Posts Tagged ‘trail’

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.

A shot with my bike to show the scale of the bluffs. I set up my hammock just behind where I was standing when I took this image.

A view to the right from the last shot.

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.

The hammock in the little cove of trees at the base of the bluffs.

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.

My new Warbonnet Superfly tarp blends in with the environment quite nicely.

A view from above, my hammock and tarp merge nicely with the background.

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.

Red Bluffs Laundry Service.

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.

My kitchen kit. The soda can stove, a pot support, the Fosters can pot, with lid, and a bottle of fuel.

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…. 

When the sun came up enough to actually see around, this was the scene I had next to my hammock.

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 shameless self portrait taken while pedaling. A few wobbles, but I survived it unscathed.

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.

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!

Pretty…

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!

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…