Taking a Jump
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: MAY/JUNE 2005)
Every person should have at least one breathless, wide-eyed moment in life that took place mid-air, arms and legs askew, between a leap off a sun-weathered wooden dock and a flop into a clear Midwestern lake.
It’s a natural. Something that eventually happens when you throw together a lake, a dock, a cabin and a string of empty days. These elements in place, all kinds of core lake-leisure moments reel in. Early-morning sun glossing gentle wave crests. A lakefront find in the hands of a soggy, sand-frosted child. Starlit bonfire chats stopped only when yawns start. This is what summer travelers seek. Well, most do. Beaches and lakes figure into about three-quarters of summer plans, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Here in the Midwest, we have plenty of both.
To improve on this cherished classic, we consulted experts in fields such as sandcastle building and spooky-campfire-storytelling. Their advice aims to make your entire week at the lake more like that moment right before you hit the water—pure fun, and a little closer to perfect.
Sandcastles, Campfires and S'mores
Create a sandcastle
Enrico Schaefer and sons Echo, 6, Fielding, 4, and Apollo, 2, scored first place in the 2004 Traverse City, Michigan, WaterFest Family Sandcastle-Building Competition. Below, Enrico shares some tips of the trade.
COMMIT TO YOUR SANDCASTLE. Plan on spending a good quality hour or two with the family on your project, not just turning a couple of sand-filled buckets upside down and calling it a castle.
BUILD AT WATER’S EDGE. That’s where there’s plenty of perfect castle-building sand that’s just wet enough to stick together. Plus, you’re going to want a moat, not only because it looks cool, but because it’s fun for kids to splash in. The closer the water, the easier it is to fill your moat.
START WITH LOTS OF SAND. Spend the first 15 minutes or so of your project creating a big pile of it to work with. Fill buckets, carry armfuls, or push it across the beach with your hands or feet. Use a shovel if you want to get really serious. Make the mound as big as you can to keep building material handy and the project nice and long.
DECORATE. Every good sandcastle has a breakwall made of rocks and a tower decorated with sticks and feathers. Scavenge for natural materials to put the finishing touches on your creation.
INCLUDE EVERYONE. All ages can help build a sandcastle. When kids stay busy, they stay interested. In the Schaefer family, Echo’s old enough to help carry buckets of sand, Fielding hunts for decorations, Apollo tests the sturdiness of the moat, and Dad serves as chief sand-mover and project coordinator.
BUILD A CAMPFIRE
Counselors with fire-building troubles during camp cookouts turn to Amatullah Richard, Camp Fire USA Heartland Council director of outdoor programs. She clued us in to her tried-and-true, step-by-step process for safe and hassle-free ignition.
START WITH A DESIGNATED FIRE RING, far from flammables such as low branches or exposed tree roots.
GATHER DEAD WOOD, the kind that snaps, not bends, when you try to break it. You’ll need all sizes—match-size tinder, medium-size kindling and logs. (Don’t use grass or leaves, by the way. They could smolder or burn out of control.)
PILE TINDER in the center of the fire ring. Build a teepee around the tinder with kindling.
MAKE A SECOND TEEPEE on top of the first with your logs. Light the tinder, and voila! There’s your campfire.
WHEN THE PARTY’S OVER, spread the coals out and sprinkle, don’t dump, water on them. Make sure the ashes are cool before heading in.
MAKE A S’MORE
S’mores are often part of the weekly picnic thrown by Bob and Jennifer Bateman of Two Inlets Resort in Minnesota, pictured on these pages. Their favorite variations on the classic chocolate bar, toasted marshmallow and graham cracker sandwich:
LAZY MAN’S S’MORE Use fudge-striped or chocolate-covered graham cookies in place of graham crackers and chocolate bars.
SHUTTER UPPERS Roast two marshmallows and a caramel. Stick between saltine crackers. The gooey caramel makes it hard to talk while eating this treat. "Great for kids! " the Batemans joke.
Hammocks, Frogs and Mosquitoes
Get into (and out of) a hammock.
Bob McElroy, vice president of merchandising at Wisconsin-based Lands’ End’s home division, has mastered this symbol of leisure his company designs, tests and produces. "You know how you’ve got the spreader bars at the very ends? If you try to put your head at one spreader bar and your feet at the other spreader bar, you’re guaranteed to fall, " he says. To avoid pulling a Gilligan, Bob recommends you just sit down on the hammock the same way you sit into a chair. That cups the hammock against your backside, providing stability. Next, pick up your feet and pivot on your seat to lay down.
When it’s time to get out, Bob again cautions against making a lengthwise move. "Just put one foot out, then pivot again and bring your second foot out, so you’re sitting in the hammock as if it’s a chair, " he says. "When you rise up, the hammock actually pushes you up a little bit, which helps you make your exit gracefully. "
CATCH A FROG
"The stealthier you are, the better, " Director of Aquarium Collections at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium George Parsons says. He advises you approach the frog low and from behind, hands out and cupped together. "Pounce right when you estimate you’ll be able to launch far enough to get your hands over the frog, " George says.
If you catch one, hold it around its middle, by the front shoulders, firmly, but not too tight. "Enjoy it, then let it go, " George says. "Frogs keep bugs down, and their calls create a nice ambience in the evenings. "
Wayne Rowley, retired Iowa State University entomologist, knows the best ways to keep from getting bitten.
STAY INSIDE AT DUSK, if possible. Mosquitoes feed about an hour before and an hour after dark.
WEAR LIGHT-COLORED, LOOSE CLOTHING. The little buggers prefer dark colors and can bite you right through skin-hugging fabric.
STICK WITH DEET. Citronella and bug zappers don’t really protect you. Only the chemical DEET does. Use a repellant that’s 24 to 35 percent DEET, but avoid anything over 10 percent for children 3 and younger.
Sunburns, Cold Water and Fish
If the long-term effects of sunburn, such as wrinkles or even skin cancer, don’t convince you to slather up, at least consider how blisters and peeling put a damper on lake fun. With help from Myra Pravda, a longtime camp nurse in Indiana and Ohio, we pulled together some tips to help keep your sun-filled week sunburn-free.
APPLY EARLY. Sunscreen needs time to sink in. Smooth on one with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 15 minutes before you step outside.
BE THOROUGH. The most regularly neglected areas include behind the knees, the tops of ears and toes, hair parts and bald spots. And don’t think you’ve got things covered if you throw on a baseball cap. Opt for a wider brim, or extra sunscreen on your ears and the back of your neck.
REAPPLY, REAPPLY, REAPPLY. Do this every couple of hours, sooner if you go in the water, towel off or even just sweat a lot.
DISREGARD CLOUDS. 80 percent of ultraviolet rays still penetrate them. Apply sunscreen as usual.
Get used to the water
There are two schools of thought on how to enter a cold lake: Get comfortable or get it done. Either way, the water’s just as cold, though psychologically it may seem to matter. Jane Hansen favors the ease-in. When the Masters Competitive Swimmer takes her early-morning plunge in Bay Lake near Brainerd, Minnesota, she doesn’t test the water first for fear of chickening out. "I just slide in off the end of my dock, where the water is usually about waist-deep, then get used to that before I go down a little ways, then a little farther, up to my neck. Getting the chest under is the hardest part because the water takes your breath away. "
It takes your breath and constricts your blood vessels quickly, two major ways your body deals with the shock. The latter’s a red flag for people with hypertension or heart disease, though honestly, chances of anything serious happening from a summer-cold lake are slim. Even if you dive right in, like triathlete Jim Meyer. When Jim trains in Iron Creek Lake, near Spearfish, South Dakota, he’s all business. "I just hop in and go. I guess it’s a carpe diem attitude, " he says. "And sometimes there are people watching, so of course you have to look tough. "
CATCH A FISH OFF THE DOCK
Not a summer week goes by without Daryl Bauer’s line dipping into Midwestern lake water. He teaches basic fishing classes as Lakes and Reservoirs Program Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and regularly fishes with his kids, 7-year-old Emily and 15-year-old Daniel. Daryl’s advice for beginners:
CHOOSE A POLE based on what he calls the K.I.S.S. Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Your local discount store probably sells a basic outfit for 20 or 30 bucks. Try to splurge on at least this level of quality over a plastic kid’s pole. Get an enclosed reel, or just use a plain old cane pole—no line tangles or casting challenges.
USE SMALL HOOKS AND BOBBERS. Off the dock, you’ll likely see panfish such as bluegill, perch or bullhead. Use nightcrawler pieces or worms on size 6 or 8 hooks, and a bobber just heavy enough to float that bait. Daryl says one of the most common mistakes is using a bobber that’s too big for the fish to pull under.
ADD WEIGHT to sink your bait. Clamp a small split shot onto your line a few inches above the hook.
JUST DO IT. Use Daryl’s tips, then just sit back and watch your bobber. Eventually, it will go under, and you can check out your catch. Daryl’s parting advice: "Don’t be intimidated. Just go fish and have fun. "
Ghost Stories and Cabins
Tell a great ghost story
Carole Lanham, member of Midwest Horror Writers, picked up spooky-storytelling skills around campfires as a Girl Scout and lake lifeguard in Illinois.
"Atmosphere is crucial in storytelling, and in this case, nature is on your side. Campfires create the most ghastly shadows, and, huddled in that circle of firelight, the darkness surrounding you can seem even darker. Play upon the lake’s gurgles, drips and fish-plops, and the woods’ creeping animals and buzzing, blood-seeking insects. Listen for wind-rattles and branch-snaps. Use these sounds to draw your victims in.
"If you don’t have a story ready, mix and match elements from your imagination and from urban or local legends, regardless of their original setting. You’ll want to personalize the story anyway, for an extra element of suspense. Perhaps it was a dark and starry night, just like this one, when two hikers disappeared while taking a dip in (insert your lake name here). Or maybe they weren’t a couple of hikers, but a whole family—just like us! Don’t forget to muster up a whispery, monsterish, ’Man-with-the-Golden-Hand’-like voice while you’re at it. Otherwise, you might as well be reciting 'Little Bo Peep.' "
Finding a cabin
FEATURED IN THIS STORY Two Inlets Resort on Two Inlets Lake, off Hwy. 71, northwest of Park Rapids, Minnesota. Located in one of the state’s lakes areas, about 200 miles from the Twin Cities.
The resort offers 13 housekeeping cabins and a safe swimming area with a hard-sand bottom. The lodge has snacks, TV, books, pinball and other games. Activities include fishing, canoeing, shuffleboard and more. Golf, bicycling and shopping are nearby.
Summertime rates range from $450 to $2,270 per cabin per week, depending on time of year and number of bedrooms (800/843-7453; www.twoinlets.com).
CABIN-HUNTING TIPS To ensure a week at the lake everyone will enjoy, think about what you want and don’t want. Do you need a place that allows pets? Is an in-cabin phone a necessity? How about cell-phone service? TV or no TV? Active and kid-friendly or quiet grounds? Each family has its own idea of the perfect setting.
Once you know your requirements, ask around. Fellow lake vacationers with no investment in your choice are the best source. You also can contact the tourism office for the state you would like to visit, search the Internet or just open an atlas. Look for a big lake (or big cluster of small lakes) and contact the Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitors Bureau of the largest nearby town.
Do not assume anything, and remember that websites and brochures tend to mention only the positives. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down, call ahead. Ask questions to get a feel for the place and to confirm it has the features that are important to you. The more specific and thorough you are during the resort-hunting process, the better the chances your home for the week will be as you imagined, or even better.