Hiking the Florida Panhandle
It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...
My son and I did our first father/son backpacking trip this weekend. We went to Ft Braden Trails and hiked to the primitive campsite on the West Loop. We had a few problems, but overall, it was a great trip.
I drove about five miles past the trailhead, which is off Hwy 20, down to Geddie Rd where the forestry office is located so I could get a camping permit, only to be told that I didn't need one. Either that's a new rule, or we had some sort of communication breakdown, because I had to get one when I camped there three years ago.
We finally made it to the trailhead at about 12:30pm. I got a little befuddled while trying to pay the camp fees. I kept forgetting one thing and another, and having to walk back and forth between the van and the pay station. I eventually got it all taken care of, though. I took a few shots of DS at the trailhead, being goofy, then we took off.
Here's video, courtesy of YouTube, of us setting off from the trailhead after a visit to the bathroom.
There was a discussion that followed about the use of hand sanitizer. I'm going to spare you the details of that, although it was pretty funny.
We went left from the trailhead, and walked clockwise around the west loop. There has been some good rain here lately, so parts of the trail were a little boggy. We had to pick our way around a huge mud hole not far from the beginning of the trail. I went first and had DS follow me so that he wouldn't get all muddy like he did on our trip last week.
A little further along we came to a large clearing where the trees had been cut down, and left scattered around. I had seen this area when I was here with Nelda back before Christmas. I didn't realize what it was then, but this time I noticed a large sign explaining the project (maybe it wasn't there last time, not sure). They are restoring the sandhills ecosystem on that stretch of the forest. They cut down all the trees except for the longleaf pines, and they are going to plant more pines to recreate the pine and wiregrass ecosystem that was there sometime in the past. I don't really understand the point of that. It seems analogous to ethnic cleansing to me. Not that trees are people, but the mindset of trying to treat the world like a museum in which things have to be as they always were, and nothing can ever change.
The restoration area is up on a ridge, and beyond it the trail starts to descend towards Lake Talquin. We hadn't gone a mile before DS started asking me how much further we had to go. I told him about the first mile marker, and that we had to go just beyond the second one to get to the campsite. That gave him a landmark to shoot for.
I'm teaching DS how to hike, but I'm also having to train myself on how to hike with a 5 yr old. It's not the easiest thing to do. He has to take two steps for every step I take. He can't hike at my pace without jogging, which would tire him out too quickly. Instead, I have to hike at his pace, which means I hike a lot slower than normal. That's not an easy adjustment to make. When moving at my pace, I build up a momentum that helps carry me along. I get the weight of the pack moving forward, and develop some forward inertia. Hiking at DS's pace, it seems like I am having to drag the weight of the pack along every inch of the way. It can be tiresome. I always find that I start out in a good mood and enjoying his chatter, but after a mile of creeping along, listening to him rattle on, and having to stop when he stops, and stop sometimes just to figure out what he's saying, it gets tiresome. The cuteness begins to wear thin, and I have to remind myself that he's only five, and I have to be patient with him.
One way I entertained myself on this trip was by keeping my camera handy so that I could snap pictures anytime I saw something interesting. I hooked the case to a ring on the shoulder strap of my pack, and left it unzipped, so I could reach up and pull it out easily. I made it a point to take a picture of him at every bridge crossing. With all the creeks that snake through this little section of forest, there were a total of eight bridge crossings in the 3.3 miles that we hiked, six the first day and two the second. Here are a couple:
When we got down within sight of the lake he decided he was hungry, so we stopped and ate the sandwiches that I had brought for our lunch. We spent about 15 minutes hanging out, and then set off again, walking along the shore for a little ways and then cutting inland before coming back out to the shore, and the campsite.
Along the way, we passed a guy and girl, probably in their mid-twenties. I spoke, and the girl spoke back. The guy had stepped a little ways off the trail, and didn't say anything to us. He just watched us pass. It gave me a weird vibe. When we got to the campsite, I decided to wait before setting up camp. I didn't necessarily want them to know we were going to be spending the night. Sure enough, within 15 minutes, they came walking back up the trail, opposite of the way they had been headed, and passed right by the camping area. I watched them as they walked past, and neither of them looked in our direction like they were scoping us out. It still made me a little nervous. Was I just being paranoid?
Within a half hour after they went by us, I started hearing voices in the direction of the picnic area farther up the trail, on the central loop. It's a pretty good distance along the trail, but not very far in a straight line. The trail follows a creek upstream, and then comes back down to the picnic area on the lake, so the two locations are just separated by the swampy land around the creek mouth. I don't know that the voices were the same people we met on the trail. Probably not. At first, they were just talking loudly, but then we heard whoops, and something that sounded like a person imitating a howler monkey. Then we heard gunshots. That's when I became really concerned. I called my wife on the cell phone and debated with her whether I ought to stay or not. I felt like I still had enough daylight to hike out, but I really hated to be run off by a bunch of yahoos acting stupid. The question was whether they were just yahoos, or something worse.
All total, I only heard about six or seven shots. I was never sure whether it was a pistol, or a shotgun. I could hear shots across the lake that sounded like a shotgun, and were probably from hunters. There's no hunting in the Ft Braden section of Lake Talquin SF, so if it was someone taking a few squirrels, he was poaching. My impression was that it was someone target shooting with a pistol, but I could be wrong. I'm not an expert on such things.
Fortunately, within an hour the shooting had stopped and the voices had gone away. The only other people we heard or saw that evening was a group of two men and a woman who looked Asian. They passed by us on the main trail, and DS called out to them. They spoke to him in a friendly way before continuing on. No bad vibes.
By that time, I had decided on staying. I pitched the tent, a little Eureka Solitaire that I use for solo trips. (It's small, but I thought we'd both fit in it alright.) I got out my cooking gear and started getting dinner ready, using the grill on the fire ring as a table. I had a packet of Lipton noodles to split between the two of us. Those cooked up pretty easily on my homemade alcohol stove. I had forgotten to pack spoons for us, though, so I had to find a couple of sticks and whittle out eating implements. They weren't very good, but they got the job done. I cleaned up the pot and bowls, and then made us each a cup of hot chocolate.
While I was doing the cooking, DS practiced throwing his frisbee. When we finished dinner, I played frisbee with him for a little while, and then we went around gathering up firewood. When we had enough, we built a fire. I took a few pictures of the sun going down, and a video of him being silly. The video is kind of blurry, but his exclammations about the sun "frying" him are classic, so I have to include it.
After getting the fire going, we sat beside it, and I read him the first chapter of The Hobbit, and part of the second. The sun was down completely by that time, and there was no moon out. I was using my headlamp to see the pages. By the time I reached the part where Bilbo and the dwarves are about to stumble across the trolls, the fire had burned down to coals. I was perched on a log too small for my rear end, and DS was sitting on my leg. Blood flow to the lower extremities was almost at a standstill, so I decided to call it a night. I spread the coals out, and we hopped into the tent.
It would be more accurate to say we slithered into the tent. It's only made for one person, and it's shaped like a coffin. We had enough room for both of us side-to-side, but there was precious little head room. I have to go into it feet first, and I have to make sure my feet go into the sleeping bag as I enter, because I'll play hell getting into it once I'm inside. I got in and was intending to read a little more, but by the time I flopped around finding the book again, then finding the light, then tracking down my glasses, I was sweating and tuckered out. There wasn't a comfortable way to turn so that I could read either. I made it through about one paragraph before giving it up.
We both fell asleep quickly, even though it was only about 8pm. DS slept straight through until morning. I woke up around 2am, and had to step outside to water a tree. I took a couple of advil and a sudafed, and drifted off to sleep. From then until 7am I woke up about every hour or so. I would shift positions, check to make sure DS was still breathing, and go back to sleep. Once I had to drag him back up to the top of the tent, because he had slid all the way down to my legs, and I couldn't move them around to get comfortable. I don't know how he worked his way down there, we weren't on a slope. Another time, he woke up and couldn't get his head out of the sleeping bag, so I had to reach in and pull him out. He typically sleeps with the covers pulled up over his head. I don't know how in the world he does it. I would smother. DD does it too.
At 7am, I bailed out of the tent, and started getting myself ready to go. I had to call DS several times to get him up. It was the promise of something to eat that finally got him to crawl out. It took me a little while to pack everything up. We finally got our packs on and headed out. Right after we got on the trail, I called my wife and noted that it was 8:40am. It was about 9:30am when we reached the trailhead. Forty minutes to hike one mile is kind of a long time. I did stop a few times to take some pictures, but I think the reason it took so long would have more to do with conversations like the following:
Him: (Responding to a noise up towards the trailhead.) What's that noise?
Me: It's a car up on the highway.
Him: No, it's too loud.
Me: Well, probably a big truck.
Him: No... It's a flying saucer!
Me: NO, IT'S NOT A FLYING SAUCER! JUST KEEP HIKING!
(A few minutes later he notices that his hiking pole makes a hollow sound when he taps a particular spot on the ground.)
Him: (Stopping. Thump! Thump!) What's that!?
Me: I guess there's a hollow spot underneath.
Him: It's a Stargate!
Me: (Poking him in the back with my hiking pole.) KEEP HIKING!
All in all, we had a good time. Here are a few pictures from that morning.