SHANE'S HIKING JOURNAL - JULY 30 - AUGUST 1, 2004
Well, it didn't rain anywhere near as much as I would have liked. In fact, it rained all around me, but not directly on my location. If I were a superstitious person, I would take this badly, but since the weekend was just perfect otherwise I really can't complain. Yes, I actually like to walk in the rain. Persons living north of the Mason-Dixon line may not appreciate that rain can actually be warm.
I got kind of a late start on Friday, which was giving me fits, but once I got on the road the fit subsided. Feeling the desperate need for a cheeseburger, I pulled into that fine purveyor of inexpensive death sentences, McDonald's, and ordered a double with mayo and onions, fries, and a Dr. Pepper - all supersized. I rarely drink soft drinks anymore, but wanted the caffeine and sugar kick just for a laugh. I got back on the road and cranked up Flock of Seagulls on the radio and started sucking on the Dr. P and munching my fries.
A few miles went by and I lost my appetite for the various poisons I had purchased from The Clown, so I pulled into a rest stop with the intention of finding a garbage can. Instead, the weave of the fates brought me a receptacle of another kind, and I ditched the burger and the balance of the fries onto an unsuspecting hobo who was trying to bum a ride to Florida. We had a nice conversation while he ate wherein he explained to me that he was trying to get to Florida so that he could help rig the election for Ralph Nader in that fine state. The man was obviously in desperate need of something to calm his nerves, so I gave him the balance of the Dr. P which he proceeded to slurp joyfully. I listened patiently to his diatribe for a few minutes, without actually hearing much of what he was saying. I was trying to decide if he was a harmless sort of crank or actually a dangerous nut job. Having spent more than my fair share of time among hobos of various types, I knew that if he was a harmless crank that he would go on for about ten minutes and then start all over again. Dangerous nut jobs, on the other hand, will tend to get louder and darker as time goes on. When traveling as a hobo, I had concocted several of these interesting stories myself. There is a certain art to them, depending on your intended victim...ahh...audience...
He only made it about eight minutes before he started over again. Since I had already heard it once, I figured that it was time for me to exit. It was about 8:45 PM, and dark now. The rest stop was nearly empty, and I was on the far side of the parking lot with the hobo who was continuing his well rehearsed - if not very creative - diatribe. Not wanting to interrupt him to say the polite things that people tend to say to strangers whom they have just met but intended to leave behind because they're obviously crazy, I took off the Keen Newport sandals that were irritating me already, tossed them into the passenger seat, stripped off my clothes, and chucked them in the back seat. My new found friend stopped talking and took a few steps back, trying to figure out if *I* was a nut job. I just smiled, climbed into the driver's seat, and headed for the open road with the windows down. The nameless hobo hollered, "Thanks for the feed, dude!", or something to that effect as I pulled away. I punched up Enigma's MCMXC A.D. CD and brought the volume up to just below ruptured eardrum level and proceeded down the interstate at exactly the proscribed speed. (I have found that when driving in the buff, that drawing the attention of the constabulatory by breaking traffic laws can be counter productive.)
Once I got off the interstate, I rolled the windows up and turned down the stereo. Now I was in Good Ol' Boy territory where playing anything except country music is punishable by a summary butt whoopin' that I wanted to avoid. Should anyone doubt this, an experiment may be performed. Just ride up HWY 49 from I-10 towards Wiggins, Mississippi with the windows down. Play something that isn't country music loud enough for someone else to hear it. Once you see the GIANT Rebel Battle Flag on the left side of the road, your butt whoopin' will commence shortly if you don't turn down whatever it is you're playing that ain't country music - or possibly some decent gospel.
I guess that isn't entirely fair. Wiggins is actually a great little town and I've been very welcome there. All the people I've ever met have been good as gold - even when I look like an animal after spending three or four days in the surrounding woods.
I pulled into the Janice Landing Trailhead parking lot just before 10:00 PM. The lot was empty, as expected. Nobody is stupid enough to hike and camp in weather this hot with bugs this bad. Well, except me. The second I stepped out of the car, I sprayed my entire body with Cutter's Ultrathon and was instantly nigh-invulnerable to the insectoid vampires filling the air around me. I donned my Princeton Tec Yukon headlamp and was on the trail in ten minutes, and by the time I had walked five minutes I was sweating as fast as I could drink. I was heading to a special stealth campsite that I have used from time to time in the past. It is about 3/10s of a mile off the trail, but at night I have to follow one of the rivers down to the site so the walk is longer than that. Using the Magellan SporTrak GPS I decided to see if I could bushwhack it at night. So I walked half a mile on the trail then jumped off when the Magellan told me to. I then proceeded more or less in a straight line to the site I was looking for, which is the place where Beaver Dam Creek empties into Black Creek. I pitched my hammock and went down to the river. Black Creek is the larger of the two streams. Beaver Dam Creek comes out clear and cold while Black Creek is silty, dark and as warm as bath water. I walked out into the middle of Black Creek and got onto the gravel bar in the middle of the river in the moonlight. The moon was scheduled to be full on Saturday night, but it was full and bright enough to read by. I could have threaded a needle the light was so good. Unfortunately, the view of the stars suffered for the glory of the moon. I played in the river in the moonlight for a long time. After awhile I knelt in the middle of the river - it's only waist deep at the deepest points - and with only my head above water I had a nice meditation in the moonlight. After about an hour, I got up and sat chin deep in Beaver Dam Creek for awhile until I was nice and cold and then I climbed back up the bank, climbed into my hammock and drifted off to sleep.
Here is a panoramic shot of the rivers from the far bank taken the next day on the way back, but since this is the part of the report about this place, I put them here. This is looking back from where I crossed. On the left, looking across Beaver Dam Creek is where I camped. Just a little ways into the trees. Panning right shows the sandbar that comes down between the two streams. Beaver Dam Creek is on the near side, and Black Creek is on the far side. Beaver Dam Creek water is clear, while Black Creek is dark and muddy. If you keep panning, you will see the gravel bar in the middle of Black Creek. Clicking the tiny image below will show you the whole panorama. Many thanks to Brian for stitching the images together for me. I spent a lot of time in this place on my next trip.
I didn't get up until about 8:30, and I took my sweet time packing. By luck or instinct I picked my campsite perfectly. I had a very good view of both rivers but I was totally screened from view. As evidence of this someone in a flatboat came up, beached on the sandbar, and took a leak in full view. I was invisible. I was ready to go, and needed to walk down that same sandbar, cross Beaver Dam Creek and then pick up the trail on the other side. (This river crossing is a shortcut of sorts. The actual trail goes up Beaver Dam Creek to Hwy 29, across the Hwy 29 bridge, and then all the way back down. By crossing here, I avoided that distance - some three or four miles.)
I slipped on the Macabi so as not to offend anyone's sensibilities and stepped out of the woods as the flatboat was about 20 yards out. The gentleman looked at me like I had appeared as if by magic, but waved back when I waved to him. As it turns out, the Macabi was a useful precaution because a canoe full of kids followed by a canoe full of adults came around the blind curve upstream just as I was standing in the middle of the crossing. Not wanting to have to chit-chat with anyone I simply disappeared into the woods, and picked up the trail on the other side easily.
I walked down the trail the wrong way for a few hundred feet until I came across a spider web spanning the trail. It was whole and unbroken meaning that nobody had come this way yet today, and so nobody would be walking back. I turned around and started walking deeper into Black Creek Wilderness and quickly found another spider web - whole and complete - stretched across the trail. It was a golden silk spider (banana spider) web and the Lady of the Web - a large and impressive specimen -was still in it. So was her boyfriend. The males are much smaller, which is how you can tell. Rather than destroy the web, I wove myself through some underbrush and examined the web from the other side. I should have taken a picture, but I didn't, so you can click here to see someone else's picture. One Banana Spider is much like another...
Knowing that nobody was behind me and nobody was in front of me - the next trailhead was more than 12 miles away through a cloud of heat and bugs that is absolutely unbearable to normal folks - I hung the Macabi off the back of my pack and proceeded down the trail. It's a nice walk for a few miles and I've done it a couple of times. It's very interesting terrain in places and I take frequent side trips. It must be Banana Spider mating season, because the critters have webs strung over the trail every fifty feet or so. I try to sidestep these when I can. I hate just to knock them down, but I'm only willing to belly crawl under so many webs when there is no good way around.
I stopped at the half way point, which is coincidentally where the trail hooks back up with Black Creek for a little bit. I should have had lunch at that point, but I wasn't hungry despite being well hydrated. I was glad I had brought the extra liter of water because I had drunk two of the four at that point and didn't want to have to stop along the way and run the filter if I could help it. I admit that this is out of sheer laziness. Despite the large number of fantastically large Banana Spiders the bugs were bad. For some reason deer flies insisted on dive bombing my hair, where they became entangled. Since combing fly guts out of my hair isn't high on my list of enjoyable backpacking activities, I donned my hat and proceeded down the trail.
About another mile later, I came across a large group of wild turkeys, which was kind of surprising. I knew that they were out here, but I had never seen any. They weren't happy about my passing, and made a lot of noise to let me know their displeasure. The camera was still deep in the waterproof bag in my pack, and so I didn't bother to try to get it out.
I got to Mill Creek without seeing a soul and setup camp for a nice nap. I had a long cooling dip in the creek first, took a few pictures, filtered some water, and then turned in about 3:00. That's the little falls on the left. At about 3:30 I was awaked by some guys coming up from Black Creek (which is just a short walk down Mill Creek at that point). I wrapped up in my sarong and went down to chat with them. They kindly let me take their pictures sliding down the falls. They packed out their trash, and even took some of mine when they left. Nice guys. Their momma's should be proud. I say that because when I arrived there was lots of trash all over the place. Beer cans flung in the woods, etc. So, if you're reading this and intend to steal any of my special campsites, please clean up after yourself. It really hurts my feelings to have to clean up before I can relax.
At about 4:00 I went above the falls and laid down in the creek and just let it wash through me for awhile. Somewhere in that process the creek washed me away to places that are hard to visit any other way. I was evidently gone a long time because by the time I got back up it was dark, the moon was high, I was wrinkled as a prune, deathly cold, and on top of all that I had to pee. I took the short slide down the falls and climbed out the other side. The moon was bright enough that I didn't need the headlamp, and it wasn't handy in any case. As I climbed into the hammock - and surprisingly enough into my sleeping bag too - it occurred to me that I hadn't eaten all day but I still wasn't hungry.
I had one of those 'sleeps of the dead', and woke up about 6:30. It was still mostly dark and I stole down to the creek and had another nice soak before the sun got too fierce. I walked down the creek (which is not really a simple matter given the nature of the slick clay bottom, various blowdowns, and the precarious nature of the steep banks on either side) to Black Creek and had a dip in the warmer water there. I admit to lounging around a lot. I didn't get on the trail again until 7:45.
Hiking the same trail backwards is like walking a whole new trail for me. Even though I've been up and down this section a few times, there is always something interesting to see. The maintainers were evidently out earlier this year. There are new markers and the trail is wide and clear in most places. The old blowdowns have been sawed through and moved to the side. The trail is still a little grown in places, but the going is a lot easier than it has been in years past. There is a large variety of mushrooms and other fungi all over the place that I spent some time looking at. Next time I'm going to bring my magnifying glass.
I took a break at the halfway point again, and considered eating something. I just wasn't hungry, though, and I was feeling better than I'd felt in a number of months. I was suddenly gripped by the fear that something was desperately wrong, because one of the surest danger signs of dehydration among other things is that you suddenly feel great. I ran the checklist and discovered that I was well hydrated, not feeling faint, had all my strength, and was still sweating steadily. I took a little salt, took two potassium tablets, drank some more water, and left it at that.
I got back down to Beaver Dam Creek, crossed over, climbed the sandbar, ditched my pack and everything else and went back down and fooled around in the rivers again. In the daylight it's a lot different, and I was a lot braver in my explorations of what had been nothing but black holes in the moonlight.
After I had fooled around for about an hour - cooling off and catching a few rays - I climbed back out and retrieved my pack. I used the daylight to pick a better path out than I had picked in the darkness on the way in, and used the Magellan SporTrak GPS to make a detailed record of the track so I could find my way back again in the dark when I come again in mid August. Finding the map board at the trailhead reminded me to put the Macabi back on before crossing the road into the parking lot. The precaution was unneeded because the place was as empty as a lake in the desert.
It was one of the best trips I've had in a long time.