December 19, 2012.
Day 4: Oregon Badlands
This trip had been an exercise in bending time and space. With no regular access to a clock, we paid little attention to time and hardly cared to power up a cell phone to check. The days were so short, we could roughly estimate the time based on where the sun was in the sky: morning, lunchtime-ish, or uh-oh it’s getting darker.
So we got up sometime in the morning with the intention of starting a fire and having a nice breakfast. I’d planned out every meal for this trip and today’s lineup included bacon, eggs and fruit. Much to my surprise, I awoke to find a thin layer of water at the bottom of the cooler and all of my food frozen solid. While Aaron nurtured a roaring fire, I fought with prying frozen eggs out of their shells. Yes, frozen eggs. In all my experience winter camping this was a first for me. I mixed some partially frozen almond milk into the egg slurry to try and bring it back to an egg-like consistency. Meanwhile, I was also preparing to fry up some bacon. I got a cast iron pan hot on the propane stove, then tossed in the bacon. Surprise #2: the bacon almost immediately burned and left little fat behind in the pan. It was as if the frozen fat just vaporized, leaving blackened chunks of burnt meat behind in the pan. Rats.
To salvage the bacon I quickly put all the “cooked” strips into a foil pouch and tossed it near the fire to keep it warm while I fixed the rest of breakfast.
I kept all the grease in the pan, then poured in the frozen egg mixture. The eggs cooked nicely and absorbed all of that tasty bacon fat. Yum. At the same time I worked on peeling oranges with a sharp knife, then cutting the— you guessed it— frozen oranges into bite-sized segments.
Once the eggs were cooked, I unwrapped my bacon pouch and, voila, perfectly cooked bacon! I was floored. Bacon, eggs, orange-cicles and containers of yogurt made for a wickedly delicious and belly-warming treat. With that, we were ready to take on the day.
After packing up camp we hit the road for a few hours and stopped at the Oregon Badlands Wilderness just outside of Bend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since my guidebooks didn’t cover it and the website was, predictably, useless. We chose a short 3 mile loop, since daylight was already running short and we still had a bit of exploratory driving to do to find our last camp.
Our loop began at the Flatiron Rock Trailhead. We started up the Ancient Juniper Trail, following hordes of human and dog prints along a wide trail leading through the relatively flat, sagebrush-studded landscape. We stopped to admire the many large and twisted juniper trees. There were fewer cool rock formations than I’d expected. Maybe we chose the least scenic trail of the bunch. It was no matter, it just felt nice to feel the cold air on my face and get my legs moving. It was very cold and windy, as most of the trip had been, and the wide open plains offered no refuge from either.
About 2 miles into the hike we turned on to the Flatiron Rock Trail, which led straight back to the car. Although we saw a few folks with their dogs at the trailhead, we never came across any hikers on our loop. While it was a pretty place to walk, there was nothing all too special about the park. Perhaps with more time or in another season I could come to appreciate the Oregon Badlands more.
I didn’t have a solid plan for camping tonight. I’d hoped that one of the Badlands Trailheads would offer up some easy camping, but being so close to the road and so close to Bend it felt really overrun with people. Huge, fancy ranch houses loomed over wide fields just outside the boundary of the wilderness. It would have felt like camping in someone’s backyard. So we decided to zip through Bend and head south on 97 to hit a Forest Road to camp away from civilization.
Ironically, we ended up pulling into a sweet camping spot just barely off route 97 (we could see taillights through the trees) just before the snow got too deep to drive through. Although the wind swirled intently down the road and howled through the treetops, our spot was calm and protected from the wind. Aaron made quick work of getting a fire started while I set up the rest of camp.
We still had a lot of wood to burn so we made it a mission to have a raging fire this evening. We powered through a big dinner, tasty S’mores and refreshing beverages while continuously feeding fuel into the hungry fire. What a great last night of camping!
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