Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

(A note of warning, no, there’s no bicycling in this report.  I had planned to make this trip with the bicycle, and it was a good thing I didn’t bring it.  You’ll see why in the story.  I did find some interesting service roads that would make excellent riding paths.  So this ended up being a scouting trip after all.)

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.


It’s been a while, too long maybe, since I’ve either updated this blog, or gone for a bike ride. Well, I made the decision to remedy that on both counts. My friend Mat, creator of the Facebook page Tallahassee Bikepacking, proposed a two day trip riding around within the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge, with an overnight stop outside the refuge at a local campground, then continuing the next day within the refuge again.

It seemed a simple enough plan. The proposed route was to total about 50 miles or so. Starting at the lighthouse, we’d head north, east, then west, then out of the park to the campground. Something like twenty miles the first day. With the follow up of about thirty miles the next, leaving the campground to reenter the refuge, making a loop east of the main road, southerly, back to the lighthouse where we were parked. It sounded easy enough, I hadn’t been riding in about two months, but how hard could that be?

I was, much to my dismay, about to find out. Mat, unlike myself, had been riding, throughout the heat of Florida’s summer, just about daily. His more robust appearance is merely a tool of deception, to lure any would be riders into a false sense of security that riding with him would be a leisurely activity.

While I did not prepare by the traditional methods, such as riding, or some other fitness plan, I did get the comforts of camp life ready. I had been researching camping hammock designs, and successfully assembled my own. As well as managing to build a couple “beer can stoves”. Both a penny stove design, as well as a double walled one. These run off alcohol. Many of the guys use a product called HEET, (only the stuff in the yellow bottle. I guess the red bottle stuff has additives that you don’t want near your food.) which can be found in the automotive section of your local Walmart.

The basic “penny stove”

A double walled variant that has a better design for self priming.

The day of the trip had arrived, and my bike was packed, and I was ready to go.

Two and a half hours of driving and I had arrived at the campground, soon to be followed by my arrival at the NWR. (A note of explanation, long drives tend to aggravate a back injury induced during a road bike accident a few years earlier… just a fore shadowing comment that will rear it’s ugly head later.)

I gave our planned accommodations for the night a once over while waiting for Mat to arrive.

The honor fee station for paying your park entry.

A tree across from the visitor center parking area.

After a short wait, Mat made his appearance. The red bull can in his hand, and the several empty ones on the floor of his car should have been a warning. The man was operating under the influence of an enhancement drug…

We made our way to the lighthouse parking area. Got our gear together, and headed out. We did have to stop for the “obligatory” lighthouse image or two.

Your’s truly, before I started hating both that backpack, and Mat. (Image shot by Mat)

The first of many alligators to be seen while pedaling. (Image shot by Mat)

We turned off the pavement, and started riding one of the service roads that were just the tops of the levees. I grew to hate these levees, almost as much as Mat and my over packed back pack. Finally we took a rest at a draw down gate.

A helmet at rest, tends to stay at rest…

Gator on low side of gate. (Image by Mat)

Posing Bikes (Image by Mat)

Eventually we decided that we had enough resting, and we made our way back to the dam levees. Why did I hate these levees so much? Well, I admitted to Mat, they “weren’t the trails I was expecting”. I liked my single track trails, tree lined, and shaded. Like a wheeled hike through the forest. This was open and exposed, and for me, less visually appealing. That, and the grass. The terrain was level, not too bumpy, but that darn grass. It sucked the life out of you. It was like riding into the wind, with your rear brake applied. That grass was nothing but rolling resistance.

Every once in a while, some double track would appear, where the crushed shell and stone base defeated the grasses attempts to completely cover the earthen mounds. These were a pleasure to ride on.

But the rest of the time was grass. I hated that grass, and I still do.

We made our way about another mile before crossing the asphalt road, and entering the western half of our trek. We rode along a while, when I noticed I was being pelted in the scalp by something like mini marshmallows. The biting flies were attacking. While this wasn’t something exactly new, I hadn’t experienced it on the top of my head before, since my helmet protected me from… MY HELMET!!! Remember it, sitting nice and pretty?

Yeah, well, now so did I. A mile back, along one of those dam dams, through the hateful grass. Mat waited patiently while I added two miles two my travels.

Image shot while waiting… (Image by Mat)

He at least documented my triumphant return. (Image by Mat)

We didn’t go far, before I had to take a stop to get this shot. It was our first spillway. I thought it was interesting.

We entered an area more to my “liking”. It had trees on either side, but it was one of those painful stretches where you can see what seems like miles of straight unending trail ahead of you. Finally we came to a stopping point, where we had to decide to push on, or turn around.

(Image by Mat)

The trail “ended” and an unkempt looking path led to our destination. Mat left it up to me to continue, or push on. At this point, I was starting to hurt. My lack of riding, as well as the 25+ pounds on my back, compounded by the aggravation of my back pain during the two and a half hour drive was really bothering me. The flies were trying to carry us away, and only being kept at bay with a dousing of DEET. Add to all of this, the sounds of what we were sure was a Sasquatch in the woods I hated to get this far, without seeing this Port Leon Mat wanted to show me. So we pushed on. I was surprised to see that what appeared to be unruly brush parted quickly to a nice little single track that went maybe a quarter mile to a point on the river. We passed the remains of some long lost structure. A single piece of proof that this area was once a lively port town. I regret I didn’t take a picture of it. Maybe (HA HA HA HA) next time.

An image by Mat from a previous trip, that explains about the town of Port Leon. (Image by Mat)

Mat at the point.

Another shot, looking north.

Mat’s camera made it look much darker than it actually was… (Image by Mat)

(Image by Mat)

We turned here, and started the seven mile trip towards the campground. This is where my lack of physical preparedness started to really wear on me. About three miles in, I had to stop and walk the bike several times. My back was burning so bad I couldn’t keep riding. A few curse words were used, especially when either my seat post slipped down some, or the seat post rack did. The rack started rubbing on the rear tire. Finally we broke free of the woods, now fully after dark. We exited at the honor fee station, and made our way the last three miles toward the campground, and hopefully a hot dinner at the restaurant across the river.

At this point, while relived that we had finally stopped, and was able to get something to eat, I still hated the man who talked me into this death ride. The eatery, OUZTS TOO Oyster Bar and Grill proved to be an interesting place.

Darn you, and your smug appearance! Oh look, salsa!

I on the other hand, had the appropriate look of despair and exhaustion.

After passing on both the coleslaw that Mat gave me, and the potato salad that came with my meal, both of which tasted like they had been left in a warm room all afternoon, and were only chilled to tempt out of towners into believing it was safe to eat, I managed to enjoy my cheeseburger, and we made our way back across the river, to the campground. We started our two hour ride around 6:30 pm, eastern time. It was now past 11:00 pm.

While technically at “site #34” morning showed that Mat attempted to avoid the saturated ground, by seeking some that was higher…

High ground by the playground. (Image by Mat)

I was quite pleased with my hammock. Although I was not terribly happy with my tarp. The hammock and bug net performed flawlessly. Mosquitos were abundant, but I had no bite marks when I woke up.

Hammock under tarp.

(Image by Mat)

The tarp was unfortunately a failed experiment in making my own SilNylon. The initial application didn’t work, so I tried smearing it on with both a putty knife, then a thinned down mixture with a brush. While certainly waterproof, it was about a pound heavier, and it tended to stick to itself after being carried all day inside a compressed bag. I got rid of this extra weight, in a way that gave me some satisfaction…

Goodbye bad tarp.

Get in that hole! (Image by Mat)

Oddly enough, there were no images of breakfast taken. I didn’t think to get any, being too busy enjoying a nice hot cup of coffee, and a hot bowl of oatmeal. Mat didn’t take any, because he was jealous, only having a cold crumbly pop tart to sustain him.

I did get a couple shots of my packed gear, and Mat getting his together.

We made a side trip down a boardwalk to the river, and got a couple foggy shots of the scene from the end of the dock.

The entrance to the boardwalk.

The view up the boardwalk from the dock to the campground.

A view north.

A view to the south, and the dock at OUZTS TOO.

A ride like this really let’s you know where the sore spots are. I took a moment to make some seat adjustments. It was too late to prevent pain, but it might help keep it from getting too much worse. These seats really give meaning to the term “saddle sore”.

I took a picture of this sign as we were leaving the campground. It seems like this area of Florida is littered with failed towns and townships.

We took back to the pavement down Lighthouse Road, aka Co Rd 59, and stopped to find my poor sunglasses. The night before, in a haze of pain and suffering, I had dropped my sunglasses, and managed to ride over them. I was surprised to find them in as good of condition as I did.

After picking up the pieces, we finished the three miles + to the ranger station, got permission to enter the park (Mat has an annual pass, well worth the money, which got us back in for “free”.) and we continued riding. Another mile or two down the asphalt we turned east onto another service road, and pushed on until seeing our first and only snake.

A little closer…

Mat’s view. (Image by Mat)

We picked up our bikes, and carried on. We passed the turn off to “Deep Creek” and headed off to find the Pinhook River Bridge, our main point of interest of the day. Only to be met with this sign, about a “mile and a half” (everything was a mile and a half, when you asked Mat how far.) from the bridge.

None shall pass!

The destination for this leg of the trip, as shown in an image from a previous ride by Mat. (Image by Mat)

Another from his previous trip. (Image by Mat)

After some discussion as to the ethical dilemma of not wasting this section of ride by turning back, versus my obligation, as a park ranger, to follow the rules as posted, we left my morals unbruised, much unlike my posterior, and we made our way back to the turn off.

We left the nice hard packed trail, for, you guessed it my mortal enemy, the grassy trail. After riding a few beautiful wooded miles, where we encountered what may have been the offspring of a bear mating with a hog, and several deer, including a herd that rode the trail in front of us for half a football field’s length, we ventured into this sort of scenic vista.

Where are the ROUS? (Princess Bride movie reference…)

“Hey Mat, how long until that bench you said we could rest at?” “What? Another mile and a half? Ok, I believe you.”

Finally, the bench! No, really, I’m having a great time…

Ok, I’m up, I feel great, almost ready to go again… It looks like I’m wincing just from opening a bottle of vitamin water. Thinking back, I probably was.

Yay, from the swamp, to the mixed marsh.


(Image by Mat)

And more grass covered levees. Yes, I love this terrain for riding, no, really, I do. It’s easy, fun, and entertaining. And just look at the diverse landscape. Water, grasses, water, earthen dams, water…

For some reason, I really got a kick out of the concrete spill ways. They were something I just had to photograph, and not just as an excuse to stop for a moment or two.

We rode along those darn levees for a couple more miles, until coming up to the Kayak No Impact Campsite. I noticed a couple “mystery bikes” hidden down in the marsh grasses. I tried to warn Mat, thinking there might be some less-than-fully clad people around, but he pushed on towards his goal, another bench.

Oddly enough, we never did see the owners of the bikes. There was no one else around, we didn’t pass a couple anywhere along the trail, and riding miles of levee like that, it’s not as if there were many places they could be we wouldn’t have seen them. I did later notify one of the federal Fish and Wildlife officers, just in case.

Matt found his bench!


Mat’s bike, against Mat’s bench.

Once again, into the fray! We saddled back up, and travelled across more levees. I was getting hot, the back pain was returning, my “winter” helmet was absorbing solar rays and converting it to brain baking heat. Mat would point things out, and I honestly couldn’t see them. I had been spending too much time indoors with air-conditioning. I was paying for that now. We crossed over at the same locations where I had left, then retrieved my helmet from.  We then took a new service road from there, to a split near the Lighthouse Road. At which point, I politely told Mat what he could do with the rest of his grass covered levees (which by now had become even harder to ride, since we had crossed to an area that hadn’t been mowed as recently.)

Goodbye Mat, and good riddance. My salvation is just beyond that gate!

Mat, a sick and twisted man, kept going along the jungle topped dam, and I made my way to sweet sweet pavement. I followed the hard smooth trail to a rest area at a lovely little place called Picnic Pond. I took off my gear, had a snack of a chocolate Cliff Bar, and some more vitamin water. I took my time knowing that Mat would have a slower go of it, pushing through all of that grass, while I had the much easier, and saner route of asphalt. Finally, I repacked, got back on my bike, and pushed for the last section of my ride to my truck.

The end is in sight!

Mat had the same idea as I did, once he was within sight of our “goal”. (Image by Mat)

Finally, we were back at our vehicles, the bikes were packed, and it was time to call this trip done! I looked as good as I felt!

Next time, I’m picking the route!

Top Ten lessons learned.

10) Mat is in much better shape than he looks.
9) Do not comment on this to Mat, he is a mean sadistic man, and it only fuels his need to punish those who ride with him.
8) When someone admits that no one will do a bike packing expedition with them, and that you’re the first, take this as a warning that maybe there’s a reason for this.
7) Mat pretends sympathy fairly well. He gloats even better.
6) Weight on the bike is easier to carry than weight on the back, while riding a bike.
5) Take only enough water as necessary. Ten gallons (or what feels like it) in a backpack, while on an “two hour” ride, is excessive to the point of searing lower back pain.
4) Before going on an extended ride for multiple days, don’t take a two month break from bike riding.
3) If you insist on taking a break from riding, or it’s forced upon you, do not try to tackle a bike packing trip, without getting in some reintroduction rides first. Try riding an hour or two with the expected weight and load distribution once or twice before the actual trip.
2) Bring some sort of pain medicine, Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, something. You will appreciated it.

And the number one lesson learned from this trip.

1) There’s a reason I haven’t been on an “Adventure with Mat” for over five years!

I had been lazy. A week without a single trail ride, and I felt the need to get out there. This last week found me with a schedule of 12:30 PM to 9:00 PM, and I found my mornings a little too filled to be able to get out and enjoy them. So, I had a trail system I wanted to check out and last night I decided that I would wake up early and do just that. I set the alarm in the phone for 4:40 AM and went to sleep. 4:40 came and went, with a momentary awakening to slide the snooze button on. I think I actually got up around 5:30 AM, and was on the trail by 7:00, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I looked over the map of the trails I intended to try out.

I wanted to get a feel for a few different levels of trail. This system has the blue as beginner, green as intermediate, and red as expert. I was interested in going in from the Ranger Trailhead side, so it looked like Speed Demon, Pine Dog and Carbo were going to be the ones I’d try. I jumped in the truck, and headed off. I made a few pit stops. One for fuel, another I picked up a McGriddle meal from McDonalds (something I would regret later) and at the last stop, a few bottled beverages for hydration purposes. I made it to the trail head, and just as I got there, the storm I had noticed brewing while buying my drinks, had caught up with me. Now I’m not afraid of getting wet, but there was two things keeping me from getting out into this storm. One, the rain drops were huge. They felt like wet fists. Not just wet but cold, giant cold wet fists hitting me. Even more justifiable, was that bolt of lightning I had seen a few miles in FRONT of the storm, and continuing rumbles that were persisting while I waited for the storm to pass. Finally things cleared up, and as I said, by about 7:00 AM I was getting my tires dirty.

I had decided I’d warm up on one of the blue trails, which in this case would be Speed Demon. I started pedaling, and noticed a problem right away. While the first sign post was good, the second of the markers that should have been holding a sign, or the color coded reflector was bare. I soldiered on anyhow, figuring worst case scenario, I ended up on a equally good, but different trail.

There’s actually a pretty good amount of elevation change at the northern end of Speed Demon.

There’s a creek bed off to the left as you ride north on the wester half of this loop.

Evidently they’ve closed off at least one of the old trails.

I had made my way along, but noticed that I had seen none of the color coded reflectors that served to show which level trail you were on, as well as tell which direction you were supposed to be riding. So I turned around, and headed back the way I came.

There was some interesting red lichen on one of the trees along the way back…

I found where the trail split, and I decided to try to find my way along the red expert level trail. Here is where I started to regret my McGriddle purchase, and was wondering if my gut was about to try to return the order…

I had found the Carbo trail. This trail kicked my butt. I am far from a good rider, nor am I in particularly good shape, and I had been warned. I took my time riding this, and I still felt like I was getting whooped. Every “right” turn was an uphill climb, and every left was a combination of braking, desperate steering, and refreshing coasting.

I stopped and checked out some future “items of cultural historical interest”

This image almost gives you an idea how winding this trail is. But it still doesn’t do it justice.

Here’s one of the reflectors. Since it’s on the side of the tree that we can see, it means we’re heading the right direction.

Here is the intersection where the Carbo trail technically ends. The sign offers an extension. To the left is the Speed Demon trail, and to the right is the Pine Dogs trail.

This is the first intersection I came across while riding the extension. I think I ended up on the trail named “Quitters” but I wasn’t ready to quit yet. I took the left, and made my way back to Speed Demon trail.

I recognized the trail right away, and I decided to follow it beyond where I turned around. I completed the northern loop, and rode along the twists and turns that roughly paralleled the power lines that made the north border of the permuted bike area. I came to another intersection, and it put me on the Pine Dog trail.

This section can be a real heart breaker. You go along what seems at least a quarter mile, and then you notice there’s a trail ten feet from you, and that it is some of your back trail. This section has long serpentine loops that almost touch themselves in the middle of the segments. Sections can be a little monotonous, being what I’d guess to be a pine scrub environment, filled with sand pines. Not one of my favorite trees. But every once in a while you come across something that looks a little more interesting.

This is a sand pine corridor, leading to the end of this particular stretch of trail.

A couple of the signs that indicate the trails you were just on, or might be about to take.

I was trying to be cool, and “jump” one of the downed trees across the trail. I managed to slip my foot from the pedal, and it swung up and bit my shin.

As I left, I decided to photograph the Timberlake Trail Head signs. I’ve heard people say they’ve had a hard time finding this road, and I thought these might help.

I will certainly find myself out on these trails again. My next write up should be from the western half of the trails. I’d like to see the lake from which the trail system got it’s name. As well as checking out the campground where I’d like to stay sometime in the future.

So last night, I was checking out my area using the Google Maps in satellite image format. I was noticing some old trails on some state land nearby. So I decided to try to find those paths.

I started off with a quick view of the bay…

These guys seem to be everywhere…

I rode around on pavement for a while. I was disappointed because the access to the trail was at the end of a development that was a closed gate community. Fortunately there was a neighboring property for sale that had an access road to the back of the property that met up with the trail.

The area has a very nice longleaf pine stand, with a well established wire grass understory.

I saw an owl drop down from a tree about here, and swoop across the forest out of sight.

I found some interesting scrap metal deposits out there.

As well as an old building that once was screened in, next to a little pond. I’m guessing it’s a local teen drinking spot now. I found several glass bottles in the area and inside.

It’s been a while since this was used…

I saw a couple owls, and several deer. Including this one…

When I got home, I wanted to give the bike a good cleaning. Some of the mud from the other day was still caked on, and I couldn’t stand that.

So I took the wheels off to get it good and clean again. Things were going well until the wife saw I was using one of her towels…