A scouting trip for an upcoming ride at Blackwater State Forest.

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Bikepacking

After my sore introduction to the world of bikepacking, which had been guided by Mat, whom I thought was my friend, I decided that the next expedition would be a friendlier and less painful experience. As a way to mitigate this, I declared I would be choosing the route.

The trip with Mat that I’ll refer to often in this story…

Grass, I don’t know if I mentioned it in my report about the ride at Saint Marks, but I hated riding through that grass. It was a nice thick carpet of somewhat recently mowed grass. If you’ve ever tried to push something with wheels across a thick carpet, you know what I’m talking about. It grabbed at the tires, sucking the forward momentum from them, making every pedal forward less and less productive and more and more painful. The next route would have little or no grass to ride through.

Another feature of the previous ride that was less than enjoyable for me was the scenery. It was pretty, wide open marshes and waterways. Trails placed top what may have been raised earthen mounds for railways. The grass (oh that evil grass) was lush and green, the water was calm and blue and the ground was flat, and even. Trees grew here and there along the trail. I hated it.

I’m a woods kind of guy. Variations of the vegetation and terrain is more my cup of tea. I wanted to find somewhere to ride that had some hills, lots of trees, some creeks, rivers, and elevation changes.  (All of the shade variations in the map below, denote elevation changes.)

None of this was going to be easy to find along the coast, so I looked northward.

I had visited the Blackwater River State Forest before, and knew it was potentially the place to go.

With a little online research, I found that there was a rather extensive north south trail from the south end of the State Forest to the Alabama border (and beyond).  I called the forestry office and was told that all trails were accessible by bicycle.  This was great news.  I still wanted to get up there and do a little visual reconnoissance of my own.  I packed up the bike and my hammock camping gear, and headed to the woods.

I entered into the south end of the forest by way of Deaton Bridge Road off from State Highway 90.

As you travel north along Deaton, you’ll pass the Blackwater Canoe Rental Outpost.  Just a friendly warning, do not accidentally drive behind the building after taking pictures of the property, they seem a little sensitive about this.

Just beyond the Outpost, you’ll enter the Blackwater River State Park.  It’s a small piece of land within the State Forest.  While a nice place to visit, I had decided from the start I was not going to spend the night there.  Nothing against state parks, they can be very nice, and I am sure that Blackwater River State Park is one of those nice ones.  I just wasn’t interested in finding out on this trip.

The State Park offers two parking areas for the Blackwater River at Deaton Bridge.  Here is the southern parking lot.

Crossing the river at the canoe/kayak pull out.  This image is looking west onto the river.

And the view east over the hood of my truck.

The northern parking area.

Here is the state park’s entrance sign.

A bit further north there’s a dedicated mountain bike trail. I didn’t check it out this visit, but you can see it here on the map Red Rock Bridge…

I am a big fan of old farm buildings, maybe it’s the New England in me.  That area was covered in large old barns, stables, tool sheds and homes.  Florida doesn’t seem to have as many.  It’s not that the craftsmen here were less skilled at building for the long term.  I think it’s more that not many wooden structures can hold up to the warmer, wetter climate, which so many wood eating things like to live in.  That being said, there’s a few to be found inside the State Forest.  There are several privately owned plots within the forest, which is where you’ll find most of these buildings.

If you enjoy long quiet country roads for riding, Blackwater State Forest will not disappoint.  Mat would cringe at the sight of this.  He seems to hate pavement and the associated ease of pedaling.  I on the other hand look lovingly upon such a view.

Is it really defacing public property, if you put a face on it?

There is certainly some elevation changes inside the forest.

A typical “trail” marker.  This is how they post the road names.  Don’t be fooled.  Looking at the front of this post tells you what road you’re on.  Look to the sides of the posts, to see the name or numeric designation of the road that branches off from the one you’re on.

There are several information kiosks throughout the forest.

One of the gravel forest roads.  Others are clay, and some are just two track through the forest.

I wanted to pick up a couple of detailed maps.  Mat also wanted one to study before the trip.  He’s a big fan of maps.  The forestry station in Munson was the place to go.  This is where my well laid plans were torn apart.  I questioned again, the “legality” of riding bikes on the trails in the forest.  I knew that in some cases, trails being shared with the Florida Trail association, were for foot traffic only.  The woman behind the counter checked with someone over the phone, and the bad news was delivered.  The Jackson trail, the longest trail that I had planned to use, was indeed closed to all activities other than foot travel.  Booo!

The map…  The good news is there are miles and miles of forestry roads.  They’re a bit of a maze to get through, but I think with some help from Mat, we can come up with a fun route, or two, or fifty.

These bears must be sculpted by a local artist, they can be found everywhere in the area.  This set is at the forestry building.

Even though it was still very early in the day, it was getting dark, and bad weather was sure to hit.  In light of this I made my way to “nearby” Pensacola to pick up some supplies from Harbor Freight.  I was able to do a little traveling of the local area, including the nearby town of Milton, and one of the trail heads for the Blackwater Heritage State Trail where it intersects the Munson Highway, also known as Co Rd 191.

On my back to Blackwater State Forest, the skies were getting dark again.

My first stop inside the park was the campground at Bear Lake.

The blue splotch on the lower left hand side. Or look for the number 14.

A view of some of the campsites.

More of the bears.

The restrooms at Bear Lake.  I found all of the restrooms to be above par for restrooms of the type.  The park volunteers must work hard to keep them as clean as they were.

Bear Lake must be a fishing destination.  They had a nice little fishing dock, and an equally nice boat launch area.

There’s a deer in there, can you see it?

Another chance to photograph an old building.

I made my way to the northernmost point of the state forest.  I was running low on fuel, and there was a town fairly close by.  The town of Brewton was filled with beautiful old brick buildings.  This would be worth a trip in itself for someone that likes to photograph this sort of thing.

Returning, I crossed the Escambia River.

Along the way I had to stop at this little creek.  It was somewhere along Co Rd 4 in Alabama.

My wife hated that I was able to take a picture of this butterfly.  There were a few taking a sip from the wet soil.

Another old house.

I next stopped at Krull Lake.  On the map it was listed as the Munson Recreation Area, but the state forest has claimed it as Krull Recreation Area. Shown as number 11 (or 1) to the left of Bear Lake.

Yes, the water was that green.

A quick tour of the campground.  This one seemed to be more of a “local” favorite and thus a little more colorful.

A paved site from “Campground 2”.

An unpaved one from “Campsite 1”.

A view looking from the campsites to the swimming area.

The sign directing to the various campgrounds.

And here’s a section of the FORBIDDEN Jackson trail.  I see no signs stating that no bikes are allowed.

Finally I had enough driving around.  I made my way all over the northern half of the forest, and had deemed it time to find a place to spend the night.  It was getting dark, earlier than usual because of the clouds, and if I wanted to set up camp without the aid of a light, I needed to hurry.  I chose to go back north to Hurricane Lake.  I selected the south side campground, and was happy for it, since I had the place to myself.

I found a seemingly good campsite…

Unfortunately this time, the number thirteen was unlucky for me, as the only trees available were too far apart.  So I had to choose another site.  Number 5 ended up fitting my needs, and was right on the water’s edge as well.

Ten bucks for the campsite?  What a bargain.  (Everywhere else is $15 or $20.)

Dinner time!   My little homemade stoves work great.

Soup and potatoes, very delicious.  I was testing a few things in anticipation of any upcoming trips.  What things could I cook by adding hot water to them, and isn’t too bulky or heavy to carry in a pack?  The soup came in packets.  The potatoes in it’s own bowl, but that might get replaced by packet form of potatoes.

A little bit of beanie weenees and dinner is complete.

A little dreary, but it was a very peaceful place to pend the night.  This tarp was very temporary.  It will be replaced on upcoming rides by my new Warbonnet Superfly that my wife was kind enough to order for me.

I’m not normally one to be skittish in the dark of night, but this night was special.  I had just fallen asleep, when the sounds of grass rustling, and a hiss brought me fully awake.  I had debated the intelligence of setting up so close to the water, where there were alligators known to be calling home.  So, my first thought was that one had crawled up out of the water, and  was disturbed by either the camp I had set, or maybe my snoring.

I made a fool of myself, for anyone who might have been within ear shot.  I smacked the tarp from the inside, and made some “quiet” yelling noises, in the hopes to scare any alligators back into the water.  I got my headlamp, and waved it around in the hopes of seeing this gator.  When I found the disturbance, I was a bit relieved, and bothered at the same time.

An opossum was staring at me.  They’re normally fairly timid animals, so I thought I could scare him off by making some noise and shaking my light at him.  This did not impress him one bit.  So, I took the manly route of tossing a stick at him.  I am not sure, but I think he ate the stick.  Finally, I got my slingshot out of my truck, and shot this bugger right in the backside.  THIS got it’s attention, after a moment of standing there, it turned tail and hobbled away.

This was not to be the end of me being startled by wildlife…

One of the menacing birds.  These things are terrifying!  They make splashes louder than their size should allow, and they scream like banshees.

What a picturesque spot for breakfast, until the automatic fish feeder scared the poop out of me.  My fear response was not limited to darkness, or live creatures.

There I was, sitting quite peacefully, delighting in a hot breakfast of oatmeal and coffee on a cool and foggy morning…

while enjoying watching the waves of mist wafting across the mirror smooth waters…

SCREEEEEEEEE DUKDUKDUKDUKDUKDUKDUK SPLISHSPLISHSPLISHSPLISHSPLISH! This feeder makes a horrible screeching sound, a grinding whir as the food is dispensed, then a huge splash, or more accurately a large spread of many mini splashes.

The very frightening feeder.

The tarp I used fit perfectly for the width of the hammock linkages.

My lake side accommodations.  I may have to trim that bug net more.  The next one will have the netting sewn to the hammock.

As I was packing up, I noticed something stuck to my bug net.  A cicada shell left over from one molting the night before.  I suppose it was a good thing I had the net.  Considering how I had been jumping at everything else… imagine how I would have screamed if this thing had crawled up on me?

The boat launch at the campground.

A little bit of class added to the campground restrooms.

A creek I crossed as I headed east.

Hey look, more old buildings.

I had one more location to check out before being able to call this trip complete, and that was Karick Lake.

<img alt=”https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/313060_4076623187719_2021177914_n.jpg
Another campground on my list of places to visit.  Karick Lake looks like one that I’ll have to visit again in the future.

The fish cleaning station.  Something my wife will never need…

One of the campsites.

A kiosk about the forbidden trail.

Argh, it burns, it burns.  You (on bikes) shall not pass!

The Jeanette and Charles Henderson Heritage Park.  This was a rather interesting park showing how life was lived here, not so long ago.

Another bear.

Sugar Cane Press.  This is used in the cane sugar making process.

An oven to cook the sugar cane juice.

That was pretty much it.  After exploring the museum grounds, I headed back home.  None too soon it would turn out.  For on the way, I got a call from the wife.  The water pump in her car died, and I needed to come save her so she could get to work.  Oh well, the peace and quiet was nice while it lasted.

Ok, you made it this far, and you might be wondering, where’s the bike?  Well, it WAS in the story.  Right behind dinner.

I truly intended to ride it on some of the trails, to get a feel for what was out there.  Here’s the lame excuse section.  Two things, one, it was raining, with lightning, a lot.  And the second whiney excuse, I forgot my tire pump at the house.  The rear tire was rather low, and I wasn’t about to try riding it on some trail, and end up with a pinch flat with no way to inflate it after it was repaired or replaced.  I need to add a CO2 pump to my new repair kit.

Next time I’ll ride, I promise.

  1. Mat says:

    Looking forward to this trip! BTW, you picked the St Marks Wildlife Refuge and specifically the St Marks tract of it, for your first bikepacking trip 😛 The other two tracts and pretty much any other park, would have had us in the woods predominantly! IJS

  2. […] A scouting trip for an upcoming ride at Blackwater State Forest. […]

  3. […] A scouting trip for an upcoming ride at Blackwater State Forest. […]

  4. […]  We first visited the south campground where I had spend the night in the report that I was sure an alligator had hissed at me.   We found a couple potential spots to spend the night at, if Karick Lake didn’t work out […]

  5. […] 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. […]

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