Hiking the Florida Panhandle


It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...

Fort Braden - January 17, 2007

Well, we survived our backpacking trip. There was rain, but it was very well-behaved. Except for a brief sprinkle Saturday afternoon, it only rained while we were in the tent. Though it has never been seam-sealed, the tent performed reasonably well. A couple of very small pools formed, soaking my hat with one and dampening the outside foot of my sleeping bag with the other, but we stayed comfy in spite of it.

The trail we hiked is the Fort Braden Trail, which is in the Lake Talquin State Forest. The section it's in is closed to hunters, so we didn't have to worry about getting shot. There are three loop trails of different lengths, but they are connected so that one can hike the entire circuit of 11 miles. The primitive campsite we stayed at was at about the halfway point, so we did 5.5 miles each day.

We dropped the kids off at my parents at 12pm on Saturday, and then went by the Division of Forestry for a $5 camping permit. We made it to the trailhead about 1pm, and were walking within 15 minutes. Horseback riders have trails in this tract also, and there were a lot of horse trailers at the trailhead. We saw three riders come up while we were getting our packs out. One of them mentioned to Jan that it was going to rain that night. "Shhhh...." (I had neglected to mention to her that there was a chance of rain Saturday afternoon, as well as Sunday morning.)

We took the East Loop first, which turned out to be a fortunate choice. It was the section with the most up and down, and was good to get out of the way on the first day. The terrain was mostly hardwood forest, criss-crossed by small creeks that run down to the lake. The crew that built the trail put small footbridges across the creek, but there were a few places where we had to tip-toe through mud. Some sections were rather boggy, but our feet stayed clean for the most part (very clean until I waded through a boggy section on the second day just to show off my water-proof boots).

We saw lots of animal sign during the day, but few animals. There were deer tracks all over the place, and a few different varieties of scat that I wasn't able to identify. At one point we walked through a buzzard roost that was about the grossest thing you can imagine. The buzzards all flew up when we approached. There must've been a dozen of them. They smelled like carrion, and beneath the trees where they had been sitting, the ground was sprinkled white like someone had dropped a bucket of paint from the trees. I was glad to get through that.

It sprinkled on us just a little bit right before we got to camp on Saturday. We were worried that we might not be able to have a fire or cook dinner. It stopped very quickly, though. The real rain didn't begin until much later, after dinner and after we had cleaned up camp and stowed everything in the tent. When it started, it lasted all through the night. Before that, though, the sky actually cleared up for a bit and we had a real good view of Orion and Cassiopeia. There was no moon out, and off in the woods away from the tent we could hear critters moving around--deer and raccoons most likely.

I read out loud for a bit from Fellowship of the Ring, until Jan looked like she was about to pass out, then we went on to sleep. For some reason, when I sleep in the woods, I tend to wake up a lot in the night, and I do a lot of dreaming. I get plenty of sleep all together, but I get it in installments. By the time 6:40am rolled around, I had all the sleep I could stand.

A light rain was still coming down outside. We sat in the tent, talking and eating our breakfast for a bit. The rain gradually slackened and stopped. The tent was soaked, but we were reasonably dry. We started packing up all our stuff and then put it out under a tarp I had rigged with my rain poncho. Jan wiped the floor of the tent down, and we folded it and the ground cover up and stuffed them in our packs.

Everything loaded, we headed out again. There was just one small problem: we had no water. We had carried 4 liters in with us, but that was all gone. Our camp was right on the bank of the lake and I had a water filter, but I didn't like the idea of drinking from Lake Talquin, filtered or no. I was hoping for a creek to get my water from, but it took us a half hour to reach one. We stopped for a few minutes while I got us a couple of liters. It wasn't sparkling, and it had a tang to it, but it was wet--and hopefully, giardia-free.

The Center and Western Loops proved to be flatter than the Eastern. We made very good time on the hike back, doing the 5.5 miles in 2 hrs 20 min. Besides the flatness, I liked the look of the woods on the second half of our hike a bit better. I think it was because it was more open with fewer thickets, so I could see farther. Magnolias, beeches and pond pines were the dominant tree types, and they were well spaced with little brush between them. There was a thick carpet of leaves on the ground and on portions of the Western Loop it obscured the trail to the point that without the orange blazes, we would've been lost.

It was good to get back to the van where we could set down our packs and peel off our shoes. After getting gas, our next stop was Wendy's--we had both worked up quite an appetite--then on to pick up the kiddies. It was a fun trip. It was actually Jan's first overnight backpacking experience, and she did great. I was very glad that she didn't have to walk in the rain, but I'm sure she would've handled that well, too. :-)

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