The NE Florida hang was to occur this past weekend. Most of the forumites were going to show at the Black Creek Ravines Water Management Area, outside of Middleburg, on Friday or Saturday. Well, that was the initial plan, anyway. Given the rain and lack of interest, though, it seems that no one besides myself actually decided to go. Still, it was a wonderful trip.
I had left work at about midnight Saturday, and headed home for some chores before leaving for the hang. By three in the morning, I was on the bike and headed northbound, into the wet, windy night. It's an interesting experience, riding by one's self through the pitch-black night while the cool wind in your face brings down a steady rain. Your world narrows down to the white line to your left, the feeling of wind-blown wet on your face, and the tiny area illuminated by your headlight.
The wind wasn't particularly fierce--only five or ten miles an hour--but it was constant, and from the northeast. Of course, that was the way I had to ride to get to the hang. It slowed me down to about two-thirds of my normal pace and made for a long night.
I left Gainesville on State Road 24, headed northeast into the greater dark. Extremely light traffic passed me by, on its way to who-knows-where. As the damp darkness enfolded me, I set myself to the task of pedaling on through the passing miles.
After approximately an hour, I passed through the small community of Waldo, about thirteen miles from my starting point. Here, I turned from SR 24 to the north and merged onto US 301. Leaving Waldo behind, I re-entered the pitchy night.
By the time I rolled into Starke, roughly halfway on the fifty-mile ride, I was ready for a bathroom break and a Snickers bar to bring the energy back up. A well-deserved stretching session and a refill of the Camelback got me back up on the bike and headed out again.
Leaving the warm, orange glow of Starke behind, I headed east once again, this time on SR 16, towards Camp Blanding. The miles stretched on in front of me, and it felt as if I was going slowly uphill most of the way--a feeling borne out on the trip back, when it felt as if I was going slightly downhill the whole way.
My knees tired, and I began downshifting to compensate. By the time I actually reached Camp Blanding, I was in second gear most of the time, downshifting into first when the wind was particularly bad or there was an uphill climb to be done. By this point, though, there was no turning back; it would have been a farther ride to go home than to go on. So, I toiled on through the waning night.
Soon, I was actually feeling chilled by the rain and stopped to get my poncho out and over my shoulders. The warmth of the vapor barrier, despite my sodden clothing and skin, helped immensely with the feeling, and I felt a goodly portion of my energy return. I hadn't realized that I'd let myself get that cold; I rarely feel cold at temperatures above fifty degrees. I suppose that's what I get for trying to ride fifty miles on nothing more than an individual-sized pizza and a Snickers bar.
By the time I reached the turnoff for Thunder Road (yes, that's actually the name of it), false dawn was brightening the landscape around me enough to actually pick out the treeline. Five miles and two close calls with vehicles later, I had reached the water management area.
By now, it was fully light out and the rain had finally quit. I called Mrs. FLRider to let her know that I'd made it just fine and that she needn't worry about me. After saying goodbye, I shifted my heavy items from the drybag strapped to the bike's rack into my backpack and headed out on the trail.
Due to a misread of the map, I wound up on the powerline right-of-way rather than the yellow trail. Easily corrected, though; I simply headed north until I reached the yellow spur turnoff. About two miles in from the parking lot, I found the campsite exactly where the map insisted that it was.
I looked around and noted that no one seemed to be there, shrugged, and hung the Hennessy under the tarp in storm mode. I hung it with the foot end facing into the prevailing wind and then slung my poncho over that end as an improvised Grizz Beak, tying it down to the stakes with some extra line I always carry with me.
After hanging my bear bag, I headed back to camp and started some water boiling for breakfast and "coffee"--I needed that coffee by then. I'd been up for twenty-four hours by that point, and was a little tuckered out by the ride.
At about that point, a ranger rode up in his truck. Lt. Lee (I think? He gave me his card, but I seem to have misplaced it) was very understanding about the hammock camping idea and asked me about my bike being out at the trail head. He was concerned that it might be disturbed by the locals and offered to bring it out to the campsite via his truck, as long as I promised to walk it out rather than ride it out (bicycles being prohibited in the WMA). Having promised that, I waited for him to return with the bike. He seemed very friendly and more concerned about LNT methods and safety than anything else. I was impressed by his professionalism and willingness to help.
After bidding the Lieutenant goodbye, I sat down to a breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and "coffee". After sating my inner beast, I filtered some water and checked here to see if anyone had left a message in the planning thread about leaving. Seeing nothing, I decided to catch some sleep.
I woke around four in the afternoon, lounged for a bit while I waited for the rain to clear (it rained most of the day; I'd been semi-awake a couple of times before that), and then made dinner. Buffalo chicken strips and instant loaded potatoes make for some tasty eating, let me tell you!
Almost immediately after dinner, the rain started back up. It was fairly light for a while, and I fell back asleep to the pitter-patter of raindrops on nylon...only to wake at the sound of thunder, perhaps around ten. And, boy, was this one of the great storms of my experience. A true frog-strangler, it dropped maybe two inches of rain in an hour! The thunder and lightning had me a little scared there for a while; I was worried that one of the trees I was hanging from was going to be struck.
Fortunately, all of my gear performed as advertised, and the lightning found other targets. The huge Hennessy hex tarp kept me bone-dry all weekend, and the poncho worked perfectly at closing off the foot end. I drifted off again to the sound of rain on the tarp. The PLUQ was perfect at keeping me warm the first night, since it was rather cool and damp. By the second night, it was too warm to keep under me; I simply pushed it up on the opposing side of the hammock from the zipper.
At about three-thirty in the morning, I woke suddenly from (what I'm pretty sure was) a nightmare about a bear nosing the hammock. Not my most pleasant dream, for certain. Sure now that I wasn't going to get back to sleep, I hauled out the smartphone and surfed the 'net for a while.
I guess I was even more tired than I thought, because it seemed that I blinked my eyes and it was ten in the morning. Light streamed in under the tarp, and I was pretty certain that things were clearing up. I got up and fixed a breakfast of "coffee", oatmeal, and bacon. Mmmmm.
After some fiddling around with gear, I put together my daypack and went hunting for the river overlook. Sure, the campsite has a decent view, but with a name like "Creek Overlook", I figured that it'd be picturesque. Only, no matter how I tried, I couldn't seem to find the place. I'm pretty sure it's down one of the unmarked trails leading off of the red loop down there, but I couldn't find it. So, I headed back north and hiked the yellow loop--which happened to have some great views of the creek. Go figure.
Heading back to camp, I fixed a dinner of fajita chicken and rice. Tasty. With some leftover cookies from work, I settled in for a night of rereading one of the Dresden Files novels, White Night. The zany story kept me enthralled until midnight or so, and I fell asleep to the sound of mosquitos trying to get at me through the netting. I really regretted forgetting to permethrin my clothes and hammock before leaving; I've got a few mosquito bites to remind me to do so next time.
Rising about nine this morning, I made up a breakfast of bacon, pop-tarts, and "coffee", and started striking camp. By ten-thirty, I was headed back down the trail--this time with bike in tow--towards the trail head. By eleven, I was back on the bike and headed down Thunder Road back towards Gainesville.
Things went well on the ride home, right up until I turned south on US 301. Then the wind picked up--in my face, again. There seems to be a theme here, doesn't there, Mr. Murphy? Heh. I guess it wouldn't be as good of a story if everything went right.
By the time I hit Waldo, I was hot and tired, but still game to continue on. Only after leaving Waldo did I realize that I'd forgotten to put sunscreen on. Rifling through my pack, I found that I'd left that at home. Ah, well, it's just a sunburn. I've had much worse, that's for certain.
By the time I reached home, tired and hot, I was ready for a shower and to go out tonight with my wife. I enjoyed every minute of the trip, despite the circumstances, and I wouldn't trade the memories for anything. I just wish I could've found the durned overlook!
I definitely think this will be a place to go back to, some time soon.
Here's the video:
Photos, clockwise from upper-left:
The Hennessy, sans impromptu Grizz Beak.
A view of the river from the campsite.
A memorial on the yellow trail.
One of the largest toads I've ever seen (the trail was under water).
A trail photo.
A view of the river from the yellow loop.
One of the largest grasshoppers I've ever seen (my toes for size comparison).