Hiking the Florida Panhandle
It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...
Torreya State Park. October 5-6, 2007.
This was a father/son trip. Mom was hosting a baby shower at the house, so I decided that DS and I would head out to the woods for the weekend. The plan was to hike from the entrance counter-clockwise around the Rock Bluff loop to the Rock Creek primitive campsite, and spend Friday night there. Saturday we were to continue on around to Rock Bluff and camp there for the night. That would leave a short hike out on Sunday morning, and back to the house.
Rain was forecast for the weekend, but the chance was 50% on Friday, going down to 40% on Saturday and Sunday. We both had our ponchos and extra clothes in case we got wet. I over-packed on the food--I had enough to feed two adults, even though I know my son eats like a bird. With the extra clothes and food, my pack weight was about 35 lbs. DS was carrying his extra clothes, poncho, flashlight, whistle, an emergency food stash, and two half-liter bottles of water. That put him at 6 lbs, which is too much for his bodyweight, but I intended to drink his water first to take that weight off of him.
The first day went as planned. We checked in at the Gregory House, and then parked up by the entrance. The trail goes down into a ravine and across a creek, then climbs up to a ridge where the terrain changes to pine and wiregrass. We dropped our packs and rested there, having gone maybe a half mile. I knew I would need to give him plenty of breaks to keep him in the game, and had picked that spot ahead of time.
Passing over the ridge, the trail goes down again across a gully, and then follows another creek that flows through the bottom of a deep ravine. We stopped for a moment to get a look at a little waterfall, but didn't sit down.
Our next stop was just up ahead at the Stone Bridge, an old CCC-built bridge where an access road crosses one of the many branches of Rock Creek. We rested there for about twenty minutes. Another group of hikers came out of the woods, and we spoke to them for a few minutes. They had seen a large rattle snake up the trail in the direction we were hiking. They said he had to be about six-feet long. They had also seen one other snake, an armadillo, and a deer.
I asked if they were hiking on around the loop, and they told me they were looking for the Gregory House. I didn't tell them they had missed the turn off for it almost a mile back, I just directed them up the access road to the picnic area.
The story about the snake worried me a bit. When we set off again, I told DS not to get ahead of me, and I went ahead very cautiously. They had said that they saw the snake in a gully, so when we got over the next ridgeline, I became even more cautious. The trail follows a creek bed through a little valley. There's a wooden bridge with a set of steps in the middle that crosses over a feeder stream. Maybe fifty yards past it, I heard something move through the palmettos about ten feet off the trail. Whatever it was, it was not a rabbit, because it didn't hop, and it made a heavier sound. It might have been an armadillo, but it was moving very fast and it didn't waddle. I can't say for certain that it was the snake, but I felt a little better after we passed it.
We reached the campsite a short time later, and got everything set up. That is, I got everything set up while DS chattered and played with a little cheap video game that he had brought. Dinner was chicken and rice. The chicken was completely unnecessary. I put less than half what I prepared into his bowl, and he didn't eat more than half of that. That left it to me to eat the rest, since I didn't want to throw it out and attract a bunch of ants.
The wind began to blow really hard just before sunset, and it spinkled on us a little. I was worried that we were about to get a big storm, but it slacked off after an hour and became very calm. The wind was so still, and the temp was so hot, that it became stifling inside the tent. I decided to take the rainfly loose on one side and fold it back. That helped. Eventually, it slid the rest of the way off, and I let it lie. That helped even more.
I had brought along a copy of Captains' Courageous, and I read a couple of chapters aloud. I was going to stop after the first one, but DS asked for another. I didn't have anything better to do. It was too hot to sleep. I hadn't been dry since I stepped onto the trail. I had hung up my shirt when we reached the camp, and it was just as wet when I put it back on. I had brought long PJs for DS "just in case," and he thought he wanted to wear them. He put them on, and climbed in his sleeping bag, but ten minutes later I patted him on his back and he was soaked. I made him take the PJs back off.
I wanted him to sleep on top of his sleeping bag, too, but he was worried that he would get cold later. I had him unzip the bag, so he could cover up or not as he needed. He fell asleep with the covers off. Midway through the night, I heard him whimper a little in his sleep. His skin felt cold, so I covered him up and he went back to sleep.
I never did cool down enough to want covers. I spent the whole night on top of my bag. It's a Phantom bag made by Mt Hardware. I was very proud when I bought it, because of how light it is and how well it compresses. It also compresses very well when you're on top of it, so there's not much cushioning effect. I had my thermarest, but it just didn't seem as comfy as it normally does. I learned a new backpacking tip though:
Backpacking Tip #87: Always check your pockets before going to bed at night. Otherwise, you may discover in the morning that the root you kept feeling under your right hip all night was actually a cigarette lighter.
Added to lessons learned.
Between the "root", the hard ground, and the heat, I didn't have a great night. I woke up about every hour, and had a great deal of trouble staying comfortable. I would look up through the mesh at the stars to make sure it hadn't clouded over yet, readjust my position to get some relief for whatever body part was hurting the most, and drift off back to sleep. By morning, the biggest pain had settled in my back. I spent the last hour awake, and waiting for it to get light enough to get up. Finally, at 7am, I called it a night.
I took some Ibuprofen, and woke DS up. We got out, and I made us a breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate. I had decided not to filter water at the creek. I just wanted to hike up to the picnic area, and get water there. DS wanted to walk down to the water, though, so I took him down there. We spotted the bones and shell of a dead armadillo lying on a sand bar in the creek bed, which confirmed my decision not to filter water.
I had already been considering an adjustment to the days' hike. DS had told me the day before that he wanted to tour the Gregory House. The tour for that morning was at 10am. I thought that the Park was on Central time, and that we would have plenty of time to go up to the picnic area, clean up a little, and then hike up the road to the house. Afterwards, we could hit the trail below the house, and reach the next campsite in a couple of hours.
The first hitch in the plan came when DS informed me that he didn't want to stay another night. I tried half-heartedly to talk him into it, but after the night I'd just had I wasn't feeling very persuasive. I agreed to take that off our agenda, but told him we would keep to the plan as far as the tour and the days' hike. It wouldn't be much farther to get to the van once we passed the other camp. We could have made it before late afternoon with no problem.
The hike to the picnic area follows an old access road up a long slope. It's not a steep climb, but it's a steady rise all the way up, about 160 feet. By the time we got to the top, DS was done. He didn't want to hike anymore. Again, I probably could have been more persuasive talking him into it, but I had found out the day before that one of my sisters was going to be in town this weekend for the baby shower, so I let it go. It wouldn't have been fun trying to push him on around the loop when he didn't want to be there. All it would have accomplished would have been to make him hate backpacking.
We cleaned up a little, changed out sweaty shirts, and hiked on down to the Gregory House. It turns out that Torreya is not on Central Time, even though my phone always switches over to CT when we're at the park. We missed the tour by twenty minutes. DS was disappointed, but he got over it quick. I got one of the rangers to give us a ride on her cart up to the entrance, and we called it a day.
I may get him to try it again when it cools down. He does want to go again, so that makes me glad that I didn't push the issue. Even with my rough night, and him pooping out, we had a good time. It was good buddy time. I didn't have to be The Authority Figure but once or twice. We just walked and talked, and enjoyed each others' company.