May 24th 2014
There was a "possible" meteor shower, the Camelopardalids, Memorial Day weekend due to debris from the Comet 209P/LINEAR. Nobody knew for sure what to expect: either something awesome or a dud. The peak viewing was somewhere between 2am and 4am Saturday morning. I love looking at the stars and decided to try my eye to see what I could. While not strictly a backpacking story, I did take my pack and I did camp out.
I like a dark sky, particularly when I camp. I had spent some time looking the Dark Sky Finder and found Heuston Woods to be pretty dark (at least as dark as we get around Ohio). Another good resource for this is Blue Marble showing satellite imagery of night lights.
I didn't want to actually camp at the Heuston Woods camp area. I figured on Memorial Day weekend it would be crowded and noisy. I called the park office and asked if I could just hang my hammock in one of the picnic areas to watch the meteor shower. "No."
So, I started looking further Northwest. Turns out there is the American Discovery Trail that passes through the area. I figured I could camp along the trail somewhere. Most of ADT is along private land using country roads. The Concord Church in Dixon, OH is listed in the ADT data book as providing camping sites. It sounded perfect.
I had some other plans Friday night, but got out to the church just after sunset at 9:30pm. Most of that land was farmland. Almost every field I passed had a tractor out working it. Farmers don't have short days. As I got out of the car, I slammed my right thumb in the door. That put a damper on most of the evening.
The church had a nice lawn for tent camping, but no trees good for hanging. I drove down the road a bit and found a grove of trees between two fields. On one side of the street it was fenced off and posted. On the other it wasn't. I went back and parked my car at the church and then "hiked" the half mile or so down the road to the grove.
This was a night of several firsts. I have never "stealth" camped anywhere. That's where you camp on what you're pretty sure isn't public land and you don't have explicit permission. I set up my hammock back off the road a bit, but on the edge of the grove. I found two good trees right on the edge of the field. There was a downed tree limb in the way and I used my folding saw to cut the offending branches out of the way. Maybe someday the farmer will notice the neatly cut branches and wonder about it.
There was a surprising amount of wildlife in that little grove. Some kind of bird was screeching from time to time. I kinda think it may have been an owl, but I never heard the familiar "who who". Speaking of owls hunting, I'm also pretty sure I heard mice scurrying around below the hammock. I have heard of mice maliciously chewing holes in packs for no good reason. After a little consideration, I pulled my pack up into my hammock with me. I also heard some branches snapping from time to time. I have no idea what that was. Once I got my pack into the hammock, I had everything up off the ground. At that point I was able to relax and not worry too much.
However, another first for me was hearing coyotes howling. I wasn't too close to any farms. I could hear their dogs barking too. But every 30 or 45 minutes I could hear a distinct (and close) howl. It sounded like that cliche lonely wolf howl. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a wolf, so I'm guessing coyote. As soon as the howl finished I could hear the farm dogs go crazy. The difference between the farm dogs barking and the coyote howling couldn't have been more clear. One time I heard a couple coyote answer the first call. That was pretty cool, but also a little nerve wrecking.
Another first for me was camping out in my hammock without a tarp. Until now, I've always pitched a tarp over my hammock "just in case". Since I was explicitly out there to see the stars, I didn't pitch my tarp. I had checked the weather and knew there was no chance of rain at all. The only worry I had was dew in the morning. This was also my first night to sleep out in my new Warbonnet Blackbird XLC. It has an bug net sewn into the hem of the hammock that zips off when not needed.
In the photo you can see my setup. The bug net and hammock body are sewn together into an integrated "cocoon". The bug net is black and the hammock is a dark green. I have a down quilt that hangs directly under the hammock to insulate and prevent convection. It's brown. I also have a very thin, water proof nylon protector on the outside. It's the lighter green that makes up much of what you see. This acts like a wind breaker jacket and helps keep moisture and dirt off of my down quilt. Inside I have a Green Patrol Bag that is a "top quilt" to keep me warm.
I set an alarm for 2am and tried to sleep. Camping out solo takes a bit of time to settle down with all the noises. Without the tarp overhead, I could get a good view of the sky. I could see many more stars than normal at home. Early on in the evening I did see a satellite pass overhead.
Ultimately though, I didn't see any meteors. By all accounts I should have seen something. I think there were several factors working against me. First, the bug net did obscure the sky. I should have crawled out of the hammock at 2am to watch. Even though I knew it was going to get down to about 50°, I only took one pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and my sandals. I was pretty toasty in the hammock and didn't want to get out. Second, I since I didn't get out of the hammock I was still pretty sleepy. I'd wake up and scan the sky and not see anything. Then I'd dose a few minutes and repeat. Finally, I hadn't done enough homework to even know what part of the sky to look. Coincidently, I had a pretty good view of the right area but I didn't know to focus right there.
If I had it to do over again, here's what I'd do. First, dress more appropriately. Second, bring a reclining lawn chair to sit it but still be able to see. Third, pay more attention to what I should have been looking for.
As a consolation prize, here's a photo someone else took. I woke up at about 6:30am with my thumb hurting and the sound of tractors nearby. Rather than sleeping in, I decided to pack up and head home. By 8am I was sound asleep in my own bed.