Friday, June 27, 2014

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument Visitor Center
Today's hike is not far or difficult, and it is very interesting.  Starting at the Ocmulgee National Monument Visitor Center, the first hike was just less than a quarter mile down a hill, across a bridge, and back up into a field.  Tall trees surrounded the hill and I climbed to the bottom of another smaller hill with an entrance door on the east side.  This is a restored earthen lodge, and by ducking (a lot) you go through a low tunnel for about 20 feet to enter a log roofed underground room.  It reminded me of the Kivas I have seen out west. This lodge was originally built for discussions between a tribe's leaders with a fire pit in the center and a raised bird-shaped area (eagle) with another 47 seats around the outer wall.  3 seats are at the bird-shaped area, reserved for leaders.  On February and October 22nd, the sun rise shines through the tunnel directly on a spot above the bird-shaped area, marking the equinox exactly.  You have to expect this would begin a huge party, and you may be right.  This is in Macon, Georgia, and the clay floor of this lodge is dated to be built around the year 1000.  At some point the roof burned and the site became buried until found by archaeologists in the 1930's during the largest-ever dig site in America.
The trail to the earthen lodge
The bird shape where the chiefs sat.  The sun strikes this twice annually on the equinoxes
Lodge entrance from inside the mound
The Monument has 7 other mounds, one being the largest Mississippian mound constructed on the Macon Plateau in the Eastern United states.  Your hike to the Great Temple Mound is over one half mile from the visitor center and it passes through the ancient village site, under a railroad track and around a trading post site built in 1690 by English Traders to trade with the Creek Indians.  A boardwalk and stairs climb the east side of the mound to the flat top.  It is about 2 acres of space up here with awesome views all around the compass.  The city skyline of Macon peeks above the trees to the west, while the view south is clear of buildings and only has a couple radio towers poking through.  Mississippian Chiefs lived here in rectangular wooden structures and it is thought they held important religious ceremonies atop the tall mound.  A dragonfly wisps by and birdsong is very loud.  A Lesser Temple Mound is right next door and the Funeral Mound is close by to the northwest.  Below the stairs the land falls away to Walnut Creek and wetlands where the creek meets the Ocmulgee River.  The River and Opelofa trails run from the Great Temple Mound to the river and through the wetlands and woods.
The Great Temple Mound, largest earthen mound in the eastern US
The view south...
And northwest showing the Lesser Temple Mound and the Funeral Mound on the left
The Bartram (as in William) Trail runs east and south from the Visitor Center and loops back by the Southeast Mound and ends at the start.  Bartram came through here, meeting with the Creek Indians and wondering in his writings about the history behind the mound builders.
If you are into Civil War history, Macon was never taken by the Union Forces in a battle, even though it was the major manufacturer of guns and munitions and held many Union Prisoners of War.  The Ocmulgee National Monument also has Dunlap Mound which is near the Dunlap House that ran a slave-based plantation here during the Civil War.  The Union forces under General Stoneman (reporting to General Sherman) setup here and fired cannon over 2 miles into Macon from the Dunlap Plantation.  For some Macon irony, the local militia ended up capturing and imprisoning General Stoneman with the POW's he came to rescue.  If you visit Macon, make sure to see the Cannonball House, that General Stoneman's troops hit with a shell that did not explode while bombarding downtown.  There are also Civil War trenches and earthworks dug around the Monument, each with stories.
View east from the Great Temple Mound
The Heritage Trail is paved for runners and cyclists and it runs from the Park west to highway 80 and across the Ocmulgee River into town.  I like the way this ties the National Monument to the city and from the bicycle traffic in the park it seems the city has accepted it well.
The Visitor Center stores and displays over a quarter million artifacts gathered by the archaeologists mentioned above.  Lots of pottery, shell beads, Clovis and arrow points and copper from the past 17,000 years (that's not a mistake) of mostly constant occupation by Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, and the Historic Creek Indian cultures.  It also has the film "Mysteries of the Mounds" which focuses on the mound building time from 900 to 1100.
Funeral Mound signage
Park entrance is free and it is open 9am to 5pm every day except December 25th and January 1st.  There is a picnic area and camping is 8 miles west.  It is located at 1207 Emory Highway in Macon.  From Orlando, take the Turnpike north to I-75, and stay on I-75 to arrive at Macon, about 6 hours later.  Once in Macon, go east on I-16 to the first exit and follow highway 80 to turn right onto Emery Highway.  Turn right into the Monument.

There is much more to do in the Macon area, including historic house tours, Allman Brothers Band Big House tour, road trips to High Falls State Park, Lake Juliette and the town Juliette (Fried Green Tomatoes movie location), several plantations nearby and much Civil War history.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bicycling a missing link

Volusia County just completed a 2.5 mile, mostly sidewalk connection between the Spring to Spring Trail and the East Central Florida Regional Rail Trail.  This short section connects Gemini Springs with Green Springs, and gives bicyclists about a 20 mile out and back ride to where the Osteen Bridge is currently under construction over highway 415.
A trail bicyclist used to have to ride in sometimes heavy traffic with no bike lanes to pedal this busy section, so the sidewalk is very welcome!  This road is named Dirksen Avenue west of the Interstate and is called Debary Avenue on the east side.  Building a trail along this missing link is awesome!
Trailhead, just off 17/92
I bicycled this new section today, and despite the heat, it was a pleasant bike ride.  I parked at the gravel trailhead just off highway 17/92 in the shade.  The first section along Gemini Springs Park is well shaded.  The path splits directions around rocks a couple of times and it curves a bit, keeping your speed low around park entrance and exit crossings.
Beware the mileage markers along the trail may be confusing.  I never saw the 0 mile, and somehow gained half a mile between both trails.  The miles count down from 4 out of Gemini Springs and then count up from Green Springs.
Trail splits in Gemini Springs
Where the trail previously dead-ended and turned left to climb to historic Debary Hall, the new section continues ahead, built as a wide sidewalk along the busy street.  There are some restaurants and convenience stores located across the street.  It soon comes to where the Interstate bridge crossed the road and the railroad line.  The sidewalk is paved under here, just a little away from the traffic.  It then passes by a Park-and-Ride lot, and continues along, next to the street for about a mile and a half, until the trail turns into the trees.
Where the trail used to end, new trail continues ahead

Under the I-4 bridge where the railroad used to run
About a block after the trees, Green Springs is on the right.  The trail then climbs a bit and continues along until it dead ends in about 5 miles.  I have written about this trail here before, so I won't repeat all of that.  It does dead end at the base of the new bridge construction which will cross the recently widened highway 415 in Osteen, just north of the almost famous Osteen Diner.  From there it will continue to the next stop about 5 miles away.  Plans call for the next 50 miles of this trail to become a major portion of the cross Florida bicycle trail.  I understand funding is approved and construction on that section will begin next year.
Where I used to begin the trail
While hot, today's ride was pleasant because of the clouds and light breezes.  I saw an eagle in its nest and a turtle crossed the trail in front of me.  Where the trail has shade it was nice, but the last couple of miles near Osteen are wide open and the heat was increasing.  It is also very hot when crossing the boardwalks along the trail.
In total the trail ride was 19.72 miles long.  The trail gained 482 feet (surprising) riding out and back.  I didn't ride very fast and stopped every 10 minutes or so for a drink or to take a photo, so it took me over a couple hours to complete it on my mountain bike.  I used an app called MapMyHike on my iPhone for the first time, and I liked how it worked.
To get here, take I-4 East from Orlando.  Cross the St. John River and take the next exit, 108.  At Debary Drive turn right (west) and drive just under 4 miles.  Turn left into the trailhead just before you reach the stoplight at 17/92.
When the Osteen bridge is finished in August, I'll bicycle over that part of the trail (on a cloudy day).
Osteen Bridge construction, maybe finished in August

Friday, June 13, 2014

More ULBackpacking Items

There are many more Ultralight items I use when backpacking aside from the backpack. Here's a list with photos and why I chose them.  Beware, these choices are all mine.  No one has paid me with money or promotional items to advertise.  You will find that discussing your stove or pocket knife may start a small war, as people have many differing ideas about what they think is best.

Starting with the second Big Three, I chose a Thermarest Alpine 35 degree sleeping blanket (I call it my quilt) since in a typical sleeping bag you crush the loft below you, greatly reducing its insulation capability.  Loft is what keeps you warm in a sleeping bag.  I decided I didn't want to pay for that crushed layer of down, so I went with the quilt which is open at the bottom.  It does snap closed around my feet and has draft tubes along the sides.  Even though I move a lot when I sleep, my moving around has not left me cold. This weighs about 1 pound and is unfortunately is no longer made.  There are many other sleeping quilts out there.  For 3 season ULBackpacking in the east, go with a 35-40 degree quilt.  For trips out west or winter camping, look into a 20 degree quilt or a lower temperature rating.  The Sleeping System includes the quilt, the sleeping pad and any clothing you sleep in, inflatable pillows, bags to carry stuff in, etc.

Sleeping Pad - I have tried inflatable pads before and liked them very much.  Here I wanted to try a simple air-free pad again and the Z Pad Lite Sol small (51") was my best choice.  It is called a Z Pad because of how it folds up.  It has a silver side, which is to reflect your body heat back up at you in cooler temperatures.  It is also a little thicker than the other pads I tried, and is just thick enough to work for me.  It fits folded into a U shape inside my pack.  Mine weighs 10 ounces.

Water Filtration & containers - Hands down the Sawyer filter is the best yet and it beats my hand pump filters in every way.  The newest model is one ounce lighter than mine and the bag it comes with is supposed to be an improvement also.  In all the years I have hiked outdoors, I have filtered water by either chemicals, by boiling, or by pumping.  Now I do it by just passing unclean water through this filter.  Mine weighs 3 ounces, the new ones 2 ounces.  Save your chemicals for a backup.  As mentioned in a previous article, I carry two 1 liter Gatorade water bottles, two 1 liter Platypus soft water bottles (rolled up in my pack) and the 1 liter collection bag with my Sawyer filter.  5 Liters will carry enough water for a day.  Any containers you use to collect or carry water would be included here.

Cook kit & stove- My wife bought me this awesome titanium cup at a local outfitter for a Christmas gift a couple of years ago.  I am still very pleased with its light weight.  My cook kit includes this pot with my cup and stove below packed inside it, photos below.  Weight 4.8 ounces.  There are many lightweight aluminum pots & stove kits available that won't cost you as much and weigh about the same.

My Esbit stove is not sexy or sleek, but is is light enough and with some home-made foil wind protection it works very well.  It also carries 6 Esbit tabs inside of it and folds into my GSI Insulated cup (no longer sold) which fits into my pot.  Weight 3.25 ounces and it cost me under 10 dollars.  Other items not pictured; a cozy to keep my freezer bag dinners cooking and a long handle titanium spoon.

The Extras, those item you need to take, but not really weighing a whole lot, are included here.  Once you have purchased the Big Three and the Second Big Three, this is the section where you can constantly tweak the weight in small increments.
Headlamp - This Petzl Tikka2 headlamp has worked well for me, and is lightweight and easy to use.  I would prefer one lower light setting, but otherwise, it is easy on batteries. This headlamp goes in my daypack also for emergencies.  Weight is 3 ounces.
Spares - I carry this same kit on day hikes and backpacking trips.  It has everything I need and gives me 2 more ways to make fire, 1 more way to purify water, and 1 more way to illuminate the night.  I also carry a first aid kit which I have modified slightly for my needs. Here is the Blog story on Spares Kit  that I wrote a while back.  The only item I have added to my kit is a mini disc for signaling for help.

Pocket knife - My blog on Staying Organized is a highly read one and includes my ultralight pocket knife, a mini compass and all the stuff I carry on every outdoor trip.  My knife is a Gerber LST and it weighs 1.2 ounces.  I like it because it fits my hand well and it feels like a 'real' knife.  Everything in this kit goes with me on all day hikes or backpacking trips.  The red bag keeps it in my view when packing so I don't forget it.
10 Essentials - I have already covered the '10' in a post here and I won't go into how important is is to carry your own 10 essentials on every outdoor trip, even on short hikes. If you have not yet learned how to take care of yourself outdoors, maybe you should take a class taught by a first responder, as they should be able to convince you why you need to carry this stuff.  Here is a link to REI's 10 Essentials.
All of my ULBackpacking gear also translates into canoe or kayak camping and bicycle touring.  I would substitute the backpack for water-proof bags in the boat on the water, or lightweight front panniers on the back rack of my bicycle.
A lot of my outdoor knowledge came from my time in Boy Scouts, both as a boy and as an adult training boys to be leaders of men.  The rest of it came during camping, backpacking, canoeing, and bicycle touring trips from the 1970's to now.  I have learned and unlearned a lot in those 40+ years.
And that is how it can be there for you too, by going out there and doing it.  Nothing teaches you better than failing a few times on your own.  The idea is to go with someone who knows how to ULBackpack and is someone who won't leave you there to suffer alone.  The main point is to just go.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A day of ULBackpacking

This week we will cover more of what a "typical" Ultralight Backpacking trip in the southeastern Appalachian mountains could be like.
Appalachian Trail
So I would drive to the trailhead as early as I can, to get an early start ULBackpacking.  I'm planning on a single overnight, out-and-back hike into the northern Georgia mountains along a well blazed trail.
Let's say I get to the trailhead around 9 AM, put on my pack and start walking.  From my research, I know I start crossing year-round streams after 7 miles.
I would be carrying my usual base weight of 9.5 pounds, plus 2 pounds of food and snacks, 4 ounces of Esbit fuel and 2 liters of water at 4.4 pounds.  My 35 liter pack's total weight is 16 pounds.  It feels like a daypack!
It is a clear, cool day today and I walk at 2.5 to 3 mph, ascending the mountain, my normal pace.  At about 40 minutes I stop a couple of minutes to "smell the roses" and eat some snacks.  That gives me a nice energy boost, and I crank along another hour and a half to the first stream of water on the map.  I check the map and notice I'll cross this stream again in a few yards as I zig and zag my way up the mountain along a switchback because I would rather drink water that has not been hiked through.
I would continue along the trail to the next (and last) crossing of this stream.  It is warming up, but not hot enough to start sweating yet.  This area is along the side of a mountain, and the 1 foot wide stream flows easily as it drops across rocks and across the trail.  From my outside pack pocket, I remove my Sawyer filter bag and an old plastic cup I use for capturing small amounts of water from shallow streams.  Using my hiking stick, I check for snakes and poison ivy/oak/sumac (always!) and move a bit upstream and above the trail.
I dip the water slowly from an inch-deep basin, being careful not to stir it up and make the water cloudy.  I pour it one cup at a time into the Sawyer bag.  Once the bag is full, I return to the trail.  Here, I remove the filter from my outside pack pocket, screw it onto the bottom of the bag and allow the water to flow through and into my now-empty water bottle.  Once done, I attach the lids, return the filter, bag, cup & bottle to my backpack.  Then I reshoulder the backpack.  This has only taken a couple minutes.
While the foliage here could be wonderful, there are no views or areas to sit, so I continue hiking along.  Presently, I would come to an overlook on the left where I can sit and take a 30 minute break and enjoy the view.  And what an awesome view it is of mountains, stacked upon mountains, rolling off endlessly into the haze.  I check the map, note my next water availability near a shelter some 5 miles ahead and plan to eat my lunch there.  I have hiked about 8 miles so far, 12 or so more miles to go to camp tonight.
I would hike along the ridge line and follow the topography up and down, noting the different trees and plants, stopping to take some photos of wildflowers along the way with my phone.  I would have had put my phone in airplane mode and into a waterproof case as I got out of the car, and haven't looked at it for Facebook/Mail/Texts since.  There is no cell service here, so I switch it back to airplane mode, return it to the case and pack pocket.
I stop at another overlook and check my map for progress.  I would have a couple of miles to go for a lunch stop and the trail is about to get steep with all the contour lines running together.  I snack again and head out.
The climb would be enjoyable with such a light backpack, I really don't even notice it is there.  My trail runner shoes grip the earth.  I would be wearing nylon pants, a wicking T-shirt, a long sleeve nylon fishing shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat.  I typically carry one hiking pole which is handy for setting up my tent at night and moving brush aside and poking around in the places I sit to make sure I can see everything there.  I finally make it to the top and there, just right of the overlook would be a trail shelter with a picnic table.  I like picnic tables outdoors, and along hiking trails with views.  And if there is something I would do for all hikers, it would be to build more picnic tables!
It would be about 1 PM now and I'm hungry.  I set my pack on the table, pull out my food bag and open my Zip Lock sandwich container for my PB&J.  I keep all my food inside a vapor proof bag, and that inside a small zipper bag in my backpack.  I also keep a gallon zip-lock bag for trash there.  I can hang the bag when in bear territory and the vapor bag makes it waterproof and masks the odors very well.  It is peaceful here with birds singing and a light wind blowing, the sun is high and the clouds are few.  I enjoy an apple and some trail mix also, and finish my water bottle.  A good rest is what I need, so I sit back and watch the sky for 20 minutes.  Checking the map shows this next water source will be my last one before camping tonight.  I repack my pack and head on down the trail, finding a large stream this time, where I stop and filter my empty water bottle, two Platypus soft bottles and fill the filter bag with stream water (will filter later).  My pack now weighs a total of 20 pounds with the additional water, minus lunch.
I would have 7 more miles to go before I sleep, more or less.  After crossing the stream using my hiking pole, the time along the trail passes quickly and I stop twice more for quick photo ops and snack on trail mix.
Around 4:45 PM I would stop for dinner at a rock outcropping where I can cook my freezer bag dinner.  I setup my Esbit stove with a full fuel tab, fill my titanium pot with 16 ounces of water, light the stove and put the lidded pot right on it (saves fuel).  My stove has home-made wind screens and a protector for the base to prevent rock burns.  I have a rolling boil in 7 minutes, and pour 8 ounces of hot water in the cozy-wrapped, quart-size freezer bag over the noodles and dried veggies.  I put the water back on the stove and close the cozy.  Then I make my tea by pouring the remaining 8 ounces of hot water into my cup over the tea bag and I put the lid on that too to keep it warm.  I would be cooking with a package of grocery store mac & cheese, previously split into 2 servings.  I have gathered my other dinner items like a small can of chicken, the cheese mix and my Cliff Bar desert.  I check my watch and at 15 minutes, I drain off the freezer bag water away from the trail, and add the cheese and chicken.  After much stirring and mixing, I put it back in the cozy for a few minutes and finish making my tea.  Again I am enjoying the fine weather and cool breezes.  I put my raincoat on to keep warm and eat my dinner, thoroughly enjoying the carbohydrate load.  I clean up afterwards and after a nice break, I brush my teeth.
I packed up, attaching my raincoat to the outside of my pack (because I'll need it again) and hit the trail as the sun sinks lower.  The shadows are now long and the sky colors are quite nice.  As I'm walking around a turn in the trail I come across 2 deer, one older with antlers, the other one a yearling with none.  They are eating the grass alongside the trail about 20 yards away.  I freeze in my tracks and don't disturb them.  Slowly stepping back, I silently watch as they eat.  In a few moments they move on and disappear into the heavy forest on the right.  If I had stopped hiking to camp at dinner time, I would have missed this wildlife opportunity.
I would hike for another 2 hours and as the sun is setting, I find a spot just off the trail and along the ridge with wind protection and a flat area in trees.  There are no low spots here where water would flow in a storm and the small trees around me are all green with no dead branches to fall.  I take my tent from the outside pocket of my pack, unroll it and take out the Tyvek ground cloth.  I would lay it on the ground, laying on top of it myself to position it where there are no bumps, roots or holes under where I will sleep.  I make sure my feet are pointed into the wind, my body is level and I would pitch my tarptent there in about 2 minutes.  I set it high (loosen the stake lines) so I'll get good breezes through it.  If it threatened rain, I would pitch the tent low (tighten the stake lines) to the ground to keep dry.  Tarptents are quite useful in areas like the south, which have a lot of bugs.  It will also do a good job keeping you safe from critters and dry in storms.
I would then climb into the tent with my pack, close the door, rinse off with a couple baby wipes and check for ticks (none!), then get dressed for the night.  Planning ahead told me it should be in the lower 50's tonight, so I dress with my sleeping socks and T-shirt for tomorrow and add lightweight long underwear and a hat.  It is already cooling off and the sun has sunk below the trees, painting the sky beautiful shades of reds, yellows and oranges.  I open the door and enjoy the view from inside the tent, sitting up and watching the stars come out.  I'm not watching for long, as I fall asleep quickly.
Morning wakes me early with the sounds of birds chirping and splotches of sunlight moving about the roof of my tent.  The sound of the wind was in the trees.  I get up, remove my long underwear but keep my hat on, and get dressed for the day.  I load my pack and climb out of the tent to a cool, clear morning with temperatures in the lower 60's.  There was no back or leg pain from carrying my ULBackpack yesterday.  I put on my raincoat for warmth and pack my tent, shaking the dew from it.  I double-checked the ground and recounted my tent stakes to make sure I left no trace.  When I looked back, I could not tell I slept there.  Nice!
I would start walking back the way I came last night, stopping in an hour to eat breakfast and make coffee at a place with a log to sit on beside the trail.  My simple breakfast is a couple of energy bars and a banana followed by a nice cup of hot coffee.  For heating a single cup of water, I would use only one half of an Esbit tab.  I stowed it all away after cleanup and started walking again.  Since I had used most of my extra water, I had a significantly lighter pack again.
I stopped to refill both water bottles at yesterday's second water stop, and refilled them again at the first water stop.  The hike back was all downhill and very pleasant!  I would have spent two fine days on the trail without meeting another soul.
I would reach my car around 3:30 PM.  I would drank from the water I had left in my car for this purpose, put my pack in the back and drove to town to find dinner while finishing my trail mix.
When I would get home, I pull out the tent to fully dry before stowing it away.  I fluff my sleeping quilt and put it in the loose cotton storage bag.  I wash all my clothing and cook gear.  I take stock of my trail food stores and make a grocery list for the next trip.  When everything has dried fully, I fold it and stow it away, ready to pack for the next trip.  I would note anything that I needed to change before the next trip.  Also I would blog about this trip, including my photos.
I won't review my made-up ULBackpack trip, I'll leave that to your thoughts.  Next week we will cover some additional trail items.