The Place With No Name



Black Creek Trail, DeSoto National Forest, Mississippi


I thought I might warn folks that my naked behind is visible in some of the pictures on this page.  In context, I think that this is tasteful, but as the saying goes, "Everyone is someone else's weirdo.", so you might not think so.  If you are the kind of person that thinks that your body is a sin, then you probably aren't going to get any of this anyway, so you shouldn't waste your time.  You should go read something else.  Something like this.

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.
- Epictetus

My clever and kind boss has instituted a new policy at work.  If we come in early on Friday morning, we can leave that much earlier on Friday afternoon, so I went in an hour and a half early and took off at 3:30.  It's so nice to get an early start...  

The forecast was rain, and I was really looking forward to spending some time in the rain since I hadn't really had any good rain on my trips this summer.  This was my last trip of the summer, and fall will be in deep before I get another solo trip.

I arrive at the Janice Landing Trailhead parking area at about 8:00 PM.  It is pitch black and raining hard.  That kind of straight rain that you know will last all night.  There are no other cars in the parking lot.  Who else is silly enough to hike in the dark when it's raining?

All my gear is packed in a double dry bag, and I am ready.  I strip off in the car and step out into the cool rain and I am instantly thankful.  I grab my pack, grab my poles, and leave the car behind.  Three things are readily apparent: 1) it is totally dark, 2) it is raining, and 3) on my way out of the house I had grabbed the wrong headlamp.  I have two nearly identical  Princeton Tec Yukon headlamps The batteries in the one I grabbed were nearly dead.  I have a full set of spares somewhere in the middle of my pack, inside the dry bag, but to be honest, I am too lazy to fish out the fresh batteries.  So, in moderately heavy rain, in the pitch black, with a dim headlamp I make almost a mile (1.6 km) on a trail in fair condition - but then I have to make a nearly half mile (.8 km) bushwhack in heavy brush.  Fortunately I have clipped the Magellan SporTrak GPS unit into the custom holder I made for it, and the satellites are singing to it so that it doesn't get lost.  So long as it doesn't get lost, I won't get lost, and that is a good thing.  Without the SporTrak I wouldn't have even attempted such a thing, and in the past I've had to follow one of the two rivers when making this hike at night, which increased the distance significantly - and requires a strong headlamp with good batteries.  With the SporTrak, however, I am able to bushwhack blind.  This sounds a lot easier than it actually is.  You can read the long version in the Long-Term Report for the SporTrak if you want to...  

Crossing the river is not a straight shot.  In order to do it, I have to wade out into Black Creek for a number of yards and then cross the estuary of Beaver Dam Creek to a tiny patch of gravel on the far bank.  I had previously set waypoints for this crossing during daylight hours, and I check the waypoints at the river.  With the headlamp dying, I can see about ten feet (3 m) in front of me.  I can not see the opposite bank of the river.  I enter Black Creek and feel my way along the sandbar with my hiking poles.  By pacing the distance, I know that I have found the place I need to cross from - but the SporTrak says that I am still 20 feet away from the right place.  I take a bearing on the waypoint that represents the landing point on the opposite side of the river, but it feels wrong.  I had previously made this crossing several times, and I have the crossing paced out exactly.  I cross by instinct rather than trust the SporTrak, and I am proven right.  The waypoints I had previously set aren't exactly where I had set them.

I'm sorry to drone on about technology in a trip report, but the thing is cool...

If you click on the tiny image below, you can see a panoramic view of the place where I have to cross the river.  I camped on the shore that this image was taken from.  I took this picture on the last trip.

Pana1.jpg (58999 bytes)

I set up in the rain with a dying headlamp.  The campsite is really good, and there are two large trees just perfect for my Hennessy Hammock.  I would have taken a picture, except that it was pitch black and raining hard.  I dry off and go to sleep.  I just love sleeping in the rain...

I get up with the sun and wander back down to Black Creek and have a cooling dip.  The bugs come up with the sun too, so I decide to go for a walk rather than bathe myself in bug dope right away.  I pack up camp and head down the trail.  I don't have any particular destination in mind.  I had thought that I might wander back down to Mill Creek, but I had also been looking at the map a lot and so I make the decision to check out a few off trail spots that looked interesting.  After a few miles, I hook left when the trail hooks right and go for a bushwhack.  Eventually I find the river again, and what looked like a sandy beach in the satellite photo turns out to be...a sandy beach!  Imagine own private beach...  

I spend most of the day here in peace and solitude, rolling around in the sand and taking long soaks in the creek.  About noon, I distinctly hear voices, which is kind of surprising.  I am WAY off the trail.  Then I realize that someone must be coming down in a canoe.  In the image above you can see the blind curve upstream that hooks left and the voices were bouncing off the clay cliffs and they suddenly sounded very close.  The voices are distinctly female, and I decide that the sight of a naked man as they round the corner might be shocking or something so I fish my Macabi Skirt out of my pack and slip it on.  I eat my lunch out at that point too, figuring as I wasn't playing I may as well eat.  Not thirty seconds later, three ladies in a canoe come around the bend.  The one in back and the one in the middle are paddling, while the first has struck a pose reminiscent of Cleopatra crossing the Nile.  As they come past I say, "Good afternoon.", and they return my greeting.  Cleopatra looks around and not seeing a canoe, asks, "How did you get here?", and I tell her that I walked.  She thinks that this amazing, and they all take to staring at the man in a skirt eating beef jerky in the middle of nowhere.  While the ladies are evidently entranced by my manly visage, the canoe cruises into a sunken stump and the back end of the canoe starts to swing around.  The ladies scramble to correct their error, but Cleopatra blows the charade for all of us.  She says, "Oh!  Oh!", and then looks at me and says, "This is our first time doing this."  So much for the manly visage theory...  They get unstuck and continue on.  I holler, "Don't worry.  It gets easier.  Really!", after them and watch them drift downstream.  

Just when I think it might be safe to put the Macabi back in my pack, an older couple comes around the bend in another canoe.  Same story, same stump.  I wade out and ease them off the log and they thank me.  They want to know where I came from as well...

In short order, they drift around the next bend and suddenly a whole family shows up in three canoes and proceeds to land on my beach and have a picnic lunch while the kids run around and scream.  The place is obviously some kind of tourist attraction, so I decide to bail.  I pack up, get back into the woods, and stuff the Macabi back in my pack.  I am not sure if I should go forward or go back, but the lure of the previous night's campsite is greater than the lure of Mill Creek, so I start back the way I had come.  I get into a walking rhythm and cover the miles quickly - quicker than I've covered miles all year.  I get back just as it starts to drizzle - about 3:00 P.M.  I put up camp quickly and wander down to the creek and cross over to the gravel bar in the middle of the river.  (Visible on the right in the panoramic picture above.)  The gravel is really interesting here.  Many colors and shapes.  Later I took a picture of a small sample. 


As I get onto the gravel bar, it starts to rain really hard.  I had been reading Hagakure ("Hidden Leaves") by Yamamoto Tsunetomo before the trip.  I read it from time to time.  I like most of it.  As the rain comes down I am reminded of a passage.  

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking.

As I stand there being pelted by the blows of tiny pieces of the ocean, I wonder why anybody should be perplexed by something as joyful as rain.  After I think about it, though, I decide that it is different for me because it isn't like my clothes were getting wet.  My clothes are safe inside my dry bag.

I suppose that's what Tsunetomo meant when he wrote:

A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.

Being in my moment, I have nothing else to do, so I lay down on the gravel and read scripture.  

"If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our Bible is the wind and the rain." - Native American Saying

I lay there for quite awhile, wide open to the sky.  Water pools in my eye sockets and I can not see.  The rain does not know my eyes.  For the droplets, my skull is just another place to collect.  I feel the rain all over my body, but where my body ends and the gravel bar begins I can not tell. Before I actually had sex, I used to think that laying in the rain had to be the next best thing to sex.  Now I know that making love to the rain beats human sex on several levels.

Eventually all this water wakes up my bladder and I suddenly have to pee, so I stand up, have a good stretch and take a fantastic whiz right there.  I am struck in that moment by that strange understanding; The sky is raining, I am raining, the wind is blowing, the river is flowing, and we are all going down to the sea.  But what does it mean? 

The lightning begins to flash and bang, reminding me of:

It is a principle of the art of war that one should simply lay down his life and strike. If one's opponent also does the same, it is an even match. Defeating one's opponent is then a matter of faith and destiny.

Tsunetomo was quite a poet.  The lightning never hesitates.  I wonder if Tsunetomo ever played in the rain...

I walk around on the gravel bar for awhile, without having any particular purpose.  The rain sings over me and I watch the rain and the river, and pick up interesting pieces of gravel and arrange them on the natural altar of a rotting blowdown in the river.  I have another one of those singular realizations; the falling raindrops have turned my body into a musical instrument and their progressive beat is pervasive.  I am rather surprised when in that moment the sun comes out and a few seconds later the rain stops like God shut off the spigot.  I rub myself all over in the sunlight and lay back down on the gravel to let the sun sing me dry.  

Once dry, I roll over and watch the river slide silently by.  The far bank is reflected in the mirror of the water.  In the rain it looked like it was boiling, but now it was a piece of perfect glass.

I got the camera out and took a few pictures before the sun went down - which is where the pictures for this report came from.  When the sun finally does go down I lay back down on the gravel and watch the glow slowly fade from the sky.  I am delighted to see hundreds of bats against the background glow.  I rarely get to see them in the woods because the canopy hides them.  Watching them like this, I can see them clearly flitting here and there.  I watch them until it is too dark to see, and then I get up, swim the river again, and go to bed early and content.  At about 4:00 in the morning a large owl perched herself in the tree above my hammock and proceeded to make with the HOOT-HOOT.  I tried to talk her into letting me have an extra few hours of sleep, but there was evidently something that she really wanted me to see.  I get up and wander in the early light.  The world is waking up and it is time for me to go home.

I don't know who said, "Most of us live our whole lives, without having an adventure to call our own.", and compared to some of the things I used to do, this wasn't much of an adventure - but it's the moment that counts, and if nothing else it made me very happy.  Like Tsunetomo wrote, "The end is important in all things."  I guess maybe he was thinking that when he also wrote, "It would be a shame to do nothing more than to die in one's bed."  In that light, I am thankful that when I am attended on my death bed by my grandchildren, that I can at least tell them that at least once I walked naked in the rain and felt alive.






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