October 4, 2010

For all who have not already heard, Fire Master B has a new lady friend, Aime. As a former member of the US Army and a Girl Scout troop leader, Aime has more than adequate outdoor skills to compliment our camping adventures. So, it was no surprise that our next camping adventure included Brent’s lady friend.

Brent’s property in Loan Oak, TX (fondly known as Foster Farm) seemed the most logical and convenient destination for our Trip over the weekend of May 14 - 16 (I know...my blog is unforgiveably delayed...again). It is so rare that we are able to get away for more than one night at a time. We were ready for a full weekend camping adventure.

Few things are worse than pitching a tent in the dark. Fighting the clock to get the camp site up and running before the sun dips below the horizon is almost as frustrating. I was keen on the idea of getting out to Foster Farm early enough to get everything set before it got to be too late in the evening. Since Camper Joe and I had more flexibility with our schedule, we arranged to arrive at the farm Friday afternoon to pitch tents and set up camp so that everything was ready to go when Brent and Aimee arrived later in the evening.

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? They often go awry. Well the plans for these campers definitely went awry when Friday morning a terrible thunderstorm passed through north Texas. We were all glued to the weather channel, weather.com, and the local Doppler radar. How much more rain? How long will it last? How bad has it been in Loan Oak? Should we still go? Well, after several hours of deliberating , we decided that the worse had already passed. If we could tolerate a few more hours of poor weather, the rest of the weekend promised to be beautiful and pleasant.

Despite being an hour or so behind schedule, Joe and I set out for Foster Farm. As we drove towards east Texas we started to catch up with the weather front that had just passed through Dallas. We arrived at the farm under light rainy conditions – the worst was passed. We stopped by the barn to gather some dry wood, timber, and basic supplies and headed out towards our most recent camping spot.

Heavy rains are a true enemy at Foster Farm, at least in terms of reaching our camp site destination. I refer you to the “Return to Foster Farm” blog from June of 2009 in which we went camping after several days of heavy rain only to find that we could not even drive all of the way to our camp site (we had to walk (or rather wade) through swamp like conditions to reach our location). There is one particular dip in the terrain (perhaps a dried up creek bed) that poses significant challenges following rain storms. We have had moments in the past where getting stuck in the muddy dip was a very real possibility. If we didn’t make it, we would be stuck for several hours until Brent and Aime arrived. Having said that, our first adventure on this trip required maneuvering this spot to reach the camp site. With some skill, a few prayers, and a lot of luck, we made it past this spot and arrived safely to our camp site. Or, more appropriately, what once was a camp site.

It had been some time since our last visit. Since spring is synonymous with growth, it should be no surprise that our camp site was overgrown almost the point of being unrecognizable. All of our work clearing out the spot, raking, gathering wood was for naught. Evidently we had neglected our spot for too long.

We suited up in rain coats and ponchos to cope with the light drizzle. Not much purpose in avoiding the weather. Getting wet was inevitable. So, we started working. With limited equipment we cleared space to the best of our abilities, pitched the tents on tarps to protect the tent bottoms and keep out moisture, and unloaded our gear.

(I will probably be divorced for writing this next section, but the truth must be told). Camper Joe spent a frustrating and fruitless hour attempting to start a campfire. In his defense, it was incredibly wet conditions. Even the dry kindling we brought from the barn has since sucked up the moisture in the air and was reluctant to catch fire. Bless his heart. Meanwhile, I single-handedly set up Aime’s new tent. I still think he had the short end of the stick on this arrangement. Joe’s pride demanded that the fire be started before the rest of the campers arrived. He attempted to invoke the techniques of Les Stroud and Bear Grylls with no such luck.

Fire Master B to the rescue. Evening rolled around and Brent and Aime finally arrived. Just in time to get the fire going before sunset. He is called Fire Master B for a reason. By this time the rain had stopped and clouds broke way to the night sky. One of the greatest pleasures of camping is the brilliance of the stars. You just can’t get the same effect in the city.

We relaxed into the evening with a fire grilled meal and a few adult beverages. Before long we called it a night retired to our tents.

Saturday morning started off slow and lazy. Gradually, we each emerged from the comfortable cocoon of our tent into a bright and beautiful morning. Knowing we had all day, we took our time getting some breakfast together. We realized that we would not make it through the weekend without additional ice for our coolers.

Joe and I planned a brief trip into town to pick up a few bags of ice. We got into the Explorer and with some trepidation approach the infamous dip in the terrain. It turns out our trepidation was
entirely warranted as we got stuck in at the bottom of the dip as we attempted to make our way back up the other side of the crevice. Reverse, gun it, and go. Back up and try again. Still stuck.

The last time we were at the farm, the tractors tire was flat. We crossed our fingers and prayed that this time the tire was aired up. Thank God for small blessings. A short while later, Brent hooked the tractor up to truck and slowly pulled us out of the muddy mess. But something had to be done or we would just continue to get stuck with the dip getting worse for the wear each time we went back and forth. So, or short little jaunt for ice turned in a trip to Greenville (about 20 minutes away) to the local Home Depot. Our short term solution was to line the ground with ply wood. So several hours later and 2 large sheets or ply wood. Our problem was temporarily resolved.

While Joe I ran into town, Brent and Aime stayed behind. They jumped on the tractor and started to mow down much of the overgrowth in the common path ways. In addition, we spent a good portion of our camping trips collecting wood. It was a challenge to locate some good fire wood that was at least dry enough to catch a flame. Fortunate for us, the sun was warm and bright enough to dry out most of the dampness of the prior day. Before long, most of the ground was dry (with the exception of the infamous dip). The guys broke out the chain saw and cut up some large tree limbs and fallen trees in convenient fire sized pieces. Although we were laboring throughout the day, we took our time and the day slowly passed into evening.

Brent has made it through most of our adventures relatively unscathed. I have had a few moments of embarrassment that have made their way into the blog (refer to the “Eye Spy” incident at Lake Bob Sandlin, January 2009). Camper Joe has certainly had his fair share of noteworthy moments, most notably the “Emergency” during the June 2009 tubing trip to New Braunfels. Now it is Brent’s turn to get razzed. Sometimes a person says something that is totally innocent, but ones mind can’t help but go to the gutter with alternative meaning. For some reason, Brent just couldn’t open his month without something coming out along these lines. Here is just a sampling of the one-liners that keep us rolling over the weekend (taken
totally out of context): I need another eight inches…I wish I had a bigger one…(Lucky for him some time has passed, my memory is short, and I cannot remember the other incriminating quotes).

Sunday morning was another warm and beautiful spring day. But on this day, we did not have the luxury of time to enjoy nature. It was time to clean up, pack up and make our way home. The weekend was drawing to a close. Aime survived her initiation at Foster Farm (I knew she would), and we once again have new stories to tell.

As a final thought, this camping trip represents several "lasts" for us.  It was Mia's last camping trip before her passing.  And sadly, it may end up being our last visit to Foster Farm as shortly after this visit the property was put up for sale.

July 10, 2010

RIP Beloved Canine Camper

In Memory of “Mama” Mia Brant Cochran 

Mia was born on April 29, 1999 in Austin, TX. She was the daughter of two red haired, red nose American Pit Bull Terriers who were not papered but rumored to be of the “Gator Red” blood line. She was affectionately known to family and friends by “Mama”, “Piggy Fat Fat”, “Fats”, “Baby Girl”, and other variations of these names.

Mia became a part of the family at 6 weeks old when she was taken home to meet her betrothed, Shalamar. The two were instant buddies with Shalamar teaching her everything he knew.

In Mia’s early years she was rambunctious and strong-spirited. She loved tug-and-pull games that allowed her to show off her strength and conviction. Under supervision, she was a good loving little girl. But left to her own devises, she left destruction in her path. Some of her most noteworthy accomplishments include, destroying a couch, a mattress, another portion of a sectional couch, carpet, and countless pairs of shoes. It is estimated that over $2,000 in apartment deposits and pet deposits were lost during her rambunctious years.

In the winter of 2001, Mia birthed a litter of 13 puppies with Shalamar as the Sire. One was dead on delivery and another passed away within a few days. However, eleven survived to find homes of their own, many with family friends. Mia proved to be a natural mother during these few months, earning the lasting moniker “Mama Mia”. Shortly after the puppies were weened, Mia was spayed. Between motherhood and being fixed, Mia’s rambunctious years were behind her.

Through her last moment of breath, Mama Mia continued to be strong-spirited (some may say stubborn). Mia broke out of or destroyed every crate, cage or dog run she was ever confined to. This little lady refused to be locked up. Eventually, with age and being past her wild destructive years, Mia was left to roam the home at will.

After the untimely departure of Shalamar and Petey, Mia was left alone and very lonely. Usually a hearty eater, she barely nibbled at her food for weeks. It was clear that Mia needed a buddy. Shortly therefore, Bronte joined the family at 10 weeks of age. Mama Mia was in her element again helping to raise this young pup to a big strong man. Bronte and Mia would end up spending the next 6 years together as friends and life-companions.

In her more mature years, she was a true couch potato. When a person vacated a spot on the couch no matter how short-term, she was known for immediately taking their spot. Upon return, Mia would merely look up at the person as if to say “finders keepers” and lay her head back down making no attempt to give the spot back. The truth is we were all just guests in HER home.

Mia had suffered intermittently from seizures during the later half of her years. Her previous doctor was not successful in diagnosing the problem. On November 24, 2007, Mia suffered 9 or possibly more seizures back-to-back which resulted in a visit to the Emergency Animal Clinic. It was shortly after this episode that Mia’s new Vet, Dr. Jan Dewitt, diagnosed her with epilepsy. She was prescribed a medication, Phenobarbitol, to be taken twice a day to help control the seizures. For over two years, Mia’s seizures were generally controlled with a few mild episodes every once in a while.

On Monday June 28th, Mia and Bronte enjoyed a mid-morning trip to the park. Mia had the energy of a pup with a jolly gait and spring in her step. This was her last visit to the park, and the last time she would prance with that happy gait.

At approximately 3:45 am on June 29, 2010, Mia woke up from sleep for the last time. This was the first of nearly 30 seizures, to occur over the next 12 hours. There were 3 visits to the vet, numerous phone calls, and attempts of many varieties to improve her condition. By early afternoon, she was non responsive to medication, and Mia’s body and mind had given up (though her spirit kept trying). Seizures were rolling over her ever few minutes – just as one ended another began. The only thing to do was put her out of her misery. So on the forth visit of the day to the Vet, Mia’s wild and spirited life journey came to a close shortly after 3:00 in the afternoon.

Mia’s hobbies included: playing with balls, playing tug-of-war, chasing cats and possums, going for walks around the lake/park, camping  (of course), licking people with her sloppy kisses, getting into trash, eating, riding in the car, and sleeping.

She is survived by Bronte, her 6 year old life companion, her parents Joe & Kristi Cochran, and numerous caring friends and family.

March 21, 2010

Lake Texoma

Procrastination…Guilty as charged. I am sure you all know that this particular blog has been a long time coming. Truth is I don’t even remember the exact dates of this camping adventure. None the less, it is still a noteworthy trip. So despite my extremely unacceptable delay, I hope you find this adventure one worth remembering. It certainly was for us.

This camping adventure took us north to the border of Oklahoma for a two-night trip to the Texas side of Lake Texoma. My parents had a cabin rental. We also had a pontoon boat reserved for a half-day to get some quality fishing in at the lake. We left Saturday morning for the short jaunt to Texoma.

My parents checked into the cabin while Joe and I located a suitable camp site. The campground was nearly vacant, so we had many camp sites to choose from. We settled into a beach front camp site, no more then 30 feet from the water.

As usual, our priority upon arrival was setting up our camp site. Despite our hopeful outlook, the weather was looming with gray clouds moving in and winds picking up. We competed with the windy conditions while attempting to put up the tent and eventually prevailed.

I must say, my parents rented to cutest cabin. It was one bedroom, one bathroom with a living/kitchenette area. I could not do it justice with a description. So, I will just say it was adorable and I wish I had a cute little cabin like that to escape away to on the weekends.

By now it was early afternoon. The weather was a bit chilly with threats of rain still in the near future. We were a bit bummed that the rain may dampen our weekend, but we decided to make the best of it. As usual, our dogs came along on this trip. Bronte decided that he wanted to show off his swimming and fetching skills. We located a few moderately sized sticks that we threw into the wave foaming waters. Bronte gladly followed. He loves to swim and fetch, and he returned to the beach with the stick in his mouth. He proudly dropped the conquest at our feet and awaited the next toss. Mia was less interested in fetching and contented herself with wading in the shallow waters.

Joe and my dad fully intended on getting some fishing in over the weekend. Both are novice fisherman and in need of fishing essentials, most importantly fishing licenses and bait. So, they headed to the local general store to procure these items. Apparently, the country store had to issue licenses via a dial- up (yes, I said dial-up) internet connection. Dozens of dial up internet connection errors later, they each returned with their fishing licenses and stink bait.

Eventually our appetites dictated it was time for dinner. Joe had fire duty which was more then challenging given the poor conditions. Everything was wet from rains previous in the week. Fortunately, we located a bail of hay that was just the starter our fire needed. Joe produced a great cooking fire in short order by calling on the techniques of Bear Grills, Les Stroud, and Fire Master B. We grilled four rib-eyes that had been marinating for about two days. We also wrapped up some potatoes and threw them in the coals to cook. Just about the time our dinner was ready to enjoy, the rain started. Unwilling to risk getting caught in a downpour, we packed up our camping accessories and transported our dinner (and beverage cooler) to the cabin. We set under the cover of the porch as we enjoyed our delicious dinner and watch the rain dampen our plans for the weekend. On a high note, the steaks were some of the best any of us had in a long time. Yum!

Most of our first evening was spent on the front porch trying to keep ourselves and our dogs dry. The camp ground does not allow pets in the cabin, and we tried our best to respect the rules. Eventually, we retired to our tent a little bit wet and ready for a good night sleep.

At this point, I must add a bit of background. Since we started camping, Joe had wanted to camp in the rain. Not sure exactly why, but I suspect it had to do with rounding out our camping experiences and testing his survival prowess. Well, his wish came true on this evening as it stormed all night. With the strong winds, one of the stakes came undone. I woke up to the side of the tent billowing inwards and nearly collapsing on top of me. In addition, our air mattress was deflating – apparently a leak. It should go without saying, but we had a restlessness night of sleep. Between the wind, rain, partially collapsing tent, and deflated air mattress we had a very interesting experience. Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. All things considered, our tent held up like a champ with little more then a few damp spots on the floor easily cleaned up with paper towel.

The next day, Sunday, we had a pontoon rental. Our plans were to go out on the lake for half a day so that the guys could get some fishing in. Our plans were aborted due to choppy water conditions and continued rain. There was no prospect of the rain stopping. Our weekend was quickly fizzling. With little options, we decided to resign to the cabin and watch Sunday football. Despite the rules, we let the dogs in the cabin. However, we confined them to just the living area for ease of removing any evidence of their presence.

With little else to do, we made a few pitchers of daiquries and watched the football games. To our great dismay, the Cowboys played a pitiful game against Denver – a game which they deserved to lose (and did). After a few drinks, Joe and Dad thought it might be a good idea to head to the dock and try their hand at fishing in the rain. I had visions of someone falling into the cold water or hooking the other with a poor cast. Needless to say, Mom and I were more then relieved when they abandoned this plan.

The lemon-pepper marinated half chickens we intended to cook over a camp fire had to be baked in the oven due to the continued rain. We once again enjoyed the meal at the cabin. Before long, it was time for us to retire back to our cabin. The rain and wind had calmed down considerably by bed time. We re-staked the tent to provide better stability and laid to rest on our half-inflated air mattress. Our sleeping conditions on the second night were much improved.

Monday morning we woke up and headed back to the cabin. Conditions were still overcast and damp, but better than the previous day. Mom and I prepared a big breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs. After breakfast, Joe and Dad finally got in some quality fishing time at the marina. I tried my hand at fishing, too. As a matter of fact, the only fish that was caught that day was by me. Granted, the fish got away as he was not securely on the hook. We were not even able to get a picture, so you have to take my word for it.

The rest of the morning was routine. Pack up the camp site. Clean up the cabin (including any evidence that the dogs were inside). Load up the cars. Although we were disappointed in the weather, we walked away with some fond memories of our tip to Texoma. We hope to return to Lake Texoma under better conditions.