So far I had encountered an alligator/possum hybrid, the creature from the black lagoon, and a sasquatch. This time a chupacabra made it’s appearance…
It was almost over! The busy summer season here in tourist land FL was nearly complete. Many folks were driven away with threats of hurricane Isaac. Although, it seemed for every person who left in anticipation of the storm, two came back once it was clear of the area, and it was certain we would be spared the brunt of the weather.
Scheduling had me working the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend, but I was free and clear the following Monday and Tuesday. I had planned for that entire work week where I would go, and what I would bring. I think part of what got me through the trials of tourists forcing themselves to have a good time, even if it killed them (and me), was the knowledge I would be out on a trail for two days. One of those days being the big crazy day of Labor Day itself.
A side benefit of taking to the trail on Labor day and the day after, is that there was almost no one out there. Most people were fighting it out with other stressed tourists, shopping for the last minute holiday sales. Or they were packing up to travel home, so they could go back to work on Tuesday. I on the other hand, had no such stresses.
I had begged, pleaded, and even tried to bribe someone, anyone to join me. I posted on the HammockForums.com site, I pestered the people at work who I thought might be willing to forego little things like comfort or rest for two days. Oddly enough, no one took me up on it. This helped narrow down my choices of hiking locations. I had at first wanted to hike the Florida Trail section along Econfina Creek. In order to do this, I needed to park at one end, and be shuttled to the other. With a second, or more hikers, I could have worked with them in parking at both ends of the trail. It turns out I was fortunate in not choosing this hike for my first “long” distance one. The one I chose was the perfect length for my breaking in walk.
I ended up deciding on the Titi Creek Trail section of the Florida Trail that spans from Highway 85 to the west, through Eglin Air Force Base reservation to Highway 285 at the eastern end. Highway 85 connects the towns of Niceville in the south to Crestview to the north. Highway 285 also joins in Niceville, but heads more northeast, to the town of Mossy Head. The Highway 85 trailhead can be found just a few miles south of Crestview, just south of the bridge crossing the Shoal River.
- Selfishly stolen from http://westgate.floridatrail.org/TitiCreekSketch.html
I used the Western Gate and Choctawhatchee Florida Trail Chapter website for most of my trail information.
They list the milages as…
0.0 SR 85 Trailhead on FL SR 85
0.8 Pearl Creek
0.9 Pearl Backcountry Campsite (no vehicle access)
1.1 Cross powerlines
2.9 Little Silver Rd./Range Road (RR) 211
3.8 Silver Creek
5.7 Honey Creek
6.6 RR 561
7.6 Jr. Walton Pond Campsite
8.0 Titi Creek on RR 220
9.9 Big Fork Creek
11.3 RR 531w
12.9 Dog Creek
13.6 Gum Creek
13.8 Junction with spur trail 0.7 miles to Speck Pond Campsite (via blue blazed trail)
14.0 RR 207
15.4 Old Hwy 85, SR 285 Trailhead (50 ft. south of trail)
I also found this posting to be useful. http://hikingflorida.blogspot.com/2011/04/hike-7-hwy-85-to-hwy-285-on-eglin-air.html
My wife was kind enough to drive me to that trailhead, and drop me off. At least I thought it was a kindness. Time would tell if she would be as nice, when it came time to pick me up again. Knowing that I only had a few hours worth of walking to get me to the Jr Walton Pond campsite I intended to overnight at, I was in no rush to start off early. I ended up actually getting on the trail at about 12:30 in the afternoon.
Something gnawed at me a little though. A car had pulled into the parking lot as we missed our turn and had to drive up north of the Shoal river for a turn around. The family had just exited, and started down the trail as my wife and I were getting out of the car. She said to me “that man has a gun.” I dismissed this comment, for two reasons. One, I pretty much dismiss everything she says often very much out loud, we’re married, I think it was in the contract. Two, Eglin has a very clear no firearms policy. I highly doubted anyone would be blatant enough to brandish a weapon and risk the ire of the reservations MP’s. I figured it was a paintball gun, or some such thing. An odd thing, sure, but more likely than an actual firearm. I filled out the form for entering the trail, and hurried along, intent on catching up to find out about the gun.
It was a nice trail. A little thick in the vegetation, but that seemed pretty typical for the somewhat wet ground, and a likely limited prescribed fire program. I noticed cut flowers along the trail. I think they were lilies. There were a few cast off here and there on either side of the path. The reason was made obvious when I encountered a circle of them, around a pile of ashes. Pet or person, I do not know. It was a very nice trail, but I wouldn’t want my remains to be left there for eternity. I walked on.
I eventually caught up with the family, and sure enough, over the shoulder was strapped a shot gun. Not just any shotgun, long barreled, and ready for hunting quail. No, this was a tactical short barreled one, with the pistol grip stock, without the butt rest. A very short range close quarters type of weapon. I asked the gentleman if there was anything in the woods that I needed to know about. He just smiled a bit and we got to talking. Apparently he’s concerned about bears. Sure, there’s plenty out there, but I explained to him that they weren’t likely to be a threat. I didn’t bother explaining that with the scatter range on that gun, he would more likely just piss it off, and if he survived the encounter would then have to explain to both range police, why he was carrying a weapon, but also to the even less receptive Fish and Wildlife why he shot a bear out of season.
The creek was their destination, and after enjoying a short break at the bridge, they turned and went back towards their car. I took a few pictures, then continued my way on to the next mark on the map. This turned out to be the Pearl Creek Campsite.
This is listed as a primitive campsite. All that I saw there were a few benches, a fire ring, and a tripod over the fire ring. Not much to see, so I didn’t stay long.
My next stop was a location that wasn’t on the map. I came upon a little stream by the name of Institution Branch. I had finished one of my bottles of water, and even though I had two full ones left, I just needed to test out my new water filter. This seemed the perfect place to do it.
The filter worked great. In a very short time I was able to fill the 1/2 liter bottles in about a minute. The water from the creek was cool, especially compared to the bottled water that I had been carrying outside my bag. I drank one bottle, and refilled it before packing up my gear and moving on.
I crossed Little Silver Rd (or Range Road 211) at just under three miles into the trip. It’s just under a mile to the next point of interest, Silver Creek. This is worth noting because I’d like to revisit this creek with my wife when the weather cools down. It looks like we could park at the road crossing, and one mile is a much quicker hike than almost four. Silver Creek was a real pretty little water way, wide and shallow, it was too inviting to not take a short walk through it’s cool and refreshing waters.
Soon enough I decided to continue on my way. I left the creek bed, and the land immediately began to rise. There was a pretty nice section with frequent elevation changes for the next little stretch. This area had a good amount of wildlife to view as well. I encountered an Eastern Fence Lizard laying on a branch, blending in almost perfectly with the texture and color.
Just a short distance up the trail, I noticed something just off to one side that caught my attention. I had gone to this flower to take a picture of a butterfly that was sitting amazingly still. Too still. I tried touching it, nothing… I tried to pull it from the flower, and I noticed legs holding onto it. ARGHHH!!!!!! What a scene from a horror movie. Peaceful butterfly stopping at a beautiful flower to take some nectar, then one of the flowers grows arms, reaches out and pulls the butterfly to a pair of vicious fangs. There was a spider whose coloring perfectly matched the flowers that it was hiding in. Of course I had to take a picture of this.
The trail eventually leveled out and was fairly easy going for a while. Mostly longleaf pines with an understory of predominantly saw palmetto, with a few patches of oak woods thrown in for good measure.
Found quite a few of these mushrooms on the trail. Can’t say I recall ever seeing this type before.
I started to notice the terrain was beginning to drop. I soon rounded a corner to find a rather sturdily built bench at a turn in the trail. As I came up on the bench, I could hear people talking. I called out as not to startle them, and found it to be a young couple enjoying some shade in the warm afternoon. They had driven up from Destin and the young lady was kicking around in the shallow waters of Honey Creek, while the young man laughed with her from his perch on the high bridge. I spent a few minutes talking with them, learning about their plans to go to South Africa to do some hiking. After disturbing a snake and trying to stir it from it’s hiding spot in the vegetation along the creek without any success, I wished them well and walked off knowing my next point on the map would be my destination for the evening, the Jr. Walton Pond campsites.
The trail rose up, leaving the wet ground loving titi, to a dryer woodland of first longleaf pines, then to an area that was almost exclusively oaks and shrubbery. It was along here that I saw the largest amount of windfall damage. There were several instances that trees across the trail were more than I could handle to drag off to the side. It made that last stretch to the campsites seem that much more arduous.
As I broke from the woods, and arrived at the pond I would be camping at. The trail stays to the left of the lake, then crosses the dam at the northern end. At this point one could either turn left down the service road, or turn right, to enter the campsites. I of course went to the right. It was still fairly early in the day, but I intended to take my time setting up camp, and making myself dinner.
I got to really put my DIY Bushbuddy style wood gas stove to the test. It worked excellently. With just the smallest of twigs broken off from some dead branches, I was able to bring my 24 oz Fosters can to a boil. I had scooped up some dirt and put it on the table to help keep the stove from scorching the wood. I had seen where someone else had already marred the table. I was intent on not adding to the problem.
I was able to pitch my tarp with one half higher in the air, to act as a porch roof. It was a relaxing view of the pond, and allowed for some air flow. It was a little warm out that evening.
There I was, comfortable and ready for sleep. Darkness had fallen and I was enjoying reading my Kindle. The sound of the water spillway drowned out most of the local noises. I did hear some faint coyote howls at one point before falling asleep. I was roused from my slumber when a cry from about fifty feet away jarred me awake.
The chupacabra… It wasn’t a howl, it wasn’t a huff, a snort, or any sound I recognized. It was a sort of combination of a cough and a sneeze. Whatever it was chuffed it’s way through the woods, and I could hear it’s disapproval of my intrusion as it ran down the service road until it was too far away to hear over the water spill way.
Since I wasn’t quite satisfied with the initial assumption of a cryptozoological creature was the one chiding me for my trespass, I did a little research and found that this was the closest sound to what I had heard.
Breakfast of champions… One of the customers at my work had told me that Walmart did a study, and found that strawberry poptarts were one of the items that topped the list of most purchased items after a hurricane (exceeded only by beer). She and her husband presented me with a strawberry poptart just prior to my trip, so I decided to bring it along. It made for a good and easy breakfast.
I broke down my camp after eating breakfast, and at about 7:30 am was back on the trail heading east. I left the campsite at the intersection of RR 211 and RR 220 and made my way north for about a half mile along Range Road 220 . At the northern end of my travel along RR 220 I crossed Titi Creek. I had actually visited this creek the evening before with the intentions of going for a “dip” and cleaning off some. I got as deep as my waist, before wussing out due to the cold. Also a little voice in my head told me that there could always be an alligator lurking in the tanic colored water, waiting for something dumb enough to enter it’s domain.
The trail split from the road, and meandered up a nice little hill. The terrain dipped and rose, with more rising than dipping. It was fairly evident by the titi trees that were below me to my right, that I was following the creek for a pretty good distance. Throughout the hike, I had also noticed that there were catfaced trees. This is evidence that the area had once been harvested for turpentine. Even more proof presented itself when I found broken pieces of pottery that served to collect the pitch that was drawn from the trees.
As I was hiking along, I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I was getting wet. Obviously she had been watching the radar, and saw that I was surrounded by storms. It hadn’t started raining on me, yet…
A single storm rolled over me soon after that call. It cleared for a little while, and just as I began to dry out some, I saw that the sky started to darken again. I quickened my pace, but it wasn’t going to be enough. I was going to get rained on for the second time. Fortunately the hiking was keeping me warm enough to counter the cooling effect of the rain.
I came across a few interesting things throughout the day. One was this forgotten deer stand, with chain and some sort of numbered tag. I would think that someone would have come back for the chain, at least.
The oak stands were just about constant along this expanse. I was amazed at just how much land was covered in oak trees. Most of the time this was nice. You don’t have many hardwood forests here in Florida. Some areas just felt creepy though.
The rain was really coming down now. I had a steady stream of water pouring from the folded brim of my hat. I made it to Dog Creek, without being concerned with the rain. At this point I began to be concerned with what conditions I might encounter with all of this rain pouring down. While crossing Dog Creek, it appeared isn’t normally a larger stream, yet you could see that the water was higher than normal. The way that the rain was coming down, I could see it accumulating enough to flood some of the lower areas.
I next reached Big Fork Creek. I was impressed with the bridge that was there. Two guys seemed to be credited with building this bridge. On the railing is a marker denoting which half belonged to whom.
Finally I made it to Gum Creek. This was the last creek crossing of the trail. It wouldn’t be much longer before I would be resting in my hammock, waiting for my wife to retrieve me. Or so I hoped.
Although by the time I got to Gum Creek, it was beginning to threaten that the rain might cause some flooding. I appeared it would be possible before the day was over.
It’s raining outside, but it’s always dry inside my Warbonnet Outdoors Superfly tarp.
At about 10:30 am I emerged from the trail onto 285 and not a minute too soon. I had started to notice a bit of soreness on the soles of my feet, along side the ball of my foot. By the time I had started walking on pavement, it was really getting to me. I had blisters! I hadn’t had that problem on my feet, in a long time. I looked for a while to see if the trail reentered the woods on the opposite side of the road but signs stating “Stay Out, Active Range” (or something to that effect) kept me to the road side. As I made my way south along 285 I saw a blue blaze that told me I was on the right path for the campground. I had ended my hike at Speck Pond on highway 285. It was still raining pretty good and I had a few hours before my wife could come retrieve me. So I set up a camp, changed into some dry clothes, cooked some food, tended to my wounds and settled in for my wait.
I was fortunate to have enough dry clothes left to get a full change. I was also quite excited to get to test my Superfly Tarp in an actual rain storm. I had some concerns about my new stakes I had bought. I had been using some large plastic ones with prominent vanes. I had left them at home using instead a set of four small aluminum round spikes instead. I soon saw that these would not hold up in soil that was any looser than the ground I had available. In good weather and no wind they’ll hold well enough, but the wind was picking up and had the ground not had the roots in it that it did, my tarp would have come free of it’s anchor points. The other point I noted was that where the circular patches were stitched in to allow for the pull outs on the side of the tarp, the stitching had left a few “larger” holes that allowed drops of water to come in. As the wind whipped the one side of the tarp, I would occasionally get a splash of water on my face.
Other than that the tarp performed flawlessly. I was snug, warm and dry underneath. With the doors held closed with a couple of mini-carabiners it kept most of the wind from cutting through. Another pair of stakes and some extra guy line would have been good to pull the connected door corners down to really make for a tight seal of the shelter.
With dry clothes, a water proof shelter, and a couple of my “summer” blankets, I settled in to wait for my wife to come get me. And wait I did. I began to wonder if she was coming at all. I was set up and making myself something to eat by about 11:00 am. I thought she might come to get me by 12:00 but that was not to be. 1:00 pm maybe? No. 1:30? Nope. 2:00 pm finally rolled around, and so did my wife. I threw the wet get into the car, and we made our way home. I was already planning my next outing, but I needed a long hot shower first.