Part 1 of the Video Report:
(Part 2 will be up either tonight or tomorrow.)
My story begins last Tuesday, when it became obvious that Duffy, MightyMouse, and emcee would be at Rice Creek for Saturday night but not Sunday. I decided then that I would ride out over night after work on Saturday to meet them Sunday morning for coffee at Rice Creek Conservation Area (near Palatka, FL, sited right on the FL Trail).
Well, this was not to be. On Friday, I was informed that work needed me to come in at 10:00 AM on Saturday. Fun... Mrs. FLRider insisted that, given the 14-hour day I was going to have on my feet, coupled with the expected high-20s temperatures overnight on Saturday, she would drive me out Sunday morning rather than have me ride out, exhausted and cold. Oddly enough (for me), I found myself in agreement with her.
Sunday morning came waaaay too early, and it took me nearly two hours of strong coffee before I felt that I was ready for even basic social interaction. So, instead of arriving between 7 and 8 AM (my initial plan), I rolled into camp close to 9. Disappointing, but not fatal.
Duffy and MightyMouse were both up and about when I came into camp and greeted me warmly. I also met Grey (or is it Gray?) Blazer around the campfire and chatted for a bit before emcee wandered over from his campsite. Emcee had to rib me a bit about my shorts (I don't wear pants unless it's a special occasion or below the teens when I'm active), but seemed warm enough in his three layers of clothing.
An hour or two was spent jawing around the fire circle there, then emcee took off for the parking lot due to previous responsibilities. His new ZPacks Blast was very impressive-looking, and I sure had a bit of pack envy at that point. I do love my DIY, but there's just something nice about a finely-crafted pack that tugs at my wallet strings...
Duffy and MightyMouse began packing up, and I volunteered to help them carry stuff back to the parking lot. I must say, I was very impressed by the comfort of Duffy's ULA (I think it was a Conduit, but I could be wrong...) pack. Mind you, I was carrying maybe five pounds, but it sure was comfy...
After helping them load the truck, I jogged the mile and an half back to the campsite. It really is a beautiful area, and the temperatures--in the mid-sixties--were perfect for a short run. When I arrived back, I found that Mrs. Grey Blazer had woken up and was doing pancakes over the fire. I declined their (very generous) offer of some pancakes in favor of some peanut butter and honey on tortillas--mostly because I wanted to shed pack weight on the way home, not because their pancakes were anything other than heavenly.
Fairly soon, Grey Blazer and his wife were packing up to head back to their car. I helped them hump their extra stuff back to the truck; they'd initially hauled quite a bit in on a wagon, but one of the wheels began to break on the way in and was less than supportive on the way out. So, since I've been meaning to stress-test my pack anyway...well, I threw probably 60 or 70 lbs of gear on the pack and began Sherpaing it out. That much weight sure does make the miles feel longer...
By the time we'd loaded the truck, it was getting on towards five in the afternoon. I headed back to camp and started making dinner--field shepherd's pie and hot cocoa. My mother-in-law had gotten me a Nesco dehydrator for my birthday this year, and I got to try the first fruits of that out on this trip. Instead of my usual freeze-dried veggies and jerky added to the potatoes and gravy mix, I had dehydrated lean ground beef, sugar snap peas, corn, and matchstick carrots...mmmm...tasty. The shepherd's pie came out wonderful, and the dessert of hot cocoa hit the spot.
By the time I'd finished with dinner, it was seven-ish and the sun had definitely gone down. Temperatures began to plummet and were in the thirties by the time I hit the hay, around seven-thirty. I spent some time reading in the hammock before nodding off.
Sunday night was cold--it got down to an overnight low of 24* F. I stayed warm enough, except for my toes. I was using my sewn-up PLUQ, which is good to about those temperatures, and a poncho liner as a top quilt (my DIY quilt system isn't quite ready for prime time just yet). For clothing, I had my merino longsleeve base layer, a set of Patagonia Cap 3 long top and bottoms, my compression shorts underwear, my running shorts, a thin lightweight polyester stretch balaclava, my Thinsulate watch cap, and my thick Wigwam wool socks. I found this very effective at those temperatures, though my toes got a little cold. I may try wearing my Smartwool hiker socks under the Wigwams the next time I go out into such conditions.
I woke around 7 AM, to frost on everything. Attempting to retrieve water for my "coffee" from the hammock, I discovered that my water bladder's sip line had frozen--as had the well pump at the shelter. Well, crud. I pulled the bladder into the hammock with me (after ensuring that it was well-sealed) and went back to sleep for an hour. I woke around 8 AM once again and found that the bladder was able to pass water without incident. I continued on, having "coffee" from the hammock and began to pack up for my day hike down to Buckman Lock and the Cross Florida Greenway.
I was on-trail by 10:00 AM and headed south into unknown territory. I had my copy of the FT data book with me, but I did not have any maps. Fortunately, I'm at least somewhat familiar with the road structure of the area and could find my way to one if needed. It wasn't though; the blazing through the area is easy enough to follow.
I soon crossed 9-Mile Swamp at Hoffman's Crossing (a 1/4-mile long raised plank boardwalk) and walked the three miles to SR 20. I stopped for my first snack of the day, some Reece's peanut butter cups. Continuing on, I successfully crossed SR 20 without emulating a speed bump and crossed into the private land south of 20.
Soon, I came across some hunting stands. Hopefully unused, seeing as how it is past general gun season...but, you never know. I began singing...badly...when I wasn't talking to the camera, just in case. By about 1 PM, I crossed out of Caravalle Ranch Wildlife Management Area onto more private property (I'm not sure just when I entered Caravelle, since it's not marked on the trail) and found a shotgun target set up on the trail, as if the trail was a shooting range. Several spent shells right by the fence convinced me that making noise and being very alert would probably be a good idea. As did the number of beer cans and bottles along the trail through there. Alcohol and firearms...what a combo...
After another hour and an half, I reached my destination at Buckman Lock. Here, I took another pack-off break and even removed my shoes to treat a pair of hot spots under the balls of my feet. Sugar sand--which had been about a third to an half of the trail so far--gets into mesh-top trail runners and stays there, abrading your feet. So, every time you stop down here, it's worth taking your shoes off and shaking out your socks (thank you, Duffy, for that tip!).
By about 3 PM, I was packed up and headed back northbound. I knew that I did not want to be in that private land come twilight; being shot was just not on my priorities list for the day. So, I gave lunch an hour of walking at a moderate pace to settle and then began to make time back towards Rice Creek. Every ten minutes, I would shift from a walk to a jog; doing this, I covered the nine miles from Buckman Lock to SR 20 in two hours and change. Which got me off of the hunting properties and back onto reserve land before hunting really got started. Despite this, I heard fifteen or twenty shots (single shots; not an whole long magazine ripping off) within a couple of miles on my way back to 20. Again, with the bad, off-key singing to keep myself alive.
My knees started to give a warning that they were not happy about the jogging about a mile after SR 20, and I slowed down to a walk. At this point, I also dug out my afternoon snack--trail mix consisting of some nuts and dehydrated pineapple. Well...it seems that I need to work on dehydrating pineapple, as the mix tasted rancid.
So, my energy levels were pretty low by the time I reached camp. I got dinner together and immediately felt better when I'd gotten some of it into my system. I texted Mrs. FLRider to let her know that I'd made it back to camp alright and read for a bit before tucking in. I stripped down to just my Cap 3 longsleeve, Wigwam socks, Thinsulate cap, and shorts for Monday night; the overnight forecast was for mid-forties.
Tuesday, I'd intended on getting up at 5 AM and on the road by 7 AM...this was not to be. I slept straight through my alarm and woke up around 7, not making it on the road until almost 9:45. It was a balmy 40* overnight, and about 43* when I woke. I was very comfortable Tuesday morning, and I'm sure that that contributed to my sleeping in.
I was packed up and headed west on SR 100 by 9:45, and I reached the turnoff for the Palatka-Lake Butler rail trail by 10:30. I followed that for about an half hour before reaching a section that the DOT had closed for repairs...which, of course, was in the section of 100 that had the huge hills. Murphy strikes again!
I turned back to SR 100 and followed it until I reached SR 26. I turned onto SR 26, into the teeth of the wind--the wind was blowing 10 to 15 mph, and it was enervating.
Soon after turning onto 26, I passed an house with a fence. The reason for this fence was immediately obvious: the owner had trained their German shepherd as a guard dog.
I have no issues with someone having a guard dog on their property: I understand all of the reasons associated with having one, and the sense of safety that the animal brings to the household is surely a good thing. What I do have a problem with is training your animal as a guardian and then being negligent enough to let it run around outside of your property--it's the same as leaving a loaded firearm out where children can get at it. The folks who owned this home and trained this dog left their gate open. The dog rushed me on the bike and chased me out into the travel lane.
Fortunately, the house is on a downhill, and I was able to show the dog my heels. However, had there been traffic coming up from behind me, I'd be dead. I fear for the child who rides along that section of road; if the dog nearly caught me, what's it going to do to a twelve-year-old?
I hope that the owner shows more responsibility in the future, penning the dog behind his or her fence. But, if not, sooner or later, there is going to be a preventable tragedy there.
The remainder of my ride back to Gainesville was uneventful, aside from the fierce wind nearly blowing me off of the road three different times. I was down in first gear on the flat in a couple of spots, and my quads were definitely feeling it by the time I rolled into my yard.
All in all, though, it was a great trip. I enjoyed the solitude, even if it was punctuated by occasional firearm discharges. I enjoyed emcee's, Duffy's, MightyMouse's, Grey Blazer's, and his wife's company on Sunday, and I even enjoyed the ride home--aside from the dog. It was a great weekend to clear my head and get some decent movement in, for sure.