Hiking the Florida Panhandle
It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...
Torreya State Park - March 10, 2007
I took my daughter on an overnight trip to Torreya SP this past weekend. We day-hiked the River Bluff Loop in two sections back in October. I wanted to do the Rock Creek Loop (aka Torreya Challenge Trail) as a family trip, but I wasn’t sure my son could make it, so I decided to try it first with just my daughter.
Earlier this year, I bought her a Deuter Fox 30 to replace the daypack she had been using for our overnight trips. I loaded it up with her sleeping bag, her dishes (bowl, cup, and spoon), fleece pants, rain poncho, flashlight, snacks, extra socks and underwear and her sleeping pad. I also added in the rainfly for the tent, a decision that I later regretted. With two half-liter bottles of water, the weight came to 11 lbs. I thought she would be okay with that, but it proved to be difficult for her, what with all the hills we had to climb.
Trees near the Gregory House.
It was about 10:30am when we set out from the picnic area parking lot. We hiked down to the stone bridge on an old access road, and then up the connecting trail to the Challenge Loop. She was already getting weary before we had gone the first mile. She kept asking me if it had been a mile yet. It’s supposedly about 1.2 miles to get to the loop, but I couldn’t tell her exactly when we crossed the one mile mark. I finally just told her yes so she would stop asking.
Reaching the loop made a nice landmark for her. It was a good psychological boost when I could tell her that we had definitely gone more than a mile. At about 12pm we came to a creek crossing where old pieces of concrete culvert and other debris mark the site of an old washed out bridge. The creek used to be forded by rock hopping, but there’s a wooden bridge there now. We stopped there to have our lunch.
She didn’t want the peanut butter and pita bread I had brought for lunch, so I gave her a granola bar. She pulled off her shoes and waded in the creek while she at it. I joined her when I finished eating, and discovered that the water was freezing cold. It didn’t seem to bother her.
After lunch, we set off again. It was a long way (by her standards) to the next creek. I was using these crossings as intermediate goals to break up the trip and make it not seem so far. The hike that day was going to be 4-5 miles. She’s hiked that far before, but never with so much weight on her back. She would stop periodically to lean forward and take the weight off her shoulders. I tried to adjust the pack to move more weight to her hips, but she doesn’t really have any hips, and it didn’t seem to help.
When we finally reached the footbridge, we threw off our packs again, and spent some time “resting”. She used her resting time to cross the creek over a live holly tree that grows across the creek. Before the footbridge was built, that’s how the creek crossing was managed. I had told her the story of how my friend Dave, who is blind, had crossed the creek in that manner, and she wanted to try it. After she did it once, she had to do it again so I could catch it on video. Each time she made it across, I was instructed to cheer for her, which I did of course.
It was another long walk between that bridge and the next one. She was really beginning to struggle with the challenge of the hike. I was also having a difficult time because of the complaining, and because of how slow she was hiking. At one point, I snapped at her, “Just HIKE!” That was the wrong thing to do. She blew up at me. I don’t remember exactly what it was she said, but the general gist was, “Get off my back, old man! I’m doing the best I can!” I quickly apologized for snapping, and did my best to smooth her ruffled feathers.
I was afraid that I had ruined the hike for her, but when we got to the next bridge and she was able to shed the pack for a little bit, she was fine. There is an island of rock in the creek near that bridge, and a place where the water spills over a one-foot ledge. She pulled off her shoes and socks, and sat down on the rock with her feet in the water. That chilled her right out.
We stayed there about 15-20 minutes, and then moved on. Our next stop was the campsite. It was only about a 30 minute hike to get there, and we made it without anymore meltdowns. The blue blaze from the loop to the camping area is long-ish, and she got a little antsy about that, but finally we came in sight of the fire rings and benches, and her face lit up.
I set up camp, and then we went down the hill to filter water. Dinner was a rice mix with hot chocolate to drink, and she had marshmallows for desert.
After we got in bed, she read for a little while. She had brought A Wizard of Earthsea with her. Then we turned out the lights, and fell asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, a large-ish animal ran past the tent. We both woke up. She was a little bit spooked by it. We heard the animal move away through the underbrush, and I shined the light out into the dark to catch a glimpse of it, but no luck. She wanted me to call the rangers and tell them there was a bear out there, but I suggested that it was probably a racoon. I told her that if we called the rangers and told them that we had a bear run through our camp, they would just congratulate us on how lucky we had been. I was worried that she would be too spooked, but fortunately, she went back to sleep pretty quickly. She didn't have any trouble getting back to sleep, fortunately.
There was no sign of the animal the next morning--no tracks or anything. We had oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast, filtered more water for the hike out, and broke camp.
The hike out was much easier than the hike in. There was one creek that she had to wade across, because she couldn't jump it. I took pictures of flowers while she took off her shoes and socks, and waded across, then put them back on. When we got to Rock Creek, we stopped for a rest, and she played in the creek for a little bit. We stopped again for a few minutes at the Stone Bridge, and then hiked up the hill to the van. Even with the blow-ups, I thought it was a good trip. I really enjoyed the more relaxed mood of the second day.