Really Cold at Sand Dunes

campfire at sand dunesThis weekend I set a personal record for winter camping: a high of 0 and low of -26 degrees (confirmed with the UMN climatology database, coordinates 45.29970, 93.58346). Pretty ridiculous, but only slightly dangerous – we were armed with many trees worth of firewood and many layers worth of clothing.

I still haven’t decided on a minimum temperature for the kids, but negative degrees Fahrenheit seemed like the no-kids-allowed zone. My son cried when I declared it to be too cold for him to join us. I didn’t want to suggest he wasn’t tough enough, so I tried the distraction-with-new-information strategy, explaining the phenomenon of frostbite. But the threat of losing body parts didn’t phase him. That made me proud. He is a tough kid. I bet he would have had a great time.

oak at sand dunesThere were only a few moments of pain, mostly in my toes as I was stupid enough to wear hiking boots. Otherwise, the campfire was always blazing and if you situated yourself nearly in the flames it was quite comfortable.

Here are a few more pics: Sand Dunes – January 21.

And here’s my pertinent gear: insulated jacket, heavy fleece, thermal t-shirt x 2, long johns, wool socks x 2, snowboarding pants, hiking boots (bad idea), ski mask, beanie, sleeping bag x 2 (zero and twenty degree), closed-cell foam pad (the blue one).

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha fallsThis weekend we hiked around at Minnehaha Falls, just south of Minneapolis on the Mississippi River. The waterfall is puny by most standards, such as height and volume. But by other standards, like freezability, it stands out. After a few weeks of low temperatures near zero, the entire fall ices over.

The best views are from the underside.

Minnehaha falls        Behind Minnehaha falls

Behind Minnehaha falls        Behind Minnehaha falls

Some notes for anyone planning a visit: The stairs on both sides of the creek are “closed for the season,” but still accessible. The staircase on the west side gets a lot of traffic and has been polished into one long icy slide (see video below). The east staircase, which we discovered on the way out, was much more like a staircase. Also, once you disregard the second warning sign, and fence, it gets real d-icey. Crampons would help.

Snowshoeing at Afton

dogs on the campfireI can still smell the campfire smoke and stinky socks from our first overnighter of 2011, a quick trip to Afton State Park, on the St. Croix River, about 30 miles from the Twin Cities. Though not as campy or gritty as our last campout, the state parks have a couple of attractions to offer in the winter: heated cabins and snowshoe rentals.

Compared to a tent in the bushes the cabin was luxurious, with heat, electricity, a porch, fire pit, and picnic table. Not to mention a garbage can and coat rack! They’re a bit pricey at $58.50, probably because of the coat rack, but going with friends and splitting the bill made it manageable. For a bundle of firewood, snowshoe rentals, and three meals for 5 people the total came to about $110, and we ate like camping kings (hot dogs, dutch oven cinnamon rolls, cakes with bacon).

hot dog lineup   afton cabin   afton cabin living room   afton cabin bunks

Please excuse the blurry, i.e., artsy, photos, taken with my cell phone. I forgot my camera, along with the ketchup, hence the fast-food condiments seen in the hot dog lineup picture. Even with Heinz the trip couldn’t have been better, unless the kids had gone to bed before 11:15 and/or woken up after 5:15. Despite having burnt the candle, severely, at both ends they tromped through the snow with us for a few hours.

happy snowshoer         happy snowshoers

A successful first attempt at snowshoeing! I’ve posted a few more cell-phone quality pics here: Campouts – 2011

How to Build and Indoor Swing

Background

The Minnesota winter is upon us and kinderclaustrophobia is setting in. I guess it’s not really a phobia, more like a hysteria, resulting from prolonged exposure to rambunctious children in a confined space. Either way, what we need is a swing in our living room.

I’m not talking about a traditional swing, the kind at the playground with two ropes, the one-dimensional kind that only moves forward and back. Even better is the tire swing type – with a single connection point up top you get a second dimension, swinging and spinning in all directions.

It gets better. By inserting a trampoline spring or two you can swing in the third dimension: vertically. Three dimensional swinging, indoors.

Materials

  1. Stud finder
  2. Large hook screw(s), 5/16″ x 4″ works well
  3. Carabiner(s)
  4. Trampoline spring, max load should be above 60 lbs
  5. Rope, 1/4″ is perfect
  6. Dowel, 1 inch thick, a foot or two long
  7. Drill with 5/16″ bit
  8. Sand paper

Indoor swing materials   More indoor swing materials

Assembly

  1. Find a stud – First, I used the cheapskate method, knocking around till my knuckles were raw, then hitting a nail through the sheetrock until it stuck into something wood-like, which it never did. After many nail holes in the ceiling, I bought a $10 stud finder at the local supercenter.

  2. Stick in the bolt – A friend gave me a solid loop bolt thingy that he found at Ikea – they sell a little indoor swing kit for pretty cheap. I put that one in the living room. In the kids room I used the hook screw, which is cheaper and just as strong.

    Indoor swing bolt   Indoor swing hook screw   Lots of indoor swings

  3. Rig up the trapeze – you can cut the dowel to any length, but I made mine about two feet long, enough to sit on, or dangle from by ones knees. Drill a hole in each end, just wide enough for the rope to pass through, and tie some knots. PVC pipe also works, but you’ll need some grip tape. This twisted clove hitch works too.

    Indoor swing dowel   Indoor swing dowel knot   Indoor swing pvc handle

There you have it – in about 30 minutes, a flippin swing, in your house. By nature, kids need to put in a certain amount of acrobatics every day. Now, the ninos can release their wiggles without dangling from the curtain rods or the chandelier.

Variations

A simple rope swing works nicely, but my kids don’t have the grip strength to hold on. They can stand all right on a huge knot tied in the end, but one of those disc seats would be perfect.

My 1 year old was jealous of her older siblings so I grabbed a bucket seat for $14 at Menards, a hardware store in our neck of the woods. They had a nice build-your-own-playground section with plastic slides and outdoor swing kits, vinyl seat with chains. Home Depot had nothing of the sort, though they were the only place with springs.

My buddy Tim-o, who inspired this project, installed a series of swings in his living room. That’s right, a series. The handles are PVC, each about six inches long, and a few feet apart.

Winter Bicycling: Essential Gear

Earlier this week I posted a list of winter bicycling essential attire. Today, I’ll finish the ensemble with some essential winter biking gear.

All you really need is a bike, preferably a beater, one you wouldn’t mind leaving in a ditch or launching off a bridge just to see if it explodes. For the past two winters I rode Frankencycle – a beast of a bike, scrapped together from numerous bike corpses abandoned around our apartment complex.

frankencycle
frankencycle

Somehow the front wheel escaped before I took the picture… It was actually a sturdy and reliable bike, and yet I never had to lock it up. I guess a bike thief is a poor judge of character.

Here are a few additional components that some people find handy:

  1. Studded tires – helpful on ice, but pricey, slower, and still not crash proof. These come in all sizes, even for road bikes, though the fit might be snug.
  2. Snowboarding helmet – full-face makes it warm and dry, but also bulky and heavy.
  3. Lights – absolutely essential. Here in the north the sun throws in the towel around 4:30, and the bike lane turns into a slosh fest which forces you into the road, so the more candelas the better. Since both my light mountings have busted I’ve strapped the front to my helmet and the rear to my backpack, which is nice because I don’t have to detach them when I park.

Last year, completely cankered with rust, Frankencycle disappeared into the northern countries to live its final days in solitude. I’ve since assembled Bikenstien, a mountain bike that’s just as scrappy, though not as loyal.

bikenstien
bikenstien