As the title implies, my 4 day out-and-back didn't go so long as I planned. What I had planned was to start at Parking lot 1 and hike till I got tired, overnight, hike till I got tired, overnight again, and head back overnighting two more times. But it wen South really quickly, almost from the start.
So, first up, trail condition was so-so in that it was firm and dry for most parts, but there were other parts int he first 3.5 miles that was just standing water. I got about 1.4 miles along only to discover the trail description packet I had, had fallen out of my pocket somewhere behind me, so I had to hump it quick back along the trail and after about 200 - 300 meters, there it was on the ground. Made sure it was back in my pocket securely. AND just to make sure, I zipped the right hand cargo pocket on my pants (where I was keeping my reading glasses) shut. Get along the trail about 2.2 miles and go to open my pocket to take a look at the map, and the *&#@ zipper is stuck. Tug and tug and tug and still won't budge. So, whip out my trusty Mora and cut a slit in the pocket just below the zipper.
Moved on and stopped by the first big pond just about 2.5 miles for lunch and a break. Headed out again after some not so tasty things. Get to Parking lot 2 and take a short water and snack break. Head back onto the trail and get about 100 meters up and it turns to mud. The whole trail. Too much bracken and brambles on both sides to try and get/stay out of the mud. get another 400 meters up and look closely only to see that the whole trail for as far as the eye could see was shining with mud and water. So, at this point, I decide to turn around and head back to TH 1 and move to another trailhead and see if the trail is better there. If not, I'd go to yet another, and worst come to worst, hang at the Stubblefield CG, and basecamp there. So, going back, I take the Little Creek Lake Loop instead of the main trail, and got to a point where my body was telling me I needed to stop. Up to now I was humping about 29 pounds of stuff. My legs were tired, my hips were sore and my shoulders weren't feeling so hot either. (I'm not in that great a shape). So, I get to a point on the trail and decide to hang there, have supper, relax and recuperate. I'm hanging my hammock and ease into it when BANG! one of my straps breaks, dumping me on the ground. I wasn't that high up, but it was enough to knock the wind out of me. So, I swallow my disappointment, repack my crap and force myself back on the trail. Turns out I was only about 3/4 mile from the TH. I'd humped only about 7 miles total, managed to somehow generate a blister on my right big toe, and generally exhaust myself.
I was carrying too much stuff mainly because I had failed to readjust my load. I had originally planned on starting on Sunday, not Monday. However, with the way the weather was (Thunderstormy and rainy on Saturday, slight rain and cold on Sunday) I decided to start on Monday instead. However, I failed to go into my pack (which was packed on Friday) and remove/reduce some things that I would no longer need. Like food for instance. I was still humping Sundays food which I would no longer need. I could have simply eaten Sundays on Monday, but that was designed as a 3 meal day. As it turns out I didn't get on the trail until about 11:30Am, so the breakfast was not needed. And the lunch (which I did eat) was meant to be a fast on-trail one, not a stop and fix, so it wasn't as filling as it could have been. I also had far too many snacks packed which I wasn't eating, because they were meant for later in the trip. The only weight that diminished (and honestly wasn't that noticeable) was the water which was a mere 2 liters. I was counting on water in the creeks and ponds and that wasn't a bad thing, only the creeks were kinda far apart. I'll know better next time.
Some trail notes: although the trail is well marked, it would be nice if some of the blazes werwe marked with minor mileage (like 1.5, 2.2, 2.8, etc.) so you've got a better idea of how far along you are. Normally I'd triangulate to figure out where I was, but when you're in pine forest, it's not easy to find noticeable landmarks to sight in on. Trees aren't really marked on a map.
The Little Creek Lake Loop needs some help with it's blazes, and the mile markers are non-existent. I passed the 3, 2, and 1 mile marks without seeing anything to indicate that I was that far along with the exception of one of the mile marker posts which was burned just like the trees. This trail right now also smells of the burn which isn't unpleasant, but if you hang on it, but aware that many of the trees are essentially covered in charcoal. They are healthy trees, just the bark is still burnt, so your hands are going to get dirty, as will your straps. Also, on both trails there is a lot of bracken and undergrowth, so picking your site can be a challenge, but there are still plenty of places to hang.
What's bothersome to me is that at both parking lots/trailheads, there are info boards, but no where on those is there any mention of actual trail conditions. I'd never have pressed on if I had known the trail was not optimal for hiking. At the very least they could have had an info sheet that said something like, "Due to the recent weather, be prepared for very muddy conditions, as well as standing water on parts of the trail". I was prepared for parts of the trail to be muddy, or even require me to work a path around, but not for one part of the trail to be really nearly unpassable. Let's face it, it ain't easy walking in mud and this wasn't surface mud, but down deep, sucking, slick clay based mud that makes hiking twice as hard as it needs to be. Especially in light of the first 3 miles which was mostly dry. And the wet parts on it were easily gotten around. It's a minor gripe, but I'd think it's something the day hikers might like to know. But as it is, NBD.
Bottom line, I learned things to correct, I learned things about myself I'd forgotten, and wouldn't trade this minor experience for anything.
EDIT: In thinking about hte tree straps, I believe I know what happened. The trees I was attaching to were of two radically different diameters. One was much wider around than the other. I believe what happened pre-trip was that when I was packing up, I grabbed one 15 or 20' strap and one 6' strap. I think the 6 footer came with one of my hammocks, and somehow got mixed up with the straps I normally carry with my suspension. I recently ordered some polyester straps to replace a couple of nylon straps and the two straps that came with one of the hammocks was inadvertently mixed in with those. So, since my brain wasn't working properly, instead of looking at the 1.5 foot of strap I had left after wrapping around the bigger tree, then looking at the 10 or 12 feet of the other strap, and saying to myself, "Hold up! I need to swtich these around." I just marvelled at how one of my supposed 20' straps was geing taken up around this tree that was NOT 18' in diameter. So, in the end the longer strap had too much stres on it and simply gave way to physics. and I was once again reminded that yes, gravity works.