This last weekend, I spent two nights out at Rice Creek Conservation Area, near Palatka, FL.
This was a mental health trip, as well as being a gear-testing trip. I had two new quilts and needed some stress relief and time away from the rat race.
My original intention was to be on the road, headed eastbound, by nine or ten in the morning. This was not to be; I didn't hit the road until noon. I was somewhat stressed when I left Gainesville, but by the time I reached the small town of Melrose, FL--approximately eighteen miles outside town--I felt much better. The rhythmic movement and the beautiful sights of the North Florida country enfolded me in their soothing embrace, washing away my troubles.
By the time I hit Putnam Hall, approximately twenty-three miles into my journey, I was even cracking jokes about the "Florida mountains" that run along SR 100. This hills through there are some of the highest in the local area, even though I was taking the rail-trail that runs next to 100 (thank you, skrewloose).
I reached the WMA in good time; it was appoximately 3:30 when I rolled into the parking lot, meaning that I had enough time to set camp before dark. I putzed around camp for the rest of the afternoon, getting everything set up to my satisfaction and making dinner (Velveeta shells and cheese with sriracha sauce...mmm...). That night, the low temperature reached 54* F, with 100% humidity--I was damp and slightly chilled. My quilts worked as I'd hoped, though, warding off the damp chill in the wee hours of the morning. The only real annoyance I had all night was the whining of mosquitoes in my ears--they were voracious around camp. But, that's FL hiking for you...
On Monday, my friend and coworker Todd came out for a day hike along the Florida Trail (which runs next to the WMA). We hiked out on the FT, headed down to SR 20 to the south. It's about 3.5 miles each way from the campsite, and it's a very pretty walk--even with some of it being on forest roads rather than real trail. Hoffman's Crossing is in this area--a quarter-mile long raised boardwalk that runs through 9-Mile Swamp. It's awfully pretty. We also stopped in at the 7th (6th, I think, actually, now that The Senator has burned down) largest cypress tree in Florida; it's definitely a sight.
Hiking back to camp, Todd and I walked in on the yellow trail--a different on that we'd left on--and I definitely recommend it. It runs along a series of dikes that are left over from when the WMA was an indigo and rice plantation back in the 18th century.
All too soon, we reached the camp, and Todd had to head on out back to real life. I futzed around with my bear bag, getting it stuck at the top of its pull--of course. An hour of messing with it and cursing my own inattention when I first put it up there yielded results--ha! I could have dinner now! A dinner of summer sausage, habanero cheddar, and sriracha on tortillas was delicious.
That night, the temperatures again dropped into the mid-fifties with high humidity. I was again damp as I slept, though I was definitely warm enough. I woke early, getting up around 6:30 and making "coffee" as I slowly went about my camp chores. I packed up the bike, doing a short video section on how I pack for biking trips, and headed on out into the gathering heat of the day.
I left Rice Creek at approximately 10:30 AM and had an uneventful ride home. It was a wonderful trip, soothing and productive in my gear testing. I now know that high humidity may be a problem at lower temperatures; Insultex does not breathe well enough to pass the majority of my vapor under me.
Video Report (a two-parter):
Fall colors on the way out of town:
The low for the evening was 54*:
The Rice Creek Hilton shelter:
Dawn through the trees:
The FT was beautifully maintained:
Those old cypress trees get big:
So do their "knees":
Gasp! An actual suspension bridge!: