As a result of my recent unemployment woes, I found myself with a weekend off this past Saturday-Sunday. Unfortunately, due to the short notice on the trip, only Duffy and KC managed to make it on out for a night. My friend Suzi, whom I hadn't seen in over a year since she moved out of Gainesville, managed to make it out for a day hike on Monday, though she unfortunately didn't have time this weekend to spend the night on Sunday.
The original plan was to ride the bike up on Saturday and spend Saturday night and Sunday night at Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area near Middleburg, FL. Mother Nature had other ideas, though, and the forecast for Saturday was for winds from the NE at 15 to 30 MPH. Since Mrs. FLRider had graciously offered to drive me up there and pick me up, I accepted her generosity and arrived at the trail head at about 1:00 PM on Saturday 3/10.
As I stepped out of the car, another pulled up next to me and a father/daughter duo stepped out. He hauled his massive REI Mars 80+ liter pack out of the car and went about slinging it on his back. Apparently, he was training up for a longer hike, though we never really got around to speaking on where it was to be. More on him later.
I left the parking lot and struck out on the 2.5 mile hike to the campsite by the river. The last time I was at Black Creek Ravines, back in October, I had taken a wrong turn on my way in and wound up following the powerline right-of-way to re-find the trail. The powerline area is cleared and easy to walk, but is not the most picturesque portion of trail. This time, I managed to follow the trail map a little more closely and went by some of the ravine overlook areas on the way. It sure is pretty out there in the conservation area.
This was my first "real world" test of my new MMP-inspired beta test pack, and I'm fairly happy with how it performed. My front pack attachment points need a little work, I need to add some more capacity to the front pack, I need to add elastic strap keepers in a few places, and I need to stabilize the hip belt a little, but those were all minor issues. It handled the 28-lb load I was carrying at the trail head like a dream, and I never felt off-balance the whole time I was out on the trail.
I rolled into camp after about an hour, and found the father/daughter from the parking lot already there with their dog--apparently, they'd followed my October route into the campsite and arrived before me despite leaving the parking lot after I did. We got to chatting about gear, and he seemed very interested in my Hennessy. I showed him the differences between a hammock and ground-dwelling, and extolled the advantages--especially the FL-specific ones. He seemed a little skeptical about the whole thing, but game enough to at least do a little research. Hopefully, we'll hear from him here sometime soon!
After bidding him and his family good-bye, I went about the rest of setting up camp. Dark was coming on fairly quickly, what with the consistently overcast skies this weekend brought, and I settled down to a nice fire for the evening (the beta pack makes firewood gathering a snap!) and turned in after an hour or two.
Morning brought me a chance to do some hiking around the conservation area, and I actually managed to find the creek overlook spot! I'd failed the last time I was out at the Ravines, and I took it as a personal challenge to find it this time. Apparently, I'd taken the wrong red trail the last time I was up there--there are two of them, one old and one new--and I found the right one this time. The creek overlook was all it was billed as, and I took some nice (well, for me) photos.
As I was sitting at the bench provided at the overlook, a pair of riders came up on their horses. Apparently, one of the horses wasn't very used to hikers being on the trail, since (s)he balked a little when I turned to look. The rider had the horse well in hand, though, and greeted me warmly. They took a look around and then disappeared back down the trail.
On the way back to camp, I decided to test how the pack would feel carrying 50+ pounds, and I gathered some thicker firewood and snapped it into place on the pack's back panel. Other than having to tie stopper knots behind the adjustable buckles, and my hips feeling a little crushed (necessary considering the weight I was carrying), it carried surprisingly well. The front pack, even if not heavy enough to offset the weight on the back panel, works really well as a harness to spread the load across my torso and spare my shoulders the strain of 50+ pounds on my back. I'm very pleased with that.
After returning to camp around 1 PM, I received a text from Duffy saying that he'd be in around 5-ish. I puttered around camp for the rest of the day, fiddling with my gear, eating lunch, and reading a bit while I waited for his arrival. He and KC rolled into camp just about on time, to the fire I already had going in the ring, and quickly set about putting camp together.
Duffy had his old Speer with him, along with the Blackbird, and I was very intrigued by the Speer design. It paralleled a lot of my own ideas, and I was very humbled by the fact that Ed Speer seemed to've gotten a lot more right than wrong.
Duffy also had a new DIY down quilt conversion from an old sleeping bag, with a No-Sniveler-style head hole to wear the quilt as a serape. It was very impressive, and my hat's off to him for the quality of his work on it.
KC, Duffy, and I stayed up for a while, jawing around the campfire and sharing funny stories until we all felt pretty tired. We retired to our hammocks around nine-ish or ten-ish, and I read for a little while before falling asleep to the sound of the breeze up in the treetops.
I woke before dawn, and decided to go get my cook kit up and running for "coffee". I'm most emphatically not a morning person, and I didn't want to inflict my Before Coffee personality on Duffy and KC. Still, the weekend had reinvigorated me, helping to throw off the depression and lethargy that the last couple of weeks have brought with my lack of work. So, I was more chipper than usual at breakfast, and we spent some time chatting about cook kits and the different ways to prepare breakfast before tearing down.
After breaking camp, I showed Duffy and KC how to find the creek overlook--I don't feel quite as bad about not being able to find it last time after hearing that he's had trouble with the same thing in the few times he's gone out there--and then walked them over to the parking lot. Just as they were getting ready to leave, my friend Suzi--whom I'd not seen in over a year--pulled up.
Both she and I set out on the trail and we spent the rest of the day hiking and talking. It's always nice to be able to catch up with an old friend after too much time apart. And it's hard to match the Black Creek Ravines area for beauty here in Florida.
The day sped by, as did the miles underfoot. We probably did ten miles or so, and the pack held up nicely. I think this one will be a keeper for the next year or so.
Too soon, Suzi had to head back to civilization to pick her husband up from work. As we turned back to the parking lot, Mrs. FLRider texted me to let me know she was on her way to pick me up. After bidding Suzi goodbye, I debated hanging the hammock to wait for my wife.
After considered debate, I decided that I wasn't going to have enough time to really enjoy it before Mrs. FLRider arrived. Instead, I spread my poncho out on the ground for a groundsheet and pillowed my head on my pack to read while I waited. Mrs. FLRider arrived right on schedule, and my lazy weekend ended as I headed back into the rat race of searching for a temp job.
It was a wonderful weekend, full of friends old and new, and enough solitude to let me get my head back on straight. Just enough hiking to let me feel a little tired, without being exhausted or rushed, and enough lazing to let me feel refreshed. I think it was just what the doctor ordered.
Edit: Photos below:
1.) Caveman TV
2.) & 3.) The creek bank is a little creepy in the morning fog.
4.) & 5.) The creek overlook view.
6.) The creek bank drops rather precipitously there.
7.) Sunrise peeking through the treetops on Monday.