(The video is still being "processed", after three hours. I'm going to check back in the morning and make sure that it's up; if not, I'll e-mail YouTube.)
This trip was in part the result of my attempted Foothills Trail thru-hike. I decided that, since I discovered that the mountains are...tougher...than the flats when it comes to high-mile days, I'd give a slightly shorter hike a try.
I cast a line into the pool of information that is Hammock Forums, looking for a trail with good elevation change as close to Gainesville as I could get. From the responses, it seemed that the Pine Mountain Trail (hereafter referred to as "PMT") was the best bet. It was only six hours' drive, it ranged from nine hundred to thirteen hundred feet above sea level, it was supposedly well-marked, and it was never far from a road (which turned out to be a good thing, in the end).
Mr. Tattoo, a forum member here, had expressed an interest in getting out of Florida to hike somewhere with elevation changes. He's planning a thru of the AT next year, and he wanted to get a feel for what it was like to hike in the mountains.
After some discussion, we settled on leaving Saturday night after I got out of work. My original intention was to stay up all night on Thursday and sleep all day Friday to reset my circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, it turned out that an old friend of mine was going to be in town for only one night, Thursday. So, though I stayed up all night on Thursday, my recreational self-poisoning left me in no state to be up all night Friday after work. Therefore, I awoke at 6:30 Saturday morning and didn't get to bed until about 5:00 Sunday night...save for fifteen minutes on the road and five minutes at lunch.
But, I get ahead of myself.
I left work after midnight on Saturday, after the busiest night we've ever had (it hasn't been confirmed yet, but it's the first time in waking memory that we've run out of sauce, at a pizza place; I'll let you do the math). I arrived home just in time for Mr. Tattoo to call me to ensure that he was headed in the correct direction; the signage here in Gainesville leaves a lot to be desired if you're not familiar with the grid system.
He arrived on his motorcycle at about 1:30, and we were headed northbound into the steadily-thickening darkness by 2:00. After two different instances of road hypnosis on my part, where I was driving more than half asleep, I finally gave in and let him drive the rest of the way up. I fell asleep sitting up in the passenger seat for about fifteen minutes just before we arrived at FDR State Park in Georgia.
We came into the park as the sun rose, illuminating the fog that had escaped from some B-rated horror movie. I mean, the stuff was thick enough to eat with a spoon! We arrived at the park office (they require you to register for backcountry camping there) at about 7:20; they didn't open until 8:00. By 8:45 having received our permit for Beech Bottom campsite, we headed out on the trail into the gathering heat of the day.
By 9:45, we had had our first break for the day. Sipping water in the moisture-laden air, we stopped at Mile 2, next to the rock cairn there, to eat a small snack before continuing on. By the time we left the CCC hatchery ponds, built in the '30s and abandoned during the Second World War (now dry depressions in the mountainside), it was obvious that Mr. Tattoo was feeling the effects of having been up for more than twenty-four hours. Well, to be fair, I was feeling them too.
We stopped at about Mile 4, at the park office, for lunch, around noon. It had taken us two hours to cover two miles, and it was obvious that we were not going to make it to the Beech Bottom campsite (about Mile 10 on the trail). So, I headed inside to see if we could change our campsite; if not, I would need to head back down to the car and call the hike.
Fortunately, there was an opening at Broken Tree campsite, at about mile 5.3. Which meant that we "only" had to cover a mile and a quarter or so. We rolled into camp around 2:00 in the afternoon and set camp up. It was my first time using my new DIY asym minimalist tarp in the field (I'd only finished it on Wednesday, and I'm glad I took the time to get a feel for it in the front yard before this trip), as well as my new spreader bar loops (inspired by one of the Wilderness Logics hammocks that uses the same concept for their bug netting; I don't remember which one, though). Both performed admirably, and it's good that they did...
We killed some time by trying to start a fire. I was able to get a small fire going on a flat rock with tiny twigs; though it wasn't much, I was able to dry enough other tiny twigs to get my woodburner going. I probably could have built a bigger fire, but I was so exhausted by being up for about twenty-eight hours at this point that my heart wasn't really in it.
This was my first ultralight trip, and I hovered right at 21.5 pounds for my FSO weight with three liters of water and two days of food. Which means that my base weight was right around 9 pounds before clothing and consumables. I'm impressed by how comfortable that was, though it would only be so down into the fifties or so; below that, I wouldn't trust a Garlington Insulator on the bottom. I'd want an underquilt below fifty, for certain.
The reason I mention that is that, as part of my UL kit, I left my alchy stove (and the fuel!) at home. I'd been hoping to try my woodburner out in wet conditions, and I certainly got my wish. I was able to get it going with some effort, and I dried wood out over the coals once I'd taken the pot off to rehydrate my meal. I put the dehydrated sticks into my ditty bag and left them under my hammock for the night.
Mr. Tattoo and I jawed for a while, and I turned in for the evening around 5:00. I woke at 11:00 to absolutely freaking pouring rain. I mean, there was a torrent coming off of my tarp that was the size of my palm! My (new, untested, minimalist asym) tarp was in porch mode, and the low point for the tarp was right next to my head on the foot side! It was pouring right there, and I was getting some splashback from the ground three feet under the hammock. Enough to make me feel chilly. So, with the LineLoc being right at the corner of the tarp, I knocked my hiking pole out of the guyline and tightened that side down into storm mode. No more splashback!
I went back to sleep, only to be woken by the absence of rain around 4:00. I turned over and went back to sleep, though I did wonder about the light I saw from the direction of Mr. Tattoo's hammock. I slept through my alarm, which I had set for 7:45, and woke almost an hour later. Looking at the soaked campsite, my heart sank as I considered that I wouldn't be able to make "coffee". But, as it turned out, WV's trick (thank you, by the way, for that one) of drying the morning's wood over the previous night's fire and then shoving it in a stuff sack worked like a charm!
I swung my legs out of the hammock, only to look down at the spot where the water had been running off of my tarp the night before. The water had been coming down so fiercely that it dug a two-inch-deep hole in the red Georgia clay under my hammock. I wondered at that as I got up and moving, only to find that Mr. Tattoo was already up and about.
It turned out that Mr. Tattoo had been up most of the night with some kind of intestinal bug that kept him running to the bushes every hour or so. This left him exhausted and weak, and we decided that a short day was definitely in order. Our original plan was to hike back to the park office via the road and then I would jog from there back down to the car and come pick him up.
We packed everything up slowly and were ready to go by 11:00. By 11:15, it was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to make it to the office; the bug and his general exhaustion were getting the better of him. I called the hike at this point and disassembled my pack's frame to take the waist belt off of it in order to carry some essentials on my run back to the car. I stuck the map and compass, my Swiss army knife, the car keys, and an half-liter of water (at Mr. Tattoo's insistence) to the belt and set off for the car.
I figured we were about four or five miles from the car, judging by the map. Never have I been so glad to be wrong; it turned out that we were only about three and an half via road. I made it back to the car, despite some steep grades, in about an half-hour--I'm actually really happy about that, despite the circumstances that required it. It means my cardio training is paying off.
However, despite my elation at the short(er) run and my time on it, I was still worried about Mr. Tattoo. I leaped into the car and set off down (well, up, but you get the idea) the mountain road back to his location. I arrived about fifty minutes after I'd left, to find him in good spirits and enjoying his rest.
We packed everything up into the car and headed out down the road, stopping at Dowdell's Knob for some scenic views. We continued on, eating lunch in the small town of Manchester at an excellent Mexican restaurant in downtown there.
The drive back was nothing particularly interesting, though Mr. Tattoo is a wonderful guy to do a long drive with. He's a great conversationalist and a good hiking partner with a level head.
I enjoyed this trip, despite its difficulties, and I really look forward to doing another one with him!
Pics (L->R, T->B):
1.) A view from the first vista we came upon, through fog that had been steadily lightening for the better part of two hours at that point.
2.) A plaque describing how FDR liked to go up to Dowdell Knob for the views and barbequed up there often.
3.) The (larger-than-)life-sized bronze of President Roosevelt on Dowdell Knob.
4.) The view from Dowdell Knob.
5.) A plaque describing the grill that FDR had built up there.
6.) The actual (now filled-in) grill.