Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Winter Holidays!

I'll be spending quiet time with family and friends throughout this winter holiday season and will get back with fresh posts after the New Year's holiday.

A Florida-style Christmas tree on the Seminole-Wekiva rail trail at the Jones Trail Head.
Tree courtesy of "Heathrow Biker Chicks."

May you and yours enjoy the finest tidings of this special winter holiday season.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Staying Organized

In backpacking, staying organized on the trail usually means using multiple color and style stuff sacks to keep your stuff organized.  I learned that trick in 1971 while packing for Philmont and have used it for decades.  In ultralight backpacking, that usually means using various-sized zipper-type plastic bags or odor-proof bags to store tools, food and "smellables" along with a stuff sack or two.  With fewer bags, I've had no problem finding anything yet.
Red Mesh Stuff Sack - My "pocket items".
So why is the top bag sitting in my day pack a bright red mesh stuff sack?  Because that bag holds my "pocket items".  The items I will carry in my pockets for the trip.  When I arrive at the trail head and before getting out of my car, after spraying the bug spray on my legs, and slathering sunscreen on my face, I fill my pockets and leave the empty red stuff sack in the car.
This stuff sack keeps me from the panic of looking for my "pocket items" at the last minute, and allows me the time to organize them at the end of the previous trip.  It is so much better than reaching for my knife on the trail but not finding it.
Weight-wise, I add this amount to my clothing, hat and shoes for total "carried weight", like with skin-out weight.
So, just what goes in my pockets?
Pocket knife
Bug spray
Sun screen
Liquid hand sanitizer (very small to small sized, trip dependent)
Moist towelettes (2 or more in small zipper-type bag)
Compass/thermometer (or a more detailed compass for navigation, trip dependent)
Small wallet for essentials (packed that day)
Car key (house keys left at home)
Snacks (packaged that day)
Pocket items.  Missing is the sun screen, it is on the list to be replaced.
I also carry money in the stuff sack for trail head parking fees.
For pockets on the trail, I wear a long sleeve nylon fishing sport shirt with big front pockets and a pair of nylon trail zip-off pants with leg pockets, and side and rear pockets.  Everything has a particular place.  For example, when I need to check the compass direction I reach for my left chest pocket.  My knife is always in the right side hand pocket, and so-on.
Rewind to the 1980's...I used to wear a photographers vest in place of a day pack for my hikes.  It was quite convenient.  My poncho went into the back pocket, I carried a water bottle on a strap over my shoulder, and my camera gear and everything else found a home in the vest pockets, of which there were several.  I wore this vest through the early 1980's to the mid - 1990's on occasion until I moved on to a choice of backpacks, hydration packs or a waist pack.  It was a nice warm layer on cool days but not too hot except on the very hottest days (I'm talking about hiking in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Georgia).  I must have been a character to see hiking along with my stuffed vest, hiking boots and heavy camera gear.  But I'm still using the same pockets to hold the same things some 30 years later.  My, how life has changed and how it hasn't.
Back to the present...At home at the end of a day hike, I remove my water bladder and any other water bottles and wash and dry them, make a list to replace anything I've used, get a clean handkerchief and then empty my pockets, putting all that back into the red mesh stuff sack to be ready for the next trip.
Of all my organization tricks, this one seems to serve me the best.  It allows me to add water and food, grab my day pack and go quickly.
For backpacking trips, I expect things to take longer to be organized, but my "pocket items" are already done.  I just move the stuff sack from one pack to the other.  The bright red color helps me to make sure it is there before I cinch the top and go.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Solio Bolt Solar Charger

My first interest in purchasing the Solio Bolt Solar Charger came from pictures out of hurricane Sandy's recent destruction in the northeast.  The photos were of hoards of cell phones being plugged in bunches on sidewalks, piled in window displays, grouped in cars, stacked at lunch counters...jammed anywhere there was electrical power available to recharge their phones.
Hurricane Sandy cell phone charging jam
We have power outages in Florida, from natural disasters like hurricanes but also from storms and failed electrical transport equipment.  Maybe in the future even from a computer hacker.  When two critical neighborhood transformers blew this week, my wife's first question was, "Is your new solar charger 'toy' charged?"  "Yes," I smiled. "It is."
So why this model?  I had been looking online at solar chargers for some time and found this one was relatively inexpensive, selling for $65 online.  The Black Friday REI sale took 25% off the price, so I ordered it.  For my $45 I got a reasonable solar charger and a lithium battery, which is said to hold a charge for about a year.  The manufacturer says you can usually get two full cell phone charges from a full battery, then either plug the charger back into your computer USB port or an electrical outlet or setup the solar panels in full, unobstructed sunlight to recharge it.  It weighs 5.3 ounces or 150 grams, about what my cook kit weighs.  Add in the 0.6 ounce cable for a total of 5.9 ounces.  Unfortunately, the Black Friday sale is over.  Here is the REI link for the Solio Bolt.  The Solio website is here.
Solio Bolt Solar Charger and included USB cord
In reading users online posts, I can tell there are varying levels of success in both charging devices from the Solio Bolt and in recharging the units battery.  I expected my mileage to vary due to different phone types and the local tilt angle of the sun, but I was surprised at the wide angle of solar alignment the Bolt can handle during charging.
So after our first full battery charge, we have charged my wife's Google-style HTC smart phone, once, while it was turned on, leaving 2 flashes of light or about 40% charge remaining (20% per flash).  If that is true, it took 60% of the battery to fully charge her phone one time.  Since she has to recharge daily to use all her smart phone functions, it may be difficult to keep up with her needs during an extended power outage, much less keep my phone charged also.  We tried charging her phone on the remaining battery the next day and got a 75% charge.  Enough to work, but not 100%.
I'll test it with my work phone next, a Blackberry Curve.  Fortunately for us, both phones work with the included micro-USB cable that came with the solar charger (my Kindle Touch works also).
My work-provided Blackberry phone charged, and while still powered on, charged and charged until the Bolt was discharged after 6 hours.  About 4 hours in, I looked at the Blackberry charge meter and it was full but the unit was still charging.  Bad for sharing.  Then I recharged the Bolt battery and tried again, this time with my work phone turned off. The phone completely charged in one hour, but it did not turn off the charger.  For all future phone charges my suggestion is the phone must be turned off.  This left a 60% charge in the Bolt battery.
My Kindle Touch drained the Bolt's entire battery and got about an 85% charge.  I had turned the wireless off.  Long enough to finish a story or check email since the Kindle charge can last a month or more.
How it works:  the Solio Bolt has two solar panels, hinged to open them both to the sun.  The included pencil allows you to prop the unit up to the right tilt height for the local sun (the pencil is slick and may need to be roughed up a bit to actually hold the Bolt in place).  Check here for your local sun tilt level and scroll down to fill out the form.  It also has covered USB plugs, a micro and a regular-size plug on the battery unit.  The micro USB connector is for incoming charges, like from your computer or an electrical outlet.  The regular-size USB port is for outgoing charges to your devices.  When the Bolt unit is being charged, the single LED button on the back glows red, turning off at 100% battery charge.  To charge your device from the Bolt charger, connect the outgoing USB cable, then press the single LED button once.  It will flash the charge level and then begin charging your device, flashing green as it charges.  This may take a minute or so, but in our case the phone came to life, just like it was being charged in an electrical outlet. Once charged, the green flashing light goes out and you press the LED button again to turn off the charger, then disconnect the cable.
From the website:
Max Wattage: 5 Watts
Discharge Rate: Fixed 5V, 1,000mAh
Charge Rate: 5-5.5V 450mAh
Charge Time via USB port/wall charger: 4 hours 30 min.
Charge Time via Sun: 8-10 hours
Battery info:
3.7V/2,000mAh Li-Poly - User replaceable at end of life (average 3 years)
Solar charging the Bolt on top of my garden composter.  Note there is no shadow from the pencil.
To charge in the sun, I used a place in our yard where the sunlight was unobstructed (it won't work under polarized glass and is reduced under pool enclosure screens and intermittent shade).  I just used the included pencil that comes with the unit and aligned it so there is no shadow from the pencil onto the front of the unit.  My results were the Bolt was almost fully charged when I checked it at sunset in 4 hours.  Since the sun had already dropped below the treeline when I got to it, the unit was not charging at that time.  It read 4 flashes or an 80% charge and started with 3 flashes or 60% charged battery.  The unit should completely charge the battery from no flashes to full 5 flashes in the sun in about 10 hours.
Note pencil shadow after 3 hours charging...even though the sun's alignment had changed, the unit was still charging!
For recharging by the sun on a moving backpack with varying degrees of shade, my expectations have improved.  I did figure how to dangle the charger at near the correct tilt over the back top of a backpack using mini bungees and cord locks.  There is the tree cover, either solid or intermittent shade, usually both,  that can hamper charging.  During breaks you can position it properly on your pack or on the ground.  The unit does charge sufficiently and I expect it would charge more so in the desert southwest or even above treeline, than in the southeast subtropical scrub.  Please let me know your real-life results.
My Blackberry USB Outlet Charger
Currently, solar panels like this one are designed for a relatively fixed location.  To change them to a mobile receive-sunlight-from-all-angles design would require a market for that specific use, one I think is coming.
The north-bound through-hiker cure for the AT would be to carry a multiple-outlet USB wall charger, and to recharge the solar charger battery (or any USB devices) while shopping and washing in a town at an electrical outlet every 5-6 days.  Then you would have two power recharges (one for your phone every other day) and if you kept your phone off between towns you may get many days between charges.  There's also your GPS, camera, e-reader or tablet to be charged, along with headlamps, video cameras, water purifiers, i-Pods and who knows what so plan well and test in advance how you will charge everything before a long backpacking trip.  My Blackberry USB wall charger weighs 0.8 ounces or 22 grams, so it is quite lightweight. You could also solar charge on clear sky zero days, but then we don't usually plan for (or get) many of those days when ultralight backpacking.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Esbit Stove Windscreen

Last winter I created a MYOG windscreen for my included-in-the-box electrolytic galvanized steel Esbit stove.  While not the high performance efficiency of the super hot Caldera Cone system, or very lightweight (stove itself weighs 2.9 ounces), it does work much better now when it is windy out.
Esbit stove fits inside GSI cup inside Snow Peak 700 pot, plus pot holder and lighter.
I carry my tea, coffee and honey in there also on day trips.
 The details: I cut two shaped pieces from a used aluminum 8" pie pan from the recycle bin, and bent them over a straight edge to hang the tabs over the triangle-shaped open sides of the standard Esbit stove.  I use the stove at the halfway opening to securely hold my 4.5 ounce Snow Peak 700 titanium pot and I cut the pieces to fit this.  The shields are ultralight weight at a total of 0.1 ounce or 2 grams.
Up to 4 Esbit tabs can be stored inside the folded stove, bagged for smell.
I also cut a piece for the bottom to protect picnic tables and the ground from burns.  All sheets are sized to fit inside the closed stove for compact packing plus hold up to 4 full-size Esbit tabs.  It all fits inside my ultralight 2.9 ounce GSI Outdoors cup packed inside my cook pot (tabs are packed in a Ziplock bag to keep the Esbit fishy smell contained).
Folded wind shields fit on stove bottom
In use, the main difference is I could actually light the Esbit tabs when it was windy, where I couldn't light them before.  I'm defining windy as about 15-20 mph winds, typically what you get in central Florida.  In a gale (39-54 mph) I doubt it would work at all.  I used a mini-Bic lighter held sideways, using my first finger at the business end to get the flame closest to the Esbit tab (without burning my thumb off).
Folded tabs hold shields in place.  Note shield below the stove.  Air flow is open at bottom around tabs.
I was also able to light the tabs with a paper book of matches by taking one side off the windscreen, laying the lit match beside the tab and replacing the screen part.  This was always the side away from the wind.
With the windscreen, the tabs burned well, boiling my water before the half-tabs burned out.  The one I timed on a windy day was a half tab at a rolling boil at 7 minutes, 10 seconds.  A full tab usually lasts about 16 minutes with the shields, but your mileage may vary.
Windshields are ultralight weight and allow significant airflow through the stove bottom.
My other home-made, circular, aluminum wind screen didn't work as well, perhaps cutting off too much air to the bottom of the stove.  I really didn't spend much time messing with this round screen, but I kept it for future use.  I was also trying to make my tabs last and not burn them all up while testing.
I have been using one half an Esbit tab per one cup of boiling water and always had a little leftover tab.  I found the leftover tabs to not burn as well when piled together and after reading the Esbit MSDS, I decided not even to touch it, when possible.  I let it burn the remainder.  The MSDS tells me that Esbit is a very toxic chemical called Methenamine, not to be messed with other than cut with a knife for outdoors cooking in the open air.  Material Safety Data Sheets are required of businesses who deal with chemical compounds and are the go-to documents for environmental and work-related safety issues. They can be trusted.
Typically on a day hike I brewed a cup of tea bag coffee or made a hot herbal Zinger tea to wash down my trail munchies while enjoying the view at the halfway point.  I'll be using this stove for boiling water for bag cooking my dinners and drinks, usually 2 cups of water, with one full tab.  Esbit makes the perfect ultralight weight fuel for my use.
I did find the same stove made in Stainless Steel on Amazon in case you are interested.  I do plan to keep my stove for lightweight day hikes and emergencies.
Brian Green on his blog made an excellent titanium MYOG Esbit stove here.  Cutting plans are at the end of the full instructions.
REI (and many others) sell a 0.4 ounce folding Esbit stove, if you would prefer to purchase one.  It is well-rated, but I'm sticking with what I already have until I buy the classic ti-tri Caldera Cone system sometime next year.  I want the ti Caldera stove for the ability of burning wood as a fuel in an emergency.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Bear Wilderness

Close in to Sanford, FL is a 1650 acre area called Black Bear Wilderness.  It is along the St. Johns river in Seminole County and recently reopened after some water facility construction there.
Only a 2.8 mile walk out and back, it offers quite a lot of wildlife and proved to be exciting for my friend Walt and I early on a November Sunday.
Bromeliades overhead
The trail starts in a hydric hammock with lots of shade.  Bromeliads hang overhead in the oak trees.  Pine and palm trees line the path.  Pileated Woodpeckers fly from tree to tree overhead.  Large dark birds fly over the wetlands to either side of us.

Stream crossing
A boardwalk has been placed to cross a stream and the low area around it.  When the historic levee picks up a few yards further, the walking is dry.
Eagle Scout Project and the historic levee
We were just past this bench when Walt saw a bear running down the trail TOWARDS us.  I grabbed for my camera right as the bear saw us and turned around.  By the time my camera turned itself on, the bear was already gone from sight, cutting across the canal on the right.  Walt saw two other bears running the other way and thought this bear was just confused.  Either way, tough luck on a bear photo today.
Split Cypress Tree
It was now a quiet walk with both of us on the lookout for any other life.  A few more Eagle Scout benches lined the way, some with backs, some without.  Sitting at them would present you as a meal to the mosquitoes.  We did see quite a bit of bear scat along the trail.
One of many Cedar trees with Walt walking by
Many cedar trees rose from the levee, one was partially hollow.
Nice Trex walkway
We came to a road crossing in the wilderness.  A new deck had been built around the facility that we'll cover in a few minutes.  The walkway led to the river and canals and went over alligator flag plants.
Riverside canal 
Along the river side trail
Once we crossed the canals on the walkway, a dike picked up along side the St. Johns river and we followed it to the north for quite a ways.  We saw lots of birds along the way including a barred owl.  The canal left of us had cypress knees and algae in the water next to it.
Walt saw the otters first.  The two were playing by a tree in the canal at the end of the trail.  Once they got tired of looking at us looking at them, they slid underwater and popped up every few minutes to follow us from the canal on the way back.  Once back onto the levee we had a glimpse of another otter before it ran away.  By the way, the "End of Trail" sign is missing since Walt was here a couple weeks ago.
St. Johns river
Weekend river traffic was light today.  We found a frying pan and grill along the shore and an abandoned trash can.  They just forgot to take their trash with them.
Some kind of new facility?  In a wilderness area?
So, what kind of water facility is this anyway?  They have cameras and a speaker to yell at you with, but no one seemed to be watching.  We did see an alligator sunning itself over to the right but it was too far away for a photo.
The facility road is buried under water
The road to the facility was heavy with gravel and guardrails but it goes underwater at the bottom of the rise.  Did they not think about the water height before building it?  How do "they" build a service road through a wilderness area anyway?  My emails to the St. Johns Water Management group are still unanswered.
Turtle.  It looks like a box turtle.

An Ibis posed for us on the return trip.  

The historic levee with wetlands on both sides.
To get there, exit highway 46 at Sanford from I-4.  Drive west toward Mount Dora.  At Orange Blvd., turn right and follow one and a half miles to New York Avenue.  It comes up quick!  Follow New York Avenue to the left to where it ends at the Black Bear parking entrance and Michigan Avenue.  Go early for wildlife viewing!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Good Company

I consider myself very lucky in Family and Friends, always having support for my projects and career.  It has been the same in my life as a blogger also.  I submitted my site link to Phillip Werner at to add to his directory group and he very quickly did so. directory site

Over the years Phillip said he has grown tired of looking for hikers sites, reference sites and gear companies online and keeping up with bad links so he made his own directory site which automatically organizes groups and erases bad links, and viola!  Then he gave his directory to all of us.  Talk about a visionary leader.   What Phillip has done is place us all on the same level playing field, whether we have been blogging for years or weeks.  It pulls us from the vastness of the Internet wasteland, and places us into a group of like-minded writers talking about ultralight backpacking.
What I like about the directory is that almost all the sites I follow are on there already, and are just a quick search away.  What is neat is there is a feature to vote for your favorite sites which will move them up in the site ratings.

Please Vote

I am listed somewhere around page 7 but that doesn't matter as much as the increased traffic I have been regularly getting from the directory (which I very much appreciate).  I also have one vote on my site which is really neat.  I would love to have more votes so please sign up and vote for my site and the other sites you follow.  So if you blog about ultralight backpacking and are not listed here yet, please submit your site.  And if you don't already, check out for excellent backpacking stories from New England and great gear reviews.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Weather and New Gear

Fall is here!
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy passing us by, Florida is enjoying a respite from the summer's 90 degree heat.  Saturday it was in the low 70's and Sunday it dropped to highs in the low 60's.  Low temperatures are in the 40's with humidity in the 30% range for a few days this week.  The windows are open and the breeze is cool.  It can stay this way!  For the northeast US, however, they didn't fare so well.  Sandy was a monster storm and has heavily impacted a huge land area with multiple problems.
Florida Trail Maintenance Crew - Seated:, Jon, Virginia, Scotty, Rachael, & Lou Standing: Americorp Park worker Dan, Connie, Bryce, Park Ranger Jeff, Brian, Doug, Jim & Bo
Photo courtesy Rachael.

Saturday was trail maintenance day at Wekiva Springs State Park where the Florida Trail Association handles all the trail work with volunteers.  I volunteered for trail maintenance work.  The group broke into two crews, one built a bridge and the other crew cleared the trails with a mower and cut back plants and branches.  Rachel did a fine job leading both groups.  The work went well and both crews had finished by lunch time.  We had a nice lunch at the trail head and it felt nice giving back.  I plan to volunteer with the FTA throughout the winter.  The weather was overcast and cool enough to make it enjoyable to be working outside.  You can say my desire to backpack and sleep outdoors is now very high!  
The Florida Trail monthly meeting is next week and the program is local author Sandra Friend, who wrote the great hiking books I blogged about back in June.  It will be good to meet her, hear about her trips and see the slide show.
So my gear has been trickling in a few pieces at a time.  Two items that didn't get ordered at this time were the tarptent Notch and the new hiking shoes.  I'll be using my current Alps Mountaineering Zephyr tent and New Balance trail running shoes through the winter holidays, at least.  Two items that had to be returned were the Sunday Afternoon Hat (didn't like the look), and the small containers because I received a much larger size than I expected.  I'm looking at getting a Columbia Bora Bora hat soon and will pick up the right sized containers locally.
The Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack is pretty neat!  I'm trying different load combinations now to get the pack setup right.  The wider pack straps are the first thing I noticed and they were quite comfortable, even with the pack not loaded right.  The weight-defying features like using the EZC2 line instead of web strapping work just fine.  I also received the Thermarest Z lite Sol sleeping pad and was trying to fit it inside the pack with all my gear.  It was too thick to place on the back pad area of the pack (pushed everything out too far) and inside the pack it fills it up quickly.  I'm trying to use the supplied sit pad for the pack frame.  Online, I've seen these Z Lite pads strapped on the outside of ultralight backpacks, and will try that next.  My sleeping quilt fits nicely stuffed into its own just-larger-than-grapefruit-size sack.  Everything seems to fit fine once I get the pad figured out.  My cool weather clothing is Polar Plus, so it takes lots of space to pack but seems to compress enough to fit.  I'll have a packing list finished in the next few weeks.
I did get some OpSacs for food and smellables, Body Glide for blisters, a new 1.2 ounce knife and a Sawyer Squeeze water filter.  The Body Glide worked fine on my feet Saturday, but I don't usually get blisters with my trail running shoes.  I'll let you know how the Sawyer Squeeze works when I use it on my next trip.  I do like the simplicity of the Gerber LST knife, it fits my hand and pocket well and it is SO light at less than one third the weight of my old Swiss Army knife.
As for the upcoming trip, I'm planning an overnighter in Florida by the end of the year, provided my friend can go at that time.  The emails are flying and I'll let you know when I know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Big Trees

The Senator Today
Last winter an act of arson felled the 3500-year-old Senator pond cypress, estimated to be the oldest living tree in the US east of the Rocky Mountains.  It was both sad and horrible for many who live close by.  If you have seen the tree you know it was massive, at something like 5200 cubic feet of solid wood.  It started growing on Soldier creek about the time the pyramids were being constructed in Egypt and was already 3000 years old when Ponce de Leon explored La Florida.
My family and I have been to Big Tree Park a number of times and we miss being able to see the Big tree.  The Florida National Scenic Trail goes right by it on the Cross Seminole hike/bike trail, and I have bicycled right past it dozens of times.  Next to the Senator is another large and very old cypress tree, Lady Liberty, growing at 2000 years young.  As a result of the arson, the park is now closed.
Osprey Trail
Just so you know, there are several large and old bald/pond cypress trees sipping that same Soldier creek water a couple miles away in the 1500 acre Spring Hammock Preserve.  Just left off State Highway 419 about one mile East of US 17/92, Spring Hammock Preserve is a hydric hammock, a vital watershed and wetlands area adjacent to Lake Jesup.  It contains a few 1000 to 2000+ year old cypress trees where you can walk right up, crane your neck and feel insignificant.  To find them is an easy walk.
Park in the shade along the entrance road in Spring Hammock Preserve, and get a map from the porch of the Environmental Services Center.  Then walk north along the road to the cul-de-sac in a power line easement where the Florida Trail/Cross Seminole bicycle trail runs.  Go in beside the gate and follow the gravel Osprey Trail into the shade.  This trail/road leads to the education areas of the hammock, where fifth graders are treated to the famous shoe-sucking mud-walk.  Elementary school through high school age children are taught about nature here in classes throughout the school year.
Live Oak
Turn right at an old cypress snag onto Robin Trail, and follow the road a few yards to an old live oak tree on the right.  It is 35 feet or more up to the first branch, which is unusual.  Generally, live oaks branch out much closer to the ground but this one has an unusually straight and tall trunk.  The upper branches are covered with bromelaids and Spanish moss.  I didn't see any bird life in the tree today, but I expect it is home to a few feathered families.
Go back to the Osprey Trail and continue right, passing some trails to the left and a shelter (good for rain).  The trail is marked every 100 meters with a sign and the next one you turn at is 1000 meters.  Turn right onto the boardwalk and follow a few feet until you see benches to sit on.  I suggest sitting first so you don"t topple over backwards while looking up.  This cypress tree is estimated to be 2500 years old and it is huge!  It is 60 feet or more to the first limb and the tree has a large girth with a cavity above.  The different benches allow you to see more of the tree through the lower branches.
2500 Years Old
Once you feel insignificant, continue along the boardwalk to the next set of benches.  As you sit you will see why I call this the flute cypress tree.  There are multiple round holes in one side much like a flute, that woodpeckers have hollowed out to live.  I watched a few red headed woodpeckers flit around this one, generally not trespassing into another's condo.  A sign says to look for an osprey's nest in the top.  This tree is much smaller than the first one but is still near 1000 years old.
Go back along the boardwalk the way you came, maybe sitting for a few more minutes beside the first tree again.  It has been here since 500 years before the common era began and survived being cut for lumber during the cypress timber rush of our century.
Back onto Osprey Trail, going right again takes you from the mixed hardwood hammock into the hydric hammock past Question Pond, a natural sulfur spring.  Its light green color contrasts with the tannin color of the stream water near it.  Around 1500 meters look for a large cypress stump on the right, and at 1600 meters look for a large cypress tree on the left with a hollow at its base.
Trees Growing Out Of A Cypress
You should now be into the mixed hardwood swamp with standing algae-covered water on each side of you.  Just ahead is a boardwalk on the left.  Follow the boardwalk on its way to Lake Jesup, where it passes several large cypress trees.  When I was there the water was 2 feet below the deck.  Beware that sometimes the water level covers this boardwalk and some of the road.  Three red headed woodpeckers darted and flitted around the deck and from tree to tree.
The first cypress tree is adjacent to the right of the boardwalk and has both a full size palm tree and an Elm or Gum tree growing from different sides of the base.  This 2000 year old tree has another 1000 year old tree growing right across from it on the left side of the deck.
Split Cypress
Up ahead is a cypress tree with a split trunk, both of which are large and old.  Look for the multiple 5 foot high-above-water cypress knees on the left with another tree that splits.  A 1000 year old tree to the right has an osprey nest down low.  There are older stumps here also, some that are huge, looking like small islands in the swamp water!
A line of cypress trees lives here, a few are of the 1000 years old age group.  Think about all that has happened in our world since 1000 CE!  Way back in the woods to the left side you can see glimpses of a huge white trunk, maybe another 2000 year old tree?
Dark birds circle aloft when I get to the end of the boardwalk with a view of Lake Jesup.  Today it is windy and clear.
There is an Ibis in a tree by the road when I return, watching some food in the water below.  And it is a quiet walk back to the car.  If you are up to it, check out the boardwalks and trails to the right of the road.  There are some orange trees there mixed in with the palm trees and one very large pine tree.
Lake Jesup
Jim Dooby of Seminole County Natural Lands gave me the good news that they plan to reopen Big Tree Park next spring, celebrating Seminole County's Centennial.  The fire-damaged Senator tree is being carved into artwork to preserve it.  They are also protecting the Senator stump and the Lady Liberty tree from damage.  And they are relocating a 40 foot tall clone of the Senator from a tree farm in north Florida to the park, so the "Senator" will live on in Big Tree Park.  Very cool!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lake Harney Wilderness

St. Johns River
Lake Harney Wilderness is a short, but quiet hike far away from Orlando's noise along the north flowing St. Johns river.  It starts with a one mile walk through a flowered oak hammock down to the flood plain along the shores of Lake Harney.  The open space is huge and since the elevation is so low, you may not see the lakes water, just the dark line of trees at the opposite shore.  The trail goes into the trees and turns back to the parking lot, following a canal through a tree tunnel.  My friend Walt had joined me to hike the trail.  We saw two eagles flying high and a perched red tailed hawk on this portion of the walk.
Lake Harney Shoreline
Once you finish the waterfront trail, follow the entrance road bed to the right out of the parking area.  This trail is shaded well throughout the day.  This road was once a Henry Flagler railroad called the Florida East Coast Railroad, and his trains hauled cypress lumber from the old sawmill nearby to northern markets in the early 1900's.  That mill supported a town of 200 souls called Osceola, which thrived with running water and electricity well before larger communities in the area had these luxuries.  The commercial draw for St. Johns river cypress lumber kept the plant operational and profitable for years, processing 60,000 board feet of lumber daily.  It ran out of trees in 1942 and the town closed, eventually becoming the Osceola Fish Camp for which the road is still named.  Just to your right there is a field with two eagle nests, look for them high in the pines.
Field Near the shell mound
Continue enjoying the butterflies along the railroad bed and turn right at the signed trail junction, following through a hydric hammock to the river.  Here you will turn left and follow back to the shell mound near the river crossing passing a bench in the shaded area.  There is an open field here that runs from the hammock to the trees along the shore of the St. Johns river.  This is the area around the shell mound, which was started by the Timucuan Indians settling the area around 500 BC. The town grew and eventually became known as King Phillips Old Town.  The park signage tells the story of the Indian community there, and how that ended during the Seminole wars.
Great Deck!
A deck is at the top of the mound where the railroad crossed the river, it was proceeded by a ferry boat at the same location, crossing Volusia County to New Smyrna Beach.  This deck was built as an Eagle Scout project by a scout in my old troop in 2009.  We sat there under the cedars, enjoying the cool breeze, watching eagles soar above us and listening to fish jump below us.  It was 66 degrees when we started hiking and it was still in the 70's when we finished with humidity in the mid-fifties, low for Florida.  A beautiful day!
We followed the trail past the Osceola signs to finish the second loop.  A side trail split off to the right after a bench, and we followed that down to the rivers edge and to the wilderness property line.  It was cool here and some of the trees with roots were awesome.  Water marks on the trees showed how high the water level had been.
A bench built to last
We walked back and rejoined the trail where it followed through the old mill town area, on the lookout for those foundations and other man-made right angles.  We didn't see anything man-made but the ground cover was very thick.  Maybe we will come back after a freeze and look for cement.  The trail ends at picnic tables in the hydric hammock and rejoins the railroad bed for the walk back to the parking lot.
Lots of Cool Trees are by the river
To get to Lake Harney Wilderness, take state highway 46 east of Sanford.  After the first bridge out of town, turn left onto Osceola Road West and follow that several miles to Osceola Road East, then take Osceola Fish Camp road the last half mile to where it turns into the parking lot.  You are north and east of Geneva and there are stores there along highway 46 if needed, accessed by taking The Old Geneva Road.

St. Johns river at the outflow of Lake Harney

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It happens to everyone

I think we're lost!
My daughter, Lyz, had been hiking with her boyfriend in Wekiva Springs State Park when a huge storm blew in.  They pulled on ponchos and debated their next move while the heavy rain fell and the lightning crashed around them.  The storm was so large and heavy, it was red on the radar from Daytona Beach on the east coast of Florida all the way across to Tampa on the west coast.  Rain was so heavy, they couldn't see more than a few feet in front of them and it would continue through the night.  Alone on the trail, they figured they could wait out the storm but it didn't let up for hours.  Darkness came and along with it the fears that they wouldn't get out of the park before closing time.  Lyz says she ran "crouched down" on the trail to avoid being hit by lightning.  And somewhere in the dark storm they took a wrong turn.  And they went on and on, lunging over huge puddles, running through knee deep water and stopping to drain the gallons of water from their galoshes. Wild eyes stared back at them from the trees in their flashlight beam.  At some point they came to a horse fence and crossed it, thinking they were on the backside of the actual Wekiva Springs.  But they were not.
Wekiva Springs, Kelly Park is top left
When Lyz called us for help, it was 7:30 at night with the storm still raging. They were very unsure of their location.  She said she thought they were at Kelly Park, a county park just west of Wekiva Springs,  due to some signs near her. Our last conversation with her before her phone died was to listen for the car horn and look for flashing headlights in about 5 minutes. We drove to the closed gate at Kelly Park and honked the horn. Since the exit gate was still open, I pulled on my raincoat and started to look for them right as a park ranger arrived to lock the gate.  When I told him I was looking for my daughter and her boyfriend who were lost, he immediately took charge and said "Follow me" and led the way back into the park in his cart.  We followed in our car.
We didn't go far before running into the pair of soaked hikers on the road.  With great thanks to the ranger, we drove back to the gate at Wekiva Springs, calling the park phone numbers over and over with no answer and no way to leave a message.  We were concerned they would have to initiate a search for the car's owners when it was left behind, who were now safe and warm and eating mom's cookies in the back seat of our car.
We stopped at a neighborhood Publix grocery store where a clerk helped us get the correct county sheriff's phone number.  My daughter left a message with a deputy about her car at the park. This was to notify the authorities that they were found and safe and would be back in the morning to get the car. Since they were safe, we hoped no one at the park would be searching for them.
At this point, we drove them home while listening to them talking about ways not to become lost. Experience is the best teacher. It was good to hear how many things they got right. Between them, they did have plenty of water, a flashlight, ponchos and boots, waterproof matches, emergency whistles, a compass and a knife (you brought a knife? Lyz's boyfriend asked).  As we laughed at that, I counted this event as great news and excellent training and experience for my future backpacking partner. Things to consider in future hikes are to turn off the cell phone data service or put the phone to sleep to conserve power.  Also having a compass was great, but without a map it was of little use to them. With a map, they could have also have followed a trail south to get back to their car.  Generally, in case you need to find your way back it is crucial to know long it took you to get somewhere. Food would also be good, even if it wasn't actually needed for the trip.
It was funny how my wife talked about never having to know where she was or what we brought with us because when we were outdoors, I assumed that responsibility.  I told her I had been lost many times and she said, "No, we were never lost."  (Really very funny!)  She was happy to hand that responsibility over to me.  Lyz's boyfriend shared that same level of confidence with her. When we got out to drop her off, Lyz gave me a second huge hug. I was happy also.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

7 10 C 71

My wife is amazed that I can remember so much detail about camping gear I have owned.  Remembering the previous dozen or so backpacking tents is easy.  So are the times spent "crushed" under a very heavy backpack!  Join me as I reminisce about what started my enthusiasm for and love of all things outdoors, especially backpacking.
The Tooth of Time.
Standouts include my second canvas pack, the one that went to Philmont with me, and through college afterward.  Only it went west with an external pack frame including a shelf on the bottom but no waist belt.  It didn't come with that frame, we found it locally and figured out how to attach it so I could carry more weight (what was I thinking?)  Besides the main pocket, the pack had one large back pocket and four side pockets, two on each side with a flat map pocket on the top but had no waist belt.  It carried all my gear and some woods tools (folding saw, hand-axe) the snake bite kit and the iron skillet.  Plus my share of the Troop's patrol food and cooking gear.  The heavy oil-cloth raincoat worked fine but smelled badly, my candle lantern melted candles daily, and the one army canteen I had never held enough water for the whole day.  While at Philmont I wore my one pair of dirty white jeans, a waffle-type insulated long underwear shirt, a green cotton hoodie (not called a "hoodie" back then) and the latest astronaut yellow "space jacket" which was the first fiber-fill light jacket on the market and was really warm, especially when everything else was wet.
Like my second canvas backpack
The leather boots wore well, my cotton socks not so well.  I somehow went the whole Philmont trip with no blisters, a first and last for my life!  I liked my new aviator sunglasses and had made sure my scout uniform was washed and stored dry in my bag, locked up for the return bus trip home.
Philmont was difficult, beautiful, and fantastic, and it rained all day for the final 3 days.  At some point, a few days before this, we had descended into a high mountain valley surrounded with purple peaks.  A stream gurgled through the grass, the pinion pines were swaying with the breeze and the old log cabin sitting just inside the trees waited for me to stop!  I sat down in the grass by the trail, pack, pack frame and all, and watched the patrol march away.  They were only gone a couple of minutes but I swear I could hear my own heartbeats in the peace.  I laid back against my pack and watched the clouds swirl by overhead, listened to dragon flies beat closer and then further away, inhaled the grass and the pine scent and found myself lost there in that singular moment of now.  I wanted to live there in the old cabin, cutting and splitting wood daily for fire and heat, farming the land for food and help teaching new skills to the scouts who hiked by.  I needed nothing else, and wanted nothing else.
My third bacpack
The loud angry noise I heard next was our adult leader standing above me on the trail bellowing something but I was too detached into now/nature to hear his words.  I finally drew myself up, nodding agreement to something I never felt and followed his voice along the trail.  I told them at dinner that night to leave me there and tell my parents where I was while I was washing the metal pots from dinner.  They kept watch over me that night and made sure I didn't sneak off before breakfast.  I followed blindly that day and the next few days along the trail as the weather worsened, sleeping first cold, then wet at night.  Then waking up and walking cold and wet all day.  We were all soaked through but I was warm with my dirty yellow astronaut jacket on.  And that is how we finished the trip, waiting for the bus to pick us up at the end of a dirt road in the cold, dripping woods, watching our breath rise.  I somehow got on the bus back home to Florida, became an Eagle Scout, went to college, found work and made my way through life, marrying well and raising wonderful children.
That canvas pack was replaced a few years after college by my first orange nylon "Skyline" type-pack with a frame (and a waist belt) and it carried me and my gear all over Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.  The next pack was blue and it carried me to Colorado also, but was way too top-heavy for the on-the-edge-of-the-cliff-face trails like Phantom Terrace in the Sangre de Cristos and the Chinese Wall in the Flat Tops Wilderness.
My fourth backpack
I returned to Philmont one weekend fresh from a hundred-mile bike ride at Taos in September 2001.  I walked around the tent city, checked out the sales at the store and wandered into the Philmont museum.  Inside the museum along the wall they now have a display of several old scouting uniforms, including one like I wore along with the canteen, that flat hat, the long socks and a pocket knife for the times.  I felt sad for a moment that Scouts didn't dress that way anymore and how their world has changed so much since that time.  I knew my son's world would also be different than mine, but figured that he would find his own way just fine.
I earned this!
7 10 C 71 is my Philmont troop number, from July 10, 1971.  I still have the b&w photo of the whole bus load of us in front of the flag pole out front of tent city.  We were the C group of four total groups and the people on our bus all finished the trip.  I still remember the daily "activities" including fly fishing, tying our own flies and actually catching 3-4 fish with a kernel of corn on a hook, that was after we had "drowned" our home-made (nasty) flies. We also rode horses one full day and couldn't stand on our own two legs after that.  My sure-footed horse was named "Orange Blossom".  We got our boots branded along with the cattle and climbed a rock wall with ropes, cooked some good food and spent most nights cleaning pots and just enjoying the New Mexico mountain outdoors.  We even built a new trail as part of our service projects, and that included using the compass to select the grade of the route.  There was survival class under a parachute and we were supposed to cook a southwestern meal but the oil had gone rancid.  We learned about walking uphill all day long (you can't do that in Florida) and about walking downhill without toppling over ourselves.
I pulled out my Philmont map a few years ago and traced our hike across the 214 square miles of the oldest still-in-almost-one-piece Mexican land grant.  I remembered climbing the huge boulders up to the Tooth of Time rock outcropping, overlooking tent city and the rest of Philmont far below while watching the lightning and the storms come close.  We watched virga, where the rain never reached the valley floor below.  It reached us though and never let up until we were somewhere in Texas returning on the bus four days later.  If you can't tell, I had the time of my life!
Several of these hikes are burned into my mind clearer than most of my last winter's hikes and some trails are long forgotten.  We'll discuss more of the past another time.  I'll follow my own advice and make some new hikes now.  Only lighter.