us. We’ve been disappointed at how the chocolate doesn’t melt from warm marshmallows lately, so we decided to pre-warm it by placing it on a warm cast-iron skillet. We did the same with a Reese’s cup, since we’ve recently read that those are a good replacement for the chocolate bar.

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First off, pre-warming the chocolate does the trick. That way, both the marshmallow AND the chocolate are gooey. I’ve heard that the formula of the chocolate has been changed to improve shelf stability. If that’s the case, it hurts the usability of the chocolate in s’mores. Pre-warming mitigates that problem. Pre-warming works well on the Reese’s cup, too, and the addition of peanut butter really adds a lot to the humble s’more.

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My problem with the hammock this time was with my bottom insulation. I donated my CCF pad to the dog so he’d have some bottom insulation, which left me with my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad. That otherwise wouldn’t have been a huge problem…except my IAC wasn’t holding air. My bottom side kept getting cold. So I went to ground in hopes of doing better, where I was cold AND uncomfortable. Sigh – I should have stayed in the hammock.

I must also sing the praises of cast iron. I bought a cast iron skillet to cook breakfast on (simple bacon & eggs).

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It really cooked the bacon very well. Especially over a campfire where regulating the heat was a challenge. The cast iron really distributed the heat well and gave my bacon the perfect crispy texture. It seemed to taste better cooked this way, but I don’t know if it was the cast iron or the fact that everything tastes better cooked outside on a campfire. Maybe it was both.

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Of course I cooked my eggs in the same skillet. Organic free range eggs. Man, those were good! Chased it down with some OJ and that breakfast kept me going all day. It’s 12 hours later and I’m only just now getting hungry for dinner. My lunch was also relatively small.

As I was getting ready to pack up (I was actually brushing my teeth), an older couple walking their dogs asked to take a photo of my hammock setup (complete with my Hammock Forums flag).  I let them have at it, and they introduced themselves (Fred and Suzanne Dow) and they write books about National Forest Campgrounds.  We began to talk about several that I’d visited and they talked about how much they enjoyed Ratcliff Lake.  I’d have to agree.  It’s a nice campground.  Clean and well-maintained.  I figured I’d be kind and politely give their website a shoutout.  They run the US National Forest Campground Guide.  They’ve visited a lot of campgrounds.  They’ve visited all of the ones I mentioned.

Overall it was exactly the sort of camping trip I wanted. I could have slept better, but it wasn’t TOO cold out so it wasn’t a disaster that my pad deflated. I’ll have to get that dealt with. Back to work tomorrow.

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