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Day 16: Stealth Camping near Quincy IL to Mark Twain Cave Campground, Hannibal MO, 51 miles

Mostly headwinds and knee pain.

The morning got an early start, at a quarter of 6, and I’m glad it did because the rain started coming down just as I finished cooking oatmeal. Thankfully I’d left the tent up, so I had a dry place to eat. The shooting started around 7 with the rain, and I was on the road as soon as the rain started to let up.

Second breakfast, picnic style

Short on water, I had to postpone coffee & 2nd breakfast till around 11, when I found a cue little city park with all the amenities a cyclist could want: a pavilion for cover from the rain, picnic tables, running water, working electricity and bathrooms on the other side of the parking lot.

From there I chased the front the rest of the day, staying just ahead of the clear skies and warming sun. It didn’t really matter, because the winds never let up. The road changed directions enough at one point that the headwind became almost like a tailwind, but that was short lived as I took a 20-mile detoured around I-172 (bicycles prohibited) and the last 12 miles to I-72 (bicycles allowed on rightmost shoulder only) and Hannibal were almost but not quite excruciating.

When I finally got into downtown Hannibal I had to contend with it being 4 on a Sunday afternoon. I finally found an open restaurant, Treadaux Pizza (sadly no beer, sign to the contrary), and destroyed a 14″ pizza.

It was getting dark, so from there I headed for the nearest campground, Mark Twain Cave, conveniently situated on the wrong side of a 400 foot climb. As luck would have it, I arrived 9 minutes after the office closed. So much for attempting to score a late-season bargain (the website said something about closing November 1st). On the up-side, they have wifi, a heated bath-house and a coin-op laundry. Still not sure it’s worth the $19/night, but the state of my knee deemed it worth the price of not to have to go any farther tonight. Unless it’s feeling better, I’m probably not going to make it back over the hill into downtown Hannibal to see the Mark Twain museums before leaving town, either.

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Day 15: Hickory Haven Campground, Keokuk IA to Stealth Camping near Quincy IL, 36 miles

Hickory Haven Campground has one of the nicest shower buildings I’ve seen yet: not only is it bright and clean, it has HEAT!

Crossed back into Illinois today, not much to say except to mention the endless headwinds.

I stopped in Warsaw IL at the Main Street Cafe, where the owner (a fascinating guy) made up for the food. And they have wifi. I had a bacon-cheeseburger (of course) with fries. Besides lacking in the flavor department, it was small, so the second round was a patty melt, which had a semblance of flavor thanks to the sautéed onions. They had “coffee”. No comment. The owner was a fascinating guy, and kept me there an half an hour past close (2pm) talking instead of eating, and let me spend another half hour blogging after that while he cleaned up. He recommended taking the back road into Quincy (that I was planning on taking) saying it was quiet and smooth.

I went across the street to stock up on a few groceries at Pa’s Market, and then spent half an hour trying to cram my few purchases into already-full panniers. The owner came out twice to talk to me, and also recommended the back road into Quincy that I was planning on taking.

The twice recommended back road was indeed quite quiet, smooth and scenic. I cranked through 15 miles of it in an hour despite the headwinds, making ample use of the “reference frame accelerator”, my 48 tooth (largest) chain-ring.

Sun setting behind the clouds

Cockpit view of endless gravel roads and telephone poles

I made it about 6 miles shy of Quincy, when I saw a sign for Bear Creek Public Use Area. My Army Corps of Engineers brochure said it featured primitive camping, and it was only 3 miles away, so I turned and endured the pounding from three more miles of gravel roads.

When I got “there”, there was no “there” there. Climbing up on the levee with my binoculars, I thought I spied a duck blind near the only flat area. Not wanting to be down-range, I hauled my bike a third of a mile down the levee towards it. It was empty, so I set up camp as far away it as possible, right next to the levee, and made myself comfortable for the night.

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Day 14: Silver Lake Campground to Hickory Haven Campground, Keokuk IA, 49 miles

Silver Lake Campground guard dog

The overnight lows have been on a downward trend, this morning dawned cooler than the last. During breakfast I had was pointedly ignored by one of the resident dogs; neither begging for attention nor food, just being there, enjoying the sun.

Silver Lake Campground had signs up on every water faucet: “WATER IS NOT SAFE TO DRINK” so I got to use my Katadyn water filter for the first time. Save spare parts; I’ve now used all of the gear I’m carrying.

Having paid $10 for the campsite, I was happy to discover the showers were HOT, even if dimly lit.

Private bike lane

I rolled down Highway 61, I was excited to see I not only had my own freshly paved “lane”, but also had a lane to keep the highway traffic at bay. After I turned off that, it was gravel roads alternating with two-lane paved highways the rest of the way to Fort Madison.

In Fort Madison, I got lost, and wound up traversing the almost the whole of town looking for lunch.

Jake and Walt's Diner in Fort Madison IA

I eventually found Jake & Walt’s diner, where I picked the signature “Wally Burger.” One pound, covered in American and Swiss cheese, mushrooms and onions. It looked like a monster, but it didn’t last long, so I took the staff recommendation and had a slice of peanut butter pie, too. ($13 after coffee and tip, if you’re wondering Tim.)

Peanut Butter Pie. Excellent doesn't even come close!

On the way out of town, the weather took a turn for the worse, threatening rain. The winds picked up, and the first sprinkles started. My GPS kept telling me to take a U-turn as I passed the sign for the Duck Haven campground in Fort Madison. Stubbornly I pressed on, and my luck took a turn for the worse. My directions told me to take Highway 61, which had been newly rebuilt as a four-lane super highway. I declined. Rather, I inclined up the steep US-2 hill instead.

Huh. Not stopping here.

The sky brightened, but the light was short lived. I continued riding little gravel roads. As the sun set, I was once again grateful to have the dynamo powered lights. Then the fun of blindly trusting the navigational duties to the GPS began. I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure I crossed Hwy 61 twice (if not three times) in the dark before finding my way to an open camp ground (the first was “1/8 mile” up some never-ending gravel hill, a sign said, but it remained hidden in the dark. I found the second campground, and it was closed). Third campground was the charm. It invited weary travelers to find a spot and square up with the office in the morning, so I did.

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Day 13: Stealth Camping Near Oakville to Silver Lake Campground in Burlington IA, 42 miles

I woke up in the dark with a start, to the sound of raindrops on the tent, and fell back asleep.

I woke up in the dark with a start, to my worst fear: some critter that looked like all the ‘possums I’ve seen as road-kill had unzipped my tent, and was sitting on my face while busily chowing down on the food I had reluctantly stored in my tent last night. I  tried to yell at it, but had no motor control and only managed a moan. I tried again, louder, and got a groan. The third time I got something that sounded like a scream of panic.

I woke up in the dark with a start, to the sound my my scream, this time for real (I thought). 12:47AM. Tent intact, food supplies unmolested. I took my wallet and phone out of my pockets, trying to get more comfortable, but left the flashlight and kept my glasses on just in case I woke up again and needed to see immediately, and laid back down on the lumpy ground.  I fell asleep thinking about a non-inflatable sleeping pad.

I woke up in the dark with a start, to the sound of raindrops on the tent, and fell back asleep. Stealth camping has it’s charm, I guess.

I woke up in the dawning twilight, and decided t o get an early start to the day. The top of my left knee still sore, I lowered my seat-post a few millimeters. Short on water, I nixed the idea of breakfast, struck the still damp tent, and decided to head for the “4th Pumping Station” Campground. Google Maps indicated it was just 4 miles away. Using a road that wasn’t there any more, I discovered the hard way. 12  miles later I made it, and proceeded to cook breakfast. The campground looked modern, and boasted a pavilion with electricity and pit toilets. One of the nearby buildings had not one but TWO open wifi access points. Taking stock of the situation, I decided this was brunch, and I followed up my oatmeal, bacon and coffee with a four-egg omelet and more coffee. Probably not going to be a high mileage day today.

I lingered at 4th Pumping Station campground till 1pm, enjoying free wifi, electricity & a 2nd cup of coffee. Having missed dinner last night, I was hungry by the time I rode off, even though I just finished “brunch.”

The day quickly warmed up, to the point I stripped off the rainjacket & changed from knickers + pants to just pants.

Rode Highway 99 most of the way from farm country near Oakville to Burlington. Had a late lunch at Town Hall, switched things up with a 12-inch pizza (cracker-thin crust, tasted almost like a frozen pizza) and a Fat Tire.

Silver Lake Campground near Burlington wasn’t quite the typical RV park; it was an RV park on a lake; a “lake place” for people who didn’t care to own the property, just cared for a place to “get away” to on a lake. Noise from the highway and the occasional train dominated the soundscape.

Feeling a touch of indigestion, I only made coffee for dinner. I used the Trangia alcohol stove because I was still trying to use up the last of the 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol that was hogging on of my 20-oz MSR fuel bottles. The cap on the plastic bottle of white gas has a leak; despite double checking that the cap was tight this morning the bottle neck was wet and the pannier it was in continues to reek of white gas.

I sipped my coffee while watching the stars come out. Stargazing is something I’ve been into since grade school but sadly “haven’t had time” to enjoy since starting college in 1995. Even though I haven’t broken out the binoculars yet, it’s refreshing just to see the Milky Way in the sky again.

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Day 12: Wildcat Den State Park to Somewhere Near Oakville IA (stealth camping), 56 miles

The summery weather lasted till sometime over night, when I woke up cold enough to grab the pullover jacket & hat that I sadly knew I’d be needing. Morning was chilly, but the winter cycling gloves I had my folks send me made a big difference. As did the whisperlite stove; I waited 10 minutes for a vapor cloud  indicating my water for coffee & oatmeal was boiling which never came.

Harper's Cycling & Fitness in Muscatine, IA

At John D.’s recommendation, I stopped at Harper’s Cycling & Fitness and met Greg, the owner’s son. Greg was super helpful, and recommended  Elm’s restaurant & lounge for lunch.

At Elm’s I had the “Elm’s Burger,” a BBQ sauce and batter-fried onion covered bacon cheeseburger (of course). I’m normally a somewhat leery of BBQ sauce on burgers because taste in BBQ sauce is such an individual thing. This one was my thing, and the Elms Burger will be my new standard reference bacon cheeseburger. It was really that good.

Potosi IPA

I washed it down with a Potosi (WI) IPA, and now I’m wishing I’d stopped at the brewery in Potosi when I was there. Oh well. As I was leaving, the hostesses figured out that I wasn’t their typical customer, and asked me about my bike trip, and the obligatory photo shoot followed. This minor-league celebrity thing is kinda fun.

From there I rode on mostly gravel roads, even though Iowa drivers have been almost universally the most courteous drivers I’ve encountered, it’s nicer still to have no traffic at all.

I stopped at the Wapello library to warm up, refill my water bottles, and make use of the free & open wifi while planning where I was going to stop for the night. I decided on the Ferry Landing Rec Area. After reaching Oakville, things got interesting. There were deceptively helpful signs indicating directions to the Rec area, with it’s alleged 22 camping sites. The roads had been freshly re-graveled, and made travel quite slow. After 50 miles, now both knees and my left Achilles tendon were aching again. The wind was still out of the north, and the sun was sinking. Detouring around one farm field after another, I finally reached what Google Maps indicated  was the road into the Rec area. Feeling hopeful, I picked up speed, and then hit a divot in the gravel two-track that dislodged both of my rear panniers and broke two eggs. By the time I reached the “Rec Area” I was disgusted to see a sign prohibiting “all vehicles” from driving on the levee. While I might have reached the rec area, I had missed the camping area altogether. Checking the time, I decided to use my last 10 minutes of daylight to find a place to setup  the tent out of view. Spotting a line of four wild turkeys, I initially tried to find a tree limb suitable for hanging my food, but failed. I loaded everything into the tent instead.

Short on water, dinner consisted cold rations of dark chocolate, peanuts & raisins (GORP) and the remainder of my Nelson (WI) Creamery cheddar cheese. Not wanting to mess with the sleeping pad in case I got evicted overnight, I pulled out the sleeping bag and pillow and hunkered down for the night.

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Day 11: Cedar Rapids IA to Muscatine IA, 78 miles.

As typical for the night before starting (restarting in this case) a tour, it was a sleepless night. Morning came all too soon, and I was grateful my Aunt, on her day off, volunteered to cook me breakfast because I it gave me time to pack. Given the new stove, fuel bottle and bottle of white gas, and full load of groceries it was a challenge.

Loaner wheel installed, loaner stove tested and packed, I rolled out about 11 from Cedar Rapids to beautiful 70F blue skies. Passing Ellis Spoke, I spied a fellow Surly rider, so I circled back to check it out.

John and his Surly Steamroller

I met John D., who was also out enjoying the weather. He volunteered to ride with me to Ely, and regaled me with tales his past tours as we rolled along the beautiful new pavement on the Hoover Trail. He showed me his odometer, 4400-some miles on the Steamroller this year alone, and said that was typical: being retired a few years ago, he rides every day. I suspect he has just as many miles on his Trek 520 touring bike.

Parting ways with John, I decided to explore Ely, and found Chicken Fried Steak at Odie’s Bar & Grill. On top of a big bowl of mashed potatoes and covered in gravy, just what this hungry cyclist needed. Washed down with a pint of Guinness.

Hwy 38 south of I-80 had a 2-foot paved shoulder, unfortunately with rumble strip the entire way. Finally bailed at F44 towards Sunbury. Changed directions back south about 5 miles later on X64, then ran into Hwy 38 again.

Hwy 38 north of I-80 sucked: 2-lane, only “class 5” gravel shoulders.
Fxx roads are much nicer: minimal traffic, fairly smooth.
Xxx roads are 2-lane, gravel shoulder but much less traffic.

Looked for a place to stealth camp, but many of the farm fields were being worked in the dark, and there were farm houses everywhere.

Pick-me-up of coffee, big icecream sandwich & 3L bottle of water at gas station in Wilton, $4.58.

Believe I have 6L water capacity between 4L MSR Dromlite, 1L Nalgene and 2-27 oz stainless-steel bottles; bought a 3L bottle of water and think I had room for one more in 4L Dromlite.

Wildcat Den State Park, Muscatine IA

Wildcat Den State Park, Muscatine, IA. $6, water faucet near campsite, pit toilets. One family with one little boy at the other end of the campground making noise, but they quieted down before I finished dinner at 10:30PM.

My new-to-me but used MSR Whisperlite brought 2 cups of water (for quinoa) to a rolling boil in 5 minutes, I then used my Trangia to fry bacon, sautee onions & boil off excess water (2C water is WAY too much for 1C quinoa, try 3/2 C next time). In 60F temps with no wind, even the 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol was easy to light & cooked hot. Still very sooty, though. I noticed the gas station in Wilton carried yellow bottle “Heet” (methyl-alcohol) in 12-oz containers for $1.67, but didn’t notice whether they also had white gas (Coleman Fuel). The bottle of white gas I got at Wal-Mart in Cedar Rapids seems to have leaked in my pannier & the entire thing stinks even after rinsing it out

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Tour: Oregon Coast

This gallery contains 113 photos.

Tweet Back in September, from the 12 – 19th, I toured the Oregon Coast with my good friend Jim. Jim’s got an excellent write up about that trip, and I don’t  expect to have much more to add at this … Continue reading

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Spending Time in Cedar Rapids IA

Having spent 10 days on the road, re-integrating back into civilization in Cedar Rapids was a bit of a challenge. Instead of literally racing sunset, I spent the first day being domestic: Shower. Breakfast indoors. Laundry with a washing machine. Try to ignore the bright red windburn on my face. Momentary panic because both of my pairs of pants are in the wash. Realize I can wear my rain pants in the house. Try to ignore the noise that even corduroy pants can’t compete with. Catch up on email. Pay bills online. Et cetera.

My Aunt came home from work at noon, and I spent most of the rest of the afternoon talking to her.

My Uncle came home from work about 4pm, and I spent an hour talking to him, too. Then we went to a bike shop downtown to try to figure out what had happened to make my rear dérailleur not stay in any gear, and why it looked like the cassette was wobbling so badly. Turns out the cassette lock-ring was loose, but that was just one more symptom. The next day I rode to a different bike shop, removed the cassette for inspection, and it appears like the problem is likely in the freehub, but I wasn’t able to remove the freehub body to find out exactly what went wrong. My friends at Hiawatha Cyclery back in Minneapolis are sending me a loaner wheel, so I’ll be able to continue touring early next week while they continue the bicycle hub forensics.

Cedar River

McCloud Run: Iowa's only Urban Trout Stream

On the way back, I took a leisurely ride along the Cedar River, finding Iowa’s only Urban Trout Stream in the process.

Meanwhile, my friend Lanny is sending me his MSR Whisperlite stove, due to arrive early next week, which should make cooking much less of a chore.

I went to work with my Uncle today for a tour of his store and to catch up on blog entries while he caught up on paperwork. I have to give a quick shout-out to Doug at RMS, Hi Doug!, thanks for the use of your desk today, hope I didn’t move too many things around.

The rest of the day was spent in quest of white gas for the MSR Whisperlite; surprisingly both Gander Mountain and Target no longer carry it. I finally obtained a quart at Walmart of all places. I think I’m going to keep the alcohol-fueled Trangia, at least for a while, until I figure out how much white gas the whisperlite uses, and where to buy white gas in small towns should the need arise.

While the whole being a “stay-at-home-nephew” thing is kind of a novelty, and I’m grateful for the hospitality my Aunt & Uncle have shown, I’m also eager to get back on the road.

To Be Continued…

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Day 10: Hoot-Owl Hollow to Cedar Rapids IA, 85 miles

A day of ups and downs.

After a cold night and colder morning at Hoot-Owl Hollow RV campground near Graf IA, I was painfully aware of the forecast for falling low temperatures over the next two nights. While I warmed up enough after the first half-dozen rolling hills to ditch the rain pants, pull-over jacket and stocking cap, I kept the rain jacket, cycling cap and double pair of knee-high wool socks.

Heritage Trail, Graf Access

Not far out of Graf I picked up the Heritage Trail, a mostly flat gravel trail that ranged from crushed limestone to just-smaller-than class 5 (very coarse) pea gravel consistency. Feeling generous after being offered a free night’s camping at the Hoot-Owl Hollow, I gladly paid the $2.10/day trail-pass fee. I took the trail all the way to just north of Farley IA, passing a trail-maintenance crew with a Long-Neck Fibre Eater that was about to remove a bridge at one point (fortunately they waited for me to cross before removing the bridge).

Lunch hopes in Farley were in vain, so I set my GPS for Worthington and rolled on. The wind had become fierce, and I’d noticed my rear dérailleur wasn’t staying in gear, but I was able to tweak the downtube barrel adjuster and didn’t think anything of it.

LaStraw Restaurant & Lounge

In Worthington I found the LaStraw Restaurant & Lounge, and ordered coffee. And, you guessed it, a bacon-cheeseburger. (Sampling bacon-cheeseburgers is my occupation, this bicycle touring stuff is just a hobby, remember? :-)

The burly guy next to me at the bar took one look at me, put down his Budweiser, and asked what kind of a bike I was riding. Then he told me how he has ridden RAGBRAI every year for the last (IIRC) 27 years. The two old guys at the far end of the bar asked where I was going, and the crowd of four (once the waitress came out of the kitchen) was amazingly positive about this crazy tour of mine. I must have looked pretty cold, because the waitress immediately brewed another pot of coffee. When my order came out, it consisted of the smallest, tastiest, “cajun-style” (blackened) bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever had accompanied by what looked like a full pound of french fries. I finished my burger in record time, yet still had half my fries. So I had to order another bacon-cheeseburger. (The waitress didn’t know what to make of it, but put my order in anyway. Bless her.) It was a delicious cycle. As I finished my lunch, and the rest of the pot of coffee, I received another recommendation for the campground in Monticello. Before I could leave, however, I was in for another photo-shoot.

Refueled, recaffeinated, and ready to rumble, I rolled out. Despite continued chills, hills, headwinds, and rear dérailleur problems,  I reached the campground in Monticello at 4pm. There was no-one there. The sign on the store-like building at the entrance said “CLOSED”. The house between the store and the RV sites looked deserted. I checked the GPS: 50 miles to Cedar Rapids, 2 hours 20 minutes to sunset. Rationalizing that I wouldn’t have to set up camp in the dark if I reached my Aunt & Uncle’s house in Cedar Rapids, I decided to continue.

By sunset I was about a mile from Coggon, about 35 miles from my destination. The quiet 2-lane roads were replaced by IA-13, and I rode most of the way on gravel shoulders. On the up-side, the traffic volume finally started to die off as it got later in the evening, and the stiff winds were at my back as I headed south along Highway 13. By the time I finally turned off the highway, I didn’t care it was onto an unlit gravel road. I got some cyclo-cross action cutting through a section of 10th St(?) that was “closed” for paving. I turned onto 7th, then found myself dumped into a suburban-style auto-centric CF of roads circling a mall.  Eventually, after far too many urban hills and high-speed suburban arterial roads,  I escaped, arriving only half an hour later than I had told my Uncle. And had to climb one last hill so steep I was again in the granny chainring before reaching his driveway.

Thoroughly drenched in sweat, chilled to the bone, exhausted and aching, I limped my crippled bike into the garage. I’d made it.

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Day 9: Grant River Rec Area to Hoot-Owl Hollow, Graf IA, 35 miles

Three States in One Day.

It turns out my fears of being able to sleep with the train tracks so close was unfounded; I slept like a log, and don’t recall waking up any more than I have been anyway on this tour from the different unfamiliar noises every night.

The morning was blissfully uneventful. Slept in till 9, enjoyed coffee to the sounds of the waves gently breaking on the shore, and proceeded through a three-course meal of oatmeal, bacon and fried potatoes. Given the hit-or-miss availability of running water I decided to make use of the free shower facilities and wash clothes as well. All of which made for a noon-thirty roll-out.

The day warmed up to about 50F, not balmy but not miserable. I rode through Dickeyville, and passed a religious Grotto, I considered going in for the novelty but wasn’t interested enough to pay for admission.

Grotto in Dickeyville, WI

Looking for lunch, I was directed to the Sunset Lanes bowling alley, where I spent an hour warming up, enjoying my daily bacon-cheeseburger, all he while talking to the bar tender, who turned out to be the owner, over a Spotted Cow. He told me about previous travelers, including one who canoed to New Orleans, and  recommended the book Into the Wild.

Welcome to Illinois

The temperature had started dropping, and I opted for the shorter route to Dubuque via US-151. It was, shall we say, sub-optimal. The traffic was constant and high-speed, made barely-tolerable only by the not-really-wide-enough paved shoulder (with rumble strip). I turned off at my first opportunity, and took WI-35 (later IL-35) into East Dubuque IL, and then US-20 into Dubuque IA. The US-20 bridge has a side walk on the south side of the bridge, but I only managed to ride about half way across before I had to dismount and walk past a guy with a hard-hat and a climbing harness working on the bridge. I had a touch of vertigo because of the wind and weird moire effects from the chain-link fence, the safety railings, light reflecting off the river and my polarized sunglasses and elected to walk the remainder of the way.

The afternoon was winding down as I reached downtown Dubuque, and my desire to check out the historic downtown lost against my desire to be out of city traffic before dark. After several false starts, I found my way to a very pleasant, paved, off-street bike trail.

Dubuque Bike Routes

I followed it to Asbury Road, where I eventually came to a Hy-Vee grocery store. Anticipating the possibility of stealth camping, I not only stocked up on groceries, but also water. I then turned to get out of town, and started looking for a secluded place to camp for the night. Eventually turning onto Pennsylvania Road, I passed the Hoot-Owl Hollow RV campground, and was delighted to find a sign “Overnights and weekends welcome, call the office” and the office phone number. The proprietress, on hearing I was a bicyclist with just one tent, in need of no ammenities besides a place to stay for one night, said I could stay for free and recommended a site in the back, sheltered from the wind. I assume the water was on, although I did not test it. I did make use of the electric hookup to recharge my phone, but was too chilled by the end of dinner for anything other than climbing into my sleeping bag, still completely dressed.

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