Sunday, April 8, 2012

MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK....3/31/12-4/01/12

As part of our "training" for our upcoming 40 plus mile hike on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, my brother and I loaded up our packs in the back of my Highlander and headed south to Myakka River State Park.  He had made us a reservation for one of the primitive sites at the Oak Grove campsite.  We headed out with anticipation for what we were planning on being a 9.5 mile hike out to and then back from our home for the night.  Upon arriving at the park, we checked in with the ranger, who promptly told us "That's a long ways," to which my brother replied "Yep."  We were issued our tag and given our trail map and were ready to go at last, our packs fully loaded with mine weighing in close to 40 pounds and my brother's probably closer to 50lbs (he carried lots of extra water in case the pump at the site wasn't working).

Now, a note of humor must be inserted before I go any further.  At one time, I was a terrain analyst, working for V Corp in Germany.  My brother is a geography major.  He also had his hand-held GPS with him to map out our hike.  Keeping those factors in mind, we are still not sure how we managed to get off the trail pretty much right from the start.  Our excuse is that there were no signs....only a bright orange trail head marker with no other indications of which way to go.  So, we looked at the sign and chose to stay on the road.  This is what our route ended up being:

The green line indicates our hike out to Oak Grove.  Our return hike followed the same path until it broke off, indicated by the orange line (this was the actual trail).  We were told the distance from the trail head to the site was 9.5 miles, but we can't figure out what trail they used because our hike out measured 10.14 miles and back was 10.6 miles.

I must also add at this point that other than a time or two during basic training, I had never spent a single night sleeping outside.  I didn't let this put a damper on my excitement however.  Mother Nature took care of that one for me a little later in our hike.

I've never really thought of Florida as being a very pretty state.  It's predominately flat and unless you're a water buff, there isn't much else I'd ever found inviting about it in general.  I credit our hike with changing my mind a bit as the trail wandered across a prairie (and more prairie...followed by more prairie) with an occasional dip into an Oak hammock, where the temperatures were notably cooler.  Every now and then, we would just stop, stand and listen to the silence that surrounded us as we were reminded of what Florida was like hundreds of years ago:

Because of the amount of time spent crossing the open prairie, I would not recommend this hike for the summer months.  We were also told that during the rainy season, parts of the trail can stay flooded and become very difficult to navigate.  As it was, it hadn't rained here for at least 3 months (again, Mother Nature took care of that one for us), so we had dry conditions.  The only other warning I feel is needed is to watch your step because there is a tremendous amount of wild boar damage that can make for some treacherous trekking, especially through the wooded areas.  I don't feel that wild animals are of any big concern, but always be aware of your surroundings.  We did encounter a solitary female boar on our hike out but came upon a female boar with her piglets on the return hike and that is when animals have been known to be aggressive.  As always, watch for snakes!

On both our hike out and back, we chose this spot as a place to stop and take a much-needed break.  It's pretty much the half-way point (or so we thought) and it's under the canopy of an oak grove.  Our stop out was mainly just to take the packs off, use the "facilities" (aka: the woods), and sip some water.  On the way back, however, we not only unloaded our packs, but dug deep into them for our cans of ravioli which we consumed without heating because we were starving!  Of course, we packed out everything we walked in with...including a few extra trash items we saw along the way.  Remember the saying "Take only pictures.  Leave only footprints."

The chance of rain that day was only 40% so we were not particularly concerned but did have our pack covers just in case.  We had stopped for a break, at which time my brother (trail name: Weatherman) assessed the sky and decided that we had no cause for concern.  We'd walked a few minutes more, the sun bearing down on our heads, when I was certain I felt a rain drop.  Soon, a few others followed so we opted to prepare just in case.  When I'd purchased my pack cover, after reading the specifications on the package, I questioned why the salesperson was suggesting a smaller cover for me.  She happily explained that rarely did anyone pack their packs to the fullest and the medium was all she'd ever used on her pack, which was the same size as mine.  Satisfied, we bought what she suggested. didn't come close to fitting over my loaded bag and sleeping roll....not even close.  I could see my brother was beginning to be concerned, so we quickly put his cover on (it fit beautifully) and then had to think fast to remedy my dilemma.  My only hope was to take my poncho and wrap my bag.  I did just that, but had to hold onto the edges of it to keep the wind from blowing it off.  Happy with our fast fixes, we continued our hike but every so often, we would turn around to check the sky.  If you've never lived in Florida, you might not be able to appreciate this, but we could see that wall of rain coming across the prairie, gaining on us quickly.  Finally, I told my brother just not to look cause it was going to catch us and there was nothing we could do about it.  Catch us, it blew in with a vengeance but luckily, there was no lightening.  We walked the last hour or so in the rain and in silence.  I can honestly say that I've never been so glad to see a place as I was when we finally arrived at our site...

Our site before we set up

Our home for the night

The pump was working.  The bottles sitting next to it were filled with water that was used to prime the system.  We did have our Katadyn Hiker filters with us but the water proved to be too rusty to actually drink without doing some other kind of treatment.  The filter worked great, however, at cleaning the water and I have all the confidence in the fact that when we are on the Appalachian Trail where the water is better, we will be using it for all of our needs.

Because it had rained, building a fire was rather difficult so we broke out the stove to heat the water for our dinner...and for our coffee the next morning!  This little stove rocks!  I am very please with the way it performed and will be taking it with me on the AT.

Gotta have that coffee!

We were awake before dawn, needless to say.  I was very please with all my equipment but I did learn some valuable lessons (which was the whole point of this trip).  My sleeping bag and pad kept me warm, but the first thing I did when I got home was upgrade my pad because that ground was HARD and I didn't sleep much.  A good sleeping pad will be well-worth the extra money.  I've also ordered a pack cover to fit my pack.  I am now a firm believe in the trekking poles as well!  Even on flat terrain, once I learned how to use them, they were a life-saver on my knees and other joints.  Oh...and having some kind of small hatchet would also help....we had to get very creative to break up the wood for our fire.  

Overall, I consider the trip to be a huge success.  I remember saying to my brother than night, as we sat by the fire, surrounded by lightening bugs, that I truly understood now why people go through all that physical hardship just to spend the night out in the just really doesn't get much better than that...

Heading home....but I WILL be back!