I've been needing to unwind after this work week from hell. I decided to take Saturday afternoon and evening to get outside to enjoy some fresh air and exercise. I loaded my backpack and went out hiking. The weather was beautiful today; sunny and a hot 32c/90f. For quite some time now I'd been wanting to explore a nearby wetlands conservation area, covering thousands of hectares. Why not, it's only a short drive away!
I figure that when I'm hiking I might just find a nice spot that I'd like to rest at for a bit. Just in case, I packed my hammock with whoopies and tree straps. I also put in my 'hug' bug screen, and my camo tarp in case I wanted some shelter from the sun. I brought some food, water, survival gear, GPS, and other essentials. I also brought my ereader for entertainment should I feel like reading in the hammock. Not including water my pack weighed about 13 lbs.
The swamp is expected to be buggy, so I sprayed my pants, socks and hat with permethrin and my arms, neck and head with DEET. I was glad I did! Frequently the mosquitoes were at my ears and arms, and horse flies circling above my head. But the sprays seemed to do the job as I think I was bit by mosquitoes only couple times.
When I arrived there were a couple cars were already parked on the shoulder of the road at the trailhead, so I figured I'd run into someone at some point. The surrounding area is mostly marsh and wetlands. Combined with the hot temperature the air was humid, and the bugs were getting annoying. My enthusiasm for exploring the area was beginning to wane.
The trail was a bit overgrown at this point in the season. At some points I wade through grasses up to my neck and try to push them aside with my hiking stick. Some of the bushes pull against my backpack and knock my hat off. When the sun comes back out I reach for my shades and discover I've lost them in the bush. I try and retrace my steps for an hour and find nothing among the tall grass. I conclude I could spend all day searching and not find my $25 sunglasses, and decide to buy another pair tomorrow. I head away from this area and down the trail that leads past the marsh.
The sign at the trailhead stated that shotgun and bow hunting is allowed at certain times of the year so I came across a few tree stand type setups. It's not open for hunting currently, but I'd certainly not feel safe hiking there during open season! I find a big fire pit beside an old ripped tarp that is suspended among the trees. There's a few smashed bottles along the way. I notice little one inch size zip lock bags that have the ace symbol printed on it. Party drugs I guess. It makes me wonder what it would be like if I happened to encounter the group of people who'd left this garbage behind. I'm hiking alone, so just in case I have a few safety items handy: my cellphone, a whistle, pepper spray, aluminum hiking pole, and a tiny neck knife.
Suddenly around the next tree I run into two guys setting up tents, about 5 feet in front of me literally right in the middle of the trail. One guy is wearing a 'wife-beater' tank, sporting sleeve tattoos, and the other guy's shirtless with spacers in his earlobes. I figure they're going to look up at this point so I've got to say something first. But turning around the way I came is my only real option as I'm not going to shove my way past their tents, and I feel like keeping my distance. I say hello and startle one guy. I ask if this is the end of the trail. They respond, and seem friendly enough. They say there's more trail, pointing behind them. I tell them I'm how I'm checking out the area for the first time and sorry to bother them, and head back the way I came. I can't figure out why they'd want to camp there in the middle of the bug infested swamp, and right in the middle of the trail?
I head back down the trail for a few minutes and check my cell phone GPS map, and notice there seems to be another trail heading at a right angle. This trail leads uphill away from the marsh. My 10 year old Garmin seems unable to pick up a satellite signal any more. My phone GPS is great. I'm glad I have it, but the battery life if far too short for anything more than a hike.
At one point while exploring off the main trail randomly, I looked down at my feet and saw a small notorious looking weed. I immediately wondered if I stumbled into a grow op and wasn't safe to be there, but it appeared that it was just that one tiny little plant that had been planted there in the shade of the forest.
I head back to the main trail that runs through this forest area. I mark a few potential hang sites on my GPS, but they aren't compelling enough, so I keep exploring. I continue on the trail moving to higher ground. I notice that the trees are more deciduous (maples?) and the ground isn't covered by bushes. In spots there's some short grass, but I can walk easily as I leave the main trail and head uphill.
I notice many large spider webs among the dead-fall and ferns in this area of the forest. It makes me reconsider what aspects I'm wanting for my site selection. Hammock enthusiasts often talk about how the hammock allows you to sleep comfortably above ground that's less than ideal. Although I don't need perfectly level ground, I don't want to keep stepping into a spider's nest and wading through shrubs. It should have trees spaced apart the right distance as well as some surrounding open space and clear ground pleasant for walking on.
I reach the top of the higher ground, and can see the edge of the forest. Beyond this is a large clearing where utility power lines run. I see a grouping of older trees that seem to be the perfect distance apart for the hammock. The ground between them is only covered by dead leaves and some branches that can easily be moved. With my hiking stick I clear out some cobwebs and flick aside some of the deadfall. Next time I'll pack work gloves for site clearing.
There's a breeze coming from the field which is pleasant on a hot day like today. The canopy of leaves above makes a soothing white noise like a nearby river. I set my pack down and unpack my gear onto a large garbage bag. In a couple minutes I've got the hammock up and it's a great relief to be able to sit down in it and rest without my pack for a while. I add the HUG half hammock bug screen. I snack on a cliff bar, and then some crackers with honey. My energy was getting low, and I really notice it as I rest in the hammock, snack and rehydrate.
I'm puzzled by why those two men I saw earlier would set up camp in such a miserable spot. Only a only short hike away exist an entirely different environment, which is heavenly. I like the spot I found because it's not visible from the trail. I don't see the need to set up the camo tarp, since there's enough shade from the trees. I've selected this spot from all the kilometers I've travelled through today, because it's different somehow. It's not dense claustrophobic bush. I can see into the distance far away through the trees. Although there's forest around me as far as I can see, this area is spacious. The mature trees create a green ceiling of leaves high above me overhead. Inside this cathedral hall I feel I'm one with nature. I feel compelled to be here.
It's a quiet, peaceful, place in the forest to rest and relax. After hiking trails for a few hours, it's nice to be able to stop and recharge for a bit. It's not an epic location from a feature article in Backpacker magazine. I suppose the ideal spot would have a better view, a photo op, or a noteworthy feature attraction. But at this point I'm content just to sit down and rest after hiking for the afternoon. And I'm also happy I don't have to sit on the bug infested forest floor.
Content with the site I've selected, I kick back and close my eyes for while. The HUG bug net performed well, allowing me to rest easy without being bothered by the bugs. My feet and legs were also fine, having sprayed my clothes earlier. I was also pleased that my back wasn't getting bitten through the hammock.
I'm still feeling hungry and realize that it's now past dinner time. On a hot day like today, the one liter of water I brought to drink went far too quickly, and I've only got about a cup left. I have another liter available when I get back to the car. I decide to heat up dinner on my alcohol stove. I've packed a Bistro Express Entree pouch: chicken, mushroom and wild rice. I find these often go on sale for $2 and are a fast hearty meal. Sometimes when backpacking I just don't feel like going through too much hassle in preparing food. The last time I made one I poured some boiling water into the pouch and it made a nice 'freezer bag' style stew, leaving my pot clean. But this time I decided I'd just wash the pot when I got home. I added some water to the rice to steam it up more, and in a couple minutes I had dinner.
I consider how another time I might feel more comfortable with having a twig burning stove or a small fire. It can help to rid the site of bugs. But with the short time I'm planning on being there this evening, I don't want the hassle of dealing with a fire, nor any unwanted attention it could create. Once again I enjoyed the simplicity of the alcohol stove.
After dinner I clean up and then kick back and relax in the hammock again for another half hour. The birds are starting to sing more. With about an hour till sunset, I decide to head back to the car. I pack up and am happy with how I've left no trace behind that could reveal my site. I plan to return to the same spot again soon. How easy it is to take a mini vacation--just pack my bag and go! A short little getaway like a hike & hang can provide a big break from the typical everyday stresses!