SHANE'S HIKING JOURNAL - MAY 24, 2002
This was a 'training' trip for Bob. If you aren't familiar with his progress so far, you might want to go read Bob's journal first.
I got off work at noon, and when I arrived home, Bob was already waiting for me with his wife. During a previous conversation he had discussed the idea of having a bag with his gorp in it hanging around his neck. He thought he would scoop out a cup full, and walk along chewing merrily. Personally, I am in love with the idea, but the execution was a little excessive. His loving wife made him four pounds of gorp, which was very tasty. She then proceeded to put all four pounds of it in a mesh bag for Bob, who had it slung around his neck when I came back outside. We could both have eaten nothing but gorp all weekend... Well, to me that proves that he's well loved and well cared for. He put the gorp in a big zip lock then back in the bag because the cereal would go mushy in the humidity. This was a wonderful learning experience, and next time he'll have a smaller bag. (Picture: Bob repacks his gorp.)
We left New Orleans and on the way we had a question and answer session about dangerous critters. Most people are concerned with dangerous critters when they start venturing out where the pavement ends, and I was able to answer all his questions. He told me in detail of his past outdoor experiences, which total six nights, and did NOT include sitting around a camp fire. Well, we could fix that... We eventually arrived in Wiggins, Mississippi at 3:00 and picked up our maps at the Forest Service office. From there we went to Subway and got Bob 'lunch' before we hit the trail. From Subway, we went back up the road, and I promptly took a wrong turn and took us miles out of our way. Unfortunately, this was a foreshadowing of things to come...
We parked at Janice Landing and talked to some Scouts camped there. Len Christiansen (SA Troop 292, Mobile, AL Spanish Trail District Commissioner) was doing the Black Creek Trail from May 22-27 with his Philmont bound Scouts. We met them at Janice, and they went on and did the full 42-mile length of the trail and then backtracked the red clay hills at the lower end, and had a "Fantastic trek!". (As I found out later through e-mail.) I commented to Bob that I felt better about parking the truck there with the Scouts to watch it. We applied bug dope, saddled up our packs, and took the 1/4 mile road walk to the trail head and entered the Black Creek Wilderness. (Picture: ALICE is still the monkey on my back. The Pooh Bear mascot is NOT optional. The button, which I have had for many years, reads, "The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, so bring snacks and a magazine." The water bag is a Platypus 2 liter, and you can see the handle of my Spec 14 that I have talked so much about.)
After pausing for a picture in front of the sign, we left the road behind and entered the City of Trees.
My senses came alive, and the 'real world' was left far behind as I crunched along merrily in the leaves. I let Bob take the lead so that I could keep an eye on him, and after a little bit we came to Beaver Dam Creek. Cutting off the trail to the south, we crossed a sandy bottomed gully and selected a beautiful spot at about six o'clock on a ridge close to the creek. As soon as we stopped, the bugs found us.
These were bugs of the usual kinds, deer flies and mosquitoes mostly. Of course, then there are the BUGS. Flies that are built like helicopter gunships that come in hard and fast. They swoop in, tear your arm off at the shoulder, then retire to some comfortable spot to feast on warm flesh and rich human blood. Some people call these creatures 'Horse Flies', but horses are usually smaller than this... Fortunately the Fite Bite Eucalyptus was up to the task. Bob, who was using DEET, didn't fare as well as I, and he started using the Fite Bite too.
We discussed why this was a good camping spot - high, dry, and no dead branches or dead trees to bonk us in the night. We set up Bob's tarp, and my tarp and hammock along with the necessary bug netting, and proceeded to make dinner. We picked a spot for our camp fire away from the tarps, and I talked about why we wanted to be away from the tarps. We cleared a reasonably flat spot all the way to the dirt by carefully rolling back the leaves, and arranged our fire circle. This was a wilderness site and I wanted Bob to understand the idea of low impact. We didn't light the fire right away, but used our stoves for cooking. Bob was rather pleased with the Esbit I had gotten him, and I was using my ZIP Stove. No worries, and we both had a nice meal. (Macaroni and Cheese for me, and Stroganoff for Bob.)
As we ate the darkness deepened, and we chatted intermittently. The fireflies came out in droves, and we enjoyed their show. Eventually dinner was done, and Bob fussed over what went where and was rather absorbed in his gear. This is usual, and I have observed it in many beginners. I was privately pleased to see how much progress he had made - and was making - right before my eyes.
As we were cleaning up from dinner, I told Bob that I was going down to the creek and that he could join me if he liked. He adamantly refused, saying that he did not hike downhill at night. Well, to each their own - although 'hiking downhill' and going down to the creek were two different things by my definition... I stripped off, put on my Aurora headlamp, and wandered off into the night. I could tell when I was under a live oak tree, because my bare feet would pick up the thorny leaves. After I got a little bit out of camp, I switched off the light and let the darkness come in to surround me...
Some people might think it strange to wander naked in the dark, but I have always had a long love affair with the night. As I wander along a stanza from Far Places by Martha Hunter came to me, "On a night such as this, I keep a tryst with old desires that unappeased persist..."
I meander along the creek, listening to the music of the water and watching the moonbeams dance. Eventually I can no longer resist the temptation and I work my way down the bank and into the water. I sink my pole into the sandy bottom, loop my light around the pole and let it drop into the water. I step into the middle of the creek and join the moonbeams on their rippling dance floor. The cool, sandy bottom squishes up between my toes, and I wiggle them with joy. How long has it been since I last played like this? Too long, but I remember the way, and as a cool breeze caresses me gently, a satisfaction fills my spirit. I stand there for a few moments, alone in the dark, but I am not surprised to suddenly hear a familiar voice call me by my real name and speak to me softly.
"You still cannot escape my charms, my love...", the River Spirit sings to me. "Where have you been, all these days, while I have longed for you?"
"Down to speak with your Father, the Sea, and dancing with your Mother, the Rain. I have been wandering in the World of Men, waiting for the time when I would return to you."
"My Father, then, did not lie, and my Mother has told me the truth. No matter; come to me now and be with me as in days long past."
Seized by, and unable to resist my lustful desire, I lay down beneath the coverlet of the water, snuggled in the sandy bed. The River Spirit takes hold of me and we made a kind of love that has been almost lost to mortal man...
For about an hour I visit with the River Spirit, and our pillow talk in that place is private. Eventually I thought about Bob again, sitting alone with the night, so I bid farewell to the River Spirit with a promise to keep our trysts through all the years...
Little did I suspect the trick she had played on me, however. When I went to retrieve my Aurora headlamp, which claims to be waterproof, it was full of water and quite dead. I shall spare the gentle reader from a description of scrambling stark naked up a slick mud bank with no other light but that of the moon. Thank God for the moon... I worked my way back to camp and just before I got there, the Aurora came back to life for a little while. I set up the Platypus shower, and told Bob how it worked. He had a shower while I prepared a small fire, and we sat around it while I told him a few mystic secrets.
"Everything has a Sacred Spirit", I began, and launched into an explanation that ended with "God walks at night." We discussed the difference between the experience of a 'modern' man in the wilds as opposed to the experience of 'primitive' man. Modern man carries his civilization with him, and has an experience of being IN the woods. Primitive man is a part of the world around him, and does not experience this seperation. Bob thought about this for awhile, and then I asked him a question, much prefaced, which is itself a mystic secret: "I want you to listen to the sound of my voice, because I am going to ask you a question. It isn't a question you can answer now, and it isn't a question you can even understand now. Eventually, maybe even many years from now, you will remember the question and maybe experience the answer. The question is this: 'How does it feel to be a natural animal in your natural environment?'" (For a larger discussion of this, click here.)
He thought about this for a long time, and we finally were ready to go to bed. I then told him about the waking hour, since it would happen to him and he hadn't experienced it before. If you have ever slept outside, you have experienced it too, but maybe haven't thought about it. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote an excellent little piece about this, that you can read by clicking here.
We turned in, and at about 2:00 in the morning, I awoke to the sound of something crashing through the forest. I have become rather adept at telling what an animal is by the sound it makes as it walks, and I was rather alarmed by what I heard. I couldn't tell what kind of animal it was, but it was BIG, and coming right towards the camp FAST. I seized my flashlight and aimed it in the direction of the incoming critter. As it turned out, it wasn't a critter at all. It was TWO armadillos, which is why I was fooled. Bob was awake too and wanted to know what the noise was. "Just some armadillos." "I'm wide awake.", he said. "Yeah, it's the waking hour. You'll fall back asleep eventually."
Not being one to waste my waking hour lying around, I got up and watched the armadillos - not that they are particularly entertaining. I eventually went back to bed while they kept Bob up for a few hours by rooting around his tarp.