I had so much fun on my driving tour of Blackwater River State Forest last week, that I had to get back there to do a little riding. Mat, my friend from the trip report to Saint Marks NWR is leaving it up to me to plan the next bikepacking trek, so this was an opportunity to do some more scouting.
I made plans to head back to the forest on my next days off. So when the day came, I loaded my gear into the truck and headed north. Yet once again, stormy weather intruded into my plans.
Rain would make the ride much less pleasant than I had planned for. Fortunately blue skies broke through. Things were looking up.
I did do a good amount of truck touring around the state forest. I arrived early, and intended to do an evening ride to where I would camp, then return to the truck the next morning. As usual, I found an old building to take a picture of.
As I had promised myself, I went back to Krul Lake Recreation Area. This time under better weather conditions. The nicer weather was also more inviting to the folks who wanted to go swimming.
Just behind where I was standing to take the picture of the swimming area, is the start of the trail that leads to the Grist Mill and the suspension bridge. At the entrance to the trail, there’s a sign prohibiting people from bringing bicycles onto the boardwalk.
It was worth leaving the bike behind though. The walk was easy and surprisingly short. It turned out I had taken the longer route, but it was an enjoyable stroll through the woods.
The first of the two attractions you come to is the Grist Mill. They built it in such a way that you can see through the walls into the workings of the mill. Inside is a simple gearing set up that transfers the water power to the grinding stone.
A view of the waterwheel that powers the mill. There is a channel built from the dammed lake to the top of the waterwheel.
The mill is powered by a water wheel. The wheel turns, and it’s axle enters the mill, and that is connected to a large truck tire, which acts as a gear over which a belt would be placed. This belt is turned and at the other end is the system that turns the stone that grinds the corn.
Soon, I made my way from there to the second destination, the suspension bridge. The pictures online did not do this structure justice. I was very impressed with it’s construction. It’s a very appealing piece of architecture.
The suspension bridge was well worth the short walk. As I returned towards my truck, I got another view of the grist mill from that direction.
I love moss, rocks and ferns. All three are found at the spillway next to the Grist Mill.
The recreation area was fun, but I was there to give my bike gear a test ride. So I found a place where the trail was intersected by a forestry road that I could leave my truck at.
Here’s the opening of the trail. I saddled up and rode onto a section of the Juniper Creek Trail.
I will say this. This trail is not one I would take the bike on again. It’s a beautiful trail, but there are lots of obstacles that are not bike friendly. Then there were the bridges. These things were deadly. Either the side by side 4×4’s or the more substantial looking plank bridge. The wood had a layer of slime on them that made them like walking on ice.
The side by side bridges were difficult because it was too narrow to easily balance the bike and walk on the slippery surface at the same time.
The trail did have some great downhill sections. They were fun to ride down. Except where the trees were too close together. Or where at the bottom there’s roots or trees across that want nothing more, than to lock up your front wheel and toss you into the ground.
Then there were the uphill sections These were a little crazy in some spots.
The trail was narrow, and there were lots of things that liked to snag on flesh, like these Holly leaves.
The moss and ferns were everywhere. I haven’t seen woods like this since leaving my old home in New England. While I won’t be returning to ride on this trail on my bike, I’d love to do this again on foot.
Bring your ice skates…
I had been aiming for the “bluffs” that were supposed to be along the river. Images and video online showed them as towering red cliffs that overlooked the river. When I “found” them, I was less than impressed. I prepared to set up my camp. I made a few phone calls to let my wife know where I was planning to spend the night. Something made me want to ride the “short” distance from where I was, to the road. I jumped back on the bike and continued pedaling north. Not far up the trail I passed the FT shelter. I fully intending to check it out when I came back, but that didn’t happen.
I found a side trail that lead to a small beach on the river. It was a beautiful spot, but I pushed on towards the road.
The trail climbed up out of the lower wet areas. The terrain began to look more like the trails I ride on the coast.
The short ride to the road was turning out to be a lot longer than I had suspected. Not so long that I needed to rest at this bench, no matter how nice of a location it was placed at.
While I was heading to the road, from the bluffs that I had planned to camp at, I noticed a rather dramatic change in the terrain, then an interesting view appeared.
And the true bluffs showed themselves . My idea of riding out to the road was no longer important to me.
These bluffs were every bit as impressive as I had expected them to be. I originally considered setting up camp in the forest that overlooked the river and bluffs, but then I decided to try to find my way into the hollow, where I would less likely to have someone stumble upon my camp. I noticed the holes in the clay cliffs as I was looking around, but thought they were the results of local visitors like the “graffiti” that was carved into the walls. My wife said they look like either Kingfisher holes or nests made by bank swallows. Considering that I saw a kingfisher flying around, I suspected her first guess might be right.
I really enjoyed exploring the crevices that erosion created from what must be impressive flows of water during rain storms.
Finally it was time to set up camp. I started a fire, then began to remove my gear from the bike. I really liked how easy it was to remove all of the bags from the bike. I did find that the velcro system I had to hold the frame bag in was not sufficient. I have an idea or two on how to repair that. I was able to find some trees that would support my weight. I only ended up needing to use one stake for my tarp, the other three lines were able to be tied off to the trees.
I’m really impressed with how light it is. I was also very happy with it’s color. It’s a very neutral color that sets well with the vegetation around here. This might prove helpful when I try my hand at some stealth camping.
One of the reasons I wanted to avoid encountering any people while I was camping, was because I wet my shorts. Well, all of me was wet. The rain had drenched the vegetation along the trail, the very very narrow trail. Much of that water was transferred to me and my clothing. While I had brought a spare shirt, underwear and socks, dry shorts were not in any of my bags. In the morning I thought of setting my shorts next to the fire. It worked well, in the picture below you can see the part of the shorts that were dried and the wet section that I had turned towards the fire.
Part of the reason for this trip was to give my gear a more thorough field test. The most recent version of my kitchen worked great.
I bought a silicone collapsable bowl and cup set from Walmart. I was very pleased with how they worked out.
Morning revealed what an excellent site I had found to spend the night at. I slept fairly well. The only problems I encountered was that I was camped in a low spot, next to the river, which cooled off overnight. Sometime around 3 am, I found myself a little colder than my blanket was able to overcome. I had a second, mostly dry shirt that I was able to put on, and it helped quite a bit. While no “alligators” climbed out of the water to hiss at me, there were several other noises in the night that caught my attention. A bird that had a cry that sounded like a horse whinnying, which my wife told me was likely a screech owl was rather vocal all night. A coyote or two howled a few times. The river had strange sounding burbles that may or may not have been the creature from the black lagoon checking on my intrusion in his domain. There’s something a little special about hearing a sound that you “grew up with” but never expected to be accosted by at five in the morning when you’re just waking up….
I took my time getting ready to leave this campsite. I poked around, and picked up all of the litter I could find. I piled it up behind a log. Maybe someone else would be able to bag it and remove it from the area. I picked up some of the larger stones that were laying around, and used them to improve/rebuilt the fire ring.
When I finally packed up and made my way back up into the longleaf pine forest, this is the view that greeted me.
I had decided to skip trying to ride back along the trail. Much to what I believe would be Mat’s disapproval, I took the paved “path” back to my truck.
A few miles of pretty and leisurely back road riding, I found the forestry road that would lead me back to my truck.
Another trip completed. I packed up, and headed back home.