Two Days on the Titi Creek Trail, or My Escape From Labor Day.

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.

I used the Western Gate and Choctawhatchee Florida Trail Chapter website for most of my trail information.

They list the milages as…

W-E

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 crossing at Pearl Creek

An interesting tree at the Pearl Creek Crossing.

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.

Pearl Campsite Sign.

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.

Pearl Campsite.

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.

Institution Branch, a small stream between Pearl and Silver Creeks.

This is where I did my first test of my new water filter. It was delicious.

MSR HyperFlow Water Filter

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.

Silver Creek Bridge.

Snot logs on the eastern side of Silver Creek.

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.

An eastern fence lizard, camo winning.

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.

Odd, it’s not moving…

A deadly boquete.

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.

Through some established longleaf pines.

Another view of the trail.

Found quite a few of these mushrooms on the trail. Can’t say I recall ever seeing this type before.

An interesting mushroom.

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.

A sturdy bench.

The bridge at Honey Creek.

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.

Fallen trees blocking the trail.

The trail east of Honey Creek.

Not long before opening up at Jr. Walton Pond.

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.

Jr Walton Pond as first viewed from the western access.

View of the pond at the eastern end of the dam.

Looking from east to west along the dam.

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.

My home made DIY version of the Bush Buddy stove.

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.

Home sweet home, for the night. With a little modifications, the tarp can form a covered porch.

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.

Breakfast of Champions.

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.

After leaving Jr Walton Pond, and heading north on the “trail”.

The only crossing of the Titi Creek that the trail is named for.

Another view of Titi Creek.

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.

Hurdy Cup fragments along the trail.

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…

Storms were surrounding me.

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.

About to get wet, again.

An odd feeling stretch of woods. The coming storm wasn’t helping the mood.

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.

I’m not climbing on it.

Tales tell of a lost troop of boy scouts, with only this canteen as evidence they were once here.

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.

Very Creepy Woods. I think I saw Hansel and Gretel enter just ahead of me…

Lots of hardwoods, and spiders. I dubbed this spider mile.

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.

Dog Creek Crossing sign.

Dog Creek Snot Log Bridge.

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.

Big Fork Creek Bridge.

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.

Gum Creek, almost to the eastern trail head.

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.

Gum Creek Bridge.

It’s raining outside, but it’s always dry inside my Warbonnet Outdoors Superfly tarp.

As snug as a monkey in a Superfly.

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.

A fine shelter from the rain.

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.

A break in the storm.

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.

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Backpacking Through a Hog-Infested Swamp

I didn’t know there would be hogs.  Of course, I know they’re out there, I’ve seen plenty of them hiking in other nearby areas.  I just didn’t think that I’d cross paths with any on this trip.

Let me first explain why I was out “there”, and where “there” is.

I recently started finding my way back outdoors.  I took up trail biking (I can’t call it mountain biking, not down here in Florida.) with the intent of doing overnight and longer trips in the woods.  It turns out I wasn’t the only one interested in doing this, it is a growing activity called bikepacking.

My friend Mat invited me to join him on one of his expeditions.  Even after that misadventure, I still was interested in doing this.  Just on my terms from then on.

I then did a scouting trip for a potential area to do our next ride at.  This one went pretty well, but I caught myself jumping at sounds in the night, as well as some the next morning.

I don’t remember myself as being a skittish person while camping alone.  I used to do this quite often, in the mountains of New Hampshire.  I can’t recall staying up all night, listening to the sounds of twigs breaking, or birds making whatever sounds they make.  Yet that’s what I found myself doing, and I was only ten feet from my truck, and in a dedicated campground.

My next trip, I journeyed into the woods by bike, and set up camp far from any designated location.  This one was just as bad.  I didn’t sleep all too well.  I kept my ears perked for any odd sounds.  I listened for any sign that some creatures was more interested in me than I wanted it to be.  Yet I had fun.  I couldn’t wait to get back out in the woods again.  It didn’t make sense.  I discussed this on an internet forum about hammock camping.  It turns out I’m not alone in this.  I proposed that maybe it’s a need to conquer our fears, but in a “safe” environment.  We’re sure, in the bright light of day, that nothing is out to harm us.  Yet, as the sun sets, and the sounds begin, there’s this little voice in the back of our heads starts saying, “what was that?  It sounded like a bear coming to sniff you like you’re a nylon wrapped burrito on a string.”

So, this brings us up to this particular outing.  I wanted to test my theory, in a safe environment.  Somewhere nearby, that I could do a quick hike in, hang my hammock, check my fears, and hike back out the next morning.  The place that best fit that criteria was a section of the Florida Trail that cut through the Lafayette Creek WMA, and along the Nokuse Plantation conservation area.  The trailhead I used can be found at the north end of JW Hollington Rd in Freeport FL.  I was heading for a trail shelter that should have been within easy reach of my hiking abilities.  That’s where my assumptions for this expedition, started to break down.

Everything I need in one bag, except nocturnal courage.

I slid into the shoulder straps of my bag, and I headed for the trail.

The intersection, where I picked up the trail.

It started off well enough, high dry ground, a easy meandering path.  I quickly found a pace I could live with, and get to my destination, maybe with time to spare.

An easy, well marked trail.

The trail descended into a small wet area, that soon lifted back up to a service road, and a bridge that crossed a creek.

The vegetation says it’s getting wetter…
The ground is under water some.
This must be Wolf Creek.
This is better than a couple slimy 4×4’s
A nice little creek, even better when there’s a bridge.

Well, there were signs that there might be trouble ahead, but I failed to take heed.  No, really, there was an actual sign…

Less time photographing, more time reading and some trouble might have been avoided.

I didn’t actually read the sign, I did take a picture of it though.  I was sure it wouldn’t apply to me, we hadn’t received that much rain lately, had we?

The trail crossed into the Water Management Area.  At this time of year it’s a fairly safe area.  But in another couple months, you are running the risk of being shot out here.

Crossing into the WMA

The first section of this trail followed a service road.  This made for easy walking, if a less than purely natural experience.

Service roads are easy trails, but who wants easy? Sometimes I do…

Even though I was walking along a “road” there were still plenty of things to see.  One of which was this beauty berry bush.  The berries are not very tasty right off the branch, but with enough sugar, they make a very nice jelly.

Terrible trailside taste, but an excellent jelly flavor.

This was certainly a longleaf pine area.  This was a very nice looking stand.  A few dead trees are left standing, which make for good habitat for animals such as woodpeckers.

Dead pines are good pines, for woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers weren’t the only wildlife I was seeing signs of.  This was not some local domestic puppy dog’s track…

My my Grandmother, what big feet you have…

In my treks of the area, I’ve found a few of these erosion pools.  This is not the most dramatic one I’ve ever seen, but it was interesting enough to catch my attention for this shot.

Not quite deep enough for swimming, but the sand will surprise you with it’s depth.

As I hiked along, I started to notice a certain smell.  It was a rather earthy fragrance, but it had a hint of something.  A sort of farm feel to it.  I soon realized what I was smelling.  It was pig poop.  The visual evidence of hog activity was soon impossible to ignore.

The hoof tracks as well as a snout indent are plainly visible here.

Even with this new addition to the trail, it made for a pretty path to follow.

Cutting through the young longleaf pines.

The only downside to this trail so far was all of the spiders.  I kept encountering large golden orb spiders.  And when I say encounter, I mean, walk along until at the last second see a few lines of something in front of your eyes, then realize too late, flailing your hands in front of you while the sticky transparent sewing thread lines wrap around your head and you end up with a face full of web.  To make matters worse, it seems the spiders like to position themselves right at face level but just off to one side, on the web.  So that as you walk headlong into their trap, the webbing forms around your head and shoulders, and the spider, dropping to avoid whatever destructive forces just ruined his dinner catcher, lands somewhere on your chest or shoulders.  This guy was on me for a while, before I flung it off, onto this palmetto bush.

I like them better, when they’re not all “in my face.” Or on it.
A spider in the bush is worth none on my face.

The webs these guys produce are very strong.  You’ve often gone two or three feet past where you  made contact, before the lines will break.  On some bike rides I think I add about five pounds of web, from start to finish.

I had started coming up on cleared areas.  I’m not sure if they were doing logging, or trying to restore the habitat to what it would have been like before people settled the area.  Naturally, fire would keep the pines spread further apart, but humans have been keeping forest fires out of these forests for a while now.

Thinned forest, it’s looking Squatchy in here.

The ground got wet, and kept getting wetter.  I soon found myself past the logging area, and into the creek bed.  The trail followed this for quite some time.  Sometimes the trail would hide from me…

hiding trail

Sometimes there were things that I wished stayed hidden… as long as they didn’t hide under where I was stepping.  Once I had seen this guy, I slowed down and started paying more attention to where I was placing my feet…

Water moccasin, or Cotton Mouth. A venomous snake, and not something I was happy to encounter as it was getting dark.

Just try picking which one of these tangled roots are safe to step on, or which are actually snakes NOT to be stepped on.  Quick, the water is getting deeper, and the sun is sinking lower.

Root snakes.

I wonder who thought it would be a great idea to blaze a trail through a swamp.  I was also wondering what was on that sign, and if it had described a detour I should have taken.  It’s ok, any time now I’ll break from the swamp, and I’ll find the shelter where I can spend the night.

Swampy trail.

I don’t trust these types of bridges anymore.  Some of them are slicker than snot.  Walking along out there with nothing to think about but not stepping on snakes, and trying to find the next painted blaze, one gets to thinking.  This IS a bridge, bridges have trolls, maybe this troll has an allergy problem, and is nasal excretions is what I’m slipping on as I try to walk across these things…

Snot Logs

Finally, the trail began to climb back up out of the swamp.  The shelter must surely be close now.  A quick check of the GPS, and, no, not quite to the camp site yet.  I’m only halfway there.  Well, now that I’m in the open again, and not so worried about stepping on a cottonmouth, I can make up some lost time.

High and almost dry.

Being out of the oppressive swamp, I was able to see sky again, and what a sky it was.  I was out just in time for sunset!

A nice sunset.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t supposed to cross the creek here, since the bridge seemed to be taking a dip…

Upturned Bridge

I couldn’t help but think of the Ding-A-Ling song when I saw this sign.

Both hands clinging to my ding-a-ling.

At about this point in the trail, it was getting too dark to take pictures.  The flash was reflecting off the moisture in the air, and was leaving a very blurry and grainy image.  Also, not too much longer after I took this picture, I got lost.  The trail, winding through the swamp, was obliterated by the high water.  There were piles of debris piled here and there from where the creek had risen above it’s banks.  I tried using the flashlight feature on my phone to find the orange blazes on the trees that would tell me I was on the right path, but there were none to be found.  I turned around and fumbled my way through the inky darkness.  Only knowing I was on the trail, because I knew it followed the bank of the river, and that was the only ground that was mostly above water at that point.  I finally found my way back to an intersection I had decided would be my alternate route if something like this had happened.  I broke free from the swamp to see a large, and I mean LARGE cage trap next to the trail.  It was big enough, I considered shutting myself in it, and hanging my hammock inside.  Although I thought that if I didn’t wake up before whoever owned it came to check on it’s contents, I might have a hard time explaining why I was in there.  I walked on.

I finally picked a path along one of the service roads that led to a high spot covered in a longleaf pine stand.  I thought it would make a great place for camp, because it had a fairly clear understory, with trees spaced right for hanging my hammock.  But most importantly, it had a thick enough understory, that if anything tried to approach my sleeping area, it would make enough noise to alert me.  I walked a short distance from my campsite and made a quick meal of a roast beef sandwich I picked up at Publix on my way to the trail head.  I buried the wrapper, and made my way back to the hammock.  I crawled in, and tried for sleep.  The frogs and bugs were singing their song, but it was one I knew well, and it could have aided me in my quest for sleep, except that little voice in me started speaking up.  I had checked the radar, and I knew that there was little chance of rain, so I left one corner of my tarp free of it’s stake, and I flipped it over the ridge line.  This gave me a sliver view of the night sky, between the fabric of the hammock and the tarp.

It was a very peaceful and relaxing view.  The tall pines were silhouetted against a somewhat starry sky.  Highlighted occasionally by flashes of lightning from a storm off to the south.

Then I heard a whisper.  Heard isn’t the right word, but the whisper was there.  That little voice  was back, and it kept suggesting that any time now I would see the head of Sasquatch peer in, blocking out that section of sky.  I started to dislike that little voice.

Soon it gave up on trying to scare me with mythical monsters, and it reminded me of all the hogs that were obviously in the area.  “Didn’t you see all those tracks?”  “Hogs can be very mean when they feel like it, and your butt is at perfect ramming height in this hammock.”

I wanted the voice to shut up, but it wouldn’t let me sleep.  “You know you can hear that squeal, that’s one of them hogs, just down the slope from here.”   Yeah yeah, but they’re busy rooting, they don’t care about me, I thought.  “I bet that grunt was a territorial male, and he just caught your scent in his area, and he’s not happy.”

I was really starting to hate that little voice at this point.  “It isn’t too late to pack all this stuff and follow the service road back to your truck, it shouldn’t take too long to get there.”  This actually sounded like a good idea.  I was wondering why I was doing this to myself.  I could be home in bed, comfortable and safe.  But, where’s the fun in that, right?

I decided the best way to silence my little voice, was to get some reading in.  This always helps me sleep when my mind gets racing on things it shouldn’t.  I was about halfway through a book on my Kindle called “From the Back Acres, A Humorous Guide to Organic Gardening.”  If that couldn’t help me get to sleep, nothing would.  Oddly enough, it worked, for a little while.

At about two am, the howls started.  I know they’re just coyotes, but they sounded like wolves.  The howls were bad enough, but then they started in with this yipping sound.  I’m guessing this is the young from the pack, joining in they best they can.  Great, I saw the movie “The Grey”, I’m within the pack’s den territory, my little voice was telling me that any time now the howls would get closer, and I’d soon be taking a trip, through a coyote’s digestive tract.

Out with the kindle again, and I was back to sleep.

Until about three am.  The pack I heard earlier had either gone around me, and was now to the south east of my site, or their calls were being challenged by another collection of coyotes.  More howls and yips got my little voice stirring again.  I could almost see the sadistic smile on it’s face, a face that looked like mine, but meaner, and with sharper teeth…

I had almost gotten back to sleep from this episode, when something large decided to make a path between my hammock and where I had stored my gear in between two trees on a rope.  I got out of the hammock, flashlight in hand, trying to see what this intruder was.  By the time I got clear of my hammock, the bug net, and the tarp, it had gone beyond the range of my light.  Some folks have suggested it might have been an armadillo.  If so, it had a bad case of asthma, because before I decided to get up, I could hear it breathing from several feet away.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to fall asleep again.  I woke up the next time, at about four thirty in the morning.  A terrible grunting, choking, gurgling type sound roused me from my sleep.  This time it wasn’t anything to be afraid of though.  It was just me waking myself up with my own snoring.  I laid awake for a while, considering my night, the experiences I had, and how my imagination interpreted them and I thought about the morning ahead of me.  I only had about an hour or so before it was light enough to call it officially morning, so I got up and set to making myself some breakfast.  I had a new toy to play with.  I had made myself a wood gasifier stove out of a paint can and a soup can.  Tests at home showed it worked well enough, but I was excited to try it in the field.  My alcohol fueled stoves were great, but they didn’t work if I ran out of liquid fuel.  This stove would work with twigs, or slivers of wood shaved from dead branches.  This meant I didn’t have to carry any fuel to cook with it.

DIY Wood Gas Stove
With real flames!

The wood burns from the top down and produces a gas, which is sucked into the double wall chamber of the two cans.  It then vents back out at the top and is ignited.  You can see the gas flames in the image above.

I boiled up some water in no time, with just a few broken twigs from a dead branch.  I made a cup of coffee and some very plain oatmeal. By the time I was done eating, it was light enough to take some shots of camp before I put it all away.

The color of the tarp lets it blend well with this environment.
I love this tarp, it provides plenty of protection against wind, rain, and Sasquatches.
The hammock, without it’s protective outer barrier, and just the anti bug defense system in place.
Cinch bag on the line.

I love this little bag that is mounted on the hammock line.  I just disconnect the clip from my tree strap, and I start stuffing the hammock into the bag.  When I get to the other end, I unclip from that tree strap, and I cinch the bag down, and it’s ready to be put away.  When it’s time to deploy the hammock, I just clip it from the open bag end, and walk to the other tree.  The hammock (if done correctly) never touches the ground, and that way it doesn’t get wet, dirty, muddy, or covered in bugs.

Leave no trace.

I like it when you can’t even tell that I was camped there.  A few crushed grasses is all that’s left to tell on me.

Evidence of my nocturnal visitor, these aren’t armadillo tracks!

I packed all my gear back into my bag, just as a WMA truck drove down one of the service roads that bordered the stand of forest I was in.  I don’t think he saw me.  Stealth camping at it’s best!   I would have liked to talk to him though.  I’d liked to have shared my night’s “survey” with him.  I’m sure they’re working on reducing both the numbers of coyotes and the hogs.

Well, it was time to hit the trail again.  My phone’s battery was dying fast, and I wanted to get it charged back up enough that I could call my wife and give her the bad news that nothing had eaten me in the night.

I was not taking the swamp trail back to the truck!
Nokuse Plantation to the left of me, the WMA to the right.

Soon I was back at the trailhead and my truck.  I made that phone call, and I headed home.  I needed to find my bed, so I could finally get some sleep!

The trailhead
Map of this adventure.