Well, I finally made it to Lower Forge, or close to there. Pro Vagabond had already hiked in around two pm, and I arrived a little before 4 pm. Since the office was about to close, I got camping permits for me and Kayak Karl for Friday night at Lower Forge. I also got permits for me, Kayak Karl, Silent Orpheus & Dylan for Sat. night at Batona.
Though I talked to Kayak Karl a couple of times on the cell phone, I decided to start hiking into Lower Forge at 4:30 pm. I got lost in the exact same spot I got lost two weeks ago. Since I had my compass, I just stayed on the road and headed due north, assuming the road would take me to Quaker Bridge. After a mile, the road dead ended and I had to backtrack.
I called Kayak Karl around 6:30 and he had just arrived at Batsto. Since I was lost, I told him I'd hike south and meet him. Eventually, I found the Batona Trail north, and called KK to tell him I was proceeding north to Lower Forge. I arrived about 7:30 at Lower Forge, pretty good time considering I took about 2.5 miles of detour.
I found Pro Vagabond about 1/4 mile east of Lower Forge. He set up there because the road to Lower Forge was flooded. I could smell his campfire for about 1/4 mile before I eventually found him. I called Kayak Karl a few times, but never got hold of him. I got a text message from Dylan that he wouldn't make the trip.
Though there was no rain in the forecast, it started raining. I had to set up my Hennessy Hammock in the rain, which was difficult. I converted my Hennessy Expedition to whoopie slings this week, and the tarp to an independent suspension, but had never tested the new setup. It took me quite a while to get the tarp situated to provide adequate coverage. I finally got a warm meal in me at 11 pm and went to bed after.
Since it was my intention to hike from Lower Forge to Batona, I called Silent Orpheus to see if he could give me a ride back to my car at Batona, but couldn't reach him. I therefore decided to hike back with Pro Vagabond to Batsto, get my car, and drive to Batona.
On the hike back to Batsto, Pro Vagabond and I got lost, around the same place I got lost the previous night, and two weeks prior. We went about a mile out of the way and had to backtrack to find the trail. It made me feel good that Pro Vagabond, who was leading the way, got lost too. At least I'm not the only one!
We lunched at the trail head to the Batsto Lake trail, and chatted with a ground dweller sporting some expensive gear. The hike down the Batsto Lake trail was beautiful, and from now on, that's the route I'll take from Batsto north because the views are stunning. The last two miles were brutal because I developed a blister on my pinkie toe. It threw my whole gait off.
At Batsto, I bid farewell to Pro Vagabond and got driving directions to Batona. The directions took me down Speedwell-Friendship road, which was pretty flooded, but my rental car made it. When I got to Batona Camp, I immediately drove into a pile of Pine Barrens sugar sand and got stuck. A good Samaritan offered to push me out, but the deep sand ripped the front bumper cover off my rental car as I backed out of the sand. Of course, I didn't take out the rental insurance, and I had a real sinking feeling about then.
Another good Samaritan showed up, and he knew how to reattach the front bumper. "Honey, go get my drill," he told his girlfriend, and he went to work on my car. Eventually, I figured out that the first good Samaritan was in fact Silent Orpheus, and both good Samaritans got my bumper back on. Thank you all - the rental car company never even noticed!
Silent Orpheus and I set up camp. A gentleman with a camper came over and offered us firewood. He had about fifty pallets and some hardwood, and it was his last night of five he had camped and hunted in the Pine Barrens. At night another party arrived with 10 or 12 SUVs and jeeps, and they built a giant bonfire with the pallets, as did the guy with the camper. The flames were 15 foot high and we really thought the trees were going to catch on fire.
Silent Orpheus had some pumpkin beer and good bourbon (I forget the name, but it was tasty). We took a midnight hike for a couple of miles, and when we got back, the camper guy had fired up a generator. We went to sleep with the noise.
I was trying out my Hammock Gear 20* Burrow and Phoenix, and I was toasty till about 7 am. I woke up and my feet were cold, and one butt cheek was getting cold. When I got out to take a leak, there was a snowstorm on my face from the frozen condensation on the bug net and tarp. Sweet!
I stuck a wool sweater under my butt, and a hand warmer in the foot box, and slept a couple of more hours, though my feet never really got warm again. The forecast was 27 degrees, but I think it got down to 25. Silent Orpheus had a 0 degree Hammock Gear Incubator TQ, but his feet got cold too. I'm thinking I need some down booties, or just stuff a fleece or sweater in the foot box. I had a ccf blue foam pad in there, but it didn't help.
I hope it gets colder so I can maybe hit the Pine Barrens one more time before the NJ Winter Hang in January. I'd like to see something in the teens at least. It was great hanging out with Pro Vagabond and Silent Orpheus.
I now have the confidence to do a pre-hike into the NJ Winter Hang next month. I don't think I'll get lost again because I've had too much experience getting lost and I know where the trail gets confusing. So whoever wants to do the pre-hike from Batsto to Lower Forge on Thursday, January 26, then on to Batona on January 27, I'm your guide! Oh, and I will not be hiking at night for the pre-hike.